I work for college students. I live among college students.
We live in a time in which people don't recognize authority...at least most don't. People want to know that an authority figure is a human being not entirely different from themselves. They want to joke with us but they also want to know that, despite that, I'm also holy, that I live up to what I preach.
So, the question that keeps coming up for me is when do I tell students that I can't go with them, that our journeys must go in different directions. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm never going to a bar with a group of students on a weekend night. I know priests who have done this because they met and ministered to students that they wouldn't have otherwise met. I can't get past the fact that bars tend to be places students go to get drunk. They lose inhibitions and act in ways that are inappropriate. It just seems unseemly.
Yet, sometimes students invite me over for a movie and, when I arrive, I realize one or two have a beer. They will even offer me a beer and, to be honest, I will have a beer or two with them. I'm not going to get drunk obviously but I'm not going to be puritanical either. I tend not to leave because the plan is not to get drunk but to have a drink and relax. I've had incredible conversations with students in this context because the questions that they've always wanted to ask but couldn't get the courage or didn't know how to ask them tend to come out. I feel like there's an opening for very good for ministry.
Yet, I sometimes fear that I'm getting too close; that I'm becoming too much like the "older brother" and not maintaining the "other side of the coin" that allows them to see in me the image of our heavenly Father. For me, this is what I'm learning here at St. Thomas. I'm learning how to be a priest to the current generation and how to figure out what the current generation needs in a priest. I tend to learn the hard way and there have been times when I've made mistakes, nothing that would in any way compromise my ability to be a priest but definitely times when I think that I wish I could pull those words back into my mouth or not act that way to this particular student. But, I feel blessed because students are very forgiving and very honest. They tell me when something is "not cool" and they tell me that they appreciate my willingness to walk among them now...to minister to them where they are.
I just hope that God will continue to give me the grace to minister to these students and help me be there for them when they need me. It's amazing. This has been one of those weeks where I , again, started asking if this is the right ministry for me and, if I'd stop listening to the voices that deform the gospel and listen to the people who I minister to, it would be to patently obvious that God has put me here. It doesn't matter if it's always comfortable. God wants me to be here. That is sufficient.