Victory Assured

Truth is I’m smitten. Bordering on giddy. Certainly anxious and eager. Along with many across this nation, I have fallen in love with a horse, California Chrome.

Worthy of poet Gerard Manly Hopkins’ Pied Beauty, here is how the New York Times describes the animal who tomorrow will attempt to be the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978:

The colt comes from common stock and grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in thoroughbred racing, but he is pin-up pretty, with a lustrous chestnut coat pulled taut over a body that looks wrought by the hands of a sculptor.

His name was pulled out of a cowboy hat — for real — and combines his birthplace with the term used by horse people for the flashes of white on a horse. California Chrome sports bobby socks on all four feet, and his face is creased by a white racing stripe.

What sealed the allegiance of this guy who’s only ridden – and that’s a generous term – a horse once in his life was the “common stock” part and hailing from “the wrong side of the tracks.” I also like the fact that Chrome’s trainer is the oldest to ever win the Kentucky Derby at age 77.

Hopkins’s poetry effusively proclaims what we all know in our hearts — we consistently find God in creation, ordinary things and everyday “stuff”.  What else should we expect from a God whose self-revelation occurs primarily within the history of a people and penultimately in the Incarnation?

Tomorrow, as I scrutinize Chrome’s every move in the Belmont Stakes, I will have in mind a poem shared with me by my friend Susan Stabile. It is from Mary Karr and wonderfully titled Who the Meek Are Not. For me, Chrome symbolizes all the little guys, every one of common stock and any from the wrong side of the track – those Jesus titled meek and humble of heart.

Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
in the rice-paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
in a meadow, who—
at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned
but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.

Let’s cheer all the world’s California Chromes on to victory. For blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth!  We should all aspire to be in their victory circle.

____________________

You may read the entire NYTimes story about California Chrome’s improbable destiny [here].

Loneliness

It’s time for a change of pace!

Here is one of my favorite poems from the 14th-century Persian mystic and poet, Hafiz of Shiraz:

Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.
 
Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,
 
My need of God
Absolutely
Clear.
 
__________________________________
This copyrighted translation is by Daniel Ladinsky who entitles it Absolutely Clear. You may find it in his collection of 60 Hafiz poems, The Subject Tonight is Love, Pumpkin House Press, North Myrtle Beach, SC., 1996, p 50.

Pray — Now, Often and Hard

It’s time to pray. Start now. Pray often. Pray hard!

This Sunday – Pentecost — Presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres will arrive at the home of Pope Francis in the Vatican. Francis explained that their meeting is not a diplomatic initiative or mediation, but only a prayer for peace.

It was officially confirmed yesterday that Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew II will be joining them.   The presence of the Successor of the Apostle Andrew next to the Successor of the Apostle Peter is a poignant sign of a deep and abiding commitment for peace in the Holy Land.

Such unity-in-practice between the Roman and Orthodox churches is already a major breakthrough and bodes well for what the Spirit has in mind for the gathering on Sunday.

Yes, we all should join in the spirit and energy of this prayer. Start now. Pray often. Pray hard.

Here’s a practical suggestion – light a candle. Let it be a tangible sign of the “tongues of fire” we hope will descend on the patriarch, pontiff and presidents this Pentecost – indeed, on all people of good will.

Most supermarkets carry 24-hour memorial candles. I found mine in the section of the store that also offers Sabbath supplies. Mine is the familiar Manischewitz brand. What if we all lit such a candle this Sunday asking for a fresh out-pouring of God’s empowering presence?

Whatever our expressions of prayer may take, let’s pray remembering that we not only need to change the hearts of world leaders.  Many human hearts need to be transformed, beginning with our own.

Here is one prayer for peace adapted from the inter-faith Week of Prayer for World Peace website:

Lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

In our prayer let us pray with the first Pentecost in mind:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:1-6)

Yes, may it be so. Let it be. Let it be.

 

 

 

Warning: Strong Winds Possible

Remember that old, short, fat guy with big ears? His name was Angelo.

Who wouldn’t feel affection for a man who was so comfortable with himself that he constantly made jokes about his physical appearance? When he once met a little boy named Angelo, he exclaimed, “That was my name, too!” And then, conspiratorially, “But then they made me change it!”

Journalists once expressed concern about the many burdens of his office on such an old man — he was seventy-seven when elected!  They asked, “Do worries, stress or anxiety given all you have to face ever keep you awake at night?” He answered, “Not at all! At the end of the day I say, ‘God, this is your church. I’m going to sleep.’”

An experienced diplomat, a veteran of ecumenical dialogue, and a gifted pastor and bishop, John XXIII brought a wealth of experience to the office of pope. Blessed with a sense of humor and innate humility, he managed to escape the Achilles heel of all Catholics – conflating the hierarchy with the church.

