Their words resonate through the years, and without fading: Ruthless is the patience found in love.
It has been years since I first envisioned myself in cassock and chasuble. I still remember the pomp with which the hymns rang out on that feast day in my mind—the ushering of acolytes, the palpable smoke of burning incense wafting freely, the carved wood crucifix guiding the procession to the altar.
And in the silence before the homily, I walked in front of the congregation quiet in prayer: “Lord God, may the words of my mouth be the proclamation of your Gospel and the living wisdom of your will.”
Even now, so many years removed from those first visions, I fall at the sound of the hymns that once played for me: O Filii et Filiae; Christ Who Is The World’s Redeemer; All Creatures Of Our God And King.
Ah, but not really for me. For God. And that was the problem.
I remember being told once, in those early years, that I’d best be careful what drove me to the priesthood. Did I feel a passion, a call to lead as an ordained minister? Or did I simply like the drama of the mass—the attention of all eyes on me? I did have a drama queen streak (perhaps still do), and though I vociferously denied it, I have come to see that much of that drama drew me in. I let it seduce me.
I am happy to say my route to ordination has been both painful and complicated, a dissecting of those early draws to ministry. I left the Roman Catholic church but still love her; it would be hard not to. Still, my theology is my own now, ever-changing, ever-embattled, but nonetheless rich and fulfilling. That has landed me in the Lutheran Catholic tradition—wherein I have once again considered joining the ranks of the clergy.
Now, however, my trial and doubt is rooted in something other than superficial drama. It is now found in the consequent of engaging the people whom I would lead. Awful at maintaining boundaries in any relationship, I cannot see myself surviving the emotionally-trying days of a pastor in a congregation. Death, dying, sickness, depression, doubt, despair. I have always thought I was the one who need lifting up. How to lift up—constantly raising in hope—those many many who suffer day in and day out? And do this, without destroying myself.
I was deeply afraid of pastoral counseling, until I was so recently reminded of my faith. “Is it not faith rooted in an unwavering God?” my friend asked me. If it has forever been my rock, then it must, too, be a rock for those who call on me. A simple revelation come late, and by my own controlling hand, obscured.
Too, when I feel an expectation laid upon me and a title with responsibility hung around my neck, I spend my energy fearing failure. Instead of flourishing, I fall.
But let’s be honest: No man is perfect, no vocation perfectly lived out. But that does not preclude a call. And I have gathered these reasons in avoidance of a call so rich and powerful it has quite nearly knocked me down.
I am coming to terms with where I must go. As the words once reverberated in my head: “Lord God, may the words of my mouth be the proclamation of your Gospel and the living wisdom of your will.” And forgive me, Lord, for the time I’ve wasted.
Brooding in call, I am again reminded by the tender voices carrying me all these years: Ruthless is the patience found in love.