May God’s Surprises Not Go Unseen
On Monday the Eastern Province of the Passionists will come together to examine its ministry and way of life, and elect new superiors. The meeting, which occurs every four years, has on its agenda: vocations to our religious community, and our change from a large, active group of men to a smaller, aging population. It will not be an easy meeting.
Our reading from Acts today tells of Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus. In all sincerity Saul asks a question of the one whose voice he hears, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me’, he receives as answer.
It was at one of the Passionist meetings a number of years ago that I sat with the director of an AIDS Hospice that our community supported in Honduras. The youth of one of our mission parishes had worked for almost two year on a small ranch house at the end of a remote town. Just as it was ready to receive its first ill people the town rose up and at a town meeting, and with the help of the military, had the house closed. At that time AIDS was something little known and greatly feared. Fortunately, in the seclusion of the ample grounds of an orphanage a lovely house that would care for 12 people was constructed. The orphanage in time would double its number of children to near a thousand, half of them having parents who had been cared for in the hospice.
The director told me something that he had observed and learned. When a new person, man or woman, came to the hospice to live, they were met by the residents and informed that they were becoming Passionists by living there. Not associates of the Passionist Community nor friends or fellow workers. He was quite specific as to what was told the new member. You will now be a Passionist.
As a Passionist we have year’s training in the novitiate where we study the spirituality of our founder, St. Paul of the Cross. We continue to learn the mystery of God’s love that is revealed in the Passion of Jesus. Our ministry uses our diverse gifts and leads us to many types of work where we share with others this love of God. It is both mystical and rather everyday reality. (The mystical is more fun!). It is a life long task. How profound that those suffering from AIDS, really experiencing the Passion of Christ from such a harsh illness of physical suffering, to public humiliation, and rejection should learn that they are Passionists.
It is strange that as we worry about our diminishment and how to cultivate vocations, right under our nose was a whole crop of Passionists. They were authentic. No one knew they were there, and so they were not counted as members. Saul heard in Jesus’ words that to touch his followers was to touch him. They were filled with the Spirit, beloved of the Father, other Christs. Who can guess what those hidden Passionists in Honduras knew of the everyday reality of Jesus suffering or the mystical experience as they meditated on being one with Jesus in his Passion?
Pray for this meeting of the Passionists. Like Ananias may we put aside our good reasons to do what the Lord asks of us. May we see what is important. May God’s surprising ways of accomplishing wonderful things be visible to us and inspire us.
Fr. William Murphy, CP, is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.