20 May 2015

A Contemplative Moment: The World of Silence


Silence is not simply what happens when we stop talking. It is more than the negative renunciation of language; it is more than simply a condition we can produce at will. When language ceases, silence begins. But it does not begin because language ceases. The absence simply makes the presence of Silence more apparent. Silence is an autonomus phenomenon . . . it is . . .an independent whole subsisting in and through itself. It is creative as language is creative; and it is formative of human beings as language is formative, but not in the same degree. Silence belongs to the basic structure of man.

Silence is nothing merely negative; it is not the mere absence of speech. It is positive, a complete world in itself. Silence has greatness simply because it is. It is, and that is its greatness, its pure existence. There is no beginning to silence and no end: it seems to have its origins in the time when everything was still pure Being. It is like uncreated, everlasting Being. When Silence is present, it is as though nothing but silence had ever existed.

Where silence is, man is observed by silence. Silence looks at man more than man looks at silence. Man does not put silence to the test; silence puts man to the test. One cannot imagine a world in which there is nothing but language and speech, but one can imagine a world where there is nothing but silence. Silence contains everything within itself. It is not waiting for anything; it is always wholly present and it completely fills out the space in which it appears.

The World of Silence by Max Picard

Do you Love Me Peter? Being Made Fully Human in Dialogue With God (Reprise)

Friday's gospel is the pericope where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. It is the first time we hear much about or from Peter since his triple denial of Christ --- his fear-driven affirmations that he did not even know the man and is certainly not a disciple of his. After each question and reply by Peter, Jesus commissions Peter to "feed my lambs, feed my sheep." I have written about this at least three times before.

About two years ago I used this text to reflect on the place of conscience in our lives and a love which transcends law. At another point I spoke about the importance of Jesus' questions and of my own difficulty with Jesus' question to Peter. Then, last year at the end of school I asked the students to imagine what it feels like to have done something for which one feels there is no forgiveness possible and then to hear how an infinitely loving God deals with that. The solution is not, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would have termed it, "cheap grace" --- a forgiveness without cost or consequences. Neither is it a worthless "luv" which some in the Church mistakenly disparage because they hear (they say) too many homilies about the God of Love and mercy and not enough about the God of "justice". Instead, what Jesus reveals in this lection is a merciful love which overcomes all fear and division and summons us to incredible responsibility and freedom. The center of this reading, in other words, is a love which does justice and sets all things right.

But, especially at this time in the church's life, tomorrow's gospel also takes me to the WAY Jesus loves Peter. He addresses him directly; he asks him questions and allows him to discover an answer which stands in complete contrast to and tension with his earlier denials and the surge of emotions and complex of thoughts that prompted them. As with Peter, Jesus' very presence is a question or series of questions which have the power to call us deeper, beyond our own personal limitations and conflicts, to the core of our being. What Jesus does with Peter is engage him at the level of heart --- a level deeper than fear, deeper than ego, beyond defensiveness, and insecurity. Jesus' presence enables dialogue at this profound level, dialogue with one's true self, with God, and with one's entire community; it is an engagement which brings healing and reveals that the capacity for dialogue is the deepest reflection of our humanity.

It is this deep place in us which is the level for authentically human decision making. When we perceive and act at the level of heart we see and act beyond the level of black and white thinking, beyond either/or judgmentalism. Here we know paradox and hold tensions together in faith and love. Here we act in authentic freedom. Jesus' dialogue with Peter points to all of this and to something more. It reminds us that loving God is not a matter of "feeling" some emotion --- though indeed it may well involve this. Instead it is something we are empowered in dialogue with the Word and Spirit of God to do which transcends even feelings; it is a response realized in deciding to serve, to give, to nourish others in spite of the things happening to us at other levels of our being.

When we reflect on this text involving a paradigmatic dialogue between Peter and Jesus we have a key to understanding the nature of all true ministry, and certainly to life and ministry in the Church. Not least we have a significant model of papacy. Of course it is a model of service, but it is one of service only to the extent it is one of true dialogue, first with God, then with oneself, and finally with all others. It is always and everywhere a matter of being engaged at the level of heart, and so, as already noted, beyond ego, fear, defensiveness, black and white thinking, judgmentalism or closed-mindedness to a place where one is comfortable with paradox. As John Paul II wrote in Ut Unum Sint, "Dialog has not only been undertaken; it is an outright necessity, one of the Church's priorities, " or again, "It is necessary to pass from antagonism and conflict to a situation where each party recognizes the other as a partner. . .any display of mutual opposition must disappear." (UUS, secs 31 and 29)

But what is true for Peter is, again, true for each of us. We must be engaged at the level of heart and act in response to the dialogue that occurs there. Because of the place of the Word of God in this process, lectio divina, the reflective reading of Scripture, must be a part of our regular praxis. So too with prayer, especially quiet prayer whose focus is listening deeply and being comfortable with that often-paradoxical truth that comes to us in silence. Our humanity is meant to be a reflection of this profound dialogue. At every moment we are meant to be a hearing of Jesus' question and the commission to serve which it implies. At every moment then we are to be the response which transcends ego, fear, division, judgmentalism, and so forth. Engagement with the Word of God enables such engagement, engagement from that place of unity with God and others Jesus' questions to Peter allowed him to find and live from. My prayer today is that each of us may commit to be open to this kind of engagement. It makes of us the dialogical reality, the full realization of that New Creation which is truly "not of this world" but instead is of the Kingdom of God.

Called to Discipleship: Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk (Reprise)

Written Reflection for the End of the Parish 2011 School Year based on John 21:15-19:

How many of you have ever done something wrong, or hurt someone in a way which made you feel like you would or could never be forgiven or trusted again? Let me give you an example of how this happened in the life of a Sister friend of mine. Mary was about 12 or 13 years old and her parents had asked her to watch her younger sister.

She had other things she might have preferred to be doing, but she said sure, and the two of them went out to play. While Mary's little sister was swinging on a swing Mary looked away for just a moment and, in just that tiny space of time, her sister fell off the swing and struck her head on the concrete. It seemed like there was a lot of blood, and she was clearly hurt in a way a band-aid alone wouldn't fix! Mary's parents came out when Mary called. They did not yell or scold, but neither was there time to talk. Instead they whisked M's sister away to the hospital leaving Mary home alone with her fears and thoughts. You can imagine what was going on inside her: "She's going to die! People who are hurt badly enough to go to the hospital die!!", "Will mom and dad ever forgive me? How can they ever trust me again?" "Do I love my Sister? How could I let something like this happen to someone I really love??" "If she dies, my life will be all over!"

I am sure that Peter is probably feeling and thinking some of these same things in today's Gospel. Remember that the last time we hear much about Peter in John's Gospel before this it is around the time of the Last Supper, and Jesus' following arrest, trial and execution. Always full of bluster, and never really in touch with his own weaknesses, Peter is protesting that he will never betray Jesus, that he will follow him anywhere; that he'll even die for him if necessary, and when soldiers step forward to arrest Jesus, it is Peter who rushes forward to lop the ear off of one of them! But once Jesus is taken away, Peter is a different guy altogether. He skulks around the temple precincts trying to see what is happening to Jesus, but when people ask him three separate times if he is Jesus' disciple, he denies it. And when Jesus is crucified, Peter is off hiding with most of the other disciples so he won't also be arrested and killed (only the beloved disciple remained with Jesus, Mary, and the women). Peter could talk the talk, but, when left to himself, when Jesus was gone, he wasn't strong or courageous enough to walk the walk.

So, although Jesus has appeared several times to the disciples, this is the first time John tells us that he and Peter will talk face to face. Imagine the questions and concerns roiling or boiling around inside Peter's heart! "What does he want? What will he say?" "Does he want to tell me how awful my failure was, and how disappointed in me he was/is?" Does he want to explain how unworthy I am to be his disciple and a leader in his Church?" Will he tell me to just forget it! Oh I hope he doesn't say just forget it --- that would hurt even worse. He knows I can't do that, and besides it would feel like he was dismissing me as a person! I really hope he doesn't do that!" "Does he know how much I really do love him?" "Will he forgive me? Can he ever trust me again???

And Jesus, who knows Peter better than Peter knows himself asks him three times, one for each denial, "Do you love me Peter?" And Peter answers, quieter, humbler now, "You know Lord, that I love you!" Jesus' questions are not a test in the usual way we use that word. The only right answer is the truth. These questions remind Peter of his denials and all the fear, self-centeredness, need for self-preservation and failure that drove them, but they also help to put him in touch with something which is deeper and truer, something which is more real than these. They help Peter to get in touch with his deeper self, the one God calls him to be, the one who is capable of generosity and empathy and compassion, and who really does love Jesus and others more than himself. Each time Peter answers from this deeper place, Jesus entrusts him with a charge or responsibility: "Feed my Lambs, Tend my lambs, Feed my Sheep!" He doesn't shame Peter. Neither does he treat his denials and failure as though they never happened. They were real and they mark him the same as Jesus' wounds mark his own hands, feet, and side, But Jesus empowers him to move beyond them. This is how Jesus forgives. This is how he creates a future for us.

