Only Kindness Makes Sense

I have been a fan of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry since I heard her read her poem Gate A-4.  The other day, I received an e-mail containing another poem of hers, one that seemed to me particularly good to share in these pandemic days.  Rather than the text, here is  Nye, reading her poem Kindness.

 

Our Common Home

May 24 will be the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s encyclical letter,  Laudato si (On Care for our Common Home).  The Pope invited Catholics around the world to celebrate Laudato si week from May 16 (yesterday) through the anniversary day of May 24.

The message of the Encyclical has continuing importance to our world.  The symptoms of environmental degradation that he outlines in the early part of his encyclical continue to be manifest today.  Indeed, in the United States, the relaxation of pollution standards by the current administration contributes to a worsening of the situation Francis described give years ago.  And the inequalities that he spoke about are more apparent today in light of the pandemic.

In his address to the faithful today, the Pope said that “in this time marked by the pandemic we are more aware of the importance of caring for our common home.” He invited all of us to think about and undertake “a shared commitment to help build and strengthen constructive attitudes aimed at caring for Creation.”

We ignore that invitation at our own peril.  As the Pope remarked in March, when he invited Catholics to take part in Laudato si week, “The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor cannot continue.”

Note: If you still haven’t read Laudato si, you can read it in full here.  For quicker reference, see this 2015 article from America magazine highlighting the most important takeaways of the document.

Lessons on God’s Love from Catherine of Siena

Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Catholic Church and Patroness of Europe.  She has long been among my favorites of the mystics of the Catholic Church.  Catherine was a laywoman associated with the Dominican order who lived during the 14th century.

Catherine had a deep and intimate friendship with God and she was open to hearing God’s voice.  When she spoke about prayer, she said that the humble soul waits patiently for the flame of love.  When asked how the soul waited, Catherine said, “not lazily, but in watching and constant humble prayer.”

She also compared prayer to filling our cup at the fountain of love.  She writes:

Even simple folk know this…If you have received God’s love sincerely without self-interest, you will drink your neighbor’s love sincerely.  It is just like a vessel that you fill at the fountain.  If you take it out of the fountain to drink, the vessel is soon empty.  But if you hold your vessel in the fountain while you drink, it will not get empty: Indeed it will always be full.

Most of what we know about the fruits of Catherine’s prayer life comes from a work titled The Dialogue (or The Dialogue of Divine Providence), which Catherine started writing two years before her death, and which is now hailed as a classic of Western spirituality.

One of the recurring themes of The Dialogue is God’s deep love for humanity.  In words reminiscent of the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew Scriptures, God tells Catherine, “I loved you before you came into being.”  Here is how God expounded on tht love to Catherine:

It was with providence that I created you, and when I contemplated my creature in myself I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.  It pleased me to create you in my image and likeness with great providence.  I provided you with the gift of memory so that you might hold fast my benefit and be made a sharer in my own, the eternal Father’s power.  I gave you understanding so that in the wisdom of my only-begotten Son you might comprehend and know what I the eternal Father want, I who gave you graces with such burning love.  I gave you a will to love, making you a sharer in the Holy Spirit’s mercy, so that you might love what your understanding sees and knows.  All this my gentle providence did, only that you might be capable of understanding and enjoying me and rejoicing in my goodness by seeing me eternally.

All of us are made to rejoice in God’s love forever.  And so these words are written to each us.  Today, let us hear them as Catherine did.

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us!

 

“If Someone Is Glad You Were Born”

I just finished reading Danielle Vella’s Dying to Live: Stories from Refugees on the Road to Freedom.  It is a powerful, albeit heartbreaking read, as Vella gives voice to refugees to tell their harrowing stories.  The refugees whose stories Vella shares left homes for varied reasons; some were targeted by terrorists because they had done work for the US military, others to avoid being forced to take up arms, others physically and otherwise abused because of their minority status.  Many have watched friends and family die, and many languish for years in refugee camps.

I was touched by many things in the book (and I highly recommend you read it), but what prompted this post was something one of the refugees said.

Nabeel was a member of the Hazara minority in Pakistan, forced by terrorists to confine themselves to two neighborhoods in the city in which he lived.  Not permitted to leave the ghetto meant people could not go to work, to school, or anywhere else.  So Nabeel decided to leave.  He was more fortunate than most whose stories we hear in Vella’s book.  He was granted asylum in Sri Lanka and got the benefit of a resettlement program there that helps young refugees complete high school.  Afger four years, he has managed to achieve economic self-sufficiency.

But Nabeel is clear that being self-sufficient is not enough, that he did not become a refugee merely to survive, but rather to be fully alive.  Here is what that means for him.

Truly living means living in the hearts of people, not just doing your thing – everyone does that.  I can’t describe it very well but what I’m trying to say is, if someone is glad you were born, because you help them, that’s when you are truly alive…I want to work hard, to be in a position not just to help myself, but to help the people around me.  What others did for me, I want to do for someone else.

There are many ways we can describe what it means to truly live.   But one way is certainly Nabeel’s.    Truly living is not just living for oneself.  But rather to be an instrument for making positive changes in the life of others.  I love the way he puts it: to make someone glad you were born because you helped them.

 

 

What Blinds Us To the Presence of Christ?

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke is one of my favorite of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus recorded in the Gospels.

After Jesus’ death, two of his disciples are walking to Emmaus.  Although Luke doesn’t talk about the state they are in, we can imagine that they are sad, dejected, confused, scared.  All of their hopes that Jesus would be one to redeem Israel were dashed when He was arrested and put to death.  We know from what they later tell the man who “drew near and walked with them” that they’ve heard some tale about some women finding an empty tomb and a message from an angelic vision, but it is not clear they believe a word of it.

They converse with the man, not recognizing him and he explains the Scriptures to them.  When they get where they are going, they invite him to stay and eat with them, still not recognizing him.  But then, he takes the bread, says the blessing, breaks the bread and gives it to them.  “With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”  You can almost feel their joy and consolation when they recognize Jesus.  And they excitedly run off (the Gospel says they “set off”, but you know they went running) to find their friends, recounting “what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The question that obviously comes to mind is: why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus?  Luke says that when Jesus walked up to them “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.”  What prevented them?  As I watch the scene unfold in my imagination, I imagine that they were so focused on their own grief and confusion that they don’t really see the man they are speaking to.

Perhaps the more useful question for us is: what prevents us from seeing Christ when he appears to us?  What blinds us to His presence?  What are we so focused on that we do not recognize Christ, even when He is standing right there in from of us?

All Praise Be Yours For All on This Earth (or Happy Earth Day)

Today is Earth Day!  In honor, consider praying the canticle attributed to St. Francis.

All praise be yours, My Lord
through all that you have made.

And first my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day…
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them, bright and precious and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water,
So useful, lowly, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you brighten up the night…

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother,
Who feeds us…and produces various fruits
With colored flowers and herbs…

Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks,
And serve him with great humility.

You may also enjoy a song we listened to multiple (many multiple) times when Elena was young: Tom Chapin’s Happy Earth Day.