Graces and Gifts

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, March 2012
– PDF version –

The Second Sunday of Easter:
God of everlasting mercy, who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives ands reigns with you in the unity Of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.
 
Pentecost:
O God, who by the mystery of today’s great feast sanctify your whole Church in every people and nation, pour out, we pray, the gifts of the Holy Spirit across the face of the earth and, with the divine grace that was at work when the Gospel was first proclaimed, fill now once more the hearts of believers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever.

 

I long for a glimpse of mercy within our community. I pray this collect on the Second Sunday of Easter expecting miracles. I really do not know where else to turn except to the Eucharist in the midst of the turmoil we face in our neighborhood. Our parish stretches my understanding of God’s love so thin that on many days I cannot find it for myself. From the hookers on the streets at our red doors donning their springtime duds to the runaway teens that yell out across the street, we all ache for a full dose of mercy and full plate of hope that will sustain us. We all long to grasp and rightly understand the love that God has for us.

I prayed this opening prayer the first time twenty-nine years ago on my first day of priesthood. Even though the translation has changed, the message of the text is the core of our faith. We cannot forget from where we have come. Christ’s mercy is present in the baptismal font of forgiveness.  The Holy Spirit cleanses our past and gives us second birth. We all await a second chance to understand our lives.  The Blood of Christ sustains us in our loneliness and unites us in communion with God and every believer. Mercy is revealed in the dying and rising Christ and in us who ache for healing.

This text seems profoundly different from my first Mass as a priest. The difference is less in the translation than in my perspective through these years of ministry. Years ago, I thought I understood suffering but that was the naïveté of youth. Suffering of the heart is not an intellectual pursuit. I now realize there is no such thing as understanding the suffering of another person. The only thing I cling to is the faith that God is invested in such anguish. I now ache for the Spirit and an increase of grace. I wait for things to change and for people to discover that God really calls us all His own.

I experience mercy now not as a commodity or something to achieve, but as a relationship with God. God’s mercy and forgiveness is not a pre-packaged reward for being good or for being a perfect priest, but a relationship that sustains us all in the moments of profound pain and anguish. Mercy is not a pious slogan. Mercy is not a trophy for never having fallen in the race, but a relationship of compassionate love soothing the deep and profound wounds that may never heal on this earth.

I weep now from a deeper place than on the day I was ordained. The helplessness I feel in our community is revealed in the tears that I shed for people who may never experience a second chance in life or may never grasp or understand God or themselves. These tears have become a font of grace welling up in me during my years of ordained ministry. I wait for our unity in the Spirit and for the day that God washes guilt away, brings healing to the wounded and hope for the marginalized.

Every parish community prays the Pentecost collect waiting for divine grace. People of faith pray this prayer across boundaries of nations and institutions realizing only God can mend the divides of racism, hatred and fear. This Pentecost prayer will be prayed in poor, rural parishes as well as affluent, suburban communities. The grace we all seek is the fresh, vital and real perspective that God continues in the lives of our people. We will all find ourselves in this prayer longing for every good gift of the Holy Spirit. Everything we all need for the future is within us.

I pray this Pentecost prayer hoping to mend the bridge of the generational gap I now experience among the clergy. I witness so much fear among the young that my generation foiled this mission of priesthood. I want to tell them to wait for the tears of powerlessness and compassion because they will teach you everything. Twenty-nine years of Pentecost have softened my control and perspective over many issues within the Church. I rely on these sacred gifts to be revealed because divine grace is still at work. The divisions among us will only be healed by Pentecost grace among the broken and poor in Spirit.

The holy collects of the Easter season invite us into mercy and love. The feast will one day heal deep wounds and the worries I still carry. The collects will continue to introduce us all to the depths of the Eucharist that feeds people across divides and divisions. I will capture a glimpse of mercy in places I least expect. On the face of the earth we shall all know our longing for heaven.


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