Calling All Weaklings
Before heading off to seminary, I remember having one last sit-down with my pastor. We spoke about my expectations, hopes, goals, and anxieties as I anticipated the new formation environment of the seminary. “I know I have a lot to learn and that I will have many weaknesses to overcome so that I can be a better servant for God’s people,” I told him. “Yes, but Jesus is going to reveal through you many new gifts, talents, and strengths,” he assured me. Little did I realize at that point, those two aspects of myself, strengths and weaknesses, would often be made one and the same in Christ Jesus.
St. John Vianney says that if the priest could realize what he is, he would die. A significant part of seminarian discernment involves striving to know what exactly a priest is, searching for a clear image of the holy priesthood, and becoming aware of all of the needs of the Church, needs which cry out for pastors who are willing and able to make countless sacrifices each day for their flocks. In the face of such an image, when the seminarian realizes what a priest has to be, he might die of despair! How can I possibly live up to such a task? Even the areas of ministry I’m good at, my strengths, the natural talents the Lord has given me don’t seem nearly enough to provide for the task at hand. I wish to be of service to God’s people, but there is nothing exceptional about me – no superabounding capacity to love and take care of others (in fact, I am quite needy myself), no surpassing knowledge of the Scriptures or the Catechism (I am often the one learning from those I am supposed to be teaching), and no perfection in the virtues to set a holy example for others (again, I am the weakest). What gift do I have to offer? Where are the new strengths? I’m not loving enough. I’m not holy enough. I’m not smart enough.
“Take courage. I am.” Priestly ministry is the saving power of God poured out on His beloved people. To realize what a priest is means looking to God’s Love, His Holiness, His Truth. For the priest to become what he is then, he must die to himself to allow Christ to take full possession of him for His people. The paradox, the life-giving and liberating truth is, it is precisely in my death, my “I’m not,” that Christ wishes to dwell, raise up, and make into a gift of Himself. As the Lord consoled St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” so I too must learn to “boast most gladly of my weaknesses… for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This is the new strength the Lord is offering me to accept as a seminarian: my weakness, which is His strength. So often in my ministry as a seminarian, when it feels like I am failing to adequately love someone or witness to them, the Lord surprises me by providing a victory in that person’s heart. On the contrary, it often happens that when I feel like I am in control, my words fall flat and my work appears fruitless. Time and again in the seminary, the Lord has allowed me to stumble, to be caught unprepared, or to simply reach the end of my capabilities in order to show me that I can depend on Him, that He will provide for His people. Please pray for me that I may continue to be delighted by many weaknesses, that is, the strength provided by Jesus Christ, and pray that the Lord will call many weak men to enter the seminar