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Flipping through a book of poetry earlier today I came across a poem of George Herbert’s I have always loved.  In some collections is it titled simply Love.  It is a good reminder of God’s constant invitation.
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Assumption of Mary, a commemoration of the death of Mary and her bodily assumption into Heaven, before her body could begin to decay.  (There is a difference between how the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church speaks about the end of Mary’s life, the former focusing on the raising up of Mary and the latter on her not being subject to death because of her freedom from original sin.)

What if anything does the Assumption mean for us?

For most of my Christian life, this was a feast I pretty much ignored, deciding it wasn’t something central or even all that important to my faithlife.  One of the difficulties for me is that the “Mary, Queen of Heaven” image that tends to be associated with this feast is not an image of Mary I relate to. When I see pictures depicting Mary’s Assumption or Mary’s Coronation as Queen of Heaven they bear no resemblance to the Mary of my prayers. Mary, the woman with the strength to say Yes to what must have seemed an insane and frightening proposition that she give birth to God. Mary, the woman at Cana who told the servants to do as Jesus asked. Mary, who stayed with Jesus til the end and then took the dead body of her son in her arms. Mary, who stayed with the apostles after the death, doubtless comforting (mothering) them in their loss of Jesus.  Even more so after my retreat earlier this summer, where I had such a sense of Mary’s supportive presence to Jesus throughout his public ministry, as well as during his earlier life.

If our picture of the Assumption is of a prone Mary being bodily lifted up by angels into heaven, it doesn’t seem to have much significance for us.  That, after all, is not what happens to the rest of us.

On the other hand, if our focus on the Assumption is on Mary’s experience as an embodiment of the reality of our Resurrection, it becomes something much mor meaningful to us. Jesus resurrection is, of course, the true victory over death – that which gives creates the possibility of our own resurrection and ultimate full union with God. But with Jesus there is always the nagging thought, “Well sure, he was God, of course it worked for him. He may have been fully human, but he was also fully divine from the get go.”

But Mary was human, like us. And Mary’s assumption into heaven, body and soul, symbolizes for us the reality of what will happen for all of – resurrection of the body into full union with God. You can phrase it various ways as a matter of dogma. But her experience is, in simplest terms, a foretaste of our own.

 

Today the Catholic Church celebrates St. Clare, whose Church we spent some time in while we were visiting Assisi a few weeks ago.  Clare holds a special place in our hearts.

Although she was born into a wealthy family, Clare followed St. Francis in a life of poverty. She was the foundress and superior of the Poor Clares in Assisi. San Damiano, the church rebuilt by St. Francis, became Clare’s home and there she spent much time in contemplative prayer.

Clare encouraged her sisters to gaze into the “mirror” – by which she mean the crucifix. Describing what one would see in this mirror, she wrote in a letter to Agnes of Prague:

In this mirror you will find poverty in bright reflection. you will see humility and love beyond words. You will be able to see this clearly with the grace of God and to contemplate it in its fullness…
Gaze upon that mirror each day…and continually study your face within it.
… Look at the border of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him Who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvelous humility! O astonishing poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, consider the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens that He endured for the redemption of the whole human race. Then, at the depth of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity that led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross and to die there the most shameful kind of death.

Perhaps a question to ask ourselves is: When I gaze prayerfully at the crucifix, what do I see in the mirror? And how does what I see lead me to conversion and to greater love and compassion?

Fear or Hope?

When I opened the New York Times this morning (yes, we still get it delivered every day even though we’ve lived in the Twin Cities for eight years now) I was struck by the fact that two of the headlines had the word “fear” in them (and there were several other “fears” sprinkled throughout the rest of news section of the paper).

It seems to me there is a lot of fear going around on all sorts of political and social issues.  What particular individuals fear varies, but the fear is a constant.

What I see less of in our news and other social commentary – including that by Christians – is mention of hope.  And that is unfortunate.  I think Timothy Radcliffe, in his book What is the Point of Being Christian, is absolutely correct that hope is the central gift we, as Christians, bring to the world. If Christianity makes any difference in how we live and how we die, it has to include how we convey hope to the world, how we point to what is not yet present.

To be sure, hope is not an invitation to sit back and do nothing.  I read an article a year or so ago in America Magazine by Robert Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission.  In the article Maloney cited a quote attributable to Augustine of Hippo: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.” Expounding on the quote, Maloney writes

Anger, Hope’s first daughter, reacts spontaneously in the face of evil, refusing to accept unjust social and economic structures that deprive the poor of life: unjust laws, power-based economic relationships, inequitable treaties, artificial boundaries, oppressive or corrupt governments and numerous other subtle obstacles to harmonious societal relationships. Then Hope’s second daughter, Courage, standing at Anger’s side and singing out persistently, searches for ways “to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield,” as Tennyson put it.

