Earlier this summer, I enjoyed a weeklong retreat with a lot of time to pray and reflect. Before I went on retreat, the realization kept popping into my mind that the world—especially the Church world as I knew it—was passing away.
People I loved and who were very important in my life had died. I visited a cemetery where Franciscans I had lived with are buried. Seminaries I attended have been sold. I’m sure you’ve experienced the closing of schools and churches that you’ve attended. Neighborhoods you grew up in have changed. Suburban parishes are thriving, but beautiful, old churches in the city are without people. On retreat, I pondered my feeling of loss and came to a sense of peace.
In reviewing my life, I saw that God was with me every step. I concluded that I was blessed with not one but three beloved worlds!
A Future of Hope
The first covers my life from a happy childhood in a large family and many happy years as a Franciscan. As a teacher, editor, administrator, and now associate pastor, I met many good and gracious people. In moving from one assignment to another, I don’t minimize the heartache of leaving people I had come to know and love. Fortunately for me, though, there was always another loving community to welcome me.
My retreat reflection gave me the insight that my world was not falling apart if I acknowledged that a chapter of my life had come to a good conclusion. Those people and my previous work were precious, but I could not hold onto them. I could peacefully accept that I am called to live in the present.
In the parish, my second beloved world, I like the people I am sharing life with. They are gracious and responsive. I’ve made new friends. I enjoy my Franciscan community. I want to be fully engaged here and not miss any opportunities. I’m happy. I have good memories, but I am not living in my earlier world.
And whenever it happens, I look forward to my third beloved world. The Psalmist says, “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (90:12). I have a future to hope in. To be embraced by the God of love in the midst of the community of saints is truly something to look forward to. My coming to peace with change, of course, is only possible because God has been real and present in all my worlds.
God’s love is constant. “I could not understand,” Psalm 73 says. “I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand.”
Message from Pope Francis
The soul of a community is measured by how it manages to come together to face times of difficulty and adversity, in order to keep hope alive. By doing so, they give the greatest witness to the Gospel. The Lord tells us: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). For faith opens us to a love that is concrete, not of ideas, but concrete, practical, generous, and compassionate, a love that can build and rebuild hope when it seems that all is lost. In this way, we share in God’s own work, which the apostle John describes in showing us a God who wipes the tears of his children.
God carries out this divine work with the same tender love that a mother has when she dries the tears of her children. What a beautiful question the Lord can ask each one of us at the end of the day: how many tears did you dry today? —Homily, January 2018