CCG Adviser Archbishop Niederauer Expresses Thanks for Prayers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, October 12, 2011-- San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer, recovering from trible bipass surgery, expressed appreciation for prayers in an inspiring reflection published in Catholic San Francisco, the newspaper of the Archdiocese.

San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer recovering from surgery

Grace is always present

 By Archbishop George Niederauer

Let me begin by thanking you for your prayers and concern and support during my recent illness and now, during my recuperation. It is a humbling and welcome experience to be on the receiving end of such love and affection from so many priests, religious and lay people, from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

As many of you know, on Aug. 29 I underwent cardiac bypass surgery in Long Beach, where I was concluding my vacation. After the surgery I had to deal with a difficult infection, but now I am back home here and looking forward to returning to my duties as archbishop in six to eight weeks.

It is an article of our Catholic faith that God’s grace is present for us in every moment, in every circumstance, no matter how difficult or challenging or painful the moment is. That is our belief, but, in the moment itself, we can feel so afraid or distracted that we don’t have a sense of God present to us and acting in our lives. That’s when God often gets our attention by something someone says to us, or something we read, or something that happens in prayer. I’d like to share with you one such gift God gave me last month, a few days after my surgery.

Our loving God tailors his graces to each of us, to our gifts, our limitations and our experiences. I had taught English in college for 27 years, so God reminded me of a poem by John Donne, an early-17th-century Anglican clergyman in England. It is one of his best poems, often appearing in anthologies, and I had forgotten about it for many years. It is printed in the poetry section in the back of the Liturgy of the Hours that priests, deacons, religious and many lay people use daily for morning and evening prayer, and at other hours as well. The entire poem is sublimely beautiful, but I didn’t move past the first stanza, because that’s what God was calling me to hear. The poem is entitled “Hymn to God my God, in my Sickness,” and these are the first five lines:

Since I am coming to that holy room
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.

What a lovely image to connect our life here on earth with eternal life! Donne is not gloomy or saccharine or vague. Our life here is a practice session, a rehearsal, if you will, and we prepare for eternal life by living the life of Christ together here and now. We “think here before” about our loving God and our relationship with him, and we “tune the instrument” of living this life here so that it is in harmony with what Christ teaches us in the Gospel in our life together as church. As I prayed about these lines of Donne, I realized that the rest of my life, long or short, is for tuning and thinking, and, of course, daily practice and rehearsal.

That was the grace, but there was also a dividend. I found it at the beginning of the third line: “I shall be made Thy music.” How shallow and wrong our images of heaven can be! We picture people playing harps and sitting on clouds. Two weeks of that would be way too much. No wonder the Irish have a saying: “You should go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company!” Of course that is dead wrong: by definition hell is for terminally selfish and self-absorbed folks, and they have never made the best company.

We get heaven wrong because we spend much of our life here as consumers, so we assume that we will be consumers in eternity. If God brings us to heaven then it is up to him to entertain us and make us happy always. But look at what Donne says: We are not going to an eternal concert where we will listen to God’s music, just as we go to an all-Beethoven or greatest Broadway hits concert here.

Instead, we become one with God’s music, the profound and eternal music of creation, redemption and holiness. We will not be God’s house guests. We will be one with him in love. Of course this is a deep mystery, and there are no floor plans or previews of coming attractions available. Still, Jesus did tell a crucified criminal, “This day you will be with me in paradise,” and St. Paul, citing Isaiah, says, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Corinthians 2:9). Finally, St. John tells us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). That’s more than enough to get me to “think here before” and to “tune the instrument here at the door.”

Thanks again for your prayers and your loving concern.

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