A watering hole in troubled times
“Most of us come to trust kicking and screaming, letting go only when there is nothing left that we can do or say to make things right. Whenever we do make the plunge, however, we catch a glimpse of the in-breaking of the Kingdom: the world held up by the two hands of God—Christ and the Holy Spirit.”
Americans have been coping for months with the many faces of uncertainty: How will I find a job? What if we lose our home? Can I afford to send my daughter to college? Will we be able to retire as planned? Our son has to move back home. No vacation this year.
Our responses to uncertainty may include resignation, terror, anger, courage, despair, creativity, depression. I also sense that the present climate is providing skepticism and cynicism about a new lease on life. Every sector of society appears riddled with greed and deceit—politics, education, business, church, sports. Since no one wants to be seen as a “chump,” we quickly install a protective shell around us. We better take advantage of “them” before they take advantage of “us.”
A deeper and more troubling result of widespread uncertainty is a sense of loss and disappointment in the human race. We may feel isolated, saddened and powerless that, beyond our intimate circle, we cannot count on each other any more.
Trust based in faith
A third response, based in faith, leads us to trust anew, in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. Trust is not gullibility, stupidity or naïveté—the Gospels tell us that we are to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). Nor is it passivity, irresponsibility or a laissez-faire attitude toward the world’s suffering.
Genuine trust involves having a clear, informed vision of the evils in ourselves and in the world, and, in spite of this, opting to trust anyway. It means rolling up our sleeves to work hard for justice, knowing that any work we do is held up by God’s faithfulness to the human good. One place to begin is to work on becoming more trustworthy ourselves—at home, with friends and at work.
Hard times have the potential to bring out the best or the worst in each of us. But the call of baptism lures us to choose as our fundamental option the belief that God is reliable and that we too can be reliable when we open ourselves to grace (Luke 19:17). At the present moment, the choice to trust is a tall order. But to live without trust is to live in a kind of hell on earth because betrayal of trust erodes the very fabric of our life together.
Life prevails over death
God calls each of us, as women, as men, to trust the promise of life. Some of us will simply pray for the virtue of trust—in God, in others, in ourselves. Others will be ready to fall into the arms of God. Others still will respond to the idea of falling into God’s arms with Augustine’s famous caveat—yes, but not yet.
For good and ill, Americans boast of an independent spirit. Most of us come to trust kicking and screaming, letting go only when there is nothing left that we can do or say to make things right. Whenever we do make the plunge, however, we catch a glimpse of the in-breaking of the Kingdom: the world held up by the two hands of God—Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The Christian tradition can be a watering hole in troubled times. Many of our ancestors in the faith accepted the wager that life would prevail over death (1 Corinthians 1:55). On every page, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah speak of trust. Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled but to trust in God (John 14:1). Paul prays that the God of hope will fill us with the joy and peace that trust brings, so that we will abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). Spring will come again; the snow becomes the rose; new life is renewed in our hearts; we are forgiven seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).
‘All will be well’
We are called to take to heart the words of fourteenth-century English anchoress, Julian of Norwich that “All will be well.” We have before us everywhere wrangling, skepticism, cynicism, unbelief and distrust. Let us choose life, belief and trust (Deuteronomy 30:19).
In what ways today is your trust based in faith? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Monday, September, 14, 2009
The fragility of life and the “last four things”
“The death of a sibling hits home in a different way than the death of a parent, aunt or uncle, those loved ones of the older generation. Kitty is my generation.”
My older sister, Kitty, died in February after losing a two-year battle with brain cancer. She is the first of my nine siblings to die. A young 68, Kitty made it very clear to all of our family that she wasn’t interested in meeting God or seeing our father and mother. She wanted to stay here with her husband, six daughters and her beloved grandchildren.
I appreciated Kitty’s honesty. She verbalized what many of us feel but would never admit.
The death of a sibling hits home in a different way than the death of a parent, aunt or uncle, those loved ones of the older generation. Kitty is my generation.
Her death prompted me to reflect anew on what our church describes as the “four last things.” Suddenly, these mysteries of our faith that I believe in but haven’t given much thought to recently have become quite significant.
Kitty’s death reminds me about the fragility of life. Consequently, I find myself asking: What do I really believe about the end of life? What do I really think about what the church describes as the “four last things”?