My friend's parents did something very similar. When they returned home from the hospital with Mary's sister, stitched up and bandaged, they let Mary touch her, and kiss her. Then they asked her a couple of questions: "Did you do the best you could do?" Do you love your sister?" And Mary answered yes to both questions, but with the second one she added: "I thought I loved her but now, after all this, I know how much I REALLY do love her!!" Then her parents reminded her that they were going to need to go away in two more weekends, and they wondered if Mary would be okay to take care of her sister for them. Once again she answered yes, yes to her love, yes to her parents and sister, yes to the future.

Here at the end of the school year we should hear the same questions that Peter did. Do you love me?? Perhaps we have not been always been great friends. Maybe there have been times we have been thoughtless, or selfish, or insensitive to the needs of our friends. Perhaps we have not been the best classmates. Maybe we have bullied others or laughed at them because in some way they are different than we are. Maybe we formed exclusive cliques and shut others out, or otherwise acted or spoke at the expense of another's dignity. Perhaps we have not been the best sons and daughters and failed to listen to or respect our parents. But as we hear the same questions, so too should we hear the same commissioning Peter heard: Feed my Sheep! Jesus knows we are better than this; that deep down we are simply awesome, and so, as he did with Peter, he calls us all to grow into that --- and some of us he just plain calls to grow up --- to take care of the least and the weakest as he does us --- the least and the weakest.

At the end of the Gospel today Jesus tells Peter that when he was younger he could go anywhere he liked, but now that he is older, someone will gird or dress him and lead him where he would rather not go. Today, you sit here in your Summer clothes, all set to have a great vacation from school. Your teachers, your pastor, and all the parish staff all hope you will have a terrific time, full of fun and a different kind of learning. But come September, we will ask you to put your St P's uniforms back on, and leave your younger, less mature selves behind while you to step up to even greater challenges, even more responsibility, and show us your better, truer selves. We know you are capable of this. We trust that you are each capable of fulfilling Jesus' charge to "Feed my Lambs, Tend my Sheep. Feed my Sheep." We know that you will return to us ready and eager not only to talk the talk but to walk the walk of the community leaders and disciples of Christ you truly are.

19 May 2015

Sister Megan Rice's Conviction Overturned


A federal appeals court on Friday overturned the sabotage charge against an 85-year-old nun and two other protesters who broke into a nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in 2012.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit issued a 2-1 decision to uphold a conviction of injuring government property but overturn the more serious conviction of sabotage against Sister Megan Rice, 59-year-old Greg Boertje-Obed and 66-year-old Michael Walli.

The protesters broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex outside Knoxville in 2012 and spray-painted quotes from the Bible on its walls.

Rice is currently serving a prison sentence of 35 months but could walk free in a matter of weeks, her lawyers told NPR Wednesday.

"We felt from the moment we got this case that it was not properly charged," lawyer Marc Shapiro, who represented the protesters pro bono, told NPR. "[W]hatever one might say about their trespass or destruction of property that clearly their intent was not to injure the national defense," he said.





Gregory Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice, and Michael Walli await their federal trial in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on February 6, 2013.

The court ruled the trio's nonviolent protest had not posed a threat to national security. The opinion read, in part:

If a defendant blew up a building used to manufacture components for nuclear weapons ... the government surely could demonstrate an adverse effect on the nation’s ability to attack or defend ... But vague platitudes about a facility's 'crucial role in the national defense' are not enough to convict a defendant of sabotage.

A judge sentenced Rice to 35 months in prison in February 2014 for breaking into the complex, one of the largest of its kind in the United States. The nun and her fellow activists cut 14-inch openings in the fence and spray-painted quotes from the Bible on the walls of a uranium enrichment facility. They also splashed a vial of human blood on the exterior.

"Please have no leniency with me," Rice said at the time of judge's ruling. "To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me."

In January, the New York Daily News revealed the harsh conditions in which Rice was living at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

18 May 2015

Jumping Through Needless Hoops? More on Writing a Rule of Life

[[Hi Sister, maybe you have already answered this, but isn't it unreasonable to expect a person to write several different Rules over a period of 6-9 years? It does seem like a lot of needless hoops to make someone jump through. I can't believe that a first Rule would differ from a third or fourth Rule so much as all that. I mean it covers the basics or fundamentals of one's life. These don't change so dramatically in the life of a hermit do they? Isn't this really just busy work to give the diocese something to look at? So what do they look at if nothing really changes from one Rule to another? And what do they do if the hermit is not a writer? I am certainly not one so the whole prospect of my diocese asking me to do this would completely turn me off from pursuing profession under c 603!]]

Thanks for your questions. For those who are relatively new to this blog, and because I have not written about this recently, let me say that they refer to a suggestion I have made which allows a diocese and a hermit to engage in a process of formation and mutual discernment which 1) protects the freedom and solitude of the hermit, 2) provides a meaningful way the diocese can gauge the growth of the individual vocation before them and discern the suitability for and timing of eremitical profession and consecration, and 3) allows the hermit to take the initiative in working at both discernment and formation but in a significantly accountable way. Specifcally, over a period of about 6-9 years a candidate for consecration under c 603 will move through various natural stages in her formation and discernment as a hermit; as she does this she will mark --- as well as signal to those discerning with her --- her readiness to enter the next stage of the process by writing a Rule which, depending on the stage involved, will serve either relatively casually or more strictly and even canonically to structure and govern her life. The posts introducing this idea can mainly be found at Why Several Rules over a Period of Time? and under the labels, "Formation Programs?" and "Discernment" as well as, "Writing a Rule of Life".

Do Rules Change Much in the Life of a Hermit? 

Yes and no. The central elements of the Rule are unlikely to change significantly but the person's understanding of and relation to these elements will change significantly over time. The Rule this person writes at different points in her formation will reflect these changes especially as the person's life comes to embody them in more and more integral ways. Similarly then the elements of the Rule will cease to be merely external constraints as the person comes to explore and understand the depths of the realities to which they point. So, for instance, a Rule might speak of the silence of solitude in the beginning of a person's formative process and reflect a sense of external silence and solitude. While this sense will always remain, always be presupposed in any maturation in the silence of solitude, it will become less important than the deeper reality it expresses. Later on in her formation then, her Rule will reflect a sense that this element (the silence of solitude) is the goal of her life; for the hermit it will involve an essential quies which results from union with God and reflect a sense of being comfortable in her own skin and a wholeness without noisy striving or self-centeredness. In other words, the Rule's central elements begin more and more to define not only what the hermit does but who she is!

Similarly one might begin their approach to 'stricter separation from the world' by focusing on the things and people she cannot do or see but in time this element of the canon will reflect more the remaking of the hermit's heart into one that loves with a singleness and purity of focus. The physical separation remains and is presupposed in all else that happens in this solitary life, but it is the vision of the Kingdom and the claim the God of Jesus Christ has on her heart that will come to drive her understanding of this element or aspect of her eremitical life. The same kinds of changes tend to occur with the other non-negotiable elements of canon 603: poverty, chastity, obedience; there will be a deepening and broadening of experience and understanding which will be reflected in the subsequent Rule one writes.

As this process of internalization and integration occurs, the way the hermit comes to envision these elements changes and the emphasis in the Rule itself will also change to reflect this. In some cases an emphasis that was entirely absent will emerge as will a vision of eremitical life that was not present in one's first and/or second Rule. In this process the Rule's central or defining elements cease to be disparate requirements governing different parts of the hermit's life and instead come to express related emphases in a life reflecting the Gospel of God lived in solitude with God. A Rule written just prior to perpetual profession, for instance, is more likely to represent a vision of eremitical life lived in the 21st century with specific essential emphases than it is to be simply a list of things one contracts to do. Again, the Rule will often shift to define who the hermit is and her sense of mission and charism than it is merely a list of things she covenants to observe.

If one were to look at the various Rules a hermit writes over time this is the pattern one is likely to find. Even when the Rule itself does not explicitly reflect such changes through various versions, conversations with the hermit or hermit candidate is apt to elicit a clear sense of such change and growth. (If these conversations do not reflect such changes one has good reason to suspect either, 1) there is no eremitical vocation here, 2) the candidate is not living her Rule well (faithfully or wholeheartedly), or 3) something else is going on that is stunting or short-circuiting the formation process --- whether that centers on the failure of her (relationship with her) director, medical problems of one sort or another, or other difficulties. In such instances there needs to be conversations with the candidate, her delegate, et al, to ascertain and resolve the problem.)

