For the Class of 2056

How can it possibly be 42 years? But it is! Forty-two years ago today I graduated from Creighton University with a B.A. in Political Science.

I was able to earn enough during the summer to pay my private school tuition. I spent a few nights a week at a mortuary and worked a few funerals for spending money through the school year. Living at home with my parents saved room and board expenses.

How things have changed! I graduated from Creighton with $800 in student loans, all incurred during my freshman year. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelors degree recipients – from public as well as private schools – are leaving with loans totaling $33,000 on average!

That really concerns me! It should concern all of us. Imagine what it’s like to be saddled with that sort of debt right out of the starting gate. Seems to me this is evidence of some pretty serious fraying of the social contract we have with one another in this country.

If I were invited to give a commencement address this year I would, of course, touch on that topic. I would also be strongly influenced by the fact that I would be speaking to my grandchildren’s generation. Forty-two years! I would certainly attempt the impossible in my address – to convince the young graduates just how fast life happens.

If I were speaking to the Creighton Class of 2014 I would undoubtedly reinforce the Ignatian character of their education, especially how they are meant to use their talent and education to serve others and promote justice.

I would find some way to explain – despite how hard we think we each have worked for our degrees – how any one of us who had the opportunity to graduate from Creighton was born on third base and should never think we hit a triple.

From the perspective of 42 years and how fast it all happens, I would remind them of something from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. There Ignatius encourages us to consider our actions or choices from the perspective of our deathbed – then and there, when it’s all over, what will I wish I would have done? I have found this to be an almost infallible guideline for making good choices.

There appears from my vantage point a fraying in the “social contract” we have with fellow Americans. Saddling young people with tens of thousands of dollars of debt is simply unsustainable, if not immoral. Our obstinate denial of the consequences of our consumption of natural resources is unconscionable.

What will the Creighton Class of 2056 hear from their commencement speaker? That day will be here before we know it. Today, 2014, what will we wish we would have done for these future graduates?

Musings of An Old Fogie

Too many elders become cynical and fearful as they observe inevitable change occurring within a dynamic culture. I never want to be like that or be dismissed as an “old fogie”. However, I must confess deep concern, worry and skepticism about where our country is headed.

This past weekend we had a terrific weekend at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI centered on the Junior Recital of an extraordinarily gifted young woman. Meeting Elena’s friends was delightful and reason for great hope.

This same weekend a grand-niece was graduating from San Diego State. Yes, amid all the wild fires – only most recent evidence of the climate change which is dramatically transforming what had been considered one of the earth’s most ideal climates. My nephew reported that temps were near 100 in a region where most homes haven’t bothered with air conditioning.

I desperately do not want to be an “old fogie” trapped in fear and cynicism. I am determined to remain hopeful, happy and optimistic. How are we to live with the tension, the very concrete evidence that gives reason for serious concern for our children’s future?

If ever there was a time, we are in need of dusting off what have classically been called the Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude! Only these seem an adequate antidote to the worry and skepticism even a casual look at “reality” would generate.

A case in point comes from a bastion of conservative American culture, The Wall Street Journal: The class of 2014 is holds a very dubious and discouraging distinction. They’re the most indebted class ever. [link]

The average graduate with student-loan debt leaves with an obligation of $33,000 they need to pay back. Even after adjusting for inflation that’s nearly double the amount borrowers had to pay back 20 years ago. A little over 70% of this year’s bachelor’s degree recipients are leaving school with student loans, up from less than half of graduates in the Class of 1994.

Apparently wanting to avoid the old fogie moniker as well, The Wall Street Journal reports: “The good news for the Class of 2014 is that they likely won’t hold the title of Most Indebted Ever very long. Just as they took it over from the Class of 2013, the Class of 2015 will probably take it from them.”

The Cardinal Virtues were initially articulated by Plato in The Republic and expanded by Cicero. Christianity picked up on them through Ambrose, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The term “cardinal” comes from the Latin cardo or hinge; these virtues are considered cardinal because they are the basic virtues required for a virtuous civic life.

