“Can you be a weak priest?”
So ended a conversation I had recently with my mentor for my Pastoral Year. Both Fr. Jerry and I had stayed up way too late enjoying a drink, celebrating Easter and discussing different aspects of my time at St. Stephen Cathedral. The school year ends in just a matter of weeks and I was discussing my final evaluation with Father, talking about areas I have grown in and areas that still challenge me.
Since that conversation, I have taken the “rhetorical question” Father Jerry asked me to prayer, asking our Lord, what it means to me and in my discernment at this time. “Can I be a weak priest?” Maybe it would help a bit if I put this statement into some context.
I have been called many things in my life and during this Pastoral Year. I heard a new one on Monday; “Chief bottle-washer.” I honestly had no idea what that meant, so I asked some of our office ladies. They responded that it was the same as when I say: “Im a jack of all trades and a master of none.” I’m a talented individual. I’m not bragging by this statement, but honestly acknowledging that God has blessed me with many gifts. I’m a musician, a woodworker, a photographer (amateur), I can fix plumbing problems, I’m a gardener, I’m a techie, I’m a decorator, I’m a extrovert, I’m a host, I’m an MC, I’m a cook, I’m a Youth Minister, I’m a graphics designer, I’m a team player, I’m a doer, I’m a leader, I’m a man of community, I’m a friend, I’m a tractor-driver, I try to be generous with my time, I’m many many things. God has blessed me abundantly, and for that, each day I am truly thankful.
With being a man of many talents I pray, and work that I will be a good investor, a good sharer, and user of my talents, like we hear Christ speak of in Matthew 25:14-30 in the Parable of the Talents. At the same time that I have and use all of these talents I like any other man am weak. I have weaknesses and challenges like anyone else, though I don’t always show them. This gets to the heart, I think of what Fr. Jerry was challenging me on and encouraging me to grow in. He also said: “I think that sometimes people like to see their priest mess up and make mistakes. They’ll talk about it for a long time after, not because they think it’s funny, or like to see someone do something wrong, but they want to see that their priest is human.”
In the Exsultet, which I was blessed to chant at the Easter Vigil at St. Stephen Cathedral this year, is an ancient hymn of praise, recounting the blessings and workings of God through man across the centuries, from the first fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, to the saving of the Israelites from the Egyptians in the Red Sea, to the coming of Christ, the Son of God and Man to redeem the world and draw it back to his Father. There are countless beautiful images of light versus darkness, with the light always triumphing and coming over the darkness, allowing the mercy, love, and strength of God to show. As I sang “the praises of this pillar, which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,” I was filled with love. I made the chant my prayer, recounting how God was “leading them (the people) to grace and joining them to his holy ones.” As I sang of how “This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld” I also sang of how the first sin of Adam and Eve was indeed a “happy fault, which earned for us so great and glorious a redeemer!” I chanted of how that happy fault, which wounded the world was necessary for salvation. I love that line: “happy fault.” Yes, sin is bad, yes when we fall we sometimes do so pretty hard, yet it is what comes after that defines us. It is what comes after that makes us into the better men and women God has called us to be.
I have a lot of gifts. I also have a lot of weaknesses. I have a lot of faults, which through the grace of God I continually try to turn into those “happy faults,” and use them to become a better man. I can be cynical, I can gossip, I can curse like a sailor, I can be angry, I can be selfish, I can make it all about me, I can be jealous, I can be lazy, I’m the king and first card-carrying member of the procrastination club, I can be a perfectionist, I can be overly OCD, I can judge others, I can be a lot things and do a lot of things that separate me from God, the church, and the community as a whole. Yet, like Venerable Bruno Lanteri I remember and act on: Nunc Coepi! Being again! I rise and turn my fault into a happy fault, I use it as a stepping stone into something greater that God has called me to do.
So. Can I be a weak priest? Can I let another see my wounds? Can I allow the Lord to not only work through my strengths and gifts, but also through my weaknesses? Can I let my weaknesses transform me more after the Heart of Christ into who he wants me to be and not just what I think I should be?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
Father Jerry’s question will continue to be a challenge for this hard-headed, german-blooded, blessed seminarian who is just trying to make sense of what the Lord is asking of me each day. It is something that will take time to become more “okay” with. Bearing our wounds to another, letting another know that we are broken, that we have faults, that I have shortcomings, is never easy. But it is necessary.
As Christ hung upon the cross, stripped of his dignity, bearing everything from the weight of our sins, to his own human emotions had to be rough. But, the Resurrection, the story of new life doesn’t come easily. It is only through hardships, through trials, through faults-made happy, that we are able to glimpse and better come to understand the loving God who made us and calls us to be His.
Pray for me, as I continue to try to be okay with being a weak seminarian and hopefully one day a weak priest, for it is only then, that Christ will more fully be able to dwell with me. Pray that: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ;…”*
” for when I am weak, then I am strong.” *- 2 Corinthians 12:9