From the Tee Box

A Blog by Father Trey Nelson

WHERE HAVE ALL THE MENTORS GONE...

About a year ago, I came to a realization that would eventually have a significant impact on me emotionally. This is how it happened. I visit my cousin, Nelson, and his wife, Sally on a fairly regular basis on Sunday nights. After an awesome meal, we usually sit outside for a cigar, a drink, and conversation. If it’s winter, the outside fireplace is lit. If it’s not, well, then, we just endure the humidity like everyone else. At some point in every conversation, we usually end up reminiscing about the good old days, when we were younger and life seemed simpler. We talk about our parents and grandparents, trips to our favorite place, Grand Isle, and everything that our parents tried to teach and pass on to us. My Dad and Nelson’s Mom were brother and sister. They are now both deceased, along with his dad and all of our grandparents. At one point, the conversation went silent. Then my cousin made a statement. He said, “you realize now that the two of us are the patriarchs of this family.” There was no arrogance with that. None at all. It was a simple acknowledgment that our responsibilities would, perhaps, be different now. As we talked, it became clear that what we both desired and felt a responsibility for was to preserve what had been handed down to us. The customs, the practices, the values. But the question then arose, “what about is? Who are our patriarchs? Our mentors?”

Driving home that night, I realized that the mentor dynamic in my personal life had changed significantly. I still have my Mom, but, as I mentioned, my Dad has passed, all of my grandparents too, and 2 other key mentors in my life have died of cancer, one right after the other. There are a couple of others to whom I have looked for guidance and mentorship, but they are experiencing some health issues that have changed the dynamics of those relationships also. “So, what’s a guy to do?” I thought, “when all of your mentors are gone?” According to one source, a mentor is defined as, “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” (www.dictionary.com)

If it is commonly accepted that a mentor is someone significantly older than you, then, I’m not sure who mine are. For me this has always been the kind of relationship that you cannot force. In my experience, the real mentor relationship has to happen naturally. It has to be something (and someone) with whom you are comfortable. As priests, we “assign” mentors to our younger priests. That’s a good idea, I think, but ideally you’d choose your own. As of now, my counsel comes mainly from my peers: my brother, my brother-in-law, one of our deacons, and a couple of friends and priests close to my age. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good counsel, just not the same.

As I bring this blog to a close, it occurs to me that what I might really be struggling with is simply the reality that we’re all growing older. My cousin’s statement to me about “being patriarchs” was pretty sobering. I miss the old days, and, respectfully, I miss “the old people” too. But here’s the thing: we’re not the only ones growing older. We’re all in it together. As life progresses, so too does our role. The “baton” of mentoring is, perhaps, passed to us. But, in the end, whether we seek counsel from someone older than us or not, the crucial thing is that we do in fact seek it.

We are never too old to reach out for wisdom.

ASSUMPTIONS: LET'S NOT MAKE THEM...

This morning Deacon James and I were reviewing one of the many tasks related to the daily operation of a parish office; namely, the text for our outgoing voicemail messages. This may seem like an insignificant thing, but it’s actually very important, especially for holy days. Anyway, in doing so, we noted that the next major feast is the Solemnity of the Assumption on August 15. This automatically took my mind to a possible topic for my next blog: assumptions and the caution against making them.

Like all of us, I have my weaknesses. I can pretty much identify those for you rather quickly. One thing that I really work hard at, however, is NOT MAKING assumptions. I really try to catch myself and not do that. Over the years, I have learned to ask myself, for example, questions like: “I wonder what kind of day he or she is having?” Or I’ll try to stop and remind myself, “hey, maybe they’re having a difficult time right now.” And so on. The fact is, you just never really know what’s going on in a person’s life or why they chose to do something a particular way. As a priest, I have also learned that people at times make assumptions about us. While this sometimes hurts, I’ve gotten use to it. For example, on a lesser, humorous level, some people assume that all we as priests do is drink coffee, read the paper, and play golf. At a more serious level, however, it is common for parishioners to go in and out of the hospital without us ever knowing it. It would be nice to visit, but if no one calls to tell us, we have no way of knowing. Some people think that we are automatically made aware of such things, when, in fact, it doesn’t happen that way.

The most serious assumptions, however, are the ones that we make about other people just in day to day life. Sometimes our assumptions are based on how a person looks, whether they smile a lot or not, the kind of work that they do, or, worst of all, what we “heard someone say” about them. It is unfair and wrong to do this to one another.

I’ve used the image of a traffic light before to illustrate other points, and it seems to be appropriate here: we cannot approach each other in the same way that we approach a green or yellow light. As we should always proceed with caution through an intersection, so too should we always proceed with compassion in our understanding of each other. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus specifically instructs us, “if your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” While this passage refers primarily to conflict resolution, it can also serve as a caution for us to NOT make assumptions about one another. In the end, we would all do well to give each other the benefit of the doubt. It would be really nice if we would learn to slow down and really try to consider where that person is coming from, what they’ve been through, and what’s going on in their life right now. In the end, it comes back to the golden rule, as it always does: treat others as you yourself want to be treated.

"WE ARE ALL BROKEN IN SOME WAY..."