Jumping Through Needless Hoops?

As you can tell, I believe this process is not mere "busy work". It is important for both discernment (both the hermit's AND the diocese's) and for formation. Likewise it assures accountability both on the hermit's part and on the diocese's while it provides an objective focus for evaluating a life lived in solitary hiddenness. I have already discussed the major aspects of these things so I won't repeat them here. It is important that dioceses give hermits sufficient time to discern suitability and, when determined, achieve readiness for profession. It is  similarly important that candidates allow themselves sufficient time while negotiating a process that is not marked by somewhat arbitrary time frames like those associated in canon law with postulancy and novitiate. The writing of appropriate Rules to focus and mark the hermit's personal stages of formation can substitute in a vocation that does not lend itself so well to such arbitrary time frames --- 9 mos for candidacy and 1-2 years novitiate; while these work well for communal vocations, they work less well for the solitary eremitical call. At the same time the process I have outlined does not allow the process to go on forever and especially not without accountability on both sides, diocese and candidate.

Further, while it is true that the use of this process does give the diocese something to "look at" this is not objectionable; it is part of what they require as part of their own call to discern, encourage, assist in the formation of, and protect ecclesial vocations. The process I have outlined eliminates some of the guesswork and complete subjectivity from the entire discernment and formation process, and I believe it does so while protecting the hermit's freedom to respond to God as she hears God in solitude.

What if the Hermit/Candidate is not a Writer?

I don't think this is really an insurmountable problem. After all, I am not speaking of writing a dissertation or book or something similar on eremitical life. I am talking about writing a Rule of life which is actually required by the Canon itself. It is a document which reflect the hermit's experience and codifies her own wisdom about how God calls her to live her life. On the whole it is less about writing per se than it is about attending to and reflecting on the vocation one is called to live. The Rule codifies what is necessary for a person to do that. In my own experience, in writing the Rule I submitted to my diocese prior to perpetual profession, I spent about one full month writing (at least a few hours a day) but months and even years were given to reflecting on canon 603 itself and how its elements related to the way God was working in my own life.  It seems to me that one needs far less to be a writer than one needs to truly be a contemplative who has come to know herself in light of God through an experiential knowledge of the constitutive elements of canon 603. I think that is by far the harder task, and probably the real obstacle to being able to write a Rule.

At the same time writing is an important way of becoming clear about who one is and why one is doing something. It is one of the ways we come to be articulate about what is most life giving for us and what is indispensable and normative in our lives. We shouldn't really expect to be able to write a liveable Rule unless and until we have spent time writing really unlivable and inadequate Rules or at least practice Rules we are comfortable using to "walk around in" for a time in order to learn more about ourselves and the way God is working in our lives. In the beginning hermit candidates ordinarily write Rules which are really little more than lists of "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots".  In time they come to see these are wholly insufficient to describe or govern lives marked by the power of the Holy Spirit,  much less to challenge and even to inspire them adequately. That is why I say over time one will come to write a Rule which is more a vision of eremitical life as God inspires one to see and live it than it is a list of do's and don'ts --- even when it includes these, as it inevitably must. In any case, one comes to learn what being a hermit is by living the life; likewise one comes to learn to write a Rule which serves as c. 603 requires and envisions by writing several of them over time.

In a genuine eremitical life, none of this time and effort will be wasted. One is, after all, growing in, exploring, and learning to articulate who one is in light of one's solitary relationship with God. If one is never professed as a canon 603 hermit one has still benefited by the canon's requirement that one write a Rule because it has been a formative experience, not merely a sterile requirement to "get professed". Meanwhile, if one's diocese admits one to profession and then consecration as a diocesan hermit one will only be grateful for all the work it took to get there and will benefit from it in a more direct way every day for the rest of her life. In either case it is something like last Friday's Gospel passage: when the labor is accomplished and the child born, one forgets the pain it all took and feels only joy at the new life which has been brought forth.

A Contemplative Moment: Entering the Silence


Entering the Silence

 A commitment to silence is a commitment to truth. The truth is found first in the truth of sensing. Not forgetful sensing, but being present in our sensing. When we do, our sight is clearer, our smelling keener, our touching more intimate. The experience is not one of stronger acuity of the senses but rather of a sensing pervaded with the holiness of the world. Commitment is the best place to start with Silence. It is then possible to move to the depths and the heights, but if we try to go to these regions first, we are assured only of illusion.

The most basic experience of Silence is intimacy. We feel an intimacy with the world, as if we are within everything around us rather than behind or alongside things that we are then looking at. This mantle of touch brings us to the living truth of our being. We know who we are in a completely non-self-conscious way. We feel how we, in our individuality, are part of a vast and mysterious world process. And when we cultivate Silence to the point that we are consciously within it rather than imagining that it is in us, we cannot be other than we are. The imagination of it being within us emanates from the loss of touch of Silence. . .Silence keeps us intimately bound with the truth of our being, constantly conveying to us in a bodily way that our individual and unique presence as soul, spirit, and body intermingles with the world, and at the same time, lives a free and independent existence. Illusion and ego-fantasy begin with forgetting this intimacy.

from Silence: the Mystery of Wholeness, "Entering the Silence"
by Robert Sardello

15 May 2015

Statement of the LCWR Officers on the CDF Doctrinal Assessment and Conclusion of the Mandate

The LCWR and all other participants were asked to remain silent about the conclusion of the Mandate and the process it involved for a period of thirty days.  That period ends today and the initial LCWR Officers' statement follows below. I will post a response to this statement as soon as I have had some time to digest it. For now I would say it strikes me as both honest and restrained in its frankness. The comments on Abp Peter Sartain are certainly gratifying and encouraging while the reference to the "ambiguity" of the origins of the process can certainly be called open even as it is "tactful".

Most significant I think is this statement's clear reminder that when unexpected, unpleasant, and even truly unjust accusations and situations interrupt our lives and ministry, dealing with these in a truly contemplative, attentive, and dialogical way may become the ministry we are most meant to do at that time and place. Every situation is an opportunity for God to bring reconciliation and good out of it if we really allow it to be that. Today's Gospel speaks of the great joy and new life that follows the labor pains of birth. Clearly this process, despite ending prematurely, was a difficult, long and painful one for the LCWR. My own hope is that something really God-filled has been borne of this particular travail. I think that is what the LCWR and the rest of the Church hopes for as well. Certainly all the reports coming out from individual participants, both Bishops and Sisters, stress the listening and dialogue which characterized the process. Given the genuine and fruitful --- if nonetheless difficult --- conversation they each describe, the Church has something to be very gratified by here. (cf: NY Times: Nuns Spoke Out, Archbishop Listened)

The Statement:

Issued by Sister Sharon Holland, IHM (LCWR President); Sister Marcia Allen, CSJ (LCWR President-Elect); Sister Carol Zinn, SSJ (LCWR Past President); and Sister Joan Marie Steadman, CSC (LCWR Executive Director)

[[We have been asked by our members and the public for our thoughts and reflections regarding the completion of the mandate of implementation issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) after its doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). We do so here, but emphasize that these are only preliminary personal observations and reflections. We will not have the opportunity to reflect on the experience in its entirety with the members of the conference and hear their insights until the LCWR assembly in August 2015.

From the time of the 2012 public issuance of the findings of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR, we had serious concerns about both the content of the assessment and the process by which it was prepared. We believed that the sanctions called for in the CDF mandate were disproportionate to the concerns raised and we feared the sanctions could compromise the ability of the LCWR officers and members to fulfill the mission of the conference. Furthermore, we were deeply saddened that the report caused scandal and pain throughout the Catholic community. We, along with our members, felt publicly humiliated as the false accusations were re-published repeatedly in the press.

Beginning with our first meeting with LCWR’s board of directors in May 2012 shortly after the issuance of the mandate, we situated all discussions of the assessment and mandate in a context of communal contemplative prayer. This involved acknowledging the depth of our feelings about the actions of CDF; careful listening to all perspectives on the matter; engaging in honest conversations with one another about not only LCWR and its work, but our own faith journeys; communally sitting in silence to ponder all we heard; and bringing our insights to God in prayer. We continued to utilize contemplative processes each time we gathered as the executive officers of the conference, as a board, and as an assembly to discuss the mandate. We believe this approach strengthened our capacity to hear and better understand the concerns of CDF as well as clarify and strengthen our own convictions about the mission and purpose of LCWR. The processes in which we engaged as a conference became a profound source of personal growth for each of us and deepened and strengthened the bonds that exist among us as women religious.

