This entry is about being fully alive, breaking through the veil of superficiality that causes one to feel bored with life, feeling at one with all the other creatures in the world around us, and seeing the radiant Presence of God in everything - the great undercover wonder who takes delight in enabling us to participate in his own work of creation and of giving life - it's about hearing the call to participate fully in living and in giving life to others. November 30, 2006. Feast of St. Andrew.
This is a very fascinating place to be after eleven years, with just one little year to go in my current assignment. The first few years were an awesome challenge, and I even felt then that I might be in over my head. At the same time, there were those really great hearts who lost no opportunity to give a word of encouragement, to lend a helping hand, to offer a kind gesture or sage word of advice. People are amazing, and without thinking much of what they are doing, at times reach high levels of excellence in their outlook, speech, behaviour, and action. People like that really do make the world a better place, despite those that make a lot more noise or wreak havoc and destruction.
It is so very deeply satisfying when they say that my presence, word, attitude, action, or example has really touched, inspired, encouraged, or challenged them, because some of them do that for me. The sharing of a common journey, the collaboration in a single important task, the mutuality in that intercourse of persons who happen to breathe the same air on the same planet at the same time while discovering the same hidden mystery at the very source of it all... incredibly intensifies the wonder of just being alive. This alone is already the kind of stuff that inspires poets, playwrights, composers, philosophers, theologians, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers... yet there is more!
The middle years of my time here became increasingly active and productive, but most importantly of all, they challenged me even more to go beyond my comfort zone, grow in generosity, and learn even from those younger than me. The wonder of other people is that, however young, each person has character virtues or strengths, abilities or experiences that they hold or use uniquely, and this challenges and encourages me to open my spirit to greater possibilities. Difficulties, obstacles, apparent failures, and even discouragement can serve to push us beyond the limits of what we thought was possible. The most fascinating and puzzling area of life seems to me to be where we are most weak, vulnerable, helpless, or powerless. I have been stable in one place and the same assignment long enough to have accumulated a long list of what might be called personal failures, or failed personal attempts to accomplish this or that. In turn, this opens up the awareness of my own personal limits.
You'd think that as a person open to the supernatural and to the spiritual dimension I would have had a better grasp all along of the boundary between what I can myself accomplish and what can only be possible to God. Perhaps it's the eternal youth in me that still feels overly responsible for the world around me, or the child in me that never learned very well to ask for help, or again the current context in which so much is expected by so many of the priest or pastor, or is it simply our common human condition from the time of our origins that causes me and us to daily struggle valiantly on as though it were all up to me, to us?
In the midst of it all, there are deep joys for me these days and today. As what we call the "pastoral year" - the year of the caring we receive from God in churches - ended and now starts up again with the coming and going of summer; I have been taken hostage, no, rather set free by an unexpected and disconcerting realization. It's not a new invention, but it is certainly fresh and impactful for me. All these very wonderful and unique people keep coming back to this church, and it's not because of me. It's because of Jesus Christ, the One Saviour of the world. He died, but rose again from the dead - the "first fruits from the dead" - who came into the very midst of our darkness to seduce our hearts, enlighten our minds, heal our bodies, and to restore the vigour of our wills, and so to lead us out of the darkness into his own wonderful light.
Though He truly is the "all in all" of God; yet is He so kind and considerate as to remain among us and work still within us, but under cover, under the cover of spirit being, existence, speech, and action. He could accomplish by himself the salvation and lifting up of every generation of humanity, but He continues to submit himself to the Father's plan and will that as many of us humans as possible might come to the life changing satisfaction and delight of participating as partners in this ongoing transformation of people and their lives, beginning with our own and the lives of those we love.
What is it that covers Him up? In large part, it is the network of illusions that we nurture that nothing happens without us or me. This is the perspective of the child of two, who naturally thinks that all that is new to them isn't known to anyone else. As we move away from that time of innocence, we varyingly try to resist opening our self to others and to persist in serving our selves. All this static of self blocks the waves of divine vitality radiating from God, and we just don't "tune in" to the "godcast", we miss the happenings, we reject the gift of faith which alone clears the static and opens the receiver.
This is the joy I receive as gift these days, to rediscover more deeply than ever before that we are all the work of God - even though it is his pleasure that we have a part and take delight in taking up our part - so that all that is real, beautiful, true, good, and loving, all that lasts, comes from Him. It is ours to notice, see, hear, accept, and receive, to use, develop, say, do, and accomplish, in partnership with God and with each other. What brings me joy in this is not the mere idea of it, but the all-pervading realization of it, the conviction of it in my gut, the bright perspective of it illuminating all that I concern or busy myself with, the humbling magnitude of it as I go on relating to and collaborating with others. How can any thing ever be the same again?
