Monday, June 5, 2017

The Spirit leads us through life's transitions

Homily: The Solemnity of Pentecost – Cycle A
          Yesterday I had the joy of concelebrating the ordination Mass for four men from our Diocese who are now priests: one of whom is Michael Bower, the seminarian (now former seminarian) who was with us last summer here at All Saints.  As a priest (just as, I imagine, it would be like for any of you), it is a great “shot in the arm” to my faith to see solid young men being ordained to the priesthood.  It often gives me pause to think and to pray, however, as I remember my own ordination and what it was like to move from seminarian to priest and I pray for the newly ordained who are making that same transition.
          Back in the seminary, one of the priests on the formation staff named Fr. Ron spoke often to us about what it would be like to transition from the seminary into priesthood and parish life.  He repeatedly quoted a certain bishop (whose name I can’t quite remember) who described the transition in this way: he said, “Leaving the seminary and entering the priesthood and parish life is kind of like leaving the hospital and having all of your IVs pulled out at once.”  What this bishop was implying was that there are many support systems built into seminary life (structured prayer schedule, ready-made food, and plenty of mentors and guides) that simply aren’t part and parcel of the life of a parish priest.  And so to leave the seminary is literally like “pulling the plug” on many of these support systems.  And if a new priest is not prepared for that, it can actually “shock” his system somewhat.
          In my own transition out of the seminary and into parish life, I can attest to the fact that there is a lot of truth in this bishop’s admonition.  My first (and only) assignment as a priest so far has been here at All Saints in Logansport, which was a town that, at the time, I had, perhaps, driven through one time, but in which I did not know anyone and which was at least an hour’s drive from any of my family or close friends.  Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that I had to start speaking Spanish almost from the moment that I arrived!  Even though everyone here was (and continues to be) very welcoming and assuring, it could not change the fact that I felt like I was very much alone as I made this transition.
          Nearly five years after ordination, however, I feel like I can say that I’ve weathered the storm pretty well (so far, at least).  There have been lots of challenges and new and exciting experiences, and many moments when I was about to enter into a new situation feeling like I might make a complete mess of it all, but turned out to be very beautiful.  As I reflect on all of these situations, I realize that there is one very real aspect of what we describe as the “grace of ordination” that has helped me through it all: and that’s the promise of the Holy Spirit.
          In our Gospel reading for today, the resurrected Jesus breathes on his disciples and says “Receive the Holy Spirit”.  This is Jesus empowering his disciples, who will be his first apostles, with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He had promised this gift to them before his resurrection when he told them that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”  In many ways this is the same promise that the seminary makes to each man as they send them forth to be ordained, and it is the promise that every bishop makes to them as he ordains them.  It’s as if they are saying, “We’ve done our best to teach you everything, but inevitably there will be things for which we could not have fully prepared you.  But don’t worry because the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will teach you everything and remind you of all that we have told you.  After nearly five years of priesthood, I can say that this promise certainly rings true.
          This promise, however, isn’t limited to the newly ordained transitioning into parish life.  Remember, the Gospel tells us that Jesus said these things “to his disciples…”  Therefore, this promise is for all of us; something that is especially true when we are experiencing any big transition in our lives.  This could be individually, as we transition from single life to being married and then from married life to having children.  It could also be when we are moving from high school into college or from college into the working world, or if we are changing jobs or even careers.  So, too, once all of the children leave the house and we transition back to the “solitary married life” or when we transition from working into retirement.  But it could also be a communal experience, like the one that we are about to embrace here in the transition from one associate pastor to another.  In all of these cases Jesus’ promise remains with us: that the Holy Spirit would be with us to teach us and remind us of what it was that he told us.
          The danger in each of our vocations, however, is becoming too comfortable in how we are living it out, because when we become comfortable, we start to close in on ourselves.  We think, “I have this all figured out and now I can just cruise from here.”  What this does, however, is close us off to the voice of the Spirit and we start to get stale.  After a while this staleness can lead to disillusionment and apathy.  How many people do we know who have said “Well, there’s not much I can do about it now, so I guess I’m stuck here”?  But it’s precisely in these moments that the Holy Spirit is most available to us and when it is most likely that he is waiting to show us a new avenue—or a new aspect of our vocations—that he is calling us to embrace: something, perhaps, that will take us out of our comfort zones and move us towards a place we never imagined we would go.
          My brothers and sisters, times of transition can be exciting times; but they can also be scary.  More than anything, however, they are chances to shake off the cobwebs of our routine lives and wake up to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit moving us once again: the Spirit who Jesus promised to his disciples nearly 2000 years ago and who has remained with the Church ever since; guiding her and each of her individual members even to this day.
          And so today let us give thanks for the great gift of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit; and let us renew our trust in his presence and guidance in the life of the Church.  Let us also, however, renew our trust in his presence and guidance in each of our lives so as to joyfully embrace all that the God wishes to give us.  My brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the Church and in this parish.  Perhaps it’s time for us to let him loose once again.

Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – June 4th, 2017

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