We brought this desire for deep listening and respectful dialogue to our work with the CDF officials and found they held a similar desire. Our interactions with the CDF officers and the three bishops whom CDF delegated to implement its mandate -- Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop Leonard Blair, and Bishop Thomas Paprocki -- were always conducted in a spirit of prayer and openness. We engaged in long and challenging exchanges with these officials about our understandings of and perspectives on critical matters of faith and its practice, religious life and its mission, and the role of a leadership conference of religious. We believe that because these exchanges were carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect, we were brought to deeper understandings of one another. We gained insights into the experiences and perspectives of these church leaders, and felt that our experiences and perspectives were heard and valued.

Preparation for and participation in such rigorous dialogue and exchange of ideas was time-consuming and, at times, difficult. The choice to stay at the table and continue dialogue around issues of profound importance to us as US women religious had its costs. The process was made more difficult because of the ambiguity over the origin of the concerns raised in the doctrinal assessment report that seemed not to have basis in the reality of LCWR’s work. The journey in this uncharted territory at times was dark and a positive outcome seemed remote.

We were encouraged, however, to remain in the process by the manner in which Archbishop Sartain journeyed with us. His presence to us as the LCWR officers, as well as to our members at the LCWR assemblies and board of director meetings he attended, spoke clearly of his sincerity and integrity. His capacity to listen to us from a stance of respect and genuine care strengthened our confidence that honest dialogue would eventually help us all to recognize our commonalities and gain clearer understanding of and appreciation for our differences.

LCWR has a long history of conducting evaluations and assessments of its work and has always welcomed new ideas that could strengthen its mission. We appreciate what we learned through our work with Archbishop Sartain and the other CDF officers and delegates about how LCWR is perceived by others and are integrating these new insights into the work and life of the conference. One example is the recommendation of theological reviews of LCWR periodicals. We accepted and already implemented this suggestion because we believe such a review will fortify LCWR’s publications.

From the beginning of LCWR’s work with the bishop delegates in 2012, we agreed that we would speak honestly and directly with one another and not through the media. We recognize that this decision frustrated some of our own members, as well as the public and the media. We were highly aware that many people throughout the world were concerned about LCWR and were supporting and praying for us. While at times we too wished we could have shared more along the way with all who cared about this matter, we believe that by keeping our conversations private, we were able to speak with one another at a level of honesty that we believe contributed to the mandate coming to its conclusion as it did. Of utmost importance to us throughout this process was the directive we had received from our own members not to compromise the integrity of LCWR. We believe that integrity was not only kept intact, but perhaps deepened and strengthened through the process.

We acknowledge as well that the doctrinal assessment and mandate deeply disturbed many Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world. Thousands of people communicated to us their concern not only for LCWR and Catholic sisters, but for the ramifications these two actions could have for the wider world and church. Many perceived the assessment and mandate as an attempt to suppress the voice of LCWR which was seen as an organization that responsibly raises questions on matters of conscience, faith, and justice. Repeatedly, we heard that people were praying that the manner in which LCWR and the bishop delegates engaged in this process would lead to the creation of safe spaces where matters of such importance could be discussed with openness and honesty, and in an environment freed of fear.

Our hope is that the positive outcome of the assessment and mandate will lead to the creation of additional spaces within the Catholic Church where the church leadership and membership can speak together regularly about the critical matters before all of us. The collective exploration of the meaning and application of key theological, spiritual, social, moral, and ethical concepts must be an ongoing effort for all of us in the world today. Admittedly, entering into a commitment to regular and consistent dialogue about core matters that have the potential to divide us can be arduous, demanding work, but work that is ultimately transformative. However challenging these efforts are, in a world marked by polarities and intolerance of difference, perhaps no work is more important. In an epoch of massive change in the world, we believe such efforts towards ongoing dialogue are fundamental and essential for the sake of our future as a global community. We hope that our years of working through this difficult mandate made some small contribution to this end.]]

14 May 2015

Canon 603 Hermits and Rejection of Vatican II

[[Dear Sister, are the majority of Catholic Hermits progressive or liberal rather than Traditionalist? You consider yourself progressive or liberal don't you? Is it possible to reject Vatican II and be a canonical solitary hermit today? I was thinking that maybe the c 603 hermit vocation would be perfect for someone who doesn't accept Vatican II but does not want to leave the Church. Or would this be another example of what you have called "stopgap vocations"? In your opinion should the Church be professing hermits who  reject Vatican II?]]

Thanks for your questions. I must admit I am curious as to why you are asking them; what raised them for you? But in any case let me give them a shot. Labels like liberal and progressive are not always helpful I don't think. I don't know what they actually mean a lot of the time. I thought of myself as progressive or liberal when I was a student. Later though I came to see myself as essentially conservative --- conservative in a way I consider genuinely healthy.

What I mean by this is I hold onto the core truth, try to understand it more and more fully, and then try to apply it in ways which lead to new life, growth, maturity, etc. Since God is both "always the same" and the source of continuing newness and surprise I think this is the only way to go. Moreover, as a hermit, there is no doubt that I am part of a really ancient vocation whose roots are spiritually conservative but which is also incredibly prophetic and open to the newness that leads to. When the roots are deep and lasting newness is not a problem. That said, I don't know whether most c 603 hermits are progressive, etc. Only occasionally do I hear of hermits whose conservatism veers from healthiness into a dystrophic traditionalism. On the other hand, those whose eremitism is not profoundly conservative in the sense I have described are unlikely to last as hermits unless and until they develop the roots healthy conservatism and the truly prophetic require.

Before I answer your questions about eremitical life and Vatican II let me point you to a video of a hermit professed according to c 603 in the post-conciliar revised Code of Canon Law. Though a bit long it tells the story of the first contemporary solitary hermit in Ireland. Unfortunately  Sister Irene Gibson rejects Vatican II and the post-conciliar Church utterly.  Her conservatism has become a less healthy traditionalism. From what I can see from this video she and I disagree on almost everything theological except the fact that vocations are not a call issued and answered only once, but something we must respond to daily. Sister Irene believes this is because human beings are sinful and would fall away from their vocations otherwise. I accept that as a secondary reason but contend the primary reason is that God is a dynamic reality calling us at every moment and we are called to be responsive individuals whose "yes" is offered again and again.

I suspect Sister Irene's eremitical vows have since been dispensed because she really is entirely opposed to the contemporary Roman Catholic Church and exists in schism with it; she now lives with a Tridentine community of Sisters so far as I know, but nonetheless, I respect her and would say she was a true hermit with a true vocation to the silence of solitude. Whether she should ever have been professed as a canon 603 hermit is another question entirely. Her life says very clearly that God alone is sufficient and I admit I am quite impressed with her integrity and courage as someone living an intense solitude without even the support of her local (or national) Church for many years.

In the following video I think that despite the dislike with which she refers to the Roman Curia (" the bureaucrats in Rome"), her complete hatred for what Vatican II wrought, and a theology that, in my opinion, fails to do justice to either history or the God of Jesus Christ --- something that causes a distorted focus on sin rather than on the God of mercy --- there is a gentleness, a degree of humility, and real love for the people with whom Sister Irene interacts and for whom she prays. It is this capacity for humility, love, and compassion which grows in solitude along with a capacity for silent suffering that, I think, attests to the authenticity of Sister's eremitical vocation. The seriousness, reverence, and core of deep sadness and grief which informs a life which is truly loving only underscores this authenticity in my mind.



As for your questions regarding Vatican II and solitary eremitical life per se, I do not think it is possible to be a solitary hermit according to the Revised Code of Canon Law if one rejects Vatican II. First of all the very Code which allows for solitary hermits in universal law for the first time in the history of the Church is a result of Vatican II and the reforms achieved and envisioned there. It seems ironic in the extreme to me, not to mention inconsistent and more than a little self-serving and even potentially hypocritical to seek (or allow) profession under such a canon when one no longer believes in the Church whose life it reflects. Remember that canon 603 describes a life lived in the heart of the Church, a very specifically ecclesial vocation lived under the supervision of a Bishop of the contemporary (that is, post-conciliar) Church. It makes little sense to profess and consecrate someone within a Church they believe is a betrayal of 2000 years of ecclesial history. How, after all can they meet sacramental obligations? How can they vow obedience to God in the hands of a legitimate superior whose authority they reject? I think you see the problem.

