Wednesday, April 1, 2015

From Ash Wednesday to Spy Wednesday to the End

This day of Holy Week---Spy Wednesday---takes its name from today’s Gospel in which Judas “spies” an opportunity to betray Jesus, inquiring of certain Jewish chief priests:  “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?”  The very question reflects a shriveling of this Apostle’s soul, that some thing could be exchanged for Someone.  For Judas eventually to cast away the “thirty pieces of silver” and then his own life demonstrates in a horrific way that truth which should give each of us pause along the course of what we call our life---that abysmal dissatisfaction is the ultimate result of rejecting the One Who is the Incarnate Way, Truth, and Life.  There is no gaining the world in the loss of one’s soul.

But today’s Gospel also indicates the mysterious intersection of the Lord’s own triumphantly salvific plans with the nefarious plotting of Judas.  Jesus too is on the look-out for new opportunities to further His own interests, which are precisely those of His Heavenly Father.  Christ thus sends His disciples “into the city to a certain man,” with the good news:  “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with My disciples.”  Perhaps the host of the Last Supper remains unnamed to allow each of us the privilege of sharing his surprise and joy---not unlike that of the greedy tax collector Zacchaeus when, at the outset of his conversion, he first heard Jesus insist:  “I must stay at your house today!” (Lk 19:5b). 

Today I conclude the written reflections that I began on Ash Wednesday.  In my meditation over the course of this Lenten season on how Christ has come to me in my infirmities, I have hoped to share with you how the Lord Jesus has brought the Paschal Mystery more deeply into the house of my life.  It has been a journey that has taken me away from home and brought me back again, in a type of “apostolic loop.”  Embracing the discipline of writing each day has been for me more than just a substitute for preaching on the daily readings; it has also been a personal accounting to the Crucified and Risen Lord of His goodness to me---both an examination of conscience and a proclamation of His grace and mercy.

Several people have asked me to continue this blog, apparently having grown too accustomed to this practice of Lenten penance!  I end it here where I do, first because that is what I promised.  Quite simply, I have said what I was given to say; this limit feels right for this purpose.  It is a perennial temptation in any form of communication to say more than needs to be said, for longer than it needs to be said.  More profoundly, these essays were always meant to be preparatory for entering the Sacred Triduum, where the Lord speaks most directly to us through the Liturgy. 

On Holy Thursday, I resume my preaching of the Gospel---live and in person---which I have always held to be at the happy center of my Holy Orders (cf., Code of Canon Law #762:  “Sacred ministers, among whose principal duties is the proclamation of the gospel of God to all, are to hold the function of preaching in esteem since the people of God are first brought together by the word of the living God, which it is certainly right to require from the mouth of priests.”).  In the wise and loving providence of God (and of my pastoral calendar conformed to it), there may be future opportunities for writing projects.  But for now---as of tomorrow---let the preaching resume!  Deo gratias.


Although this completes the original series of Lenten meditations, I hope in the next days of the Sacred Triduum 2015 to offer some additional meditations of thanksgiving and summary update for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.  The timing of these will depend on my other pastoral responsibilities!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

From Confusion and Anxiety to Glory

Today’s portion of St. John’s account of the Last Supper begins with the unsettling assertion that
“Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’”  It ends with Christ’s even more focused prediction not simply of His betrayal by one of the Twelve but also of a three-fold denial by Peter, the head of the Apostles:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny Me three times.”  Between these two assertions, there is unspeakable confusion, attempts to find presumably preventative or at least ameliorative answers, and assertions that the problem will somehow be checked by the strength of one’s own resources.  From our vantage point, we see in this event that there are obviously many forms of denial taking place on the evening of Holy Thursday!

In this penultimate Lenten blog post, I look back on all of the forty-plus meditations in which I have in one way or another detailed the feelings of being “deeply troubled” by my own body “betraying me,” so to speak, in the failure of my jaw’s physical integrity.  This trial led in time to my having to prepare for surgery, undergo the TMJ operation, and then begin a new period of recovery to health.  I have also alluded at many points to the confusion I felt at not knowing all the crucial factors which brought me to this strangely slow-motion-yet-abrupt ending of normal life and my anxious, temporary-yet-drawn-out bafflement at how I was to move forward.

