Today — June 7, 2019 — is my eleventh anniversary of ordination. Spare a prayer for me today, if you will. Thank you! And thanks be to God.
This past year has been a big one…
First, there was the celebration of my tenth anniversary of priesthood, which was very nice and quite moving. A wonderful group of people from all over committed to praying for me for a year as a special gift for the occasion. I was given a calendar with the names of all who would be praying for me each day. It’s hard to see that gift come to an end — but I am so grateful for all the prayers and I know they have helped greatly. Thank you!
Then, there was my 40th birthday a few months after, which ended up being roughly a 40 day celebration! I believe a total of 14 cakes were involved over that time from so many generous individuals, families, and groups. It was truly a blessed way to begin my 41st year of life!
Not too long after these great celebrations, some ladies surprised me by becoming my Seven Sisters, each having committed to offer a holy hour for me once a week for a year. I am certain that I have done nothing to merit such gifts of prayer; I remain conscience of the warning of our Lord: “Much will be asked of the man to whom much has been given” (Luke 12:48).
Those are just three highlights from a truly blessed year. Coming to today, eleven is not a remarkable number and after all the celebrations of the past year, this anniversary should go by a bit more quietly. But, in any event, I was delighted to see that in God’s providence the gospel for this day is one of my favorite passages: the reconciliation of Peter with Jesus on the seashore, after the resurrection. Simon, do you love me? – Yes Lord, you know that I love you…
Christ tells Peter, “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” This passage sums up the life journey of all who take up the cross and follow after Jesus Christ: he always takes us a way that we never expected, perhaps through experiences and circumstances we would never have chosen. If we had our druthers we would so often choose the way that is wide and easy, but the Lord takes us by the straight and narrow — and how easily we can stray off the path along the way!
Meditating on this passage, I was reminded of a reflection on the priesthood by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his book, A New Song for the Lord. I have published it before on the blog, but I’ll paste it again here following:
In the past the Church was always of the opinion that you could not study theology like any other profession, simply as a means of earning money. For then we are treating the word of God like a thing that belongs to us, and this is not the case. Moses had to take off his shoes before the burning bush. We could also say that those who expose themselves to the radioactive beams of the word of God – indeed those who deal with it professionally – must be prepared to live in such a proximity or else be burned. How real this danger is can be seen by the fact that all the major crises of the Church were connected in an essential way to the clergy’s downfall, for whom contact with the holy was no longer the exciting and dangerous mystery of the burning nearness of the Most Holy, but a comfortable way to make their living. The preparation that is required to be able to run the risk of professional nearness to the mystery of God can find its valid expression in the command of Moses to take off his shoes. Since shoes are made of leather, the hide of dead animals, they were regarded as a manifestation of what is dead. We must free ourselves from what is dead so that we can be in the proximity of the One who is life. The dead – these are first of all the excessive amounts of dead things, of possessions with which people surround themselves. They are also those attitudes which oppose the paschal path: only those who lose themselves find themselves. The priesthood requires leaving bourgeois existence behind; it has to incorporate the losing of oneself in a structural way. The Church’s connecting of celibacy and priesthood is the result of such considerations: celibacy is the strongest contradiction to the ordinary fulfillment of life. Whoever accepts the priesthood deep down inside cannot view it as a profession for making a living; rather he must somehow say yes to the renunciation of his life project and let himself be girded and led by another to a place where he really did not want to go. […] And along the entire path there remains the condition of keeping the contact with the Lord alive. For if we turn our eyes from him we will inevitably end up like Peter on his way to Jesus across the water: only the Lord’s gaze can overcome gravity – but it really can. We always remain sinners, but if his gaze holds us the waters of the deep lose their power.
– A New Song for the Lord, pp. 173-174.
So this is my wish today, as I give thanks to God for these eleven years and look forward to the future: may I obey him in going the way I “did not want to go” — may I follow him faithfully, wherever he leads. This is what the Church needs from us all today — but especially from us priests. Only true holiness will cause us to emerge from this age of scandals and division. There are no easy, technical solutions for what ails us at present.
Lord, please help me and all priests never to take our eyes off you and always to follow your path! Amen.