This old fogie cannot help but look around and be concerned about some pretty significant fraying in America’s “social contract” around civic virtues such as prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. Perhaps this is what The Wall Street Journal sees as well.

Never having been accused of being “conservative”, I cannot help but think of the Preamble to our Constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

I worry – in fairness – whether we are passing on what we old fogies received.

It’s Killing Us

My nephews Tom and Matt probably wish their parents had made a different choice. Now they are both in their late thirties, married, successful in their careers, and raising eight kids between the two of them. I am their godfather and take my responsibilities very seriously. No, they don’t get special gifts from me. They are lucky if I remember to call them on their birthdays.

Matt and Tom know that I never stop having high expectation for their moral character, offering unsolicited convictions about right and wrong, or getting them to feel some healthy spiritual dissonance about what life is all about. Each is a terrific human being, husband, dad and nephew so I regularly find reason to express support, congratulations and affection as well.

Maybe they are the sons I never had and I want them to think of me as something other than that kindly old man who shows up a couple of times a year. If I am trying to leave a legacy through them so be it. At least they know I care – about them, about anyone on the margins, about the earth and about God!

Just yesterday I sent them a link to a brilliant piece by Michael Sean Winters that frames my life of 63 years and delivers an incisive challenge for how we live today. My email to themn stated: If you read anything from me this month, read this!

Essentially, Winter’s article reminded me of the decade in which I came to consciousness. We rehearsed air raid drills as if crouching and putting our arms over our heads would protect us from thermonuclear war. J. Edgar Hoover regularly reminded us of the imminent threat of atheistic communism. Senator Joseph McCarthy terrorized colleges, labor unions, arts organizations with his demonic witch-hunt. The Cuban Missile Crisis gave an eerie reality Nikita Khrushchev’s threat to “bury” us.

The part of Winter’s argument that really got me going and I hope will similarly provoke serious reflection by Matt and Tom is his reference to Reinhold Niebuhr. In a 1952 book the esteemed Protestant theologian had the courage to suggest that we Americans had more in common with our Soviet nemesis than we cared to admit.

Although much more developed, the essence of Niebuhr’s indictment is captured in a secondary reference: It was particularly ironic that while Americans saw their prosperity as evidence of God’s favor and hence of their own virtue, their enemies saw Americans’ riches as evidence of their vice. Americans were fond of condemning the Soviet Union’s “materialism,” Niebuhr observed, “but we are rather more successful practitioners of materialism as a working creed than the communists, who have failed so dismally in raising the general standards of well-being.”

Niebuhr was only one of many intellectuals in the 1950s who were concerned about the corrosive effects of materialism on American culture. I concur with Winter’s lament that we don’t really have that debate about materialism anymore. Today both the left and the right argue about the best way to improve GDP, but no one really questions the moral significance of our GDP.

Winter correctly states that this is what is meant by structural sin – conditions of life in which even those who wish to improve the lot of their fellow citizens — not to mention following the teachings and example of Jesus — are trapped in a system that requires them to hope for something that is spiritually bankrupt and dehumanizing.

Winter acknowledges that no one can really want GDP to decline. An anemic economy brings real human hardship and suffering with it, especially for the poor and the vulnerable. But he wisely reminds us that an economy based on consumption is not sustainable, not environmentally, not economically, and not morally.

I want my godsons to wrestle with these moral issues! Most importantly, we all need to rekindle that 1950s debate that understood a fact so obvious we tend to miss it today: Materialism is the chief evangelizer of the Gospel of Secularization. So much for atheistic communism!

More than Khrushchev’s United Nation’s bluster about “burying” America, our own materialism is what’s killing us!

____________________

You are invited and encouraged to read Michael Sean Winter’s article in its entirety [here].

Forgiveness

I can’t pray the Our Father anymore – at least as I have in the past. Honesty requires that I admit my paralysis. Most of my prayer remains sincere but I now get hung up on “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Integrity demands that I admit deep resistance and objection.

It’s easy in conversation to accept that Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves is pretty radical. In every day practice we might be able to transcend our urge to extract “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”. But love my enemies, pray for those who persecute? Offer forgiveness, not just once but seven times seventy? Do not resist an evil doer but offer the other cheek as well to the one who strikes you?

