Even though we arrived in D.C. from our road trip only five days ago, it seems like ancient history at this point. What a week it’s been! After a day of rest (and laundry!) I packed up what I needed and headed for my summer assignment: Triangle, VA. I was excited to get started and didn’t want to waste any time. They certainly didn’t waste any time with me either…
My first day was a half day, a nice way to ease into the summer. I helped Fr. Kevin pick up his broken down truck, met some people at the office, and found my way around the place.
My second day was not a half day.
Starting with mass at 8:45am, I ended up being on my feet until almost 9:30pm. Between the elementary school, ministry group meetings, and planning/teaching my first “How to Read the Bible” class (we had 28 people the first night), it was a full day. I did stop for two hours to sign up for a gym and work out, I took some time to eat lunch and dinner, and truth be told, I took a 15 minute nap. Outside of that, though, I can honestly say that I was being productive the whole day!
Funnily enough, I happened to talk to my mom after it all and her reaction was perfect: “Well think of it this way. It’s only for eight weeks, so enjoy what you can but know that it won’t be that long.” I had to laugh. “What are you talking about? This is what I’ve been waiting for. Through all the workshops, classes, seminars, days of recollections, and “formation of my first couple of years, I finally get to do what inspired me to be a friar in the first place, and what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life as a friar. I’m sad that it’s only eight weeks!” The whole day was wonderful, and while the two days following were a bit lighter, they were filled with new experiences and high energy ministry.
The highlight so far has been working at the elementary school attached to the parish. These kids are awesome. And given that it’s the end of the year and I wear a habit, I’m free to knock on any door at any time of the day and interrupt class to have some fun. I’ve done show and tell, answered questions, taught them about the friars, and in one english class, taught them how “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo” is a real sentence. I’m not sure that they believed me. On Wednesday I got to see their school play, “Disney’s Mulan,” today I was a part of their final school mass of the year in which the 8th graders passed on the “light of leadership” to the 7th graders (very touching moment), and spent a couple of hours playing soccer, keep away, four square, and learning gymnastics at recess.
Which brings me to the title of the post: I realized today that it took no time at all to become an absolute rock star. All day long students were yelling “BROTHER CASEY,” coming to give me hugs, wanting to tell me all about their artwork or where they were going over the summer, and generally just being giddy in my presence. And do you know what I say? It’s about time. Only 10-20 years late, elementary school kids finally think I’m cool. High fives all around.
And while most of what I want to share is just a superficial, fun reflection on the week, I’m realizing quickly that there could be a deeper to this small experience. As friars, especially ones with a lot of energy and a willingness to serve, it’s easy to become real “rock stars” at a parish. Given the poor experiences so many have had with rigid and un-pastoral priests in the past, showing a little respect, a good sense of humor, and halfway decent preaching is enough to really excite people. In my brief travels around the province, I see it in one place after another: “Father X is amazingI We love him so much. He’s so much better than the guy at the other parish. We are so blessed to have a priest like him!” In so many of our places, we are blessed with parishioners that support and even adore us in what we do, even if what we do is not all that special (like walking into a 5th grade classroom in a habit. I have done nothing but show up to deserve this rock star status!)
And here’s where we need to be attentive: while we love that our parishioners are thrilled to have us there to serve them, it is very easy to take our newfound rock star status too seriously and actually think that we more special than we actually are. There is nothing wrong with being charismatic, hard-working, and self-sacrificing in a way that people want to shower us with praise. Don’t get me wrong. Look at John Paul II and Francis. The affect they shared with others in such an open and unrestrained is a wonderful gift, and it’s no wonder that they are so beloved worldwide. Following their example is not a bad thing. The issue for us, then, is how we deal with whatever praise we receive. Do we morph into an inward-focusing, self-involved diva with an inflated sense of self? Or do we remain humble in our praise, thriving on people’s affirmations but remaining a servant of God and God’s people? My guess is that it’s a tough line to toe. How could it not? Everyone loves affirmation and to feel that we’re important. Think about having a job in which, for better or for worse, you do something that the majority of people can’t or is not allowed to do, you are in high demand, and people love you for it. Left unchecked, that’s a recipe for an enlarged ego if you ask me.
Luckily, that’s why we have the fraternity. Not only do I have excellent examples of rock star priests that are all things for all people, men that show me how to struggle to remain humble amidst praise, I have the brothers that will always be there to serve some humble pie when I need it. Sure, the 5th graders may think I’m the coolest guy in the whole world, but my brothers at home know that I’m an unpleasant person in the mornings and that I can be kind of a slob, and they’re going to be there to remind me when I forget. For this reason, I don’t know if I will ever reach true rock star status in the places I serve like some of my brothers, but as long as I have brothers around showing me the way (and willing to hold up the mirror when I need to see the true “me”), being a “lesser brother” will always be more important to me than being a rock star.