When an irritant, such as a sharp piece of sand, works its way into an oyster it deploys a defensive mechanism where it coats the irritant with a slime-like substance called nacre. Layer after layer of this nacre is applied until the irritant is smooth and lustrous and known as a pearl. The longer this pearl remains in the oyster the larger and more beautiful it becomes. The best and most valuable pearls are formed over a very long time.
Despite God’s perfect, sacrificial love for me I am sure that I am as irritating to him as a sharp piece of sand is to an oyster. God doesn’t coat me in layers of nacre but he is forming me none the less. I know I am not the man I was three years ago when I was accepted into aspirancy to be ordained a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. I am nowhere near the man I was five years ago when this journey began. I also know that I am nowhere close to the man I will be in two years, God willing, when I am ordained nor the man I will be each year after that. Formation is something that lasts right up to the beginning of purgatory.
I was about as far away from the man I am today that I could have been. I am a former fleet sailor, a salty dog, with sea water in my veins. I was a Gunner’s Mate, a dealer of death and destruction. I ate like a sailor, drank like a sailor, played like a sailor, and have a mouth of a sailor. This is something only a sailor truly understands but the stereotype wasn’t far off base back then. The nineteen year old me would have probably hated the me of today.
Reading scripture I see that I am in good company. King David would have been right at home on a warship. He was about as flawed a person as they come. But he was also a man after God’s own heart. How could a man as flawed as David be favored by God? He knew when to be humble and honestly repent. True repentance is in very short supply today. Today’s culture is more like King Saul who thought he knew what was better for God than God did.
And then we have Saint Paul. Before he went by his gentile name of Paul he was known by his Jewish name of Saul. Saul was the Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was even more Jewish than the great Jewish teacher of the law, Gamaliel. Paul’s formation began with a blinding light and Jesus asking why Paul was persecuting him. Paul went on to become the Apostle to the Gentiles and one of the greatest Christian evangelists to ever walk the planet. But he didn’t start out this way. After regaining his sight he was more or less exiled to Tarsus to undergo three years of formation.
Lord, I do not know where this road I am on is leading but I trust it is where you want me to go. Keep applying the nacre. I hope to be a pearl for you one day.