Outside the city

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
God, it seems, favors the powerless, the unnoticed, children, babies, outsiders and refugees with no resources or place to go.
That’s why Jesus was born outside the city, in a stable, unnoticed, outside all fanfare, away from all major media and away from all the persons and events that were deemed important at the time, humble and anonymous. God works like that. Why?
In the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, that question is asked of Jesus: Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land? If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation. Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.
Scripture answers by telling us that God’s ways are not our ways and our ways are not God’s ways. That’s true here. We tend to understand power by how it works in our world. There it works through popularity, through mass media, through historical privilege, through financial clout, through higher education, through idiosyncratic genius, and, not infrequently, through raw aggression, greed and insensitivity to the needs of others and of nature.
But even a quick reading of scripture tells us that’s not how God works. The God that Jesus incarnates doesn’t enter into this world with a huge splash, as a royal birth eagerly anticipated and then announced by all the major media outlets, with photos of him and his parents on the cover of every popular magazine, with universal predictions as to his future greatness and influence, and then with privileged access to the best educational institutions and circles of power and influence.
Clearly, clearly, that’s not the story of Jesus’ birth, nor of how his life unfolded. God, as scripture shows, works more through anonymity than through the headlines, more through the poor than the powerful, and more through those outside the circles of power than those inside them. When we examine how God works, we see it’s no accident that Jesus was born outside the city and that after he was crucified he was also buried outside the city.
God’s work in our world generally does not make the headlines. God never breaks into our world or into our consciousness by showy displays of power. God works more discretely, in quiet, touching soul, touching conscience and touching that previously touched part inside of us where we still unconsciously bear the memory of once, long before birth, being touched, caressed,and loved by God. That’s why Christ was born into this world as a baby and not as superstar, as someone whose only power was the capacity to touch and soften the hearts of those around him. Babies overpower no one, physically, intellectually, or athletically. They lie helpless and cry for love and care. That’s why, paradoxically, at the end of the day, they’re more powerful than anyone else. No physical, intellectual or athletic power can ultimately touch the human conscience as can a baby – and similar sights of innocent helplessness, a wounded bird, an abandoned kitten, a young child alone and crying. What’s best in us enflames, healthily, in the presence of powerlessness and innocence.
That’s how God enters into us, gently, unnoticed. No big splash. That’s also why God tends to bypass circles of power to favor the abandoned and vulnerable. For example, when the Gospel of Luke records how John the Baptist came to be specially blessed, it takes a scathing swipe at both the civic and religious powers of its time. It names all the major civil and religious leaders of the time (the Roman rulers, the kings in Palestine, and the religious high priests) and then tells us plainly that the word of God bypassed them all and came instead to John, a solitary, living in the wilderness. (Luke 3, 1-3) According to the Gospels, the wilderness is where we’re most likely to find and experience God’s presence because God tends to bypasses the centers of power and influence to find a place instead in the hearts of those outside those circles.
You see this too, though admittedly without the same theological weight as is manifest in scripture, in the various apparitions of Mary, Jesus’ mother, that have been approved by the church. What’s common to all of them? Mary has never appeared to a president, a pope, a major religious leader, a Wall Street banker, the CEO of a major company or even to an academic theologian in his study. None of these. She’s appeared to children, to a young woman of no earthly importance, to an illiterate peasant and to various other persons of no worldly status.
We tend to understand power as residing in financial influence, political clout, charismatic talent, media influence, physical strength, athletic prowess, grace, health, wit, and attractiveness.
On the surface, that assessment is accurate enough, and indeed none of these are bad in themselves. But, looked at more deeply, as we see in the birth of Christ, God’s word bypasses the centers of power and gestates instead in the hearts and consciences of those outside the city.

