Out of the World and Into the Kingdom--
Joe is standing alone on the side of mountain. Everywhere it is
dismal and gray. Then he feels someone's presence.
"Who's there?" he calls out in the darkness. "I Am," answers a voice.
of you and youll see that there are many roads to travel on," the voice
continues. Ahead of him, Joe sees a pathway leading to a gate. As he walks through the
archway into the warmth of the sun, he feels a heavy yoke lifting from him. There, lying
on the grass of the beautiful garden is Jesus. Joe sits beside him and a euphoria that all
his money and success never gave him floods his being. "Come, let us walk
together," says Jesus as He stands and reaches for Joes hand to
help him up. Before taking His
hand, Joe picks a yellow flower, thinking, "Ill keep it as a remembrance."
Joe awakes sitting up in bed. The blinds are up and the full moon outside his window floods his room. He stands, walks to the bookcase and puts the flower in the Bible that he admittedly has not touched since his confirmation when his dad gave it. He goes back to bed thinking, "Ill be able to look at that flower always and remember the wonderful feeling that I had."
Then Joe wakes up from his dream for real. Not knowing where to draw the line between his dream and reality, he turns on the light and pulls the Bible from the shelf. He shakes it to see if the flower would fall out. It does not. He begins to read the book. Its the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus, "What must I do to have eternal life?" Jesus replied, "Keep the commandments." But the rich man persisted, "I have kept all these. What more need I do?" Jesus said, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor then come and follow me."
Thats exactly what he did. Fr. Joe Landi, never regretted giving up his house, his cars and his successful business in real estate and insurance when he entered the seminary in 1984. Like St. Paul, St. Francis and many who have heeded the call of the Lord with such abandon, he has found peace and joy that cant compare with anything this world has to offer. Whats more, he discovered that God returns in greater measure what he had given back to Him. "[Giving it away] is not an easy process. It is not easy winding down ones life. At the same time you know that its gonna change dramatically and you have responsibilities to people," says Fr. Joe, a parochial vicar at St. Cecilias parish in San Francisco and the San Francisco archbishop's Liaison to the Charismatic Renewal.
without his collar, he is looking more like the man of the world he used to be.
Casually dressed in
a navy Polo sport shirt, khaki slacks and blue suede sneakers, he sits relaxed in front of
a desk whose top has disappeared under the piles of paper competing for his attention.
office at the rectory is small and modestly appointed. Its a far cry from the
offices he had in San Rafael, San Francisco and Oakland when he was general manager of his
real estate and insurance brokerage firm. During those times, his efforts paid off
greatly. His extensively renovated home in Marin county and the carsa silver Jaguar,
a black Cadillac and a white El Caminowere just some of his trophies. "I got to
the point in my life when the biggest decisions of the day was what I was
going to wear and car I was going to
drive," he recalls with a smile, the crows feet near his brown eyes deepening.
It took him three years to free himself of all his business obligations and settling the suits out of court. He also sold his cars, his house and the most of his possessions. "I realized in the process that many of these things owned me; I didnt own them. Part of preparing to get to the place where I am now, is first of all, to feel comfortable by giving possessions away--not expecting anything in return; and secondly, by divorcing myself from the need of them," says Fr Joe.
In the meantime, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, to get the educational academic units needed for a Community College Instructor's Credential and took a teaching job in the Business Skills Center at the College of Marin. Concerned that they could not "afford" him knowing his former Marin business status, he told college officials, "Money is not the criteria here. Im very happy to do this for nothing. I would find fulfillment here." Aside from filling up his time, the job allowed Joe to learn computer skills and to relate to people in a teaching environment, much like a priest would relate to his congregation.
It was only when Joe received a letter from the archdiocese saying that he had
been accepted into the seminary that he actually told his relatives and close friends of
his decision. Their reactions were varied--most were of unbelief.
Walt, with whom he had a friendly competitive relationship, couldn't
understand why he would be leaving the lucrative business he was in to
become a priest. Walt remarked to his wife, "I bet he found a way to make more money
at it." Many friends asked him, "Why are you doing this?
Why would you
want to give all of this away?"
deep faith that made him victorious in the trials he encountered at the
seminary. "The seminary system was not designed for older
seminarians and I relied on the Spirit to guide me through the maze of
sometimes conflicting directions," he recalls. During the final year before his deaconate ordination, Fr. Joe gave a homily
at a Seminary Chapel Mass where he
commented satirically on the actions of one of his professors at the seminary.
comments were taken negatively by two professors on the evaluation board and they objected
to his ordination. His case for ordination landed on the archbishops desk.
