Sunday's child is full of grace

by Paul Chenot, C.P.

After keeping my Mother up all night for the first (but certainly not the last time) I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. It was a sunny Sunday morning at 7:03 am on the 20th of August, 1944 when I first opened my eyes. I am the second of three children born to Anthony (AJ) and Grace (Sis) Dillon Chenot.

I grew up in a typical 1950s "Father Knows Best," "Leave It to Beaver," "Happy Days" suburban neighborhood. Being Catholic was a defining reality -- like being a Democrat, or Irish, or white, fish on Friday, Confession on Saturday, Mass (in Latin) on Sunday.

The desirability of a vocation to the priesthood or religious life was taught and lived out in the parish by the nuns and priests. It was an option supported by my family, though my father wanted me to sell drugs. "Why don't you be a pharmacist?" he'd say.

In the 1960s we were "Kennedyized." "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." It was the era of the Peace Corps and the ideal of service. I made a retreat at St.Paul's Monastery and met the Passionists. A connection was made.

In September 1962, with Gene Chandler singing "Duke of Earl" on the radio, I left home to enter the Passionist Prep Seminary in Dunkirk, NY. Then, in 1972, when David Bowie released "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars," I was ordained a Passionist priest.

I was attracted to the religious priesthood because I didn't want to be a parish priest. My first assignment was in keeping with the Divine sense of humor. I was assigned to be an associate pastor of St. Joseph's Monastery Parish in Baltimore, MD. In the land of pleasant living and national "bo" (or so the advertisements proclaimed). Where it looked like they ate spiders. (Turned out to be soft-shell crab sandwiches.)

I spent three years in parish work and then a year of Clinical Pastoral Education at Richmond Memorial Hospital in Richmond, VA. Completing CPE in 1976, the bicentennial year, after the tall ships left New York City, I came to be chaplain at Creedmore Psychiatric Center.

Proving God still has His sense of humor, I was elected Superior of Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, NY in 1978 -- then re-elected in 1982. While I was Rector, I was also chaplain at Dominican Commercial High School.

For a time, I worked with Joel Carlson, the Assistant District Attorney, in the second chance program -- a program for first offenders in the criminal justice system.

By 1986 I was experiencing more than just "a touch of gray" and I went to St. Gabriel's Retreat House, Shelter Island, NY, to preach teenage retreats. After two years there, I went to Cardinal Spellman Retreat House, Riverdale, NY, to preach adult retreats. Then, in 1990 I came back to Creedmore Psychiatric Center where I minister today.

Reading the above listing of assignments is boring, much like reading the credits at the end of a movie without having seen the film. They can be at best only mildly interesting. How to capture the flavor of ministry?

You enter into people's lives at ordinary and extraordinary moments: marriage, birth, repentance, Eucharist, graduation, a new job, bankruptcy, sickness, death.

To minister is to make Jesus present to the situation. While it may be comforting to know that Paul cares, it is essential to know that God cares. The Gospel promise, "Behold, I am with you always," is in part fulfilled through ministry.

My vocation to the Passionists was a continuation of the faith journey begun in my family and parish. The Passionist vow of preaching Christ crucified attracted me. It reflected the God I knew -- the God of my parents -- a caring, loving God -- a God who was more ecumenical and multi-cultural than my suburban neighborhood -- a God who, even before Hallmark, cared enough to send the very best -- Jesus. I felt privileged to preach the Word, the Good News that each of us is a loved member of God's family.

The Passionist community is an extended family gathered around the seven sacraments and resembling the seven dwarfs. We have Bashful, Sneezy, Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey and Doc -- all wounded differently, all called to be wounded healers, all redeemed by the wounds of Christ who carries His wounds as a sign of His love.

What a long, strange trip it's been. Come join us and "take the chance of a lifetime, in a lifetime of chance."

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