Tuesday, August 28, 2012
As I approach my 50th year in the priesthood, I have been reflecting on the passage of the years. They have gone so fast. They have been years with pain and sorrow, happiness and tears. There has been success and failures. There have so many deaths, followed by surprising resurrections. This was the life promised to me in my Baptism and proclaimed in every mass I celebrated. In the glow and excitement of ordination, I was blissfully unaware of this foundational truth. I was in for a rude awakening. I was awakened to the Paschal struggle that was such a great part of the life of the disadvantaged. It has taken many, many years of struggle, in this vale of tears to come to grow into an understanding of my personal participation in The Paschal Mystery. What wonder-full gifts are revealed to us in the hindsight of reflection. I came, as the Irish say, with the oil fresh on my hands. In my ignorance, I thought I had all the answers. Just ask me the question. I came equipped with a little green book which was to be consulted in the event a pastoral solution was needed. You could rightly say, I had knowledge, but wisdom, was seriously lacking. I do shudder at the “stuff" I was giving out. I had to learn, in the hard school of experience, a person does not grow in wisdom just from reading a book. Wisdom is not about knowledge. One can be very educated and have NO wisdom. Wisdom comes from the difficult STRUGGLE of applying one’s faith to the question arising from a lived human situation. I had to learn over and over, how to live with the question, so as to live into the answer. (Thank you Henri Nouwen.) I have not been a quick study. We Irish are known to be obstinate, and so the process is still in place. It is a pain-full process. A process that will never end. It is only temporal death that will end the learning process. With death will come the fullness of all knowledge as we will be absorbed back into Him, Who is Knowledge. I came to America to live in the challenging 60’s. Change was happening in both church and society. I had to live out the early days of the priesthood in the midst of great change. My training was in the thought and practice of pre-Vatican 2. Then, everything changed. The fundamentals remained the same and have remained the same over the centuries. What changed was the understanding of those fundamentals in the light, new knowledge coming from the sciences. As theology is, the science of the knowledge of God, so whatever is true in other sciences must be applicable to theology. From the consummated union of the sciences came a "brave new world" and a dynamic new and vital church. I am so sad to see the efforts made to retreat back to the pre-Vatican 2 way. We are losing the vitality which brought so much to the church. Each person was so formed and educated that they were able to embrace with enthusiasm this great statement, "the people are the church”. Each person has the dignity, realized or not, that they share in the threefold mission of Jesus Christ, as priest, prophet, and king. This is each person’s dignity as the result of the anointing with the oil of chrism at baptism. It is well to reflect on the fact that the same oil of chrism that each Catholic Christian is anointed with, is the SAME chrism used in the ordination of a priest. In the early church it took hours to baptize a new Christian, and way shorter to ordain. The excitement of Catholics was something to witness as they began to assume their rightful place in the workings of the church. What expertise, insight and knowledge they were able to bring to enhance and enliven the church. I have been and always will be, amazed at the time and energy American Catholics bestow on their church. It is the same both in rich and so called “poor” parishes. I have been an associate pastor and pastor in both. Once “the people of God” come to the awareness and acceptance of this fact, it is not Father's parish, it is theirs’, then watch out. I firmly believe in “bottom up” approach to leadership. We are to reverence the presence of The Spirit, in each and every person. We must empower each person to speak that person's truth and see that person as a manifestation of the presence of God. Some of what can and will be said to us will be challenging. I love when that prayer, "Voices that Challenge" is sung in the Liturgy. I wonder how many as they sing those words say to themselves "this IS about Me". Those presences that were a source of challenge to my way of thinking and the parishes way of acting, I referred to them as the prophetic voices. Voices necessary for the well being of the church and society. Let us thank the good God who places prophets in our lives to challenge our thoughts and behaviors. We need present day prophets who will shatter our comfort zones and with this shattering will come new knowledge, and, a new awareness. We will be led to places never dreamed of where we will begin to live in "a new freedom and a new happiness”. As with the prophets of old, today's prophets will led us to see, “new heavens and a new earth". The past is past. It is in the living in the present moment, The moment of Presence, that we will allow, (think about that word, allow,) God to do what God does best, "Behold I make all things, new”.