Further up … further in … all shall be well

Sister alies therese

From the hermitage
By Sister alies therese
‘The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if ever you get here you will know what I mean…it was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof and neighed, and then cried: I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now…come further up, come further in!’ (The Last Battle, Chapter 15).
C. S. Lewis invites his readers to reflect ever more deeply upon heaven and the Easter story when in the very last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, he challenges the false and the phony in us and in our world to strip away the masks and costumes that we might live a fuller and more glorious life.
You might remember when Aslan the great lion is executed, taking upon himself the sins of a traitor, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is his first written book but second in the series, a powerful analogy of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The witch and her “Deep Magic” reminded him that the traitor belonged to her and he stepped up and said, ‘Fall back, all of you and I will talk to the witch alone…you can all come back I have settled the matter. She has renounced her claim on your brother’s blood…’ Later that night the girls came to him and saw him, thinking him ill. ‘What is wrong, dear Aslan? Can’t you tell us? Are you ill?…No I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.’ They walked for quite a spell and then he said: ‘O children, children. Here you must stop. And whatever happens, do not let yourself be seen. Farewell.’” And he walked out to the crowd of haters gathered around the Stone Table and let himself be bound and shaved and muzzled. Then he was tied. She came to him, whet her knife, and delivered the blow after saying: “And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as our pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hands then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life, and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.”
She knew nothing of resurrection.
“There, in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had grown again) stood Aslan himself… ‘aren’t you dead?…Not now!…Oh, you’re real, you’re real!’ And both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses!” And then he explained: ‘though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, in the stillness and the darkness before time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards…’
Shall we never forget that ‘magic’ that truth fundamental to all Christian belief: Jesus was raised from the dead. Death met its match. We, the traitors, are set free. It has only been two weeks since Easter Sunday…have we already forgotten, or have we been moving further up and further in?
Julian of Norwich, whose feast day is May 8, reminds us in her Revelations of Divine Love, that sin results in an abyss of nothingness and endless disorder. She emphasizes the immanence of God.
‘See, I am God. See, I am in all things. See, I do all things. See, I never remove my hands from My works, nor ever shall without end. See, I guide all things to the end that I ordain them for, before time began, with the same power and wisdom and love with which I made them. (3:11.199).’
Julian sees creation as gift and promise, according to Kerrie Hide, and God is the source and ground of all things, creation’s hope and destiny. ‘All shall be well, and All shall be well, and All shall be well. ‘What is impossible to you is not impossible to Me. I shall preserve My word in everything and I shall make everything well.’ (13:32.233).’
Perhaps she knew Aslan, the great lion? What they both tell us is to go further up and further in where we will discover where our real country is, where we really belong!

(Sister Alies Therese is a vowed Catholic solitary who lives an eremitical life. Her days are formed around prayer, art and writing. She is author of six books of spiritual fiction and is a weekly columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

