This is: The Gifts of Being Present and What the Jesuits Taught Me. I went away from the Catholic church for a long time. I attended other churches and sometimes I didn't go to church at all. Uh, why did I go away from the church? In 1973, the supreme court ruled on Roe v Wade and legalized abortion in the United States. In the wake of that decision, there were consecutive Sunday morning masses when the priest of our local parish would rant, yell, scream about this change in American culture. I was five years old. There was no internet or smartphones or Google or Amazon to look for helpful information about this, for my parents or myself. We lived in southern Illinois in the shadow of a military base and a conservative area of the country.
Imagine being five and not understanding what abortion was and asking your parents why this red face priests kept yelling and what was this thing called abortion. As you might imagine, this wasn't exactly the kind of welcoming type of hospitality that any young child is looking for when they think about church or when they think about God. There was a long journey that followed my early days with the Catholic Church that led me to explore Protestant churches and eventually stop going to church altogether. I had distinct awareness that I believed in God and I felt a strong sense of spirituality and yet I felt very disconnected from religion. And then in 2006 I found myself standing in the cafeteria of the George Washington University Hospital sobbing. Just me standing there alone, talking to my stepmother on my cell phone. I was trying to tell her that my wife, Kathleen had just finished the second of four operations and the doctor had just told me that things had not gone well, but I was having trouble getting the words out.
I was at risk of losing Kathleen and the feelings of desolation enveloped my entire soul. I quickly got off the phone and realized that there was a woman standing in front of me. She handed me some tissues and asked if I needed any help. She then told me in a quiet and humble voice that she would offer a prayer for me if that was okay. Yes, it was okay. Most certainly it was okay. A complete stranger in a large urban hospital cafeteria stood in solidarity with me for just a few moments, but I will never forget it or the compassion she shared with me. In 2012 the Jesuits stepped into my life. Tim Lennon of the Society of Jesus invited me to come to Creighton university and be his vice president for advancement. Father Lannon has a larger than life personality and a very invitational way about him. That brings people into the conversation as a priest, he is also has a gentle hand at bringing people closer to the guiding principles of Catholicism, particularly through the Lens of the Jesuits.
One of those guiding principles is finding God in all things. Finding God in all things is the practice of realizing that God is present with you always and is visible in the people who are in front of you or the gift of the sound of live music being played by an orchestra or the sound of a child's laughter or a passage in a great book or the exploding colors of a brilliant sunset or the kindness of human beings to one another. But to find God in all things, you have to pay attention and recognize those things. To put another way, you must be present. Being present requires not being fixated on the past, not thinking about the future is about being present with those things happening right in front of you and giving yourself the opportunity to marvel at the beauty of that particular moment.
This was a new way of thinking about faith, about God, about the Catholic Church. For me personally, this was a watershed moment. It allowed me to let go of the bitterness and confusion of my childhood memories and finding God in all things has allowed me to practice another hallmark of Catholicism, which is gratitude. I've also often thought about that woman in the George Washington University hospital cafeteria, and it is easy for me to see now that God showed up that day to help console me. God was there in the face of a 65 year old woman who handed me tissues, asked me if I was okay, and if it would be okay if she prayed for me. That small moment is something I think about more often than you would think, and is a reminder for me to be present. Pay attention to those moments now and to be present. Thank you.