...sometimes when I try to figure out what to share with others about something, I'm speechless. Which, for me, is a RARE occurance. But, in trying to figure out how to 'put together' what I experienced on the road trip around the diocese...well, "Wow" is about as far as I can seem to get.
The people are amazing. And I'm including a lot of folks in that. The families who welcomed us into their homes. The parish communities who came out to visit with us, and share a meal with us. So much encouragement. So much laughter. So many smiles.
And then there's the people that our mountain parishes serve outside the "Catholic communities" there. We didn't meet many of them directly. We saw some from a distance. Others we met only briefly. There are many challenges and struggles in the Appalachain regions of eastern Kentucky. Poverty. Education. Addiction. Homelessness. And I'm impressed that serving their needs is a priority among those I met ministering in this area...regardless of whether or not they 'become Catholic'.
Lexington is - was created to be - and hopefully will continue to be true to its identity as - a mission diocese. This comforts me - and it challenges me. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area has a specific identity as reaching out to the poor. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area is committed to its ministry even though Catholics are in a distinct minority. It challenges me at the same time. Do I have what it takes to labor in this field? To remember that ministry is...often times required beyond the walls of the church...often times requires no words. Do I have what it takes to be a man of action, of service, of physical labor when its required...not just a man of prayer, and leadership, and meetings. I want to be the kind of man - the kind of priest - who can and happily will do both.
Wow...I've got a lot of learning to do. A lot of re-shaping. (Physically... emotionally perhaps... spiritually for sure...) I suppose that's why the time in seminary isn't referred to as "study", but as "formation".
And - my brother seminarians - WOW about them, too. We're as diverse a group of guys as I can imagine. Different ages. Different backgrounds. From different countries and cultures. Some (like me) a bit 'liberal'. Some a bit 'conservative'. But, as I reflect on the differences, I'm struck by the fact that the differences are dwarfed by some powerful similarities. We all want to serve others. We all think we're called to a Holy Priesthood, and are willing to follow a path designed to help us hear better if that call is there. We all love one another. Isn't that amazing?!?! I mean, I really could see and feel it tangibly. Love. Care. Prayer for one another. Support and encouragement for one another.
Heck... I'm a guy that could easily get on anyone's nerves quickly enough. And yet - I was treated with compassion, comraderie, care, encouragement, and welcome. And, I noticed I genuinely wanted to treat the other guys the same way.
What sets us apart from one another is truly eclipsed by what draws us together. And that's cool.
See...I've already written too much, and I've not said much of anything. That's why "Wow" is about as close as I can get. I'm just intensely grateful for this trip, the timing of it in my journey - though it in many ways created as many challenges for my next steps on the path as it did energize me.
If I keep writing, I'll not say anything else more clearly, and still not convey adequately the depth of the experience, so I'll stop for now.