28 years ago, yours truly, January 4, 1992, ordination to the priesthood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in a tiny oratory in a town so small that it lost its postal code. Birds singing outside just for those minutes of the actual sacramental ordination and the laying on of hands were almost deafening, as many people remarked at the reception. The other thing people commented on who could see from the oratory choir stalls was that at the formulaic words about the Holy Spirit there couldn’t possibly have been a bigger smile on my face: Jesus has chosen a donkey, crippled and blind and inept on so many levels, a donkey scorned as less than useless, a donkey whom the Lord Himself chose to ride into Jerusalem for His crucifixion, a donkey whose sin also set the occasion by which the Eternal Word now Incarnate of the Father has chosen to stand in our place, the Innocent for the guilty. I would – on my own, without His grace – have chosen hell.
- “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” (John 15:16 nab)
Two moments of pause come to mind from Padre Pio’s life, both of them regarding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Last Supper and Calvary:
- One moment of pause I’ve written on previously. In exiting the sacristy to the side of the sanctuary for Mass Padre Pio stopped suddenly, looking as if he were to drop in a faint, obviously caught off guard by a most horrific vision. Asked what it was when regained some strength to speak, he said that the Lord had just showed to him the souls of all priests who were about to offer Holy Mass just at that moment and who were unworthy to do so. I count myself among that group since all priests are unworthy, all of us the worst sinners in whatever we have done, be it impatience, sloth, judgmental and uncharitable attitude in word or deed, whatever… including Pope Benedict’s favorite item for an act of contrition, coming from the psalmist:
- “Who can detect heedless failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults.” (Psalm 19:13 nab)
- The other moment of pause of Padre Pio was at the consecrations at Holy Mass. He would take forever, it seems, to continue. In fact, he was specifically reprimanded for this by those sent from the Holy See to reprimand him. This scene is depicted in the great film Miracle Man. He, of course, was incredulous about their concern for his pause after the consecrations, responding: “But this is Jesus…” I have to say that this unworthy priest always wondered about this pause from the time when I was a seminarian until almost today. It’s just that the other day, I think I may have gotten a glimpse of what I should have known as a seminarian, but because I am a bad and evil priest have not averted to all this time. The prayer is addressing God the Father about Jesus, but then, suddenly, at the words of Institution – This is my body… This is my blood… – one is speaking with the words of Jesus in the first person singular. It only strikes me a bit more now that one is speaking to our dearest Heavenly Father about His dearest Son, and then, freakishly unworthily, reciting the words of His Son right in front of Him, the Father, doing this in Persona Christi, in the Person of Christ. Taking that in – Jesus laying down His life for us then and there – and being with Him in such intimate solidarity, watching Him draw all to Himself with such love… and then, feeling some of the unworthiness, but nothing like it truly is lest we die, having to go back to addressing the Father in view of His Son has just done for us, and also because of my sin… How is that ever possible? How can one just move on so quickly? It’s a matter of forcing oneself. Look, I have no idea about Padre Pio and what he experienced. But I think that this might have something to do with it. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak of such things. Anyone else would say they are ineffable, so that either you know it or you don’t. But I think that we must encourage each other. I think that this must be an encouragement. I say that fully realizing that my fellow priests will think of me as the most know nothing priest ever to have lived. How could I have offered 28 years of Masses and counting and not have known all this from the first day? But, of course, it’s not a matter of knowing such things academically – that’s a given – it’s a matter of – how to put it? -being tolerated to be granted the faintest littlest glimpse of the Living Truth, that is, beyond just academic stuff, more personal. I’m at a loss.
Some people are mystified by my favorite animal being a donkey. There are a thousand reasons, all of them better than the other. It started when I won a Palestinian Donkey in a parish raffle at the parish picnic just hours before went off to the seminary for my very first day of formation. Anyway, I think all priests should be guard donkeys: