Easter Sunday afternoon, one of those moments as a parish priest when there is a sudden shift from activity and sound to quiet and stillness. From the Vigil last night and through the four Masses today, I've greeted hundreds of people, sang many hymns, preached twice, sprinkled two congregations, and done seven incensations of altars and Gospels, not to mention offering the Sacrifice three times.
And after all of this intensely social and sometimes feverish activity, these last few hours of the Paschal Triduum* arrive with complete quiet and solitude. Masses are done and the people have gone. It doesn't even seem like there is anyone in the friary; the brothers are perhaps asleep or have gone to visit someone.
I can see how some priests get trapped in loneliness. The ministry is very social; you make both friends and enemies in abundance, and attract flatterers and disciples. But at the ends of the day you are alone. So if you start to identify yourself with the support you receive from the people you serve, you put yourself in a dangerous place. You will be lonely when there is no one around to fulfill your need to be helpful, your need to be needed. As one of my friends in the Order described this caricature of ministry, "There I was, hard at work, doing for God what he couldn't do for himself."
But loneliness is a temptation, a running away from the invitation of solitude. The longer I go in my Christian journey--and here I am in the last hours of my seventeenth Paschal Triduum--I realize more and more that part of the charism of celibacy is an invitation to a certain kind of prayer that is jealous, exclusive, and very secret.
Amen. Surrexit Christus Vere. Alleluia.
*Sometimes people forget that the Triduum doesn't end with the Easter Vigil but extends through Vespers of Sunday. As far as divine revelation is concerned, a day goes from sundown to sundown; i.e., "Evening came and morning followed, the nth day." So the 'three days' of the Paschal Triduum commence with the Mass of the Lord's Supper, which replaces Vespers on Holy Thursday Evening, and close with Vespers on Sunday.