Back on 17 October I posted a photo of me in my clerical collar that was taken for a parish directory and said that on many levels I could not recognize myself in it and that it creeped the hell out of me. The photo seemed to be from a long time ago in a galaxy far away and I think what struck me (and this was extremely personal) was a sense that it seems to me that I was desperately trying to fulfill some social expectation in the role of parish priest. Something was uncomfortable, trying too hard. I can see it in that photo and feel it in memory and even in my body.
Not long thereafter I came across this photo and had a very different reaction.
This was taken on 8 December 1990, the day I was ordained a priest. I am setting the Table at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. I don't know if you can see it in this photo but I see nothing but serenity. I believe it is objectively there and I know it was there subjectively. One of my memories of that day was being in a state of complete peace throughout the day. No jitters, no apprehension, just utter calm.
This photo was not posed; it was a candid shot taken by a friend. I was not trying to DO. I was at peace BEING. This was not about any social role; it was a sacred role. I was a servant of the Altar, of the Church, and of God - without effort, without falsehood. The feelings I have when I see this photo are overwhelmingly positive. Such a great counterpoint to my reactions to the other photo, taken later in time but stumbled upon recently prior to this one.
To my left, as I type this in my office, hangs my ordination certificate, pictured above. It is almost a year since I performed any priestly function within the walls of a church or any other ecclesiastical context. Do I still minister? Yes, on almost a daily basis, as I seek to live God's love as a presence among others. I console the sorrowing, encourage those cast down, affirm the hesitant, and celebrate with the joyous. I offer context, proclaim blessing, and occasionally swing an avuncular two-by-four upside the heads of people I care about. I try to stand by those going through difficult transitions. Sometimes I even mention God, but most of what I say applies with equal comfort to Christians, atheists, pagans, Buddhists, agnostics, what have you.
For all that I feel distant from Church in any form these days, this photo has reminded me of the deepest and truest aspects of my vocation and my identity. I recognize myself in this photo, easily and comfortably, without hesitation or anxiety. It feels good to do so.
And this final photo is me this evening, lying on the couch and playing with selfies, snapping myself with my downstairs "kids." In the front row are Lucille, Harry, Maggie, Mimi, Belle, Barbara, and Nevsky. In the middle and back rows are Markus, Hephzibah, Smokey, Zotney, Carlo, Anthony, Haimish, Snort, and Jeffrey. If I missed anyone, my apologies. The other half of the family is in my bedroom. I certainly recognize myself in this playful old codger and it is the same person as the priest at the Altar.
Not every stage of the interior journey is fraught with peril or pain. Some is simply a joy.
Buona notte, tutti quanti!