THE FIRST READING in today’s Holy Mass was from 1 Samuel 3, wherein the young man is called by the Lord and utters his famous: “ Here I am Lord! “
One of those modern songs, I dare not call it a hymn, used ad nauseam for years at ordinations and other liturgies, repeats that ‘ here I am Lord ‘ phrase over and over, but in a context which is more laudatory of ourselves than humble praise and gratitude of His calling to us.
This originates, I believe, in the misconception that once we have said ‘here I am Lord ‘, things are a done deal.
Yet the very life of Christ Himself, indeed the very ‘fiat’ of Our Blessed Mother, testifies that answering His call is but the bare beginning.
He calls us constantly to an ever deeper metanoia/conversion of heart and more dispossessed kenosis/self-emptying, so that by the purifying action of the Holy Spirit we may come to such a complete imitation of, configuration to Christ, that we can indeed, with the Apostle, cry out in truth: “ I no longer live, Christ lives in me! “
The perfect “Here I am Lord “is, of course, Jesus Himself — Jesus in the Garden and on the Cross, saying His ‘here I am ‘to the Father: [Lk.22:42] and [Lk.23:46].
Like probably everyone else, when hearing His call, I sincerely believed my ‘Here I am Lord ‘was complete.
Of course it was, in the narrow confines of that immediate moment, but, it was limited by my lack of understanding about the reality, the implications, as well as the gift, of His call: Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. [Mt.16:24]
Christ was obedient unto death….here is the ‘essence’ of our life……We are going to be tempted; we are going to be scourged. Everything is going to be against us; for the one thing the devil doesn’t want us to do is to die on the cross of our Lord…….At night, before you go to sleep, keep in your mind this thought: “ He was obedient unto death. “ [cu]
It is in the reality that our — no, in truth I can only say my: it is then in the reality that my ‘Here I am Lord ‘ is not yet complete that I am beginning to write the end chapters of this work, renewing my prayer that should anyone, should you, ever read this it will console your heart with the merciful, lavish, communion of love truth that, no matter how mired we are in sin, grace abounds all the more! [Rm.5:20]
I’M STILL reflecting in my heart upon the Desert Father story of the old man whom the devil distracted from trusting Christ by the scattering of the old man’s palm leaves.
What a metaphor for my life!
The old man said, indeed I say to the Lord, I weep because of the suffering, the shock, humiliation, frustration, yea even the fearfulness, that the devil should be allowed to treat the baptized of the Lord in such a horrible manner.
Jesus touches me, as He touched the old man, with tenderness, and Infinite patience, teaches me yet again a basic truth I always neglect — more than merely forget — the devil has his way with me when I seek to struggle in spiritual warfare, in even the ordinariness of life, by my own wits.
“As soon as you called upon Me satan fled for I have overcome him. “
Yes Lord, You, and You alone, are the Victor.
Once I had started university, as the Dean had requested, I informed him, telling him at the same time I was ready to move out of my living situation but given the cost of university and books did not have the income to get a place of my own. He said he would take care of it for me.
Weeks went by.
The Dean contacted me and said I was accepted for the fall term in the seminary and to proceed with the required medical check-up, necessary copy of my Baptismal certificate and gave me a list of basic books I would need, including the breviary for celebration of the Divine Office.
He suggested that even though the obligation to pray the Divine Office would not actually be mine until I was, some years in the future, a deacon, it would be good even now as a layman to begin to pray it.
As to my living situation he trusted my word I was living chastely and would soon have a place for me to live.
Today as I sit here and pen these lines in the rectory of a friend, where I am having a little holiday, I look out through the lace curtains into the expansive yard, with its statue of Mary, flower beds in full bloom, grapevines embracing their lattice. Across the alley, above the roofs of houses on the far street, the sky is boiling with black clouds, as thunder cracks the silence of this summer afternoon, and, lightening heralds the sudden downpour which slakes the earth, burdened by this latest drought.
