The Journey is What Matters
A classmate of mine from 2nd grade is a Salesian missionary priest in Papua New Guinea. Fr. Ariel just recently celebrated his 50th birthday. I’m only ahead by a month and a half. But it felt different that someone younger had reached their half-century mark. Suddenly, I was advising him to count his blessings. I felt I was supposed to know where I was going, and that I could give directions. And then I realized I’ve been giving directions for the longest time—to teenagers, young adults, married couples, parents, grandparents, seniors, widows and widowers—like I know where I’m going! I did see the irony. So I often start with a disclaimer. “I’m not a licensed counselor nor a therapist. I am not married. I am not a parent. I do not truly know what you are going through. But I can listen and tell you what I honestly think. And I’m not going to be disappointed if you ignore everything I say. But I won’t tell you what to do. Hit me.”
In the past few years, I’ve talked with people about their journeys. One man spoke of growing old. He hated that his body wasn’t as flexible, that he had more aches and pains everyday, that his memory was going, that he was more impatient of others, that he was falling into despair. He spoke of his dry spirit, that prayer did not bring comfort anymore, that there was little joy in living. We talked about dark and stormy days, that the sun was shining beyond the clouds, and will shine upon us again. And if it helps, he might carry a picture of the kind and compassionate heart of Jesus, or of the Blessed Mother, and gaze upon it as needed.
One lady was afraid of death. She was tired of being sick. She knew she had little time left. She said she wasn’t ready. I suggested she was going home to God, whom she has loved all her life. She said she was unworthy and sinful. I said God still wants her to come home. God has done so much to prove his love. Jesus showed us that God wants us to be at peace. He often tells us not to be afraid. I said Jesus will take care of her as he promised. Call on him often. He is always close by.
Another man was discouraged that his fellow Christians and Catholics did not know their faith and what the church teaches, that they were leading others astray by their bad example. I told him he should use that grace to help others along their way. But he must do it gently, not shaming them and pushing them away. God is so patient as to allow us to work at our own pace, so we should give others room. God is also very much hard at work. So instead of asking God to help us change their hearts, maybe we should work with God in the way that is best for God’s plan.
A teenager was mad at the world and mad at God. She did not want to come to the retreat. Her parents forced her. She wanted nothing to do with the church or with God. She didn’t even know why she was talking to me. I told her if I could help in any way, I would do my best. It may have been 5 minutes or a half hour, I don’t remember. Nor do I remember what I said. But she walked away at peace. She was even willing to travel 45 minutes to come to church. I told her to talk to her pastor. God doesn’t require that kind of hardship.
In every instance, I was just giving directions. I can’t possibly relate to being 80, or know what it’s like to be dying. I may know something about dealing with people with hearts grown cold and hard, but I can’t say I’ve always done the right thing. And I’ve never been a teenage girl. But I’ve been on the journey long enough, I think, to have some basic tools, and know how to use them. All I was doing was sharing what I’ve learned along the way.
God called Abram and Sarai to leave behind their security, their family, and their heritage for a distant land, an undetermined inheritance, and an uncertain future. God’s only assurance was that he would be with them along the journey. And so Abram and Sarai put their trust in God.
The apostle Paul had given his disciple and friend Timothy care of the church at Ephesus. It was late in Paul’s career, while Timothy was beginning his. And along with his instructions on dealing with false teachers, with older members of the community, with widows, the wealthy, and with slaves, he instructs Timothy to stay close to Jesus, “who saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace [he has] bestowed on us.” Jesus walks beside us on the journey. Trust him.
And Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. His disciples saw him conversing with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets. Clearly, Jesus relies on the wisdom and experience of those who have walked the journey of faith before him. He had told his disciples earlier of his own suffering and death to come, and that on the third day, he would rise. They did not know what he was talking about. And in calling them to come follow him, he was also giving them a share of his suffering, and new life on the third day.
In each instance in today’s scriptures, we can not always be certain of the destination—the promised land, the new Jerusalem, life eternal with the Father? But we can always use some good directions, and tools for the journey.
The journey of Lent is less about getting somewhere. Instead, it is more about being changed. What a journey does to an open heart and a willing spirit is that it will transform you. You become a different person from what you were before getting to wherever you were going. By then, it won’t matter as much where you were going.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014