Starting Point
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Issue Date:  September 9, 2005

Starting Point


My freshman year at the high school seminary, we had to take swimming lessons. The lessons were part of the school’s physical education requirement but also for safety’s sake. With an indoor pool on the premises, it was important that all seminarians knew how to swim.

I went to a few of the classes but cut many of them. While I’m sure my absences were noted -- there were 25 seminarians in my freshman class -- I don’t recall being challenged or disciplined for cutting class. Eventually, I did learn how to swim. I’m not a great swimmer but good enough to stay afloat and keep from drowning.

More than swimming, I learned how to tread water. I’ve been treading water ever since.

I’m not sure why I cut swimming classes my freshman year. Perhaps it was the memory of a near-drowning experience on a family vacation when I was 3 or 4 years old. As a result of that trip, I had to wake up early on cold Saturday mornings to go to an outdoor pool for swimming lessons.

Or maybe I was afraid of drowning. So instead of learning how to swim and overcome my fear, I cut class.

Though the system was changing, when I was in the seminary there was still a sense that some preferred their priests to walk on water. Maybe subconsciously I was buying into that system and thought I didn’t need to learn to swim.

I have been ordained 23 years, and I am still treading water.

I learned early in ministry that people are not looking for priests to walk on water but to walk with them. This has been a saving grace -- the grace that has kept me from drowning in my mistakes, missteps and missed opportunities.

Precious Blood Fr. Joseph Nassal is a retreat director and the author of eight books.

National Catholic Reporter, September 9, 2005

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