Archives for December 2011
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
“Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place,which the Lord has made
known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
– Luke 2:15-20
As I write this article, I am reminded of an outdoor nativity pageant my family attended when we were children. The pageant was complete with live animals, the holy family and a gigantic plywood star adorned with magnificent white lights that would rise and fall over the crèche when Jesus was born. I wonder what I would have heard had I been there on that first Christmas night. Would I have heard the choirs of angels singing or simply the sounds of barnyard animals shifting around? Would I have seen the star in the sky that night or simply two poor and very frightened kids with a newborn baby? Would I have understood the hushed silence of the Divine presence, or simply the chill of a cold east wind? Today I find it comforting to reflect upon the words of Luke’s Christmas story. For, as Luke demonstrates, Jesus is with us — right here in the messiness of our own lives. “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. In prayer she kept “all things” — everything that occurred. This included even more so what She did not comprehend, what She could not see so clearly, what seemed mysterious, what required painful and generous assents, what seemed beyond Her capacity or strength, what was beyond Her understanding, and what She needed to more deeply perceive. All of these things She kept in Her heart to immerse them in God’s love and light.
For many years, I have wondered why the Angel told the shepherds what God was about to do when He put Christmas in place. Mary, who is such a marvelous example for us, was so filled with awe and questions that she did not share the miracle. However, these lowly simple shepherds told everybody what they had been told and seen for themselves. They shared what the angel had said to them: “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The shepherds wanted to tell their friends the “good news” they found as they knelt at the crèche. The Shepherds remind us this Godchild was not just born to Mary and Joseph, but this birth is “unto everyone” and the gift is for us today!
The Shepherds made known what had been told to them about this child. As we ponder the same event this Christmas so many centuries later, we begin to touch the fringes of the mystery. It’s the mystery of God’s love come down to us, the mystery of the Word made flesh. We each have those experiences and people and circumstances where we have seen, known and heard God’s love. A Godchild laying in the center of a manger is calling us to the feast, to the miraculous feeding that brings us home, that reminds us of who we are. Perhaps Luke is pointing us to a pattern that each one of us is called to follow. The earliest Christians were called “Children of light”, they understood themselves to be a beacon of Christ’s light for others. That is why it is so important to be immersed in a committed and vital membership such as Old St. Patrick’s. A community in which we will grow and be nurtured in faith, as we have been in the past, but also a community in which we will expect to invite others to join us! God calls to us this Christmas to come and live in the light, and share that light with others. “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Let us swaddle God in our hearts and share Him today with those we love. Thank you for being constant reminders of the Divine presence of Christmas all throughout the year.
Bernadette Gibson is Director of Pastoral Care at
Old St. Patrick’s Church.
He leaves the best messages. I am referring to my friend and colleague Terry Nelson-Johnson who we are so incredibly blessed to have with us on the staff of Old St. Patrick’s Church. Besides his great humor, his prophetic preaching, his outrageous talents in writing and story-telling and the list goes on, Terry is just a very kind, thoughtful human being. He is so dedicated to Old St. Pat’s and his passion lies in what he frequently calls: “doing good church.” Often I will retrieve messages from my phone, only to find one from Terry, recorded most times late into the evening. His messages are always supportive, expressing gratitude for something Grace-filled that thankfully has gone well.
A couple of weeks ago, Terry left one of his messages and at the end of the recording he said something like this: thank you for allowing me to be a part of a church that celebrates Christmas as a lived reality and not merely an historical event. I told you he is good! I invite you to stay with those words of Terry for awhile: Christmas as a lived reality, not merely an historical event.
It is probably true to say that many of us approach Christmas every year as remembering the events of 2,000 years ago and the unusual way in which God entered the world through the birth of Jesus. And while the “events” of this Incarnation shape a lot of what we believe in our faith tradition, somehow I imagine that God is probably saying to God’s-self every year: don’t just keep looking to the past; look around at what’s happening right under your nose! Make me present today!
