Father John’s finest sermon

In the twinkling of an eye, everything changes.

Many of us know Redemptorist Father John Murray. He was pastor of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Baltimore City, and of St. Mary Parish in Annapolis. He has spent the last 11 years of his life preaching retreats and coordinating parish missions.

On August 27, he tripped on the Boardwalk in Long Branch, N.J., where the Redemptorists have a retreat house. As a result of that fall, Father John was paralyzed from the waist down. He’s a paraplegic.

In a letter Father John wrote Sept. 11, he asked for prayers. I’m telling his story so that you might add him to your prayer list. The poet told us that “more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” I fully expect a miracle for Father John. His indomitable faith and our prayers are the stuff of miracles. I see Father John walking again. I see him allowing the miracle to happen.

The greatest miracle, however, has already occurred – his life and ministry. The faith he preached is now the faith that sustains him in this new chapter of his life. Allow me to quote a few sentences from his letter:

“Now is the time to turn the page to a much quieter form of ministry: teaching not by what I say or do, but by patiently carrying my newest cross – being a paraplegic. God’s Will often comes in the form of the CROSS, and I embrace the Cross, rather than resist the cross or bemoan the Cross.”

There is such wisdom in those few words. When we resist something, when we try to push it away, we in fact make ourselves more miserable. We end up fighting with reality. Reality wins every time.

And certainly it is easy to bemoan our fate. I know how to do that. And there certainly is a time for grieving, for allowing ourselves to go through the anger and depression and sadness and bargaining that any loss triggers in us. Grieving is a natural and healthy process. Grieving has motion to it. We are moving. However, when we just focus on the loss, we make the grief last longer and our misery last longer.

Father John continues: “Now is the time to look to God and to cooperate with God’s grace… . Now is the time to relearn an old lesson that good works depend, not on my efforts, but on the Holy Spirit. Like a lot of priests, I will try to relearn to leave much of God’s work to the Holy Spirit.”

As Americans, we are “doers.” We like to stay busy, to accomplish the next task, to finish the next project. While such activity can be virtuous, it also has the possibility of putting the focus on us instead of God. That’s why Father John rightly quotes St. Paul: “I planted. Apollo watered. But God caused the growth.”

When we are unable to do, we discover the miracle of being! As someone wisely said: “We are not human doings. We are human beings.” When we so identify with our work, we risk losing our identity with the Spirit.

When we can identify with being, rather than doing, we identify with God. Father John wrote: “No more driving. No more traveling. All that is gone.” Yet, in losing our focus on activities “out there,” we discover a new reality of the presence of God “in here.” Within us is all the joy, the peace, the love in the world. Within us is the presence of God.

Father John Murray has preached thousands of sermons. His best sermon is the one he is preaching now with his life. May he discover the presence of God within himself, and discover what Jesus promised: “A joy that no one can take from you.”

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.