Pax et Bonum+la Paz y Todo lo Bueno
For a long time all I wanted in life was to get ordained as a priest. Basically from Senior year of high school up to the day of my ordination my singular goal was to become a priest. I didn’t really look beyond that. I didn’t know what kind of priest I would turn out to be, I wasn’t sure what kind of ministries would attract me, I had no plans. All I wanted was to be a priest, that was my life’s goal. Isn’t that the point though!
As children we’re told by adults that we should have goals. That we should find our purpose in life. As we get older and begin to explore those potential purposes we’re often let down or overwhelmed by the effort required to achieve a potential vocation.
By time we’re in our twenties most of us have given up on most of our goals or sense of purpose because we’re afraid that we’re running out time to start living our lives. But even into our thirties it’s still possible for us to realize new goals and set out to achieve them.
My problem was that my only goal was to become a priest, and that happened at age 27. After the excitement and newness of priestly ordination wore off I found myself wondering, “What’s next?”
So, like anyone else starting their life, I found a routine that I liked. Parish life offered a structure and order but also allowed for creativity and spontaneity.
Those first two years were uniquely exciting and I found myself wondering “What’s next?” less and less. But you know there is something that we don’t really get prepared for by parents, teachers or school. Something they don’t really tell us about adulthood and the responsibilities that come with our purpose in life.
There are times in life when our purpose or routine become incredibly boring. I was certain that I had found my life’s purpose, and at a relatively young age, but barely five years into that vocation I became bored. Let me be clear, I didn’t become bored with the priesthood, or the parish ministry, I became bored with the routine that my life’s purpose fell into. That was terrifying.
There were brief moments where it seemed I had made a mistake becoming a priest or that I needed to have change of scenery to refresh my outlook on ministry. I was scared because I was only a few years ordained and already I felt like I had no purpose or goals to achieve. That feeling is awful because it makes you doubt the choices you were certain about only a few years before.
Doubt, doubt, doubt it is a prison for thoughts and chains around the heart.
I loved being a priest and doing ministry but at the same time adulthood was boring. I soon became certain that I needed a new goal, something to achieve. But my doubt was causing inner chaos and a new goal seemed impossible to find.
After all what is the purpose of achieving goals or trying to find meaning for life when it all leads back to this boredom, monotony?
I struggled with this doubting for a long time and one day while saying Mass something dawned on me. I was listening to the Deacon reading the Gospel of Luke, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
We’ve all heard it a million times but in that Mass on that day, in that moment of inner chaos, I felt like that was the first time I was hearing it!
A few words particularly struck me: “wants,” “deny,” and “daily.”
“Anyone who wants to come after me…”
It hit me like lightening, you have to “want” to be a disciple. It’s not enough to just fall into the routine of being “church person” there has to be a heart’s desire to want to follow after Jesus or the journey will be fruitless.
Next he says, “he must deny himself…” My heart stood convicted. I had spent so much time thinking about myself, my goals, my achievements that I kept missing the point, it’s not about me, it’s about Jesus and putting him first. It’s not about my goals, it’s about achieving His goals.
Finally, “take up his cross daily…” daily. Everyday. No vacations. No days off. The cross is everyday.
The cross was my inner chaos, the cross was my doubts, the cross was my boredom. The cross was my everyday companion and instead of making plans to defy it, I realized in that moment I needed to lean in and embrace it.
Of course I wanted to follow Jesus and I was ready to deny myself, but I was terrified of embracing that daily cross. Later on, I was with some parishioners chatting outside the rectory. We weren’t discussing the great questions of day, just talking about the Philadelphia Phillies mostly. As we wrapped up and we were saying our goodbyes, one of those parishioners patted me on the back and said, “I’m really glad you’re here, Father.” Then he left. Walking back to my room that Gospel of Luke rang in my mind again and then it made sense. That parishioner was grateful that I was with him in that moment, and in his parish.
My doubts, my inner chaos, my spiritual boredom none of that mattered because I was where I was meant to be. That’s the daily cross we have to carry. It’s being the person we are meant to be in the places we are called to be.
I realized for myself very early on in my priesthood that I have to renew my desire to follow Jesus everyday and that I have to deny myself, not become attached my own plans each day, and embrace my cross where I am everyday.
It is Jesus who gives meaning to our self sacrifice. We can not find meaning in our self-service.
So yeah, my life’s goal was to become a priest. I had no plans past that goal. Then, one day, I woke up and realized the routine of adulthood is boring and it filled me with some scary doubts.
But thanks be to God whose Word never fails us.
He reopened my mind and heart to understand that our purpose is to desire to follow Jesus, to put Jesus first and take up that cross everyday and see where he’ll lead.
So I offer you this lesson I learned and maybe it’ll be helpful to you. I hope you achieve God’s goals for you. It might sound boring to some, but embracing your cross daily is the greatest adventure you’ll ever take.
Father Charles Ravert serves as pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia.
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