By Fran Lavelle
We greet another new year in the shadow of the pandemic. The surge in Omicron cases is the latest setback to our return to a ministry of presence. While it may feel like we are never going to get out from under the endless battle against this virus, we have come a long way since the early days of COVID. The years of 2020 and 2021 have given all of us tremendous opportunities for growth, as well as shining moments of hope.
This past fall, I read the book Leading Causes of Life: Five Fundamentals to Change the Way You Live Your Life by Gary Gunderson and Larry M. Pray. The premise of the book is that we study the leading causes of death, but we do not give a similar treatment to the causes of life.
The five causes of life identified by the authors are connection, the breath of air on which our very lives depend; coherence, the idea that life makes sense; agency, the human capacity “to do;” blessing, as a form of gratitude and a conscious effort to pay it forward; and, hope, which is tied to that which we are most connected to.
As one reflects on these five causes it does not take long to recognize how the pandemic has impacted our ability to be connected, find coherence, apply agency, experience blessing and find our hope.
This book was written in 2009, long before we could even conceive of a pandemic. The leading five causes of life held immense value then. They are even more important today. It is not enough to know them; we must live them.
When you see or feel a cause of life is escaping you it is a call for action. Increasing connection, developing coherence, identifying agency, experiencing blessing and naming our hope is within us.
One of the take-aways from our time sheltering in place was recognizing the importance of productive, intentional, lifegiving service, not mere busyness. I was challenged to look at where I see the causes of life in my ministry and my daily living. Gratefully, I discovered that the causes of my life are alive and well-forgive the pun. Chief among the activities that are lifegiving is my current role in working with the Synod on Synodality for the diocese.
The Synod is animating all five causes of life. I had the opportunity to visit Christ the King parish in Southaven for their first of several sessions. It was a gift to watch the process unfold. I witnessed the signs of life blossoming before me. The room was a buzz with friendly conversation and connection. I witnessed coherence as members of the parish were prayerful in discerning the Holy Spirit’s call.
In their responses to the process, I heard their call for agency in naming the positive changes they can affect. Blessing was abundant in their response to the needs of the larger community for those who are struggling economically, physically or spiritually. I left the session with a great deal of hope that we have been changed for the better because we took the time to stop and listen, pray and share, and dream.
At the synod session break, I was approached by a young boy, about nine years of age. He politely asked me if he could get me anything to drink. I requested a cup of black coffee, which he delivered with great enthusiasm. We exchanged a few more words and he went back to his table.
Over the next few days, I could not stop thinking about the hospitality this thoughtful child showed to me, the joy in which he served, or the way he conducted himself. He seemed far too self-possessed for a boy his age-or was he? I am certain I will recall him as we continue to discern our path forward as church. He reminded me of what is truly at stake. This young boy is not the future of the church, he is, as Pope Francis would say, the church of the now.
Finding a way back to one another after two years of separation, political division and unspeakable loss is not an easy task. The promise in our future is not that it will be void of difficulty. The promise in our future is that we do not walk alone in the journey. God promised when two or three are gathered in his name he is with us. With that hope let us animate the causes of life in our communities. It is our great diversity that makes us One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)