Guest post by Father Patrick O’Brien
Thoughts from a traveling priest
I am but an old priest graced with eyes to see and ears to hear. Graced with a heart that feels emotions connected to the memories rattling around in my brain. Graced, every now and again, with the ability to speak words that penetrate the air, creating vibrations received by others and processed in the Wernicke’s region of the left temporal lobe where they are translated into words that give meaning.
Sometimes the listener appreciates my words. Other times the words are never heard although the listener sits right in front of me. I see the look in their eyes — sometimes glazed, sometimes dreamy, sometimes closed while the head teeters perilously atop the shoulders. Perhaps the outside world is too demanding and their minds are cluttered with so many “to dos” that they couldn’t possibly entertain my message. Perhaps their hearts are hardened through too many misfortunes to open to the charity of forgiveness. Yet I continue delivering my message, speaking the words pouring forth from my heart, for the ears that can hear.
I am but an old, traveling priest, taking on congregations where other priests have fallen ill or have been otherwise incapacitated. Some may say that I have no church; but I couldn’t disagree more. My church is every church I’m called into — even if for a day or two.
As a traveling priest I have learned many things about human nature. One of the most interesting is the lack of value assigned to the temporary versus the permanent. Why is it that we don’t consider anything temporary as valuable as the permanent? Would you feel the same way about a rental apartment as you would a home that you own? Consider how school children react at having a substitute teacher. They don’t think to take the substitute as seriously as the permanent teacher. And why is that? Is it not possible that the substitute teacher could speak a simple word or phrase that would make all the difference in the world to a struggling child?
These things I know because it is no different with a substitute priest. Parishioners “take the day off” thinking their absence will not count against them in the eyes of their permanent priest (as if he’s really taking roll call…). Parishioners come in late and leave early without so much as lingering for a moment to speak to me — after all, what pull might I really have for the sake of their soul at heaven’s gate? Ah, but is it not possible that my words, my spirit could pour forth to penetrate their heart and change the trajectory of their lives forever? Could that spark of divine ever come from an humble traveling priest like me?
Hence, I harken with joy at the chance to speak to you through this venue of social media which, as you might guess, is new to me. And I have the perfect message to share today: slow down. Breathe deeply. Listen to the sounds around you. Hear. Feel. As difficult as this may be to believe, life is not meant to be a circus; rather, a picnic… under a shade tree… next to a beautiful cool lake. Can you picture it in your mind? Can you feel the warm breeze gently caressing your face?
Life is a cycle. Birth, death. Morning, night. Food in, food out. But this cycle has purpose: the chance to get life right. I don’t mean getting life right ever now and again, I mean living life right consistently!
When we can rise every morning with a joyful heart and give of ourselves with love and charity without fail until we put ourselves to rest at the end of the day, then we are on the right path. When we can live each day as if it’s the last, giving the very best of ourselves to the world around us, then we are on the right path. When we can love and accept everyone, no matter how differently they may look or act, without judgement, then we are on the right path. When we can mindfully consider every aspect of effort that goes into every morsel we place into our mouths, chewing with acute awareness of the tastes it provides, swallowing it with gratitude because our stomachs won’t go hungry, then we are on the right path. When we can be gentle with ourselves and our human imperfections, choosing instead to love and forgive ourselves as we love and forgive others, then we are on the right path.
Thank goodness we have a cycle of life!
I am but an old, traveling, Irish priest. Standing on my little soap box of hope. Thanking you for staying with me until this last word.
Father Patrick O’Brien appears in Truth Runs Deep where he steps in as parish priest when Father Stephen Mario is placed on administrative leave after the tragic murders of a parish family.
Cartoon found here.