Smile and laugh.
Say “Thank you.”
Pet and speak to dogs, cats and animals you may come across.
Feed the birds.
Go outside when you can.
Use natural sunlight as much as possible.
Hum or whistle.
Say “yes” when you can, say “no” when it is appropriate.
Make eye contact.
Be curious – ask questions.
Exercise but don’t care about how you look.
Get enough sleep.
Read the Bible and talk with God.
Talk with the elderly, hold babies and play with children.
Plant and tend something.
Notice the poor, care about others and help them as you are able.
Recognize that you are only asked to do what you can and leave the rest to God and others.
On June 3, 1995 I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. These years have been and continue to be an amazing adventure! Over these years I have been confessor, teacher, parochial vicar, pastor, youth ministry director, vocation and seminarian director, university chaplain, confidant, counselor, committee chairman, pilgrim, retreat director and friend. I have experienced people automatically putting me on an unrealistic pedestal just for being a priest as well as people scorning, ridiculing, trying to convert me and automatically assuming things about me just for being a priest.
A couple of constants throughout my ministry have been building projects and working with youth and young adults. At my first assignment at All Saints Church in Knoxville I watched (and learned) as the multi-purpose building and rectory were built followed in short order by the church building itself. At Knoxville Catholic High School I assisted as the community left the old school and moved to a new property across town and I had a role in the design of the school chapel. When I arrived at St. Mary Church in Athens, TN as pastor I stepped into the design phase of the new church building project. In the course of five years we built the new church and rectory, literally picked up and moved the classroom building to the new property and sold the old property leaving the parish debt-free. In the course of my time at the Catholic Center at ETSU one focus I have had has been the renovation of the chapel and I can honestly say that I think it looks quite good and is a place of prayer and worship. But, even more than the building of structures, I have worked in the building and strengthening of Christian community.
Except for the couple of years focusing on the building needs at St. Mary Church in Athens my ministry has always had the component (if not outright focus) of working with youth and young adults. During these years I have been in the role of parish youth minister, diocesan youth ministry director (twice), high school chaplain and teacher (now twice) and college chaplain (now twice). My whole priesthood has been lived under the scandal of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and in a time when many priests express fear and worry of being too close to young people. For whatever reason I have been called back again and again to this ministry and I have chosen to say “yes” and remain with our young people. It has been a blessing.
My priesthood has been blessed, strengthened and perhaps even saved through the Community of Sant’Egidio. In a way that I can only describe as providence I met this community and now cannot even consider my life of faith apart from the community and their strange notion that yes, lifelong friendship is possible especially friendship with the poor! This community has helped me to name and clarify rumblings in my own soul and heart regarding the true work of the priest and the disciple of Christ. I have seen the danger of priest solely as CEO/administrator and I do not want that. I want to be a priest – a man whose whole life is rooted in the mystery of Christ and who lives and who acts in the ways of Christ. The community has helped me to see that there is a different way to live priesthood and discipleship and they have helped me to recognize that Christ is indeed encountered in faithful friendship with the poor.
Here are some things that I have learned in my years of priesthood:
It is not about me. This is freeing realization when all is said and done. The job of “Savior of the world” has already been taken and God is bringing about his Kingdom – end of story. I have my part to play and there is certainly work to do but the final result is not in question. This realization allows one to enjoy where one is at and also not think too highly of oneself. It also helps lead one into the grace of obedience and its wisdom that the world cannot understand.
It is the basics and it is the Gospel that truly matter. In my years as a priest I have seen and participated in a number of different programs, drives and activities … and some of them even worked! But when all is said and done – at least in my experience – it all comes back to the basics of the Christian life: serving and loving, proclaiming the Scriptures, breaking the bread and being a community in Christ.
To love Christ one must also love the Church. Warts and all, Christ loves his bride, the Church. I have a deep sorrow for those who cannot recognize this truth.
The Gospel can never be advanced by manipulation. Manipulation, in the name of Christianity does occur. I have seen it. It might get immediate results but it leaves long lasting wounds and resentment. God’s measure of success is not the world’s measure and part of growth in faith is to learn God’s measure.
The poor move us beyond politics. The poor help us to get real about a lot of things and help us to get beyond the “polarizations” that so much time and energy in our world is wasted upon – not an idea of the poor nor the poor as clients or the poor as a source of service credits but the poor as friends and as brothers and sisters.
Be human. No one will care how much you know until they know how much you care. God did not disdain becoming human in every sense but sin; why should we?
Good, Better, Best. This is a philosophy I learned from Fr. Anietie Akata. If you come to a place or situation which is not good then work to make it good. If it is good then work to make it better. If it has been made better then work to make it the best. It is a good philosophy to live by.
The love of Christ. Just recently while in prayer, sitting before an icon of the face of Christ, I was brought to a deeper awareness of God’s love. It seems that the journey of faith is a journey of coming to know in ever-deeper ways this love. God continually pours forth his love and this is truly at the heart of all creation.
I give thanks to God on this anniversary of my ordination! God is truly good in his blessings and in his love poured forth!
“…go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” (Mt. 28:7)
These words spoken to the women by the angel at the empty tomb of Jesus have been echoing in my heart these first days of the Easter season.
