A Priest's Life

By Fr. Mike Boutin -- July 6, 2009

(N.B. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The guilty have been diligently exposed....)

Enter the ridiculous: Barbie was positively effusive as she described what she and Ken wanted for the opening procession at "her" wedding: "Father, we'd like our Shitzu to come down the aisle in a tuxedo...he's so cute, and he's part of our family, after all. And it is my special day...." (Seriously, I'm not making this up....I'm just hoping that the couple hasn't found this website yet!)

I did everything I could to prevent my telltale eyebrows from arching in dismay. I smiled, tilted my head in that pastoral sort of way, and then tried to explain to Barbie and Ken about the purpose of the liturgical procession at "their" wedding...minus the Shitzu.....

Now the sublime: "Father, my husband and I lived together for 57 years...he was my best friend...we did everything together. Then he just dies and I didn't even have the chance to say goodbye...to kiss him one last time. The house is so empty now...I'm so alone...I pray but God isn't listening. What should I do?"

That's the priesthood in a nutshell, I think...rather mundane, most days: daily Mass, emails, phone calls, meetings, committees, counseling, and volunteers. Bible studies, homily prep, youth groups, marriage preparation classes, a quick bite to eat, a laugh with a staff member, an impromptu meeting to consult on a pastoral situation, a walk around the block, web surfing to dream about a new travel destination, some time to write for Patheos, a phone call to some friends I haven't spoken to in a while, a little time writing for my doctoral studies....that's a Day in the Life...

Days are full and, over the years, have become fuller; and now that I am a co-pastor of a rather large parish southwest of Boston, the days are jam-packed, because in addition to all the ministerial work, now there's the administrative work of a large organization: personnel and HR issues, budgets, facilities maintenance, visions and mission statements, phones that don't work, software that needs to be updated, the toilet in the parish house is blocked...blah, blah, blah...

Sometimes though, the mundane gives way to the ridiculous Barbie-and-Ken situations of ministry: the lector who said that God spoke to Moses in the flaming brassiere (the word is actually brazier)... the grandmother who wanted to know if it was okay to secretly baptize her grandchildren since her pagan kids wouldn't (her words, not mine...), or the grieving family that wanted to know if it would be okay to put dice, instead of a rosary, in the hands of their beloved deceased father since he spent his holiest time in Vegas at the crap tables....or in other words, even in ministry, Shitzus happen.

But I am most a priest, and most grateful for the life I have, when the mundane and the ridiculous give way to the truly numinous: when, like Moses, I need to take off my shoes because I am standing on holy ground. Sometimes it happens at daily Mass, and for a brief moment, I realize how in the Eucharist we stand between heaven and earth, and all of creation sings praise to God for the gifts of life, and love, and Perfect Love itself: Jesus Christ, whom we hold in our hands, and eat and drink in Bread and Wine.

Sometimes, the numinous comes in a child who, during the consecration at Mass, simply says "Jesus," or on Holy Thursday, during the washing of the feet, when a woman finds herself kneeling in the middle of the church, putting on her husband's shoes, because he is too crippled to do it himself, as she has done for him countless times before...Sometimes, the numinous is in the reality that I am privileged to stand in the mystery of life and death, at baptisms, funerals, weddings, and as someone takes their last breath, and leaps, unknowing into the arms of the Beloved...

And in those truly numinous moments, all the Shitzus are worth it...

Read last week's introduction to A Priest's Life here