One usually reflects with gratitude on the labor of one’s mother on one’s birthday. But I have to thank her on my ordination anniversary, too.
About fifteen years ago, after my second year in the seminary, I had it in my mind to join the Trappists and spend the rest of my days making caskets in the monastery in Peosta, Iowa.
But my mom knew me better than I knew myself. She talked me out of it. To paraphrase: ‘You may be an obtuse goofball, but you nonetheless have the makings of a halfway decent shepherd of souls. You owe it to the good Lord who made you to use those talents.’
…So that’s how you got stuck with me, my dearly beloved church.
Back around the same time, in the 1990’s, I heard a middle-aged priest give a talk about his vocation. He began, “I’m not going to tell you why I joined. I am going to tell you why I stay.”
Why do I stay? ‘I am not strong enough to dig, and I am too proud to beg.’
Just kidding. Kind of.
At today’s Mass, we hear the Lord declare that the bond of marriage cannot be severed, except by the death of the body. The bond of a priest with Holy Church cannot be dissolved at all, even by the death of the body.
We priests have no right, on our own, to stand in Christ’s place. But He puts us there anyway. He gives us His Bride to be our bride, too. I never knew a heart could hold the kind of love that I get and give on any given Sunday morning. Ten years of Sunday mornings, and I still think I have the most beautiful bride in the world. I am the luckiest man alive.
I wanted to be a monk so that I could make friends with death. But being a parish priest makes you friends with death, too. Why do we wear black? Because life on earth is short, friends.
Christian people get buried with the feet facing east. When the Last Day comes, and all the bodies rise and stand, the faithful will see the Lord. He will come from the east, with the dawn.
But we priests have the un-merited privilege of being buried in the other direction. Because—in spite of how unworthy we are—He has chosen us to stand in His place. Forever.
So—I’m sorry. I am sorry to have to tell you that you will be looking at this ridiculous mug for all eternity–God willing we make it to heaven.
But, by the eternal light, maybe my looks will improve. And we will all see Jesus, too, anyway.
Happy anniversary to you, my love.