Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, once said: “A healthy soul must do two things for us. First, it must put some fire in our veins, keep us energized, vibrant, living with zest and filled with hope, as we sense that life is, ultimately, beautiful and worth living. Second, a healthy soul must keep us fixed together. It has to continually give us a sense of who we are, where we came from and where we are going, and what sense there is in all of this.”
As I age, I think about the journey that I have traveled as well as the road ahead. I think especially about my vocation as a priest—what it has meant during vibrant years, and what it could mean in my declining years. I have never doubted my desire to serve the Good Lord in this role and have been immensely grateful for the privilege to do so, though I have periodically doubted my place within church systems that sometimes judge, condemn, and ostracize. In my first assignment, thirty-four years ago as associate pastor at Visitation Parish, I was frightened by the task ahead, but was quickly deluged by incredible support from wonderful people who encouraged and helped me become comfortable in my role. It was a kind of falling in love that I had never experienced before, as if I was falling in divine gravity, within the invisible hand of God or, what Father Richard Rohr, OFM, calls, “Falling Upward.”
I experienced it again in the inner city when I left Visitation and was welcomed to Saint Therese Little Flower with open arms in the early 1990s, and then in Blue Springs a decade later, and at Saint Thomas More, where I served another decade before coming to the northland five years ago. People talk about falling in love, as if it’s the result of being pushed. Sometimes it is. Sometimes we simply surrender to the free-fall and enjoy the ride. I guess that’s the way it was for me at those parishes; I soaked in the encounters and through the celebrations and tragedies, smiles and tears, extreme joys and deep sorrows, I felt love and fell further into it. When I was sent to Saint Charles Borromeo, it was not a love-at-first-sight experience. I flailed against the challenges put before me and was overburdened by the needs that I could hardly be open to possibilities. But the relationship grew on me and, this time, I fell in love slowly. Like the classical education-model we implement here, I saw the beauty, goodness, and truth of God’s presence in the people among whom I was living, serving, and leading. I love the tremendous care they give to the nine-acre plot of land that is our parish campus, from mowing teams to volunteer gardeners. I love the common-sense reliance on the Holy Spirit that keeps guiding us back to our basic mission when darker forces try to shift our school’s education toward indoctrination or our church’s vision to an ideology. I love the ease of living on site in a transformed rectory and that people value the stories of faith that emerge from living close to Christ.
The soul of this parish seems to be a healthy one—and l am ashamed that I was unable to see it for several years. It took a falling on my part. Some of it, I think, has to do with aging and becoming comfortable with a different kind of energy that brings fire to my veins and more subdued vibrancy or quieter zest for living. As I come to another anniversary of my priesthood, I am grateful to still be falling in love with what I do and what is my earthly purpose, falling upward in divine gravity, and, together with those whom God has put in my life, falling into His beloved soul where our souls find deeper grace.