If you see a door, open it

Front-Door-Open-to-Foyer A few weeks ago I had a dream that I was pregnant. In this dream I was not concerned about my pregnancy, even though I was obviously ready to deliver. The fact that I was pregnant did not bother me nor did it worry my husband, even though I’m 53 years old. We did not think it was weird or remarkable. This is because it was not a regular pregnancy. In my dream I understood exactly what it meant. Later that morning, in real life, when the dream returned to me in the fuzzy-funny-what-the-heck? way important dreams tend to do, I had to laugh at the obvious symbolism. You see, I’ve been contemplating my next steps for some time but have been afraid to act. With a pregnancy there is no time to dawdle, you had better be ready. So last week I submitted my resignation from my job. The dream was not the catalyst for my resignation, it was an affirmation that I knew something was growing inside of me that I could no longer ignore.

The dream about being pregnant occurred just days after I had another dream—one that I have had many times ever since I was a teenager, and one which I love—and that is the dream about discovering an entire house attached to my home. This secret house, accessible through a plain door, is furnished and fabulous, with a fully stocked kitchen, cute clothes in the closets, and most significant of all, a sunny art studio off the porch. In this dream, as I walk through the secret house, I marvel “how is it possible this was here and I did I not know?” My brain works that way, no room for nuance here. Suffice it to say both dreams point to something new, something untapped, and something that can’t be realized without change or a willingness to step out of the known and into the unknown.

Is there something great growing inside of you that you can no longer ignore? How many rooms are in your house that you have yet to discover? Divine clues come in many forms including our interests, our talents, and especially through our relationships with others.

So here it is. I want to devote myself to spiritual writing, theological study, and liturgical art consulting. I don’t want to make too big of a deal of my writing, I definitely have something to share, but for all I know it might not be all that interesting. (You’ll let me know won’t you?) Theology is my addiction (could be worse), and liturgical art is something I am both passionate about and qualified to do. At the very least, this decision is allowing me to exercise the creative side of myself that I have neglected for a long time. Most of all, I am responding to the urging of my maker to use the gifts I was given. And I am grateful.

Justice is the indispensable basis for peace: Oscar Romero, Martyr.

Oscar-Romero

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador (Born: August 15, 1917— Assassinated: March 24, 1980)

Today, March 24, 2015, marks the 35th anniversary of the assassination of Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador, whose martyrdom was a direct result of his outcry for human rights and social justice for the poor, and who is expected to be beatified on May 23, 2015.

Regardless of one’s information or misinformation related to Liberation Theology, I believe Romero’s four pastoral letters, written between April, 1977 and August, 1979 should be required reading for anyone who claims to be on the side of social justice.

Each letter addresses, defends, and directs the Church’s response to the increasingly grave situation faced by the suffering majority of poor and oppressed—themes which remain profoundly, globally relevant—and shines a light on Romero’s own transformation and conversion.

Last year as part of my graduate studies at CTU (Catholic Theological Union) I had the opportunity read of each of these letters. What I read, pen in hand, scribbling notes in the margins lead to a personal conversion of my own, and ever since I have thought of little that did not include a reference to something Romero wrote. In light of the world situation the resounding message of Oscar Romero must be heeded.

The value of Romero’s words cannot be limited to an appreciation of their historic or geographic context. Rather, they illuminate the challenges facing peace-makers in a world saturated with injustice, oppression, and violence. The effect of structural and societal sin and our responsibility to eradicate it was revealed to me dramatically through the individual experiences of Romero, his representation of the suffering endured by the Salvadoran people, and the struggle for self-understanding within the greater Church.

These words: “justice is the indispensable basis for peace” [Letter 3, pg 12] hit me squarely between the eyes and led me to consider that the root of searing anger and frustration around the globe and the violent response to it emerges from the reality of the unjust, inequitable, and inhumane practices of the powerful minority. This reality is represented in every corner of our life today where we see increasing numbers of “haters,” where lashing out is the rule, not the exception, and the threat of military action is considered a “peacekeeper.” I am overwhelmed.

