Today I joined a number of my brothers in the Greensburg diocesan priesthood for a day of recollection and reflection, prayer and fellowship at the Bishop Connare Center, our diocesan retreat/conference center (the former Saint Joseph Hall). This Advent Day of Recollection was presented by Father Joe Mele of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a seminary classmate and friend and rector of Saint Paul Seminary in Pittsburgh. His theme was "A map of the homily in proclaiming the Gospel as found in the Apostolic Exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium". Joe was a preaching professor for many years at Saint Vincent Seminary in Latrobe.
Today was just the day I needed at this moment in time. The fellowship we shared, the short but very clear presentations, the times of prayer and the opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation were a blessing. To cap it off with drinks and a good dinner was perfect. I was truly blessed.
I have been struggling a bit lately with contrasting experiences. On the one hand I have heard the lament and distraction of a few very good friends who are burdened by schedules or work or non uplifting experiences of Church and liturgy and preaching. I feel for them, for the reality of life can be daunting for those of us of faith. On the other hand, I have felt particularly blessed in the last few weeks with an uplifting spirit of joy and peace and hope. Part may be because of the wisdom of age (I'm not so sure that this accounts for much). Part of it is the Advent Season, the Advent readings and prayers, and a prayerfulness that permits me to not be overwhelmed by what needs to be done. And a large part of it is the continued inspiration of Pope Francis. I am finding his "The Joy of the Gospel" speaking to me in a clear way.
My good friend Mike Ripple recently posted regarding less than uplifting experiences of preaching and liturgy. He wondered aloud if he were part of the diaspora, the remnant, those who longed for better times. I didn't know how to answer him. I still don't, except to say that Advent reminds us to look back to the children of Abraham. They waited in hope, despite being in truly lifeless situations. They were children of the promise, a promise that was a long, long time in coming. Did they all "hang in there"? Not really. But the remnant did, the diaspora lived in hope. Mary, our Advent image, is the icon of the person of faith, that follower of the promise, that one whose expectancy opened the way for Jesus. To the bad preaching, Francis reminds us that all are called to preach the Word of God ... and that priests are entrusted to this sacred task within the liturgy. When they don't, then in love, we need to challenge and pray them into this sacred responsibility. And whether it is preaching or prayer or liturgy or ordinary life, we are all called to authenticity - centering not on self but on "the other". When we take the focus off of ourselves we leave room for Christ and his Church.
The challenges will continue to be there. They will at times be overwhelming. In the opening paragraphs of "Evangelii Gaudium", Pope Francis says to "Never give up" on the joy of God's love. I shared with our people over the weekend that a favorite movie of mine is "Galaxy Quest", a Star Trek and trekkie parody made in 1999. The favorite expression of the captain, Commander Taggart, was "Never give up! Never surrender!" We need to make that our saying when confronted by darkness and evil and mediocrity. Never give up! Never surrender! He loves us too much!