While at first glance this may seem to be a "perfect solution" for someone who, as you say, "rejects Vatican II but does not want to leave the Church," in reality they have already left the Church --- for the Ecumenical Council is the highest expression of the Church's authority at work. Although I have never applied the term stopgap in this sense (I ordinarily mean something is stopgap if it provides a pseudo solution which plugs a hole in canon law for those who cannot be professed in any other way or who wish to circumvent canonical procedures already in place), I think you might be right in applying this term here.

The bottom line in this situation is that this is an entirely inadequate and imprudent "solution" to the problem of someone who rejects Vatican II but whom we might want to "keep" within the Church in some sense. (If the person is struggling with aspects of the Church, as, for instance the desert Mothers and Fathers struggled with them while perhaps living a prophetic life within the Church, I think this is a different matter. It seems to me that Sister Irene might well have been in such a position when she was first professed.) One cannot be a "Catholic (c 603) Hermit" while at the same time rejecting the very Church in whose name one is professed, consecrated, and called to live the eremitical life. No true vocation allows for such disingenuousness; after all we are called by the God who is Truth to witness to Him and the Good News of his Christ Event.

Sister Irene's situation may be more extreme than others but it helps underscore the ecclesial nature of the c 603 or diocesan eremitical vocation. I believe she was professed under c 603 in good faith and it is possible that she was professed before she had the experiences she describes regarding both Vatican II, the Greek Orthodox Mass, and her insight into the supposed nature of the post-conciliar Church. (Despite c 603 antedating VII by almost 20 years, I say this because the timeline of these events is not entirely clear to me from her comments.) Even so, whatever the timeline at some point she essentially "left" the post-conciliar Roman Catholic Church (and later she left it in every sense for the Tridentine Church and religious life there).

If she was already professed her vows under canon 603 would likely have been dispensed; if she made her profession only after coming to see the Church as she does it would have been determined to be invalid. It is not so much that the Church should not be professing folks who have rejected Vatican II though this is certainly true, but rather, that she really cannot do so validly because these persons have, in their heart of hearts --- as well as in terms of ecclesial worship and doctrine --- left the Church and simply cannot be thought of as living their lives in (much less as part of) her very heart.

Iraqi Dominican Sister Speaks to Congressional Committee re ISIS

Iraqi Dominican Sister Diana Domeka, OP speaks to the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs regarding ISIS and the fate of Religious minorities along with the looting and destruction of the cultural heritage of so much of the region. The text of Sister's comments are included below (with some uncorrected transcription problems). I apologize for the all caps. I have inserted some somewhat arbitrary paragraph breaks to make the whole more readable visually. The comments of the entire video can be found at: Congressional Hearing on Religious Minorities and ISIS

REMARKS by Sister Diana. >> THANK YOU. THANK YOU, CHAIRMAN ROYCE AND DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE FOR INVITING ME TODAY TO SHARE MY VIEWS ON ANCIENT COMMUNITIES UNDER ATTACK. >> SISTER, I'M GOING TO SUGGEST YOU MOVE THE MICROPHONE RIGHT IN FRONT THERE. JUST PROJECT A LITTLE BIT. THANK YOU. >> OKAY. THANK YOU. NOVEMBER 2009, A BOMB WAS DETONATED AT OUR CONVENT IN MOSUL. FIVE SISTERS WERE IN THE BUILDING AT THE TIME AND THEY WERE LUCKY TO HAVE ESCAPED UNHARMED. OUR SISTER [PRIORESS] ASKED FOR PROTECTION FROM LOCAL CIVILIZATION AUTHORITIES, BUT THE PLEAS WENT UNANSWERED. AS SUCH, SHE HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO MOVE US. ON JUNE 10th, 2014, THE SO-CALLED ISLAMIC STATE IN IRAQ OR SYRIA, OR ISIS, INVADED THE NINEVEH PLAIN. STARTING WITH THE CITY OF MOSUL, ISIS OVERRAN ONE CITY AND TOWN AFTER ANOTHER, GIVING THE CHRISTIANS OF THE REGION THREE CHOICES, CONVERT TO ISLAM, PAY TRIBUTE TO ISIS, LEAVE THEIR CITIES, CITIES LIKE MOSUL, WITH NOTHING MORE THAN THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACK.

AS THIS HORROR SUPPRESSED [SUFFUSED?] THROUGH ALL OF THE NINEVEH PLAIN, BY ALL 6th, 2014, NINEVEH WAS EMPTY OF CHRISTIANS AND SADLY FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE SEVENTH CENTURY A.D., NO CHURCH BELLS RANG FOR MASS IN THE NINEVEH PLAIN. FROM JUNE 2014 FORWARD, MORE THAN 120,000 PEOPLE FOUND THEMSELVES DISPLACED AND HOMELESS IN THE KURDISTAN REGION OF IRAQ, LEAVING BEHIND THEIR HERITAGE AND ALL THEY HAD WORKED FOR OVER THE CENTURIES. THIS UPROOTING OF EVERYTHING THAT CHRISTIANS OWNED, BODY AND SOUL, STRIPPING AWAY THEIR HUMANITY AND DIGNITY. TO ADD INSULT TO INJURY, THE INITIATIVE IS THAT IRAQI AND KURDISH GOVERNMENTS WERE AT BEST MODEST AND SLOW. APART FROM ALLOWING CHRISTIANS TO ENTER THE REGION, THE KURDISH GOVERNMENT DID NOT OFFER ANY AID EITHER FINANCIAL OR MATERIAL. I UNDERSTAND THE GREAT STRAIN THAT THESE EVENTS HAVE PLACED ON BAGHDAD AND ERBIL. HOWEVER, IT HAS BEEN ALMOST A YEAR AND CHRISTIAN IRAQI CITIZENS ARE STILL IN DIRE NEED FOR HELP. MANY PEOPLE SPEND DAYS AND WEEKS IN THE STREET BEFORE THEY FOUND SHELTER IN TENTS, SCHOOLS, AND HOMES. THANKFULLY THE CHURCHES STEPPED FORWARD AND CARED FOR DISPLACED CHRISTIANS.

DOING HER VERY BEST TO HANDLE THIS DISASTER. BUILDINGS WERE OPEN TO ACCOMMODATE THE PEOPLE. FOOD AND NON-FOOD ITEMS WERE PROVIDED TO MEET THE IMMEDIATE NEEDS OF THE PEOPLE AND MEDICAL HEALTH SERVICES WERE ALSO PROVIDED. MOREOVER, THE CHURCH PUT OUT A CALL AND MANY HUMANITARIAN ORGANIZATIONS ANSWERED WITH AID FOR THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE IN NEED. PRESENTLY, WE ARE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT HAS BEEN DONE. WITH MOST PEOPLE NOW SHELTERED IN SMALL CONTAINERS OR SOME HOMES, THOUGH BETTER THAN LIVING ON THE STREETS OR ABANDONED BUILDINGS. THESE SMALL UNITS ARE FEW IN NUMBER AND ARE CROWDED WITH THREE FAMILIES. EACH WITH MULTIPLE PEOPLE, OFTEN ACCOMMODATED IN ONE UNIT. THIS IS, OF COURSE, INCREASING TENSION AND CONFLICT, EVEN WITHIN THE SAME FAMILY.

THERE ARE MANY WHO SAY, WHY DON'T THE CHRISTIANS JUST LEAVE IRAQ AND MOVE TO ANOTHER COUNTRY AND BE DONE WITH IT? TO THIS QUESTION, WE WOULD RESPOND, WHY SHOULD WE LEAVE OUR COUNTRY, WHAT HAVE WE DONE? THE CHRISTIANS OF IRAQ ARE THE FIRST PEOPLE OF THE LAND. YOU READ ABOUT US IN THE OLD TESTAMENT OF THE BIBLE. CHRISTIANITY CAME TO IRAQ FROM THE VERY EARLIEST DAYS, THROUGH THE PREACHING OF ST. THOMAS AND OTHERS OF THE APOSTLES AND CHURCH ELDERS. WHILE OUR ANCESTORS EXPERIENCED ALL KINDS OF PERSECUTION, THEY BUILT A CULTURE THAT HAS SERVED HUMANITY FOR AGES. WE AS CHRISTIANS DO NOT WANT OR DESERVE TO LEAVE OR BE FORCED OUT OF OUR COUNTRY ANY MORE THAN YOU WOULD WANT TO LEAVE OR BE FORCED OUT OF YOURS. BUT THE CURRENT PERSECUTION THAT OUR COMMUNITY IS FACING IS THE MOST BRUTAL IN OUR HISTORY. NOT ONLY HAVE WE BEEN ROBBED OF OUR HOMES, PROPERTY, AND LAND, BUT OUR HERITAGE IS BEING DESTROYED AS WELL. ISIS HAS CONTINUED TO DEMOLISH AND BOMB OUR CHURCHES, CULTURAL ARTIFACTS AND SACRED PLACES, LIKE A FOURTH CENTURY MONASTERY IN MOSUL.

