The other night I was catching up on some House episodes on Hulu and found myself wondering about a specific problem the team was diagnosing where a man was too generous (Season 8, Episode 3). The patient, Benjamin, had (spoiler alert) Plummer’s disease which was a nodule in his thyroid that produced excess hormone. Not enough to test abnormal, just more than his brain was used to. Due to this hormone, he became irrationally generous.
I’m no doctor and have no idea how possible something like that is. But I couldn’t help but think of people like Mother Teresa, who gave her money, her time and her health to those who just needed some charity.
One of the aspects that made Benjamin’s generosity a problem in the show was the fact that he had a wife and young children to care for. We are called to put God first and family second, then comes others and finally, self. Benjamin was putting others before his primary vocation of being a husband and father and brought a lot of strife to his family life.
I was struck by how smart Mother Church is in the way she protects her clergy and religious brothers and sisters in their vows. Because priests and religious take a vow of chastity, they never have to worry about their ministry interfering with a marriage or relationship with kids. When that call comes in the middle of the day or the dead of night and someone is in need of spiritual help or need to receive a sacrament, the priest doesn’t have to choose between one vocation or the other. Because they take a vow of poverty, greed is less likely to afflict them. From a place of poverty, true charity arises. Jack London said, “A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” The Church provides for them what they need so they can focus on the ministry they’ve been called to. I love my graphic design job and it pays the bills, but it definitely takes some of the focus from my youth ministry job. Finally, they take a vow of obedience. This is a freedom as well. No priest becomes a priest overnight. Every priest has at least four (but usually eight) years of seminary and several orders require more (one of my favorite priests had 14 years of study). No one will study that long and sign up to be poor and single without real faith in what they believe in. And if they truly believe that the Catholic Church has the fullness of Truth, than being obedient to the Church, superiors, Code of Canon Law and respective Rule (if in a religious order) allows a sense of community that gives them freedom and purpose to go forth being obedient to the Truth.
These vows are promises that men and women make to God for our sake – yours and mine. It is through obedience, poverty and chastity that clergy and religious can best serve us. And through their charity, hopefully shine a light on the path to Heaven for us to see and join them on. As St. John of the Cross said, “At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity.” Take a moment this weekend to thank a member of the clergy or religious life for their vows and for making their life one of radical charity.
Ordination of Fr. Ramonito Celestial
(And if you don’t mind, say a prayer for my friend, Fr. Ramonito, who was ordained this past weekend! God bless!)