Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

"The one who humbles himself will be exalted." Once more, we return to trust, a trust that challenges me viciously, particularly now as I contemplate the coming death of my friend Fr. Greg. My fear is not of death itself, but about the possibility of being forgotten; not me personally, but rather this work, this calling. Perhaps because he is a Capuchin, my mind keeps comparing Greg's situation to the death of St. Francis. I do not expect that Greg's brothers will strip him naked and lay him out on the floor of his hospital room. But I do know that my friend's final days have been just as sublime of a prayer as were Francis', and our Brother Jesus' for that matter. Their deaths exalted their vocations. Will I share such a fate? Or will my fears come true: a pointless death for a forgettable prophet.

But if I and my message are forgettable, is it because that reality is exactly what God desires? Every scheme to make this work go viral has failed. Was that because I did not try hard enough or because that outcome is contrary to our Parent's plan? Personally, I lean towards the latter, because they are really good at telling me no. Should I take this revelation and start a new church/religion? NO. Should I go out and find me some disciples? NO. Should I package and sell it like every other wannabe guru? NO. Should I do any of the things that sensible people do when they are trying to spread a message? I think you get the answer by now. The memo they keep sending says, "Take your place at the wrong end of the table and trust us to do our thing as we see fit." Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Earlier this week, I found out that a friend of mine is dying. I met Father Gregory Coiro in 2002. It was my first full year of teaching high school religion and he was returning home from a parish assignment to be the campus chaplain. I invited him to speak to my classes about his life as a priest, but instead he opened our eyes to a good news that is both wildly messy and intensely beautiful.

Greg's spirituality is delightfully complex. He has an earthy sense of humor and a gift for storytelling, which made him a perfect fit for an all-boys school. His annual talk on appropriate behavior at school dances was everything you might imagine it to be. No question was off-limits. And despite students' best efforts, nothing seemed to embarrass him. Yet when Congressman David Drier visited one year to talk to the senior class, Greg boycotted the assembly because he considered Drier's voting record to be insufficiently pro-life. Similarly, he recounted without apology his refusal to attend weddings that did not take place in the Catholic Church. He believed that a priest was always a representative of the Church, and he did not want his presence to convey a false sense of approval of things he knew to be contrary to Catholic teaching; that outcome would have been too scandalous.

Needless to say, Greg is too contradictory for some people. But I always saw a logic to the madness: he actually believes everything the Church teaches. He embraces "the discipline of the Lord" and the truth of "the narrow gate." But he also heeds our Parent's call to bring everyone, "all you nations … all you peoples," through that very same gate. With the use of clowning and crudeness, Greg teaches us that even when we feel damaged and dirty, God continues to move within us. Because if God is love, then our Parent will never leave our side. And Greg truly believes that God is love.

I have so many fond memories of my friend, but I will end with the end. I phoned Greg in the hospital after learning of his present condition. I asked him how he was doing, and with an amused tone in his voice he simply said, "Dying." He then went on to say that the hardest thing was knowing the pain his decision to stop dialysis was creating for those who loved him. Yes, the last are truly first in the eyes of grace. I am going to miss Greg terribly, but I also know that he is going home. Soon he will join the communion of saints, and their prayers on our behalf will get a lot more interesting. (I can almost hear God's chuckling already.) So farewell, dear friend … until we meet again.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Truth is divisive. Partly because we are so bad at recognizing it, but mostly because we are so good at rejecting it. Either way, truth brings conflict. The problem, however, is that too many of us are more terrified of conflict than of dishonoring truth. Yes, listening is as noble as evangelizing. And humility is as necessary as conviction. But enabling ignorance does not promote peace, no matter how blissful it might feel. Nor are capitulation and appeasement manifestations of loving our enemies. The prophets of tolerance and diversity have good intentions, but minimizing truth will not make hatred and tribalism go away. No, the only way out of the swamp is the kingdom, in all its uncomfortable glory.