What Does It Mean To Be A Priest?

14 Apr

“Life consists in learning to live on one’s own, spontaneous, freewheeling: to do this one must recognize what is one’s own—be familiar and at home with oneself. This means basically learning who one is, and learning what one has to offer to the contemporary world, and then learning how to make that offering valid.” Thomas Merton from “Living and Loving”

Some one asked what it meant for me to be a priest and how did I validate that experience in my daily life? Well, the words of Merton encapsulate it for me, but let me tell you what happened to me today to be it in perspective.

I had decided that my haircut no longer fitted my military expectations so I went to the barbers. Unfortunately my normal barber was busy, and as I only had limited time I couldn’t wait, so I went in search of another barber.

Around the corner I found one and took a seat. The young man was cutting the hair of an elderly man with dementia and was doing so with great care and love. I noticed the young man had an unconventional hair cut and I wondered about who he was and what he was thinking.

It soon came my turn and I plopped down into the chair. He looked me up and down (red checked clergy shirt and red Squires boots)and commented: “You must raise some eyebrows with the way your dressed for a priest?’ I laughed and said “Sometimes”. The conversation continued and I discovered he was ex-Army so I shared about my role with Navy.

What started out as general conversation moved quickly into listening deeply as this young man talked about his experiences, how he lost friends in aircraft accidents on flights he was scheduled to go on but was pulled from at the last minute, the trauma he experienced and how he copes with the sleepless nights. ‘I sleep with one eye open”, he said. He also said, “I am working through it all, and working on forgiving and forgetting.”

Having heard what he said, I commented that experiences like that can be worked through but they will never be forgotten. The conversation went on as I got my $10 haircut.

As I left I shook his hand and looked deeply into his eyes and we both said ‘God bless you’ at exactly the same time.

God took a freewheeling moment in my life and my availability allowed a special God encounter to occur for both of us. Priestly stuff happens when you are most yourself, present to the moment, fully alive as a human being and open to the movement of the Spirit. Being fully alive as a human being and as a priest means that all ordinary moments are priestly moments.

There are no ordinary moments. All moments are invested with the divine and as a priest I live for those ordinary moments.

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