By Ted Furlow
July rings in a new ministerial year and marks the end of my active career in diocesan ministry. After 16 years I am going to totter off to retirement with an encore career in something else. This is my last piece as an employee of our Diocese, so I want to take this opportunity thank you for your prayers, kindness, and participation in my Ministry of Planning.
While we as individuals may sometimes feel the sting of isolation or estrangement, as Catholics we are reminded that none of us stands alone, either in our ministry or in our faith. For example, I have a cancer and I am writing this while sitting at home waiting for friends to come and pray over me. Fortunately, my cancer is not one of those where I have days or weeks, in the worst case scenario; it is a matter of years. I hope that is right … remember, I have an encore career to explore.
When I was first diagnosed a year ago, I prayerfully gave it all over to God—His will be done. This was out of my control anyway, and I was certain that if God had more for me to do—like the encore career—something would work out. If He didn’t, well, He would be my companion on the last great adventure. Never-the-less, I am strangely ambivalent about this visit. My friends were insistent about coming to see me, and on the downside it is difficult for me to be prayed over by people who lay on hands in my living room. It may be an odd thing for a person of faith, but I am also a private person and it is hard for me to be fully open to this particular ritual.
However, in their coming there is an upside to consider. This is the same group that prayed and laid hands over my shattered leg in 1998, which prompted a sudden and unexplained healing. So, perhaps this seemingly awkward seeking of healing is one of His steps to allow my illness to be a personal article of faith, a reminder for me to be open to God’s presence. I have picked out a favorite chair, spent the morning composing myself for the moment, given myself up to the reality that I really need prayer, and a community to pray it with me.
The Greek Orthodox Metropolitan and theologian Jean Zizioulas writes that mankind is basically an “individual,” and that the Fall of Man in the Garden was above all an “individualist break” with a relationship and communion with God. Alienated now from God by sin, mankind seeks to recover and renew that relationship and communion. We seek it through Jesus who is relational to the Father and the Spirit in the communion of the Holy Trinity, and relational to each of us in the communion of the Body of Christ. We can find a personal freedom in Christ by understanding that it is not in “individual” practices, but relational and communal ones—like getting prayed over—that allows us to stand with our Risen Lord, peer into our future, and seek our meaning and purpose in God’s will.
So, while words seem insufficient to express my gratitude and affection for the people that I have worked with, and those whom I have been privileged to serve, they are all that I have. We have stood together in a prayerful communion of ministry for over 16 years, through good times and bad, never flinching, always supporting. We have prayed together in our past and through our communion with Jesus Christ let us always pray together in our future.
We don’t say goodbye in ministry, so ... until the next workshop!
Ted Furlow is the former Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.