Friday, September 05, 2008

Like sands through the hourglass....

On the 30th anniversary of my becoming a Jesuit a couple of days ago, I found myself saying Mass for a handful of people in the building where my office is located. As I was looking out at the uniforms -- and ranks -- all but one of the military personnel present outranked me by at least several pay grades. Years ago, I'd probably have found that to be intimidating.

However, these days, in a situation like that, I figure it's not unlike how my friends who go to AA meetings describe the egalitarianism of recovery: the highest rank one achieves in AA is "sober." At Mass, the highest rank is "forgiven/redeemed/loved."

To that end, irrespective of a person's rank or station, when I give out Holy Communion, I ask for the person's first name -- figuring God has called each of us by name -- and address the person by his or her first name as each receives the Sacrament. I place the host in the person's hand, keeping my hand on top of the host, and look him or her in the eye as I say, "[first name], the Body of Christ." I believe that the intimacy of the moment and the relationship demands it.

(As an aside, I remember being present at a liturgy one day a few years ago in which the priest appeared to be distributing the Sacrament as if he were dealer in Vegas -- he'd actually take a number of hosts in his hand, fan them out as if they were cards, and move along the communion rail (folks in that place are back to kneeling for communion), almost tossing the hosts into the communicants' mouths with a wrist action reminiscent of upping the ante with a poker chip.

In addition to the normal act of faith associated with receiving communion that day, I had to make an act of faith that that priest believed there was something intimately sacred going on at the time....)

So this past Wednesday I had a strong sense of how odd it is that I'd be saying Mass for a bunch of military muckety-mucks on my 30th anniversary of becoming a Jesuit. Thirty years ago, as I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, there was no way I could ever have imagined that in the year 2008 I would be wearing the uniform of the United States Army, saying Mass in a foreign country -- in the middle of a war zone -- addressing the Grand Poobahs by their first names.

I joined the Jesuits in order to become the person I believe God wants me to be. Over the years I've realized that the only way for me to hang onto what graces I've been blessed with is to give freely from all that I've been given.

Service makes that a reality.

The spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola certainly encourages that, and much to my delight, my friends who go to AA and Al-Anon meetings tell me that being of service is how they stay alive, one day at a time. It seems to work on so many levels.

Since getting sober I've discovered that there are lots of ways to be of service to others.

These days, I'm attempting to be of service to women and men who have placed themselves in harm's way, because there are so few others who can or will do so. Who knew 30 years ago that this desire would bring me, in my dotage, to the cradle of civilization at a time when so much incivility reigns?

Yet in the midst of war's mayhem and fear, I've found cause for hope, and have seen how my experience can benefit others. My friends who go to AA meetings tell me that's one of their "Promises" coming true in my life. Hooray for the Higher Power

God has a very weird sense of humor, indeed, and for the last 30 years of that, I am speechless with gratitude.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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