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.)

Dialogue – dialogue fearlessly

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
Tuesday September 18, a large group of priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders spent the day, together with Bishop Kopacz, at St. Dominic Toulouse Center along I-55 near Lakeland Drive experiencing “Gathering for Mission.” (See page 8 for related story about the event). I participated in this, and, together with Glenmary Father Les Schmidt and FatherTim Murphy, I serve on the board of directors of the Catholic Committee of the South (CCS) which created it. Google Gathering for Mission is a five-year project sponsored by CCS and the Glenmary Home Missioners.
Inspired by Pope Francis, Gathering for Mission makes available to Church leaders practical experience in the dialogic process.
This is a most timely project to fully engage in. Our country, yes our world, is divided, fractured’ uncivil, and the list goes on. Racism, sexism, xenophobia are raging. Much on this I have to say will be for future columns. This one is on the antidote for division, healing for the hurting soul. Thoroughly inspired by Pope Francis, Gathering for Mission is more than learning new skills. It is a way to bring a group of people only partially familiar with each other to bond and form community. If that sounds a bit lofty, it enables a group to say their piece without fear, and to collectively solve problems.
It creates an atmosphere without fear. It breaks barriers
Taking Pope Francis oft quoted saying “Dialogue! And dialogue fearlessly! Never stop the dialogue!” Dialogue breaks down walls. It seeks genuine common ground. It is not winning an argument, it is finding common ground.
To our country faced with double down divisive arguments, Pope Francis says dialogue fearlessly. If we engage all parties in dialogue the goal changes from winning and losing to collaborative solutions. What Gathering for Mission does is to pour cool water on a flaming fire of negativity – even hatred.
Gathering for Mission is about teaching dialogue. We may think we know what that is, but more likely we confuse it for what it is not. It is more than a process it is transformation. It changes the situation as perceived into a new reality. The best way to see this is to compare it to often what we think it is. It is not a debate. It is not about one set of ideas vanquishing another set of ideas. It results in real actual change.
In a debate winning is the goal. In dialogue common ground is the goal. Right here we see a solution in this polarized world we live in. Dialogue is a method to approach issues and arrive at common ground and openness to change.
Dialogue supports open mindedness, and openness to being wrong, and openness to change.
This can be a threat to those who see everything as us against them, but this is precisely a non -violent rather peaceful way to create a new reality of understanding.
CCS is offering Gathering for Mission to dioceses, seminaries, religious groups and more, but I believe it can adapt as a way to confront hostile groups. Dialogue, by its nature, is expansive. It is open. It is flexible. It does not accept winning and losing. It works for common ground.
By learning and experiencing this process we, who are committed to the world view of the Gospel, can reach out to those who promote division in a way that is not confrontational but challenging.
Yes this can be threatening to those who approach us with their divide, rigid, everybody-has-a-label view of the world. This makes it effective.
The website, www.gatheringformission.org, has a list of videos, their titles alone pour soothing balm on polarizing situations. This program is designed for church settings, parishes, diocesan and religious groups , but I suggest that it can be adapted to other less compatible settings to effect a change in perception, in point of view, and even degree of openness to labeled groups.
To take it out of a church setting and use it in the way I suggest means that people have been trained thoroughly in the method, strong enough to wear down opponents. The key is creative patience.