Death is our final rite of passage. All of us want to go to heaven, yet none of us wants to die to get there! Jesus’ promise of a resurrected life encourages us to view death as a crossing over from a life in which we experience the joys and limitations of love to the fullness of God’s love without limit.
Yet, there is a sting and an anxiety about the finality of our lives in death. It involves our last and our most significant act of faith that God is a God of infinite compassion and forgiveness who will welcome us home.
Saint John of the Cross reminds us, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.” Such self-giving love is described in Matthew 25: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,.... I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
A disconcerting question is who will do the judging? In the presence of love itself, will God judge us, or will we judge ourselves?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that hell is the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed. Self-exclusion. It is not God’s decision but ours. We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love God.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who choose a lifestyle so devoid of love that they literally create a “hell on earth” for themselves and others. That choice, without repentance, has eternal consequences.
Heaven is God’s place—our ultimate home. It is the experience of the fullness of love without pain or limit. We have intimations of heaven here on earth: The taste of a double-scoop chocolate ice-cream cone is “just heavenly!” The delights of a warm, sunny day or a walk by the lake are experiences we want to “freeze in time.” The lingering over an intimate dinner with a loved one is something we wish “would never end.”
These are intimations of what is to come. Saint Paul confirms our deepest longings: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When I visited Kitty for the last time, she looked right into my eyes and said, “I am so thankful for the life I have had. I only wish I were here longer.”
I replied, “God undoubtedly wishes that for you as well.” She nodded her head in agreement. She believed that God had been with her all along helping her fight this insidious disease with courage and trusting faith.
In the end, Kitty’s body gave out. I believe God was right there as she took her last breath on earth, waiting to embrace her and lead her to life everlasting.
What do you believe about the “last four things”? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Friday, August, 7, 2009
Marking a rite of passage for young Latinas
“I did not want the white dress, the Mass, the dance with my father, or the court of friends that would accompany my entrance at the big party that would inevitably put my parents in debt.”
I never had a quinceañera.
I never wanted this rite that marks the passage to womanhood of many Latina and Latin American young women in their fifteenth year, that also provides occasion to give thanks to God for blessings and to present the young women to the community. Frequently celebrated in several countries in the Americas, including Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean, the quinceañera is often requested by Hispanic Catholics in U.S. dioceses.
I thoroughly rejected the quinceañera in my early teens, seeing myself as more on the American than Cuban side of the hyphen that categorizes my Cuban-American identity. I did not want the white dress, the Mass, the dance with my father, or the court of friends that would accompany my entrance at the big party that would inevitably put my parents in debt.
Twenty years later, I feel a twinge of regret at never being a quinceañera. Now that I sit comfortably on the hyphen and see the United States and Cuba as equal heritages I embrace, I regret much my youthful decision not to celebrate my own passage. The rite, I know now, would have united me with many of my Spanish-speaking sisters in the Americas.
Sustaining cultural identity
Today quinceañeras are often reduced to a big party, highlighted on shows like MTV’s “My Super Sweet Sixteen.” While the fiesta is a huge part of the celebration, quinceañeras include a religious ceremony, and in the United States are strong sustainers of cultural identity for young Latinas.
The historical origins of this rite of passage remain unclear to scholars, yet the current value of the quinceañera is undeniable. The celebration usually involves a Mass in a Catholic church, though as more and more Latino/as convert to Protestant denominations, quinceañera services also occur in these settings as well. The Mass symbolizes the young quinceañera’s commitment to Catholic morals and values, and her dedication to her faith as a young adult. The quinceañera processes into the church along with her court of fifteen friends, and during the Mass the young woman renews her baptismal vows. Certain gifts—religious and secular items that mark the young woman’s transition into adulthood— are blessed during the Mass that seeks to integrate the quinceañera’s rite of passage with her Catholic faith and her community.
Empowering young women
The quinceañera not only emphasizes the importance of Catholic faith for a young Latina, but also highlights her cultural heritage in the United States as a Latina. This strong affirmation of Hispanic identity can be a source of empowerment for a young woman living in a dominant culture that often belittles or misunderstands Hispanic cultural values. This ritual simultaneously integrates Catholic and Latina identity, becoming an example of popular Catholicism that demonstrates the manner in which all of our faith expressions are intimately tied to our cultural values. In uniting the quinceañera’s family, friends and church, the celebration emphasizes the importance of community to one’s faith and culture.
