25 August 2012

Moyers and Company: Nuns, Faith and Politics

Excellent presentation not only of the Nuns on the Bus trip --- views you have not seen up until now, but with a discussion between Bill Moyers, Sister Simone Campbell, and Robert Royal.

If the story Sister Corita Ambro tells of coming to a place where she could hug Jimmy at the St Augustine Hunger Center doesn't touch you profoundly with what the presence of ministerial religious means to the marginalized (and remind you of St Francis and the Leper) I will be very surprised. Wonderful for it's honesty (humility), its pathos, and as a clear picture of what such Sisters are doing every single day, it provides a key to the perspective they uniquely hold in the discussions and debates about social justice and the focus of Sisters belonging to the LCWR, for instance.

22 August 2012

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (reprised)

Today's Gospel is one of my all-time favorite parables, that of the laborers in the vineyard. The story is simple --- deceptively so in fact: workers come to work in the vineyard at various parts of the day all having contracted with the master of the vineyard to work for a day's wages. Some therefore work the whole day, some are brought in to work only half a day, and some are hired only when the master comes for them at the end of the day. When time comes to pay everyone what they are owed those who came in to work last are paid first and receive a full day's wages. Those who came in to work first expect to be paid more than these and are disappointed and begin complaining when they are given the same wage as those paid first. The response of the master reminds them that he has paid them what they contracted for, nothing less, and then asks if they are envious that he is generous with his own money. A saying is added: [in the Kingdom of God] the first shall be last and the last first.

Now, it is important to remember what the word parable means in appreciating what Jesus is actually doing with this story and seeing how it challenges us today. The word parable, as I have written before, comes from two Greek words, para meaning alongside of and balein, meaning to throw down. What Jesus does is to throw down first one set of values, one well-understood or common perspective, and allow people to get comfortable with that. (It is one they understand best so often Jesus merely needs to suggest it while his hearers fill in the rest. For instance he mentions a sower, or a vineyard and people fill in the details. Today he might well speak of a a CEO in an office, or a mother on a run to pick up kids from a swim meet or soccer practice.) Then, he throws down a second set of values or a second way of seeing reality which disorients and gets his hearers off-balance. This second set of values or new perspective is that of the Kingdom of God. Those who listen have to make a decision. (The purpose of the parable is not only to present the choice, but to engage the reader/hearer and shake them up or disorient them a bit so that a choice for something new can (and hopefully will) be made.) Either Jesus' hearers will reaffirm the common values or perspective or they will choose the values and perspective of the Kingdom of God. The second perspective, that of the Kingdom is often counterintuitive, ostensibly foolish or offensive, and never a matter of "common sense". To choose it --- and therefore to choose Jesus and the God he reveals --- ordinarily puts one in a place which is countercultural and often apparently ridiculous.

So what happens in today's Gospel? Again, Jesus tells a story about a vineyard and a master hiring workers. His readers know this world well and despite Jesus stating specifically that each man hired contracts for the same wage, common sense says that is unfair and the master MUST pay the later workers less than he pays those who came early to the fields and worked through the heat of the noonday sun. And of course, this is precisely what the early workers complain about to the master. It is precisely what most of US would complain about in our own workplaces if someone hired after us got more money, for instance, or if someone with a high school diploma got the same pay and benefit package as someone with a doctorate --- never mind that we agreed to this package! The same is true in terms of religion: "I spent my WHOLE life serving the Lord. I was baptized as an infant and went to Catholic schools from grade school through college and this upstart convert who has never done anything at all at the parish gets the Pastoral Associate job? No Way!! No FAIR!!" From our everyday perspective this would be a cogent objection and Jesus' insistence that all receive the same wage, not to mention that he seems to rub it in by calling the last hired to be paid first (i.e., the normal order of the Kingdom), is simply shocking.

And yet the master brings up two points which turn everything around: 1) he has paid everyone exactly what they contracted for --- a point which stops the complaints for the time being, and 2) he asks if they are envious that he is generous with his own gifts or money. He then reminds his hearers that the first shall be last, and the last first in the Kingdom of God. If someone was making these remarks to us in response to cries of "unfair" it would bring us up short, wouldn't it? If we were already a bit disoriented by a pay master who changed the rules of commonsense disbursal this would no doubt underscore the situation. It might also cause us to take a long look at ourselves and the values by which we live our lives. We might ask ourselves if the values and standards of the Kingdom are really SO different than those we operate by everyday of our lives, not to mention, do we really want to "buy into" this Kingdom if the rewards are really parcelled out in this way, even for people less "gifted" and less "committed" than we consider ourselves! Of course, we might not phrase things so bluntly. If we are honest, we will begin to see more than our own brilliance, giftedness, or commitedness; we might begin to see these along with a deep neediness, a persistent and genuine fear at the cost involved in accepting this "Kingdom" instead of the world we know and have accommodated ourselves to so well.

