Monday, November 23, 2009

There's the vocation you want, and the vocation you're given

I'm reprinting this... Originally published here on 6/4/08:

Silly creatures that we are, we think that we can call ourselves. We think that we choose ourselves.

We can be machines for generating interpretations.

We think that when we do wrong, to recognize it would be a curse.

Then we generate more interpretations to cover up the most recent batch of mistakes.

But there is something outside of me -- radically outside of me -- that generates me. The interpretations that originate in me are mere words. If I want the truth, then I must look outside of myself to the Something that generates me. What do I see outside of myself?


An interpretation that does not take into account ALL the facts is just my own wish masquerading as a truth.

And how is it possible for a small, ornery human being, trapped in a particular point of view and without access to any other pair of eyes or set of ears, possibly take ALL the facts into consideration?

Yep, you heard it here: it's impossible. Any interpretation that originates with me is false.

I cannot even say, "Well, this is the truth for me."

I do not have a 360º view of myself. I cannot even decide the truth of my own self.

I did not make myself. I was not the one who gave me life. And I am not the one who decides that I may continue to take up space on this planet.

But I am intensely grateful to discover that I have been made, I do have life, and Someone does decide that I, in all my minuscule insignificance, should find a pocket of space just large enough for my body to inhabit, at any and every given moment.

So, I do not decide that I am here and that I am I. I discover it.

Life is a quest and an adventure, not a series of interpretations.

Wherever do we find the nerve to pronounce, to define, to put forward the products of our thought? How do we ever dare to presume to have an answer??

I have been given this body, these eyes, this particular space from which to view the world, these hands, this mouth, this heart; and they have all been given for only one reason: to help me seek.

Let's stop wasting our lives -- our mysteriously beautiful existence here -- in the fantasy of making up our lives, generating millions of false little answers. The only rational way to live is in asking and listening, asking and listening...and then following.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Reality, fiction, and being Catholic...

"The very term 'Catholic novel' is, of course, suspect, and people who are conscious of its complications don't use it except in quotation marks. If I had to say what a 'Catholic novel' is, I could only say that it is one that represents reality adequately as we see it manifested in this world of things and human relationships. Only in and by these sense experiences does the fiction writer approach a contemplative knowledge of the mystery they embody." -- Flannery O'Connor (Mystery and Manners).

Monday, November 16, 2009

The anger and irritation were extraneous distractions.

Speaker: During the past holidays of All Saints and All Souls, I thought of my sister who died three
years ago and the fact that I haven’t visited the cemetery in three years. A friend who
knows about this called me and said: “I went to the cemetery to visit my mother-in-law,
which I had never done before, and you have to go too”. Just the fact that someone was
telling me “you have to” started to irritate me, I felt it was an imposition. Furthermore
this makes me particularly angry because … the idea that I might miss my sister…….She
got on my nerves and I put the phone down saying: “You mind your problems and I will
mind mine!”. Instead, mysteriously, this incident worked on me, and while I was going
through the day I realized that I wanted to understand why this friend spoke to me like
that. I started to desire to follow the journey to the end, that journey that lets me look at
my sister saying: “It is my sister!”, and recall her in my memory as mine. This struck me
deeply, because I couldn’t even think of her any more as my sister, as a person,
something belonging to me, with her own face but deeply connected to me. Then
something that was said at the last School of Community came to my mind, that judgment
and so affection are not detached from reason, the fact that when this moves you, it is not
a judgment tacked on. I started to desire. Maybe also the love of this friend for me [that
she expressed in what she said to me] mysteriously worked. At the end I did not go to the
cemetery [I went only to Mass] because it’s still hard for me. But it is really mysterious
how the love she witnessed to me generated this desire I did not have, and this anger
slowly became desire to follow the journey to the end, without fear of asking myself the
question. And it is so true that my younger son, since I had been sad for a few days,
noticed the difference and said: ”Mom, today you look happy”. This erased any doubt
about the truth of my experience, there was no possibility for ambiguity.

Fr Julián Carrón: What is your judgment of this?

Speaker: My unexpected change, unthinkable for me, that from this anger a new desire could be

Fr Julián Carrón: From this anger a desire was born? I want to understand this: the desire was born from
your anger?

Speaker: No, it was born from the fact that I listened to a person.

Fr Julián Carrón: What was it born from? Because, this is the important point. You used the word “love”.

Speaker: Yes.

Fr Julián Carrón: Love, a good, which means a grace, which means a Presence that was not scared in front
of the cemetery. You can see what this Presence is because of what it moved in you.
What does it mean? If you start from this desire that was re-awakened, from this
happiness that even your son recognized, what does emerge? Which Presence is able to
do this? We do not realize it even when it happens! You see how many times we think of
the two things as separate, grace on one side and freedom on the other [or, the presence
of Christ on one side, and then my move on the other]. But where do you see the power
of what happened in what you recounted? That something moved inside you, it shows
that it is exceptional because it moves you, it grabs and exalts your “I”. Only Christ’s
contemporaneousness can move to the point of being able to face death. But how did this
happen? How does it happen? It happens exactly because of what is described in point 5
in the La Thuile Booklet, “The Triple Factor of Christian Experience”.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Today my face has changed."

