Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Priesthood: Witnessing the Harvest

Jesus says in the Gospel of St. John, "I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work."  In so many ways, this is my experience of the priesthood.  Occasionally, some person or another has told me that the reason they've come to Confession is because of some word that I spoke in a homily.  Admittedly, I am always grateful to hear that.  But, even in that experience, I know that I am reaping the fruits of another person's labor.  Namely, I am reaping the fruits of the work of Christ.  Even if the seed was some word that I spoke, I cannot account for nor be credited with how that seed grows ten, twenty, or a hundredfold.  I reap that which I did not truly sow.

If that's true concerning those instances where I played some small part, how much more true is it in those instances where I just simply happen to be the priest who is around when the grace of Christ in a person's life comes to fruition?  So often in my life as a priest, I am privileged to witness the hundredfold grace of Christ working in the life of individuals.  There are no trophies in the lives of priests because the trophy is the Cross of Christ.  It is from the Cross that all grace comes and, as St. Paul says, "May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14).  All of this comes to mind as I think about some of the persons that I've encountered this week in the life of our parish. I witnessed Christ doing some amazing things in the lives of people this week.  I happily reaped what I did not sow

On Friday, I spent time with an Anglican priest who is preparing to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.  We've come to know each other over the past year or so and whenever I am with him,  I feel so privileged to witness the grace of Christ present and at work in his life.  He is a grandfather (and thus, considerably older than me) and I am struck by how his relationship with Christ is not settled and static.  In his conversations, it is always evident that the Lord and he are in a dynamic friendship wherein Jesus is constantly drawing him closer.  In witnessing this, I reap what I most definitely did not sow.  And reaping what I don't sow makes me more grateful and aware of the gratuitousness of Christ's love.

On Monday morning, I met with a young couple preparing for marriage.  He is a baptized non-Catholic from Liberia and she is a Catholic from Germany.  I met them last year as they began preparation for marriage and he began RCIA.  When he started out in RCIA, he expressed uncertainty as to whether he'd become Catholic.  I see them every Sunday at Mass and am delighted to watch as they both grow in Faith and in their love for the Church.  In the midst of a culture that is becoming more opposed to the Catholic way of life, how is it that these two young persons are being drawn into the Faith?    Jesus planted some seed within their souls.  As their priest, I am privileged to reap what I did not sow.

On Monday evening I had dinner with a young man from our parish who is applying to the seminary.  In the past five years or so, we've had one man ordained from the parish, two enter religious orders, and two enter the archdiocesan seminary.  So, the possibility that another man will be entering the archdiocesan seminary in September makes me VERY HAPPY indeed.  As I ate dinner with him, I was so pleased to witness the grace of Christ so powerfully at work in him.  He is caught up in the tremendous love of God and it is beautiful to witness Christ taking hold of this man and drawing him closer to himself.  How do we possibly explain and adequately account for what Christ is doing in the life of this young man and in the lives of the other men from the parish who are in the seminary?  No matter what we might do as a parish to promote priestly vocations, in the end, we can only stand in awe at what Christ is doing.  He sows and allows us the privilege of reaping.

When I first heard the Lord calling me to be a priest, I felt as though He had put into my heart a love that could not possibly be contained within such a limited vessel.  And this experience only intensifies.  The vocation of a priest is not born by his own will but from a grace given by Christ.  At the beginning of this vocation, we perhaps feel much like Peter did on the day he was called.  So overwhelmed are we at the love that God pours into our hearts, that we want to cry out with Peter, "Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man."  This disproportion between our natural capacities and the supernatural grace that Christ abundantly showers upon us only grows greater with the passage of time, not less.  The more we place ourselves at his disposal, the more we become reapers of what we could not possible sow.  Of course, this is especially true of the sacraments.  At the altar and in the confessional, the priest experiences this disproportion most intensely because apart from Christ, the confection of the Eucharist and the absolution of sins would be entirely impossible for us.  But, this disproportion is also experienced in the day to day encounters with the people whom we meet and serve. 

Every priest is sent out to sow the seeds of the Gospel, but we reap far more than we ever sow.  Psalm 126 says that "those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy."  We sow in tears because the sowing is often difficult and there may be little evidence to suggest that the seeds will take root and grow.  We sing when we reap because Christ grants us the privilege to reap a hundredfold.  It is not the song of those who reap the just rewards of their labors, but rather the song of those who joyously and unworthily reap the fruits of what was sown on the Wood of the Cross.

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