Posts Tagged With: mission

The Last Judgement – A Story Telling

This All Souls Day, I am reminded of a powerful image passed along to me, oh, about 25 years ago.  It seems appropriate to re-gift it today.

A volunteer catechist for high school youth that was working with me at a parish at the time gave me a reflection on the Last Judgement.  It didn’t have a source, but was a favorite of hers.  I was pleased to receive it, and have never forgotten it.  Over the years, I have, of course, embellished it!  And so what follows is a combination of the original, and subsequent thought and prayer.

For this judgement after death, you crawl into God’s lap and tell him the story of your life… all of it.  This takes a LONG time.  Tears, of course, ensue… and whatever else you might imagine to be fitting for you.

Hours later, exhausted, still in those arms, God looks deeply into your eyes and asks if it might be El’s* turn.  You nod, pinned and held in El’s gaze.  God then tells you the story of your life with great love, truth, humor, compassion.  There are more tears, yes, but also laughter, deep joy, wonder, wholeness, humility, grace, healing, compassion, connection, forgiveness, celebration, communion and community, wisdom, understanding, surrender, and an intense sense of being safe and sheltered, while receiving even more energy to love, as you unite with the One whose life in love always flows outward.  Imagine it.

I hope that encounter for all we love this day, surrounded by clouds of saints and souls, hoping and loving for and with us.  They are anxious that all those now living would share in the mission to communicate about the tenderness of God’s wondrous action in lives.  Trusting God with each chapter of our mixed up and wondrous story, mended with mercies and lavished with love, we are sent to tell others of this grounded way of living and hoping.  May we all, part of ALL souls, support and pray for each other’s journeys and lean on and in the Love that created and draws all of us, all the time.

I’ll meet you there.

*  Long ago, in reading Madeleine L’Engle’s works, I discovered that she solved the problem of an appropriate pronoun for God by using “El”.  El is short for Elohim – a Hebrew name for God, found throughout scripture.  I have claimed its use here, happily. 
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God Wishes to Charge You with a Mission: July 31st – Ignatius of Loyola, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Catherine Laboure

Yes, it’s the feast of St. Ignatius, Loyola.  There are many who will today reflect on this man who was a listener and chronicler of his own journey of discipleship, and whose rooted guidance still shape the growth in faith of many today.  His feast is a celebration of discernment, of education, of commitment, of companionship with Jesus and with others – and it is close to the heart of those who have so benefitted from the gifts of Ignatian Spirituality and the Society of Jesus (SJs), and the many religious communities which draw their charisms from these roots.

Ah… but let’s remember two other women saints for whom July 31st is an important day.  They too have words for our journeys, and invitations for our ways.

  On July 31, 1809, Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in the valley in Emmitsburg, MD.  This woman who found in the Catholic faith an amazing anchor and in the Eucharist a way to keep her heart “like a needle to the pole” was a mother and wife, educator and foundress, prolific writer of letters, friend and guide.  In Emmitsburg, Catholic education continued that had been birthed on Paca Street in Baltimore… and her fledgling community found roots and spirituality as they lived simply, served much, taught more, and prayed throughout.

  On July 31, 1830, young novice Catherine Laboure, on the eve of what was then the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, had an apparition of Mary in the middle of the night in Rue de Bac chapel in the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.  Eventually this would lead to a November encounter with the Virgin that birthed the miraculous medal (“O Mary, conceived with sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”)

What Catherine heard from Mary that night I find quite fitting for my reflection, and I offer it to you this day.

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.  You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.  Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.”   If we’ve read anything that has been quoted from Pope Francis’ statements since his election as pontiff, we have definitely noted this focus on going out – on mission.  It’s part of “the mess” he told young people at World Youth Day in Rio last week that he wanted them to stir up back in their home countries and dioceses… to go out to share the good news.  The other clear theme that shows up in Pope Francis over and over again is mercy.  Receiving God’s mercy and tenderness, we in turn proclaim it and go to serve each other and have it make a difference in the world.SAMSUNG

“You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.”  For those who care to serve and proclaim the Gospel, internal arguments waste time.  (See my earlier blogs on polarization in ecclesial conversations.)  While we argue around the bonfire of faith, so many are without light.  We must takea torch and go!  Pope Francis again can be seen to weigh in here as he speaks about Catholics and Christians and leaders in faith needing to be joyful, to not be arguing, to not be gloomy, to be simple and pastoral and close to people.  If you and I encounter contradition and conflict on our mission, well — that’s to be expected on our journey.  A pilgrimage entails learning and growing and dialogue and encounter and sometimes nay-sayers — whether or not they are accurate.  Our focus is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), and to trust and lean on the grace that will consistently appear for the mission we are on, as God’s beloved ones to God’s beloved people and God’s beloved world in God’s beloved creation.

“Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”  Catherine Laboure is reminded that she needs a companion.  Don’t we all?  I KNOW I do!  We need what the celts call an anamchara – soul friends – guides – companions – listeners – confessors – siblings in faith – intercessors.  (These are not all the same person, in our lives, usually!)  We need assistance in receiving tenderness and mercy, and in following Jesus whom we encounter.  We need places to be unerringly honest, as we are often so clueless about our own journeys.

SO… these three injunctions to Catherine Laboure (Zoe), I recommend to your reflection and mine.  Elizabeth Ann Seton too was on a mission, set for her and uniquely suited to her story.   Ignatius, whom we celebrate today, would happily share his feast with attention to these other two stories of Gospel life — especially in light of his own focus on mission.

Saint Catherine… pray for us

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton… pray for us

Saint Ignatius…  pray for us

Mary, sister and mother and disciple…  guide us too as we reflect on your words, lean on your Son, and go out on mission to “make a mess” for the Gospel!

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Polarization in Ecclesial Conversation – An Addendum

Thanks to those folks who read through my previous blog post addressing my concerns about the polarization in ecclesial conversations.  This is just a “quick” footnote with a couple of references.  I was commenting on a comment on this in a LinkedIn group, and decided some of what I added there should be reflected here for other readers.

The previous posting jumps around a bit… so thanks for your patience and perseverance too if you made it through it!

I wish now that I had referenced in the posting the October 24, 1996 address by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin on the Common Ground project.  Below is a link to that text, which I think would be interesting for your review.  It is appropriately – I think – titled “Faithful and Hopeful”!

The Common Ground Initiative begun then is now coordinated out of the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, housed at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  Here’s a link to that specifically:

I am always inspired by Cardinal Bernardin.  I am an alum of CTU – an institution which I love – and fortunate to have been part of the Bernardin scholars program.  Through it I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a number of individuals who knew Cardinal Bernardin well and who could share not only his story, but his spirit.  I am forever impacted by that opportunity and those interactions.  I also entered CTU with great interest in the Common Ground project.  I had worked in parish, school and diocesan office settings for nearly 25 years and seen many times a tension and loss of energy that – in my opinion – took away from what could be invested more helpfully for the mission we are all committed to.

Cardinal Bernardin wrote regarding the Catholic common ground project: “My aim was to help Catholics address, creatively and faithfully, questions that are vital if the Church in the United States is to flourish as we enter the next millenium.  At every level, we needed, I felt, to move beyond the distrust, the polarization, and the entrenched positions that have hampered our responses.”  October 1996, this was.  It’s 16 years later.  What do you think?  I think his words are quite relevant, perhaps even more so.  I invite you to give this document and others a thorough reading of your own.

I also wanted to assure readers that I was NOT suggesting that, for the sake of refraining from polarizing and potential conflict, we avoid dialogue in order to experience some “peace” between us.  Such peace is not really peace.  We know this in any number of relational contexts — the silent treatment or the grudging presence that is not presence but quite obvious animosity.  We are the Body of Christ – called to build something wonderful together – not just ‘get through’ being in the same room, in the same house!  We need each other.  And we are poorer without all of us.  Do we believe this?

Honest and passionate dialogue is a desparate need today intrachurch.  Such dialogue is sometimes feared, and often not easy.  True dialogue, spoken from where we humbly and actually are, is messy (see Acts of the Apostles this Easter season!).  But we MUST find ways to dialogue, and dialogue from that attitude of faithfulness and hope as we are members of this one body.  We must find ways to do so that reflect the message we wish to convey.  And we must find ways not to judge or condemn each other as “in” “out” “not committed” “narrow” “eclectic” “cafeteria” “conservative” “liberal” or any of the other labels that are sometimes used to belittle the others’ experience, education, faithfulness.  That we fear to enter dialogue, I understand.  We may not feel “safe” with each other:  it is a risk with no guarantees.  And yet, I am greatly saddened.