We might consider too, and carefully, that the Kingdom is not an otherwordly heaven, but that it is the realm of God's sovereignty which, especially in Christ, interpenetrates this world, and is actually the goal and perfection of this world; when we do, the dilemma before us gets even sharper. There is no real room for opting for this world's values now in the hope that those "other Kingdomly values" only kick in after death! All that render to Caesar stuff is actually a bit of a joke if we think we can divvy things up neatly and comfortably (I am sure Jesus was asking for the gift of one's whole self and nothing less when he made this statement!), because after all, what REALLY belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? No, no compromises are really allowed with today's parable, no easy blending of the vast discrepancy between the realm of God's sovereignty and the world which is ordered to greed, competition, self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy, nor therefore, to the choice Jesus puts before us.

So, what side will we come down on after all this disorientation and shaking up? I know that every time I hear this parable it touches a place in me (yet another one!!) that resents (or at least resists!) the values and standards of the Kingdom and that is called to measure things VERY differently indeed. It may be a part of me that resists the idea that everything I have and am is God's gift, even if I worked hard in cooperating with that (my very capacity and willingness to cooperate are ALSO gifts of God!). It may be a part of me that looks down my nose at this person or that and considers myself better in some way (smarter, more gifted, a harder worker, stronger, more faithful, born to a better class of parents, etc, etc). It may be part of me that resents another's wage or benefits despite the fact that I am not really in need of more myself. It may even be a part of me that resents my own weakness and inabilities, my own illness and incapacities which lead me to despise the preciousness and value of my life and his own way of valuing it which is God's gift to me and to the world. I am socialized in this first-world-culture and there is no doubt that it resides deeply and pervasively within me contending always for the Kingdom of God's sovereignty in my heart and living. I suspect this is true for most of us, and that today's Gospel challenges us to make a renewed choice for the Kingdom in yet another way or to another more profound or extensive degree.

For Christians every day is gift and we are given precisely what we need to live fully and with real integrity if only we will choose to accept it. We are precious to God, and this is often hard to really accept, but neither more nor less precious than the person standing in the grocery store line ahead of us or folded dirty and disheveled behind a begging sign on the street corner near our bank or outside our favorite coffee shop. The wage we have agreed to (or been offered) is the gift of God's very self along with his judgment that we are indeed precious, and so, the free and abundant but cruciform life of a shared history and destiny with that same God whose characteristic way of being is kenotic. He pours himself out with equal abandon for each of us whether we have served him our whole lives or only just met him this afternoon. He does so whether we are well and whole, or broken and feeble. And he asks us to do the same, to pour ourselves out similarly both for his own sake and for the sake of his creation-made-to-be God's Kingdom.

To do so means to decide for his reign now and tomorrow and the day after that; it means to accept his gift of Self as fully as he wills to give it, and it therefore means to listen to him and his Word so that we MAY be able to decide and order our lives appropriately in his gratuitous love and mercy. The parable in today's Gospel is a gift which makes this possible --- if only we would allow it to work as Jesus empowers and wills it!

20 August 2012

St Bernard of Clairveaux

Often I get emails from folks which never show up on this blog. Sometimes they have personal questions about prayer, mysticism, contemplation, etc. Recently I received a series of emails which involved questions regarding experiences of God in contemplative prayer. While the person did not desire these experiences for their own sake, she did wonder if perhaps their absence indicated something was missing from her contemplative praxis. About a week or so after answering her questions in terms of listening for God's voice in a different way, I came across the following quotation from Bernard of Clairvaux. I share it not only because it speaks to this person's questions, but because it is appropriate on this, St Bernard's Feast Day:

[[I want to tell you how God's Word [Jesus] has come to me, and come often. As often as he would enter into me, I didn't perceive the different times when he came. Now and then I would be able to get a premonition of his coming, but never perceive it, nor sense when he left. When the Word entered into me from time to time, his coming was never made known by any signs --- by word, or appearance, or footstep. I was never made aware by any action on his part, nor by any kinds of motions sent down to my inmost parts. As I have said, it was only from the motion of my heart that I understood he was present.]] Sermon on the Song of Songs.

