Today’s reflection is another by Fr. Michael Schleupner, which he shared last week as he celebrated his 50th jubilee! Let’s read about how he tied together readings from the gospel for his role as a priest and how we can use this within our own communities.
We look forward to seeing more of Fr. Michael when he’s here for our July and August Directed Retreats, serving as a spiritual director. Please comment below to congratulate Fr. Michael on an amazing 50 years in ministry!
Jesus answered him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not my own, but that of the Father who sent me. I have told you these things while I am still with you. However, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled; be not afraid. You have heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe.
~ John 14:23-29
Fifty years ago yesterday/this past Friday, May 20th, Cardinal Shehan, who was then the Archbishop of Baltimore, ordained me to the priesthood. So, for me, this is a special year. Those of you who have celebrated 50th wedding anniversaries, or those of you who have returned to your high school or college to celebrate your 50th year of graduation – you also understand how significant these moments are.
Maybe in different ways, we can all relate to this. Given this anniversary, I have looked at today’s Scripture readings with this question. How do I see God speaking to me as a priest right now? Or, to state it differently, how do I as a priest for fifty years see these readings? I am hoping that what I am seeing here will also relate to your life experience. Three messages are coming to me – one from each of the readings.
1. Remember God’s Presence
First, remember that God is with us. Jesus in today’s gospel talks about the Father and himself dwelling with us. If we look through John’s entire gospel, Jesus is consistently telling us of God being with us. God abides, he is present, he is staying and not going away. God is with us.
This leads me as a priest to see the basic goodness of every person. Yet, sometimes we sin and do wrong. I recently said to someone in my office: “You are imperfect, and you’re okay!” This person’s face lit up; she really needed to hear those “okay” words. So, I see my role not as asserting our distance from God. Rather, I am to remind us of our closeness to God or God’s closeness to us. I see my role not as preoccupied with our guilt. Rather, I am to remind us that we are God’s beloved – each one of us. I see my role not as belittling us for unworthiness. Rather, I am to remind us of our worthiness and dignity because of Jesus Christ. Finally, I see my role not as being stuck on our sinfulness. Rather, I am to encourage us to become the kind of person we are called to be.
All of this is crucial, very important and very foundational for priesthood and for faith. It is based on remembering God’s presence.
2. Lift up the Light
The second message is: Lift up the light. This really flows from the first message. Today’s reading from Revelation (click here to read this passage) foresees the city of God as needing no artificial or even natural light. Why? Because God is its light or our light. And God in turn has commissioned us to be light for the world.
With this in mind, I see my role as a priest not as ranting and raving about the darkness of the world or of certain groups or individuals. My role is not one of condemning and judging people. Rather, I see my role as lifting up the light wherever it is – in the care that an elderly couple give to one another or in the life-saving work of the Red Cross or wherever. My role is to lift up the experiences of light.
Jesus did not tell us: be a curser of the darkness. He said: be a light for the world.
3. Build Community
The third and final message today is: build community. Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (click here to read these passages) is about a conflict or disagreement in the early days of the Church. The issue was whether Gentiles, non-Jewish converts to Christianity, whether they had to accept Jewish practices. The basic answer ended up being: No! But, just as important as the decision was how they arrived at it. The disagreeing parties met together and talked face to face. They listened to one another and understood both sides of the argument. And they reached a consensus that they could all live with. It is a great example for us.
I see my role as a priest as doing whatever I can to bring community together. Creating forums for conversation, listening to differences, trying to arrive at a consensus or something that we can all pretty much live with – I see this as the role of a priest.
It is a pattern of leadership that is appropriate for a faith community. It is a pattern that can be used to heal past hurts and create future direction.
So, these are some of the ways that todays’ Scriptures speak to me as a priest on this anniversary weekend. I feel very convinced of these messages. I believe that this is the way for a priest to minister and engage with people in the twenty-first century.
It is the way, I believe, that will lead our Church to some new flourishing. It is the way that I commit myself to, God willing, in the years that lie ahead.
~ Fr. Michael Schleupner
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