I was ordained a priest 10 years ago today.
It hasn’t been the ten years I imagined it would be — marked more by failure than success, more by sickness than health — but, I realise reflecting on it, still good, very good.
I chose a phrase from St Ignatius and a fragment of a poem for my ordination card. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius writes:
Love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words
To be honest my ministry for the last ten years has been more words than deeds, more silence than words, but I do hope the words and silence have been an expression of love — at least sometimes! Ignatius has a second thing to say about love:
Love consists in a mutual communication between two persons. That is, the one who loves gives and communicates to the beloved what he or she has … and the beloved in return does the same for the lover. Thus, if one has knowledge, one gives it to the other who does not; and similarly in regard to honours or riches. Each shares with the other.
I give what I have — words, silence.
The poem is by Adrienne Rich. By a happy coincidence, she was on BBC radio yesterday morning talking about poetry and politics, and I dug out my ordination card. Ten years ago I chose the lines:
My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
So much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power
re-constitute the world.
Somewhere in there — in that casting of lots — I know that Jesus has cast his lot in with me too. Ten years has seen me painfully learning about love, about limits, about life. And though I have known loss upon loss in these years one thing has been constant, the ready presence of Jesus. I have fought him, ignored him, cherished him, blamed him, loved him — been all over the place — but he has been nothing but here.
Even when I cannot pray I have met him in words and silence — in preaching and presiding at Mass; in giving, receiving, and teaching spiritual direction. He turns up. Sometimes it feels like he performs for me, shows off his creative ingenuity, to catch my eye and hold it like a juggler moved to ever wilder, fiercer antics to wow his watcher. I haven’t been the best audience.
With hindsight, Rich’s words seem more apt than I ever hoped they would be. My heart has been moved by all I cannot save. You give what you have. You do what you can. Perversely and with no extraordinary power. And pray that God can outdo you.