The motto of Fr. Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, was, “Always go forward, never turn back.”That may have been good advice for a missionary, but you can’t apply it to the spiritual life.Each Lent begins with a reading from the prophet Joel:
…Return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.
Jesus calls us to continual “conversion,” which means, literally, to “turn around”–to make a 180.
The title of Book II of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is “A Twitch upon the Thread.” It comes from a line in a Father Brown book by G. K. Chesterton which Lady Marchmain reads to the family. Cordelia reminds Charles of it when discussing the wanderings of her family:
…[T]he family haven’t been very constant, have they? There’s [Papa] gone and Sebastian gone and Julia gone. But God won’t let them go for long, you know. I wonder if you remember the story Mummy read us the evening Sebastian first got drunk–I mean the bad evening. Father Brown said something like “I caught him,” (the thief) “with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
Waugh uses Chesterton’s image as a metaphor for God’s patient way with us. We are hooked, and he lets us “wander to the ends of the world,” but will bring us “back with a twitch upon the thread.”
That’s the story of Jonah, too. He sought to flee to the ends of the world, but God brought him back.
It’s the story Francis Thompson narrates in his poem, “The Hound of Heaven“:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’
In the first part of this year I heard a couple of gentle invitations in the space of a couple of days to return home. One from an old friend–another from someone who barely knew me.This time, the message hit home.
This time, those few gentle words were the “twitch upon the thread” that led this wanderer to consider going home. They found fertile ground in a plowed over soul. It was a time of deepened prayer; a time of personal growth; a time of family pain; a time of anticipation of a 25 year reunion, looking back to a time of unity and the joy of a first love.
On Sabbath, April 21 (my baby brother’s birthday), I returned to the Seventh-day Adventist faith in which I spent the first 21 years of my life through rebaptism. When I got home that day, I immediately submitted my resignation as Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
I didn’t know for sure how long it would be before I found another job, though I had been in conversations with folks for a few weeks.
A job was confirmed three days later.
I left twenty-four years ago, when I had been married a year. Joy and I are now looking forward to a very special 25th anniversary on May 23, joyfully united in faith, hope, and love.
Our parents have prayed for this for over two decades, as have many friends and other family members. I never would have predicted it, but God’s leading was too strong and it was confirmed in multiple miraculous ways.
Farewell, St. Blog’s. I’m not going to enter into debate or discussion. I’ve been laying out theological and ecclesial issues over the past two months that were contributing factors to my loss of trust in the authority of Rome and the Catholic Magisterium. And that’s what so much of Catholic life and teaching is built on: “Trust us.” If you do, you can accept everything; if you don’t, then you must fall back on something else–the Word of God.
I took these steps with fear and trepidation. It’s humbling to be in the position of the prodigal son–and to be welcomed back with such joy as I’ve received … the fatted calf has been killed indeed.
God is good.