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Dear Friends,

 

The standard reason for becoming a priest for many, many years was “to save my own soul and help save the souls of others,” that was it.

 

I am not sure where this language came from but in many of the large seminaries when there were many large seminaries in order to be admitted to the major seminary, there was a minor, you had to write a letter to ask to be admitted and your letter had to contain the above as your reason or you did not get in.

 

The essential organization of the Catholic Church, remember that the Catholic Church was essentially an organization very hierarchically structured, revolved around those tasks, saving your own soul and saving the souls of others.

 

Canon Law became the most important aspect of the Church’s theological foundation in actual practice, it became the go to source to answer religious questions, to create the curricula of religious education programs, and, of course, the boiler plate of the formation of priests.

 

Canon Law is very, very similar to civil law and is found in books indistinguishable from civil law texts with various topics and relationships and issues meticulously organized in chapter and verse with each law dissected and laid out with all of the possible factors, exceptions, exemptions that could be imagined.

 

So for many years that was all that a priest needed to do was consult canon law in order to save his own soul and the souls of others and that mentality has pretty much returned to priestly formation but there are far fewer seminaries, far fewer priests and far fewer people who worry about saving their souls or the souls of anyone else.

 

The whole idea of a soul is incomprehensible in these times to many people in the west, North America and Europe, especially many young people and that is tragic, in my opinion, but not saving it instead helping to find it should be the task of those who would follow Christ.

 

Lots of people in the western world believe in a heaven and they, of course, believe that they are going there but, most of that if given a little push back is just about egos and self-promotion and the Gospels never mention that kind of stuff.

 

The idea of saving your soul, and saving it by following certain laws handed out by God like an owners-manual while being very, very effective for a long, long time but in a decidedly short sighted way doesn’t really make sense once you outgrow the confines of a Roman Catholicism that was founded on the model of European monarchies.

 

The immigrant ethnic minorities escaping the European wars of the 20th century that came here brought that with them and recreated that model of Catholicism but now by the time of the fourth or fifth generations it only appeals to people in rarified atmospheres of longing for the certainty and predictability of 15th century European kingdoms with, alas, the only kingdom available today being, The Magic Kingdom, which is an amusement park, maybe a religion, for some, but a fantasy, nonetheless.

 

My thoughts on this Sunday’s Gospel story work with my own reasons for becoming a priest which have changed much over the years and still change but were never too much about saving anything but a lot about finding.

 

In a recent conversation with a very good friend I said, “We never would have met if I was not a Catholic priest.”

 

He sort of disagreed and said, “Do you mean that the Universe lined up everything to bring about me meeting you?’

 

I said, “Yep! Exactly that!”

 

I believe that we get involved with each other’s story, sometimes in crucial ways and that when we die our stories do not unravel, because they are threads of a much grander story being told by the One who gets to shut the door.

 

The door is not ours to shut, it is ours to strive through. That is all we have to worry about, the striving.

 

In this Sunday’s Gospel story Jesus does not answer the question. Did you notice that? He doesn’t answer whether or not many or few will be saved.

 

The concern of Jesus is not saving your soul but striving to enter through the narrow door. Take note that, striving to enter through the narrow door is what Jesus is about, striving through…

 

Well that narrow door could be many places, lots of people put it in heaven and the idea that they had was getting to heaven and that was taught to be a very difficult task that required following the rules, all the rules.

 

It was difficult because he slopes of salvation were slippery, but I do not get that from Jesus, again, because I don’t think Jesus had any idea about getting us to heaven, he preached about the Kingdom of God a very different idea than a dualistic world of “heaven” and “earth.”

 

He tells us in the Gospel of John, this is Luke, that in his father’s house there are many dwelling places otherwise why would he tell you he had prepared a place for you, if he didn’t mean it?

 

I believe that that narrow door is within us not outside of us. That narrow door is at the juncture between our inner dimension of spirit and our outer world of mind, body, relationships, work, sex, and love.

 

That narrow door is where we enter into mostly questions but a lot of wonder and, hopefully, a bit of awe, and that if there are any answers to the questions, they are always provisional and transitory.

 

Now the thing about this door and the Universe lining up encounters with life is that we don’t get to stop and rest.

 

Once we start through that narrow door, we cannot turn around and we cannot quit making our way through that door.

 

That choice is not up to us but to the “owner of the house.” That is the person who gets to close it, not you or me.

 

Sometimes that narrow door at the juncture of spirit and matter, time and eternity, and “heaven” and “earth” will find us striving with joy, ecstasies and agonies, love, fullness, and peace, other times we may be striving with fear, anxiety, and aching doubt when we find our door leads to the sick bed of someone we love, or takes us through the door following mystery when someone we love leaves us, sometimes we have to get through the door of the desolation of despair.

 

That door can be anywhere, we just have to keep striving to get through not turn around, just keep working our way through it.

 

Older reasons for becoming priests than saving souls had to do with healing souls which is what saving actually means. Saving is a contraction of salving as in ointment.

 

Priests were people who felt called to heal or compelled to heal. In strict official Church language that is essentially what baptism is all about, making us all aware of our vocation as priests sent to heal and make whole.

 

The theology of an ordained priesthood came much later, it was baptism that came first.

 

In the fundamental teachings of Jesus it was to go forth to all of the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, give all people their God given vocation to be healers of God’s created love manifest at the juncture of Spirit and Matter and be about the business of building the Kingdom of God.

 

Peace,

Father Niblick