My spiritual group has been slowly working through The Reckless Way of Love, a collection of reflections from Dorothy Day’s writings and journals. Yesterday’s chapter was pregnant with resonance. It was so affirming to see her reflect on a day she’d been in a bad mood and bitten someone’s head off. Saints always call themselves sinners, but we rarely see someone (even someone in the process) actually do something that makes us go, “Oh yeah, that’s a sin. I do that all the time.” But her reaction to it was really profound. It got her thinking about how awful it was that she’d bitten the head off someone who was totally dependent on her. It caused her to reflect on how humility before God is beautiful, but humility because your bread and butter depend on it strips a person of his or her dignity. This is a great book–bite sized excerpts saturated with profound insight.
My first spiritual reading for 2021 is William A. Meninger’s The Loving Search for God.
This book consists of bite sized reflections on contemplative prayer. For the past half dozen chapters, he has been reflecting on Jesus reciting Ps. 22 on the cross. Grappling with the collision of despair and trust in God contained in that psalm.
How do these two conflicting realities coexist? Meninger points to 12-step programs. People often have to hit bottom before they can start going up. And when you’re in that “bottom,” like Jesus on the cross, your faith in God’s salvation has no form. It’s just trust that God has a way through this muckfest, even if you can’t see what it is.
“Misery was so great he was not able even to imagine what that salvation would consist in,” Meninger says.
When I read these words, I literally caught my breath for a moment. Because that is precisely what I’ve been feeling for the past few months, as the world seems to burn around me. Where is salvation in this situation? Where is the way forward, when anger and division are so great that we can’t even agree on what constitutes “truth” and “lie”?
And oddly (or perhaps not so oddly), there is comfort in knowing that this is when God really shows power through our weakness. Because God can make a way where there isn’t one. There’s comfort in the reassurance that God can use the worst failures of humanity to awaken the collective conscience and bring us, well… closer, anyway, to on track.
Come, Lord Jesus.
On my spiritual journey right now I am trying to focus on my own failings rather than those of the world. I see this playing out all over the place in the world (please tell me you can too), but I’m trying to focus on changing me right now. I could point this at newsworthy items. I could point it at my kids. Hoo-boy, do I ever see it play out there. But I’m keenly aware that if I want the conversion of the world, I have a duty to work with God for my own conversion first. Because “the world” includes me, too.
This is part of the conclusion of Pope Francis’ reflections on the Good Samaritan. I find that it’s easy for these parables and teachings to become trite by repetition. It’s not a fault of the story, it’s a fault of human nature: we start tuning out b/c hey, we already know this story. I did a presentation on this parable a year or two ago, and reflecting on it anew really changed my relationship with it. This reflection does the same thing–renews and adds insight to something I’ve known for a long time.
Pope Francis spent this reflection pointing out that this parable is about individuals, but it’s also about groups of people. That it applies in person-to-person situations close to home, but also in communities and nations and the world. And there’s no neutral in this story: at each level, you’re either a victim, a passerby, or a person who undertakes the uncomfortable work of engaging. Most of us end up being passers-by, but we don’t want to admit it, and so we come up with all kinds of excuses. Hence, the bickering over policy that has caused the Church to divide along “abortion” and “everything else.” I see this as a call to recognize that those entrenched philosophies are themselves the problem. A sin.
I’m not sure how to change myself. I still want to point everything I read at others. That’s my sin. And so I begin simply by admitting it. Change my heart, O God.
I’ve been wrestling painfully lately with what it means to love people with whom there seems to be so little common ground. People who believe and do and say things I find so horribly contrary to my faith and world view. A friend told me that Fratelli Tutti‘s third chapter addresses that.
But first I had to read chapter two–a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Of all the quotes that jumped out at me in that section (there were many!), I picked this one to share, because this is the truth that has twinged my own conscience in recent years. I drifted very comfortably in a black-and-white view of the world for years, until it impacted me directly when I was given the gift of a child with a developmental disability. This quote was me. And my spiritual journey now is deeply formed by wondering if, in fact, this quote still is me, and I just don’t know it.
The more I interact with Pope Francis’ writings, the more in awe I am, the more grateful that the Spirit gave us this man to lead us during this particular moment in history. And once again, I beg everyone: READ THIS ENCYCLICAL.
Unity has been on my mind for a long time, but particularly in the past few months. The divisions in our country and among Catholics are profound. What I have come to realize is that nothing I do or say is going to change that. I don’t see a way out of this. Since, oh, October sometime, I have been praying for God to navigate a path none of us can see–a path that will get us out of this toxic sludge pit we’ve dug for ourselves. The one that is drowning us.
Last week, after chewing over all this with a devout Catholic friend, I decided to pray a St. Jude novena. It seems appropriate, doesn’t it? St. Jude, the patron of desperate cases and lost causes (Wiki’s phraseology) or “patron saint of the impossible” (St. Jude Shrine’s phraseology). If ever there were a lost cause, a desperate case, or an impossible situation, it would be the search for unity in our time.
And when Pope Francis’ daily email yesterday sounded the same call–prayer, because unity is actually beyond us–I knew it was a divine nudge.
Today I embark on this prayer and I invite you all to join me. My intention is: “for a path to unity in God’s will for our Church and our nation, and for the conversion of all our hearts to make that possible.”
I will post it daily on Facebook, but for today, here is the link to the prayer.
I realized several hours too late that the post I referred to in Wednesday’s reflection was never published at all, because I opted to honor MLK Jr. Day instead.
So I’ll share it today instead. The one I want to share today is from the late Cardinal George. https://catholicoutlook.org/how-liberalism-fails-the-church-the-cardinal-explains/
Essentially, Cardinal George’s point is: “We shouldn’t be calling ourselves liberal or conservative Catholics, we just need to be Catholic, period.”
Like Mark Shea’s offering, this is lengthy but very worthwhile. It’s interesting to me that in this, Cardinal George is not talking about political liberalism, but theological liberalism. There’s nothing in it that critiques left-leaning Catholics’ positions on immigration, efforts to alleviate inequality or poverty, the need for universal health care, etc. There’s a good reason for that: those left-leaning positions are word-for-word from Catholic teaching.
All in all, I found this a really, really good call to examine what it means to be a Catholic in the modern world.
On Monday I shared Cardinal George’s reflections on liberalism in the Church, shared by Catholic Outreach as a series of reflections connecting Catholics in relation to the Capitol insurrection.
This reflection by Mark Shea is another in that series. Many, many…MANY things in his reflection resonated for me. The spiritual journey he describes parallels my own, although mine started earlier than his. And his “mea culpa,” though the details are quite different, resonates for the same reason.
One other thing that really struck me was his discussion of how apologetics begins from a place of defensiveness and combativeness rather than joyful evangelization. That, I fear, describes my work here as well. It gives me a lot to think about.
I invite you to read his lengthy but very, very worthwhile reflection.
“Mea Maxima Culpa” on Stumbling Toward Heaven: A Catholic Lives The Writing LIfe and Tries to Be a Disciple of Jesus, Mostly Badly
It was a glorious and humbling moment this summer when I first encountered “Lift Every Heart And Sing,” known as the Black National Anthem. Glorious, because as a pastoral musician, it moved me for its universality and the challenge contained within. Humbling, because how did I make it to the age of forty-six as a pastoral musician and never hear it?
So I want to share this video today in honor of today’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a very simple version and they give you the background of the hymn before they sing it. I’ll paste the text below.
Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.