'I love the priesthood; I love being a priest'
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
PARKVILLE - The "baggage" heaped upon all priests by a national media barrage of reports of sexual misconduct reminded Father Stephen Cook of his first trip to Rome as a seminarian.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Downtown Serra Club president Charles Murphy reads the second reading while Father Stephen Cook listens.
"I worried about my baggage so I carried all I could on board," Father Cook told members of diocesan Serra Club chapters at a special Mass April 21 at St. Therese Church. The Mass was held simultaneously with the closing of the Third Continental Congress on Vocations in Montreal.
As the young seminarian lugged his bags to and from connecting flights, "I realized how much those bags were weighing me down and controlling everything I was doing. After that first trip to Rome, I decided to check all my baggage at the gate," he said in his homily.
"Priests are carrying a lot of extra baggage right now," he said. "It's become a burden. It's weighing us down. It's scandalous."
Recalling the Gospel for the day, "Jesus said, 'I am the gate,'" said Father Cook, associate pastor of Visitation Parish in Kansas City.
"All that is weighing us down, check it at the gate. All that is burdening us, check it at the gate. Don't let it get in our way. We can't get through that gate when we are burdened."
Father Cook said priests aren't the only ones carrying the burden.
"We all have things that burden us," he said. "The power of Christ overcomes everything when we check all that at the gate."
Father Cook said that in recent weeks, he "could not go anywhere without having a conversation about the scandal."
"There is a message on the other side of the cross, on the other side of the gate. There is new life, there is abundant life," he said. "You are here to enjoy life, to experience life to the fullest, to receive the love and life of God into your hearts."
Ordained in 1997, Father Cook admitted he had already begun to take his vocation for granted.
"When a married couple stops saying, 'I love you' to one another, there is trouble," he said.
"I was not saying I loved the priesthood enough," Father Cook said. "But I stand before you today and say, 'I love the priesthood. I love being a priest. I love preaching the good news of Christ.'"
Father Cook thanked lay people for "your call to prayer that allows me to experience being Christian, and the joys that lie on the other side of the gate."
He also told the Serrans that even in the middle of the scandal, "I have had four young men call me about the priesthood."
"It's all on the other side of the gate," he said. "Check your baggage and go through it."