I could tell he did not believe me. His head was cocked to one side, twisting in a way to see me eye to eye. I told him I would be coming back. Even gave him a snack, but I could tell he did not believe me.
Preparing for a short trip, I was packing my luggage while my faithful pup of a dog was accompanying me in the bedroom as I sorted through my clothing for the trip. “Ahh, what color black should I wear this trip,” I was thinking to myself. “Should I wear the faded black shirt, or I guess they call it stonewashed today? Or should I wear the dark black hue shirt which was brand new?” Before becoming a priest, I had no idea there were different “colors” of black. Such fashion decisions wear me out, so I sat down to pet my pup….he knew something was up. Treats and luggage means he won’t be seeing me for a while.
When one thinks of the being a steward of God’s gifts we generally think of the blessings we receive. But do we consider the tragic events of our lives as blessings also? I doubt it. When Jesus climbed the mountain and gathered his disciples around him and he began to teach the Beatitudes, I wonder if the disciples and crowd cocked their heads from side to side like my pup did to me. How could tragedy be a blessing? Why would we want to be a steward of misfortune?
Oftentimes when I preach, I use examples from fields of work or circumstances of living of which I have no experience. Jesus did the same thing. Jesus was a carpenter, yet he spoke of fishing, farming, and shepherding. Common examples of the life in His era, but not of His life experiences. However, I have learned not to use child birthing in my homilies as the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42). When I do try, I normally get scowls from women which say, “You really don’t know what you are talking about!”
Can misfortunes and confusion be a gift from the Lord? Do we really believe it from hardship come success? Often we believe such gifts in the secular or business world. For example, Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because the editor thought Walt lacked imagination and had no good ideas. Or poor Albert Einstein who was expelled from school. Or the poor truck driver who in 1954 the manager of the Grand Ole Opry told him to go back to truck driving, because “you ain’t going nowhere son!” That of course, was Elvis Presley.
So If we believe misfortune can lead to success in the secular world, what about the spiritual world? Are these beatitudes all they seem to be? Saint Augustine famously said, “There is no saint without a past, and no sinner without a future.”
Thomas J. Craughwell, the author of “Saints Behaving Badly” writes of several saints who first failed in the spiritual life, only then to succeed. Saints such as Angela of Foligno who was canonized by Pope Francis. Angela spent most of her life seeking wealth, material possessions, and pleasure. She was married with children, but was more interested in acquiring wealth and status then caring for her family.
Then around the age of 40, she had a profound conversion experience. She realized how her desire and pursuit for worldly things left her in spiritual poverty. Her life was completely empty of joy and life. It was only when Angela was empty the Lord could fill her. Pope Benedict XVI said of Angela that “God has a thousand ways, for each of us, to make Himself present in the soul, to show that He exists and knows and loves me.” Pope Benedict credits Angela’s continued conversion to her prayer life.
Priests are in need of conversion too. Many parishioners are surprised at this. Generally in a priest’s life, prior to becoming a seminarian, there is a moment of conversion gently pushing him to accept the Lord’s invitation to enter studies for the priesthood. But like Angela or Teresa of Avila, conversion must continue past the initial fervor.
“Do you know Father B?” a man asked me at dinner. I always amazed people don’t realize we diocesan priests in a diocese know each other. We are brothers, working and living together. After acknowledging I knew my brother priest, he said, “He is REALLY holy!” I agreed with him, which must have made him uncomfortable, so he followed it up with, “I suppose you are holy too in your own way.”
Yes, I suppose so, although, I seem to hide it from most people! In reflecting upon the holiness of my brother priest, I am also was aware of his failings. I know he would be the last person in the world who would consider himself holy. Walking with him through some difficult times in his life, I can clearly see who he is today, is because of his struggles of the past. He could proclaim like Saint Paul, “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Saints are not born saints, they are made. Even Saint Joseph struggled. Matthew records in his first chapter how Mary and Joseph were betrothed, but Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. Joseph’s response? He resolved to send her away quietly. (Mt. 1:19) He struggled with believing Mary. So much so, God graced him with a dream in which Joseph was assured of the truth of what Mary was saying.
You might think since Joseph received a dream, all would we well, and he could trust such action as being from the Lord. Not necessary. Another man, whose wife had a dream, ignored it. (Mt. 27:19) That man was Pontius Pilate. So Joseph, like Pontius Pilate, had to make a choice, and act of the will, to believe or not to believe.
The Beatitudes are sometimes hard to believe. The Gospel sometimes seems too good to be true, and we might cock our head from side to side, wanting to get a view of Jesus eye to eye, just to make sure. Conversion is about trust. Not in a philosophy, but in a person. We put our trust in Jesus who said, I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) Of which our response is, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
A priest can learn a lot by being a steward of his blessings, but also of his weaknesses and failures. “We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28)
Peace! Father Ken