Thursday, January 04, 2007

Feast of St. Elizabeth Seton

Ah, Betty...

You'll excuse the familiarity I have with a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church, but her and I have been together for a while. Like her, I came to the Catholic Church, so to speak, "from the outside." I attended the university named after her by her nephew, Bishop James Roosevelt Bailey of the Diocese of Newark. I went to seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she lived the later part of her life and where she died. I was ordained a Deacon about 20 yards from her tomb. Betty and I are pals.

The Gospel passages we've been reading at daily Mass have been from John. Today we heard about how St. Andrew and another follower of St. John the Baptist made their first contact with Jesus Christ. It's a great story: The two guys are following Jesus, perhaps at a distance close enough to listen in on his conversations, but far enough to deny any involvement with him (something the Lord faces all too often today from some of His flock). Finally, Jesus has had enough. "What are you looking for?", he asks them. It's a great question that Jesus Christ also puts out there for us. We pray, we go to Mass, we kneel before the Blessed Sacrament, but why am I there? Habit? Routine? Another of Jesus' questions pops into our heads: "Who do you say that I am?" Have I forgotten to whom I'm speaking/praying? But back to the story. The two guys panic. Like us when we plop ourselves down in a pew and unload our laundry list of woes, they weren't expecting to be confronted by Christ "in their faces." Though we all say we'd love to have God answer our prayers, the truth is that we live in fear of God actually talking back to us. They never expected to have to explain themselves. All they could muster as a response was to answer a question with a question: "Rabbi, where are you staying?" Imagine, they're standing in front of the Son of God trying to make excuses for following him, when the answer to Jesus' question would have been, "Lord, you called us to follow, because you knew us when we were created!" Jesus invited them into his home and, for young St. Andrew, that moment made such an impact that even the very time of day was burned forever into his memory of it.

Now, the meeting also could have gone very wrong. What if Jesus spent that first meeting telling Andrew about the Passion? Or Andrew's own martyr's death years later? The poor guy might have run back to the safety of his fishing boat. Would St. Elizabeth Seton have been able to handle the whole picture of her life as a mother, widow, convert, social outcast, teacher and religious foundress all at once? Of course not. God doesn't lay out our lives all at once for us because the truth is that it would probably scare the pants off of us! Like St. Andrew, all he asks is that we 'come and see' the next step he has to offer. If God had shown me all that would happen in my life: a Catholic Priest, the host of a radio show, co-author of a book, Time Magazine's Person of the Year, I never would have believed it. Worse, I might have lived my life in fear of doing the right things so that these things would happen, constantly second-guessing every little decision I made. God knows His Priests are full of ambition with the need for affirmation. We're human beings; we can't help it. But when decisions are made based not upon whether it's the right or necessary thing to do, but whether the parishioners will come out of their coma of indifference and raise a stink, or whether newspapers or local TV stations will plaster this story all over the place, or whether this will be the topic of discussion around a lunch table in the chancery, then we've lost our focus. To extend it to the laity, do decisions get made based on whether they'll be received well by my co-workers, or with the neighbors, or simply because it'll avoid an argument between spouses or between parent(s) and child(ren)?

In today's Office of Readings for St. Elizabeth Seton's Feast, a conference she gave to her spiritual daughters gives us great advice for our lives:

"The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly, to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly, to do it because it is his will."

St. Elizabeth Seton, pray for us. Catch 'ya later, Betty!

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