Mass sometimes misunderstood

Deacon Aaron Williams

Spirit and Truth
By Deacon Aaron M. Williams
During this past Holy Week, I read a homily a friend of mine delivered on Holy Thursday. He raised an important point about the identity of the Mass which I had not given much consideration until now. He said that in the Mass, “We are in no way re-enacting the Last Supper…the Mass is not the Last Supper.” The reason I find this statement so striking isn’t because I disagree with him — I couldn’t agree more that he is right! But, far more important than that is that most Catholics, and indeed some people who teach others about the Mass, get this point wrong or falsely assume that simply because our Lord instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper that the Mass itself is a reenactment of that same supper.
The fact of the matter is that when Christ gave us this Sacrament, he gave it as a sign of his own passion, death and resurrection — what the Second Vatican Council termed the “Paschal mystery.” The Passover meal of the Jews recalled the meal that the enslaved Hebrews ate before they were led in Exodus out of Egypt. To eat the Passover (Seder) meal, was to recall the moment before God rescued them. But, not the Eucharist. Christ the Lord took this Passover meal and made it not a sign of another meal before a saving act, but a sign of the act itself — “This is my Body, which will be given for you.” Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church very rightly proclaims, “In the liturgy of the Church, it is principally his own Paschal mystery that Christ signifies and makes present” (1085).
This is one area where Catholic theology strongly diverges from our Protestant brothers and sisters. For the Protestant, to eat the “Lord’s Supper” is like a Seder meal — a symbolic meal that we use to remember Jesus’s ‘last meal’ on Earth. But, when the Catholic gazes upon the sacred host held aloft by the priest, we look not upon a simple meal, but upon Christ crucified and sacrificed for us all. The Cathechism says, “The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross…the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice” (1366-7).
The celebration of the liturgies of the Triduum each year gives us time to reflect particularly on the individual aspects of the Paschal mystery, but in each Mass we experience these events in a single expression. In every Mass, we receive the benefits of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
This revelation should enable us to undergo a different sort of preparation for the Mass. We are not coming together each week for a simple family meal — although this idea has been promoted in recent times. The concept of the Mass as a sit-down meal between God the Father and the human family, while quaint and charming, hardly does justice to the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. Is the Eucharist a meal? Yes, of course. But, it is a meal that comes as the fruit of sacrifice — just as in the old covenant, the Hebrew people would eat the flesh of sacrificed animals in order to reap the effects of the sacrifice. In the Mass, the Lord himself feeds us his own sacrificed flesh so that we can benefit from the effects of that same sacrifice.
The altar in every church is therefore both the altar of sacrifice and the table of the Lord — the two aspects go hand-in-hand. This is the reason that the architectural legislation of the Church requires the altar to be made from a solid material and to be dignified. It is not meant to be a mere family dinner table, but a true altar. In fact, it is strongly recommended that the altar of each church be completely immovable as the focus and center of that church. Likewise, we do not adorn our altars in the same way we would prepare a thanksgiving meal at home — with tablecloths and cornucopias of produce. The Catholic altar is wrapped in white linen (signifying the burial shroud of Christ), and the only objects which are set upon it are those things needed for the sacrifice, namely the elements of bread and wine along with other things such as the missal and candles.
Finally, because the Mass is a true sacrifice, it is demanded of us that we bring something to it to be offered to God. I am not speaking of a physical object or a monetary donation, but of the spiritual sacrifice of our own good works, sufferings and sins. All of those things, we can place in the hands of the priest who, obedient to God’s command to “do this in memory of me,” offers it all with and for us to the Father.

(Deacon Aaron Williams and his classmate, Deacon Nicholas Adam, will be ordained to the priesthood May 31 at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle.)

When time stands still

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The theory of relativity tells us that space and time are not what they appear to be. They’re relative, meaning that don’t always function in the same way and they aren’t always experienced in the same way. Time can stand still.
Or can it? This side of eternity, it would seem not. Ever since the universe started with a mammoth explosion some 13.8 billion years ago the clock has been running non-stop, like a merciless meter, moving relentlessly forwards.
However, our faith suggests that time will be different in eternity, so different in fact that we cannot now even imagine how it will be in heaven. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Corinthians: Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. How will time be experienced in heaven? As we’ve just affirmed, that cannot be imagined now.
Or can it? In a wonderful new book, Is This All There Is? On Resurrection and Eternal Life, the renowned German scripture scholar, Gerhard Lohfink, suggests that we can and sometimes do have an experience of time as it will be experienced in eternity. For Lohfink, we experience this whenever we’re in adoration.
For him, the highest form of prayer is adoration. But what does it mean to “adore” God and why is that the highest form of prayer? Lohfink answers: “In adoration we ask nothing more of God. When I lament before God it is usually my own suffering that is the starting point. Even when I petition God, the occasion is often my own problem. I need something from God. And even when I thank God, unfortunately I am usually thankful for something I have received. But when I adore, I let go of myself and look only to God.”
Admittedly, lament, petition and thanksgiving are high forms of prayer. An old, classical and very good, definition of prayer defines prayer as “lifting mind and heart to God” and what’s in our hearts virtually at all times is some form of lament, petition, or thanksgiving. Moreover, Jesus invites us to ask God for whatever is in our heart at a given moment: “Ask and you will receive.” Lament, petition and thanksgiving are good forms of prayer; but, in praying them, we’re still focused in some manner on ourselves, on our needs and our joys.
However in adoration we look to God or at some attribute of God (beauty, goodness, truth, or oneness) so strongly that everything else drops away. We stand in pure wonder, pure admiration, ecstatic awe, entirely stripped of our own heartaches, headaches and idiosyncratic focus. God’s person, beauty, goodness and truth overwhelm us so as to take our minds off of ourselves and leave us standing outside of ourselves.
And being free of our own selves is the very definition of ecstasy (from the Greek, EK STASIS, to stand outside oneself.) Thus, to be in adoration is to be in ecstasy – though, admittedly, that’s generally not how we imagine ecstasy today. For us, ecstasy is commonly imagined as an earthshaking standing inside of ourselves, idiosyncrasy in its peak expression. But true ecstasy is the opposite. It’s adoration.
Moreover, for Lohfink, not only is adoration the only true form of ecstasy, it’s also a way of being in heaven already right now and of experiencing time as it will be in heaven. Here’s how he puts it: “In the miracle of adoration we are already with God, entirely with God and the boundary between time and eternity is removed. It is true that we cannot now comprehend that adoring God will be endless bliss. We always want to be doing something. We want to criticize, intervene, change, improve, shape. And rightly so! That is our duty. But in death, when we come to God, that all ceases.
Then our existence will be pure astonishment, pure looking, pure praise, pure adoration – and unimaginable happiness. That is why there is also a form of adoration that uses no words. In it I hold out my own life to God, in silence and with it the whole world, knowing God as Creator, as Lord, as the one to whom belongs all honor and praise. Adoration is the oblation of one’s life to God. Adoration is surrender. Adoration means entrusting oneself entirely to God. As we dwell in adoration, eternity begins – an eternity that does not withdraw from the world but opens to it utterly.”
Time can stand still! And it stands still when we’re in pure admiration, in awe, in wonder, in adoration. In those moments we stand outside of ourselves, in the purest form of love that exists. At that moment too we are in heaven, not having a foretaste of heaven, but actually being in heaven. Eternity will be like that, one moment like a thousand years and a thousand years like one moment.
When we adore, time stands still – and we’re in heaven!