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

In the silence of selflessness

Sister alies therese

From the Hermitage
By Sister terese alise
There is a certain amount of hopelessness in our world and each of us has to learn to navigate through. It is never God’s plan for us to suffer so God has promised to be with us when we do. The Christmas story, all the way through to the Baptism, shows us some of these ways.
These seasons are filled with all the virtues we have come to recognize…charity, hope, faith and peace among the most outstanding. We might experience them in silence. Yet at root is selflessness.
If we explore hopelessness carefully, we might discover self-seeking or someone else to blame. I feel hopeless when politics grind on or families feud. Hopelessness is noisy, full of conversation and full of excuses. Hopelessness winds its way through dark and wild spots. We feel betrayed. It reminds us that we are useless and that things cannot indeed be fixed or even improved upon. It is a place of frustration where the focus is on me and my desire rather than the other and what they might need. Hopelessness is self-seeking.
If we enter, however into silence, even if only of the heart, we might discover that the expansive life we can live is all-inclusive. Even those things that bug us, those things that cause us to wallow in our sin or self-deprecation, even these things can be swept up into a world that is open and welcoming. Is one always cheery? Probably not. Do things hurt us or leave us scratching our heads? Probably. But cast within the winds of this place, our hearts are turned another way. Look, for example, at our wonderful story. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth were hopeless at the news of the birth of sons. They were concerned first about each other. Even Joseph and Zechariah’s hearts, in their surprise, were turned toward the women they loved and the sons to be born. The tiny Infant Jesus will gloriously wink at His parents and they will receive the gift of His presence. There is no self-seeking among any of them…only the tenderness of loving.
Silence is an attitude and practice of the heart and not always an external atmosphere. I have been in many, many very noisy situations and yet my heart was still and who would know? Equally, I have been in many quiet retreats and my insides were not at all peaceful. The former was something about selflessness, the latter about self-seeking. Our journey through Advent hopefully helped us with those virtues and the movement away from self-seeking. Even in the color scheme of purples and rose, of darkness and light, or the quickening fire of love, we are caught up. We want to be busy about decorations and presents and visiting…and yet there is something in this season that invites us deeper. Silence holds us so that we can learn to receive midst all our desire to give.
In these next few days before we celebrate the Nativity of our Sweet Redeemer, let’s explore. First let’s ask, am I willing to search no matter where or when to find this Jesus that I might learn to receive from Him; and secondly, like the Kings who will come from far away to behold the tiny One in awe, am I willing to be caught up in a selflessness that allows God to give to me? Do I know the peace of receiving Him? Am I willing to enter into the silence that “breaks the hold on time and accept that our true home is not here on earth, but in eternity”? (Sr. Wendy,1999).
By choice God expresses fullness and devotion, respect and reverence, humility and peace wanting us to receive, that we might become an ever deeper part of this amazing incarnation, enfleshment, and Kindom bearer with all our kinfolks who are willing to stand up against hopelessness and embrace selflessness. This is where peace is born. This is where we are drawn in silence into the very heart of our God.
“The path to peace is not to seek it, but to seek selflessness. Self-seeking of any kind narrows our potential and destroys the balance on which peace depends. Too often we misunderstand the nature of it. We should not try to control our lives. If we are set upon doing so, we have abdicated from peace.” (Sr. Wendy, 1999).
Be filled with the silence of selflessness and receive the One who loves you dearly. BLESSINGS.
(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 columnist. She lives and writes in Mississippi.)