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

Immigration nightmare calls for reunification

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial Reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, OPraem
I still hear that little girl standing alone watching her mother being led away. Her cries were not like little children cry. Her cries were primal, from her depths. Her feeling of abandonment made me feel uneasy. One o’clock in the morning I would be dreaming, hearing that wail, seeing babies ripped from mothers arms. All on the Mexican border. All being done by agents of the government. The outrage I still feel overcomes the powerlessness to change this.
What has become of the United States government? What is going on?
No, I am not writing a “Dump Trump” piece. No, I am not going political. I am focusing on one of the most vulnerable populations in the country: immigrants from Central America and Mexico. We know them. They are our neighbors. We shop with them. We see and hear them. Most of all, we pray with them. They are the fastest growing Catholic population in the country. Seminary and formation programs are requiring candidates to become fluent in Spanish. As a Catholic Christian I stand with them regardless of their status. The sign I see often, “no somos illegals,” (no one is illegal) is a clarion call to pass fair and just immigration reform.
Most of you know my involvement with immigrant rights. I participate in rallies and deliver speeches. As a church we stand for the sanctity of the family. Our churches have always been safe places for families. What is going on is immoral, obscene and flies in the face of what we believe as Americans. It must end, and all families must be reunited.
I am proud of our record as Catholics in advocating for migrants and others fleeing persecution. From Pope Francis down to all the bishops, from documents and statements supporting migration, protecting and giving safe harbor to refugees, our position is crystal clear.
We get awash in propaganda playing games with status and labels. We do have a policy to admit people seeking asylum. What we have seen is deliberate violations by ICE and border patrol preventing people accessing proper points of entry.
This is wrong.
To better focus this as Catholics I quote from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move. Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to ‘welcome the stranger among us’, for this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ.” (Mt.25)
Let us open this up a little bit. The end of the 19th and the first part of the 20th century Catholic immigrants poured into the country. Laws were lax so they poured in by the thousands. They put their mark on the Church. We had “national parishes.’ These cut through territorial parishes and reached out to members of specific nationality. Religious orders were recruited to better serve their own nationalities. There was a feeling of being an embattled minority in this Protestant country.
Granted, not all was perfect. They, like the rest of the country, were infected by the racism that underlies so much of our national character. In the 19th century Bishop England famously said in response to aggressive outreach to many unchurched African Americans, I paraphrase: “If we take them in we would be persecuted as being both foreign and black.” It took nearly a century to change that, but we did it.
Now we focus on these immigrants who contribute mightily to make America work, but are exploited in so many ways, living in the shadows. The bishops wrote a great pastoral letter “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.” It really develops Matthew 25, zeroing in on human dignity and being made in God’s image. Reading this again makes what I see happening even more abhorrent.
Our bishops and leaders “offer a comprehensive set of recommendations of changing U.S. laws and policies to bring about a more humane and just immigration system in the United States.” It is time to act on these recommendations.

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

Pentecost and the Poor People’s Campaign

Father Jeremy Tobin

Millennial reflections
By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
We have celebrated the core of our faith: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We now come to the end, the great Feast of Pentecost. We hear the Prophet Joel cry out, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh!” Remember Jesus reading that passage in the synagogue in Nazareth?
Bishop John Botean’s commentary in the previous edition of Mississippi Catholic inspired me to reflect further on the work of the Holy Spirit in the church even today. Bishop Botean comes from the Romanian Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Byzantine Churches in communion with the Pope. He commented on the theology of Baptism as developed by Rev. Alexander Schmemann, dean of St. Vladimir Orthodox Seminary in New York. His column compared the Eastern Church’s treatment of the Holy Spirit to Quakers.
He described Quaker meetings where they sit in a church and focus on the Spirit’s presence and what it would prompt them to do. He ends by saying “The emphasis given to the Holy Spirit in Byzantine theology is explicit, but different than the Charismatic movement. He quotes Father Schmemann’s response to the oft asked question “Is Jesus Christ my personal savior?” His response is, “Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. The Holy Spirit is my personal savior, because “No one can say, Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Co. 12:3).
The Eastern Church has a rich theology around the Holy Spirit. They emphasize the Holy Spirit is at work in the sacraments (they call them mysteries) allowing for the movement of the heart and feelings in response to God. Barriers are lifted and people of faith follow where the Spirit leads.
This leads us right into Pentecost and the great conclusion to the season of Easter. Down through the ages the Holy Spirit leads and guides the Church, calling people to lead others to specific ways to live the Gospel, even to our own time. We have seen prophetic figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, rise up and lead us to greater possibilities of freedom and hope. They gave their lives in the cause of justice and freedom, but the cause remains active. We celebrate his year the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign Mule Train that went from Marks, Mississippi to Washington, D.C. to protest the evils of war, racism and income inequality.
The Spirit continues to move us forward even when the resistance to change intensifies. I think of Rev. William Barber of North Carolina. When he preaches he reminds me a lot of Dr. King. His use of scripture to illustrate social justice connects modern issues is to a higher, moral level. Rev. Barber has resurrected the Poor People’s Campaign. Reflecting the style of Dr. King, He says “There is something wrong in America!”
Society must be made aware, as the campaign points out, that “People should not live or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion and deep inequality.” This reflects the 72nd Psalm, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” Another principle, “We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.”
These are but two of twelve fundamental principles to form a moral movement, a moral revival. From now until June 23, people will carry out sustained nonviolent actions in some 30 states, hoping to break through toxic attitudes and shift the moral narrative.
I end with a passage from Isaiah 10 which captures the spirit: “Woe unto those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights, and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey, and robbing the homeless child.”

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

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.)

