Over a year ago I decided to give a beard a try. Since that time, two of my aunts have been praying incessantly that it would go; some of the stalwart and faithful ladies at the cathedral parish in my diocese have been hoping that it would go; and any number of people have felt free to make a comment that they hoped it would go.
And now, it’s gone!
Taking off the beard was the result of a beautiful pilgrimage in Poland this past summer. During the pilgrimage, I had the chance to reflect a great deal about what is right about my life and soul and what isn’t right. I then took the opportunity to recommit myself to God to be a better man, a better priest, a better bishop. I made a conscious decision to reconsecrate myself to God through Mary, through our Blessed Mother, through my Blessed Lady.
As I began my journey back home to the United States, I felt I needed to make some outward sign to God to match that inward recommitment. I remembered a practice in the Old Testament called the “Nazarite rite” where a Jewish man who dedicated himself to the Lord would not cut any of his hair—even facial—as a sign of that vow to God. I decided to do the reverse—to shave the beard as a sign of my recommitment to God through Mary, a sign of my need to take greater notice and have greater care for the flock which Our Lord has placed in my care.
Once the beard went, it was interesting how many people didn’t even notice. My dear aunt, my godmother who never, ever spared from telling me each time she saw me how much she wanted the beard to go, didn’t notice it gone. My dear goddaughter, Carla, who was so forthright about her dislike from the very beginning that she persisted in calling me “Furry,” didn’t notice that it was gone. Even dear Janice, the woman who cuts my hair and trimmed the beard every two weeks, didn’t notice until she was about to take the clippers to my face.
Interesting, isn’t it? It seems to me that we all find ourselves moving so fast through life that we oftentimes don’t notice the obvious. Whether it’s someone sitting next to us on a plane, a crucifix hanging on our living room wall, a stop sign at a familiar intersection, or the good that someone does for us, we sometimes as very busy human beings simply don’t notice.
While you, like my aunt or my goddaughter or my hair cutter, may have an opinion about beards, I ask all of you to pray for me that I may be true to my recommitment to God through Mary, and that by taking greater notice of the needs of our Church, I might be a better shepherd.
My first step in that pledge – after shaving – is to slow down and better open my ears and eyes to those around me. Might I invite you to do the same. Perhaps that’s the kind of recommitment God wants from us and what we need for God.