My wonderful 88-years-9-month-old motor

Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD,

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Imagine any engine running nonstop day and night for 88 years. Human ingenuity has not figured out a way to make an engine capable of running nonstop and efficiently more than a small fraction of that. Our marvelous heart never rests, unless we count the slight hesitation between the systole-diastole of its beats. The size of one’s fist, our heart is the muscle from which all other muscles can learn.
Yes, our heart does splendid work for many decades, unless it is disabled by some congenital defect, partially incapacitated by an accident or disease, or at length worn down by the inexorable advance of old age. In my case, my great cardiac motor has been slowed by nearly 89 years of constant use and calcium buildup on the aorta valve cusps that causes aortic stenosis, a narrowing that keeps the valve from fully opening or closing. This condition reduces blood flow to the body and makes the heart work harder. Since overwork weakens the heart, my cardiologist, Dr. David Homan, asked, “Do you have chest pain, fatigue or shortness of breath?”
When I responded in the negative, he broached the subject of aortic valve replacement. “Your lack of symptoms indicates that you may not need an aortic valve replacement now, but a small procedure (stent) can forestall your need for a replacement in the near future. I recommend that you have such a procedure now.”
Dr. Homan scheduled me for a right heart catheter to explore for blockage. If there was blockage, he would install a stent. He would also do a venogram to determine whether there was a blockage in my leg veins, since there is leg swelling. If there was blockage, he would install a stent there also.
Ordered to abstain from all food and drink after Thursday midnight, to shower before my CIS procedure Friday morning, and to be prepared to stay in the hospital either eight hours if no stents have been installed, or overnight if stents have been installed, I was left to get myself together for the occasion.
I arrived at the main desk Friday morning and within minutes, I was donning a repulsive hospital gown. A congenial nurse came in to do vampire work. She tried my left arm, but failed to draw blood. After five minutes, she switched to my right arm. I have fairly sizable veins, but they kept rolling and dodging. So the rattled nurse switched back to my left arm after some minutes. Third verse, same as the first. Predictably, she switched back to my right arm and finally drew some precious blood. She breathed a sigh of relief. So did I.
Unaccustomed to taking any chemicals at all, “the medicine to help you relax” knocked me out cold. I never even knew that Dr. Homan had come and gone.
I thought that I would have surgery done on my aortic valve at 10:45 Tuesday morning, November 13. But, to my surprise, when I called Dr. Victor Tedesco’s office in Lafayette the morning before to learn whether I had to fast, etc. in preparation for surgery, I heard the surprising words from the lips of the receptionist, “You don’t have to do anything. This will be only a consultation with Dr. Tedesco to discuss X-ray artery photos and schedule a date for surgery.”
Ushered into a large office room on November 13, I began to fire Italian at him Dr. Tedesco. I guessed correctly. Of Italian descent, although Tedesco is the Italian word for German, we threw some rudimentary Italian back and forth at each other.
Getting down to business, he said that he had studied the artery X-ray photos.
In the left side of the heart, the left anterior descending artery (LAD), aka the widow maker, supplies with blood the entire front wall of the heart and much of the side wall. A medium or total blockage of the beginning of the LAD can be a widow maker. The main artery supplies blood to the LAD and the left circumflex. A major blockage there is the mother of all widow makers, warranting timely double bypass surgery.
Weighing my two blockages, Dr. Tedesco and I scheduled surgery for December 12.
“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. We will update his condition as soon as we receive word.)

When is our life fulfilled?

