A birthday week reflection I

Saint Therese of Lisieux reminds me, “ Accept and embrace your own littleness.”

Saint Ignatius of Loyola tells me, “Keep doing the work of discernment until you arrive.”

Saint Charles de Foucauld urges me, “Carry on day-by-day faithfully, even when – especially when – you cannot see the way ahead.”

Thomas Keating, OCSO counsels me, “Above all else, pray faithfully.  Place yourself quietly in the Presence always.”

Saint Francis of Assisi says, “Know the grace of God is flowing into your life every moment; your job is to be open to the gift.”

Saint Benedict of Nursia assures me, “Keep listening.  Always keep listening for the Word as it comes.”

Photo by Geetanjal Khanna on Unsplash

These are my companions and patrons on what feels sometimes like a fool’s errand, but feels always like an invitation to follow no matter how circuitous the route or pitted the path.  

Early in 2021 a call that had murmured at the foundation of my soul, a message that had whispered from the back stacks of the library of my life spoke out loud.  The words were simple, “Now are you ready?”  Ready to seek community, prayer, service, shared life in a community of faith, in a dedicated community of others who heard the call in their own manner and answered.

I have come to recognize this call is so profoundly basic to my being that the question of whether to answer it in the Roman Catholic communion of most of my life, or in the Anglican Communion of these latter years, or in another place that I have not seen myself is a secondary question.  The primary question is community, is a life of prayer, is service, is shared life, and yes, is silence too.

I reached out with energy newborn to those who could help in the Catholic Church, in the Episcopal Church, and to new friends hearing similar calls and seeking new ways to answer it together.  I spoke with and visited monastic communities where I have visited for lengths of time in the past and found myself at home in a manner that I have known nowhere else.  I have received encouragement and discouragement in about equal measure.  The encouragement comes from voices that seem to hear the echo of something real in my voice when I speak of this call.  The discouragement comes principally from obstacles of course, which are more than one.  But the single hardest one is the general agreement that I am asking, looking, searching too late in life.

The several religious communities who have responded in that way have, no doubt, good reason for saying so, coming out of other experience with candidates beyond a certain determined age (which varies) who have come and not settled and sometimes caused disruption and often left again with both their individual lives and the life of the community unsettled.  I can see and understand that.

But the voice which asks “now are you ready” continues to ask, even as the ‘now’ both slips into the past and remains ever new with the rising of each sun and the changing of each season.  And I continue, and I will continue – taking all the counsel from my saintly companions above – to respond with the most profound Yes I ever have spoken.  A Yes rooted so deeply in my origin and identity, soul and spirit, that it is bigger than, and as well embraces entirely, the joyful Yes I spoke to ordained service decades ago.  

I trust that the God whom the desperate and exhausted Elijah met again at Mount Horeb, the God who both refreshed the prophet and then set him on his way again, will continue to show me the way, if only I show a daily willingness to follow wherever the way leads.  And I pledge, as sure as the God of daily graces lives and gives, that I will.

And I place no limits on how this call might find its answer.  Limits are not my business here.  Whatever Christian communion it might be in, whatever spiritual family following whatever ever-fresh charism from past to future, whatever monastery or abbey or friary or house of prayer; whether the community be numerous or few, whether the group be growing or shrinking, whether I find my place in an established community or help establish a community, or become a solitary linked to other solitaries across the miles, or an anchorite living by the side of church in prayer and bonded to the parish community there – whatever be the path and whatever be the point of arrival, as long as I have breath I will continue and walk on willingly. 

“I do not ask to see the distant scene, – one step enough for me.” And another step as the following day begins. Accepting my own littleness. Discerning what the days are teaching me. Carrying on, in prayer. Life thrown open to the pouring fonts of grace, head thrown back and mouth open to drink the rain pouring down from heaven. And always listening. Listening for the voice of the living God in all the ways that voice faithfully speaks.

Perhaps even in your voice, dear reader, as you read and respond?

4 thoughts on “A birthday week reflection I

  1. This is so true for all of us. We need to always look to be with our God wherever that path takes us. Sometimes we cannot see the grace which may come from something till we are done. But with each day, each opportunity and each encounter with another person there is Grace.

    We are all one and we all need to realize
    that our purpose in life is simple; to Love one another and to love God. Not to judge, not to think one religion is better than another but just to love.

  2. John, I sensed a glimmer of this call in you many years ago…in a conversation with you shortly after your 30 day retreat. Praying with you….

  3. John- Happy Birthday and I love the gift you received in the form of your question, “Now are you ready?” I think the gift in all of this is your willingness and the conviction to say “Yes”, once again, reaffirming a life long quest. It is so ‘easy’ to get to a point where we allow others to dictate how we answer, such as the contemplative communities that say ‘it is too late to be formed in their tradition’, hearing that often enough might persuade us to let go of something that is too valuable to put down. Blessings for the journey, I trust the people you need to meet are just up ahead on the road… keep going, all God needs to work amazing things is our ability to say, “Yes”.

  4. Fr. John, I thought I posted a reply already, nut I don’t see it, so here goes again. I am not surprised by this post, as you shared this desire with me when last we met. I’ m biased, so I hope you find your answer in a Catholic community, where you could never be a distraction, but only a blessing. May your answer come as a birthday gift this Thursday. Blessings per cent’ anni. Love and prayers.

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