I write this on the eve of the 22nd anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. What a day that was! I am pretty sure that I hold the record for the longest time between entering the seminary and being ordained. I entered the seminary in 1961, pronounced first vows in 1966 and was ordained in 1989—a total of 28 years from start to finish. I was a slow learner.
The word fool is defined in various ways, and I have probably fit all of the definitions in one way or another, but here is what I hold to today: a fool is someone who enjoys something very much, and is the one in a group (or congregation) who provides a degree of levity to lessen the sting of heavy solemnity, while dressed in funny clothes (vestments).
In the Christian tradition, a fool is one who rejects the worlds’ common social rules of hypocrisy, brutality and thirst for power and gain. Paul says that the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight (1Cor 3:19), and that we are to be fools for Christ (1Cor 5:10). Not a bad thing for a priest to be, I think. I am not saying that is who I am completely, but it is a part of who I believe I need to be while growing to be a good leader in a Christian community.
My motivation for pursuing priesthood changed, of course, in the period between entering and being ordained. Priests had all the power in the world in which I grew up, so my initial motivation might have had at least something to do with a thirst for power or gain. But in the final period, the period just before ordination, my motives became more particular and, I hope, mature.
I wanted to be a fool for others in contrast to those parts of the institutional church that seem overly serious and riddled with hypocrisy. That is why I am very grateful that I was ordained on April 1—April fool’s day. I am an April fool. Not a perfect fool, but working on it!
On the way to ordination and since, I have met many suffering people who have had very painful religious experiences with the church, including with priests. I did, too. The Church is human, and experiences the same foibles of the human condition, as does any group of people, as do I. But if my foibles can differ from those that have caused hurt and pain to the marginalized and alienated, then I can be their priest. And enjoy it along the way!