By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published May 9, 2013
She was the wife of a prominent Chicago surgeon and the mother of four sons and literally one of the funniest and most energetic women that I have ever known. Charlotte (Coke) Redden died last month after a long illness and I prayed for her every day during the past several weeks, but always with a smile. I met her and her wonderful family in 1972 while serving as a deacon at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge, Ill. It was a friendship that endured for more than 40 years. When her beloved husband, Jack, died in April 2005, I wrote in an early edition of this column about his praying the Our Father as his last prayer. I am sure that Coke also offered that very same prayer at the end of her life—a prayer that she and her husband taught their sons many years before.
In each of the three dioceses where I have been blessed to serve as a priest, I have been fortunate to encounter so many magnificent people of faith who have inspired and encouraged me spiritually in ways that I could never have anticipated on the day of my Ordination in 1973. A few of them have been prominent in society, but most have been quite ordinary people of faith. I have met them in parishes, at schools, at the diocesan chanceries and in impromptu events that have linked our lives together in ways that have enriched me so much it is beyond my ability fully to express my sincere gratitude. Every priest is a sacramental minister of the Church, and I have been so fortunate to share the sacramental life of the Church with hundreds of thousands of people—many of whom may remain nameless but are extremely important to my life as a priest. The faces of those people have flooded my heart during the past several weeks as I anticipate hosting a dozen or so of my priesthood classmates here in Atlanta on May 9 to celebrate our 40th anniversary as Priests of Jesus Christ.
Each one of my pastoral assignments has brought me the blessings of wonderful friendships as the Lord manifested Himself in the lives of those that I cared for as His priest. The people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta have proven themselves to be the apex of my priestly ministry. At heart, I am a diocesan priest, which is what I studied to become entering the seminary as a very impressionable 13-year-old in 1961. I draw my energy from being with the people entrusted to me, and in their midst I constantly find the Lord Jesus. Celebrating the Eucharist with the people in my care is where I discover Christ most clearly. Visiting the sick, commending the dead to the Father of Mercy, presiding at weddings, baptizing little ones, hearing confessions—all bring me closest to the Lord.
Since becoming a bishop, I have also encountered Christ vividly among the priests with whom I minister. Atlanta has the finest priests that I have ever met—we are not perfect (neither archbishop nor priests!), but we do strive to serve the folks in North Georgia to the best of our abilities. There is a joy among the priests of this local Church, even when we must confront the many challenges that this age and our own limitations present.
The sacramental ministry of the episcopacy has expanded the opportunities that I now enjoy in being with our people. From the joyful celebrations of Confirmations, to the privilege of ordaining new ministers of the Gospel, to the day-to-day encounter with my chancery colleagues and friends, I have found Christ in new ways in the midst of these episcopal activities. Therefore, this Thursday, I will praise and thank God for allowing me to be His Priest for 40 years and especially for the countless thousands of folks who have sustained me with their love and their patience and their goodness.