Monday, June 22, 2015

14th year of my priesthood

Readers of this weekly blog who are fairly regular will know that on Saturday, 20 June, I celebrated the 14th anniversary of my sacerdotal ordination.  Each year at this time, I make it a point to take stock of where God had led me as a priest, and more importantly, to be mindful of the ways in which his promptings had been ignored or justifiably looked past by myself.

Ever since my illness and subsequent transplant and slow recovery back to health, I have been confronted with the whole notion of how setbacks and apparent failures in life actually become the platform from which we gain a whole new moral vocabulary.  It even seems strangely coincidental that vestiges of this fact have confluenced at a time like the anniversary of my priesthood, and it has served to strengthen my conviction that there is no setback in life that we cannot use to learn and grow from. 

I chanced upon a new book by David Brooks, one of the more popular op-eds of the New York Times at a local bookstore.  David names this work of his “The Road To Character” and makes something, which is rather counter-intuitive, the main focus of the book.  He points out quite rightly that in life, one is not formed by successes, glories, hopes of self-aggrandizement and the upward climb of the ladder to fame and fortune that builds character, but rather the opposite, where the honest recognition and acceptance of one’s shortcomings, one’s failures and one’s inabilities, perhaps even those of a moral nature, brings one to make that climb down the ladder of descent, which builds character.  It is the character traits like integrity, patience, charity and longsuffering that this descent into one’s abyss enables and ennobles in a person.  Those moments which one finds it almost impossible to control and fix become the lynchpin moments where surrender and the giving up of control are the unexpected doorways toward true growth and maturity.

The person who is always hungering for that spiritual connection in me had always known this to be so, making this premis not new.  But it was a true delight to see it handled with such secular poise by a writer who is almost hesitant to speak directly about it from a spiritual viewpoint.  I believe Brooks is of Jewish and Episcopalian heritage.  I am still working my way through this read, and have found myself putting down the book at poignant moments, reflecting how as a priest I have (or have not) lived out similar promptings from God.

As I re-entered into active ministry only about four months ago after an almost four year absence due to studies and convalescence, experience incapacities and surrender on quite many levels, I found myself reflecting often on how God has spoken this same message to me, often in volumes that are far from hushed and whispered tones. 

The priesthood as a ministry means that one is called to service, but I have also come to see that there is active service, and there is passive service.  While the former sees the priest physically going out doing his duties and tending to his flock with his high energy levels, the latter is another dimension of service, which is often underrated and often unwelcomed.  This happens when a priest is either disabled or unable to do active ministry, but because of circumstances that he is put in, is made to be a minister in a passive way.  But I have also come to see that this does not in any way mean that he is less of a minister. 

Jesus himself had these two dimensions experienced in his life, but it is often only the active parts of his life that many think showed the kingdom of God active and alive.  Ronald Rolheiser has rightly noted in his writings that it is also the passive part of Christ’s life, largely seen on what happened to him at Calvary that also displayed in a mystical way, the kingdom of God’s in-breaking into the world.  On Calvary, Jesus was not saving the world through powerful action, but through his passivity, which was just as, if not more powerful than all that went on before the Calvary moment.  Some have said, perhaps too simplistically, that one of Judas’ gripes and dissatisfaction with Jesus was that he was not active enough in ushering the Kingdom of God.  People who have watched the popular stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber will see this frustration clearly on display in the opening scene and number “Heaven on their minds”.  To this version of Judas, Jesus’ activity was just not enough. 

But there is a power in passivity which is something hardly appreciated when it is truly God’s doing.  This is not a passiveness which is an inaction stemming from a personal laziness or unwillingness to be sedulous in our work.  It is more the willingness to allow our lives to be conduits of grace, brought on often by the unmitigated dire circumstances one finds oneself in, through no fault of theirs.  Holy passivity, if there is such a thing, is welcoming this with an intuition that there is power in weakness and strength when one is brought down to one’s knees.  Jesus’ power of the Cross was this on grand display, and it was what saved the world.

What made this even more poignant was the fact that this was brought home with an even stronger emphasis in the liturgy of that very day of my anniversary Mass.  I didn’t choose the text as I used what was provided by in the Ordo of the Roman Missal.  The first reading at Mass was from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians 12:1-10, where Paul writes with unabashed humility how it was revealed to him that “power is at its best in weakness”, and that God’s grace was sufficient for him despite him having a personal weakness. 

