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.”