Mark 6:34 - When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
One of the things my spiritual director always asks me is how I experience the love of the Father. Always. :) So I'm always on the lookout for where God shows his love for me. I remembered a while back, long before I thought I was called to be a priest, when I worked at this summer camp for disadvantaged kids in LA. Each week we'd get a different group of kids who stayed in residence at the camp and we'd take them around to different activities everyday. It was a lot of fun to hang out with them and mess around with them. But you'd have kids who were struggling, foster kids, abused kids, single parent home kids, and the list would go on. Some of them would have a real tough time being there or leaving. I remember this one session I had this boy, about 10 years old, who had this cyst or something on his head. So everyday I had to put this cream on it so it would slowly heal. I'll be honest - it was a bit disgusting but I did it everyday faithfully. :) Towards the end of the week, I remember walking with him as we headed back towards the campfire circle after a long day and he turned to me and said, "Colin, I don't want to go. I'll just stay here with you." And that struck me for a second. And I passed it off, "Oh, but I'll only be here for a few more weeks and then I'll leave too." He responded, "That's ok, I'll go stay with you." This child was a foster kid.
Even now I think back on that moment. It strikes me. Because a certain part of me wanted to say of course you can come with me. You need a family who will always love you and watch over you and keep you close to their heart. At the same time I realized, I'm 19, what can I do? It was one of those moments that broke me a bit inside. And for me, I fondly remember this as a moment where I wanted to participate in that love that God has for us as Father and that we desire to give to others as well as a father. I think it was truly a moment where I experienced God's love for me because he let me experience that way he yearns to love and care for everyone of us. And to this day, this moment resonates in my heart when I think of why I want to be a priest and I think of where this kid, well now teenager, is.
Another story. I volunteered during senior year of college at an elementary school with a 4th/5th grade class. I have to admit - I love hanging out with kids and teaching them. It's just fun. They've got the amazing creativity and joy in the simple things that I know I have lost over time. I spent a semester in this classroom a few hours a week. I'd either find myself sitting with particular students having difficulty with a subject or just wander the classroom helping out as the teacher would work the front. I remember my last day in the class, I was graduating like the next day, the teacher came up to me and thanked me for my time in the classroom. And she said something to the effect of, "I've noticed so and so take a fond interest in you. He doesn't have a father figure in his life so it's been great to have you in the class." This is the kid who would poke me! Haha. Anyways, it was just another point at which I realized the joy of being father and sharing the love the Father has given me with others.
I have every once in a while run into a priest who is burned out or worn down from the day to day ministry. But I always wonder if you had just a few of these experiences of the Father's love realized in your own life through your love as a father for others, that these experiences of grace might reignite a tired heart. I dunno. I'm not there yet. But I wait with eager anticipation for the joys, sorrows, and struggles of ministry knowing how much the Lord needs fathers to care for his children.