Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena

A Parish of the Archdiocese of New York served by the Dominican Friars

January 16, 2016

The Life, and Lives, Confided to Us – Pastor’s Reflection (January 17, 2016)

In the first of Jesus’ signs at the Wedding at Cana, we are present as the distraught wait staff who have run out of wine. Mary looks at us lovingly, points to her Son lovingly, and says, “Do whatever He tells you.” The Blessed Mother says vulnerability to Christ is the way to go, and the mandate remains the same to this day.

Each time we walk into a confessional we tell Christ what we can barely admit to ourselves. As His followers, we trust His words and accept His Eucharist as the food for living well on the journey. We effectively submit ourselves to His direction when we pray to the Holy Spirit. As Catholics we rely on His promise to companion the Church through the same Spirit and we accept the doctrinal formulations and moral teachings developed within His Body. Receiving His promise, we walk in faith toward a heavenly homeland, and so our life has a shape understood less and less by our contemporaries.

Discipleship of this sort challenges the soul in thoroughgoing fashion, but Christ’s response to our vulnerability takes things over the top. He inserts us into an economy of trust.

Somehow when I make myself vulnerable to Christ, He responds by making other people vulnerable to me. If we marry in the Church, we find that we have a spouse and children who look to us for all kinds of sustenance and the quality of their lives depends on our response. In the domestic church we have the power to make or break days, months, or years. If I make religious vows I soon realize that the whole community has been placed into my hands to foster its potential, or not. I have vowed myself to obey the superior but I retain control over his quality of life, which depends on how I live mine. When I preach a homily or hear a confession I acquire a captive audience whom I can liberate, provoke into reflection, bore, or weigh down.

To live the Christian life fully demands seeing this power we have over others, and our reaction to it, for the fact of the other’s vulnerability can make me full of myself or it can terrify me into paralysis. I think Jesus intends neither. Rather, I believe He confides people to us because when we perceive the singular, complex, and delicate lives in our hands, we recognize the depth of our own vulnerability in a life giving way. To have the life of another open to me is to find an occasion of deep reverence for the maker of all life, and of each life. What I discover, to my amazement, is that God has shared with me His power to set life free, to foster its gifts, and to enable its potential.

It strikes me that in the extraordinary circumstance of this parish merger, our power over others needs to be palpable to us in just this way. Last night (Monday) we held the first combined Parish Council meeting for the new parish. I was moved by the ways in which the whole group recognized just this situation, so that each tried to establish safety for the others. Often this took the form of storytelling. As the councilors introduced themselves they would make a point of their good experience with the “other” church. They wanted to say, “I have a connection with you, I reverence you, and I will go forward carefully with you.” The session was a Pastor’s dream come true. The fruit of this meeting will come to you as a Lenten program for commitment to the new parish. I trust that you will perceive in the making and presenting of this initiative something of the mutual deference I experienced yesterday.

Beginning this Monday, January 18, we begin an intensive prayer for, a discussion of, the Unity of Christians. Here is an opportunity to recognize the vastness of the economy of trust. These celebrations invite me to recognize that everyone who has put on Christ in baptism has been confided by Him to my concern. When I ponder the number and variety of my fellow Christians I am summoned to pray for well-being, to seek understanding, and to long for unity.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity lasts from January 18 until January 25 when it concludes with the beautiful feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. As you study the program given for this week in the bulletin, please consider the witness to our age of not letting division shape us.

On Friday of this week, January 22, the Bishops invite us to pray and fast for the preservation of human life in the womb. Here is a yet wider circle of communion to which Christ has called us, and for which He has fitted us. How much vulnerable life there is to protect and nurture! So many chances to be like the one who holds our vulnerable selves in life, and shapes them for eternal life.

May your winter pass swiftly!
Fr. Walter Wagner, O.P., Pastor