When we recall the most common artistic depictions of the Last Supper (as, for example, that of Leonardo da Vinci), we instinctively imagine figures with a certain static quality, seemingly frozen in place despite the troubled looks, the contorted gestures, and even the one hand guiltily dipping the morsel of bread into the dish with Jesus.  Likewise, the post-meal representation of the washing of the feet---Christ’s engagement of tending intimately and individually to the members of His Own Body---also often lacks the dynamic quality of the Apostles’ experience of the confounding unknown they were living.  It is even more disconcerting to consider them living these feelings with Jesus present rather than simply apart from Him in His seeming absence. 

It is well worth pondering in these final days of Lent, on the cusp of the Sacred Paschal Triduum, exactly how much of our confusion and anxiety the Lord Jesus invites us to bring with us into our observance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday---and even into Easter Sunday and beyond.  The first followers of Christ make it abundantly clear that we are to bring everything with us---complete, unreserved emotional honesty and the most penetrating rational inquiry.  Such, and only such, is real faith seeking true understanding.  So often I have found that people expect, and even sincerely desire, that Christian life in general---and Priestly life in particular---have the reliably flat character of a two-dimensional reproduction of an all too familiar Last Supper tableau. 

I cannot count the number of people who have told me they were shocked that I could have been experiencing an almost two year medical ordeal and still have gone about my ordinary Priestly duties as if life was good and there were new reasons for joy to be found.  What other real choice is there for any of us in our Christian life of faith?  I have learned from my parishioners---many of whom have suffered far worse and far more for far longer---that short-term trading of prayers for comfort and miracles on demand are not in the evangelical offing for those who seek to follow the Master---the prophet Isaiah’s Man of Sorrows, “acquainted with grief” (Is 53:3).  As one of my professors once remarked:  It is impossible to finesse one’s way around Calvary!

But our Divine Savior does infallibly promise us light, even in what we think is deepest darkness.  Immediately after Judas’ departure into the “night,” Jesus proclaims:  “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.  If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and He will glorify Him at once.”  I have witnessed this glory super-abundantly over the extended span of the “at once” that is God’s time---in the cascading love that has been given and received, multiplied and shared precisely in my having to pass with Christ through this malady.   

So now when I approach Holy Mass and look out at the congregation, I marvel so much more deeply at the rich complexity of the lives the Crucified and Risen One draws to be close with Him---embracing their confusion and anxiety (as well as their joys and hopes) in a boundless mercy which dares to accompany them redemptively to the end.  To put it another way, I see the Divine Artist as having no intention whatsoever to reproduce the Last Supper of the Upper Room according to our reductive imaginings; rather, He sacramentally insists on re-presenting the Eucharistic Banquet of Calvary to Heaven---on making the Sacred Mystery present in all of its dimensionality working through all of our dimensionality---according to the expansive fullness of His Glory.  And that is what brings joy to our sorrow and light to our darkness.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Operative Words of Holy Week

In today’s Gospel, when Lazarus’ and Martha’s sister Mary “took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair,” her gesture of love was made in silence. Nonetheless “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.”  The cutting remarks of Judas, by contrast, divide the house and fill it with a different odor:  “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?”  Judas’ heart is divided, “because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.”  He is ultimately deaf to the Lord’s correction, because a short time later he too will touch the body of Jesus with a silent gesture---the kiss of betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. 

From yesterday’s reading of St. Luke’s account of the Passion, we learn that Judas’ evil action had immediate and infectious consequences:  “His disciples realized what was about to happen, and they asked, ‘Lord, shall we strike with a sword?’  And one of them struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus said in reply, ‘Stop, no more of this!’  Then he touched the servant’s ear and healed him.”  Violence is, in a sense, both the result of spiritual deafness and the cause of the further spread of it. At the Easter Vigil later this week, the catechumens who have prepared for Baptism will have their ears touched and Christ’s efficacious words pronounced over them:  “Ephphatha”---“Be opened!”.  But to reach this point, the Lord must open our ears to receive all of the graces of Holy Week, including the painful and difficult ones.

I mentioned in a previous blog entry that the operation on my temporomandibular joints was performed, so to speak, from the outside in.  The surgeon made an incision along the cartilage of my ears to gain access to the interior of my jaw.  Many times over the past two months I have looked at the surgical photos taken of that procedure like I look at holy cards:  These images remind me in the most strikingly vivid (because somatically literal!) way how good and necessary it is for my ears to have been radically opened.  Dr. Piper was deeply knowledgeable, technically very refined, minimally invasive, and utterly decisive about (1) where he cut, (2) exactly what his salutary purpose was, and (3) even how best to repair the temporary damage caused by his healing art.  So it is---super-eminently---with Christ.

