It’s not particularly easy to offer this as the “final post” of this Blog. This is number 85 since the blog “Catholic Freedom” began in November 2011. For me, it has been a joy not only on my part to share some thoughts and experiences on how God wishes each of us Catholics were more free than we are, but through your Comments (published) and communications (unpublished, but much appreciated) to be enlightened by your spiritual wisdom. It was envisioned as a shared “journey” and I believe it indeed has been such.
This year brings my Fiftieth Anniversary of ordination to priesthood and some people have been kind enough to ask what are the most important things I’ve learned. Other than “don’t badger people for being habitually late for Mass”, a couple of thoughts do come to mind.
Imagine we’re at a gathering and I see someone across the room whom I don’t know. When I ask someone next to me “Who is that person over there?”, he replies “It’s a friend of God’s.” That’s the number one most important thing I’ve learned in fifty years of being a priest. Everyone, everywhere, all the time, is a “friend of God’s”. Whether or not they realize it; perhaps, whether or not they care. God cares. (Jn 15,15) I find myself most free, most holy, most kind, most peaceful, when I treat, and greet, every other person as a friend of God’s. Because they are.
The second most important thing I’ve learned with the help of the Spirit (and I hope there are even more than two!), is the genuine and deep “goodness of every person”. I just wish I had learned it more toward the beginning of my service as a priest. But, like almost everyone else, I didn’t go any deeper into a “problemed person” than to accept them as they appeared: their smug, self-centered, dismissive attitude, their hateful and destructive actions, their appalling treatment of human life, their thievery, envy, lying, phoniness — their evil.
At some point, the Spirit reminded me that each person was created in the image and likeness of God — and God loves them even NOW, unconditionally. Would I too continue to be repulsed by “the least of my brethren”? Had I wasted enough of my life trying to find “justifications/rationalizations” to excuse my neglecting them? Though my love would not be profound enough to touch the goodness hidden so very deep in their core/heart, could I wreath their memory in a hopeful prayer? Who is hurting that I am not hurting?
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Is there some “unfinished” business which — even after my so very limited 85 Posts — that I would like for us to consider? With all the wisdom and creativity applied to the world’s and the Church’s problems by myriad scholars as well as by simple people with profound “common sense”, a few “directions” occur to me — hoping for a clearer path toward what may be the truth we are called to know.
End of Life Issues – We must not cling to physical life as though we are deeply afraid of death. Death is a part of living. Though we usually fear any “unknown”, there is One we follow, love, and believe in Who has experienced death, conquered it, and now waits for us to join him in living forever. Live life to the fullest we are able but, when the time to die presents itself avoid extreme means to preserve a merely “physical” existence: avoiding suicide or euthanasia, accept means to avoid unnecessary suffering, and remember that at the very moment that ends this phase of our time on earth, God will welcome and greet us with “God’s kiss of life”.
Sexuality – Where do we begin? The Church’s teaching service to help us apply the Gospel Values to our daily lives should rightly encompass the following: our sexuality is one of God’s many gifts to the human person; just as with power, intelligence and many other gifts, sexuality should be used for love, enjoyment, self-giving, and life-giving (not only for procreating children, but also for the ones who love one another); truth, never lying, helps fulfill and enhance sexual relationships; true sexuality directs us toward the other and cares for ourselves and others as often vulnerable persons; actions which may result in pregnancy are highly irresponsible if they might lead to taking an innocent human life; the expressions of our sexuality, as with any gift, need to be “unwrapped” — growing continually in understanding, maturity, forgiveness, and healing. We must walk with one another, communicating knowledge and the experience of believers who have gone before us — their and our successes and failures. Then our decisions must reflect our conscience in seeking the truth of which we are capable, always loving both ourselves and others. That is all the Church should do — help everyone to understand well the deep meaning and the challenging practice of those values. Enough of “proclaiming ‘absolute truths'” implying an omniscient and uncomplicated certainty — standing apart and judging rather than walking with the person as s/he struggles. Instead, we have always settled for declaring the “Rules”. Just “rules”, as we have seen for centuries, rarely accomplish anything positive.
Let us pray for one another — that we become, as Catholics, more free. God bless you.