Who’s On Your Team

Yesterday afternoon I attended a graduation ceremony at the Hazelden Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies, as my good friend Dan received his degree on addiction counseling.  The ceremony was beautiful and both the student speaker and the commencement address gave powerful talks.

One of the comments made by the commencement speaker was a simple but ever-so-important one: Recovery is a team sport.  Later he posed the question: Who is on your team?  That is, who will be a support when things are rough?  Who will be there when you are exhausted….frustrated….despondent.

What is true of recovery from alcohol or drug addiction is no less true of any other difficulty we face.  Notwithstanding the American vision of the rugged individual, none of us can make it on our own.  We all need people to support us when things get rough.

So you might ask yourself: Who’s on your team?  And then give thanks for those you name.


It is Always Cain Killing Abel

Those who have seen the French film Of Gods and Men are familiar with the story of the Trappist monks who lived among the Muslim population in Tibhirine, a small town in Algiers – of how they stayed well after it was clear there was mortal danger to staying, and of how seven of them were kidnapped and assassinated in 1996.

The youngest of the assassinated monks was Christophe Lebreton, who began writing poetry and keeping a prayer journal several before terrorists first visit to the monastery at the end of 1993.  His journal, which I am reading now, ends a week prior to the monks’ kidnapping.

Two sentences in that journal arrested me earlier today; it was the juxtaposition of two thoughts contained in Lebreton’s journal entry for January 13, 1994.  Describing the events of the day he wrote

In Kabylia, a wali and his bodyguards were assassinated; in Algiers, policemen have been killed.  At Vigils it was Cain killing Abel.

Cain and Abel.  The first fratricide.

Fratricide is one of those sins we view as particularly wicked.  Cain was cursed for killing his brother.

But the first thought I had when I read the two lines I just quoted was: It is always Cain killing Abel.

We pray – some of us every day – the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with the line “Our father.”  Not “father.”  Not “my father.”  But “Our” father, a phrasing that acknowledges not only our relationship with God, but our relationship with each other.

If we take that seriously, if we accept that we are all children of God, then EVERY killing of one person by another is the killing of a brother or a sister.  On that day in 1994 the wali and his bodyguards were killed by one or more brothers.  On that same day, someone else killed their brother the policeman.  Fratricide.

And today – or if not today tomorrow or the day after – someone else will commit the sin of Cain, killing a brother or a sister.  Because whatever other name we give it, it is always Cain killing Abel.

Note: The book I am reading of Lebreton’s journal is titled: Born From the Gaze of God: The Tibhirine Journal of a Martyr Monk (1993-1996).


Cardinal O’Malley on Charlottesville

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the statement issued by Cardinal O’Malley on the events of this past weekend in Charlottseville:

Nations live and flourish because of their ideas and ideals, not simply because of their material wealth or power. Our ideas and ideals express our identity and set the standards for our behavior as citizens. For the United States a core statement of our identity is expressed in the phrase “E Pluribus Unum”, from many peoples we shape one nation. This treasured civic truth reflects and is rooted in the biblical heritage of belief in the dignity of all people, and a shared humanity.

We have not always as a nation reflected the best of our ideas and ideals, but they stand as a goal toward which we strive. Our country is once again in a moment when the civic and biblical heritage is being attacked and tested. We need to reassert and reaffirm the belief that one nation is meant to include all: the multiple races, cultures, ethnicities and religions which make up our country.

The angry and violent mob which gathered in Virginia this past weekend, by word and deed, contradicted our national creed and code of civil conduct. As a nation in the past century we led the struggle against the pagan ideas of Nazism. Those who seek to resurrect a new form of Nazism and extreme nationalism – those who denigrate African Americans, who preach and practice anti-Semitism, who disparage Muslims, those who threaten and seek to banish immigrants in our land – all these voices dishonor the basic convictions of the American political and constitutional traditions. They must be opposed in word and deed. As a Catholic bishop I welcome the opportunity to stand with other religious leaders of the land in opposition to the voices of fragmentation and hatred. As the Archbishop of Boston, it is my responsibility to call the Catholic community which I serve to remember the basic truths of faith and reason which are so central at this moment. The truth that our rights and our duties to each other derive from God. The truth that we can successfully oppose hatred and bigotry by civility and charity. These truths can bind us together across racial, religious and ethnic communities. They can help us celebrate our pluralism as a rich treasure which strengthens this land. Today when our unity is tested, when our basic truths of faith and reason are violated, as people of faith and as citizens we must uphold our ideas and ideals. My prayer is that we can rise to this challenge. My belief is that we are surely capable of doing so.


The Strength to Offer One’s Own Life to Save that of Another

The Catholic Church today celebrates the memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who spent many years spreading Christianity in Japan and elsewhere, who was martyred by the Nazis.

Kolbe was imprisoned and suffered greatly in Auschwitz.  In the concentration camp, he took the coldest spot in the barracks, he often gave his food to those he thought needed it more, and he spent time comforting and ministering to the other prisoners.  On August 14, 1941, he offered his own life in exchange for that of another prisoner who had been selected to die as punishment for the escape of another prisoner.

