I believe in the “Too big to survive” theory of economics. While various articles about “Too big to fail” come up when I searched that on Google, I think the phrase originated with Colin Wright a young entrepreneur, writer, speaker, world traveler and cofounder of Asymmetrical Press. (Warning: “This link is not authorized by Yahoo”) I like it because it contrasts well with the more familiar, “Too big to fail” theory.
What do I mean by “Too big to survive”? I believe this is what Lent is all about. As Passionists we are encouraged to take a period of time each year, Lent, to determine what is really important to us and our families and communities. One way to do this, is by paring down, getting rid of the excess, and focusing on what really matters, by getting smaller, just the opposite of what seems to be the wisdom of our day: “More, more, more”.
In what I believe is an ingenious contemporary six minute articulation of what St. Francis (1181 – 1226), St. Paul of the Cross (1694 – 1775) and many more saints preached, contemporary designer and writer, Graham Hill in his March 2011 TED Talk Less stuff, more happiness, suggests that we ask ourselves “Could I do a little life editing?” He gives three great suggestions for living more fulfilled, happy lives:
I think maybe I’ll try making these my mantra for this Lent.
Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey
Reflection for Sunday December 21, 2014 By Dave O’Donnell
When I bought my first car in 1963, the first accessory I attached to the dashboard was a St. Christopher’s medal. The story of St. Christopher carrying a child across a rapid river during a storm and feeling the weight of the child and the subsequent realization that he was the Christ Child inspired and empowered generations to discover Christ in their midst. The story was so powerful that not long after it was first told Christopher, which means Christ carrier, became popular enough to be made a saint even though it’s doubtful he ever existed.
At some point after the ecumenical Council the story of St. Christopher was recognized for what it was, a great story and not factual so he was removed from the official list of saints of the church. The power in the story of St. Christopher is not in the accuracy of the events but in the meaning behind the events. In the New Testament, Jesus uses stories called parables, to teach. I believe and have found that all of the New Testament is more relevant to me when I accept it as metaphor and symbol. The power in the stories is revealed when I stop arguing with the facts.
In Sunday’s Gospel selection, the Angel Gabriel says to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”
I accept that all things are possible through God and I experience God’s workings but in conventional ways. The meaning of the story to me is that God is amongst us and as the story proceeds to its conclusion, that we are each and every one of us a child of God. This must be the greatest story ever told and the greatest experience ever for anyone who has given birth to a child.
Tradition lies at the root of many stories we have come to love and cherish. Especially when we’re young, we love to be fed on the narratives buried in the annals of our family lore. We seldom ask, especially when we’re young, whether they’re true or not. We simply love to hear them recounted by the elders in our family. They are nourishing.
It’s true, of course, that, in the course of time, with their countless re-telling, they tend to grow with these repetitions and acquire details added by various generations of the family story-tellers. When we grow up and start delving into these traditions, we may come to see that they’re not all verifiable. There may be an addition here, or an emendation there. Sometimes it may disappoint us to learn that there was no family member at the Civil War battle of Bull Run, or at least not the specific individual that the story conveyed to us mentioned. Still, this discovery does not substantially disillusion us. We simply drop that piece of information from our family history.
The role of tradition, of course, moves beyond family background, into other areas of life. Every nation, such as the U.S., has its folklore of heroes and heroines of decades ago, from every area of the country: north, south, east and west. Some are urbanites, others are country folk. Once again, we cherish these “heroes” and “heroines” and tend to become upset at legend-breakers, those who debunk and demythologize what has come to mean so much to us.
Religion too has its share of tradition(s): all religions, Christianity included, and so, Catholicism. As learned theologians remind us, there are Traditions and traditions. What is important for our relationship to God is the Tradition. What is of less significance, perhaps, is tradition. In all of this, we have to be careful in describing tradition, whether religious or secular folklore, as false, meaning untrue and unhistorical. Maybe yes, maybe no. But what is special about tradition is that it is “of a piece” with Tradition, meaning that, if it is not precisely as described, it should have been, because it in harmony with the original situation. It is like a copy of a famous painting, so similar to it that only an expert can tell the difference.
It’s something like a snowball. We can pack some newly fallen snow into a small compact ball-shaped projectile fitting neatly into our gloved hand, and we can accurately throw it a considerable distance at some target. But we can also drop it back into the loose snow and, if it’s on a hillside, give it a little boost so that it starts rolling down the hill, gathering speed and mass as it moves along. When it comes to rest at the foot of the hill, it is considerably larger than it was when it was at the top and just a snowball. Should we be asked whether what now rests at the foot of the hill is the same thing that started off as a snowball, how do we answer that question? We likely respond: sort of. Like tradition relative to the original event, it is certainly larger. But at the same time, it is not completely different. In fact, the original still lies deep within the huge mass of snow—at its heart, so to speak.
And so with the boy-now-become-a-man, or the girl-now-become-a-woman: is the man no longer that boy, or the woman no longer that girl? And so the stories of our religious faith, originating in the bible and, with the passage of time, gathering stories (traditions): are they fabrications? Or are they scriptural accounts that have “grown up” and gathered mass and weight: are they true, or are they false? Perhaps this is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask: does one see the original lying hidden in what lies before our eyes today? Can we visualize the snowball in the massive accumulation of snow, or the boy in the man, or the girl in the woman? Sometimes the additions to the original enhance and improve it: the great snowman is an impressive dimension of the diminutive snowball; the bearded gent is an enhancement of the little trouble-maker, the shapely model is a welcome improvement on the pudgy baby girl. The Christmas story of the baby Jesus improves with the passage of time, and the addition of small details a very charming story.
