He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Mark 16:15
I try to always travel prepared and, for that matter, be prepared. Perhaps it is from my early youth of being a boy scout, as it is their motto; but more than likely my nearly thirty years as a police officer. You never know what you might encounter or where. I can remember searching down an early morning drifting smoke, to discover a burning fraternity house where students still slept. Investigating an isolated van parked at a construction site, only to happen upon a sexual assault in progress. More then ten thousand days on patrol, only to have those instincts now transferred to my mission as a priest.
We can never know where God will cause us to be. Often, as in the situations above, I felt it was God and His providence that directed my patrol. Contrary to being in “the wrong place, at the wrong time” more often than not God places us in the right place at the right time. Where He needs us to be. Where God needs to be.
After all, that is why were are here. Not just as clergy and religious, but as Christians. As human beings. We are here to do those things- those acts of kindness and mercy, those acts and actions of justice- as if God were here himself. For indeed God is. God lives- and loves, through us.
So falling back upon my police career and training, I have been comically referred to by friends as “the portable priest”. For I carry with me at all times, what I refer to, as my “priest pack”. It may be something we called to do so, might practice and carry.
In a small nylon weatherproof zippered bag, one might find for hiking or camping, I carry the following: a small reversible stole, a small crucifix, anointing oil, a condensed copy of The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, The Pocket Book of Catholic Prayers, a plastic laminated double sided card with the Holy Anointing Unction ( Last Rights) on one side and The Absolution on the reverse. I also carry, “Celebration Cups”- these are an item purchased from a religious supplier (in my instance I use Livinggracecatalog.com ) that are small Eucharistic unleavened wafers and juice sealed together in one small cup. They are ideal for hospital visits and for keeping in my “priest pack”.
Known for our traffic volume, congestion and “Jersey attitude”, I can sadly report I stumble upon as many traffic accidents now as I did when I was dispatched to them as a police officer. If the accident appears more horrific then a mundane fender bender, I will stop and identify myself to a police officer as a priest. My “priest pack” in tow, I ask if there is anything I can do- even if it is as simple as standing with parties involved while the weight of the accident slowly sets in.
To be certain, as a retired police officer, there are common sense protocols to be done: not to distract the officers or persons involved, not to park or in anyway obscure or impede the accident scene or investigation or to use the unfortunate event to ask “if they’ve found Jesus”.
Recently New Jersey has begun training and certifying police chaplains. I was fortunate to attend the training program in early December of 2013. By written communication, we can avail ourselves to police in our local towns to be chaplains on call. From serious accidents that leave a high school and community in shock or a neighborhood gathering in the night as a destructive fire hits to close to home.
We do not propose to save souls in these matters, unless in our sacred office we administer the last rights, but we intend to be a ministry of presence. A comforting presence or shoulder to lean on, even if we just stand in silence. For in those times of great adversity, disbelief and pain- is Christ not standing beside us in silence, supporting us and holding us up? As we can never be certain of ones religious faith ( Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, even agnostic, etc) we can always say, “May I stand with you?”- and even gently crack the door, “Would you like to pray?”
At one such accident, I stopped for a car engulfed in flames on the Garden State Parkway ( a major north-south toll road through our state second only to the Turnpike ). Unbeknowst, a life was lost as initial responders could not get close enough to one of the cars. I offered whatever assistance as a priest I could. My offer was accepted when another motorist, who was not involved but only had stopped as well, ask that I pray with him.
My “priest pack” is always with me. For at every unforeseen tragedy we encounter happenstance, Christ is there as well- standing in silence. Always present. Always comforting. Always interceding. Christ ask us to be His “visibility”. His hands. His shoulders. His words. So we are charged to ask the- can I pray for you?
Lord make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in forgiving that we are forgiven; and it is by dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen. [ A prayer attributed to St. Francis. BCP 833 ]
Father Wolf is a retired police officer in New Jersey, the pastor of St. Aelred’s Parish, and an Assisting Priest at Saint Miriam Parish and Friary in the Old Catholic Churches International.