Posted by: mmreflections | March 10, 2008

Call to Growth: March, 2008

I have come to believe it is God’s will for us to continually grow in our spiritual life just as surely as it is God’s will for us to grow physically.  We are all physically changing every day and at every moment; why is it so difficult for us to accept the reality of our call to spiritual growth, to spiritual maturity?  Part of the answer is our failure to recognize the invitations to growth when they come our way or to ignore those same invitations.  When looking back and reflecting on my own spiritual journey I blush at how I resisted and struggled to escape God’s call to grow in the spirit.  Excuses for resisting the invitations came easily, much like the excuses of the characters in the parable Jesus told about a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. (Matthew 22:1-14)  The invited guests declined the invitations with some pretty lame excuses.

 Most of us would like to have a clear, definitive, understanding of God.  It makes us feel safe to cling to the old, perhaps the childlike notions of God we were taught by parents, teachers, priests, nuns.  At some point in our life we need to leave behind all that is familiar and safe and step out into the unknown with faith.  This is what Abraham had to do, what Moses had to do, leaving the comforts to which they were accustomed and embarking on missions not really clear to them. Our favorite saints and holy people are honored because of what they accomplished when they took risks and trusting God embarked on what they perceived to be their mission.  We have a modern day example in Mother Theresa, leaving the comforts of convent life to go to India to minister to the poorest of the poor.  St. Francis, leaving the comforts and security of a wealthy home life, choosing a life of simplicity.  I believe these holy people made these decisions as they began to experience new understandings of God.  We may not all be called to do such great things but we can all embark on a mission of little things that God puts on our hearts, trusting the Holy One to be with us and to help us in doing whatever we are called to do.

 A few years after my ordination to the priesthood and my first assignments in which I was primarily teaching in Catholic schools. I found myself restless and eager to have a parish of my own in which to serve.  After many rejections from the bishop, he finally assigned me to organize a new parish while continuing to teach school.  I was given the names of interested families and assigned an area that needed a parish.  I had no idea how I was to embark on this new project.  I set out for a new area, trusting this work to be fruitful if I put forth my best efforts.    I used some of the little money I had saved to buy the needed basic altar appointments, received some donated vestments from kind brother priests, and relied upon the few people who were willing to work with me in establishing a new parish.  With only our faith and trust in God we established a new parish.  We began our Sunday Liturgies in the gym of a local public elementary school.  In a matter of weeks we found a home with a few acres of land which we purchased with a loan from a local bank.  Soon we were having daily and Holy Day Liturgies in the living room of our new home.  The basement recreation room became the space for meetings, religious classes, and other parish projects.  The large garage became an area for rummage sales, dinners and other activities.  The membership grew with enthusiastic cooperation from all the members.  We were on our way in a very short time and architectural plans were drawn up for a parish center.  I was growing more confident with each new day and had become very comfortable in my new situation.  All was going remarkably well as the parish grew and prospered.  I had become the parish priest I always wanted to be.

 One day the  archbishop unexpectedly called me to his office for a special meeting.  I was stunned to learn he wanted to send another priest to take over the parish.  It was incomprehensible to me.  We had gotten out of debt, the parish was prospering, our building fund had been growing, plans for our new center were being approved, and the community was growing spiritually.  The archbishop wanted me to leave the parish and go to graduate school in Rome, Italy.  I resisted the invitation. It seemed so unfair to be taken away from the parish and people I had grown to love.  How could I go to a foreign country where I would not even be able to speak the language?  At the time it was difficult to perceive this as an invitation from God for me to grow spiritually.

 In September of 1968 I found myself on an ocean liner heading for Italy.  Fears and anxieties of the unknown along with sadness about leaving family, friends and all that was comfortable and safe, bombarded me as the days on the ocean unfolded.  Soon I was living in a foreign country, struggling to learn a new language, making new friends, and discovering new surprising aspects about myself.  At the same time I was discovering an entirely new and wider dimension and understanding of the Catholic Church and our Catholic faith.  The excitement of visiting other European countries, learning about new peoples from other lands, realizing we are all brothers and sisters, expanded my horizons beyond anything I could have imagined just a few months earlier.  In the midst of all these new changes and challenges, my faith in God grew by leaps and bounds.  The words of Jesus kept ringing in my ears, “Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.  Have faith in God and faith in me.”  (John 14:1)

 I continue to learn that whenever I find myself getting too comfortable with what is going on in my life, it is time to move on to new horizons.  It becomes more apparent to me that my life is not about finding an answer to all my questions, nor is my life about finding a paradise here on this earth, nor is it about settling down in my comfort zone.  There is so much more to be learned about life and about myself which only new challenges can bring about.  We can never grasp or learn all that can be known about the incomprehensible Holy One, nor can we ever grasp or understand all the multi-faceted aspects of who we are.  I believe the blessing is to be found on the journey of life itself.

 What is going on in my life today?  This is a good question for all of us to ask ourselves.  Do we see only problems, upsetting situations, major losses, aggravating people around us, failures, frustrations, or illness?  If we perceive these situations in a negative way, as something to be disposed of as quickly as possible, we might be missing a splendid opportunity to grow in self-knowledge and in our relationship with God.  On the other hand, if we can learn to accept all these dramas as challenges and opportunities for spiritual growth, we begin to discover the blessings hidden within them.  The Holy One promises to bring blessings out of all things for those who love him.  The Lord is calling us to grow in our spiritual life. 

 The favors of the Lord I will recall, the glorious deeds of the Lord,  because of all he has done for us.  He has favored us according to his mercy and great kindness.  (Isaiah 63:7)



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