Dialogue is a skill and an art… which must be taught.  In some ways this is an adult faith formation issue.  It can also be introduced well with younger adults and adolescents.  (Yes, I worked in youth ministry for LOTS of years.  Young people want to hear from each other and learn.  They are ripe to learn some of the hows to do so, and how NOT to do so.)

Dialogue-readiness is also a spiritual formation issue.  There is humility and trust involved – yes, with the dialogue partners – but also before the God who calls us all his children, his beloved ones, his coworkers in the vineyard of the Lord, his disciples, his friends – and who bids us not to fear.  St. Francis de Sales oft quoted line comes to mind:  “Be who you are, and be that perfectly well.”  Dialogue participants need to be who they are – not just be a position, but be the story and the faith journey they are – and trust that the one who fearfully and wonderfully made each of us (psalm 139) can strengthen us all, teach us through our attempts, and bring something new to life.

The mission in which we are engaged as collaborators in our short life times is God’s mission.  And when I read today “Behold I am doing something new” in scripture, I’d love to witness this being fulfilled in the ways we talk with and about each other…  appreciating and affirming what we bring to a work larger than us that God leads.  Something new can always come.   Of course it can.  This is the work of the Spirit, and we get to engage the work and be taught by it all at once.  How fortunate we are!  We are on a great adventure, and what a tour guide and companion we have in Christ, who walked with us, and does today!  I hope that – with him with us – we can together enter the places and spaces for dialogue without threats and fears and judgements, and find peace in collaborating with what God is inviting us all to now in this time of great need.

I pray too that we face together the fields where the Gospel needs proclaiming and hearts need comforting, where earth needs healing and wars need peace-ing, where amazing atrocities and everyday relating need reconciling, where people need bread and homes and a caring touch.  Can we bring joy and hope to the struggles of our day?  Can we mobilize and look at our ways of interacting with each other through the lens of what we need to act toward together – and who we need to be together?

I hope so.

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Polarization in Ecclesial Conversations: We Know Where We Stand, We Know Who We Belong To

In recent weeks I’ve been reading lots of articles, blog posts, official and unofficial statements, and even status updates that describe (and exhibit) how at odds various perspectives and voices are within the Church.  I find some of the polarizing arguments and the enmity expressed disturbing.  Understand that it is never surprising to me that there are differences, conflict, tension, various points on differing continuums.  What saddens me in ecclesial conversations is the occasional tone and/or attack  encountered.  Even in the printed word, one can read a raised voice! – and disrespect or sarcasm are even easier to spot.  There is a toxicity too when misrepresentations or smooth – almost poisonously polite – dismissals and challenges to others’ integrity, commitment or faith journey are the delivery system.

In the last week alone I withdrew from two LinkedIn groups that exhibited some of these ways of communicating.  At first, I tried to stay particularly with one group, so that I could really understand better where folks were coming from.  Eventually I found it too destructive to do so.  I did not want to be counted a ‘member’ of such a discussion, as if I agreed with the mode of communication.  I’m honest enough to tell you though that I was tempted to enter the fray a few times, in response to content in one or another discussion thread.  NO!  Though I managed to hold back, I very much understand the temptation and the danger.

The draw to enter the fight is almost seductive, and most of us know how to fight this way pretty well.  For my part, I certainly hold a perspective and a position… but there’s a primary one I wish we all would spend more energy on.  More on that in a bit.

Again, it’s not that the polarization in communicating is particularly surprising.  It seems when we humans dig in to a position we have a tendency to exhibit little patience, not enough listening.  When the position taking is heightened, we may exhibit an unwillingness to believe the best of the other, a too simplistic negative characterization of others’ takes on items of significance, and a poverty of appreciation for the gifts and the struggles of the other (individual or group).  We also may look for others who are “on our side” and “awful-ize” about the other/s.

In ministerial and ecclesial dialogues, such behavior flies in the face of what we would teach…  planks in our own eyes, not throwing stones, cases in point!  As I look at things from a human and spiritual formation perspective, I wonder at what the learning is that we have not focused on, not appropriated as our own, or that we deliberately shirk that leads us as Church to such (from my perspective) lows.  What does the other threaten in us?  If our reaction says more of us than it says of the other, what can we learn about ourselves from these reactions?  And we each need to determine these answers as “I statements” – though it’s more fun to name what others are threatened by!

If this was viewed as a “temptation in the desert” type of experience for the Church, what would Jesus’ own responses in the desert teach us about what misperceptions we are counting as truth when we behave in this manner?  We need his help, I believe, to contradict the untruths we are acting from, to help us release what we are clinging to.  And when dialogue is more like public dueling, it seems we can approach this desert-taught Jesus with an entreaty that all sides’ distortions be revealed, righted and healed – by God, not us.

