Posted by: mmreflections | July 10, 2009

A Life of Perseverance: July, 2009

Let us not grow weary of doing good; if we do not relax our efforts, in due time we shall reap our harvest.  It is not that I have reached it yet, or have already finished my course; but I am racing to grasp the prize…..  My entire attention is on the finish line as I run toward the prize to which God calls me.  It is important that we continue on our course, no matter what stage we have reached.  (Confer Galatians 6:9 & Philippians 3:12-16)

One of my faithful readers and supporters recently emailed me and requested a reflection on the need for perseverance.   In entering this realm we are really considering life itself.  The school of perseverance opened its classroom door to me when I was just a child as I feel confident it was the same for most of us.  Even in infancy we inherently knew that when we needed something our parents would respond eventually to our cries if we persisted long enough.  As we grew older we learned the important lessons regarding perseverance from the examples of our parents and others around us.  For me the primary example came from observing my own mother as I reflect on those early years of my life growing up during the Great Depression years.  I was only two years old when my father died, leaving my mother a widow with the awesome responsibility for raising nine children.  To make matters more challenging for her we lost our home and the savings our dad left for us.  This was the result of fraud and deception perpetrated by an unscrupulous attorney in whom she placed her trust.  We were left homeless!  The rest of this story is not pertinent to the theme of this reflection.

Despite all the setbacks we encountered at this time she assumed her responsibility as a mother and was determined to do her very best.  She seemed never to grow weary in caring and providing for us; she never relaxed in being the mother she felt providence had called her to be.  She was able to rent another home for us with the efforts of the older children who left school to find work.  Her responsibilities in caring for us made it impossible for her to seek employment away from home.  The earliest recollection of my childhood years was of her weekly regime which turned Monday into a wash day, Tuesday into an ironing day, Wednesday (in the summers) into a gardening and canning day, Thursday into a baking day, Friday into a cleaning day, Saturday into a food preparation day for Sunday.  Sundays meant we all had to get dressed in our best clothes and go to church.  We all were expected to pitch in and help by doing our own personal chores.  It was really a team effort led by the example of our mom.  I often remember how, after she heard us pray together and climb into our beds, she would kneel beside her own bed and silently pray for a long time.

Many times she said to me, “All I had to strengthen me was my faith in God who never let me down and helped me through another day.”  She never gave up even when matters seemed to be at their most challenging.  She lived to be 89 years old and when she reached the finishing line she was able to rejoice in the harvest.  She would only smile at the accomplishments of her children and fifty grandchildren, along with the many great grandchildren. She often rejoiced in the awareness that all her children continued to practice their faith into their adult years.  The perseverance that characterized her life was also manifested in the lives and families of all my brothers and sisters who were great examples for me and who stood by and encouraged me in the challenging moments of my own life.

When I was drafted into the US Army after my first year of teaching public school, I was assigned to Fort Dix, New Jersey for boot camp.  After four years of college and the beginning of a career in teaching, I was confronted with a challenging regime of discipline and arduous military training.  The program was demanding in itself and required a strong determination to take, without any complaints, whatever discipline those in charge dished out to us.  When matters had reached a point where it seemed our training could not become more demanding, a new platoon leader who had just returned from duty in Korea took over.  He had major emotional issues with which he was dealing and took out much of his anger on us new recruits.  Depression and discouragement set in for many of the guys in our group as the abuse continued to be heaped upon us without any alleviation or concern from the officers in charge.  Some of the guys broke down in the midst of all the pain we were undergoing.  One of the men in our group was able to make a phone call and make a connection through his parents with a representative in Washington.  In a matter of days an investigation was underway, disciplinary action was taken against the perpetrator of the abuse, and our platoon was able to continue with our training in a normal and healthy way.  As I reflect on those years in the military I realize what I learned in my family years before empowered me to persevere under these harsh conditions.

These lessons from family life and the military life laid the foundation for the perseverance which was to be needed in the forty-six years of priestly service.  There were countless moments in those years when difficulties mounted and I was ready to throw in the towel.  It seems, however, that there was always someone who was standing by me in those seemingly powerless moments.  When I was leaving home for the army, I received a letter from a brother in law who encouraged me with a promise that throughout my life’s journey there will always be someone who will be a friend to me and who would stand by me when the difficult moments of life would come and I would be ready to give up.  The promise held true!  I really believe it was a promise from the Lord, spoken through someone who cared.  No matter where I was assigned during my priestly years, that brother or sister showed up!  On the ship taking me to Europe for graduate school, a friend showed up who would be a source of encouragement for me during the tough times in Europe; on my first morning at the graduate house in Rome, the first priest I met became a life-long friend who more than once helped me through  difficult times; on the day I told my family I wanted to leave the priestly ministry because things were getting too tough, a sister in law reminded me that in all of our lives there are tough moments but we don’t quit; in those moments where major challenges arose in parish assignments, there was always the priest mentor to give me the encouragement I needed for another day.  The list could go on and on!  Perseverance, I learned, is a special gift from God who is always present for us and makes his love known to us and gives us strength to go on by sending his angels, the brothers and sisters who show up along the way, to walk with us for the next part of our journey.

It is not good for man to be alone!  Trying to make our life’s journey on our own is not only dangerous but arrogant.  We need each other!  We need to be there for each other.  Perseverance is possible when we understand we are not alone on our journey.  Many of the people I met over the years, who had fallen into depression or despair and were ready to give up, felt they were all alone and had nowhere to turn, no one to lean on!  We all need to be humble enough to reach out to others during the rough times.  We also need to be available and offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on for the people who come into  our lives with a need for an expression of encouragement to keep forging ahead.  

           We even boast of our afflictions,  knowing that affliction produces endurance (perseverance) and endurance (perseverance) produces proven character, and proven character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   (Confer Romans 5:3-5)

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Responses

  1. Fr. Mike:
    Finally, I think I’m getting there! Your web page is beautiful, and we all think you look very handsome. I just want to let you know that your writings are so inspiring.. but you also have such a simple elegance to your style that your words just flow beautifully throughout the writing. And, may I add you are an excellent raconteur! Thanks for sharing with us. God bless you.
    Andrea


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