Posted March 02, 2015:
He Became a Bonfire

by Fr. Jim Duffy.

Fr. Duffy wrote the following story about his soul in 1981, the 25th anniversary of his priesthood.

If I live to be a hundred years, I will never be able to stop thanking God for the greatest miracle I have ever witnessed—my ordination to the priesthood. Tears overwhelmed me as my family and friends surrounded me with congratulations on the cathedral steps.

And what had I done? Nothing. It was only by allowing something to be done unto me that a bright light burst within me saying: "You are another Christ!"

I had no proof of what I felt except for what I saw reflected in the eyes and hearts of my parents, family, and friends. I was different. They knew it and I knew it. Yet to the world nothing had changed.

Jesus desired his priesthood to be lived through another weak man, a man who would continue erasing the sins of the world and turning the fruits of the earth into His own Body and Blood.

Now it is 25 years later—years that seem no more than a drop of rain falling into a still pond creating a small circle of ripples and then vanishing.

The mystery of what happened can never grow old or be forgotten, for through one priest the whole world has been touched and transformed in some mysterious way. God using a crooked stick to heal the lame, cure the blind, and renew his people.

But these beautiful memories are not without some misgivings or hint of sadness, inasmuch as I marvel at how little I understood of the awesome mystery of Christ’s priesthood.

In the beginning, it seemed more like living out a role—much like other professional men—with ceremonies to perform and perfunctory prayers to be recited.

Only gradually did the Person beneath the exterior rites and actions begin to emerge—the Person of Jesus Christ.

I remember well the day it all began. I was crossing a muddy stream in a little mission parish in Paraguay, South America. A young "salesman," nine or ten years old met me halfway clutching some string, shoe laces, and pencils in his hand.

Attempting to sell me something, he told me that I was "very rich." This disturbed me, so I asked him why he said this.

"You have clothes to wear," he answered, "food to eat, a house, eye glasses. You are rich."

This may well have been my first meeting with Christ himself. At least it became one of the most important lessons in my life.

It placed before me a very simple question: if I want to seriously represent Jesus, the Poor Man, then I must stop depending upon the riches of my talents, organizational ability, personality, and other human talents, and begin depending solely upon Jesus and his Holy Spirit.

But having lived so long with so many self-centered patterns of life, I didn’t know where or how to begin really depending upon God.

In fact, when I seriously thought about it, even though I was a priest, I wasn’t absolutely sure that God loved me, much less know how to pray, listen to God, or even stop my hyper-activity.

Perhaps this was the first time in my life that I really experienced that I needed God. He, of course, had been waiting a lifetime for me to allow him to act through me.

He used the simple circumstances of my hyper-activity of recruiting, training, and sending volunteers to the missions as a PAVLA director to run its normal course. I soon collapsed from physical and emotional exhaustion. Finally, God could do something with me.

It was during this time of helplessness that I reached out to God and received the second great gift in his priesthood—the release of the Holy Spirit.

Once again, it was an experience of meeting Jesus in a deeper and more personal way.

It was the beginning of a new time of his priesthood in me, a time in which he would give me his charismatic gifts to teach, preach, heal minds, hearts and bodies, and cast out demons.

I could not help but remember St. Paul saying that these gifts were not signs of holiness, but rather tools of love by which we helped to build up the Body of Christ, His Church. (Eph 4:11).

These were busy and joy-filled years, years of watching Jesus break down lifetime barriers and obstacles and fill his people with the Holy Spirit.

But gradually the Lord began to reveal to me that while he took delight in the renewal of Christians, the deepest desire of his Heart for his priests was for them to have a personal friendship with him.

The words kept coming back to me: "I no longer call you servant but friend" (John 15:15).

To tell you what this challenge meant to me, let me share with you a true story about a priest in Communist China. It happened at the time when the Communists were taking over China. Some priests were killed; others were expelled as "enemies of the people."

But there was one old, sickly priest that they allowed to stay because he was dying anyway.

Orders were given, however, not to feed him, nurse him, or give him comfort in any way. In fact, it was considered honorable to kick him, beat him, and harass him—which people did.

One day one of his former parishioners pretended to beat and insult him in order to have a few words with him. He said quietly, "Father, isn’t it awful that God has allowed this to happen to you!"

"It’s all part of the bargain," the old priest responded calmly. "It’s all part of the bargain!"

What he meant was that he could only see the priesthood of Jesus Christ in terms of total giving. For it was Jesus himself who had shown us this essential characteristic, and who in the parable of the sower showed us some of the obstacles that stand in the way of this giving.

Yes, it is clear: In the priesthood of Jesus, one must become both victim-offerer and victim. For the gift of the Eucharist and the Lord’s self-giving death are one and the same thing.

Once again, my life in his priesthood had come to an impasse. How do you go about being priest and victim? How do you know where and how to lay down your life for your neighbour?

By then I should have known Jesus better. For whenever he reveals to us the deep longings of his Heart, he is also prepared to show us the way.

My way was to be incredibly beautiful: to live in a house and family of dedicated Christians, living together with Mary the Mother of God as she lived in Nazareth. They call themselves the Madonna House Apostolate—a family of men, women, and priests bound together by a common commitment to create a community of love in Christ.

It was here at Madonna House that I began to learn how to incarnate my personal friendship with Jesus into everyday living. We call it the spirit of Nazareth, because it is the way Jesus chose to live for thirty years of his precious life on earth—in simplicity, poverty, and ordinariness.

As I came to realize that Jesus was saving us in Nazareth as well as in his public life, I began to realize that this hidden life must also have much to reveal about his priesthood.

You can learn about the dignity of manual labor from working in a carpentry shop and about humility and submission from the way that Jesus submitted to the authority of Joseph and Mary.

It was no doubt his Mother, Mary, who first taught Jesus how to pray—to commune with his Father and live in his presence.

Living in Madonna House was no doubt my third great meeting with Jesus—learning to know him, love him, and serve him in my brothers and sisters.

St. Catherine of Sienna in ecstasy once begged Jesus to be taken to heaven. He told her, "You cannot give back to me the love I demand, but I have put you beside your neighbour so that you may do so through him."

A Christian community truly offers the priest the opportunity of total and humble service.

Yes, it is hard to believe that twenty-five years have passed. But how could anyone ask or want more? How could anyone be happier than a priest of Jesus Christ?

Here words fail to say what is in my heart. But I once heard words that come close from the poorest man I had ever met.

His name was Pedro, and his village was the most forlorn and foresaken I had ever seen in all my travels.

It was customary in his village for the men to gather each evening and recite the rosary, each man taking his turn to introduce a decade. When it came Pedro’s turn, he said:

"We have our church. And we have our priest."

"Truly, we have everything. Everything."

Adapted from Restoration, May 1981


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