Another pulse within this same joy came tonight. Some of us diehards got drenched mucking around in the rain playing golf through the front nine holes, and then went for cover in the form of a good shower and change into dry, warm clothes; while only three really passionate players went on to play the bottom nine. That was fine. We shmoozed over appetizers and drinks and then along came one of our fine recruits. He didn't play but joined us among those who simply came as part of the "supper shift" - priests invited over the years and who remain on the active list because they either have come or at least answered the invitation. It's all about fraternity, the simple joy of being with these other men we love and who love us, mostly because of Jesus. We have in common Jeremiah's experience: Jesus seduced our souls and we let ourselves be seduced by Him.
It's all about just being there together, sharing one another's company, anecdotes, and friendly intercourse. Then it happened. The young recruit, about seven years into his personal formation and professional training, shared with me what it's like for him to be at this point in the journey, and how vital it also is for him to be so very intimately caught up in the saving relationship with Jesus, our Saviour, our Lord, and the Beloved of our souls. What an awesome thing it is to see happening in another life, another soul, another person, the very same mystery of existence beyond human sight and only visible by faith. This undercover Jesus is truly a wonder, to accomplish such similar effects in so different lives, all the while respecting the fragile yet intricate web of freedom and discretion that makes up each unique human being.
I already have the joy of knowing that this is the very same pattern that happens in the lives of all these dear brother priests, some of whom I know much more intimately than others. It is very touching to see it happening anew in someone still in the early stages of the formation years, because that is when you feel so small in the face of what you are gradually preparing and committing yourself to do for the rest of your life. To be a Roman Catholic priest is to commit yourself for the rest of your life to do the impossible, all that you cannot possibly accomplish, but which Jesus can in you, as He has been doing for two millennia. It's awesome to be called and to freely and gladly respond and accept to be part of something like that.
It's very much like the awesome mystery into which a woman and man enter when they fall in love and leap into the precipice by joining their destinies to each other and get married, preparing and committing themselves to bring into this confused and even dangerous world an undetermined number of brand new, fragile human persons to share in the eternal destiny offered us all by God the Father in his extravagant bounty. What an awesome, timeless ecstatic experience it is to gaze in wonder into the eyes of your child, a unique, individual little person who didn't exist before, and who only exists now because your committed love joined you to your spouse in your committed love, and this love between you, making you one, has multiplied you, and you are lost in the contemplation of this new life, which is looking back at you with a response of unconditional love, gratitude, joy, delight, and innocent wonder!
It is the same for a priest whenever he gazes into the eyes of any and all of God's children whom he has the privilege and honor of serving, as he notices the power of God passing through him into their lives: healing their wounds, forgiving their sins, restoring their dignity, intensifying their love, filling them with gratitude, giving them hope, enthralling them with new vision of the mystery of the Holy Three in One, restoring their will to courageously do battle with temptation, sin, and evil in the world, strengthening their hearts to endure all the trials, difficulties, opposition, persecution, and burdens of life; so that they may acquire an ever expanding capacity for love, peace, joy, delight, contemplation, passion, fruitfulness, generativity, endurance, hope, and faith.
If you are a single Roman Catholic man and have been moved by this account, perhaps God is calling you to consider the life and ministry of the priest, who is given by Jesus a share in the saving ministry He came to Earth to begin. If such is the case, open your heart to Jesus with me and make your own a prayer something like this:
"Dear Jesus, You who came to the Earth to reveal to humanity the love of the Father and to save us from our sins, lifting us up to live a life of love beginning on Earth and continuing into eternity; if You are calling me, please let me know. I open my mind, heart, soul, and body to You. I am willing to explore the possibilities, and to find within myself the freedom to respond to your call, with your help. Let your Holy Spirit enlighten me and guide me every step of the way. Thank You for touching my spirit. Please continue to reveal yourself to me. Lead me to some of your other disciples, who will help me to discover your ways. Amen."
I unite myself to you in the praying of this prayer. Feel free to email me by entering a comment through the hotlink below, or else to contact a Roman Catholic priest of your choice. May God continue to bless you along this amazing adventure of life on Earth and eternal life in Heaven!