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Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Rookie Priest Files: James Martin, SJ

I thought it might be nice for you all to hear now and then from a priest besides myself about his experience of the early days of priesthood. My friend and brother Jesuit, James Martin, has been kind enough to provide the first installment:

The Spirit is in Charge!

A few months after my ordination in 1999, I was scheduled to celebrate a Mass at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in New York City, where I have my regular Sunday assignment. When I opened the schedule of readings for the week, I was delighted to discover that it was one of my favorites: the story of the Annunciation, from the Gospel of Luke. While I was praying about that passage, it dawned on me that the story of Mary's interaction with the Angel Gabriel perfectly encapsulated our own spiritual lives. God took the initiative with Mary; Mary questioned; God reassured her; Mary said yes; and God brought something new--Jesus--out of her "yes." How often that is with us--we sense that God is asking us to do something new in our lives; we question whether we can do what God asks; God reassures us; and when we finally say "yes" something wonderful happens.

Anyway, I was eagerly anticipating the reactions of the congregation to my supposedly wonderful homily. So, on that Sunday, I preached with great fervor, and, after Mass, waited for the inevitable praise. What did I get?


That is, nothing. Not even the standared "Nice homily, Father." It was rather baffling. What happened?

The next week was a busy one for me and, uncharacteristically, I wasn't able to spend a lot of time on the homily for the next Sunday. So on Friday I more or less dashed it off. Nothing special, just some reflections on how we can meet God in the everyday, finding God in all things, and all that.

I delivered it tentatively that Sunday, as if knowing that I was giving the congregation only a mediocre effort.

The result?

Afterwards people approached me in tears, telling me how moved they were. "Thank you so much, Father!" "So helpful!" "Beautiful!"

It didn't take me long before I realized that those two homilies had taught me something about preaching: something that both consoled me a freed me. Pray and prepare of course as much as you can. But remember that, ultimately, it is not you who move people's hearts. It is the Holy Spirit who does so. The Spirit is in charge--not you!

James Martin, SJ is a Jesuit priest and author of "My Life with the Saints" and "A Jesuit Off-Broadway."