I cannot help but think of the starkly opposed yet tragically similar gestures of Judas’ kiss and Peter’s sword.  Both are botched surgeries.  Judas perversely makes of an expression of love its very severing, like a renegade doctor who would betray his profession by plotting to instrumentalize the patient and maliciously cause harm.  Peter, by comparison, wields the tools of evangelical operation clumsily, like a well intentioned physician who has not adequately appropriated the best practices of medical training---thus using the wrong means to the desired outcome---and in the process causes complications.  The Lord Jesus suffers “patiently” the wrongheaded interventions of both the good and the evil, in no small part to train us future generations in the salvific arts of the Divine Charity.

Today is March 25 [2013], ordinarily celebrated in the Church as the Solemnity of the Annunciation.  Because the date this year falls during Holy Week, its observance is transferred to April 8, the first day after the ending of the Easter Octave.  But we can, for all that, ask the Lord to grant us the hearing aid of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s receptive ears.  At the announcement of the Angel Gabriel which she did not at first understand, Our Lady--- full of grace and with consummate contemplation in action---inclined forward with her whole being to inquire:  “How can this be?”

How, Lord Jesus, can the days of this particular Holy Week be for our salvation?  What is the surgical procedure we must understand---and the recovery protocol we must follow---for the coordinated healing of our mouths (what we say) through our ears (how we listen) to form those gestures of love which permeate the whole House of Your Church and reach even to the ends of the world You have come to save?  As the Priests of our Diocese gather around Bishop Rhoades this evening at the Chrism Mass at St. Matthew Cathedral to renew our vows and share in the blessing of the Holy Oils, may these sanctifying gestures bear the fragrant form of the sacrificial service of Mary of Bethany and the all-sufficiently receptive grace of Mary of Nazareth:  May it be done unto us, O Christ, according to Your word.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Gospel in Many Voices

On this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (as on Good Friday), the Gospel is ordinarily proclaimed in a multiplicity of speakers’ parts.  For most of my life, I have added my voice to what the “crowd” has to say:  “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”  In my eleven years as a Priest, however, it has always been my liturgical office and personal joy to speak in the person of Christ.  Today is the first day that I must assume the role of narrator of Christ’s suffering and death, because the principal celebrant at Queen of Peace---Fr. John Eze---properly speaks in the voice of the Lord (and with an African accent!).

In my meditations on this blog (now numbering forty), I have referred often---but usually only in passing---to this much beloved Nigerian Priest who has shepherded my flock with such care during the days leading up to, and now following, my jaw surgery.  He has literally been my voice as Pastor for over two months.  Beyond the obvious challenges of seeing another person performing tasks that are so dear to my heart for people who are so dear to my heart, I have consistently been overwhelmed---even to tears---at the depths of God’s goodness in sending to my people and to me such a good shepherd.  I have come to know and love the Lord’s voice in his.

To sit side by side with Fr. John in the sanctuary, hear him proclaim and preach the Gospel, stand near him during the Eucharistic prayer, and receive his updates each day at the rectory we share on the parishioners he has visited---all of these privileged stances have given me a new insight into the fathomless humility, extravagant generosity, and (dare I say) reckless boldness of God to entrust His saving words and deeds to each of us as members of His Body.  Out of infinite love, Jesus Christ actually lets us bear His voice and extend His gestures of saving charity.

In a conversation, it is so tempting simply to want to say one’s own part.  We often look to seize the moment when our interlocutor pauses so that we can interject ourselves into the opening.  To grant the other enough receptive silence to hear a voice beyond one’s own is a life-long discipline involving an on-going dying to self.   In the case of the trusting silence of God, it is a miracle:  He really allows us speak through Him and with Him and in Him---not just to (or at) Him! 

In our modern age, of course, the microphone has amplified the Priest’s voice to the point of distorting it by exaggeration.  The electronic pseudo “vox Dei” too easily pretends to fill the church, all the while risking overwhelming by its one-sidedness the prayer of those not similarly equipped.  It is an etymological paradox that the word “microphone” literally means “small sound.”    Overcoming the passivity of hearing that this device abets, we can be more receptive to the “still, small voice” of God (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13).

