I learned something very important this week:
I can be replaced. I will be replaced.
And I am totally okay with that.
I learned this lesson yesterday. To make a long story short, the realization came after me spraining my wrist and a comically long ER visit with a camper who sprained his ankle. Pair that with the sleep deprivation that comes with running Camp Maccabee and I am out of commission for a day. Thankfully the assistant director, Fr. Paul Clark , is incredibly capable as was the rest of my staff. They did just fine without my micromanagement for a day.
Early this morning, I laid awake contemplating this. I like to try to learn lessons from my errors and mishaps. What occurred to me is this:
First, the Roman Catholic Church has existed for nearly two millennia before me. It will exist long after I am gone. My time and work in the Body of Christ here and now is historically brief. It is moment in time that passes in and out like a scent.
Second, in imitation of our Lord, the Church is on a via dolorosa, till she shares in the resurrection of Christ. As the Church carries the cross as Christ did, surrounded by hostile and jeering crowds as Christ did, each of us, in our turn, like Simon of Cyrene, picks up part of that cross as we live here in the Church militant. We shuffle in through baptism and shuffle out through death and purification.
Third, that each of picks up our share of the cross is necessary and important. The Lord Himself offers part of the Cross to us as He carries the majority of it. That cross is the death to self necessary to carry out the vocation to which each of us is called. For me as a priest, that means embracing the life of Christ and the selfless service of grace, especially in making present the sacramental life if the Church.
In fulfilling my duties as a priest, in embracing Christ in obedience, I take up a small piece of the Cross and walk for several decades until such time as another takes my spot. I can be and will be replaced. It is necessary and important for me to carry that cross now. I know how I am willing to carry my portion of the Cross is something I will be held accountable.
But I am not delusional, the via dolorosa will continue after I am gone. The content of my way on the way of the cross is dictated by God’s will and not mine.
Fourth, one of my primary jobs is to raise up other disciples who will willingly and joyfully embrace their part of the Cross. No one can want the benefits of the Cross and the glory of the resurrection without bearing their portion of the way.
Christ calls us carry our crosses. In being a pastor, this is a primary role. Others were pastors before me and other priests will pastor after I am gone. In leading the camp, I am aware that others will come after me. Ministry is not a place for cults of personality. I don’t want to build up disciples for me, but for Christ! To build up myself as irreplaceable is to siphon followers of Christ to be disciples for myself and have them bear my crosses instead of the Cross of Christ.
In a few short decades my time to hold a portion of the Cross will come and go. If I am teaching well, the lessons will last to eternity even if my name is enfolded into obscurity. Christ must increase. I must decrease.
Pray hard, though, that more men embrace the priesthood….pick up that part of the Cross God assigns them…because I and every other priest will need to be replaced many times over.