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
When is our life fulfilled? At what point in our lives do we say: “That’s it! That’s the climax! Nothing I can do from now on will outdo this. I’ve given what I have to give.”
When can we say this? After we’ve reached the peak of our physical health and strength? After giving birth to a child? After successfully raising our children? After we’ve published a best-seller? After we’re famous? After we’ve won a major championship? After we’re celebrated the 60th anniversary of our marriage? After we’ve found a soulmate? After we’re at peace after a long struggle with grief? When is it finally done? When has our growth reached its furthest place?
The medieval mystic, John of the Cross, says we reach this point in our lives when we have grown to what he calls “our deepest center.” But he doesn’t conceive of this the way we commonly picture it, namely, as the deepest center inside our soul. Rather, for John, our deepest center is the optimum point of our human growth, that is, the deepest maturity we can grow to before we begin to die. If this is true, then for a flower, its deepest center, its ultimate point of growth, would be not its bloom but the giving of its seed as it dies. That’s its further point of growth, its ultimate accomplishment.
What’s our ultimate point of growth? I suspect that we tend to think of this in terms of some concrete, positive accomplishment, like a successful career or some athletic, intellectual, or artistic achievement that’s brought us satisfaction, recognition, and popularity. Or, looked at from the point of view of depth of meaning, we might answer the question differently by saying that our ultimate achievement was a life-giving marriage, or being a good parent, or living a life that served others.
When, like a flower, do we give off our seed? Henri Nouwen suggests that people will answer this very differently: “For some it is when they are enjoying the full light of popularity; for others, when they have been totally forgotten; for some, when they have reached the peak of their strength; for others, when they feel powerless and weak; for some it is when their creativity is in full bloom, for others, when they have lost all confidence in their potential.”
When did Jesus give off his seed, the fullness of his spirit? For Jesus, it wasn’t immediately after his miracles when the crowds stood in awe, and it wasn’t after he had just walked on water, and it wasn’t when his popularity reached the point where his contemporaries wanted to make him king that he felt he had accomplished his purpose in life and that people began to be touched in their souls by his spirit. None of these. When did Jesus have nothing further to achieve?
It’s worth quoting Henri Nouwen again, in answering this question: “We know one thing, however, for the Son of Man the wheel stopped when he had lost everything: his power to speak and to heal, his sense of success and influence, his disciples and friends – even his God. When he was nailed against a tree, robbed of all human dignity, he knew that he had aged enough, and said: ‘It is fulfilled’ (John 19, 30).”
“It is fulfilled!” The Greek word here is Tetelesti. This was an expression used by artists to signify that a work was completely finished and that nothing more could be added to it. It was also used to express that something was complete. For example, Tetelesti was stamped on a document of charges against a criminal after he had served his full prison sentence; it was used by banks when a debt had been repaid; it was used by a servant to inform his master that a work had been completed; and it was used by athletes when, tired and exhausted, they successfully crossed the finish line in a race.
It is finished! A flower dies to give off its seed so it’s appropriate that these were Jesus’ last words. On the cross, faithful to the end, to his God, to his word, to the love he preached, and to his own integrity, he stopped living and began dying, and that’s when he gave off his seed and that’s when his spirit began to permeate the world. He had reached his deepest center, his life was fulfilled.
When does our living stop and our dying begin? When do we move from being in bloom to giving off our seed? Superficially, of course, it’s when our health, strength, popularity, and attractiveness begin to wane and we start to fade out, into the margins, and eventually into the sunset. But when this is seen in the light of Jesus’ life, we see that in our fading out, like a flower long past its bloom, we begin to give off something of more value than the attractiveness of the bloom. That’s when we can say: “It is fulfilled!”

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

People look east

Father Aaron Williams

SPIRIT AND TRUTH 
By Father Aaron Williams
The Advent season is one of my favorite seasons of the year — mainly because of the texts used in the liturgy during this time of expectation and hope. One of my favorite lines in the breviary during this season comes on the Second Sunday of Advent. “The Lord will surely come and will not be late; if he seems to delay, wait for him.” Another ancient text for Advent speaks of looking to Christ coming on the last day. “I look from afar: and lo, I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole earth.”
Advent has always been a time of double-expectation. On one hand, we are expectant of the birth of Christ on Christmas day. But, on the other we are hopeful for the final return of our Lord in the end. Of that day, Christ says, “Just as lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Christian tradition has always associated the East with the coming of Christ. We can even make a simile of it: Christ the Rising Son will come as the rising of the sun.
For this reason, Christian worship from ancient times was even oriented physically towards the east. Many of our Churches are built so that the faithful face East in their pews. Old Catholic cemeteries were often designed so that the grave plots faced East — giving a sign that even the dead remain hopeful for the return of Christ. For the majority of liturgical history, Catholic worship was always totally oriented towards the East with even the priest facing towards the rear wall of the Church where there was an image of Christ displayed — both priest and faithful looking hopefully towards Christ.
In the reformed liturgy, room was given in the new missal to allow priests to begin celebrating the Mass facing the people. This became popular throughout the world, and with the exception of some chapels and churches without free-standing altars, has nearly become the entirely universal practice in the Roman Church today. It is worth mentioning, however, that even in the modern form of the Mass where such a face-to-face orientation is allowed (and common), Eastward celebration by the celebrant was never outlawed. On the contrary, even the modern Roman Missal assumes this orientation and gives directions to the priest as to when he should momentarily turn around at various points in the Mass in order to address the faithful behind him.
In fact, in recent years, some high-ranking officials in the Church, including Robert Cardinal Sarah — the head of the Vatican’s own liturgy office — have encouraged priests to reconsider this ancient posture. Even the former chairman of the U.S. Bishop’s office of Divine Worship, Bishop Arthur Serratelli, wrote a letter to all the bishops of the United States last year where he underscored that this was a legitimate option even in today’s liturgy, though adding that such a decision should take into account the spirit of the parish and the vision of the bishop in his own diocese. In other Christian liturgical rites (such as the Eastern/Greek liturgy), Eastward orientation is still the assumed and required posture.
So, while I would certainly underscore Bishop Serratelli’s comment regarding the pastoral considerations such a decision should require, it is helpful to look upon this ancient custom with a true understanding of its meaning. Regrettably, most people associate this posture with a sort of “clerical” understanding of the Church, where priests are disinterested with he faithful and thus approach the Mass with their “backs facing them.” But, this is not a helpful perspective on our own rich liturgical history, which is far more rooted in theological ideas than such base considerations.
For our own purposes, perhaps during this Advent season we can encourage a spirit of “Eastward worship” in our own homes by making sure there is a dedicated focus for prayer — a crucifix or a holy image. Families can gather and pray together before these images, and remain hopeful for the coming of Christ the Lord in all his glory.

