Spiritual White Water


Our full time hospital chaplain was away for a few days, so I got the call to the intensive care unit of the hospital. A man on vacation fell from a waterfall up in the hills of North Carolina and had extensive head injuries. They only gave him a few more hours to live.

They are Catholics so they called for a priest and the call came to me. What a terrible and wonderful privilege to be there at that moment when the curtain between this world and the next was so very thin. It was only the second time I have administered the last rites, and it came just a few days after attending a wonderful ordination and taking my first baptisms as a Catholic priest.

Somehow the three events along with hearing confessions in my usual Wednesday evening slot have hit me between the eyes both with the extraordinary graces I have received in becoming a Catholic priest, and also how strange it is that I should be a Catholic priest at all–considering that I have a wife and family and have found my way here in a most unusual manner–but also because of my own personal unworthiness.

How beautiful the priesthood is, and how beautiful the Church is to offer to the faithful the simple words and rituals they need at all the most terrifying and wonderful times of life. Those parents at the baptism hadn’t the words to express their joy and wonder at a new life. They hadn’t all the words to offer their child to God–full of expectation for the future and full of thanksgiving and trembling fear at it all. It was all too big for them, but the faith of the Church was there, and the words and actions of the Church were there, and they and their child were gathered up into the mystery of salvation in a way too great for mere words.

The same was true for the family gathered at the bedside of a man struck down in mid life by a foolish accident. They too could only offer their brother, their friend, their father to God. The faith of the Church was there for them, and the prayers and words and actions were there for them–helping them articulate their hearts deepest longings and offering the whole tragedy up to God.

In the midst of these quite overwhelming events I feel like I am being swept along in a current of grace that is equivalent to spiritual white water rafting.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Anonymous

    Believe me Father, many celibates are far more unworthy of the priesthood than married men. Remember what was said of the dreadful Jansenistic nuns of Port Royal, “pure as angels, proud as devils.” The same could be said of many a celibate cleric – which is not to say, contrary to the position of certain pious catholics, that sex, in itself, renders a priest, or anyone else for that matter, impure.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful post on the awesome joy of life and being priviledged to live it.Sharon

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12140101446197329608 James

    Two very poignant, well-written pictures of life’s transitions…….However, like the first poster, I can’t see how marital status has any bearing on your worthiness to engage in God’s work. Wasn’t Peter married?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    You’re right. My unworthiness to be a priest isn’t connected with my being married. That was imprecision of expression.I’ve altered the post to communicate my meaning better.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01960521706457744649 tara

    Father:The faith of the Church was there for them, and you, holy annointed one of God, were the person of Christ for them–I am in awe of the gifts of Grace God gives us through His Priests.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10144549611625131466 jsb2

    Father, we thank you for your journey made possible through God’s graces and your decisions and works. You are the reason God could state that the Church would last till the end of the age. Steve Brown

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16829008956478473428 John Seymour

    Re worthiness; last weekend was the opening retreat for the diaconate program in which I am a first year candidate. In a talk to all of us first years (there are 10), the Director of Formation had something to say regarding worthiness that seems relevant: “Of course you’re not worthy. None of us is. Move on.”If worthiness was the criteria, who would say mass?

  • http://aimeemilburn.typepad.com/ Aimee

    If worthiness was the criteria, who would even attend mass? We’re all unworthy. It’s God who is worthy, and good – thank God.Thanks for the beautiful post, Father. Your conversion is such a beautiful gift to the Church – and your stories really fun to follow!


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