“A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.” ― Jean Vanier
About 28 years ago, I befriended a remarkable man with a fascinating and colorful background. And thanks to his faithfulness, we’ve been close friends ever since. He’s immensely bright in a rare way that combines book knowledge, professional excellence, street smarts and emotional intelligence. He is exceedingly joyful, witty, thick-skinned yet tender-hearted, a phenomenal judge of character, a careful listener with an elephant’s memory, and is the supreme networker who uses his many connections to benefit others.
After spending many successful years in a high profile profession, he left his career and embraced the call to priesthood, and has served for over 20 years as a faithful parish priest. With a vivid awareness of his own weaknesses and sins, he approached his calling to priesthood with the spirit of St. Peter: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). And he meant those words to the core of his being. During his years of priestly ministry, he has touched the lives of countless people with the mercy of Jesus Christ, including my own family; and often in very profound ways.
He prays his rosary daily, his Office, the Mass, his Holy Hour. He freely gives away his time, his energy, his wisdom, and his money. I once wrote in my journal of him, “Fr. [Name] never took Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:21 as a one time deal when he quit his job and gave up everything, but made them a whole lifestyle:
If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give all to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.
Beginning in seminary and extending into priesthood, he has suffered many, many hardships and has been weighed down by many cares and let-downs. But unless you knew him well, you would never know that as he always presses on outwardly with unflagging zeal, lifting up everyone around him along the way. I have known very few people in life who have lifted the hearts of so many people, even while they themselves were heavily weighted down with such heavy cares.
I once told him that every time I hear the Chumbawamba song, Tubthumping, I think of him:
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
But here is the real gold I have received from him. When we first met, I was super-spiritual (said tongue-in-cheek) and told him that I wanted to live out St. John of the Cross’ mystical union with God, and experience the amazing raptures he describes. He smiled and said, “Wow, Tommy, that’s a great thing to aspire to. And you’re the kind of guy God would give that to. But me, well, I’m too much of a sinner and too weak for that. I only ask God for one thing every day, ‘God, just keep me faithful.'” I remember thinking, in my youthful arrogance, “Man, he’s setting the bar low.”
Almost 30 years later, I have discovered that his is the pearl of great price, the inner form of true greatness. Beneath the plain surface of his daily life burns the fire of union with Christ, all as he carries on tirelessly, quietly pouring out his life “for many” (Matt. 26:28). No fireworks, no swoons or raptures, just quiet, unsung faithfulness to the work of loving those whom God places in his path.
Once when he and I were walking toward a diner to get some breakfast, we passed what appeared to be a homeless woman. He stopped, went over to her to give her some money, made her laugh and then blessed her. As I watched this, I could hear in my mind Jesus saying to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21).
Clearly, he has already entered into it, as it spills out of him everywhere he goes.