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Labor Unions are Prophets for Our Time

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin
Pope Francis clearly is a pope for our time. He has been the voice of those with no voice, the advocate for those on the margins. From the very beginning of his papacy he has urged the church to “Go to the margins, to the outcast…” He urges clergy to immerse themselves in the struggles of their people saying “shepherds should smell like the sheep.” He has blasted clericalism as a new idolatry.
Recently he spoke to the Italian equivalent of the AFL-CIO. He refocused labor and those who advocate for workers in the frame of Pope John Paul II, seeing the social as well as the human dimensions of work, even creativity in doing any work. No job is just a job, it should be the expression of the worker. Further he sees the necessity of leisure. “Leisure is not laziness,” said the pontiff. It is a necessity to fill out the rest of the worker’s life.
He sees work as the product and expression of the worker, not merely tasks to be done for profit. The advent of robotics used to replace human workers only amplifies the problem of profit being the exclusive motive for work. One might surmise companies who choose robots over people have no social purpose other than amassing wealth for their shareholders and owners.
Pope Francis is a firm critic of capitalism. In some circles to criticize capitalism is to espouse Marxism and immorality. This is not the focus of Pope Francis’ criticism. The negative aspects of a Marxist-based economy is to further reduce people to things, not agents of their own destiny. Marxism and predatory capitalism both gouge workers.
In addressing the Italian labor unions he firmly states, “Labor unions are prophetic and innovative.” Unions are prophetic when they give voice “to those who have none, denounce those who would ‘sell the needy for a pair of sandals’ (Amos 2:6) unmask the powerful who would trample the rights of the most vulnerable of workers, defend the cause of the foreigner, the least of the discarded.”
Today labor unions, together with the Church, have been speaking up for immigrants, joined in their struggle for equality and inclusion The leadership of the AFL-CIO under Richard Trumka the labor movement recognized it was not immigrants stealing workers jobs, it was the exploitation of immigrants that drove down wages. It is the ongoing “race to the bottom” that has split groups who should be allies.
A powerful way to combat this is through solidarity. We can go back to the glory days of early 20th Centuries organizing with that hymn, “Solidarity Forever” and chants liker the “Mighty, mighty Union!! The truth is, the works are the union. More than the chief officers away in offices. They can direct, inspire and mobilize, but the union is on the ground. It is the workers, organized and holding management accountable.
Pope Francis’ concept of solidarity is expansive. Unions represent all workers not just their members. True solidarity is respect for the workers, the company’s respect for the larger community. Today these are pitted against each other solely for profit. Today we hear speakers denounce balancing budgets on the backs of the poor. These denunciations often fall on deaf ears.
Our teaching on labor, like so much other issues, is the focus on the human person. From this lens it is people, communities that come before profits. It is seeing workers with respect, not as human machines.
Pope Francis emphasis on the prophetic role of unions is inclusive, reaching outward. He says, “Prophets are sentinels, who watch from their lookout. The union, too, must keep vigil over the walls of the city of work, like a watchman who guards and protects those who are inside the city of labor, but also guarding and protecting those who are outside the walls.” He continues saying, ”Your vocation is also to protect those who do not have rights., those excluded from work who are also excluded from rights and democracy.”
This is why I often write that our Catholic teachings on labor and social justice are well kept secrets. They should not be. At a time when so many people are being attacked and exploited in so many ways we should be preaching and teaching social justice from the housetops.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Faith includes ups and downs

