Saturday, July 12, 2014

Transition

More than ever, I am aware of how my faith has soothed my cynicism into humility, how it helped me abide in peacefulness even when the future is obscured in confusion.  It is a faith where we know each moment, groaning in labor, allows us to bring new life to this sacramental world.

And so we trust, whether in infirmity or vigor, that we can bear fruit; we believe we can take the set-backs and surprises  in life and from them become servants of a greater love.  We do it not because we are wise or holy.  We have long ago learned that to be a saint, as Ron Rolheisher wrote, is to be warmed by gratitude, nothing less.  We do it because we sense a kinship by adoption, as Paul wrote, "of being children of God."  And because we have each other.

For the past four years, the people of St. John's have refused anything but to tightly weave their faith and strength into my health adventure.  You made it easy to be shattered with tough news; you made it inviting to proclaim the awe from unexpected recoveries.  Your close comfort continues to carry me, even now I move to assisted living.

This past week, following prayer and conversation with family, the Jesuits, and the health care professionals, I moved into hospice care.  The medical explanation is simple:  it is getting harder to breathe.  So the focus will be more palliative than restorative.

The hope is I can pay attention to a life that keeps revealing a generous God, and human bonds that have pushed me into inspiration and affection.  This attentiveness will leave sufficient room for occasional crankiness, but I know the journey ahead has been seeded with thankfulness and contentment.

We come from abundant love, so all we can do well is try to show it, play with it, and foster new life with it.  May that glorious mission come with each precious breadth.

Fr. Pat

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Corpus Cristi


Here is what saying “We are the Body of Christ” means:  We are open to falling in love with the world.  Not just a particular person or people, or having a creative passion.  It is vital to have those specifics in our lives; they make us tolerable.  They give us somewhere to direct our reservoir of thanks.  But more is offered and required of those who say they are members of Corpus Cristi.   We will give ourselves to the world—the quirks, uncertainties, the weariness, the ones who irritate or baffle us.  

We say that self-giving love is the central force that guides us, winks at us.  It inspires us to try and do likewise, accepting we need help from heaven and on earth.  To say we are the Body of Christ is to say we have both eyes on the real—the struggles, the upsets, the odd—and a heart grounded in one belief:  everything can reveal to us God’s redemption.  It is to say that the Body is not a club; it is a refilling station where members can see ever more clearly this world—in all its grandeur, heartache, changes, and fragility-- through the eyes of divine love.

The more we are fed with the body of Christ, the hungrier we become to forego our own priorities and plans; we open ourselves to unending grace that has included us in this world.  The more we partake at the table, the hungrier we are to be blessed in ways that stretch us, to be broken in ways that heal us, and to be shared in ways that make this world closer to the Kingdom.  We do it within the ordinariness of our lives.  That is the fine truth of the Eucharist.  We receive it, wrote Andre Dubus in "Meditations from a Moveable Chair, “with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky, the moon and earth, and breathing.”    

In that ordinarinessthis God of grandeur and fragility awakens us all of how to best serve the beautifulbody of Christ.  For myself, it has occurred in the past ten weeks in receiving the prayers, professional care, and inspiring acts of sacrifice just so I could keep on breathing.  Against odds, against medical explanation, and against the patient’s wanderings and distractions, I am still breathing because individuals extended themselves so unrestrainedly to be in communion.  I am no more deserving to have this signs of selflessness than any of God’s creatures, but one who now better understands the point of returning to the Eucharist:  to base our lives more deeply on gratitude and reverence.  

That has been the case since my medical adventure began 25 years ago.  Each day is a bonus to discover the bits of God in this incarnational world.  Unlike previous recoveries, though, this one will require more time, more focus, more abandonment to God’s graciousness.  And that requires I step down as Pastor of St. John’s.  I will stay at Creighton, so I look forward to helping with some of the parish’s sacramental and ministerial activities.  The Jesuit provincial offices in Milwaukee and Chicago (the Wisconsin and Chicago-Detroit provinces are merging) have been planning with the parish council, staff, and the Creighton Jesuit community how best to move forward. I am deeply grateful to the people in these groups for the quick, pastoral, and generous ways they handled having a pastor who spent most of Spring in bed.   May the good work begun in them prod us all to be servant-leaders in this Body.  Special thanks andprayers go to Fr. Paddy Gilger, SJ, who will serve as administrator at St. John’s until the end of December.