It’s the Easter season, and I’ve been reading today a 2006 Easter homily from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.*  His words and images have spoken to me as I reflect on the above, and it has reminded me of what is most important that we stand in and proclaim this season TOGETHER in our holy communion as one body:  He is Risen!  And so I am taking the liberty here to offer whole segments of Archbishop William’s homily for your consideration.   Focus on his message and the example he uses, and see if you find insight.

For the Church does not exist just to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that arbitrarily lays down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary.  This sacrament of Holy Communion that we gather to perform here is not the memorial of a dead leader, conducted by one of his duly authorized successors who controls access to his legacy; it is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter Day….  Everything the Church does — is meant to be in the service of this contemporary encounter.  It all ought to be transparent to Jesus, not holding back or veiling his presence.

All we do is to be about encounter with Jesus, and bringing one another into communion with him today.  For those with document interests, this mirrors the Catechism of the Catholic Church #426 which quotes On Catechesis in Our Time #5, and the General Directory for Catechesis #80.

But stay tuned.  There’s more!

The Archbishop goes on to tell the story of an Anglican religious order known as the Melanesian Brotherhood who lost seven of their members to murder by a rebel group during the bloody civil war in the Solomon Islands in 2003.  This community…

…of local men [are] committed to a common discipline of praying and teaching and spreading the gospel as they travel around the villages, by drama and song and preaching…. The shock of that act of gratuitous butchery [the bloody murder of the brothers] jolted amost everyone involved into beginning a peace process; the brothers continued to be involved in every level in that work.  Last summer, a number of the brothers visited England, taking their songs and dramas into churches and schools.  One of the things they did was to perform a Passion play, and this is what one of them wrote about it:

“This Passion was our own testimony to our seven brothers who were murdered in 2003.  For Christlike they became the innocent victims of the violence they had worked so hard to stop.  They were beaten and mocked and tortured…  put to death.  And they live on.  Our story of the Passion of Christ took place 2000 years ago, but it is still taking place throughout our world today.  But we have been changed.  We did not travel from the other side of the world to preach a death but to preach a resurrection.  For we know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  And we believe there is a choice in all this, a choice to belong to the life giver.”

We know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  Beyond all the history of confusion and betrayal that surrounds a lot of the Church’s history, beyond the power games that we still play in the churches, this one rocklike conviction remains, the conviction that drove the writing of every word of the New Testament.  Nothing to do with conspiracies, with the agenda of the powerful; everything to do with how the powerless, praying, risking their lives for the sake of Christ and his peace, are the ones who understand the word of God.  And to accept that is not to sign up to the agenda of a troubled, fussy human society of worried prelates and squabbling factions.  It is to choose life, to choose to belong to the life giver.

I long for our dialogues and our passions as disciples and ministers to focus with all of our diverse gifts and significant energy on the rocklike conviction on which we stand, the one to whom we all belong, and our mission to empty ourselves in service to one another as we go about making visible the same kind of love the Trinity loves us with.

As we evangelize – inviting others into this contemporary encounter with Jesus – perhaps we need to approach him humbly too with all our intrachurch arguments embarrassingly in our outstretched palms.  Take them, Risen Lord, and send us back effectively to the vineyard!

As Church we must center – in all our members from every continent, age, position, authority, vocation, education, culture, lifestyle – back on this mission as primary.  Our world is in need of witness, and our public choosing for the life giver, as one body in Christ.

What can it mean to act from that choice, and that urgent need for witness?  And how can we deal with the present tensions and conflicts in the way the God who loves us all would invite?  I do not know that I know the answers to these questions, but I believe in the urgency of the questions.  Our ability to engage our mission faithfully and with great impact in a world, a creation, and in lives with great needs depends on it.

  • As you send me into the world, so I send them into the world.  (John 17:18)
  • The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary  (Ad Gentes Divinitus, #2)
  • To say Church is to say mission (To the Ends of the Earth, #16)
  • Church –  Having been born out of being sent… It is his (Christ’s) mission she is called upon to continue.  For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself.   (Evangelization in the Modern World, #15)


*  Archbishop Rowan Williams is the primate of the Anglican church.  He is bishop, poet, theologian.  The text of this homily can be found in Best of Catholic Writing 2007, published by Loyola Press.

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