I actually haven’t made a lot of major decisions in my life. Most of them were fairly common, auxiliary to the big ones. And my big decisions have been primarily focused on money, jobs and education…in order to find a career and make a living. A couple of these big decisions totally altered my life. Both were made for the same reason: to follow my career instinct. Each decision had a very different outcome.
Early money decisions ranged from saving my fifty cents a week in a “Christmas Club” account at the local bank, to putting aside money for college (enabling me to pay for my first year at Boston University a $1250 yearly tuition). Today’s financial decisions have more to do with frugality and controlling costs in order to live within my means.
My job decisions flowed as I continually tried to better myself. I started off with a morning newspaper route that netted me $7.00 a week. At 15 I was old enough to be designated “farm labor” and worked for Mahoney’s greenhouses for a handsome $1 an hour. I jumped into relative prosperity when I snagged a shelf-stocking job for $1.60 per hour at the new 7-11 down the street. When I had the chance I shifted to Star Market which was paying $1.75 (I stocked the pickle, mayo, and salad dressing aisle and cashiered). I worked myself up to $2.10 four years later. One summer in seminary I worked for the city mowing lawns in a cemetery for a handsome $4.75 an hour.
The decisions about my education seemed pre-ordained. I grew up in the age of Sputnik and the space race, thus science and math were emphasized from the first grade on. Wanting to help and heal others, I thought of becoming a doctor, but keyed into dentistry since I liked working with my hands. So it was through my last year of biology and chemistry at Boston University.
But I broke from this seemingly predetermined outcome by making my first totally intuitive career decision. Having been involved in Catholic renewal movements and a college-age evangelical Protestant group, I felt a strong desire to go into ministry. The reason was fairly straight-forward I thought. I wanted to share the radical, or root, message of Jesus’ good news of love, forgiveness and ultimate healing. Since I hadn’t much of a desire to date (and didn’t know how emotionally shut down I was due to previous emotional trauma) celibacy didn’t seem like much of an issue.
I recall vividly that April day. I had just heard from Tufts Dental School that I was on the wait list, and after having received negative answers from nine of twelve schools, I sat down at my desk in front of an icon of Jesus before which I usually prayed (it’s still in front of me now as I type). This image always spoke of God’s loving kindness for me. So I asked God what he wanted me to do. He said, “What do you want to do?” Immediately a sign that read “priesthood” flashed in my brain. My life was changed. I applied sight-unseen to St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, was interviewed and entered September of 1974. After ordination in 1979 I spent the next 32 years serving in parishes.
Fast forward to December of 2009. I had been pastor at St. Andrew’s in Billerica for over 12 years. I was in the midst of planning Joey’s baptism and first communion. Joey was a nine-year-old boy who had been in foster care for years and in our religious education program. He was very polite, bright, and yearning to be received into the church. His life was finally stabilizing since he was in the process of being adopted. I met with his new parents, who were clearly loving and cooperative. They began to come to church with him more regularly and we planned for the baptism.
The stated practice of the Catholic Church is that older children ought to be received at a public Eucharistic liturgy. We made plans to celebrate Joey’s entrance into the church at a Sunday family mass in December, so his friends could witness the ceremony and so he’d be ready to enjoy Christmas mass fully. The ceremony went off without a hitch and I couldn’t be more proud of Joey who took the whole thing seriously and with great piety.
It was not long after this fateful Sunday that I heard the first rumblings of anger by some of the younger, more conservative members of the parish. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, given the great progress Joey had made in his very difficult life. These young parents were upset that I had “exposed” their children to Joey’s parents. Joey was being adopted by two gay men.
There is nothing in Catholic teaching and law that stated I should have done anything differently. The sacraments of initiation are for any children as long as the parents agree to raise the child as a Catholic. This is the agreement we always made with unmarried parents, with parents of differing religions, with single mothers, etc. So it came as a surprise to me that anyone could object to Joey’s public initiation. I was grieved that they didn’t seem to trust my judgment, I who had been their pastor for so long, who had restored their church and had catered to many of their traditional needs.
The church administrators, as usual, supported me with great equivocation. They said I did nothing wrong but I could have been more “prudent.” In this case prudence meant doing the whole thing in secret, perhaps on a Saturday morning when no one would find out what had happened! (I think the church went down that road of secrecy before…can we all say “clergy sex abuse crisis?”).
Older parishioners were very supportive of me. A number of them had gay children, siblings and relatives. They understood that Jesus does not have a double-standard.
Within a couple of weeks I decided to resign from the parish. I then realized that I’d still feel trapped in the Boston church ethos. I instead decided against all my instincts for security and made my second life-changing career decision: to leave the active ministry. I did so knowing I would receive no pension or financial compensation after 32 years of serving. But the real question for me was: What motivated me to enter the priesthood in the first place, and why did I decide to leave, after having spent so much time and effort developing my knowledge and skills? The reason: I wanted and needed to be healed, to become whole.
By entering the priesthood and leaving ministry, I was looking for the same thing with very different outcomes. My desire has always been to lead others to find healing for their spiritual and emotional wounds; to lead them to wholeness (holiness). But I discovered that is their work, not mine. My work is to find healing and wholeness for me.
I now can offer my life and ongoing ministry as a life & spirit coach to create a sacred space for people to work out their issues. What about you…why did you make the momentous decisions you’ve made? How have you changed and how have the outcomes of these decisions changed? What are the radical values you honor by living the life you’ve chosen? Let’s hear from you!
Contact the Life & Spirit Coach at firstname.lastname@example.org