Sister Ann Marie signs her solemn vows, Redwoods Monastery
In the Gospel for today a young man is asked to go beyond externals, beyond law, beyond all the things he "owns" and/or clings to, and to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. He is asked, in other words, to make discipleship a matter of attending to the motion of his own heart --- a matter of being moved by Jesus' life and living similarly, of being motivated by Jesus' prayer and praying similarly with a kenotic faithfulness even when God seems absent, of loving as Jesus loves and emptying himself of anything but love of God and compassion for the other. Contemplatives live from the motion of their hearts. They are folks who have learned to attend to these because the human heart, by definition, is the place where God bears witness to himself in all of life's ordinariness. Jesus revealed it in the 1st century; Bernard affirmed it in the 11-12th centuries. It is as true today.

My very best wishes to all Cistercians, Trappists and Trappistines today, especially to the Sisters at Redwood Monastery (Abbey) in Northen California on this feast of one of their Order's founders.

16 August 2012

Sister Mary Hughes, OP Addresses the National Press Club

A very comprehensive report on the nature of the LCWR and the Assessment of the CDF with regard to the LCWR on doctrinal matters. Sister Mary Hughes, OP tells the story of the discussion and concerns which have been raised from the perspective of the LCWR. Especially important is the affirmation of the commitment of the LCWR to the well-being of the Church and the need to find a way of fostering genuine dialogue in the Church. Sister notes with gratitude the listening Archbishop Sartain did and expresses a commitment on the part of all members and leadership of the LCWR to continued contemplative listening, to prophetic presence, to presence and ministry to the marginalized, and to modeling community which speaks to a polarized world and church. Sister Hughes emphasized the possibilties this crisis (moment of decision) raises for the church as a whole and the LCWR's commitment to hopeful participation in the process set forth by the Vatican. Very much worth listening to.

13 August 2012

On reforming or disbanding: Does this principle apply to the Curia as well as to the LCWR?

[[Dear Sister O'Neal, you write positively about the LCWR. Yet these Sisters have been asked to reform themselves and seem resistant to doing so. They are not openly rebellious but instead are resisting reform by pretending to be involved in discernment. Cardinal Burke has said if they cannot reform themselves they should not continue to exist. I think the LCWR is in open conflict with the very Church that called for their existence. Why shouldn't the hierarchy just disband them?]]

In answering your question I would like to point out a much more far-reaching, fundamental, and critical contradiction I think you should consider. Please bear with me; it is not exactly a direct answer but bears my answer within it. As you point out, near the end of the LCWR assembly last week Cardinal Raymond Burke stated in an interview for EWTN, "“If it can’t be reformed, then it doesn’t have a right to continue.” I want to note two things. First Cardinal Burke speaks of reformation as something other than a Divinely empowered process which requires dialogue, prayer, and significant discernment. He thinks of reform as a top down process, a simple submission to a Curial agenda rooted in the sense that the curia knows the truth, including what religious life is all about, while those consecrated women living the life in the US are somehow 1) left out of the Holy Spirit's inspiration, and 2) have no input in the church's understanding of the nature of religious life. Is this really credible? Is it theologically sound? Secondly, I wonder if the principle "reform or be disbanded" applies to all levels of the church. For instance, does it apply to the Roman Curia?

Fifty years ago Vatican II raised the imperative issue of the reform of the Curia in its Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops. Pope Paul VI affirmed the need if the ecumenical goal of the Council was to be achieved but took the issue off the table making it clear that the curia would reform itself. His successor John Paul I is said to have been grappling with the issue of curial reform when he died. Thirty years after Vatican II John Paul II raised the issue again in 1995 when he asked for assistance in reforming the papacy in his encyclical, Ut unum sint. In fact, he asked for the Church's Bishops to engage in a "patient and fraternal dialogue" about this reform in order to achieve what Scripture and Vatican II set forth as a goal: "That they might all be one". In what Abp Quinn characterizes as an astonishing request, John Paul II also spoke of his own need for conversion and asked the entire church to pray for it: [[The Bishop of Rome himself must fervently make his own Christ's prayer for that conversion which is indispensible for "Peter" to be able to serve his brethren. I earnestly invite the faithful of the Catholic Church and all Christians to share in this prayer. May all join me in praying for this conversion! UUS #4]]

