It's part of my responsibility to meet with the seminarians one-to-one and together as a community - a formal "business" meeting and an evening of recreation. We're in Nairobi at the formal gathering. I have given a positive, encouraging talk and feel quite satisfied with myself until, one by one, without exception the students begin a tirade of complaint and criticism - not against me directly but against our way of life.
By the time they finish I'm feeling fairly depressed and in my desperation I ask, "if it's that bad, then why are you still here; what's keeping you here?"
They ponder in silence for a while and then, one by one without exception they tell me why. The response that has stayed with me is that of Jackson from Rwanda.
Jackson was at school when a Pallottine came to talk about vocations, looking for new recruits. He read the call of Jeremiah - "before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you came to birth I consecrated you" (Jeremiah 1) - and it made a deep impression on the young man. It stirred his soul, drew him to its reality and when the priest asked who was interested in becoming a Pallottine, Jackson said yes because he wanted what he had just heard.
Amazingly, he was some time in the junior seminary when they noticed that he wasn't receiving Holy Communion and, when asked why, he announced that he was not a Christian. Nobody had thought to ask this before he joined; he never thought to tell.
So he had to leave in order prepare for Baptism before he can come back into the seminary. He's now an ordained priest.
It tells us of the positive power of the Word of God to reach into the heart of one who does not formally belong to the People of God. It tells how openess to the Word is to be found in one who has not yet come to the faith.
This is what Jesus is suggesting in Luke 4 when he tells his listeners how God in the past reached out to those who were not of the Jewish faith, that those on the "outside" are often better able to accept and receive what God is offering. so, those who, a while earlier, were full of admiration for Jesus, suddenly turned against him to the point that they wanted to kill him. The ficklenss of the human person! The disgruntled who complain when things do not go their way, when Jesus doesn't give them what they want, when he challenges them.
The students in Nairobi were disgruntled and they had allowed themselves to sink down into a life-draining dissatisfaction, a distructive complaining. Fortunately, the question I asked them prompted them to look again at their life and to recognise that all was not as bad as they realized. In looking again they discovered the positive word that lifted them up and in sharing it they touched each other's lives in a very positive way. Jackson had us rolling round the place laughing.
Complaining can become a habit, a soul destroying habit.
It is vital to remain connected to who we are in God, drawing life from the mystery - "before I formed you in the womb I knew you" - that our life goes much further back than our conception and it's interesting that when we are discussing when human life begins we seem to forget this essential aspect of our existence. Somehow, we exist for God & in God before ever we are conceived.
I've just turned 58 and I love my age. But I love more the idea that I go back much further than 58 or even 59 years. It's taught by one of the Fathers of the Church that long before the world was ever made God was alreday loving me, loving each one of us. And if the world came into existence in some fashion 14.5 billion years ago, then I go back even further than that, back into the eternity of God.
What's more is that the eternity in which I have always lived, from which I have come into this world - that eternity is an experience of the infinite, incomprehensible Love Who Is God; that Love which is always patient and kind, always ready to excuse and to trust, that Love that is the highest of all aspirations. Love that I know imperfectly now but which I will know as perfectly as I am known by God. It's God's infinite desire that we abide in Love, draw life from Love.
The consequence and the challenge of this eternal experience is that we allow this Love to overflow through and out of us into every place, into every person that we encounter. We have in us the capacity for infinite loving and we will not rest until loving is perfected in us.
This is the positive Word, the Good News in which our lives find fulfillment and meaning.
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