UPROOTED AND FORCEFULLY DISPLACED, WE HAVE REALIZED THAT ISIS PLANS TO EVACUATE THE LAND OF CHRISTIANS AND WIPE THE EARTH CLEAN OF ANY EVIDENCE THAT WE EVER EXISTED. THIS IS HUMAN GENOCIDE. THE ONLY CHRISTIANS THAT REMAIN IN THE NINEVEH PLAINS ARE THOSE WHO ARE HELD AS HOSTAGES. TO RESTORE AND BUILD THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN IRAQ, THE FOLLOWING NEEDS OUR URGENT. HELPING US RETURN. COORDINATED EFFORTS TO REBUILD WHAT WAS DESTROYED THROUGH SLAUGHTER, AND ELECTRICAL SUPPLIES AND BUILDINGS INCLUDING OUR CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES. INCOURAGING ENTERPRISES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE BUILDING OF IRAQ AND INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE.ENCOURAGING ENTERPRISES THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE BUILDING OF IRAQ AND INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE. THIS COULD BE THROUGH SCHOOL AND ACADEMIC PROJECTS.

I AM BUT ONE SMALL PERSON. A VICTIM MYSELF OF ISIS, AND ALL OF ITS BRUTALITY. COMING HERE HAS BEEN DIFFICULT FOR ME. AS A RELIGIOUS SISTER, I'M NOT COMFORTABLE WITH THE MEDIA AND SO MUCH ATTENTION. BUT I AM HERE, AND I AM HERE TO ASK YOU, TO IMPLORE YOU FOR THE SAKE OF OUR COMMON HUMANITY, TO HELP US, STAND WITH US, AS WE, AS CHRISTIANS, HAVE STOOD WITH ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD AND HELP US. WE WANT NOTHING MORE THAN TO GO BACK TO OUR LIVES. WE WANT NOTHING MORE THAN TO GO HOME. THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS

13 May 2015

I go to Prepare a Place for You: Ascension and the Imagery of Jewish Marriage

So much of what Jesus says about the event we call "Ascension" is meant to remind us of the Jewish theology of marriage. It is meant to remind us that the Church, those called and sent in the name of Jesus, is the Bride of Christ --- both betrothed and awaiting the consummation of this marriage. This Friday's Gospel passage from 16 John prepares the disciples for Jesus' "leaving" and the Church wants us to hear it now in terms of the Ascension rather than the crucifixion. Thus, it focuses on the "in-between" time of grief-at-separation, waiting, and bittersweet joy.

Thus too, especially with its imagery of labor and childbirth, it affirms that though Jesus must leave to prepare a place for us, the grief of his "leaving" (really a new kind of presence) will one day turn to unalloyed joy because with and in Christ something new is being brought to birth both in our own lives and in the very life of God. It is an unprecedented reality, an entirely New Life and too, a source of a joy which no one can take from us. Just as the bridegroom remains a real but bittersweet presence and promise in the life of his betrothed, so Jesus' presence in our own lives is a source of now-alloyed and bittersweet joy, both real and unmistakable but also not what it will be when the whole of creation reaches its fulfillment and the marriage between Christ and his Bride is consummated. The union of this consummation is thus the cosmic union of God-made all in all.

The following post reflects on another Johannine text, also preparing us for the Ascension. I wanted to reprise it here because the Gospel texts this week all seek to remind us of the unadulterated joy of Easter and the Parousia (the second-coming and fulfillment) as they prepare us for the bittersweet joy of the in-between time of Ascension and especially because they do so using the imagery of Jewish marriage. This Friday's childbirth imagery in John 16 presupposes and requires this be fresh in our minds.

The Two Stages of Jewish Marriage

The central image Jesus uses in [speaking of his leaving and eventual return] is that of marriage. His disciples are supposed to hear him speaking of the entire process of man and wife becoming one, of a union which represents that between God and mankind (and indeed, all of creation) which is so close that the two cannot be prised apart or even seen as entirely distinguishable realities. Remember that in Jewish marriages there were two steps: 1) the betrothal which was really marriage and which could only be ended by a divorce, and 2) the taking home and consummation stage in this marriage. After the bridegroom travels to his bride's home and the two are betrothed, the bridegroom returns home to build a place for his new bride in his family's home. It is always meant to be a better place than she had before. When this is finished (about a year later) the bridegroom travels back to his bride and with great ceremony (lighted lamps, accompanying friends, etc) brings her back to her new home where the marriage is consummated.

Descent and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

This image of the dual stages in Jewish marriage is an appropriate metaphor of what is accomplished in the two "stages" in salvation history referred to as descent and ascent. When we think of Jesus as mediator or revealer --- or even as Bridegroom --- we are looking at a theology of salvation (soteriology)  in which God first goes out of himself in search of a counterpart. This God  'empties himself' of divine prerogatives --- not least that of remaining in solitary omnipotent splendor --- and in a continuing act of self-emptying creates the cosmos still in search of that counterpart. For this reason the entire process is known as one of descent or kenosis. Over eons of time and through many intermediaries (including prophets, the Law, and several covenants) he continues to go out of himself to summon the "other" into existence, and eventually chooses a People who will reveal  him (that is, make him known and real) to the nations. Finally and definitively in Jesus he is enabled to turn a human face to his chosen People. As God has done in partial and fragmentary ways before, in Christ as Mediator he reveals himself definitively as a jealous and fierce lover, one who will allow nothing, not even sin and godless death (which he actually takes into himself!)** to separate him from his beloved or prevent him from bringing her home with him when the time comes.

Ascension and the Mediation of God's Reconciling Love:

With Jesus' ascension we are confronted with another dimension of Christ's role as mediator; we celebrate the return of the Bridegroom to his father's house --- that is to the very life of God. He goes there to prepare a place for us. As in the Jewish marriage practice, that Divine "household" (that Divine life) will change in a definitive way with the return of the Son (who has also changed and is now an embodied human being who has experienced death, etc.) just as the Son's coming into the world changed it in a definitive way. God is not yet all in all (that comes later) but in Christ humanity has both assumed and been promised a place in God's own life. As my major theology professor used to say to us, "God has taken death into himself and has not been destroyed by it." That is what heaven is all about, active participation and sharing by that which is other than God in the very life of God. Heaven is not like a huge sports arena where everyone who manages to get a ticket stares at the Jumbo Tron (God) and possibly plays harps or sing psalms to keep from getting too bored. With the Christ Event God changes the world and reconciles it to himself, but with that same event the very life of God himself is changed as well. The ascension signals this significant change as embodied humanity and all of human experience becomes a part of the life of the transcendent God who is eternal and incorporeal. Some "gods" would be destroyed by this, but not the God of Jesus Christ!

Summary

Mediation (or revelation) occurs in two directions in Christ. Christ IS the gateway between heaven and earth, the "place" where these two realities meet and kiss, the new Temple where sacred and profane come together and are transfigured into a single reality. Jesus as mediator implicates God into our world and all of its moments and moods up to and including sin and godless death. But Jesus as mediator also allows human life, and eventually all of creation to be implicated in and assume a place in God's own life. When this double movement comes to its conclusion, when it is accomplished in fullness and Jesus' commission to reconciliation is entirely accomplished, when, that is, the Bridegroom comes forth once again to finally bring his bride home for the consummation of their marriage, there will be a new heaven and earth where God is all in all; in this parousia both God and creation achieve the will of God together as it was always meant to be.
_______________
** Note: the Scriptures recognize two forms of death. The first is a kind of natural perishing. The second is linked to sin and to the idea that if we choose to live without God we choose to die without him. It is the consequence of sin. This second kind is called variously, sinful death, godless death, eternal death or the second death. This is the death Jesus "takes on" in taking on the reality and consequences of human sinfulness; it is the death he dies while (in his own sinlessness) remaining entirely vulnerable and open to God. It is the death his obedience (openness) allows God to penetrate and transform with his presence.

The resurrection is the event symbolizing the defeat of this death and the first sign that all death will one day fall to the life and love of God. Ascension is the event symbolizing God taking humanity into his own "house", his own life in Christ. We live in hope for the day the promise of Ascension will be true for the whole of God's creation, the day when God will be all in all.

10 May 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Whether we think of our own Mothers, of the teachers and others who also acted as "Mothers" to us in times of need and unique circumstances, of the Sisters we know or once knew who do and did more mothering than many realize, or of Mary the Theotokos who was given to us as Mother and Sister, today is a day to express our gratitude for the unique love we have  received --- a love which allows us to be truly ourselves and persons who in turn love the world into wholeness.

