Monday, June 11, 2012

Priesthood: Breaking the Alabaster Jar Without Regret

When I was in my first assignment as a priest, I spent a lot of time going to baseball games.  I was a regular at the Wakefield High School JV and Varsity baseball fields.  I like watching baseball and I figured it might be a good way to meet people and to build a bond between the Church and the community.  In some ways, it was a waste of time.  I saw the same people week after week.  I doubt that any major conversions resulted from my being there.  But, the very best of parish priesthood is often in the wasting of time.

Our Seats and Our Dinner

This past week, I wasted time going to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  One of my parishioners gave me two tickets for row one.  The Sox lost, but I spent an enjoyable evening talking to a young man who is married and has a son.  Way back when, I thought that he might be a future priestly vocation.  (The day I officiated at his wedding, I gave up on that one.)  We chatted about all sorts of things--baseball, prayer, work, the sacraments.  I have a bond with this young man and with his family.  Our friendship began when he was on the JV baseball team and I'd watch his games.  A dozen years later, we occasionally waste time going to a Sox game and both grow closer to the Church as a result.

Last night, I had dinner with a wonderful family in my parish.  One of the daughters is about to have significant surgery in the next few days.  Her parents are worried about her and they wish that they could take the pain upon themselves.  I wasted several hours at their home, eating a great dinner, and sitting by the outdoor fire.  We talked, laughed, and prayed.  In those hours, our friendship deepened and we all grew closer to the Church.

(I don't have pictures yet for this year's procession. 
This is from a few years ago.)
This past Sunday morning, after the 10:30 Mass, hundreds of parishioners streamed out of our church and onto the main street of our city.  There were seminarians, high school students, families, young, old, first communicants, and everything else.  They were all lined up behind the Blessed Sacrament which was covered with a canopy.  We made our way down the street and around the block.  We sang songs as incense swirled around us, bells carried by altar servers rang, and the bells of the church tower peeled.  traffic was stopped and onlookers must have thought, "Those crazy Catholics!"

When we arrived at the outdoor altar, we paused for a few moments of silent adoration.  Hundreds of people of all ages gathered in total silence.  It was a perfect waste of time.  You could sense that all of us wanted to stay just like that forever!  Quiet, together, with Jesus.

In the Gospels, Judas became indignant when Mary Magdalene wasted the costly perfumed oil on Jesus' feet and then dried his feet with her hair.  Judas' heart was too small to see the beauty of such extravagant love.  If priests are not careful, we could easily become like Judas.  The increasing demands placed upon our time and the increasing amounts of administration required of us could make us slaves of the practical.  Before we knew it, we'd be so protective of our jar of perfumed oil, that we would not want to waste it on impractical things. 

Why pour out the costly oil of our time on such impractical things as attending baseball games, eating dinner with and hanging out with young families, having a beer with a parishioner, spending time in adoration, homily preparation, studying, having a Corpus Christi procession, sitting in the confessional, meals with brother priests etc?  This costly oil of our time could be spent on things that produce quicker results and that are more widely seen. 

It takes Faith and Love to be willing to break the jar.  Judas was very calculating in his approach to the jar of perfumed oil.  Mary, on the other hand, was simply excessive in her love.  As a priest, I need to follow the example of Mary.  Perhaps she knew that her actions would face scrutiny and criticism by Judas as being totally impractical and wasteful.  She broke the jar anyways.  In my life as a priest, I've discovered that whenever I act like Mary (which always brings the accusation of impracticality) the Lord returns everything to me a hundredfold.  The best things that have happened in my experience of parish life are not the result of calculated and efficient strategies.  They are the result of breaking the jar and pouring out love--trusting that Jesus will do the rest.  In then end, the alabaster jar is an image of Christ, who allowed himself to be broken and poured out for us.  He poured himself out in excessive love for us.  And this is ultimately the model for his priests.

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