God’s Spirit in Chaos & Consolation
Last weekend, several priests throughout our diocese announced to their people that Bishop Knestout was sending them to new pastoral assignments and new parishes. Many who were sitting in the pews were probably caught by surprise, shocking some, possibly pleasing others. I heard from a couple of affected parishioners voicing their distress. But I assure you the priests themselves knew long before. Some of them even shared that they had received their letters from the bishop. If my previous experience is any indication, there would have been a period of discernment and a few conversations with the priest personnel committee. Ultimately, it is the bishop who appoints us to assist him in specific roles as pastors, parochial vicars, administrators, chaplains, and sacramental ministers in specific parishes, schools, ministries, and offices. And no, I did not have any of those conversations. Nor did I receive that letter. The new assignments go into effect on Monday, July 1. Until then, there will be tearful goodbyes and cursory promises to stay in touch. We know how it works. We’ve done it before, whether we were the ones leaving or the ones getting left behind. And in no time at all, new routines are established, people get back in their groove, and life rolls merrily along.
Whenever the ground shifts beneath our feet, whether literally or figuratively, we experience all kinds of anguish and distress. This week we will be sending home to God three longtime parishioners at funeral masses on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We can imagine their surviving spouses and families are badly shaken at their passing, their world upended as by some terrible cataclysm. But in the weeks ahead, they will return to their familiar lives, to nurture their families, to face new adventures.
By now we have all heard of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach last weekend, and the devastating floods in the Midwest the past few weeks. And even if we are not personally affected, we cannot be unmoved by the pain and anguish and distress of the communities concerned. This past Friday the free world commemorated the 75thanniversary of the allied invasion of Normandy and the end of the war in Europe. Even after 75 years from the actual event, it still strikes deep, evokes strong emotions, even from people who weren’t there. Not literally earthquakes, but events such as these will cause the ground we stand on to shift. We might panic, react irrationally, and say or do things impulsively. But we will also grab hold of anything within reach to stay upright, maintain balance, regain stability and focus, and survive past it.
Pentecost was such a tremendous upheaval for the community of Jesus’ disciples and closest followers. While they waited in Jerusalem for the Advocate Jesus spoke of, the promise of the Father, they really had no clue what was about to happen. The recent events surrounding Jesus’ passion and death were still painfully fresh in their memory. It did give them some measure of comfort that he appeared to them a few times to tell them he was alive. But they still met behind closed doors for fear of the authorities who put Jesus to death. The steady stable ground they instinctively relied on had shifted. There was still a lot of tension in the air, and they still had not regained their balance.
We often say we prefer a life that is calm, predictable, and completely subject to our control. But in truth, that would be absolutely boring. Besides, there is no such thing. That’s because the very things we love dearly in this life tend to entangle us in chaos, confusion, anguish, and distress. Our natural desire to know and possess what is noble and good, like love and beauty and wonder and happiness opens us to a world of disappointment and rejection and sadness and loss. Life is about navigating in a river of many possibilities and risks. Staying alert and cautious prepares us to face the unexpected and the unknown. But we can still enjoy the ride. And if we didn’t know that going in, we discover it soon enough. We take vacations, go on adventures, and try new restaurants. It makes sense that we are somewhat prepared. We have reasonable expectations. We know when it begins and when it ends. Our uncertainty is temporary. And life returns to normal, or at least something fairly predictable and manageable.
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church is both rational and mysterious at the same time, comforting and challenging, reliable and unpredictable. For instance, we embrace truth revealed to us in sacred scripture. And our religious traditions give us a knowledge of God that appears consistent and coherent. But despite all our knowledge and certainty of God, we do not control God. God cannot be confined by those whom God created. We will need to make room for God who is mystery and wonder and awe.
If we want to hear God’s voice, we will need to learn the art of discernment. We trust that the Holy Spirit speaks through our legitimate pastors. But even they will need to consult and listen and discern. As members of the community of the baptized, we also will need to consult and listen and discern. At times we might seek consensus on an issue. At times we might vote. Ultimately, decisions will be made within their proper competencies. And always, always, we are consulting and listening and discerning.
On occasion the solid ground we stand on will shift and shake. It is immensely helpful to resist the urge to panic and give in to conspiracy theories. Instead, we would be better off calm and practical and systematic, and attempt to discover God’s design in mystery and wonder and awe. We need to realize that God accomplishes his most holy will with or without our approval or assistance. If we want to place ourselves at God’s disposal, we will need to be open to God’s lead, God’s preferences, God’s ways. I know it would be extremely helpful to know at all times what to expect from God, how God thinks, and what God asks of us. Markers and signs abound in the scriptures we read today, if only we pay close attention. Jesus says, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. … Yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.”
Experienced navigators who take a vessel on any river will possess a measure of wisdom and insight about the river and its ways. But those who are truly wise will always admit they are constantly learning, that they never have all the answers. The Holy Spirit is God’s awesome and powerful presence always with us, helping us navigate the great river that is life. We may be fearful at times because of the chaos and confusion, the inconvenience and pain. But our fear is irrelevant. If we trust the Lord Jesus, we can trust his Spirit whom the Father sends to lead us safely home to himself. And we will always be ready for when the bishop decides to send us a new pastor.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019
John 14: 23-24