Archbishop John Quinn took up the issue of reform which meant especially reform of the politics, policies, and praxis of the Roman curia as essential to "The costly call to Christian Unity," in his own contribution to the dialogue JPII had requested. (The papacy and curia are not completely separable and reform of one involves reform of the other.) He explained that Christian unity is not simply a matter of doctrinal convergence, but a matter of changes in the way authority is understood and leadership is exercised. The goal of Christian unity demands reform (as Vatican II made very clear) of all of the faithful and the structures of the church; only then can we go out to other Christians seeking unity. The requirements of reform were spelled out clearly in his 1999 book The Reform of the Papacy, The Costly Call to Christian Unity. Significant chapters included one on "Reform and Criticism in the Church" another on "The Papacy and Collegiality in the Church," as well as chapters on the College of Cardinals, the appointment of Bishops, and the reform of the Roman curia. Throughout, the problem of increased centralization was pointed out as an obstacle to ecumenism and even to the church's own essential well-being.

A second volume called, The Exercise of the Primacy, Continuing the Dialogue which contained Abp John Quinn's Oxford Lecture and responses by a number of theologians was published in 1998. One of the essays included was "Searching for God's Will Together" which reflected on the nature and place of discernment in the life of the whole church. Most important in this essay is the recognition that discernment and obedience to authority are not the same thing --- though often they are taken in overly-centralized structures to be the same thing. That is, it is not the case "that the Spirit's promptings are simply and unerringly perceived at the top of the pyramid of the church's hierarchy" and that for those below this level discernment means unquestioning submission. Instead, discernment more traditionally requires listening to the will of God as expressed by authority and as heard in the everyday circumstances of life at all levels of the church. (The text refers at some length to the theology of discernment of St Francis de Sales at this point.)

A course between uncritical submission to ecclesiastical authority and merely acting on personal whim must be charted in discerning and responding to the will of God. Unfortunately a highly centralized, monarchical church tends to make true discernment and the charting of such a course impossible. Discernment is something we do together as peers in Christ (Gal 3:28)! The search for truth is something we engage in together. Our commitment to the will of God is something we can only accomplish together. And all of this means if the church is to be the one, holy, and catholic church God wills, reform must be accomplished within the papacy and curia as well as in every organization and person. Unless this reform is achieved the very mission of the Church is jeopardized. As a result of this conversation and John Paul's call for assistance with this reform, countless books and articles were spawned --- all of which pointed to the essential nature of the Church, the ecumenical goal of Vatican II, the ministry of reconciliation central to the NT, and the critical need for reform of the Curia and Papacy in achieving these things.

And yet, the Church has a papacy and curia today which are more extremely centralized and isolated from the whole People of God than when 1) Archbishop John Quinn offered his analysis 17 years ago 2) when Vatican II called for Unity and the necessary reform, or 3) when John Paul II asked for assistance in realizing this critical goal. It is a hierarchy which still confuses submission to authority with authentic discernment. In fact we see this notion of submission being made the whole meaning of religious obedience in discussions regarding the LCWR when instead the New Testament idea of obedience as attentive hearkening to the will of God mediated in innumerable ways is the broader and more accurate sense of the term. It is a papacy and curia which show no sign of taking seriously the call to reform which has been their charge for more than 50 years, but besides engaging in a backwards looking self-protective retrenchment which includes the rejection of authentic episcopal collegiality, actually opposes groups like the LCWR of US apostolic women religious who, mistakes and missteps notwithstanding, have clearly taken Vatican II's challenge to reform seriously and continue to do so.

So, Cardinal Burke's comment prompts me to ask you, shouldn't this principle also apply to the papacy and curia? If, after 50+ years of extensive reflection on the need for reform, theological analysis of the avenues to be taken, and explanation of the requirement by council and popes, the curia cannot reform itself, but instead shows itself intransigent and resistant to the will of God revealed in all these ways, shouldn't it be disbanded? Is there a more Christian, more traditional way of achieving what needs to be done here? I believe the LCWR is showing us that there is and it is here especially that their insistence on patient, prayerful, dialogue and discernment represents an edifying service to the whole Church. They are not pretending to anything; they are acting as disciples of Christ in faithfulness to their profession and vows, to Vatican II and the NT ecclesiology accenting collegiality, subsidiarity, and servanthood affirmed there. Further, in what strikes me as a significant act of kenosis (self-emptying), they are doing so in a way which has the credibility and welfare of the church itself as well as it's mission in promoting Jesus' ministry of reconciliation uppermost in their hearts and minds.

