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!

Living in the Fullness of Who We Are

I will leave the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh this morning, filled with gratitude for the many graces of this retreat.  It was my privilege to direct four retreatants this past week, and it is always a joy to see how God works with each individual.

Yesterday, I had the additional privilege of preaching at Mass.  The Gospel, part of the Sermon on the Mount, was the second of three Gospel segments that I sometimes think of as Jesus upping the ante – his series of “you have heard x, I tell you y.”  (You have heard do not kill, I say do not harbor anger against your brother; you have heard it said do not commit adultery, I say do not lust after another, and so on.)

I suggested in my remarks that I think what Jesus is doing here is inviting us to get underneath the literal words of the commandments to the heart of the matter.  He is encouraging us to a broader way of thinking about what it means to live in accordance with God’s standard, asking us to grapple with how we are asked to live our lives in an affirmative sense, not just to avoid the really big bad things.

That is a challenge in our world, which invites us to think in terms of minimum standards, doing just what is necessary to satisfy the literal requirements imposed on us. Being a good Christian (or any person of faith) is not all that challenging if all I have to do is meet the literal words of the “law.”  I joked about how easy it would be to do our daily Examen: we could sit with our Ten Commandment scorecard and check off, “Didn’t kill anyone today, didn’t commit adultery, didn’t steal anything.  I’m golden.”

But, what if do not kill means offering love and kindness to someone who seems unloveable rather than saying or doing something to tear them down?

What if do not steal means not taking more than a reasonable share of the world’s resources and avoiding wasting what I have?

What if do not bear false witness means having the courage to speak the truth in love in a situation where it is difficult for me to do so, but where I can do some good?

What if (to use example one of the other directors on the retreat used in his talk) not taking the name of God in vain means adopting a humility that accepts I don’t know all there is to know about God?

That is a lot more challenging. But that gets to the heart of the matter.  It is not about rules and punishment, but about a choice (Ignatius always emphasizes choice) to live in a manner befitting our creation in image of God.

And that is what Jesus is inviting us to, to embrace the fullness of who we are, to live for the greater glory of God, not just to skate by on minimum standards.