It is so amazing being a priest! Today I received a grieving family at church as they came to celebrate the funeral Mass for their beloved mother of 79, a beloved grandmother. Then this evening, I received six young families who came to prepare themselves for the Baptism of their child on Sunday.
Part of the wonder of it all is to see the wide range of human emotions and inner spiritual experiences that for each person have taken years to bring them to this precise moment, and then see how the Holy Spirit picks me up - as it were - and gently drops me into their lives, into the very heart of their mind and soul, and there He pulls out of me as from a vast storehouse of thoughts, teachings, eternal truths, feelins, experiences, images, and so much more, the precise words these people needed to hear!
After almost 21 years of priestly life and ministry, I am not surprised to see the Lord "use" me like this, but I still find it amazing and wonderful every time, because it's always new - a new situation, a new family, a new word that needs to be spoken and heard, and a new way for me to be present, attentive, kind, encouraging, and challenging.
When I was younger, I was more anxious about not leaving out anything important, but now I know that the Living God is always at work in the lives of each and every human being; and that my part is much like that of the butterfly or bee that flies in and "touches" their lives briefly, and God uses that moment to fertilize them and bring about new life in them!
At my first assignment - it was St. David Parish - there was a little girl who joined the altar servers with an older one - they were "sidekicks" and were always together. A few years ago, she dropped in on me and she asked about marriage. She had a boyfriend and she was looking ahead. Well, I met him and helped them both prepare and blessed their marriage. What a pleasant surprise I had tonight when they came to the meeting with the godparents they chose for their little baby, and on Sunday I'll get to baptize their first child!
My joy this morning was to be able to glimpse the beauty of the grandmother who had died, and to understand the feelings of loss of her family, and to connect with them, and be a part of their realization that in the very midst of their grief, they were surprised to receive a wonderful gift from she who had just died to go to God.
Although she has now left her body behind, they remain in communion with her - this is what we say when we recite the creed on Sunday in the words "I believe in the communion of saints." We don't know the state of her soul at the moment of her death, and she benefits greatly from our love and prayers.
In life, their are shadows in us - they are our sins, especially the ones we don't want to see or admit, and faults - we can deny them in life, but in death, our soul leaves the veil of the body behind, and comes naked before God, exposed to the infinite brilliance of his divine light. In that moment, we see the whole truth about ourselves, as well as about God, and it is a daunting moment. Most of us won't be able to fully accept God's love and mercy. We will feel impure, unworthy, unwilling to enter into God's presence. In his infinite mercy, God will allow us some time to suffer through this agony, and in time be purified by it and by his love, and finally be purified and able/willing to come to Him.
This purification after death is what the Roman Catholic Church calls purgatory - the time or purgation or purification - and it is a function of God's infinite mercy and justice. It is, as Jesus said, the truth which will set us free.
So, once again today, I experienced Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, our origin and destiny, the One who is there for us at the beginning and at the end of life. What an awesome adventure and privilege it is to be a priest and to share in Jesus' own High Priesthood, as He brings God to man and man to God!