Ancient tradition lends strength to modern advocacy

Millennial reflections

 

Father Jeremy Tobin

By Father Jeremy Tobin, O. Praem
Before every general chapter of the Norbertine Order there is a fraternal visitation by the head of our order to all the houses throughout the world. The Priory of St. Moses the Black and its motherhouse, St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere Wisconsin, will have completed the visitation before the next General Chapter at Rolduc in the Netherlands in 2018. Here, at the Priory, at the opening address of his visit here, Abbot General Thomas quoted Pope Francis saying that religious must be prophetic. They must be the prophetic voice of the church, and speak out for those who have no voice. Pope Francis has said that being prophetic can be messy, but urged us to be courageous.
Religious by their nature are the prophetic dimension of the Church. Looking at the lives of various founders of religious communities you find them responding to a call to do something new, to meet situations that demand attention. Pope Francis tells us to go to the margins, reach out to the peripheries. Go where the need is. Be with the suffering, the poor, the scapegoated.
Look at Jesus in the Gospels. His friends were the marginalized, the outcast, the labeled. For that he was condemned. Down the centuries that is what religious do. Whether priests, brothers or sisters, their character comes from the charism of their community. How they respond to current situations is largely within the frame of their community’s charism. The ancient orders often are more flexible because they have survived so much. Their charisms are more generic leaving the possibility open to respond to any need the times call them to meet.
I begin with this to say that my community, the Norbertines, has begun celebrating more than nine centuries of existence. We were just a little more than a hundred years old when we faced and survived the Mongol invasions of Europe. Places we built our monasteries ended up in two countries when borders were drawn. We have survived a lot since then, but continue to respond to the needs of the times.
Since the Second Vatican Council we have responded in many ways to issues of social justice. One our priests in Wisconsin helped found the American Indian Movement (AIM) that still works for human rights for native Americans.
In Peru we confronted massive poverty and lack of health care by establishing mini parishes in Lima and a string of clinics, that still operate on the Rio Napo, a tributary of the Amazon. We came to Mississippi to respond to the spiritual and material needs of African Americans. We are still involved at Christ the King on in South Jackson. Our local founder retired from a career at Jackson State University. Another one is involved in advocacy and writing about human rights and promoting fair and just legislation.
Pope Francis has reawakened the original spirit of Vatican II when he described the Church as a field hospital, a MASH unit that meets the people where they are, in whatever shape, and responds with mercy and compassion and a listening ear. The people with no voice need a voice and we are that voice. We collaborate with our fellow Christians, whatever denomination, addressing issues of inequality and justice. Pope Francis is asking religious to push the barriers further to speak out for issues that confront the world. He has given us a new image of what it is to evangelize, to bring good news, not bad news, to the poor. He calls us to address climate change head on. It isn’t that we don’t have issues to address, they are all around us.
Religious, by our vocation, are called to take risks, to say what must be said, to speak truth to power. That is what prophecy is. It is conveying the vision of justice and mercy welling up inside to bring hope to those who have little hope. It is taking risks.
Even ancient, monastic orders like mine are called to go out and be with the people who need to hear the good news of the Gospel, of deliverance and hope. Some need to take greater risks and follow their call. In these perilous times the poor and marginalized, the discriminated and oppressed need to hear the Gospel message of deliverance of redemption and of hope. Social justice is at the heart of the Gospel and we must bring that message home.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Raymond.)

Love overcomes fear

Millennial Reflections
By Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.

Father Jeremy Tobin

The pushback against the liberation of oppressed people, the great strides toward equality, is a constant threat in any society. The completion of what began with emancipation has made great strides. The country began to come together. People began to appreciate and accept diversity. The forces determined to turn back the clock seemed silly to many, but deadly earnest to others.
I believe the election, not once but twice, of the first African American president drove the pushback into high gear. From birtherism, to the tea party to the election of the current president to outright un-American attacks on anyone not white – racism has come out ugly and raucous, ignorant and violent, further tearing the country apart.
After the murders of nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston South Carolina, we saw the confessed killer wrapped in the confederate flag. The confederate emblem on Mississippi’s state flag, long a symbol of hate and oppression to many, but a symbol of the lost cause and heritage to others, only continues to split the state apart.
The issue of confederate symbols whether statues or flags has gone national. Many are re-examining the history of these monuments, looking closely at when and why those statues appeared, which is at the same time Jim Crow laws appeared. Clarion-Ledger journalist Jerry Mitchell wrote about the topic in the Sunday, August 27, Perspective section of the paperI believe these stars and bars have become an international flag of racism and hate. Germany banned all symbols of the Third Reich, so the neo-Nazis took up the stars and bars to replace the swastika. Most recently, we saw that in the demonstration in Charlottesville.
More than 100 years later, we are still wrestling with the issues of the Civil War. Again, many are stating that defense of slavery was the cause and driver behind that war. This is the 21st century. We have not confronted and successfully dealt with America’s original sin of racism. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has formed a committee to deal with these issues and the current state of racism in the country.
Rising above all the debate and arguing, let us remember that the power to love is always greater than the power to hate. We go back to the beginning of the 20th century. Hate and violence ruled. Mississippi displayed its ‘strange fruit.’ Ida B. Wells went to Congress to lobby for anti-lynching laws to no avail. Two World Wars erupted spawning a philosophy of white supremacy that could only be quenched by mass genocide and gas ovens.
The push back was the Civil Rights Movement that preached the power of love over hate. The Movement furthered the call for true justice and human rights and used nonviolence to be the model for change.
Today we have foreigners, immigrants, with or without papers. There are those who would imprison them, break up their families and deport them. We have the poor, who some would judge and blame for their situation.
As Catholic Christians, we hear the Bible read out at every Mass. Recently we read from Isaiah: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants, and hold to my covenant…them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer. My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” (Is.56:1,6-7)
We can listen to the arguments about shifting demographics, how the country will become a majority minority country. We can examine what impact that is having on the current majority, but we must, as Catholic Christians, remember to keep love at the center of our discussions.
The power of love is the only power that can extinguish hate. It was the force of love and coming together that made the Movement succeed back in the day. One set of barriers came down, but love overcame fear, and can do it again.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)

