Monday, November 14, 2011

Watching our language

It was either Nicholas Lash or John Macquarrie who averred that a theologian is one who watches her/his language in the presence of God. By that, of course, is not meant the scrupulous avoidance of something like saying the f-word in front of your Mom. It means living with ever more awareness the mystery of your I, not truncating your inquiries into reality, being content with instrumental answers to what Garrison Keillor, in his Guy Noir skits, calls, "life's persistent questions." Or, in the words of Fr. Carrón who kept insisting in his Communion and Liberation Opening Day talk, discerning a Presence in everything that is present to you at each given moment, keeping alive our sense of wonder and awe.

This morning, for a very specific reason, I was thinking about my ministry as a deacon. As I thought an empty, throwaway phrase I often use when thinking, talking, or even writing about my diaconal service crossed my mind: "Well, I am not God's gift to pastoral ministry." During Morning Prayer, as I was praying for a number of the people I am privileged to serve in various ways, I was caught up short and quickly saw that nothing could be further from the truth from my lazy qualifier: I am God's gift to pastoral ministry!

It is a gift to be a deacon and in being a deacon I make myself a gift to others. If this is not true, then I should just hang it up. Recognizing that I am, in fact, God's gift to pastoral ministry in no way asserts that I am not limited, or that I am always super-effective. It just means that, like servants to whom the "talents" are entrusted in Matthew's Gospel, I offer the gifts God has given me in the confidence that God can use me to accomplish His purposes in the lives of those I am called to serve and to the community I am called serve. Of course, this insight is not only applicable to me personally, but anyone who offers her/himself to serve others. Catechists are God's gift to catechesis, ministers of hospitality are God's gift to the community and those they welcome, etc.

I don't mind saying that where I serve is a challenging place. There are so many hurting, wounded people who need immediate help, something akin to spiritual and emotional triage, that I sometimes foolishly think all of this gets in my way, if I may use that sorry phrase. What I mistakenly feel such situations get in the way of are my cherished initiatives aimed at building community. As Owen Cummings reminded us at our annual diocesan deacons' retreat last month, I should be more concerned about not getting in God's way! In other words, at least for me, being God's gift means putting myself in the service of Jesus Christ by serving those who seek my help, the real people in need, not some ideal community I wish create in my own image. In short, serving God often means letting go of my own plans, recognizing my own limitations, and better living my priorities. It sounds easy, but sometimes I gripe about it inwardly to God.

Earlier this year, once I genuinely discerned my need to live my priorities better, I met with a trusted friend of mine who is a priest. I remember saying to him, "I don't know what's next for me, where I am going to serve." He said, "Why does there need to be a next?" He continued, saying that in his estimation I am well-suited to serving where I serve and that he thought my unique gifts and abilities are best used there, stating that my assignment would not suit a lot of deacons, or quite a few priests. I don't know whether that was a compliment or not, but it does not matter because I quickly came to see the truth of what he said. After all, it easy to disdain ministry when it ceases to gratify my ego.

The question for all of us who follow Christ is, "How and to whom will I be God's gift today?" After all, the Eucharist, which constitutes the beating heart of faith, bringing us into communion with Christ, who, in turn, unites to each other, is an exchange of gifts. Christ offers Himself body, blood, soul, and divinity, as the traditional formulation goes, and we offer ourselves, body, blood, soul, and humanity, putting our lives at His disposal to accomplish God's purpose in and for the world. This gives me a lot to think about the day before I begin the Nativity Fast.

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