Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

21 March 2013

I Am Not Great...But God Is

Today was one of those days when I was confronted by my human weakness from several angles.

I reacted selfishly to requests recently made to me--first, for a visit to a hospitalized parishioner from a previous assignment, and second, for assistance with another outside venue that had been accustomed to a priest who will no longer be available.  In time I visited the hospitalized person; as I expected, the visit was a delightful chance to catch up on old times and converse about present concerns.  It was one of many ministerial experiences where, I believe, both parties are ministering to each other; where Christ is [in] the transaction.  (I try to look upon the discharge of all my responsibilities in that way.)  As for the request for outside assistance, the jury is still out on that, but I sense where it will go.

These were legitimate requests.  One could say that the petitioners were honoring me by their requests.  Yes, I'm a warm, consecrated body--Father Youlldo's the name.  But more than that: a priest who, in nearly ten years, has served with his increasingly evident limitations and God's increasingly evident grace.  A man whose first thought still tends to be selfish and self-centered, but who has discovered that the first thought isn't always the most reliable basis for action.
(Suddenly this recent article from Msgr. Pope makes me wonder whether I should stop writing and indeed erase this blog entry... aw, damn the torpedoes!)
It's enough for me most days to handle that day's events.  Marlon Brando's famous line sometimes haunts me: "I coulda been a contender."  Previous visions of academic or ministerial prowess have given way to my present situation--in the midst of which, at heart, I echo the Psalmist: "The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places" (16:6).  The people I have served in every assignment have manifested to me the tender compassion of God.  Notwithstanding the divine life imparted in the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments, I hope I've helped God's people half as much as they have helped me.  With gratitude I note that I didn't pen these pastoral arrangements, because I couldn't have put things together half as well.

The seminary profs told us, "Nobody who goes to you in Confession is going to ask you how many degrees you have"; in another place I heard, "Yeah, thermometers have degrees, too, and you know where they stick them sometimes!"

But some among us do have many degrees.  They've worked hard for them, and they put them to good use.  And some among us do receive great responsibilities.  They have proved their competence.  From time to time it sinks in, this notion that I have not achieved the sort of greatness that once I wished I would have.  Instead, "Here am I, and the children God has given to me" (Heb 2:13; cf. Isa 8:18).  At life's end, what more is left?  What more is right?

This paragraph from the Catechism (2606) consoles me:
All the troubles, for all time, of humanity enslaved by sin and death, all the petitions and intercessions of salvation history are summed up in this cry of the [crucified] incarnate Word.  Here the Father accepts them and, beyond all hope, answers them by raising his Son.  Thus is fulfilled and brought to completion the drama of prayer in the economy of creation and salvation.  The Psalter gives us the key to prayer in Christ.  In the "today" of the Resurrection the Father says: "You are my Son, today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession" (Ps 2:7-8).
My troubles, too--especially those of my own making (by far the majority)--were subsumed in the cry of the Crucified.  Implicit in my experience of those troubles is the petition for their amelioration.  "I don't like this, Lord; please make it better, or help me to deal with it better."  In case you were wondering, I have not forgotten to pray for the caller from the former assignment.  Intercession is an integral part of priestly prayer, for Jesus the High Priest "lives for ever to make intercession for us" (Heb 7:25).  My troubles, petitions, and intercessions were already heard, and they were already answered, favorably.  In faith I can affirm that right now, even as my troubles and the troubles of all humanity are taking place.  It is further helpful to recall that the ministry of priests takes up the cries of wounded humanity (priests included!), unites them to the Son, and presents them to the Eternal Father.

I don't know if there is any theological substantiation for this, but I suspect that in each offering of the Mass, each Confession, each anointing, somehow every sin and shortcoming is presented and none is omitted.  This would not excuse us from the responsibility to repent, to assist at Mass, to pray, to live according to the demands of the Gospel; but it reinforces Our Lord's prior, all-consuming interest in our welfare.  My true greatness consists in my recognition of, and participation in, God's love for me as He expresses it in Creed, Cult, Code, and Connection--in the Church's teaching, worship, living, and praying.

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