Monday, October 13, 2008
The Invitation is in the Mail
Everyday, I rush expectantly to my mailbox. I am waiting for my invitation to the banquet. For the past two years, I have been in the process of seeking what is called a "dispensation from the duties of priestly ministry and celibacy." In other words, I am a former Roman Catholic priest awaiting permission to be married in the Church.
In the past, I have received many invitations to the banquet. I waited eagerly to learn that I was accepted to Saint John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. Eventually, I received an invitation to continue my studies in Rome. Then, I received the letters inviting me to ordination first as a deacon and then as a priest. All those invitations I received with a mixture of joy and trepidation, but I never failed to say "yes" to them. Then, after about six years of ministry, I asked to be taken off the guest list. There were other invitations I wanted to respond to.
My decision in 2001 to hold a wedding banquet of my own meant that I would no longer be able to receive communion or the other sacraments. I certainly knew what I was doing, but at the time I was convinced that I would never be given permission to marry and that the alternative would be a life of frustration - unable to return to ministry and unable to pursue marriage.
At first, my decision not to receive Eucharist was superficial. I didn't want to put my pastor in the uncomfortable situation of either having to deny me communion (which he wouldn't have done) or having to defend me (which he certainly would have). And, since during my ministry I urged couples who were living together or married outside the Church not to receive communion, I couldn't, in conscience, then receive when I found myself in their shoes.
As the years have gone on, my decision has taken on new meaning. I have seen my fast from the Eucharist as an act of solidarity with all those other Catholics who, like me, find themselves in irregular situations, whether they be remarried couples, homosexual couples or simply those unable to connect with the Church for whatever reason. I am now one of them. I can honestly say that I understand the pain of exclusion and the frustration of feeling powerless to set things right. I carry them all to prayer with me on Sunday.
I also see my fast from the Eucharist as an act of penance. No doubt, I received the Eucharist many times in a state of grave sin and, often, unrepentant. God, in his mercy, continued to use me to communicate his love and mercy to his People, though my heart was hardening within me. I now have the opportunity to make amends for those years of neglect and ignorance.
Though the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church's life, there are still many means of sanctification within my reach even in my current situation. Just as a blind man's sense of hearing and smell sharpen to compensate for his lack of sight, so my love and appreciation for these other means of sanctification have grown during my Eucharistic fast.
First of all, I have grown in my love for God's Word. As a priest, I always approached Scripture as material for my preaching. I was always consumed with what I could say in a homily about whatever passage I was reading. I rarely just sat with the Word and pondered its meaning for MY life. I couldn't take to heart its call to conversion and failed to see that his Word was also for my sanctification. Stripped of the ministry of preaching, I now have no choice but to understand that God is speaking to me in his Word. Ironically (maybe), my failure in ministry has actually enabled me to take God's Word to heart and not shrink from it. I'm convinced that the only way to understand God's Word and its power to transform us is to approach it as a sinner, in absolute dependence on the Father for our salvation and sanctification. My failure has given me no other choice but to approach God that way.
Secondly, I have grown in my love for Eucharistic adoration. In my job, I spend many hours in my car, and I have learned all the places I can stop to use the bathroom. Now, I am learning where along my way I can find churches open for adoration. I try to make a point of stopping and adoriing Christ who has been so merciful and refuses to give up on me.
Finally, in my writing I have found a means to extend my ministry. Anyone who has been called to preach knows how it burns within one's heart. Even ten years after leaving ministry, the desire to preach still burns in me. I prayed for some way to satisfy it and found writing as a means to continue sharing the Word. Of course, it cannot fully satisfy the hunger to minister. I will have to endure those pangs as a consequence of my decision to leave. But, making some small contribution to the Church's mission enriches me in return.
So, I must continue to wait for the invitation back to the banquet. I will be ready to say "yes" this time. The possibility remains, however, that my request for laicization will be denied. I am ready for that as well. These ten years of fasting have taught me that the Eucharist is more than about me or any other individual. It is about Christ's sanctification of the Church and of the world. It is a mystery of inclusion and exclusion, resistance and repentance, invitation and rejection, destruction and reconstruction. I find myself somehow pinched in those sanctifying tensions with the rest of God's pilgrim People.