Pastor's Pen, for The 2nd Sunday

The holiest person I ever met was a Jesuit from the United States named Fr. Joe. Part of our experience as novices was to be visited by an older, wider and holier Jesuit. In one of our classes, Fr. Joe was asked what he was most grateful for.  Fr. Joe had been a prominent Jesuit; he had been Novice Master, Provincial and Superior of a major Jesuit institution. We all thought he was going to refer to one of these “positions” which he had held.  Instead, he said that he was most grateful that the cancer he had was growing slowly, leaving him more time to serve God’s people a the soup kitchen he would visit daily.  We were all so taken aback and the classroom had a silence that occurs in the presence of holiness.  Fr. Joe died a year and a half later.  The story of Fr. Joe helps us to understand the person and ministry of John the Baptist and so too does it help us to understand our own Christian life.

It is hard for us to separate the things that we do and our own ego.  I often find in myself that I can begin to do something with good intentions and good desires but very subtley the focus shifts wtihin me.  There is a shift from being focused on God and the other person’s relationship with God or their particular difficulty, to a focus on myself.  I can wonder if the perosn is impressed with what I am saying and doing, if the person sees me as someone who can “save” them.  Another example would be the temptation to be jealous with the success of another.  The jealously is not due to the strenghts or gifts of the other, but that they can be more esteemed than me.  What happens to us when this shift occurs?  

Our growth in the Christian life was once described to me as a “gentle exorcism.”  I like this image because it expresses the possiblity of daily and constant growth.  It means that our redemption is still a work in progress.  We all carry darkness and sinfulness within our hearts and so it is difficult to put those things down and to fully embrace the promise of God’s salvation.  John the Baptism offers a strong example of someone so focused on God that other things didn’t matter.  He understood his whole life and everything  he did were solely for the service of God.  

Our own struggles to give ourselves fully is not amoment of disappointment.  Rather it is a moment of hope.  Fr. Joe also said that he had a terrible temper.  Other older Jesuits admitted that that was the case.  It seems than that this holy person I met was the result of much grace and growth, eventhough there were many instances of his giving in to sinfulness and losing his temper.  We can be patient with ourselves because we have hope for ourselves.  We know that God does not desire distance between us, rather he desires us to be as close to God as we are able.  We can point to God, as John the Baptist did, not just with our words and actions, but also with what God is doing with each of our hearts.  It is hard for us to live the Baptist’s teaching “that he must increase and I must decrease,” but that teaching is not a condemnation of our personhood.  It is an invitation to the fullness of life through the reception of the fullness of love.  Day by day we put our darknessand sinfulness more and more behind us, as we know that we are transformed by love, and as we know that we are called to proclaim love.

God Bless and Take Care!

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