Today, the pastor’s Sunday morning homily was a sharing of confidence. He talked about prayer first, and then the practical application of going beyond duty in the practice of faith. There was the Eucharist, the Mass, the Rosary. Then there was keeping in touch with younger priests, checking in to see how they are doing. And teaching which is beyond the scope of his job description. Most strikingly of all, he spoke about what happens if no one does anything. The church held the rich, full silence of listening.
It reminded me of something from the late 1980’s when New York was caught up in the first wave of clerical abuse scandal. A diminutive contemplative nun was discreet in her reaction to the unfolding events, but profound in her comments about it. “We must pray for priests. Theirs is a life, a call, we can hardly comprehend. It holds challenges that we cannot imagine, and they are subject to influences and expectations…like the people who think priests must be perfect, and their own delusions that they are…”
At the time, I had no idea that she was a spiritual director for some priests, a confidant to others. But over time, her comments seem increasingly relevant. The morning homily somehow made all that more than clear. This priest was vulnerable, confident, clear. And he was not asking for prayer for himself as much as encouraging people to find their own way in prayer and practice of faith.
Essentially, he was reminding us that as companions on the journey of life, every person bears responsibility for both prayer and practice. Instead of exploiting the power of the hierarchy, he was literally sharing the journey, the little things that make a difference to him and for him…and for others.
Catholicism is about that: finding a home in the space of a journey, nurturing it in prayer and sharing it in practice. The upheaval of government subpoenas, apologies by bishops and public shaming of the institutional church can easily bury the idea of a shared human journey, the need for prayer and the importance of practice, and the opportunities that can provide. Keeping an eye on the prize as Scripture urges means weathering the storms, but it is also an invitation to the simplicity of prayer and practice. After all, the ground-breaking in Catholicism comes from the grass-roots movements, from the ordinary persons who have the courage to become companions on the journey, and to companion others as well.
Companionship on the journey of life is a treasure, and the practice of faith makes that even more meaningful. Confiding in one another about the trials of jobs and relationships, birth of children, loss of a spouse, the tsunami of life conflicts and the slow resolution of these makes life manageable. It also reveals the compassion of God. It affirms Teresa of Avila’s sense that we are the hands and heart of Christ for one another. Sharing those moments of kneeling together before a coffin, of holding a child being baptized, of watching a First Communicant or even saying grace before meals are sacramental, broad and deep. Without the steady, purposeful and very real practice of faith and sharing on a daily basis, ritual is proforma rather than transformative. In a very real way, prayer and practice make us companions on the journey.