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Becoming Vulnerable

Sharing the miracles of God’s grace within us

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Last Lent, I had lunch with an elderly Holy Cross religious. He told me he spent 40 years overseas. His eyes gleamed as he shared his experiences with people who showed him the beauty of lived faith, people with whom he worked formed his heart. He became so energized, offering me a glimpse of the stories that had changed his life.

He then put down his fork and settled into his chair. His eyes watered. He confessed that since he retired and returned to the United States, no one knows his story, the consequences of his choices, or the ways he became a follower of Jesus. He told me that he left his heart overseas and now that his heart lives in secret since he seldom speaks of the genuine aspects of life.

My conversation with this faith-filled man touched me profoundly. Our journeys often remain hidden from other priests. We don’t reveal the real journey to love and faith easily. The events and circumstances of how our ministries have unfolded, usually remain within our hearts, tucked away for our memory’s eye.

We tighten our lips about the stories of the past because we are frightened to admit our journeys, the losses, the loves, the dark and the good. The stories we tell instead are often frivolous and unprovocative. We often remain competitive around other priests, not wanting to be seen as vulnerable or boasting about our gifts. Even jealousy arises when we tell stories of our past in the presence of other priests. Our life story is not a competition, but a miracle of God’s grace for each of us.

During the Lenten season, we are invited again into the story of Jesus’ vulnerability. The Paschal Mystery is handed down to us by people who have lived such a life. Jesus’ journey to the cross still lives in our stories. We imitate the one we follow. We tell of him within us. We speak boldly of Christ, who invited us to follow no matter what happens. We rely on the Holy Spirit to show us how to let go, how to embrace, how to die to ourselves and rise in the profound love of Christ.

In the course of our lifetime as priests, we give our hearts away in this compelling mission of Christ. We minister to people who need hope and healing. People teach us how to love and how to serve. Life teaches us how to lean over a hospital bed to anoint a young father who is dying of cancer. We learn from the grieving how to walk confidently to a gravesite and let go of a child who died in gunfire. We learn from our experiences to listen to a young woman who is struggling with anorexia because we watch her fade away in a classroom. We learn that the very mission we are asked to be part of becomes real in people’s lives. Christ’s mission is not abstract or otherworldly, it is not a theory or housed only in a book. Daily life shows us how to pray and serve. Most of all, these experiences reveal to us how to love.

We look back as we age, and we see more clearly how people have formed us and changed us into the priests we have become. The people who have influenced us the most are not known by other people who know us. We hold the treasures rather secretly of the mentally ill man who taught us how to need God, or the homeless woman who changed our hearts about people in poverty. We hold life and all that it holds on us with great tenderness. In our aging, the memories of our lives as priests become even more beautiful. The love that has formed us is still alive, still calling us into Christ Jesus.

In this Lenten season, I invite you to mark your story in Christ’s story. Create for your own reflection the path of love and faith you have lived. Write or tell the stories of how you found courage along the way to Jesus Christ. Move beyond self-sufficiency and disillusionment. Tell again of your versions of Veronica who wiped the brow of Jesus. Tell the times you stumbled and fell, and the Simeon of your life who helped you carry the burdens. Let people know how you have learned to die to self and rise in Christ Jesus. Let your story of love sing.

FATHER RONALD PATRICK RAAB, CSC, serves as religious superior at Holy Cross House, a medical facility and retirement home for the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Learn more at

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