This entry is the fourth entry about my time at Holy Cross Abbey last week. You may want to start at the first one if you are reading for the first time and then read up instead of reading down.
Brother Mark is 89 years old. He was a practicing physician prior to entering the monastery, and he still has an active medical license. He is funny. He smiles often. He laughs at his own jokes. And, his wisdom continues to inspire me as I think about my spiritual life and my vocation as a pastor.
After teaching me about the five kinds of prayer, Brother Mark proceeded to tell me what the three S's stand for that he had written on the piece of paper. "The first S is for 'spiritual reading.' You need to be reaching as much scripture and theology as possible," he explained.
"The next S is for 'sacraments.' I won't get into that with you, you're a pastor, after all," he said.
And then he said, "The final S is for self denial." It is here where a rich lesson took hold of me.
Brother Mark's words on self denial are life giving. He quoted a saint who said, "Every act of pure obedience is an act of pure adoration." He then said that we must deny ourselves for the sake of something greater than ourselves.
"Do you know what the definition is of a professional?" Brother Mark asked. "No," I responded.
"A professional is someone who does their work well regardless of the circumstances. Look at Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods plays golf well whether it is raining or the sun is shining. He plays golf well at all times because this is his profession." Brother Mark then continued, "Do I want to get up every morning at 3:00 in order to be in the chapel by 3:30? No, damn it. But I do it because this is my profession. I am a professional."
I wonder how many times I have complained about something that is part of my profession of pastor. I wonder how many times I have not done something to the best of my ability - creating the liturgy, visiting an older adult, praying, preaching, or teaching - because I did not feel like it that day.
I am a professional. I am a professional pastor. Whatever I am called to do this day - tend the sick, write the Easter sermon, respond to some emails, pray for people who are hurting, be interrupted countless times, look at the recent financial statement, think about next year's student intern, talk with our administrative assistant, proofread the bulletin one more time - I need to do it well. I need to do it with thanks. This is my profession.
And, if I deny myself of what I would really like to do or how I am really feeling - then something amazing might happen. If I deny myself of some extra sleep or extra time surfing the Internet, then more people might be blessed when I try to faithfully interpret a Biblical text on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter Morning. If I let go of a little of myself, then quite possibly, this entire church might be blessed in some way.
Let it be so for me and all who gather in this place on Easter morning!