The Service of Authority Part I

The media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms might also make it easy to miss the profoundly beautiful messages the Pope is speaking this week to the bishops he has recently appointed to the College of Cardinals.  If anyone believes that the Church has lost its way in terms of knowing what it’s about or has become distracted from the gospel by the continual crises that erupt, these messages should quell those fears.  God continues to speak His message of LOVE through the one He has chosen to represent His Son on earth!  Here are a few excerpts:
“James’ and John’s request and the indignation of the “other 10” Apostles raise a central question to which Jesus wishes to respond: who is great, who is “first” for God? First of all attention goes to the conduct that runs the risk of assuming it is “those that are considered the rulers of nations”: “to dominate and oppress.” Jesus points out to his disciples a completely different way: “Among you, however, it is not thus.” His community follows another rule, another logic, another model: “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all.” The criterion of greatness and primacy according to God is not dominion but service, diakonia is the fundamental law of the disciple and of the Christian community and it allows us to perceive something of the “Lordship of God.” And Jesus also indicates the point of reference: the Son of man, who came to serve, summarizes his mission under the category of service, understood not in the generic sense, but in the concrete way of the Cross, of the total gift of life as “ransom,” as redemption for many, and he indicates it as condition to follow him. It is a message that is true for the Apostles, for the whole Church, true above all for those who have tasks to guide the People of God. It is not the logic of dominion, of power according to human criteria, but the logic of bending down to wash the feet, the logic of service, the logic of the Cross which is at the bottom of all exercise of authority. At all times the Church is committed to be conformed to this logic and to attest it to make the true “Lordship of God ” shine, which is that of love.


“Venerable brothers elected to the dignity of cardinal, the mission to which God calls you today and that equips you to an ecclesial service that is even more charged with responsibility, requires an ever greater willingness to assume the style of the Son of God, who came among us as one who serves (cf. Luke 22:25-27. It is a question of following him in giving his humble and total love to the Church his Bride, on the Cross: it is on that wood that the grain of wheat, dropped by the Father on the field of the world, dies to become a mature fruit. Because of this there must be an even more profound and solid rootedness in Christ. The profound relationship with Him, which increasingly transforms life so as to be able to say with Saint Paul “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20), constitutes the primary exigency, for our service to be serene and joyful and be able to give the fruit that the Lord expects from us.” http://www.zenit.org/article-31039?l=english

Gratitude

What are you grateful for?

I thought I would depart from my usual pontifications to invite all of you who read this to participate in a “Gratitude Fest” in honor of the awesome American tradition of celebrating our gratitude to God for the small and everyday things of life, which in reality are the BIG THINGS because they have the most impact on us!!  I’ll start!

I am grateful for my Mom, my Dad, and my beautiful sister.  I am grateful for all of the beautiful people I have the pleasure of calling my family and friends.  I am so grateful for the gift of extended family, all of whom are such an integral part of my life.  Not everyone today can say they have 14 aunts & uncles, over 50 cousins and more “cousins once removed”!  I LOVE YOU ALL!  I am also grateful for the many beautiful religious sisters I have had the joy of knowing more deeply in the shared gift of religious community.  I miss you, and pray for you.  I am grateful for the gift of faith, and for (what JPII called) the “drama of the human person:” the mystery of the journey of faith, on which I am accompanied by my Beloved.  And today, I am very grateful for the gift of celebrating this Thanksgiving with those around me.

So what are you grateful for?

Words

All the media excitement about B16’s statement on condoms in the new book released by Peter Seewald (http://www.zenit.org/article-31059?l=english) got me thinking a great deal about the importance of articulating the TRUTH.  It must be so frustrating for the pope to be misinterpreted all the time.  He is such an articulate person, and yet his words are almost always misunderstood.   I am so very impressed with and appreciate Pope Benedict XVI’s intellectual openness, his courage in embracing dialogue with atheists, evolutionists and secularists in general, and his intellectual humility in entertaining new ideas.  Yet all his efforts seem only reap more confusion.

It seems like many over the centuries we have relied too much on words in articulating the truth.  The quote attributed to St. Francis comes to mind, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words when necessary.”  This is not a time of words – at least of effective words!  Words are purposely misinterpreted, twisted, compacted into sound bites and taken out of context 24-7 in our media saturated culture.  Words are not compelling in a world where information is spewed forth at us with the comparative force of a fire hydrant.  We cannot adequately reflect on the words and often do not have the time to quietly reflect on them.  To complete the analogy, to be able to reflect on some of the information we receive on a daily basis would be like trying to collect water from the hydrant using a spoon – you won’t get much, and most of it will be lost.