(Father Aaron Williams is the parochial vicar at Greenville St. Joseph Parish and serves as the liaison to seminarians for the Office of Vocations.)

Eucharist creates the communion the world needs

By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Even in societies increasingly marked by divisions and prejudice, Catholics gather every Sunday “in the Lord’s name and acknowledge that they are brothers and sisters,” Pope Francis said.
The communion with Jesus and with others that happens at each celebration of the Eucharist must extend beyond the walls of the church and transform societies with the good news of salvation in Jesus and greater harmony among people, the pope said Nov. 10 at a meeting with members of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.
The committee is preparing the next International Eucharistic Congress to be held in Budapest, Hungary, in 2020.
Pope Francis said the choice of the Central European city “raises a fundamental question: What does it mean to celebrate a eucharistic congress in the modern and multicultural city where the Gospel and the forms of religious affiliation have become marginal?”
The response, he said, must be to find ways to foster a “eucharistic culture” that is “grounded in the sacrament yet perceptible also beyond the limits of the church community.”
At every Mass, he said: “The miracle is repeated: In the hearing of the word and in the sign of the broken bread, even the smallest and lowliest assembly of believers becomes the body of the Lord, his tabernacle in the world.”
To form a “eucharistic culture,” he said, each Catholic must experience communion with Jesus, regularly encountering him in prayer and following him into the world.
Eucharistic adoration, a key feature of eucharistic congresses, contributes to creating that culture by teaching Catholics not to separate “our sacramental communion with him from our communion with his members and from the missionary commitment that follows from this.”
Communion with Jesus should then lead to an attitude of service in imitation of him, the pope said. “Christians serve the cause of the Gospel by being present in places of frailty, under the shadow of the cross, in order to share and to bring healing.”
Within Catholic communities and in society at large, many situations cry out for the “balm of mercy,” the pope said. “We think of families in difficulty, young people and adults without work, the sick and the elderly who are abandoned, migrants experiencing hardship and acts of violence, and so many other forms of poverty.”
In all situations of need and suffering, he said, Catholics can “spread the seeds of a eucharistic culture by becoming servants of the poor, not in the name of an ideology but of the Gospel itself, which becomes a rule of life for individuals and communities.”
Every celebration of the Eucharist reminds the community of Gospel values and concepts that can help make cities and nations more livable, the pope said.
“We need think only of the word mercy,” he said. In societies where there reign “different kinds of fear, oppression, arrogance, cruelty, hatred, forms of rejection and lack of concern for the environment,” the celebration of the Eucharist proclaims that God’s mercy is stronger than all of them.
The celebration of a eucharistic congress, he said, is a reminder to Catholics that “the Eucharist stands at the very heart of the church’s life. It is a paschal mystery that can enhance the baptized as individuals, but also the earthly city in which they live and work.”

