Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Being ready to hear...

I have been working through the opening chapter of the First Letter of Peter for the Daily Office this week. The letter opens with Peter (or, the author) offering support and confidence in Christ to the people of the Church. Times are not so good for the Church, and he counsels strength and forebearance for the faithful. This is not an easy undertaking, waiting on a savior that many never have known in a face-to-face way as Peter and the other apostles have in the past. There is an anticipation without knowledge of prior experience that can too often, when fulfillment of realtionship is denied, result in a falling away from devotion, from what one friend of mine once called "the pratice of right mind, right practice, right feeling." It is not easy to hold on to something that is "already, and not yet." And yet, that is the life of Christ.

Peter, in his lifetime, has had the experience of seeing the fullness of time come to pass, and is waiting for the next chapter to unfold, where Christ returns in glory and the Church's, and the world's, travail will end. He sees his children in faith struggling both with themselves and with each other as they wait...and he knows how hard it is for them. He wants to bolster their faith, and give them an awareness of how it really could be, and soon. But it isn't that easy.

I have served as a priest of the Church just long enough to realize that when individuals and communities fall away from confidence in Christ that our resolve to BE the Church becomes an attachment to HAVE the Church be a certain way. Think about it. How many times in your life have you chosen the habit of life over the positive change in life? Do you stay up too late? Do you drink too much coffee. Do you succumb again and again to those moments when, knowing the best thing (which may be the difficult thing) to undertake is the more fruitful way, you choose the way you know better-even if it does not bear good fruit?

Easy enough to condemn sin or indulgence. But we can even become too attached to a "good" thing. I once had a parishioner who had, for decades, run a ministry at her Church for seniors. They took trips, had monthly dinners with speakers, held parties, helped out with charity work. The numbers had dwindled over time as the group had aged, but they knew each other well and she always received great compliments from the membership: "You do such a great job bringing us together. If it weren't for you, we don't know what would happen to the group.....etc."

This went on for years, and she grew old. That happens, we all know. But now, as she found herself resenting the monthly dinners and annual parties, as the trips had become a thing of the past as it became harder for the group to travel....she decided that something had to be done. She asked for a meeting with me, and during that meeting she got all of her resentments offer her chest. She laid out every last bit of anger and frustration. When it was done, she looked to me expectantly....what did I think? "Why not change?" I said.

Simple thing. Similar to "take two aspirin and call me in the morning." Not my wisest or pithiest advice....and yet, it worked. Simple change. She thought for a moment and said, "Well then. I retire." Sometimes letting go is the right thing. She needed to be able to say it, and then to do it. She needed to let go of what she had been carrying, the burden that no one else would take from her...and the burden that so many expected her to continue to shoulder.

Peter is taking a slightly different line on the issue. He is writing to give heart to change-agents (that is what we call them now) in being faithful to the original intent of the Christ-the Great Commission to preach the good news of the kingdom of God and to baptize all nations. Get out there and preach. Share the life of Christ. Be new, and renewed, as you foster the making of new Christians. The "about to be" is as important as "what has been."

Still, these words are hard to hear. I know that. I have seen that again and again in my ministry...and I have expressed it again and again in my life and in my stumbling development as priest and man. Being ready to hear those words is as important as having them said to you. That is where Peter adjures us to discipline. Open your hearts, your minds and your ears, he says...and LISTEN to what is going on in the world around you and in your own heart. Don't let resentments, petty desire or pride cloud a humility you have been given in Christ to meet every person as one who carries the Divine Light within them. Focus on becoming the Church that is about to be revealed to the world! I only wish I had that charism, and that insight! Too often, I realize in retrospect what impact the life of the Church COULD have had...or what the Church could have done if I had only said what I COULD have said. Missed opportunities due to pride, conceit, fear, anxiety, depression, anger...resentment...could too easily continue to derail my life and ministry as I have seen them derailed in Churches and in fellow Christians throughout my life.

Peter asks us to humbly slow down enough to stay on the rails of God's intent for us....or to simply ask for the assistance to get the bits of ourselves that have been derailed back on the right tracks with God's-and the Church's-assistance. Sometimes it is simply about letting go of old habits...sometimes it is about holding fast to God and new paths.

Therefore prepare your mind for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (I Peter 1:13-ff)

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