For all of the rich liturgies of this Holy Week in which the Lord sacramentally speaks to us the words of everlasting life, we must prepare for each---and follow up on each---in contemplative silence.  When I was ordained, I never knew that a plastic mouth splint would become a personal sacramental, disposing me to receive the graces of Passiontide with more sensitive ears and a more open heart.  It has also been so spiritually fruitful for me to play the “narrator” of the Lord’s “mercies-through-trials” each Lenten day on this blog.  But to begin to hear the ineffable harmony of my soundless sharing of Christ’s words through another’s voice is to receive on earth something of the very reverberations of the Crucified and Risen Lord of Heaven:  “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”     

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Non Vedo L’Ora

The Italian expression for “I can’t wait!” literally means “I do not see the hour!” (“Non vedo l’ora!”).  Today’s Gospel is filled with agitation mixed with competing expectations.  To those who have begun to hope in Jesus as a type of messiah, they speculate about whether He will come to the festival of Passover and work a sign to catalyze a popular throwing off of the yoke of Roman occupation.  On the other hand, those Jewish leaders who believe collusion with imperial forces furthers the interests of stability (and their own hold on power) see the capture and execution of Jesus as a possibility ripe for pursuing; in the words of the high priest Caiaphas:  “It is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”  Neither Christ’s friends nor His enemies “saw the hour.”  In the face of all their fevered scenarios, we are simply told that “Jesus no longer walked about in public . . . but He left for the region near the desert . . . and there he remained with his disciples.” 

The day before Holy Week begins is a strange “desert day.”  On the eve of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, the Church readies herself to re-present liturgically our renewed entrance into the culminating moment of our salvation in the Paschal Mystery.  We do have the privilege of “seeing the hour”---the “Hour” our Savior foresaw as God from all eternity and toward which His earthly ministry as man was oriented from the beginning.  But as we approach the reading and hearing of the Gospel of Christ’s Passion, we must avoid all temptations to see it as “scripted”---that is to say predictable and hence dismissible. 

Preparing for great events requires contemplation and a necessary retreat from public view and its attending expectations.  So does convalescing from surgery.  As I have shared with you, it is during this upcoming week that I am medically approved to begin preaching.  I have waited for this hour!  My TMJ difficulties and their on-going resolution have existentially persuaded me that the Hour of Christ’s Passion possesses us infinitely more than we think we possess it.  Our long prepared entrance---ready or not!---into this sacred mystery of the Lord’s redemptive spontaneity is what we must beg of our Divine Savior the grace to see.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Where the Way of the Cross Begins and Ends

The traditionally recognized Stations of the Cross are fourteen in number and begin with Pontius Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus to death.  This Lenten Friday evening at Queen of Peace we have kept again as a parish family---for the last time before the beginning of Holy Week---this devotion to our Savior’s Passion.  Tonight was particularly poignant, because the children of our school embodied for us, in a dramatic form all their own, the Via Crucis of the Lord.  Instead of merely gazing upon the beautiful hand-carved images hung on the stone walls of our church to remind us of the final earthly steps of Christ into His Paschal Mystery, we saw enacted in the lives of our own flesh and blood the work of our salvation.

Just as the Way of the Cross does not end in the tomb of the Fourteenth Station, it does not really begin with the Roman Governor’s infamous judgment of the penalty of death for Jesus.  In today’s Gospel we hear that Christ’s adversaries “picked up rocks to stone Jesus.”  They hold in their own clenched hands and hardened hearts what will form the painful way that the Way must travel, the error that the Truth must engage to correct, the plot of death that Life must pass through to rise above.  The Gospels are unanimous in their witness that even in the events surrounding His birth and childhood, the Lord Jesus began tracing for us the path to Calvary.

In participating in our children’s Living Stations, I could not help but think of the injuries of childhood.  Whether it is physical pain or mental anguish, the young possess a sensitivity that we who have grown calloused to the blows of life often lack.  In several of my previous blogs, I alluded to the fact that the surgeon who operated on my jaw was persuaded by what he saw that my damaged TMJ was ultimately consistent with childhood injury.  This “trauma” (as it is medically termed and has been spiritually felt) is one I do not remember.  It nevertheless halted the full and proper development of my lower jaw, leaving me prone to the later adolescent and adult complications which led to my debilitating pain and seeking of surgical remedy.