The union of the two is important. Too often, we see one daughter – Anger – unaccompanied by the second – Courage. After all, the anger part is a lot easier. It doesn’t take much effort to sit around and talk about how angry things make us. But anger without the courage (and energy) to act is unproductive.

Our call is not to sit in fear.  It is a call to spread hope.  And we spread hope not by sitting back and simply hoping all will be better, but  by letting our anger at injustice spur us to find ways to address that injustice.

 

Aging

I thought I’d write a blog post on Monday when I arrived home after the flight back from Prague.  Didn’t happen and the jet lag since has made focusing on a post impossible.  Funny, when I was in my twenties and flying back and forth between the US and Asia, jet lag was never a problem.  (And here I am writing at 5:00 a.m., having been awake for at least two hours.)

And it is not just the jet lag.  Although we had many wonderful experiences on this vacation, it was also challenging in some ways, as I alluded to in an earlier post.  As I thought about it, I realized that some of it is attributed to aging.

Twenty years ago, if Dave and I got lost trying to get from one place to another in Italy, we thought it was an adventure.  (I still remember the dirt road to Trequanda that led nowhere.)  We laughed and didn’t worry about where we were.  This trip, getting lost was a cause of tension.

We never stay in chain-like hotels when we travel, always preferring small B&Bs in out of the way places.  I now realize I’m at a point where when the temperature is 100 degrees, going down to barely 90 at night, I’d rather be in some place that is air-conditioned than sweat through the night being bitten by mosquitos (since most places lack screens).

I could go on and on with examples, but the point is that this trip made me acknowledge the (perhaps obvious) reality that you just can’t ignore the aging process.  As we age, we change in how we react to things.   Maybe the way we used to travel is not the way we can travel anymore.

That doesn’t mean I won’t do another Camino – I’m still figuring out when in 2016 I might do one.  But it does mean I can’t assume that I’ll deal with everything as well as I did on the last one.  And it means I may have to make some accommodations along the way.

Today is the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a saint who has been very influential in my spiritual development.

I quipped not long ago to my spiritual director, after sharing some of the experiences of my most recent retreat, “Is there anyone who ever has a realization Ignatius didn’t already have?”  An exaggeration, perhaps, but the truth is that Ignatius really got it, and there is a reason his Exercises have flourished and survived for centuries.

To be sure, some of Ignatius’ imagery and ways of talking about certain issues can benefit from adaptation (he was, after all, a 16th Century former soldier) to our times.  (Although Ignatius himself recognized the need for those directing the Spiritual Exercises to adapt them to the needs and qualities of those making the retreat, the need for adaptation today is greater than he could have imagined.)  But the fundamental aspects of the Exercises – the Principle and Foundation, the Call of Christ, The Two Standards and so forth – are as meaningful today as they were when Ignatius wrote them.

On this feast day I say a prayer of thanksgiving for all Ignatius and his Exercises have meant for me and for countless others. And I pray especially for all of the members of the Jesuit family.

We spent several hours this morning visiting the Jewish Museum in Prague. The museum is comprised of several synagogues as well as the old Jewish cemetery.

From restrictions on trade in the thirteenth century to pograms in the eighteenth century to the experience under Nazism, the Jews in Prague (as in many other parts of Europe) suffered greatly.

I can’t say it was a fun morning, but it was a powerful one. For me the most difficult was the Pinkasova synagogue. In the 1950s, the names of the more than 80,000 Czech and Moravian men woman and children who died in the Holicaust were inscribed on the walls of the synagogue.  Wall after wall through several rooms covered with names, grouped by families. I could barely breathe and certainly could not speak as I walked through, eyes brimming over with tears.

If that were not enough, the upper floor houses an exhibition of drawings by Jewish children interned in Terezon, a holding camp for those destined for the death camps further east. Pictures of the transport, of life in the camp, of death, of a hoped for life after the camp. (The adults in the camp tried to make things as “normal” as possible for the children; encouraging the children to draw as a way to deal with difficult emotions was part of that.) Many of the pictures had the birth and death dates of the children who drew them. Dead at age 8 or 10 or 6. It was heartbreaking.

I would love to believe we have grown to the point where something like this horror could never happen again. But then I look at what is happening in our world and know it is naive to think it could not.

The names are not legible, but here is one of the walls of the synagogue.  

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