Perhaps that is why now I regret not having my “quince.” I do not miss the party or all the materialism that has unfortunately crept into these celebrations (there are even quinceañera cruises now). But I do regret not having participated in that cultural and religious transition into adulthood, affirming the interconnectedness of my Latina and Catholic identities.
Learning more about quinceañera
For more information on quinceañera
, visit the Web sites of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston
and “Learn NC Editions” of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
What rites of passage have you experienced or witnessed for women? Do you think such rites are important? Why? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Friday, July, 17, 2009
“One who is truly free can speak her mind and act in accordance with God’s call, even in the face of fear.”
During the 2008 election season, my family engaged in a lively e-mail exchange where we debated who would become our nation’s next president. Interestingly, some of the greatest insights came from my sister-in-law who witnessed the fall of communism in her homeland of Bulgaria and was sworn in as a U.S. citizen only a year ago. She reminded all of us that freedom is not something that comes easily, nor is it something that we should take for granted.
For many people, freedom is associated with the right to vote, free speech and the opportunity to live and work in a democratic society. Freedom is more than carefree living, creative self-expression and the absence of war. Freedom does not entitle us to do “whatever we want.” When we are truly free, we are compelled to act in accordance with our deepest values and inner truth. Freedom is the deep and abiding sense that we are loved and accepted, which allows us to make choices consistent with God’s call for our life.
How do we become free?
Freedom is often impeded by fear. Our freedom of speech is hindered when there is fear of rejection or criticism. Our longing to follow our wildest dreams can be halted by a fear of failure or pressure to meet someone else’s expectations. Our freedom is threatened anytime we forget that we are loved. Those who are truly free have nothing to prove. All that we have, and all that we are, is enough. We become free when we are able to face our fears, name past resentments and forgive our enemies. One who is truly free can speak her mind and act in accordance with God’s call, even in the face of fear.
Setting others free
Pope John Paul II once said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” Freedom is not something that we keep to ourselves. The gift of freedom gives us the right to protect the poor and vulnerable, to stand up for those who have no voice and give back to those in need. There are many in our country and in our world who do not know the same freedoms that we have. Consider those who are burdened by grief, constrained by tough economic times or homebound because of illness or age. How can I share the gift of freedom with them? How can I use the gift of freedom to create positive change for our society?
Prayers for peace
At my church in Chicago, we often pray for people in war-torn countries and especially for members of our armed services. Last week after Mass, I ran into a friend who works for a local military hospital. He said, “I know that people in my neighborhood disagree on issues of foreign policy. Yet whenever I wear my uniform in public I am regularly surprised by smiles, handshakes and random acts of kindness. People respect what I do for a living and that means a lot to me.” Likewise, there are many parents, siblings and spouses who worry about their loved ones overseas. The next time you see them, offer a kind word of support.
The middle of summer is punctuated with a long July 4 holiday weekend. Whether you celebrate with picnics, fireworks, baseball or boat rides, it is a great time to reflect on the gift of freedom that rests at the heart of American life.
How will you celebrate freedom this Independence Day? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Thursday, July, 2, 2009
Pondering the rare days of June
“As we enjoy the ‘perfect days’ of June, we acknowledge and give thanks for the love and life of God in creation, Incarnation and Pentecost.”
When I was a child, I remember my mother reciting James Russell Lowell’s poem, “What Is So Rare as A Day in June.” She loved nature, and there was always a lilt in her voice as the words of this poem sprang from her lips in the springtime of each year.
And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;…
Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;…
No matter how barren the past may have been,
'Tis enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;…
And the eyes forget the tears they have shed,
The heart forgets its sorrow and ache;…
The new life of summer
Lowell’s poem is about new life in nature and the effect it has on us—joy chasing grief and sorrow away. In the church’s liturgy, we have just experienced the exhilaration and hope of Pentecost. The Spirit remains among us, leading us into the new life of summer and into the light of truth.
June opens with Trinity Sunday, followed by the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is hard to imagine a greater contrast: these two doctrines lined up back to back. The Trinity seems a bit abstract, ethereal, distant, while Christ’s humanity is concrete, material, accessible to our senses (hard to think of anything more human than bodies and blood).
