The Mercies of the Lord Are Not Yet Spent

“The mercies of the Lord are not yet spent.” It is such a great line from Isaiah, familiar to most of us from the Rite of Funeral as one of the reading options. It is an easy line to speak to the family as they mourn their loss, reminding them that there is hope and that hope will come in many ways in the days ahead, and that they should be open to receive these mercies. It is a line that the priest needs to hear and remember for himself as well when life and ministry get him down or too busy. 

church repairs
The heat in the 150-plus year- old church is not going on because the pipe that pumps water into the system for the steam is broken. There is no heat now in the church. The Crosiers photo

It is easy to remember our losses and mourn what we do not have, but hard to remember the gifts that come our way. They do come, but unfortunately many of us fall into the black hole of negativism and do not see the light of day (or the light of Christ). Those light and graced moments are great gifts. Like all gifts, we do nothing really to deserve them. Like many gifts, they come unexpected and wrapped in many disguises — disguises that often prevent our seeing them. We are so blinded by our own jadedness that we forget to look for the light and graced moments of our lives. I wonder how many I have missed through the years because I was not letting God (or anyone) minister to me, or because I was too negative to notice the positive or so blinded by disinterest that I was not interested in seeing any of the “pearls” that God tossed my way. 

There are a lot of buildings and properties for which I am responsible, and all of them are old. Their ages range from 75 to 150 years of age including a 120-year-old, 60-acre cemetery where I literally do not know where all the bodies are buried! On any given day, there is always something with one of the buildings. Just these past few weeks, it seemed like I was either receiving a call a day from the building manager or else I was calling him. There was the broken “outgoing pipe” in the basement of the offices (my residence as well) where the staff in the food pantry heard water running that they had never heard before. The outgoing sewer pipe had sprung a leak. Water (a generous word, given the nature of the pipe) is now pouring onto the archival file cabinets. Call the plumber. Pull out the checkbook.  

The next week, the sacristan complains that the church is too cold. The heat in the 150-plus-year-old church is not going on because the pipe that pumps water into the system for the steam is broken. There is no heat now in the church. Call the oil burner company. Pull out the checkbook again. The tenant in one of the school buildings calls the building manager to say the wall is leaking. Call the roofer. Pull out the checkbook again. These buildings are a challenge. There are daily reminders to keep us wondering how we can keep them healthy and going. Then, unexpectedly, the archdiocesan finance department notifies me that there is extra money available via unclaimed grants from the archdiocesan grant funds and asks if I would like a $10,000 grant for emergency capital repairs. My checkbook may be spent, but the mercies of the Lord are not! 

open church sanctuary
“Thank you or whoever started opening the church from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. … about a week ago I was walking by your church and saw the bulletin on display outside the church. …This open sanctuary is just what I need.” The Crosiers photo

Several years ago the parish embarked on an endeavor to have one of our churches open every evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. This is not an easy task to pull off 365 days a year. Each day, we have to have a person open the church and a person lock the doors. We figured out the logistics eventually and calmed the fears of the chronic naysayers. Every staff and parish has those who see life through a dark, suspicious lens and worry about safety and desecration in the church. The staff went forward with the endeavor, and now, three years later, we are still at it. I wonder at times if it worth the effort. Each night (Monday–Friday), the maintenance man opens the church as he leaves the area. He turns on a few lights and unlocks the doors. Then there is the list of volunteers — the “Porters” is their moniker. When you lived in the city, and 80 percent of the people walked to church, it was not too hard to find a group of men to help lock the church. We choose men for the safety issue of entering an empty church alone at night — or thinking it was empty. They arrive any time after 7 p.m., turn off the lights and lock the doors.  

The parish does not monitor or ask people to sign in when they arrive. The evening is just an open door. “The Church Is First a Sanctuary” is how we promote it. We invite people to have a quiet moment with the Lord as they may have had a bad day and just need to place their burdens before the Lord OR they may have received great joy and want to thank God for those blessings OR they may just want to center their day and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament. It is simple and unconditional. The dilemma for me is wondering whether anyone is using it. The Porters are great; they have never said to me “Father, I have been locking up for a year now and never have seen anyone.” Yet I sometimes wonder if should we keep this endeavor going. But, just about the time I have these doubts and misgivings (as I too am looking through dark glasses) I am given the answer as to why are we doing this. Recently, a shaky hand-printed note on lined paper was mailed to me from Mike who wrote: 

Thank you or whoever started opening the Church from 5-7 p.m. …about a week ago I was walking by your church and saw the bulletin on display outside the church…This OPEN SANCTUARY is just what I need…if anything, one person will use this time very wisely and believe me I need this time.  

In Christ  

— MIKE. 

I don’t know Mike and may never bump into him, but God certainly gave me my answer as to whether I should keep this endeavor going. God’s revelation is not yet over. 

Even normal ministry moments can be a nice reminder that God is taking care of us as we take care of others. We all have been there, frantically meeting some deadline, juggling too many balls in the air as there are too many irons in the fire. We seem to be more Manager than Priest. Then you get the phone call to come to the hospital emergency room for an anointing. You look at your watch and wonder, “Why now, why today?” As you drive to the hospital, you think, “This shouldn’t take long, and I can soon be back to juggling whatever.”  

Then, once in the room, you are greeted by John, the patient, his wife, his 12-year-old son, and John’s mother. John is in his mid-40s, you guess, and is fighting lung cancer. He came to see his doctor for his monthly checkup, and something is amiss. You talk to John, who is hoping to get home by the next evening to watch TV with his friends as it is a big football weekend. You hear the stories of the family, you see the fear on his 12-year-old son’s face. Prayers are said, phone numbers are exchanged.  

Driving home, it dawns on you: “God put me there more for me than for John.” Deadlines seem insignificant when you come face to face with a family man facing the ultimate deadline. The many tasks you have been juggling pale next to this wife and mother who knows she will be juggling being mom and dad to two teenage boys. These ministerial detours are a great resource of grace. God is still ministering to the minister as the minister ministers to others. Five days later, the hospital calls you to come and anoint someone who has taken a turn for worse. It is John, and this time both sons and all extended family are there, as John is slipping away. Many of his friends are there too. John watched the football games in his hospital room with them. The family — and you — are glad it was you who got called since you had shared time together just days earlier. The mercies of the Lord are not yet spent. TP 

FATHER CARRION is pastor of Holy Cross, Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Baltimore, Md., and is director of the Deacon Formation Program for the Archdiocese.