By Father John Cush
As I write this article, I am soon to be celebrating 17 years of priesthood, as well as reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel from the Evangelist Mark.
It seems like just the other day I was, along with my classmates, prostrated on the floor of St. James Cathedra-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn, invoking the angels and saints to pray for us, allowing the wave of prayer coming from the gathered assembly to wash over us, as we awaited the laying on of hands by Bishop Thomas V. Daily. For me, that day was followed by an incredible summer assignment at Good Shepherd parish in Marine Park.
It doesn’t seem so long ago when I was assigned to St. Helen’s parish in Howard Beach for an incredible five years of service, of learning practically the joy of priesthood from such a wonderful parish. It could have been yesterday when Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio assigned me to teach at Cathedral Prep, giving me the joy of assisting in the place for eight amazing years where I first seriously considered a priestly vocation.
Still Feel Brand New
It seems like a few days ago when Bishop DiMarzio assigned me to do doctoral work in Rome and now three years later, that I am joyfully preparing to begin a completely unexpected assignment as the assistant vice-rector at the North American College in Rome. I still feel like a brand new priest; the experience of priesthood has never gotten old and every day still seems like an adventure.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus commissions His disciples to go forth and bring the Good News to the world. They were to go out – two by two – and were to take nothing with them for the journey. There is a great deal of wisdom in the Lord’s commands in this Gospel, not only about the priestly life, but also the life of the Christian in the world.
From Marine Park to Howard Beach to Elmhurst and now Rome, I have had an incredible experience of priesthood for many reasons. In light of today’s Gospel, perhaps I might articulate two of them: first, “going out two by two,” and second, “taking nothing for the journey.”
“Going out two by two:” How blessed in each of my priestly assignments I have been by getting to know the people, to learn from them, and to learn to minister with brother priests, religious sisters, deacons, and laity. The companions I have met along the way have been an inspiration. Just as Jesus sends His disciples out two by two, so too do we live and serve with other people.
Challenged and Comforted
We learn, we grow, we are challenged and we are comforted by the brothers and sisters whom we meet along our life’s journey. We enter the scene as strangers and we leave as friends. Not a single day goes by when I do not hear from someone from my first full-time priestly assignment in St. Helen’s, even if it’s just to say hello and to see how I’m doing. For this, I am eternally grateful. We, both priests and people, need each other to grow in mutual love and support and in the building up of the Kingdom of God.
“Take nothing for the journey:” Each time I have to move from assignment to assignment, I wish that I literally heeded the Lord’s words. The stuff that we accumulate, especially the longer we serve becomes more and more. For me, it’s books. I am grateful to Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, Windsor Terrace, for kindly permitting me to keep my books and things in the rectory while I serve in Rome. But I think that the “take nothing for the journey” might mean more of a sense of trust in the Lord’s plan, not in ours.
I like to know details. I like to have every single aspect planned out, to know what and when and how. And as much as I think I know what’s going to happen in my priesthood, it has always been a complete and total surprise. If you had asked me on June 27, 1998 what I thought my priesthood would be like, I would never have guessed all the different experiences, all the wonderful people, all that the Lord wanted and needed to accomplish in my life. The basic message is trust, trust that the Lord who has begun the good work will bring it to fulfillment.
This is true not only in the life of a priest, but also in each and every one of our lives, no matter what vocation we have. Go out two by two – be grateful for the people whom we encounter on our journey, for in them, we will encounter Christ. Take nothing for the journey – trust in the unknown plan that God has in store for you, for in His loving kindness, we will find the path to salvation.
Pray for all priests, especially those recently ordained and those beginning new assignments. Pray that we will always have the grace and insight to walk with you, the people with whom we have been blessed to serve, and to take nothing but the Lord with us, as we trust in His loving plan.
Readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 7: 12-15
Psalm 85: 9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Ephesians 1: 3-14 or Ephesians 1: 3-10
Father John P. Cush, a Brooklyn priest, is assistant vice-rector of the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City State.