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
The poet, Rumi, suggests that we live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, then not, and then know again. That’s a good description of faith. Faith isn’t something you nail down and possess once and for all. It goes this way: sometimes you walk on water and sometimes you sink like a stone.
The Gospels testify to this, most graphically, in the story of Peter walking on the water: Jesus asks Peter to step out of a boat and walk across the water to him. At first it works, Peter, unthinking, walks on the water, then becoming more conscious of what he is doing he sinks like a stone. We see this too in the massive fluctuations in belief that Jesus’ disciples experience during the “forty days” after the resurrection. Jesus would appear to them, they would trust he was alive, then he would disappear again, and they would lose their trust and go back to the lives they’d led before they met him, fishing and the sea. The post-resurrection narratives illustrate the dynamics of faith pretty clearly: You believe it. Then you distrust. Then you believe it again. At least, so it seems on the surface.
We see another example of this in the story of Peter betraying Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that there is a secret which separates those who have faith from those who don’t: To you is given the secret of the kingdom, but to those outside everything exists in parables. That sounds like Gnosticism, that is, the idea that there’s a secret code somewhere (e.g., the Di Vinci Code) that some know and some don’t and you are in or out depending upon whether you know it or not. But that’s not what Jesus is saying here. His secret is an open one, accessible to all: the meaning of the cross. Anyone who understands this will understand the rest of what Jesus means, and vice versa. We are in or out, depending upon whether or not we can grasp and accept the meaning of Jesus’ death.
But, being in or out isn’t a once and for all thing. Rather, we move in and out! After Peter denied Jesus, we’re told: “he went outside.” This is intended both literally and metaphorically. After his denial, Peter stepped outside a gate into the night to be away from the crowd, but he also stepped outside the meaning of his faith.
Our faith also bounces up and down for another reason, we misunderstand how it works: Take for example the Rich Young Man who approaches Jesus with this question: “Good master, what must I do to possess eternal life?” That’s an interesting choice of a verb: to possess. Eternal life as a possession? Jesus’ gentle correction of the young man’s verb teaches us something vital about faith. Jesus says to him: “Now if you wish to receive eternal life,” meaning that faith and eternal life are not something you possess so that they can be stored and guarded like grain in a barn, money in a bank, or jewelry in a box. They can only be received, like the air we breathe. Air is free, is everywhere, and our health doesn’t depend upon its presence, for it’s always there, but rather upon the state of our lungs (and mood) at any given moment. Sometimes we breathe deeply and appreciatively; but, sometimes, for various reasons, we breathe badly, gasp for breath, are out of breath or are choking for air. Like breathing, faith too has its modalities.
And so, we need to understand our faith not as a possession or as something we achieve once and for all, which can be lost only by some huge, dramatic, life-changing shift inside of us, where we move from belief to atheism. “Faith isn’t some constant state of belief,” suggests Abraham Heschel, “but rather a sort of faithfulness, a loyalty to the moments when we’ve had faith.”
And that teases out something else: To be real, faith need not be explicitly religious, but can express itself simply in faithfulness, loyalty and trust. For example, in a powerful memoir written as she as dying of cancer, The Bright Hour, Annie Riggs shares her strong, but implicit, faith as she calmly faces her death. Not given to explicit religious faith, she is challenged at one point by a nurse who says to her: “Faith, you gotta have it, and you’re gonna need it!” The comment triggers a reflection on her part about what she does or doesn’t believe in. She comes to peace with the question and her own stake in it with these words: “For me, faith involves staring into the abyss, seeing that it is dark and full of the unknown – and being okay with that.”
We need to trust the unknown, knowing that we will be okay, no matter that on a given day we might feel like we are walking on water or sinking like a stone. Faith is deeper than our feelings.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

