Among the greetings cards I received this Christmas was one thanking me for the support that has come through my priesthood.  On the front of the card was this photo [little boy with shopping cart] and the caption: He took the road less travelled.  But he brought a helmet and a tiny shopping cart, and that made all the difference!

Inside the card was printed, No one travels through life quite like you.

The image and the message have caused me to reflect over these days about my life and about the priesthood that has carried me through 50 of my 76 years.  Yes, it has been along a road less travelled, as the role of the priest and his place among the People of God has greatly changed over this time, and at present very few people give any thought to becoming a priest.

But it remains for me an exciting and vibrant ministry, despite there being fewer priests, and despite the uncertainty and controversy surrounding many of the changes and also the painful realisation that the priesthood, like any other life, is prone to scandal.

What has made all the difference for me is the helmet and the tiny shopping cart I acquired along the way.  And what are they?  The helmet is my protection and strength that come from my prayer, and from the community that supports me, encourages me and gives me a reason to get up in the morning.  You are my helmet, covering me with your love, sheltering me, making me taller than I really am, keeping me close to God.

And the tiny shopping cart?  This carries my gold which is the wisdom I’ve learned along the way, from the good times and the bad.  It also holds the incense of your faithfulness and generosity, and the myrrh – the anointing that seals relationships formed and valued through shared experiences of grief and joy.  I push the little cart ahead of me so I don’t lose sight of these treasures.  They – you – are my compass and the star that guides me!

In all of this, the photo reminds me that I remain a child of God and can do nothing on my own.  Without my helmet and tiny cart, and all that they mean, my priesthood would quickly become lonely and ineffectual.

But this image can be yours too!  As Christians, we follow the way of Jesus and, in our secular New Zealand society, it is becoming increasingly a road less travelled.  Like the Wise Ones who sought out the Christ of God, and despite great difficulties and attempts to mislead them, succeeded in their search, each of us must be prepared to take the path not frequented by popular choice.

Because it IS less travelled, the road may not be easy, but with your helmet of support and companionship and the faith that guides your hope, you will go safely through any obstacle.  Consider carefully the treasures you choose to pack in your shopping cart.  They will make all the difference to your journey and its outcome?

To have others say, No one travels through life quite like you, is a wonderful blessing; the greatest compliment – and a powerful witness, if the love of God and neighbour has been your focus and the reason you have for everything you do.  That DOES make all the difference, and a very attractive one.