Senior priests told lasting importance of relationships

HENRY — God created human beings to live in an “obligatory matrix” of time, space, things and relationships, and at death we leave three of them behind, said a Franciscan priest and scientist who recently addressed the senior priests of the Diocese of Peoria at their annual gathering at Nazareth House.

“When we pass through death’s door, we leave behind all time, space and things, carrying only relationships with us into the afterlife,” according to Father John Ostdiek of Holy Cross Friary in Quincy. “That’s why we must pay attention to our relationship with God, our relationships to other people, and our relationship to the world around us.”

He has five words for those who think that they need to go off from the world to strengthen their relationship with God: “It ain’t going to happen.”

Humans create problems for themselves when they try to compartmentalize this way, Father John explained.

“That’s where we get into psychosis,” he said. “If we don’t integrate them — time, space, things and relationships — we’re in trouble.”

Born in Nebraska in 1922, Father John entered the Order of Friars Minor of the Sacred Heart Province in 1942 and was ordained in 1949. Assigned to teach biology at Quincy College, he set out on a path that would bring him two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and two doctorates in the course of his ministry.

“If you have a question, I’ve probably taken a course,” he quipped.
Now retired, Father John, 88, is a former professor of biological sciences at Quincy University, has worked with agencies for development in Third World countries, and has served on several environmental and ecological study teams. He also has written widely on spirituality and medical subjects and was a chaplain at both Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Jesus lived in the same matrix we do and so did the saints, Father John said, and they can teach us how to live successfully, too.

“Can we sit down and have a cup of coffee with Jesus or is he way up there somewhere,” he asked the senior priests. “He’s not just the Jesus of the Gospels, but the Jesus of life.”

Living an ordinary life for 30 years, he was a construction worker — congenial and religious, with a good family, Father John said, adding, “There’s something to learn there.”

“Look at how he always cares and sometimes cures,” the Franciscan priest said. “Think of Jesus’ offer to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar: ‘What can I do for you?’ Imagine if we had parishes that asked, ‘What can I do for you?'”

The disciples were bound to Jesus not by canon law or theology, but by relationship and example — seeing what he did, experiencing it and then going out to proclaim it, Father John said.

The Franciscan also spoke of “meeting” Mary when he led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the first time. Seeing how the women dress, the bartering that takes place each day when they go to the market, and learning how families lived at the time Jesus was born filled out the picture of the Mary he knew from Scripture and the woman he honored in liturgy and prayer.

“The artists’ conception of Mary and the real Mary are two different things,” Father John said.

Father John Dietzen, episcopal vicar for senior priests, said he appreciated Father John’s ability to weave together Scripture and science in such a way that it renewed their awareness that “good theology and good science go together. When there is conflict, there is either bad theology or bad science.”

The Diocese of Peoria has about 57 senior priests, most of whom live in central Illinois, he told The Post. There were 25 registered for all or part of the assembly, which included a Mass with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and plenty of time for fellowship.

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