I thought I would know what it is all about. At this stage, I think I will just have to say it is a mystery. However, there are some things I have come to understand and I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about the matter.
My basic belief is that we all live in God. Not just us but the whole of the universe, the whole of creation is in God. My experiences of this oneness of everything in God have been like illuminations. It is as if someone has switched on the light and I have seen what is really happening here. These moments of enlightenment do not last long but I cannot forget them.
My second basic belief is that Jesus Christ revealed what happens when God and our world come together. He spent most of his life trying to help us to see the world and our lives through God’s eyes. It got him into trouble. That was not a failure. The cross shows us the deepest truth about ourselves and about God. It is an event in time that reveals what is happening all the time in God’s time. “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” is being said over and over again forever. I like Mark’s Gospel because it shows that the cross is the place of the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus. There he has been lifted up.
The next building block for my belief system is that Christ is the true human. We, being made in the image and likeness of God, will become more human the more we grow to be like Christ, the more we grow in Christ. So, all people are in God, in Christ and are moved by the Spirit. All people are spiritual people. As Christians we are blessed because we know who we are. We know what we are. Not everyone has heard the Christian Gospel. They do not know what God has done for them. To know what God has done for us enables us to live more consciously and freely the relationships into which we were born.
Having laid down a few blocks about what I have learnt about God, us humans, Jesus Christ and us Christians, I can now move to my thoughts about priesthood. My life as a priest has been as a Columban missionary priest. Just as each human being is different and unique so each priest is different and unique. We can, though, make some general observations about priests.
In each culture or religious tradition, there is always a ‘holy man’ or ‘a spirit person’. This does not mean other people are not holy or not spiritual as I have said above. As a human being, we make meaning, we build cultures and organisations by having different people take on different roles. We have leaders for our political systems. We have leaders in our economic systems so also do we need leaders for our religious systems.
My becoming a priest was a combination of my thinking that this was what I should be doing and other people saying “OK, we think you can take on this role”. Part of that role was to live with people of a similar belief, that is, I am a Catholic among other Catholics. We as a community need to have rituals and practices that express who we think we are and reinforce our sense of self and understanding of life and the world.
Seeing that Christ’s life, death and resurrection is the story of what is most crucial to our understanding of God and the universe it is necessary for us to ritually remember and re-enact this story for our own sanity and well-being. To go to Mass is good for our health. Often enough I have not been fully aware of what was going on while I was celebrating Mass but on a good day I can see that what we are doing as a community is connecting to the most powerful, the most loving dimensions of our lives and that of God.
So for me being a priest means that I have been the one to lead various rituals for different communities and to be a person to talk about God with them. The way I did that in the Philippines is different from the way I have done that here in Australia. Different communities express their beliefs and self-understandings differently.
Being a Columban meant not only learning more about myself, Christ and God, it also meant learning more about how to converse with people of other cultures about these same things.
It has been a full fifty years and the learning is not finished yet!.
Fr Trevor Trotter
Regional Director of Oceania