God has a plan for your life that is unique, only you can fulfill it, and it will bring you true happiness.” This is the
message I give to young people who come for confirmation at this time every year. As I look ahead to the 40th anniversary of my priestly ordination my heart is fi lled with gratitude to the Father for the blessings he has
bestowed on me. He is faithful to his promises and the joy he gives is beyond what any of us can imagine.
I first came to Colorado in the late 60s to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder as a pre-med student. After a year of being here, I had decided that this was where I wanted to settle down, because of the natural beauty and my love for skiing. But all the while the Lord kept tugging at my heart, calling me to follow him.
Once I had graduated, I entered seminary immediately and within six months I knew that God was calling me to serve him as a priest. Little did I know what the Father had in store for me. All I knew was that he was calling
me and I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t respond to that call.
On June 5, 1976, I was ordained a priest by Archbishop James V. Casey in Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Over the next several years, I spent time serving in parishes and was blessed to meet faithful Catholics from all walks of life, who continue to be a rich source of blessing for me.
In those early years my spiritual fatherhood also grew. It’s easy for people to miss this beautiful aspect of the priesthood, but it is one that gives me much joy. Bringing the Father’s mercy to people through confession, teaching the faith, preaching and celebrating the sacraments – most
especially the Eucharist – all give me the chance to bring the Father’s love to his children.
I could not have known it, but God would invite me to participate in his fatherhood in a new way when Pope
St. John Paul II called me to serve as Bishop of Fargo in 2001. When I left Denver, the reality of what it meant
to serve the Church and love Christ struck me in a whole new way. I was leaving everything I had fallen in love with – the seminary, the natural beauty of Colorado, and the Catholic community where I had spent 25 years of my life. I thought I would never return to Colorado. It was an
opportunity for me to grow in trust and confidence in the Lord, to put the Father’s will first.
All of us face these kinds of decisions, even if we don’t realize it. Our various circumstances present us with fundamental questions like: “Do I trust the Father?” “Do I believe in his eternal love for me?” “Do I have confidence that he will give me things that will ultimately make me happy?”
Looking back on my 40 years as a priest and that moment of receiving the call to become a bishop, I can confidently say the answer to these questions is “yes!” Of course, there will be times when the Father asks you to take a leap of faith, to take up the crosses and trials in life, or times
when a tragedy occurs and the Lord uses those moments of suffering for good. But these events are part of the path of purification that help us to reach heaven. This is why St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
God’s plan for my priesthood took another turn in May 2012 when I got a phone call from Archbishop Carlo
Maria Viganò, the Pope’s representative to the United States. As I stepped aside from the gardening I was doing
at my house in Fargo, he told me that Pope Benedict XVI was calling me back to Denver. I was stunned. Once again, the Father’s providence and love for me were thrown into stark relief. I was leaving a flock I had grown in love with, that filled me with joy, and where I served for 11 years … to return to Denver.
Over the last four years, the Father’s generosity and love for me and the archdiocese have continued to make themselves apparent. No matter what the vocation or the plan the Father has for you, it will bring joy. Seeking first the Father’s will is the call of every Christian, just as it
was Jesus’. His plan will include the cross and suffering, as he promised, yet when it is rooted in love it will bring a joy and gratitude that no one can ever take away! Do not be afraid to follow him.