Last year I heard a quote from a priest that has stuck to me to this day and I believe will continue to stay with me as I move forward in my priesthood. “are you weak enough to be a priest?” A profound statement that should make us think. Normally in our world we look at the strengths and gifts someone has, and we ask are you smart enough to be a doctor, are you persuasive enough to be a lawyer, do you have a good enough public persona to be a politician? I can say as a seminarian these questions would come in my mind about the priesthood. Am I a good enough public speaker, do I relate well enough to the people, do I have enough leadership skills, do I have the administrative skills to one day run a million dollar parish. This priest however turned it around, not that we don’t recognize the gifts and talents young men have for the priesthood, but the more important question is, is this man weak enough to be a priest?
We don’t have to look far to see examples of weakness in the scriptures. Jesus sent out 72 disciples to go out and prepare the way for him. We don’t know much about who these disciples are, what qualifications they have, if they were good speakers, we don’t know. I don’t think Jesus was too concerned with that. What we do hear however is that Jesus told them. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; greet no-one along the way.” He also told them that, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves” Lambs are not strong creatures they need a shepherd to guide them and protect them because they can’t protect themselves.
In sending them out like lambs among wolves I don’t believe Jesus was trying to set them up failure. Rather I believe that Jesus was sending them out asking them to show faith and trust in him rather than their own strengths their own abilities. As we can see they were successful in their ministry, they came back and reported that even the demons are subject to us because of your name. The power these disciples have are not because they are great preachers, have some magical powers or something, rather it is because of the name of Jesus and his power that they are able to cast out demons.
Again, in our culture we can easily think about our priests and leaders and think what their strengths are what gifts do they have to offer the church. We need to be grateful to God for the gifts we have and that he has given to us, however I believe God sees not so much our strengths but our brokenness our weakness, our failings and sees how he can redeem that and work through that to bring salvation to others.
The question, “are you weak enough to be a priest” I admit makes me look at some of my own weaknesses and struggles that I have in my own life. You may come to notice about me that sometimes my hand shakes some, it’s a part of who I am and it causes me to look more nervous than I actually am. Secondly my social skills don’t come to me as naturally, some have even called me socially awkward at times. I admit that I’m an introvert and I tend to gravitate to the edges of the room instead of the center so to speak. We all have weaknesses we all have areas of our lives that we need to grow in. I believe though that Jesus looks on those weaknesses with love and he also looks at them as opportunities for his grace to work through us.
A saint that I find particular inspiration in is St. Therese of Lisieux, you may also know her as St. Therese of the little flower. She is well known for little way, where she does little acts with great love. However, she too saw her self as a little child in the arms of our Lord. She knew of her weaknesses, she dealt with scruples, she was overly emotional about things at times, she became very ill at a young age in her life and she too died at a very young age. However she is venerated in the Church by millions of people and she is amazingly a doctor of the Church! In her littleness God made her great.
This is the challenge of my priesthood and all of our lives. Our culture looks to strength, power, having all the best skills and talents. However, our Lord calls us to be little to be weak so that through him we can be made strong. Jesus sent out 72 disciples to proclaim the kingdom and prepare the way for him. Our priests continue this mission and continue to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Our challenge is not to find the most talented, and skillful men, but rather those who are open to the grace of the Holy Spirit. God wants us to be weak and little so that he can make us strong!