As ol’ Jimmy loves pointing out, today marks 38 days until the 8 of us from Joliet are ordained deacons. (Click here for the details)
It’s pretty crazy to think that in just over a month, we will take the biggest and certainly most important step thus far on our journey toward priesthood. They say that the closer a man gets to ordination, the more intensely the evil one attacks him and tries to knock him off course. As our time in the Holy Land is winding down and as ordination approaches, I can certainly say this is true in my own heart and life. It is exhausting.
The devil is real, and while he is powerless against us in the long run because Christ has already won the war, he knows our weaknesses and he knows how to nag; he plays with our weaknesses and warps our desires in order to “blow smoke” in our faces to confuse and confound us. These days that would ideally be filled with peace are instead more of a crucible of temptation and trial. I find these words from St. Augustine particularly consoling in these days: “See yourself as tempted in Him, and see yourself victorious in Him.”
Of course, the devil doesn’t like anyone who is trying to follow God. It isn’t just future priests that are annoyed by him. His favorite trick is to let people believe that he isn’t real, because then he is able to act with almost complete freedom. Don’t be fooled into thinking the only way the evil one can have an influence on your life is by turning you into Emily Rose. Certainly that happens, but only extremely rarely. The devil is an accuser and a liar; he loves to cause confusion, anxiety, and distrust in God. He likes to make us think that whatever God has planned for us isn’t worth it, will be too hard, or will leave us miserable. So we, like Adam and Eve and every person between them and us, take things into our own hands.
I’ve heard original sin defined as “the inclination that causes us to take what is meant to be received.” Every good thing that is worth having comes to us from somewhere, Someone, else. Ideally, we’d rest in Jesus and let him grace us according to his will. But I want what I want, and I want it now. So rather than waiting for it to be given, whatever “it” is in a particular case, I just take it.
Do I want love? Yes. Is love a gift freely given by the Father to his beloved? Yes. Do I always feel it from him, especially in those moments when I decide I really ought to be experiencing ecstatic love and consolation? No. So, instead I take that feeling of consolation from Oreos, iPhone Solitaire, and mochas.
Original sin is just the fancy name for the experience of a serious case of existential FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out. Deep down, most of us know right from wrong and I would say a good number of Christians are much more earnest about wanting to flourish in life and cultivate a sincere relationship with God than they (and others) give them credit for. But the way of the world is pretty damn appealing most of the time, isn’t it?
Sitting here in Jerusalem, 38 days away from promising to live a life of prayer, obedience, and (dun dun dun) celibacy forever, I’ll admit to you that I’m pretty scared. I’ll go ahead and speak for the other 7 guys and tell you they’re scared too. Why? Because this is the step, the moment we’ve heard about from the beginning which will then become real. The bishop will really say:
“Those of you who are prepared to embrace the celibate state: do you resolve to keep for ever this commitment as a sign of your dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of God and man?”
And we’ll hopefully say: “I do.”
But the world looks at celibacy, at obedience, and at a life dedicated to prayer and service to others as simply preposterous. A priest at Mundelein often jokes, “Long hours, low pay, no sex…why can’t we sell this thing?” I can’t think of a single thing off the top of my head that the world can offer which involves the phrase “keep for ever this commitment.” And as a 24 year old with relatively no life experience, the evil one is whispering sweet nothings to me about all of the things I’ll be missing out on.
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never have kids.”
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never have a lifelong companion to share the journey with.”
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never know that feeling of joy when your first child is born.”
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never be a millionaire.”
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never be rich and famous and change the world.”
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never build a dream home.”
And, my favorite:
“You know, Ryan, you’ll never be happy.”
Alright, clever Lucifer, here’s how this goes:
I’ll never have 3 or 4 kids to call me dad, but there will be thousands who call me ‘Father.’
I’ll never have one lifelong companion who shares my bed, but there are brothers and sisters who even now walk this road with me and I with them.
I’ll never know what it’s like to see my own child born, but I will know the joy of seeing God’s children reborn in the waters of baptism at my own hand.
I’ll never be a millionaire, but who needs money when you’re turning bread and wine into the flesh and blood of God? When you’re forgiving sins? Preparing souls for death? Listening to the innermost struggles and joys of the human heart for a living?
I’ll never be rich and famous or change the world, but Jesus Christ, to whom I’ll be configured forever, wasn’t rich or famous, and we’re only having this conversation because he still managed to change the world.
I’ll never build a dream home, but what’s so appealing about an underwater mortgage anyway?
I’ll never be happy by the standards of the world, and I’m seeing now that this isn’t so bad. I won’t be in this world for very long anyway, relatively speaking. I’m on pilgrimage here, not to Wall Street but to Gloryville, the New Jerusalem, the City of Peace and Life.
Does my human heart and mind have a little fear of missing out of what the world describes as the finer things in life? Absolutely. But this priesthood thing wasn’t my idea. None of this was my idea. But I believe with all my might in the truth behind the last words the bishop says in the Promises of the Elect during the ordination Mass:
“May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.”
Amen, so may it be.