“To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none.”

Portrait_of_Dominique_Lacordaire

This post is a continuation of a previous post. To read the previous post, click here: What Does it Mean to be a Priest?: Part 1

The (Un)Loneliest Life

I once asked a close priest friend of mine if life as a priest was lonely. His answer surprised me. He said that his entire life is about being around people. That there’s is never a day in his life that he is not constantly surrounded by others. He told me that no matter where he goes he is the most popular person there. He said this to me not to be arrogant or brag but to enlighten me on one of the not-so-thought-about realities of the priesthood. He concluded his answer by saying that he lives the most unlonely life imaginable. Now to be fair, I am sure that there are a vast number of other priests that may not have the same out look on this subject but it was nonetheless interesting to think about the priesthood in this way. It is with that new perspective that I begin this second part of our series on Lacordaire’s quote.

All Things to All

I have to be honest; when I set out on this journey to break open this great quote from Lacordaire, this part is the one I was most concerned about writing on. Because taken at face value it actually sounds kind of sad. Like to be a priest means exiling yourself from any love or support that comes with belonging to a family.  It wasn’t until I really thought about what Lacordaire is trying to say here that I came to understand the point he is trying to make. I am reminded of Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians when Paul says he has “become all things to all.” (1Cor. 9:22b) That is what Lacordaire is talking about here, becoming all things to all people. This lends itself to another point that Paul makes in his letter to the Romans; to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) The priesthood is not about authority and expecting people to “get on your level.” The heart of the priesthood is always service; to stoop down, as Christ did, meet people where they are and lift them up. To be a priest means that there is no discretion on who you are a priest to. One cannot be a priest only to those who are rejoicing, or only to those who are mourning. A priest is not just a priest to one person, particular family, or individual parish; he is a priest to all people, each family, and every parish.

The Paradox

With that being said it follows that there must be a sense of abandonment that comes a long with being all things to all. Herein lies what seems to be a self-contradiction (stay with me here): in order to to be all things, we must first abandon all things. A priest must first give up completely, with out regard of the consequences, anything and everything that holds him back from faithfully serving the people of God and God Himself. And that sometimes means giving up things that we hold most dear. St. Paul writes that “to the weak I became weak, to win over the weak.” (1Cor. 9:22a) By giving up his strength, Paul was given the power to advance the kingdom of quote1God in a way that he would not have been able to do otherwise. So this is the paradox: by becoming weak, Paul was made strong and given power (2Cor. 12:10b).  What we give up to God in this world is not taken by God and disposed of carelessly. What we give to God is perfected by the grace that we receive from Him (2Cor. 12:9). So when we give up to God our belonging to a particular family, He takes what we give and allows us to partake in the fruits of being a member of each family we meet.

I will conclude this second part of our series by giving Christ the final word, Who said :

“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?…whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”