By Father John Bayer
Special to The Texas Catholic
In the span of about two weeks I received 15 cards encouraging me as a priest. One person, who signed herself as “Your spiritual mother,” wrote, “May you be strong against temptations. Take heart as we face the current scandals in the priesthood.” Another wrote, “To live is Christ!” Another, “We are praying for you during this difficult time for our faith.” The people who wrote these cards offered for me their Mass intentions, hours in adoration, rosaries, chaplets, and several other prayers and devotions.
Needless to say, it was very moving for me to see these many cards flooding my mailbox! To those who sent them to me and to other priests, thank you!
In tough times, it is important to encourage each other, even though, if I am honest, I do not feel that I suffer much as a priest. Sure, there is the fatigue of work and pastoral responsibility. Imagine, for example, what it is like to search with real concern for words to console such a variety of people, one after the other, in the confessional. The more you love, the more solicitous you will become — and solicitude, if not experienced in faith, is just another word for anxiety. Sure, I have had some negative encounters wearing my monastic robes in public (which, I must add, have been far outweighed by the positive encounters). Sure, there are moments of disillusionment and scandal upon reading the news, and so on. But on the whole, I have to say that I do not feel I have suffered very much for being a priest.
On the contrary, I am excited for the future. I am baptized, and I have the most encouraging message to preach to the world: “For God did not destine us for wrath, but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). Whatever mistakes I fear I might make as a pastor, whatever public insults or shame priests might receive, or whatever sad headlines I might read next, the real story is always beautiful: God created the world to express his own love, and every atom and life is subject to his design.
I am reminded of an old hymn sung by one of my favorite artists, Audrey Assad: How Can I Keep From Singing?
“My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation…. No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that refuge clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”
The real music of our time — and every time — belongs to God. He is creating a kingdom of love in our hearts, and there is nothing that can stop it. Think of it: there is no power on heaven and earth that can stop you from living a life of love. On the contrary, every trial and obstacle provides only more kindling for the furnaces of sacrifice and devotion. We are invincible, no matter what may come. Isn’t that exciting?
If you are struggling in these tough times, whether as a priest or lay person, try to tune your ear. There are so many melodies that we should just let drop: our desires for our self-image, our private and seemingly ‘perfect’ plans for our lives, our false ideas about what we think we need to be happy. If that’s our music, then we’re bound to be disturbed by everyone in earshot blaring his own music in dissonance with ours. Retune your ear to that “endless song” hailing a new creation. Live for God, the promiser of truth and love. If you move to his music, then you will experience how a man like St. Maximillian Kolbe could sing as he starved to death at Auschwitz, and how you and I can be at peace no matter what may come.
Thank you, once again, to those who sent those cards of encouragement to priests. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Father John Bayer, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.