With apologies to Agathon

Easter-cross-freeimages.com
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

“O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

~ “The Exsultet: The Proclamation of Easter

It seems lately that many people around me are having a tough time. Perhaps it’s just my perception but in my day-to-day conversations and my friends’ social media posts, there are many struggling just to keep it together. One symptom I see is a recent proliferation of what I consider to be pretty stoic statements like ‘head down, move forward’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’—the sort of things you say to yourself when you’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.

A small subset of these sentiments is particularly intriguing: those made with the intent of trying to convince us to just accept the past.

“The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited, or erased … it can only be accepted. You can’t change your past but you can always change your future. Even God cannot change the past.”

~ Agathon

Now, in general, I support these ideas. All too often too many of us live in the past, dwelling on bygone hurts given and received, wishing things had been different. That’s never good, and we frequently must be reminded to forgive ourselves and others. We need to focus on the task at hand—to struggle with the sufficient evil of the day and to work for this day our daily bread. In as much as these sentiments urge us to do the good in front of us, I support them.

And yet, something seems so resigned. So sad. So short of the glory of God and the good news of the Gospel. Frankly that last one sounds like a challenge. I think, in a very real way, God can change the past. God does change the past.

But perhaps God does not change the events of the past, amending instead their meaning so fundamentally that history is, in a very real sense, altered. We need only think of Good Friday for an example. Imagine Jesus’ death on the cross. Imagine the humiliation and defeat that everyone who knew him—his friends, his disciples—experienced on that day. Imagine the torment and agony of Jesus himself. And think about what all of that means now, in light of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection transforms completely the meaning of his death. The cross is now a sign not of defeat, but of victory. It becomes a sign of our redemption. It is our salvation.

When Jesus was raised, did his past change? Technically, no. He still suffered, died on the Cross, and was buried. Yet God’s grace rewrote everything around the event so completely that it’s not really the same occurence anymore. And while the Cross is the most striking example of our faith, it’s hardly the only one. In the Easter Vigil we proclaimed that the sin of Adam is no longer the tragic failure that led to our exile, but the lucky break that called forth our Savior. In the Gospel we see Jesus proclaim the death of Lazarus is not a sign of decay’s inevitability but rather its impotence when compared to the glory of God. By giving the past new meaning, it is altered.

I believe the same will be true of all our suffering, so long as we use that suffering to grow closer to Christ. God’s grace will reach back and alter our perception of those events so completely that we will call them “good,” just as we now call the day of Jesus’ death “Good.” Now we see through a glass darkly, but once our vision clears we won’t even recognize much of what had come before.

In the preface to his imaginative exploration of heaven and hell in “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis expresses the same thought about our current lives in light of our eternal destiny. Speaking about our time on Earth after all things pass away he writes “But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”

God can change the past. By giving what we have experienced a new meaning the past is recast. The power and might of God is greater than we can imagine; it’s not only a new start, but a different history. This is one of the lessons of Easter—Christ’s light pours forth everywhere and reaches into every dark space, even those behind us.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, his adorable daughter and his very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

Quaker lessons for a Catholic girl

I grew up as a Quaker in North Carolina. Now I am a Franciscan Sister in Wisconsin. You may think I have traded hush puppies for cheese curds and simple silence for complicated ritual. But actually I find God constantly holding me in love and light through them both. For me, there is more in common between these two paths than difference.

Especially now as we enter Advent, some particular Quaker sayings speak to me on how to prepare for the Christmas event of the coming of Christ.

hands-candle-flame

QUAKER WISDOM:

Speak only if the words improve upon the silence

The Quaker (officially the Society of Friends) meeting I grew up in was unprogrammed, meaning that our worship service was an hour of silence. During that silence if you felt a “leading” you could speak. Maybe you would share an insight you had that week, a thought on a piece of Scripture, or even sing a song. In any case, there should be a deep prompting that the words you are going to say are worth breaking the holy silence we are all gathered in.

