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I wrote last week about the talk I gave at St. Thomas Apostle on the relationship between wisdom and mercy, part of the parish’s four-part series on the Year of Mercy.  In my earlier post, I talked of wisdom as seeing as God sees, one element of which is seeing everyone as the beloved of God.

My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle, reflected on that part of my talk in his weekly parish column.  He wrote

This is hardly a foreign concept in our faith tradition. In the beginning, God made humankind in the divine image, the writer of Genesis tells us. We are the very image of God, in our humanity. Thus, to see the other as also being the image of God ought to be the most authentically human experience in the world.

So…it ought to be an equally authentically human experience to say and believe the following:

Bernie Sanders, you are the beloved of God… Hillary Clinton, you are the beloved of God… Donald Trump, you are the beloved of God…

Neighbor who fails to clean up what his dog left in my yard, you are the beloved of God… Driver who believes the stop sign at the corner is merely a suggestion, you are the beloved of God… Shopper who takes the last item off the shelf that was my sole purpose for going to the grocery store, you are the beloved of God…

Archbishop Weakland, you are the beloved of God… Cardinal Law, you are the beloved of God… Archbishop Nienstedt, you are the beloved of God…

I have to be honest. I’m not sure I can say and believe all those statements. Does this mean I am lacking in the wisdom that leads to mercy? Well…in a word…yes.

But it doesn’t mean I quit trying. It doesn’t mean I give up on trying to separate what a person does from who a person is. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not condone sin; it acknowledges the sinner as beloved of God. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not mean that I should ignore the evil that is done in the world; it calls me to see every human person as capable of redemption, precisely because they are the beloved of God. The wisdom that leads to mercy does not ask me to turn a blind eye; it calls me to turn the other cheek.

Can I say and believe all those statements as well? I don’t know. But I can keep trying.

As Bill says, and as we discussed in the dialogue that followed my talk, this is not easy.  It is a process.  And our failure to always see as God sees “doesn’t mean I quit trying.”

Today’s first Mass reading from Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, is one that never fails to move me.  In it, Paul reminds Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God that you have.” For, as Paul says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.”

I absolutely love the image of stirring into flame the gifts we have been given.  I imagine leaning over a campfire blowing into a small fire, coaxing it along until it until bursts into flames.  Or kneeling in front of the fireplace, blowing on the embers underneath a new log, hoping they are enough to get that log going.  As anyone who has ever built a fire knows, the process requires patience and persistence.

God gives us amazing gifts, but doesn’t give them to us full-blown. God expects us to develop the the gifts we have been given and make them grow so that we can fulfill our mission to proclaim the Word.

The task is not always an easy one.  We face hardships and we face temptations; Jesus never promised otherwise.  (In fact he was pretty clear difficulties would arise.)

But as with everything else, we don’t do the stirring on our own. Rather, we have “the strength that comes from God” and we have been given a spirit, not of cowardice, “but rather of power and love and self-control.”

So go out and stir into flame the gifts you have been given!

Last evening I gave a talk at St. Thomas Apostle in Wisdom in the Year of Mercy.  The talk was part of a four-session series that was part of the parish’s celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  Each of the four sessions of the series considered mercy with respect to one of the four pillars of the parish’s mission statement: welcome, worship, wisdom and witness.

What is the relationship between mercy and wisdom?  I spent most of my discussion addressing that question from the standpoint of the  way Pope Francis talks about wisdom,  because I think his is way of understanding wisdom that I think is particularly useful when we talk about wisdom and mercy.

In his first catechesis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit during a general audience in April of 2014, Pope Francis described what he meant by the wisdom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit. He said that wisdom

is not simply human wisdom, which is the fruit of knowledge and experience. In the Bible we are told that Solomon, at the time of his coronation as King of Israel, had asked for the gift of wisdom. And wisdom is precisely this: it is the grace of being able to see everything with the eyes of God. It is simply this: it is to see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. This is wisdom.

To see the world, to see situations, circumstances, problems, everything through God’s eyes. Thus, the Pope explained, being wise does not mean having an answer for everything. It doesn’t mean knowing everything. Rather, one possessing wisdom “knows how God acts, he knows when something is of God and when it is not of God.”

In my talk I addressed what it means to see with the eyes of God, why doing so is so challenging for us and how we might grow in that wisdom.

With respect to the first of those questions: What does that suggest it means to see as God sees, especially when the emphasis is mercy?  I think it means a couple of things:

First, to see the other as God’s beloved. God says to each and all of us: “You are precious in my eyes and glorious and I love you” (Isaiah). “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah). Or, to use the words Catherine of Siena heard God speak to her: “It was with providence that I created you and when I contemplated my creature in myself I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.”