That pattern also seems to me consistent with the ordinary course of our spiritual life.  We bear in our souls the primordial wounds of sin---that of others first and then, ineluctably, our own---as we do the childhood scars on our body.  In being unable to recall exactly how my jaw was injured and when, I am prevented from even attempting to calculate my share of the blame (I was in fact a willful terror as a child!), the potential part played by another/others, or even simply the role of troublous circumstance.  Such is any life as lived along the Way of the Cross.

For six Lents in the church of Queen of Peace, I have witnessed class after class of children trace the same movements of Jesus across the passage of these years.  Each and every year Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus from my presider’s chair; Jesus falls where I genuflect; the little body of Christ is laid on the ground in a burial shroud on the very spot on which the tiny Sacred Host of the Risen Eucharistic Lord is daily distributed in Holy Communion.  The young girls dressed as first century women always pretend to cry, as their parents in the pews shed real tears.  The older have carried longer the ancient, tragic secret of the passing of youth in growing up and the myriad threats to innocence which surround those of fewer years.

I shall never forget the first time I saw this children’s Passion Play in miniature.  A boy by the name of Sean Casey was dressed as a Roman soldier, and he was whipping the back of a child-Christ with cords made of bright red tissue paper.  The perfect absurdity and absolutely just depiction of it all overwhelmed me.  What are our blows and insults to the impassible One?  Yet how our Lord must expose the impotence of our evil designs by exposing Himself to our nugatory venality!  With each passing year, I see the generational dimension of our participation in Christ’s Passion.  Our church is a school for teaching the Divine Charity over the course of a lifetime, even as our school exists to prepare students to worship in Spirit and in truth by walking the Way of the Cross.

I went to Our Lady of Grace School in Highland, Indiana and rode the bus to school until I was old enough to ride my bike.  More often than not, that enclosed trip from home to classroom was---call it what you will---a living hell or a Way of the Cross.  There were no cameras monitoring and controlling bullying in the 1970’s!  There was many a day when my ear lobes would be twanged to redness and my heart to rage; all of my winter hats had the strings of the pompon pulled out one by one, like so many threads of self-respect.  But on the bus was the bull’s eye target named Karl, who in his perceived slower mental development became a lightening rod of rejection and venomous hatred.  One day so many older kids spat on him over the few miles of the trip that when he stood to get off the bus at his stop, his coat was literally covered and dripping with the darkly shimmering collective contempt of his tormentors and the guilt and cowardice of the rest of us.  Even through my grade schooled eyes, I saw in the boy Karl the Man of Sorrows.

“Trauma consistent with childhood injury” is not simply a speculative causal evaluation of a broken body part but a description of what has happened both to connect us to---and alienate us from---each other in our shared history, which is a prelude to our restoration in Christ.  On this final Lenten Friday, which only Good Friday can succeed, we confess that our whole life---singly and corporately---is the Way of the Cross.  Christ has borne it to form and reform us into spiritually healthy members of His Mystical Body.  He carries us on shoulders so broad and powerful and grown up as to hold the universe in existence, yet with a fresh and gentle innocence most passionately and vulnerably felt---even if not yet completely remembered---in the earliest joy of children’s play.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Sight and Gladness of Abraham

In the Gospel readings of these days, we see that the road to Calvary is paved with the shards of fragmented, unresolved arguments and misguided, abandoned hopes.  Steadfastly conversing on this via Crucis with whomever will listen and remain to follow Him to the end, Christ offers these mysterious words pregnant with covenantal promise:  “Abraham your father rejoiced to see My day; he saw it and was glad.” 

In today’s first reading from Genesis, the scope of this promise is sketched by God:  “I am making you the father of a host of nations.  I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.  I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”  Jesus Christ is, of course, as man one of the earthly descendants of Abraham, even as He is the very same Lord Who created the world and forged its covenants:  “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”

It is striking that before Jesus’ opponents pick up rocks to stone Him, they attempt to beat Him up with the brute (and brutal) fact of time:  “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”  Our Divine Savior is actually mocked by what we might call “chronological bullying.”