This seems to me a good habit for every day, but especially for Advent. Have I gotten lost already in the Christmas season or am I silently preparing in expectant waiting? Am I speaking from my heart, from a deeper sense of life-giving hope?

I’ll hold you in the Light
Currently, I have a prayer ministry as the coordinator of prayer intentions at our convent. When I was a Quaker, instead of “I’ll pray for you,” it was more common to hear my Quaker friends quickly say, “I’ll hold you in the Light.” They are referring to that Light of Christ that shines in everyone, the unifying communion of God’s love that is always ready to hold us. In the Light, we can see our gifts and our struggles more clearly. In the Light, we are not alone. In the Light, I am completely known as I am.

My heart is always touched deeply by this phrase of love and concern. The term of “holding” signifies to me more than a fleeting prayer. My friend will hold me, sustain me, and even join me in that Light that unites us all. This phrase reminds me that Advent is a time of communal retreat. It’s not something we do alone. The people of faith are preparing for the coming of Christ and together we are united.

That all flesh should keep silence
So, why sit in silence and wait? The foundation of Quakerism is that God communicates directly with each and every person. The Inner Light is within us all. The noise and clutter of the world get in the way. But silence clears a path. For me, personally, sometimes sitting in the silence was also like sitting in the dark. I never knew what was going to come next. I let go of my own expectations, even of my own words, and simply waited. As one Friend states:

The one cornerstone of belief upon which the Society of Friends is built is the conviction that God does indeed communicate with each one of the spirits He has made, in a direct and living inbreathing of some measure of the breath of His own Life; that He never leaves Himself without a witness in the heart as well as in the surroundings of man; that the measure of light, life, or grace thus given increases by obedience; and that in order clearly to hear the Divine voice speaking within us we need to be still; to be alone with Him, in the secret place of His Presence; that all flesh should keep silence before Him. ~ Caroline Stephen, 1834-1909

I love this! God leaves both “a witness in the heart” as well as in our “surroundings.” As we enter Advent, am I both seeking within and without to see God’s love made visible? Advent as preparation is both about waiting and about seeking at the same time. We know the Light is coming, and the darkness helps us hunger for it more.

“And then, O then, there was one, even Christ Jesus who could speak to thy condition.”

george-fox
George Fox

This is the quintessential Quaker quote that started a movement. George Fox, who founded the Quakers, was an avid seeker. From his journal he records how he traveled around asking questions both of priests and Protestant pastors, but no one seemed to help him. But then, with great joy he heard a voice which told him that Christ Jesus “could speak to thy condition.” God communicated directly. From that all else flows—the silent meetings, simplicity, conviction not to pick up weapons; the sense that every person has dignity and all life is holy.

For me this is also the Advent lesson. As we wait for the Light, time collapses. The beautiful Scripture readings lead us through the three-fold coming of Christ. In the past, Christ was born and changed the world forever. In this very moment as I wait, Christ comes within my own heart. As we try to build the kingdom of justice and peace on earth we anticipate the future fullness of Christ’s coming. Christ indeed does speak to each of us where ever we are in our own condition. Taking the time to turn to God opens up the space for that direct, but often subtle experience of God.

Advent lessons
I will admit that in the convent there is a fair amount of ritual around Advent—special readings, colors (violet), traditions, and songs. (If I hear “O Come Emmanuel” one more time!!!) I’ll never forget the first Sunday I realized that most of the sisters had dressed liturgically and were wearing violet to match the season! But ultimately, it is a time of waiting and expectation. Waiting in silence for the Light is the Quaker’s specialty. I find myself returning to silence and the Quaker wisdom that raised me to come to a deeper appreciation of the season. Truly, Christ has come, is with me now, and will come again. My heart spills over with hope, especially in these darker days. As Brian Wren says so simply, “When God is a child there’s joy in our song. The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong. And none shall be afraid.”

