Each of us has pivotal moments when the decisions we make and the events we experience shape who we are and what we believe. They are not random. I firmly believe the Lord is close at hand drawing us through human events closer to hIm. I’ll share a few which have shaped my own life.
In August 1962, the day before my 17th birthday, I came home from a summer job and found my mother dead. At first I was filled with grief and anger at God. Then somehow I remembered something about a guy named Job. Our bible was decorative. No one really read it including me. In glancing through Job I discovered the scripture where Job says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. We take good things from the Lord so should we also not accept the bad?” That passage dissolved the anger I felt against the Lord. All through the wake and funeral I kept repeating that passage as a kind of prayer. Although the grief remained, the anger left.
Over the next several months that death also led me to consider what really mattered in a person’s life. My mom’s jewelry was still in her drawer. Her birthday card to me remained unsigned in her purse. Then on my senior retreat I heard another scripture which became one of those decision points. It was St Matthew’s and St. Francis Xavier’s words from the Gospel, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” Sure money is necessary but it can’t be the primary goal of life. That’s not what life is all about. That passage led me to consider becoming a Jesuit. My experience of the 30 day retreat all Jesuits make and my 1 1/2 years in the novitiate have remained the foundation of my adult life, as has the axiom that love manifests itself in deeds and not just in words.
Linda and I were married in my first semester of law school. In the first months of our marriage two important events occurred which continue to impact our lives today. First, we wanted to share every aspect of our lives, but it occurred to us that there was one thing that we were not sharing and that was our spiritual lives. I timidly asked if we could pray together each night so we could share that. We very simply agreed to say an Our Father together and this prayer: “Lord, help us to conform to your will whatever it holds for us tomorrow.” And as our family grew we added, “Give each of our children a personal relationship with you, a clear vision of your vocation and call to them, and for those who marry, lifelong and loving spouses.” All seven of our children have chosen wonderful professions and vocations. Each is married to the same wonderful spouse. Just recently our 29th and 30th grandchildren were born.
The second important decision during the first months of our marriage arose through those tiny annoyances which, though small, can impact relationships. Rather than getting caught up in them, I resolved to simply do one thing daily purely our of love and without saying anything about it. So picking up a towel on the floor or a shoe or putting a single cut flower in a vase became a way to grow in love and unity. That practice continues to this day and the love grows.
Most of my legal career was spent as an attorney with Shell in New Orleans. But early in my career I was promoted and transferred to Shell’s main office in Houston. From a career perspective it was fantastic. The salary increase and the potential for further management promotions were a dream. There was one problem. By then we had 6 children, one a baby. After jointly discerning what was best for our family and after securing another job, I resigned. Our discernment had told us that money and success were not as important as what was best for our family. Later Shell rehired me with the promotion and a promise to keep me in New Orleans. Diaconate has spanned 36 years of our almost 49 years of marriage.
Our call (I firmly believe it is a call to both husband and wife) came through the Charismatic Renewal. Like many people and most guys, I saw very little to like in Charismatics. I dodged it until I was trapped into attending a Life in the Spirit Seminar. When prayed with for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit, nothing happened.
Then later that night I began to speak in tongues. More importantly, I was filled with an insatiable appetite for reading scripture and spiritual books. Making time for personal prayer became important. I sensed a call from the Lord to serve. Linda surprised me by asking me if her sense that the Lord was calling me to be a deacon was correct.
We jointly discerned that I should apply and the application was completed right before the application process closed. We had two children when applying, two during formation, and three after ordination. Juggling life as husband, father, attorney and deacon has made me depend much on the Holy Spirit. My continual prayer is a short one: “Give me wisdom, knowledge, discernment and sound judgment.” Very often the Lord has made 5 or 6 hours of sleep feel like 8. Early on I made a deal with the Lord about preaching preparation, which, for the most part, remains true. At first preparing a homily took most of Saturday. That was unfair to my family, so I asked the Lord to help me get it done in about an hour. He has honored that request.
After ordination we felt a call to live life in a close knit Christian community, one like that described in the Acts of the Apostles, one that would help form our children into good Christians and strengthen our marriage and family. As a result, our family became members of an ecumenical lay covenant community called the People of Praise (POP). The glue which binds the members of the POP is a promise to share life together and to look out for each other in all things material and spiritual. Men and women separately meet weekly in small faith groups. In this ecumenical community my faith has been nourished and my commitment to my friend Christ has grown deeper and stronger and has borne good fruit.
As I wrote this it dawned on me how generous our Lord has been. This scripture from Deuteronomy sums up how I feel. “Do you not know that the Lord your God has carried you as a Father carries his child all along your journey?”