Don’t Wait Too Long for a Renewal
Have you ever felt like opportunities have passed you by? Like maybe your best days are behind you? Or like you are just too old and too set in your ways to take on a new challenge such as going back to school, changing jobs, learning a new hobby, or entering a new relationship? Well, as I celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination this past year, I thought I could qualify as someone who was, as we like to say here in New England, “all set.” At my young age, I did not really anticipate encountering anything brand new. Well, I have news for you. Very good news: God is never finished with any of us.
For years, many of my priest and lay friends, as well as a fellow bishop whom I admire, have encouraged me to experience a Cursillo, but I have always had plenty of excuses. Taking three-and-a-half days out of my busy calendar was reason enough to postpone this invitation indefinitely. Yet I have always been impressed with the people in the parishes who were members of the Cursillo movement. They were often leaders in their parishes and they always struck me as people who genuinely wanted to help, not out of a self-centered need to be recognized, but out of a real desire to serve others. This made an impression on me. But still, three whole days dedicated to spiritual instruction and renewal? I am a bishop, after all. I pray daily, teach about Christ’s saving grace frequently, and make private retreats annually. I should be all set, right? Well, leading up to my 75th birthday, I gave myself, or rather God gave to me, a remarkable gift. I finally made a Cursillo. It was for me, as it is for hundreds of men and women each year, a transformative and rejuvenating spiritual experience!
Imagine the awkwardness when I first walked into the room on the inaugural Thursday evening of the Cursillo. I didn’t know anyone in the room. Needless to say, they all recognized me and were no doubt wondering to themselves, “What is the Bishop doing here?” Eventually, once we overcame the initial superficial barriers, they came to see me and treat me as “one of the guys,” which I really appreciated.
Begun among Catholics in Spain in the 1940s, Cursillo is a movement whose full name is Cursillo de Cristiandad or “Short courses of Christianity.” The three-day weekend is at the core of the movement. Individuals make this among other men, and then after they have done so, their spouses are invited to do the same among women.
At the essence of Cursillo is the recognition that “while most people would like to live their lives in a Christ-like manner, the pressures of the world often make this difficult.” The movement offers “a method and a technique to provide each of us with the tools, the mentality, the strength, and the support” to walk in Christ.
So there we all were, men of different ages and backgrounds from all walks of life: CEO’s, salesmen, teachers, lawyers, skilled laborers, husbands, fathers, single men, and one bishop. All of us were filled with nervous expectations, a bit of hope, and an instinctive desire to turn around and leave in a hurry. What we shared in common with each other was the simple desire to know our faith and the Lord better and to live with a better understanding of the Lord’s ways. And so we stayed.
We not only stayed, we participated together in what was for me a transformative three days that brought us each from complacency to consciousness of Christ’s love for us, animating in turn our desire to love Christ. What was especially moving to me was the faith of the other men present. As men courageously and openly spoke about their relationship with the Lord and what that means in their lives, it affected me deeply and affected all of us. We experienced the power of the Lord in our midst.
Truthfully, I never expected to be animated by this experience in the way that I was. At 74 years old I did not think I had perfected the art of Christian living, but neither did I recognize just how much growth and change was possible. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I had underestimated the power of God’s love to keep shaping our daily lives through challenges, sacrifice, surprises, suffering, and the love of others. Our own perspectives and expectations may become limited, but Christ’s love for us is not. It is not only abundant, it is infinite.
How apparent this is in the pages of this issue of Parable. When I look at the remarkable and inspiring art that Sylvia Nicolas creates even in her eighth decade of living; when I read of how the film makers of Either/Or Films came to enter the Church well into their life’s journey; when I see the love and comfort that Sheryl Brooks brings to the elderly; and when I consider my own experience on Cursillo, it is more clear to me than ever that God is never finished loving, shaping, and renewing our lives.
I therefore encourage all of you to be open to renewal. Don’t wait as long as I did to make a Cursillo, or a Marriage Encounter, or to go on a religious pilgrimage or to reconcile with those from whom you are estranged. Take it from this youngster in the faith: if you find a way to creatively disrupt the comfort and complacency of your routines and relationships, the Holy Spirit will surprise you and animate your lives with a love that is creative and infinite.