Amen!

About the Rabble Rouser:

Sister-Sarah-Hennessey-cake-face

Sister Sarah Hennessy is a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration based in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She grew up in North Carolina as an active Quaker and became a Catholic in 2000. For her, Jesus’ Messy Business includes falling in love with Christ AND with the People of God! Her heart is on fire for the Hispanic community, poetry, playing guitar and accompanying people through birth, death and the living that comes in between. She currently ministers as the perpetual adoration coordinator at St. Rose Convent, as a Mary of the Angels Chapel tour guide, and a volunteer at Franciscan Hospitality House.

We are one

Daily readings for October 8, 2016: Gal. 3:22-29; Ps. 105:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; Lk. 11:27-28

You are all one in Christ Jesus. – Gal. 3:28

We live in a society that has a tendency to divide us into enemy camps. Violence and squabbles due to differences like politics or culture have become strangely normalized.

No matter what has become culturally acceptable, the Gospel challenges us to live counterculturally. Although some people may avoid those they don’t like or agree with, we reach out to others with love and compassion. While others discriminate against or systematically oppress those who are different because of their race or beliefs, we seek to welcome and appreciate diversity. Such bold actions help us know our belonging in part of an inclusive, universal Church. To embrace and celebrate diversity is central to what it means to be Catholic. As challenging as it may be, when our family of faith unites as one we are obeying the words of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, thank you for the beauty of human diversity and creating us as one. May I recognize and promote our oneness today. Amen. 

photo credit: http://laurengregorydesign.com/projects/united-as-one-sermon-series/
Photo credit: http://laurengregorydesign.com/projects/united-as-one-sermon-series/

Work and rest

 

This last month was a strenuous one in my youth ministry. It involved back-to-back weekend events, and I found myself putting in tons of extra hours and working for a 21-day stint with only a single day off. It involved late nights and early mornings. It was hard, tiring work.

Work & rest
Photo courtesy of Steven Cottam

During one evening of this labor I found myself murmuring. I was reciting facts of my overwork to myself in my head but in that whiny, grumbly, self-pitying voice that we all have at times when we think we’re being put upon. “Poor me. Working so hard. Does anyone notice?” Pout … pout … pout.

Tired of working (and feeling lazy and aimless) I did what any normal American millennial would do: take a quick break for some Facebook browsing. As I clicked and browsed around, I noticed that a similar complaint was being made by a number of my Facebook friends—but in entirely different tones of voice.

One friend was just finishing up a huge project, but was pleased with herself and her team’s accomplishments and reveling in the large bonus she and her co-workers had received as a result of their success. A different friend had just completed a master’s thesis and another had finished a doctoral dissertation; both were celebrating the completion of well-written study and the reward of new degrees they’d receive as a result. Yet another had just finished laboring over a piece of art, and was now wearily showing off the completed work of her hands.

All were tired, all were fatigued, and yet they were leaning against their shovels and smiling. All had taken hits and suffered sacrifice, but were pleased because the task was worth it. And here I was, working in the vineyard that I chose and to which I believe God called me, and all I was doing was grumbling.pull-quote

We were made for work. Work has dignity, and it calls us to be co-creators in this world we have been given. But if you listen to a lot of talk about ministry these days, it seems like the biggest fear facing us as ministers is the possibility of working too hard. Set boundaries on your time and space; limit yourself; be careful; and, whatever happens, don’t burn out. The world is on fire with fear and despair and loneliness yet it’s putting in some overtime that worries us.

I am not saying there isn’t some real truth in avoiding overwork. We live in a world that is obsessed with busy-ness and work for work’s sake; that has forgotten the meaning of the word Sabbath and the importance of rest. We need to believe in a God that is bigger than our efforts, and to avoid the idolatry of self that believes we are the world’s savior and it’s all up to us. We do need to take time to stop, to breathe, to rest, to recover.

