God-words

Dec 19, 2022

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It’s Sunday evening after a fairly full celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

At the end of a day I often ask myself, when in the past few hours did I most feel like a priest, in which moments, conversations, encounters and experiences?

On Saturday afternoon I was called to the hospital where a family had gathered to hear medical staff explain that their father had only hours to live. Even in the brief time I was with them chatting and celebrating the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick his minute-by-minute movement towards death was visible.

In the early hours of Sunday morning I was called again as a woman prepared for the immanent death of her husband of many happy decades. Moments before I arrived he died. His grieving wife and I prayed together and chatted about his life as amid tears and laughter we waited for family to arrive.

When I got back home soon before 3am it took me some time to get back to sleep but not because I was unsettled, more because there was much to ponder, especially a deep satisfaction at the remarkable ways that God was using this weak and sinful priest.

A few hours later I was called again. This time a suicide. After the body of the person was moved I stayed to pray and bless the room. There was a closeness to Jesus, and a sense that I was at the threshold of heaven, somehow helping this suffering soul to enter.  God was listening. There was a peace in the room so I stayed and prayed alone as the city outside came to life.

None of these situations was about my presence but rather about Christ who was using me as a bridge between the divine and those who were suffering.

Later in the day it was a pleasure to celebrate a Baptism. Family and friends had gathered commenting that too often these family gatherings are for funerals, and today it was good to be able to celebrate together. Throughout the Baptism I was aware of the daily life and death experiences of the ministry of a priest, all within a few hours, birth and death and everything between, and knowing that in every reality Jesus is present and active, especially when I lose perspective and feel most helpless.

The theme that shouts to me in today’s readings is fertility. You’ll appreciate why when you look at the scriptures.

Forgive the crude summary of today’s first reading:

“There was a man called Manoah. His wife was barren, she had borne no children. The angel of the Lord appeared to this woman …The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson.”

and an equally rough edit of the gospel:

“…there lived a priest called Zechariah … and he had a wife, Elizabeth by name… Both were worthy in the sight of God, … Then there appeared to him the angel of the Lord, Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived.”

Even in my summary the message is clear: Where there is infertility, God brings fertility.

All that these parents wanted were normal children but they bore Samson the Old Testament superman, and John the Baptist the harbinger of Christ.

Now that’s fertility on steroids.

I searched for synonyms of fertility and came up with the wonderful list above.

These are God-words.

Too often we reduce faith to a moralistic and legalistic religion which is un-inspirational, un-imaginative, un-clever, un-original…   In every situation, however un-resourceful, unfruitful, uncreative God is offering the inspiration, imagination, cleverness, originality, resourcefulness, fruitfulness and creativity we seek.

There is a significant intermediary in the scriptural accounts: Meet “the angel of the Lord.”

Late yesterday afternoon, at the end of the full 24 hours, I struggled to focus on the positives I have shared above. Instead I was burdened by a negative spirit which I did not fully understand. I prayed, then I prayed more. Nothing.

I gave up and had some food, tried to hide from the feeling in a good novel then a walk-in-the-rain. Nothing worked and the negative spirit remained. In my mind I chatted with Jesus about the mood and the circumstances that might have caused it.

Then a text, from friends with whom this time last year I was praying that they would conceive. Their text included pics of their first Sunday night at home with their newborn.

Tears of joy. My mood lifted immediately, the negative spirit was silenced and I was able to write the first part of this reflection.

I have no doubt that the angel of the Lord was at work.

 

 

23 Comments

  1. Good Morning, John…from Denver, Colorado (9am here), on this 18th of December, 2022. Man to man, your email could not have been more profoundly delivered at this very moment in time. Obviously, there is much more to what has me writing to you, “down there,” from me, “up here” from where we each share space on the planet. But your words enabled a solid “AMEN!” to be put to mentoring time I had with a younger spiritual leader, from Malaysia, now living in Europe as a rising leader in the World Lutheran Federation. Your words, this day, were like a sacred, but very loud whisper from the Spirit of our God to keep on doing what you and I, both have been called to be about on this Planet, called Earth. Your words, I look forward to, with their care, honesty and hope that are shared time after time after time. At now 80 years old, how good it is to experience our God’s aliveness, hope and focus. I thank our God for you being you!!!

    Reply
    • Thank you Fr.John for being truly faithful to you vocation, both in good times and sad times.

      Reply
      • Thank You Father John
        I have to say that of all the fffs you have written over the years, your words today have been most touching. You have made me realize that in the service of Christ we sometimes don’t realize the personal toll demanded on our priests. Thank you and your brother priests for the work you do!

