Antanas Saulaitis SJ

Jesuit priest, educator

Photo creadit: Tomas Adomavičius

The measure of Father Antanas Saulaitis’ influence cannot be measured in sermons spoken, masses performed, or books written. Instead, his worth is reflected in the scouts who call him a leader, the couples who drive thousands of miles for his blessing, and the children who find solace in his loving words. Having lived in the United States, Lithuania, and South America, Saulaitis’ impact can be felt around the world and across generations of the Lithuanian diaspora.

Lithuania is a place, a people, and a goal. Lithuania has become free and independent enough to be able to stand on its own two or three million feet and be more honest, productive, and free.

Antanas Saulaitis

There’s nothing tastier than a butterscotch sundae.

I think people who attack the Catholic Church have some painful experience in their past that has set them off against faith, the church, or God. Perhaps it is related to people who are overly religious in the bad sense that they’re not religious but are full of religiosity, or religious people who are dishonest and so forth.

On a cold winter night, I look up. The heavens are the clearest, so you can see more of the stars and nebulae. The winter sky is beautiful, but it’s very cold.

If I switched careers… This is easy to answer: I’d be a plant pathologist. To this day, I take people at summer camps on nature walks to admire plants, and I often read books about plants, but I won’t say that I talk with the plants because then people will say I’m not well.

The sweetest melody is a Lithuanian song.

My first sermon was too long and too complicated. The most memorable was when I held mass in Portuguese less than three months after arriving in Brazil. When the mass was over, the parishioners said, “We couldn’t understand what he was saying, but he was sincere.”

Long after I’m gone, I hope that whatever I’ve done in this life has helped someone else live theirs.

My master’s degree in chemistry taught me the scientific method of looking for proof, knowing the difference between theory and fact, and seeing things from different angles.

The worlds of science and religion are easy to reconcile. Most scientists are religious. They are a people filled with wonder, whether it’s about chemistry, biology, nature, physics, or the stars.

Today’s youth must cope with more virtual distractions than my generation (almost a hundred years ago) did. Because of this, they’re not as close to nature, real life, or real people.

Living in Brazil, I learned to never part in anger. I went to meetings where we had horrendous arguments and disagreements, but you can’t step out of a room and say, “I’m leaving, the hell with you.” You have to somehow finish it off pleasantly. Everyone kisses and hugs and goes home, even though they don’t agree.

Honestly, sometimes I wish that someone would put order in this world, instill justice, stop all the wars and empty talk, and make everything more straightforward.

Children are the best invention there is. They see things adults don’t see anymore, and we can learn from them all the time.

My advice to young priests is that it’s all worth it. I’ve been a priest since 1969, so 46 years now. It’s been a long time. No regrets.

After marrying hundreds of couples, I’ve learned that marriage is like a lottery. I don’t know how many marriages I’ve officiated, but I used to count how many got divorced. I’m most inspired by couples whose attention is not on all the trimmings, but on the basics of commitment to one another for their whole lives.

In my darkest days, I write in my diary – to make the dark not so dark.

Antanas Saulaitis

I am proud that I gave birth to eight turtles. I saw the mother turtle laying eggs in a very unlucky spot between the driveway and the sidewalk, so I told her I’d take care of her little ones. After 60 days I dug them up. One was dead, one egg was eaten by bugs, but I took the eight remaining babies to the pond. They ran so quickly I didn’t have time to give them names.

No matter the circumstances, the first thing is to watch out for people’s safety. This I learned in scouts. Sometimes you have to be very strict and clear. For example, if a wife is being abused, she should grab her kids and get out that same day.

When people ask me for advice, more than likely, the most helpful thing is just to listen to what they have to say.

The best advice I ever received was, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Turkeys are those people who are always negative. They try – sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from ill will – to obstruct positive things from happening.

I feel the most foreign in Lithuania, because I presume (wrongly) that just because I was born there and can speak the language, I belong there. It’s not my impression that I don’t belong there, but I think it’s the impression that other people may have.

A perfect Christmas Eve is one where you feel a fellowship with the people there, whether they’re family or not, and when you have a guest who’s alone, lonely, or far from home.

Native American tribes taught me something the Lakota call “humility.”  This is very hard for a city person to understand. It means, “being in solidarity with the community and taking the community as the basis for decisions and behavior.” It’s unfathomable to us, but it’s been their way of life for thousands of years. Even in modern civilization – in their families or their clans – they’re able to uphold it. They teach it to children by example.

Hell is… Well, I’ve seen so many pictures of devils cooking pots of tar with pitchforks, so that that must be it! Truthfully, I think Hell means being all alone and abandoned, but sometimes a person can be all alone in the midst of a city. Hell is not a place; it’s a state of being.

Pope Francis is simple in the good sense, honest, perceptive, and knows where to put emphasis: on care for one another, especially for the disadvantaged or the poor. I’ve read that he was elected because he was the holiest among them

The pontiff’s claim that a belief in God is not a prerequisite for entry into heaven was made because some supposedly religious people are very self-righteous. They look down on others, saying, “If you don’t believe exactly as I do then there’s something wrong with you, and you’ll probably go to hell.” Pope Francis’ statement opens the door for people to keep an open mind about God.

The modern Catholic Church is changing all by itself. Laypeople now have more power in deciding what’s to be done in the churches, parishes, and schools. It’s not all run by clergy anymore.

The world is best viewed kindly or with love.

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