The mix of sessions has been very good for my discernment and spiritual development. Through the combination of unhurried and reflective sessions like Penny’s and Sr. Margaret’s and the more pressing presentations by Fr. Tran and Deacon Gayle, I have been challenged to see things with new eyes and hear things with new ears. Penny and Sr. Margaret stressed the importance of going slow and listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Robert Rivers and Deacon Gayle stressed the need to look at old things with a new perspective. And Fr. Tran insisted we be precise as we investigate and consider all things. It is impossible for me to say which area or instructor has been most significant, for I am always struck by how the themes of one session intersect, amplify, and complement the others. The interplay between Fr. Tran’s areas of emphasis and Deacon Gayle’s presentation of JustFaith has been quite powerful. One challenges us to see as brothers people we might not have even seen in the past, and the other reminds us of the need to be clear in our terms and arguments as we consider our response to the human conditions we see. Robert has been stressing a theme I have not found particularly difficult. I have always understood the Bible must be read and understood as more about God’s relationship with his creation than a precise written record of historical events. God is mystery; why would his Holy Scriptures not reflect His mystery? I am excited about further work in using new analytical methods to deepen my understanding and appreciation for God’s Word. Robert’s insistence on the utility of knowing historical context was first introduced to me some years ago through Scott Hahn’s presentation The Fourth Cup. Not being a first century Jew, I had no context to see the interruption of the Seder meal on Holy Thursday. With a greater understanding of the historical context, I was able to see how Jesus’ passion was a new Passover Sacrifice and the Last Supper was the model for a new Seder meal. My appreciation of the Holy Mass was greatly increased through this kind of Scripture study, and I look forward to more of what Robert plans to share with us.
Penny’s gentle reflective sessions have been a warm welcome to a deeper spiritual relationship with God. I have been reading with a group of friends Fank Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity.” The book’s emphasis on the importance of the intellect to see clearly and accept the ultimate reality, which is God and His will, has complemented Penny’s encouragement of exploring the senses more deeply through sound and touch and sight to feel that reality. When we know who we are and why we are, the opportunity for a life of service to God and our fellow sinner is welcoming rather than intimidating. I am not afraid of the work, if I am still awed by it. My sense of respect for my brethren and for their dignity and their heart’s deepest yearning for an intimate relationship with their Lord is expanding through this formation program. We are truly brothers and sisters; though we have unique gifts and challenges, we walk together toward our eternal destiny. We need each other if we are to be what God wants us to be. We need each other if we are to be with Him in Heaven, where he wants us. The social teaching concepts of solidarity and subsidiarity apply on a personal level, too. We are brothers and sisters, yet we must be allowed to make our own decisions if we can. As a servant of God, whether I am ordained or not, I must be seeking relationship with my brother to support him in love. I cannot step beyond his dignity and control him, even if I think I can see a better outcome for him. I don’t really to need to know the details of his troubles to pray for him, and my prayer is just as efficacious without detailed knowledge because God knows what my brother needs in his time of trial. So I can be one with my brother without in any way dominating him. Penny and Sr. Margaret are reinforcing the power of quiet presence through the way they carry themselves during the day’s schedule at the St. Stephen center.
We are in the middle of the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Fortnight for Freedom, and I participated in a Patriotic Rosary held at my parish. I considered the issues raised by the recent HHS ruling in a different light as a result of our work in the area of Catholic Social Teaching. There is no justice without life and liberty. Those unalienable rights listed in the Declaration of Independence are indeed the foundation of our hope for social justice. We cannot make any progress if we lose the right to liberty or life, and the freedom to follow one’s religion in public is at the heart of liberty and the key to Life. Before the fourth decade, we heard a quote from Jedediah Morse: “In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief, or the corruption of its doctrines, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism.” No friend of Catholicism, he, Jedediah Morse’s words yet capture the essence of Catholic Social Teaching.
I have maintained some of my parish apostolates, but I have noticed in myself a new awareness of the service involved in them. The men’s bible study group is a true small Christian community, and I approach it less as an opportunity to read the bible and more as an opportunity to live for an hour in a brotherhood. I am talking less and listening more. The youth altar servers are now less about perfection of performance and more about loving encouragement of the kids and loving affirmation of the parents’ efforts to support their children as altar servers. My hour of Eucharistic adoration has also become communal, which I would not have expected. Though my hour is in the middle of the night, the older man with the hour before mine seems to want to talk. So I talk with him before the Blessed Sacrament, knowing Jesus loves and understands. When the man is done, I get silent time with Jesus, but I believe I have even in the Adoration Chapel a choice to be open to respond with love towards the people God puts in front of me or to be focused on what I want.
Through the various sessions, I am seeing the deep and widespread need of God’s people. Some of the needs are physical, some are emotional, some are intellectual; all are spiritual. I am developing a strong sense of the need to be “there” for my brothers and sisters, to be gently there. There is not so much need for talking as for being. Patience and love will help heal the physical, the emotional, the intellectual privations we all endure. Some of this is rightly done in the sanctuary and from the ambo, but so much of it is done — as Jesus did so much of the time in his earthly ministry — one person at a time with no thought to efficiencies or outcomes. It was just love serving hurt. I don’t know for sure if the diaconate is my call, but the formation program has already helped my response to the universal call to holiness. I am grateful to God that he put me where he put me over the course of the years such that I ended up in the diaconate formation program these past six months. I have received gifts I can carry with me the rest of my life.