We’ve been reading about the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis and begun in Rome this past Sunday. Just in case you haven’t, you can read the National Catholic Reporter’s (NCR’s) coverage by clicking here. Of course if you don’t choose the NCR as your favorite source of news you can go to Google and search for “Synod on the Family” and choose from many other sources covering this.
This is the first such post in the CPP Blog, I’m wondering if we as Partners could respond to what’s happening in our world and our church from a particularly Passionist’s point of view. How would someone dedicated to keeping alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus see this?
I have my own views, which I will express here, just to start the conversation, not as the final word. I believe it is our Passionist’s vocation to identify the marginalized, the outcasts, to have compassion for them (be willing to learn from them) and to suggest how their suffering could lead to Resurrection not just for them, but for all of us. The marginalized in this case are those divorced and remarried Catholics who don’t have enough money, or maybe don’t believe they should have to obtain an annulment and hence cannot receive Communion. To my way of thinking, this is marginalization.
Once I recognize who the marginalized are, I must ask myself if there is anything I can do. If there is, then as a Christian I believe, I must do it (Good Samaritan). In this case Pope Francis has given me a clue. All the articles I’ve read, quote Pope Francis as saying “we’re all sinners”. Recognizing we’re all sinners suggests to me the obvious. We all belong at the table of the Lord. All are welcome. I vote for inclusion at the Table of the Lord and let us sinners recognize where we sin and make appropriate amends and stop the sin when we see it in ourselves. It is not our job to tell others where they have sinned and what they need to do to atone for their sins.
The hall was filled with the bad and the good—all were welcomed and able to stay, just the one not properly attired and unable to say why he was without a wedding garment, had to leave bound hand and foot.
Why? What does this wedding garment he lacked amount to or consist of? (Your answer to this question will be informed by your image of god). The fact that he could not respond or speak on his own behalf says to me that prayer or recognition of any God, Life, Truth, Love is what he lacked,
I believe the wedding garment is the wardrobe of the Holy Spirit. Being born again in the Spirit is leaving behind the notion of the superiority of the ego and embracing the radical interdependence in and with the All. The mystery is there is only one of us—Paul calls this the Mystical Body of Christ. Only after the ego is tamed and put in its proper place is it possible to recognize the vast mystery of life, to embrace all of Life and to appreciate the feast.
In Part 1 I wrote of AA’s beginnings and its spirituality. In Part 2 I told of Bill W’s meeting up with Fr. Ed Dowling S.J., and his relating the twelve steps to the second week of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Jouis M. Savary in his book, The New Spiritual Exercises writes of a shift that is suppose to take place in the second week: “The shift calls you from seeing your spiritual purpose as simply seeking individual salvation, which is probably the life purpose of most believers, to committing your life to help carry out a divine project on Earth.”
Albert Holtz O.S.B. in his Downtown Monks describes well for me what this divine project might be:
“Traditional monastic theology often speaks of the monastery—optimistically, I suppose—as a head start on heaven, a foretaste and model of the Kingdom of light and peace. As monastics, then, one of our tasks is to spread the vision of the New Jerusalem to our brothers and sisters, encouraging them, by our life of community, poverty, and…”
Sounds good right? Well here’s the rub. When I look at Jesus hanging on the cross, I see a man who claimed to be god admitting he was powerless. Powerless over others’ choice to prefer God over their addiction(s). Now I want to say that again, it’s important. Jesus is powerless over others’ choice…Yes, we all may have things like, sex, alcohol, money, power, etc. etc. that we are powerless over, but even God chooses to be powerless over our choices. That’s a mystery in the highest sense. If I am to follow Jesus, I have to admit that I am the source of the problems in my life, not other people. My attitude has gone awry. Instead of being grateful for my life, I tell god and others how life should work and don’t follow Jesus’ response: “Not my will, but thine be done.”
This is the message of the 12 Steps, as well as the message of the Passion of Jesus for me. St. Paul of the Cross recognized this 250 years before Bill Wilson and the Oxford Group, and of course, Jesus showed this to us 2,000 years ago. Bill W. did not do this alone, nor did St. Paul of the Cross, nor did Jesus. They formed communities. I need a community in which to do this.
I chose the Passionist Community first because I grew up across the street from the Passionist Monastery in Chicago. This proximity led to me and my twin brother Dave’s joining the Bosco Club, sneaking in the swimming pool late at night, going to the daily 7:00 am Mass sung by the Confraters in the monastery chapel open to the public, attending Passionist’s Missions and eventually my entering their high school and Novitiate. I truly grew to become more a part of the Passionist’s community than I was of my own family.
That’s how I learned to love monastic life, especially as lived by the Passionists. But I left that life in the middle of my novitiate year. I keep coming back because no matter how hard I try, I can’t deny or escape my roots? When I left in 1963. The Second Vatican Council was in session and was opening up a whole new Church and world to Catholics. One of the new awakenings coming from Vatican II was the role of the laity. More on that in my next post.
A religious message has its limitations when it comes to young people, correct? In the first place, they don’t go to church anymore, at least the teens don’t, so what religious message are they going to hear? And, in the second place, those who deliver the religious message (priests, ministers, rabbis) don’t really know what is going on in their neighborhoods, do they? They live in or around their churches, synagogues or mosques, and are not out on the streets where the young people spend their time, but are in their rectories or homes. They don’t have a clue what life “on the streets” is all about, right?
Now there are exceptions, like Fr. Michael Pfleger in Chicago, who is out on the streets, but he is not the norm. And, granted his effectiveness, does it really flow from the religious tone of his sermons, or more from his street-wise comments on the neighborhood in which his church of St. Sabina is located?
