Monday, August 24, 2015

The Beautiful Wounds of Priesthood

Deposed Christ Embracing St. Bernard by Francisco Ribalta
A few weeks ago I received a note from a young woman. It began, "Thank you to everyone at the Catholic Center who helped me grow in my Faith." I've never met this woman because I arrived several years after she graduated. Also contained in this note was an announcement of her taking simple vows as a Little Sister of the Poor. In the past fourteen years or so, approximately seven women and one man connected to the Boston University Catholic Center have entered religious life. They represent four religious orders. During that same period, two men from the BU Catholic Center have been ordained diocesan priests and six others are currently in various stages of seminary formation. In fact, the entering class at St. John's Seminary this year will have three recent graduates from the BU Catholic Center.

That's a lot of vocations! It is not only a source of joy and pride to me and--more importantly--to my predecessors (who did all of the work in cultivating these vocations), but also to the students and alumni from the Catholic Center. The BU Catholic Center is a family. There is a real sense of joy and awe present in our community--both students, alumni, and ministers--over the many beautiful things that the Lord is doing in our midst. There are many factors, I think, that account for why vocations spring up in various communities. But, the bottom line is that they are always a gratuitous gift from the Lord. If a community follows the Lord, I think that He will bless it with vocations. But, this gift of priestly and religious vocations, is still a pure gift from the Lord. The minute we think that we can manufacture vocations because of our ingenuity is the minute that vocations will dry up in a Catholic community. My experience in parish life and at the BU Catholic Center is that all of us are just standing around and wondering, "How is this possible? Why is God blessing us like this?" None of us feels as though we somehow created this. Instead, all of us are simply grateful that God chooses to work so powerfully in our midst. We--students, alumni, and campus ministry team--all feel a part of this, but not like we caused it. We just feel so grateful that Jesus allows us to be caught up in something like this. We feel like what was happening in the early days of the Church is happening still . . . right in our midst!

Oftentimes when people ask me about priesthood, they talk about it in terms of how much a priest is asked to "give up." I understand why they think that. But, to be honest, the greatest suffering as a priest doesn't come from what you are asked to "give up." The greatest suffering is how much you are given. As a priest, I have encountered my share of "giving up." And, the most painful "giving up" has come in the most unexpected and most disappointing of ways. But, I'd say that in my priestly life, it is not what I have "given up" that has been the cause of the greatest suffering. The greatest suffering is in what I've been given. 

When you hear a confession of a woman who has carried the guilt of abortion around with her for decades . . . you suffer. But the suffering is not that of loss. It is the suffering of love. It is the suffering of knowing that God is using you to be an instrument of healing in a way that is totally beyond what you deserve. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When a young person confides in you about their struggles in life and seeks your help, you are pierced. You are pierced by a recognition that nothing you have ever done in your life deserves such a privileged encounter. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you find yourself standing at a bedside offering absolution to a dying man--providing him with the hope of eternal life--you suffer. You recognize that you've been given a power that is completely beyond anything that a man like you should be able to exercise. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you help a couple prepare for marriage or assist at their wedding or help them at a moment of difficulty, you suffer. You realize that God has entrusted into your hands the responsibility of mediating his pastoral love to them. God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you are given a family who has experienced some traumatic loss and they are clinging to your words and presence, you suffer. You suffer because God has decided to use you--despite all of your weaknesses and failures--as His instrument. You suffer because God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

When you look around you and see how Jesus is calling the young men and women whom you serve to "Follow Me," you suffer. You suffer because such awesome love is too much to comprehend! You suffer because God has given you something beautiful in this moment.

As a priest, you hold the Gospel in your hands. You hold the Eucharist in your hands. You hold the people whom Christ suffered and died for in your hands. Sometimes, you feel like your heart is going to explode from being entrusted with so much love. Sure, at times as priests we suffer the pains of betrayals, rejections, calumnies, and insults. But, I think the greatest suffering comes, not from what is ugly and base, but rather from what is beautiful and lofty. It comes not from what we give up, but from what we are given. Into our hands are placed the mysteries of salvation. Into our hands are placed the Book of the Gospels. Into our hands are placed the Eucharist. Into our hands are placed the sheep of His flock. It is the beauty of these realities that cause our hearts to burn within us. We suffer because we are taken by Christ and drawn into a love that far surpasses what we could ever accomplish on our own.

As the Boston University Catholic Center begins this new school year, we do so with a certain suffering. This suffering does not come from thinking about all that we've given up. It comes from complete awe at all we've been given. Christ has given us everything. We know that we don't deserve what he's given to us and this knowledge causes us to be wounded in a very beautiful way. We begin this year wounded by a fact: He loves us. This wound is the cause of a joy that our hearts are incapable of containing.

While the priest is called to "give up" his life for Christ and for service to the Church, this giving up is nothing compared to what he is given. The real suffering of priesthood is living every day overwhelmed by how much we are given. The real suffering is spending your whole life being drawn up into the love that surpasses everything we ever thought possible.

1 comment:

  1. Your words are a wonderful encouragement to those of us who sometimes become discouraged by the crassness and sinfulness that seem to pervade our culture. In the midst of all that is ugly around us, there is still tremendous beauty in the realization that this is God's world, we are God's people whom He loves and nourishes through the words and actions of people like you.