by Fr. Matthias
It is my road trip home after a summer in a Midwest spiritual boot camp for diocesan seminarians. For 10 weeks, I have studied, pondered, and conversed with others about the spiritual life of a diocesan priest. We focused on the spousal elements of celibacy, the joys and demands of spiritual fatherhood, and the need to be a contemplative in action. The content was rich and life-giving, but I still feel there is something missing.
Trying not to overthink it, I decide to power on the sound system. A CD of Robert Earl Keen’s greatest hits, stuck in the console, has been my only musical companion all summer in a borrowed car. I have every song memorized and begin to sing along while drumming on the steering wheel as cornfields rise and fall against the backdrop of the Missouri River. The twang of the steel guitar and references to places across my home state sounds different on the drive home.
Eventually, I arrive at the final track on the album, “I’m Comin’ Home”. It’s the only one I don’t know, as I had played it sparingly in anticipation of this moment. As Robert Earl’s earthy, screeching voice carries the tune of a man who is making sacrifices to be home with the love of his life, the heart of diocesan priesthood unfolds: I will be anchored to a particular piece of dirt, with particular people, who have particular joys, hopes, worries, vocal accents, and personal histories. My love will be particular.
Needless to say, I have the song on repeat as I near the state line which forms the boundary of my diocese. My heart pulses with anticipation and excitement. I am not disappointed: the road sign at the border line that welcomes me home feels like a personal greeting from the Lord, the familiar main street of that first town like a dim mirror of the heavenly Jerusalem. As I exit the town to the south, my heart, swelling with affection, nearly bursts, as the shadows of the town give way to the open breaks carrying an eternal beauty: tall grass, waving in the wind in jubilation, dances in the shimmering reflection of the sandstone walls brightened by the evening sun. I pull over so as not to wreck the car that is not my own and Keen’s voice gives way to the King’s: behold, this portion of the vineyard, this part of the kingdom, I share with you…
My pickup rolls across the highway, its cherry red color brightly reflected against the backdrop of the asphalt that unfolds before me. My A/C is out, so the windows are rolled down. Truth be told, the fresh air is also a welcome relief to the nervous anxiety I feel when thinking about my new responsibilities. I have just been named a pastor for the first time and am aware of what this means: I am not only responsible for every Catholic in my parish boundaries, but as a true representative of Christ, I am responsible for every soul in the territory.
My parish boundaries are an entire county that stretches over 895 square miles and three towns.
I loosen my grip on the wheel and tell myself to look at the view. Past the hood of the truck, rolling hills of grassland stretch endlessly from east to west as cattle, gently grazing, dot the open plains. Wispy clouds stretch like streamers across the canvas of the deep blue sky. A town appears in view, and it is one of my own! A green sign, marking the county line, is now within eyesight, and a familiar voice echoes faintly in the depths: Behold, this portion of the vineyard, this part of the kingdom, I share with you…
I let my knee take the steering wheel and raise my hands in blessing while my heart is raised in rejoicing. Lord, bless these particular people, in this particular place, with this singular grace: that together we may come home to you.