There is an elderly, retired priest at our parish, Fr. Val Rykowski. He is small-built, white-haired, with twinkling blue eyes. But as small as he is in stature, he is huge in presence.
He is always found before the Blessed Sacrament, saying his Breviary, or leading the others there in the Angelus, if the bells have just rung.
He says the Latin Holy Mass on Wednesday mornings, at 9:30,...too early for me, unfortunately, to make it there, but for the lucky ones who can, I'm sure he radiates a very holy example. (One time, I understand, the Pastor, Fr. Ben, had to take over @ the Consecration, as Fr. Val had broken down in tears!)
His whole life is the Church. He has been a priest for over 60 years; I remember being there at the Holy Mass where his Anniversary and birthday were celebrated at the same time; he had just turned 90 years old. Fr. Ben gave the homily that morning, joking that Fr. Val had told him that years ago he had asked God to let him live to the age of 33, so he could die at the same age as Our Lord Himself had done. But of course, that was not meant to be ~ and we are the lucky witnesses of his love for God even to this day...as Fr. Ben had gone on to say, he suspected that God would allow Fr. Val to live to be 99, so as to give witness to this magical age of 33 three times over! The reason for this is, no doubt, his dedication to the Most Blessed Trinity ~ all three Persons, and as he is the Director of the Apostolate of the Divine Trinity, then by rights he should live 33 years in honor of each One! Fr. Val chuckled at this, but deep down, I suspect that he would have been just as happy giving glory to God in Heaven in person all that time...
There is a reason why I have chosen to picture a small screech owl here, in salute to Fr. Val...the screech owl is a very small bird in stature, like Fr. Val himself, but once its call is heard in person, one never forgets that sound. Just like meeting this wonderful priest, and watching him in prayer or as he jokes with the children, he is not one who will be easily forgotten.
When the screech owl is threatened, it will stretch its body into the shape of a branch, thereby disguising its appearance to conform with the tree on which it hides...but if it knows it has been detected, it will take flight, holding its head close to its shoulders and moving erratically through the forest. If in the open air, it rarely glides, but prefers short bursts of energy and movement of its wings.
Fr. Val is alot like that himself. When in the company of his parishioners, he is calm, funny, a jokester and a kind personage. But in the Confessional, in the presence of all that sin, he can take the 'shape' of a formidable defender of the Faith and his God. He allows nothing to get in the way of the Truth, he commonly asks penitents why it has been so long since their last Confession, even though it may have been no more than a few weeks...and 'why is it that they don't love God enough to come more often?' And, like the owl, is filled with boundless energy, especially when it comes to his God ~ steadily leading the way to a closer union with Him as he flies...
One time, as I was in the Confessional with him(being new to the parish), and having no idea what to expect from this man whom I had never met, I told him that I hadn't been in several months ~ probably it was near Easter and I hadn't gone since Christmas, or something similar ~ and he read me the riot act! LOL...So I asked him, 'how often, Father? I would love to know how to get bettter...and some priests have told me that two or three times a year is plenty!'
And he gave me an answer that I will never forget:
'Once a month at the minimum...more if you need to, of course, keeping yourself free to receive the Blessed Sacrament in the state of Sanctifying Grace! And any priest who tells you differently simply does not want to work! Oh, the sacriligious Communions...'
Now, once a person meets a priest like that, this person will try as hard as possible to follow his direction, n'est pas? I admit to having fallen a couple of times and not gone as often as I would like, or as often as I should, but I have definitely been trying!
And I will say this: once I got into the habit of frequent Confession, I have been more able to keep watch over myself, working on my bad habits, and hopefully gotten better ~ but I know that is for God to decide, in the end...
After I had finished my Confession that day, he reached around the screen and handed me a prayer that he had written himself, and requested that I say it every night:
'O most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, open my mind that I may think according to Your ways ~ not according to man's way or my way. Enlighten me, Lord, guard me, guide me, and teach me. Fill me with the most precious gifts of the Most Holy Trinity. Fill me with the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord ~ with genuine humility and obedience.
O Lord, open my lips only for You to speak and act through me, with and in me all the days of my life. Without You, Lord ~ seal my lips (keep me silent).
O Lord, open my heart and fill it with eternal love, glory, praise, adoration and thanksgiving. Fill my heart with deep eternal sorrow for all the sins of my life, not as I see my sins, but as You, O Lord, see them. Fill my heart with eternal gratitude for creating me, redeeming me, sanctifying me, adopting me as Your son/daughter, and calling me to Holy Priesthood (your vocation).
Keep me faithful to Your teaching and never let me be parted from You, O Lord. Amen.'
I try to say this prayer as often as possible...I keep it with my Opus Angelorum studies, so it is there always for me to refer to whenever I reflect upon the Holy Trinity and the Angels.
I suspect that Fr. Val himself is very close to his own Angel, and even if he isn't a card-carrying member of the OA, then I'm sure he is one in spirit!
This man truly reflects the love of God for His children, and I, for one, will always be grateful to the Holy Father in Heaven for giving me the opportunity to know him. He truly is one of a kind, and God willing, will be around for at least until the age of 99, or better!