It has been a very long and busy weekend at St. John's. On Friday evening I preached and offered the sacrament of the sick at a service commemorating World AIDS Day. The service was hosted by Most Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Parish in the Castro. Here is a picture of me with Deacon Brian Bromberger of MHR.
I was very moved by the participation of the congregation in the healing rite. Almost everyone came forward for prayer and anointing. We too easily forget the heavy burdens many still carry in the age of AIDS.
On Saturday morning, we joined our diocesan family at Grace Cathedral for the ordination of 15 priests and 5 deacons. Among them was the Rev. Jeff Donnelly, who was sponsored for Holy Orders by our parish. Fr. Jeff is pictured here just before saying his first mass on Sunday morning at St. John's. I was struck by the aptness of the homily at the ordination liturgy, which was preached by Dr. Rod Dugliss, dean of our diocesan School for Deacons. Rod spoke of the need for ministry to be grounded in an inner disposition of compassion and joy: broken hearts, and hearts on fire. The greatest temptations we face as ministers of the Gospel are to harden our hearts, becoming defended from the suffering of the world, or to allow the flame of holy love to die out, becoming joyless in our service to others.
These are certainly temptations with which I struggle in ordained ministry. Serving an inner city neighborhood is challenging. On top of everything else this weekend, we celebrated a service of Advent Lessons and Carols on Saturday night, beginning our preparation for the Mystery of Christmas with an inspirational and evocative medley of music, scripture, and poetry. It was beautiful and moving.
And then Sunday after mass and a meeting, READY to go home, I discovered that a man had locked himself in the bathroom. He would not respond, so I called the police and waited outside for the officer to arrive. Eventually, the man emerged, with a syringe clenched between his teeth, and strolled off down the sidewalk. I locked the gate, went back inside, and discovered the bathroom a wreck: blood all over the walls and floor from this meth addicts attempts to inject himself. Soiled paper towels and cigarette butts all around. I locked the bathroom door (which one enters directly from our garden) and prepared to go back inside the church.
Suddenly, the man returned, hauling himself over the garden wall, screaming about having left his wallet in the bathroom. I was frightened, worried that he might still have the needle with him, and fled out the back gate. By the time the police officer arrived, he had kicked in the bathroom door, recovered his wallet and left. I was shaken. I filed a police report and went home. I returned on Monday and wiped the blood off the walls as best I could, and disposed of the broken needle that was the immediate cause of the mess.
I was and am struggling with feelings of anger and fear. My heart wants to be defended, rather than broken open in compassion: for both this addict and myself. A good and wise friend pointed out to me that this meth addict already has one foot in the grave. He is not someone with whom I would wish to trade places. Yet, he, too, is a beloved one for whom Christ died and rose again. I will continue to try to pray for him, try to remember that a broken heart is one open to the mercy of God.
And I will try to blow or, rather, to allow the Holy Spirit to blow the embers of holy love into a roaring fire again. I will remember Fr. Jeff's hands shaking as he invoked the Holy Spirit over the gifts of bread and wine for the first time on Sunday morning, remember the gift and joy of Holy Orders and the love of the One who has given Jeff, and me, this gift. Perhaps if my heart is broken open a little wider after this weekend, the fire of love will glow a bit brighter and true joy will come again. I've been told it tends to do so about this time each year.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!