I had little prior experience of 'Church,' and I felt like an outsider. These and other discernable differences between me and my classmates led me to wonder: Where did I come from, and how did I fit into this picture?
When I entered the seminary, I became a member of a select body of men seeking the honor to serve Christ's people in the Archdiocese of Boston. We dressed the same and were approximately the same age, and we all shared a deep love of the Lord. Yet despite these similarities, I somehow felt different.
Most of my classmates came from strong Catholic families and had bonded through their years together at Cardinal O'Connell Minor Seminary. I, on the other hand, had parents from different faith backgrounds, and was a product of the public school system before matriculating to Boston College. I had little prior experience of "Church," and I felt like an outsider. These and other discernable differences between me and my classmates led me to wonder: Where did I come from, and how did I fit into this picture?
After 47 years of priesthood, I still ponder these questions. When I think of my life as a young person, I remember the natural desire I had to learn about the teachings and the life of Jesus: His compassion, His patience, and His love.
When I think about Jesus' mother Mary and her faithfulness, I think of my mother.
My mother was a truly special woman who made positive contributions in the lives of all she encountered, especially her five children. She was a natural social worker and counselor who attracted people with her humor and gentleness. My father was not Catholic, but he was a highly principled man of strong faith--a model Christian. Together, my parents taught me what it meant to be a Blackwood. Family identity was important, and through their example, I learned the Gospels and the virtues they strived to instill in us.
I remember I was nine years old when our neighbor, Rose, first asked my mother if I would go to the grocery store for her. Rose was a widow, and knowing that her children had moved away, my mother quickly assured her that I would. That first errand led to many such trips to deliver groceries for Rose.
One day when Rose called, I was enjoying a favorite TV show. When I asked my mother if she could send my brother Doug instead, she simply responded, "Rose didn't ask for Doug. She asked for you." Years later I still think of that moment and I hear the voice of the Lord calling me to serve His people through Rose's request for help.
Since that time, I have heard Jesus' call in many ways. I heard Him through the voices of the people I served, particularly through my parishioners. These wonderful people taught me that a parish family is like any other family--vulnerable, fragile, and open to the pains caused by carelessness. They helped me adopt a deeper sensitivity toward others, and they also helped me arrive at a deeper understanding of my priestly responsibility to serve in the image of Jesus.
I heard the call of Jesus long ago, saying, "You are a priest forever." I have come to realize, however, that His call is an ongoing invitation that demands a repeated response: "Yes, Lord, your servant is listening." As I look back on where I came from and how the Lord called me to follow in His footsteps, I listen now for His final call to priesthood: "You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased."
Father Blackwood is a senior priest of the archdiocese, in addition to parish assignments, he served in several Catholic Charities offices, and prior to retirement he was pastor at St. John the Baptist, Essex and Sacred Herat, Manchester by the Sea.