Connection - Chris Gleeson SJ
During the July school holidays in 1998, I was standing one day on the 1st tee at Bonville International Golf Club, just south of Coffs Harbour, nervously waiting to hit off with a group of players which included a retired psychiatrist, a paediatrician, and the manager of the local private hospital.
When my turn to play came, I managed to hit an all-too-rare splendid drive that whistled up the middle and stopped short of the bunker and the creek running across the middle of the fairway. Seeing this shot, the retired psychiatrist exclaimed: ‘Chris, you have just made quintessential connection.’ Rarely have I heard such melodious language on the golf course.
The next day I was standing on the same tee again with another friend and two complete strangers—anxiously hoping to repeat the performance of yesterday. Before hitting off, my friend and I were exchanging pleasantries with these two men—father and son—about the beauty of the golf course. I asked the older of the two whether he knew the course very well and his response floored me. He said: ‘I ought to know it. I own 30 per cent of it and built most of it.’
Life is about making connections—with our God, with people, ideas and events. This connectedness we also call ‘spirituality’. Not surprisingly, influential cartoonist Michael Leunig once described prayer as a ritual of connection. Each time we come to pray, whether we use words or not, we deepen our connection with God.
Prayer can be utterly wordless, of course, as we simply while away our time with God. Cardinal Basil Hume once said that ‘one of the high points of prayer is where two silences meet: God’s silence and our silence. No need for thoughts and words get in the way.’ Similarly, we should not forget Paul’s advice to the Romans that ‘when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words’ (Romans 8:26).
Prayer is an encounter, not a performance. Above all, it is an adventure in intimacy. It has been described most aptly as ‘letting God love me’. My task in prayer is to notice God’s love and to stake my life on those memories.
Late in 2002, I received a letter from one of my former students, a St Ignatius College Riverview boy who, as a Year 9 boarder, was under my care in the early 1970s. He had heard that I might be travelling overseas and offered me the use of one of his cottages in North Cornwall or the south of France! As it happened I was soon to take some sabbatical leave and visit my young brother and his wife in Bath. They did not take much convincing that there was substantial wisdom in taking a few days vacation in the North of Cornwall.
One very cold and wet January night, the three of us hired a car in Bath and drove to a little windswept village in North Cornwall not far from the beautiful fishing village of Padstow. When we arrived, around 8.00 pm, in the rain and sleet, the cottage was aglow with light, the fires burning, and my former student, Kim, was waiting for us with drinks and nibbles. As if that were not generous enough, he had a roast chicken dinner cooking for us in the oven. He stayed with us for half an hour or so, showing us the treasures of his beautiful cottage, before driving back in the rain to his family home some ninety minutes away.
A few days later, Kim rang to ask when I was leaving London and whether he could drive me to Heathrow airport. We duly had lunch together, followed by a walk in the park, and he then drove me to the airport to catch my plane to Phoenix. After carrying my bags to the ticket counter, he farewelled me, pressing an envelope in my hand with the words: ‘Don’t open this until you are inside the aircraft.’ More generosity. The envelope contained a weighty wad of English pounds with the note: ‘Enjoy the journey. Thank you for all you did for me at Riverview.’
We are still in touch. Just recently, I was presumptuous enough to ask Kim whether one of my brothers could stay at this same home in North Cornwall later this year. This was Kim’s reply: ‘Dear Chris. It would be a pleasure to look after your brother for some digs at that time. Your brother is my brother and he will be most welcome. I have noted the dates and he can contact me closer to the time as it suits.’
Connection is another word for grace. In a splendid little book titled Vanity Faith, Timothy Klein writes: ‘Grace happens when you discover your place in the world, and something as big as that only occurs when someone as big as God steps in … It’s finding your spot in a nest of relationships. It’s the feeling of belonging that love brings.’
Last year I was invited to give a talk to a Xavier College Year 11 class on the Jesuit vocation. As the religious education teacher was taking the roll, I thought I heard a young man named Charlie call out a family name that was familiar to me. When I asked him for his full name, it turned out that I had taught his father and coached him football at the college in the late 1970s, that I had celebrated the marriage of his parents in 1987, and baptised his older brother. What a wonderful connection!
For me, the joy of being a Jesuit priest is fundamentally about connections with people. Often it happens around celebrations of significant events in life’s journey to the heart—known formally as the sacraments—but frequently it is just about making, sustaining and re-igniting friendships and relationships. As a Jesuit priest, it has always been a privilege to be invited to accompany people at various chapter beginnings, diverse sacramental points in their lives—Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage, Orders, Healing and Reconciliation.
Hospitality is a particular form of connectedness, and during the month of June we celebrate in a special way the hospitality of God on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. It is no accident, therefore, that we refer to the bread of the Eucharist as the ‘Host’. Jesus as our Host shares his life with us every time we come to his table in the Eucharist. How we receive his hospitality, how we let the Eucharist touch us, is what we mean by salvation in the here and now.
Let us welcome the Eucharist as God’s touch, as God’s extravagant hospitality. There can be no stronger connection in our lives!