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Jesus invited his disciples to “Come away and rest awhile,” and I just spent eight days at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, part of the team directing 50 or so retreatants who accepted that invitation.

As important as “come away” is, the other significant word in Jesus’ invitation is “awhile.”  We go on retreat so that we may return to the world to help heal its wounds, to help make manifest the reign of God.

As though I needed any reminder of the wounds and needs of our world, during the time I was at the retreat house, there were several suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, at least two killings by police officers and several police officers killed, and a host of other bad tidings in our news.

How do we respond to all of this?  It can’t be with division, violence and hatred; that response only breeds more division, violence and hatred.  It must be with love.

In today’s first Mass reading, God tells his people I have told you what you need to do: love me and love each other.

“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say,’Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say,’Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”

The Gospel strikes the same chord, as Jesus teaches what we call the Great Commandment, accompanied by his parable of the Good Samaritan.

It is not complicated.  We know what we need to do.  We have only to carry it out.

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At our Mass at the retreat house this afternoon, I offered the reflection on today’s readings.  In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gives instructions to his disciples, as he sends them off to proclaim the Kingdom.

In my reflection, I spoke about two aspects of Jesus’ instruction: His telling the disciples to take nothing for the journey and his instruction that “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”  Since I’ve written here many times about the first aspect – take nothing for the journey – I thought I’d share here some thoughts on the language I just quoted.

I’ve sat with this line a couple of times, because it always strikes me as a bit harsh. It is an instruction that I think can be easy to get wrong. Clearly Jesus is not suggesting that we walk away every time we encounter someone who disagrees with our efforts to proclaim the Gospel. The Gospel message is in many ways a counter-cultural one and people are not always going to “welcome” us immediately. (Jesus knew that; hence his ending the Beatitudes with “blessed are you when they insult you because of me.) So some fortitude, patience and endurance are necessary.

But I do read Jesus as saying here that sometimes we do just need to walk away. That we won’t always succeed in reaching people. I am not saying they are inherently unreachable by anyone, but they may be unreachable by me. (I am often reminded that Jesus let the rich young man walk away – he didn’t chase after him and force him to sell all he had.) Knowing when to stay in dialogue, and when to shake the dust from our feet is, I think, the challenge.

When we do walk away, we don’t do so in anger, seeking retribution, but with love. I was reminded when reading this instruction of the passage in Luke where Jesus’ disciples ask him if they should call down fire from heaven to consume a town that did not welcome them. Jesus rebuked them. And when the rich young man walked away, Jesus looked upon him with love. We ought to remember the final lines of today’s first Mass reading from Hosea, where God says he will not give vent to anger and will not destroy Ephraim. Instead, God’s heart was overwhelmed, his pity stirred.

How do we respond when we are rejected? With the same love?

From the time I was an undergraduate at Georgetown, I have loved the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Only in the last several years did I read any of his prose.

In 1881-82, Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, wrote some reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  Last night, during the evening prayer that I led, I used as a reading an excerpt from Hopkins reflection on the opening exercise of the Spiritual Exercises – the First Principle and Foundation.

Homo creates est – Creation, the making out of nothing, bringing from nothing into being: once there was nothing, then lo, this huge world was there. How great a work of power!

The loaf is made with flour; the house with bricks; the plough, the cannon, the locomotive, the warship or iron – all of things that were before, of matter; but the world, with the flour, the grain, the wheatear, the seed, the ground, the sun, the rain; with the bricks, the clay, the earth; with the iron and the mine, the fuel and the furnace, was made from nothing. And they are made in time and with labour, the world in no time with a word. Man cannot create a single speck, God creates all that is besides himself….

Why did God create? – Not for sport, not for nothing. Every sensible man has a purpose in all he does, every workman has a use for every object he makes. Much more has God a purpose, an end, a meaning in his work. He meant the world to give him praise, reverence, and service; to give him glory. It is like a garden, a field he sows: what should it bear him? Praise, reverence and service; it should yield him glory…

The sun and the stars shining glorify God. They stand where he placed them, they move where he bid them. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” They glorify God, but they do not know it. The birds sing to him, the thunder speaks of his terror, the lion is like his strength, the sea is like his greatness, the honey like his sweetness; they are something like him, they make him known, they tell of him, they give him glory, but they do not know they do, they do not know him, they never can…

But amidst them all is man…Man was created. Like the rest then to praise, reverence, and serve God; to give him glory. He does so, even by his being, beyond all visible creatures: “What a piece of work is man!”…But man can know God, can mean to give him glory. This then was why he was made, to give God glory and to mean to give it; to praise God freely, willingly to reverence him, gladly to serve him. Man was made to give, and mean to give God glory.

I was made for this, each one of us was made for this.

For this we were made: to praise, reverence and serve God – freely, willingly and gladly.

Elie Wiesel died yesterday.  Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, and human rights activist, his wife describe him as a fighter who “fought for the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, and he fought for Israel. He waged countless battles for innocent victims regardless of ethnicity or creed.”

