Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Mysterious Padre

As a Protestant cross-cultural worker, I must admit there are times when I admire Catholic priests working in remote parts of Africa and other hidden hamlets throughout the world.

This fascination of these reclusive padres began in the ‘70’s where I met a solitary Father in the deserts of Turkana. Alone in the hot arid climate of the bush, surrounded by only the illiterate semi-nomadic, at first I pitied him. No family, little contact with his home country, it all seemed very sad. Over the years, however, having observed Evangelical missions and there “here-today-gone-tomorrow” approach to missions, primarily because of family issues, makes me wonder if perhaps they don’t have it right and we have it, in some ways, wrong.

Early this year I visited a Pokot village I lived and worked in 20 years ago. I took the imitative to meet Father Anthony who has resided in that village four years before I even arrived in Kenya. Fr. Anthony lives by himself in a block building on the Catholic compound he helped build thirty-six years ago. As I walked away from his house I was impressed with a man who has invested his life into a the lives of a tribal group who, he admits, has not advanced much in the nearly four decades he has worked with them.

There’s something mysterious, compelling, about ascetics. While the rest of the world clamors for fame and fortune, solitaries seem to be single minded, an antithesis to the rest of the population. The legacy of a married man is his family. The legacy of an entrepreneur is the building of his business, their worth measured by accomplishment and wealth. For a padre in the desert his legacy is an investment in a people no one has ever heard of. Fr. Anthony will die with little fanfare and his eternal accomplishments will be known only to God.

The reality is that most of God’s creatures will exit with little fanfare and our accomplishments are indeed known only to God. But in the meantime we spend a lifetime trying to please others - our families, peers, donors, along with God. In some way the padre intentionally lives outside the spotlight of this world, while evangelical missionaries must promote their activities to keep up with the religious marketplace.

Of course the celibate life is not for everyone and the Apostle Paul noted the uniqueness of that discipline (1 Cor. 7:7-9). The moral failings of those who have taken the vow of celibacy is well documented and often highlighted. Personally, I can’t imagine my life without my wife and having children and now grandchildren. However, from a purely Kingdom perspective, perhaps the padre’s in the deserts, like their ancient cousin John the Baptist, aren’t so far removed from having it right.