It is not enough to simply “understand” the gospel; the liberating message of salvation has to be taken to the streets. It has to become part of one’s breath and one’s blood. It is the fire of justice, and at the same time, it is the cool water of enlightenment. Oscar Romero’s own ongoing conversion is apparent in each letter’s increasing detail, length, and urgency.

In the first pastoral letter, we are reminded that the paschal mystery–the journey of Jesus from death to life–is the same transformative journey the Church must devote itself to until the end of time. As Church, then, we are an Easter people living a paschal reality [Letter 1, pg 5].

The second pastoral letter recognizes that the Church’s transcendence results both from its immersion in the temporal world, and its duty to identify and denounce that world’s “dark side” [Letter 2, pg 5]. Therefore, the Church’s prophetic mission must adapt to historical changes if it is to “bring into being the liberating love of God, manifested in Christ” [Letter 2, pgs 3-4]. This manifestation includes a share in Christ’s suffering. As Christ’s body, the Church not only proclaims the kingdom of God to the world, and in particular to the poor, who are our brothers and sisters; it is through this transformative love that we draw closer to God [Letter 2, pg 7].

We are reminded again in the third pastoral letter, that the nature of the Church, which emerges from the gospel as an evangelical community, requires an active, liberating response to the cry of the poor, a response which is a threat to those in positions of power.

The fourth pastoral letter, in which Romero delves most deeply into the heart of the national crisis, reveals the extent of his conversion. Grounding his arguments in official church documents, as he had done in the three previous letters, Romero clarifies the authentic role of the Church in history, defends the Church’s right to denounce the sins of the government and of the Church itself, and challenges the Church to take up its rightful role as liberating evangelists [Letter 4, pg 16].

Please take my word for it but don’t stop there. Read these letters both for their spiritual and secular implications.

First pastoral letter, THE EASTER CHURCH, First Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Easter Sunday, April 10, 1977

Second pastoral letter, THE CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST IN HISTORY, Second Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1977

Third pastoral letter, THE CHURCH AND POPULAR POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS, Third Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Co-authored by Bishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, Bishop of Santiago de María, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1978

Fourth pastoral letter, THE CHURCH’S MISSION AMID THE NATIONAL CRISIS, Fourth Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Romero, Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 1979

Ruined for life.

5th Sunday of Lent (B)

If you want to see Jesus, look for people who commit themselves to serving the poor.

You can see Jesus in the young adults who commit to one or more years with faith-based organizations such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. You will see Jesus in the many men and women who discern a vocation as lay missioners—a choice which leads them far from home and family—in order to improve the lives of the disadvantaged and to create a more peaceful and just world. Maryknoll Lay Missioners is one such organization through which lay persons can live out this calling. You will recognize Jesus in those who even after their time of service has passed make career and life choices that continue to reflect those Gospel values of service, justice, and living in right relationship not only with other humans, but with all of God’s creation.

From the time we are children the world tells us we own our lives, and we go to great lengths to save them. As adults we toil away, lining our nests and filling our storehouses. And when someone from our own family or neighborhood chooses a life of service and simplicity, we find it odd, incomprehensible, even. Our admiration of their “goodness” might be mixed with fear for their safety and, let’s be honest, some suspicion that they are postponing getting a “real job.” It challenges our own beliefs about life and makes us uncomfortable. But isn’t this self-giving, this willingness to lay down one’s life, to let go, and to be the servant precisely what Jesus meant when he said “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”? [John 12:25]

Former Jesuit volunteers will say they are “ruined for life,” meaning there is no return to life as they once knew it. Their eyes have been opened. And once opened, they remain open. They cannot ignore the needs of the world. They have died to themselves, but what comes forth is far greater. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground…” [John 12:24a]

In the nearly five decades since Fr. Jack Morris, SJ started the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, more than “12,000 Jesuit volunteers have served tens of thousands of individuals and families at hundreds of sites around the world” including 38 locations here in the United States. I only wish the number was greater. Is it a luxury for a recent college graduate to be able to volunteer one or two years rather than seek employment? Yes, unfortunately it is. Most students have loans to pay off and don’t have the freedom for full-time volunteerism before entering the workforce. While it is not unheard of for someone to leave a lucrative career for a life of service, it is generally difficult to reverse the career track once it has been started. Still, some adults look for ways to serve in their retirement. I recently heard about a couple who, after the marriage of their youngest child, sold everything they owned and now live as lay missioners overseas. Wow.

