Monday, October 3, 2016

Marianist Monday

October, 2016

My dear young friends,

First off, please take a moment to send me your college mailing address so that we can mail each month’s Magnificat to you expeditiously. Drop me a quick email, even if it’s to say, “Same address as last year.” But we know that many of your mailing addresses have changed, and we don’t want to lose contact with any of you. So, just take a few seconds and email me at

We don’t want to lose contact with any of you!

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Now, the subject of lost addresses and lost contacts brings me to the theme of this month’s letter. Quite simply, I want to talk about being lost. Some of you have candidly expressed that to me – that you feel lost. Some of you have told me that you have pretty much lost your former religious practices, perhaps even you religious faith. “Brother, I don’t go to Mass anymore.” “Brother, I don’t pray.” One message read, rather starkly, “I’m lost.” Needless to say, reading that caused me no small degree of concern.

I know that this sense of loss does not affect all of you. Some of you have been blessed and have discovered a faith that is more personal and vibrant than the faith experience you had in high school.

But others have lost their faith, or at least the practice of their faith. And a few feel personally lost, completely lost, in a way that unsettles and enervates you.

Only a year a year or two after I had started teaching – so perhaps in 1981 or 1982 – I felt completely lost. I lost all my self-confidence and became psychically paralyzed, literally afraid to leave my room and panic-stricken about the prospect of speaking in public. I think that all this was triggered by two of my closest friends at that time leaving our Community. I had considered them model young religious, so if they had left, what was there to guarantee that I wouldn’t as well? Had I somehow contributed to their departure? Had I been an enabler of their discontent? Should I have read the handwriting on the wall more clearly? These were the questions that raced through my mind. And they brought me to a dead halt.

I would imagine that, to any of you who know me and my garrulous persona, the notion that I was afraid to speak in public seems ludicrous, but I was, and I believed that my paralysis would bring a rapid end to my teaching career and perhaps even my religious vocation.

And here’s how I got climbed out of the pit; here’s how I found my way after being lost. First of all – and this is very important – I didn’t take the first step. Fr. Francis Keenan, my former novice master, did. He sought me out, asked what was wrong, and offered some sound and kind advice.

This is why I have deep faith that, when we are lost, God seeks us out. He actually takes the first step. He may do this through a prayer that we read, wise words that we happen to hear that may not even have been intended explicitly for us, or perhaps through a caring individual who intervenes. Is God seeking us out? Yes, without a doubt, He is.
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At the time, I didn’t always understand the wisdom of Fr. Francis’s advice, but I followed it – because I had no other option. Trust is important; it is particularly important when we have lost our way. We trust GPS or Google Maps or Waze to get us to our destination. If we trust a GPS satellite high in the sky to guide us when we are lost, it seems to me that we should trust a valued friend or mentor right at our elbow to do the same for us – but on a far more profound and personal level. He may ask us to leave our comfort zones. He may be rather insistent that we break the bonds of whatever is holding us back – self-doubt, shame, alcohol, drugs, a relationship that we know is harmful for us but that we don’t want to end. But trust we must.

I’m not very good at trusting. I would rather determine my own course of action for myself, thank you very much. That’s why I changed the background photo on my iPhone to the now famous painting of Divine Mercy inspired by Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska. The inscription along the bottom serves as a powerful and humbling reminder of what I need to do daily, and especially when I am lost: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

One of God’s ambassadors in this world whom I trust completely is Pope Francis. When I hear his words, when I listen to the tone of his voce, when I see the compassion in his gestures, in his posture, and in his eyes, I know that this is a man I can trust. And I know as well that I can trust his message of God’s love for us, His mercy towards us, His desire to find us even when we feel completely lost. Just read this passage from the Pope’s homily for the Closing Mass at this year’s World Youth Day. Pope Francis comments on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus, the man so short in stature that he feared getting lost in the crowd and never seeing Jesus pass by. But Jesus finds
Zacchaeus, who has climbed a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Christ. And Jesus declares, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” house.” With Jesus, we are never lost in the crowd.

Here’s a part of what the Pope had to say about that famous passage from the Gospel of Luke:
That is our real “stature”, our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity. It is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil His dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for Him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In His eyes, the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; He cares about you, just as you are! In His eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.
Image result for marianist world youth dayAt times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in His love for us. The fact is, He loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; He is our biggest fan. He is there for us, waiting with patience and hope, even when we turn in on ourselves and brood over our troubles and past injuries. But such brooding is unworthy of our spiritual stature! It is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over. God, on the other hand, is hopelessly hopeful! He believes that we can always get up, and He hates to see us glum and gloomy. It is sad to see young people who are glum. Because we are always His beloved sons and daughters. Let us be mindful of this at the dawn of each new day. It will do us good to pray every morning: “Lord, I thank you for loving me; I am sure that you love me; help me to be in love with my own life!” Not with my faults, that need to be corrected, but with life itself, which is a great gift, for it is a time to love and to be loved.

Are you lost? Please realize that God has not lost you. You have a cherished place in His heart. If you’ve lost that sense of God’s abiding love for you, that you are precious in His sight, then pick up the phone, write an email, or send a text to someone you trust so that he or she may help you may find once again the God who has never lost you.

“I once was lost but now am found.” That is the amazing grace that I pray the Lord bestows on all of you who feel that you have lost your bearings. Remember, God never loses sight of you!

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen