Fr. Bob Bedard is the late founder of the Companions of the Cross. I had the privilege of interviewing him several times over the years and afterwards floating on the blessings conveyed by his words, which seemed full of life. Over on the Catholic Charismatic Centre website, there is a reflection by Fr. Bob, who died last October, on parish renewal.
Although I was very distracted, not my usual calm self, there was one thing I had learned to do — get quiet every day for an extended time and pray. I consulted the Lord. I begged him for the wisdom to know what to do. I had to suppress my very natural tendency to try to get something going. Anything! In fact, I did try a couple of things that didn’t work very well. I might have known and saved myself the trouble.
There are lots of good things we can do for God, thousands of things. The problem is that they will be our ideas, run on our energy and resources, won’t work very well, and we’ll exhaust ourselves in the process. How many highly motivated people have burned out trying to make good things happen for God?
What we need, I am convinced, is not a whole bunch of good ideas, but God’s idea. He has a plan. If we can find out what it is and do it, it will work, work for him and for his kingdom.
So … I persevered in prayer, seeking the Lord’s particular word for the parish. Over time, I thought he might have been getting through to me. Having discerned correctly, I felt, the word about returning home after the summer and so on, I was developing a bit more confidence about my capacity to hear God speak. What I thought I was hearing this time, and it became clearer through a period of days and even weeks, was something like this: "I don’t want you to doanything, except the very obvious things that a pastor must do. I want to take over here myself. I don’t want any of your programs or ideas. I have a plan of my own. But, what I want from you is your permission. I want you to give me permission to do what I want to do. And, not only that, I want you to tell the people that you are giving me this permission, and that I want their permission, too. If I get enough permissions, I’ll move. When I do, you’ll see it. You can then point it out, and get everybody to support it."
Again, I was obedient to what I thought the Lord might be telling me to do. I gave him the permission he seemed to be asking for. In fact, I still give it to him – every day. Awkward though I felt about it, I did tell the people about it, Sunday after Sunday, and I did suggest to them that they might consider giving God the green light themselves.
Their reaction was, as I might have expected, interesting. It was easy to see they had never heard the gospel call put quite that way. Of course, neither had I. I have heard it many times since from many different people, but, up to that point, early 1985, I had never heard it before. The people, I could tell, were struggling with it. I could see some of them mouthing the word ’permission’ to themselves. The occasional one would turn to the person next, a spouse or whatever, and obviously ask: "What did he say?" The answer would come back just as obviously: "He said God wants your permission." Consternation all ’round.
I felt that the Lord was giving me different ways to say the same thing as, week in and week out, I tried the best I could to get the point across. I talked practically nothing else. "Let God be God," I would tell them. "He’s good at it. God is very good at being God. Let’s let him do what he wants here." More shuffling in the pews. "Let’s consult the Lord," I would say. "God has plans for our lives, both as individuals and as a body. If we consult him, maybe he’ll tell us what they are." Furrowed brows. "Are we satisfied with the condition of the Church, with the condition of this parish?" I would rant on and on. "Are we satisfied with what’s happened to our families, to the kids?" (Lots of tough things had happened of course: youngsters on drugs, gone from home, certainly gone from the Church, premarital arrangements, broken marriages, etc.) More were starting to listen. "Do we think God is satisfied? Do we think he has power to turn it around?" Some seemed to be getting interested. "Are we willing to let him change the things that we ourselves cannot change?" I could see some almost saying to themselves: "Is it really possible, I wonder?" "If we’re willing to let God go to work," I would continue to belt it out, "then let’s tell him so." "God is fed up being a spectator in our lives," I would belabour the point. "He wants to be a participant."
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What a blessing for us in Ottawa to have his priests ministering to us Anglican Use Catholics. And how much they enjoy our liturgy! How can these ideas apply to us if we hope to become centres of evangelization within the Catholic Church?
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