Do not get me wrong: I am a big fan of Manger scenes, Christmas trees, and those wonderfully familiar songs that keep us humming throughout the season. St. Francis came up with the idea of the manger and used the crèche as a way of explaining the events of history — smart move. The sacred sounds of Christmas hymns sung throughout the ages often refer to this moment of tremendous Grace that came upon the world on that O Holy Night — yes. But what does all of this have to do with our lives today? Where do we see and how do we make present this lived reality of Christmas? How do we not just leave it as our annual observation of something historical, but rather celebrate it as a Christmas truth that is alive?
Another colleague and friend on the Old St. Pat’s team whose dedication is second-to-none is Beth Marek. Beth directs our Outreach efforts and helps so many of our members live out their faith through involvement with many of our local and global partners. Beth informed me the other day that through the generosity of the members of Old St. Pat’s—the lived reality of Christmas—we collected more than 4,000 gifts and/or donations for those in need. I walked down to the hall on Sunday evening, December 11 and witnessed all the donations being wrapped ever so graciously by the people of this church so they could be delivered to their respective recipients. That is Christmas. That is where God’s presence is a lived reality, not merely an historical event!
I have been privileged to journey with some young couples these past few weeks as they celebrated the births of their first daughters. Unfortunately, for both couples, the births came with some significant challenges that will have long-term physical and developmental effects for both girls. While I have seen the obvious disappointment and sadness on the faces and hearts of young adult parents whose marriage vows I have witnessed, I have also experienced in these recent days a tremendous maturity, strength, courage, and some outrageous forms of love being poured forth from new parents to their babies. Bringing forth love into the world and into the heart of another human being; isn’t that what the lived reality of Christmas is all about? Watching some young dads especially “rise to the occasion” and really be that “strength” for the brides they love immeasurably, isn’t that story of the historic Joseph being lived out today in our midst?
I think Terry is correct. Christmas is that lived reality which happens all around us.
We are absolutely delighted and grateful for all who found their way to Old St. Pat’s today. Thank you so very much for choosing to be here at on this Christmas Day. Thank you for “incarnating” and making present the very goodness of God in our midst today and all throughout the year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all of you.
Fr. Tom Hurley
In a recent blog post, theologian and spiritual writer Richard Rohr recalled something a seminary professor told him near the end of his seminary studies: “You know, the Church was more influenced by Plato than by Jesus.” He remembered that everyone in the class gasped when they heard that statement … but deep down, they all knew it to be true as well.
Jesus, the consummate Jew, saw his God as personal, intimate, and conversational. The beauty of Jesus’ Father was that he could adjust to circumstances, forgive, show mercy, and change the rules for the sake of the relationship itself. Divine UNION itself was the goal, not private moral perfection. Life was not a courtroom for Jesus, but a living room, kitchen, and bedroom.
Whatever worked to bring us in relationship was to be used, and Jesus used it — because he knew God did the same. Jesus made human life a dialogue with the Divine whereas Plato made it a monologue from on high. Jesus was concerned with particulars and persons, Plato with universals and ideas.
I think Rohr’s words have lingered in my consciousness because, like so many grace-filled things, they have caught my attention and have helped me to reconsider what is at the heart of the matter when it comes to who God is and who we are invited to be.
In this time of Advent, and perhaps in particular on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12), we are reminded that God not only came among us 2,000 years ago … but that God is desperate to be birthed into our world again and again … in our very midst. By God’s grace, Mary, the mother of our Lord, came to the native people of “the New World” in the 16th century. Appearing on a hillside near current-day Mexico City, she communicated to St. Juan Diego not only with her words. She also spoke volumes in her very appearance: the choice to appear as one of God’s “littlest” ones while dressed in native garb, with the dark skin and features of the local people. With “flor y canto” she came: communicating to the hearts of the native people, communicating her presence among them and her words of compassion, tenderness, and love came from the Divine Creator.
Our Lady of Guadalupe — the Patroness of the Americas —is not simply an image or a story meant to speak to the people of what is now Mexico. She is yet another powerful example of how our God has chosen to enter into our midst (and so often … our chaos) to a deeper relationship with us. No matter how many rules, structures, and theological arguments are developed in the quest to improve and strengthen this Church institution, my prayer is that we always return to the Gospels to be reminded of how Jesus chose to bring liberation to his beloved ones through compassion, through relationship, through kinship — by any means necessary.
And this Advent, may we all be inspired by the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, take to heart the bold invitation of John the Baptist, and commit ourselves to participate in the promise of the Incarnation — allowing God to be born in us over and over again.
