Yesterday I co-presented a Lent Retreat Day for volunteers and friends of City House. Our theme was Healing Divisions: Engaging the Beatitudes in Our Time. My co-presenter was Janice Andersen, Director of Christian Life at the Basilica of St. Mary.
After I gave an introduction to the day, Janice spoke about the context of the Jesus’ preaching of the Beatitudes and what that says about the needs of both his world and ours. I was struck by the picture Janice painted of the world in which Jesus grew up. A conquered society living under oppressive Roman rule. Incredible disparities between right and poor; according to Janice’s research 70% of the population in Jesus’ day lived under what we today would call poverty level. As she talked, I could see both how Jesus’ world differed from our own and how many similarities there are between his world and ours.
I was also struck by her observation that Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, which one commentator described as possessing a mean and despicable population of poor, illiterate and vulgar people. In other words: Jesus walked into the place of greatest need. He went to the hardest place and opened himself to every ailment of body, spirit and mind.
I was reminded, as Janice spoke, of something Henri Nouwen wrote.
Life lived Eucharistically is always a life of mission. We live in a world groaning under its losses: the merciless wars destroying people and their countries, the hunger and starvation decimating whole populations, crime and violence holding millions of men, women and children in fear. Cancer and AIDS, cholera, malaria, and many other diseases devastating the bodies of countless people;…it’s the story of everyday life filing the newspapers and television screens. It is a world of endless losses…This is the world we are sent live in…with burning hearts and with open ears and open eyes.
And, as I elaborated in our second session yesterday, the stance out of which we are sent to carry out our mission is described in the Beatitudes. They describe a way of being – a way of being exhibited in the life of Jesus – that is essential to our ability to heal the divisions and suffering of our world.