I’m confident Kolbe would say that the strength and courage to accept death in place of another does not come from himself alone.  Rather, it came from his relationship to God.

Kolbe termed prayer “the best way to reestablish peace in our souls, to reach happiness, since it serves to draw us closer to God’s love.” He wrote

Prayer makes the world anew.
Prayer is the necessary condition for the rebirth and life of every soul…
By praying both with our voices and our thoughts, we shall experiences in ourselves how the immaculate gradually takes possession of our souls, how we shall belong to her every day more in every aspect of our lives, how our sins shall disappear and our faults weaken, how smoothly and powerfully we shall be drawn always closer to God.
Our external activity is all right, but, obviously, it is not as important as our spiritual life, our life of recollection, of prayer, of our personal love for God.

Maximilian Kolbe is a reminder of the strength that comes from nourishing our relationship with God.


A Tiny Whispering Sound

In her book, Experiencing God’s Tremendous Love, Sr. Maureen Conroy describes four dynamics of relational prayer: looking, sharing, listening, and responding.

Today’s first Mass reading from the First Book of Kings, one I love, speaks to the third of those: listening.  Listening is the one that I think needs special emphasis, because we too often fill our prayer with our desires and with our agenda, without given God a chance to speak to us.  We forget sometimes that prayer also means giving God a chance to get a word in edgewise.  We need under grace, to listen to God with our whole being.  We need to pause, to linger, to wait for God to speak to us.

Today’s first reading reading reminds us that while God sometimes reveals himself to us in dramatic, almost visible ways, that is typically not the norm for us.  Rather, God more often seems to speak to us in the quiet whisperings of our heart.  God tells Elijah to go outside and on the mountain and God will be passing by.  And Elijah discovers God not in the strong heavy wind, not in the earthquake or in the fire, but rather, as the scripture reads: “After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak” knowing it was God.

We need to allow ourselves the quiet and stillness to hear God no matter how softly God speaks to us.  We want to let God speak from God’s heart.  We thus come to know that mind of God.  Our relationship with God becomes more intimate as we hear God’s desire to be close to us.  We become more attentive to God’s ways and thoughts.  We “put on the mind of Christ.”


Be Clothed With Humility

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Dominic.

Dominic began his religious life as a Benedictine and, as a Benedictine, was one of the monks assigned to combat the Albigensian heresy through prayer, fasting and instruction.  You may recall that the Albigensian error taught that there were two gods: The good god of light – Jesus in the New Testament, and the god of darkness and evil usually associated with Satan but also the God of the Old Testament.  The Albigensians considered anything material to be evil, including the body, which was created by Satan, in contrast to the good soul created by God.

Many other monks were unsuccessful in combatting this heresy; according to writings from the period, some of the monks had become worldly and even pompous in their approach, surrounding themselves with material artifacts which repulsed the Albigensians.

Dominic and his companion were austere by comparison to some of these worldly monks and this austerity and personal self discipline appealed to many of the heretics who had been deceived in their thinking. Dominic traveled throughout the region, preaching and converting many back to Catholic Christian faith and practice.

In July 1215 Dominic was granted permission to form his own religious order dedicated to promoting morality and the expulsion of heresy.  It was Pope Honorius III, who, in confirming the new order, dubbed Dominic and his followers “The Order of Preachers.”

Dominic continued to preach austerity and humility to his followers.

“Arm yourself with prayer instead of a sword; be clothed with humility instead of fine raiment.”

“These, my much loved ones, are the bequests which I leave to you as my sons; have charity among yourselves; hold fast to humility; keep a willing poverty.”

“We must sow the seed, not hoard it.”

Dominic’s is a message much needed on our world today.   Blessings on this day of his memorial.

And For All This, Nature is Never Spent

As I was walking near the lake on the retreat house grounds, enjoying the beauty around me, I was reminded of an experience I had on our recent vacation in the Canadian Maritimes.

As I’ve written before, I love Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, God’s Grandeur.  Its opening lines often come almost automatically to mind when I am in nature: The world is charged with the grandeur of God.  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

This particular day on vacation, I had read a few too many news articles in the morning.  I can’t remember now which ones got me down – it could have been any number: immigration, the situation in Venezuela, Congress’ shenanigans with health care, a police shooting, an attack on a mosque or a church somewhere….  The point is, I was feeling quite down about the state of the world.

That day, here is where I was walking on rocks, listening to the surf, gazing at the sky.

It was gorgeous and I felt incredible peace.  And as I stood there, lines from Hopkins’ poem came unbidden to my mind.  Only this time what came to mind were the words of the final quatrain of the poem, the part that comes after the middle one that talks about men not “reck[ing] his rod,” and all wearing man’d sludge.  What came to mind, what gave me deep consolation, were these words:

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

That is a reminder I sometimes need.  It is a reminder we all need.