What I Learned From a Funeral Homily

by | Nov 9, 2018 | Formation, Spirituality and Spiritual Practice, Vincentian Family

Vincent was a great believer in following Divine Providence. But it took a funeral homily to help me recognize how profoundly someone I have lived with for the past four years lived what Vincent believed.

Oh, I knew the basic facts of Fr. Bob Prior’s life and had respect for this person who was declining rapidly over the last four months. But preparing a post for the Eastern Province of the Congregation website helped me realize what a living example he was of Vincent’s commitment to following God’s will. His journey took him in many directions that were not his idea. He did not cling to his idea of what God had in mind for him. Maybe he is an example of what Pope Francis had in mind when he spoke of the “saints next door.”

I share my awakening with the realization that God often has other ideas for each of us. And we all stand in a long line from Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Mary, Paul, Vincent, and Louise.

When God Has Other Ideas For Us

Some 70 years ago a young Robert Prior was sure he knew what was in God’s mind. God surely wanted him to be a priest. This was not surprising. After all, he came from a family where three of his other brothers were ultimately ordained.

He was right that he would be ordained in the Congregation of the Mission. What he didn’t get right was that God had a different timetable in mind. He was already into his seminary studies when he realized that he was called to take care of their ailing mother. His desire to follow the will of God in serving others took a twist he had not expected. He was being called to serve much closer to home. He said yes to that call. When she died decades later he returned again to the call of the priesthood.

In those intervening years he served not only his ailing mother but inspired generations of young high school students. These students learned much more than the assigned subject matter. They absorbed the spirit of a man dedicated to the will of God.

As Fr. Franks Sacks pointed out in his homily,

All the Prior brothers at some time taught on the Faculty at St. John’s Preparatory High School in Brooklyn. Confreres who attended the Prep remember Fr. Bob fondly as an excellent teacher — some would say their best teacher! He was noted for his good sense of humor, his willingness always to be helpful, and, not surprisingly for a true Prior, his support for the Yankees.
In 1994 at age 66 he returned to the seminary and completed his preparation for the priesthood. But it seems that God had another surprise in store for him. At the beginning of his third decade as a priest, he fell on the ice and required multiple brain surgeries. He was never the same.

He must have sensed what was in store for him. Among papers in his personnel file he left these words. Possibly anticipating what he felt was to come. Eleven years ago, long before he fell,  Fr. Bob wrote:

I want to apologize to anyone I may have hurt, especially toward the end of my life when I may not have been as healthy or as clear-minded as I am now. I thank God for my family whose love and prayers sustained me throughout my life. I sincerely thank the Vincentians for giving me a second chance; these last years as a priest have been an ineffable gift. Also, there have been many wonderful people who have had an influence on me and have made my stay on this earth an absolute delight. I will continue to pray for them as long as God allows, as I do now each day.
Pray for me.
Robert J. Prior, C.M.

Yes, we will pray for you… And continue to learn from your fidelity and flexibility in following God’s will.

When God has other ideas for me…

  • What is my first reaction?
  • Can I recognize that I am one in a long line those who thought they knew what God wanted of them… Abraham, Mary, Paul, Vincent, and Louise to mention a few?
  • Is there anything I need to let go of in my life?

A fork in the road