April 10, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Witnesses of simple faith can be instruments of evangelization

So now we live in the afterglow of the Solemnity of Easter. We also live with a certain Christian realism about Easter joy.

During the weeks leading up to Easter, I experienced a certain melancholic joy associated with our faith.

At one of the rites of election of this year’s catechumens and candidates for reception into our Church, I was touched by an experience of a family whom I greeted after the ceremony.

As they approached, the family members reminded me that we had exchanged messages a year ago while I was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I remembered immediately that the father of the family, whom I was meeting for the first time, also had Hodgkin’s and was undergoing the same therapy at the same time.

But there was a moving difference.

Because of his responsibility for providing for his family, he had to continue working while undergoing the ordeal.

We rejoiced that both of us are in remission even as we experience some of the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

His wife and family of five beautiful children were with him at the rite of election. It was a privileged, if somewhat bittersweet, meeting. I had been praying very specifically for all of them over the past year—and they for me.

A few weeks earlier, I presided at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral during the annual presentation of religious awards to both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. The cathedral was packed as usual.

Afterward, I greeted folks and was photographed with many of the parish groups and individuals.

Toward the end of the line, one of the dads asked if I was willing to pose for one more individual photo.

I was tired but, before I could respond, a small disabled boy literally dove at me, abandoning his “walker on wheels.” He embraced me, not really posing for a photograph.

Frankly, I was more humbled than surprised. His dad remarked that that encounter and photo were worth more than a million bucks.

I don’t think the young guy even gave me his name, but I can tell you he is etched in my memory and prayer.

I admire him and his family, who were with him as he wanted to celebrate the religious award for which he had worked. His faith is obviously important to him even at a young age. I am moved.

At yet another rite of election on the first Sunday of Lent, I had another touching experience. A long line of newly elected folks wanted to greet me and have a photo taken.

After awhile, I saw a young fellow about 9 or 10 years old helping his disabled little brother, who appeared to be about 5 years old, struggling to walk up to where I was standing.

Finally, the younger disabled boy fell at my feet. One of his sisters and I tried to raise him up for the photo, but he wasn’t really interested in having a picture taken. He just turned himself and wanted to look at me with all the intensity of a radiant and pure look I will not forget.

He was speechless, and so was I. We had never met before and, obviously, this trusting kid saw me as a symbol of faith that he wanted to embrace. I don’t think I will forget him.

He, too, is on my special prayer list along with his family, who seem to accept him and the difficulty he has walking as if it is not a problem.

And all of them were there because they have divine faith and they want to express it and to be part of our community of faith. I was thinking: “And a child shall lead them.”

As you can tell, these pre-Easter experiences touched my faith as much, if not more, than it did theirs.

That happens often in the ministry of a priest. The familiar saying is true: “It is in giving that we receive.” The priesthood provides many opportunities to share the lives of other believers.

The three experiences that I describe (with difficulty) are powerful examples of you folks, who are not only witnesses of simple faith but are, perhaps inadvertently, witnesses of the hope that accompanies no-nonsense faith.

Our Catholic faith and its ritual give life and encouragement to you who suffer, whether that is physically, spiritually, emotionally or morally.

And despite the personal cost to yourselves, you, in turn, mirror faith, hope and love to us who must seem to have life better than you.

Thanks to you who inspire us whether you take us by surprise or do so in ordinary ways.

I hope you see that your crutches and walkers, illnesses and disabilities are instruments of evangelization. †

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