With a new school year upon us, I am reminded of all the school years that have come and gone. Our students graduate, discern, move on. Yet, I remain with memories as the only yield from this field of fond faces which by God’s graces with my life interlaces.
I feel foolish this time each year because over and again in the confessional, or in spiritual direction, I seed sympathy and irrigate empathy although I know I’m unlikely to reap a return. I empty the autumn of my life upon those who are in the full spring of their lives, and as soon as they’re ripe, they’re reaped and away. Like other priests, I sow among the people of God, not money which all could repay, but time, which not one can ever return. And as the store of seeds left, our lives are decreasing with each passing year, so those kernels of our time sown become increasingly dear.
In the words of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, priests are time’s eunuchs (“Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend”): Unlike marriage, priestly love is a covenant without claim or obligation, contract or expectation. So why do I grieve the passing of these student’s lives? After all I’m happy for them, and grateful that they will, one day, leave. So why have I already begun to miss them? Because they have favored me with fatherhood, privileged me by unlocking their secret garden with childlike trust and, awkwardly, exposed to my inadequacy the tender, slender shoots of their springtime spirituality.
Jesus says that to know him is to know the Father. We priests know that to have known them (our students) is to know what it means to be a father. As the disciples could only call God “Father” by trusting Christ, so we priests are called “father” only insofar as those in our lives trust us.
So I’ll grieve when this class leaves, but I’m also content to remain a fool for Christ, an aging priest sowing once more a seed, which I shall not see again because they have favored me with fatherhood. And, although for all the world such celibate fatherhood is the elusiveness of foolishness, they prove, year after year, that it is a foolishness next to Godliness.
-Fr. Kenneth G. Davis, O.F.M,, Conv.
Saint Joseph College Seminary
75376 River Road
Saint Benedict, LA 70457