It is really the community organizers, and the followers of the methods devised and employed by Saul Alinsky, that know the neighborhoods and the streets and alleys within them, who are truly effective. They are street-smart, and familiar with the very areas of neighborhoods where crime and violence prevail, and seem to enjoy a modicum of success in bringing some semblance of order and peace to these turbulent and troubled areas. President Obama was such a community organizer during his Chicago days.
What this comes down to seems to be a comparison between the effectiveness of religion, with its programs/methods, vis-à-vis the practical and experiential techniques that the application of justice can bring to bear upon such urban problems. Religion, with its focus on God, the bible, prayer (and the sacraments) and church attendance fails to speak street-language, shows little awareness of local issues and problems, and proposes solutions and answers to crime, drugs, and prostitution under the umbrella of “sin”, a “catch-all” category with no effective specifics to it. Its solution is “repent and convert”, but this is an individuated solvent that lacks a social dimension to it.
Whereas justice, broken down into its parts, musters up solutions that are pat to the problems at hand, focusing on guns, poverty, abandoned buildings, unemployment, poor housing, lack of education. Its solution is more police on the streets, shuttering abandoned housing, scattering drug dealers, government handouts (more money in the neighborhoods), jobs, better schools, etc.
But if these tools of justice are touted as the answer, why, after several decades of their deployment, has there been so little noticeable improvement in the quality of life in these troubled areas? The headlines in our newspapers and on the evening news seem to differ little today, from those that appeared years ago. And the amount of federal, state, county and urban monies that have been poured out on these tortured areas is huge.
So the effectiveness of the tools of justice seems just as unimpressive as that of the rituals of religion. Perhaps an amalgam of the two approaches, but with an emphasis on the religion factor, might show more promise. Why? Consider many of the churches in large, urban areas, both Catholic and Protestant. They now stand in crime-ridden areas. This refers, of course, to the “old” churches, built when the neighborhoods surrounding them were densely populated with parishioners who filled them on Sundays, and supported them generously. Out of this combination of devotion and commitment grew cathedral-like edifices that seated hundreds of parishioners. And many of them were, and are, architectural jewels in terms of size, structure, stained-glass windows, statuary, organ music wafting down from the balcony, and church bells ringing from lofty towers . In short, they were and still are beautiful.
Preserving these gems, not allowing them to disintegrate even th0ugh the earlier population has died out or moved on, can be a major step in rehabilitating the neighborhoods. If they are given some exposure, in an open, clearly visible venue, surrounded by nature’s contributions of trees, bushes, flowers and lawns, they can be oases of the awesome, the majestic, the transcendent, into the neighborhoods now besmirched with liquor stores, shuttered houses, debris-littered alleys, vacant lots, and graffiti inscribed walls, that, in short, spell ugliness. Confront them with beauty as some of the recent street art has already attempted to do. When placed side by side with ugliness, the contrast of the beautiful is striking, and potent.
So, should the urban municipality and religion combine to save these marvelous temples with their steeples stretching into the heavens above, a new factor enters into the plight of urban blight. It is the unsung and overlooked power of beauty, already available in these soon-to-be-abandoned temples of God, that can prove salvific, that is, life-giving and life-saving. Beauty has gone unappreciated for its potency. It operates in a different key from the urban music of a Saul Alinsky. It emanates from religion.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (Psalm 118: 22) It is easy for me to see Jesus as the cornerstone of Christianity. Cornerstone means foundation and Jesus is the foundation of Christianity. I believe humility is the very foundation that made Jesus who He was and which I can also choose. Jesus came to do His father’s will: “Not my will but thine be done.” (Lk 22:42) He never took credit for any of the miracles, healings or teachings. Jesus’ power was His humility to accept His Father’s will. My power to be Christ in my world is in my willingness to be humble and do the same.
I see humility, the desired foundation of my life, as the stone that the builders of the secular world reject. Humility, for me is the recognition that all my life is a gift. I did nothing to deserve it and God’s will for me is greater than I can ever imagine.
In last week’s post, I shared AA’s beginnings, noting how the cross of Jesus played a fundamental role leading to the founding of the Oxford Group and eventually to Bill W and Bob S grappling with their crosses, realizing that if they shared these, they’d become bearable. The next movement in the history of AA came when Bill W met Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J.
By 1940, Bill W. had founded an organization, published the book Alcoholics Anonymous that wasn’t selling and now, he was at a loss as what to do next. Just then Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. from St. Louis came to visit him in the AA Club in New York City and told Bill he was struck with the similarities of the 12 steps of AA spirituality to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Rather than try to continue this story myself, I’ll let AA History do it:
“Thus began a 20-year friendship nourished by visits, phone calls, and letters. Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering: Bill from alcoholism, Father Ed from arthritis that was turning his back to stone.
Bill turned to Father Ed as a spiritual sponsor, a friend. Father Ed, in a letter to his provincial, noted that he saw his own gift for AA as a “very free use of the Ignatian Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for the second week of the Spiritual Exercise.”
Thus Father Ed endorsed AA for American Catholics with his appendix in the Big Book and his Queen’s Work pamphlet of 1947. He was the first to see wider applications of the twelve steps to other addictions, and wrote about that in Grapevine (AA’s magazine) in the spring 1960 issue. Bill added a last line to that Grapevine article: “Father Ed, an early and wonderful friend of AA, died as this last message went to press. He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet. I was closer to him than to any other human being on earth.(http://www.barefootsworld.net/aafreddowling.html)
I was introduced to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius while in the Passionist Novitiate in 1963. Those exercises, while not constants in my life, keep popping up, almost like I can’t run away from then even if I wanted to. The connection is best described in the following quote taken from above: “Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering…”
Next week the final installment on why I am a Partner—the monastery.