Conference: Columbus, Ohio OCDS February 12, 1991. Fr. William Healy
Not long ago you received the blessing of St. Blaise, and tonight you received the ashes. The blessing of St. Blaise was given to you, and your throats were blessed...and the prayer that was uttered over you was:
Through the intersession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be delivered from every disease of the throat and from every other evil.
This is the negative part. As a Carmelite, you are to have a positive part...and the positive part is this: through you, St. Blaise, I thank God for my throat, for everything that passes through my lips, for all that I'm able to consume or to drink, and for every word that's uttered...I render thanks. In giving this thanks, you'll find peace within yourself. Your Carmelite spirituality is Eucharistic, and the word Eucharist is [means] "thanksgiving". You and I, then, are to thank God for each moment of life...for each day as it unfolds...for each minute is witnessed by God. John of the Cross centers all of his teaching on this one principle: God is conserving me from minute to minute. Its up to me to accept this truth and to live it in His company. I'm to share each experience with Him.
So, tonight you received the ashes. Old-fashioned that I am, I used the old formula: remember man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
The negative part? In preparation for death I shall live in fear and trembling.
The positive part, which you should entertain in you own meditation: I acknowledge, oh God, that from dust I came, and unto dust I shall return, but if I put the dust in the hands of an All-powerful Father, who is the Creator, in the truest sense of the word, He can make something out of nothing!
He has seen fit, and each one of you can say this, to make me as I am. Therefore, I must be worth something to Him. It therefore makes no difference how I began [life], oh God. The beautiful part is, its You who preserve me from day to day, as I fulfill my vocation, and then, in Your own good time, You're going to call me back to see You, face to face. That's why we stress living one moment at a time, and living it completely in the presence of God, Who saw fit to make you, and Who conserves you, truthfully, from moment to moment.
St. John of the Cross paraphrases, then, the thought of Augustine, who says: God's interest in me , and God's love for me is as personal and as intimate as if I were the only one He ever made,for God does not divide His love, and God does not divide His interest. That's the reason you're asked to have your half-hour of prayer- -to absorb this truth...not in any pietistic way, but to receive, gratefully, the love God has for you. And what you do, in turn, is to give that love to every person you meet. Where there isn't any love, put love, and you'll find love, said [St.] John, and that's your mission and mine in life.
We're not meant to go through our vocations without suffering, for there is not a vocation in life that doesn't bring with it its problems. Suffering, however, is not a problem to be solved. Suffering is a mystery to be lived with.
Jesus Christ did not come to eradicate suffering. He came to show us that, since it makes its appearance into this earth, and on this world, the Father does not get a thrill out of watching you suffer, out of watching your tears and broken heart- -these things may come because of nature, misunderstandings and death of other people. What He does ask of you, and He does ask of me is despite the pain, and despite the anguish...I should say, with the pain and the anguish, we turn the emotions and give them toward the heavenly Father as Jesus did in the course of His lifetime.
The Book of Job tries to deal with the problem of suffering more than any other book in the Bible except the New Testament. At first, Job is rebelling. Job, at the end of it, says,
Naked I came into the world, and naked I shall leave it, for the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away...
As a Carmelite, you take that last part and change it. I repeat it. The words are, "The Lord giveth [and] the Lord taketh away". For you and for me, that last part is: the Lord receiveth...in other words, you give back to Him instead of His taking anything...you give Him the offer, and He will accept it as it comes from you.
That is the real meaning of suffering. It means facing an opposition, a challenge, which in your faith you believe is witnessed by God, and despite all of the inconvenience, the pain and the anguish, you give it back to Him. That's the story of Job, and that is the story of Jesus Christ.
As soon as you mention suffering as far, as the master is concerned, Jesus...you immediately think of the Garden of Gethsemene or you think of the Cross on Calvary's heights, but you're forgetting the other parts...the denial of Peter, the betrayal of Judas, the hatred of the Phrasees, the misunderstanding by His own relatives and friends. He lived with these situations, and when He said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," He's asking you and He's asking me to make an offer of each situation as it arises in our lives ...our joys, our sorrows, our successes and failures...all of these God is willing to accept and to bless us, if only we will make the sacrifice of offering ourselves to Him.
Parenthetically, before I continue, all of us are concerned, naturally, about the situation in the Persian Gulf, but the best thing that you and I can do, by the Doctrine of the Communion of the Saints, and by the Doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, is to live our vocation as completely as possible, and ask God to accept it...and the world will be blessed because of it. This is the result your Baptism, and the profession you'll make as a Carmelite. You have everything to live for!
Examples? ...I remember a chaplain who said,
"I have faced many deathbeds, and each person dies uniquely and singularly. No two people," he said, " I have seen die alike."
" On this particular night I was at home when I heard the telephone with its screechy ring...I knew that it was going to be a death because of the ungodly hour of the morning. And when I went to the phone, I recognized the little lady I always call, 'Grandma,' and she said, ' Katie, my granddaughter, has just died. Please come and pray for her.'
I didn't know whether to be sorrowful or to be relieved because I was constantly approaching her as many times as I possibly could, Kathy, in her illness- -a little five year old girl stricken with leukemia. I was wondering what I was going to say on behalf of that child to console the grandmother.
So all I could think of was, 'Thank God for the time you had her, for the love that she gave to you, and for the sacrifices and love you gave to her because these things, before the throne of God, will never be forgotten. Your acts of charity will be forever remembered in the celestial kingdom.'
