I Have Competed Well

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul.  The second Mass reading on this day is a beautiful passage from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, one that always moves me.

At this point, Paul realizes he is “the time of [his] departure is at hand.” Looking back at his life, he writes: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”  These words always affect me deeply, and I keep coming back to them.

“I have competed well.”  What is Paul saying here? Or, perhaps, more appropriately: What would it take to be able to say, as does Paul, “I have competed well”?

I think the words can mean a lot of different things, depending on the circumstances. Of course we’d all like to be able to say at the end of the day that through our words and deeds we accomplished big things, changed the world in a major way, maybe moved a few mountains. And sometimes we do accomplish big things. Other times, our best efforts may produce small results. The circumstances in which we find ourselves may mean that we have little show for our efforts.

Perhaps the bottom line is that we can not necessarily fairly evaluate our discipleship based on visible results. The relevant question is only whether we acted true to our faith. Whether we followed the course of Christ, bearing witness to Christ and being his love in the world as best as we could. If we do that, then, at the end of the day we can say, as did Paul, “I have competed well…I have kept the faith.


Can’t We Do Better Than War?

I mentioned that we saw a production of Lisa Peterson an Denis O’Hare’s An Iliad this past weekend.  It is a retelling of the epic Homer tale narrated by a single storyteller that also draws on events through the ages.

The play was fabulously performed, and I can’t imagine the energy it took for the single performer to so passionately tell his tale for an hour and forty minutes.  I was captivated from beginning to end, as was the rest of the audience.  I was telling someone about it last night and thought to share it here (especially for those in the area who might have time to catch a performance of it before the Winona festival ends).

At the opening of the play, the narrator sadly comments, “Every time I sing this song, I hope it’s the last time.”  For me the most chilling part of the play is the one that suggests that hope will not easily be realized.  The narrator is trying to remember something that occurred during a particular conquest, but corrects himself, remembering it was not that conquest at all, but a different one, a failed recollection that leads to an almost three minute narration of wars through the ages.  I almost couldn’t breathe as the recitation went on and on.

Here is the scene, although from a different performance than the one I saw:

There is a similar, although shorter scene at the end.  The play ends before the actual fall of Troy.  The narrator casually observes that we all know that story.  We’ve heard it before.  The fall of Troy.  The sack of Constantinople.  Of the Aztec empire.  The destruction of Dresden.  Of Sarajevo.  Of Aleppo.

Do we just accept that that these lists will go on and on?  That if this play is performed in another 10 or 15 years the recitation of wars will grow to four or five minutes rather than just over three?

Shouldn’t we hope for something better?  Shouldn’t we commit ourselves to trying to do better?


Applause After Death

We just returned from a wonderful weekend in Winona where we saw the opening performances of the 14th season of the Great River Shakespeare Festival.  (Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Richard III, as well as An Iliad, a modern day retelling of the classic.  All fabulous productions.)

The GRSF folks are dedicating this season to the memory of a woman named Karen Fawcett, who played a vital role in “building a fledgling theater company into a sustainable fixture in the regional and national arts scene.”  She co-founded their volunteer organization, raised money, was involved in strategic planning, and was instrumental in building an audience outside of Winona.  She died this past January.

On opening night of the first play, Comedy of Errors, the artistic director of the GRSF talked about Fawcett and the dedication of the season to her.  He said that when someone in the theater passes away, there is a tradition of offering the person a final applause.  When he asked the audience (many of whom have been attending GRSF performances for years) to join him in a final applause for Fawcett, everyone rose and applauded long and hard.

In the moment, I was deeply touched by the gesture, and joined heartily with the other audience members.  As I sat later, I asked myself for whose benefit was the applause?  Certainly not Fawcett, much as we like to picture our dearly departed smiling down on us.

It struck me that the answer was us.  Not in a bad selfish way.  Rather, the applause was an expression of collective gratitude (and any expression of gratitude is a good thing).  It was a recognition that what had been built was worth having and worth preserving, and that it is important for us to acknowledge those who had a hand in it, whether they can hear us or not.  And, as or more importantly, the applause recognized something Fawcett embodied: the idea, in the words of the director, “that anything is possible with the right work and the right people.”  And that is something that should motivate each of us.

And, Karen Fawcett, if you are smiling on us, I hope you enjoyed the weekend performances as much as we did.  Rest in peace!

I Will Give You Rest

Today is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a celebration that dates back to the 17th Century and that became part of the general calendar of the church in 1856.

The Gospel for Mass on this day is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ invitation to his disciples to “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Jesus’ words put in my mind the sole statue in the Sacred Heart Chapel on the grounds of the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh.  Traditional depictions of the Sacred Heart have never moved me; this one, however, draws me in every time I walk into that chapel:

The peace of Christ be with you all!

St. Thomas More, Patron Saint of Lawyers

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of St. Thomas More, known to many from the play/film A Man for All Seasons.

Thomas More is the patron saint of the lawyers.  For all of my lawyer friends – indeed, for all of those involved in the pursuit of justice,  here is the prayer to St. Thomas More:

I pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, that I, with you, St. Thomas More, may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients’ tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.

Pray for me, and with me, that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain – their good servant, but God’s first. Amen.

St. Thomas More, pray for us!

Welcoming Prayer

One of the people who see me for spiritual direction shared with me a copy of Thomas Keating’s The Welcoming Prayer.  Although in different words, it captures well the way of being Ignatius encourages in his First Principle and Foundation.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.
I welcome everything that comes to me today
because I know it’s for my healing.
I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons,
situations, and conditions.
I let go of my desire for power and control.
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem,
approval and pleasure.
I let go of my desire for survival and security.
I let go of my desire to change any situation,
condition, person or myself.
I open to the love and presence of God and
God’s action within. Amen.

It is a challenging prayer to pray as if we really mean it!