Each time I have begun a ministry, I am baffled at how I can possibly serve these wonderful people ofGod.  What could I possibly offer them?  Upon moving on, I have the same response.  I was sent toabsorb their blessing, healing, wisdom, and their love.  That’s enough.  On this feast of Corpus Christi, I step down as Pastor weaker in flesh, but stronger in spirit.  I move on after a season of isolation, but one where I never felt closer with the people of St. John’s.  move on not sure what I can give, but quiteaware of what we can receive: boundless love wrapped in ordinary worldly fragments.  May the Body of Christ always unite us.  Amen.  

Fr. Pat

Saturday, June 14, 2014

flame keepers


Here’s an image that weaves together Father’s Day, Feast of the Trinity, and priesthood (on the 13 anniversary of my First Mass.)  Think of all three as key ministers.   In the country of Mali, Africa, nomadic tribes always have some members of the community who ensure a flame stays lit.  The “fire-keepers” sustain the ember while the group travels.  The blaze, once the community is in a settlement, serves as the locus for celebrations, deliberations, and sustenance.  When the group is ready to move on, the flame becomes a symbol that they have all that they need.  

            The charge of the fire-keepers is to keep before the people what is sacred, enduring, and life-giving.  Their task is to keep a spark—sometimes taken from dying ashes—burning, so to draw the community together through the flame’s warmth, light, and beauty.  The fire-keepers must appreciate the flame’s power and potential.  Their role, along with the story tellers and elders, is to keep alive the traditions in ways that are meaningful, respectful, and visceral to the whole community.

            This image has obvious parallels with the Trinity, with parenthood, and with ministry, not the least which all three are to bring to people what can nourish, heal, and protect.  But the image carries more subtle analogies.  This same source of energy that provides comfort and security is also one that is dangerous and unpredictable.   Often the role of key ministers is seen as a salve, as something whose main goal is provide comfort.  

            Certainly any minister has a biblical and ethical mandate to offer compassion.  But compassion is more than reassuring others that everything is fine.  True ministry must involve an effort to consecrate.  Ministers need to bring people together with a mix of festivity, awe, and gratitude.  And to push the community into unknown territory.  As any experienced flame keeper knows, the fire is not meant to be a continual sanctuary.  The warmth and strength is not meant for ourselves, but to propel the group to go out in confidence where it is cold, dark, and inhospitable.

            The Reverend Sloan Coffin said that his understanding of God is that which offers a minimum of protection and a maximum of love.  It is the task of the Trinity and of all earthly ministers to invite followers into an uncertain and occasionally harsh world.  They do it because they know they are not alone.  They do it in the joy, humility, and freedom of knowing one has been sent.  

            Key ministers give a counter to all the forces that devalue, objectify, and belittle the sacredness of life.  They can enable people to go out and restore all that has been desecrated.  Like the stewards of the flame in the Malian desert, it is keeping alive the splendor and spark that is given to all. 

Fr. Pat

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pentecost Prayer


Come Holy Spirit.  Ignite within us the gift of wisdom, that we learn from our errors, listen to tough truths, and judge wisely the things of the earth.

Enkindle within us the gift of counsel, that we share advice with respect and mercy.
Light within us the gift of fortitude, that we choose the more courageous option.
Illumine within us the gift of piety, that they see a glimpse of holiness abiding in all things, in all experiences.

Come, Holy Advocate, renew our visions, so we see this ancient creation not as it must be for us, but in the splendor it has been given.  Come Holy One, revive our patience, so we see all that lives as works in progress.

Come, Holy Messenger, infuse us with grateful trust when uncertain how to proceed.  Let there is be no circumstance too fearsome, no challenge too daunting, no set-back too discouraging that blinds us from your peaceful friendship.

Instill within us, sweet Spirit, with wisdom that allows us to listen with attentiveness, with an understanding that fills us with courtesy, with a piety that lets us behold the sacraments ever emerging.

Come, Sanctifier of the church, and bathe this Body of Christ with a passion to care for the least.  Let us inhale the comfort of knowing you will tell us everything, so our days are filled with alertness, our nights with calm.  Let us exhale a faith that sends us into your world to seek and defend holiness.

Come, Bold Spirit, remind us to pack our lives with prayer, generosity, and gratitude.  Send us, Fire of God, with burning desires to repair this world in a greater image of your love.  Let us be ambassadors of a Spirit that has empathy for all that lives and breathes.  Burn, burn away the ego that can hide the good you have given us.

Come, giver of life.  Let us recognize each breadth as a sign of your ‘yes’ to our life.  Let us take all breadths as invites to strengthen others in all labor, rest on others in all pain, and embrace others in all their joys. 

