The Morning Call, Dec. 8, 2012
"Relax," my laptop screen advises. "You are in the loving presence of God."
"How and when have you experienced being called by God? What have you left behind? What have you discovered or gained?" Meditative time.
As a teen, I struggled with "being called." Something mysterious was going on, in and beyond the land of the free.
I had read Damien the Leper. The Belgian priest who took the name Damien volunteered to work on Molokai where those afflicted by leprosy were left with no aid. He engaged me. A call?
On the isolated Hawaiian peninsula for 23 years, Damien ate and worshipped with those he served. He invited them into his home, to the point that he was able to begin a sermon, "We lepers."
I went to seminary in Philadelphia and Rome, then served as a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for some 18 good years.
Around 1980 I began to hear another call. I listened, struggled and resigned from the Roman Catholic priesthood. In 1981, I married. Monica. We joined the Episcopal Church
Ironically, during those middle years, two Roman Catholic priests and Dorothy Day had been my heroes. All, including Damien, are commemorated in the Episcopal Church.
Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a fellow alumnus of the Gregorian University in Rome, was martyred in 1980, shot to death while celebrating Mass. He had preached a sermon calling on soldiers to disobey orders that violated human rights.
Jesuit priest, groundbreaking paleontologist and mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) developed a vision of creation, which, according to Holy Women, Holy Men, the Episcopal Church book that commemorates the saints, "held that evolution was the process by which matter inexorably arranges itself toward greater complexity until recognizable consciousness emerges. ... in which the universe will come to perfect unity and find itself one with God ... the highest point of pure consciousness, always pulling the evolutionary process towards its promised destiny."
His Church forbade him to teach. He had to defend himself against charges of heresy. Do you think? Still, he remained loyal. During the year before he died, he prayed: "O God, if in my life I have not been wrong, allow me to die on Easter Sunday." So he did.
Dorothy Day adopted a life of voluntary poverty and opened a chain of soup kitchens and hospitality houses for the poor of New York’s Lower East Side, protested war and supported labor unions. Her Catholic Worker movement inspired Cesar Chavez, Daniel Berrigan, Abbie Hoffman and many others.
Michael Harrington described her as “a mystic out of a Dostoevsky novel.”
He gained from her the understanding that led to The Other America that in turn inspired LBJ’s war on poverty.
In 2000, the late Cardinal John O’Connor, then Archbishop of New York, recommended her for sainthood. "Rare was the young priest untouched by her life,” he wrote. “She worried us. That was her gift to us."
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, an unlikely champion of a hero of the Catholic left, said a few weeks ago: “I am convinced she is a saint for our time."
Google them. You'll find four compelling stories.
Recently, I heard another call. I remembered that a friend once advised that we need to be careful lest we love what we say about God more than we love God. A few months ago, I translated that. Have I loved how and where for 30 years I had worshipped God more than I loved God? Now, beyond grieving, I've begun moving ahead.
These are three instances in my early, middle and late life that I attended to a call and a few questions. How and when have I experienced being called by God? What have I left behind? What have I discovered or gained? Have I loved the way I worshipped God more than I loved God?
The latter three questions have personal content for which this is not the forum. Perhaps another time or place.
As a relatively young priest, I was asked to lead a retreat for some 100 nuns, many infirm, waiting to die.
I spoke of the crucial difference between the occasion of a call and its meaning, which comes later.
Some of us may not experience the joy of mining the depths of the meaning. Some of us may receive periodic insights, renewed zeal and other consolations – including that the wisdom and rhythm of Christianity is the law of the cross, allowing God to draw greater good from whatever evil comes our way.
The most powerful meanings are often those we don't recognize until we look back, reflecting in completely different contexts on the occasions of the calls.
Then, having waited for the unfolding of meaning, we may experience God opening to us new life and new possibility.
[Canon Bill Lewellis, firstname.lastname@example.org, a retired Episcopal priest, served on the Bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem for 24 years and on the Bishop’s staff of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Allentown for 13 years before that.]