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Accepting Our Humanity

It takes humility to grow on the road to conversion

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Bonnar (new)Do you ever go back in time and look at your ordination photos? A wise priest many years ago encouraged me to keep an image from that day close by and view it as often as possible so that I would never forget the joy and grace of that event. It has been 35 years since I was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ. But throughout that time — in fact, every day — I have reached into my breviary where I have kept a photo from that glorious day to behold an image from that glorious day of my ordaining bishop, my parents and me. I thank God and ask him to help me renew the graces from that day.

In viewing that image, I confess that I look much different today. For example, my hair is becoming gray, I have gained some weight and there are now wrinkles on my skin. I have aged. However, I don’t know if it is as bad as those before-and-after images of those who became presidents. More than just the aging process, the demands of office can take their toll. Leadership can be taxing and stressful. A lot can happen in 35 years of priesthood, not to mention over two years of being a bishop, that can impact a person physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Despite the process of aging and the challenges that come with ministry, I do my best to continue to serve the Lord with joy. I continue to pray, “Lord, help me to be a good, holy, faithful, happy and joyful priest.” I also work hard to practice healthy self-care and surround myself with good friends who keep me honest.

A few months ago I was playing golf with a friend. It was one of those days. The winds were severe, and I could not putt for anything. After a few challenging holes, I became frustrated. Now, I typically do not become agitated on the golf course. I am not one to throw my clubs in anger. Golf is a game and a social event. I never see it as a life-or-death situation. But on this particular day, I was struggling and became frustrated with myself. My behavior did not warrant discipline or ejection, but I was obviously frustrated with myself.

After two holes of beating myself up, I embraced the next hole with new vigor, starting all over again. I also apologized to my friend for my frustration. But my friend put me in my place and said: “Dave, you are denying your humanness. Humans get tired and frustrated. You are human. Accept it!” Suddenly, the golf course became for me a classroom for learning. I was being challenged to look at myself and not only see, but also own, my humanness. That moment became a real epiphany for me.

As priests ordained to act in the person of Jesus Christ, we can sometimes become so absorbed in living out the divine institution of priesthood that we forget or, worse yet, ignore that we are earthen vessels beset by weakness. Although we are consecrated by the grace of ordination, we live out this ontological change and priestly identity in all our humanness.

How important that we pray that inaudible prayer at the preparation of the gifts in holy Mass asking God to help us “to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” But it is just as essential that we humble ourselves daily to live in and grow in our humanity. When we deny or dismiss our humanness, we enter a slippery slope that can become dangerous to our life and priesthood.

Because we priests continue to be human, incomplete, unfinished and prone to weakness and sin, we are always on the road to conversion. We can ill afford to become rigid, fixed or comfortable in who we are. With the help of good friends, we need to continue to be honest knowing that, while we are set apart through ordination, we continue to be human.

The next time that you view an image from your ordination day, hopefully you will see someone who has maintained the joy and graces of that day, but also over time has in humility never forgotten his humanness and the need for good friends and ongoing conversion. 

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