Turning frustration into positive action

George Evans

By George Evans
I finally acknowledged to myself that I am a news junkie and that it fills time with unhappiness. The more I watch and read the more concerned I get. I am afraid our country is in a rudderless free fall. Republicans are awash with Trump and don’t seem to know what to do with him. Democrats are just lost going around in circles hoping the merry-go-round stops somewhere so they can get their act together before the mid term elections in order to take back some power in Congress. It seems to me God is testing us as individuals and as a country to try to do the right thing.
What is he calling us to do? My thoughts for whatever they are worth follow. My prayer and meditation in the morning is more and more involved with begging direction for our elected leaders both in the White House and Congress. I still believe that America offers the best chance possible to make present the kingdom of God. Jesus proclaims in the gospel that the kingdom is at hand and calls us to follow him in bringing it to fruition. He gives us a blue print in the New Testament by completing and fulfilling the Old Testament. He spent three years giving us directions in the gospels. Some of those directions are very hard to follow, like turning the other cheek and giving away all we have in order to follow him more completely.
We parse a lot of what he says to justify how we try to follow him. Politically we do a lot of that to try to make things work and to get “our people” elected or reelected as the case may be. We debate taxes and economics, immigration and national loyalty, education and jobs, health and welfare, infrastructure needs and many other things. We don’t spend as much time discussing what is best for the common good or how to practically close the ever increasing gap between rich and poor. We tend to leave these latter matters to think tanks, nonprofits or religious endeavors so that answers are slow, if ever, to appear.
I like the fact my retirement account has recently done well. But I grieve over all the people I visit on St. Vincent de Paul home visits who have no IRA and are trying to live on a less than $1,000 a month disability check, a minimal social security check, or two minimum wage jobs.
There seems to be little hope that government will take any meaningful steps to help in these or similar cases. Do we then just despair and give up? No, we can’t do that. I think we have to recommit to do all we can to make a difference. We are needed to bring the best we can to politics by bringing to bear our values, gospel values and Church values to the present morass. As Pope Francis tells us we are needed in the public square regardless of how unpleasant it may be.
The deeper I search myself, I realize that I can do more through the Church or other organizations to make some difference in the gap between rich and poor, unvulnerable and vulnerable, active and homebound, established and migrant. Its not fair to just blame politicians if we are not improving on our own selfishness in not reaching out and serving those in need.
Only we can do the proper self exam in this regard. The Old Testament prophets call for this repeatedly. Jesus mandates this repeatedly and in Matthew 25 makes it a condition for salvation in the dramatic depiction of the last judgment.
Writing this column has convinced me to be less frustrated with our times and more dedicated to making a difference myself in service and compassion and I invite anyone who has been struggling with some of the same things to join me in the effort. Wouldn’t it be fun to make a contribution by what we do?

(George Evans is a retired pastoral minister from Jackson St. Richard Parish.)

Patience keeps us connected to God

Father Ed Dougherty

Light one Candle
By Father Ed Dougherty, MM
Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” After contracting an illness in childhood, Keller was left deaf and blind for the rest of her life. With the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, she broke through the isolation that her condition imposed upon her and went on to become a writer and lecturer. Her amazing resilience is a testament to the power of the human spirit to remain patient throughout a lifetime of struggle.
Patience is one of those intangible virtues that we can only gain through perseverance in the face of trials. Keller’s line about suffering providing opportunity to build character traits such as bravery and patience demonstrates how much she came to value the strength of spirit she cultivated in taking on personal challenges. Patience provides endurance amidst suffering and the wisdom to know how and when to take action.
The early Christian theologian Tertullian once said, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” What beautiful insight into the path that patience can lead us along when we allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to kindle within our hearts. That fire can direct our thoughts towards God in spite of the hardships of life, resulting in a heart filled with the hope of Christ.
Life often does not go the way we want it to, and we all face moments of profound frustration and disappointment. It takes patience to remain connected to God throughout the trials we face in order to be guided along the path we are intended to follow. The Christophers have a beautiful meditation on patience that highlights the importance of this virtue. It reads:
“Patience is a stillness that reaches deep within the human soul. It connects us with God by allowing us to pause and reflect on our actions. A patient heart waits for the resurrections that Christ effects in our lives, reviving us to a life of joy. Patience is the tender reaction of one heart to another. It is the essence of love.”
The patience we cultivate in waiting on God to guide us through difficult times prepares us to reach out to others in a loving manner. This mercy that we extend to the world is one of the great fruits of the Holy Spirit. God wants to work through us to bring good into the world, and it is only through patience that we are able to recognize the needs of others and realize the call to serve.
Patience enables us to deepen the bonds of friendship, family, and community life. These are the treasures that await all who have a clean heart in their interactions with others. Christ said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
We store up treasures in heaven when we put the good above all else, and it takes patience to do that in this world where temptation and adversity await us at every turn. So remember to be patient amid the struggles of life so that we can recognize the treasures of heaven and allow God to guide us along the path of true and lasting joy.

