For God's sake interrupt me

Marist Brother Tony Leon shares some of the wisdom of what is formally called in the Catholic world ‘consecrated’ or ‘religious’ life.

Everything was going well.

All according to my plan.

Then it happened…

I was interrupted.

How often does this happen to our best laid schemes of mice and men, when we discern our options, choose our action, and follow through, and unexpectedly, a person or event interrupts our organised life? Such interruptions vary from the mundane ordinary setbacks (ie caught in traffic, lost document...etc) to major life disruption (illness, accident…etc).

There is a poignant irony in the realisation that oftentimes such interruptions can produce better outcomes than first planned. With the hindsight of my own story, I have come to appreciate that it is during life’s interruptions that I am invited to recognise the Divine. God may not be the actual interruptive influence but there is a divine profundity in the way I choose to respond.  The blessings in my life occur when things don’t go according to my plan.

I was privileged to have taught Visual Arts at St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton, in the late 90s. The creative process in creating HSC major works frequently included interruption to the plans of students and teacher. The Art Room taught us the greater art of vulnerability.

The blank canvas at the beginning of the creative process offers countless possibilities.  The many grand ideas are tempered with the reality of the capabilities of the students (and teacher).  It is not unusual for art teachers to be de facto counsellors when the students experience the clash of idealism and reality. When this happens, plans are interrupted and the opportunity for a deeper student-teacher conversation can arise. These moments demanded the humility to let go, as well as the courage to move onto unfamiliar paths.  This is when “Is this possible?” becomes “Let’s try it!”

In recent years, my ministry as a Marist Brother has changed several times since the classrooms of SFX.  Each new appointment was an Annunciation moment for me.  These were the times when I echoed Mary’s sentiment of being greatly disturbed and wondered what these words meant (Lk 1:29). 

My appointment to the Marist Brothers General House in Rome was a profound Annunciation experience.  “How can this be?”  Yet, similar to the creative process with my former students at SFX, my life is likened to the unfinished work which has been offered new direction.  It was an invitation which required the surrender of the familiar, the established and the secure. With discernment, my “How can this be?” became “Let’s do this!”  Three years later, the interruption of the Roman appointment has taught me other ‘inter-’ lessons:

Inter–Cultural:  The artful practice of living and working in a community of many languages, cultural values and practices (Brazilian, Italian, Mexican, Rwandan, Scottish, Spanish, Sri Lankan). The more relaxed irreverent Australian outlook is now more mindful of how different cultures value other approaches.

Inter–Relational:  The call to live creative communion of brothers and lay Marists in our institute.  As the Marist Brothers celebrate the bicentenary of our Institute in 2017, we are looking into our third century of being brothers in new ways.  Such possibilities inform how we may create new expressions of Marist communities to reflect the Marian face of the Church.

Inter-Congregational:  The former rivalry amongst brothers’ congregations on the football field has moved to greater collegiality, such as “The Fratelli Project” in Lebanon.  This is the shared ministry of the De La Salle and the Marist Brothers, addressing the inter-faith needs of displaced refugee children in areas of education and pastoral care. 

Perhaps the greatest interruption in life is death….for the particular person as well as for the person’s family.  This was an interruption my family experienced last Pentecost when my father passed away.  For me, “his going away did seem like a disaster and death did have a sting”. The life of my family was profoundly interrupted.  Yet in the midst of this experience, courageous conversations were had and our “How can this be?” became “Let’s continue on.”

In early May, we had the placement of my father’s ashes in his resting place and there was a different ambience, compared with the funeral several months earlier. It seemed less ‘disastrous’ and there was less ‘sting’.  The verb for such placement of ashes/dead body in the ground/tomb is ‘inter’ (with its Latin roots in terra - into the earth).  For me, the concept of ‘inter’ has a Paschal relevance with the concept of inter-ruption.

When our plans are interrupted and we focus solely on the prefix as a self-contained word, ‘inter’, then all is lost and we bury the deceased idea, plan, remains. However, if we view the prefix ‘inter-’ as incomplete, a prefix awaiting an ending, it is an unfinished artwork awaiting resolution.

The prefix ‘inter-’ means ‘in between, shared amongst two or three’. This simple prefix echoes Matt 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.”  Jesus’ words to Peter changed the boundaries of his presence amongst his followers. There is more to the divine presence than originally believed.

The boundaries or our relationship with others and with nature are transformed when we realise that we are inter-dependent. 

The frontiers of our identity as members of humanity shift when we enter inter-congregational, inter-cultural and inter-faith conversation.  We are reminded that we are all brothers and sisters…and Jesus is in our midst.

Today, countless lives continue to be interrupted, by conflicts in foreign lands or by violence and poverty on our own shores.  I will not be interrupted by their plights if they are not within my plan; however, if their plights do interrupt my familiar, established and secure sensibility, it may be an invitation to encounter our God and be part of the divine plan, which is for good and not for disaster and to give us a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

That is worth any interruption.

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Tony Leon fms Image
Tony Leon fms

Tony Leon fms is a Marist Brother, and previously taught visual arts at St Francis Xavier College, Hamilton. 

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