Saturday, October 5, 2013

Past or Future?

A couple of Days ago our prior Fr. Augustine caught me after morning prayer and said "Hey, aren't you supposed to say mass for the Missionaries of Charity this morning?" Oops! I had twenty minutes to go get my driver's license, hop in  a car and arrive at the convent. Besides getting there on time, I also had to come up with a homily.

As I was driving to say the mass trying to think of an idea for a homily I remembered a tiny bit of an interview I'd caught on the radio the day before. A basketball coach had said: "I tell my guys, if you make a mistake it's best to just come out and admit it. Once you admit it then it becomes part of your past. If you cover it up, though, then it's going to be part of your future."

At the time I heard it it struck me as a pretty wise bit of advice. Now it came back to me as I was parking in front to the convent -- with three minutes to spare! Next thing I knew mass had started and I was reading the gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples that when they go into a town or village that will not receive them and their word, they should shake the dust off their shoes in testimony against them and then move on to the next village.(I reflected on this gospel in a recent post entitled "Dusty Feet.")

The sisters sat down (on the floor, as Mother Teresa's sisters do) to hear the homily. What the Lord gave me went something like this:

Jesus tells his disciples that when they go on a missionary journey they will certainly meet with setbacks and defeats, and they will need to decide what to do in the face of such adversity. One approach would be to hold on to the defeats and begin collecting them, piling them up one on top of another and carrying them around for the rest of your life as you follow Jesus on the journey.

The other approach is the one Jesus suggests here: admit the defeat, perhaps learn something from it, but then shake its dust off your feet and thus make the negative experience part of your past. No purpose is served by making it part of your future.

The homily came off pretty well. (At least I was listening to it very attentively!)

As I drove back to the monastery after mass I started thinking some more about that basketball coach's advice. He tells his players "If you screw up, you're better off admitting it, then it can be put into the past."  It occurred to me that a player would have to really trust that the coach would in fact forgive him and put it in the past. By contrast, with God I don't have to question whether or not my sin will be forgiven and forgotten: that's the promise that's repeated over and over in the Gospel.

Then it struck me that sometimes admitting to something you did will involve accepting some serious consequences that certainly will affect your future. That's, I suppose, why people try to hide their mistakes and misdeeds.

But then I remembered a little saying that the head of our Counseling Department repeats all the time to the kids: "You're only a sick as your secrets." This implies that living with the just consequences of your deeds may be very difficult and painful, but at least it isn't sick, and it leaves room for growth and healing.

This is probably why St. Benedict is so insistent that a monk admit when he's made a mistake: so that the mistake can become a lesson in humility and an opportunity for growth. Otherwise the fault just remains his own little secret, isolating him from the community and calling him to smallness and closedness instead of challenging him to openness and growth.

As I pulled into the monastery's parking lot I thanked the Lord for bailing me out when I had carelessly forgotten that I had that mass assignment. If Fr. Augustine hadn't reminded me the sisters would have sat there waiting for who-knows-how-long. It would have been pretty embarrassing. I wonder if I would have tried to cover up my mistake or blame someone else; or maybe I would have just admitted my blunder, apologized for it, and moved on?
And what's in YOUR future?

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