12 August 2012

Brindle, In Memoriam

Sometimes the significant people we lose in our lives are cats. A number of years ago and a few weeks after my first cat "Merton the Tom" had to be put down, the vet brought over another cat that had been left on the hospital's door step about the time Merton died. It wasn't until a couple of months later that we discovered why "Brindle" had been abandoned --- she had a seizure disorder. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I have struggled with a medically and surgically intractable seizure disorder, so the irony of inheriting a cat with epilepsy was not lost on me or any of my friends.

Still, her seizures were infrequent, usually minor, and didn't seem to get in her way. She prayed with me (well, she was with me when I prayed anyway), lay nearby as I studied or wrote (she learned to position her forearms on the corner of my computer away from the keys and usually had a paw on one of my typing hands), spent time with me in my patio in the sun or the shade while I read or prayed, chased anything I dangled or pulled around in front of her (shoelaces were her favorite thing) and, like all cats, slept a lot! She always knew when I was not feeling well, and usually crawled up next to me and placed her paw on my chin when that was true. (Otherwise she would crawl up on my chest and place her chin near mine.)

Friday night Brindle had a minor seizure, the second in about a month. She had stayed very close to me all evening before that. After the seizure, she recovered, walked about, ate and drank some, but her resting rate of respiration remained high. Soon thereafter she simply died. Whatever the cause, it seemed her heart just stopped. She was wonderful and loving with a terrific personality and I will miss her.

Post Script: My sincerest thanks to Aggie and John Malanca for their help in burying Brindle. Aggie provided the space under one of the plum trees in her back yard, flowers for the grave, and even a small ceramic cat for a headstone. He son John dug a grave in spite of the heat this afternoon, and allowed me to cry on his shoulder --- literally. I have never had a "big brother" and I am certainly older than John, but today it felt like I had a big brother for the first time in my life. It was hard to tell which touched me more, burying Brindle or this fraternal experience --- temporary as it was.

11 August 2012

LCWR Assembly: An Example of Waiting on the Lord

In reflecting on what was achieved at the LCWR assembly this last week I was reminded of a piece I wrote some time ago on the parable of the foolish (and wise!) virgins. In that piece I noted that the foolish virgins had failed, but they had failed because they had ceased being women who actively waited for the future coming of the Bridegroom. I noted: [[If I am correct about this it opens the way to understanding "waiting" -- and particularly waiting for the Lord -- as something tremendously active and demanding, not passive or lacking in challenge. I suspect it is also something most of us are not very good at, especially in terms of the coming of the Lord! So what does waiting mean and involve? According to today's parable waiting involves the orientation of our whole selves towards a reality which is still to be fulfilled in some way. It means the ordering of our lives in terms of promise, not merely of possibility, and it means the constant reordering of our lives accordingly as time goes on. Waiting involves the acceptance of both presence and absence, reality and unreality, already and not yet, and the subordination of our lives to the dynamics these poles point to or define.]]

Recently we have seen a striking example of women religious who epitomize the capacity to wait on the Lord and who show us what a challenging, active, prayerful, demanding reality it is. There is very little pure passivity or "quietism" about it (obedience is never merely passive), but it is a non-violent way of approaching reality, a way which takes responsibility for both present and future without attempting to coerce or control them. These women's lamps are full of oil because over the past decades they have filled and refilled them with their eyes on the one who is present and who is also to come in fullness. They have learned to act in the awareness and patience brought by hope, in a consciousness of the promise present within reality, and oriented towards the future while remaining fully committed to (not enmeshed in) the present.

Media expected a clash between the condemnation of the CDF and the pain, disappointment, confusion, and strength of the LCWR this last week. It did not come. They expected either an act of rebellion or of submissive and demeaning capitulation. Neither of these came, nor would they have been appropriate in Christ's own Church. Instead the LCWR prayed, discussed, and acted in precisely the way they have been formed to do from decades of prayer and the practice of non-violent communication. Some commentators described what they saw as similar to a judo encounter where one uses the force of one's opponent against them. Others spoke of the Sisters absorbing the force of the action taken against them and transforming it into something more positive.

Both images are good, though I prefer the second. Both demonstrate a kind of counter-intuitive, counter-cultural way of dealing with force or coercion. Jesus' knew this way intimately and referred to it when he asked his followers to 1) willingly take up the gear of the Roman soldier trying to commandeer them and 2) walk an extra mile with him. In such a scenario the Roman soldier would have ceased to hold a superior position and been required to ask his "servant" to cease his activity --- unless, of course, the two walked on together as equals in a mutual journey. (Roman soldiers could not require a person to go more than a mile and would have been guilty of breaking the law had he done so. The one being pressed into service assumes the role of equal or even superior in freely "going the extra mile.") And of course, we know that acting freely, generously, even in situations we would not have chosen transforms the entire situation from one of bondage and oppression to one of freedom and empowerment.

