We’re having our annual missionary appeal this weekend, so I don’t have to preach. Our missionary is from Ghana and has a bit of accent, but he’s easily understandable, I think…but, like me, he tends to talk fast, so sometimes, also like me, he can be a little tough to understand. I hope people give him a break. His reflection on the readings was quite good. I’m not going to try to reproduce that here; rather, these are some of my own thoughts…
There was a time that I was ready to quit seminary. Not because I had doubts about my call; not because I didn’t want to be a priest, but simply because I wanted to quit seminary. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. It was the beginning of my third year of theology, which would have been my fifth year in overall. And all I could think was: another year of school? Another year away from my family and friends? Another year in a foreign language that I’m just not that good at? I just can’t take it anymore. There was nothing I was looking forward to that year at school.
(Seminary is much like law school, or so I understand. The first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death. It is for the reader to decide if Admiralty Law is more dry than Grace. And the pun is absolutely intended.)
Anyway, I just didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay in the diocese and work at a parish and do ministry, which was fun and life-giving. Surely I wasn’t going to learn all that much more; couldn’t I just do some distance learning and stay behind? It was all so very frustrating. I thought saying “yes” to the Lord was a thing that, if I did it, would validate me and give me life, but instead…
You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed. – Jer 20:7
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” – Mt 16:21-22
In the end, I went back to the seminary. But I wasn’t happy about it. I was less happy when I found out when our class retreat would be. It was to be a silent retreat, which I am not opposed to – in fact, I rather enjoy them – but my birthday would land squarely in the middle of it. I’m not a big fan of celebrating my own birthday, but I at least wanted to be able to go to dinner with some friends, and maybe enjoy a couple of cold ones. Instead, it would be a silent, meager meal, with all the water I wanted. I was cranky.
Would that I had listened to the words of Saint Paul from today’s second reading:
Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.
Luckily for me, my spiritual director was very wise…and he wasn’t interested in having any of my crap. He assigned me quite a bit of work to do over the course of that week. There were specific readings he wanted me to concentrate on and pray over for each day, but there was one somewhat large project he gave me that was the most important. He told me to write a God a long letter, telling Him the story of my life.
Looking at that written out, it seems really lame. And I suppose I thought that at the time, too, because the next thing he said was something like, “Don’t make that face at me and do what I tell you.”
And so I did. And with a lot of anger and bitterness and resentment, I started writing my life story to God. I wrote pages and pages, and by the third day…
…the anger was gone. The situation hadn’t changed, but God’s ridiculous goodness to me was so apparent, that
it had become like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it. -Jer 20:9
I felt very foolish for complaining and whining about my cross. It wasn’t even much of a cross. It seemed like it to me, but when was God not with me?
When is God not with any of us? When has God ever abandoned His people? Doing His will is often difficult; it often leads us down paths that we weren’t expecting; it often makes us uncomfortable. And we like our comforts. And we trust in our own plans. And we want everything on our terms, and according to our will. Except it’s not supposed to be that way.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.” Mt 16:24-28
The lesson is simple; the challenge is hard. Saying yes to God requires us to sometimes say no to ourselves. But it always leads to eternal life. Are we willing to take up our crosses and say yes to Him?