First Down (September 9, 2018)

Dear Friends,

Former Bishop of Phoenix Thomas O’Brien, died on August 26th after dealing with a long illness. From 1982 until 2003 he served the people in this Diocese. As time moves forward and more people move into the Valley, there are people who really never knew about Bishop O’Brien.

There was a time in our Diocese that people across the country would come to experience the Liturgies celebrated here. NALR, a Liturgical Music Company was headquartered in Phoenix and the music was sought out by many.

Formation of faith was lead by our very own Deacon John Meyer. He can tell you stories of people from all over coming to find out what Phoenix was doing in formation and initiation. I was a personal witness to this as were many people. Funny how time moves on and people forget the good of the past or feeling that now it is much better. But I suppose that is human nature.

For myself, Bishop O’Brien gave me the great gift of Ordination to the Priesthood on June 7, 1986, at our Cathedral. I was able to serve this Diocese under his direction on committees and I even served as Vocation Director for one year. Thankfully he released me from that position to return to parish life, my first love of ministry. So indeed he was part of some of the greatest joys of my life.

At the same time, he also was involved in some of the most painful and lowest times in my faith life. The revelation of how he handled cases of sexual abuse amongst the priests and the inability to get a handle on doing the right thing for this Diocese to address the issues made it a difficult time for me. To rely on the County Attorney to set a moral course, for me was the saddest day as a Catholic. To see him resign was indeed sad and an end of an era of some of the good things our Diocese was doing.

After reflection I decided to keep praying publicly for Bishop O’Brien at the Eucharistic prayer as our retired Bishop. Sometimes the Church is not very good at reminding the wounded and those who have done wrong that they are still brothers and sisters. Sometimes people who are to live the Gospel just abandon people at their most critical time. To simply pray for him means that no one, no matter what should be forgotten. Those who fail us, even as leaders, those who feel they have been hurt by leadership and feel like no one remembers them should also be remembered. One day, after starting this, a woman came to me saying she did not like us praying for him at Mass. Then she said she thought about it and was now praying for her ex husband every day. She got it!

I did not pray his name because he was my favorite Bishop or I like his style better or whatever one thinks. It was simply, he was a brother always, just as everyone who comes searching for God. I pray that the people of our Diocese remember this as well.

Rest in peace Bishop O’Brien.

Peace in Christ,

Fr. Eric