March 2, 2014

Communion of Saints

I received a note the other day from someone who said that this blog had helped him in his own discernment of a vocation to consecrated life. So I gave glory to God for having used this blog not only for various purposes for me over the years, but now and then to work some good in someone else as well.

The comments had me reflecting a little bit on a way that I have grown in the faith, perhaps. Such moments are important because it's easy enough to look at yourself in such a way that it doesn't seem like you've gotten anywhere in years of trying to live a spiritual life. A lot depends on how you decide to look at things, of course, and on finding the willingness to surrender to the perspectives to which grace invites us.

I was thinking of a Saturday evening in the fall of 1995. I was a novice in the OFM in those days, in their novitiate at the St. Francis Chapel & City Ministry Center in Providence, Rhode Island. (It's now the Hampton Inn & Suites on Weybosset St. Sic transit gloria.) One Saturday I got permission to drive down to New London, Connecticut, to the parish of my sacramental initiation, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill, to attend the Saturday Vigil Mass and then go to supper with my godparents.

While we were getting ready for Mass (I think I was invited to serve at the altar) the deacon (who had baptized me) mentioned that the pastor, Fr. Leo Sutula--may he rest in peace--was especially touched by my visit. He had 'never had a vocation before.'

I remember not understanding the comment. My vocation was mine, after all, a decision that I had made. And in my vainglory I though it a somewhat heroic decision, and for that reason clung to it like a possession all the more. And besides, apart from receiving my sacraments of initiation there, I was only marginally connected to the parish. My regular Sunday Eucharist community was down the street at Connecticut College.

I had professed belief in the communion of saints but I didn't yet understand what it meant.

But this old priest understood. He knew that I had received my 'convert instructions' and had been baptized in a parish in his pastoral care. He himself had given me my first Holy Communion and had presented me to Bishop Daniel Reilly for Confirmation. So as a novice religious stood before him in the sacristy, he knew that my vocation also belonged to the parish under his care and to the spiritual fatherhood of his priesthood.

I didn't have much appreciation for these things at the time, but I understand them better now, and give glory to God for them. I know that what I have received is just that, received. And I see and stand in awe before the complexity of the graces God gives us, in how they intertwine us and in their very gracefulness show us how much we and our graced selves belong to each other. That's the communion of saints.

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