So how does a Church that has historically emphasized written articulations of the TRUTH communicate in such a culture?  I hope in the same way it has also done for thousands of years: through WITNESS to the TRUTH.  What converts hearts and makes the gospel message compelling are witnesses.  People are convinced by actions that convey TRUTH more than words.  When we see someone not just talk about love and goodness and beauty but live out the ideal through their lives, we are changed and begin to TRUST, because we realize the sincerity of the person proclaiming it.

This is why my admiration does not stop with the eloquence of the words of our Holy Father.  I have been even more convinced of the TRUTH of the Gospel by his WITNESS: by the continued respect and openness with which he treats those who disagree with him, by his kindness to those who continually try to twist his words, by his expressed commitment to expose and get rid of “the filth in the Church,” by the compassion he has conveyed to victims of abuse and his sincere sorrow and regret at what has happened.  I don’t know if these actions are noticed by most, but these actions have been a catalyst for conversion in the hearts of those who have had the experience of a human interaction with the Pope.

It is so much easier to speak the truth than to live it – and we all know how hard the speaking can be!  Action, while simple to understand, is heroic.  That’s why we celebrate and lift up the examples of saints!  I thank God that he has given us a pope who is not only an articulate speaker of truth, but has given consistent witness to truth through his many actions!!  The time is ripe for WITNESSES to the TRUTH.  My prayer today is that I can try to extricate myself from the “word-war” and just LIVE it!!

St. Francis

I decided to watch the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Franco Zefferelli a few weeks ago on the occasion of All Saints Day.  This is my favorite movie of St. Francis.  I have been told many times it is not an accurate depiction of St. Francis’ life.  I think many people dislike this movie because of its (not so) veiled references to issues of the 60s (hippie idealism, Vietnam war, upheaval of culture).  But as I am not a child of the 60s, I don’t have an immediate reaction to the overtones but wonder perhaps if the connections Zefferelli made in regard to the similarity of the situations is a real insight.  The reason that I love this movie is because I believe it captures beautifully the abandon of a soul captivated by God.  And St. Francis was really just such a person!

The time of St. Francis was a very confusing one in the Church.  There was a preoccupation with wealth and an abuse of power among many Church leaders.  In response to this situation, many movements sprang up in the Church that began to witness to the Gospel message through a life of radical poverty.  Many of these movements in the end, however, separated from the Church because they began to embrace wrong teachings about Christ and the Church.  Other movements never intended to be faithful to the truth but began to teach entirely different doctrines, not based at all on Christ or His Gospel message.  Some Catholics responded to the situation with disgust and frustration, while others were simply confused.  Many laypeople, because of the confusion, began grassroots movements themselves that emphasized prayer and service.  Does any of this sound familiar??  The only difference that I observe in the situations is that I don’t think the problem in the Church today is so much concerned with an abuse of wealth, but of authority and obedience.

So with all of this going on, how did St. Francis respond to the problems of his time?  By simply trying to live the GOSPEL in all its SIMPLICITY.  He took the words of Jesus seriously and tried to live them.  While St. Francis abandoned everything in attempt to live the ideal of the Gospel perfectly, he didn’t abandon the REAL.  How did he ground himself in reality?  By trusting again in the words of Jesus, when He says that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church (Mt 16:18).  He took Jesus’ words at their face value and trusted that even though things seemed confusing, that fidelity to the Church in spite of the confusion was the way to stay grounded in reality and in the truth about Jesus.  Francis served as a challenge to abuses in the Church by his radical life of poverty and simplicity, and at the same time, unlike the other contemporary poverty movements, he determined to be faithful to the Church.  Francis has a profound respect for the office of the priesthood, even when the priests he encountered were personally very sinful.

Isn’t this how we are called to respond to the problems of our time too?  Jesus hasn’t changed!  He is “the same yesterday, today and FOREVER!” (Heb 13:8)  His message, and His mercies, are “new every morning.” (Lam 3:23)  All we need do is decide to read the gospel again, make sure we understand what it says, take it seriously, and live it.  This might sound like an overly simplistic answer, but I don’t think it is.  Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it won’t be HARD!