Trinity as a community of love
If we think of the Trinity as a community of love, then it is not so hard to understand. Fourteenth-century anchoress (a British term for “hermit”) Julian of Norwich wrote a book about her visions of the crucified Christ which contains a masterful description of the Trinity. In her visions she encountered the Trinity joined together in all their thoughts and actions as a community of love whose greatest joy is to bring life and salvation to humanity. She sees no tension between the human Christ suffering on the cross out of love, and the glory and splendor of the divine persons united in love.
There is a relatively unknown tradition of paintings that portray the Trinity at the cross. When I meditate on these images, I always think of Julian. In some paintings, the first person is seated on a “mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17) holding the cross which bears the bleeding body of Christ. The Spirit in the form of a dove hovers over all. In others, we see a pietà that portrays not Mary but the Father—often with a visage of profound grief—holding the dead, bloody body of Christ. Again, the Spirit as dove hovers over all.
In a direct, clear and sensual way, these images communicate a doctrine of the Trinity as a community of love, and they link this doctrine to the body and blood of Christ. When we come together in love and support with friends, family or even strangers who are in trouble or suffering, we participate in the Incarnation and in the trinitarian love of our God.
The truths of our faith
As we enjoy the “perfect days” of June, we acknowledge and give thanks for the love and life of God in creation, Incarnation and Pentecost. The liturgy this month invites us to ponder these truths of our faith, to link them and to make them come alive in our daily lives.
How do you think of the Trinity? How do you acknowledge God in creation, Incarnation and Pentecost? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Tuesday, June, 16, 2009
Saint Paul: friend or foe of women?
“Paul reminds us that our Christian communities are enriched when women and men work together for the well-being of all.”
Soon the church’s yearlong celebration of the 2,000th anniversary of Saint Paul’s birth will end after a wide variety of gatherings, events and publications have commemorated this Christian milestone.
One area of intense interest and debate that continues is Paul’s attitude toward and ministry with women. Was he friend or foe of women, an egalitarian or a chauvinist? Looking at various passages in Paul’s letters and in Acts, biblical scholars find a great sense of collegiality and collaboration between Paul and women.
Let’s look at a few remarkable women who became Paul’s coworkers in spreading the gospel.
Lydia: founding patron of the church in Philippi
Chapter 16 of Acts describes Paul’s ministry in the city of Philippi. After a few days in the city, Paul and his companions went along the river outside the gates on the Sabbath to find a place to pray. There they found a group of women and began to preach to them.
One of the women was Lydia, a businesswoman in her own right as a dealer of purple goods and the head of her own household. She listened to Paul, and “the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). After she and her household were baptized, she invited Paul to “come and stay at my home” (Acts 16:15).
In only a few verses she went from being one of many pious women who prayed by the river to being the patron of the house church in Philippi. Here was a woman who generously and freely offered all that she was and all that she had to the service of the church.
Prisca: coworker with Paul
Another frequently mentioned leader of a house church is Prisca, along with her husband, Aquila. Both are well-known among Pauline communities for their teaching and missionary efforts. Paul particularly thanks Prisca and Aquila who “risked their necks for my life” (Romans 16:4).
It is striking that in the four of six times Prisca is mentioned in Acts and in the Pauline letters her name precedes her husband’s. In Greco-Roman culture that order normally would have been reversed. This change in order shows how highly Prisca was regarded as a teacher and missionary in her own right who worked alongside Paul in the preaching of the gospel. Paul calls the couple his coworkers (Romans 16:3), a term he also uses for four other women who have “worked very hard among you” (Romans 16:6): Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa and Persis.
Phoebe: deacon of Cenchreae
Romans 16 begins with a greeting from Paul: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” Phoebe provides evidence that women were traveling missionaries, deacons and leaders whose authority and importance were recognized by Paul and many Christian communities as ministers of the gospel. Most significant is the fact that Paul refers to her as a “leader” of many, including himself.
Partners in ministry
These descriptions of a few of the remarkable women who ministered with Paul confirm that Paul appreciated and counted on women to help him spread the gospel. As he often acknowledged, he would not have succeeded without them! We need Paul’s collaborative style of ministry in our church today. Paul reminds us that our Christian communities are enriched when women and men work together for the well-being of all.
In what ways have you witnessed or experienced a collaborative style of ministry in our church? Which women can you identify as partners in ministry to spread the gospel? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Tuesday, June, 2, 2009
Make a home for the Spirit
“Through desire, intention and open hearts, we can make a home for the Spirit of God.”
