On Monday of this week I celebrated 35 years as a priest. It feels significant and in recent months I have been looking back with gratitude on the opportunities, blessings and challenges of my journey as a priest.
Such reflection is a good thing to do. The Christian tradition of bedtime prayer includes a moment of pondering the day past. What went well? Where did I mess up? Where did I recognise or avoid Jesus in the encounters and circumstances of the day?
On an anniversary we often take a wide-brush-stroke look at our life noticing patterns of growth and decline. This kind of looking back will bring us to our knees, sometimes with feelings of shame and remorse at the wrong we have done and the hurt we have cause, while other memories keep us kneeling in a prayer of gratitude.
Both prayers, the heart-felt regrets and the deep gratitude, are mine – and my humility deepens when I realise that it is God’s grace that “has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”.
In any reflection process our experience becomes something of a unique and personal bible. While we read the scriptures as a holy book filled with reports of the action of God in and through people, that all happened a long time ago with other people in far off lands. However in my personal experience the story is of God and me. My experience is my personal scripture.
Imagine if in future years someone was to read the story of your own life, written with honesty and openness, including all your highest of the high points as well as the lowest of the lows. Such a biography would illustrate your desire and struggle to live in relationship with Jesus as well as all the times when you settled for less than the beauty of the divine life that is the only adequate response to the desires of the healthy human heart.
If in 100 years someone were to read your personal gospel account, what would they learn about life with Jesus? What would be their favourite chapter?
Many biographies of Christian heroes are a bit too saccharine for my taste presenting a rather reduced version of a life. In some of these representations it’s easy to forget that saints are not perfect but are instead sinners who seek to maintain relationship with Jesus Christ as their default setting.
As I write I’m thinking of Thomas Merton who entered Gethsemani Abbey on this day, 10 December in 1941. Twenty-seven years later (1968), also on 10 December, he died.
While Merton may never be named as a saint-of-the-church, I am often inspired by his writings and his witness. You also might appreciate some of my favourite Merton quotations below and you can read an earlier FFF Merton reflection at this link.
- Take this verse from today’s first reading as a mantra for the day: “I, the Lord, your God, I am holding you by the right hand; I tell you, ‘Do not be afraid, I will help you.’“
- Thank you to those who take time to share comments. I (and others) especially appreciate when people take the time to share something from their own experience of Jesus in life.. You have little idea how much your own reflections encourage other readers.
- On behalf of all of those who have asked for prayer, thank you for taking a moment to pray for those whose initials are listed below (most recent requests listed first). Perhaps pray your favourite prayer for the intentions of these friends and family.
Thomas Merton quotations:
- “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”
- “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
- “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
- “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”
Your first quote from Thomas Merton is a very good reflection for me to ponder on today.
Thank you. This was a great blessing to me this day. I woke with the thought that I do no not know where I am going and a sense of despondency about that enveloped me. Yes, God”s grace has brought me here and will lead me home.
Also to let those we love be perfectly themselves.
Likewise to love myself and be perfectly myself.
Blessings on your anniversary. It is 50 years tomorrow since my marriage and although now widowed it is a significant date.
Thanks again your posts are a blessing.
I have been very anxious the last few months and your reflections are definitely helping me especially the reassurance that our God is always there – do not be afraid – with God nothing is impossible. Thank you Fr
Ad multos annos. May there be many more.
My supervisor stopped me in my tracks at a recent session asking “what do you think people might say at your funeral?”
I thank you Lord for your Shepherd John who is helping your flock by your grace to persevere ever onwards towards heaven and home. I pray that God will grant you Fr many blessings in your vocation and inspire you to become more than you can possibly imagine!
Congratulations on Anniversary and prayers for many more to come!
The last quote of Thomas Merton is ringing in my ears!
“what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for!”
I am very grateful to read your Advent Reflections each day.
Your life journey and your personal narrative help to mature my mindset and self-care, like a spiritual anointing of my mind, heart and spirit.
In a humble effort to cultivate appreciation and positivism for my clients, I offer a little ‘Gratitude Notebook’ and encourage them to begin a momentary daily practice to help change their mindset and improve their happiness and self-care. Tuning in to what they are grateful for and jotting brief notes before sleep has proved to be a remarkable means to cultivate calm, positivism and appreciation of everyday life and love.
Blessings in abundance at this time of your 35th Ordination Anniversary. +
Congratulations, Fr John, on your anniversary of ordination. We have our 37th wedding anniversary next week, and have much to reflect on and thank God for. While he is constantly in our lives, there have been occasions when his call has come out of the blue and been immediate: once via a telephone call, and once by a knock on our front door. Both have been life-changing sort of calls. I am familiar with Thomas Merton’s prayer, “I have no idea where I am going”. I often use this prayer from Henri Nouen:
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold onto?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love –
unconditional, everlasting love.
I do not know where you are leading me.
I do not even know what my next day,
my next week, or my next year will look like.
As I try to keep my hands open,
I trust that you will put your hand in mine
and bring me home.
Thank you, God, for your love.
(Adapted from Henri Nouwen’s book “With Open Hands”.)
on Monday I had a celebration. 55 years ago I left High School, (the old ChCh Tech) and started 55 years in the engineering profession, and I am still working.
That’s reason to be grateful and give thanks to God.
Amen Congratulations on your Anniversary Fr John its us special timesnin our life’s was my 50th wedding anniversary on Sunday only i remembered being a Widow but God blessed me Thank’s always for words of Wisdom in our lives
Love Merton’s writings for his honest fluency. The story of my life is scribbled in several journals. They’ve been an important map of constant adjustments made in experiencing life blended with thought. Your reflection today John, has reminded me to take a wide-brush-stroke look at my life through a pile of personal notes to self since leaving school. This will help sharpen the focus, deepen my humility and broaden such thankfulness. Better now personally – than in 100 years for someone else to glance through a sketchy map of a distant landscape.
Good morning Fr John.
A wonderful reflection this morning.
Thomas Merton is my 21st century man.
I read Seven Story Mountain 2005, in my early 60’s
The book changed my life for myself, for the better.
I have many many books of this great writer and every one is a new learning.
When you mentioned this morning “ I have no idea were I am going” …..
“The beginning of love……”
Brought back many humbling memories of myself.
Congratulations on your Anniversary Fr John.
Two lines stand out for me from today’s reflection:
“…it is God’s grace that has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
When I look at back on my life, I can see God’s divine hand leading me. He has kept me safe and brought me thus far.
“But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”
This consoles me that God knows my heart even though I may fail at times.
Congratulations on 35 years in the Ministry. How blessed are we to have the daily Advent readings and ponderings. Thank you. Every morning I am reminded about the awareness of my fragility. Your messages reflect God’s grace flooding through me reminding me I am loved and needed.
May God grant you many blessings.
An aside : reflecting on my life, the most important gift my parents gave me was faith. I am going to put my Christmas crib up and await eagerly the birth of Jesus.
Congratulations Fr John, and thanks for yet more thought provoking, but also inspiring words. I was not familiar with Thomas Merton and so find the quotes above very reassuring when considering how to deal with the many unknowns of work and personal life.
The words “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself ” resonate so strongly. Thank You !