In 1990, Fr. Joe was ordained at the age of 57. His experience has definitely been a boon to the Church. Aside from his parochial duties at St. Veronica Church in South San Francisco and now at St. Cecilia Church, San Francisco, he is the archbishops liaison to the Charismatic Renewal. His other duties include editing The San Francisco Charismatics, the monthly faith publication of the Renewal containing enlightening articles for Catholic born-again Christians. It has a circulation of 14,500. To reach a wider audience, he took the newsletter to cyberspace--www.sfSpirit.com. When the articles were first published on the web site in September 1997, it got 50 hits a week. That soon rose to 100, then to 250. Today, sfSpirit.com has an average of 600 hits a day with over 100,000 visitors in its first nine months. The web site now has video teachings and live broadcasts of Charismatic Masses. For him, using internet and its related technology is just another vehicle for spreading the Gospel.
Aside from his involvement in the Charismatic Renewal, Fr. Joe also lends his business expertise to the Sierra Point Credit Union where he served as board chair. His experience in credit unions began after college when he worked as an underwriter for an insurance company. "I feel that I need to give something back to the community using expertise in developing credit unions which God has given me," he says. He left the board in February 2003 as he began a sabbatical for studies at the North American College at the Vatican.
While he can lay claim to many achievements as a priest, his most meaningful one would be bringing his family to the Lord. After seeing the changes in his life, his brothers started to inquire about the Catholic faith. "How do I get the feeling in my life that you have?" they questioned him. Two years after his ordination, Fr. Joe baptized his two brothers, two nephews and two grand nephews--three generations all on the same day!
Fr. Joe was also instrumental in preparing his brother Walt for his death. Walt had millions stashed away from a successful trucking business. But towards the end of his life, when he was suffering from lung and throat cancer, he realized the futility of his attainments in the light of eternity. "I want to thank you. There was a point in my life when I was afraid to die... but youve made this process easy for me. I m at the point where Im ready," he told Fr. Joe before he passed away in 1995. Its things like these that makes the calling worthwhile for Fr. Joe. "The best day in business isnt as good as the worse day in ministry," says the priest who believes that the Lord has given back him much more than he gave up.
And He has! For most of his vacations, he volunteers as a chaplain on Holland America's cruse ships. "Tough duty but someone has to do it," he jokes. Fr. Joe drives around town in a metallic brown Mercedes Benz, a gift he received from a friend. He was praying for a new car to replace his old Ford in need of repair. To those who arch their eyes over his car, he advises, "Next time I pray for a car I'll specify year, make and model. Yes, it would be nice that we could not have to have the material things but an automobile is a basic necessity in our time. The truth is that whether Im driving a Mercedes or a Ford or riding my bicycle (also a gift), Im just as happy. There was a point in my life when I would not have been because driving the Jaguar made me feel good. Now I honor the Mercedes with my presence," he says "And God makes me feel good."
The size, intricate architecture and gilded interior of St. Cecilias church and the huge rectory where he lives with four other priests, by comparison, makes Fr. Joes former house in wealthy Marin Country look like a poor mans home. However, at the rectory, there are secretaries, theres someone who cleans his rectory apartment, a someone who cooks his mostly vegetarian menu, another person who does the laundry, and a gardener. "All Ive given up is paying for them myself," he told a friend who recently asked him again how he could have turned away from all his possessions. "When you give up something for the Lord, the Lord gives more in return. It may not be tit for tat but you always get something in return," he says. "And my cup overflows!"
In his rectory office, the only vestige of his former life are family photo albums and a couple of artworks. One is a painting made by a friend depicting the St. Josephs Cathedral in San Jose by the late artist, John Aguair. The other is a stained glass portrait of Martin Luther which came from a demolished church in Berkeley. Both dont have any particular meaning to Fr. Joe except that it used to be part of his home. But somehow, as they hang on different walls in his office, they represent the contrast and balance of his life as he lives out his calling.
One day, Fr. Joe received a letter criticizing him about something that he wrote in the newsletter. The letter sender sent a copy of it to the archbishop. The next letter he opened came from a woman who wrote, "I get so much help from what you say in your homilies and your articles. Thank you. I would have sent a copy to the archbishop but I was afraid that he would move you and we would lose you." Fr. Joe laughs, saying, "That puts what I do in a proper perspective. I try to do what is right. I begin the day in prayer and end the day in prayer. Sometimes in between that I make mistakes. So before I go to bed at night, I pray, Forgive me Lord for those times I have offended. Lord I am trying to live life your way. If you want me to try again tomorrow, call me at 6 am. If not, Im ready for whatever you will.'"