“Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.”

This saying fits me to a tee. As a priest, my sensitive nature is a strong asset. From discerning the yearning of a soul inside a confessional to marveling at the beauty of creation, my emotions serve as portals to the wonder of God.

Of course, clear logic, sound doctrine and common sense also play essential roles in pastoral work. Yet, for me, empathy and service are the sturdy oars that push me out into the deep, adventurous waters of ministry.

Unfortunately, emotions come and go like waves. And, like ocean swells, can throw you overboard in a flash.

When my “oh-so-deep” feelings get swamped, they turn into “oh-so-deep” resentments. (Spats with brother priests come to mind.) Regrettably, the deeper the plunge, the longer it takes to resurface.            This pertains especially to matters of priestly identity. I easily dismiss comments about dents in my truck, but if someone criticizes my pastoral practice or priorities, I take offense. Soon, my thin skin turns into a thick head. Anger builds and, in no time, Captain Ego shows up at my door with a bottle of Crown Royal.

Thanks to an even deeper identity—my humble roots—I remind him that I only drink Keystone and send him on his way. I owe this instinct to my upbringing which emphasized prayer, hard work and self-sacrifice. In addition to this, I had three older brothers ready at hand to school me in the virtue of humility.

Let me explain.

The four of us boys shared one bedroom. This was back in the day when summertime meant stacking hay inside sweltering barns, air-conditioning was reserved for the rich, and personal hygiene consisted of once-a-week showers prior to Sunday Mass.

In our barracks of brotherly love, body odor was the air we breathed. It was in that very location where, on the day I left for high school seminary, Lester took me aside and said, “If you ever become a priest, remember this: Your feet stink as bad as ours.”

His words stunk—I mean, stuck—and, truth be told, what better advice could he have given me? What better way to counter the sin of pride than by focusing on my smelly feet? Didn’t St. Peter do the same?

Thanks to Les, whenever I need to climb down from whatever high horse I’m riding, I meditate on the Last Supper. In the course of my prayer, the Lord often appears standing over a basin of water with a towel in his hand and a smirk on his face.

“Get over it,” he says.

Then he grins and, like a true brother, flicks the damp towel at the center of my chest.

08 / 14 / 2023
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