People who suffer a physical malady like jaw pain are in a very elemental way bullied by time, in that their suffering seems to know no end (thus shutting down any future of gladness).  If the illness is chronic, it can even ruin the happier past pre-dating the suffering, precisely because the health of once-upon-a-time seems irrecoverable.  But the sick---especially when they are diagnosed or being treated---endure in addition yet another perversity of temporality:  Their sense of time is incessantly determined by medical timetables and therapeutic milestones.  Having “two months to live” or “seven more months until the cast may come off” can appear to a given patient to be either heartening or soul-crushing (or both simultaneously).  Moreover, when there are multiple agonizing stages spaced over stretches of time to attain the restoration of health, the temptation to bouts of frustration or even despair is an ever-present possibility. 

Two weeks ago, for example, I had a phone appointment with Dr. Mark Piper to discuss my progress in healing, which has been excellent and right on schedule.  Up to that call, my sense of time had been governed by: 1.) when I can begin to preach regularly again (= Holy Thursday); 2.) when I can be both the principal celebrant and homilist at all of the Sunday Masses (= end of April); 3.) when I can be off of my anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxing medications (= beginning in May); and 4.) when I can get my surgical braces off and be splint-free (= October). All of these milestones were enthusiastically confirmed as I spoke with Dr. Piper.  But then I made the mistake of asking him how long he expected I would have to wear regular braces to refine my new bite pattern.  I had been thinking perhaps three more months.  In one corrective sentence, Dr. Piper broke my heart:  He predicted another year of metal in my mouth to finish the job---Lord, have mercy! So now my medical horizon of hope recedes to October 2014!  In the grand scheme of things, and certainly when compared to the suffering of countless millions, my “slight momentary affliction” (as St. Paul would put it---2 Cor 4:17a) is as nothing.  But in time it does feel like a heavy something.

I was thinking of these matters today when I was able to meet up with a good high school friend, Leo Meskis, whom I have known for twenty-seven years but have only seen perhaps three or four times since graduation.   After giving him a tour of Queen of Peace, we went to Elia’s for a great Mediterranean lunch.  Of course as we talked, time disappeared and the years melted away in memories as vividly present as yesterday.  Leo is currently in the orthotics business, traveling great distances to fit people who have very serious medical malformations of their bodies to those devices which will best relieve their pain and optimize the normal physical functioning of their lives.  My friend sees suffering on a daily basis and---in seeing solutions the patients may not see---fits people with hope.

As Leo and I reminisced, our conversation turned to a certain Priest we had as a teacher at Bishop Noll Institute.  Fr. Stephen Gibson regularly and aggressively interrupted any number of Saturday mornings of our adolescent laziness to goad us into joining him on “religious mini-field trips.”  Somehow this cleric’s gentle pushiness made it easier to accept these suburban pilgrimages than to refuse them, and one of his favorite spots to meet was a Carmelite shrine and monastery in Munster, Indiana.  The more I talked with Leo today, the more I realized that---like Abraham---Fr. Gibson saw what we didn’t see:  In the week by week, month by month spiritual formation this Priest was offering us, he saw that the Lord had a blessed and life-long mission for each of us to discover.  Clearly our teacher saw in each student of our little group at least the potential of a Priestly vocation, and in my case his sacrifices have borne precisely this fruit (Leo is happily married in Indianapolis with a beautiful wife and daughter).

For all of the Teresian Carmelite graces I have pointed out in several of these blog entries, never until today did I think of the roots of these gifts extending back through time to my half-hearted and even reluctant teenage prayers at that Carmelite monastery all those years ago.  I also mentioned to my friend Leo that I have never expressed my gratitude to Fr. Gibson for all of the unrewarded labor and countless hours of prayer he put into us as a spiritual father trying to raise good spiritual sons.  To this day we are able to imitate this Priest’s quirky speech patterns; we have only begun to imitate the confidence of his faith which emboldened him to share it in such straightforward, life-changing ways with the young and the clueless.

It gives me so much joy this night to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is not intimidated by time.  He can be patient with His adversaries---even unto death on a Cross---because He sees and accomplishes in His own Person the boundless promises made to Abraham to be fulfilled over the course of centuries and millennia into eternity.  I am not yet fifty (seven more years to go), but I can testify that today I recovered a Carmelite joy hidden for me from of old.  The weight of a quarter century was lifted by a single conversation with a good friend to reveal that the infinite happiness of my Priestly vocation was already being prepared in long-forgotten visits to a silent monastery during the time in my life when I was wearing my first set of braces, restricted to the small horizon of hoping---just hoping---that I would finally get them off for my high school senior year!  In seeing now what Fr. Gibson saw then, I am truly glad with my Father’s joy.