Being a priest is the very best thing in the world. Well, for me it is. It is like living the 'dream come true' as for the preceding thirty-odd years (yes, all of that time) this was the place where I daren't even hope to be for fear that the hope would never come to pass.
In my life there have been some very significant people. They have raised me, nurtured me, nurtured my faith, and nurtured my calling to the priesthood. They range from family members and friends, to fellow-parishioners and priests. Some of them read this, so what I will try to consign to this screen, I will try to get clear.
For younger people of my church tradition, the notion and ideal incorporated in the 'priest' is a significant thing. Those of a catholic pursuation (I can only speak for us, so please don't think I am being exclusive), for good or ill, place their priests on something of a pedestal. For me, I can number the bishop who confirmed me, two curates who passed through our parish in their training, and a couple of others who form this list of 'priests of note'. They embodied what I regarded as a the model of priesthood (as I observed them from the outside), and it was them and their example that I aspired to in the way I hoped to live my calling if it was granted fruition.
I still do.
Self-image is a blessing and a curse in this life. I am very comfortable inhabiting the skin of one David Cloake. It is often fun for me being me. In many ways, I 'see' me fairly jolly clearly. It means that in the vast majority of times, I can just get on with getting on, and why perhaps I have an issue with excessive navel gazing. I am me - live with it. I do! This brings a consequence, though. I am not my 'ideal model' of a priest in the ways I have aspired to. I know where the warts are, the scar tissue, the shadows. I know that I am lousy at half the spiritual mechanisms that you might ascribe to me as habit. I am a blunt instrument, lacking subtlety and the lighter touch at times. For me, 'priests' are well-read spiritual paradigms. For me, 'priests' embody all that is good and whole in humanity. They are exemplars of prayer, fine preachers, pastoral geniuses, gifted listeners - among a long list of other qualities. I am none of those things, much.
Don't get me wrong, I am not downhearted. I live with this, but I think that all priests (within my scope of reference) are the same. None of us fully fill the priest-shaped hole that we have fashioned and formed throughout our own upbringing. We are, in many ways, constantly chasing the rainbow that will never be to our touch. Mine is not a life of constant disappointment though. It is a life of pursuing a state that for now elludes me. The odd thing is, the pragmatic part of me knows I will never get there - but in the effort to try and be the best priest that I can be, I can't find a way to grasp that sense.