(Father Ed Dougherty is on the board of Directors for the Christophers. For free copies of the Christopher News Note LIVING JOYFULLY IN A STRESSED-OUT WORLD, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org.)

Our ache for Earthly immortality

Father Ron Rolheiser

By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
We share the world with more than seven and a half billion people and each of us has the irrepressible, innate sense that we are special and uniquely destined. This isn’t surprising since each one of us is indeed unique and special. But how does one feel special among seven and half billion others?
We try to stand out. Generally we don’t succeed and so, as Allan Jones puts it, “We nurse within our hearts the hope that we are different, that we are special, that we are extraordinary. We long for the assurance that our birth was no accident, that a god had a hand in our coming to be, that we exist by divine fiat. We ache for a cure for the ultimate disease of mortality. Our madness comes when the pressure is too great and we fabricate a vital lie to cover up the fact that we are mediocre, accidental, mortal. We fail to see the glory of the Good News. The vital lie is unnecessary because all the things we truly long for have been freely given us.”
All of us know what those words mean: We sense that we are extraordinary, precious and significant, irrespective of our practical fortunes in life. Deep down we have the feeling that we are uniquely loved and specially called to a life of meaning and significance. We know too, though more in faith than in feeling, that we are precious not on the basis of what we accomplish but rather on the basis of having been created and loved by God.
But this intuition, however deep in our souls, invariably wilts in the face of trying to live a life that’s unique and special in a world in which billions of others are also trying to do the same thing. And so we can be overwhelmed by a sense of our own mediocrity, anonymity and mortality and begin to fear that we’re not precious but are merely another-among-many, nobody special, one of billions, living among billions. When we feel like this, we are tempted to believe that we are precious and unique only when we accomplish something which precisely sets us apart and ensures that we will be remembered. For most of us, the task of our lives then becomes that of guaranteeing our own preciousness, meaning and immortality because, at the end of the day, we believe that this is contingent upon our own accomplishments, on creating our own specialness.
And so we struggle to be content with ordinary lives of anonymity, hidden in God. Rather we try to stand out, to leave a mark, to accomplish something extraordinary and so ensure that we will be recognized and remembered. Few things impede our peace and happiness as does this effort. We set for ourselves the impossible, frustrating task of assuring for ourselves something which only God can give us, significance and immortality. Ordinary life then never seems enough for us and we live restless, competitive, driven lives. Why isn’t ordinary life enough for us? Why do our lives always seem too small and not exciting enough? Why do we habitually feel dissatisfied at not being special?
Why our need to leave a mark? Why does our own situation often feel so suffocating? Why can’t we more easily embrace each other as sisters and brothers and rejoice in each other’s gifts and each other’s existence? Why the perennial feeling that the other is a rival? Why the need for masks, for pretense, to project a certain image about ourselves?
The answer: We do all of these things to try to set ourselves apart because we are trying to give ourselves something that only God can give us, significance and immortality.
Scripture tells us that “faith alone saves.” That simple line reveals the secret: Only God gives eternal life. Preciousness, meaning, significance and immortality are free gifts from God and we would be a whole lot more restful, peaceful, humble, grateful, happy and less competitive if we could believe that. A humble ordinary life, shared with billions of others, would then contain enough to give us a sense of our preciousness, meaning and significance.
Thomas Merton, on one of his less restless days wrote: “It is enough to be, in an ordinary human mode, with one’s hunger and sleep, one’s cold and warmth, rising and going to bed. Putting on blankets and taking them off, making coffee and then drinking it. Defrosting the refrigerator, reading, meditating, working, praying. I live as my Fathers have lived on this earth, until eventually I die. Amen. There is no need to make an assertion of my life, especially so about it as mine, though doubtless it is not somebody else’s. I must learn to live so as to gradually forget program and artifice.”
Ordinary life is enough. There isn’t any need to make an assertion with our lives. Our preciousness and meaning lie within the preciousness and meaning of life itself, not in having to accomplish something special.

(Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, TX.)

What makes us weep? The Kingdom of God is close at hand…

Sister alies therese

Millennial reflections
By Sister alies therese
Lent has begun and we celebrate the glorious season of weeping. What? Really? Yes, and it will end with Easter where we challenge all the death-dealing we have pronounced evil and emerge on the other side of Holy Week weeping for joy!
What makes us weep? What moves the heart so profoundly that we cannot hold back the tears? I have wept at the deathbed of a young boy; in our torn community after an F4 tornado devastated us; at the awesomeness of the stars; at Pope Francis in Chile ministering to the women in prison or the people of the Amazon in Peru, and certainly in the face of my own sin and thoughtlessness. Continue reading

Every column/sermon/task becomes meditation

Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Though the following thoughts seem only clerical in nature, they pertain to every human being. When taken into ourselves and absorbed as part of us, a column, sermon, task and all human endeavors take on a life to themselves, becoming as much a part of us as the air we breathe and the nourishment we ingest. While others must speak from their own unique experience, I personally find that I am not doing a thing right until I become totally immersed in the task at hand, so that it becomes an extension of me. That ipso facto elevates it to the wonderful nosebleed realm of meditation, creative imaginings and expectations.
So how about that? Whatever we do can become a special meditation, firing our juices of imagination, creativity and outreach to our sisters and brothers. Take a column, for example. Little seems to click or flow until something locks into my thoughts and feelings. Almost as if a switch were turned on, the things that I have been reading, the things that people have been saying and doing blend together.
Like the ingredients of a delicious meal or the components of an exquisite symphony, meditation combines everything into a fine creation and rendition. One knows whether a given column or talk will resonate with others by asking oneself, “Does it speak to me, resonate with me, move me to good and higher things? Does it ring a bell for me? That is what a preacher/speaker/writer wants to know at the zero hour. If it does, bells will be ringing for the audience at some level as well.
There are, of course, techniques for composing, writing, speaking formally or informally, making eye contact with each person in a small group or large crowd, convincing each person that you are addressing her or him alone, storytelling in a spellbinding way and interacting with audiences of many varieties and origins. All those things are wrapped up into one when they have become completely part of us. This is not a grandiose view of ourselves and our capabilities. It merely states that we are at our best and most convincing when we give what is uniquely ourselves.
Are these the mere ramblings of a weathered curmudgeon, or, we would hope, of a seasoned seeker hoping to become a savant with many treasure troves?
The latter is indeed what we hope for ourselves and for everyone else. Far from being mere ramblings, we would like to have all the reflections, meditations, imaginings and creations of each person grow out from the very Gospel of God that Romans 1:16 tells us “is the power of God unto salvation.”
This is a paradigm for the laity, for religious and clergy alike, for we all have very similar reactions to words, actions and challenges. Nevertheless, Saint Thomas Aquinas observes how individual we are, “Quidquid recipitur, ad modum recipientis recipitur.” “Whatever is received, is received according to the disposition of the recipient.” Who we are, what we are, how we are, is a composite that determines how we react to and interact with everyone and everything. We are all so very different and, notwithstanding, so very similar to each other. We are wonders, laughing at ourselves as we strive to be the top of the tip and the tip of the top.
No one comes to us, panting to watch us impersonate or imitate some great speaker, a scintillating performer, a wise counselor or engaging, livewire friend. Had people wanted that, they would have gone to check the great ones out. But no! What they come to see and hear are the low-level, everyday people that we are, in whose presence they have no fears or anxieties, they can drop all their defenses, they can let themselves go, they can laugh themselves silly, they can cry their hearts out, they can play the fool and be their little old selves without fear of criticism or rebuke.
Another variant of all this is expressed by Paul as he goes a step further in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” This involves a favorite theme of ours, the good intention, that turns all that we do into spiritual gold, silver and precious stones. Even as we are involved in turning a column, sermon or any kind of task or chore into a meditation, an intimate part of our very selves, we can crystallize all of it into a glorious offering to God by dedicating it to God in the morning and throughout the day.
I certainly hope this does not sound like complicated, convoluted ramblings. The last thing in the world that we need is more complications in our lives. Honestly, I believe that all these thoughts are easy to remember and understand because they are closely related and interlock with each other. Perhaps we can remember them most easily by saying, “In whatever you think, say or do, be all you can be.”
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)

(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)