A few years ago I took part in a new program to help priests come together and support each other in their work as priests.
The first part of that program entailed sitting down with these priests for 3 days, 8 hours a day, and listening to their stories. We each shared something on just a few questions: What major things in my life shaped me? What did I receive from my grandparents? What did I receive from my mother and what from my father?
As I heard the priests share on these questions, I was fascinated by the difficulties that many of us have faced throughout our lives, and the blessings that each of us has received as well. The answers to these questions explained to me why each priest was the way he was. It made me more compassionate towards some of them on disagreements that I have had with them.
This little exercise became a kind of prayer for me. I was able to name the horrible parts of my upbringing, recognize what effect they had on me and give them to the Lord, one by one.
I was also able to name the great blessings that I received, oftentimes from the very people who made my childhood difficult. This is not an exercise in blaming people or making myself into a victim. It is an exercise in naming the reality of my life and seeing the forces that shaped me into who I am.
In the process of doing this, it is not hard to see the hand of God at work in what we call “providence.” I personally do not believe that God causes us to go through bad situations so that we will become better people. Instead, I think that God sees us go through bad situations and then offers us a way to make them positive formative experiences.
In other words, the wounds that all of us have received from the hands of those closest to us do not have to become that which makes us fearful of life. With God’s help, they can become that which makes us strong.
Even more, God can help us name the many blessings that we received even in the midst of negative experiences. For me, I knew that I was beginning to forgive my mother for some of her shortcomings when I could also begin to name the many blessings that I received from her. I also realized that she never intended to hurt me personally. She also had some very negative experiences growing up, and in some ways was not equipped to address my needs as a young child. I believe that she did the best that she could with what she had. When I think about her now, I see her as a great gift to me, all things considered.
God is interested in us seeing reality for what it is. The realities that we refuse to look at become places for us to hide from Him.
May this week be a time for you to recognize your many blessings.
Fr. Steve Parlet, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church can be reached at 395-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.