But in avoiding the one extreme, we must avoid falling into its opposite. In order to truly rest, we must truly work first. It is good to wear ourselves out, and there are few things holier than falling into bed at night after fully exerting ourselves in the labor of a task worth doing. And if we must always count on Christ to fulfill our shortcomings and complete our labors we must also remember that, until he comes again, Christ is counting on us to be his hands and his feet in this world.

I frequently recall that, after a presentation all about avoiding burn out, a religious sister once said, “Yes, we should avoid burn out but let us not forget that, in order to burn out, there needs to have been a flame burning in the first place.” If we are tired from our work, perhaps the salve for our souls is not less work, but to remember why we started working in the first place. Conspiring with God is so much easier when we are inspired by Him. Keeping our eyes on the goal—remembering for what purpose and for whom we work—makes yolks easy and burdens light.

 

Ordinary mystery

Now we

are in ordinary time.

Alleluia for the sunset each day.

Alleluia for sniffing wilted lilac blossoms.

Alleluia for pauses in the rushed, packed scheduled life.

Christ comes to us is the cracks of our life, in the common mystery:

Slicing orange cheddar for a quick snack, the sweetness of a fresh mandarin,

the glow of the candlelight,  the joy in a dear friend’s voice,

an unexpected “thank you” from a tired teen.

Now we are in ordinary time.

The fire in us burns

as one informed

by paschal

love.

"illumination" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“illumination” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

 

Walking for mercy, walking for justice

This week’s guest blogger, Michael Krueger, first met Sister Julia while working as a dishwasher at St. Rose Convent during his undergraduate years at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Inspired by those sisters and a Franciscan education he is an affiliate with the FSPA and, in La Crosse, was coordinator of Place of Grace Catholic Worker House and The Dwelling Place (a home for adults with developmental disabilities). Michael currently lives off of a rural highway near Madison with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

Twice, I have had the opportunity to see singer Glen Hansard in concert: once at Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater, and again at the Orpheum Theater in Madison. His singing has always impressed me for its range; the sheer volume and raw emotion he conveys. Often his voice emerges as a faint whisper; slowly increases in dynamic to a startling cry—almost a scream; then fades back just as quickly into the silence from which it came. He carries a powerful voice that speaks to the most intimate moments of life, singing as though he were an old friend. One song in particular, Her Mercy, evokes that intimate desire of relationship and ends with a repetitive invitation:

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

In March of last year Pope Francis made the announcement that 2016 would be known as the Year of Mercy. He did so without precondition, without limitation; not everyone may be ready, but we are all worthy and it will come. The works of mercy, much like the beatitudes, are concrete examples of the Gospel carried out. They can be simple and straightforward: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. But more so than action we are called to partake in the relationship of mercy that isn’t always straightforward—never simple—yet life changing and affirming.

This is the identity of mercy demonstrated by Pope Francis on Holy Thursday as he washed the feet of those incarcerated; visited the Greek Island of Lesbos with Patriarch Bartholomew to call attention to the plight of refugees; opened a Vatican conference challenging the notion that war can never be considered just. The difficulty of promoting mercy, though, is that we must also be willing to participate in the pursuit of justice for it to come. Sometimes it’s through the smallest of actions—such as a walk—that together we begin down this path of mercy toward justice.

Madison-Stations- Cross-walk-Cathedral-Park
Stations of the Cross participants walk from Madison’s Cathedral Park (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

On Good Friday I had the opportunity to participate in a Stations of the Cross walk, sponsored by Madison Catholic Worker group, in the city’s downtown neighborhoods. The entire route was roughly a mile long and there were 10 stations, each represented by a building or an organization that sought to convey a specific theme or issue that calls for our attention, invites a response. It was the first time we’d organized this event and had hoped for a small number of participants. Seventy-five people gathered in Cathedral Park near the capital building. At 4:30 p.m. an opening prayer was read and the First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death, came to a close. Stillness pervaded the park.

