The invitation card for my priestly ordination was a personalised one, very different from the ones you usually come across. I had worked on the concept and design for a couple of months with a lot of help from my dad who was kind of a self-made wiz on the computer. The front (like a postcard, but bigger) was basically a collage of photographs, an inter-woven tapestry of all the people who had been an important part of my life, and who had in some way contributed to my priestly formation.
There was my family prominently in the centre, surrounded by the religious sisters in our family, priests and seminary professors, my teachers, my closest friends and groups of lay people, youth and children from different parishes, whom I had worked with during my eight years of seminary formation. In the days leading up to my ordination, I had an acute awareness of how much of what I was or who I was, was a result of the role that these people had played in my life. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit featured on the other side of the card prominently next to the invite, an entire section devoted exclusively to the Divine Power who had given me this great gift.
Do I think my life is a gift? I certainly do.
My origin was itself a great gift from two people who came together in love and brought me into this world. They made a number of sacrifices in coming together for this common project. In the initial years, my family was together in Abu Dhabi (the United Arab Emirates), where I and my brother were born. But because of the high cost of living, my mom decided to return to India to make a home for us. My dad stayed back there and continued to work there for more than 30 years separated from his wife. They would meet just twice a year when he came down for Christmas and we went there occasionally for the summer. I realised what a great sacrifice my parents had made and especially my dad, when I myself had to live alone in a faraway land, away from my family and friends. They did this to give their children a good life and formation.
Some people would say that my mom had nothing much to contribute to the world, because she gave up her career. That she had sacrificed her dreams to raise her two sons. I don’t think my mom saw it that way though. She saw motherhood as her vocation and she pursued it in the best way she could. She didn’t particularly think that she had sacrificed anything by giving up her job. Did she contribute nothing to the world? She certainly did! Other than her own involvement in the community, through the priest she raised, she has touched the lives of hundreds of people, and will probably do so to thousands more in the years to come. On occasions when some of my parishioners have had the opportunity to meet her, they always praise her in glowing terms for the son she raised. I have seen a broad smile on her face and pride in her heart. I don’t think a job would have brought her that kind of happiness.
Today I am studying in Rome, one of only two priests selected my Bishop from the hundreds in my diocese. In the time that I have been here, I have received so many opportunities to learn new things, to see the world in a different way, to live with people from all over the world, to travel and see different places and cultures. To be close to the tombs of the Apostles and to be able to concelebrate Mass with Pope Francis are blessings beyond comparison. And every waking moment of my life I think to myself “What have I done to deserve all this?” Very little I would think. Everything that I have received is a gift from God and a gift from the hundreds of people who have walked with me on the road of life.
So do I think that my life is mine to do as I please? I certainly don’t think so. I think I have a great responsibility to the world and to the people in my life. I cannot be selfish in making my life choices, without taking others into account. What I do with my life affects not only me, but everyone else as well. And this holds true for whatever profession or vocation you have in life.
We see a lot of selfishness in the world today, especially when people think that have made themselves and have the sole right to their life choices. A number of practices like abortion, euthanasia, live-in relationships, free sex, blatant consumerism, and greed-driven profiteering are symptoms of this kind of mentality, where the other is rejected. The world can never truly be happy if this kind of mentality continues to take root. Life is a common project, lived with others. My life is not ‘mine’ but ‘ours’.
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.
(1 Cor 3:5-7)