29 January 2005

Lessons of Priesthood, Calcutta

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." 1 Peter 2:9

Volunteers and sisters crowded the men's ward of Kalighat, Mother Teresa's home for the destitute and dying. We sat next to the bed of the man who had just died. The holy water was spread in a cross on his forehead and on each of his hands, his mouth and eyes shut by the Italian nurse. His name was unknown, and he died of tuberculosis in the cab as Kyle, Jean Philippe and I rode with him from Howrah Station to Kalighat. Right as we pulled to a stop, he breathed a shuddering last breath, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular in the death stare. Down the road toward the hospice we each placed a hand on him, knowing he was fighting, knowing he was struggling and gasping for breath that could not come into fluid-filled lungs.

At the station in the wheel chair he could not hold his head up on his own; he was very weak and was clutching the arms of the chair. On the platform he was ashamed, having removed his pants and covered himself with a blanket that was soiled with his own excrement. This was where he was found, and we know nothing of what brought him to this place, know nothing of his life before this moment.

The only thing we are sure of is God's mysterious mercy in our lives, the invisible hand that guided each of us to the place where we were together in a yellow Ambassador taxi as the presence of Christ to an unnamed man in the last minutes of his life. I am sure now of the burden and privilege of being there. I still don't know where this man's heart was, but I know for a fact that a compassionate God brought this man to us, and brought us to this man. It makes me stop and quiet myself, makes the importance of surrendering freshly hour by hour and minute by minute, and that somehow seems to be all that matters.

I see that in spite of how hard and sad some of the things that come into our lives are, these events are what show us that we are beloved, that we are priests in his temple.
Because of God's compassion, each one who calls out to the father in a time of need is answered. His compassion as our high priest is so great that none of us is cast away.

But the most amazing this is the fact that I feel so unworthy of his love, and so unworthy to be entrusted with such a task. God uses these hands that seem too useless, this mind that is too preoccupied with fulfilling its own desires, this idolatrous heart. In spite of so much "me" that seems always to be in the way, he is breaking me open, pouring me out, and filling me up to be of use in his kingdom. In spite of my hard heart he uses me, in spite of rebelling against his kingship with almost everything in me, he still permits me entrance into the Holy of Holies.

I can only weep and be astonished to stillness and silence when I see the precious things he's entrusted to our care. He's given these things knowing our natures, knowing we will not see the full picture, will often not get it right, will not understand how small we are, how big he is, how astounding are the ways he chooses to show his love and reign in our world.