Every time a person reads the Night Prayer as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, one will come across the canticle, “Nunc Dimittis,” which is often called the Song of Simeon, taken from the Gospel of St. Luke. (2:29-32) It expresses the hope-filled joy of Simeon, who was faithfully waiting for the Savior and finally gotten the chance to hold Him as a babe. When his long-awaited joy was fulfilled, he asked to go in peace because he was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not meet death until he had seen the Messiah. For me, this encounter reminds us much about awareness. Because if we are not aware, we ourselves might miss the chance to recognize the Lord when He appears to us in an unexpected way!
This event reminds us that the Lord, too, likes to appear and reveal Himself in very ordinary ways. We can definitely easily miss Him if we are too occupied and busy with other little things. Think about it, we are usually the ones who complicate our relationship with Him! We often come to Him with too many expectations, demands, and long lists of wants. Yet, all He ever wanted to do is to show us how much He loves us by simply being with us. The Lord shows us His amazing love in very “ordinary” and heartfelt ways through creation, simple manifestations of love, compassion, and kindness, in prayers, and at each and every Mass, but we often want Him to only wow or show us in ways that we would have liked through mundane, meager, or extravagant human means and short-lived satisfactions. Nevertheless, the Lord is not someone who likes being fancy nor does He like things extravagant. He loves us in very heartfelt, personal, and what seems to be ordinary ways! Just like a long-time couple who already knows each other, who does not care about wowing each other with sentimental or emotional puppy-love stage expressions, God loves us with His simple and consistent manifestations of love, too.
We are lost when we try too hard to find our peace and happiness elsewhere! We will constantly be restless and unhappy when we are not willing to be who we are and content with what is given to us. As a matter of fact, here is the paradoxical irony: the more we try to seek our personal, short-term, sentimental, emotional, or hedonistic understanding of happiness, we end up losing the true joy that can only be found with hope. That is why personal happiness tends to be confusing and short-lived, while true joy is found in knowing who we are in the Lord!
Fr. Henri Nouwen wrote in his book on Christian identity, Who We Are, about the five lies about our personal identity according to the world:
- I am what I have
- I am what I do
- I am what other people say or think of me
- I am nothing more than my worst moment
- I am nothing less than my best moment
Please take a moment to re-read the five lies again… and once you are done, allow me to share my own story with you.
When I found out that I was getting assigned to the three parishes in Burkburnett, Iowa Park, and Electra, I was initially excited about the new adventure. Nevertheless, I was sad to have to leave the community in Denton that I came to love for the first two years of my priesthood, especially the Spanish-speaking community that I never in a million years thought I would be so connected! I remembered crying so hard at my last weekend Masses at that parish because I gave them my all with all that I had, and there was a special relationship there.
When I actually began the new assignment, the initial joy and welcoming happiness were short-lived as my ministry began to be filled with many stresses from having to learn and dealt with many things on my own. Many days of my first few years, I had many temptations of just letting go and asking the Bishop to go back to where I was. Yet, I knew they were my own personal desires and wants and not of the Lord so I had to learn to stick with His will. I am not going to lie, it was hard and I had many sleepless nights because there were many challenges! Nonetheless, I learned to stick my principles, did what was right and just, grew a thicker skin, and learned to adapt as I am best able. I also learned how to better care for the people and pastorally administer as a parish priest instead of letting the problems myopically dictate my life, especially my pastoral duties and responsibilities to the people. I was given many opportunities to handle different financial challenges, including how to deal with a building project with its numerous strings of fundraising, loan, and payoff matters.
I learned so much during my time there. I came to know and love many people even though it was hard at times. I learned how to slowly form the three parishes more than just places of worship — a home to belong. I often told my communities that they are my home! I really have nowhere and no one else but them! For them, I learned to give my all, to stick with them no matter what, especially to understand that I do not have to like everything and everyone at every moment to love and give my everything to all. I have learned that to be a parish priest is to embrace and love my parishioners no matter what! Hence, as I have said before and will say it now again, I will never let anything comes between the people and will not abandon my flock because Jesus never abandoned us!
The Lord incarnated and became one of us, to live like us in all things, because He loves us. We are loved and are His beloved. Furthermore, we are all one another’s beloved, too. This is why we are members of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church! If we seek His presence in one another and love one another — beyond our likes and wants, differences and limitations — as He has loved us, I think our parish, diocese, nation, the world, and universal Church would be much better.
Simeon and Anna waited faithfully for a long time and were given the chance to meet the Babe who will save the world when they perhaps least expected it. His parents, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, were surprised by what was told of Him even though they were just doing their duties to present the child to the Temple. Nonetheless, in the midst of all of that unexpected but providential pieces coming together, the Heavenly Father smiled upon all who were brought together as His eternally-begotten Son showed Himself to those who sought Him. The Holy Spirit was joyfully working to bring everything and everyone together, especially those who waited, yearning, and seeking the Messiah‘s presence through patient, mindful, and loving awareness.
Over and over again, we are reminded that what we are looking for from God might not what we are expecting at times. What He wants to show us will be much simpler, personal, intimate, heartfelt, and at times, feel more ordinary than what we thought it will be! Nevertheless, if we stay, be faithful and humble, mindful and aware, He will show us what our heart truly desires and seek… that God is with us — He is truly with us — we are not alone — and that He is enough! There is no other way to say this, but our true peace is found in the ability to smile at God and see Him smiles at us.
May the peace of the Lord be with you.