Keara Coughlin Ette is Director of Young Adult Ministry at Old St. Patrick’s Church.
Today is my 56th Birthday. Barring a miracle of serious proportions, I have had significantly more Birthdays than I will have! What is one to say on a birthday clearly rooted in the “second half” of Life? My answer to this question may seem a bit strange, but hey consider the source. I distinctly remember sitting in my room as a really little guy — six or seven years old would be my guess. I had received a record player —you remember . . . Records, Circular planes of vinyl. I did not have many records to play so I raided my mom’s collection. Perusing the album jackets I happened upon a group of extraordinarily Joyful looking full habited Sisters… The Singing Nuns for God’s sake — (literally!) Intrigued,
I brought the Singing Nuns to my new little phonograph
and gave them a whirl. Fifty years later — more or less —
I can still see the faces of those Joyful Sister’s faces in my mind’s eye and I can still hear a single phrase from one of their songs:
Lord, Keep Me Busy Being Born.
If limited to one fervent prayer for this next year, and in fact for my remaining years, I think I would have to go with the Singing Nuns refrain: Lord, Keep Me Busy Being Born. Coincidentally, and gracefully, I am not sure I could compose a more appropriate Advent prayer than the one the Nuns provided for me 50 some years ago!
As a result of time and space constraints I am not in a position to explore in depth why this prayer/phrase has so captured my imagination, but if I were to modestly begin to articulate what I think continuing to be Born Asks and Demands of us I would go with A Story; The memory of a woman for whom I have great regard, and One of my most treasured quotes from a really beautiful man:
The Story: I overheard two of my great nieces bantering with each other a while ago. They are cousins, five-and seven-years old respectively. They banter well! Regarding the overheard conversation in question the seven-year-old boldly announced to her cousin: “I don’t like adults anymore.” Somewhat shaken and looking as though a “sin” may have just occurred, the younger cousin none-the-less could not repress her intrigue: “Why don’t you like adults anymore?” Missing not a beat her elder cousin replied: “Because they never do anything new and they never do anything scary.” It seems to me that continuing to be born will ask us over and over and over again to do new things and to do scary things. Advent is a time in which we are asked to intentionally prepare to celebrate AND participate in the Incarnation — the mysterious, vulnerable indwelling of the Devine in Jesus . . . In Us: New and Scary Indeed!
The Woman: Maggie Daley was buried from Old St. Patrick’s Church this week. It was a beautiful celebration honoring a beautiful woman. I did not know Chicago’s first lady personally, but I feel like I did, which I think is a tribute to her love for the City of Chicago and her people. Maggie Daley, it seems to me was both passionate and fierce. If evidence is needed to support this claim we need only seek out some of her fellow founders of Frances Xavier Warde School; fellow board members of After School Matters or any one associated with her decision to be present at her daughter, Lally’s wedding — one week before she died. If we actually want to continue Being Born
I think we, in the spirit of Maggie Daley AND in the spirit of Jesus, the Incarnate God who knows a thing or two about continuing to be Born, must also commit ourselves to cultivating the virtues of passion and fierceness.
The Quote: Finally, one of my most beloved quotes from Pedro Arrupe. Simply put, if we really want to Keep Being Born; if we really want to Live Out Advent, rather than merely decorating for it, then we should Risk taking to heart the sage counsel of Pedro Arrupe, S.J. – We should Risk Falling In Love.
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
Here’s to a New & Scary; Passionate & Fierce…Falling In Love Advent!
Terry Nelson-Johnson is Director of Adult Faith Formation at Old St. Patrick’s Church.
“As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.”
Traditionally, Advent is a time of preparation for the arrival of the infant Jesus, the shoot of Jesse, the tree in the desert, and the rose in December, whose unlikely flowering invites us to begin anew. Advent is the recognition of our longing for Emmanuel — God with us –— who binds us, eternally, to the Tree of Life.
