Posted by: mmreflections | November 16, 2010

No Turning Back! November, 2010

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things. Then the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

These senior years have turned out to be a much happier and delightful part of my life’s journey than had been expected.  With dire warnings from acquaintances who had entered the golden years and retirement, I found myself questioning the wisdom of retiring at the age of seventy.  Some were quick to point out pitfalls, insecurities, dangers and disappointments of old age.  But a dear friend and mentor was more encouraging as he reminded me of  the delights and blessings in store for me.  An important insight which has guided me and proven to be a blessing for me was the realization and acceptance of the fact that there was no turning back.  There were precious and wonderful memories from youth, adulthood, middle age and early senior years upon which I could reflect and for which I could praise God, but there was no turning back.  I could smile as I recall those wonderful memories but there were new and wonderful moments awaiting me here and now.  I came to believe good things were coming my way and God’s promise that the best is yet to come was where I needed to keep my focus.

Thirty years ago I was living in Rome, Italy while in graduate school.  I had just returned from a summer vacation in the USA where I had a chance to visit with friends and former parishioners prior to leaving for Italy. While there I invited two dear friends, Nick and Ruth who were members of my last parish, to take a vacation and come to Rome while I was still in graduate school.  One morning in October, having just finished my breakfast, I received an unexpected phone message from Nick and Ruth informing me they had taken me up on my invitation and were at the Rome airport waiting for their luggage.  They had earlier sent a message for me to expect them and make hotel arrangements for them but I had been away and did not receive the message.  This turned out to be the beginning of a delightful and spontaneous experience that could only happen in Rome.  A true Roman holiday!  I called the Rome airport and had them paged.  Surprisingly, I was able to reach them.  I told them how to get to my apartment while I worked on getting hotel reservations for them.  A lovely hotel near where I lived, The Pax Helvetia, located in the vicinity of the Roman Forum and within walking distance from my place turned out to be the perfect place for their holiday.

That very evening one of my friends was planning a party to which I took my friends.  We were sipping wine on his rooftop patio, under purple Roman skies, while Nick was recalling his own memories of purple skies when in Italy during the war.  Afterwards we went to dinner at a lovely Hungarian cafe called the Czardas, where musicians entertained us.  The violinist came to our table and played some plaintiff and beautiful gypsy melodies for Ruth.  It was a perfect first night in Rome.  The days and nights that followed were equally delightful as they met my friends and associates, visited ancient ruins, dined in places where local Italians ate rather than in tourist destinations, savoring new foods and wines, enjoying local customs with Ruth being overwhelmed with flowers and many other new experiences.  On their last night in Rome they hosted a lovely farewell celebration at their hotel with a gathering of all their new found friends.  The next morning my friend John and I accompanied them along the Appian Way to the outskirts of Rome as they left for other destinations in Italy.

I soon completed my graduate studies and returned to the USA, where I was back at work in a new parish as well as serving in the Chancery Office.  My three years in Europe were over and new challenges awaited me.  During difficult moments in my new assignments, I would recall those wonderful days in graduate school with a smile and a prayer of thanks for those opportunities.  Then it was back to the present moment!  Ruth called me one day and informed me that she and Nick had gone back to Rome for another vacation, hoping to reclaim some of the magic of their first Roman holiday.  She described to me a dinner they had at the Czardas cafe where we went on their previous first night in Rome.  The same violinist was still playing at the cafe and he came to her table and played for her and her husband.  She described to me how the tears rolled down her cheeks as she turned to Nick and said, “It’s just not the same!”

There is no turning back!  Again and again, I need to remind myself that this moment is the only moment I have; I need to live  in this present moment, enjoy this moment, thank God for this moment and continue to grow in this moment.  It is good for me to think upon the good things of the past:  whatever was good, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, anything excellent that is worthy of praise.  But then I must come back to the present and keep doing what I have been called to do in this here and now moment.  There may have been many painful experiences in the past:   mistakes, failures, wounds, disappointments, betrayals, humiliations.  There is always a temptation to going back over these things, rehashing them over and over again.  I do not believe it is God’s will for us to be going back over those dark moments.  We need to believe the Holy One has brought about many blessings for us from what may have appeared painful and hurtful to us.  This is why we are called to remember what was good and beneficial for us in the past and to be grateful for those moments.

