Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example…The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I laugh out loud whenever I hear newly married couples explain to me why married life is so difficult. I love and laugh at their tiny complaints. They say, “It’s so hard Father because he likes this brand of cereal while I enjoy another” or “she likes cooking such-and-such this way while I am used to eating it my way.”
I can honestly say that I am grateful to God for giving me eighteen years of seminary and religious life where I was unable to choose a single thing. Not a single thing! Whenever I needed something, I would write the item down on a piece of paper and hand it to my superior. It would generally take a few weeks from the time I asked to the time I saw something in front of my door. When I needed a sweater, I got a sweater. But I did not have the right to choose the color, the brand or type of sweater I got. If I needed a pair of shoes or sneakers, then I got a pair of shoes or sneakers. I did not pick or choose them. I simply got what I got. The same held true for food. We had no menu in the seminary. We ate and drank what was placed and poured before us. No one complained. If we didn’t like the way the meat or chicken or tuna fish was prepared, it quickly went away due to hunger.
One of my first “duties” in the seminary was organizing the kitchen and pantry. I did an awesome job with the food that was donated to us. When I was told that I would be the cook, I was surprised and bewildered as to how they picked me. I knew not how to cook. I asked my superior why I was chosen. He told me because I knew where everything was. That was the end of it. When I cooked my first soup it looked and tasted like soap. I had cooked the noodles along with the soup. I knew something was wrong because it had a darkness to it I had never seen before and it had a film on top of it that was hard to crack. No one complained. No one said a word. They didn’t have to. All the bathrooms were full! From that moment on, we all appreciated our parent’s cooking! You would never suspect that seminaries (like boot camp and drill sergeants) could help young men to become good men and better husbands.
In the seminary, we quickly learned what was essential and non-essential; what was important and unimportant; what mattered and what did not matter at all; why we were there and why we should not be there! Through sacrifice, we learned to love unconditionally and I can honestly say that everyone in the town loved us - unconditionally! Our tiny seminary transformed the town we lived in and gave so much hope to the people surrounding us. We learned that when we were humble, Christ (along with us) would be exalted.
Of course at times we felt rejected by God (and by our superiors) by the food we ate and by the way we had to dress. But we had to learn (the hard way) that we could not be loved by the way we dressed (clericalism) or by the way we ate (privileged) but rather by the Way of Christ. We had to be loved like Christ for his poverty, humility and obedience. Only this way could we ever become a dear friend of his, and one to each other.
“The Lord will not abandon his people.” The Lord does not stop loving the holy ones nor does he stop loving the sinner. What the Lord constantly does is prune his plants and till the soul till fruit is produced. For this reason St. Paul reminds his friends why the Gentiles are accepting Christ faster than the Jews. He says, “Do you not know what the Scripture says about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? Hence I ask, did they stumble so as to fall? Of course not! But through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them [the Jews] jealous.” The Jews thought they had it made while all along they were losing it all! They were keeping what was non-essential and losing what was essential. Husbands and wives: do not do the same exact thing!
This Sunday (October 30th) is priesthood Sunday. Priests can actually help married couples live better lives! How? By making couples feel jealous! And they should through the power of Christ’s (and their) simplicity, humility, joyfulness and childlike spirit; by their love for life and love for others; by their willingness to give more than they receive. Priests should make others feel jealous at how quickly they can love and by how quickly they can forgive. No wonder why a happy priest inspires the young to follow Jesus and is often invited to married couples homes!