Easter, 2010

I appreciate what Bishop Morrison said to us in his recent pastoral letter on what we are to be about this Lent. He, no doubt, would agree that it is difficult for us to go apart into a desert place and to wait upon God in stillness and silence, through fasting, in prayer, in reading the Scriptures, and in the denial of selfish impulses. The reason is not only that we live in a post-Christian world, but that we face the daily demands of our families and in just trying to make a living. These all can place a tremendous strain on our Lenten disciplines.

A great problem for us as Christians is come to the Mass one hour a week, where we enter into another dimension and then return into the secular world again. This is not enough to satisfy our hunger for God. It feels as if we are living two different lives.

Attending a Lenten Church retreat for a day or three days is the best way to set ourselves apart from the world. We will be offering for the first time a silent retreat at St. George’s on Saturday, March 27th from 3 to 7 pm, where, hopefully, one can experience a greater sense of the eternal.

The great Anglican theologian Dom Gregory Dix said the Mass is the eternal transfixed in time. Meditating on that divine reality I would like to quote the great American poet and Anglican T. S. Eliot who dominated the 20th century with his writings. In his work, Dry Salvages of the Four Quartets, he said:

But to apprehend

The point of intersection of the timeless

With time, is an occupation for the saint-

No occupation either, but something given

and taken, in lifetimes’ death in love,

Ardour and selflessness and self surrender.1

The way of the Christian, our Lord said, is the way of the cross. The season of Lent is all tied up with the cross. Christ said for us to take up our cross. To really love Him means we have to die to self; our occupation as saints is self giving, self surrender. One theologian said you will know your cross because it is not the one you want.

One of the men who had the greatest bearing on my life was Father Richard Gilman whose life was one of love and suffering. Father Gilman was a wonderful priest who took a great personal interest in me as he did in every one whom he encountered. He worked at our national seminary in Berkeley, California as the provost of the college and also managed the church’s college dormitory which served Cal students.

When I arrived at Cal I had no money or financial support for college. Bishop Morse allowed me to stay in the college dormitory so I had free housing. But Fr. Gilman knew my survival through college depended on landing a job. He happened to be a frequent patron at the hotel restaurant across from the dorms and he got me a job as a dishwasher. He lent me his car and gave me money for dates and to help me make ends meet. He was always helpful if I had a question with my studies or about life in general.

The more I came to know Fr. Gilman the more I learned how much his life was one of selflessness. He was a remarkable man. He served as president of one of the largest engineering firms in the country and helped build dams all over the world. He had been a marine drill sergeant. He ran the Chinese railroad for a day under Cheng Kai Shek.

But Fr. Gilman also experienced tremendous loss. While on one dam project his wife went into labor at the job site and he had to deliver his twin sons who died in his arms. Both of his wives died early on in his life. Whenever he heard something beautiful described to him or heard of someone suffering he would break down and cry. At the age of 65 he quit his prestigious job and went to seminary.

I remember a conversation I had with Bishop Morse about the last moments he had with Fr. Gilman when he died. The Bishop said Fr. Gilman died on his 75th birthday.

The Bishop accompanied him to the hospital where he waited in the hallway with Fr. Gilman for eight hours before he could be given a room in intensive care for dialysis treatment.

The Bishop knew Fr. Gilman was quickly slipping from this life so he stepped outside to retrieve his oils for administering holy unction. When he came back twenty minutes later, Fr. Gilman had died. The Bishop still anointed him.

But while doing so he met a Chinese nurse who could hardly speak English who had waited on Fr. Gilman. The Bishop had to stop and console her, because she kept saying to the Bishop, “Very nice man.” “Very nice man.” She had only known him for a couple of minutes. When the Bishop looked on the face of Fr. Gilman it was the face of one who had seen a beatific vision, for his face was serene and joyful.

Fr. Gilman was one of the reasons I became a priest.

The dilemma for each of us is that we are all caught on the cross between selfishness and the desire to love god. This is symbolized by the horizontal and vertical beams of the cross. We all have egos and striving obsessions with self, crossed by our love for God and others.

We wrestle with this not only during Lent but in our daily pilgrimage through this life.

T. S. Eliot again beautifully conveys our struggle:

For most of us, there is only the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts. These are only hints and guesses,

Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is

Incarnation.2

The meaning of Lent (and really our Christian vocation) is prayer, observance, discipline, thought, and action. Each of these, seriously applied, will sharpen our hunger for the Incarnate and Resurrected Lord; we can come to Easter Day only through the Cross, through our own personal Lent. Christ’s Incarnation, His death and Passion, and His Resurrection and Ascension have made possible our union with God in Christ. Lent is the season in which the Church beseeches us to give ourselves to the Risen Lord. The way has been opened for us; however, each of us must take up the Cross and follow in order to have the Son of God put His open arms around us and take us for His own.

May we give thanks to God in the Holy Eucharist and have union with Him through His Son in the eternal transfixed in time.

Fr. Gordon Hines+

1 T. S. Eliot, “Dry Salvages,” Four Quartets (San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1971), p. 44.

2 Ibid.

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