I have twice had the privilege of spending time with the folks journeying through the Lay Ecclesial Ministry Formation Program in Salt Lake City, UT, and their gracious and able director, Susan Northway. Both of those times have been singularly rich for me as minister and pilgrim!
It was a brilliant Saturday in March when we gathered high up in the hills that flank Salt Lake City: the clear air fragrant with pine; the view unlimited; all of us just a little wearied from the demands of the semester almost half done, and leery of the specter of Lenten rigours just begun.
The theme that day was “A Journey with Christ Into Self-Care”: one part retreat, the other a continuation of the Program itself. Our guide was Pope Francis. Our text his singularly rich letter to the Church entitled Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel).
The Holy Father writes:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them …” (§ 3).
By looking at ourselves that March morning, exploring our weariness, identifying its roots, and exploring the personal, ecclesial, and ever-present pitfalls to our ministry found in living in the world of 2014, we came to see with newfound clarity how ..
“The Lord does not disappoint … Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (§ 3).
We came to appreciate the importance of “resting in the Lord,” of time spent in prayer, reflection upon the Word, of reading, and of study. We came to recognize in a new way the life-giving, life-restoring nature of gathering as community. We came to a deeper grasp of the centrality of Eucharist in our lives.
We came to see that “we cannot give that which we do not have.” These things must necessarily precede our “doing.”
And, we came to a place that celebrates with Pope Francis when he writes:
“I am a mission on this earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world. We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (§ 273).
Each one of us is given by Christ as light in a world of deep shadow; as a hand that blesses and builds up; as restorers of life in a time too familiar with death; as a vivifying, joy-filled, hope-imbued presence to those in despair; as tender healers to the scarred and wounded, and as liberators to those who sojourn in prisons of isolation, loneliness, injustice and fear.