The rock of my ages
I entered the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross in August of 1978 in Cascade, Colorado. It was my first experience living away from the Midwest. I loved the mighty beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the breathtaking views from the novitiate property and the smell of the many pine trees. I also found in the mountains and in my time in the yearlong program of prayer and discernment, a rich and deeper experience of God. I wanted to stay on the mountaintop forever.
Sometime during that year, I found a small, red rock that seemed to form itself in my hands. I clung to this reddish brown stone in my moments of prayer. I wanted to be reminded not only of the holy place in Colorado, but my experience of prayer sitting on the hillsides. So I carried the rock back to graduate school after the novitiate year. I displayed the free memento alongside my bible in my room. It became part of my daily prayer and surrender to the next phase of formation.
So I have carried that rock with me for thirty-five years. I still keep the rock next to my Jerusalem Bible. I sit with the rock now in my hand when I feel disconnected from the earth, when I do not feel I belong to anyone, when I have my moments of disbelief and worry. I want to remember the days I found a new awareness that God made me exactly who I am.
As I reflect on the series of gospels from the Seventeenth Sunday until the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time, I remember the rock and my experiences with Christ Jesus. I too, found a treasure buried in a field. I even wanted to take the field with me. In fact, I did leave everything to buy the field, to enter into priesthood. I still search for the great pearl when I feel so alone and lost. I cast into the mercy of God my own net filled with small nuggets of regret, loss and shame, but God seems to reveal to me the very heart of Kingdom love and forgiveness every time I fret or worry. I hold the Kingdom of God in my hand; I see it in a small red rock.
I place myself in the deserted place where Jesus’ heart was moved with pity and he cured the sick. I hear his command every day to give hungry people some food. Not only at the Eucharist itself, but from our food pantry, in the middle-aged man wanting to become clean from crystal meth or from staff members who just want to talk. My experiences of priesthood teach me that there is enough love and mercy, enough hope and beauty to go around to feed every person. When I feel lost among people’s hunger, I cling again to the sacred rock.
I especially cling to the rock with my sweaty hands when I feel I am trapped in turbulent waters of self-doubt as I enter into relationships with people who most need healing. When we see Jesus so near, even walking on the waters to get our attention, fear invades our lives and hearts. We are in fact only human. When I hold fast to the rock when storms surround me, I ache to hear in my deafness, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” The words of Peter are often on my lips even on dry ground, “Lord, save me.”
I hold the rock in my hands especially when I want to change Jesus’ mind about something in my life or about the suffering I encounter among people. I take this rock and shout out to the Canaanite woman who persuaded Jesus to cure her daughter. I want those scraps for a friend who just lost his mother, for a woman who wails with mucus running down her nose having lost her son. I want to hold on to something during the sheer and gut-wrenching grief of people.
Peter reminds me to hold tight. Peter’s life was filled with uncertainty in one moment and great faith in the next. Jesus promised him a key to heaven. His entire life became the rock on which Christ built the promise that he would be with us in real presence for all who hunger. Somehow, I want Christ’s presence for every person. I want the certainty that the rock brings, that the foundation of the Church will be a safe place for every person to stand upon.
I moved back to Colorado last year. I carried back to the Rocky Mountains a piece of the rock. I still have it next to my bible on a stand next to my bed both anchoring my fears even in the nighttime. The sacred rock has traveled with me, has been calm in storms and has reminded me to persevere. Now in my new role as pastor, I pass on to the next generation how the unchanging nature of the scriptures and even the rock have formed me into a believer and minister among people who most need to stand on steady ground.