This Advent, we embrace a living Tree as the communal symbol of our season of expectation: “Rooted in Faith. Growing the Kingdom.” Our Catholic roots are wide and deep — they nourish and sustain the life and spirit within us. These roots of scripture, wisdom, experience, and tradition guide our actions and shape our hearts. Rooted in faith, we come to know God’s unbounded love for us, and the inner strength that inspires. Tapping into sacred ground, we yearn to grow in the image of our Creator. If we are to survive and thrive, our roots urge us upward, outward, and onward — to the Kingdom. Growing the Kingdom requires us to be a people both gathered and sent. Our branches do not simply mirror our roots — they lead us to live and blossom in ways we never imagined.
O God, help the people of Old St. Pat’s to be a people both gathered and sent. Guide us as we seek to grow the Kingdom through the North Lawndale Initiative and other expressions of our mission, knowing that our deepest desire is to learn how to humbly, but fearlessly, extend our branches outward.
Lord, help us to discern the roots of our faith. As we gather to celebrate Liturgy, we encounter new words at moments that were once so familiar. Guide us in holy hesitation. May a renewed experience of the Mass blossom within us.
Jesus, help us to prepare for your birth in
our lives. This Advent, cultivate in us the sacredness of anticipation and open our
hearts to new growth.
Maryellen Davis Collett is a professor of American Catholic culture and history at Lewis University in Romeoville, and currently serves on the Old St. Pat’s Liturgy Committee. She and her husband, Keith, are active members and volunteers at Old St. Pat’s.
Welcome to a “new year!” Today, on this First Sunday of Advent, the church embarks on a new Liturgical year, taking our focus this year primarily from the gospel of St. Mark. (The Liturgical calendar is based on three-year cycle, commonly noted by Cycle A-Matthew, Cycle B- Mark, and Cycle C- Luke. St. John’s gospel is intertwined amidst all the cycles.) What intrigues me about the opening of Mark’s gospel for this First Sunday of Advent to “launch” this new year, this new season, is the emphasis on being “watchful and alert.” In other words, Advent and this piece from Mark’s gospel today calls us to be more attentive. And for a guy like me who has always been a pretty avid “day dreamer,” (especially in class!) hearing again the challenge to be more attentive and alert is always a welcomed message!
When you think about it, being watchful and alert is really a tremendously powerful statement for us to hear. It may (or may not) presume that perhaps we have been “asleep at the wheel” in this journey called life. “Waking up” to the world around us and to the church we are called to create is really a life-long task. Mark’s gospel is not just focused on the end times or looking for something magical or metaphysical to happen. Jesus wanted to challenge his friends to be attentive, be mindful, be cognizant of a world that cries out for justice and hungers for peace. Being watchful and alert is not just focusing on the Second Coming, the Parousia, but more importantly it is about looking attentively for ways to bring forth this thing called the Kingdom of God. That is not pious theological language to speak of some future place or that which lies in some yet unknown world. Be Watchful and Be Alert to the moments when God speaks to us through another person and through an experience that captures our attention like no other. Be Watchful and Be Alert to an opportunity in which we can bring forth something of the Holy. We have these moments all the time, every day, in every way.
I am also mindful of the fact that today begins the new language we have been asked to incorporate in our communal worship known as the Mass. Though I am writing this column without having first celebrated Mass with the new linguistic alterations, I just have feeling that it is going to sound a bit odd. Perhaps that will be (or was) your experience today? Change can be difficult, I know. I am a creature of habit like many of you. And while I was not looking forward to these Liturgical changes, I am challenged by the words of Mark’s gospel today on this first Sunday: be watchful; be alert. In other words, maybe the gift being given to us by this new Roman Missal is that I can no longer take for granted the prayers I have memorized for all these years. Not that memorization is a bad thing; it is not. But maybe the challenge I am feeling is that I have to be “more awake, more watchful; more alert” to what I am praying and how I am praying it! I am hoping and praying this First Sunday of the new year, with these new linguistic styles, will help me to be more mindful of my prayer and the prayer we share together in our Sunday worship. And remembering what I shared with the people of Old St. Pat’s a few weeks ago: beyond any linguistic changes, real church is created by US, you and me together, inspired by the spirit, and bringing the best we have. May the language of our heart, the language of our hospitality, language of our music, and the language of our preaching continue to mold us and shape us into the people that God is calling us to be.
