Walking Our Faith: Father Michael finds light shining in the darkness (column)
Walking Our Faith
While I celebrated my birthday in Florida with Mom, all incoming emails received a vacation reply and my phone calls went to voice mail. Which is why it was not until my return to Breckenridge on Wednesday morning that I discovered Barbara’s voicemail.
When I returned her call, Barbara told me Father Michael had announced his immediate retirement after the return of the brain cancer we’d all hoped he’d beaten last year. He would undergo an experimental surgery within days. In light of this unexpected announcement, a hurried potluck dinner would be held at Our Lady of Peace on Wednesday evening, and Father Michael would leave our parish on Thursday morning.
I arrived an hour late. But when I entered the parish hall, I felt a wave of love engulf me. Rather than the somber gathering I’d expected, the room was filled with families, young children darting around the room, older parishioners seated around large circular tables chatting amiably, a vibrant kaleidoscope in what appeared to be a celebration of life. The room was crowded, the tables were filled. I made my way into the crowd and looked for Barbara and Father Michael.
We will enter Holy Week on Sunday, beginning with Palm Sunday. The emotional roller coaster beginning with the joyful entrance of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, greeted with a carpet of palm fronds and hailed as a king, to the immediate descent into despair on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday can leave us reeling.
Yet, isn’t life often this way? Isn’t our walk of faith like this? We experience the joy of achievement after a hard-won battle and believe, rightly so, that all will be well from here. Instead we find ourselves sliding into unexpected depths of despair and what feels like a reversal of all we’ve achieved. Worst of all, we may believe we have been abandoned by God.
Isn’t that the message we receive when Jesus retreated to the garden of Gethsemane and cried out, “If you will, take this cup from me!” And later, on the cross, in agony, whispers, “My God, have you forsaken me?”
If Jesus were only human, it would be understandable that he would react in this way after achieving the promise of being received as the long-awaited Messiah as he entered Jerusalem.
Thankfully, there is more to his story and ours.
After I spoke with Barbara, I finally found Father Michael sitting at a table enjoying conversation and delicious food. The chair next to him was open and I slipped in and took a seat.
I was startled when I looked into his eyes. They were bright with clarity. I knew that recently Father Michael had stopped driving because of problems with his vision. But the eyes that looked at me were shining and clear.
I held his hands and told Father Michael that I loved him and thanked him for his wisdom. I won’t share his reply, because honestly, we spoke over one another. As I said words I hoped would bless and console him, he was blessing and consoling me. When I spoke with Barbara the next morning, she recounted a similar experience.
If Jesus was only human, we could view Holy Week as the pitiful journey of an impoverished religious teacher who rose to be hailed as messiah only to be crucified as one among thieves. A failure by any measure.
Instead, we discover from the depths of his suffering death on Good Friday, a magnificent resurrection of hope and love and salvation on Easter Sunday. Death has been defeated. Hope wins. Love wins. God, whose only true definition is Love, is, was and always will be with us.
I believe Jesus’ journey through Holy Week can represent our own journey through life. When we face the most crushing defeats, when our hearts are broken, when we feel completely abandoned, and forsaken by God, there will be a moment when we see clearly that we are entirely loved by God, held in his arms, surrounded by his love and strengthened to not only face whatever challenge is before us, but to bless others, to share the love we have received and go forward fearlessly. This is Father Michael’s living example to us.
Father Michael gave his final homily to our parish on March 11. You can listen at SummitCatholic.org. He told us that God’s love for us is never-ending. All we must do is accept it. Have the courage to believe that we are loved, even with all of our messes, we are completely loved by God. There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve God’s love for us. We can’t fix our brokenness in order to qualify for God’s love. In fact, the greatest challenge God makes to us is that we have the courage to allow God to love us, to not run away, but to simply allow ourselves to experience God’s love. To have the courageous faith to allow God to transform us in his love.
Father Michael said that we will each have moments in our lives when we experience the wonder of God’s love. I believe that is the shining clarity I saw in his eyes, Father Michael surrendered to and surrounded by God’s love. Held in the arms of Jesus, Father Michael is fearless to any challenge because he knows nothing can conquer God’s love. In his final homily he calls us to do the same.
Please send your healing prayers to Father Michael as he undergoes an experimental surgery this week. And please keep his courage in mind as we journey through Holy Week, experiencing God’s endless love moment by moment throughout this most holy week.
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson is the author of “Knit Together and other books.” You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson Author.
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