Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fr. Gordon MacRae: New Year’s Resolutions, and a Remembrance From East of Eden

By Fr. Gordon J. MacRae

(These Stone Walls) In my “Hits and Misses for 2011” last week, I wrote of my New Year’s Resolution to learn patience. I am still patiently waiting for that to happen. But there are some other unfinished resolutions as well. My final post of 2010 was “Spread This Around: My New Year’s Resolution About Gossip.” In it, I wrote the following:

“I resolve in 2011 to make myself a better person by not setting into motion news based on rumor, innuendo, and half-truths. If I have news to tell, I will first check its truthfulness, and then check my motivation for passing it along.”

There were lots of comments. One reader told a story about a woman who confessed her tendency to spread gossip. For her penance, she was asked to bring a feather pillow to the roof of her house that night, cut it open, and let its contents fly away upon the wind. Then the next morning she was to go out and collect the feathers. “That’s impossible,” she protested. “My point exactly,” said the priest.

It’s a potent story, but don’t be misled by it into a presupposition that women are more likely than men to be purveyors of gossip. It isn’t so, and priests, among men, are also not exempt.

But the last half of my resolution for last year – to check my motivation for passing news along – proved to be the biggest challenge. Like everyone else, I am capable of self-delusion. If I am saying something about a person I dislike, I don’t always want to know my motivation. If I do know it, I don’t always want to see it. If I do see it, I don’t always want to face it. If I do face it, I seldom want anyone else to know about it. My own confessor – a priest from New York who is likely reading this post and plans a visit to me next week – tells me “Welcome to the human race!” I see his point, but I still want to repeat last year’s resolution. I want to know my motivations and admit them more clearly.

When I sin, I want to know that I have sinned, and why. It is spiritually self-defeating to simply dismiss sin with a trite, “God understands the human condition, and smiles upon us.” Fortunately, I have a confessor who never does that. Sometimes I imagine his frown on the face of Christ, and it motivates me to try harder. I think the most important part of “My New Year’s Resolution About Gossip” last year was this:
“I have come to know in a very personal way the harm that a rumor can cause, and I never want to be the source of such harm for others. I have come to know that a Church that reflects mercy and justice begins right here in my own heart and soul, and I invite anyone who agrees with that to join me in my resolution.”
The invitation remains open, and I fully expect I’ll be repeating it again this time next year – if not for your sake, then for my own.


When I was ordained a priest on June 5, 1982, I received a gift from one of my childhood friends who then died shortly after I was ordained. It was a framed reproduction of Fra Angelico’s magnificent painting, “The Annunciation,” and it was one of my great treasures. I had a central spot for it on the wall in all the places I’ve lived since then, except this one.

As I described in my All Souls Day post, “The Holy Longing,” however, every material thing I’ve ever owned and treasured became lost when another good friend died suddenly while I was in prison. This happens to many prisoners over time. After I grieved at the sudden loss of too many good friends, I also came to grips with the cold, hard fact that every material thing I’ve ever owned and treasured in this world is gone after 17 years in prison.

Losing everything causes a radical reorientation of all priorities, something for which I beg the Lord daily that none of you will ever need to learn firsthand. I remember once having a New Year’s resolution that I would try to be more “detached” from my meager possessions. Be careful what you ask for! Detachment, when forced by the circumstances of an unchosen life, can be heartbreaking.... (continued)

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