Obviously, a sacrifice on this level is not for everyone, nor is it expected. Still, aren’t we are just like the Greeks who asked Phillip “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” But do we understand that to “see” Jesus is to enter into the reality of his life? “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” [John 12:24] In taking on the role of servant in whatever capacity our lives permit, we might be lucky enough to experience the same disastrous outcome as the Jesuit volunteers.

Ruin yourself for life; perhaps someone will see Jesus in you.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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For more on the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, visit http://www.jesuitvolunteers.org. And to learn about Maryknoll Lay Missioners, visit http://www.mklm.org.

Reclaiming the primal sense of belonging

John O’Donohue, in his beautiful book, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong, speaks of the “longing of the Earth.” He says, “The stillness of the stone is pure, but it also means that it can never move one inch (…) it enjoys absolute belonging.” Further, he writes “Think of your self and feel how you belong so deeply to the earth and how you are a tower of longing in which nature rises up and comes to voice.”

Yesterday, standing beneath the giant boulders of Joshua Tree National ForestI could not help but feel I was a part of this ancient labor sculpted by wind and time. I am a grain of sand, yet feel completely at home here.  O’Dononue says “Stone is the tabernacle of memory. Until we allow some of Nature’s stillness to reclaim us, we will remain victims of the instant and never enter the heritage of our ancient belonging.”

Time spent in untouched nature is wholly restorative. Tranquility returns. We become one with it, even if only for an instant. But in that moment clarity arrives, sweeping away all the clutter of the mind, shushing the mental chatter, slowing the breath perhaps even to the point where God’s whisper might be heard. Where ever it is in nature that your primal sense of belonging emerges, be it a forest, a mountaintop, the ocean, or a pristine lake, in the desert, or a canyon, go there and be reclaimed.

Why choose the dark, when we know the light?

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

One of the tasks on my husband’s to-do list prior to moving into our new home was to install dimmer switches throughout the house. This was a relatively large project for a lovely old place like ours which was originally built with multiple gaslights in every room. At some point in the home’s history the gaslights and chandeliers were replaced with electric fixtures and wall switches. Dimmers are awesome. Being able to control the light saves electricity and allows us to create a warm ambiance depending on the chosen level of brightness. (Also, I am told that people of a certain age believe they look a lot better when the lights are low.) But that’s not all, a dimmer does double duty by obscuring flaws such as chipped paint and cracked plaster—at least in the nighttime. Sadly, the gig is up by morning when the sun shines through the windows offering congratulations on our good taste in furnishings, and nagging reminding us of our neglect by announcing the location of every needed repair.

This light (pun intended) example is not very different from the way many of us live our lives, is it? Don’t we use a dimmer of sorts in our day-to-day dealings, living in the light when we are in right relationship, living in the shadows when we are not? We are skilled in deflecting responsibility and rather than change our ways we convince ourselves that a choice we continue to make is harmless, when in fact our actions create damaging ripples we aren’t aware of. Or we tolerate ideologies that we know are wrong and immoral, but the personal sacrifice that accompanies taking a stand is what really makes us uncomfortable. Even in the face of global consequences many of us refuse to take action because we “didn’t do it.” Not my trash. Not my fault. Not my problem. We furnish our darkness with denial.

“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” [John 3:19-21]

The question is, why do we choose the dark, when we know the light? Our lives can be transformed; it can happen in an instant if we are willing to allow the light in. Still the darkness beckons our return. Sad.

How about creating a to-do list that includes a new lighting plan for life? As an evangelizing people, we might ask ourselves, “If everything in my life (in my family, in our society, in this organization) was forever cast in the light of Jesus, what would it look like?” What kinds of changes would you need to make to remain in the light?

