Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Early Retirement Story Part 4: A Cliff Hanging Experience!

At the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ call for vigilance to his disciples, who were drowsy, was repeated with great urgency. In discussing the hour of Jesus’ agony on the Mount of Olives, the Holy Father said, “Such drowsiness deadens the soul, so that it remains undisturbed by the power of the Evil One at work in the world…Yet this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world” (BXVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 1, p. 153).

A few days before my conversation with my former boss, Jeff, referred to previously in Part 3 of this sharing, I was praying before going to bed as usual. It was part of my daily routines, an end-of-the-day exercise that enabled me to refocus my heart on God and gave me peace. But on this night, my heart was anything but peaceful. My soul was agitated because it wasn’t at peace with the Holy Spirit who dwelled in me.

Apparently the Treasurer’s overt aggression and her self-serving tactics had induced in me a deep disdain, if not hatred, for her. Without knowing it, my survival instincts took over and all I thought about everyday was how to launch a counter attack: What were some of the things that she did wrong that would allow me to thwart her aggression or even remove her from the board? Who were the “allies” that I could count on for support? On this night, with drowsiness weighing heavy on my eyes, the forces of darkness were looming indeed. They were lurking in the shadows, waiting for the best moment to pounce on their long-coveted victim.

As usual, I read the Bible before I prayed. I normally selected a certain book of the Bible and followed it through by reading a few passages before each evening prayer until the book was finished. On that particular evening, with my heart filled with hatred and my head hollering for vengeance, I happened to be reading 1 Peter chapter 2. Looking back, I now realize that not only does God talk to us, He also knows how to do so effectively. He talks to us using a language or vehicle that we are sensitive to or interested in. In my case, it was the Bible. Just as He once communicated with St. Augustine, who before his conversion was a man of earthly ambitions and unchaste desires, by commanding him to read Romans 13:13-14(cf. Confessions, VIII.12); on that night, with the forces of darkness threatening and my body half-hanging on the edge of a cliff, He gave me a stern wake-up call through St. Peter:

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, insincerity, envy, and all slander; like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation, for you have tasted that the Lord is good… Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul…Be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the approval of those who do good…Slaves, be subject to your masters with all reverence, not only to those who are good and equitable but also to those who are perverse…But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps (1Peter 2:1-21 underlining mine.)

The words pierced my heart like a thousand arrows, every one of them a swift and convincing retort to my well-conceived arguments for justifying deceit and retaliation!

I had to be honest with myself. In the ten years or so before my retirement, the divergence taken by my career and my mission of evangelization had become painfully clear. One was slowly going downhill, to the point that I had completely lost my enthusiasm. I felt like my time – my life – could be better utilized. I was hard pressed to come up with one good reason for continuing the status quo. Yes, the income was still tempting, but deep down I knew my time, or any person’s time for that matter, was far too precious to be spent just for the sake of making money.

On the other hand, I had become more and more convinced that God’s will was for me to make good use of the gifts or “talents” (cf. Mt. 25:14ff) that He had entrusted with me, and not to lay waste the time and work that He had invested in me to give me my conversion and to equip me well for evangelization. If my interest in my career was dissipating, my passion for evangelization was just beginning to soar. I was also keenly aware that the years that I had left that would allow me to use God’s “talents” effectively were very limited. It’s time I made a decision which was long overdue. I took the “prayer incident” as God’s very last push. My mind was made up: It’s time I left the company; it’s time I submitted my will to merge with His.

Dear Lord, how sweet it is to know that You, whose omnipotence incites great fears, will stoop low to communicate with us lowly mortals, not only collectively but also personally, doing so not only in your way but also in our way just so we will pay attention. Truly to know You presupposes communion with you; it presupposes oneness of being with You. Your thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are your ways our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8). Only by wanting to be the little ones will we know Your will (cf. Mt. 11:27), and only by submitting our will to merge with Yours will our lives be brought to completion in You. Thank you for using St. Peter to reveal Your will to me, a little one, a slave. Thank you for stooping down low to talk to me. Forgive me, O Lord, for allowing the Evil One to enter my heart to fill it with vengeance and hatred. But “LORD, you brought me up from Sheol; you kept me from going down to the pit” (Psalms 30:4.) You lifted me up when my body was half-hanging on a cliff. Amen!

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