Friday, August 01, 2008

Saying goodbye again...

As a priest/campus minister, my job is to walk with men and women during four years of college to help them find God when they are lost and help them avoid getting lost in the first place if at all possible. All priests have to say goodbye and hello a million times to a bunch of new people but the tough part of this job is that it happens so damn often. I get to know awesome young people and then realize that the same awesome young people that have become such an important part of my life are off to a job or graduate school. It's as inevitable as it is tragic in many ways.

Immediately after the school year is over, I am so tired that I'm glad that the students are gone. But, by this part of the summer, I realize that some of those students who have become such an important part of my life are not going to come back. It's like the realization doesn't hit me until this part of the year. And, even though I'm sure that others will step up and fill their shoes, they can never replace the great people that have been here.

I'm going to miss them.

17th Sunday in Ordinary time: The search

Oftentimes, when I think about prayer, I have that text from Jesus that we read at the Ash Wednesday liturgy in mind, “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” As an introvert, this appeals to me. In fact, I have even converted what should be my spare bedroom into a private chapel, an “inner room” of sorts, for my daily prayer. And, even though I think we should all have to have our favorite prayer places we visit daily, whether they be an empty room at home, a favorite outdoor chair or a daily visit to the blessed sacrament in the tabernacle, I don’t think that Jesus was saying that this is the ONLY way that Jesus wanted us to pray. The context of that message, which also comes from the Gospel of Matthew, is that we shouldn’t pray just so that others will see us and admire us for how holy we are. Prayer is our communication with God.

Last Sunday night, I was camping with my family down in Adventureland Campground. I was in my fold-down camper and my parents were in their larger, hard side camper. At midnight, I saw a flash of lightening that seemed to be immediately followed by a loud canon-shot of fire. This was followed by about a half hour of these frighteningly close lightening strikes, though they eventually stopped and I rolled over and went back to sleep. About an hour later, a heavy rain shower with some light hail moved through though they eventually stopped and I rolled over and went back to sleep. At three fifteen, I woke up annoyed because the tornado sirens wouldn’t turn off. I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. Thankfully, my dad knocked on my camper door and knocked some sense into me. There was a tornado coming and I needed to get to safety. I stumbled out of my camper at about the same time that the wind and rain hit. I ran toward what I thought was a shelter house only to discover that it was really a completely locked up front office. I had no idea what to do. If I ran to a different building there was no guarantee that it would be unlocked and the only building I knew would be open, the bathroom, was far, far away through rain and winds. I was afraid that, if I started to run, it would hail or a tornado would come and pick me up. I felt cold, scared, and lost. So, I did the only thing I thought I could do. I prayed. I wasn’t locked away in my chapel, though I wished I could have been. I was asking God, through the intercession of the saints, to end this so that I could get back in my camper, change my clothes, get into bed, roll over, and go back to sleep.

Let’s face it, if religion is confined to the purely private recesses of our houses, we are the ones that are going to suffer. We need God just as much in the social parts of our lives as we do in the private. That old truism that there are no atheists in foxholes reminds us of a truism that I think our evangelical brothers and sisters understand better than we do. It’s oftentimes harder to believe in God when life is good than when life is challenging. We may think that the goal of the ideal spiritual life should be to bring us to peace but that’s not authentic Christian spirituality. You may think that was what Paul was saying in the second reading today but when he said, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,” but this isn’t Paul’s way of saying that it will get better or all good things come to those who wait. Paul expects persecutions and sufferings in the life of Christians. What Paul is expressing is that in the midst of this suffering and persecution, God still brings good things to us as long as we love God. And that’s the journey each of us is called to be on.

The life of the Christian is not meant to be easy. Jesus uses two images of searching for treasure and a willingness to give up everything to have that treasure in order to convey this message to us. The real challenge of the Christian is similar to the challenge Solomon felt in the first reading, how can we know what God wants us to do? It’s the intricate matters of discernment that are hardest: knowing whether we should put aside money for difficult days ahead or give that money to the poor who are having difficult days right now. Knowing whether God is calling me to marry THIS person. Knowing whether God wants me to stay in THIS job or if another job that pays more but is uncertain would be better. These and a million other times when the journey becomes difficult are when we need to have the same prayer that Solomon has in the first reading: God Give your servant an understanding heart to distinguish right from wrong.