When a young man is ordained, he has no idea about what lies ahead of him. But then the same is true for newly marrieds, for graduates and for those starting new careers or businesses. So it is not what lies ahead of a newly ordained priest that really matters, it is how he enters into what will come. More accurately, it’s what he brings with him – not just knowledge but, more importantly, people skills.
While it’s true that the seminary experience is filled with intellectual development, it is arguable that the spiritual formation process is more important. But what is even more important is formation in relating to people, as Jesus related to those around him. What needs attention is not so much what Jesus did in terms of teaching, but how he related to people, friends and enemies alike. It was what came forth from his heart that really mattered and what drew people to him.
The Cure d’Ars, St. John Vianney, is the patron saint of parish priests. He had difficulty with his seminary studies, but was eventually ordained a priest and sent to an obscure little village in France named Ars, near the French Alps. He became famous because of his loving care for the people of his parish. They experienced his caring, and the words that came from his heart. Great intellectuals and important people traveled to Ars by the thousands to listen to the Cure, including one of the most famous preachers of the day by the name of Henri Lacordaire. What attracted all of those greats? It was the humble caring that emanated from this simple priest’s heart – not simply his words.
A priest like Jesus is a servant priest, a priest who sacrifices his own interests, who sacrifices control over his life, who sacrifices having a family in order to be available and open to everyone. Being available isn’t just a matter of time, it means having a well-known loving and caring heart.
A priest like Jesus is a priest like Pope Francis. A priest like Jesus thinks not of time as his own, but realizes that any and all of his time belongs to those he serves. He is not a professional, he is a servant. For a good priest, the only way up is through humility.
People will love a priest who they know loves them. You see, in the long run, it is not what’s in our head that will save us, it’s what is in our hearts and has been given away to others. Jesus saved us by emptying himself out on the cross. Priests are saved by emptying themselves out for others in this suffering world of ours.
Is that a costly challenge for any young man? Certainly. But all precious things are costly.