Being a priest of God ordained for 14 years now is not really a big deal, as far as numbers are concerned.  To be sure, there are silver, golden and diamond jubilarians who have been graced to see their priesthoods having such a long shelf life.  I am sincerely happy for them, and wish them all the best and more years of God’s abiding presence in their lives and ministry. 

My celebration today was not for what I could do for God, but rather, that God wanted to even consider using me in my inactivity through illness and the slow and long recovery process to be passively useful for his people and his kingdom.  He has given me a joy that has brought me close to the Cross and allowed me to stay there in its healing shadows.  To be able to do this with a sense of clarity in my 14 years is something I couldn’t have asked for, but was clearly a gift beyond my wildest dreams.  Being broken through illness has had the effect of having a heart that has been enlarged by the love of God in ways beyond reckoning. 

The sweet cherry that goes on top of this anniversary “cake” had to be something that came out of a song of one of my favourite recording artistes, Josh Groban.  As a celebratory act, I purchased his latest CD, which featured songs from hit stage musicals, and one of them is “Try to remember”.  It was a song from a 1960s musical called “The Fantasticks”.  It has beautiful lyrics, and the lyricist’s deft ability to conjure up a mental image of the fall colours heralding the approaching chill of winter is emotive, to say the least.  But one line always seems to have a haunting power over me – it is when Josh’s lush voice brushes over the phrase “Deep in December, it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow”. 

Not that hurts in themselves are good, but bruises and wounds, like brokenness, weakness, inabilities, handicaps, failures and hardships can be powerful moments which have the ability to open a hardened heart which gives an entry point of God’s grace in ways that could never have been planned.  These become things that fill the hollowed heart to become one that is fillable – with love, with charity, and with deep and abiding gratitude.


  1. Dearest Father Luke,

    Congratulations on your 14th sacerdotal anniversary! You have touched many lives through your priestly ministry and we pray that you will be given many more graces and many more years to inspire and make Christ visible by your ministry. God bless you abundantly.

    Best wishes and warmest regards,
    Geraldine and the Zuzarte family

  2. ‘But one line always seems to have a haunting power over me – it is when Josh’s lush voice brushes over the phrase “Deep in December, it’s nice to remember, without a hurt the heart is hollow”.’

    I re-visited the song, which also happened to be one of my favourites, after reading your post. That line is indeed a hauntingly poetic line that tries to capture an achingly elusive, fleeting will-o-wisp feeling of something exquisitely painful one has experienced………and yet, the heart is a willing captive- to its memory.

    All this puts me in mind of a quaint little book that some kind soul loaned to me recently. Entitled “The Garden of the Beloved”- it is allegorical, like John Bunyan’s work though a very much simplified version. Sensitively and perceptively written, it touched on faith, love and the search for God. What made an impression was this golden thread – that I found inter-woven in both characters (the Disciple and the Lover) –is their sincere search for Love and their unconditional obedience. Most importantly, it was God, the Beloved who chose and called the ones who would suffer for Love’s sake. And for this mission, He would give each the grace to bear and endure and so even though the pain and suffering were not lessened in any way, we are told that the resultant joy over-shadows the pain.

    I feel that we can thus surmised that we are formed through suffering and meaningful and deep relationships are forged through shared hardships and sacrifices. Love deepens, matures and is enriched when it has passed through the crucible of pain.

    Wishing you a happy and blessed anniversary, Fr


  3. Dearest Fr Luke

    Thank you for your deep sharing.

    Your last paragraph resonates so much with me. It is indeed very true for it happened to me. I continue to experience the graces of God through my current trial. It's the most painful trial in my life now but somehow it seems easier to bear when I continuously pray and can feel the hand of God holding me. I can feel my heart experience joy when I receive the holy communion. My heart is also at peace. All this is testimony that my total faith in God is leading me through this dark time.

    Your blog entries are graces of God to me. It lifts me, guides me and speaks to me. I begin to understand true suffering through you.

    To me, your passive service has done wonders for me and I'll like you to know it. I speak for many of my friends who read your blog and are filled with more understanding n strength with each of your deep sharing.

    Thank you once again and I wish you a Happy 14th sacerdotal anniversary. May God bless you for many more priesthood years ahead.


  4. Congratulations and Thank you for your honesty and simplicity. May God bless you and continue to give you the graces you need to be a priest and guide to all you have been entrusted with. Pax!