By Fr. McDaniel
(Editor’s note: Father George McDaniel, chancellor for the Diocese of Davenport and parochial vicar at Holy Family Parish in Davenport, gave this homily during the Mass that concluded the annual Clergy Institute in Iowa City.)
Once years ago we were all gathered for some meeting or another, and I was standing in front of the room with Bishop (Gerald) O’Keefe. As we chatted before the meeting began, I said something about the great variety of us.
He responded, “Yes, we are a motley crew aren’t we?”
I don’t think he was comparing us to Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee’s heavy metal band; for one thing none of us, or even all of us together, has enough tattoos to qualify for membership in that group. Still it was an apt comment.
I have often thought about his comment, but as I prepared for this I wondered what precisely motley meant so I looked up the definition in my Webster’s. It speaks of motley as something made up of different elements, a haphazard assortment, or a many-colored garment. An obscure definition says that a motley is a jester or a fool. Bishop O’Keefe would have known the obscure definitions of words so perhaps that is what he meant.
At the end of the Year for Priests perhaps it is good to reflect on the great variety among us, including the great variety of ways we got here. Some can say we always wanted to be a priest; that we never thought of doing anything else. Others of us had different career paths in mind.
I was planning to run the drugstore like my father and grandfather before me. Many of us resisted, like Francis Thompson, who said he fled:
down the nights and down the days; . . .
down the arches of the years; . . .
down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind;
and in the mist of tears I hid from Him.
Yet no matter how much we tried to hide, or how attractive another option for our lives seemed, or what other voices may have been telling us, and no matter how motley we are as a group, we all have at least one thing in common: when we finally heard Jesus say, “come and you will see,” we came.
Andrew and the unnamed disciple mentioned in John’s Gospel were the first of the motley crew that became the disciples. They were similar to us in their variety. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector, no doubt there were some shepherds, perhaps some were craftsmen, maybe another carpenter or two, overall they were very ordinary and far from perfect.
Peter, the denier; Judas the betrayer; Thomas the doubter; Martha the whiner; Zacchaeus the profiteer; the unnamed woman sinner Jesus told to go and sin no more; and all the others are evidence that the first disciples were very human, no doubt sinful, often so dense they misunderstood what Jesus was teaching them. Yet the one thing they had in common is that like Andrew and the other disciple, and like us, when Jesus said, “come and see” they came. Their ordinariness, their “motelyness,” should be a great source of hope for all of us.
I don’t think any of us understood what we were getting into when we said we would come.
It reminds me of the question we ask a couple preparing for marriage, “Do you clearly understand the obligations marriage entails?” With stars in their eyes they say, “Yes,” and you want to say, “You don’t have a clue!” Still they enter the adventure and mystery.
Are we any different?
I recently ran across the sermon I preached at my first Mass 40 years ago. In part I said, “Being a priest these days will not be easy, I don’t suppose it ever was. I don’t say that to elicit pity or sympathy for me. I say it because it is a fact — just as it is a fact that whatever God has chosen for us — be it parent or child or salesman or teacher or mechanic or farmer — is not easy. And in fact at times it all seems futile … It would all be absurd if it were not for the fact that God has chosen us for that role and more important helps us to fulfill that role, that vocation.”
As I reread it now it seems pretentious, yet looking at it after 40 years I realize that I unwittingly stumbled upon a kernel of truth. Whatever bumps there were in the path we have taken, we persevere because, as Paul told the Corinthians, “the love of Christ overwhelms us.” (2 Cor 5:14 Jer Bible)
There is another aspect of the call to which we responded. Whatever Andrew and the other disciple saw and heard when they followed Jesus, it excited them enough that they went to seek out others. Andrew went to his brother Simon and told him he had found the Messiah. Philip found Nathanael and called him to “come and see.”
If we are like them in their “motleyness,” shouldn’t we also be like them in inviting others to “come and see?”
Although the number of men entering the journey to priesthood in the United States has grown slightly from 10 years ago, there are still too few of us. The reasons are complex: the lure of other, seemingly more prestigious occupations; a consumer society that values self-service rather than service; the revelations in recent years about sexual abuse; the desire for marriage and family are just some of the reasons.
But I wonder if another obstacle is the attitudes of parents. In 1989 when I became rector of St. Ambrose Seminary I attended a national conference of rectors and heard one tell of a good prospect in his seminary whose parents told him they would buy him any car he wanted if he would leave the seminary. The bribe worked and he left the seminary.
Just last year a woman I know commented to me about the declining number of priests in our diocese and asked what was being done about it. I mentioned that she had three sons, and asked, “what about them?” She said, “I would never want one of my sons to be a priest; it is a sad and lonely life and I don’t want that for them.”
I was so taken aback I did not respond well. But in the time since I have wondered what message do we send about our lives as priests? And I thought about what Cassius said, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Are our lives sad? Sometimes. Are we lonely? Sometimes. Is it hard? Sometimes.
But that is far from the whole story. Reflecting on 40 years of priesthood the times of joy, satisfaction, accomplishment, peace, and grace far outweigh everything else. I have not seen the angels of God ascending and descending, but I have been privileged to see wondrous things, examples of God’s grace in me and those to whom I have been sent to minister.
Paul told the Corinthians they should be ambassadors for Christ and of course we must be that. Shouldn’t we also be ambassadors for the priesthood? A statistic I saw reported that 89 percent of us said a priest was the greatest influence in our decision to enter the seminary. If that is true we have a great responsibility.
We should proclaim that joy, satisfaction, peace and grace which is ours. If that means being motleys, “fools for the sake of Christ,” so be it. (1 Cor 4:10) Remember what Paul told the Corinthians: “If any one of you thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise. Why? Because the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” (1 Cor 3:18-19)
So, fellow motleys, no matter how many years of ordination you are celebrating, each day accept again the invitation of Jesus to “come and see.” Invite others to “come and see” and join us in the journey. Each day pray as Paul prayed in Acts that “I can finish my race and complete the service to which I have been assigned by the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 20: 24)