Friday, December 26, 2014

Myrrh Bearing Women

"The priest is God saying, "I'm here and I'm not leaving you." ~Jacob Boddicker, SJ

Myrrh Bearing Women by Christi Jentz

I've had the great honor of organizing the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests calendar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee since September 2010.  The calendars are arranged in alphabetical order, listing all of the active and retired priests of the Archdiocese as well as requesting prayer for the Archbishop, bishops, religious order priests, seminarians and those in discernment for the priesthood on days that are fitting to their particular vocation.

During the past four years I've taken occasional phone calls from priests and lay faithful with questions about how the calendar is organized.  One such phone call was from Fr. Paul Weishar, a retired priest who, at the time of the phone call, was coming upon his 92nd birthday.  He was wondering why his name wasn't listed on his birthday and when I explained the alphabetical listing of the calendars he remarked that retired priests are often forgotten and nobody seems to care about them anymore.  How terribly heartbreaking!  Since that phone call, I exchanged a few more phone calls and letters with Fr. Paul and forwarded his name to our Archdiocesan priest who ministers to the retired priests asking him to contact Fr. Paul and to pray for him.

Earlier this month, I heard that Fr. Paul had passed away.  I was grateful that my supervisor allowed me to adjust my work schedule so that I could attend his funeral.  When I arrived at the quaint, little church, I was so happy to see my friend, September S. and her lovely daughter, Lauren, already there.  Like me, September feels it deeply in her heart to pray for deceased priests, whether she knew them well or not.  And, it wasn't long afterward that our friend, Erin Berghouse, the founder of Ahava Productions, joined us in prayer as well.  Sweet Erin had stopped at the parish to drop something off for the pastor, Fr. John Burns, who told her that a funeral was just about to begin for a priest.  She said that as she was walking back to her car, she was struck by the fact that she just happened to stop at the parish immediately before a priest's funeral and decided that the Holy Spirit must have had something to do with that timing and she decided to stay and pray for him.

Following communion as we were kneeling in thanksgiving, I was overcome with the image of the Myrrh Bearing Women in my heart.  I felt that here we were, modern-day Myrrh Bearing Women, offering the myrrh of our prayers at the tomb of an alter-Christus, Fr. Paul Weishar.  My hope is that in the final years of his life, Fr. Paul could feel the prayers that were offered for him and that now, in his death, the prayers for his soul will continue.  May we all offer the myrrh of our prayers for our priests both living and dead, for what would we be without them and the sacraments they so lovingly and willingly bring to us?

Eternal rest grant unto Fr. Paul Weishar, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul, and all of the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Retreat with Bishop Donald Hying

“Christianity starts not with us looking for God but with God looking for us.”  ~Bishop Donald Hying

The always humble Bishop Hying and Fr. Tim Kitzke doing the dishes following dinner at my house last August.  Bishop Hying always insisted upon doing the dishes whenever he'd come to dinner.  He's certainly well-qualified to speak about humility as he did during his recent Advent reflection shared in this post.

This Advent I treated myself to an afternoon retreat of Reflections on the Advent Gospels with Bishop Hying at St. Joseph’s Parish in Wauwatosa.  It was a bittersweet occasion in which I had an opportunity to learn from a spiritual giant and a beautiful friend, in person, one more time, before he leaves Milwaukee to become the Bishop of Gary, Indiana on January 6th.  I felt compelled to take notes so I wouldn’t miss one bit of his wisdom.  I've certainly learned an awful lot from him in the past seven years that I've been blessed with his friendship and I'm hopeful that I'll continue to reap many spiritual benefits from all that he has taught me over the years.  What I’ve gleaned from his Advent talk follows.