Last weekend we went to see The Railway Man, a searing account of a former prisoner of war who is unable to overcome the emotional trauma of his past. Based on a true story, Eric Lomax was one of thousands forced into slave labor to build the notorious Burma Railway, known as the “Death Railway” because of the thousands who perished during its construction.

“The Railway Man” begins three decades after the war. It’s long shadow of looms over his marriage. Lomax has terrifying nightmares, and his behavior is erratic, at times violent. His wife sees he is shell-shocked and desperately wants to help. But Lomax refuses to discuss what happened in the internment camp. Intending revenge, Lomax instead travels to Asia to confront his tormentor.

How are such victims to forgive? Are they to be forgiven as they forgive those who have trespassed against them? Locally, two men “sucker punched” and kicked in the head of a young dad who now lies in critical condition struggling for his life. What should “forgiveness” look like for this wife and mother?

Perhaps the ultimate test for our generation is clerical sexual abuse. We all know too well that such a victim never does fully recover from such a profound violation of trust. Unspeakable pain lingers. Emotional landmines lie hidden while spawning a veritable tsunami of collateral damage. Relationships are forever poisoned.

Our generation has been collectively victimized, violated, traumatized. One need not have experienced explicit physical exploitation to know the deep pain. What angers us, what hurts most, is not simply the reprehensible behavior of initial perpetrators. We have come face to face with the fact that the Church itself has failed us all. Unconscionable behavior by the hierarchy seems relentless — like [this] out of Seattle yesterday.  We are all victims of their abuse.

How do we pray with integrity “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”? One thing I have recognized is my tendency to link my need to be forgiven with my willingness to forgive – quid pro quo, we are forgiven as we are capable of forgiving. I’m doomed if my forgiveness is contingent upon or in proportion to my capacity to forgive.

Where is the hope? And, yes, there is always hope! Whether a prisoner of war like Eric Lomax, an anguished wife and mother in Mankato or a “cradle Catholic” in the pew on Sundays, forgiveness sometimes requires a superhuman act. In reality only God can forgive.

“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” remains as pressing in our day as for the Pharisees grilling Jesus. (Luke 5:21). Despite the normative teaching of Jesus in the Our Father, forgiveness is really only possible through God’s saving action in Christ (Rom 3:25f).

Ultimately, God has reconciled us to Himself and to one another while we were still sinners (Rom 5). That gives me hope despite my paralysis in prayer. That is the sole grounds on which we may have hope for the Church as well.

God save us!
_________________
Again, I am indebted to Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Kasper, Paulist Press, 2013 for prompting much of these reflections; esp., pp 138-142.

 

Woman, Centered in God

We prayed the family Rosary when I was a kid – not just during Lent, not just one day a week, we prayed the Rosary after dinner every day of my childhood. Okay, we may have been allowed a reprieve from time to time but this was truly the exception, not the rule!

Imagine the tens of thousands of times we recited the “Hail Mary” together as a family! I cannot begin to express the culminating grace and profound consolation standing aside our mother’s bed on January 19, 2007 as she breathed her last. One last time we prayed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. AMEN!” 

May is a month many Christians dedicate to Mary. Certainly there would be no reprieve from our family Rosary this month! Now these deeply imprinted memories are a source of fresh gratitude and comfort.

The Litany of Loreto [link] concluded our family’s after dinner ritual. I confess that as a 7 year old I took inordinate pride in being able to lead the entire Litany from memory! Today I find the images saccharine and archaic. But they set a foundation for which I am eternally grateful.

Today, I much prefer the Litany of Mary of Nazareth. The images are much more accessible and evocative for my heart. On this day in May – the month of Mary – I enthusiastically recommend it for your prayer:

Glory to you, God our Creator … Breath into us new life, new meaning.
Glory to you, God our Savior … Lead us in the way of peace and justice.
Glory to you, God, healing Spirit … Transform us to empower others.

