Saturday, December 23, 2006

Two Years of the Munus Blogendi

“So, two years?” the Catholic Guy asked me on Wednesday. “It’s your longest relationship?”

“Not the longest,” I shot back, “but, without question, the best.”

If you’re having difficulty following – what’s new? – Wednesday marked the second anniversary of the day when, with nothing but a whim and a brain-fart of a title, Whispers went live. Boasting a readership of three. And bearing no hope nor agenda whatsoever.

At least some things never change. But along the way, a strange thing happened. Almost 1.9 million strange things, actually – the number of visitors which, for no explicable reason, keeps growing… and keeps me ever more humbled, shocked and, with each passing day, more and more aware of my limitations and insufficiencies. (I know myself well enough that no one should have to put up with me on a daily basis, let alone want to.)

I could write a pastoral on the many stories and lessons of this journey. By turns, it’s been just like the life of the church and the characters you find in it – a mix of the uplifting, inspiring, astonishing, and appalling. But whatever the story or the moment, each encounter, each message has been a priceless gift and blessing, which only two words do justice: “thank you” and “forgive me.”

Despite my keenness to keep these pages under wraps and the province of a tightly-knit circle of friends, it just so happened that, for all my efforts to the contrary, they “broke out.” With that, the responsibilities increased and the circle widened, far beyond anything I could’ve ever imagined when first clicking away in my folks’ basement two years back. But even for all that, no less a spirit of friendship and kindness – truly, the best of the church – has held sway, often from the most unexpected of places.

I can’t express how much this means, and no words could adequately match my thanks for it; the same goes for my unworthiness to be a part of all this. Whether it’s been a chance meeting on the road, a moving e.mail, the promise of prayers or one of the many, many other manifestations of support and encouragement I’ve gotten in the course of this journey, the only reason Whispers has been able to keep on is because of you, the readers, the People of God, because of your richness in spirit, love for the church and goodness to this rookie on the beat, whether as sources, donors, supporters, candid (and wise) critics, givers of the love that is friendship – and, in many cases, all of the above.

Thanks to all of you for renewing my faith each and every day. Seeing and hearing of how you heroically give of yourselves without counting the cost, in the most diverse of settings and, often, under taxing and difficult circumstances has been a blessed experience in itself. Whether you’re lay, religious or ordained, whether your work takes place in a hospital, a law office, a homeless shelter or in the halls of prayer, by your lives and in your witness each of you prove anew (in ways you probably don’t recognize) that the church is alive, the church is young, and that sharing in its life is the greatest richness of our own. You don’t hear it often enough from on high – and far be it from me to speak for those up there – but, speaking for myself, thank you for bearing the light of Christ into the world. And as so many of you have been so kind as to reveal that light to me day after day, thanks for making me feel that, for all the pain and sorrow I’ve experienced here at home, there really is a place for me within the church’s embrace.

At the same time, I have to ask your forgiveness – if, for nothing else, for putting up with your narrator’s idiosyncrasies, lapses, off days, and the ever-rising mountain of things I either don’t do right or don’t get to at all. This is particularly the case with the e.mails, which I love so much but, in the midst of the daily chaos, often get lost in the shuffle. (I’ve weighed the idea of getting some sort of Blackberry to aid in the effort, but the cost of sanity would be way too high… not to mention the cost, period.) It’s also true with the donor “thank-yous” which, admittedly, I’ve also been terrible at handling, a failure for which I can’t apologize enough.

Bottom line: if there’s one regret I have about the state of things, it’s that I can’t be on top of everything as I’d like to be. I love and cherish the intimacy of reader mail and getting to know as many of you as possible, and it drives me crazy that I don’t get to respond in kind as often as I’d wish and as much as I should. However, I do read every last thing that drops in – the messages keep me laughing, crying, connected, and sane – so please, please, please, keep ‘em comin’ and hopefully we’ll meet up somewhere along the road, be it in this world or the next.

Speaking of the road… it’s looking as if a good bit of the 2K7 will be spent on it. And thank God. I’m really looking forward to seeing as many of you who care to show at the various gigs and appearances in the coming months. More on those as they’re firmed up, but particularly close to my heart is a two-day engagement in Denver, 9-10 March, at the invitation of the good archbishop, who for many years has served as one of my voices of conscience.

Five years ago, it was in the Rockies that my ecclesial mindset was opened to two things: a culture shock in the best possible meaning of the term, and a more fleshed-out concept of vocation, which eventually and unexpectedly led to this. Even when I find myself in places I’ve never been before, each journey, each experience is a homecoming, but none’ll be more so than returning to Denver, where I left a big piece of my heart and found a bigger piece of myself many moons ago. (Here’s hoping they’re not buried under several feet of snow again when that rolls around…. And, given this week’s big NBA trade, I’ll probably end up co-hosting some kind of late night party with AI.)

With that, it’s Christmas. Mom’s family is back, the Boss is preparing to preside at another Feast of the Seven Fishes – and, once everyone’s stuffed, kicking everyone out to count her envelopes. Aside from B16’s Midnight Homily and a few other things, posting will be light through the Octave; the Christmas card above is the first I’ve gotten to this year, so the rest need to be done, not to mention enjoying the gift of the family and friends whose loyalty and support remain my strength.

In the peace and quiet of this Holy Night, Light returned to the world. That Light continues in the life of this church, in the work and witness of each of you, in the love, joy and hope you bring to the many people weary from having walked in darkness.

On retreat last week in New York, I spent a good bit of time in St Patrick’s Cathedral, one of my favorite places and home to some of the most cherished experiences of my younger days. All through the year and away from its sanctuary, incredible things happen there: in its aisles, its side-chapels and pews, but this time of year makes that even more true. For especially at Christmas, floods of tourists, pilgrims and simply wandering souls bring their joy, their anticipation, their hope, their doubts, anxieties and heartaches through its doors. Looking around at any given moment, all these are present in one’s line of sight.

Kneeling before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the midst of this tapestry of emotion, I lit a candle for all of you, your loved ones, your intentions, and that the joy of this blessed season be yours in the richest and most lasting of ways. Being distracted at prayer is nothing new, but on this evening a brass plaque along the altar rail caught my eye.

It was a request for help in maintaining the edifice that is, as none other even comes close, our national church. There are several of these plaques throughout St Pat’s, but I never took the time to read them before. I’m glad I finally did, as its last line has stuck with me: “This Cathedral is a gift from one generation to the next.

One by one, the faithful and the curious who flock to it prove the truth of that statement. But truer still is this: The church is a gift from one generation to the next, in its teachings, its traditions, in its life, in the faith, hope and love it inspires, both among its own and for the life of the world.

In ways and to people you might never see or know, each of you make this gift better and better each day. For that, and for the grace of being able to watch it all from the sidelines, thanks be to you and thanks be to God for these past two years, which’ve been the experience of a lifetime.

God love you all forever, and may every good gift of Christmas be yours!