success stories

From the book: Grace Under Pressure

Mystery of God's Activity in Life and Ministry

Early in his priesthood, Rick, now a chancery official in the West, was called to a private home to anoint a terminally ill man.

I have this problem with allergies and whatever it was in that house — the guy is there dying and he has all sorts of stuff hooked up to him and all — I was sneezing away. All I wanted to do was get out of there. This is a crazy thing, I said, ‘Oh, God, I just want to get out of here because I am going to be red and everything else,' and I was already sniffling, not only dripping, but my eyes were watering and all that.

I never met this man before and I got called a few days later that he had died and the family wanted me to do the funeral because that moment was so important to him because he found peace and somehow I brought peace. Well, I wasn't at peace at all. This is my first year after ordination and I thought, well, there is something else going on here besides me.

The sense of that "there is something else going on here beside me" is central to what gives life to priests. Many of priests in our study talked about a sense of mystery of faith and about the power of the Gospel and the power of the priesthood. The theologian, Karl Rahner, said that the greatest pastoral problem in the Church is the "eclipse of mystery." We seem to be out of touch with the mystery of God's activity in our lives. It was obvious that one of the common life-giving factors in the lives of these priests was their awareness that they were part of something bigger than themselves — call it the movement of God, the power of God, or the reign of God. It was clear that for these men there was more to their ministry than meets the eye. Not only was the mystery not eclipsed in these men's lives and ministry, it seemed to give them life.

Their connection to the mystery gave them faith in God's will for them. One priest said, "God works in the unplanned events of the day. That's the Spirit leading us!"

Rick from the West said, "I rely a lot on the Spirit. I find that I really need the Spirit to guide me. The thing about the Spirit is that it's all about fire and courage and letting loose and enthusiasm. I feel myself part of a larger picture, grace, the Spirit's action, or whatever."

Many talked about assignment changes as God's way of challenging them and emptying them. Tim from the West said that because you are competent, you are given more complicated, difficult, and challenging positions. "I find myself, more so now than ever before, having to bring things to prayer because I don't have the answers," he said. "I can't handle this. It is much bigger than me. I have to rely on the presence of the Spirit. Do the best I can. After that, it's the Lord's responsibility." . . . . These men are in touch with the mystery of God's movement in their personal lives. While others might see on the surface a tragedy or an inconvenience or an intrusion, these men recognize God's activity. Someone has said that perhaps the most significant function of the priest today is that of "mystagogue," i.e., one who "leads others into the mystery." These priests are able to be mystagogues for the people of God because they are in touch with the mystery of God's activity in their own lives.