As I have written before, a similar dynamic is at work in Jesus' request of the one struck (backhanded) on one cheek --- as inferiors were always struck in Jesus' day --- to turn the other cheek to the one assaulting them. This meant requiring the one who had struck out to strike again with the front of their hand ---- something only done to equals. The alternative, of course, was for the one who had struck "his inferior" to refuse to strike again and to walk away. In either case the one struck assumes the place of an equal and demonstrates that justice is not accomplished by force. Jesus' asks us to do justice, but to do it in ways which are counter-cultural and invites those who would use force to simply walk in brotherhood with the other. The same is true when Jesus asks us to accept our part in his ministry of reconciliation, to be simple as doves and shrewd as serpents in this work, to commit to the kinds of death real life requires of us, and to participate in his passion so that our world may be transformed by him.

Waiting, especially waiting on the Lord, does not mean doing nothing. It means acting in ways which give the Lord a chance to act in power. It means acting in ways which allows life to grow where only death is seen to be operative. Waiting on the Lord means cultivating a mode and mood of listening, of openness and of hope (not wishfulness!). It really does mean being gentle as doves and shrewd as serpents --- because as we all know, real strength is gentle and demands the simplicity of a cultivated intelligence. It can disarm those who desire instead to control and overpower and certainly it will confound those who only expect a worldly way of handling conflict and disagreement. Finally, it will help transform structures of inequity and coercion into a reality more nearly that of the Kingdom of God.

The LCWR was told that they were to be involved in a collaborative process with the CDF. At the same time they are being required to submit to certain demands in order to achieve reforms, some of which have yet to be clarified by the CDF. The tension between these two elements, collaboration and constraint, can only be maintained without surrendering one's integrity if both sides are genuinely open to the other and to God in a way which models Jesus' own openness and obedience. If both can do this the reform involved will affect the entire church, not just the LCWR. If both can really allow this process to be the collaborative process the CDF called for we will see a hierarchy whose authority is made more credible than an authority of coercion and control can ever be except in entirely worldly terms. The LCWR has begun well and with the wisdom of the wise virgins in Jesus' parable.  We pray they will continue in the same way. Archbishop Peter Sartain has responded in ways which indicate his own commitment to a process which is radically Christian, profoundly Catholic, truly authoritative, and which therefore respects the time, patience, and collaboration "waiting on the Lord" requires. Let us hope that indication continues to be true of his part in this process over time.

Sue Pixley, OP: 50 years a Dominican Sister!!!

The Context:

[[We, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, commit ourselves to the mission of Dominic to proclaim God's Word in our world. Called to discipleship through our vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, we follow Jesus according to the Dominican apostolic life: we pray, study, celebrate, and live out God's Word in community. With our lives thus centered on the Lord, we seek to extend his mission of truth and love in our ministry, bringing depth and compassion to the critical issues of our time.]] (Mission Statement)

The celebration:

On Saturday, July 28th I attended the Jubilee celebration for the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael with my pastor, John Kasper, OSFS --- especially to honor Sister Sue Pixley for 50 years as a Dominican. Sue is currently director of novices for her community. Additionally she teaches Math at Dominican University, does spiritual direction, and in the past has not only taught but worked as a high school principal for a number of years. She also loves jumping horses!! John was not concelebrating so we got a great pair of seats across from the Sisters of San Rafael and next to some of the Jubilarians.

The entrance hymn was, "All are Welcome." We sang our hopes and a reflection of what has been the nature of these Sisters' service: "Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live; where all God's children dare to seek to dream God's Reign anew. . ." And so we sincerely prayed in the power of Christ's Gospel!

Sue and I joked around a bit afterwards, but mainly we both exclaimed over the liturgy (which was amazingly beautiful), the reflection, given by Sister Maureen McInerney, OP (40 years jubilarian and Prioress General of the congregation), the concluding comments by Fr Mark, OP which led to a standing ovation given for all Sisters at the end of the liturgy. (I have never experienced anything quite like it.) Prior to the Solemn blessing by Mark Padrez, OP we sang Moreno's Hail Holy Queen -- also a new experience for me in this kind of context.

