When I was a newly ordained priest, I was assigned at St. Mark’s church in Boise. It was a fairly small parish at that time. For those of you who know it, it is now the second largest parish in the diocese, maybe two thousand families or more, compared to our 400 families.
The pastor at St. Mark’s greeted me on July 1 st , showed me around, told me when confessions were, when mass times were scheduled… and then took off two days later for a month in Pittsburg, PA. And, as he was going out the door he said “O’ by the way, you have a wedding on Saturday.”
And that was it. I was completely on my own. Never heard a confession, never done a wedding and had only celebrated mass once, the Mass of Thanksgiving, the day after my ordination, six days before.
For my first “try-out” in the confessional, I didn’t know what to do. I went to the Sacristy and knew the color for confessions was purple. I put on every piece of purple cloth I could find because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I had my “confession textbook” (which is a real thing) with me so I could look up the sin and give out the perfect penance. Trust me, not every sin is in that textbook!
The wedding was the most important. Because I knew if I didn’t do it right, the couple wouldn’t be married, and I would have to ask Bishop Treinen for a “sanatio in radice.” A sanation is a healing at the root. It “validates a marriage by reason of a consent formerly given, but ineffective because of an impediment.” In other words, if I had made a mistake, only the Bishop could “heal it.”
Much later, I had to ask Bishop Treinen to do a sanation for me: For those of you who knew Bishop Treinen, you know how nice and soft-spoken he was. But, He said “You only get one. And DON’T EVER DO IT AGAIN!” And so I have been extra careful about marriage vows for the last 35 years!
My pastor returned from Pittsburg as if nothing had happened, like he’d never been gone. But I had learned a lot. It was “parish boot-camp” and I proudly could call myself an associate pastor, because I knew that I had passed the test.
About a month later he said: “Why don’t you go somewhere, take the weekend off.” I was stunned because this guy never took time off, except to go to Pittsburg. Before he changed his mind, I put a few things in my car and started to drive away from the rectory. I realized that I didn’t have the foggiest idea where I would go.
So, I got to the freeway in Boise, turned left and headed East. And just before you get to Pocatello there is a cut-off to Salt Lake. What the heck… I turned South. Eventually I ended up at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
I don’t remember much else, where I stayed, ate… maybe even camped? But I do remember the adventure. I’d never done anything like that before. And after I got to Arches, I wanted to go see Delicate Arch. I saw the Trailhead and it said it was only three miles. I should have taken the hint; as I set out, all the people were coming FROM Delicate Arch and I was the only one going TO Delicate Arch.
It was almost dusk when I got there, and there were just a few of us taking photos. We all started the walk back together. Trust me again! Red rock, looks like red rock, especially looking for a trail as it starts to get dark.
So much for an adventure. I started to get scared that we would be lost. No flashlight, no water, no food, no coat… you know, all those things that we are supposed to take with us to survive a night out in the middle of the Utah desert.
It is amazing how much your prayer life improves when you find yourself in a situation like this.
And then I thought of St. Mark’s. If I had not left, I would be having dinner after saying mass. My only concern? Did I do everything correctly in Church? And then sitting down to watch TV until very late. I could have stayed home. But I didn’t. And it is one of the most joyful memories I have from my early priesthood. I’m not a photographer, but I have one of the most beautiful photos of Delicate Arch that I have seen. I took it just as the sun started to go down. I’ve carried it with me through 6 assignments and for the last 35 years.
You can probably guess where all this is going. The Israelites were comfortable in exile in Babylonia. And 500 years before the birth of Jesus, King Cyrus is the one who told the Jewish people they could go back to Israel, to restore the great city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by the evil King Nebuchadnezzar.
Interestingly enough, not all of the people set off on the adventure of going home and restoring their country. Even though King Cyrus gave them most of what they needed from wood to military protection. Not all were adventurous enough to make the journey home.
Jesus also sends out people, away from the comfort of discipleship, sitting at the feet of the Lord. He appoints 72 others to go before him. He gives them instructions, however vague. The first thing he instructs them to do is to say “Peace to this household.” To carry nothing that would distract them: stay where you are welcome, take no money bag, no sack, no sandals; drink what is offered, eat what is set before you, cure the sick, and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. They were so surprised at all they were able to do in the name of Jesus, they came back rejoicing!
All of us have an adventure just waiting inside of us. To go out and go wherever God leads us. And to not worry, because God is going to be a part of that adventure. At times the instructions may be vague, we might not know where we are going, or even if we are prepared.
But every adventure begins by going out. And every adventure ends by coming home. usually rejoicing and telling stories about all that God did with us along the way.