The Spirit of God is mysterious, often less than tangible and believable, yet certain experiences, people and stories witness unmistakably to the powerful presence of God’s Spirit. Saint Paul poses this question: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
The truth is that we don’t realize this incredible, mind-boggling reality everyday. Spirit is the life-giving principle, the movement of divine energy that is always within us and around us. There is no time in the 13.7 billion years of the unfolding of the universe that the Spirit has been absent. The psalmist asks, "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). And the answer is nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.
For the Divine Guest to deeply affect our lives, we must offer hospitality. We need to awaken to, listen to, be moved by the Spirit who lives in and around us. Through desire, intention and open hearts, we can make a home for the Spirit of God.
The Spirit’s work in the world
One thing that can awaken us to the Spirit’s work in the world is a story of God’s touch and a generous human response. Such stories startle us into awareness of the consoling and transforming presence of the Spirit. Two such stories that I want to share hold power that can take your breath away. One that may be familiar to you is the Pentecost story. The other is the story of Dominique Green, shared by Thomas Cahill in A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green
In the scriptural story (Acts 2:1-4), the apostles and friends were huddled in one room very much afraid and despondent. They seemed anything but aware that the Spirit of God was alive within and among them. Fear blocked their awareness. For Love Divine to wake them up, something remarkable was needed. A large noise like a driving wind filled the house, and tongues of fire rested on the apostles and friends. “Here I am,” announced the Spirit. Fear was healed; passion was engendered; courage was reborn. The apostles and friends could no longer keep to themselves what they had witnessed in Jesus. What an amazing story of being shaken into awareness! What happened then happens today in new and equally wondrous ways.
At age 18 Dominique Green was convicted of murder. At age 30 he was executed by the State of Texas. For twelve years he and his friends and advocates fought his seemingly unjust conviction. For twelve years this boy from a terrible home life grew into a man who studied, prayed, created community, learned to love and who became radiant with Spirit energy. He created a “rosary” that had 101 beads: each bead represented a friend, mentor or guide who had died on death row and left Dominique “their knowledge and wisdom to touch other lives.” This boy with no hope and no promise made a home for the Spirit in himself and on death row. Dominique’s final words were a thousand thank yous spoken name by name with love—each name a gift of the Spirit to this saint on death row.
In the presence of God
Desmond Tutu, a bishop of Cape Town, South Africa, visited Dominique and said, “I was very humbled to be in his presence because I felt I was in the presence of God…. He’s like a flower opening and you can see the petals come up, particularly when you see him speaking about his concerns for others.” On October 26, 2004, Dominique entered his lasting home with the Spirit.
Broken human spirits—repaired.
Troubled human spirits—transformed.
Despondent human spirits—renewed.
Sad human spirits—become exuberant, joyful, and thankful.
This, the work of the gracious and ever present Spirit of God.
What would the world be like if all people acted with awareness that each of us is a “temple of God’s Spirit,” a living home of the sacred Spirit of God?
You are that living home all days. You are amazing grace. You are Pentecost.
In what ways are you aware of the Spirit in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Thursday, May, 14, 2009
Mothers say "yes" to God
“To give is to receive, and this law of life allows every mother to be called ‘blessed’—despite the sorrows that inevitably come.”
Mothers make the world go round, and once a year on Mother’s Day the world recognizes this fact. In truth, nothing is quite so important for the well-being of an individual or a population as highly effective maternal nurturance. Essential caretaking starts with the physical protection and provisioning of the unborn in the womb. After birth, a child requires years of extended support and nurturing until he or she matures.
With new research findings it is now recognized that a mother’s actions from the beginning of conception will affect her child’s short- and long-term development. What a woman eats, drinks and ingests during her pregnancy affects her unborn offspring’s health, even in later adult years.
Secret of good mothering
More obviously, psychological and social flourishing of children is rooted in the quality of a mother’s personal and emotional interactions with them. The bonds of love and attachment with children enable a child to learn and engage in the child’s “love affair with the world.” Human beings are innately equipped with awesome capacities for language, reasoning and emotional responsiveness, but good mothering allows the seeds to flourish and bloom. From peek-a-boo to mutual eye gaze, babies are inducted into the human family. You first learn how to “be in relationship” with others in your mother’s arms.