I have had to learn over and again that thoughts determine the degree of peace in my life today.  When my thoughts turn to what is negative and unproductive, I seem to lose the peace of the Lord and invite anxiety and worry into my life.  This is an easy thing to do today with so many pressures and challenges in our society before us.  Learning to recognize and replace these patterns before they rob us of peace is an important challenge for us.  Left to myself, it is easy to slip into these ruts before I even realize it.  Not surprisingly, the moment I catch myself slipping down the hole, I realize I need help.  It is really easy to fall asleep and allow the enemies of our soul to lull us into darkness. It has taken me a long time to realize that part of prayer is calling upon the Lord to catch me before I sink to far down and do something foolish.

When I do call upon the Lord, which I now do more frequently in these golden years, I find my thoughts quickly turning to the wonderful moments from my life’s journey when God has transformed sadness into joy, darkness into light, failure into success, weakness into strength, doubt into hope and fear into love.  Joyful moments like sipping wine and being with dear friends on a rooftop in Rome, enjoying the blessings of friendship, remind me that the best is yet to come.  We need to treasure those gifted moments from the past but not cling to them.  There are new friends, along with the old, with whom I can now enjoy the gift of friendship wherever I may be in this present moment.  No need to try turning back!

“It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.  Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.  Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light….”  (Romans 13:11-13)

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Responses

  1. Dear Fr. Mike,
    It is 12:16 and we couldn’t sleep. The wind is howling outside and it is scary. I came to see if there was a wind warning and saw your post. What a great time for this one. You always find me. I had been in a slump today and not feeling well, I was fretting over things. After I read this I can go back to bed remembering the good things of life and look forward to better things that will come. I guess I haven’t settled into the ‘Golden Years’ gracefully. Thanks for the tip of looking forward for better things to come. I’ll remember this lesson.
    God Bless You
    Kitty

  2. Dear Father Mike,

    We often hear about how great it might be to remain young forever! We certainly see enough products on the market that can help us defy the changes that affect our appearance as we age. If we were to remain young, in both mental and physical states, I believe that most of us would continue to struggle with the lack of wisdom that only comes through a lifetime of learning. Nevertheless, as you mention, even with age it is as easy to continue to slip down those holes. We are truly blessed to have a loving Lord to call upon for a helping hand.

    Saint Paul’s message to the Ephesians (in Chapter 5) is timeless: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

    Thank you, Father Mike, I appreciate your perspective on moving forward.

    Michael

  3. Fr. Mike,
    Once again, your words ring so true! I, for one, have always had a problem of focusing so much on the future and what I have to do for the next day, week, etc., that I don’t often allow myself to live in the present moment! It takes a daily conscious effort, and the help of God’s grace for me to focus on the here and now.

    Even at my age, I’ve already found that growing older has some unexpected advantages. I’m far more at peace with myself and with our Lord and the wisdom I’ve gained so far on my life’s journey, I wouldn’t trade for anything………..even to be very young again! (Well…OK, maybe in my mid-thirties, but not any further back than that! : )

    As always, thank you for your spiritual direction. I look forward to receiving these insights each month. God Bless you for continuing to shepherd your people!
    You are always in my prayers.
    Much love,
    Amy

  4. Dear Father Mike,

    You’ve done it again. What a beautiful reflection! I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t been online checking things as I should. Finally tonight I’ve had a nice quiet moment to read and reflect. This was the perfect reading for me today.
    I didn’t sleep well last night just fretting over the things that creep up on us, and now after reading your reflection, I am amazed that the timing is just perfect. What peace you can give without even realizing it.
    Tonight I shall not turn back and I shall do exactly as you say. I know my night will be pleasant and peaceful.

    Thanks for all your time and effort.
    Hope your Thanksgiving was lovely.
    God bless you.

    Sincerely,
    Andrea


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