There is freedom in letting God be God so we don’t have to be
By Fr. Don Braukmann/St. Philip, Bemidji & St. Charles, Pennington
As I shared with you a few months ago, I have ALS. I won’t try to spell it but it is also called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” after a professional baseball player who died from ALS in 1941.
In short, ALS is a muscle debilitating disease for which there is no cure. It is also fatal as, in the end, it attacks the diaphragm and/or the heart. I was diagnosed this past December, and because of the disease’s progression, Bishop Hoeppner has given me permission to retire from active ministry July 1.
At this point, I intend to continue writing this column, although it may take a slightly different direction in tone as I face what lies before me.
I was ordained on March 15, 1986. It is an odd date for a priestly ordination (usually they are in late spring) because Bishop Balke suggested moving up the ordination date after hearing my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Dad would not have made it to the original ordination date of May 31. Bishop suggested March 15 and that was the plan.
On March 3, my Dad suffered a massive stroke and died. His funeral was on March 6, and my ordination went ahead on March 15.
Needless to say, those were emotional days!
Over the past 32 years, there have been a lot of “emotional days.” As with everyone’s life, there were highs and lows. Highs when serving Christ was easy and fulfilling, and other times when my human frailty kept me from being the priest Christ intended me to be.
Through it all, Christ was and is faithful. Even when the brokenness of humanity tarnishes the beauty of Christ’s bride, the Church, he remains vigilant, awaiting the prodigal ones to return.
St. Philip’s in Bemidji, where I have lived the past seven years, has served as bookends, in a sense, to my vocation. In the fall of 1979, while a college student at the University of Minnesota, Crookston, I attended my first TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) here. It was during that weekend I realized the call I had been avoiding was real. 10 months later I was in the seminary!
I was not from the Diocese of Crookston (my hometown is New York Mills, in the St. Cloud Diocese) so upon entering the seminary I had to jump a few hoops to commit to Crookston. It was the example of Bishop Balke, Monsignor John Stearns, Monsignor Mike Patnode and other priests from Crookston whom I had come in contact with through TEC who were key in helping me realize the Diocese of Crookston was HOME.
The greatest joy of these years has been standing in awe of the faith of so many I have come to know in the parishes I have served.
The greatest sorrow has been, as I mentioned above, my own frailties that fell far short of the man I was called to be.
The greatest lesson I learned was how God cannot be outdone in generosity and that all things do work out, in the end, for the glory of God!
Over these years, as you well know, I have done my best to raise my voice for the voiceless child in the womb along with all those who are forgotten by society.
These are difficult days for me on that score as I feel the reputation of the pro-life movement is being smeared by leaders who claim the pro-life mantle yet act and speak in ways that are anything but pro-life. I know others reading this disagree sharply but I ask myself daily when I listen to the news, “What would Jesus think?”
In the end, I praise God for God’s mercy in my life. “Mercy,” as one definition states, is “kindness we don’t deserve.” I also praise God for the incredible people I have met and still love over these years.
I used to “play Mass” often as a kid. I have been humbled by Christ’s invitation to do the “real thing” over 11,700 times!
For now, it is ONWARD! Time to let God be God so I/we don’t have to be. Makes life a whole lot easier!