LOVE AND SUFFERING
The word "love" commonly connotes feelings of comfort, joy, enjoyment, friendship, togetherness, giving, celebration. Yet we also know there is a price to love, authentic love, and that it is always fruitful. That price we call suffering. This past year's suffering has been an experience of "pruning," as Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of John. In order for there to be fruitfulness, the tree must be pruned. I have felt this pruning this past year. What has been pruned? Where to begin? I think a lot of it has to do with things I already knew and was trying to live, but the growth was not there. The Lord wanted more growth, more fruitfulness. So, for instance, not having any "official ministry" was intensely painful. I felt like I was not exercising my priesthood in a fruitful manner as I was not celebrating any "public Masses" outside of St. Camillus, I was not teaching, preaching, giving spiritual direction, helping on retreats. So God was calling me to a new way of living the priesthood.
HIDDEN IN THE EUCHARIST
St. Peter exhorts us in his letter to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice of praise to God. This goes for all Christians, both lay and consecrated. There is a special living of this call to sacrifice for consecrated persons (celibates). Even in the priesthood there are many different ways of living the life of sacrifice. Some religious priests live out the whole of their lives in the confines of monasteries. The priesthood is not one dimensional. Cancer has limited my former way of living priesthood. In some ways, I believe I am receiving a taste of pseudo-monastic priesthood, where my day has become much more Liturgical, namely, the Mass has become more and more present in my life outside of Mass time. I am being trained to think and live Eucharistically. When an event happens, I more readily reflect on how it relates to the Eucharist, how it helps me to find the paschal mystery in daily events. When I discover a new side effect of some medication, for example, this event in my examination of conscience ("examen") becomes a point of reflection, a call to surrender once again, to trust God will work some good from this and that this will be dealt with properly; there is a call not to allow the new side effect to cause me to despair, but to see here the Cross as a way to something better. This side effect cannot "rule me" and throw me off track. Rather, it needs to be accepted in faith as part of the plan to give glory to God more fruitfully. Through God's help I ask for the grace to resist complaining, and to accept. Sometimes this grace takes a long time to receive, but the important thing is awareness of it and the asking.
My priestly life has become more monastic in other ways too. Ordered around the Liturgy of the Hours with Mass at the center, monastic life witnesses to the world in a more publicly hidden liturgical Eucharistic life. I experience little tastes of this hiddenness from the world daily. The Church entrusts the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office to monastics in a special way. For me the "Hours" have become a source of great comfort. It has become less and less an obligation and more and more something I look forward to because I have the time and space to allow this to happen in a more reflective manner. The Divine Office is related to the Mass, flows from it and moves toward it. The Divine Office prepares us for a more worthy celebration of Holy Mass. Most notable are how the psalms, which are prayed in all seven "hours" of the Office, give voice to a suffering people who cry out to God for help. Feelings of abandonment, and God being far away, find potent expression. I can feel my own heart crying out to God in the words of these inspired psalms. Tonight's Evening Prayer, for example, offers: "They surrounded me, the snares of death, with the anguish of the tomb; they caught me, sorrow and distress. I called on the Lord's name. O Lord my God, deliver me! How gracious is the Lord and just; our God has compassion. The Lord protects the simple hearts; I was helpless so he saved me" (Ps 116).
Another priestly blessing is growth as intercessor. I feel myself an intercessor for the needs of others, especially the suffering. I am amazed at how many people are asking for prayers, which I write down and bring to daily Mass the following morning. I celebrate daily Mass in a small chapel here at St. Camillus with my parents. I find Mass the highlight of each day, finding here strength to want to live another day.
Thanks be to God for the holy Priesthood of Christ! Please join me in thanking God for this blessed gift to the Church and the world. Praised be Jesus Christ.
Friend of Arise
Note: Fr. Will was diagnosed with stage 4 urothelial cancer in November of 2013 and was born into eternal life on September 8, 2014. All who knew him knew he was the perfect birthday gift for our Blessed Mother. Our prayers remain with him and his family.