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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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)
Today I join with the worldwide Vincentian family in celebration of the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a saint who occupies a special place in my heart.
My shorthand description for people who know nothing of this wonderful saint is that Vincent really got what Jesus was saying in the judgment passage in Matthew 25. You know the passage – the one where Jesus explains how the sheep and goats will be separated. Vincent took to his heart the message of this passage better than anyone else I can think of (although some of my Vincentian brothers come close).
Vincent looked at the faces of the poor and the marginalized and what he saw was the face of Christ. He once observed, “We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ.”
Vincent’s heritage is a spirituality committed to uniting contemplation with action. The words of Robert Maloney, C.M., former Superior General of the Vincentians, on the relationship between prayer and action are a good reminder to all of us on this feast day of Vincent. He writes:
Divorced from action, prayer can turn escapist. It can lose itself in fantasy. It can create illusions of holiness. Conversely, service divorced from prayer can become shallow. It can have a “driven” quality to it. It can become an addiction, an intoxicating lure. It can so dominate a person’s psychology that his or her sense of worth depends on being busy.
An apostolic spirituality is at its best when it holds prayer and action in tension with one another. The person who loves God “with the sweat of his brow and the strength of his arms” knows how to distinguish between beautiful theoretical thoughts about an abstract God and real personal contact with the living Lord contemplated and served in his suffering people.
Wishing all of my friends in the worldwide Vincentian family a blessed feast day.