Friday, January 4, 2013

My 50th Birthday: Surprised by Gratitude

Some "dead soldiers" (and some still living) from my 50th birthday party.
Looks like seltzer was popular. Of the food there is not a crumb left!
January 2, 2013 has come and gone. I more than survived it. It was an occasion of joy and gratitude.

My beloved Eileen put together a simple and intimate party with just my brother and a few friends: people who have been walking the road with me for more than 30 years. There was food and conversation, sharing of memories and expression of hopes. The kids were with us too. It was a happy time.

We had beer and wine, but as crafted beverages, taken in very modest quantities. This is how old folks party. This is how we roll.

I enjoyed a quiet time all day, but the beginning made a deep impression in me. It was a specially blessed time, a "birthday gift" I suppose, and it was a surprise. Remembering Christ is always a surprise.

I got up early in the morning, rubbed my eyes and vegetated for a few minutes (like every other morning), and then remembered the existence of God. So I started to pray, and I was drawn to thank God for my life. I felt as if I didn't have a heart big enough to contain the gratitude that spilled out.

I went to the church early for Mass, said the morning prayer of the Hours, and then -- hoping there would be confession after Mass -- found myself making a pretty thorough examination of conscience. It seemed to unfold naturally and peacefully before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, without any mischief-making by the OCD gremlins in my brain. The gremlins had the day off. Instead I was drawn to a lucid gaze on this, and that, and this, and that, and it was with sorrow that I saw -- in all my circumstances -- selfishness, grasping, and pride nipping away at so many earnest and good aspirations and efforts, and defining so many others.

Yet Jesus and His mercy were there, and so I was not beating up on myself (as I am so often tempted to do). I was repenting, and placing before God my "desire for the desire" to recognize Him and love Him well, and offering everything...even the pride. Take me, Jesus, in all this mess; love me especially in those places in my heart where I don't even know I need You.

"God resists the proud" -- I know this is true, Jesus, but I'm begging You to take me with all my pride because I don't know what to do with it. Make me humble and true. It will take a miracle, but I come to You as the blind man did, begging You to give me my sight, with faith that You -- and only You -- can work this miracle in me. And I also know that even with my repeated forgetfulness and failure, the miracle is still happening. Jesus I trust in You.

It turned out there were no confessions after Mass that day. I can still go this weekend or next week, and the superabundance of His healing mercy will be given, even if I don't "feel" it then. He will complete what He has begun.

But at the moment I felt disappointed. Things weren't proceeding according to the "script" of the penitential pilgrim on his 50th birthday (oh good grief!). I was tempted to be frustrated. Its so easy to take what God gives us and turn it into a project. But oh well. There was still Jesus in the Eucharist.

Jesus in the Eucharist, really present. Jesus!

The Eucharist is the way that Jesus "takes" us and changes us. We are afflicted by those "daily sins"--the fact that they are not grave sins does not mean we should ignore them. They damage us, distort us, and render our witness opaque. They wound and cripple us; how can we recover and grow? The sacraments are remedies that heal.

The Sacraments! Jesus in the Eucharist, always with us, giving Himself to us. Thank you, Lord!

Jesus in the sacrament of Reconciliation. We bring our fractured selves and He floods us with mercy. He restores the grace of God lost by grave sin; indeed there is no sin that is too great for His mercy.

And there is strength in this mercy that shapes the heart, that renews us and draws us beyond the daily faults that hinder (even if they do not break) our relationship with Jesus. These are the sins that we acknowledge at Mass: "I have greatly sinned...through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." We need to let Him draw us close to His heart. Confession is not a burden. It is a blessing. Bring your troubled, anxious hearts to the fountain of mercy and healing. Go to Confession! Just go. Make it part of your life!

Its a tremendous thing to realize, suddenly, that we don't have to "do" this alone. Jesus is here for us. That's what the sacraments mean. We don't have to conjure up an imaginary Jesus in our minds so that we can "feel" His forgiveness and His strength. Jesus is here. He acts. He gets involved with our lives and makes things happen.

I'm 50 years old. I've had all kinds of thoughts about the challenges of this venerable age (see the previous post). But in the Eucharist I was given gratitude; I had a taste of the thanksgiving that is so much more than a polite acknowledgement, the thanksgiving that wells up in the center of life, with the awareness that I exist as a gift, in the image of God. And that Eternal Love is calling me to His embrace, in moments and gestures and words. I am not defined by my faults and limits (although, so often, it seems that way). The meaning of my life is this gentle calling, and the grace and mercy it contains.

Its not a one way relationship that I construct. In the Eucharist He gives Himself to me. If I allow Him to work in me, He will open my soul, and create in me the capacity to love Him. It is a love and a life that He gives to me.

The Eucharist. Jesus.

Thank you, Lord, for everything.