Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Twelve Years

The readings during Eastertide have showcased the disciples' difficulty in recognizing the Risen Lord. Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener when he appears to her in the empty tomb. Thomas is highly skeptical until he puts his hand in the wounds in Jesus' hands and side. The disciples don't recognize Jesus on the beach until they cast their nets and lug them out of the water heavy with fish--153 of them, to be exact. What is extraordinary about these stories is that the experience of new life is greeted initially with uncertainty, and even suspicion. Instead of shouting the good news from the rooftops, everyone is a little tentative. Haziness and confusion surround the truth of Jesus' resurrection. No one seems to see what's right in front of their eyes. Saul of Tarsus, as a matter of fact, emerges from his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus blind as a bat, completely helpless and vulnerable. 

Last Sunday, as I stood at the altar celebrating Mass, I was also celebrating the 12th anniversary of my baptism, recalling my own experience of profound vulnerability in the chilling water of the font. Like Saul, I had assumed a new identity. I hadn't, of course, been in the middle of a murderous rampage when the call to follow Jesus came, but it was no less transformative for me. It was a pivotal step in a lifelong struggle to know God that has always been characterized by failures, mistakes, and cluelessness, as well as grace. For twenty years, I walked away from God out of hurt and anger, and I languished in my perception of his absence. Maybe it's good to have time to cool off, so that when God calls again, we are receptive to the divine urging. That's what happened to me. Fr. Steve Martz asked me one Sunday, "are you not receiving communion because you're not baptized?" I responded, "yes," "Well, would you like to be?" he continued. "Yes," I said without skipping a beat, shocking myself. "Now, where did that come from?" I puzzled. I had been sought; and I had been claimed. I knew that God was speaking to me the first time I heard in the hymn that "Jesus sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God; he to rescue me from danger interposed his precious blood." 

And I was rescued. Twelve years ago I wouldn't have thought it possible that I would spend my time the way I do. My baptism ultimately led to a new life that has given me so many moments of joy and fulfillment. In the past few days, I have celebrated the Eucharist in my parish and in the chapel of our cathedral, offered counsel to people struggling with homelessness and spiritual barrenness, enjoyed the preaching voices of some really insightful parishioners, and shared coffee with friends learning about their vocations. I have also continued to learn about myself, about my own tentativeness and blindness, about the ways I fail to see both the crucified and risen Jesus around me. I think we spend our whole lives trying to know Jesus better. It begins in baptism, in promising to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." And in repentance, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, serving Christ in all persons, and respecting the dignity of every human being. It is in doing these things that we like Peter attempt to convince Jesus, "you know, Lord, that I love you." It is a daunting and overwhelming call, but I am thankful for the 12 years that I have been saddled with it. Thank you, Lord, for the grace of a new life, and thanks to the many people that have helped me shoulder the burden along the way. I am truly grateful. I pray that you will be there for me for another 12 years, as I will try to be there for you.

Easter joy and blessings,
Fr. Ethan+

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