From the Desk of the Pastor
By Fr. Jeff Shooner
Here is the first in an occasional series that will be selected from pastors' letters to their parishioners contained in bulletins each Sunday. Featured this week is Father Jeff Shooner's letter from November 5.
"The greatest among you must be your servant." Mathew 23: 1-12
Why do we do what we do? Plato wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." It is important for us to have a certain amount of self-knowledge: to know who we are, our motivations and intentions, and our true gifts and limitations. This knowledge is central for us to grow and mature, but it's not always easy to gain.
I had many motivations for accepting a nomination to the Air Force Academy. I thought it was the best path to reach my goals in life, was exclusive and prestigious, provided amazing opportunities and future stability, would challenge me to reach my potential, and was a way for me to serve my country. It made my dad, a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Army, proud. In the actual challenge of the Academy experience, many of my motivations melted away. They simply weren't enough. In a profound way, I had to discover why I was willing to sacrifice and for what I was willing to give my life.
I wish I could say I had purified my motivations when I entered seminary to become a priest, but there were all kinds of mixed motivations then, too. Among other reasons, because I was my parents' only living child and had three brothers die - Bradley and Patrick were both premature and died shortly after birth, and my mom also had a late miscarriage - I wanted to be the perfect son. I carried with me the responsibility to be good enough to compensate for my brothers' deaths.
The idea of priesthood gave me a way to do that. It was deep and heavy.
This kind of self-knowledge requires humility. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves than we should, nor is it trying to appear to be humble.
Humility, in a certain sense, is seeing ourselves accurately, really looking in the mirror without flinching. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote, "Self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should like you never to relax your cultivation of it; so long as we are on this earth, nothing matters more to us than humility."
It is only with humility, in this sense, that we can truly get to the point of real love. Do I do the things I do for love and not for myself or for how others will see me? Am I choosing to serve for the good of others no matter the personal cost? Am I willing to sacrifice in secret? Are the choices I make about myself or for others opinions of me? Or is my life a gift for others in their need? We were made through and for love. Are we true to the image of God within?
My motivations for being a priest remain mixed. Sigh. It's not a one and done kinda thing, but a daily examination. On my best days or in my best moments, I do what I do for love. That is when I, or you, are most truly ourselves. It is when we are most truly who God made us to be. It is, in fact, through humility that we become less and love becomes more. It is how we get ourselves out of the way! In all humility, may we decrease so that the love of God in Jesus may increase.