Twelve years or so ago I met a woman who changed my life. It all started with phone conversations that went well into the early morning hours, sometimes ending with one or both of us falling asleep while still cradling our phones. I had been going through a bitter divorce, and so had she. The thought of marrying again was nowhere in my sight. The thought of being a good husband, a father? I had given up on that more than a decade before. The most beautiful part of this relationship was that it brought with it a family. Three beautiful girls, that would eventually be joined by a fourth. At first, I didn't even realize how much these little girls meant to me.
I was working on a large project up near Washington, D.C. when I came into a week off. It had been almost two months since I had even had a single day to myself. With a week to kill and enough cash in my account to afford a trip, I decided to fly to Chicago to see her. I called her and arranged everything. She offered to pick me up at the airport and drive me back to Genoa. I threw what little I had left to my name into a duffle bag and boarded a plane. It was my first flight of several to Chicagoland. This one though would change me on a level I didn’t quite yet understand.
As I exited the airport into what was probably the busiest place I had ever seen, I began to wonder if I’d ever find her. I was looking at my phone pondering giving her a call when I heard a little voice call my name. It was Sarah. She was so little back then but I will never forget it. She ran up to me with her arms out like she wanted to be picked up, but at the last second she stopped and looked down at the ground. It was as if she wasn’t sure she should give me a hug. I told her you can hug me if you want to. She did. It was a wonderful hug, one of someone who just loved you and was happy to see you, no questions asked. There was a place in my heart that had been hardened over the years that began to crack then. A place that was never meant to be hardened, but to be overflowing with love and light.
Sarah was still young and innocent. She didn’t have the jaded experiences that the rest of us had. The broken hearts, the torn relationships, the bitter rivalry of a split family. It was all too fresh for her. Torn between their father and mother they often didn’t know how to let me in, or even if they would be in trouble if they did. After I moved up, slowly over time, they began to let me in a piece at a time. They began to see who I was and on some levels trust me. The problem is they can’t see who I want to be, just who I act like. Unlike God who sees us from outside of time and knows not only who we were, but who we will be, and maybe most importantly who we were created to become; we humans only see one another at the moment.
Father Ken was speaking to us men in formation the other night about this next step, from Aspirancy to Candidacy. It’s an important moment. One that goes from someone just searching, to one who declares with the Church I have the intention of being Ordained. Candidacy also means that the Church is declaring, at this moment we also have the intention of Ordaining you, God willing. Then he said something that I have heard before, but this time it struck a chord deep inside of me. He said, “The man you are today is the Deacon you will become.” There isn’t a magic moment during ordination that flips a switch. You don’t go from being you one moment and the Sainted You the next. If you aren’t willing to put in the work now, why would you be willing to do so later?
I was walking along earlier meditating on this and on the readings. They remind us that Jesus is the good shepherd, that it is his voice we are listening to. Earlier today I turned off my Facebook account because I feel it doesn’t let me do that. I don’t feel myself listening on social media as much as hearing too much chatter. I’m like Elijah on the mountain listening for God. It’s thundering and lightning, but God is not in those. The earth is shaking with the sound of all the digital information flooding into my devices, the wind blowing like a hurricane of news and opinion... But He’s not there either. It’s in that still small voice, the quiet and silence of listening, that we find Him.
It was getting dark on my walk and I began to think about how do I know when something is from God. The one way is consolation. A consolation is something that feels good, that rewards you and makes something pleasant. Some consolations are from God. Some aren’t. Then there is desolation. A desolation is something unpleasant. Dryness, sadness, remorse. These can be from God too. Then again, they can also be from something or someone else. How do we tell between the two? How do we decide if this wonderful, sensual pleasure is something God wants for me? Or that this dryness is a reminder to conversion? By what the response is of our soul to the consolation or desolation.
If it makes us draw towards God, if it turns us toward the Sacraments, if when we think about the result of that action it brings us peace in our soul… That is from God. If it drives a wedge between us, encourages us not to go to Christ but to seek solace somewhere else, if it leaves us feel anxious or in a panic… That is not from God. God will always give us signs to draw us to Him. He always calls out to us in a way that draws us toward the person we were created to be, not away from it. That’s why the most pleasurable thing in the world, if it makes you into a worse person, or leave you distracted from the goal of Sainthood, is not the thing you should be doing. In the same vein, that which is most unpleasant, that makes us feel remorse and anguish, that which reminds us that we need Christ… That is what we should be drawing and praying to experience.
The moon was only half full tonight. I am reminded that the moon is often compared theologically to Mary and the Church. That is, the Sun has all the light, the moon just reflects it. Mary reflected the light of God in such a fashion that He Himself resided inside her for nine months and then was born into the world through her Yes. The moon shines light into the darkness and helped me to see my way along the path by the river. Without it I would have been stumbling and maybe even have hurt myself. The water is so high right now that even parts of the path were under water and I could still see the walk in the shallow edges and avoid getting my feet wet.
I also had a moment of consolation, one that those who went with me on the silent retreat to Saint Louis last year will appreciate all the more. As I walked up the bank in the dark of night, under the canopy of the trees with the moon flicking back and forth through their leaves; something crashed through the forest in the night. At first, I was startled, maybe even a little scared. I stopped for a moment in my tracks and listened. It was still moving. It was also very close to me. Out into the moonlight marched three of the most marvelous deer I have ever seen. They stood flicking their tails at me, maybe fifteen feet away. Like Sarah, they were trying to see who I was. What I stood for. Then they walked slowly and calmly across the path and into the trees on the other side. Deer. My friend Marge from our bible study would be proud of me, for a song burst into my mind. She is one of those musically inclined people who always have a song on their lips. “So Let Go, my soul, and trust in him. The waves and wind still know His name. It is well, with my soul.”
Lord help me to not wait until after this life is over to become the man you have created me to be. Let me be the kind of man that my children know they can safely hug and trust to protect them. The kind of husband that my wife knows she can count on, even if it costs him his life. The kind of Deacon, God willing, whose parishioners know is praying for them and that if they need him all they have to do is ask. The kind of Christian that others know will love them, no matter what they are going through, and will try to journey with them as best he can, but will always love them too much not to speak the truth to them. The kind of man You are.
His servant and yours,
“He must increase, I must decrease.”
A reflection on the readings for Mass the Fourth Sunday of Easter: May 07, 2017