I almost didn’t go to church yesterday. Our pastor is on retreat and “subs” can be a crap shoot. Post-blizzard road conditions and treacherous sidewalks would give perfect cover for my absence. Besides, we were hosting an end of season Downton Abbey dinner party last evening and the extra prep time was needed for the fussy recipes we were featuring. I defaulted to habit obeying one of life’s core lessons: Just show up! Once again, I’m grateful I did.
In the Gospel Jesus minces no words: “I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Fr. John Bauer, pastor at the Basilica of St. Mary was the “sub” and did a good job. He referenced “Ten Traits of Mature Discipleship” distilled by one of my all-time favorite authors. John linked the Gospel admonition to forgive with one of Oblate Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s ten traits: “What we don’t transform we transmit!”
I had heard something like that before. Today it was a not-so-subtle tap initiating a cascade of dominos. Numerous web-searches for Rolheiser’s full list of ten disrupted my fuss over table settings. “Transform… transmit…” echoed across the preparation of watercress soup and Mrs. Patmore’s infamous Raspberry Meringue Pudding. Examples from my own life, years as a pastor and retreat director, ministry with patients wrestling with chronic illness or a terminal diagnosis confirmed this cogent truth. Unless we find some way to transform our pain, loss, abandonment, abuse, grief, illness, rejection we will certainly pass it on!
My search for the list of ten was not fruitful. However, additional comments by Rolheiser on the Web were:
Nobody comes to adulthood, let alone to old age, without being deeply hurt. Alice Miller, the renowned psychologist, puts it this way: All of us, from the time that we are infants in the cradle until we are self-possessed enough to write an autobiography… are not adequately loved, not adequately cared for, not adequately recognized, not adequately valued, and not adequately honored. Moreover all of us also suffer positively some rejection and abuse. None of us is spared life’s unfairness…
What can we do about this, beyond first of all admitting that we do nurse a grudge against life?
Miller suggests the most important task of mid-life and beyond is that of grieving. We need, she says, to cry until the foundations of our life are shaken. At a certain point in our lives the question is no longer: “Am I hurt?”. Rather it’s: “What is my hurt and how can I move beyond it?” It’s like having been in a car accident and carrying some permanent scars and debilitations. The accident happened, the limp is there, nothing is going to reverse time, and so our only real choice is between bitterness and forgiveness, between anger and getting on with life, between spending the rest of our lives saying “if only!” or spending the rest of our lives trying to enjoy the air, despite of our limp…
There is only one ultimate imperative in life: Before we die, we need to forgive. We need to forgive those who hurt us, to forgive ourselves for not being any better than those who hurt us, to forgive life itself for some of the things that it dealt us, and, not least, to forgive God for the fact that life is unfair, so as not to die with a bitter and angry heart.
Gratitude is the fruit of that struggle.
I’m grateful I “just showed up” for church yesterday. I’m grateful a “sub” preached. I’m grateful for Jesus not mincing words in the Gospel — who better than he to speak of the suffering and injustice living can hold? I’m grateful for Jesus’ invitation to more mature discipleship. I am also grateful for Downton Abbey and the opportunity to gather with friends for an evening of frivolity.
You may read Rolheiser’s entire post [here]. Better yet, it will lead you to his website where you will find more of his reflections and regular posts.