In Formation

Saturday, October 19

 

The solace of a sigh

Last night I was talking with a good friend who is preparing next month for ordination to the transitional deaconate. At that time, among other things, he will make a promise of celibacy. Because the date of his ordination is drawing near, I asked him how he is feeling about the promises he will make. In part, I asked him because we've had many conversations about the Church's discipline of celibacy.

During our conversation, my friend got a call from his brother, and it was clear that his brother was telling him about a woman he was dating. As they spoke, I knew that the smile on my friend's face meant his vicarious enjoyment of his brother's immersion into the wonderful mystery of "falling in love."

And I was wistful. After he hung up, we talked a bit about his brother. Then I mentioned how this time of year reminds me of romance, of walking with a woman, arm-in-arm, enjoying beautiful fall colors and the smell of burning leaves. Of huddling together at a football game, of campfires . . . And my friend agreed. Then I sighed.

The sigh surprised me. Then I realized it was not a lament over mandatory celibacy, even if it did reveal my desire for romance. True, my memories of romance make me wistful, but last night, I came to view my wistfulness, that tinge of sorrow in my sigh, as a grace to help shepherd me toward deeper and more Christ-like love.

We know that all human and earthly loves, even the purest, are incomplete. We love, yet always with a wistful desire for more. We long for ultimate completeness, for consummation of all we are and hope to be.

Last night, my sigh showed me that all my desires this side of heaven will be tinged with sorrow. Just so, all our sighs signal an incompleteness, and whisper to us that we were made for more. They are gifts. They remind us of Paschal promises of a fuller future.

No human desire is ultimately rooted in another person, much less any thing. All desires, all loves point beyond themselves to Love itself, to Love Himself. And that means that celibacy is not primarily a giving up of the possibility of a wife and children. It is rather a free taking up of the priestly life of Christ for the sake of His Bride, the Church. Celibacy is a gift, and it provides, among other things, a profound (and sorely needed) witness of the life of love into which all of us are called in Christ Jesus.

My friend knows that. Today, as I look back on our conversation, I can't help smiling as I think about his upcoming ordination. And that makes me sigh some more, with anticipation of that day nearly two years hence when, God willing, I too will receive my orders.

posted by Fr. Steve | 10/19/2002 |

Friday, October 18

 

Wise words for would-be priests

We had a great homily at today's Mass celebrating the Feast of St. Luke, the evangelist.

Outside, it was gray, drizzly, and cold, and the priest started by noting that the weather seemed fitting, especially in light of the first reading from II Timothy 4. The priest noted that when he reads the pastoral epistles, he often feels melancholy. And, in light of this text, you can see why:

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessaloni'ca; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you; for he is very useful in serving me. Tych'icus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Tro'as, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will requite him for his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one took my part; all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.

The priest made this reading come alive for the seminarians who were gathered. He looked at us and said some of us would not continue all the way to ordination. He pressed us, saying, "You know that, don't you?" And of course we do. We've all seen men leave. And, though we are sometimes surprised by their departure, we don't second-guess them.

But that comment about departures was merely a prelude. His next remarks were surprising and more sobering: "In your first years of the priesthood, some of you, like Demas, will fall in love with this present world and leave the priesthood."

You could have heard a pin drop, because we all knew that he was right. Rather than soft-peddling the ugly truth, he spoke it plain. What Paul said about Demas this priest dared to say about those who break their promises of the priesthood. For Demas and for us the issue is fidelity and faithfulness. Some will be faithful and others will not.

He wasn't merely pointing fingers at the unfaithful, at those who had broken their promises. Instead, it was a reality check. All of us will be tempted to abandon our promises. And, sadly, some will forsake them. But some, like St. Paul and St. Luke, will be faithful. And we, he was saying, can be faithful too. But not unless we make daily, hourly choices to live faithful lives.

Thankfully we are not alone on this journey. Luke was Paul's encouragement, for he remained. We, too, can take encouragement from one another. But that's not enough. Like Paul, we also need the scriptures. So Paul asked Timothy to bring him the books, especially the parchments.

What Paul sought, the priest said, we have been given. We have the fellowship of life together and the privilege of digging deep into the rich parchments of our faith. Only thus will we, like Paul, be able to preach the gospel with wisdom and power, and continue faithfully regardless of the trials and temptations we endure.

This morning, we seminarians were forced again to see the seriousness of our call, and invited to consider the fruit of faithfulness in the lives of Sts. Luke and Paul. We are in formation to learn to live faithful lives, to soak up the words of those parchments Paul asked for, and to love the life of the priesthood signified by the chasuble. Right now, we are in a time of preparation. The temptations to abandon the call and the life of the priest will be real and ongoing. And, for that reason, fidelity demands daily, even hourly, dependence.

If we live our lives that way, like the evangelists, we will be well-prepared to be witnesses and heralds of the Gospel. We'll be able to preach and serve with joy, even in melancholy times, even when we're abandoned, all alone, and it's cold and drizzling in the middle of October.

posted by Fr. Steve | 10/18/2002 |

Wednesday, October 16

 

Rousing me out of slumber

Perhaps it was merely a rash response to Mike Potemra's praise of the Holy Father, but this comment by Rod Dreher is shocking. As if this Apostolic Letter were merely some old man's way of fiddling while Rome burns! Can he be serious?

Rod, of course, has been unrelenting in his exposition of errors of Church leadership throughout this scandal. And he has been dogged in his attempts to win a productive response from the bishops (including the Holy Father) to this crisis. All of that has been constructive, even if it has been at times painful. But this broadside seems both ill-tempered and ill-considered.

The comment was ill-tempered because it makes Rod seem dismissive of the value of prayer and disrespectful of the Holy Father, neither of which is true. And it was ill-considered because he obviously didn't think about the spiritual and ecumenical benefits of the addition of the Luminous Mysteries. Furthermore, the Holy Father, as Rod well knows, has a threefold mission: priest, prophet, and king. So, even if the Holy Father has failed (in Rod's eyes) on the kingly front, what's the point of criticizing him for exercising his priestly and his prophetic roles?

It seems to me that the Holy Father has done the Church and the world a great benefit. This letter and the mysteries it describes offer a new opportunity for our Protestant brothers and sisters (and many Catholics) to glimpse the power and place of Marian devotion in the life of the Church. And that's not nothing.

True, it doesn't "solve" the crisis. But if this letter is a waste of the Pope's time, all I can say is thanks, Your Holiness, for wasting your time so well.

posted by Fr. Steve | 10/16/2002 |