One Religious priest, one ministerial religious, and one diocesan hermit --- at the left is simply one of the best pictures I have seen of three good friends celebrating Sue's jubilee, one another, and the joy of commitment, religious life, and its amazing diversity.

Sent forth from this place we sang, "The Heavens are telling the glory of God, and all creation is shouting for joy! Come dance in the forest and play in the fields, and sing, sing to the glory of the Lord!" Afterwards we joined everyone on the grounds of Dominican University (Sisters' Administrative Center and Gardens) and were able to meet Sue's family members, friends from college, folks who taught for her when she was Principal at St Pat's, and a few of Sue's Sisters as well.

Other Jubilarians included: Sisters Emmanuel Cardinale (50 years OP), Barbara Sullivan (60), Adele Rowland (60), Mary Neill (60) Donna McPhee (60), Veronica Landi (60), Alma Doran (60), Benjamin Boyle (60), Lorraine Amodeo (60), Elizabeth Sullivan (70 years OP), Marie Rose Sanguinetti (70), and Antoninus Tucci (85 years OP). And in case you have not already added all these numbers up, we were celebrating 765 years of service lived by 14 Sisters as San Rafael Dominicans.

Vision Statement of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael: We reverence and affirm the inherent dignity of each person. We will work for the transformation of attitudes and systems that deprive any person of dignity.

Thanks to Sister Raya, OP who took pictures for Sue from every vantage point. She outdid herself.

08 August 2012

Saint Edith Stein --- Sister Teresa Benedicta, OCD (Reprise)

Tomorrow marks the day on which Sister Teresa Benedicta, OCD, was martyred in 1942.

"We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting ... and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God." These were the words of Pope John Paul II when he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne on 1 May 1987.

Sister Teresa Bendicta was, by all accounts, a brilliant philosopher. Of Jewish parentage, she was academically gifted throughout her life. She studied under Edmund Husserl the celebrated phenomenologist at a time when women were rare in this field, and in fact worked as his assistant. She received her PhD, Summa Cum Laude (with highest honor). Subsequently she established herself as philosopher, translator, and writer, and then, after turning to Christianity, sought the greater solitude of the Carmelite Order. When WW II broke out she transferred from a Carmel in Cologne to another house (Echt) in neutral Holland so that her Sisters might be protected from Nazi persecution due to her presence.

When the Bishops in the Netherlands protested the removal of Jewish children from Catholic schools, and the transportation of Jews to the concentration camps, the Nazis retaliated and arrested all Catholic Jews in Holland. Sister Benedicta, who could have escaped this fate, went with them as a sign of personal solidarity with her people and a witness to Christian love and solidarity as well. The Carmelite was taken to Auschwitz where she died on 09.Aug.1942 in the gas chambers there. As noted, she was beatified on 01.May.1987, canonized on 11.Oct.1998, and remains a witness to the triumph of the cross of Christ, in her thought, writing, piety, and above all, in her living and dying in the hope of Christ.

For a good biography of Sr Teresa Benedicta, try Edith Stein, The Life of a Philosopher and Carmelite, by Teresa Renata Posselt, OCD, ICS Publications. Posselt was the Novice Mistress and then the Mother Prioress when Edith Stein lived at the Cologne Carmel. The text has been reprinted and enlarged with scholarly perspectives published in separate "gleanings" sections, so they are available, but do not intrude on Posselt's text.

Another excellent biography you might check out is, Edith Stein, A Biography by Waltraud Herbstrith, OCD, Harper and Row. Sister Herbstrith knew Edith Stein well and has apparently spent a large part of her life making sure the story of Sister Benedicta's life and martyrdom was completely told.

06 August 2012

The Feast of the Transfiguration and the Story of the Invisible Gorilla

Transfiguration by Lewis Bowman
Have you ever been walking along a well-known road and suddenly had a bed of flowers take on a vividness which takes your breath away? Similarly, have you ever been walking along or sitting quietly outside when a breeze rustles some leaves above your head and you were struck by an image of the Spirit moving through the world? I have had both happen, and, in the face of God's constant presence, what is in some ways more striking is how infrequent such peak moments are.