Fr. Tom Hurley
An idealistic young priest once visited Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery in Kentucky and spoke to him about his agony over social justice issues. “I know it’s wrong,” he said, “and sometimes I can hardly face myself in the mirror for going along with things as they are. Yet I don’t know what to do. What can I do?”
“Don’t do a damned thing,” replied Merton. “Just take the time to become what you profess to be. Then you will know what to do.” If Merton had less credentials in the area of social justice, his answer could easily be seen as a rationalization, an excuse to escape involvement. Given his record, however, it is a profound answer. The answer of a saint to the agonizing question: What can I do in the area of social justice?
What can we do? In the circles that I move in, on this question, there is enough talk, enough agonizing and enough guilt, but little in the way of practical action. At our roots, many of us feel that we need to do something about injustice and poverty. We feel guilty about being affluent, but we feel helpless: “I have enough problems of my own! I have trouble paying my own mortgage, how can I save the world!” Or, as a friend of mine recently said: “I don’t know what to do. So I go to a lot of meetings and read a lot about poverty and the Third World. It’s making me more sensitive and assuaging my guilt somewhat, but, in the end, I am still not doing anything concretely.”
What finally can we do?
Merton’s answer is that if we don’t know what to do, then we are still not ready to do anything. If we are still asking what to do, if our own problems are still too distracting, and if we are having trouble looking at ourselves in the mirror, then we are still too caught up in our own neuroses, ambitions, woundedness and false values to be of much help to the poor. We are still too poor ourselves. Our lives are not yet lives of praise and gratitude, lives that, by necessity, spill over and pour out graciousness. Our service, our prophecy and our resistance are still too self-seeking, too motivated by guilt, too distracted by wound and bitterness and anger.
To be a prophet of justice, an instrument of peace and a channel of graciousness necessitates that one be living more in gratitude than in anger, more in the posture of praise than the posture of paranoia.
But this isn’t easy. Too often our prophecy, our service and our resistance are motivated by guilt over our own affluence or by anger at our own culture. When that is the case, we do not truly help anyone. Our actions are simply self-aggrandizing and, in the end, serve to extend our own neuroses, ideologies and bitterness to the poor. There is no outflow of graciousness.
Resistance, prophecy and service must flow from a life which is full of gratitude, celebration, deep friendship and contemplative prayer. When these elements are there, graciousness automatically spills over. One knows what to do!
That is what is implied in Merton’s answer. Only when a person has grown in prayer, friendship and gratitude so that the bitter need to kill, to defend self, to be jealous and to be angry because one has been wounded, disappears, will one truly be able to resist, prophesy and serve.
Saints and prophets aren’t characterized by bitterness, guilt or anger. These do not serve the poor. Saints and prophets are recognized by the warmth of their love and their sense of God’s presence. That is why Merton tells that young man: “Take the time you need to become what you profess to be…don’t rush wounded, self-preoccupied, ill-prepared and badly motivated into the crisis.”
In a crisis, at an accident or a fire, things are not made better, nor is anyone helped, by someone who is too full of personal crisis and self-interest to be self-forgetful enough to genuinely give himself over to the task at hand. Persons caught in self-interest are more part of the problem than of the solution – both at fires and in social justice.
This answer is not a dangerous privatization of morality, an escape clause for the rich, a shutting of the ears to the urgency of the cry and hunger of the poor. It’s a refusal of the blind to lead the blind. It’s the admission that it is hard to save the world when one must still be engaged in the humbler task of growing up. It is a taking seriously of one’s woundedness and narcissism. Most important, it is a challenge to move beyond present complacency, to begin the painful task of uprooting bitterness, resentments, paranoia, self-pity, jealousy, self-interest, laziness, neuroses, and rerooting in prayer, gratitude and friendship, so that when the poor cry out we know what to do.
In the meantime, many of us are reduced to a certain impotence as we live the question.
Father Ronald Rolheiser is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
If you have been noticing a few more articles these past few months by theologian and writer, Ronald Rolheiser, then you can “blame” me. Well, not really. I have come to enjoy Rolheiser’s insights and I think his articles are really poignant and at times very profound. He is as delightful in person as he is in his writing style. I hope you enjoy the article printed on the next page. His reflections on gratitude and giving are especially appropriate as we head into this week of the Thanksgiving Holiday. Finding, first, that space of gratitude within ourselves is the only way we will figure out how and when to act in this world. Actions that lead to justice and charity only happen naturally for us because our internal space knows gratitude. No matter what the circumstances we face, despite our greatest challenges, there is a connection to God that brings forth a true sense of peace and acknowledges that we are the recipients of grace and blessing.
