“Come, follow me.”
These are the words of Jesus to Peter, a fisherman casting his net into the Sea of Galilee.
“Get up and go.”
These are the words of Jesus to Saul (soon to be Paul), a zealous persecutor of the earliest Christian community.
On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we are reminded of the kinetic nature of discipleship. To encounter Jesus is to be set into motion. To have our plans altered (read: obliterated). To serve and encourage and comfort and teach. To be willing to empty ourselves in order to be filled with Christ.
Fr. Kenneth Walker was a priest. A young priest. He was assigned to Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission. He served the homeless who came to the mission, was a passionate advocate for the unborn, and was eager to share the beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass. He was a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. According to those who helped him prepare to live out his priestly vocation, he was a humble guy. He possessed an uncommon innocence. He never spoke negatively about anybody. He was eager to serve and never missed out on an opportunity to help those in need.
On Wednesday, June 11, a homeless man with a history of violent crime forced his way into the Mater Misericordiae rectory in Phoenix, Arizona. He severely beat pastor Fr. Joseph Terra, 56, with a metal rod. Fr. Kenneth Walker, 28, heard the commotion. When he came to the aid of Fr. Terra, the burglar shot and fatally wounded him. Fr. Terra was able to crawl to Fr. Walker’s side and administer Last Rites to his brother priest. Fr. Walker died on his way to the hospital. Fr. Terra has been hospitalized, but is expected to make a full recovery.
The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul invites us to think about what it means to be a disciple, and I cannot help but think of Fr. Walker. Like many of us, Fr. Walker was a young Catholic seeking to live out his vocation in a culture often hostile to virtue as understood in a Christian context. He was a servant, an encourager, a comforter, and a teacher of the faith. Through his ministry, he brought Christ to the spiritually and physically hungry. He was willing to be swept up in the dynamic life of discipleship.
Like Saints Peter and Paul before us, we are called by Christ to come, to follow, to get up, and to go. Fr. Walker was only able to serve as a priest for two years, but he did so with gentle perseverance and joy. For me, he is an example of ordinary holiness. He loved Christ and the Mass. He loved the poor and vulnerable. He loved being a priest. What if each of us — in her or his own way — approached our respective vocations with the same love and quiet zeal? I truly believe that, as was said of Saints Peter and Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, we would turn the world upside down. So, as we approach the day of honoring those whose commitment to come, follow, get up, and go in the name of Christ laid the foundation of our Catholic Church, I remember Fr. Walker.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us!
Fr. Kenneth Walker, FSSP, may you rest in the eternal peace of Heaven.