I believe that the message of the angel has added weight for me this Easter because this coming July 1st I will be moving to Chattanooga to begin a new chapter in my ministry as a priest and I will be bringing to an end my six years as chaplain to the Catholic Center at East Tennessee State University.
In the life of Christian discipleship the risen Lord always goes before us and he awaits us just as he awaited his first disciples in Galilee. Six years ago the Lord awaited me here at the Catholic Center after five years of serving as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens, TN. I am grateful to God for these six years at the Center just as I was for my time in Athens.
I am grateful to God for the ministry that has been built at the Catholic Center these years. I am grateful that we have built a ministry that is solid in our Catholic faith, in community and in service to the poor. I am grateful that the ministry that we have operated out of at the Center is a ministry that is respectful of the dignity and worth of people and that does not need to manipulate people nor ridicule the cherished beliefs of others nor engage in rumors even as so often seems to be the case in our world today. My experience on campus is that despite all the talk about respecting differing viewpoints; people and groups on college campuses are extremely eager to form other people in their own image. I take pride in saying that at the Catholic Center we have sought to respect the image of God found in the person rather than seeking to form the other in our image. Some people might view this deference to the image of God found in the other person a form of weakness worthy of ridicule. I disagree, it is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength, a confident humility, that in the long run shows true respect and care for the other person as a human being.
I am grateful for the students who have made the Catholic Center their spiritual home these past six years. I am grateful for and inspired by your willingness to live, wrestle with and witness to your Catholic faith. I honestly believe and hope that you will be leaders in your faith communities one day. To the students who have been committed to the Center and who strive to live your faith while on campus; please know that I will always be willing to help you in any way and at any point that I can.
I am grateful for the friends that I have made both within the university community and in the larger Johnson City and St. Mary Parish community. Friendship is a blessing and a source of joy and comfort. I thank God for each of my friends.
I am grateful for the years I had with my mother as her caregiver. The last five years of her life were not easy for her or for me to watch and I cannot count the number of times I left Colonial Hills and the local hospital emergency room with tears in my eyes and in my heart but I am grateful that I was able to walk these years with her. Rest in peace Mom.
I am grateful to the Community of Sant’Egidio who continually teaches me to find Christ in the Gospel and in the poor. I am grateful to my friends at the John Sevier Center. Over and over again I have seen Christ in their faces and they have taught me about faith, trust, hope and friendship. I look forward to living the charism of Sant’Egidio in Chattanooga and to friendship with the poor there.
I am grateful for Fr. Christian Mathis. He is a good friend and good priest and I know that he will bring an energy, enthusiasm and love to this ministry of the Catholic Center. I am hopeful that he will take the Center ministry to the next level.
I am grateful to Bishop Richard Stika who is now calling me to Chattanooga and I am grateful to the gift of obedience. Eighteen years ago on my ordination day I promised obedience to the Bishop of Knoxville and ever since then I have experienced again and again that obedience is a font of unexpected graces and growth in life. I am hopeful for this new call to serve.
Six years ago, Christ awaited me at the Catholic Center at ETSU. Now, Christ awaits me in Chattanooga. The joy of discipleship is found in following Christ wherever he might lead.
At one point in his commentary on this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 93), St. Augustine shares this observation: Humble people are like rock. Rock is something you look down on, but it is solid. What about the proud? They are like smoke; they may be rising high, but they vanish as they rise.
In the gospel for today’s Feast of Christ the King (Jn. 18:33b-37) we are given the humble God. Pilate (representative of all the power of the world) questions Christ – a seemingly defeated and isolated man, abandoned by his friends and followers and mocked by his own people.
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priests handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” So Pilate said to him, “Then you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Today, we as Church, proclaim Christ is King yet, like Pilate, our understanding and idea is limited. It is interesting to note on this Feast of Christ the King that our Lord, himself, never took on the title of “king”. Even on this most final and bitter of stages; when the fallen pride of our human condition would eagerly grasp onto a title of assertion to throw back into the face of the powers of this world (how often we see this exalted on our movie screens in the myth of redemptive violence) our Lord chooses a different path. “You say I am king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Our Lord rejects the title “king” and by so doing he forswears the fallen world and all it has to offer – self-indulgent pride, sad divisions and triumphalism and all forms of violence. Our Lord chooses a different path – the path of humility. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
Humility has more in common with truth than does pride and power. In fact, humility is essential if there is to be any real understanding of truth. If we would know the truth then any temptation to put ourselves at the center of creation (and these temptations come in all shapes and sizes: blue and red, enlightened secularist and righteous religious, male and female, rich and poor, all colors of skin and shades of culture) must be put aside. Everyone (I repeat “Everyone”), needs to accept the purifying light of humility because the only constant, the only necessary is God – all else is contingent upon God’s will. We are not necessary. The more we realize this then the more we open ourselves to those moments when we catch a glimmer that God is indeed the “rock”, the only solid basis of all creation and then gratitude will grow in our hearts.
All is grace.
Do you want joy and gratitude? Then look to the one we proclaim “king” yet who never sought that title for himself. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Cultivate humility. It will lead you to truth and truth will bring gratitude.