Back in my youth in the 1960’s there was a game show on television called “Let’s Make a Deal” with a host named Monty Hall. The audience, dressed in silly costumes, would compete for prizes but would have to choose their prize while it was hidden in a box or other container. The climax of the show was where the biggest winner so far would be asked to give up their prize on a chance to choose one of the big doors on stage that might revel when opened a car or a pile of junk. It was always a surprise when the door opened, whether a pleasant surprise or disappointment. The show has been reprised by CBS with a new host, Wayne Brady, but the premise is pretty much the same. Let’s just say I don’t spend time watching it. For some reason today, though, I thought it seems like an analogy for an experience I’ve been having the past few weeks.
When a priest moves into a new parish, like I have this summer, the first few weeks are sort of like a version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” It’s an exciting, surprising time of exploration of your new home, church and parish buildings. You find yourself opening drawers, doors and closets saying “I wonder what’s in here. Will it be something of value or important or something that leaves you wondering why the objects is there or what is it even?”
I’ve been having fun exploring the nooks and closets of my new parish. There’s been some interesting finds. There have been a few duds. And a couple of finds still have me scratching my head befuddled. For instance, I’ve found three tabernacles scattered around the buildings. Now why would a parish have that many tabernacles? I’m trying to find pictures of the various renovations of the church and see if there were three different tabernacles used at various times. There were expected finds, like the chalices of a couple of former pastors. After a month of wondering what happened to some of the kneelers that had been removed from the pews in church I found them carefully wrapped in plastic in the bell tower entrance off the balcony. Then there is the mystery of what doors a couple of keys lock that were left me by my predecessor. I still haven’t found a lock the keys fit. There’s a gizmo in one closet that looks like an antique host punch or maybe a bottle cap sealer? Records from the closed parish school were in one closet and altar wine of unknown age in another cabinet. In another organizer in a room in the basement a former pastor’s receipts and correspondence he must have forgotten was in storage when he moved (I guess I should contact him and see if I can throw the stuff out or if he wants it). There’s stained glass windows in bad shape stored in a sort of shipping container in another room (Were they from the old church torn down to make room for the church built in 1953?).
One of the more interesting finds was an object I knew was somewhere on the property but I didn’t know what it would look like or exactly where it was. Many of the priests of the diocese and laity of the parish knew that a former pastor had purchased a monastic wood casket while he was alive for his future burial. By the time this pastor died he had changed his mind and donated his body to science. The casket was willed to another priest but left in storage at the parish. I found it. a week or two into my residency. At least it’s not in my house. Since then I’ve told the new owner I expect a storage fee of 5 Our Fathers, 5 Hail Mary’s and 5 Glory Be’s for my intentions to be offered each month. To be honest, I never thought I’d be the guardian of a casket awaiting it’s occupant as part of my priestly life.
So, what’s the point of my story? In some ways I think our spiritual journey is similar to the discovery process of moving into a new parish. I hesitate to say it’s like a game show, yet I probably could stretch the analogy. But, let’s not go there.
People can get very comfortable hanging on to a particular prayer form. Disciples can be reluctant to let go of a particular way of relating to God. “The rosary’s always worked for me!” a person might say as an example. While familiarity and repeated ritual can be a good thing, sometimes it can lull us into complacency. It is also good to be challenged to let go of some preferred prayer method. Sometimes we need to be challenged to try another image of God or explore another approach to prayer. Maybe the new method will at first be outside our comfort zone but eventually is like opening a door and finding a whole new beautiful way of knowing God’s love. Maybe it won’t be…but unless you try the door you might be cheating yourself out of a great gift from God. It is tempting to just do the same old things, day in, day out, because they’re comfortable. But God is always promising more; more intimacy, more profound depths of knowing His love, if we take a chance and open a door of a new spiritual practice (while not necessarily throwing out the old ways).
The parable of the master who gives three different amounts of money to three servants has fascinated me since I wrote a paper on it in the seminary. (Matthew 25:14-30) Two servants take a chance and invest the sum of money and make profit. One servant is too timid to take a chance and does the safe thing and buries the money. The two risk takers are held up as examples and are given more. The guy who refuses to open the door of a bank looses what he was given. The parable is not about using our talents for the good of church or the mission of Christ. Christ is telling us that to live in the Kingdom is to take a chance that there’s something richer, more rewarding, more full of life if we let go of the treasure we’ve already been given by God and go exploring for new treasures, opening doors to new insights and experiences in our spiritual journey. Perhaps death is a door we’re invited to open to see if a great treasure is behind it. What gives me pause and a bit of anxiety is that perhaps even when we walk through that door into heaven there will be even more doors, more exploring to do, more taking a chance on God surprising us and not just eternal resting on our perfect body’s rear end gazing at the beatific vision. Heaven may be an experience (effortless work?) of always opening new doors to discover another treasure that leads us to encounter the love of God.
By now I think I’ve at least found all the closets, drawers and storage spaces in my new parish and taken a look inside and found which might hold potential treasures. Now it’s time to sort through what I’ve found and evaluate its worth. Same thing for my spiritual life. Keep opening doors, keep sorting through the potential paths that open up before me, keep exploring. Christ offers me a deal, to know him more deeply, but I’ve got to decide to take a chance and open the door to see what’s behind it.
Will you take a chance and ask to see what’s behind the door in front of you or will you hang onto what you know you’ve got? I choose to open more doors and look for the treasure that might be behind one of them. I’ll take door number 3 for the life of the Trinity.