|The Washing of the Feet|
Sometimes somebody who is considering going to the seminary will ask me, "So, what do you do all day?" It is a difficult question to answer. If you asked a recruiter for the military what your life would be like, he'd show you a video of tanks, submarines diving, troops parachuting out of a plane, and some heavy duty explosions. Priesthood . . . not so much. For the most part, I try to avoid explosions.
Some days are really busy and some days are just being available to be really busy. I would say that the life of a priest is not "exciting" in the common use of the term. But, it is extraordinarily profound. The priest serves at the heart of the most profound of mysteries. His life and mission flow from the Heart of Christ: In order to understand the priest, one has to have faith in Christ.
"Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them." "Whomever hears you, hears me." "Go and make disciples." "Do this in memory of me." "Baptize them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." "The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." "I know my sheep and mine know me." "Heal the sick." "Cast out demons." "Come and See." "I will make you fishers of men."
These are just some of our Lord's words that describe what he does in and through the priest. And so, even when the priest is standing in the school yard, popping in to youth ministry night, eating dinner at a parishioner's home, taking a walk, or sitting on the front porch, he is serving the mysteries of salvation.
Today and tomorrow--(after finishing this blog post!) I will hear the first confessions of fifty or sixty of our second-graders in our two parishes. Inevitably, I will leave that experience filled with great joy. It is a profoundly beautiful experience to witness the sharpness of a young conscience. In the experience of hearing the confessions of little children, I learn something about the dullness of conscience that is produced in us by sin. So often, when adults talk about whether they need to go to confession, they say things like, "Well, I haven't killed anybody and I'm a good person." Not being guilty of murder is not exactly a very high standard. But, a seven year old comes to confession and remembers with lively sorrow the time she called another girl a name and made her feel sad. Becoming like little children--and feeling sorrow for the little sins--would likely keep us all from committing worse sins. Hearing the confessions of the children and young people in the parish is not only to help them now, but is also--I hope--a seed for the future. Someday, some of these children will be adults who are in serious moral trouble. I hope that their experience of confession now will be like a lighthouse in the darkness, drawing them back to safety someday if they are lost.
After confessions this morning, I hope to visit a couple of persons who are injured and ill. Sometimes those visits are obviously powerful. Other times, I just trust that those visits might have some sort of effect. We don't always immediately know the results of our efforts.
Then, it is back to the confessional and the vigil Mass. After that, the priest and seminarian with whom I live are having supper at the home of a beautiful young family. Somewhere along the line, God gave to this family the grace to want to be close to the Church and I was blessed enough to be part of that. I married them in the Church, baptized one of them at the Easter Vigil, and baptized their beautiful little baby. I also prayed for them when their family was struck by a terrible tragedy. Having dinner at their home is always a great joy for me.
One of the seminarians from our parish will arrive here today and will stay at the rectory for his Spring Break. His presence is not only enjoyable, but is also a sign of God's favor upon us. It is an amazing thing to witness what Jesus is doing in the lives of the seminarians from our parish and the lives of those seminarians who come here. In so many ways, they are much like those second-graders at the time of their first confession. These young men are still filled with the newness and excitement of having been called by Christ. They've just gotten out of the boat and left their nets behind.
On Sunday, I will offer half of the Masses and the parochial vicar will offer the other half. And, of course, this is the most important part of the life of the priest. Since commenting upon this aspect of a priest's life deserves its own post (and I have to get over to First Confessions momentarily), I will save this discussion for another day.
At those Masses, I will encounter all sorts of persons. I will see the man whose wife we buried yesterday, the woman whose mother died recently, the woman whose son is gravely ill, the family who worry about a loved one, the couple who are preparing for marriage and who drive here from miles away each Sunday, and a thousand other faces. Mostly, the time spent with them after the Mass will be a brief handshake. But, in that brief encounter, I trust that they will know that Christ loves them and that the Church loves them.
After morning Mass, I will hear more first confessions at one parish and then drive back to the other parish and baptize a beautiful baby. His family drives to Mass here each weekend from a bit of a distance. They've become a wonderful addition to our parish and bring great joy by their presence.
After the baptism it will soon be time for the 5pm Mass, a wake for Monday's funeral, a visit to Youth Ministry, and maybe a quick hospital visit. (But, I'm betting dinner and TV is more likely). In all of the events of these two days, there will be ample opportunity to preach the Gospel and to make visible the presence of the Good Shepherd. There will be the opportunity to draw people closer to the Lord Jesus through the power and grace that Christ gives.
And, before I go to bed, after thanking God for a great day as a priest, I will pray especially hard that everybody remains healthy for the night. That might sound like a noble prayer, but it really isn't. I'll say that prayer because I'll be on hospital duty and really don't want to get woken up at 2am. Yes, going to the hospital at 2am is beautiful and profound. But, I'd kind of prefer 2pm.
There are many people who are a lot busier than we priests are. I marvel at how families find the time to do anything at all. The priest's life is not meant to be filled with one meeting after another, one committee after another, or one activity after another. The priest prays and preaches. He offers Sacrifice and Absolves. He commends the dying, prepares the engaged for marriage, instructs the young, comforts the grieving, counsels those in need, seeks out the lost sheep, evangelizes, and shepherds a flock. On paper, it doesn't seem all that exciting. In reality, the priest's life is entirely given over to the service of the Kingdom of God. And this priest loves it.
Praised Be Jesus Christ!