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Op-Ed

Retiring at 84

As the head of the Roman Catholic Church eyes comfortable retirement, Rev. Richard R. Mickley, CDOS, OSAe, PhD asked: “Should I? Can I retire from all this overwhelming and awesome experience of God operating in my midst, right in my presence as my friends and I acknowledge together the presence or Jesus with us? Pope Benedict wants to retire to a monastery. I am sure I would like that too. But what about all those wonderful people God keeps sending to me?”

There has been a lot of speculation since my brother Joseph announced his retirement at 85 the other day.

Some are praising his integrity and love for the “church.” All are guessing about his successor.

So, what do I think about me at 84? Can I say I am getting feeble and no longer mentally and physically able to attend to the calling?

This morning was my 9th month anniversary in 7AM Tai Chi. Honestly it was the first time I felt unable to keep up with the other seniors. The teacher even gave me a wonderful reflexology treatment after the class. Now it’s seven hours later. I feel stronger and confident I can keep up with the other seniors in the next class. Incidentally, I am the oldest in the two dozen or more members.

Pope Benedict has 118 potential successors, capable of taking over.

I have to think about, not who could, but who would carry on the work? Who would be willing to carry on the ministry I have done in the Philippines for 22 years without salary? Who will teach sex-positive theology courses by internet for free? Who will be available for people with broken hearts, broken lives, and broken hopes? Well, I started that work in 1991, but, actually we now have at least a half dozen dedicated pastors doing that with all their heart.

There are limits to what a pastor can do (especially when he or she also has to hold a secular job for survival). That’s Pastor Regen in Dasmarinas, Pastor Egay in Makati, Pastor Jason in Marikina, Pastor John in Olongapo, Pastor Myke in Baguio; and the good people in Quezon City.

I am thinking, first of all, about all my friends who have tested positive for HIV. They are brave. They are courageous. They have a wonderful positive outlook. I want to keep on giving them every support I can so they can keep on “doing everything right when living with HIV.” I have shared my essay on that subject with them, but I want to see them come together in a self-help wholistic well-being support group – so they can go on and on and on like my friend Rev. Steve Pieters who has had HIV for more than 30 years (Google his name).

I am thinking of my friends who are tired of having their life, their dreams, their hopes shattered by addictions over which they have had no control. I want to continue to share with them my own life experience in overcoming addiction to alcohol in a wonderful 12 Step program that changed my life, saved my life. It could be anything powerful enough to upset one’s life.

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At the same time some of my friends are working on sexual compulsion that’s bringing them to ruin. They say, “I have the most wonderful lover in the world, but I give in to drives that seem beyond my control.” Of course, as we work a recovery program, we find it is not uncontrollable.

Day after day people come to me for “help” when their relationship seems to be on the rocks, or at least bumping over stumbling blocks. I share with them my experience and the book I have written on this very subject – “how to,” how to make a relationship run smoothly and happily. Yes, a support group with others who are really sincere also helps. This is a work with the rewards of seeing happy couples — in love.

Yes, after 22 years, some of the 10 million LGBT people in the Philippines still have trouble with knowing and accepting God’s unconditional and non-judgmental love. The pastors do a great job when they have a chance to help these people wipe away the tears, erase the fears, and find peace and joy. Some people find a support group of people trying to swim out of internalized homophobia a tremendous help. I rejoice when I observe the transformation that takes place in people who finally come know what God is really like.

My biggest joy over the years (for decades now) has been when somebody comes to me and says, “Pastor, teach me how to pray.” The joy is fulfilled when that person sits down – anywhere, in a coffee shop, anywhere, and learns first-hand the presence of God always, and then finds the moment by moment friendship of Jesus who said, “I am with you always.” He also said, “Pray always.” My heart leaps at the wonder of it, when we sit down to pray. Just 2 or 3 or us, and FEEL the presence of our friend Jesus, right there with us, just like He said. I have seen it happen in America, in New Zealand, and here in the Philippines. It never fails to be awesome.

Will I? Should I? Can I retire from all this overwhelming and awesome experience of God operating in my midst, right in my presence as my friends and I acknowledge together the presence or Jesus with us? Pope Benedict wants to retire to a monastery. I am sure I would like that too. But what about all those wonderful people God keeps sending to me? I don’t have responsibility for a church of a billion souls. At the moment I don’t see who God is choosing to continue the care for the wonderful souls mentioned above with HIV, addiction, heart-break, internalized homophobia, and a yearning for the practice of the presence of God in prayer.

Maybe soon God will raise up, not 118 cardinals capable caring for God’s loved ones in Manila, but just maybe the one whom God is calling will say, “Yes, Lord, I love You and Your people, and I will answer your call.”

So, I see that it’s not at 84. I have a year to go to 85. Maybe then or someday God will make the self-help support groups strong enough that God will say, “OK, a servant leader has answered my call; you can retire to a life of prayer.”

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