Love Comes Down

It’s been awhile since I have last posted here!  Thank you to those of you who continue to check back for the newest postings!

This morning I was reminiscing about my recent opportunities to visit and reconnect with good friends of many years.  One of my friends told me during our visit that I use the word “beautiful” a lot.  My interior response was, “What a compliment!”  Life IS BEAUTIFUL – if we only have the eyes to see.

As I reflected on the beauty of life this morning, I happened to also be listening to the song “Love Comes Down” by Matt Maher and was touched in particular by these lyrics of the song:

“Isn’t it BEAUTIFUL!  isn’t it marvelous!  The God of the Universe, He became one of us.  We cry out and then, LOVE comes down again.  Hope is found in Him!  Alleluia!” (Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=beAXbgFP3Wg to hear this song along with the lyrics (ignore the grammatical errors!)

I have so much for which to be GRATEFUL.  God LOVES me; He REALLY DOES!  And He LOVES YOU.  There are moments in life of TRUE JOY, when we recognize the beauty of God and the human heart infused with the LOVE of GOD!  We are truly beautiful in His sight!  Why?  Because we’re great?  If we are, it is due to Him.  This is the BEAUTIFUL LOVE of the Father for His children.  He infuses our souls with beauty and the ability to share the beauty of LOVE, if only we choose to participate.  Love is Love only if accompanied by the true gift of self.  This is not a half-hearted surrendering of our time or incidentals; we are to give our very being.  This is the quest in which we are all invited to partake!  What a beautiful life:  to give ourselves in FREEDOM, to choose to see the GOOD, to see LOVE, to see the BEAUTY of the image of God carried in the soul of each person rather than seeing the negative, the failures, selfishness.  And even if we do fail, to know that LOVE will continue to descend into our brokenness when we cry out, and will heal us so that beauty, love, and goodness can again have the opportunity to emanate from our souls!  This cycle will never stop, but will continue even into eternity – the eternal gift of self that is called LOVE.  This is the love of the Trinity: of the Father for the Son, the Son for the Father, made fruitful in the person of the Holy Spirit.  How BEAUTIFUL!  Alleluia!

A Compassionate Life

“It would be sad if we were to think about the compassionate life as a life of heroic self-denial.” ( Henri Nouwen, The Dance of Life)  This really struck me, as I think so too.  Why?  Because the latter attitude emphasizes the self and what is repulsive about reaching out to others while the first emphasizes love, solidarity, union and relationship.  Rather than celebrating the self by emphasizing your ability to embrace the repulsive, why not emphasize the person, the other, seeing their good, the value they have? 

I was told sometime during this last year that when I speak about serving others I speak too much about other people, how they touch me and reach out to me and I do not talk about what I have done for them.  The point being made was that I focus too much on myself and not on other people.  Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not see it this way at all.  I have tried to give my life in service to others, but I really do feel that when I do this, what I receive is much greater than what I give.  And perhaps that is a sign I should try harder.

But while I can always try harder to serve others, I personally think the problem is a difference of perspective more than an indication of selfishness.  I choose to focus on living a compassionate life rather than a life of self-denial.  Why?  Because the life of self-denial depresses me – it focuses on the “No” of life, what must be given up to care for others.  A compassionate life focuses on the “YES”:  a yes to love, a yes to inviting others to be part of your life, a yes to relationships with beautiful images of God.

I guess the questions I have about this is, does it matter which perspective a person has?  Is focusing on self-denial any more meritorious than focusing on compassion?  Certainly focusing on what is being given up is heroic, but does love necessarily have to be something hard or negative?  Can’t it be something good and life-giving?  Can doing the right thing also be uplifting to the spirit?

If someone out there has a different perspective, or see something I’m missing, I would like to know this!  I want to broaden my understanding of these things.  Have a blessed day!!

Deep Thoughts from B16

“Anyone who knows he is loved is in turn prompted to love. It is the Lord himself, who loved us first, who asks us to place at the center of our lives love for him and for the people he has loved. It is especially adolescents and young people, who feel within them the pressing call to love, who need to be freed from the widespread prejudice that Christianity, with its commandments and prohibitions, sets too many obstacles in the path of the joy of love and, in particular prevents people from fully enjoying the happiness that men and women find in their love for one another.”

Pope Benedict XVI, Family: Spiritual Thoughts Series