Fr. Michael reflects on his life

Reflection on my life
Written by Fr. Michael van der Peet, SCJ
February 6, 2008

When you are in your eighties, you often think of your mortality.  It is never far away.  There are moments of fear at the thought of separation from so many loved ones, but those moments are only scarce and so I can honestly say that I do not feel depressed.  I have always been a very religious person of simple faith.  I feel that Jesus’ love has always surrounded me from birth.  He is simply the air I breathe and in spite of my sinfulness, I know Him to be the great Treasure of my heart.

There was much hidden ugliness in my life and it has been the source of much pain and humiliation for me.  Of course I was sensitive to the praise and admiration of people and yet, I was not allowed to be carried away by it because in my heart I knew my many weaknesses and failures and how much I was living on the mere mercy of my beloved Lord.  I have very much been the child of His compassion and have come to know how unconditional his love for us is.  As I had printed on my Ordination card, “In heaven I will forever sing the compassion of the Heart of Jesus.”

I am often in awe at the thought of how happy my life has been: it has been pure gift.  Even from a merely natural point of view I have been extremely fortunate.  I was born in a loving family.  Our parents were poor when we grew up, but they loved us very much and gave themselves totally for our happiness and wellbeing.  My Mother used to say, “Two things make us the happiest family in the world: our faith and music” and so there was “true fear of the Lord” and there was always music.

I always wanted to become a priest and dreamed of being a saint some day.  I have come to know that this is a life-long process and I feel that I am only a novice in the business of holiness, but I also trust that Jesus’ goodness and patience will see to it that some day in the future I will love Him totally.  I might have to wait until the moment of dying and pray that I may die in an act of perfect love of God.

I owe my religious community more than I can ever tell anyone.  I have always treasured my SCJ Community both here in the U.S. and in Holland.  They have been more than just fair to me: I have always had that wonderful feeling of belonging and I can say that I have always been a happy team player.  Of course, there were problems and disappointments as well, but we must be realistic about the human condition.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are integral to human life because we all are weak and in need of compassion.

I have always been happy with my ministries over the years.  First there were the 15 years of teaching.  When I asked for a switch –– quite persistently –– it was not out of dislike for my work –– but out of a great urge to preach the Word of God, and so, in 1970 I entered full-time into retreat work and into the House of Prayer Movement.  This ministry meant very much to me and became a source of light and life –– and I should add –– of love.  I have come to know hundreds and hundreds of God’s children through it and they have been a real sacrament to me as I hope to have been for them.  I have always loved the saying, “We are going to be saved in clusters.”

I love life more than I can express and I look at life as only the top of an iceberg.  I am thinking here of St. Paul’s words in Romans, “I consider the sufferings of the present to be as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us.”  “And it has not even come up in the human mind what God has prepared for those who love Him.”  It is in this light that I have come to understand that even the most desperate situation in life has been touched by the precious Blood of Jesus and therefore is not beyond redemption, and as such is an integral part of the redemption of the universe.  With all the violence, poverty and blatant injustice around us today, I rejoice in the thought that there is a loving and just God who even beyond death will have the last word and set things straight, wiping the tears away from the wounded, the poor and the afflicted.

While I am writing this, I am thinking of Mozart’s music.  One day in sunny California I came to discover that it is given to the artist to express the inexpressible: therefore we call the artist, one who is touched by the divine.  I firmly believe that God made me such that, without music, I would have died much sooner, because for me it was the very oxygen I needed so many times when I was overwhelmed by the ecstasy and agony of life and the awesomeness of God’s love and the love of my dearest friends.  Music is a language I have come to know very well.  In music I have come to discover my deepest self as the image and likeness of God.  Even as a little child I experienced music as an embrace of God.  It has been a true sacrament to me and in it I have seen the lovely beauty of God.  In heaven I will forever be a canticle of love and praise.

Very understandably I do not know who among my friends will ever read this reflection, but regardless, I have my own personal and unique thoughts and feelings for each one of them.  Each relationship is so unique:  what I would say to one, I would not say to the other and vice versa, but to all I would say, “I have loved you very dearly and as the profound saying of Roy Kroft goes, “I thank you, my friend, not so much for what you are, but for what I was, when you were with me.” To each one I would say in the beautiful text of Weston Priory’s “Wherever you go, I will go…  The color and texture which you have brought into my being have become a song and I want to sing it forever… When the time of our particular sunset comes, our thing, our accomplishment, won’t really matter a great deal, but the clarity and care with which we have loved others will speak with vitality of the great gift of life we have been for each other.”

My sunset has come, but this same sun has risen for me in Jesus, Splendor of the Father and will never set again.  In this radiance I hope to meet all my loved ones again without ever having to say “Good-bye.”  In His light we will see light.

Just as I have a great need to thank God for my many friends, I have also the need to ask Him to forgive me where I have been a cause of pain and hurt for my family, community, friends and I am asking all of them to forgive me.  I forgive all those who have hurt me, too.  May we all find the peace of God’s greatest gift:  reconciliation.

I have written this, most alert in mind and heart, on Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008, wishing that we all experience the peace of Christ and the loving protection of Mary, Mother of us all.