April 25, 2010

Sundays and Celibacy

Today was one of those Sundays when I both open the church in the morning and close it in the afternoon.

At six this morning I went to the church to set up for the first Mass. Once I had everything set up, there was almost enough light to offer Morning Prayer, so I made my meditation first and then opened my breviary. All this before turning on the lights or opening the church. (As anyone learns fast, you can't open the church too early in the morning, because no matter how early it is, someone will start coming at that time and then resent you when it's locked.) It's such a privileged solitude to sit, locked in and alone with the Blessed Sacrament and the paschal candle in the dim, early morning natural light. I am unworthy of the privilege of being able to pray this way.

Then I open up and everything gears up. I offer two Masses in a row, have a break, and then have four babies to baptize. In the course of the day I probably greet a couple hundred people. I promise to pray for all kinds of intentions, sign bulletins for children and sponsor forms for adults. I bless a couple of rosaries, and hear reports from retreats.

Then, at about four in the afternoon, having wrapped up the baptismal paperwork and some other random stuff to get ahead on the week, I go back to the church and find it empty once again. I grab the arcane set of keys that open the poor boxes and the vigil candle donations. I collect all of the crumpled money and put in the right bags. All quiet. I check the holy water bucket and decide that it can get through the week. (I don't know what people do with it, and maybe I don't want to know. We go through several gallons a week.) Then I put off the lights, lock up, and sit down again in the solitude to offer Evening Prayer. I'm back where I started, there in the dark with my breviary and my Lord. Before the Our Father I try to remember all of the intentions I was given today; a complicated pregnancy, a blood test tomorrow, another young man who said, "Please pray for my attitude."

I know I repeat myself and write about this over and over, but it continues to strike me at deeper levels: the starkness of the shift from intense social-ness to total solitude in the life of priestly ministry. The day begins and ends with solitary prayer in the sacred space of this church, but in between the same space is filled with people and noise and music and prayers.

It speaks to me of celibacy. It isn't a life of separation from people. On the contrary, I feel very embedded in the fabric of this community and its neighborhoods. But what I offer in all those relationships begins and ends with the God I meet in my solitude. Whatever I have to offer emerges from this mysterious and exclusive intimacy that I clumsily call prayer. It is an exclusive Relationship, for sure, but an exclusivity that wants to become fruitful, if that makes any sense. Maybe I'm not saying it right. I'm pretty tired.

10 comments:

Karinann said...

Thank you for sharing this, Br. Charles. Your post reminded me of what Bl. Mother Teresa would tell people when asked how she and the sisters were able to do the difficult work they did. She attributed it to the time they spent each day before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

Father Charles - I know I speak for many others here when I offer my thanks for these "slice of life" posts. And FYI, after you live in Latin countries, walking up to a locked church is like, "eh...?" In other words, you're happy when it's open on time, but it's not at all expected.

Brother Charles said...

I'm happy we are able to leave our church open.

4narnia said...

this post makes perfect sense, Fr. C! thanks for sharing it. as we grow and change in our relationship with God and others, i think we should experience the same situations in different ways. even when we hear the Word of God in Sacred Scripture - everyone hears the same words, but we all get something different from it depending on where we are in our spiritual journey. PAX! ~tara t~

Cole Matson said...

Thanks for this, Father. I get a lot out of your posts on the relationship with God particular to celibacy. They help me grow in my own celibate vocation, and remember where the focus is (or should be).

Don said...

I just love coming to a church or shrine and going in a sitting in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. There is an intimacy and solitude that is unmatched. Thanks for getting up early.

Sara said...

This reads like a mirror image of my Sundays as a mom of 4... getting up with the babies, then the noise and hustle of getting everyone else up and out the door for Mass, and at the end of the day, the usual business of dinner, bedtime stories, getting ready for Monday, etc.

In between, in the afternoon when things have settled down, I'm able to leave the kids with my husband for a while and take time to rest and pray. My thoughts during this time usually turn to my family and to my husband, and how many times through the week I see God in them.

There are many things I love about attending Mass on Sunday with my husband and kids, but there is nothing intimate about it and honestly, not much that is restful. On Sundays I am there primarily as a Christian parent. I just remind myself that it's only for a season of my life and I try to offer my busy Sundays as gracefully as I can. I am grateful that I can attend daily Mass during the week by myself and that I have a husband who is so cool about letting me take time away on Sunday afternoons.

Brother Charles said...

Thanks for the comment, Sara. I had thought of this contrast when I was writing the post, but didn't want to include it for fear of presuming on the interior life of another state. Thanks for filling out the post. Peace, and thanks for your witness!

Barb, sfo said...

What you don't mention, but what comes through in the post, is that the solitary time with the Blessed Sacrament is what nourishes you to be able to handle the rest of the busy day.

Greg said...

You reminded me I have visited the prayer garden at the Serra Retreat in Malibu, overlooking the Pacific, way too infrequently. Today would be a good day to walk there...