The secret of good mothering lies in attending to and empathizing with a child, and responding with whatever needs to be done to fulfill the child’s needs. The more love, energy and intelligence a mother expends, the more successfully the child can increase in wisdom and grace. To be loved and affirmed, to be enjoyed, talked to and gently guided, starts a young life out well.
The mother-child dance creates new social persons. Families are well described as the first school of life which transmits morality, faith and cultural traditions. A mother’s attitudes and emotions are contagious; children become moral and good by living with beloved good adults. Children desire to be like their parents and receive the implicit and explicit messages of the family. Civilization 101 is a home-based course that is continually in session, with Mother as chief instructor.
As all teachers and parents know, learning and growing up with others is always a two-way street. To give is to receive, and this law of life allows every mother to be called “blessed”—despite the sorrows that inevitably come. Altruism and sacrifice are made lighter when mothering love is present.
The staying power of kinship
Love can be identified as the fusion of interest and joy. It appears early in infancy and lasts a lifetime. Mothers and their children can become loving friends and fellow pilgrims on their transforming journey.
Admittedly, familiar friends and lovers often share rough patches during their common journey. The stress on modern mothers increases as they know more, play more roles in the society and hold themselves to higher standards. Occasional collapses and failures take place. Of course, since Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, conflicts have emerged in every family, but the staying power of kinship ties is remarkable. Forgiveness of prodigal children and tolerance of parental failures are the way wounds are healed.
Giving and forgiving mother love is one of the most convincing indications we have of what God’s unconditional love for us is like. Mothers are like Jesus Christ: they open a door to us which no one can close. The faithful now understand why God is more frequently being addressed as “Our Mother” and why mystics speak of Christ as the mother who tenderly and steadfastly feeds and nourishes us. Christian faith has been understood as our “Yes, to a Yes.” A mother’s “yes” to God’s “yes” deserves to be honored—and more often than on one day a year.
How do you think mothers are like Jesus Christ? When have you witnessed a mother saying “yes” to God’s “yes”? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Wednesday, April, 29, 2009
A place to call home
“I suspect that for many young adults, ‘I’ll know it when I see it,’ applies just as aptly to finding a spiritual home. We want a place where we can be ourselves. It will feel right as soon as we walk inside.”
I had my first meeting with a real estate agent recently. As a first-time homebuyer, my wish list includes details about size, style, neighborhood and price. I’d like to have enough room to entertain friends, an extra space for overnight guests, a large kitchen and lots of windows. I want a place that feels like home. Chances are, “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Some of today’s spiritual seekers, not unlike the first-time homebuyer, go with checklist in hand of must-have amenities for a spiritual home: music that enlivens the liturgy, preaching that enlightens our lives and a warmth that makes one feel welcome. Other young adults find themselves asking many questions, wanting to be sure of all their risk before making an investment. We have questions about the liturgy, concerns about moral dilemmas and difficulties with particular aspects of faith.
I suspect that for many young adults, “I’ll know it when I see it,” applies just as aptly to finding a spiritual home. We want a place where we can be ourselves. It will feel right as soon as we walk inside. There will be space to socialize, time to pray and room for our friends. We find God in many places, but we want a place that feels like home.
Connecting to God
Young adult spirituality incorporates time-honored rituals and contemporary expressions of faith, from the safe confines of a church to the various high-tech resources we utilize to connect with God. Some people pray best with an iPod in their pocket
. Many connect with God through their work with the less fortunate
. Some find great comfort in the rich traditions of the church
like daily Mass, the rosary and eucharistic adoration. For others, the anonymity of the Internet provides a safe place to ask questions and search out answers
. Or perhaps a session of Theology-on-Tap
at the local pub or nearby church basement is more their style.
In this Easter season we hear many stories of people who encounter the risen Jesus. Thomas is convinced that “I’ll know it when I see it,” and he has a checklist in mind. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
Thomas is adamant that he needs to see Jesus in order to believe. When Thomas finally stands face to face with the Risen Lord, Jesus says to him in reply, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Believing what we cannot see
Faith is about believing what we cannot see. We go searching and looking for God in many places. We trust that God is present in prayer, community, Word and sacrament. God is present in the caring arms of a friend and in the face of the poor. God knows our questions, and God is with us in the moment of silence at the end of a busy day. There are times when God’s presence is so obvious and unmistakable. Other times, we trust that God is near even when we cannot see, feel or hear God. Walking by faith means not walking by sight but trusting that our loving God is leading us home. Our hearts are restless until we find that place.
