Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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Spirituality: Who's pushing whom?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the May 2, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
Someone asked me the other day what it felt like to be a priest these days. There was a self-righteous teasing tone to the question, given the current sexual abuse cover-up scandal in parts of the Church. I think my inquirer expected me to respond, "I feel like putting a bag over my head." But I didn't. I mumbled something innocuous and changed the subject.
Later that evening, as I relaxed in front of the boob tube, the question edged its way back into my mind. What does it really feel like these days to be a priest? As I mused my fingers did a little channel surfing. By chance I happened across a brief commercial which captured my attention and caused me to blurt out, "Yes, that's it! That's what it feels like to be a priest!"
The commercial was designed very cleverly. It focused on car transmissions - that part of the beast which transfers the engine's power to the wheels on the road. If this part of the car is afoul, the driver is in for some big problems. The commercial opened with a full-screen portrayal of an elderly man who is trying to drive his car with all the due attention such a responsibility deserves. The car, however, is lurching back and forth - obviously having some engine problems. The man himself seems oblivious to the serious nature of the situation. After all, he is making forward progress. He merely adapts to the situation - clutching the steering wheel with both hands for balance and control. The voice-over identifies the need for the man to get to a local transmission mechanic before he has to start relying on another source of power to push him along. Then the camera pans to a broader view, showing how serious the problem has become. The engine is not working at all. His forward motion is provided by his elderly wife, who is nudging the car along with her walker! Finding even that inadequate, she reverses her body position and starts bouncing the car along with her bum!
I rolled in laughter. Yes, that's it! That's exactly what it feels like to be a priest these days! So often you feel like the little old lady trying to push an oblivious congregation into a vision of God's goodness and life. After all, what priest worth his salt does not yearn to see his people alive and dancing with the joy of the Good News of Jesus' Resurrection? The frequently blank faces and lack of enthusiasm for the Gospel, the constant need to appeal for increased funding, the pleading for participation in adult ed classes, Bible study, faith sharing or this or that program - all these add up to clerical exhaustion because of the need to push, push, push, push - and even give the occasional extra shove.
As I was reveling in such a delightful image, an old Latin phrase curiously plunged into my consciousness: "Nemo dat quod non habet" - "No one gives what they don't have." Drilled into us students by our seminary professors, I knew instantly what the Spirit was prompting. My attitude of judgment quickly turned to self-criticism. "And what about you? What does Jesus feel like these days with you?" My chortling turned solemn reflection! Oops! Who was pushing whom?
The Easter season is a perfect time for a transmission fix. The wheels of our lives are constantly traversing life, carrying us from one busy responsibility to another. Things can be going so successfully that we think that we are doing everything under our own power. But where are we going in such a hurry? And why are we headed there?
There is indeed a certain momentum to a busy life that carries us along - at least, for a while. Our inner spirit can be failing and we are totally oblivious. We presume that we are our own energy source and masters of our many activities. But every once in a while (if our inner self is sufficiently attentive) we become aware of the ultimate emptiness of it all. Or at times, we sense that life merely lurches along. Something seems not to be connecting properly. Something deep down seems to be wrong. If that be the case, chances are that our transmission is out of whack. That deeper part of us where God's grace and the thrill of life connect needs a fix.
The Scripture readings during this season are not a commercial, but they are a clarion summons to take our car to the mechanic of the Gospel. "Jesus, the Crucified One, is not dead but alive!" the Church announces afresh these days. The Risen Lord himself is the source of our life, direction and power. The life of the community of believers is not dependent upon its own cleverness and programs. The Church and anyone who takes seriously the Risen Lord's challenge to faith do not move by their own mechanics. As we pray often at Mass, "All life, all holiness, come from God by the working of the Holy Spirit." If we find ourselves merely lurching along through life - oblivious to the disconnected mess within - it truly is time t head back to the only Mechanic who can set things right.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish, Spokane. Harcourt Religion Publishers has issued his book Catholics Believe.) (Download order form in pdf format)
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