Are shame and sorrow the same thing—or, can they be the same thing? For instance, someone can be ashamed for doing something. It may become known to others, or it may remain secret, known only to the person who did it, but resulting in the same admission: I am ashamed of myself.
In the one case, my shame is brought on by others’ awareness of what I’ve done. I fall under their disapproving attitude toward me. I have fallen short of their expectations of me. In the other case, my shame results from within myself. I realize I have departed from being the kind of person I like to think that I am. I have failed to live up to my own standards for myself. There’s an inner disapproval I experience.
Ray Rice, the NFL football player, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, seriously injured his wife, Janay Palmer, knocking her out. He was severely criticized by others, and also penalized for what he did. He surely was shamed into embarrassment about what he did, and may even have determined never to touch his wife again, without her permission. He was shamed, if not into being good, at least into not doing wrong things. He was publicly shamed.
It’s also possible that my shame is totally personal and private. For example, at a time of personal crisis, I may have promised God, in private, that I would do something to honor Him, if only He would come to my aid, such as attending daily mass during Lent. But, should my problem have been solved in my favor, I may proceed to forget about my promise to God, only later realizing my failure, and be ashamed of myself. I have disappointed myself, though no one else (other than God) knows about it.
In either kind of shame, I can be pressured to change myself, either because of outside criticism, or because of internal dissatisfaction with myself. The question is: is this a change for the better? Is the resolve never to do harm or evil again a move in the right direction?
Then, there’s sorrow. Sorrow operates differently than shame. Sorrow, admittedly, can be stimulated by the impact of my action, for instance, on another person, but it rises, not primarily because of the public disesteem or disapproval brought against me by others, but because of the injury or hurt or loss or grief that I have inflicted on some other party. Of course, I can also experience sorrow within myself, without any public dimension to it, because of the injury of disesteem or belittling or ridicule I’ve nurtured within myself against a friend or relative or neighbor—unbeknown to him or her—but painfully evident to me. And I consider this a loss I have inflicted on another, though only within the confines of my own private self.
Shame and sorrow: both uncomfortable, even painful, experiences. Both can impact my behavior for the future, effecting some kind of change within me. Does that make both of them good, then, because they (can) reduce or eliminate wrong, bad, or evil behavior on my part? Is something good when or because evil no longer accompanies it? Or is the elimination of evil only part of the process? Do I still have a way to go, in order to do or achieve something good?
If I am shamed into never doing the wrong thing again, have I thereby become a good person? Or am I better described as a non-evil person, that is, as a person who never merits disapproval from others, not even from myself? If sorrow, in its turn, revolts at the hurt I have brought into another’s life, or even into my own private self, am I thereby on the way to becoming a better person because I move beyond what others think about me, or how I regard myself, and am moved to repair the harm inflicted because I am genuinely sorry?
But is it always either/or, shame or sorrow? Might it be both: shame and sorrow? The heroes of the ancient world (Achilles, Hercules, Aeneas), may have undergone shame and humiliation for their defeats. The heroes of the biblical/Christian era (our saints: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Ignatius Loyola) were overcome by sorrow for falling to do the good they might have done. The former were publicly shamed at encountering evil, while the latter sorrowed at falling short of the good to be gained. There is a difference. The sacrament of reconciliation is not for the shameful, but for the sorrowful.
Perception of all things is limited by senses, intelligence and the ability to conceive. This is very apparent when looking back in history and comparing with what is known to be true now. Famous discoveries enlighten the world constantly and bring reality to new levels in things large and small. Yet, as much as has been uncovered there is certainly much more to come. We see a good deal but have never had all things exposed clearly, much like looking through multiple veils. Revelations remove some of the obscurities but some hold mysteries for ages. One veil that is mysterious in form and depiction is the relic held in St. Peters within one of the four pillars and is credited to St. Veronica.
Tradition, not scripture, is the only verification of the claim that Veronica wiped the face of Jesus while He carried His cross to Calvary and left her an image of His face upon her veil. There are many artistic impressions of the veil but the item itself is never closely examined by all but a few and never photographed. If the veil were a true portrait of Jesus at that point in time, it would insult the senses with the amount of torture He had already suffered to His head. The depictions only make suggestion of reality, again as if our view is through a veil of the veil.
The concept of Jesus is both personal and evolutionary as maturity and wisdom (or lack of wisdom) changes our understanding. Jesus has depths of endearment available for those who seek it. Sometimes the experience of divine adoration or private meditation will provide stimulation. Most of us seek Gods favor or guidance in desperate situations. Would it be a joy to have Jesus beside us all day and all night, always? As much as it sounds like a great thing, we still might take Him for granted after a time and crave some weakness of the flesh as the disciples did when Jesus asked them to pray with Him in the garden or as Adam and Eve did in Eden.
Not all would be pleased with the realities of the kingdom of God where there is endless joy just to be in the full presence of Jesus.