success stories

Posted October 7, 2003

This column is dedicated to Msgr. Philip Murnion, a dedicated and loved priest who died on his 40th anniversary of the priesthood.

Understanding, the Heart of Dialogue

By Father Eugene Hemrick

"Permit me, then, with the last breaths the Spirit gives me, to implore you: Do not be afraid to embrace the spirituality of communion, this 'little way' of dialogue with one another, with your priests, with all God's faithful. Doing so, you will touch not only the hearts of your brothers and sisters, you will draw closer to the very heart of Jesus, the Lord and brother of us all."

When I read these dying words of Msgr. Philip Murnion, I thought: If this is the most important thing he sees in this life as he leaves it, how do we translate his vision into action? I found my answer.

Before a recent funeral Mass, an elderly man dressed in a cream-colored suit entered the sacristy. As I looked closer, I noticed he was wearing a white clergy shirt. My first thought was that he was a deacon. Later I learned he was a priest who works with Hispanics.

Another gentleman entered the sacristy with hair down to his ears wearing layman's clothes. As he put on an alb, I realized that he too was a priest and later learned he was working in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.

The celebrant at the Mass was black. When he began the funeral ceremony, it was unlike any I usually experience. Throughout it he sang. It was one of the most uplifting funerals I have ever concelebrated.

I must frankly admit that at first I felt I was among a group of maverick priests. They just didn't fit the mold of priests coming to a funeral with black suits, looking trim and neat, and acting with hushed respect. But the more I learned about how these men were serving poor people in difficult situations, the more I came to respect them as persons.

When I read Msgr. Murnion's plea for dialogue and spiritual communion, my first reaction was: Our priests and bishops are all characters in one way or other. How could you ever have a true dialogue with so many diverse personalities? But that funeral experience told me it can be done if we don't concentrate on differences, odd personalities or attire. Take time and exert energy to look into the person in order to learn who he really is and what unique contributions he is making. Follow the beautiful counsel of the book of Proverbs: "Wisdom is the principle thing; get wisdom and with all thy getting get understanding."

If Msgr. Murnion's vision is to materialize, it must start with a desire to look into each other much more deeply than we do, to put aside labels and first impressions, to forget biases and prejudices, and to open our hearts to each other so that we can speak heart to heart.

Understanding is at the heart of dialogue. More important, it gives heart to the priesthood.