The “Slideshow of My Life.” The retreat notes say “Photo Album” made up of the images our memory and imagination give us of our lives, going back even to early childhood. This week’s exercise is kind of like they say having your whole life flash before your eyes – but you don’t have to be in a falling elevator or other moment of imminent peril to do it.
We are still early in the week, but these last two days have been a surprising journey for me. Frankly, I wasn’t sure whether this “letting the retreat be in the background of my everyday life” was going to work. Well, it has for two days! With some intentional exploring of my past – letting the images come to mind without necessarily analysing them or trying to find out what they mean – I find that new ones pop up at the strangest moments during the day. And I just let them sit there. Most of them are good and pleasant memories. The relatively few (thank God!) unpleasant memories of my childhood tend to carry with them positive learning experiences. Like the time my mom slapped me when I was reaching out to a pot of boiling water on the stove. While corporal punishment is now frowned upon, then memory of that slight pain (plus childish tears and frustrations) successfully avoided (and prevented in the future) the much more tragic scalding by a cascade of boiling water!
As I’m moving along, other images are coming to mind. I’m in the Minor (High School) Seminary, next to the San Fernando Mission (now the campus of Alemany High School). Just a kid, really. How am I supposed to know what my life-long commitment will be? A lot of fellow student, who I thought were a lot better than me, left to pursue other paths. Some of them I’m still in touch with. Great guys. Most of them still better than me. So I’m still here. Why? I don’t know. God knows. That’s enough. I’m content.
Some priests have fancy vocation stories. I don’t. I entered the seminary as a high school freshman. I’m not sure my motives. One was that the pastor of my parish, whom I didn’t like and I don’t think he knew me well enough to like me or not, said, “Tommy me boy” (he was Irish), “why dontcha” (that’s the way the Irish talk) “give it a try. You don’t have to stay if you don’t like it.” Well, I didn’t always like it, but I stayed. God’s hand had to be in there somewhere, but to this day, I know not where.
Later in the week, images from my early years in the priesthood are coming to mind. There were a lot of challenges in those years; a lot of hurts and disappointments, and a lot of moments where I’m sure I hurt and alienated others in my arrogance and ignorance. There were memorable positive moments too. One comes to mind especially when I encountered a person who was in a significant leadership position in a parish who told me that, after many years of being away from the church, she had come to confession to me, fearfully, and the tone and gesture of my welcome led her to bring other family members back and to get actively involved in the church. I never knew this until years later. Wow!
In hindsight, I have to say that my most difficult parish assignment also contained the most long lasting graces. And, hindsight has also shown that in many instances if I actually had gotten the ministry assignment I really wanted, it would have been disastrous. While the pleasant, agreeable, and fulfilling things in my life and ministry as a priest have helped to sustain me through difficulties, it’s those very difficulties that have taught me the most important lessons and brought the most significant graces.
This will be my last addition to this post. I’ll begin next week’s soon. The opening prayer really speaks to me, and I’ve begun to use it daily.
Lord, I so wish to prepare well for this time.
I so want to make all of me ready and attentive and available to you.
Please help me clarify and purify my intentions.
I have so many contradictory desires.
My activity seems to be so full of busyness
and running after stuff that doesn’t really seem to matter or last.
I know that if I give you my heart whatever I do will follow my new heart.
May all that I am today, all that I try to do today, may all my encounters, reflections, even the frustrations and failings all place my life in your hands.
Lord, my life is in your hands.
Please, let this day give you praise.
The other prayer for this first week, “Blessed are You Lord,” is wonderful too.
My prayer for all of you is that you had a successful first week, and are beginning to experience the graces of this time of letting God work in the “background” of our lives.