Saturday, December 6, 2014

Looking at the Past, at Bethlehem, with Thanksgiving (1 of 3)

Pope Francis in his Message for the Year of Consecrated Life gave three aims: to look to the past with thanksgiving, live the present with passion, and embrace the future with hope.

St Bernard said there are three comings of the Lord:
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible...In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
It struck me how these truly fit together:

1st coming: Bethelehem
2nd coming: Sacraments
3rd: Final Judgement
View Past with Thanks
Live Present with Passion
Embrace Future with Hope

I am going to do a three part series on each of these comings, on each of these aims of this Year of consecrated life.  This first post looking back toward Bethlehem at the birth of Christ and at the birth of my religious family, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity.  In looking back, the words of Pope Francis are a beautiful guide:
"Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging.  More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.  In this way we come to see how the charism has been lived over the years, the creativity it has sparked, the difficulties it encountered and the concrete ways those difficulties were surmounted.  We may also encounter cases of inconsistency, the result of human weakness and even at times a neglect of some essential aspects of the charism.  Yet everything proves instructive and, taken as a whole, acts as a summons to conversion.  To tell our story is to praise God and to thank him for all his gifts." -Message for the Year of Consecrated Life
What is so striking about the birth of the Virgin Mary's baby, the Incarnate God, in the cold dark cave of Bethlehem is his poverty, littleness, vulnerability, that his birth was accompanied by rejection, placed in a manger where animals were kept.  This perhaps also could describe the birth of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, or I suppose, the beginnings of any religious community.  It begins in littleness, poverty, and vulnerability, and is usually accompanied by rejection and survives by being kept in the humblest of places.

Life begins small, in seminal form, and no one quite knows what it will become.  Even if you you look at a pinecone and know it will become a tall pine tree, you don't know quite what shape the branches will take, or even if it will survive being planted.  The beginning is a very delicate time.  

As I recall the history of my community, what takes shape is a kind of particular geography, or specific landscape, of thanksgiving.  Taking the Holy Father's aims personally did the same for me.  A few days after being ordained a deacon, I made a 7 day retreat.  The sole meditation of the retreat, was simply recalling my life in SOLT.  I had with me an iPod, in which a picture of each member was stored.  I simply looked at the face of each member of my community and tried to see the face of Jesus Christ.  What happened was amazing.  Of course, I did see, as the Holy Father, suggested, some short-comings and inconsistencies, but more prominent was the mercy of God in each person's life, how God had called each one to become part of something much greater than themselves, to be a member of a religious family.

Once again, one night here in the seminary during Eucharistic Adoration, I looked back at the past 14 years of my life in the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, trying to recall each assignment, and person or family that I met, all the members, especially my teammates, the religious sisters, permanent brothers, priests, consecrated widows, permanent married deacons, single and family laity, even the men and women in formation who are no longer with the community with whom I have had contact.  What arose in me from this kind of recalling was a very deep hymn of praise and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity.  "How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?  The cup of salvation I will raise, I will call on the Lord's name."

I would encourage every consecrated person to try this: recall not only the history of your community, but your own history in it, making it as specific as your memory will allow. I suppose it is really like looking back on that covenant that God has made with you, like an old married couple, or perhaps newlywed if you are freshly professed.  Two things tend to happen, the acceptance of your own littleness, poverty, and need for God, and the recognition of God's faithfulness, his grace and mercy.

Perhaps you need to take this time to also forgive anyone who has hurt you in any way in your community. People bump up against each other. That is what we do. It is unavoidable. With faith we can see always and in ever situation, the primary cause and final end of each moment in history, Jesus Christ, the Lord of history, history's true goal, the final end of each person, and their true completion and perfection. If this is so, then it is easy to find the Love of Christ to forgive them. It is then that we sincerely ask God for the grace to truly look at the past with thanksgiving, not merely as a religious exercise, but as a reality that becomes enshrined in our hearts as a purified memory. God makes all things new. Even the way we look back at past events.

May this Year of Consecrated Life bring forth a hymn of praise and thankgiving to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  May Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity accompany us and guide us to live our consecration to give God the maximum glory possible.

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