To look to the past with gratitude.
To live the present with passion.
To embrace the future with hope.
These are Pope Francis' three aims for the present Year of Consecrated Life. These are also the three directions I find my mind moving in as I approach the culmination of a dream that I have had for twelve years now to be a priest of Jesus Christ.
To look to the past with gratitude. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am where I am today because of the people who have supported me, knowingly and unknowingly, all along the way. Because of people like Fr. Kevin Bazzel, a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham, whose presence in the confessional first gave me the courage to ask, "Could God also be calling me to this way of life?" Because of people like Mary Schmidt, my grandmother, who prays and sacrifices unremittingly for the strengthening of my vocation. Because of people like Rev. Mr. Tony Wagner, a deacon of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who taught me how to really see Christ in the poor. You may not be able to see behind the altar while I'm celebrating my first Mass, but you can be sure that I will be standing on some very sturdy shoulders.
To live the present with passion. I am delighted that twenty students from King's College will be at the Ordination Mass on Saturday! On one hand, you could say that this is the face of the flock that the Lord has entrusted to me as a newly-minted priest. On the other hand, you could say that these are my teachers the ones who have been training me and conditioning me to be the face of God's mercy for those on the margins. And King's College has many margins, just like many other institutions of higher education, but that is what makes me excited to live my early priesthood there. Jesus makes his home among students such as ours, and I am blessed to minister where Jesus chooses to be found.
To embrace the future with hope. I have no clue what my future as a priest holds in store. Many of the older priests in Holy Cross love sharing stories about how they thought their lives were going to head in one direction and wound up landing somewhere completely different. I hate stories like these. I hate thinking that when our Constitutions call us to the conversion even of our ambitions that I might find happiness in future projects and prospects that are not altogether clear in this present moment. But at the same time, I find these stories oddly comforting. They remind me that the Lord stays present to us through all the twists and turns that may come. The Lord uses each new circumstance, each new relationship, each new challenge to help us become our truest selves. Perhaps it could one day be said of me what was once written about one of my heroes in the faith, the (fictional) Bishop Bienvenu of Les Miserables "His universal tenderness was less an instinct of nature than the result of a strong conviction filtered through life into his heart, slowly dropping into him, thought by thought; for a character, as well as a rock, may have holes worn into it by drops of water." To be that sort of priest is a dream that gives me hope.
Gratitude. Passion. Hope. That is what will be on my mind and my heart when I am up there with the bishop's hands on my head. That is what I want my priesthood to be about. Pray for me, that I may be the priest God wills me to be! Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us.
Deacon Chase Pepper, C.S.C. professed his Final Vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross in the fall on 2014. He is scheduled to be ordained on April 11, 2015. Deacon Chase has been serving in the Office of Campus Minsistry at King's College. He is originally from Huntsville, Alabama.