What I like about Thanksgiving is what this unique time of the year calls us to: gratitude. Most people I talk to seem to appreciate this holiday over Christmas in large part, because of the cultural, commercial chaos that has become associated with Christmas. But sometimes even Thanksgiving focuses too much on the turkey and the trimmings, leaving this to strictly a culinary exercise. Rolheiser’s article reminds me that gratitude does not just happen because of a piece of cooked poultry, but more importantly it is about finding that internal space which might actually lead me and all of us to a better world. Not everyone who reads this article or comes to Old St. Pat’s this week will be with family or sitting at a table. Some of us might find ourselves alone, mourning this as the “first” holiday without someone, working, or not able to be with family. For some, family may not be a reality. But Thanksgiving is important. Beyond a big fancy meal, Thanksgiving calls us to be aware of this God of ours whose only desire is to nourish and sustain us.
Personally, I am particularly mindful of how grateful I am for
all of you and this experience of creating and building church at Old St. Patrick’s. Your generosity, kindness, and great spirit make it so easy for me to be a priest here. When I think of how far some of you travel and the sacrifices you make because the only thing you want is just a life-giving experience of church and a place to nourish your life of faith, I am profoundly humbled. I feel a deep gratitude for the people of Old St. Pat’s, our Outreach Partners who associate themselves and their good work with us, and the faculty and students of Frances Xavier Warde School.
We see a lot of tough things happening in the world today. From illness to violence to sheer chaos, we face the darkness. For many, this Thanksgiving may seem like an insult to their woundedness. But may our deepest prayer be that God helps us become mindful of who we are, who we are called to be, and what we are capable of bringing to the “table” of the world.
Fr. Tom Hurley
Never travel with anyone who expects you to be interesting all the time. On a long trip there are bound to be some boring stretches.
That’s an axiom offered by Daniel Berrigan in his “Commandments for the Long Haul” and it contains a wisdom that is often absent today in our marriages, our family lives, our friendships, our churches and our spiritual lives.
Today, we often crucify others and ourselves with the impossible notion that inside of our relationships, our families, our churches, and prayer lives we are meant to be alert, attentive, enthusiastic and emotionally present all the time. We are never given permission to be distracted, bored and anxious to move on to something else because we are weighed down with the pressures and tiredness of our own lives.
We lay guilt on each other and on ourselves with these kinds of judgments: Sometimes you are too distracted and tired to really hear me. You are not really present to this meal. You are bored at church. You are anxious to get this over with. You do not love me like you did at first. Your heart is not in this as it used to be.
While there is a healthy challenge in these judgments, they also betray a naïveté and lack of understanding of what actually sustains us in our daily lives. We are gone ritually tone-deaf.
What do I mean by that? Here is an example:
A recent study on marriage points out that couples who make it a habit to give each other a ritual embrace or kiss before leaving the house in the morning and another ritual embrace or kiss before retiring at night, fare better than those who let this gesture to be determined by simple spontaneity or mood. The study makes the point that even if the ritual kiss is done in a distracted, hurried, perfunctory or duty-bound way it still serves a very important function, namely, it speaks of fidelity and commitment beyond the ups and downs of our emotions, distractions and tiredness on a given day.
It is a ritual, an act that is done regularly to precisely say what our hearts and heads cannot always say, namely, that the deepest part of us remains committed even during those times when we are too tired, too distracted, too angry, too bored, too anxious, too self-preoccupied or too emotionally or intellectually unfaithful to be as attentive and present as we should be. It says we still love the other and remain committed despite the inevitable changes and pressures that the seasons bring.
This is often not understood today. An over-idealization of love, family, church and prayer often crucifies the reality. Popular culture would have us believe that love should be romantic, exciting and interesting all the time and that lack of felt emotion is a signal that something is wrong.
Liturgists and prayer leaders would have us believe that every church service needs to be full of enthusiasm and emotion and that there is something wrong with us when we find ourselves flat, bored, looking at our wristwatches and resisting emotional engagement during church or prayer.