Wiesel talked about the importance of witness in a commentary he did for NPR in 2008.  He said

I believe that whatever we receive we must share. When we endure an experience, the experience cannot stay with me alone. It must be opened, it must become an offering, it must be deepened and given and shared. And of course I am afraid that memories suppressed could come back with a fury, which is dangerous to all human beings, not only to those who directly were participants but to people everywhere, to the world, for everyone. So, therefore, those memories that are discarded, shamed, somehow they may come back in different ways — disguised, perhaps seeking another outlet.

Granted, our task is to inform. But information must be transformed into knowledge, knowledge into sensitivity and sensitivity into commitment.

How can we therefore speak, unless we believe that our words have meaning, that our words will help others to prevent my past from becoming another person’s — another peoples’ — future. Yes, our stories are essential — essential to memory. I believe that the witnesses, especially the survivors, have the most important role. They can simply say, in the words of the prophet, “I was there.”

What is a witness if not someone who has a tale to tell and lives only with one haunting desire: to tell it. Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.

After all, God is God because he remembers.

Last year during Lent, I read Wiesel’s book, Night.  You can read the post I wrote about it here.

I was responsible for evening prayer service tonight at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I am part of the team directing an eight-day retreat.  I included as part of the prayer an excerpt from Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.

Several people came up to me after the prayer service to ask for a copy of what I read.  That prompted me to share it here with you.

They tell me
There are men who don’t sleep.
I don’t like the man who doesn’t sleep, says God.
Sleep is the friend of man.
Sleep is the friend of God.
Sleep may be my most beautiful creation.
And I too rested on the seventh day.
He who’s heart is pure, sleeps. And he who sleeps has a pure heart.
This is the great secret to being as infatigable as a child.
To have that strength in your legs that a child has.
Those new legs, those new souls
And to start over every morning, always new,
Like the young, like the new
Hope. Yes, they tell me there are men
Who work well and who sleep poorly.
Who don’t sleep. What a lack of confidence in me.
It’s almost worse than if they worked poorly but slept well.
Than if they worked but didn’t sleep, because sloth
Is no worse sin than anxiety
In fact, it’s even a less serious sin than anxiety
And than despair and than a lack of confidence in me.
I’m not talking, says God, about those men
Who don’t work and don’t sleep.
Those men are sinners, it goes without saying…
I’m talking about those who work and who don’t sleep.
I pity them. I hold it against them. A bit. They don’t trust me.
As a child lays innocently in his mother’s arms, thus they do not lay.
Innocently in the arms of my Providence.
They have the courage to work. They don’t have the courage to do nothing.
They possess the virtue of work. They don’t possess the virtue of doing nothing.
Of relaxing. Of resting. Of sleeping.

To use the words with which I ended the service: Rest well this night, in the arms of your loving God.

Today a new Shrine to Saint Thomas More was blessed during Mass at the Church that bears that saint’s name in St Paul.  (You can watch a video about the painting that adorns the new shrine here.)

During his homily, Fr. Joe Weiss referenced the final line of the Prayer of Saint Thomas More: “O Lord, give us the grace to work for the things we pray for.”

It is not enough, suggested Fr. Joe to simply pray for what we want.  To pray, for example, that our Church grow, or that the Church have good leadership and so forth.  Rather, we need to join our prayer with action.  We need to work for the things we pray for – in big ways and in small.

Fr. Joe is a Jesuit and his comment reflects Ignatius’ belief that we are called to labor with Christ.  God does not leave us alone to bear the full load, but neither does God do it all for us.  We are called to labor with.

So we need to pray, of course.  (And I head off mid-week to direct another retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh.)  But prayer alone is not enough.  That is a reminder we need now and then.

 

OK – I borrowed the title of today’s post from a David Brooks column in today’s New York Times.  But since he borrowed the phrase “edge of the inside” from Richard Rohr, I’m sure he won’t mind my using it here.

One of the core principles of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation is perspective, which he defines as meaning that “Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures.”

Rather simply insiders and outsiders (a view fostered by our tendency toward binary thinking), one can identify in any group, institution or culture also possesses people at the edge.  As described by Brooks in his piece, these are people who are within an organization “but not subsumed by group think.  They work at the boundaries, bridges and entranceways.  Rohr adds that those at the edge of a group “are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.

Several thoughts strike me as I read this.  First, all institutions need people at the edges.  Without them it is not only very difficult to build bridges with other groups, but virtually impossible for an institution to grow.

Second, people at the edges run the risk of being criticized by both those insiders at the center of an institution and by those outside it.  By definition, anyone who doesn’t fit cleanly into one category or another runs the risk of vilification.

Third, notwithstanding the second point, there are some of us who are most comfortable living at the edge of inside.  I have a lot of thoughts about this third, but none formulated enough to share here.  But you might find it interesting to look at where you find yourself in the institutions and groups to which you belong.

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