Madison-Stations-Cross-walk-past-state-capital
Stations of the Cross walkers make their way past the Wisconsin State Capital (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

From that stillness emerged the single beat of a drum followed by footsteps, slow at first, as we all began to walk. Again the beat of a drum. The voices of those walking whispered, hushed, harmonized, hummed: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The drum beat kept pace; participants carried simple wooden crosses painted white. Pause. Stillness. Noises of the surrounding traffic. We slowly stopped in front of the Dane County Courthouse. Amplified over the crowd a reader spoke the Second Station: Jesus is Given His Cross.

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

We prayed for our immigration system: families separated, those locked in detention centers. We stood where contemporary issues in which the reality of Jesus’ ministries—the physicality of the Gospels—are present: a homeless shelter, the police department, the county jail, the veterans museum. We sought to encourage our understanding of mercy and to challenge our association of justice—not a straight and absolute path, but a meandering and often fragmented journey into a greater depth of relationship and a wider sense of community.

Michael-Krueger-Madison-Stations-Cross-March-Veterans-Museum
Walkers prayed where “the physicalities of the Gospels (like the 8th Station/Wisconsin Veterans Museum shown here) are present (photo courtesy of Michael Krueger).

I have now participated in a walking Stations of the Cross four times in the last five years (with the Franciscan Spirituality Center of La Crosse, Wisconsin) before this year). Prior to that I’d never felt a deep connection to the standard Stations of the Cross observed in any Catholic parish. For some reason this more physical form of reverence reminds me that the Gospel is an active presence in today’s society. The crucifixion made clear the sufferings in the world, but it was the resurrection and Jesus’ encounter with the disciples that would render His presence to the modern world, incarnate in the stations of today. Through Jesus’ resurrection we are able to encounter Christ in this modern narrative of the Way of the Cross. What Easter has brought us is an encounter with mercy.

“And when you’re ready … for her mercy … and you’re worthy … it will come.”

Additional photos, Stations of the Cross materials, and more information about the Madison Catholic Worker can be found at www.madisoncatholicworker.org.

 

French braiding my way to a holier Lent

Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am trying to teach myself how to French braid hair. As the mother of two daughters, one of whom was able to donate 10+ inches of hair at age three (with pigtails to spare), I feel that mastering this skill now is a savvy investment in my future time management.

My first attempt at a French braid several months ago was pathetic. Upon seeing herself in the mirror, even my four-year-old felt the need to be gentle with my ego, reassuring me in a Daniel Tiger-inspired pep talk: “Well, it’s not the best … But keep tryin’!  You’ll get better!”

She was right, of course. After months of disastrous braiding attempts, I can now send my daughter to school with her hair in a style that is (if not quite red carpet-ready) at least identifiable as a French braid.

Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge
Photo by Nicole Steele Wooldridge

It occurred to me, while doing my daughter’s hair on Ash Wednesday, that a French braid is a pretty good metaphor for the Lenten spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Throughout Lent we are meant to attend specifically to these three “strands” of holiness; weaving them together, bolstering each one as we proceed. They should be united in a tight, well-ordered plait. If we neglect any one of them—if, for example, we fast but do not pray—then our Lenten braid is lumpy and uneven.

My Lenten braids are always lumpy; at times, they are so disheveled as to be unidentifiable. I tend to begin Lent with lofty expectations of my imminent spiritual accomplishments, only to be disappointed by the reality of my own clumsiness. I usually have to “start over” at least once before the end of February.

But, just like French braiding, the more time I spend attempting to fast, pray, and give alms, the easier it is to do so … and the more natural it feels to integrate one into the other, weaving them together.

Though fasting is only one-third of the equation, it’s typically the “celebrity” pillar of Lent. In past years, I have taken the path that Pope Francis advocates: fasting from a specific uncharitable attitude or behavior. This year, though, I wanted to try to assume those fasts of the soul into a more traditional fast of the body: specifically, abstaining from alcohol.

