Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It's not all about you

When I first arrived at St. Patrick's last year (has it really been that long already?) I met a third year theology seminarian who had just returned from his pastoral year. He said returning to the seminary was difficult for him - not because he was doubting his vocation but because of all of the wonderful people he had met during his year in a parish. I've only been at St. Theresa parish in South Lake Tahoe for one summer and I know something of how he must have felt. Technically our summer assignments end on August 1, but many seminarians stay past that date if the parish will have them. We have an annual seminarian retreat to attend next month and then I have to return to St. Patrick's a week early because I'm part of the orientation team for the new guys. I'm eager to resume my studies but at the same time I will be sad to leave this place.

This morning I visited the old folks in the nursing home for what will probably be my last time. I once asked my spiritual director, "What on earth do you do in situations like that? What do you say? Do you make small talk or just say the black, do the red, and get out?" It really depends on the specific situation, he told me. I don't have to worry about this for several more years, but when you are administering viaticum to someone who is dying or coming to the bedside of someone who has just recently died, very often the family only wants you to do the ritual. Don't try to improvise. Some of the old folks I visit are more talkative than others and they're thrilled to meet a seminarian. Some prefer that I just pray with them for a bit and then give them our Blessed Lord. You learn to pick up on who wants to talk more or not. I always wonder if I've done enough or if they think I'm too brusque and businesslike or something. But on my way out they all thanked me profusely for visiting them these past few weeks and said I've been just wonderful. I thanked them in return for their kind words and said don't forget to thank God too.

Because that is why we're here. I personally am no great apostle or saint, but as a future priest I must learn to be another Christ - "I must decrease so that He may increase." "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." One thing I always remember when receiving praise is that it's not all about me. My own life is not all about me.

On a lighter note, last night St. Theresa hosted world famous solo-violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn, accompanied by Toccata, the Tahoe orchestra and choral choir. 2009 is the 200th anniversary of Felix Mendelssohn's birth, so the night began with selections from his opera Elijah. Elizabeth performed for the second half of the night's event. Words can't adequately describe her God-given talent. You really had to be there. It was a full house too which was gratifying for James, the conductor. About five minutes before the concert began, the parish music director asked me to lead an opening prayer. I wish I could have had more time to prepare, but such is life. I asked God, the source of all light and beauty, to open everyone's hearts to the transcendent beauty toward which the music points. Afterward, one of the musicians approached me and said that while he couldn't hear my words, he could see they came from the heart. Fulfill your duties and our Blessed Lord will always make up for your defects.

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