So to see others as God sees them is to recognize each person as one who is beloved by God. My own view is that that makes a difference: If Bill and I are friends and I meet someone who I know Bill loves or is very fond of, that immediately makes a difference in how I view the person. They are not just a nameless “other.” They are Bill’s beloved. And my relationship with Bill spills over into my relationship with the other. (There is a reason we say “any friend of Bill’s is a friend of mine.”)

Second, to see as God sees means to want what is best for the other. That is to say that our love is other-directed.  It is aimed toward what the other person needs. We speak of agapic love – that is, an unconditional, self-sacrificing, active, volitional, and thoughtful love. A love that doesn’t seek reward, but the well-being of another.

There is no question this is challenging, and we had a good discussion last night of what are some of those challenges.  But that is our aspiration.

Why Not Love?

While on retreat last week, one of my sources for reflection was Henri Nouwen’s Our Second Birth: Christian Reflections on Death and New Life.  The book is drawn largely from Nouwen’s Sabbatical Journey, his journal from a year sabbatical he took in 1995, a year before his death.

There was much in the book that caught my attention, but one of the things that affected me most deeply were a couple of very simple questions:

Why should I ever think or say something that is not love?  Why should I ever hold a grudge, feel hatred or jealousy, act suspiciously?  Why not always give and forgive, encourage and empower, give thanks and offer praise?  Why not!

Perhaps what so affected me so deeply is that once the question is put that way, the answer seems so obvious.  Why not indeed!  God is love.  God always loves. (Nouwen has another line in Our Second Birth that describes God’s covenant with us as: I will be faithful to you even when you are unfaithful to me.)  If my desire is to conform more and more to God, why ever do or say anything that is not love?

I’m coming more and more to the conclusion that being mindful of that question itself is a key to overcoming some of the things that lead us to think, act or speak unlovingly.

I spent this past week at a hermitage doing a (mostly) silent retreat.  The weather was gorgeous, the hermitage was comfortable, and I had brought simple but nourishing food with me.

After spending much of the first day or so walking through the wooded paths on the property where the hermitage was located, I found a tick behind my ear.  My first reaction was a somewhat panicked, “oh no, Lyme Disease! What will I do?”  I pulled out my phone and started looking up pictures of ticks on the internet, carefully saving the one I had found in a plastic bag.

Then I took a deep breath and went back to what I had been praying with earlier in the day: Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation: “on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conduicive for us to the end for which we are created.”

I got a tick bite.  Maybe I will get ill, maybe I won’t.  (I actually probably won’t given that people in that area get tick bites all the time without incident and I got to the tick pretty quickly.)  The point is Ignatius invitation is to strive for active indifference in all things, and that means recognizing that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I got sick.  God is in the sickness, as well as in the health.  And everything – the things we label good as well as the things we label bad – “has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.”  (from David Fleming’s rendition of that Principle and Foundation).

Retreat

I leave this afternoon for a hermitage, where I will be on retreat until the end of the week.

This is not a great time to go away (to put it mildly).  I just started a new position at the University and I have an enormous amount of work to do.  Why not try to reschedule?

The thing is there is NEVER a good time to go on retreat.  If not this week’s busyness, then it will be something else.  There always is.

And that is the reason that a number of years ago I started scheduling my annual retreat six months (at least) in advance, and determined that when the time came I would go, no matter what was going on at work.  Because that is the only way to ensure that I can get some retreat time.  My rationale is simple and can be summed up this way:

First, the world spun on its axis for many many centuries before I came along, and so I am pretty confident it can manage to limp along for a week without me.

Second, I am no good to myself or anyone else if I don’t have some extended time hanging out with my God.  Yes, I do my daily prayer, and yes, I go to Mass  at least once each week, and do all sorts of other things in the course of my day to day existence.  But nothing restores, refreshes, re-energizes like accepting the invitation to “Come away and rest awhile.”

So, off I go.  Please keep me in your prayers, and know you will all be in mine.

I have to confess that I love Graduation Day at the Law School.  I always shed at least a few tears as I watch students I have taught or counseled or otherwise walked with over the last three years walk across the stage to get hooded.

I also confess that I pray (and have posted) the same prayer each year for our graduations, a prayer drawn from the hopes Ita Ford conveyed to her niece and goddaughter in a letter written a few months before Ford, along with two other women, was kidnapped, abused and murdered by the military of El Salvador in 1980. Ford wrote:

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you…something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for…something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be — that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search.

Congratulations to the UST Law School Class of 2016!  May you live lives of deep meaning!  Blessings to you on this day and always.

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