I want to begin this week’s letter by offering a confession: In years and days gone by, I have often felt priestly ministry to be something of a drudgery, a task to be done with faithfulness while eagerly anticipating retirement. I felt as though I had to clench my teeth and do what I was ordained to do.
Over the past couple of years, however, I haven’t felt that way. In fact, I’ve had a fire of anticipation growing within my belly – a fire that feels like it’s being fanned into full flame (to paraphrase Saint Paul), especially during the last few months! It’s like I’m being carried along in my ministry now; as though the Lord is lifting me up on eagle’s wings (to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah)!
So what’s changed?! Why has there been this shift within me? Having prayed and thought much about it, I believe it has to do with the power of the Lord being loosed within me (something that CAN happen within each of us!). As we’ve trod the path of discovery regarding MAMA Church’s charism (our call to ministry and the gifts God has given us to engage in that ministry), I’ve begun to see that my ministry (and yours, too) really CAN be transformational.
In a phrase, I am feeling increasingly free to lead us into a more intentional, more incarnational, deeper ministry than “Church as usual”. The thought that I would only ever serve nice, normal parishes for the rest of my ministry was killing me inside. The thought of serving parishes that only saw themselves as closed communities (clubs, if you will) that others were invited to join, made me sick and frustrated.
I only had a hint of it at the time of my Ordination, but I’ve come to realize that if I’m going to serve the Lord and his Church as a priest, I want to see the old model of compartmentalized Christianity obliterated! I want to serve Christian communities that breathe with the depth of Saint Benedict and sing with the zeal of Saint Francis! I don’t want “Church as usual”! Why? Because “Church as usual” is like dying from the disease of navel-gazing and self-satisfaction.
Over the past few months, as we’ve swung open the doors of Bethany House to see where and how the Lord is calling us to be the Church in a post-modern world, I’ve come to feel a renewed life and energy within me. It feels, for all the world, like what I imagine the coming of the Holy Spirit must’ve felt like at Pentecost! I feel once again like I have something deep and profound to live for! Like I have something I’m willing to die for! Like there’s a ministry that’s something more thank “milk toast” to engage in!! I FEEL ALIVE IN JESUS AGAIN!!
I find myself, once again, talking to people about Jesus. I find myself, once again, praying earnestly and deeply. I find myself, once again, opening my life to anyone who needs to hear the Good News. What the myth of “Church as usual” promised to deliver was orthodoxy. What it actually delivered was a slow and agonizing death of self-pleasing shallowness. Jesus was right! Unless the seed falls to the ground, splits open, and dies, nothing good will be born.
Jesus is still offering MAMA Church (and every Church and every believer) the chance to be broken open, to die to self, and to bear something beautiful to his Altar and to the world beyond! I spoke a few years ago, in one of my sermons, of desiring a vigorous faith life for MAMA Church – a faith life that could neither be created by nor sustained in a community of believers that only sought to worship Jesus on Sunday and not engage him (or his world) for the rest of the week. In this moment of our life as a community of believers, we stand on the threshold of being broken open, dying to self, and bearing something beautiful to Jesus and his world.
Tomorrow evening we’ll gather for Ash Wednesday Mass (at 6:30pm). On Saturday we’ll gather for the first of our intentional Vigil Masses (at 5:00pm). We have offers of help on the table for our ministry to unexpectedly expecting mamas and papas. We are already engaged in deepening our prayer and devotional lives. We are being joined by folks who have heard of the vision that the Lord is casting in our midst and who want to be a part of it. The Lord is not only inhabiting the praises of his people, he’s reorienting his people to the life of prayer and work (the “ora et labora” of Saint Benedict)!
Brothers and Sisters, I have been deeply hungering for the juicy meat of the life of intentional prayer and work – and that’s all well and good. The Lord seems to be bringing us into a place of feasting on that meat – and that’s all well and good, too. But this is a feast with a purpose: To feed the world, even as we are being fed. That is salvation and joy – and that’s so much better than well and good!!
So, as we fling open the doors to Bethany House and allow the Lord to re-build us, let’s do the following…
1. Be present for Mass on Ash Wednesday (at 6:30pm tomorrow night) and for Mass on Saturday, March 9 (at 5:00pm). (By the way, we won’t have Bible study on Thursday this week – it will resume next week.)
2. Be present for “Talk Time” and dessert following Saturday evening Mass – we’ll be looking at Rod Dreher’s “The Benedict Option” and at material regarding “The Francis Option”. We’ll also be laying the groundwork for our ministry to new mamas and papas.
Let’s dig in to this amazing feast! As ever, you can receive an e-copy of this week’s “Our Life Together” (which is full of good stuff regarding these issues) by sending an e-mail. And now, as always…
Praised be Jesus Christ!