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The Life of a Salesman (or the Beauty of the Sacraments of Service)

All kinds of things occur in the life of a priest, however, 90% of people only see the priest in a sacramental role: celebrating mass, hearing confessions, baptizing babies, witnessing marriages. Priesthood finds its center in the sacraments, but it is indeed much more than that.

I remember sitting in a corner office in the chancery building of the Archdiocese of New Orleans as an eighteen year old boy looking across to the diminutive but influential man of Archbishop Alfred Hughes. I was nervous, because this was my final interview in the process of entering into seminary. The Archbishop was certainly the most important person I had ever sat across from. We spoke about many things, but one conversation in particular has struck with me, ten and a half years later. He asked me what my father did, and I responded by explaining my father’s job as a salesman of sorts in the hotel business. In his grandfatherly way, the Archbishop perked up slightly and responded, “My father too was a salesman. I see myself as, in some way, following in his footsteps, except we are salesmen for Christ.”

At the time I thought that a fascinating idea for the life of a priest. A man who travels around selling for his and his family’s livelihood by totally believing in a product. A priest gives himself totally to the life into which he was ordained, proclaiming what to him is something, or rather someone, everyone needs, Jesus Christ. A traveling salesman was totally dedicated to his product and so is the priest. Sales, as such, is a field primarily, despite the advent of international social media, about relationships. It is in relationship that the priest, and really any missionary, finds his greatest success, his greatest fecundity.

About a month and a half-ago, I saw in such beautiful lines the fecundity of the priest, his building up life by his focus on relationships. I concelebrated a nuptial mass of a girl whom I had grown up with as she married the man of her dreams. The main celebrant and the priest who received their vows was assigned to our parish as a newly ordained priest, when she and I were around ten years old. After about three years in our parish, he was moved to gain a varied experience, but he continued to enter in and out of our lives.

When I entered my theological training, after spending four years in philosophy, I chose this priest to be my spiritual director. He walked with me for five years during some of the toughest times in my life. He was a guide and a great support to me.

About two and a half years ago, the bride in the story lost her mother in a long battle with cancer.  Although he was now pastor of a parish across town, this priest was there during some of the worse times before her death, and he celebrated her mother’s funeral mass.

It seemed only right for her to ask him to prepare her and her fiancé to receive the sacrament of marriage. He was there leading her and her groom in the recitation of their vows before God and the Church, while I, now a priest, was standing nearby. I saw, in that moment, from the fecundity of his priesthood the beginnings of hers and my vocations, wherein our own fecundity will occur. I saw how powerful the life and ministry of a good priest fosters the fulfillment of the vocations of those to whom he “makes sales” and creates relationships with. In the priest, there is certainly no death of a salesman, but rather new life in Christ.

The Avengers and Discernment

For the fifth year, I have embarked on a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage of life. I am traveling with a group of willing, or mostly willingly teenagers to reflect on the right to life and moving closer to the end of our mission, the protestation of an unjust law that allows wombs to be graves for children created in the image and likeness of God. Part of the gift of life is the gift of our vocation.

This trip not only opens their eyes to the culture of death but also that it is conquered through the living out of our vocation, which naturally fosters the culture of life. To that end, we have priests, seminarians, and women religious traveling with us. We also have certain reflection starting points, one of which I find very interesting, the summer blockbuster The Avengers.

I have reflected previously on The Avengers, wherein I actually made a sort of connection with priesthood, the Old Testament priesthood, but the priesthood nonetheless. However, after watching it several times since that initial theatre experience. It seems that the concept of vocation and discernment can be gleaned from a rather complex popcorn film.

First, often times vocation discernment is initiated from without. We are called. Iron Man, Bruce Banner, Natasha Romanoff, Hawkeye, Thor, and Captain America are called out of their various lives to protect earth. They each have certain gifts which are useful for protection. Each would rather be doing their own thing. Indeed, all are reticent to take up the vocation which Nick Fury could see, with the prophetic one eye. Fury acts as a sort of battle worn spiritual director moving the men and woman to what they are called. Granted he uses a lie, but any analogy fails.

