October 20, 2013

October 20, 2013 Column Father De Celles

For how many weeks did we enjoy beautiful weather (or complain about the lack of rain)? And when it finally rains—for a whole week—I manage to go on vacation (the week of Oct. 6 – 12). Now, you might think, “look how the Lord smiles on Father sending him away on vacation to a nice sunny place while it rained back here.” Well, the Lord does smile on me, but He sent me to Williamsburg, where it rained worse than it did here. And where I played golf all week in the rain.

Now, playing golf in the rain is not usually my forte. On a good day I’m not in the greatest physical shape, and playing in water takes its toll pretty quickly. But the even greater challenge is mental: like many people who take their games semi-seriously, I can allow my emotions to get the better of me, becoming overconfident or discouraged. But worst of all, I get distracted very easily, and that’s a killer when you need to focus on nothing but that little tiny ball and making it go where you want it to.

But I am also wont to view things philosophically and spiritually. So as I was golfing in the wind and rain, it made me think about life in general. Some days life is sunny and everything seems to be right with the world. But some days the troubles of the world seem to buffet us around like the strong winds of the approaching storm. Then gloom and doom set in like the gathering clouds that gather and steal away the sun. The problems of everyday life sometimes consume us like a heavy mist, or weigh down on us like a light but constant rainfall. And then we’re overwhelmed as things turn worse like the rain pouring down in sheets.

The funny thing, though: I was thinking about all this, as I was playing in the rain and actually scoring my best round of golf in my 43 years on the links. I was driving the ball straight and long (for me), holing out a chip shot from 20 yards off the green for a very nice birdie, reading the greens like a book and sinking almost every crucial putt. At first there was just a strong wind, but then mist and heavy drizzle came and gradually built up to a heavy downpour for the last five holes. But, quite contrary to my norm, I was not distracted by any of this. Although I would have played a few strokes better during those last five holes if it wasn’t for the rain, it was the physical effects of the rain that hampered my game, not my usual self-imposed mental limitations. In spite of what would have normally been terrible distractions leading to stupid mistakes resulting in emotional highs and lows, I was able to focus and play, for me, a great game.

Now, you may laugh at this, but I’m confident I was able to do this because I was consciously allowing myself to think of the day and the round as a gift from God. Every nice shot, and especially that early birdie, was clearly a reminder of God’s love for me. A reminder that even in the storms of life, and even in the middle of everyday cares and woes, He is with me. And that every good thing I do is a grace from Him, but a grace that requires my full and focused attention, and my deliberate cooperation in body and mind. And that to the extent I do that, nothing else matters and great things can happen.

I realize, of course, that this is not an original metaphor—in fact, it is perhaps over used and even trite. But it is so because it strikes home as true in each of us.

Now, to be honest, I am a very mediocre golfer, and that was the only really good game of the five I played last week. The rest of the rounds were actually pretty typical of rain-golf: lots of distractions, lots of bad shots. Kind of like many days in life. Even when we know what works, what truly makes us happy and peaceful, we still so often allow ourselves to be distracted and do what we know we shouldn’t. Most especially we do not cooperate with God’s grace, or we ignore it altogether.

Some among us today are going through serious crises in their lives or the lives of their families. Many others see the very times we live in as terribly gloomy and even hopeless. All of us have troubles every day. But by the grace of Jesus Christ, even in the hardest times, we can not only persevere, but flourish. If only we will not allow hardship, or fear, or doubt, or any temptation, to keep us from focusing on Christ and cooperating with His bountiful grace.

Thanks be to God, I came back from vacation pretty well refreshed. This next week I’m off for five days on my yearly spiritual retreat with about 50 other priests from the diocese. Please pray for me that this retreat will strengthen me, so that by the grace of Christ, I may be less distracted by the cares and temptations of the world and the wiles of the devil, and to be more focused on Christ and cooperative with His grace. So that I may be a better disciple to him and a better pastor to you.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles