Our sacrifice is to live hopefully and humanly
This year I celebrated my 40th anniversary of ordination. I was ordained in 1969 during those confident and energetic times. Vatican II had only just finished and we were excited and optimistic about the changes it was bringing. I was young, idealistic and ready, if not to save the world, to at least make a significant contribution. Like my classmates I was prepared to make all kinds of sacrifices for the “splendid cause” to which we had committed ourselves. I remember in those days the most popular verse for ordination cards was the quote from Philippians chapter two, about Jesus, although his nature was divine he took on human nature and became a servant even unto death on a cross. We too felt we were ready for big sacrifices, but what we didn’t expect was that our sacrifices would be far more ordinary and human.
We thought that life would be heroic but simple and that our choices would be clear. We thought that God would lead us more directly than he has and that the future, even if demanding, would be straightforward. We had learnt plenty of theology and expected that life would confirm all we had learnt not question our deeply held principles.
When I look back I think I was both blessed and “cursed” to be ordained at the time I was. I was ordained at the peak of the wave. Our seminaries were full; our missionaries young and confident. But it has been a time of questioning since the early 70s, almost forty years of questions. It has certainly been a time of ageing and diminishment for the Columbans and a time when religion and mission have been increasingly marginalised, moving from the centre to the periphery.
Many of us come to religion to find peace and certainty and yet it many ways it provokes bigger questions. I now think that living with questions, through frustrations and without a clear direction for the future is the way we “empty ourselves, become human and take on the form of a servant.”
Christmas is a time when we meditate on the Incarnation, the fact that God became human. We have no problem imagining God taking on the noble, rewarding and virtuous aspects of being human. But the incarnation also means that God took on the fragility, frustrations and all the things we would avoid if we had the choice. Our sacrifices are to live hopefully through them. And I believe that it is our trust, openness and sense of humour in the face of such human realities that will proclaim the power of the Gospel more powerfully than our “sanctity” or perfection.
So again this Christmas we can take hope from the fact that God became human.
Fr Noel Connolly SSC