I love my job. I know you can hardly tell. I told a local newspaper reporter a few years ago it’s because I see God doing wonderful things. Now seeing God at work can be a really awesome experience since God can be so unpredictable, silly sometimes, unconventional, even absurd. I thought everything God did would always be majestic and profound. Have you ever seen the majestic mountain range that runs the length of New Zealand? They’re called the Remarkables because, well, they’re awesome and remarkable. I suppose the Rockies out West, the Andes in South America, the Himalayas in Central Asia, and the Alps in Europe, are just as breathtaking and majestic and remarkable. And then there’s the understated and delicate simplicity of nature at work on the ocean floor and in every vegetable garden, in the germination of new life from lifeless seeds, and the conversion of light energy into chemical energy in the process of photosynthesis, in rising bread and fermenting wine, and in the intricate chemistry that brings healing to our bodily injuries, and generally keeps us healthy. Little children learning to walk, and injured veterans learning to walk again—they give us pause to ponder the awesome mystery that drives the human spirit to overcome its limits. And have you ever watched the birth of just about anything? I know! All I can say is simply amazing. Okay, a little messy, but awesome, terrifying, and absolutely mesmerizing at the same time. There’s intense pain and ecstatic joy, horrified screaming and delirious laughter. There’s closeness and distance, and intimacy and alienation. So very confusing, yet so very wonderful. There’s murderous threats of this never ever happening again. Then there’s tears of jubilation vowing we really should have another. Makes one wonder if alcohol is involved. I know alcohol is sometimes involved some time back, and people might celebrate with alcohol after. And some will suggest alcohol would be welcome during the entire process, though hospitals would frown on it. And that’s just what other people tell me. And the most interesting thing about God doing wonderful things is that every now and again, I’m actually there when it happens.
It certainly doesn’t take an advanced degree to put two and two together. I can speak only of what I know, but wonderful things have been happening in this parish long before I arrived 8 years ago. They keep happening because God is hard at work. People continue to experience transforming change in their lives. They find strength in adversity. They persevere despite challenging odds. I have talked with people asking for baptism, and a few returning to the practice of the faith after being away for some time. I am well aware they had traveled a long journey even before I entered the picture. So I acknowledge that God is indeed doing amazing things in many people’s lives, and I’m just fortunate to be there at the right time. When I help with high school retreats, I see teenagers hit with the dawning realization God walks alongside them. And parents who come to me for advice about raising children get an eye-opening glimpse into God’s experience of Fatherhood from their own amazing and frustrating experience of parenting their own kids. I see the sick and elderly surrendering trust into God’s hands, awakening to the redemptive value of their own suffering for the life of the world. I see people at the end of life’s journey face their own mortality and know a deep sense of inner peace and joy in coming home to God’s embrace. I see grieving family members find comfort in knowing our God is compassionate and forgiving beyond measure. Somewhere along the journey, people encounter God profoundly and personally, and are transformed. Ultimately every such encounter makes the journey worth all the trouble getting there. And for many who have known the experience, nothing is more awesome than coming back for seconds again and again and again.
When I first arrived at St. John, I called a few town hall meetings, as I put it, for you to tell me what I needed to know to be your pastor. I remember someone saying how when they first met me, they found me very welcoming. I smiled a lot and was kind. Yet everyone wondered when the other shoe would drop. I said I also felt very welcome when I arrived. Everyone smiled and was kind to me. And I also wondered when the other shoe would drop. We all had a good laugh. But deep down I couldn’t imagine how badly many of you had been hurt to ask that. I knew healing from those hurts would take time. I was convinced many could begin anew here at St. John.
And every once in a while, I meet people who pick up the phone and eventually stumble into my office, or just come into the confessional on a Saturday afternoon. They bring stories of brokenness and struggle, of hurt and rejection. Sometimes I find myself apologizing for the damage done to them by other priests and church leaders. Then I pray for whoever would meet those I might damage in my carelessness and pride. Sometimes they come acknowledging their mistakes, hoping the door is still open. And when I can extend to them a heartfelt welcome, a willingness to walk the journey ahead with them, and sacramental absolution for their sins, I am filled with awe and wonder.
The church gives us this season of Advent as a time of waiting. But we do not wait in idleness. We wait in readiness, alert for God who accomplishes amazing things. We wait with eager longing and expectation. God is bringing about awesome deeds in our own lives, such deeds as we could never hope for or imagine. We might imagine God is angry with us because of our sinfulness, as we read in Isaiah. Yet we know God is our Father. “We are the clay and you are the potter. We are the work of your hands.”
St. Paul reminds us that God has enriched us in every way, so that we are not lacking in any spiritual gifts as we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. “God will keep [us] firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him [we] were called to fellowship with his Son.” How then can we be fearful? We might not know the time of his return, but why would we fear one who has given us great evidence of his love?
This Advent season, I invite us to prepare with joy and eager longing for God to accomplish something amazing in our lives. If we are alert and ready, if we await with joy, we might be more attentive to hear God call us to a transforming and renewing change. We might feel his touch more acutely in the suffering and hurt of those in need. And we might see his face more easily in the awesome wonders unfolding around us each day. God is doing amazing things all around us. But are we even paying attention?
Rolo B Castillo © 2014