I have a confession to make. Its something I have rarely shared publicly and am usually reluctant to mention for fear of the varied reactions that inevitably come forward.
Today is my birthday. I was born 29 years ago today on December 1st, 1982.
Now I’m sure you’re thinking, “Gee, Father, what’s the big deal about that?”. But let me assure you that this does not come easily. For the length of my priesthood, my entire seminary career and pretty much since I left home, I have kept mum on exactly when I was born. When asked directly I would re-direct the conversation or say that I preferred to keep that private and avoid drawing attention to myself.
I know that I am not alone in this. ‘This’ being not the desire to hide our birthday, but the worry that somehow celebrating a birthday as a priest (or public person) is somehow going to go overboard. As a priest there is the worry that ‘happy birthday’ will become a surprise announcement at a Mass (complete with singing – please Lord, no!) and a party in the hall. The unease of thinking that everyone is going to feel somehow obligated to get Father a gift and the discomfort of inevitably having to turn down various invitations to birthday parties because I’ve already got something planned with a few close friends and family.
I know that many of my brother priests and other fellow birthday-date-hiders join me in being introverts. Don’t mistake us for being shy – we can talk as long and as loud as the next guy (please, stick around for one of our homilies!). We like people and we enjoy being with others.
But unlike the out-there-ness of extroverts, we have just a few really close friends. And there are a lot of things that we just don’t feel real comfortable with: group hugs, dancing in public and so on.
Which means we share the ‘big’ things with a smaller circle. Like birthdays.
So why change now? I’m afraid I have to default to my generation’s excuse: its my mother’s fault. It started innocently enough, with her calling today to wish me a happy birthday. And then the questions began: “So what are you doing?, Are you taking the day off? What is your staff doing for your birthday?”. Uh oh. So I tried to explain the above to my Italian, expressive and very non-introvert mother. I think my birthday present was a (gentle) tongue-lashing. I’m afraid I’m not brave enough to clarify that question…
But more to the point, she pointed out that its a gift to be able to wish someone a happy birthday – and how frustrated she is when people she cares about let the day pass without giving her the opportunity to offer her own birthday greetings.
And to be honest, its nice to get birthday greetings.
As if to punctuate the point, I went to McDonald’s this evening to celebrate with a meal & a milkshake. Feeling a little bold – and a little silly – I mentioned that it was my birthday, and could I get a mixed milkshake (chocolate and strawberry – living it up!) instead of the normal one-flavor kind? To my surprise, when I went to the drive-thru window to pay, the manager came and asked to see my ID. After I gave it to him, he wished me a happy birthday and informed me that the meal was one the house!
So there you are. Mom, as usual, was right. When its your birthday, tell the people around you, enjoy their greetings and, maybe, get a complimentary Angus burger w/ fries and a chocolate strawberry milkshare.
- Fr. Maurer