(CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

If I Had to Do It All Over

When to say “yes” or “no” in our journeys

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If I had to do it all over again, would I? Would you do it again? Are there regrets? Probably, we all have asked ourselves or been asked by others these simple questions. The questions might be regarding a place you have visited: “Would you vacation there again?” The inquirer may be asking more for himself or herself as to whether it is worth visiting. Maybe the question is pondered after finishing a long-term commitment in which you invested yourself (a project, academic degree) and are now asking, “Was it worth the time, energy and investment?”

Perhaps the question is put forth and pondered for even longer journeys and commitments. During a Q&A session for a vocation workshop, a high school student may ask the priest, “Father, would you do it again?” The question is heard much differently, though, when asked by a counselor you might be seeing for a period of time or by a retreat director on a directed retreat.

What is said to the high school student on a day of discernment might be slightly nuanced from the response given to a retreat director in private (maybe even under the seal). Obviously, in the first scenario, it might be best not to reveal every thought. If you say, “No, I would not,” it might have been best not to accept the invitation to speak. If the answer to the retreat director is “Tough question, Father,” then you know why you are on the retreat at an appropriate place to share such thoughts.

This basic question is asked by all peoples, in all kinds of situations, in all kinds of vocations, at any time, at significant milestones or crossroads. An honest answer might be, “Well, yes and no.” Basically, “Yes, to the fuller journey, but no to some of the moments along the way.”

In a feature film, there are some great memorable scenes that are cherished and there are memorable scenes that would have been better off on the editor’s floor. Our life journey is that feature film. Unlike the movie producer who has the luxury to review and edit and have “do-overs,” the real world does not have the luxury of the “reel world.” We did it, we said it, we own it, whether we wish to have done so or not: I wish I had not done it or said it, but I did and I regret those moments.

When people say, “I have no regrets in life,” do you wonder if here is an un-reflected life? When challenged for having no regrets, they quickly defend themselves: “Well, I learned from it; and if I had not messed up, I would not have learned that.” Really? Most people know prior to the moment that this is not the thing to do or say.

I would say “yes” to being a priest again if given a second chance. I am, hopefully, a different priest today than when I was newly ordained, or even compared to 20 or 30 years ago. I am still learning something about ministry, myself and faith along the way. Not all that I learned about myself is pleasant to have learned. There are great memorable (and privileged) moments, and memorable moments that trouble me. If I had the chance to do those over again, I would.

Sometimes priests can take their position in life too far and, like the high priests in Jesus’ time, wear their phylacteries too wide, using the position not for what it was designed. The “power of the collar” is still there and can be used for a blessing in any given moment, and sometimes, due to human failings, it becomes a cursed moment: less a shepherd and more a hireling; less a “in persona Christi” and more a “persona Patrick.”

I have been blessed with many opportunities in priesthood, having many different ministries, which allowed me to experience the broader Church that I may not have experienced if I did not say yes to the opportunities that came my way. Opportunities are both a blessing and a curse, I said yes to many things, sometimes wondering if there are too many yeses at one time. These are the overextended moments when you realize you are not being attentive enough to them all.

The adage “There is an implicit, unspoken ‘no’ to every verbal ‘yes’” rings true in my life. The yes became excuses for not being attentive to people and moments in ministry to which I should have been. I did not read as much as needed to keep myself up to date, due to not enough hours in the day to get to all the yeses. I missed a few “hours” of the breviary here and there, hence not attentive to the yes made at ordination.

Sometimes, a yes in a given frame of the personal feature film becomes a distraction from the yes of the full feature film. Our lives are a lifetime of learning and formation as we do it again as if it is the first time. 

FATHER PATRICK CARRION is pastor of five parishes in east Baltimore, Maryland, and director of Cemetery Management.

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