“So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” Hebrews 4:14-16
Today’s gospel is about leadership and how Jesus prepared his apostles for the challenging mission ahead. Theirs would be strenuous lives of travel into the unknown for the sake of the gospel.
We have to remind ourselves that these first followers of Christ – were recruits that were not fully aware of what Jesus’s life of service would mean. They, too, had to remain confident in God for timely help.
Interestingly, the gospel writers Mark and Matthew differ slightly in how they report about Jesus’s ministry. Where Matthew views Jesus as the great teacher and a person of sacred eloquence in the preaching of the Beatitudes, Mark presents Jesus as a man who revealed himself in healing the sick, in casting out demons, and mostly being attentive to the urgent needs and painful hurts of the least among us.
Last week I spoke about wisdom and the need for a mentor. Today I want to consider resilience, the ability to bounce back, take careful notice or a personal check, and ask ourselves: “how am I doing?” Our task is to remain confident of God’s grace, timely help, and most of all, spiritual healing.
So I’d like to introduce you to a mentor who greatly influenced my life’s journey. There could be no better travel companion than Father Guido D’Amore. What a clever name, indeed! Guido remains the most resilient person that I will ever meet. He was a very amiable and cordial travel companion. Let me reveal a little piece of my family history.
In 1963, a day or so after I graduated high school, I accompanied this priest and cousin on a two-month train trip across Europe — from the Bay of Naples in southern Italy to the fiords of Norway. When European travel was beginning to open up for Americans, thanks to the commercial jet aircraft, that trip was the start of my true college education.
It was mostly my daily exposure to this Italian priest of Don Bosco’s Salesian order with a mastery of foreign language(s) and interpersonal skills that dazzled people. Those we met as we waited at train stations, in restaurants, or the hotel lobby connected to us, because of Guido.
My cousin could assist you if you have difficulty speaking to a ticket agent in English, French, Spanish, or Chinese. He was fluent in most of the Romance or European languages as well as dialects in Chinese. As a young seminarian and teacher, he taught Portuguese to Chinese children at the Saint Lawrence School on Macau, on the coast of China, across the Pearl River from nearby Hong Kong. Until 1999, a Portuguese territory, today Macau is known as the “Las Vegas of Asia.”
Mainly on this trip, and over many years, I listened to Guido’s treasury of stories about how he left Italy for China, later came to the United States, and Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s in San Francisco and, as a Salesian, how his task was to communicate Christ. He served in places like Birmingham, Alabama, during the height of the Civil Rights movement, and then at the Salesian Boys High School in Paterson, N.J, where he connected with his New Jersey cousins.
Here’s a brief point about Don Bosco himself. He was a saint who promoted the idea that as a priest and as a Christian, you can connect with people, especially young people. In the ideal, to forge these companionships, you are to be loved first before anything else. To create this unique relationship with Christ for others, a Catholic priest, indeed, all Christians must take notice of others, know people’s names, laugh over jokes, play sports, all to be instruments of grace.
Deep within Guido’s treasury of personal stories, one harsh reality may account for his extraordinary interpersonal and language skills. Between 1937 to 1945, because of the Japanese occupation of China and World War II, Guido and his band of Salesian priests lived under house arrest. Each of the priests was held to strict rules and regulations, including the issuing identity numbers tattooed on their bodies.
While Macau, a Portuguese enclave, was not invaded by the Japanese, this territory became a refugee center, causing its population to climb from 200,000 to 700,000 within a few years. Food was scarce, international postal service and travel stopped. As far as Guido’s mother Rosa and family in Italy knew, Guido may have been dead. This experience of separation and isolation marked Guido’s life. But it did not deter him, not Guido; again, the most resilient of men.
When considering the casualties of war like my cousin, with a high sense of calling, they drew on this community of brother priests and learned one another’s languages and personal routines. You might want to use the military notion of “unit cohesion” or bonding together for a common good and simple survival.
The key is resilience, how to cope and come through. Frankly, most of us would be baffled or out of sorts. Our collective experience with the two-year Covid pandemic can teach many lessons. Indeed, my cousin Guido taught me the most powerful lesson about resilience and survival under the most challenging circumstances.
Author Eric Greitens, a retired Navy SEAL, in his book “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life” (2015), provides insight about living through tough patches in life.
“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength, if we have the virtue of Resilience.”
At another point, he adds the flip side to his message, namely:
“(However) fear does not automatically lead to courage. An injury does not necessarily lead to insight. Hardship will not automatically make us better. (In fact) pain can break us or make us wiser. Suffering can destroy us or make us stronger. Fear can cripple us or make us more courageous.”
“It is Resilience that makes a difference. You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it.”
As we read today’s gospel passage, we hear James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” boast about their future glory. In response, Jesus tells them to be his followers, they must serve the least of God’s children. To follow on this challenging journey, each disciple must be both generous and resilient despite the hardships.
I am writing on an early Friday morning, October 15, the feast of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), whose prayer speaks of our steadfast resilience in the Lord.
Saint Teresa prays:
“Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing,
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things,
He who possesses God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.