My family didn’t have all that much money, so I was happy when I got a good sized academic scholarship to go to a wealthy college in Pennsylvania. In the first days, while all the other kids had their parents driving them and moving them in, I arrived alone fresh out of tipping a taxi driver after 8 hrs of Peter Pan buses. I had had a chest mailed down full of stuff, and one of the first things I did after settling in with the new roommate is take out of the chest a life-sized poster of Larry Bird shooting a jump shot, unfurl it, and tape it up on the wall.
That began my determination to work my tail off (with some “fun” times of course) for 4 years and learn the most and be the best I could be and end up on top. I won a few awards, got the department award in mechanical engineering, and I got a full assistantship to graduate school.
Although I had changed residences several times, the Larry Bird poster always came with me. One of the last things I did after graduating and getting ready to leave was take down that Bird poster. Looking back at it now, I didn’t realize it then, but he had been an inspiration for me to pursue my goals and dreams.
That’s because growing up in the 80s in Boston and loving basketball, I watched all the Celtics’ games on my rabbit ears TV in my room. I was inspired and mesmerized by those teams, and I would announce the big moments to my whole family in the other rooms, who were typically watching something else (that was how our house worked). But most of all Larry Bird, how he gave 100% all the time and made the most of his gifts and talents to reach his goals and be a success. I was always amazed and inspired by him. I didn’t realize it then, but all that time spent watching Bird and letting him inspire me, that all could be thought of as wasted time, all that paved the way for my college success.
Over 10 years ago, I entered a seminary. By this time, I had success in life. I owned my own condo, had a pretty successful career in engineering and management, had a patent as an inventor and some high visibility projects, a nice road set up for a comfortable retirement, and some pretty good financial investing abilities. On one of the first days there, I found a picture of Jesus that I liked that was for the taking. I put that picture in my room on a shelf. I was ready to do what I did before: work my tail off, be the best I could be, and be a priest.
Well, that year in the seminary did *not* go well. Let’s just say it ended on a big down-beat, and I didn’t return. Every time I looked at the picture, I got mixed signals. After leaving I thought, what is going on? What is different this time?
Some years after that, I was passing through Mexico City to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on my way to spend extended time for the first time in Ecuador. I was excited to be going. The house I stayed in was a youth recuperation center for young, poor, at-risk teen Mexican girls. Things were going great, I really loved to be with the kids and get to know the sisters running it, and my heart felt alive. At one point, after a breakfast, I passed by a doorway and looked up at the wall, and there was that same picture of Jesus that I had had 5 years earlier in the seminary. A voice didn’t come down from heaven, but it spoke to me: “Not that other way – *This* is the way.” I knew I was on the right path.
That picture of Jesus is from his calling of the rich young man to go, sell what he has, give to the poor, and follow him.
You know why that picture could guide me? It’s because I spent years with the Scripture in my hands, in Jesus’ sacramental presence, and following the way I saw. Years seeing Jesus’ presence with people in hospitals, nursing homes, on the streets, in orphanages, what God does, and being inspired and saying wow and being amazed. Years pruning my life down. And all the while, the voices from inside and outside saying, “You’re wasting your time!”
Because the way Jesus inspires isn’t going to be up the ladder of success. It’s going to be down the staircase to love.
After Pentecost, the Apostles receive Jesus’ Spirit and now it’s their turn. It wasn’t just magic. It was because they had spent three years listening to and accompanying Jesus, being inspired with amazements and wows. They didn’t realize it, but all that time spent watching and accompanying him is going to pave the way for what they will do completing the foundation of the church. All in the presence of the naysay voices.
So, what’s the point?
If you want that inspiration for love in life, then take time to be with Jesus and be inspired. Let yourself be amazed, follow the inspirations, give them time and space. It doesn’t matter what the negative voices say – and yes, you’ll get them on the inside and the outside.
Waste time with Jesus.
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority… They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region. (Lk 4:31-32,36-37)