Mary, wellspring of peace ………. Be our guide,
Model of strength…..
Model of gentleness…
Model of trust..
Model of courage
Model of patience
Model of risk
Model of openness
Model of perseverance

Mother of the liberator ………. Pray for us.
Mother of the homeless…..
Mother of the dying…
Mother of the nonviolent
Widowed mother
Unwed mother
Mother of a political prisoner
Mother of the condemned
Mother of an executed criminal

Oppressed woman ………. Lead us to life.
Liberator of the oppressed…..
Marginalized woman…
Comforter of the afflicted
Cause of our joy
Sign of contradiction
Breaker of bondage
Political refugee
Seeker of sanctuary
First disciple
Sharer in Christ’s ministry
Participant in Christ’s passion
Seeker of God’s will
Witness to Christ’s resurrection

Woman of mercy ………. Empower us.
Woman of faith…..
Woman of contemplation…
Woman of vision
Woman of wisdom and understanding
Woman of grace and truth
Woman, pregnant with hope
Woman, centered in God

Mary, Queen of Peace, we entrust our lives to you. Shelter us from war, hatred and oppression. Teach us to live in peace, to educate ourselves for peace. Inspire us to act justly, to revere all God has made. Root peace firmly in our hearts and in our world. Amen.
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Source: The Fire of Peace: A Prayer Book edited by Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB for Pax Christi USA

Excess of Virtue

Preachers are probably delighted if we recall the gist of anything they say even twenty-four hours after their homilies. I remain spell-bound by a sermon I heard more than twenty-four years ago.

It happened in the late 1980s on a Sunday in Spring when I happened upon Peter J. Gomes preaching at Memorial Chapel on the Harvard campus. It would be fair to hold Rev. Gomes to a high standard – his positions as University Chaplain and professor of homiletics were endowed appointments.

I hear his message as if it were yesterday: An excess of virtue is more dangerous than an excess of vice! (pregnant pause) Yes, an excess of virtue is more dangerous than an excess of vice… because virtue is not subject to the constraints of conscience.

Rev. Gomes went on to explain that for good people trying to live good lives – and we’d be on safe ground presuming any who’d show up at church on Sunday would qualify – too much of a good thing is just that, too much! It leaves us feeling exhausted, dissipated and “on empty”.

We have likely all been there. Teachers, ministers, those in the helping professions and most parents seem to be especially vulnerable. Of course, we need to evaluate on a case by case basis. But, I personally believe that women are still socialized in our culture to be at higher risk than men.

So, why is this if we have all felt the dire consequences? … because virtue is not subject to the constraints of conscience. The practice of virtue is a good thing… Right? Not always! Human conscience best functions as a moral “alarm system” for right/wrong behaviors. It is not well calibrated for right/right choices or modulating virtuous actions.

So what’s a person to do? This week I happened upon Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island. Perhaps Rev. Gomes was prompted by Merton’s observation: The greatest temptations are not those that solicit our consent to obvious sin, but those that offer us great evils masking as the greatest goods.

Merton understands and commiserates with our dilemma. His prescription is nothing more than what Moses and the Gospels prescribe: to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength; and your neighbor as yourself (cf, Deut.6; Matt. 22).

Yet, Merton nuances these truths with a wisdom born of a life of honesty and humble virtue: “It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others. When we do this we will be able first of all to face and accept our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be ‘as gods’. We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in ourselves for the lack in another.” 

Even the great preacher and apostle, Paul struggled to learn what Christ labored to teach: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  (2 Cor 12:9)

Why do I still recall Rev. Gomes’ sermon these twenty-four years later? Perhaps because, after more than 63 years, Christ’s lesson is one I still need to embrace!

_________________

See a rich assortment of quotes from No Man Is An Island [here].

 

A Hopi Elder Speaks

“You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your Truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for the leader.”

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time!”

“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.

“Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

— Hopi elder, Oraibi,AZ

Coulda, Shoulda Been Different

What’s the largest Christian country in the world?

Think about it! United States? Brazil? Italy? Nigeria?

Let’s ask it another way (the answer is the same): Which country has more Christians than any other country?

What do you think? It stumped me! Ideas? Take a guess!