Signs and sacraments of the power of God

Millennial Reflections

Father Jeremy Tobin

By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem.
We have just passed the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, the first official day of summer and the woods are bursting with life. Green is everywhere, even in church. We are back in Ordinary Time, when the color, like the region, is green. Spring and Summer I savor precisely because they radiate hope and life.
I begin with this because there is so much negativity and division – many people are frustrated even mildly depressed. Our religion is ideally suited to combat feelings of negativity, frustration and depression. We just completed the Easter Season and celebrated Jesus overcoming death with resurrection and his promise that he will return. He said each and every one of us will do what he did: die and rise in glory. Despite what we celebrate, whether good times or bad, there is an ingrained optimism in our everyday faith to lift us up, to call us to greater possibilities.
Ordinary Time is when we go through the entire Scripture and reflect on the power and healing word of God. Now we are reflecting on prophets. For example, from the 12th Sunday to the 15th Sunday in our current cycle we hear from Jeremiah, Elisha, Zechariah and Isaiah. We are asked to reflect on prophets and prophecy. In the New Testament we have many references to prophets, those called to witness, to give testimony to the goodness and power of God.
Prophets are called by God. People do not choose to be a prophet. The role is thrust upon them. It is not a prestigious vocation. Prophets are, deliberately or not, misunderstood. They are opposed, reviled and killed. The Bible is filled with the excuses of the great prophets, things like, “I’m too young” (Jeremiah) “I can’t talk right” (Isaiah) “I have a speech impediment” (Moses). God chooses the inept, the handicapped, the poor and the weak to proclaim his good news.
Nobody wants to be a prophet. A prophet is a sign, a sacrament, if you will, of the active power of God confronting evil situations. They do what they are called to do. Often they do not see the success or goal that they strive for.
This leads me to reflect on signs, symbols, sacraments and I add mysteries. In Latin and Greek the words are interchangeable.
 Much of what I say here is based on my study (years ago) of that great Dominican theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx. To keep it simple, he says that a sacrament is an encounter with God. This encounter is both intellectual and emotional. It is God communicating with our humanity and our awareness and responses to that. He goes on to say that Jesus Christ is the perfect sacrament of the encounter with God in both his completely human and divine natures. His disciples experienced all that in being with him, sharing with him, eating with him and witnessing his mighty deeds.
His signs always punctuated and validated what he said. It is through Christ that we encounter God and it is through the sacraments we encounter Christ and in Christ we encounter God. The various signs of the seven sacraments: water, oil, bread and wine and the words and gestures accompanying them are signs of Christ’s active presence in healing, restoring, nourishing and strengthening us. They are Christ present doing specific things. We all encounter Christ in all seven sacraments.
I want to emphasize encounter. What Schillebeeckx and others are trying to say is that in the sacraments there is an encounter, a meeting, a connecting with God and the recipient. These seven are not the only way we encounter or commune with God. We can also have this experience in prayer, in quiet meditation, in being aware of God’s presence in life experiences, in other people or their situation, or what they do.
It is more than intellectual, it is spiritual, emotional – the energy that drives poets and musicians. To say I had a deep encounter with Jesus in prayer and then try and express that is analogous to our connecting with God in the seven sacraments. We are accustomed to hear that “The sacrament(s) work whether you are as focused as you should be or not.” That includes the minister whether deacon or priest. This sense that they are “automatic” adds to the apathy and minimum participation on the part of the recipient.
One has to be schooled in the meaning of sacramental signs to recognize that they are ways that God encounters us. A sacramental way of seeing God is seeing him in many things, even peoples actions. A sacrament is a way we encounter the invisible in the visible. Our prayers say things like, “Now we encounter you in signs but then we will see you face to face, as you are.”
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, is the sacramental minister for Jackson Christ the King Parish. He lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)