I’ve written about priests before, I know and I know, but I’m here to briefly do it again.
By an oversight on my part I went to mass twice on Monday–once by blessed force-of-habit at noon time, and then again in the evening because some dear folks asked me to lead Prayers of the Faithful and I had forgotten about that at noontime when I attended for the first time.
Small matters. Tuesday I led a communion service for the first time ever and realized that I didn’t know what to do about communion for myself, so I didn’t receive. This is only to say: I don’t know what I’m doing but I think things even out in the long run.
ANYWAY. I went to church twice. And, by the way, Catholic churches have an assigned reading schedule which means all the churches around the world read the same readings on the same day. (There are, of course, exceptions. Example: at weddings the happy couple can pick from designated wedding-friendly readings. So, if you go to a wedding and then scurry to fulfill a Sunday obligation (been there, done that!) the readings will be different). Has anyone ever asked you what you had for breakfast and then you mind had to scramble back to try to remember? This was me trying to remember the readings I had heard earlier when I sat in mass Monday evening.
There were two priests celebrating at the evening mass. One newly ordained, tall and expressive and spirited, he prays and speaks enthusiastically but gently. The other priest was visiting, a frail monseigneur with pale skin splotched with age dots. The older one was the one who read the Gospel, he stumbled up the steps on the (borrowed?) vestments which sent my adrenaline skyrocketing, but he recovered and went on to read in a surprisingly booming voice, clearly accustomed to projecting.
The Gospel was the one of the young man who walk up to Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The young man has checked all the boxes on the holiness check list, and he knows this and he informs Jesus so. Finally Jesus, in one of my favorite biblical moments, “looks at him and loves him.” And, in that gaze of love, Jesus tells the young man to sell what he has, give to the poor and follow Jesus.
I don’t know that elderly priest. I don’t know where he has been assigned, how many children he has baptized, which ministries he serves. But I do know that, at one time, he was a young man with a world full of options. That’s how we start out, isn’t it? And he experienced something somewhere that made him leave everything else behind: flashy clothes and marriage-and-family and wealth and (the illusion of) a controlled future.
Then he finished the reading and slowly walked back to his seat by the young priest, who then stood up to share. This young priest is one of those guys who everyone seems to love, and probably for good reason. He’s very tall, but he uses his space like a dancer (probably an athlete, though, I just see through dance-eyes)–stretching and bending to emphasize his points with his limbs instead of his sound (he always speaks rather gently). He spoke about David and Goliath, God and the impossible, this young priest. Then he sat, too, and I spoke the prayers and the priests went on to offer the rest of the mass.
It was peculiar to watch them with all their noted differences: young vs. old, so tall vs. stooped, athletic vs. aged…but, on some level, they were so similar, too: dressed in green (it was still ordinary time), praying the prayers. The young priest has answered the look of love, too. He, too, has exchanged much for a life with no promises of flash or family.
For me, watching priests lead prayers is one of the most intense demonstrations of sacrifice. These men who are so willing to love will never know wives or children. These men, willing to work hard and long hours, will never been financially compensated in the ways they might had they chosen corporate America over the priesthood. Crazy intense.
I guess the point is: I heard the gospel and heard the weak answer to Christ, which is what happened: the young man walked away. But I saw the correct answer. I saw two men answer the look with their lives.
And it was beautiful.