May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.
“May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.”
These are the words the Bishop says to the ordinandi (the men getting ordained) after they make their promises of prayer, celibacy, and obedience at the Ordination Mass. At all the ordinations I’ve been to—and since I’m now in my seventh year of seminary, I’ve been to a good number—that’s always been one of my favorite lines. But, as my four classmates and I approach, God-willing, our own ordination to the transitional diaconate in a few short months, I now appreciate these words even more. Because more and more, I’m coming to realize that even after all this formation, I am far from a finished product.
I think one of the most surprising things for me about my time in seminary isn’t so much how I’ve changed, but how I haven’t. Don’t get me wrong, my time in seminary formation has changed me for the better. I truly have come to know and love God more fully, and to know and experience His love for me more deeply. I truly have come to love His Church more. And simply on the human level, I have grown as a person, as a friend, and as a man during this time. In short, I’ve become more myself—more of who God made me to be.
And yet, I’m not even close to perfect. I guess I always knew I wouldn’t be, but somewhere deep down in my subconscious I think I originally expected seminary to be something of a holiness factory. All I’d have to do is get on the conveyor belt, go through the assembly line, and presto, I’d come out as the final product…a super-holy priest without any defects.
But as ordination gets closer, it has become more and more apparent to me that this isn’t how it works. And that’s why, more and more, I’ve started to appreciate that line the Bishop will say, “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” Because it acknowledges a simple truth: I’m not perfect, I’m not the finished product…but God doesn’t expect me to be. Which isn’t to say that God hasn’t or doesn’t call me, call all of us, away from sin and towards a deeper holiness. Of course He has, and of course He does. But at the same time, He hasn’t called some assembly-line-priest. He’s called me, with all my limitations and faults, and He wants to work through me to continue to bring His life and His love to His people.
In chapter 8 of the Gospel of Mark, right after the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is on a boat with his apostles, and we’re told that they forgot to bring bread and so they only had one loaf with them. This is a problem, because one loaf of bread doesn’t go far when split between 13 guys. And the apostles are worried about it. But Jesus isn’t. Because He knows that it’s not really a problem. As the apostles just saw, Jesus can literally multiply loaves. He can feed thousands of people with a loaf of bread, and He can definitely work with what they have.
The apostles’ worries shows us, or at least it shows me, that we are often more fixated on what we can’t do than Jesus is. Jesus knows all about our failures and our limitations. But He also knows, and He often has to remind us, that in the end it’s not about what we can do on our own, it’s about what He will do through us.
And, for me, that’s the beauty of that line the Bishop will say, God-willing, at ordination: “May God who has begun the good work in you bring it to fulfillment.” It says that God knows I’m not the finished product and that He isn’t done working on me (thank goodness), but it also says that God has already begun something in me…begun something good. And so, as we go forward in joy-filled faith, my four classmates and I will just have to see how God—in His own way and in His own time—brings that good work to fulfillment.