In the last week, I have received a calling to a new responsibility that honors and humbles me greatly.
Our local Catholic parishes have been fostering a retreat-based community of faith called Koinonia for nearly 10 years. I’ve been a part of it since the very first “Trinity Koinonia” retreat weekend in September of 2005, Suzanne and her mom joined me a few retreats later in the series, and my parents and siblings joined a bit later.
The Koinonia retreats and the community that has formed around them have been very important in the faith life of my extended family, but more importantly in the broader community. Hundreds of my fellow parishioners and parishioners of our sister parishes have now taken part in Koinonia and become a part of the community, and I have formed new, deep, friendships as a result of the community.
In recent months, Clarence DeGonia, the fine Catholic man (and friend) who initiated the community nearly 10 years ago, began to discern that it was time for him to step down from the chairmanship of the community and its core committee. After prayerful discernment on my part and the part of the core committee (effectively the executive board), the committee asked me to become the next chairman of the Koinonia community.
I am floored by the responsibility that the core committee and the broader community have entrusted to me, and I take it very, very seriously. There is an organizational weight and responsibility for sure, but more so, there is a deep spiritual weight and responsibility.
I pray that I’m able to execute well on this challenge and help to lead the community forward with wisdom and grace, and the phrase that has been in my mind since I was first approached with the request that I take this role has been “Ad Jesum per Mariam.” “To Christ through Mary.” The Koinoinia community holds as its by-line the fact that it is a “Community in Christ.” If I am to have any semblance of grace to try to help lead a “Community in Christ” as part and “sub-community” within our broader Catholic community in our cities, it can only be “Ad Jesum per Mariam.”
[NOTE: Koinonia is a Greek word taken from Scripture which means community. Koinonia was founded decades ago in Springfield, IL, and continues there – we are an offshoot of that community. Koinonia is a community of caring people providing loving support and prayerful fellowship for all. Each weekend has a set program it follows focusing on the Paschal Mystery: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Koinonia is for young adults and older.]
There has been a whole series of events in recent days that have struck me as a series of “Signs” (or “God Winks” as some in the Koinonia community affectionately likes to refer to them) of God’s Providence in this moment:
First, within a few days of accepting this responsibility, I was “off work” for the weekend from my usual role as music director & organist at our parish. The guitar group that leads the music for our weekends off had selected Jesse Manibusan’s “Open My Eyes” as one of the hymns for the weekend. It was the first time in a few years that the song had been used in our parish.
Many in the community who have been on weekends where I’ve given talks in the past know that I’ve spoken a lot about the place this song held in my own faith journey. It was central to my life, and the lyrics held great meaning, at the point when I was discerning the call to Marriage with Suzanne, and I played and sang it as part of the prelude before our wedding.
Second, the Mass readings this past weekend really hit home as it relates to the challenge of the calling to this new role. In particular, though, the Second Reading (Ephesians 5:8-14) has long been one of my favorites of the Lenten season, and one on which I was inspired to write a hymn setting a few years ago. It struck home as a new, personal calling this weekend:
Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
Just like everyone, I have my own challenges in my faith life and my walk with Christ. But this reading summed up for me the challenge and the call to lead by example with all the grace God gives me, but also the call that we in the community, in turn, are asked to give others as ambassadors for Christ.
Finally, a series of notes that I’ve received from Clarence himself, encouraging me and explaining that there were some signs for him in this transition as well, comforts me and gives me encouragement and hope in what lies before me and the community.
As an added bonus, I find myself writing this today, April 1 (yes, a bit before publishing this), which happens to be the anniversary date of my own Baptism, 36 years ago…
I’m about to enter into a series of meetings to help facilitate a clean leadership transition from Clarence to me, then I look forward to my first meetings with the core committee and introduction of the new, go-forward leadership to the broader community – at a key moment as we’re preparing for our 13th retreat weekend this September.
I’m struck recalling the fact that the Man Born Blind in last Sunday’s Gospel was washed “‘in the Pool of Siloam’ – which means Sent,” and he went, washed, and came back able to see.
I pray to be freed from any blindness of ego or opinion in leading this community forward to a deepening relationship with Christ and each other; and I pray that I can help God reach each person in our community to free them in moments of blindness and to send us, together.
Sent, to help lead others ‘To Christ, through Mary.‘