As I politely decline a glass of wine with dinner, I am reminded to say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the necessities and luxuries I can enjoy this day, and—before bed—I donate the cost of a drink to charity. In researching the charity to which I wish to donate today, my mind and heart are opened to the multitude of crosses that others bear, and the multitude of ways in which I could train my fingers to better be the hands of Christ in easing their burdens.

I fumble; I fail; I begin again. The more I practice, the tighter the strands become.

By the end of Lent, I emerge with a braid: imperfect and unglamorous, but nonetheless beautiful in God’s eyes.

Nicole Steele Wooldridge writes from the Seattle, Washington area, where she is attempting to teach herself some basic middle-school skills. Next up: sewing on a button.

 

 

The Advent wreath

I’m trying this again. I’m trying the traditional route of Advent. Growing up there were certain traditions my family definitely participated in. We hung stockings over our fireplace in anticipation of St. Nick on December 6.

Then at church we would choose a construction ornament from the giving tree, giving us a suggestion of a gift to buy for someone less fortunate. I always liked picking out books or mittens. Warm thoughts and warm hands are always welcomed in the winter.

Our family was always focused on giving to others, and I’m so grateful for that experience and ethic that is ingrained in me. But I never truly understood the concept of Advent until I lived some painful personal truths. At church I knew we lit candles in anticipation of Jesus, but it was quite the concept to wrap my child mind around.

Advent is to understand that we are gradually building light to embrace the darkest night of the year. That each of us takes this time to work on ourselves to BE that light, for others, for ourselves, for our loved ones and for strangers, to remember the lost and those living in that darkness of fear and pain.

It is a stirring in us of hope; it is belief in the impossible, the absurd, the miracles and the hopeless cases. It is a chance to be ridiculously optimistic and excited. It gives us a chance to open space in our hearts for whatever hope brings.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/candles-light-lights-evening-64177/
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

Advent brings Christ, the Christ in ourselves, so we can BE Christ to each other and bring His presence forward in what we do. So I have made my wreath this year, and I will light it, and pray with it. It’s a daily reminder to bring out the light I have to share. I hope you will, too.

 

 

The point of Wanda

The last few nights I have been reading and re-reading Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si (Praise be to you, my Lord) on care for our common home. As I do, I keep returning to thoughts of my dog, Wanda.Wanda1

Wanda is not a very friendly or personable dog not a very useful dog. Wanda is a tired old hound dog who spends 23 hours of her day sleeping, napping, or trying to nap or sleep.

She doesn’t play fetch, tug of war, or any other game I’m familiar with dogs enjoying. She doesn’t chase cats or squirrels and she only very occasionally enjoys the presence of other dogs. When I come home, she might come and greet me by sniffing me briefly before returning to her puppy pad—if she feels like it. Many days she just lifts her head, looks at me as if to say “Oh, hey,” and then lowers it again. If it were not me—but rather a stranger or burglar—I’m pretty sure her reaction would be the same.

She has a history of abuse which has, along with her advanced age, left her with a troubled tummy. She doesn’t like to eat most food and is very picky about her treats. She will only deign to eat even her very most favorite meals (that involves boiling chicken, dicing it into tiny pieces, then mixing it into a blend of wet dog food and either kibble or rice) about half the time. Many a morning I have, tired and bleary-eyed and waiting for coffee to kick in, laboriously mushed her special blend together only to have her smell it once and then walk away without taking a bite.

Her tummy troubles also lead her to get sick easily and explosively. Twice in the year she’s slept under our roof I have come home to find she has vomited (or emitted similarly liquid excretions from her rear end) her way across the house. One of these episodes ended with a late-night carpet shampooer rental.

?

And every now and then when I look upon Wanda and see all the trouble she causes, all the effort she costs me, and couple those thoughts with a lack of sleep or patience, I find myself thinking “What’s the point of this good for nothing dog?”

