Well, that’s one week down. I think I’ve got about another 40 to go, or something like that. While I miss having the chance to run up to Santa Barbara to be with you all, I hope you can rejoice with me that I have found a very welcoming home out here in the desert at Sacred Heart. It saddens me that I have this new disconnect between us. But take heart that we can be even more deeply connected through our prayers. But this is nothing like a farewell, by any means. Simply a moving forward, another step closer to trying to figure out where God is drawing me, and all of us really.
With all this in mind, I can’t but help to share some of my hopes and fears and joys and struggles that God is so kindly, and thankfully so gently, showing me since I’ve been here. And so why not start off with one of the silliest, smallest ones, because, after all, sometimes that is where God can speak the loudest.
You see, I’m the eighth in a growing line of seminarians that have come through Sacred Heart over the last eight years. It’s a joy for me to hear their stories, and the ways that the parishioners here have fallen in love with them and helped them grow closer to becoming priests. The funniest part of it all is when people begin accidentally calling me by the names of these other seminarians. One of my friends in the front office actually makes fun of me by doing this on purpose. See, not a big deal at all. But somehow God is trying to open my eyes and ears to something bigger here.
It’s bringing up in my prayer a lot of the feelings and temptations to compare myself with those who’ve gone before me. I begin to think, well, am I as good a preacher as he is? Or better? Will I be better with the youth or young adults? Will I impress them? Will I let them down? Rather than recognizing that I bring in a wealth of my own gifts and talents, I have a tendency to really compare myself to the others. And this can get in the way of my ministry, which is a scary thing for me.
God speaks to our hearts in Scripture about our own gifts and talents and the ways that he is uniquely calling all of us to use what he has given us. For one, there’s Isaiah 43:1 which tells us that, “I have called you by name, and you are mine.” Likewise, Isaiah 49:16 reminds us that, “See, upon the palms of your hands I have engraved you.” Aside from these two passages having the not so subtle references to one’s name being called and remembered and loved, they dwell on the uniqueness and singleminded devotion of God to a single people, Israel, in order to bring the whole world to himself. There were greater, stronger, kinder, more faithful people than the Israelites, but God called them, loved them, fought for them, was faithful to them, and they bore fruit at times and fell apart at others.
But I have no doubt that God has placed me in a parish where I can just be who I am, and find joy in sharing that with others. Still, God’s faithfulness is found in verses like these, and to me this means that he still reaches out individually to each one of us and to every soul, putting in our hearts the desire to be unique, to use our gifts for the good of others, and, even though we may find ourselves jealous or burdened by expectations, he means for us to exalt in being ourselves and serving his people.
The expectations I’ve placed on myself here at Sacred Heart, simply because I have seen how much others have loved those who have gone before me, walks a delicate and fine line between being envious of the success of others and finding joy that other men have grown into amazing priests during their time here. What a joy it is to face this delicate balance head on and recognize that sin lies in and tempts toward the former, while grace, and our faithfulness and docility to it, lie in rejoicing in the joy and success of those who have gone before us. This year at Sacred Heart can easily be scarred by my desire to be better than others and my own competitiveness. On the other hand, and if I just let God take a little more control this should be the case, my future ministry will be something that is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and built up slowly by others (as in 1 Cor. 3:10-17). We all just happen to find ourselves in a beautiful place to add to that project somehow, with the unique gifts and talents we have been blessed with.