The power of the powerless

Light one candle

Father Ed Dougherty

By Father Ed Dougherty, M.M.
In 1985, Christopher de Vinck, a high school English teacher from New Jersey, published an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Lesson.” His article told the story of growing up with a sibling who was severely disabled, and it garnered immediate responses from people who were inspired by his message of the value of the human person. “I grew up in the house where my brother was on his back in his bed for almost 33 years,” he writes. “Oliver was blind, mute. His legs were twisted. He didn’t have the strength to lift his head nor the intelligence to learn anything.”
Christopher explains that, when their mother was pregnant with Oliver, she was exposed to toxic fumes that made her pass out for a short time. When Oliver was born, he seemed healthy but his parents later discovered that he was blind, and he began to exhibit other problems. A doctor said that Oliver’s ailments would never heal and suggested they place him in an institution. “But he is our son,” their parents said. “We will take Oliver home.”
“Then take him home and love him,” the doctor said.
Along with his parents and siblings, Christopher tended to his brother, feeding him, changing his diapers, bathing him, and keeping him entertained. In so doing, Christopher gained a profound education on valuing the human person, regardless of situation or station in life.
In his article and the subsequent book he wrote entitled “The Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Legacy of Love,” Christopher recounts the way in which Oliver’s presence made an impact on him at an important moment in his life. In his early 20s, he fell in love with a girl and brought her home to meet his family. He had previously told her about Oliver, and, during her visit, he asked if she would like to meet him. Her answer was a flat, “No.”
Christopher then writes, “Soon after, I met Roe, a lovely girl. She asked me the names of my brothers and sisters. She loved children. I thought she was wonderful. I brought her home after a few months to meet my family. Soon it was time for me to feed Oliver. I remember sheepishly asking Roe if she’d like to see him.
‘Sure,’ she said. I sat at Oliver’s bedside as Roe watched over my shoulder. I gave him his first spoonful, his second. ‘Can I do that?’ Roe asked with ease, with freedom, with compassion, so I gave her the bowl and she fed Oliver one spoonful at a time. The power of the powerless. Which girl would you marry? Today Roe and I have three children.”
Christopher’s story gives witness to the way grace can work through those who are suffering when we open our hearts and our lives to them. Oliver’s presence was a gift to the de Vinck family, because it made them compassionate people. This kind of education in compassion is what all parents should seek for their children. It is an invaluable life lesson that teaches people to recognize the good in others and discern the right path in relationships.
Recalling his brother’s life, Christopher wrote, “Oliver still remains the weakest, most helpless human being I ever met, and yet he was one of the most powerful human beings I ever met. He could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight.”

(For free copies of the Christopher News Note The Enduring Value of People with Disabilities write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: mail@christophers.org)

Hope over fear, love over hate

Millennial reflections

Father Jeremy Tobin

By Father Jeremy Tobin
I cannot count the number of times that our democracy is under attack. Institutions that exist to preserve the common values and human rights we take for granted are ridiculed. Their credibility is attacked. Facts are irrelevant. Articles about creeping fascism pop up everywhere. It is like the 1960s all over again. Our current president’s rhetoric is more than shocking. It is unacceptable.
Hate groups are demonstrating freely and openly. If anyone should take the lead in denouncing all this is the president. I am going to stop there.
Those of us who participated in the Civil Rights Movement have seen this all before. We are different now. Americans have done soul searching and developed unity in diversity. The country really has changed since 1950, dramatically so., no better region than the South. People have learned to come together, to embrace diversity , all for the betterment of all. People I have known up North most of my life fled Mississippi during the “Great Migration”, returned in the early 1980s because so much change took place here. They returned home and stayed. Yes, great change took place, and we moved a little closer to becoming the “beloved community” that Dr. King preached about.
The Church changed too. Churches desegregated. Gospel Music, became basic to predominantly African American Catholic churches. This was a major work championed by Sister Thea Bowman, FSPA, Servant of God, now on the way to sainthood., and others like Father Clarence Rivers etc. The Second Vatican Council made possible so many things, enculturation in the liturgy being one of them. The influx of Latino Catholics further promoted this. The Church was looking a lot more like small “c” catholic.
Across the country in many ways people are growing to not only accept, but like diversity. The political experience of these past two years is jarring, not the values we embraced.
The last 50 years saw a promotion of social justice in new and powerful ways. Catholic Social Justice Teaching is well known. Our Catholic Charities has it on hand out cards to make it very clear. Times have changed,
So has the reaction. The country is more divided than ever. Hate groups have multiplied. Students find nooses in their lockers. The KKK holds marches. Neo-Nazi groups stage torchlight marches reminiscent of a past era. Now the worst killing of Jews in the nation’s history took place in Pittsburgh. What could slow down the positive movement of social change is the appointment of federal judges by this administration.
Those of us who dedicated our lives to implement the Second Vatican Council, to promote social justice and human rights say there is no going back..
November 1 we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. The Gospel reading was from Matthew, the eight Beatitudes. Each of them are directed to the weak not the powerful. The “crowds” who hung on Jesus’ words were the poor and marginalized. Pope Francis tells us that’s the direction to go. Lift up those who are persecuted. Reach out to those who are discriminated. The psalms we pray daily are the cries of those who have no voice. Psalm 34, the “Lord hears the cry of the poor,” Mary’s Canticle, we sing at Vespers daily says, “The Lord fills the starving, and lets the rich go hungry.”
Catholic social teaching is not just words. It is action to push back against hate. The New Testament teaches the primacy of love. Only love can melt hate and endure. These times we live in will change. The old ways are really gone. Young people today have new fire to bring positive change. They are diverse. They are literate of the issues. They will make real the hope we old folks have for a new world.

