Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Signing the Petition

It’s the season of the year when those of us Jesuits who have made it as far in our formation as the third year of theology studies are seeking approval for ordination. This means that in addition to offering some evaluations of a few other Jesuits for their provinces, I also had to offer something of a self-evaluation in the form of an official petition for ordination. It’s a privileged opportunity to reflect on my vocation and my experience of formation in the last nine and a half plus years. But it was also a bit hard at a time when much of my focus is on my studies rather than on the apostolic work which is ultimately what my vocation is really about. I wrote a similar letter before coming to Boston for my current studies. In many ways that letter was easier because I wrote it during a time when I was engaged in full-time ministry—more focus on others, less on myself. So, this one was a little harder. Now it is appropriate that my main focus these days should be my studies, but I can’t deny that I’d much rather be teaching the classes than sitting in them. But this is not really fodder for a letter in which I am supposed to express how I have further realized my call to the priesthood in recent years.

One help has been a ministry that, frankly, I was a bit reluctant to do at the beginning. I’ve long been comfortable working with high school and college students, but this was a new challenge—third grade CCD. I figured it would be a good way to stretch myself a bit. And, besides, I thought, this is really one of the fundamental Jesuit ministries. Before the early Jesuits had any idea that they would be asked to start high schools or colleges, every Jesuit was expected (and still is) to make a commitment to the education of children in the faith. I have really grown to love the hour I spend with my nutty third graders each week. I’m amazed at how much they get, and how much they absorb. And I do my best to work with or around their energy, as necessary. Leaving the heights of academic theology to focus on the basics each week is also a welcome respite from the distractions of studies. Recently I have also been praying through the Gospel with the RCIA candidates. Pretty heavy the last couple of weeks—Jesus’ temptation in the desert and the Transfiguration! Next week we turn to something more refreshingly mundane—the woman at the well (we’ll be doing the cycle A readings for the rest of Lent). It’s a great privilege to lead a group of people, especially those readying to join the Church, in prayerful reflection on the Gospel.

So, my letter talked a bit about these sort of things. But I also look back on the amazing journey which has brought me to where I am now. My biggest obstacle before joining the Jesuits was imagining myself as a priest. Now, I can hardly imagine doing anything else. This is in large part because my vision of what a priest has expanded in the intervening years. I have written about this in a number of articles over the years. I think perhaps why it was so hard to think about being a priest at first was that I thought about priesthood primarily in terms of sacramental ministry. What I had to learn first was that priesthood was also about rubbing a dying woman’s feet, about being with people in the most joyful and painful moments of their lives, visiting the sick, crying along with a student terrified of being sent to Iraq, burying my grandmothers and being who I really am, not who I think people want me to be. This is the context in which the sacramental ministries take on their true meaning as the reflection of the Sacrament, Jesus Christ. It is in being Christ for others that Baptism, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Marriage and Anointing of the Sick make sense. So it has been in realizing and accepting these more basic aspects of priestly identity, that my enthusiasm and desire for sacramental ministry has grown. It’s because I have done these things, because I have been that person, the one that enjoys an hour with third graders in a classroom each week, that I am able to begin to see myself as a the priest it was hard—probably impossible—to imagine ten years ago. And still, I can’t possibly know all the things my priesthood will hold. But I’m ready to find out.

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Blogger Stephen Pitts said...

You mean you didn't teach CCD in McAllen?

I had four classes of CCD per week in McAllen and I already miss the little rugrats.

I saw the official letter up in our house when I came back -- prayers for your preparation.


12:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Oh no, Stephen, I taught CCD in McAllen! But my students were high school kids. They gave me a "special" class--the one filled with all the kids that had been kicked out of all the other teachers' classes! In spite of this, I actually enjoyed it. But the most powerful experience for me in McAllen was doing hospice care at Comfort House.

Thanks for your prayers! Hope your experiment is going well.



2:54 PM  
Blogger David Nowaczewski said...


My prayers for your petition and preparation for ordination. How exciting.

We just welcomed baby number 3 (Noah Anthony) into our family. The baptism is set for this Saturday.

My prayers for a blesed Lent.


4:51 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

This is a great reflection! I hope that much of it makes it into the letter. It's honest, it's real, it's tangible.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...


All this and more!


Congrats on baby Noah and his baptism! Good to hear from you, and thanks for the prayers!

10:31 PM  
Blogger bbira said...

Many prayers for you, Mark, as you reach this milestone on your vocation journey. Although I've only known you in passing, and our last passing was a few years ago, you, much like Mark Thibodeaux, have a way of sticking with someone who comes into contact with you.
I know that I've been on the receiving end of your wonderful and real writing efforts starting a few years ago with your story of "rubbing feet."
The Jesuit Community and the Church at large will be blessed to have you among the ranks of priest. My prayer is to have another "passing" with you sooner rather than later.
God Bless...
Bill Barker
St. Rita

11:10 AM  
Blogger Mark Mossa, SJ said...

Thanks Bill! Good to hear from you!

8:18 PM  
Blogger HilbertAstronaut said...

It's great hearing about the "real work" of a priest -- what he does outside of the hour or so a day of Eucharistic ministry (though in a sense the "real work" is Eucharistic -- taking the "ita missa est" out into the world).

2:03 PM  

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