Sharing a piece and image from this past autumn…
Sharing a piece and image from this past autumn…
I am humbled at the thought that I am temporarily here on earth. I am humbled to know that creation will continue after me, just as it did before me. 80 years, give or take a few, seems a long time. Indeed, though a lifetime it is, it is but a lifetime surrounded by, intertwined with, and born of so many other lifetimes.
The wider story of lifetimes is of the greatest importance. That is the story of community. For too long do we dwell on ourselves and attempt to see the world, to see God, through our own perverse desire to be the center. I am not the center. You are the center. That is to say, the “other” is the center. Insofar as the other is otherness the other is the center. Insofar as there is till mystery to be discovered about the other the other is the center toward which we drawn; a mystery.
If I hold an oak leaf in my hand and know only that it is an oak leaf, there is till mystery – still untouched otherness. Again, if I hold an oak leaf in my hand, know that it is an oak leaf and understand the biological and ecological processes, there is still untouched otherness. If, however, I hold that same leaf in my hand, see it as an oak leaf, understand it’s inner machinations, but also recognize the leaf as part of creation, part of a teleological process comprised of the Creator’s signs and symbols, and furthermore realize that the leaf and I share in that same process, then, only then, do I begin to touch otherness. To be sure, I do not understand the otherness, for each part of creation embodies that Great Mystery uniquely, but I begin to touch what was once untouched.
When we look beyond ourselves, reaching and searching for the other, our own lifetime becomes intertwined with the other. We begin to see and understand that we are not islands. We are not devoid of purpose, interaction or unique meaningfulness – neither is the other. We are connected by a search for community, by a drawing-toward being in relationship. As relationships build the other becomes less other and solidarity becomes an implicit state of being. We recognize – more and more – that the other is more similar to us than we could have otherwise known.
Divisiveness and brinkmanship take the place of kinship and community when we keep the other as other. An oak leaf stays simply an oak leaf, lest we recognize the role we share with it – to manifest God’s beauty and creativity. An immigrant mother and child stay as other, as a threat to our comfort, lest we learn their names and their unique manifestations of God’s love and mercy. Seeing each other as other has already caused so much pain in our story – the story of creation. Isn’t it time to reach out and walk with the other?
As I think about all the lives that my life has become intertwined with I am humbled by the grace it is to discover the gift of each person – the unique meaningfulness that each person brings to a community. It seems to me that if we open ourselves to the other the wider community is forever edified and changed by coming to touch the mystery of another person. The life of the other then goes beyond 80 years, becoming a part of the community.
So we have a call to answer. A call to step outside our walls and knock on someone else’s door. Indeed as Pope Francis posits in Gaudete et Exsultate, “perhaps Jesus is already inside us and knocking on the door for us to let him escape from our stale self-centeredness.” If we step outside ourselves and seek the other we open our hearts so that Christ can lead us to deeper relationship with others.
There are moments throughout the life of a community, of individuals that tear the rug out from under one’s sense of security, familiarity, and faith. These moments are often characterized with fear, confusion, and yet hope for the moments that follow. We are experiencing one of those moments right now. I would like to describe a few of these moment in the history of the human story. Moments when the Church was directly affected or stood with those experiencing adversity.
In the year 41 A.D. the Roman Emperor Claudius expelled the Jewish community from Rome. This expulsion directly affected the Jewish diaspora, as well as the nascent Christian community. The lives of the Jewish and Christian communities were thrown into fear as they faced persecution, death, and senseless violence. The Church was there. Paul went to Corinth and encouraged banding together. The young Church ministered to the affected communities by standing in solidarity with their Jewish sisters and brothers. Prophetic witness to a faith that walked the talk.
In 1891, in the midst of an industrial revolution and a global depression, workers all over the world were working death wages for hours on end and nationalism was escalating, causing divisions to rise between socio-economic classes, nationalities, and faiths. These factors took away the lives of parents, cut short lives of child laborers, and tore families apart. As despair sunk in the hope for moments to come faded. The Church was there. Due in large part to the Church’s organizing work the tide began to shift. Pope Leo XIII spoke of seeing people “meeting together for discussion, for the promotion of united action.” By doing so the Church called to action workers, community leaders, and governments who all practiced different faiths. Though these communities did not agree on all their principles and beliefs they found a cause of unity, a moment of hope to take on a system that took lives and disregarded human dignity and worth.
