A man enters the Confessional box. He notices on one side a fully equipped bar with Guinness on tap. On the other wall is a dazzling array of the finest Cuban cigars. Then the priest comes in. “Father, forgive me, for it’s been a very long time since I’ve been to Confession, but I must first admit that the Confessional box is much more inviting these days.” The priest replies, “Get out! You’re on my side.”
It is quite interesting being a priest. You see the world from a different angle, because so often folks want you to see their “good side.” It’s not often that when you are all dressed up in a clerical collar that you can meet someone for the first time and come away actually knowing much about them. There are those rare occasions when someone begins talking and it seems they’ve lost the “Off” switch, but for the most part it comes down to respectful pleasantries. You also get various reactions from people as you walk along. There’s always some who give you a hearty, “Hello, Father,” but there are others that avert their eyes. They don’t want to be seen by a priest or they have a certain disdain for clergy to the point that they won’t even recognize you as a person.
Some priests don’t think that it is necessary to walk around looking like a priest, but I do, whether the world accepts it or not. It is a way of constantly reminding folks that there is another way.
Of all the looks you get along the way, the oddest ones come from folks who have never really seen a priest up close. They give you more than the once over and particularly stare at the dog collar. I mention this because I got this certain look while around several youth in their early teens. A girl – maybe fourteen – looked at me and my collar, then noticed the crucifix that I wear. Her eyes lit up a bit as she leaned in for a closer look. “Nice necklace,” she said, “it has a man on it.” “It has a man on it.” Now, it is one thing to not really know much about priest, but this girl – this fourteen year old girl – did not know that this man on my necklace was Jesus. She didn’t know the story or anything about Him. Her friend sitting next to her looked up and said, “Oh, that’s God” and I was thankful for her input, because at the time I was a bit too flummoxed to say anything.
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” His name will be Jesus. He will be great. Son of the Most High. David’s ancestor. He will reign forever. He will be… a man on a necklace.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “For those who are great and powerful in this world, there are two places where their courage fails them, which terrify them to the very depths of their souls, and which they dearly avoid, these are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.” Yet, there will be no fear of the Lord as long as he remains a man on a necklace. He must move into the world and call people to righteousness, but not only call, He must also be heard. His message must not only proclaim another way, but demonstrate that other way through lives changed, the hungry fed, the lame healed, and the blind given their sight. This man on a necklace must take on flesh and blood.
The word “incarnation” refers to God, in the person of Jesus, taking on human form. Taking on flesh and blood. For you and I to live an incarnational life means that Jesus is born within us. And this is what must occur if the world is to know Jesus as more than a man on a necklace. We are called to be His body in the world today.
How do we make such a transfiguration in our own lives, going from simply being observers of the world around us to living as incarnational disciples, intentionally putting flesh on God? I like St. Josemaria’s answer, “Don’t fly like a barnyard hen when you can soar like an eagle.” It takes courage, but that courage is within you. As he says again, “Courage! You can! Don’t you see what God’s grace did to that sleepy, cowardly Peter, who had denied him to that fierce, relentless Paul, who had persecuted him?” To go from observer to incarnational disciples requires that we profess the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The words that she spoke on the day that the angel of the Lord came and visited her, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” But we must not only profess those words, we must also allow them to breathe life into us, a life filled with the Holy Spirit of God.
The Blessed Virgin Mary was probably about fourteen when she said “Yes” to God – about the same age as the girl who liked my necklace with the man on it – but it was Mary’s “Yes” that changed all of creation. It was her participation in the incarnation of God that gave God flesh and blood in this world. It is your “Yes” to God that continues this great work, that continues God’s incarnation.
I’m not preaching works – what we do for God – over faith, but there must be action behind our words. Brennan Manning writes in The Rabbi’s Heartbeat, “The Christian commitment is not an abstraction. It is a concrete, visible, courageous, and formidable way of being in the world forged by daily choices consistent with inner truth. A commitment that is not visible in humble service, suffering discipleship, and creative love – or as in the language we’ve been using ‘a life that is not living incarnationally’ – is an illusion. Jesus Christ is impatient with illusions, and the world has no interest in abstractions.” As Manning says in this work and also in the Ragamuffin Gospel, “If you want to know what a person really believes, don’t just listen to what he says, watch what he does.” Don’t kid yourself, the world is watching. Just like they watch someone wearing a clerical collar, they also watch someone who claims to be a Christian. Some will watch so that they can find fault and criticize, but many others will watch because there is something within you, that they would like in their own lives. Show it to them. Show them the Incarnate Son of God. Show them Jesus.
We have much to do as long as people only see Jesus as a man on a necklace; therefore, say to the Lord, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” then “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. And surely He is with us always, to the very end of the age.”