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Friday, September 16, 2016

Reflections on the Sacred Heart

[I wrote this last June, but never got around to posting it.]

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. My Franciscan Province has the Sacred Heart as its patron, so this day is doubly special for us.

I subscribe to a magazine called Sojourners. The editors describe themselves as "liberal evangelicals." They are not Catholic, but the magazine often includes pieces by Catholic writers.

This morning I was reading in that magazine a review of a book called Trouble I've Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism. The book talks about how Christian churches so often see Jesus as someone who should be in charge of society, which is not the way the Gospels present Jesus.

I was praying the "Office" this morning. The opening prayer had the words: "Come, let us worship Jesus, whose heart was wounded for love of us." That prayer jarred me. It seemed to reflect an assumption that Jesus was in charge of his own suffering, so he let his heart be wounded because he loves us.

That is the spirit of much of our traditional Catholic piety, and especially the piety centering on the Sacred Heart. Jesus came down from heaven, saw how much evil there is in the world, and let himself suffer in order to make atonement for that evil. Without that atonement, God the Father would continue to be angry with the human race.

As I continued my with the psalms, the tone changed. The psalms reflect the attitude that we are in trouble, and we depend on God to help us. Jesus prayed those psalms. Tradition said that King David was the author of all of the psalms, so there was a Latin saying "In David, Christus." "When you pray the psalms, you see Christ." I really feel that when I pray the psalms.

But the psalms are not prayers of someone in charge. For example, look at today's responsorial psalm, and imagine Jesus praying it:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.

This is not the prayer of someone in charge of society.

I see the incarnation as God becoming human because God wanted to share in everything human except sin. So when Jesus was arrested and condemned and executed, he was not voluntarily looking at all the sinfulness of the world and saying "I love them so much that I am going to suffer to make up for all that evil." That attitude seems to make him in charge of the situation. I see him praying "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" which is the opening verse of psalm 22. Jesus shared the deepest defeat of us human beings. He loved us so much that he wanted to be with us in that kind of suffering. He really was powerless at that moment and throughout his life.

If we look at Jesus that way, we do not see ourselves as in charge of society. Our lives are to share in the least powerful people of our society, not the greatest ones. We clergy should not be always invited to sit at the head table. Jesus would not belong there. Jesus would belong in the kitchen.

The book review I mentioned blames our Christian racism on the attitude that we know what is virtuous, and the people who do not look like us are not as virtuous as they should be, so we must pray for them so they will become like us. We need to see all of us, no matter what color our skin is, as sharing in the human destiny that God shares in the incarnation. We are all of us standing or sitting or kneeling, or flat on our faces in the presence of a God who loves each of us and wants each of us to have life and have it more abundantly. None of us is in charge of the world.

Monday, September 12, 2016

On leisure

7/31/2016      10:20 AM

It is Sunday morning. Cool enough to sit outside under the roof of our patio. The day is bright and clear. I am wearing rose-colored sunglasses.

This is the way it should be, I say to myself. I feel good--no pains, everything in my body working, at least as far as I can tell, and for the time being. At age 81, I know that that will not continue very long, no one knows how long.

But Sunday mornings have always been special times for me. I have a couple of memories that enrich each Sunday.

This morning. I am there on the patio, singing the psalms for Week 2 Sunday, in Latin, and out loud. A couple of them even in Greek. And I think of women and men around the world using these same words, probably not in Greek or Latin, probably in their own languages, but the same words.

The same words. The mystery of language. NPR this morning had a story about Native American people working to keep alive the Crow language. Some Native American groups are down to fewer than ten people who can still speak the language of the group.

A language can only exist in a group of people. Words are more than just the sounds, and the sounds are more than just the letters. Words float among the group. Words are spiritual.

The Latin and Greek are special to me because they tie me to my early years preparing to be a priest, and to the centuries of people who used those languages before my time. Very few people these days have those experiences.

But more and more I am drawn to recall experiences from my days in the seminary. We had no TV, no computers, no cell phones, not even newspapers. Leisure for me, even when I was studying theology in Teutopolis, Illinois, was walking around the small pond on the property. That’s all I needed. One Sunday memory is Brother Adolph, a World War II veteran, and apparently something of a war hero, though he never spoke about that--in fact, he never spoke at all--flying a kite. On Sunday afternoon he would get this kite way way up, sometimes even with a flashlight on it for when it got dark. That was his leisure.

We could live that way because other people were supporting us. The time came when we had to support ourselves and the rest of the community, so I taught for thirty-plus years.

Early in my life the Second Vatican Council came along and overturned so much of what I cherished. I did not regret the overturning, in fact I promoted it, because I thought that that was what God was calling us to. And I still think God was calling us to it. But, like so many people in our world, we got away from some things that were very rich and good for us, like leisure that did not depend on material gadgets.

Francis of Assisi struggled with the tension between doing things for other people, like preaching, and going away for time alone--leisure. He spent large blocks of time in such leisure. In fact, he even wrote a small rule of life for hermitages. The rule suggested that a hermitage should have four men, two of them mothers and two of them sons. The two mothers would provide the necessities of daily living, like getting and preparing food, for the two sons. After a period of time, the mothers would change places with the sons.

I reflect that so much leisure in history has depended on a subservient class. In Greece and Rome it was slaves who provided the leisure for the people on top. In religious life, there were lay brothers and sisters. Even in the seminary we had a cadre of lay brothers who were making the place run: cooks, bakers, carpenters, plumbers, etc. Brother Herb Rempe told me that at one time there were over 30 brothers in the seminary at Teutopolis.

We have abolished the subservience in our Order--even our General Minister in Rome, Michael Perry, signs himself sometimes in official documents as “Fr. Michael Perry,” and other times as “Br. Michael Perry.”

I am benefiting from another form of leisure in my society: retirement. Some people dream of spending their retirement traveling. I dream of spending mine sitting on Sunday mornings on a patio, and walking around the area. And I try to keep busy most of the time by doing other things. At the moment the other thing is working on a history of our Province.

If we are ever to create a society where everyone earns a living wage without destroying the world we live in, it will help if we can do leisure without consuming stuff. There are elements in our traditions that give us hints about how we might do that.