(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Faith and levity

IN EXILE
By Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI
Shusaku Endo, the Japanese author of the classic novel, Silence (upon which Martin Scorsese based his movie) was a Catholic who didn’t always find his native land, Japan,

sympathetic to his faith. He was misunderstood but kept his balance and good heart by placing a high value on levity. It was his way of integrating his faith with his own experience of occasional personal failure and his way of keeping his perspective on a culture which misunderstood him. Levity, he believed, makes faith livable.
He’s right. Levity is what makes faith livable because humor and irony give us the perspective we need to forgive ourselves and others for our weaknesses and mistakes. When we’re too serious there’s no forgiveness, least of all for ourselves.

Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI

What is humor? What’s its meaning? A generation ago, Peter Berger wrote a book, A Rumor of Angels, in which he looked at the question of humor philosophically. I like his conclusion. In humor, he submits, we touch the transcendent. To be able to laugh at a situation, no matter how dire or tragic, shows that we’re in some way above that situation, that there’s something in us that’s not imprisoned by that situation, or any situation.
There’s a wonderful example of this in the writings of the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova. During the purges of Stalin, her husband had been arrested, as had many others. She occasionally tried to visit the prison he was in to leave letters and packages for him. Standing in long lines outside of that prison in St. Petersburg, she waited alongside other women whose husbands or sons had also been arrested. The situation bordered on the absurd. None of them even knew whether their loved ones were even alive and the guards made them wait for hours without explanation, often in the cold of winter. One day, as she was standing in line waiting, another woman recognized her, approached her, and asked: “Can you describe this?” Akhmatova replied: “I can,” and when she said this something like a smile passed between them.
A smile passed between them. That smile contained some levity and that allowed them both to realize, however unconsciously, that they were transcendent to that situation. The smile that passed between them alerted them both to the fact that they were more than what they were in that moment. Awful as it was, they weren’t ultimately prisoners to that moment. Moreover that smile was a prophetic and political act of defiance, based upon faith. Levity is subversive.
This is true too not just for how we live inside our faith lives; it’s true too for how we live, healthily, inside our families. A family that’s too serious will not allow for forgiveness. Its heaviness will eventually drive its members either into depression or away from the family. Moreover it will make an idol out of itself. Conversely, a family that can take itself seriously but still laugh at itself will be a family where there is forgiveness because levity will give them a healthy perspective on their foibles. A family that’s healthy will sometimes look at itself honestly and with the kind of smile that passed between Anna Akhmatova and her friend, say of itself: “Aren’t we pathetic!”
That’s true too of nationalism. We need to take our nation seriously, even as a certain kind levity keeps this seriousness in perspective. I’m a Canadian. As Canadians, we love our country, are proud of it, and would, if push came to shove, die for it. But we have a wonderful levity about our patriotism. We make jokes about it and enjoy it when others make jokes about us. Consequently we don’t have any bitter controversies regarding who loves the country and who doesn’t. Our lightness keeps us in unity.
All of this, of course, is doubly true of faith and spirituality. Real faith is deep, an indelible brand inside the soul, a DNA that dictates behavior. Moreover, real faith does not sidestep the tragic within our lives but equips us to face the heaviness in life where we meet disappointment, personal failure, heartbreak, injustice, betrayal, the breakdown of cherished relationships, the death of loves ones, sickness, the diminishment of our own health, and ultimately our own death. This is not to be confused with any natural or contrived optimism that refuses to see the dark. Rather real faith, precisely because it is real and therefore keeps us inchoately aware of our identity and transcendence, will always allow us a discreet, knowing, smile, no matter the situation. Like the English martyr, Thomas More, we will be able to joke a bit with our executioner and we will also be able to forgive others and ourselves for not being perfect.
Our lives often are pathetic. But it’s okay. We can still laugh with each other! We’re in good hands. The God who made obviously has a sense of humor – and therefore understanding and forgiveness.
Too many books on Christian spirituality might more aptly be entitled: The Unbearable Heaviness of Faith.