When making a pastoral visit to a Roman medical center named the Hospital of the Holy Spirit he was introduced to the nun who was the administrator of the hospital. “Holy Father,” she said, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “You’re very lucky,” said the pope, delighted. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”

Three months after assuming his office, Pope John caught Vatican bureaucrats off guard by casually announcing his intention to convene an ecumenical council. Curial officers, long accustomed to running things, prepared documents simply reiterating tired old “truths” in the moribund language of ecclesial texts. Entrenched bishops were poised to condemn a whole new syllabus of modern errors.

John gave voice to a different agenda. “The church has always opposed … errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to use the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.” He also hoped the church might reclaim its true identity and vocation as a “church of the poor.”

The pope hardly spoke during the opening sessions of the Council. He made one crucial intervention. After the first previously prepared document was rejected by a narrow majority, but not enough to table it definitively, John directed that it be returned for complete revision. That empowered the assembled bishops to set aside the entire set of draft documents and start from scratch.

His role was simply to “open the widows” for the spirit of Vatican II. Terminal cancer would cut short his participation but not his humor: “My bags are packed and I am ready to go.”

Four and a half years after becoming pope, John dictated a final message from his deathbed:

Now, more than ever, certainly more than in the past centuries, our intention is to serve people as such and not only Catholics; to defend above all and everywhere the rights of the human person and not only those of the Catholic Church; it is not the Gospel that changes; it is we who begin to understand it better…. The moment has arrived when we must recognize the signs of the times, seize the opportunity, and look far beyond. 

Sound vaguely familiar? As we approach Pentecost this Sunday we do well to remember that this isn’t the pope’s church, it is God’s! For all who would conflate hierarchy with church, the best we could do would be to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit.  We should all be starting more fires!

Saint John XXIII died on this day in 1963.

___________________

I am indebted once again to Robert Ellsberg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses For Our Times. Crossroads, 1999. p 243-4.

Humor is from James Martin, SJ and more may be enjoyed [here].

Beyond Denial to Genuine Hope

A week ago at church we heard that terrific passage from 1 Peter 3:15 suggesting we should always be ready to give reason for our hope. Yesterday at church I experienced reason for great hope in the most unimaginable way – Father Dale matter-of-factly referred to rape in his homily. It felt like fresh Spring air reviving the church.

Regulars here will remember that I am beyond exasperation with clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church. As with the vast majority of rank and file Catholics my outrage transcends those who committed acts of sexual exploitation. Collective outrage correctly rests with a culture of clericalism – like fish, the ordained are typically unaware of the water in which they swim!

For the record, I believe Archbishop John Nienstedt should resign. My reasons are not based in anger or revenge, though I freely admit my anger and belief he must bear the consequences of his malfeasance. He should resign because he has squandered authority and lost the trust of the people. No one can provide moral leadership from such a position of deficit.

He is not likely to resign. Such is the culture of clericalism – ordination is often misconstrued as divine right, direct delegation from God Almighty! He appears to me as one who remains blithely unaware of the water in which he swims. Clerics are too often preoccupied with fulfilling “their” vocations, their individual “call” from God. It’s tied up in power!

If Archbishop Nienstedt were a Good Shepherd he would recognize that it’s not about him! Neither is it about public anger, revenge, power or even legitimate authority. It’s about the church, the People of God. The eight years to Nienstedt’s mandatory retirement age of 75 is simply too long for this Archdiocese to wait for the leadership it deserves and desires.

But neither is my point ultimately about an Archbishop. It’s about hope, fresh air, speaking the truth, proclaiming a Word recognized as the Truth! It’s about what’s happening in parishes in this Archdiocese and across this country. It’s about priests like Father Dale who know the water in which they swim, who love the communities they shepherd, and about mature Christians who recognize and require truth be spoken.

Yesterday Dale introduced his homily, masterfully focused on the Ascension of the Lord, with a passing reference to the death of Maya Angelou and her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In that context he mentioned that she had been raped at age seven and lived for the next ten years not speaking. Rape. Seven-years old. In church, out loud!

This never would have happened in the church of my childhood. Such topics were verboten, unspeakable, mentioned only in the privacy of Confession. That too was an ocean in which we swam unaware of the toxicity of our waters.

Today churches, schools and civic organizations have “safe child” trainings, policies guiding the actions of supervising adults, and a heightened sensitivity to good-touch/bad-touch. This is as it must be. This all is necessary to transform our culture and heal our communities.

But something more was in the air yesterday at church – freedom, truth, openness. It feels like a genuinely safe and transparent community when rape of a child can be factually admitted and publicly grieved. It went far beyond training, policies or supervision!

This was not the point of Dale’s Ascension homily – and that is my point. No more cover-ups. No more denial. No more lies. Truth vivified the air. What a healthy community in which to raise a child. What a truly safe church we really are becoming.

At the Ascension Jesus promised to send us the Spirit. We have good reason for deep and abiding hope!