To Remember Who We Are

This morning at mass at St. Thomas More church in St. Paul, I heard one of the best single lines I’ve heard in a homily in a long time.  In the context of today’s Mass readings, which encourage persistent prayer, Fr. Bill O’Brien (director of the Jesuit Novitiate in St. Paul) said early in his homily.

We pray to remember who we are.

A short statement that speaks a fundamental truth.

We don’t pray because we are supposed to.

We don’t pray to try to persuade God to give us what we want.

We don’t pray to get some reward.

We pray because it is in prayer that we remember who we are – or, perhaps more accurately, whose we are. We are intimately connected to the one who created us and sustains us, and who loves us to an extent we can’t even imagine.

And that is a source of tremendous strength.

November Offerings

Right now my attention is focused on the marriage of my daughter, which occurs less than a week from now!  But wanted to take a minute to draw the attention of folks in the Twin Cities area (broadly defined) to two weekend retreats I’m offering in November.

November 1-3, I’ll be at Christ the King Retreat House (Buffalo, MN) offering a weekend on Stories Told by Jesus: Learning from the Parables.  Kings House is a beautiful venue any time of year, and I always love my time there. You can find registration information for that retreat here.

November 14-17, I’ll be at the Episcopal House of Prayer (Collegeville MN) presenting a weekend that looks at parallels between the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and the Tibetan Buddhist Lam.Rim.  This has been a subject that interested me for a long time, and I am grateful to the EHoP for offering this retreat.  More info at this link.

Join us if you can!

Francis, Who Followed Christ into Poverty

Today we celebrate the memorial of a saint dear to me, St. Francis of Assisi.  I’ve written before about how significant he was to me during the time I struggled with my return to Christianity after years of practicing Buddhism.

There are many things to admire about this saint.  One significant element in his spirituality was living a life of poverty and his concern for the marginalized.   Francis looked at the Gospels and read:

“if you wish to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions, and give to the poor…and come, follow me.”

“Take nothing for your journey, neither staff nor knapsack, shoes nor money.”

“If any will come after me, let them renounce self, take up their cross and follow me.”

He read these lines and he took them seriously.  For Francis, poverty was a way both of imitating Christ and of growing in love for his brothers.  It was also a way of avoiding the temptation to sin that exists when one has property.

In the words of Sister Ilia Delio

Just as Francis realized that God humbly bends over in love to embrace us in Jesus Christ, so too he realized that the suffering of humanity and all creation could only be lifted up through solidarity in love.  Francis lived a poor, itinerant life but he wrote very little on poverty. What was important to him was to live—not without possessions—but without possessing (sine proprio). He was keenly aware of the human person as weak and fragile and thus prone to greed, selfishness and power. To be poor is to live without possessing anything that could prevent true human relatedness as a brother.

In a similar vein,  Steven Clissold writes:

Francis passionately believed that the love of material possessions lay at the root of society’s ills and of man’s estrangement from his maker.  Property implied the needs for arms with which to defend it, and led to the struggle for power and prestige and to the chronic warfare which was the scourge of his times.

Francis felt deep compassion for the poor and the suffering.  One of his biographers writes that he would grieve over those who were poorer than himself and that from a young age he felt a compassion for those less fortunate than himself.  Would that we all have that same level of compassion.

Our Call to be Prophets

Given the state of our church, our country, our world, it is good to remind ourselves that by our Baptism, we were all anointed “priest, prophet and king.”  By our Baptism we are called to be prophets.

I thought I’d share some passages that speak to that call and what it means in our world today.  Any of them make a good way to invite you to consider how you are personally being called to be a prophet – and how you are responding to that call.  It is also worth spending some time identifying the greatest challenges to being a prophetic voice in the world.

Those who laugh at me, as if I were crazy to think that I am a prophet, ought to reflect on this.  I have never considered myself a prophet in the sense of being unique among the people, because I know that you and I, the people of God, are a prophetic people.  And my role in this is only to stimulate a prophetic sense in the people.  This is something I can’t give them, rather it is the Spirit that has given it to them.  And each one of you can truly say, “The Spirit came upon me when I was baptized.”
(Oscar Romero, Homily of July 8, 1979)

Some people have unusually big and generous dreams of “the world as it ought to be.”  They possess a kind of prophetic imagination that enables them to look beyond the world as it is to the world as it could be or should be.  Their personal dreams embody something of God’s Dream for the world.  Each of us, in our own way, is called to cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination, to find our own way of making the Dream of God a reality….[T]he primary calling of the prophet is not to be an angry social critic, but rather to be someone who, first of all, is willing to take an honest look at upsetting and unsettling realities that are denied or ignored by society at large and the powers-that-be.  The tragic consequences of such denial is widespread ‘numbness” and moral complacency about things that would otherwise evoke grief and outrage….
(John Neafsey, A Sacred Voice is Calling)

Protesters are everywhere, but I think the world is desperately in need of prophets, those little voices that can point us toward another future.  Some of us have spent so much time fighting what we are against that we can barely remember what we are for.  Whether in the church or in circles of social dissent, there are plenty of people who define themselves by what they are not, whose identity revolves around what they are against rather then what they are for. …Protesters are still on the fringes like satellites, revolving around the system.  But prophets and poets lead us into a new world, beyond simply yelling at the old one.
 (Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution)

 It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
(RFK, Speech at University of Cape Town, June 6, 1966)