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

Called to renewal

GUEST COLUMN
By Catholic News Service
(The following titled: “Called to renewal” appeared in the Sept. 26 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly Catholic publication based in Huntington, Indiana. It was written by the editorial board.)
Most people will never have the jarring experience of divine intervention that Francis of Assisi had when the figure of Jesus on the San Damiano cross called out to him, “Francis, rebuild my church, which has fallen into ruin.” Likewise, most people won’t set about founding an order of friars with a charism of radical Gospel poverty that becomes one of the most prominent religious orders of the universal church.
But the extraordinary nature of the witness of Sts. Francis and Clare, which continues to bear fruit today, shouldn’t obscure for the rest of us that God calls all Christians to be part of the renewal and rebuilding of the church. The vocations special section in this week’s issue is dedicated to the theme of “Vocations renew the church” and shows men and women religious at work in ministries of renewal – whether responding to violence and other tragedies or to the scourge of addiction. We also see religious, priests and laypeople responding to God’s call in ways that promote even wider renewal in their communities and societies.
This can be our story as well.
For months, Catholics in the United States and elsewhere have felt the blow of revelations of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up. In the midst of such horror, the temptation to become disillusioned with the church is strong. But as members of the body of Christ, all Catholics would do well to remember that God calls and raises up great saints during times of turmoil for the church.
It’s reassuring to think that we could experience the witness of another Francis or Clare, or Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, reforming the Carmelites; or St. Catherine of Siena, in complete obedience to the pope, nonetheless calling on him to reform the clergy; or Ignatius Loyola, founding the Jesuits; or Charles Borromeo, implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent; or Thomas More, calling those in his life to greater accountability to themselves and the Gospel. In each of these cases, we can only marvel at how far-reaching the reforms of these saints were for the church.
While being open to God’s will and using their gifts and talents to serve the church, the church’s saintly reformers weren’t satisfied with maintaining the status quo or what was comfortable. They abandoned those things that prevented the church from effectively preaching the Gospel. They were unconcerned with power, prestige or honor and lived only for Jesus Christ himself. They took great risks, often at great costs.
And, as Joseph Pearce reminds us in “Heroes of the Catholic Reformation: Saints Who Renewed the Church,” being a holy witness is a difficult and ultimately self-emptying task.
“To love as God loves is, therefore, to die. To love is to lay down our lives for our friends,” he writes. “Since we are commanded to love all our neighbors, including those of our neighbors who are our enemies, we are called to lay down our lives even for those whom we don’t like. To do this, to die to ourselves that others might live, is loving as God loves; and, paradoxically, it is also living as God lives. This is holiness.”
As difficult as this past summer has been, it has also served as our wake-up call. The church is in need of a new generation of saintly reformers. We need men and women, religious and lay, who know who the Lord is and are willing to risk everything not only to follow him, but to bring others to him as well. This is the opportunity open to each one of us as we seek, together, to renew our wounded church.

(The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.)