My name is Fr. Pete Jankowski, one of your theology adjunct professors here at the University of St. Francis. In my twenty-third year as a Catholic priest, I just finished a twelve-year assignment at St. Patrick’s Church in Joliet. Currently, I am taking what is best called a “gap-year” from parish ministry, celebrating daily Mass for a group of cloistered nuns in Minooka, IL and putting students to sleep with the university classes I teach. Unfortunately, I am also recovering from a medical condition called “spontaneous pneumothorax,” which is the doctors’ way of saying that they have no idea how I ended up with a collapsed lung. While I am recovering from my own illness, I am spending a great deal of time with my father, who is at the latter stages of his own battle with cancer.
I find it ironic that this semester, as the folks from USF Encounter asked me to write this article, I also am teaching a course on “Death & Dying” at the university. Based on the writings of Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed), the manner in which the Spirit has guided me in this course has been based on the life of Morrie Schwarz. To me, Morrie offered a wonderful thought concerning our own purpose in life:Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
For me, at least, I think the causes for which I have figuratively “died” in this life pale in comparison to literal death our Lord endured on the cross or various saints and martyrs have had to bear in their journey of faith. As a Catholic priest, I very much believe that God has called me to a specific role of ministry, just as each of you are called to play a role in this journey of faith. Over the last twelve years, I have had to death with the growing pains of starting a Hispanic Ministry, defending the rights of children and the vulnerable over those who compromise their safety, standing up to those who engage in financial shenanigans while trying to keep my faith with God, asking the Lord if I truly am doing God’s will or sinning by following my own.
What I have come to learn is based a great deal on the teachings of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and the teachings of the Lord’s final judgment in Matthew 25. On the last day, I am going to be accountable to God for the way I conduct my life. I know that in Matthew 7, Jesus teaches us that corruption comes from within; the collar I wear, that anyone wears, means absolutely nothing if I am not doing what God has called me to do. As my life is short – few of us will probably make it past a hundred – I know that if I do what God asks me to do, then maybe God helps guide me to a condition after death where there will be no more suffering, no more tears and no more sadness.
So I endure. I learn that through the trials I have experienced (and continue to experience), I begin to understand in a small way the infinitely more important sufferings that our Lord endured on the cross. I remind myself every Sunday when I pray the passage from Philippians 2 from the Liturgy of the Hours that if Jesus Christ was willing to humble himself for the chance for our salvation, I can only hope I can do the same for the souls I am commissioned to serve.
In the Death & Dying Course I teach, I try to encourage my students to realize that wherever they settle on the theological spectrum, if they realize their purpose in life and the life that awaits the faithful person who fulfills that purpose, then whatever vocation we live can be a sacred one. I ask you all pray for me that I stay diligent in following the call that God has asked me to follow. I promise to remember all of you in my prayers as well so that you can just be good people and do what is right for the sake of another. If we all just do what is right in the name of good, in the name of God, hopefully we will all one way come together on the last day and embrace our ultimate destiny, in peace, por los siglos de los siglos. Amen! This is my prayer.
Read feature editor, Amber James's, faculty spotlight on Father Jankowski in our latest print edition or online here.