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From the Tee Box

A Blog by Father Trey Nelson

EXPECTED THE UNEXPECTED

Father John Carville, a retired priest of our diocese, noted recently that I had not been blogging in a while.  So, I thought I’d get back to it.  If you were to ask anyone in our office how life has been around here lately, you’d probably get the same response from each of the 12 of us who work here.  It’s been a time of “firsts.”  During the past 6 to 8 months we have found ourselves dealing with issues and questions that have never come up before, ever.  I do not want to go into that much detail, because some of these are connected to sensitive issues.  No doubt, this has been happening at pretty much every level of parish life: sacraments and sacramental prep, weddings, funerals, procedures, behaviors, and so on. 

So, we’ve seen a lot of firsts recently.  Some of them have been very challenging too.  I have walked through a lot of firsts with people too.  Couples, families, individuals.  Like, recently a couple, not even married a year yet, found out that the wife had a very rare disease, with no real treatment.  She passed from us recently.  Her name was Amy.  How many times have we felt it and said it, “who would’ve thought…”  For me personally, to watch people make their way through experiences such as this is, no doubt, an experience of grace and blessing.  Watching people deal with the things that they never, ever thought would have happened is one of the most courageous things to witness.  I’ve had my own “firsts” in my family this past year.  And while I’m not totally happy with how I have responded along the way, I have come face to face again with the grace of imperfection and brokenness.  It is true, as Hemingway once wrote, that, “…some are made stronger in the broken places.”

There is, I have come to find, no way to really be prepared for the unexpected, difficult happenings in life.  If we want to be as prepared as possible, though, I might recommend 3 things to consider.  The first is simply to be aware of the reality that none of us is exempt, none of us is immune to life’s brokenness. It’s going to happen to us in some way, if it hasn’t already.  The second bit of advice extends from the first.  Be at peace with this reality. Do not, do not, do not spend your life worrying about it.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span?” (Luke 12:22-25)  So, worry if we will, but it will bring us nothing but unrest.  The third thought that I would offer on the matter of “expecting the unexpected” would be this: there is a resurrection side to everything.  It’s just, that, we do not always know what it will look like on the other side of the experience.  In fact, we never know, really.  What we do know is that he who by his suffering made all suffering holy not only waits for us on the other side but walks with us in it, every step of the way.

 

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED

Father John Carville, a retired priest of our diocese, noted recently that I had not been blogging in a while.  So, I thought I’d get back to it.  If you were to ask anyone in our office how life has been around here lately, you’d probably get the same response from each of the 12 of us who work here.  It’s been a time of “firsts.”  During the past 6 to 8 months we have found ourselves dealing with issues and questions that have never come up before, ever.  I do not want to go into that much detail, because some of these are connected to sensitive issues.  No doubt, this has been happening at pretty much every level of parish life: sacraments and sacramental prep, weddings, funerals, procedures, behaviors, and so on.  Like I said, I cannot share much of the details here, but I can share with you an example.  No pastor will be surprised that this example falls under the area of wedding policies.  (Go ahead and shake your head and laugh now!)  Someone called our office a few weeks ago inquiring about the possibility of being married here at Saint Jude.  Now, they are not Saint Jude Parishioners and were calling around, because no church would allow them to let their dog serve as ring-bearer for their wedding.  That’s right.  When they asked me, “can our dog serve as the ring-bearer in our wedding?”, I have to admit that I was kind of stunned.  (My head voice, the “parenthetical thought” that I wanted to offer was, “are you crazy?”)  Instead, I just simply responded with, “well, uh, the ring-bearer must be a baptized Christian.”  Now, before I go any further, no that’s not a requirement.  I was just having a little fun with the moment, wondering/hoping that they might come back with, “well, can you baptize him between now and the wedding?”  There you go, guys.  Add that to the list, if you haven’t already.

 

It’s a silly, humorous example.  But we’ve seen a lot of firsts recently.  Some of them have been very challenging too.  I have walked through a lot of firsts with people too.  Couples, families, individuals.  Like, recently a couple, not even married a year yet, found out that the wife had a very rare disease, with no real treatment.  She passed from us recently.  Her name was Amy.  How many times have we felt it and said it, “who would’ve thought…”  For me personally, to watch people make their way through experiences such as this is, no doubt, an experience of grace and blessing.  Watching people deal with the things that they never, ever thought would have happened is one of the most courageous things to witness.  I’ve had my own “firsts” in my family this past year.  And while I’m not totally happy with how I have responded along the way, I have come face to face again with the grace of imperfection and brokenness.  It is true, as Hemingway once wrote, that, “…some are made stronger in the broken places.”

 

There is, I have come to find, no way to really be prepared for the unexpected, difficult happenings in life.  If we want to be as prepared as possible, though, I might recommend 3 things to consider.  The first is simply to be aware of the reality that none of us is exempt, none of us is immune to life’s brokenness. It’s going to happen to us in some way, if it hasn’t already.  The second bit of advice extends from the first.  Be at peace with this reality. Do not, do not, do not spend your life worrying about it.  In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span?” (Luke 12:22-25)  So, worry if we will, but it will bring us nothing but unrest.  The third thought that I would offer on the matter of “expecting the unexpected” would be this: there is a resurrection side to everything.  It’s just, that, we do not always know what it will look like on the other side of the experience.  In fact, we never know, really.  What we do know is that he who by his suffering made all suffering holy not only waits for us on the other side but walks with us in it, every step of the way.

 

REMEMBER WHO AND WHAT YOU CARRY

From the mid 1970’s through the early eighties a group of 5 priests known as the St. Louis Jesuits recorded several songs that are still very popular in our church today.  One of them, entitled, “Earthen Vessels,” comes to mind for me in light of the first reading from today’s Mass.  Here are Paul’s first words: “Brothers and sisters, we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. (2 Cor. 4:7) We sang several St. Louis Jesuits songs at the chapel on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, where I attended college.  The words, especially of this song, always evoke a lot of emotion in me.  This morning early, when I poured that first cup of coffee and sat with today’s scriptures, the words struck me in a new way. I read them, and, almost immediately, I thought, “sometimes, I think, we forget what we carry.”  We carry something sacred within us, made sacred by “the who” that we carry.  It is, as Paul reminds us, Christ himself.  In my mind, it is when we forget this, about ourselves and others, that things tend to come undone. 

To be sure, we do at times encounter differences and difficulties between one another, but each person is a vessel of the sacred.  This may be hard to see sometimes, but it’s true.  Can I believe this about myself and about others?  We seem to “get it” fairly easily at the beginning and end of life. When you hold a baby, you can’t help but think, “Wow!  That’s God!”  At the other end of the spectrum, when we are faced with saying goodbye to someone as they slip from us, we are reminded that the body is just a shell, “a tent,” as Saint Paul says elsewhere. Not an easy experience to go through, but a belief that ultimately gives us hope.  How do I do in-between, though? That’s the real question.  Remembering “who and what” we carry, remembering that we are fragile, imperfect, earthen vessels made holy by He whom we carry is what gives us our dignity.  It can motivate us to a deeper holiness, good health, and a deeper charity toward our neighbor.