Monday, January 30, 2012

Holiness of life is a seminary student's most important goal, not simply the priesthood (A Brief Reflection on Mk 5:1-20, Mon. 4th Week in Ord. Time)

This morning, instead of talking about “Legion and the pigs”—which is often what happens when this passage is read—I’d like us instead to reflect briefly on the man who had been healed and who, at the end of the story, comes to Jesus wanting to remain with him.

In a number of passages in the New Testament, we see Jesus calling people, inviting them to follow him. He did so to the twelve apostles. In one instance, the man he invited hesitates and asks to be allowed to return home first in order to take care of the funeral arrangements for his father who had passed away. But Jesus insists on the urgency of his invitation and tells him, “Let the dead bury their dead”.

In this case, however he tells the man from whom he had expelled demons, ordering them to enter the herd of swine: “No. Go home to your family and tell them what God in his mercy has done for you”.

One of the folks I managed to visit these last few months was an old friend from seminary who left and who’s now a doctor working in a small rural community.

I visited him at the small hospital he and his wife, who’s also a doctor, built and where they treat mostly patients coming from poor families. It was amazing work he was doing. But what I found even more amazing was the sheer happiness and fulfillment I saw in the man. He was completely immersed in his work, driven, focused, like nothing else mattered but the people he was helping.

While I sat there waiting for him to end his office hours for the day, I chatted briefly with an elderly man who was waiting his turn.

“He’s very happy here with you, isn’t he? You folks are lucky. What a great doctor!”, I said to him. The old guy looked at me and, as if to correct me, said, “What a holy doctor!” His words caught me by surprise; but he was right.

Sometimes, those of us who are ordained or who are still in seminary tend to forget that at the heart of the call we received from God is not simply a call to the priesthood, but to a life that is happy, a life that is complete, full, and whole, in other words, a life that is holy.

The priesthood is not so much an end as a path, a way that leads to the far more important goal which is holiness of life. The priesthood is what we trust will get us there. Why is it important to keep this in mind?

It isn’t simply because of the obvious fact that not everyone here will one day become a priest.

But more importantly, because if we understand that our goal for being in seminary is more than just to get ordained, but to become good and holy men, we will - as my old spiritual used to constantly remind me - "already live what the priesthood means and entails, not when the bishop lays his hands on our head at our ordination, but now".

It will allow us to see that the demands of our life in formation are not simply stages, or worse, hurdles that we need to overcome in order to get ordained.

Instead, we will see all of them, from the most challenging to the most seemingly insignificant, as gifts from God that are meant to slowly awaken in us that thirst for holiness of which ordination is no more than a most significant point along the way.

To realize and keep in mind that our call is to be a man of holiness—whether we become priests or not—is to seek to be that man, not later on, but today.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)