While I was spending family time on a gorgeous remote island in North Carolina, removed from the fast-paced life and enjoying rest and relaxation, the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released. I found myself praying with the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, Oh comfort my people, says your God” (40:1).
To be a source of comfort is not trying to fix something or find blame, but hold the awareness of truth as we move through a most challenging and heart-wrenching time. We must look for the balm of calm in the chaos. When we feel the compassion of God, it compels us to be a healing agent of his grace, a harbinger of hope, and an instrument of peace to bring understanding in a situation that can easily be incomprehensible, unstable and inconceivable.
After a 12-hour trip home, impeded by road construction and accident delays, I returned to my post as chaplain at UPMC Mercy the following day. I was met with an avalanche of people, staff and patients, feeling emotions and experiencing confusion.
One patient said, “While others may be running away from the church, it makes me want to run toward the church.” He said he has found the most inspirational and formative people through his Catholic faith and tradition.
As social beings, we make choices that affect other people’s lives. God loves us so much that he gives us radical freedom to exercise our free will. We can be a tyrant or a saint. Free will used properly leads to human flourishment and fulfillment. Freedom that goes astray leads to self-destruction and spiritual demise.
When Jesus’ followers found his teachings difficult to accept ( John 6:60-69), they deceived him, rejected him, betrayed him, denied him and fled from him as they sought their own way of life apart from his plan. Jesus even asked the Twelve, “What about you, do you want to go away, too?” Simon Peter answered, “Master, to whom should we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
Jesus is calling us to follow him in the way of the cross; we must be in it for the long haul. Committed discipleship is not a momentary or fleeting experience. Life is hard, there are many obstacles and, like Peter, we get discouraged from time to time. But Peter’s commitment to Christ never failed.
Our Savior is calling each of us to a sacrificial love and selfless life. Sometimes spiritual dehydration can weaken us, and we can stray from the everyday things that keep us spiritually alive and healthy. Before too long we may drift away from God, our family, prayer, the sacraments, our sacred vows and our Christian calling. St. Bernard, abbot and Doctor of the Church (1090-1153), said, “Real happiness will come not in gratifying our desires or in gaining passing pleasures, but in accomplishing God’s will for us.”
Jesus does not want us to coast in our spiritual life, discipline and practices. We must take the spiritual life seriously — remain vigilant, alert and aware of the power of evil. It threatens to destroy at every corner. For St. Peter, there was no other place or person for him to go. Jesus alone brings all meaning to our lives.
As Christians, we are called to align our lives and make choices by embracing the teachings Jesus offers. We thank the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist on our earthly pilgrimage amid all the challenges of life. May the body and blood of Christ strengthen, sanctify and make us grow stronger to reach our desired goal of heaven.
Father Jones is a chaplain at UPMC Mercy.