Fr. Pat

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coming home



“I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”
-from today’s psalm

Early in my arrival to Africa many years ago, a Peace Corps friend brought me to a nomad.  His home was the Sahara desert, where he travelled with his steer from feed site to feed site, and occasionally came into town to sell his cattle.  Eager to impress, I spoke quickly to him in the local language.  At the end of my garbled words, delivered straight from text book phrases, he turned to my friend and said, “where did he come from?”  My friend told him that I had recently arrived by plane in the land across the ocean.  “Ah,” the nomad said to me.  “A soul cannot travel faster than a camel in the desert.  It moves at its own pace.  In six months, you will arrive.” 

As I return to the Creighton campus from the acute care facilities, I am many months short of having my soul catch up to absorbing the lessons from the past two months.  I pray for the patience to let them come at their own gracious pace.  But right now, there is a word that resounds with clarity: contentment.  It happens when the dust falls from our eyes, the hardness in our hearts softens, and the tension in our minds relaxes.   This could bring on a sense of wonder—being overwhelmed with all that is and all that we have—but that is a stretch.  And we eventually learn that the good life breaks out when we want less drama, more simplicity in what we do, in what we seek.  It is more accurate to say that what is ordinary can be so meaningful, so sufficient, so convincing of a soul-drenched life. 

The medical condition looked bleak early on.  Key life functions were solely dependent on others’ care and prayers.  And when the mind caught up to the reality, there were no healthy option but to wholly surrender to the love of God.  The great epiphany was not a sort of out-of-body experience.  Quite the reverse.  In this beaten state, in this spooky place of beeping machines, there was no need for an emotional high.  There was no need for complete closeness with heaven or with others.  It was not necessary to have perfect, consoling words.  It was better than that:  contentment with what is.  There is no need to be in awe; we are satisfied with whatever regular conversation or prayer or task is before us.  We know that in any mundane situation, there are plenty of signs of infinite love, inspiring hope.  

That is when we are not blustered with the unknown.  What we know is enough: even in the most tiring and puzzling of moments, there remains the possibility to surrender it all.  It is not a flight from all the bumps and burdens that pepper any life; it is absorbing them into a bigger scene.  This surrender was not a great achievement on my part—it was the opposite.  It occurred when I could no longer get in the way.

With each unexpected medical breakthrough, as normalcy in breathing and moving and speaking returned, there came a thrill, and then an ache to God:  let me hold fast to this contentment of placing my life utterly in your hands.  Let me retain the grace of taking in the healing kindness of others.  With whatever strength and energy return, let me stay in an obvious and wholehearted trust in your care.   Let me travel in this land of the living at the pace that is guided by the soul, inspired by the ordinary, and life-giving for your people.

Fr. Pat

Friday, May 30, 2014

(For 4/18)


The great invite during the Easter season is to take seriously the things that cannot die.  They are the graces that seem to just abide.

Here's one: nothing seems to stop the force of compassion.  In a world long drenched in inequity and soreness, it stays.  It stays with a ferocious resiliency.  Nothing is able to keep it down.  There is no weariness or bloodshed or sorrow that can come close to destroy it.  The reverse is true:  the more ridiculous it is to show acts of compassion, the more it endures.  It is abundantly wasteful, being thrown about sometimes in futile or harsh settings.  It refuses to fade away even when brutality and greed get their way in the world.  They have not and can not extinguish the force of compassion.

Another tenacious grace:  hope.  It is far more than wishing for better tomorrows.  It is having gracious awareness of what is going on right now.  It is seeing this life as a bewildering tapestry of miracles, and not doubting that this is the way it will continue.  This sort of hope breeds patience.  We do not expect a particular outcome.  We find it more reasonable and easy to to know that whatever is ahead is completely unknown.  But what is next will be sparkled with hints of the extraordinary gift just be a part of God's fabric.

This sort of hope allows us greater permission to acknowledge when the present has darkness or awkwardness.  Having this deep hope allows us to better settle into the messiness and frayed parts of our lives, remembering it has all, and will be all, weaved into a sacred journey.  It does not remove from us any torment or confusion.   It helps us know what to do: surrender the troubles of our lives to this God who seeks closeness.

These graces that abide hover about as I move forward with rehab.  I continue to mend in a place that makes it obvious I am in good hands.  There is the slow work that comes with any recovery, yet simple joy is never too far.  It happens, after five weeks inside, of getting outside and feeling a gentle breeze for the first time.  Or holding a fork again.  Or walking (wobbly) about in this strengthening place.  Like your ongoing prayers, each of these small signs gives me a to chance to offer a hearty "alleluia".

May we be open to these abiding graces.  May the one who gives us passage--the gate--guide us tenaciously to base our lives on the things that cannot die.

Fr. Pat