Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the October 16, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
When I conduct baptism preparation class in the parish, I usually arrange a table at the front of the room with a display of the expected items: A Bible; a large bowl, generously filled with water; a vial of Sacred Chrism, and another vial of Oil of Catechumens; a large baptism candle; and a more-than-infant-size white baptismal garment. The obvious references to each of these items come up in the course of the evening’s presentation and conversation.
On one corner of the table I intentionally place a Catholic calendar – that 12-page communicator of where we are in the measure of the Earth’s cycle around the sun, and of the moon’s cycle around us. It also serves as the bearer of information of where the Church is on any given day in the celebration of its major seasons of Lent/Easter and Advent/Christmas – and where any particular saint’s memorial might claim our attention. Like a crucifix in the family room, there should be one such calendar hanging somewhere in the den or kitchen of every Catholic family!
I start the session with what seems like a distracted thought. Displaying the calendar and thumbing through its pages, I comment how fleetingly we live without much reflection on what we do as we fill the little date boxes with obligations and appointments of one kind or another. Then I focus the night’s discussion, asking the parents what dreams they have for their children, what they want them to get out of life as they fill up multiple calendars which will measure the life of their little one. Why do they want to have their child baptized?
After hearing the sometimes nervous responses like “I want my kid to be a National Soccer Champion!” or “My daughter is going to be a concert pianist like me!” I press for a deeper reflection. Parents then realize that they obviously want more for their child than good jobs, successful careers, athletic achievements, or overflowing bank accounts.
One night a mother surprised me with her response: “I want my child to grow up healthy and strong and to do God’s will, even to become a saint!” Now, this was not a woman who was playing the priest with a correct answer. I knew her from her engagements in the life of the parish and I could testify that her piety did not camouflage a fear of facing the real world. She herself was a very successful business woman and, as evidenced by her life of prayer and service of others, was a solid citizen in the Kingdom of God. In 40 years of priestly ministry I have yet to hear a response that cut to the point more directly and sincerely. She had wonderful dreams for her child, but those dreams reached beyond the categories our culture instills in our hearts.
Such a response drew me back to the bishop who ordained me to the priesthood. Bishop Bernard Topel’s screechy prophet-like voice used to constantly remind young and old alike that their “first vocation in life was to become a saint and to do God’s will.” Those were the days when people thought that only priests and Religious had to struggle with doing God’s will. The bishop’s point was well made – and remains a valuable quip. Every baptized person is called to holiness and the fulfillment of God’s will.
It could be argued what images or notions lie behind a phrases like “to do God’s will.” Mine used to be that God had everyone’s purpose in life written on a blackboard which hung on the wall just inside the Pearly Gates of heaven. And I used to live with the fear that, once I got there and met St. Peter (the proverbial gate keeper) I would discover to my astonishment that my real vocation in life was to be a truck driver and not a priest!
We correctly should toss out of mind any idea that our lives are predestined in such a fashion, impersonally written into God’s cosmic calendar. God’s will for each of us is that we flourish and excel as true sons and daughters, becoming the best person each of us can become as we make our choices in life. That means millions of free-will decisions on our part. It also means that we constantly ask ourselves the question: How should I live this day? What must I do to be faithful to who I am?
Yet who I am always lies ahead of me, in mystery and invitation. The path of self-discovery continues until the day I die. The pursuit of money, success and career is but a partial answer to the fundamental question of faithfulness to one’s self. In fact, as we know so sadly, the blind pursuit of these things actually can destroy our very inner being, our soul. Do we not hear echoed here the Lord’s caution: “What do people gain if they win the world and lose their very self in the process?” Do we not all know how capable we are filling up our calendars with the most senseless (and sometimes even sinful) pursuits?
Our contemporary culture, with its preoccupation with consumerism and image, constantly tempts us away from God’s will and, thus, away from being faithful to who we are as sons and daughters. We lose our way and we lose our dignity. We lose our happiness. People who are truly happy seem to be in touch with the dynamic of God’s goodness welling up within them. Sometimes it amazes even them how God’s will is unfolding within them, and they seem to cherish it. In their detachment from the things of this world is found a marvel that speaks to that quiet space within each of our hearts, reminding us that that same happiness is within our reach as well. Bishop Topel was correct: Our first and fundamental vocation in life is indeed to do God’s will.
In a significant way, the path of Christian Initiation, which begins with baptism, continues under the guidance of the Spirit, and is nourished by the Eucharist, turns from one calendar page to another, until, for most people, the years become decades. In the end, what matters is not what has filled the multiplicity of days, but Who has filled them with meaning and purpose.
For a scarce few, one of the boxes on a Catholic Calendar indicates the universal Church’s acclaim of a life well-lived in God’s will: Sainthood! For the rest of us…. Well, who knows? The last time I counted, there were nearly 150 blank days in the calendar waiting for our names. “Never,” we say! Well, at least we might want to take a look to see whose name is written on Nov. 1. Will it include us someday?
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Rosalia and St. John, and administrator of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney. He also serves the diocese as vicar general and moderator of the curia.)
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