This past Saturday, I was at in Wooster, OH, preaching a retreat for the women of St. Mary Parish. We were dialoguing on our call to being the daughter of God that each of is created to be. One of the women, an RN, offered the following: "In medicine, health is simply defined as being and becoming. Good health is to be the best we are able to be yet daily aiming to becoming more. Day to day it is being and becoming, being and becoming.” Can we not apply that to spiritual health as well? Being each moment as God's image through the personality God gave me yet always open to becoming more than the moment before. Openness to the God who is always present for "in God we live and move and have our being" moment by moment. Every moment we are offered a choice, in the words of Shakespeare's Hamlet, "to be or not to be" God’s daughter, God's son.
As many of you know, I am an Adjunct Professor of Homiletics at St. Mary Seminary in Cleveland, OH. I know that they learn much from me; however, in turn, I learn much from them. Last week, my students had their first preaching practicum; their homilies were drawn from the scriptures of the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time. One student, Robert McWilliams, began with the following question: "Does being a Christian, a temple of God, one belonging to Christ, color and highlight every facet of our lives in a way that the world knows that we believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are made for more, that we are made for love?" Wow! that sat us up straight! He went on to develop that what we do is important but it is not the defining characteristic of being Christian. What defines us and makes all the difference is the lens through which we view the world, our lives, each other.
Watching the Olympics always affects me in two ways: a sense of awe at the feats performed and an uneasy, almost guilty, feeling engendered by the athletes' focused and terrible dedication to their sport. I say terrible because the athlete is not to be dissuaded from his/her intent on becoming the best, no matter the price. In that awareness, I am forced to ask myself: Do I have that same terrible dedication to living the Gospel? to being at all times a living preaching of the Gospel? The Olympics always serve as an examination of conscience for me.
In the December 23 & 30, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, James Carroll has penned a comprehensive article on Pope Francis titled "Who Am I To Judge: A Radical Pope's First Year." He notes how Francis’ concern for the poor has taken front and center in his papacy; so much so that he holds nothing back in speaking of this concern.
I was going to follow up on the attainment of holiness through the pursuit of choice words but have decided to share with you the choice words of Archbishop Loris Francesco Capovilla who was made a cardinal this past week at 98 years of age. When asked how he felt at receiving this honor at such a ripe age, he said he receives it in communion with all humble priests who humbly and silently spend their whole lives so that the joy of the Gospel reaches everyone and all families. He thanks Pope John XXIII who taught him silence, hiddenness, humility and service given only out of love. "He taught me that the summit of Christian behavior is, as quoted by St. John Chrysostom, 'simplicity and prudence.' If you are simple, you open your eyes to God and are not afraid of anyone or anything.
For Christmas, I received the book Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait authored by Denys Turner. I was intrigued by the insight into the Dominican "charism" (or special gift of the Holy Spirit unique to a particular religious community) that the author related, which I thought worth sharing:
Pope Francis declares in Evangelii Gaudium, "Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations'….In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth. The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him 'to go forth.' Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the 'peripheries' in need of the light of the Gospel." Even in a department store in the midst of the Christmas rush! Last Thursday, I was in a queue of eleven customers waiting to have our purchases checked out. Of the five stations, my line was the shortest.
Reading Pope Francis' exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) reminded me of an image shared by Rev. George Smiga in the publication Living With Christ (May 2010). "The presence of God is vast and varied. That is why we can find so many different images of the Spirit. Jesus draws from the legal sphere to describe the Spirit as a 'Paraclete' or 'Advocate'. He using the image of a prosecuting attorney who will lead the disciples against the evils of the world. An old Celtic tradition builds upon this image, presenting the Holy Spirit as a goose. A goose honks loudly and forcibly inserts itself into its surroundings. When we sense God's presence as a dramatic force, grabbing us by the neck and impelling us in directions we would rather avoid, we should know that the Spirit is alive within us. We cannot limit the scope of God's action.