On the fifth Sunday of Lent, Father David Baranowski greets the procession in the front vestibule with wide arms and a smile before clasping his hands in front of his purple robe. The sun shines through the tall windows, accenting his still mostly red hair. While the reader and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion line up behind the altar server, the parish practices a hymn inside the sanctuary of Saint James Roman Catholic Church of Rocky Hill, Connecticut. After three seconds of silence, Baranowski steps in and gently waves to the cantor.
“We will be singing ‘Here I Am, Lord’ which can be found in your worship bulletin,” the cantor announces. “Please rise, and let us begin.”
The procession begins. Father Baranowski follows the lay ministers past votive candleholders placed against the brick wall beside a wooden statue of Jesus Christ. At the marble baptismal font, the altar server takes a right down the aisle towards the altar. At the front, the lay ministers move to the front pew on the altar’s left side. Father Baranowski bows before the altar and moves to his patterned cushioned seat to begin the service.
The service’s Gospel reading recounts Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. In most parishes, the responsibility of the Gospel reading would be taken by the Deacon, but Father Baranowksi has to perform the act on his own. While reciting the passage, he switches between a steady, instructional tone and a thematic pronunciation. “Rabbi, the Jews were trying to stone you! And you want to go back?”
The Lord knows how to keep a man of God on his feet.
Less than an hour earlier, Father Baranowski was still in his black “casual” clothes in the Religious Education office. The office is visible through another pair of large windows outside the church. An office printer and two desks covered with paperwork sat against one wall while Father Baranowski sat by the window facing the street. The lounge was separated from two plastic tables by a bookshelf topped with a small lamp and two “Spirit” soda can-style coin banks. Looking out the window, rubbing his hands, and turning to the wooden table surrounded by wooden chairs, he recalled his ministry.
Father Baranowski has worn the collar for forty-four years and has served at Saint James since 2005. His calling to the priesthood wasn’t dramatic as, say, the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. He wasn’t knocked off a horse nor blinded by a heavenly vision. Rather, it was something he came to over time. Growing up in New Britain, he gravitated toward the jobs considered by many young boys, like being an astronaut. Though a fire down the street scared him away from being a fireman, he was visually drawn in by fishers of men.
“We lived just up the street from Sacred Heart Church, which is still a vibrant parish community,” Father Baranowski recalled, leaning against the chair’s arm, “and they would have all kinds of processions, all kinds of festivals, and it seemed like there was something going on at the church all the time.”
Dreams of fighting fires and traveling to Mars were replaced with two years at Saint Thomas Seminary, a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Sacred Theology at Saint Mary’s Seminary and University, and a Master’s in Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame.
His daily responsibilities include daily masses, funerals, baptisms, weddings, paperwork for weddings, visiting the sick, and so on. In addition to his time at Saint James, he worked at the Office of Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Hartford for twenty years, taught at Saint Thomas Seminary, and has given a number of workshops on “anything to do with liturgy.” Even with an active schedule, the Lord knows how to keep a man of God on his feet. When his secretary asks him how his day looks, he often replies “Uncomplicated—at the moment.”
Outside the church’s walls, Father Baranowski does what even worldly men do: take a break. Often times, he spends his day off on Friday visiting his sister and spending time at his condominium in Windsor.
“Even if I go just for most of Friday, just getting away from the office and the phones, whatever, is always a good thing,” Baranowski says, motioning to the paper covered desks.
When his parents were still alive, he would spend his Sunday and Tuesday evenings at home helping his stay-at-home mom and Pratt & Whitney employee father. He supported them in their latter days just as they supported him in his calling.
“My family was not overly religious. My folks were supportive of my choice. Even before my ordination, I said ‘I’m having some second thoughts. What would you think if I waited a year?’”
“Take as long as you need, because this is something you’re going to do for the rest of your life. If this is not right for you, it’s better to discover that now than later because not only will you be unhappy but the folks you’re serving will be unhappy.”
At the pulpit, Father Baranowski uses the raising of Lazarus to look at the world today, going so far as to say that we live in a death denying society. It’s an observation suitable for this liturgical season, where Catholics meditate on their relationship to God. As Father Baranowski pointed out, even the church is stripped down, just as millions of Christians center themselves spiritually.
During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Father Baranowski holds his hands above the hosts and chalices of wine. Eyes closed, he offers it as a sacrifice in perhaps his most important priestly obligation. He presents the consecrated host and chalice to the congregants as the Body and Blood of Christ. The Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion come up behind the priest and take communion.
Like his call to the priesthood, Father Baranowski’s devotional life is inspired by signs from Jesus’s life, like those he saw on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year.
“All the places become much more alive after having seen them. When we talk about Jesus crossing the kidron valley with his disciples or going to the Mount of Olives or entering the Holy City through one of the four large gates, I can see that clearly in my mind. It adds another dimension to the way that I do the texts and the way that I celebrate the ceremonies.”
The choir’s voices fill the sanctuary as the rows file out two by two to receive communion. There’s little doubt that there will be even more coming to the Church this Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Christ (even if the high number is thanks to the complicated death-denying society). For today, though, Father Baranowski concentrates on the people receiving the Lord. With the last returning to their seats, Father Baranowski walks back to the altar. He drinks the last of the wine from the chalice, leaning his head back to get the excess. The chalice is wiped clean to properly remove the last of the wine.
Father Baranowski takes his seat again behind the altar. He rises one more time. He prays that the Eucharist may help each parishioner in their lives. He invites the Extraordinary Ministers to come to the altar. As three approach, he steadily walks over and gives them the body and blood to bring to the sick and elderly. He finishes the weekly mass with reminders of the weekly masses and the Stations of the Cross for Lent.
“With that, may almighty God bless you,” Father Baranowski states, signing the cross, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
“Amen,” the parishioners state in unison.
“Mass has ended. Go and proclaim the Gospel with your lives. Have a blessed week.”
“You as well, Father.”
The recessional hymn begins. The procession gathers before the altar, bows, and moves back towards the baptismal font. The congregants start leaving two verses into the four verse hymn. As the congregation finishes the closing hymn (or at least the first verses), Father Baranowski moves to the back vestibule to wish the congregants a great week.