How do you live your walk of discipleship? As a single person, married, widowed, divorced, celibate… or something else?
Two Januaries ago, while on vacation with my support group, Bishop Stika said a memorable thing at one of our daily masses. He was talking about a challenge he gave to the priests in his diocese. “Are you living your priesthood as a celibate or as a bachelor? Many will tell you it is tough not being married. And in some ways, they are right. But you did not choose ‘not to be married’. You chose to be celibate – you chose the freedom to embrace the church and serve her with all your heart and soul. The temptation in the priesthood is to live as a bachelor – enjoying your quiet time, your fishing, and your hobbies. And, as a person who is not readily accountable to another person, it is easy to get comfortable in your patterns of rest and work.
It is easy to live like a bachelor. So, when that phone call comes in the middle of the night, and you are living your priesthood as a bachelor, you won’t answer it. But if you are living it as a servant, you will. And when you are asked to go above and beyond the call of duty, if you are living as a bachelor, you won’t. But as a servant, you will. So the choice is yours – are you willing to live your priesthood as a celibate, or will you live it as a bachelor?”
It has been a good examination of conscience for me since that January vacation.
There are times, when I would look back on the end of a week’s journey and realize, I did a good job as a bachelor this week. Got my round of golf in. Made sure I got enough sleep. Had the chance to go out to dinner with some friends and made use of the opportunity. All of those are good things, aren’t they Lord? But then I remember, I had the chance to visit some folks in long term nursing facilities far outside the parish boundaries, and did not do so. I could have used a window of time to drop by the upper block classrooms, but I never feel like what I would do off the cuff is better than what the teacher had planned, so I didn’t. And then there was that parishioner who didn’t look like they were having the best day. But rather than engage them deeply in what was going on, I did the “I’ll keep you in my prayers’ thing. Prayers are always a good thing to do. But was that the celibate/servant thing to do? Hmmm…
Though we might use different words to describe that level of commitment depending on the context of our lives – isn’t that precisely the ‘question’ that Jesus ‘asks’ his disciples as he washes their feet? “If I, your Lord and Master have washed your feet, then you must do the same.” It is not about the bachelor thing, Jesus is telling us, but about the servant thing.
And, isn’t that exactly why Peter resisted having Jesus wash his feet? Peter knew EXACTLY what Jesus was asking of him in that loving action. “Who will you be spending your life for, Simon? Will it be about you – making sure you have your needs taken care of, making sure that you live comfortably within the confines of your life as a fisher man and a fisher of men. Or, will it be not about you – but rather, about the love that you pledge to the world that I send you to?”
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asks not just the embarrassed and reluctant Peter and his disciples. Some 2,000 years later, do we understand what he has done for us as well?
In a few moments, you will have the opportunity to discover the amazing freedom that comes from the choice to be a servant and not a bachelor. There are three chairs here. I’ll be manning the one in the center. Come there if you need your feet washed and your heart loved and any smallness of heart washed away. Fr. Johnson and Deacon Mark will start the other two. Once they have washed your feet, they will hand you the towel and basin to wash the feet of the person after you…
As we celebrate what this night asks us to do ‘in memory of me’, may we do ALL of this – our communion, our prayer and praise, and our washing of the feet and serving of one another, not as a bachelor, but always as a servant, with generous hearts and generous love.