Thursday, November 13, 2008

A call to remain dignified

We often hear stories of how a single word of advice or an offhand remark can influence people’s way of thinking and even change the course of their lives. At the time when the famous Thomas Merton was unsure whether he should become a monk or not, his good friend Mark van Doren, listening to his struggle, calmly remarked: “Well, if you do have a vocation to the monastic life, it will not be possible for you to decide not to enter”. And though his words may have sounded quite ordinary and obvious, they became defining for Merton. The remark shed new light on his predicament and showed another possiblity in the process of making a choice.

In my own life I can recall similar incidents of unexpected enlightenment. One may even call them moments of grace, because they can influence and change the pattern of you life in a permanent fashion.

There is one particular event which stands out as such a lesson in wisdom for me. It happened at a time when my family and I went through a very tempestuous and uncertain time in my ministry. I had come to clear convictions about what the church’s role in politics should be, which turned out to be highly controversial. This became the basis of a public incident in our little community that left us exposed and vulnerable. At the time I felt betrayed and deeply hurt and I was tempted to overreact and hit back.

During a few days of turmoil there was a gentle knock at our front door early one morning. Opening the door I was surprised to find one of my older and highly respected professors standing there. He was on his way to his office and would not come in. But he had come with a purpose. Looking at me intently he said: “I know you are going through a tough time. I know that you are upset and rightfully so. But stay calm, keep your head high and just do what is right. You will know what this means in the circumstances”. And with these few words he left again.

I don’t think my professor ever knew the impact of his words on me that day. Because apart from making me feel deeply supported, he also reminded me of a truth that since then has never left me: that we are called to stay upright and act in a dignified manner under all circumstances, specially when the tide sometimes turns against us and we are tempted to respond rashly.

It is of course never easy. But then, is that not the undisputable way of faith? Is that not the calling of Christ?

Carel Anthonissen

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