Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
It’s Monday morning, dreary and “seasonal” outside. I suppose this type of weather parallels this season of Lent I continue to journey through with my Christian brothers and sisters. We await a further realization of spring, just like we await the capstone, watershed moment of our faith–––the Resurrection reveal of Easter Sunday.
Before I begin the reflection, I thought I’d share a menial story about a Saturday night walk. I was on the grounds of the major seminary in Milwaukee, St. Francis de Sales, on retreat with fellow college seminarians from my diocese. After a comforting, much needed restful, prayerful Saturday afternoon and dinner; I decided to take a stroll to visit my friend, a priest whose community, the Salvatorians, has a house very near where I was staying.
Here I am, eyes in the sky, breathing in the crisp, cool mid-March air–––content. And then…along comes a mid-sized rodent to ruin the mid-March air. There was a kind of unmistakable scent surrounding this creature. Before taking a whiff, I assumed it was a raccoon (as a kid I was deadly afraid of raccoons–––now I’ve tempered such fear). However, after smelling the sweet fragrance permeating from the animal, I realized it was, as you might have already guessed, a sweet smelling skunk. So I did what any sane (some might not call me fully sane though) person would do–––I ran…as fast as I could. Like little red riding hood speeding away from a big bad wolf, I booked it to my friend’s house.
After I rung the doorbell and found myself actually in a safe place, I breathed a sigh of relief, thanking God that I wouldn’t have to take a tomato bath or whatever else might be needed to expel a skunking incident.
There was a royal official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had arrived, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” The royal official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him “You may go; your son will live.” The man believed what Jesus said to him and left…
The next day, the father found out that the fever left his son at about one in the afternoon. The father realized that just at that time, Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live,” and he and his whole household came to believe.
Selections from the Gospel of John, chapter 4
After reading this story, what struck me initially was the word “believe.” What do I come to believe? How do I come to believe? Can others see that I believe?
Belief is something we do when all reason fails or when even reason can’t explain what we are feeling.
We hear stories about the power of prayer. The ministry of prayer is something that is not just for mystics or for monks or sisters or brothers living in convents secluded from society. Rather, it is an active and engaging ministry that we are all called to take part in. There is something eternal and healing about prayer. I sometimes struggle with the notion that someone would want to live a truly ascetic life–––devoting their entire life to only prayer. I think of monks especially, walking around in their robes, heads bowed, movements slow and selected. However, it is these kinds of people who seem to say with their entire being, their way of life, that belief is more than just a made up word. Belief can indeed point to a real, living idea.
I reflect on my own life as a college seminarian. Why would I want to become a priest, an ordained minister in the Catholic Church? I have had friends–––close friends–––tell me that they see other possibilities for me, other lifestyles that would fit my personality. I am sure that is true–––there are many paths to living a happy, satisfied, joyful life of service to people and to God. But I believe that there is some stake in what ministry in the Catholic church can do–––the power of active and alive prayer–––praying with our hearts and minds and lives.
Day after day, I put my faith in the fact that I come to an altar to worship and give thanks, believing that my actions and the communal dimension of our prayer–––our consumption of Word made body and blood–––brings me to “come to believe” like the Roman official in John’s Gospel today. My sign is not always a healing of a person close to me, a physical healing of sorts¬; rather, my sign is a memory and a passing down of tradition. My hope lies in a message I feel has not–––and cannot–––die. Namely, that God became human person, establishing a new covenant with the entire world in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Following his ways and believing that by following I can be a light in the places where hope is all but burnt out, I come to believe. Time and again, that belief is challenged–––and that is when I reflect on the sign, not looking for a sign, but believing in the mystery of faith.
Peace and blessings,
Your friend bob : )