Second, discernment is not done alone. It is done in community. They realize together what they have and to what they are called. They make a definitive choice to move as a community toward that call. They are aided by S.H.I.E.L.D but are ratified by the community at the end of the film as fulfilling their calling. S.H.I.E.L.D, for all its brokenness, is a place of formation for them, a superhero seminary or novitiate. They come from various places to be directed and guided to their call.

Finally, the catalyst for them answering their call was a death. We find our vocation realized in and through the obedience of Christ even unto death. His response to his vocation, You are my Son this day I have begotten you and Behold the Lamb of God. Christ fulfills his call in and through His death and His Resurrection from the dead.

So to where or what is God calling you? The Avengers can help.

Happy Priests!

A few weeks back, my bishop sent me and my brother priests in the diocese a copy of Msgr. Stephen Rossetti’s book entitled Why Priests are Happy. Having benefited from reading two of his previous works, I was happy to have this newly-released book that looks at the state of my brothers in ministry. 
I found the book to be enjoyable, despite the fact that it was really a summary of a two large-scale studies of priestly life and ministry, which arrived at conclusions via charts and numerical analysis. I found it particularly interesting to see his findings on the connections between priestly happiness, time in prayer, various spiritual practices, understandings of obedience and celibacy, as well as other elements with regards to different generations of priests. 
All of these various factors come together to paint a beautiful picture of priesthood, one that show that we priests are … actually happy! The correlations (not causations, as he clearly notes) between happiness and various beliefs and spiritual practices was also good food for reflection in my own vocation, as it would be for anyone. In the end, he simply notes that as a whole, priests are generally happy, and that the reason is… well, I’ll leave that for you to find out.

It Is You I Beckon

Greetings all! The time has come for me to open my mouth, or at least use my fingers, and talk a bit about one of the books that I have just recently finished. Though not terribly hard to find online, it is not a book that I have seen often (ever) in a book store. As I noted in my profile, in my spare time I like to browse in our library at school and periodically find little gems that I treasure. One such book is Bishop Joseph Angrisani’s book entitled “It Is You I Beckon: A Book of Spiritual Inspirations for Seminarians” Although totaling only 337 pages, it took me about 4 months to read it all. Bishop Angrisani models this book after Pope Pius XII’s exhortation ‘Menti Nostrae’ and does an incredible job of making his points quickly and powerfully. It relies heavily on scripture and the lives of the saints, in addition to the exhortation. The book is split up into 100 chapters, each containing 3 smaller sections. These chapters range from a basic understanding of vocation to the call to Christian perfection with Christ as the model, it breaks down the the beatitudes and the older setup of the various major and minor orders in the Church.

Although I have often read books that make me stop and reflect on something for a bit before moving on in the reading, I have not encountered one that forced me to do that nearly every time I picked it up. Each 2-3 page chapter was more than enough food for a day of spiritual reflection and has actually had a major impact upon me, especially in my prayer and in my relationships with family and friends. In fact, this book has proved to be an incredible blessing from God because it has helped me to deal with several things that I had been dealing with for a while in my own spiritual life and especially in my discernment. It certainly makes me realize the greatness that the priest is called to and that the process begins now rather than later.

One might think that because of the title that only seminarians ought to read this book. While it is obviously aimed at this particular group of readers, there are many reflections that the regular lay person could benefit greatly from, in addition to the possibility of people coming to understand a bit more what it means to be a priest or seminarian in the world today. I did notice a few things in the book where the author reflects things that were of greater importance and emphasis in his day, and not as much in ours, but those points are typically noticeable to the discerning eye. In summary, I would very strongly suggest this book to all those seeking a source of spiritual nourishment – especially those discerning the priesthood, or those already in orders.