I despaired a year or two ago, when I realized I had lost the electronic copy of the sermon my wonderful friend and fellow sojourner, Michael Wyatt, preached at my ordination. Today, I spent the morning packing and clearing out of the office I have been privileged to occupy at St Ambrose. In one on my files, way in the back of the closet, I found a copy of the bulletin from the night of my ordination, and tucked in it, the copy that Michael did a few last edits on, in his amazing script, and then read from the pulpit. Today, the day before I preach my last sermon at St Ambrose, perhaps my last 24 hours as a parish priest, it was good to stop and read what was said to me on the evening of my ordination.
After a stunning reflection on the call of Isaiah Michael said,
Isaiah…throughout his life, stood there, between the people and God, the one in the middle, the one who dares both the vertigo of divinity and the doldrums of humanity. Priesthood, Rosa, is this mystery: to be unafraid of both sides and to undertake to love them both. The priest stands, as Isaiah did, between the silted sullenness of the community and the shuddering tempest of heaven, between flesh & spirit, the priest stands at the site of the soul. A priest knows where those border crossings are and can usher others, night after night, across them. A priest awakens that ability in others, in individuals and in communities, awakens in them the power of their own prayer and the fullness of their own ministry. The priest’s own faithful devotion and service holds others up to walk, an arm around their shoulder, until they run in the strength of God.
God grant that the days of your ministry, Rosa, not be days of hard hearing and dim seeing, but days of healing for our church, days of justice–not the excusing of the rich, but the protecting of the poor, not the endorsement of the powerful, but the incorporation of the disenfranchised, not the imposition of patriarchal norms but the discovery of God’s joy in all that God has made. Remember, the challenge of this mediation is always the mystery of the flesh, which we fear and call unclean–but salvation falls short if it is not of the flesh as well.
Then, as we always had during the long, incredible conversations I was privileged to engage in with Michael, he broke into Spanglish.
Rosa, ponte the pie (Rosa stand up). You are fortunate to know already what it is like to live between worlds and entre culturas. Entendemos tú y yo, el don y el costo de esa vida. (You and I understand the gift and cost of that life). To be constantly displaced is to be enabled to remain awake and to know that all the world is the household of God. Esto lo has aprendido en tu cuerpo desde tu niñez (You learned this in your body from childhood). These gifts of compassion for the one on the margins, of insight into the relativity of all cultural solutions, of patience and courage and determination in your own life, walking without fainting across your own wildernesses, of already defending and loving those whose suffering you see, have tempered your vocation.)
Ahora entras en el sacerdocio, donde lo que Dios pide de ti es una confianza sobrehumana: la capacidad de alzar tus manos, levantando las plegarias de un pueblo y distribuyendo el consuelo y la bendición de Dios por medio de los sacramentos. Creerás de un momento a otro, que no eres digna, que hay algo impuro en este atrevimiento. Pero ya el serafín, si te atreves a creerlo, te ha limpiado en el brasero de tu vida. Cree, a la vez, que lo que has sufrido te ha simplificado y abierto y es, con paciencia y humildad, el tesoro que depositas en el templo (Now you enter the priesthood, where what God asks of you is a superhuman trust: the ability to raise your arms, raising the prayers of a people, and distributing the consolation and blessing of God by means of the sacraments. You will believe from time to time, that you are not worthy, that there is something impure in such daring. But already, if you dare believe this, the seraphim has purified you in the crucible of your life. Believe as well that what you have suffered has made you more simple and open, and that, if you practice patience and humility, is the gift you bring to offer at the Temple.)
How I would have loved to talk to Michael today. These unexpected words from him suffice, though. I am grateful for the friendships and companions in the journey I do have and who are so generous–I will talk to my friend Joe in just a few minutes. The habits and practices of all these years of ministry are about to kick in too–a visit with Maria, a simple dinner, time to walk and reflect one more time on the lessons and early bedtime. They will carry me. At about 4:30 tomorrow morning, one last time, I will get out of bed in the dark to sit in the quiet of the early morning, making the final edits on my sermon and gathering myself up to offer those gifts I have such a hard time believing are worthy, one last time, at St Ambrose.