Within a generation, actually in about ten or twelve years given growth patterns, the largest Christian country, and the country with more Christians than any other, will be China!

Yes, China is the world’s largest country with 1.4 billion people and will soon boast the largest number of Christians – approximately 5% of its population.

This fact shocked me and challenges me to get outside of my American or Euro-centric mindset. We are not the center of the universe and Westerners do not have an exclusive right to define Christian faith for the rest of the world.

I learned this startling fact about China last week. Yesterday, although Mothers Day deservedly took top billing (at least in the United States), I also was reminded that May 11, 1610 was the anniversary of the death of Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci.

But, wait a minute. Before you give Ricci credit for what we are seeing in China today, we need to know that his efforts were short-circuited and ultimately rejected by narrow-minded, bureaucratic church leaders.

The history of Christianity in China over the past 500 years could have been very different. I believe history – and Scripture – suggests it should have been very different.

Matteo Ricci was an Italian Jesuit who mastered the Chinese language and Confucian teaching and won recognition from the educated elite and the imperial court as a scholar of the highest distinction.

Ricci’s mission strategy presumed that any real progress by Christianity in China required that it be “incarnated” within the Chinese culture and recognized as inviting by the educated leaders of the country. Therefore, Ricci dressed as would be expected in elaborate silk attire, published works on astronomy, science and philosophy and labored to become highly esteemed as a Confucian scholar.

As a Christian missionary, Ricci’s primary motivation was to reconcile Confucian precepts with Christian belief and practice. He recognized in the origins in Confucianism a belief in a supreme Creator and worked meticulously to link this belief with the God of Christianity.

Despite great respect and considerable agreement from his Chinese peers, he was not accorded the same esteem from his own church leaders in Europe. Ultimately his efforts to “incarnate” Christian faith within Chinese culture were rejected.

Although Ricci died with provisional approval for his mission strategy, Roman church official would become more Euro-centric, defensive and monolithic. This culminated in 1742 with a vehement condemnation of Chinese cultural practices such as ancestor “worship” as superstitious and idolatrous. Christian incarnation within Chinese culture would have to wait for another day.

World history and 21st century Christianity would have been very different if other decisions had been made. With the 20/20 benefit of hindsight I’d like to believe other decisions should have been made and higher Christian values should have prevailed.

Sadly, this is not a new issue for the Church! The Apostles wrestled with acculturating the Gospel and Peter needed to be called to task. Ultimately, when encountering others with our particular “brand” of Christianity, we’d do well to remember Apostolic teaching and what Peter finally came to understand:

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:5-11)

In Praise of Mrs. Dugdale (and others)

FLASHBACK! Cathedral Grade School, Omaha, Mrs. Dugdale’s religion class. It’s the 1960-61 school year. I am in that stage of brain development when rote learning and memorization is what my gray-matter does best.

It’s the time that most boys collect baseball cards and can cite every player’s statistics like they were their own. I collected photos of cars and could identify every new make and model Detroit could churn out.

Mrs. Dugdale: “Dick, what are the Corporal Works of Mercy?”

Richard (AKA “Dick”): “The Corporal Works of Mercy are seven: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom captives and bury the dead.” I smile with pride.

Mrs. Dugdale: “Very good, Dick! What are the Spiritual Works of Mercy?”

Dick (AKA “Richard”): “The Spiritual Works of Mercy are seven: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowing, admonish the sinner, gladly forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead.”

Mrs. Dugdale: “Excellent, Dick. You may be seated.”

I was beaming! That was as easy as distinguishing the characteristics and relative merits of the Pontiac Catalina, Chieftain, Fire Chief, Star Chief and Bonneville. I boasted a broad smile as I took my seat.

My friends who went to public school would learn the same information in Sunday School or summer Bible camp. They would most likely learn it directly from Scripture by memorizing 1 Peter 3:8; Romans 12:8 or 15:2; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 1:8 or 2:1; Colossians 3:12 or Hebrews 13:3. But those of us who went to Catholic school also knew that the best list to memorize was from Jesus’ teaching about the Last Judgment (Matthew 25).