It has been a good day. [Lk. 1:37]
We are nearing Epiphany.
Once again I fled these pages for months!
I have been scurrying around, chasing palm leaves again!
At this rate I’ll be on my deathbed and they’ll have to uncurl my fingers from around the pen with which I shall still be scribbling away.
Such a relentless companion of late.
A veritable cyclone of palm leaves.
It has occupied me much, both as a priest serving the dying, and the grieving, and very much in my own heart.
A great mystery in this season when we celebrate His birth — but then here is a deep mystery worthy of constant contemplation: God leaps down to earth Incarnate as a man, lain in the manger and ascends to heaven after having Risen from being lain in the tomb.
So far, since I last wrote any of this, I have attended the funerals of five dear brother priests and been the priest present as two of them were called home.
Each was in his own way a true holy servant of God, His People, our people.
It is also true that the actual reality of a person’s goodness becomes apparent only in death.
This is borne out by the fact, as another priest once remarked in a homily, we seem in our grief blessedly purged, in most instances, of all but the most tender and respectful memories of the deceased.
Yes, each of those dear brother priests was a mixture of saintliness and the woundedness of sins committed, sins thrust against them. But in the end each died in the arms of Jesus and Mary as we, their brother priests, prayed they be forgiven the sins of their youth.
The Pieta moment, for all Our Blessed Mother’s priest sons.
Is this not the joy of our Catholic sacramental faith that within the Church all are members of the same family, saint and sinner alike, and everyone is welcome and Our Lady is there as tender Pieta for all “ now and at the hour of our death! “
This week, the latest death of a brother priest hit me particularly hard, indeed reminded me too of the need to continue this writing.
Meanwhile I hereby pay a debt to my brother priest who died this week, a debt which is another example of the mysterious way in which Christ is always there, knocking on the door of our being and asking entrance:
Almost thirty years ago, not many months after finding myself unemployed from one of my many jobs, I was hitchhiking around the country.
It was early fall and the nights were quite cold.
This particular night the cold was aggravated by a steady drizzle and I was alone, cold, wet, hungry and, in spite of my anger at the Church, found myself desperate enough to bang on the door of a rectory in the small town where I was stranded.
It was well after midnight and no one seemed about anywhere in that town. There was no all-night gas station or coffee shop. No shelter of any kind.
After some pounding I noticed a light come on in an upper room. A few minutes later lights came on near the door. The door opened and standing before me, dressed in a black cassock, stood an elderly priest.
All I remember saying was, “Hello Father. “, and the priest instantly inviting me in.
The place was warm and before I had gotten too far in my tale of woe the priest assured me I could stay the night and immediately took me into the large kitchen, put on the kettle, disappeared for a few minutes and returned with some dry clothes, showing me a bathroom down a hall where I could clean up, dry off, put on the warm clothes.
When I came back into the kitchen he had a simple meal of soup, toast and coffee already prepared, gave me directions to a guest room, and left.
When I came down to the kitchen the next morning he had already prepared an ample bacon and egg, toast, coffee, breakfast. He’d even washed and dried my clothes.
As I was leaving after that breakfast he pushed what seemed to me like a fistful of cash into my hand, told me to keep the clothes, insisted I take a bible and a book of the lives of the saints, and as I stepped out of the door he said: “ You MUST return to the faith!”
A few days ago, just before Christmas, I took the elderly priest who lives here with me to the bedside of a dying brother priest. We anointed him, gave him Holy Viaticum, prayed the prayers of the dying as he fell asleep in the arms of Our Blessed Mother.
Both of those priests, the one who died, and the elderly one who accompanied me, had been brother priests together for decades and had even once served together in the same parish.
The one whom I anointed and gave Holy Viaticum to is the same priest who sheltered, clothed, fed, and encouraged me to return to the faith those thirty years ago.
Please God by now I have chased enough palm leaves.