Scientists tell us we see only a fraction of what goes on all around us. It depends upon our expectations. In an experiment with six volunteers divided into two teams in either white or black shirts, observers were asked to concentrate on the number of passes of a basketball that occurred as players wove in and out around one another. In the midst of this activity a woman in a gorilla suit strolls through, stands there for a moment, thumps her chest, and moves on. At the end of the experiment observers were asked two questions: 1) how many passes were there, and 2) did you see the gorilla? Fewer than 50% saw the gorilla. Expectations drive perception and can produce blindness. Even more shocking, these scientists tell us that even when we are confronted with the truth we are more likely to insist on our own "knowledge" and justify decisions we have made on the basis of blindness and ignorance. We routinely overestimate our own knowledge and fail to see how much we really do NOT know.

For the past two weeks we have been reading the central chapter of Matthew's Gospel --- the chapter that stands right smack in the middle of his version of the Good News. It is Matt's collection of Jesus' parables --- the stories Jesus tells to help break us open and free us from the common expectations, perspectives, and wisdom we hang onto so securely so that we might commit to the Kingdom of God and the vision of reality it involves. Throughout this collection of parables Jesus takes the common, too-well-known, often underestimated and unappreciated bits of reality which are right at the heart of his hearers' lives. He uses them to reveal the extraordinary God who is also right there in front of his hearers. Stories of tiny seeds, apparently completely invisible once they have been tossed about by a prodigal sower, clay made into works of great artistry and function, weeds and wheat which reveal a discerning love and judgment which involves the careful and sensitive harvesting of the true and genuine --- all of these and more have given us the space and time to suspend our usual ways of seeing and empower us to adopt the new eyes and hearts of those who dwell within the Kingdom of God.

It was the recognition of the unique authority with which Jesus taught, the power of his parables in particular which shifted the focus from the stories to the storyteller in the Gospel passage we heard last Friday. Jesus' family and neighbors did not miss the unique nature of Jesus' parables; these parables differ in kind from anything in Jewish literature and had a singular power which went beyond the usual significant power of narrative. They saw this clearly. But they also refused to believe the God who revealed himself in the commonplace reality they saw right in front of them. Despite the authority they could not deny they chose to see only the one they expected to see; they decided they saw only the son of Mary, the son of Joseph and "took offense at him." Their minds and hearts were closed to who Jesus really was and the God he revealed. Similarly, Jesus' disciples too could not really accept an anointed one who would have to suffer and die. Peter especially refuses to accept this.

It is in the face of these situations that we hear today's Gospel of the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain apart. He takes them away from the world they know (or believe they know) so well, away from peers, away from their ordinary perspective, and he invites them to see who he really is. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus' is at prayer --- attending to the most fundamental relationship of his life --- when the Transfiguration occurs. Matthew does not structure his account in the same way. Instead he shows Jesus as the one whose life is a profound dialogue with God's law and prophets, who is in fact the culmination and fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the culmination of the Divine-Human dialogue we call covenant. He is God-with-us in the unexpected and even unacceptable place. This is what the disciples see --- not so much a foretelling of Jesus' future glory as the reality which stands right in front of them --- if only they had the eyes to see.

For most of us, such an event would freeze us in our tracks with awe. But not Peter! He outlines a project to reprise the Feast of Tabernacles right here and now. In this story Peter reminds me some of those folks (myself included!) who want so desperately to hang onto amazing prayer experiences --- but in doing so, fail to appreciate them fully or live from them! He is, in some ways, a kind of lovable but misguided buffoon ready to build booths for Moses, Elijah and Jesus, consistent with his tradition while neglecting the newness and personal challenge of what has been revealed. In some way Matt does not spell out explicitly, Peter has still missed the point. And in the midst of Peter's well-meaning activism comes God's voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" In my reflection on this reading this last weekend, I heard something more: "Peter! Sit down! Shut up! This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!!!"

The lesson could not be clearer, I think. In this day where the Church is conflicted and some authority seems incredible, we must take the time to see what is right in front of us. We must listen to the One who comes to us in the Scriptures and Sacraments, the One who speaks to us through Bishops and all believers. We must really be the People of God, the "hearers of the Word" who know how to listen and are obedient in the way God summons us to be. This is true whether we are God's lowliest hermit or one of the Vicars of Christ who govern our dioceses and college of Bishops. Genuine authority coupled with true obedience empowers new life, new vision, new perspectives and reverence for the ordinary reality God makes Sacramental. There is a humility involved in all of this. It is the humility of the truly wise, the truly knowing person. We must be able to recognize how very little we see, how unwilling we are to be converted to the perspective of the Kingdom, how easily we justify our blindness and deafness with our supposed knowledge, and how even our well-intentioned activism can prevent us from seeing and hearing the unexpected, sometimes scandalous God standing there right in the middle of our reality.