Friday, August 29, 2014

Priesthood: Surprised and Moved

One of the things I love about the Church's Liturgy is its commemoration of holy men and women throughout time.  I need these daily reminders of men and women who lived holy lives.  The memory of good pastors, pure virgins, faithful religious, holy men and women, and bloodied martyrs are a source of encouragement to me.  Each day, their memory holds out the promise of what grace can accomplish in me.  This communion of the Blessed stirs up within me a more intense ardor for living the Christian life.

For me (and I suspect, for others), the spiritual life can be like a fire burning within the hearth.  Left untended, a roaring fire will soon become smoldering embers.  We all know that there are many things that we can do ourselves to stir up the flame within us.  Praying, receiving the Sacrament of Penance, going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist, adoring the Eucharist, reading Sacred Scripture, doing works of charity . . . can all help us to stir into flame the smoldering embers.  But, sometimes we seem too weak or too lazy or too stupid to do what is necessary.  At other times, the fire may be burning strong within us, but God wants to do more.  

For me, the fire often grows because of the witness of others.  As much as the saints in heaven stir up within me the desire for greater holiness, it's as though I am so weak that that is not enough.  I need to be surrounded by witnesses.  Left to my own, the fire would likely fade fast.  But God doesn't leave me alone.  The example of others is the fuel that continuously sets my heart ablaze.

This is so true in my experience that as I look at my life as a pastor and now as a university chaplain, I see that what has been most beneficial to others in terms of my pastoral life is simply my being moved.  When I am moved, God is able to use me to move others.  In a way, this is very humbling because it means that my pastoral initiatives do not arise from my creative genius, my intellectual astuteness, or my charming personality.  Nope.  It comes simply because I am capable of being moved by Another.

As those whom I encounter every day at the Boston University Catholic Center would be only too happy to tell you--repeatedly--I am twice the age of all of them.  But, my experience with these young people is quite similar to the experience I enjoyed while being a pastor.  I show up every day and am unexpectedly moved by what I encounter in the lives of the people Christ has put in front of me.

Because this post is running long, I won't get into the details.  But, this week I encountered so many beautiful examples of the Christian life.  I show up at work and discover Christ standing in front of me.  I find him particularly in the generosity of life and the depth of prayer that I see among the students and staff at the BU Catholic Center.  When I say that they move me, I do not mean merely in some sentimental way.  I mean that they move me--almost, compel me- toward Christ.  They move me to follow him.  It really is something wondrous to witness the power of Christ at work in the lives of these disciples of his.  Their witness--manifested in varied ways--also moves my heart with an affection for them.  Their witness is fuel. 

Hanging by my office door is a quote from St. Augustine's Confessions.  I've quoted it here before, but I never tire of repeating it.  As I begin a new year with our community of students and staff, it is what is in my heart.

"There were many other things done in their company which more completely seized my mind; to talk and to laugh with them, to do friendly acts of service for one another; to read well-written books together; at times to tell jokes and sometimes to be serious; to disagree at times but without hard feelings, just as a man does with himself; and to keep our many discussions pleasant by the very rarity of such differences; to teach things to others and to learn from them; to long impatiently for those who were absent and to receive with love those joining us.  These and similar expressions proceeding from the hearts of those who loved and repaid their comrades love by way of countenance, tongue, eyes, and a thousand pleasing gestures, were like fuel to set our minds ablaze and to make but one out of many."--St. Augustine

I write a lot about this topic.  That's because I'm moved a lot by the example of those whom I encounter; students, parishioners, the priests, the pastor of the rectory in which I live and with whom I'm conversing as I look up over my laptop screen, the staff at the Catholic Center, and the countless others whom the Lord places in my path.  They move me.  I pray that the Lord keep placing witnesses like this in my path so that they can keep me moving.  Left to myself, I'd move in the wrong direction.  In His Mercy, the Lord surrounds me with witnesses who move me towards Him.

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