In the 60’s and 70’s this country was in the midst of social upheaval as had not been seen since the civil war. The tumult was due in large part to the blatant racism embodied in laws and in violence toward others who were seen as “other”. Civil rights was an issue that tore through communities, dividing families, schools, and churches. That division was equally present in the Catholic community. Many priests and bishops were told not to participate in the rallies or marches – even more clergy dissuaded their parishioners from taking part. And yet there are images and recordings of brave Catholic faithful who followed their conscience and walked arm-in-arm with individuals from varied communities. These groups disagreed on many of their beliefs except civil rights. They found a moment of unity, a point to unite on and build society for the common good. I write to you now because such a moment of unity is coalescing.
The recent school shooting in Parkland, Fl has brought to national attention, such as has not happened before, the issue of gun violence in schools. For years these incidents have happened. For years communities have had the rug pulled out from under their feet – sowing fear and confusion, loss that is unacceptable. This shooting, in particular, has created a moment in the milieu of our country; a milieu often characterized with apathy and lost hope because these events have become so routine. Countless communities are binding together on a moment of unity, a particular issue that they share the same hope for.
I am disappointed. No, I am hurt. I feel as though my voice, my students’ voices, and my conscience – formed in faith – have been silenced. The National Catholic Education Association, many of the US Bishops, and other faith “leaders” denounced participation in the March for Our Lives and the walkouts around the country. The denouncers claimed that the movement has become tainted by organizations who do not share all of our Catholic values. Then I ask this question: What movement, what group, what people who are not Catholic have ever agreed with all our Catholic values? The march, the walkout, and the movement as a whole is a pro-life movement – protecting the lives of our children, our future.
I am confused, wounded, and disappointed in this response. I see the faces of the student protesters and of those gunned down in the school and I see the face of Christ. Prayers alone are not adequate. Prayer is that which gives fuel for action and sustains our action. This is a moment of intersection, a moment of unity. This doesn’t mean we tacitly accept the actions and stances of others we don’t agree with. Rather, we recognize there is a specific truth being addressed and we join hands. For example: The March for Life, an annual protest for the lives of unborn children, is attended by tens of thousands of people. Not all of these people are Catholic. Not all of these people share the same beliefs that Catholics hold. Even still Catholic schools, parishes, and dioceses send thousands of people to the March for Life each year. For a particular moment we put aside other differences and stand together to speak out for some of the most vulnerable.
Isn’t there enough division in our society as it is? Isn’t dis-unity the greatest stumbling block in the Christian story? If we recognize moments like the Parkland shooting to join hands across boundaries suddenly the others become less “other”. Empathy, compassion, and hope begin to grow. The common good begins to flourish as we step out of our ivory towers and heed Pope Francis’ call to encounter and accompany each other. Isn’t that good?
At his most recent meeting with a group of 300 young people, People Francis encouraged the fire that young people carry in their spirits. He prompted them saying, “It is up to you not to keep quiet…even in the face of corrupt or silent elders.” Francis’ encouragement is what young people are craving. I am reminded that silence and veiled discouragement is complicity.
Brother, I write to you out of love and respect for the message of hope that the Church – the community of believers – strives to promulgate. I write to you because I am a young person who feels let down and incensed by the response the institutional Church has given – a response that boils down to: your life isn’t worth it. I write to you because I will not be silenced; I will not defy my conscience, formed in prayer, reflection, and faith.
Young people are crying out. Hear us. Listen to our dreams, hopes, desires and encourage us when we speak out against injustice; lest the Church crumble. Moving forward, I will continue to be engaged and strive to be aware of injustices. You will continue to hear from me, as I humbly and hope-filled-ly submit my thoughts to you. Respectfully, I ask for you response. Perhaps there are other reasons for the actions taken by the diocese that I am not aware of. Please convey them to the faithful. When it’s an issue regarding our lives we deserve to know.
In Peace & Solidarity,
Come and sweep me off my feet
Take me to the place where adventure lives
Where you catch a glimpse and that glimpse catches your breath
Breathless glimpsation of a providential moment made so by happenstance or mindful reflection
Come, sweep me off my feet
To that place of serenity and stillness
Where the shuffling silence of the world surrounding is just that- silenced
Silence shuffled with a cry for tranquility amongst taciturn hesitancy and doubt
Come, sweep me off my feet
To that place of gratitude and joy
Where the chest swells with laughter and thankfulness for love given and received
Loving laughter received and given thankfully
Come, sweep me into the arms of the unknown
To that place of mystery and encounter
Where the Other dwells and a greater Truth can be revealed
The truth of another revealed in our common dwelling
Come, sweep me off my feet
To know, to love, to listen, to explore.
Come, sweep me.