Saturday, June 12, 2004

"Don't be dismayed by opposition, criticism, or ridicule. Look to the Lord for your strength." A lesson from Ronald Reagan.

I couldn't help but remember today, as I watched funeral ceremonies for the late President Ronald Reagan, that during his terms of office he endured opposition, criticism, and even ridicule, and bore it with grace and humor. There was little reference made today to the opposition or ridicule, but at the time, the media certainly gave it ample room. He was the cowboy/actor who didn't really belong in the White House. It is only now, in retrospect, that people begin to glimpse the legacy left behind by an honest man and a good leader.

This is the way they treated Jesus too, and He told us not to expect any better treatment, for the servant is not greater than his master, nor the messenger than the one who sends him.

As I prepare to pray and go to bed at this late hour, I reflect on the grief I suffered at the hands of people over the years as a priest. At the time, I took it far too much to heart, and gave it too much importance. Very relevant is the wise saying: "Take God alone seriously; then you will find yourself able to take all things light-heartedly." Good counsel.

"Lord, purify my heart of all that causes me to turn in on myself, and let your Holy Spirit draw my whole being to turn to You, and take only You seriously with all my being. Then, in the light of your love, goodness, truth, and beauty, allow me to take all other passing things with the light-heartedness of a child, your child, a child of God. Amen."

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Jesus opens the hearts of people to his priests: "I am the Alpha and the Omega."

It is so amazing being a priest! Today I received a grieving family at church as they came to celebrate the funeral Mass for their beloved mother of 79, a beloved grandmother. Then this evening, I received six young families who came to prepare themselves for the Baptism of their child on Sunday.

Part of the wonder of it all is to see the wide range of human emotions and inner spiritual experiences that for each person have taken years to bring them to this precise moment, and then see how the Holy Spirit picks me up - as it were - and gently drops me into their lives, into the very heart of their mind and soul, and there He pulls out of me as from a vast storehouse of thoughts, teachings, eternal truths, feelins, experiences, images, and so much more, the precise words these people needed to hear!

After almost 21 years of priestly life and ministry, I am not surprised to see the Lord "use" me like this, but I still find it amazing and wonderful every time, because it's always new - a new situation, a new family, a new word that needs to be spoken and heard, and a new way for me to be present, attentive, kind, encouraging, and challenging.

When I was younger, I was more anxious about not leaving out anything important, but now I know that the Living God is always at work in the lives of each and every human being; and that my part is much like that of the butterfly or bee that flies in and "touches" their lives briefly, and God uses that moment to fertilize them and bring about new life in them!

At my first assignment - it was St. David Parish - there was a little girl who joined the altar servers with an older one - they were "sidekicks" and were always together. A few years ago, she dropped in on me and she asked about marriage. She had a boyfriend and she was looking ahead. Well, I met him and helped them both prepare and blessed their marriage. What a pleasant surprise I had tonight when they came to the meeting with the godparents they chose for their little baby, and on Sunday I'll get to baptize their first child!

My joy this morning was to be able to glimpse the beauty of the grandmother who had died, and to understand the feelings of loss of her family, and to connect with them, and be a part of their realization that in the very midst of their grief, they were surprised to receive a wonderful gift from she who had just died to go to God.

Although she has now left her body behind, they remain in communion with her - this is what we say when we recite the creed on Sunday in the words "I believe in the communion of saints." We don't know the state of her soul at the moment of her death, and she benefits greatly from our love and prayers.

In life, their are shadows in us - they are our sins, especially the ones we don't want to see or admit, and faults - we can deny them in life, but in death, our soul leaves the veil of the body behind, and comes naked before God, exposed to the infinite brilliance of his divine light. In that moment, we see the whole truth about ourselves, as well as about God, and it is a daunting moment. Most of us won't be able to fully accept God's love and mercy. We will feel impure, unworthy, unwilling to enter into God's presence. In his infinite mercy, God will allow us some time to suffer through this agony, and in time be purified by it and by his love, and finally be purified and able/willing to come to Him.

This purification after death is what the Roman Catholic Church calls purgatory - the time or purgation or purification - and it is a function of God's infinite mercy and justice. It is, as Jesus said, the truth which will set us free.

So, once again today, I experienced Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, our origin and destiny, the One who is there for us at the beginning and at the end of life. What an awesome adventure and privilege it is to be a priest and to share in Jesus' own High Priesthood, as He brings God to man and man to God!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"Were not our hearts burning within us?" Fr. Gilles' theme

My name is Fr. Gilles Albert Surprenant, and I'm a priest of the Archdiocese of Montreal.
I'd like to dedicate this first entry to a young priest, whom I feel privileged to have as a brother and with whom I enjoy sharing the same home and ministry. We live and serve the Lord at St. Thomas à Becket Parish in Pierrefonds, Québec.
I have named my blog for the touching scene at the end of Luke's Gospel where Jesus walks along with the two distraught disciples, kindly enquires about their sadness, and gently rebukes their confusion - opening up their minds to all that was told about Him as the Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures.
Then they said to one another, after He had vanished from their sight once He had broken the bread for them, "Were not our hearts burning within us when He explained the Scriptures to us?"
"In the breaking of the bread" was the them that emerged from prayer for me as I prepared for ordination to the priesthood 21 years ago, and I am drawn to return to it as the banner there for this blog.
Glory be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has made known to us through his Son the wondrous divine plans He has for our salvation and that of the whole world! May all who confess Jesus as their Saviour and labor to do all that may please the Father and avoid all that might grieve the Holy Spirit, be of one mind and heart with the disciples of the road to Emmaus and in our turn speak to others the Gospel words that will cause their hearts too to "burn within them."