Starting Point
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Issue Date:  September 23, 2005

Starting Point


Last summer, my wife Florence and I spent almost seven weeks as caretakers at a historic ranch in south central Oregon. We had to look after the old ranch buildings and water and cut the grass around them. We lived in a small cabin with no electricity, no running water, no TVs or computers. The only sound was from the Little Blitzen River running alongside our cabin.

We made friends with Jim, a buckaroo from the neighboring ranch about 35 miles away. Jim would come in several times a week, mount his horse Wimpy and head out to round up the strays. The terrain is very steep and rocky, dangerous for horse and rider. I would often watch Jim and Wimpy going up and down the steep canyon walls picking their way between the rocks. Sometimes Wimpy would get down on his haunches and slide down a steep hill. It looked dangerous to me.

One day I asked Jim, “When you are coming down these hills, how do you do it? Do you pick the path? Do you guide the horse?”

“No,” he said, “I just ease up on the reins and let loose of them and let Wimpy find the way.”

When things get the most tense, the rider lets go and trusts the horse. I’m sure the natural instinct for Jim would be to tighten up on the reins, to let the horse know who is in control. But he didn’t.

These are interesting times for our church. We have a new pope, who, before becoming Benedict XVI, stifled discussion and dissent. Florence and I watch and listen with concern as Pope Benedict assumes his role. We have twin adult daughters who are lesbian, and we wait to see how he will deal with the discussion of homosexuality. What will he say to us and our daughters? I think back to last summer and Jim and his horse. And I pray that Benedict XVI chooses the simple way of trust in the people of God. I am convinced that with trust in the Spirit, we, the church, will safely find our way.

Steve Balog is retired and a member of St. Andrew Parish, Portland, Ore.

National Catholic Reporter, September 23, 2005

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