Thomas Merton once said that, "Hermits are created by difficult Mothers." Perhaps, but in my own life the truth is also richer and more complex than that. "Difficult" mothers may contribute to our tendency to become "loners" or introverts and eventually to turn to God as seekers of meaning and our world's redemption, but if we are truly fortunate others will also  touch us with a Divine love that is profoundly maternal and reminds us that eremitical solitude is more about communion and compassion than it is about isolation and self-centered struggle and suffering. (Clearly Thomas Merton knew this quite well, how ever he came to know it.)

In my own life I have had a number of "Mothers." Each is special and each has made a unique contribution to my life. Each bears significant responsibility for nurturing the life God calls me to and for making me more holy than I might have been without them. Each has been a friend to me and taught me something about the humor, patience, seriousness, consistency, gentleness, acceptance, persistence, courage, generosity, faith, and love we are each incomplete and less than human without. Edna, Marilyn, Margaret, Mar, Mary (several Mary's in fact) --- I thank God for your significant and continuing presence in my life.

 I hope we will each and all take some time today to name in our prayer all of those who have mothered us and enabled us to mother or father others throughout our lives. They all, "difficult" or not, represent one of God's greatest gifts to those adopted ones he calls "friends".

08 May 2015

On Being Counterparts and Collaborators: I Call you Friends, Not Servants

Throughout this Easter Season the Church gives us a chance to come to terms in a more exhaustive way than we might have until this point with the fact that in light of the Cross, the world in which we live is not the one that existed before Jesus' death and resurrection. In the world in which we live in light of the Cross while death and sin are still realities, they are not dominant; they do not have the last word. Instead, the grace of God, God's powerful presence is dominant and sin and death have been defeated in a way which promises that life in abundance is the true hope and promise of this world. The prayer we say daily, "May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (That is, may your love be real for us here and now in space and time just as it is real within your own eternal life; may you be sovereign here and now in space and time just as you are in eternity) is something we see not merely as possibility but as promise which is already realized in a partial way in our own lives and communities.

Similarly, these fifty days give us the chance to grasp and claim more fully the fact that we baptized human beings are not the same either. We are a new creation, not just created by God but recreated by his life within us and by our baptism into the death and resurrection of God's own Christ. If sin and death have lost their dominion in our world more generally, God's love has been poured into us in a way which allows our hearts and lives to truly transcend sin and death more specifically. The petition that God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven is also the promise we claim that God's love will be sovereign in our own hearts just as it is sovereign in the life of the Trinity. We were originally made to be counterparts of God in our world; we were made to walk and talk with God in the cool of the evening, to be friends and partners with God in all we were and did in our world. That friendship was realized most fully and exhaustively in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is that friendship which baptism into his death reestablishes and reclaims --- not as a mere metaphor for a life without serious sin, but as a literal description of who we are and how God regards us. "I call you friends," is the NT's highest formulation of the love and delight with which God regards us.

It is also something which marks an identity far beyond that defined by law or measured by the necessary legal categories of worthiness or unworthiness. I wrote a couple of months ago that Christian humility was the result of being lifted up by God so we could see ourselves in light of his own gaze. Here we have the confession of the truly humble: I am called "Friend" by God; it is my identity and my destiny. From the face-in-the-dirt humiliation we often visit upon ourselves and upon others, God lifts us up to our knees. It is the place of inestimable dignity his love carves out for me and the role it empowers. Beyond any thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness God delights in me and calls me friend. Beyond failure or success, guilt, shame, humiliation, or pride, God delights in me and calls me friend. Beyond law to the empowerment of grace, the whole purpose of my (or any Christian's) spirituality is that we allow that to be true here and now in space and time just as it is on God's eternal side of things so that one day God will be all in all.

But it is not easy to let go of law to accept grace. It is not easy to let go of self-judgment, blame, lack of self-esteem or its opposite in narcissism to receive the pure gift of friendship and the esteem and dignity which is part of that. It is not easy to treat the Good News of what God has done in Christ as something which stands on its own and is not to be added onto our own performance under the Law. It is not easy to let the scales drop from our own eyes and see ourselves as God sees us, or to let His Word pierce and clear away the blockages of our own ears, minds, and hearts so that we can truly receive the message of today's Gospel pericope:

[["I call you friends!" --- that is how I regard you, you to whom I have revealed my own heart and will, my own plans for the world and the cosmos, my own deepest desires and most profound dreams and delight. You are no longer merely servants; in my Christ you are my counterparts and collaborators in making these things real in space and time --- on earth as it is in heaven. Love one another as I have loved you. As I have loved you in Christ so let others know that same love in and through your own life. As you have known my delight, let others know my delight in them. See them as I see them --- beyond any thoughts of worthiness or unworthiness, success or failure, guilt or innocence, shame or honor, beyond even sin and death --- reveal the ground of your own new-found dignity and identity, the world-shattering vocation you share with them: "I call you friends!" It is thus that My Reign is established.]]

03 May 2015

When Concern for the Temporal is also Engagement with the Eternal

Dear Sister, you write a lot about temporal things, laws, requirements, the contents of a lay hermit's prayer space, habits, titles, and things like that. One blogger has opined that hermits grow beyond such concerns as they become more spiritual. She wrote recently: "How long did this hermit remain more or less in place, discussing or thinking about--or maybe thinking it had the responsibility to write about temporal matters such as what does a hermit wear, or eat, or daily routine, or title, or rule of life or what prayers, or what degree of solitude, and what does its hermitage look like? . . .Do we outgrow, or should we outgrow, the temporal aspects of our lives as we progress in life, and spiral more upward--or deeper in--and seek the spiritual aspects that our souls truly desire and actually need?"

Before I ask my questions I wanted to say I am grateful to you for your blog. I think it is probably helpful to people considering becoming hermits and for those of us with questions about spirituality generally. I also love that you share things like what gives you pleasure or post videos of your orchestra. Those posts reveal a lot about yourself and I personally enjoy that. My question is whether you see yourself growing out of a concern with temporal things or writing about these things? The other blogger thought these reflected a newly-wed stage of life; she also suggested that the concern with the temporal had a link with the US as opposed to other countries. I guess her blog readers come more from other countries and are not as interested in some of the questions you deal with. I don't see how she could know what countries your questions come from though.]]

Thanks very much for your comments and questions. No one ever asked me about what gives me pleasure before; I am sure at least some think there is nothing edifying about the experience of pleasure! As though the mere experience of pleasure implies one is a hedonist! Others have asked me to say more about my everyday life but I have not been able to do that; these questions seemed sort of invasive and also were a little hard to imagine what to say. Anyway, I enjoyed that question and I hope one of the things it indicates is the profound happiness associated with this vocation. Every aspect of it can be a source of real joy and yes, "pleasure" or gratification because it all reflects life with God and the quality of that. To some extent that anticipates your questions!.

I may have told this story before, but I was once working with a hermit candidate in another diocese and he asked me how I balanced "hermit things" and "worldly things" in my life. When I asked him what he meant by worldly things he listed things like grocery shopping, doing the dishes and laundry, scrubbing floors, cleaning the bathroom and things like that. When I asked about "hermit things" he referred to prayer, lectio divina, Office, Mass, and things like that. In other words, he had divided the world neatly into two classes of things, one having to do with what most folks call "worldly" or "temporal" and those most folks refer to as "spiritual" or "eternal." What I had to try and make clear to this candidate was that to the extent he really was a hermit, everything he did every day were hermit things, everything he did or was called to do was to be an expression of the eternal life he shared in by virtue of his baptism and new life in Christ.  A neat division into spiritual and temporal simply doesn't work with our God. The incarnation rules that out.

Instead we belong to a Sacramental world in which the most ordinary and ephemeral can become the mediator of the divinely extraordinary and eternal. We see this every day in our own worship as wine wheat, water, oil, and wax among other things mediate the life and light of God to us. Even more, we belong to a world which heaven has begun to interpenetrate completely. It is a world in which God is meant to be all in all, a world which itself is meant to exist in and through God alone. This involves God revealing (Him)self in the unexpected and even the unacceptable place --- transforming (hallowing) them utterly with his presence. The descent and self emptying of God in creation and the incarnation is balanced or completed by the Ascension of the Risen Jesus into the very life of God. As we heard earlier this week, Christ goes to God to prepare a place for us, a place for the human and "temporal" in the very life of God (Him)self.

