Feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist – and a Farewell…
Friends, on Sunday I concluded part of my service here at the Church of the Gesu by presiding at the two morning liturgies. At the 7:00 am Mass, I read from my final writing for the Gesu Bulletin – a word of thanks, a word of amends, a word of hope. I share that with you here.
Sometimes what is wonderfully significant gets left out. So, too in this Sunday’s gospel selection, It skips over Zechariah’s prayer, the Benedictus. Since this is my last opportunity to write for you, I’d like to focus on this part of the prayer.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the MOST HIGH, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
[Through John the Baptist] God’s mercy will shine on all who sit in darkness and under the shadow of death to point us to the path of peace – through the forgiveness of sins. Over the past four years, I have come to better recognize how the mercy of God surrounds all of our lives. And, as the Preface says, “[God, you] came to the aid of mortal beings with your divinity and even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation.” The causes of my downfall include fear, anxiety, grudges, resentments, loneliness, and pervasive sense of inferiority – all that ‘stuff’ I avoid. It’s like the leper whom St. Francis avoided for so long, until he finally embraced him.
When I first came to Gesu in 1985, I had no clue about my mortality, much less the causes of my downfall. (Original sin was too generic an answer.) I was 36 years old and quite unaware of my burdens, difficulties, blindness, sins, and innate aggressiveness. I was more intent on being the life of the party, being regarded as a generous and kind person. Which is true basically.
My provincial reassigned me to serve at the Jesuit Novitiate thirty years ago (1988). Since then, the grace of God has worked in my life through other Jesuits, lay friends, the sacraments, music, study, and ministry. I see my life very differently now and, like St. Augustine (his Confessions), praise God for being with me throughout my life and leading me in surprising ways.
As I have begun to explore the causes of my habitual downfall, God has taught me through therapists, fellow travelers, sponsors, books, talks, spiritual directors – and through my own resistance – to become aware of the roots of my deep-seated spiritual emptiness. And has gradually revealed the effects they have had on my life and the lives of others, to bring them into the light, and learn humility through the humiliation of seeing myself more clearly – all this with growing gratitude.
Another way to put it is this: My part is to account for the causes of my downfall that keep me sitting continually in darkness of the shadow of death. God’s part is to shine the divine light on my path to peace and reconciliation. So, as I recognize my anxiety, especially at Mass (when I worry about doing things right and being accepted by you), I welcome my anxious self, surrender anxiety to God, and receive, most of the time, the simple joy of being present to God as his anxious creature.
I’m grateful to you, Gesu parishioners and staff, for the opportunity to walk through the night and the shadow of death to discover the light of Christ shining all around. God bless you always! –roc,sj