When I go to a parish for Confirmation, before the Mass I meet with the young people and let them ask me questions. Almost always they ask something like, “Why did you want to be a priest?” And I respond, “I did not want to be a priest, nor did I want to be a bishop. I didn’t go to the seminary until I was 27, because I wanted to be married. Yet, I had some experiences that helped me listen to God’s plans. Eventually, I discerned that God was calling me to be a priest.” I would never have dreamed in a million years that I would live this life. It has been far more challenging and more of a sacrifice, yet more enriching and satisfying than I could have imagined.
I served in rural parishes and on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation where resources are scarce but the needs are enormous. I helped parish communities rebuild after their church was flooded or struck by lightning and burned to the ground. I was the chaplain for a Newman Center and a K-12 Catholic School system, where I taught senior religion.
Over the years, I accompanied people in the misery of cancer, car wrecks, suicides, murders or infant deaths, as victims of sexual abuse or veterans with PTSD, and countless other tragedies. The Lord has provided me with the grace to walk alongside them on a journey of healing and new life. I have been blessed by the poor and weak who have amazing faith and resilience. I have also experienced the joy of weddings, baptisms, graduations, family reunions and even miraculous healings. Finally, I participated in building a retreat center that is flourishing beyond what anyone dreamed.
As I look back on my journey of faith, one of the biggest lessons is this: God’s dream for me was much bigger than my puny dreams. The same is true for you. God’s dream for you is so much bigger than your puny dreams.
In comparison to our plans, the life that God has planned for us is so much more. It is more challenging, more difficult and more of a sacrifice. But the Lord provides all the grace needed and more. And when we follow God’s plan, then life is more enriching and satisfying.
If you want to get a sense of what God dreams for you, then look at Jesus. Our mission in life is closely connected to Jesus’ mission. The readings for the last two Sundays introduce us to his mission. But those readings also describe our mission because through baptism we share in Jesus’ mission.
John the Baptist described Jesus’ mission by declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29) That was a bold statement. The Israelites might have imagined that the Messiah would take away the sin of their people. But John declared that he takes away the sin of the world. John could never have imagined something so wonderful. He even tells us that this is not his idea. He said, “I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” (Jn. 1:33)
John knew how to dream with God. He shared in Jesus’ mission by pointing to him as the Lamb of God. In paintings, John is always depicted as pointing toward Jesus. That was his mission, but our mission is much bigger. We share in his work because he baptized us with the Holy Spirit. He breathed his Spirit on the apostles and authorized them to forgive sins in his name. And he empowers every baptized person to continue his ministry of forgiveness and healing.
Today’s reading from Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant of the Lord. That servant is obviously Jesus, but it is also you and me. Listen to God’s dream for his servant. “It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob . . . I will make you a light to the nations.” (Is. 49:6)
God is always dreaming Large. Our plan is to keep church buildings in good condition, to initiate Catholics in the faith or maybe even to invite inactive Catholics back to the Church. God’s plan is to make the Church a Light to the nations. He sends us on a mission to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.
As a rancher in western South Dakota, I never dreamed of going to other nations. But as a seminarian, I studied in Rome with classmates from more than a 100 nations. Then as a priest, I spent another four years in Rome. In those years, I organized the pastoral formation of seminarians at the North American College in Rome and coordinated their involvement at 25-30 sites which included elementary schools and colleges, soup kitchens, hospitals, a house for AIDS patients, providing food to refugees living in the streets and much more. I participated in immersion trips to San Salvador, India, Panama and Mexico. My dreams were so puny compared to that.
A key moment for me was when I was a freshman in college at the School of Mines in Rapid City. Toward the end of the first year, I had planned out a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering. But as I sat in my room and dreamed about it, there was no desire to be an engineer. So I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” The idea of seminary came clearly to mind, but I could not imagine doing that. So it took me another eight years to say yes. Nevertheless, I was beginning to open myself to God’s dream.
That attitude is expressed in the Psalm refrain today. “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” (Psalm 40) Those are some of the most dangerous words a person can say. Those words will put you in over your head. “Lord, what do you want of me? I only want to do your will.” Eventually, I learned to say that. It is the most fundamental prayer, as Jesus taught us to say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
Parents, you could say it in this way. “Lord what is your will for our marriage? How many children do you dream for us?” While preparing engaged couples for marriage, I often asked them how many children they planned to have. No matter what number they were thinking about, I would ask them, “Have you asked God about it?” I cannot remember an engaged couple who said that their plan for children was what God dreamed for them. Don’t let your fear keep you from asking God, “Lord what is your will for our marriage regarding our children, our jobs and our participation in the Church to bring your Light to the nations?”
Or you could say, “Lord, what is your will for our children? What do you want them to do with their life? We only want them to do your will.” Often parents are not supportive of a call to the religious life because they think that they have a better idea. Beware of your puny plans for your children. Let God’s dream be theirs. Teach them to listen in prayer for God’s will.
First, practice this with yourself. Learn to ask for yourselves every day, “Lord, what do you want of me today?” “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”
Just before we receive the Eucharist, the priest says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Behold him who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” How blessed we are to be called to the supper of the Lamb, to receive the one who takes away the sin of the world. It is pure gift! Let it fill you more and more. As you drink in the gift today, realize that God’s dream for you is to be filled with the Life of the Risen Lord.
Yet, God’s dream also includes the call to be a Light to the nations. In your prayer, say, “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Help me to participate in your dream to bring salvation to the ends of the earth.