In all my years as a priest I have learned that religious leaders can only lead you to where they themselves have once been. If they have faced their own shadow, darkness, demons- whatever you want to call it- then, and only then, are you in good company. If they have not, proceed with caution.
If there is one thing I know, it is my own brokenness. Yes, I’m broken. I know that I am. In fact, I tell you often that I am. Whenever someone tries to place me on a pedestal because of my vocation, I wince and remind them that the higher they place me up, the farther the fall for me! Yes, I am just as broken – if not more – than most, but I think I’m a pretty good priest, too. Perhaps because I am broken is why I am also a good priest. After all, it is one thing to give sympathy, it is quite another to know empathy.
When your life is unscathed, you know not the pain of being so. When you do not know what it is like to be so poor that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on day old bread were the staple of your survival, until you could no longer afford the jelly, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never known what it is like to feel so different, to struggle with your sexuality when you were not ‘the world’s desired norm’, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never been accused of something so scandalous that you can barely breathe because of it, you do not know why people kill themselves in their bewilderment. When you have never been ridiculed, ostracized, made fun of, or wept until you somehow fell asleep, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had your reputation besmirched, drug though the mud of the press, or told you were a fraud, when deep within yourself all you were doing was trying to build a place of hope, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to leave all you have ever owned or have known, all the people you have ever loved and called ‘family’, all to follow the call of God, never once being sure it was real, but you went despite that fear, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never stood over the grave of a friend who died of a disease that world hated, and wrongly hated those plagued by it, too, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never questioned your strength to lead as a pastor, to wonder if you are even doing any good at all, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never experienced the loss of a father, a friend, a soulmate, where the grief is so ever-present that your soul throbs and riles in pain, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to choose between a medicine for your tumor, or food for your table, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never sat in a dark corner, fighting with the shadows of your depression to ward off the ever-present thought of ending your life, you know not the pain of being so. I have. All those things, I have. And, they have made me a better priest, a stronger pastor, a more empathetic human being, a better man. Perhaps it is true, ‘broken crayons still color!’
As we begin a new year together, it is a time to reflect on the year past, and the wonder of things yet to come. If you are like me, you pause this time of year to sit with yourself and take stock and see what has happened, and where you are going. It is a time for course corrections, acknowledgment of hurts that need to be let go of, and friendships to mend. It is a time to reprioritize your life and what’s important; to let go of what’s not. It is a time to run through the self -litmus test of what your life is giving back to the world, and what legacy you are leaving – and teaching – to your children. It is a time to forgive others, and to do the same for yourself.
I have spent a good deal of time this past week preparing myself for 2023-2024. Wondering if I should remain as your pastor, looking at what we have done at Saint Miriam, and ensuring that I am the ‘right person’ for the job. I have watched as others say they are building a parish but fail to see that an endeavor such as this takes sacrifice, dedication, and a willingness to give until it literally hurts, not going on yet another ‘retreat’, or on an extra vacation while those ‘others’ remain alone and without a priest to deal with the list of hurt in their life. That is not how you build a church; it is how you launder donations.
So, God came. God came and allowed me to witness to myself in a dream the other night how for the first 7 years of our life as a parish, I never once took a vacation, went home to visit my family sparingly, never was ‘home’ for the holidays, and never once missed a Thursday or Sunday Mass, even when so ill folks were afraid I wouldn’t make it through the service. I never earned a salary for almost 11 years and yet still tithed, too. I was reminded of what that sacrifice has done: in less than 16 years we went from a rented chapel in a Jewish synagogue to a 12-acre campus full of life and giving back. God dwells here because the people who are here dwell with God.
This Sunday, September 17th, we will bring back the Chalice and begin to offer the Presence of Christ in both species again. We also will soon begin Family Faith Formation, our new way of bringing families and children and faith together. There are fund raisers and so many fall events coming up and I will gently remind you that unless we increase giving, all that we have may soon go away.
I guess the best way for me to end is with an idiom I found online, “If you don’t teach your children to follow Christ, the world will teach them not to.” The same applies to us.
So, I end where I began, sometimes small people (like me) arrive at big jobs. Please take some of my burden away and join me. . I pray you will join me in your care for this wonderful place.