When I ask that question, I tend to get an answer. I feel it rather than think or hear it. But as I read Francis’ encyclical this week, I heard the words that could give voice to the feeling.

In Laudato Si’, Francis reminds me that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things.”

Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis warns us of how incredibly, dangerously anthropocentric we can be. We think that we humans are the measure of all things and that all things—and all beings—were made for us and are to be used by us. If something or someone does not immediately bring us utility or happiness, then they are to be disregarded or avoided. What Francis says of humans could probably be equally applied to us as individuals as well: we think we are the center of the world and if a thing or being does not serve our ends—if it causes us frustration or discomfort or inconvenience—then it’s a problem to either solve or end.

Which brings me back to Wanda: a living being, a being which God spoke into existence who manifests something of the divine. Merely by being among the multiplicity of creation, by being fearfully and wonderfully made, Wanda gives glory to her Creator. As the encyclical states, “God has written a precious book, ‘whose letters are the created things present in the universe.'” The “contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us.”

Wanda was not created for me. Her ultimate purpose is not to give me anything. If she gives me usefulness as a watchdog or happiness as a companion then so be it; but if she does not, she has no less a place among creation. I am not the measure of her life. Wanda is alive. She is. And that’s her point. My Father is her Creator— her point and purpose are ultimately His, not mine.

Wanda did not ask to be abused, didn’t decide to grow sick and old and then, as a result, left at a shelter by an owner that got tired of taking care of her. These things happened to her because others decided she would fit into their lives as they wanted her to, or not at all.

We have a thread of dangerous utilitarianism that runs through our whole culture. If we can’t find the “point” of someone, if we can’t discern their usefulness, then we are quick to ignore them or discard them. The sick, the old, the unborn—if we don’t want them, they run the very great risk of becoming a problem to be solved in a most gruesome manner. And Pope Francis is right to warn us of it, and call us to be better.

Is there someone inconveniencing you today that you can choose to serve rather than have serve you? Who do you need to see as a being with dignity rather than just as a means to achieving your interests? Who can be the center of your world today, other than yourself?

As for me and Wanda … I’m going to go make her dinner. She may or may not eat it. But afterwards I will pray night prayer next to her, while she naps, and mediate on the point that the bishops of Japan make: “to sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.” And I will thank God that I’m privileged to protect and tend to this creature in her golden years, as we lead each other to God. That is, after all, the whole point.

 

Laments for Boston, the peace of Christ and the wisdom of Mr. Rogers

We want answers.

When tragedy and violence shatter our peace we want answers. Why?! How?! Who?! How could God let this happen?! Our laments rise like incense, meeting storm clouds of emotion.

Today, the laments are heavy in the city of Boston. The bombings at the marathon yesterday cause our nation to shudder.

Many are crying in Iraq today too. Waves of bombings there yesterday killed at least 20 people and injured more than 200.  The sorrow knows no borders. What about the people who deal with violence in places like the Central African Republic or Syria without much attention or help from the world community? God help us.

The laments are also thick in Iran where there was an awful earthquake just a few hours ago. Christ hear us.

The laments are constant in hospitals and funeral parlors where intense suffering is often too sudden. God have mercy.

Thanks be to God we are not alone in all this. The good news is that God hears our cries and that God is intimately with us as we suffer.

Thanks be to God that Jesus taught us what to do. This is what Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. – John 14: 27

We can have faith. We get to take care of each other. We need each other. We really can only do this together. In community with Christ we can make peace, pray and help one another. With Christ in community we can offer healing and hope. This compassion is the heart of peacemaking and Gospel living.

Mr. Rogers, with his simple wisdom, understood this well. If we look around within the human community, we can quickly recognize the peace of Christ alive and well. We don’t need to be afraid.

Thanks be to God Christ is alive and well and among us. Christ hears our cries and knows our pain. Christ is with us, helping us and healing us through the arms of our loving neighbors.