HOMILY FOR HOLY THURSDAY 2018

Since the tone of this Mass will change dramatically at the end, just after communion, I wanted to take a moment right now to say thank you: To God, for each and everyone of you...To God, for the opportunity and privilege that is mine to serve here...To the wonderful people with whom I have the privilege of working and serving, each day and each week of the year...And, more specific to this night and this week, to all who help to make these celebrations what they are: our parish staff, our many volunteers, and especially our music ministry...PLEASE JOIN ME IN SHOWING THEM OUR THANKS...

Tonight begins what is called “the Holy Triduum.” The word “triduum” means, “three holy days.” We commemorate and we walk with Jesus through his suffering, death, and resurrection. That is why this is also called “the holiest week of the year.” It re-tells the story of how much God loves each of us. So, if you happen to be struggling with believing that God loves you beyond all measure, as you are, or that God forgives you of any wrong that you may have done, or if you’re tempted to think that your value is less than the value of someone else, please, please let these days be a reminder for you that you are indeed a wonderful creation, made in God’s own image; imperfect, as we all are, but wonderfully made.

Traditionally, we celebrate 3 specific gifts on this night: the institution of the eucharist, the institution of priesthood, and the gift of service. This is a special night for us as Catholics, because we recall the first moment of our highest form of praise: the moment in which, under the form of bread and wine, we meet the true presence of Jesus. We enter into communion with him and with each other. We meet Jesus in sacrament, and we meet Jesus in people. My good friend and colleague, Father Tom Ranzino, sent me a text message a couple of years ago on this day. We’ve exchanged it every year since. I wrote, “I hope you have a great Holy Thursday!” He replied, “you too. See you at the table.” That response was a reminder for me of the mystery of the connection that we share with millions around the world and with those who have gone before us. Whenever we gather to celebrate the gift of eucharist, no matter where that takes place, we do it in spiritual communion with each other and with our departed loved ones.

It’s a special night for us as priests, a night of celebration, because we remember the gift of our calling and our ordination. In May, I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood. Being the first wedding I ever celebrated, my brother and his wife will also celebrate 30 years of marriage. The other night, as we sat outside with my Mom, listening to music and relaxing, we recalled certain legs of the journey, if you will, but both said in the end that we wouldn’t trade it for anything. On this night, we as priests, also recall that we could not do what we do without you.

As a side note, regarding service, whenever our servers, readers, and I pray before each weekend Mass, we always begin with, “thank you, Lord, for the privilege that is ours to serve you and this community.” As Jesus shows us tonight, serving is a privilege, and it is our calling. These are the 3 gifts upon which we focus tonight.

I would, however, ask us to consider for a moment another reality, one that we all need to remember, but unfortunately all too often forget. Toward the end of 2017, I was having a conversation with another priest about some of the things that we, as priests, struggle with at times. These are the things that you all probably struggle with also at some point along the way: stress, work, worry, depression, and how we deal with all of that. In reflecting on this, my priest-friend made a statement that immediately went to my NUMBER 1 spot on the list of the wisest things I’d heard in 2017. He said, “we are all broken in some way. When we forget that, then there is the potential for real pain.”

Look at the broken-ness that is present in every scene of the Gospel this week:

Betrayal

Lying

Hatred

Prejudice

And the broken-ness of a good man’s body, “even until death.”

We hear one dear friend say to another dear friend, “I will follow you wherever you go. I will lay down my life for you.” And we hear Jesus say back to him, “you know, I love you. I really do, love you. But no. You won’t. You will pretend as if you never knew me.”

As hard as it is to accept, that, sometimes, (Peter) is us. Jesus looked at Peter in his worst broken-ness and still loved him and accepted him. We, however, often do not do that. Rather than accepting someone’s imperfection and broken-ness as a gift, we use it as a weapon. We do not seek to heal and build up. We unfortunately, at times, hurt and tear down. Sometimes we do not even realize it, while at other times, we know exactly what we are doing.

It does not matter to God:

What someone’s skin color is.They are a gift...

Where they work or what their financial status is. They are a gift...

What their sexual orientation is. They are a gift.

What someone’s relationship history is. They are a gift...

We are all broken and imperfect in some way. Our families are all broken and imperfect in some way. Our journey—for each of us—has been smooth and straight at times and, at other times, as rough and bumpy and messy and misdirected as it could ever be. Still, the journey is blessed. Indeed, there is grace in imperfection. Or, as Hemingway wrote, “...it is in the broken places where we are made stronger.”

Jesus Christ freely allowed himself to be broken, “atthe hands of sinners,” as scripture tells us. He did so for 2 reasons: so that our broken-ness could draw life and dignity from his, and so that he could give himself to us, as bread for living. And he tells us tonight, “as I have done, now you also must do.”

There is so much broken-ness in this church tonight and in the world, most of which we are not even aware. Remember, however, that, you do not need to know what cross someone is carrying in order to help them carry it. There is enough broken-ness in the world. We DO NOT need to add to it. We DO NOT need to be a part of that. We DO NOT need to be a part of tearing down but lifting up.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not be where I am or what I am today, were it not for all of the people along the way who have accepted me in my:

imperfections...

poor choices...

my (at times) moments of stupidity and immaturity...

my traits and characteristics that will always be me...

my broken-ness...

I am so thankful for that, because it has lifted me up and helped me to get up “off the mat” more than once, and it has always modeled Jesus and his acceptance of the broken-ness that he showed others.

Truly, then, “as he has done, shouldn’t we also be willing to do?”