Today’s readings can be found here. 

No deal. You can’t buy that.

3rd Sunday of Lent (B)

What was being sold in the Jerusalem Temple that put Jesus over the edge?gold_bag

The Gospel of John 2:13-25 specifically mentions oxen, sheep, and doves. But, this was not like a farmer’s market populated by vendors, or a quick stop on the way home from Temple. The goods and the market had a specific purpose; this was a place where animals could be purchased for religious sacrifice. The gospel also mentions money changers. A simple interpretation suggests the system of purchasing animals for sacrifice had become too materialistic and the money changers may have been taking advantage of buyers. Clearly this would be an unjust situation, but was Jesus’ rage brought on by commercialization and price gouging? Let’s go deeper.

Recall the reason Jesus was in Jerusalem. It was  because “the Passover of the Jews was near.” Every year great numbers of Jewish people made the long and arduous journey for the feast. Imagine making this trip, not only with your children and your elderly parents, but with your sacrificial animals in tow. For many it was unrealistic. Therefore they intended to purchase those animals upon their arrival. And what better place to find the finest, most perfect and unblemished animals than in the temple area where  people understood such things? Makes perfect sense.  But not to Jesus. What was it about this situation that enraged him so?

He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” [John 2:15]

Hundreds of years before Jesus, the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, and Micah denounced the cult of animal sacrifice as abhorrent to God, proclaiming what God desired was justice for the oppressed, the poor, and the marginalized, not the slaughter of innocent animals as an act of worship. And yet the practice continued as a kind of transaction initiated by humans to gain favor with God. The Jerusalem Temple had become the locus of human-divine deal making.

Theologian John Shea writes “Jesus’ Father, however, is not a deal maker. (God) does not exchange favors for sacrifices. The Father is a free flow of spiritual life and love that cannot be bought, bartered, bargained, or bribed.”[1]

Jesus said, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” [John 2:16c] He literally turns the tables on the idea of making bargains with God, and says no deal. This is not how God works. God wants your fidelity, your commitment, and most of all, your love for God, for neighbor and for all of creation. As an evangelizing people our actions must respond to each of God’s desires, not because these are pleasing to God, which they are, but because our experience of God’s abundant love prompts us to do so.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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[1] John Shea. Eating with the Bridegroom.Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005. pg 91

Thanks for the hard stuff, too

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Even St. Francis looks crabby.

This morning as I drank my third cup of coffee, I stared miserably out the window at day 4 of the 3rd month of mess of snow/slush/ice/yuck on my not-even-close to being plowed street, with cars parked haphazardly on the opposite side, and in particular at the big white Tahoe parked at an angle well into the street at the base of my ice-floe challenged driveway. And, what about the other moron behind him who shoveled all the snow off his car into the street. Nice. Very nice. Oh and great, daylight savings is this weekend, that means getting up in the dark again. How I hate this! When will spring come? Why do I live here instead of California? And so on for at least another ten minutes, or more. 

 

Deep sigh. I decided to say a quick prayer of gratitude. Thank you God for my sweet husband, my wonderful daughters, my healthy parents and loving siblings, my friends, my puppy, my drafty but lovely home, my neighbors, for all the places we have lived, and all the relationships we have formed, for blue sky and sunlight in my kitchen, for mountain hikes, for crossfit, for, for, for… I felt better, but a sliver of misery insisted on interrupting the flow of grateful thoughts.  I had to either end the prayer or acknowledge my bad mood and the utter grossness that awaited me outside. 

 

Thank you…for the hard stuff. Thank you…for messes, and irritations, and bad drivers, and frustrations that appear uninvited all the live-long-day. Thank you God, because after a while all these things force me to consider my response, to react slowly, thoughtfully, kindly (not always, but I’m trying. Really, I am), to try to see some beauty, some pattern, or combination of colors to transform my crabbiness into something smooth and resilient. I am grateful for that. So, Thank you, God.

 

Now, are we done with winter?