by Fr. Jack McArdle
Life is a journey, and, for the average person, it can be quite a long journey. I don't pretend to understand why one life should be for a minute, and another should be for a hundred years. This doesn't bother me, because I leave all such decisions to God, in the belief that he knows what he's doing! If he doesn't know what he's doing, there's little point in me trying to make sense out of it.
I have a strong preference for a journey by car, because I hate packing! It's great to be able to open the boot (trunk?), and throw in everything I think I might need. I usually end up with one piece of luggage (for appearance sake!), but walking gear, toiletries, medication, reading material, etc., are usually in their own small plastic bags. I am also past the stage where I feel that I must have everything I might possibly want, before leaving home. I have never gone to a place so undeveloped that there wasn't a shop or two, where I could pick up a toothbrush, or a packet of antacid tablets.
By and large, I take reasonable precautions, and this applies equally to the condition of the car, and a map or two, which are permanent features in the car anyhow. I drink quite a lot of water, and I always make sure that there's a bottle of water on the passenger seat, for a 'slug' now and then. Why should I inflict you, gentle reader, with the unexciting details of my preparation for setting out on a journey?
I began this chapter by referring to life being a journey; indeed, it is a journey that's made up of many many relatively short journeys. Referring to what I bring with me, I hope, will give me an opening to how I should approach life, and ensure that I have access to the more important and essential elements that make that journey fruitful, blessed, and empowered.
I wrote at length in the last chapter of the central role of the Spirit in this journey. The Spirit accompanies me, as well as encouraging and empowering me. Christy Moore, the Irish singer/songwriter, has a song called "Don't forget your shovel if you want to go to work" This song came from his experience as a labourer in England in early life, where a shovel was the only tool required by most Irish navvies. This chapter could well be called "Don't forget your tool-box if you want to live today".
Most of us know someone who goes out the door to work in the morning, complete with all necessary equipment and data, including the car, which is supplied by the firm. The travelling technician has a tool-box, with all the tools and material that will be required to do his work that day. He has a work-sheet, and a mobile phone, again supplied by the firm, and his job is to go here, be there, fix this, change that. His employers have fully equipped him for this particular kind of work, and they even throw in a few refresher courses from time to time, to keep the workers up-to-date on all the latest developments.
As a Christian, I am entrusted with a life, and all that it takes to live that life to the full. "I came that you should have life, and have it in abundance" (John 10:10). Jesus spoke about us having his joy(Jn. 15:11), and his peace(Jn. 14:27). In other words, with the responsibilities come the privileges. "You will receive power from on high, and you will become my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). This is the most EXTRA-ORDINARY situation that my mind could dare to imagine. I am given the gift of life, and I am given every gift and grace that I need to live that life to the full.
Let's reflect on this for a while. I take a copy and pen, and begin to write out all the things I'm good at. I list my hobbies, interests, and past-times. I make a list of the significant people in my life, and the natural gifts and talents that are obvious to everybody, some of which may be directly connected to my particular profession, or vocation in life. I'm sure I could end up with several pages, by the time I have written down all that comes to mind. And yet, what I speak of here is away above and beyond all of that.
It is wonderful to have natural talents, and I admire (envy?!) those who are musicians, artists, and talented sports-people. However, when I speak of the tool-box that is given me to live my Christian vocation, then all 'normal' ways of assessing and reckoning go out the door. The Spirit supplies a tool-box of pure free gifts. These gifts are not mine; they are given to me for the sake of others. That, in itself, greatly increases my responsibility for how I use those gifts. Each person is completely unique, right down to a finger-print, or a DNA blood sample. Because each person is so unique, it is only natural to expect that no two tool-boxes will be the same. Some of my confreres are working with lepers, something I am certain would be beyond me. On the other hand, not many of them would dare sit at a computer for hours, trying to put words on reflections, thoughts, and ideas.
My tool-box contains exactly the tools that I need to do the work the Lord has entrusted to me. It is said that if there were one hundred people in a room, and they each exchanged their weaknesses, within an hour each would be screaming to be given their own weaknesses back! Something similar would result if you and I exchanged tool-boxes. You have gifts that I don't need (e.g., you're a parent, and I am a priest), and I have gifts that you don't need.
Gather a group of us in a large room, and each is entrusted with the gifts that God sees each one as needing. All of the gifts have one thing in common. They are not natural talents, or gifts of particular genius. They are charisms, from the Greek word charismata, meaning gifts given to persons for the sake of those they will meet along the road of life. In other words, while no one of us can claim a charism as personal property, each one of us can benefit from all the charisms in the whole room, and not just the ones entrusted to me. By the very fact that these charisms are common property, and never private possession, no one of us can claim any kind of superiority over anyone else.
