The Beatitudes and the Witness of the Saints

Yesterday I gave a talk at Our Lady or Lourdes Church with the above title.  The title comes from Chapter 3 of Pope Francis’ most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et exultate (in English, Rejoice and Be Glad), promulgated earlier this year on the Solemnity of St. Joseph.   As is true of everything this Pope writes, the document evidences his formation in Ignatian Spirituality, which is an apostolic one, that is, a spirituality that emphasizes the experience of being sent forth by God to act on behalf of the neighbor in witness to the Gospel and in imitation of Jesus’ life.

My talk shared some of my own and Francis’ observations about each of the Beatitudes.  And, given our proximity to All Saints Day, I gave examples of saints that I thought embodied each of the Beatitudes.  Following are my examples; perhaps a good exercise in these days leading up to All Saints Day would be to see who you would consider a good embodiment of each.

Poverty of spirit – Ignatius of Loyola; Francis of Assisi
Meekness – Therese of Lisieux
They who mourn – Oscar Romero; Damien of Molokoi
Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness – Teresa of Avila
Merciful (which Pope Francis sees as embodying service as well as forgiveness) – Vincent dePaul
Peacemakers – Dorothy Day

Near the end of my talk, I also shared Pope Francis’ observations about ideologies that seek to undercut what Jesus calls us to in the Beatitudes.  First, he speaks of the error of “those Christians “who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace.”  The examples he gives of saints who understood that their prayer and love of God did not detract from their commitment to their neighbors are St. Francis, St. Vincent and St. Teresa of Calcutta.

The second ideological error the Pope identified is “those who suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist.”  Or, he says, they relativize it, suggesting it is less important than other issues. But life is life.  So while defense of the innocent and unborn must be vigorous, “equally sacred…are the lives of the poor, the destitute, the abandoned, the vulnerable etc.” Holiness, he says, cannot ignore injustice and suffering anywhere.

 

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Worthy of the Call

Today’s first Mass reading is a selection from the Letter to the Ephesians; it is one I love and come back to again and again: Paul’s exhortation that we

live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace; one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call.

We are all called to build God’s kingdom – everyone with a unique set of gifts and talents.  Imagine what the world would look like if everyone lived into that call! If we lived a life worthy of the call we have received!

And if we live into it with the spirit Paul calls us to, remembering we are part of one Body, there would be no room for envy, for if we are part of one Body working for God’s plan, then what matter is it if my part is smaller than someone else’s?  There would be no room for competition, only for spurring each other on, and finding ways to help each other maximize our use of our gifts.

Imagine what that could look like!

 

 

Drinking Our Cup

When people say “that’s my cross” or “this is the cup I drink,” it often sounds like claim that one is simply stoicly putting up with a bad situation.  It is sometimes said with a sigh, or an air of suffering, with the sense that one is just making the best of a bad lot.

This quote from Henri Nouwen’s Can you Drink This Cup? suggests a different mindset.  He writes

Drinking our cup is not simply adapting ourselves to a bad situation and trying to use it as well as we can. Drinking our cup is a hopeful, courageous, and self-confident way of living. It is standing in the world with head erect, solidly rooted in the knowledge of who we are, facing the reality that surrounds us and responding to it from our hearts.

“Can you drink this cup,” then, asks more than whether we can suffer through we are facing.  Rather, it asks us to be “solidly rooted in the knowledge of who we are”,  a knowledge that gives us hope, courage and confidence in the fact of difficulties.

 

St. Oscar Romero

This is a bit belated, but:  I was at the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh this past weekend giving an Ignatian retreat for women.  As is the practice there, I offered the reflection at the closing Mass.  Since I had already spoken during the course of the retreat on Sunday’s Gospel (sell all you have and give to the poor), since Romero was being canonized that day, I decided to speak about him.  This is a shortened version of what I said:

Romero was a wonderful person to end our retreat with, first becuase he is an example of the fact that conversion is a process and we can grow into our “yes”s to God; and second, because he demonstrated a firm commitment to carrying out God’s work, even when the cost becomes enormously high.

For those not familiar with El Salvador’s history, for many years, repression, torture and murder were carried on in El Salvador by dictators installed and supported by the United States government, a matter given virtually no coverage here in the U.S.   In the 1930s and 1940s there was brutal suppression of rural resistance in El Salvador.  The most notable event was the government retaliation to a1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, commonly referred to as La Matanza (the ‘slaughter’), which followed after the days of protest. In this ‘Matanza’, approximately 40,000 indigenous people and political opponents were murdered, imprisoned or exiled. Until 1980, all but one Salvadoran temporary president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair.  From the 1930s to the 1970s, authoritarian governments employed political repression and limited reform to maintain power, despite the trappings of democracy.

It is into this backdrop that Oscar Romero became archbishop of San Salvador in 1977.  Continue reading

May the People Dwell as One

I spent this past weekend with the folks at First Presbyterian Church of Neenah.  My connection with this faith community stems from the time my daughter sang in their choir during her time at Lawrence University, and I always enjoy my time with them.

On Saturday I gave a Day of Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer.  Then on Sunday, in addition to leading adult faith formation, I was the guest preacher at the two services.

The title of my reflection, offered on the day the Presbyterian Church celebrated Communion Sunday, was May the People Dwell as One.  You can listen to it at this link, which includes the whole service.  My remarks start at 25:30.

The readings I selected for the service, which you may want to look at before listening, were: Isaiah 11:1-13, Psalm 133, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 17:1-7, 20-26.

My Friend Francis

Today is the feast day of a saint that is near and dear to my heart – St. Francis of Assisi.  Although my spirituality is Ignatian to the core, when I visualize the communion of saints surrounding Jesus in heaven, St. Francis is among those standing front and center, right near St. Ignatius.

As regular readers of this blog know, I spent twenty years of my adult life as a Buddhist before returning to Christianity. During those years, I had almost no connections to the Catholic faith in which I had been raised.  The sole exception was Francis.  As I often tell people, he was my one link to Catholicism during those years. There was something in Francis that resonated deeply with me, even as I rejected just about everything else that had to do with Catholicism.

During the difficult period of my conversion back to Catholicism, Francis was there for me when I needed him.  As the Holy Spirit worked within me and I was struggling mightily with what was surfacing, where could I turn? I certainly couldn’t, at the time, have any meaningful conversation with a God I had claimed for so long to have no belief in.  So I talked with Francis and sat with Francis.  And from Francis I received consolation and companionship as I worked things through.  He stayed with me until I could see God.

If Francis is not someone with whom you have great familiarity, I encourage you to read one of the many good books about him, some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. Try either House’s St. Francis: A Revolutionary Life or Bodo’s Francis: The Journey and the Dream.

Wishing a happy feast day to all of my Franciscan friends.

When You Know What You Have to Do

Someone recently shared Mary Oliver’s poem, The Journey, and it keeps coming back to me, so I thought I’d share it here for folks perhaps not familiar with it.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

(Mary Oliver, The Journey)