Tonight I will head to Mass. Every year as I enter the church on the Saturday Vigil Mass prior to the first Sunday of Advent, I am reminded of a momentous event, now twenty years ago.
I went back to the church when I was sober 7 years. That alone is a whole story, but I will spare you here. It was not something I ever thought would happen, it wasn’t anything I even WANTED to happen. But happen it did, thanks be to God.
It took a full two years for me to muster up the courage to go to confession and try to re-enter the church by its terms, not mine. I walked into that church on that Saturday afternoon. I was not mindful of the liturgical calendar, so I was surprised by the purple and the beautiful darkness of the church. After waiting in a long line, I entered the confessional and simply said to the priest “I am returning to the church after 25 years, I have no idea what to do.” He said “Take a deep breath, and then pass out.” I had to laugh. I chose to sit in front of him and make my confession. I told him that for all those years I had denied my Catholicism, sometimes going as far as to deny God. I told him that for me to deny Catholicism was to deny who I am as a person. He talked about the readings for the first Sunday in Advent that year, about the potter and the clay. It was all perfect.
I left that confessional knowing that I was loved and forgiven by God. I stayed at church and prayed and later went to Mass and received Holy Communion! It was like a dream. I had been estranged from my true home for so long. As I drove home, I said a prayer of gratitude, and for the first (and last) time in my life, I thanked God that I am an alcoholic. In the elation of that moment, it seemed that my alcoholism and sobriety were what brought me to that point. And that point felt like a pinnacle.
I am still grateful. I am grateful for the fact that I can evolve in my faith and find great teachers along the way. I have learned so much in the last year from a young pastor from Peru. Many startling revelations have come to me from his homilies. That was not something I ever expected.
Just a few weeks ago, his words settled something that has disturbed me for at least 10 years. Why, oh why am I working so hard to keep myself afloat when I should be doing something for God? Something more meaningful? Something that felt more like a “calling?” I heard words to the effect that we do everything for God. We do everything with great love. We all do what we do, it is what makes the world go ’round. I am doing something that is important to some of the “least of our brethren.” I don’t know what could be better than that.
We are truly blessed to be in a time when our Church leadership has passed from one of the great intellects of the 20th Century to a new kind of leadership. A Servant Leadership. It is a radical departure. It is shaking up a lot of people. I have to admit that I am one of those. It is good to be shaken. We can get too comfortable if not.
Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction,” they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith. — Pope Francis