It is the place of disciples of Christ to proclaim the way the event of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection has changed our world and our destiny. Christians recognize that every part of our world and our lives can glorify God. That is, every part of our world and lives can reveal God to others. So, you see, I think the simplistic division of reality into temporal and spiritual is actually anti-Christian and I have said this in the past. I don't, therefore, think we outgrow our concern with the temporal dimensions of our lives. Instead, unless we refuse to allow this to occur through our all-too-human ways of seeing and thinking, they come more and more to reflect the presence of God and are consecrated or made holy by that presence and our awareness of it.  Because my own vocation is a public one I feel a responsibility to share about elements of that vocation which people raise questions about. Moreover, many of the questions I have dealt with recently are related to becoming a hermit, discerning the distinction between legitimate hermits and counterfeits, fielding concerns about distortions in spirituality which can be harmful to people, etc. I think these are important.

Especially these questions lead  to or are part of important discussions of truthfulness, personal integrity, pretense, shame, the dialogical and ecclesial nature of the eremitical vocation, the capacity of one's relationship with God to transform the deficiencies of her life into actual gifts, the nature of symbols, our faith as essentially Sacramental, the universal call to holiness and the sanctity of ALL vocations, the importance of lay eremitical life as well as of canonical or consecrated eremitical life, ministerial vs contemplative vocations, and any number of other topics. What may seem to be superficial matters, matters far removed from the "spiritual" or "eternal" tend from my perspective as a theologian, a contemplative, and a Benedictine to open unto far deeper issues. This is because they are part of an organic whole where the whole is essentially sacramental.

However, there is another perspective which I should mention. The blogger you are citing is a privately dedicated lay hermit. She is certainly called to be responsible for her vocation but not in quite the same way I am for mine. She does not share the same rights (title, habit, publicly ecclesial eremitical life) nor is she publicly responsible for things like the quality of her rule, the importance and nature of a horarium, the place of legitimate superiors and the nature of obedience, the degrees and types of solitude one is called to embrace, degrees and kinds of work allowed, forms of prayer advised, approaches to penance, the charism of the life, etc. Because of this she may not see these things or their depth and significance in the same way I do. That is hardly surprising.

Of course this blogger has every right to disagree, to weigh in on issues and give her own perspective on them, especially if she does so honestly as a woman living a privately dedicated lay eremitical life rather than a "consecrated Catholic Hermit" or "professed religious". If she so chooses she is completely free to speak only of the things she considers spiritual matters and leave all those other things up to those for whom they are more meaningful and part of a deeply incarnational spiritual life and perspective. What she is less free to do is speak with impunity about canon 603, its nature and associated rights and obligations as though she is as knowledgeable about such things as someone living them. When she does this she opens herself to discussion, debate and even correction by those (canonists, hermits, historians, theologians) who are both more experienced and more knowledgeable than she is. Granted, some of what she seems to be dismissing as "temporal" rather than "eternal," for instance are certainly things an experienced hermit does not worry about and she is correct that some of them (like habits and titles) are usually of more concern to beginners or "wannabes".

However, they are also matters which point beyond themselves to the ecclesial nature and dimension of the vocation; thus some canonical hermits honor these with their lives. Other matters are never superficial. The hermit's Rule, will help the Church hierarchy to discern vocations to the eremitical life under canon 603 while the task of writing one can aid in a hermit's formation as well as her diocese's discernment of her readiness for temporary or perpetual profession. Beyond profession it will be part of governing and inspiring her life day in and day out for the remainder of her life. She will live in dialogue with it and with God through it so long as she lives. My own Rule is something I make notes in, reflect on, and revise as my own understanding grows and life circumstances change. Among other things it helps me to discern the wisdom of increased active ministry or greater reclusion, review the overall shape of my life, reflects the nature of my prayer and growth in this, and can even reflect the quality of my physical health and call attention to problems I might not be aware of otherwise.

Another matter which is never merely superficial is the way a hermitage or one's prayer space looks. Here appearance and function are profoundly related. Canonical hermits are publicly responsible for simple lives of religious poverty, obedience and celibate love in the silence of solitude. God is the center of their lives and their living space should reflect all of these things. What is as important --- since few people will actually come into hermit's living or prayer space --- is that a hermitage with too much "stuff" can be an obstacle to the life a hermit is called to live. I have been doing Spring cleaning off and on these past two weeks or so and that means getting rid of the accumulation of a year and more. This accumulation occurs partly because I don't drive and cannot simply take stuff to used book stores, thrift stores, the salvation Army, etc. Papers and books especially accumulate. Once the "stuff" is gone, even though the place was neat anyway, the feeling is simply much different. I personally feel lighter, happier, more able to "breathe", work and pray.

Further, the way my hermitage looks tends to be a good barometer of how well I am living my life. For me the richness and vitality of one's inner life is reflected in simplicity, beauty, light, and order. The opposite of these things can say that I am struggling --- sometimes spiritually, sometimes physically, and sometimes both; they may also cause me to struggle. On the other hand some specific forms of clutter and accumulation are associated with productive work and are a sign of the vitality of my inner life. In any case these "superficial" or "temporal" matters are a clue and key to attending to the state of my inner life with God and with others. I think a lot of people experience something similar. Again, we are talking about an organic whole in which inner and outer are intimately related and mutually influential.

The simple fact is that in our incarnational faith concern for and engagement with the temporal is the means by which we are engaged with the Eternal and the ordinary way the Eternal is mediated to us. Resurrected life is Bodily existence and though we can hardly imagine what this means we must continue to hold these two things together in our understanding just as we hold the temporal and the spiritual together in our appreciation of reality as sacramental.

01 May 2015

We are all Sons, heirs of the Kingdom of God's own Life

Today's readings struck me in several places. One of these was the responsorial psalm whose antiphon we repeated several times:  "You are my Son, this day I have begotten you." I know that many persons will change the language here so that it does not seem sexist but I think we have misunderstood what is being affirmed in this reading if we hear it in a sexist way. We are losing the countercultural sense of the usage in such a reading, blunting its sharpness and capacity to undercut our usual ways of seeing reality. Jesus made no distinctions between who became heirs of the Kingdom of God, whether women or men, no distinction based upon gender was involved here. Moreover to be called God's Son meant that one had been baptized into Jesus' own death and were indeed an heir to his resurrection and the Kingdom of God. The use of the term "Son" indicates an identity dependent upon and a literal share in Jesus' OWN Sonship, an identity we share in without losing our own unique masculine or feminine characteristics. It meant one was a new creation in whom godless death had been transfigured by the very presence of God. We, as heirs of this Kingdom have become responsible for proclaiming the Good News in season and out --- a good news that turned the gender-based society of the time on its head. (Please check out an original post on this subject: Driven into the Desert by the Spirit of Sonship)

The second place I found quite striking is the story of Jesus' farewell with the promise that he goes to the Father to prepare a place for us. So long as we think of heaven a some space separate from (though including) God Himself we will not understand how incredible this affirmation is but as we prepare for the Ascension and Pentecost we need to start thinking about this. Once upon a time our world had no room for God, and certainly not for a God who assumed human life and turned a human face toward us so that he might be fully revealed both in the sense of being made fully present and in the sense of being made fully known to us. This revelation of God walked among outcasts, ate with sinners (and here we mean BIG TIME sinners), touched the untouchable, made the rich poor and raised them to the humility of those who know they are loved by God no matter what! That has all been blunted somewhat by the Greek notion of God's omnipresence but we must see the original scandal, the terrible offense of such a God.

But heaven means a share in God's own life and sovereignty, wherever that exists! It is not a space somehow surrounding God but separate from Him where God is a Being --- just a Supreme Being. Instead, since God is not A Being but instead the ground, source and goal of all being, the hope of Christians is that one day we will all dwell in God's own life. When Jesus says he goes to prepare a place for us it means he goes to the Father with whom he is in the most intimate union and through his mediation human life will now have a place in God's own life. God's and Jesus' descent and kenosis is mirrored by an ascent and glorification or movement to pleroma or fullness. This is simply part of God's becoming All in All. It is the Love that does Justice, that sets all to rights. We focus on the first movement (descent and kenosis) but not sufficiently on ascent and pleroma. Imagine a God who has made room for us in his own life! A God who has taken sinfulness and death inside himself and not been destroyed by them! Imagine a God who humbles by raising us to life within the delight of his gaze, who forgives guilt and heals shame with a simple embrace, who makes whole by making us and the whole of creation one with himself!

This, after all is God's will, the desire and intention that one day God will be all in all. It is a vision with cosmic scope but at the same time does not exclude the smallest portion of God's creation, not the greatest sinner or the most humble saint, the smallest virus or the largest star. As Sons of God we are part of a new creation which calls upon us to see with new eyes. Old exclusionary ways of doing business, conceiving of justice and of entrance into God's presence must be jettisoned as some of the baggage belonging to a different story and Kingdom.