And that's the way it works with each of you. Don't take life for granted! The purpose of your mental prayer in the morning is: fill me with an appreciation for this day which you, my God, saw fit to give me. It is another resurrection in which I come back to a new life. And when my work is finished, and I go back to my bed, it is a preview of my going to rest when my pilgrimage is over and my toil has been finished. That's the reason you and I have embraced Carmel...and we give that spirit to others. Charity, then, and the expression of it in your love, speaks more than any words I could utter because in your charity and your love you find the presence of the Trinity in each person that you meet, and that's what the Gospel is all about...the love of God, and the love of neighbor.
So, I like to think of John Powell. He is a Jesuit who taught at Lyola University in Chicago. I will use his story (and any defects in the narration will not be attributed to John Powell!).
"Twelve years ago", he said, "I started a course in the 'Theology of Faith' at our university. I watched each of the students file into my classroom, one, by one, and then, to my horror, surprise, and amazement, I found Tommy. Tommy was combing his flaxen hair which was six inches longer than his shoulders. I have never seen such a hairdo in my life and I tr ied to console myself that its not what's on his head that counts, but what's in it! But, I didn't succeed because I classified him anyway with a big, 'S', for 'strange'.
As it turned out, Tommy became the "atheist resident" of my class. He criticized everything I said...turned against me completely, because he could not understand the existence of an all -powerful and an all-loving Father. So, he was my adversary.
At the end of the course, when the examination was given, he came up to my desk and he put his paper on the desk. He said to me, 'Father, do you think I will ever find God?' I said emphatically, 'No, Tommy. You will never find God.' He said, '...but isn't that the product you're trying to sell?' He walked about five paces from me and I repeated, 'Tommy, you will never find God...but God certainly will find you!'
I thought he went out of the door...he didn't hear me after my wonderful sentence.
It happened that Tommy was graduated. I didn't hear any more from him until the time of graduation. Then I heard he had terminal cancer. One day he surprised me. He came back to see me.
'Father,' he said, 'do you remember your statement when I was leaving the room? 'Tommy, you will never find God, but God certainly will find you...' (I was tickled to death that he remembered the last part).
'Tom,' I said, 'how does it feel to know you're going to die at the age of twenty-four?'
He said, 'Not too bad...people die at the age of fifty...perhaps their only ideal in life was women, money...and there's not much to it. At my age, I guess its not too bad to die.'
'You remember, Father, you also said, "the essential sadness in life is living without loving?." And, you said that the essential sadness in life equal to the statement I just uttered is living without expressing your love or your loved one?.'
When I heard that I had terminal cancer I banged on the bronze doors of heaven until my hands were bloody, but there was no response. Then I thought that I'd try the last part: the essential sadness in life was not expressing you love for others.
So, my first victim was my dad...I went down while he was reading the paper.
"Ah, dad...I 'd like to talk to you..."
Without lowering the paper he said, "go ahead..."
"Dad...its very important...I want to talk to you." So, he lowered the paper about three inches. He said, "What is it?"
I said, "I just want to tell you, I love you." With that, the paper dropped from him, onto the floor, and he embraced me. Its the first time my father ever cried. We talked together the entire night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.
Later on, I went to my mother. It was comparatively easy to say, 'I love you,' and then to say it to my little brother. But, after I performed this, God came to me!'
God is love, personified. When we express our love for others we are sharing and giving some of the love God has for us as individuals. And in so doing he experienced a peace which only God could give him.
"Tommy," I said, "when you were in my class you were a pain in the neck, but if you'll come back and tell my class what you just told me, it will be more worthwhile than my saying it at all.
He said, "I didn't intend to come to face a class..."
"But will you do it for me?"
So, he said he would. We even made a date when he was going to appear before the class to tell the story. As the day approached, he said, "Father, I'm not going to make it." The angel of death took him, and he went back to his real and lasting home.
So, I say, "Tommy, I told the story as well as I could, but from your place in heaven, please remember me."
Now , I get back to you. If there should ever have been a sad man on the face of the earth it should have been John of the Cross. His father married, beneath his dignity, a person of a lower class. Because he did this, all inheritence went away. He was looked on as an outcast by his family. He was reduced to absolute poverty. He helped his mother with sewing, I believe. Then, God called him at an early age. The mother tried to receive help from the family. She knocked from door to door, but they all said, "nothing doing...we don't help you because you're just not family."
The next point, John worked in a hospital under the most unsanitary conditions...people with venereal disease...
[But] This is the way he reasoned: I saw love manifested in my father, who was willing to give up everything to marry my mother. I saw the love in my mother who worked for us and slaved for us that we might have our livelihood. I saw in each body in the hospital the product of the love of God the Father who saw fit to make each one. So, his whole doctrine is a doctrine of love...and that's his message for you. Despite his imprisonment, despite the maltreatment he received from the friars of the Ancient Observance, and worse from his own brothers in the discalced Carmelites, he never gave up...for everything happens according to a purpose and a plan. It is my God who conserves me, minute to minute, but if I would just offer each circumstance to Him, life is worthwhile. I will come to union with Him, and I will teach others to come to union with Him no matter what their vocations may be.
So, in closing (I like to say that so you'll know there's an end in sight!) I pass on to you...I cannot overemphasize or exaggerate what each one of you can do to make the world better because you're in it, and to make life more interesting because you share it with God, who saw fit to make you, as you are, and to give you your faith to become a Carmelite.
God bless you.
This transcript is Copyright, 2001, OCDS Community, Columbus, Ohio.