Sunday, August 23, 2009

Church and Forrest Gump

By God's grace, I've had the last few weeks without parish or seminary responsibilities to reflect on my experience in Guatemala and I've finally hit on a way to describe it that sums up how it has affected me. I hope that it transmits well what I perceive as my experience to you as you read it.

One of the most significant things that I think I've experienced has simply been a greater appreciation of what it means to be Church. The Church is not a place, not a building of stone and steel and wood, but it is a body, that is, Christ's body, which is a union of persons, the faithful who have been sacramentally initiated into it, and so it seems to me that whenever we experience another person, that is, whenever we consciously recognize the personhood of someone whom we've met, what we really experience, in part, is a new dimension of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ here on earth. These dimensions often times are almost unnoticeable if we aren't paying attention. Sometimes, however, they expand our vision beyond what we thought we were looking for.

With this in mind as I reflect back on my experience in Guatemala, I am struck by how my life has become intertwined with people whom I have no logical reason to have ever met. When describing my experience over the past few weeks, I've recognized how much I sometimes must seem a little like Forrest Gump. For those of you who may not be familiar with the movie, it is the story of a man whom most wouldn't give much credit to. He is unassuming in appearance and mentally slow. The story unfolds as Forrest shares his life experiences with various people one day while waiting for a bus. Each person is amazed as this unassuming man reveals his amazing life experiences and how they have intertwined his life with some of the most famous people and important events of his time. Yet, he doesn't see it as anything outside of the ordinary. He just sees it as his life, as if it was normal to receive the medal of honor and to have meet president Kennedy as well as to have "fallen into" a wildly successful shrimping business and gotten in on the ground floor of the Apple corporation. I suspect most of you have seen this movie and so this description, hopefully, is sufficient to bring it forward in your consciousnesses. (If not check out the Wikipedia article on it.)

And so, in my reflections and in sharing my experiences, this is something of what it feels like. As I describe my experiences, I often times don't see anything out of the ordinary about them. I just look at them as experiences that anyone might have that, if given the opportunity to have them, would have. Yet I see in the faces of others this sense of amazement that causes me to reflect back and to see just how incredible some of these experiences really are. I also see, however, that these are not experiences that are far from us, because in the end these are all part of the experience of being human, that is, the human experience. By sharing with each other our experiences of other people, the relationships and the intertwining of our lives, we share more and more of what it really means to be human. When we come to experience this more and more we become more authentically human. Authentic humanity, then, is the shared experience, that is, the experience of community, which, in part, is what it means to be Church.

And so it is with joy that I share these experiences with you and I am humbled by the blessings through which I have been given the opportunity to have them. I thank you all for continuing to share my journey with me and I look forward, with hope, to the continued journey. As always, thank you for your prayers!