FAST FORWARD: Today, 63 years old, Minneapolis, retired. I am immensely proud of Cathedral Grade School and remain eternally indebted to the Dominican Sisters who ran our school and teachers like Mrs. Dugdale. They knew what was going on, and was comprehensible, in my ten-year old noggin and gave me the education for a lifetime.

Yes, they taught us the Ten Commandments. But quite honestly, I just memorized them without understanding what the heck many of them meant. “Loving God alone with my whole heart, soul and mind” seemed like a worthy idea but wouldn’t change a thing – Mom and Dad and the teachers at Cathedral saw to that! I didn’t steal, except once I took a candy bar from B&B Grocery – but I apologized to Mr. Brannigan the next day! I didn’t have a clue what it meant to covet a neighbor’s wife and no one would even talk about “adultery”!

Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy… At least I understood the vocabulary. Even more, I saw my parents, neighbors, teachers and people at church actually doing these things. They were praised, practiced and possible.

Now that I have 63 years of trying to “walk the talk” I am recognizing the profound difference! Too many pious Christians are hung up on the Ten Commandments. They are scary as hell! Not enough people understand that Jesus says absolutely nothing about violation of these commandments when giving us the criteria by which we will be judged.

In Jesus speech about the Last Judgment, no one who murdered, stole, committed adultery (I now know what that is!), lied or cheated is condemned. Jesus’ condemnation does not concern violations of the Ten Commandments!

Jesus’ admonition focuses on failures to do good! Yes, we sin by failing to live according the teaching handed down to Moses on Mt. Sinai. But, Jesus exhorts us to live by something more, by a higher righteousness. (Matthew 5:20)

Seems to me we’d be better off erecting marble monuments on our court-house lawns that quote the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy rather than the Ten Commandments!

On this Mothers Day weekend I am eternally grateful and indebted to Mrs. Dugdale, the Dominican Sisters, and so many other great women who “mothered” God to me. Of course my own mother, Gert, tops that list!  Today, I hope all of you are beaming with pride for what you did with your lives and how you taught others to love.

Still very much a ten-year old boy, someday I want you to be able to say that I’ve done you proud!
_________________
I am indebted to Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Kasper, Paulist Press, 2013 for prompting these – and many other – reflections. Taken especially from pp. 142-5.

Let Us Pray!

Last week we got a thank you note from a friend who is living with a very serious melanoma. We had seen “Joe” at a social event and were grateful for his report of being in remission. As we have in the past we assured him of our prayers. Joe was deeply touched when we told him that his name was “in the box.”

We explained briefly that we have a “grocery list” of names on index cards. Lists go back four or five years by now. We toss the cards into a handsome 4×6 marble box we picked up at a garage sale for a few bucks. It sits on our kitchen table where we see it many times through the day.

Each evening before dinner we ask, “Who should we pray for today?” Generally, people we have seen that day or immediate needs take priority. But we often say, “And for everyone in the box” or silently touch the marble lid near at hand as we say “Amen.”

Joe’s thank you note really touched us. I guess it shouldn’t have, really. When you get down to it, what is it we all want? To be validated, recognized, valued, appreciated – to know when we take off our dress-clothes after a social event that we truly are in relationship and part of a caring community.

There is a whole lot more intercessory prayer going on than meets the eye! But one image has remained with me all week. It comes from First Communion Sunday at Christ the King. Such occasions bring out the multi-generational family like nothing else. A woman I would guess to be the great-grandmother of a well-represented clan knelt after communion with eyes closed and her hands gently clasped near her quiet lips. What must have been in this lovely matriarch’s heart?

Moses interceded before God innumerable times. The one that comes to mind in regard to the woman at Christ the King is recorded in Deuteronomy 9:25 – Moses lies prostrate in prayer before God for forty-days and nights. Similar “standing in the breach” is attributed to Jeremiah (18:20), Ezekiel (13:5 and 22:30) and many others in Scripture. Jesus teaches us to ask for what we need.

But who needs more testimony than the serene focus of a grandmother on First Communion Sunday? So, in her honor and on behalf of all those for whom we have offered to pray, please join me in what I imagine was on her heart:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)