Everywhere we are warned about the dangers of doing something simple because it is duty, that there is something wrong when the movements of love, prayer or service become routine. Why do something if your heart is not in it?
Again, there is something legitimate in these warnings: Duty and commitment without heart will not ultimately sustain themselves. However, it is important to recognize and name the fact that any relationship in love, family, church or prayer can only sustain itself over a long period through ritual and routine. Ritual sustains the heart, not vice versa.
It is fidelity to the routine of everyday life, not a honeymoon that ultimately sustains a marriage. It is fidelity to simply begin at the weekday meal, simple fare eaten quickly and distractedly, not the huge celebration or banquet, that sustains family life. A family that demands that every meal together be an event where everyone affectively engages and insists that the pressures of time and personal agenda should be of no concern soon enough notices that more and more family members are finding excuses not be there.
And for good reason: Nobody has energy for a banquet every day. Indeed, nobody, except God, is immune to the simple tiredness, distraction, affective promiscuity and self-preoccupation that can make it difficult for the heart to be alert, attentive and emotionally present at any given time. Love, as the language of Marriage Encounter puts it, is shown in decision.
The same holds true for prayer. Anyone who prays only when she can affectively bring along her heart and soul will not sustain prayer for long. But the habit of prayer, the ritual, simple fidelity to the act, showing up to do it irrespective of feelings and mood, can sustain prayer for a lifetime and reign in the roaming of the head and heart.
Repetition, says Soren Kiierkegaard, is our daily bread.
Father Ronald Rolheiser is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
I suppose, like most of you, annual holidays or days of remembrance affect me differently each year. Due to the fact that I have never served in the military and no one in my immediate or extended family served in any branches of the armed forces, I am embarrassed to say that maybe Veterans Day has not been as meaningful for me as it should have been. This year, however, feels definitely different.
As I may have mentioned last week at the various Liturgies,
I had the opportunity to travel to France during the last week of October with about 40 people from Old St. Pat’s. There was no specific reason why we went to France, other than the fact that many of us had never visited this country and the time seemed right. Among the many things we saw and experienced while in France, the most moving site we visited was, without a doubt, Omaha Beach and the memorial in honor of the D-Day invasion in the Normandy region. Standing on the shore and trying to imagine the reality of this highly significant WWII invasion (portrayed in a most realistic way in the opening scene of the film Saving Private Ryan), was particularly special. Moving along the coast of Normandy from Utah Beach to Omaha Beach, we of course paid our respects at the cemetery for the United States military. Nothing about that trip was more meaningful and sobering than walking amidst the 9,300 graves marked with white crosses or the Star of David, reading the names of those young adults who died in combat. Though I do not have exact statistics, it seemed the average age of those who perished had to be 22. While the cemetery itself is a chilling reminder of the tragedies of war, the space itself is beautiful, pristine, and maintains the highest level of respect for the fallen. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to visit this historic, yet sacred ground.
The other reason this Veteran’s Day weekend seems so different is from my reading of Laura Hillenbrand’s best selling book, Unbroken. If you have not read this book, do so. You will not put it down. Based on the inspiring life journey of perseverance and dignity, Unbroken tells the true story of Louie Zamperini, a World War II POW and 1936 Olympian. Zamperini was a bombardier in the South Pacific during the war and while on a reconnaissance mission his aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He and another crewmember survived in a life raft for 47 days drifting 2,000 miles into Japanese controlled waters. Taken prisoner, Louie experienced the worst of humanity. After the war ended, he later revisited and forgave the men who tortured him during his capture. It is truly an unforgettable and sobering story of one man’s life.
Though Unbroken is one man’s story of incredible bravery and resilience,
I am mindful on this Veteran’s Day of all those women and men who put on uniforms in the past and those who still wear them today. While ending war and violence is the work to which we are all called, establishing peace is not an easy task. For all of those who serve and protect and stand on the front lines of humanity’s conflict with each other, thank you for your bravery and courage. May God bless the veterans among us and those buried in hallowed places throughout the world. May your sacrifice for the sake of Peace never be forgotten. “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with us.”
Have a great week!
Fr. Tom Hurley