In Transitional Times: How to Keep Your Feet on the Ground

This morning in our chapel, Redemptorist Father Tizio from Mission Church opened his homily with these words: “There is a Chinese curse: May you live in a time of transition.” The sisters all chuckled since we seem to be perpetually living in transition with a mission to evangelize with the means of communication.

We all in this country, he went on to say, are living in a time of tremendous upheaval. Living in transitional times, it has been described, is like living with both feet in the air. There is no security, no clarity, no way of knowing what will be except that we are not there yet and we can’t go back.

You, my friend, may be feeling this insecurity as you watch what is being reported in the news or perhaps witnessing yourselves the very human consequences of this struggle. For us Sisters, the events reported have names. For you it may be the same. It is a phenomenon that is not only playing out in the US but across the world, as people flee their countries for a better life, but the challenge of resettling millions of people while both respecting both their needs and the security of the receiving country is not easily resolved.

In January 2019, a man who would completely understand our struggle will be canonized. His name is Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. Romero faithfully adhered to Catholic teachings on liberation and a preferential option for the poor, desiring a social revolution based on interior reform.

While seen as a social conservative at his appointment as archbishop in 1977, he was deeply affected by the murder of his friend and fellow priest Rutilio Grande a few weeks after his own appointment. As he took over the care of his flock, he actively denounced violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable people, defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence. He was declared a Servant of God by Saint John Paul II in 1997. His cause for beatification and canonization was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and he was declared a martyr of Pope Francis on February 3, 2015. He was beatified on May 23, 2015.

By the time of his death, Romero had built up an enormous following among Salvadorans. He did this largely through broadcasting his weekly sermons across El Salvador on the Church’s station, YSAX, “except when it was bombed off the air.” In these sermons, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders, and much more each Sunday. This was followed by an hour-long speech on radio the following day. On the importance of these broadcasts, one writer noted that “the archbishop’s Sunday sermon was the main source in El Salvador about what was happening. It was estimated to have the largest listenership of any program in the country.” According to listener surveys, 73% of the rural population and 37% of the urban listened regularly. Similarly, his diocesan weekly paper Orientación carried lists of cases of torture and repression every week. (Wikimedia)

How easy it could have been for the Archbishop to fire up his listeners with anger and violence. But like a sword his words cut a straight line through the human heart in its quivering attempt to hold the horror of their suffering and bring justice. Romero did light a fire in their hearts, a fire we desperately need today, here, in the throes of our own transition.

Let us take a moment to learn at the feet of soon-to-be canonized Oscar Romero:

In mid-May of 1977, military forces raided the town of Aguilares, killing dozens of people, desecrated the church and the eucharist, and deported the three priests remaining in the parish. A month later Archbishop Oscar Romero installed a new parish team. In the homily of the installation Mass, he said: “We will be firm in defending our rights—but with a great love in our hearts, because when we defend ourselves with love we are also seeking sinners’ conversion. That is the Christian’s vengeance.” (June 19, 1977, The Violence of Love, page 4)

How could the Archbishop talk love in a country torn apart by violence, torture, and murder.

“The church’s social teaching … is a looking at God, and from God at one’s neighbor as a brother or sister, and an awareness that ‘whatever you did to one of these, you did to me’” (The Nonviolence of Love, March 14, 1977, page 3).

But in the face of a problem so overwhelming, what should I do? What can I do? We feel like we should be able to do something. Romero couldn’t solve the country’s problems, make them go away, return to mothers their children who had disappeared, wipe away the floods of tears and fear. He invited his flock to enter into the problems of the human family.
“The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable’” (quote found: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).

In Boston, where I live, I may not personally meet these brothers and sisters of mine from Latin and Central America, although my sisters do (even here in Boston). I can hold these people dear to my heart: “You aren’t an illegal alien. You aren’t trash. You aren’t a criminal. You are valuable.”

From this experience of the heart of misery comes wisdom, for, as Romero says, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

For starters, in conversations, social media posts, comments online, I can be intentional in my language and motivation to convey my respect for them as my brothers and sisters, their human dignity, people caught in the middle of a situation for which I don’t see an easy solution.

“I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us” (The Violence of Love).

All I know, as Romero said, is that “there are not two categories of people. There are not some who were born to have everything and leave others with nothing and a majority that has nothing and can’t enjoy the happiness that God has created for all. God wants a Christian society, one in which we share the good things that God has given for all of us” (original quote: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).

So we can say that in a transition we don’t really have two feet in the air. If we choose, Romero shows us how to plant both feet securely on the ground: one foot in the kingdom where God loves us all equally and the other foot in the human heart where each of us and all of us blossom under the sun of God’s love with equal dignity and value. The winds of transition will continue to blow, the uncertainty cause us to wonder and fear, but our compass will still be pointed due north: to our common Father who makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ his Son.

“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work” (The Violence of Love).

