Isn’t it amazing how quickly the weeks of Lent race along?
We’re about halfway to Easter now. It’s a time in which I usually take a look at how I have been responding to this season’s call to prayer, service of neighbor and change of heart. I hope that you might find this weekend a good time to do that same kind of peaceful review: Have I engaged in prayer for others and for my own needs in a way that shows my dependence on and trust in God? Have I extended myself to neighbors in ways possible for me and good for them? Have I cast honest eyes on the patterns and habits of my life, asking whether they lead to deeper life or diminish life within me? Do I remain open to new ways of living should the Lord call me to them?
Such thoughts as these occupied my mind on a recent drive back from St. Mary Our Mother in Horseheads where I met with a group of priests who serve in the beautiful Southern Tier of our diocese. The meeting was the first of three such meetings around the diocese that we’ll be having during Lent. We invite the priests to come for conversations among ourselves. The basic understanding is that these gatherings are not a time to do ordinary business or to discuss matters of administration, finance, etc. Rather it is a time to come together to reflect on priesthood: how it gives us life, where the struggles are, how we exercise stewardship over our gifts of body and spirit, how we can support one another and enjoy the encouragement of the people we serve, how we can continue to grow and mature as human beings and as ministers of the Gospel.
I truly enjoyed the conversation in Horseheads. It was informal and relaxed. The men there were quite willing — even eager — to share on the kind of themes I just mentioned; the ease of the conversation, as I read it at least, flowed from their love for their vocation and from their respect and trust for one another. Many distinct personalities, people with different pastoral approaches, young and old gathered there. Shining through all of the differences, drawing them together were those two elements.
What were some of the sources of nourishment for their human and priestly growth named by the men? Among them were support groups, a spiritual director, a deepening appreciation of the power and grace of the sacrament of reconciliation, the privilege of presiding at the Eucharist, administering the other sacraments, relationships with friends with whom they can share their experience and receive honest, loving feedback.
There also was considerable attention given to matters of physical and emotional well being: Eating the right things? In the right amount? Getting enough sleep? How about exercise? Doing some good reading to keep the mind sharp and to stay updated? And if “no” to any of the above, should we change that? And how? The questions have a rather serious ring about them, don’t they? Well, they are serious matters. They have a lot to do with how prepared and fit we are to make our best gifts most available to the people among whom we are privileged to serve. As I write these words I think of the safety instructions given on airplanes, “If you are caring for others, put your own oxygen mask on first and then care for the others.” On first hearing it’s off-putting, but it makes sense. If we don’t care for ourselves, we have less to offer to others.
The men in Horseheads handled it all in the best of humor and with much laughter throughout the conversation.
I wonder if you’ve had a chance — with spouse, children, friends, a group in which you participate — to explore such themes during this holy season. It seems to me that these weeks invite us to have such conversations with people who are very much a part of our lives.
Peace to all.