How will you know it when you see it?
What do you look for in a faith community? When have you walked by faith and not by sight? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Tuesday, April, 14, 2009
What does resurrection look like?
“…as our creedal faith teaches, Jesus Christ is risen, and we are baptized into him, and therefore our rising, our new life, is already underway.”
Scripture is replete with themes of death and life, of love and loss, of coming to grips with the fact that we are part of a larger story, a wider universe, of worlds still unknown to us. Jesus, whose life and death and new transformed life we remember at the Eucharist, but especially and in depth during Holy Week and Easter, was the master teacher of this reality. He was not an abstract didactic but one who used the concreteness of nature to lead us into the mysteries of life and death.
Jesus told his listeners to look, really look, at the flowers in the fields, to feast on their beauty—and to celebrate life. He taught that life flows from death. A sparrow falls to earth, and God notices. A seed is buried in the earth, and dies, so that a plant may grow strong to nourish life. And, if weeds and wheat grow together, he told us, don’t worry about it.
Nothing is exempt from death
Jesus used the natural world as his syllabus. What Jesus knew in every fiber of his being is that life emerges from suffering, from the little deaths and the final transformative death. He showed in his own person that everything alive, from carbon particles to human life, will die. Nothing—no one—is exempt from death, not even Jesus.
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, wrote about our resurrection in direct and challenging terms: “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.” He continues, “God gives…each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish” (1 Corinthians 15:36-39). He includes the moon’s splendor, the sun’s light and so on. All are caught up in the wonder of newness, in the dynamism of transformed life. How does this happen? Science aside for the moment, it happens because, as our creedal faith teaches, Jesus Christ is risen, and we are baptized into him, and therefore our rising, our new life, is already underway.
What does this new life look like?
Resurrection looks like a group of people huddled together in a seaside cottage during a fierce hurricane. Whimpering children demand to be held. The adults try to remain calm and focused, doing normal, everyday things so that the children will not become scared or anxious, so that all seems “ordinary.” The adults prepare a simple meal of sandwiches and fruit and encourage the children to eat a bit, in an effort to distract them from the raging weather.
In an adjacent small bedroom, someone softly leads a rosary while others respond. In a larger “community room” where sandwiches have been set out for easy grabbing, someone sings and encourages others to join in. Before long, in this atmosphere of shared food, song and prayer, one witnesses hope and trust replacing paralyzing fear. Outside in the storm, an older woman throws a miraculous medal on the rough waves and says she’s prepared to wait on God. She may not name the movement within herself as resurrection, but what she is experiencing—what all are experiencing—is life rising up in the face of peril.
Resurrection also looks like the face of a Bosnian woman hanging laundry. In a newspaper photo that I carried for a long time, the Bosnian woman stands between a tree and a pole, the only vertical objects (besides her) in a barren field leveled by war. The stark beauty of that scene gives flesh to our proclamation: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Life goes on, no matter what.
Resurrection also looks like my friend who now acts as the principal caregiver for her husband who has been totally disabled by a serious stroke. My friend, whose days once were sprinkled with laughter and witty conversation, is exhausted from two years in her new role as caregiver. Each time she prepares the soft, mild food her husband can digest or she responds to his middle-of-the-night needs or she struggles to get him in and out of their car for therapy visits, she—and he—is on the resurrection trajectory. That’s my language, not hers. Her language is that of simple love and faithfulness, a language mindful of the time the couple shared evenings at the theater and cooked dinner together. Now the two experience a different kind of sharing, the sharing of diminishment, or what Teilhard de Chardin calls “the hollowing” of self to make room for God.
Love is strong as death
The communities facing natural disasters, the Bosnian woman and other survivors of war, and my friend and her husband are all faces of suffering, of dying and of transformed life. Paul tells the Corinthians (and us) that after this perishable nature has put on imperishability, we will be able to say, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The truth is that we can say these words every time we choose to live in love: “…love is strong as death” (Song of Songs 8:6).
What does resurrection look like to you? When have you experienced love that is strong as death? Share your thoughts by clicking on Contact Us
Monday, March, 30, 2009