At 85, Father Burke delivers a powerful message

GARDEN CITY — While slicing into his birthday cake recently, Father Henry J. Burke proved that, like the character Arnold Schwarzenegger portrays in “The Terminator,” he’ll be back.

A spry 85, the retired priest showed he can deliver a powerful message for the young and old.

To mark his birthday recently, he celebrated Mass at St. Michael Church. He kept a steady pace without pausing as he made his points.

Father Burke talked about customs and traditions, noting that Jesus observed some Jewish customs but not others. “He observed the ones that really meant something to him, that were a part of his life. We have some customs in this country, too. Many of them are alive.

“Now, there is nothing wrong about starting some new traditions of our own,” Father Burke said. “After all, all [traditions] were new at one time, but now they are old. They bear the weight of old age, but there is nothing wrong with starting new traditions to revitalize, for example, your marriage… Think of your first date or the first meal you had together, or the first time you moved into your own house, or the baptism or birth of your first child,” he said. “These are the days that we can observe for ourselves in the family, the family traditions. That’s good. And there’s nothing wrong also with revitalizing our faith, too, because that needs to be revitalized all the time.

“We celebrate birthdays, for example, today,” he said. “Really we should celebrate more important things: the day of our baptism. We realize later on that we became a child of God. Later on we were converted to our faith. Everybody goes through a process of conversion.

“There was that day when you and I and all of us were really turned toward God and turned toward the afterlife. So it’s really a good opportunity for us to revitalize our faith by renewing the day of our baptism and the days of our conversion to God. In this way we are already preparing for the great event which we want to celebrate many times, and that is our entrance into eternal life.”

After Mass, person after person embraced Father Burke, sharing with him how much he and his preaching meant to them. His words included remembrance of the poor, the homeless and the outcast.

“This is very nice,” he said. “I do appreciate all my friends and everybody who is here. I thank you very much for such a good time, and I ask you to remember me in your prayers, that through the help of all of you and the help of God that I will one day be back to my old miserable self. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you.”

Jack Dudley said he enjoys the priest every time he speaks.

“He is a sweet, kind and gentle man,” said Dudley.