Sunday, April 3, 2011

Learning How to Empty Ourselves

The columnist writing on spiritual issues for the Catholic Times tells us about a priest he remembers from his days in the seminary. He was then very chubby, very spirited and very worldly-wise. When he met him recently, thin and very serene, he was surprised and somewhat worried to see him so changed.

"How come?" he asked. "Inscrutable are the ways of heaven," was his answer, explaining that he has learned what this means. The columnist was surprised to hear this from a man in his early forties who had once had an expansive view on life. This peeked his curiosity and he asked for more information.

"Brother," he said, as a priest I have  had many dreams. I had all kinds of plans and ideals lodged in my head. Every time I was assigned a new parish, I had great expectations.  However, when it came time to leave, few of my expectations had turned out the way I wanted. Almost daily, things I didn't want occurred, leaving me perplexed, but in the long run it was all for the good. During the last ten years, my heart has become bigger and more empty."

Having known him in the seminary, the columnist suggested that the reason for the change was his humility. He disagreed, saying he knew how proud he was, but now has come to a point in his life where he can empty himself, his body becoming lighter and his impetuosity diminished--adding up to more leisure. He recalled the times in his life when he lost his temper, raised his voice and lived with resentment. In trying to attain his goals all that he  succeeded in doing was to vex himself. He never achieved what he wanted, he said, and when he  did, it wore him out. He finally decided to give himself a break.

Lowering our personal expectations to achieve more, the columnist advises, may be just the kind of break we all need to become a new person. But we must stop pushing ourselves, as his seminary friend found out, to grow to this new level.

This year, in the liturgy for the scrutinies, there are lessons for the new Christians being baptized on Easter. Last Sunday we were there with the woman at the well, as she became someone quite different, a new person, after her conversation with Jesus. This Sunday we were there with the blind man who knew he was blind and received sight. And also there with those who thought they could see, but were blind.  At the  last scrutiny we are told to come out of the tomb and begin a new life--a life of grace, with its accompanying emptiness that allows God to work in us.

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