Being Present to Now

Bishop Hying often speaks of St. Bernard’s Three Advents:  the Advent when we prepare for Christ’s birth, the Advent when we prepare for the final coming of Christ and the Advent of the Present Moment.  He said that it’s easy to always be somewhere else in our mind and not to be fully engaged with where we are.  But it’s essential that we try to focus on the present because this moment will never come again.  We’ll never be in this same particular place with these same particular people again.  The greatest enemy of the spiritual life is the intensity of the stimulation around us.  The secret of the saints is that they were profoundly engaged in the present moment.  It’s in the present moment that God speaks to us.  On Mount Horeb God doesn’t tell Moses, “I was” or “I will be”.  He says “I AM.”

Bishop Hying spoke about the difference between Kairos time and Kronos time.  Kronos time, he said, is like when we go to work and the day drags because we’re not enjoying what we’re doing.  Kairos time is like being on vacation or spending time with someone we love.  Six hours of Kairos time can feel like only one.  The Mass is Kairos time where we are united with all of heaven.  We are never alone at Mass.  All of the angels and saints are right there with us.  When we step into the Eucharist, we step into the vast eternity of Christ.  The mystery of the Christian life is to see the unfolding of our lives as Kairos time.  We live in a culture that is spiritually asleep.  If we can abide in the present moment then life unfolds as it is meant to be for us.

“How do we live in the world but as a monastic at heart?” he asked.  John the Baptist reminds us that our faith must be public and inculturated.  Our faith is personal but it can’t be private.  If the apostles kept their faith private we would never have come to know Jesus.  The generations that follow us are dependent upon our public testimony.  In the New Evangelization we look at people who are already in our lives and give witness to them.   We need to cultivate the soil of another person’s life and bring them into a community of faith.  We are to lay the groundwork for Jesus to begin His work like John the Baptist did for Jesus.

Humility as a Way of Life

Bishop Hying went on to speak about humility.  He said that virtues are like a salad buffet and humility is the plate you put everything else on.  If you don’t have humility, nothing else will stick.  Humility is knowing who we are and knowing both our greatness and our littleness.  How do we respond when we’re not noticed or recognized or when someone else gets thanked for something we did? 

Humility sets us free.  We don’t have to try to be anything more than we are.  God is more humble than we are.  If I can’t let God be God in my life, then I always have to be strong and right and in control.  How freeing it is to acknowledge my weakness and my need for God and to let the Lord carry me!  It’s freeing to say “I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m a sinner, and I’m weak and needy and uncertain.”

St. Paul spoke of the thorn in his side and how, when he asked God to remove it, God told him he had to keep it so that he’ll know that power is made perfect in weakness.  Allowing God to be God allows us to be us.  Humility is a gift.  It’s a gift to be hidden, unknown and misunderstood.  At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what others think of us, it only matters what God thinks of us.

Bishop Hying compared the Annunciation and the Agony in the Garden as examples of humility and openness to God’s life-changing plan.  Both Mary and Jesus are asked to accept something impossible.  Mary said yes to the Incarnation and Jesus said yes to our salvation. They both occur while they are radically alone and they are both asked to embrace the impossible and say yes to it.  It’s tempting to think that everything was easy for them because of their holiness and who they are, but their humanity had to tempt them to say no, and yet, they both said yes. 

For this reason we honor Mary because in her we see perfect discipleship. In her maternity, which is predicated on her faith and attentiveness to God’s impulses and initiatives, she gives herself to that plan.  In the Immaculate Conception she is a stainless piece of glass, immaculate with no stain.  The light shines through her.  Because of her clarity, we don’t see the glass but are overwhelmed by the light of Christ that shines through her.

The bishop asks, “In what ways am I still striving to be God, to be at the center of attention, more important than I am?  How can this Advent take that desire away from me?  Like John the Baptist, we need to say, “I am not the Christ.”  What is it in my life now that God is inviting me to embrace, that seems difficult, and that I should say yes to?  We need to ponder this question all our lives because God is always asking something new of us.  The saints were so free of self that they allowed God to use them however He saw fit.

Advent is realizing that in the Incarnation of Christ everything has changed for us.  If we can understand this and accept it, if we can be truly present in the now, and live our lives with humility, then Christmas becomes more fully what it was meant to be.