        Reply
  2. Hi John, I am fairly new to fff and it is so refreshing to read such honest reflections. Thank you for sharing your day with us and giving us a glimpse into how God uses you in your vocation.

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  3. Thank you Father John for your honesty and sharing on these beautiful pieces of scripture. The joy of birth, and the joy that can sit alongside the sadness of death when a life has been well lived.

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  4. A very moving reflection today Father, thank you.

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  5. The last part of your thoughts resonated and lined up with the homily from our priest Fr Tang. My summary of both lines of thought is we have no need of negativity with Jesus as our companion/guide. Why be angry, or impatient or be any kind of negative when we have Jesus as our promise, our reality and our source of all that is good. And also because the battle is won, Jesus won the battle, so be full of joy in all trials because in the grand scheme of things they don’t matter. Jesus is all that matters and he has done all the really hard work for us.

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  6. Dear Fr. I guess we just take for granted that priests are there to say the Mass. pray for the sick etc….which seems an easy life but don’t realise what emotions you’ll have to go through because life is so challenging and sometimes cruel. I feel for you especially what you have been through these couple of days but rest assured that Our Lord is your guiding light. Thank you for FFF I know that you are a great inspiration not only to me but for all the people who take the time to read it. I will pray for you at Mass today and always. Thank you and God bless you abundantly.
    Marcelle Augustine.

    Reply
  7. Dear John, a friend introduced me to fff yesterday. I signed up and first listened to the discussion of yesterday’s gospel. It brought me peace and a healing of the way I think. Today’ s email from you had a similar effect, I’ve been given new grooung to walk on. My thinking about my relationship with God has too much legalism attached, even after years of learning how much a loving God we have. Thankyou, Ellen

    Reply
    • Oops! Typo error! I’ve been given new ground to walk on.
      Ellen

      Reply
  8. Only 15 min ago I was pondering on the readings and how God spoke to each of the future fathers, how they are connected and their importance in the whole Salvation story.
    I then came to my walk. In the last few years I have been reading each Daily reading as much as possible and pondering your and other individual’s reflections. My understanding of salvation is becoming clearer by the day. I encourage anyone who only get the Word once a week to make time to listen to the daily readings And a reflection. This will grow your faith a hundred fold. Thank you so much Fr John.

    Reply
  9. Thank you Father for this moving reflection, May God Bless you in every way.

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  10. Thank you Fr John, for sharing your humanity with us – the humanity of compassion for those who are grieving and being there with and for them.
    These times have two sides
    – gratefulness to be able to be present for people , which takes much energy
    – the emotional demands contributing to personal exhaustion.
    As a long -time Catholic, it is often over-looked the fact that our priests are human and like us all, can experience ups and downs in day to day life. Let us remember to pray for all priests who give themselves to the support for people at all times.

    Reply
  11. Thank you Fr John for sharing today. Whenever I read one of your FFF posts, I always want to write a reply to acknowledge that your daily words are read and appreciated but struggle with finding something worthwhile to add. Today I feel that by sharing your wonderful story you have shown how “god is with us” even when we don’t realise it, even in situations which appear bleak and far from anything good (or god).
    Thank you for inspiring me t0 keep looking for “Emmanuel”.

    God bless you and bring you a joyful and Happy Christmas

    Reply
  12. Thank You Father. We never no what is in front of us. God is with us may.
    God Bless You.

    Reply
  13. What an inspiration your God-words are. They lead us into an almighty list that encapsulates The Word. Thanks John and now for a God-Wordle.

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  14. Thank you John for the hope the fullness of your sharing offers another traveller along the road. Shalom.

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  15. Bless you John and thank you for your ministry in all its forms. You are a true priest indeed.

    Reply
  16. An inspiring reflection

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  17. Thank you Father John that was very enlightening.

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  18. Let’s connect in love, care and prayer with all Hospital Chaplaincy Teams, Hospital Staff and Whanau who are journeying with patients/loved ones in this season
    In the ‘wairua’ of Emmanuel we pray………

    Reply
  19. I am a day late reading this but I think God planned it that way. I have just spent time with my husband who is in a Care Hime with Dementia, I came home feeling very sad, read this and felt my soul uplifted by your words. I know God will give me the strength and grace to cope. Thank you Father John

    Reply
  20. Thank you Fr John for sharing with us some of the calls made for your presence in assisting people through some of the hardest times in their lives. I am sure you have helped them more than you will ever know. Love reading your daily Food For Faith..

    Reply

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