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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Fr Daniel Brandenburg, LC, on Crosses, God-incidences, and Confession
Part 1 in a series on life as a priest.

Fr Daniel Brandenburg, LC, year for priests
Fr Daniel Brandenburg, LC

Part 1 in a series on priestly experiences, published every Thursday in the Year for Priests.

August 20, 2009.  Like any Christian, priests have their own moments of experiencing God’s presence and action in their lives. And sometimes, those moments can be powerful reminders that their lives are no longer their own, and that God wants and needs to use their priesthood to bring souls back to him.

For Fr Daniel Brandenburg, LC, an inconvenient cross became an occasion to witness a “coincidence” that looked a lot like God’s providence… and to receive a humbling lesson about his own life in God’s service.

[Note: names in the story below have been changed to protect the privacy of the persons involved.]

Called by name

Around February of this year, he broke his wrist and had to go to the hospital. The break was a serious one, and the doctor’s prognosis was that he would be in a cast for 3 months without regaining full mobility for 4-5 months. For an athletic priest whose apostolate depends greatly on his ability to type, this was a very inconvenient problem. Plus he was in chronic pain.

And so it was, that while walking from the doctor’s office to another office to fill out his paperwork, he was interiorly grumbling, “God, why did you permit this?  Can’t you see that I’m trying to do your work? Why now?”

Three women were working in that next office, and as they saw him walk in with his Roman collar, the conversation started spontaneously.

“I’ve always wanted to ask a priest,” said Sue, a Protestant. “Why do you [Catholics] go to confession?” After Fr Daniel explained it to her, Sue turned to her colleague in the office and asked, “Martha, how long has it been since you’ve last been to confession?”

Up to that point, Martha had shown interest in the conversation, but at Sue’s sudden question, she turned red and covered her mouth, mumbling, “Eighteen years.”

Fr Daniel’s ears pricked up.

“Wow, that’s a long time!” exclaimed Sue. “I guess it’s high time for another confession! When’s the next time you’ll have a priest walk into your office?”

At this, Fr Daniel offered to hear her confession if she wanted. Martha said no thanks, so he let it rest. As the conversation continued, Martha freely explained why she had not been to confession for so many years.

The story had to do with her son. Eighteen years ago, her rambunctious boy had gotten himself kicked out of Catholic school.  A young mother at the time, Martha felt mistreated, so she left the Catholic Church.

As the conversation continued, it turned out that her son’s birthday would have been two days ago, but he had died just a few months before in a fatal car accident. Upon hearing this news, Fr Daniel offered to pray for him and celebrate a Mass for the repose of his soul.

“Thank you,” said Martha, tears forming in her eyes.

“What was his name, so I can pray for him?” asked Fr Daniel.

“His name was Daniel,” she said.

“You’re kidding!” said Fr Daniel. “That’s my name!”

“His full name was Daniel Bradley Hoffenburger,” she said.

Fr Daniel just looked at her and said, “My name is Daniel Brandenburg.” By now, the tears were flowing.

 “Martha, this is too much of a coincidence,” said Fr Daniel. “I think God is really speaking to your heart right now. This is a moment of grace. Are you sure you don’t want to go to confession?”

She stood there, wavering. At that moment, Sue piped up to the other lady, “You know, I think it’s high time for our coffee break! You two take care of what you need to take care of. We’ll be back in a little while.” And without missing a beat, the two women got up and left the room.

Martha was still crying, so they just talked a little more. Once she had calmed down a bit, Fr Daniel offered again to hear her confession and she said yes. So he heard her confession, gave her the absolution, and welcomed her back to the Church after 18 years away. It had truly been a day of grace for Martha.

For Fr Daniel as well, it had been a moment to witness God’s action through what had seemed like an inconvenient obstacle. He was almost kicking himself as he left the office, thinking, “Lord, if this is what it takes to bring a person back to the Church after 18 years, then take the other wrist too!”

Lessons learned after ordination

Fr Daniel was ordained to the priesthood in December of 2007, which means he has been a priest for a grand total of 1 year and 8 months. But many lessons can be learned in a short time, especially when that
a priest for others
Fr Daniel Brandenburg, LC, chatting with a young married couple at a Familia conference.
time is lived intensely.

One of his first lessons and challenges has been the recognition that becoming a priest does not effect any magical transformations on one’s human limitations.

“My ordination does not take away all of my human weakness, defects, and pride,” he said. “You’re very much aware as a priest that you carry a treasure in clay, and that’s a great challenge because you’re aware of your own propensity to fall, to cause scandal.”

“It doesn’t matter how holy you are or how many years you’ve studied Latin or how many abbreviations you can put after your name. You’re still a weak human being and God’s grace has to work.”

This same humility and realism acquired through self-knowledge can also be helpful in the priestly ministry. Hearing confessions, says Fr Daniel, is a moment to witness God’s grace at work, raising and redeeming human nature.

While hearing confessions for 6 hours straight at a men’s conference in Connecticut, Fr Daniel witnessed that grace in action in a tangible way as man after man broke down in the confessional, full of repentance and a desire to set things right. Real conversions were taking place.

It was one of the most powerful experiences he had ever had as a confessor, and it was a reminder that the real protagonist of the priesthood is not man, but God.

“Trust in God’s grace is of the essence,” he said.

Father Daniel Brandenburg, LC was born in Bancroft, Iowa, March 30, 1976. He grew up amidst the adventures of small-town America, tempered by a hard-working farm ethic. In September of 1993 he entered the novitiate of the Legionaries of Christ in Connecticut and later continued studies in classical humanities at the same location. He now holds a bachelor’s and license degrees in philosophy from Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum in Rome, Italy, and is currently pursuing an advanced degree in moral theology at the same university while carrying out apostolic work in the United States. He is author of the book “The New Fundamentalists: Beyond Tolerance”, published by Circle Press in 2007. His vocation story can be read at this link.

For a list of the other articles in the series, click here.



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