One of the many great things about being a priest is the wide range of people that you get to meet. While a priest may not belong to a specific family of his own, he really belongs to all families. That allows the priest to be able to see the diverse lives people live. Our modern culture encourages us to be “normal”. We are to find out what the normal ideal is, and strive towards it with all our might. We are to measure our success as a human person against this norm. Now, I am not against norms – after all, the Church has always believed in things that bind us together as a human family, such as reason, natural law, and so on. We believe that we have one Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. But the more people I get to know, the more it is the individuals who are different from rest that make the greatest impression on me. It is not as if these people are “abnormal” – not at all. I would rather call them “extraordinary”. They open my eyes.
My extraordinary people are people like the young man I know who is in a motorized wheelchair pretty much all the time. He is growing into a young man, and his family makes sure that he has all the advantages and experiences that a kid his age would have. He is getting a fine education. He spends time with friends. He participates in activities in the community. This kid does not speak like I do, walk like I do, or eat like I do. But this kid is pretty amazing, because he doesn’t let his life lack for anything due to his circumstances. His family (whom I can’t name, as I haven’t told them about my writing about their son) loves him so much. It is so obvious. It is so wonderful. He’s extraordinary!
I know another man who has also been in a wheelchair for a significant part of his life. He has battled just about every type of physical pain and sickness you can imagine. Yet, he has beaten all the expectations of his doctors over long years. He continues to do so. He and his wife are adopting a 4 year old child in the midst of all of these health challenges. They are saving the child from a very bad situation. They love that child very much. Everything is breaking down, yet this man continues fighting that fight for his family. That’s extraordinary!
I know the L’Arche community. They have some physical and mental difficulties that make it very hard for them to live independently. Yet, in community, they thrive. They grow. They learn to love. They learn to know God. These people are happy, even joyful! They share their community’s burdens. They help each other. Maybe not everyone understands them, but they certainly understand more than most do. I was at a funeral of one of the matriarchs of their community a few years ago. Anyone who was there would tell you that the L’Arche movement understands what it means to die, and what it means more importantly to live. They are extraordinary!
There is a lady who I know who is homebound. She has had health problems all of her life. She beat cancer many years ago. She had a terrible car accident that has left her head full of metal plates. She has had terrible pain because of this condition. This person could become very bitter. But she prays instead. She prays the Rosary for her family, her friends, and for me. She suffers a lot – an amazing amount – but she unites it to Christ. She is in a lot of ways, a lot like Jesus in her selfless offering of pain – a white martyr of sorts. She is extraordinary!
There have been so many others whom I have met over these few short years of priesthood that I could talk about – such as the man who languished for months, really having only the Eucharist as his only solid food – or the lady who was on a respirator for a month before she died – or the legally blind doctor and his wife with spinal issues, who were always more glad to greet me to their apartment on Communion calls then seemed humanly possible. These are the people who really have changed my life. They have broke my mold of what I thought to be possible. They have shown me what it looks like to be joyful in the midst of suffering. They have shown me that it really isn’t in having things pleasurable and easy that we find peace. Peace, rather, comes from a different source, not dependent on our cultural norms, or our personal abilities. Peace comes straight from the Lord Himself, to those who are humble. Now that’s extraordinary!
At that time Jesus said in reply, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.