The Mother of Jesus was blessed in an extraordinary way by God, but there's no record of her working a miracle. I couldn't imagine her being jealous of the apostles because of the many miracles and signs that accompanied them in their post-Pentecost preaching! St. Paul was obviously a very powerful communicator, through the spoken and written word. I wouldn't feel it necessary to research his history, for proof that he raised anybody from the dead, or that he multiplied loaves and fishes.
I believe it would be a very worthwhile exercise to take time out (prayer?) to reflect on the particular tool-box the Lord has entrusted to me. There is need for a word of caution here. I myself would/should be the last person in the world to discover a particular gift of the Spirit entrusted to me. Of course, I can be aware of a gift, but this is revealed to me by others, and not through my own discovery! I have reason to believe that I have been entrusted with the gifts of preaching and teaching, and the reservations in my diary for over a year from now confirm this fact, rather than some great enlightenment on my part! There are many gifts, of course, that are common to all of us, and, if I am being lead by the Spirit, I can expect to hunger for greater faith, or for greater wisdom.
Remember my referring to a hundred of us gathered together in a large room. Imagine a very large mirror that is shattered, and one piece of the broken mirror is entrusted to each person in the room. Each represents part of the whole, and it is only when each becomes willing to make available the piece entrusted to their care that we can build a Church, or form a Christian community. Each piece of the mirror represents a different aspect of God, and it is only when all the pieces are reunited that we can hope to reflect the face of God.
Jesus makes it very clear that each of us will be held accountable for what each of us did with the gifts entrusted to us. (Mt. 25:15-28). Everybody is gifted by God in a unique and special way. Those who are completely dependent on others, because of a physical or mental disability, contribute enormously to the Christian growth of those responsible for their welfare.
To be responsible is to respond to what God has entrusted to me. Like the technician going out the door to work in the morning, I already have all that I'll need to live that day to the full. Each situation will require its own particular gift, and the Lord will never lead me into a situation where his Spirit will not be there to see me through. How unfortunate and fool-hardly it would be to imagine that, of myself, I have all that's needed to meet each and every emergency this day may throw in my way.
At this stage in my life, thank God, I am quite active, and I'm nearly always on the move. Should the time come when I find myself in a wheel-chair, I can be sure and certain that I will have what it takes to deal with that situation. I don't have that gift just now, because I don't need it. To live each day with this level of faith is to live and to walk in the Spirit. It is by prayer, in whatever form that may take, that I am constantly reminded of this basic and simple truth. If I am too busy to pray, then I am far too busy. It's so easy for us to become so involved with the urgent that we overlook the important.
When I began this chapter, I prayed to the Spirit to anoint my words, and to make the gift of prophecy available to me. Prophecy is not about foretelling the future, as much as interpreting the present. I could not dare to speak God's word for him. I can make myself available, and trust a particular gift to guide and bless what I do. At every moment of every day, I can consciously allow the Spirit to work through me, either through the prayers I pray, the words I say, the things I do, or the very person that I am. Jean Vanier says that some of the greatest movements for good in the history of the world are brought about through the quiet prayers of totally unknown people.
One of my personal inspirations in my life is constantly reminding myself of Mary, my Mother, as being the care-taker of my heart. It is my belief that she is particularly effective and active in reminding me of the basic truth about using the gifts, and living with the strength of the Spirit. Her whole life was a constant witness to this simple fact. I can imagine her whispering YES in each and every situation, whether on her way to Egypt, or to Calvary. She had no doubt whatever about the source of her strength, because "He that is mighty has done wonderful things for me"(Lk. 1:49). She was wonderfully endowed with all the Gifts, and I just couldn't imagine her assuming any of these to herself, as her property or right.
I think of it as highly significant that she should spend those waiting days with the apostles, until the Spirit came upon them. There was a separate tongue of fire for the head of each of them, and each was individually anointed and blessed. Not all wrote letters, not did all face a martyr's death. Some of them are reputed with travelling to far away countries to spread the Good News, while some of them didn't wander too far away from Jerusalem. Each was lead by the Spirit to where the Lord required them to be.
In one of the most important documents that came out of Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, we are told "All of the charisms of the Spirit are to be eagerly sought after by all of God's people, as being necessary and essential for the renewal of his Body, the Church". Yes, indeed, don't forget your tool-box if you want to live today. With the call comes everything that is needed to answer that call. Place a Bible on your kitchen table as a reminder of your tool-box; or carry a small edition of the New Testament on your person. Do anything and everything that will help to re-enforce in your heart something that is crucial and central to living the vocation to which you are called.
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Look At It This Way copyright © Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.