I spent last weekend away. I joined several of my US Naval Academy classmates for a weekend in Ormond Beach at one of their homes. And as it is always likely to happen, when we get together, there were lots of sea stories. Daring tales of iron men and wooden ships braving the deep waters – and some of the stories were even true. It was also interesting hearing all the details of my friend’s assignments and their encountering other classmates in those assignments. Several of the men at the gathering had made careers of the Navy; several of us had not.
I did not make a career of the Navy, getting out after 8 years in submarine service. Many people have asked me why I would not want to make a career of the Navy especially after graduating from Annapolis. As with most major life decisions it’s complicated. In part, it was at the 8-year point that the Naval detailer – the office who makes personnel and career assignments – outlined my career path: another department head tour at sea, executive officer assignment – at sea – and then a tour as a sea-going commanding officer – very exciting in his telling. Imagine – keys to my very own nuclear submarine! But…all I heard was that I would spend the next 12 years at sea. I suddenly had the vision of being in my early 40’s and having morphed into the ancient mariner returning to a world that was now foreign and mysterious – yes, yes, a little dramatic, but hey – have you ever lived on a submarine? But in truth it was probably deeper than that. I was not always blessed with good models of commanding officers – men who easily carried that mantle of being a good commander and a good person at the same time. And it makes a difference.
One of my Academy friends had a different experience and every young officer from his first submarine went on to command submarines later in their careers. Not one junior officer from another’s first assignment stayed in much past their minimum commitment. The models of leadership – and there are many models – the models of leadership make a difference.
On the other hand, I have been blessed to know men who well carried the mantles of being good men, good priests, and good pastors – even as they employed very different styles of pastoral leadership. I think I was in college before I heard a priest without an Irish accent – that’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but my memory of priests in the 1960s is that they were Irish, kind, funny but definitely in charge – one did not argue with Father. I missed the 1970s – I was underwater.
In the 1980s I ran into my first Franciscan – clearly it made a difference. Like the priests I had known before, they were good men, priests and pastors – but the underlying way in which they were shepherds was different. They were not so remote – you could get close enough to see their humanity, their flaws, and their fraternity among the brothers. They were approachable – and in time they made you see yourself differently – made our second reading a more visible, viable, and real: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. [And] so we are.” The friars in many and varying ways continued to challenge and call each person to see the love God has showered upon each one, the gifts that each possessed, as well as the call to respond to such divine love, by bring forward their own gifts to the larger body of the Church community. But it was more than that, too.
When you would begin to respond to the call to bring your gifts, you might come to one of the friars and begin a conversation. They might have said, “This is what I need you to do.” But the friars had a way of life of welcoming you to mutually discern the Spirit’s movement within the larger wisdom of the Church community – and you were totally free to argue with Father. It was their way of leading you into the wider, the longer view: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
In other words, what you were doing now was more than functional, more than task-oriented – even as you brought forth your gifts, your talents, your treasures – you were becoming. You were continually being made anew. You sensed that for now you were God’s child, but were becoming God’s teenager, young adult, and moving toward the blossoming of fuller, more complete relationship with God: “what we shall be has not yet been revealed” And there was a native excitement, challenge and hope in that realization. The friars made it clear that they were on the same journey with all the same excitement, challenges and hope.
That’s my experience. I hope that you have had good leaders, good shepherds in your life. And I hope that your life and worship here at Sacred Heart help you to understand these two short verses from our second reading, two simple verses from the First Letter of John
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. [And] so we are.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
I pray that you see yourself as a child of God – loved, embraced, corrected when necessary, and free to explore – and that you are hopeful there is more to be revealed and that this prospect excites you. For we indeed are children of God. We belong and we are loved.