Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Well, I'm back...

From retreat, that is. I enjoyed the hospitality of the monks at St. Benedict's Monastery in Oxford, Michigan, which is about an hour north of Detroit. I had a good time of prayer and a sort of "taking spiritual inventory." One thing that becomes ever more apparent to me is the incredible grace and power of Christ. That Christ could take someone as flawed and limited as me and use me as his instrument speaks to the truth of St. Paul's words about power being "made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9)

I don't know about other people, but after a retreat I frequently experience, especially if it's been particularly good, what I have come to call a "post-retreat letdown". It's something I've experienced enough to recognize and no longer be surprised by. I attribute it to a reaction to being re-immersed in the day-to-day ordinariness of life after enjoying a period of "holy leisure." The experience is a feeling of overall malaise, sometimes accompanied by suspicions or fears that my ministry is an exercise in futility. And, if I'm keeping my head screwed on straight, this leads to some reflection on the truth that in fact, anything I do is an exercise in futility. It's all about what Christ does in and through me. I find that truth very liberating. It's NOT about ME! Deo Gratias! Hopefully, every day it's a little more of Christ coming through in my priesthood and a little less of me.

Well, yesterday was my "reaction" day. I felt kind of "blah" and I was in rampant "futility" mode. These apprehensions were, in no small part, fueled by the stories of stunning episcopal cravenness and misgovernment coming from Phoenix. It's hard to believe you're making any headway in the trenches when it seems like your superiors aren't working for the same side...

Luckily, I went to visit our parish elementary school yesterday. I find that when I'm starting to get discouraged, the kids will quickly snap me out of it. I love spending time with the kids at the school. I try to go there at least one day a week and visit the classes and talk to the kids. The teachers really appreciate it, too. I don't always visit to talk to them about religious subjects. For example, one of my hobbies is building and launching model rockets. So I've taken classes out to teach them about how rockets work and launch some of them. The kids think that is way cool. I'll even let the kids fire off some of the rockets, which gets them even more excited. I'll try to get some pictures up sometime soon of the last time I launched rockets with the kids.

Anyway, I visited the school yesterday, and it struck me again how privileged I am to be able to teach these kids about Jesus, and to be able to BE Christ to them. It's really amazing: These kids just have to see me in my clerics, even before they know me, and they're ready to love me. Not because of Me, but because of Jesus, and knowing that I represent Jesus in a special way. Shortly after I was ordained I was greeting parishioners after Mass, and a girl, around 6-7 years old, spontaneously came up to me and threw her arms around me in a big hug. I hadn't ever spoken to her before, but somehow she was drawn to me, or I should say, drawn to whatever of Christ she saw in me. It was both very moving and very humbling. Now, when I visit the school, lots of kids want to hug me when I come in or when I leave. When that happens, whatever fears of futility I may have had vanish: Some bishops may be cowards or fools, and some liberal nitwits may be trying to water down the Faith, but I know these kids are meeting Jesus, and putting their faith in him. That, in the long run, is what it's really all about.