I invite you to sign up for my letter, just a couple times a month, and to join my Facebook Group: 

  • Upon research into this “Chinese curse” I discovered it was not invented by the Chinese at all: “It was first used by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized through a speech by Robert F Kennedy in 1966. The phrase “live in interesting times” dates at least to the late 19th century. The “Chinese curse” element was likely added by Sir Chamberlain as an (effective) embellishment. There is no evidence of a Chinese origin.” (https://www.quora.com/Where-does-the-quote-May-you-live-in-interesting-times-come-from)

 

What Wondrous Majesty! The Saints and the Eucharist

“What wonderful majesty! What stupendous condescension! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the whole universe, God and the Son of God, should humble Himself like this under the form of a little bread, for our salvation.”
– St. Francis of Assisi
There are some amazing synonyms for prayer that only the saints seem to remember: Admiration! Astonishment! Humility! Adoration! Wonder! Mystery! These words of St. Francis of Assisi describe for us his prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
I believe the heart-movements of adoration and wonder so dear to the saints have been deadened in us by the over-stimulation that bombards us from all sides these days. The beautiful Feast of Corpus Christi this Sunday causes us to step back, kneel down, prostrate ourselves before Infinite Glory, and be swept up into the divine life of the Trinity.
“God dwells in our midst, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe
Our parish churches and chapels are temples of the living God. In the Eucharist, the Trinity—Father, Son, and Spirit—becomes “fully a part of our human condition… God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us” (Sacramentum Caritatis, no 8).
Recently, I came across a story about Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR (priest, author, and retreat master, who died in 2014). He was traveling with a Protestant minister in a car and when they passed a Catholic Church, Fr. Benedict made the sign of the Cross. The minister asked him why he did this. Fr. Benedict explained that it was out of reverence for Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The minister told him, if I believed what you believe, I would get out of the car, run inside the Church, fall on my knees and never get up again.
God dwells in our midst. God dwells in our midst. It isn’t quite like the wardrobe that was the portal through which the three children slip into the fantastic world of Narnia in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, from his epic fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.
Instead, heaven is here among us. It is no fantasy, but Mystery. Yet the same struggle between good and evil that raged in Narnia, plays out also in our midst. In the end, as the prophetical scene described in the fifth chapter of the book of Revelation reveals, the majesty of God will be gloriously triumphant:
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Behind the tiny door of the tabernacle in our churches is not only a ciborium, but the awesome Glory of Infinite Love and Mercy who has chosen to live in our midst. Even in tabernacles where he is alone and blasphemed he remains with us.
“O Jesus, You instituted this Sacrament because Your love exceeds all words. Burning with love for us, You desired to give Yourself to us and took up Your dwelling in the consecrated Host, entirely and forever, until the end of time. And You did this, not only to give us a memorial of Your death which is our salvation, but You did it also, to remain with us entirely and forever.”
– St. Angela of Foligno

At the beginning of the fourth century, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. In 304, however, 49 Christians at Abitanae, however, felt compelled to celebrate the Lord’s Day with the Eucharist. Though the local bishop had obeyed the edict, they defied the prohibition. After cruel torture, the Christians and Saturninus, a priest, were martyred. Emeritus, in whose house the Christians had met, declared that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord. May these martyrs of Abitanae and all those who down the centuries have given their lives because “they couldn’t live without the Eucharist,” cause our hearts to burn in astonishment and gratitude for so great a gift.

For more, join me for spiritual support on my Facebook Group.
A treasure for praying before the Eucharist: Prayers for Eucharistic Adoration.

Inner Space

I usually have at least 20 tabs open on Chrome on one of my monitors with 8 to 10 programs open on the other. I’m switching constantly between online and offline programs to accomplish tasks connected with maintaining and website, making apps, or facilitating digital publishing. At the end of the day my spirit is fragmented into as many splintered pieces as windows that flashed in front of my sight and soul during the day. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the effect of internet and computer use on the human spirit. If I were out gardening all day I’d probably have other complaints, but being in nature would be healing and whole. Multi-tasking across a number of different platforms in front of a screen doesn’t quite have the same healing effect.

One thing I’ve been trying to do is to spend 15 or 20 minutes before I go to bed, in a darkened room, in prayer or reading. Candles or incense awaken my senses to beauty once more. My reflections or conversations with God reconnect me personally to the Infinite Mystery who hears and listens and speaks and touches and tastes and holds and cares. This restores me to myself. This restores me to him.

Do you have any small rituals you’ve developed to restore your fragmented or drooping spirit at the end of a long day?

Allow the Spirit

Pope Francis, in his document Gaudete et Exsultate, encourages us to allow the Spirit into our lives that we might “be saints for God’s greater glory” (no. 177).  Below are a few quotes I found to be powerful departures for contemplation on this Solemnity of Pentecost.

Every saint is a message which the Holy Spirit takes from the riches of Jesus Christ and gives to his people (no. 21).

Always ask the Spirit what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every decision you must make so as to discern its place in the mission you have received (no. 23).

Allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world (no. 23).

Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace (no. 34).

Holiness is also parrhesía: it is boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus himself comes and tells us once more, serenely yet firmly: “Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). These words enable us to go forth and serve with the same courage that the Holy Spirit stirred up in the Apostles, impelling them to proclaim Jesus Christ. Boldness, enthusiasm, the freedom to speak out, apostolic fervor, all these are included in the word parrhesía. The Bible also uses this word to describe the freedom of a life open to God and to others (no. 129).

We need…to ask the Holy Spirit to liberate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from certain parts of our lives. God asks everything of us, yet he also gives everything to us (no. 175).