Speaker: I work at a school [I am a secretary], and this month a young woman has come to work
with me to help organizing the archives. During this time we got along very well and we
became friends. The other day she found out that her job with us was ending, and we
went home feeling pretty sad. The next morning I got to the office and she told me: ”You
know, I decided to go to Mass in Trivolzio” [note: Church of Trivolzio near Milan, where
the body of S. Riccardo Pampuri is buried and venerated]. She is not a religious person
and she has nothing to do with us, but after hearing me talking about Trivolzio at school,
she had felt the desire to check the Trivolzio internet site and she read everything. She
had looked at the entire Trivolzio site and the entire CL site! After a moment of silence
she added - these are her exact words-:”It is too beautiful. Actually, if you look at me you
see that my face is different”. I was deeply moved because the day before she had been
fired and nevertheless, the things she had heard, often not even addressed directly to her,
corresponded so much to her desire, that this beauty prevailed even over the loss of her
job. In front of this my heart truly jumped, and to be honest, for the first time my thought,
not tacked on, not invented, was: ”It is Him, it is Jesus!” It could not be anybody but
Him, so attractive that my friend could meet Him even through my limited person, and He
could be far more fascinating to her than the seemingly more important desire for her
job. From that moment when I get up in the morning to go to work my first thought is for
Him: it is this enormous curiosity to see where and how, again, today, He will make
Himself known to me. I understand that this is possibly the beginning of experience
because it identifies a step from which one cannot go back any longer.

Fr Julián Carrón: That is, judgment is the least artificial thing that exists.

Speaker: Yes, because it is a recognition, it is like saying: ”Wow, it is really Him!”

Fr Julián Carrón: “Today my face has changed”: if you do not arrive to this point you miss the best of experience, because the sign that one has recognized something when circumstances do
not change - as in this case, it’s not that she found a job – is the change that happens in
the person. Then she will have to discover slowly all that is inside that first jolt. This
research she has done is already something, she has intuited something, but she will have
to look more deeply into what has already happened, the nature of what happened,
become aware of all of this. Thank you.

Now that Fr Carrón has decided to publish translations of the notes/transcripts of his School of Community on the CL website for the US, we have such a precious gift! To think of how technology has advanced our access to so much richness! Now there is document after fascinating document available to anyone with an internet connection.

The above excerpt provides a simple and compelling example of judgment; it is clear that the speaker has had an experience. "Then she will have to discover slowly all that is inside that first jolt" -- this was Fr. Carrón's observation about the speaker's new friend. And our work -- of discovering slowly what is inside the first jolt for us -- lies in steeping ourselves in these new gifts. Tonight my heart is full of gratitude for all Fr. Giussani has left for us and for the care and tenderness with which he continues to accompany us.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"...does not build, but destroys..."

Charity projects in the Milanese plain, a large agricultural area on the edge of Milan, involved hundreds of students every Sunday

Monsignor Giussani, with his fearless and unfailing faith, knew that, even in this situation, Christ, the encounter with Him, remains central, because whoever does not give God, gives too little, and whoever does not make people find God in the Fact of Christ, does not build, but destroys, because he gets human activity lost in ideological and false dogmatisms. Fr Giussani kept the centrality of Christ and, exactly in this way, with social works, with necessary service, he helped mankind in this difficult world, where the responsibility of Christians for the poor in the world is enormous and urgent. (Pope Benedict XVI)

h/t Paul Zalonski at Communio

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Pope and political engagement

I am reprinting this reprint to share with Justine:

My friend Paul just posted this article from America Magazine on his blog, Communio, and I think it is so apt that I want to put it up here, too:

Pope Benedict on Religion and Politics: the influence of Communion & Liberation

By Michael Sean Winters, America Magazine

Pope Benedict XVI greeted a group of pilgrims this past weekend with a short discourse on the Feast of Christ the King that has an obvious application to the political circumstance of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States in the wake of President-elect Obama's decisive win among Catholic voters.

"Dear brothers and sisters," the Pope told the pilgrims, "this is what interests God. The kingship of history is of no importance to him -- he wants to reign in people's hearts, and from these, in the world: He is the king of the entire universe, but the crucial point, the place where his reign is at risk, is our heart, for there God finds himself encountering our freedom." Reign in the heart, then in the world. That is the proper order for political influence by the Christian Churches.

Unfortunately, political power inevitably invites that deadliest of the seven deadly sins, pride, and it is always tempting for those of us whose involvement in politics grows out of our religious motivations to conflate the two, to think that politics is about the Kingdom not the kingdom, to collapse our eschatons into our exit polls. And, this happens on both left and right.

But, Benedict is right. The primary means by which the Church should influence the realm of politics is by converting hearts and generating culture. This insight was the principal reason Don Luigi Guissani founded his movement, Communione e Liberazione and distanced himself from the Christian Democratic Party of his day. And, the Holy Father's reliance on the insights of Don Guissani is well known.

So, as we Americans prepare to celebrate the quintessential American holiday, so soon after a tumultuous election, let us all remember that the kingship of history is less important than breaking bread with our friends. And, for those of us who are Catholic Americans, let us commit ourselves anew to the wonderful adventurous drama of the human heart where, as Pope Benedict said, "God finds himself encountering our freedom."

Friday, November 6, 2009

PRO-LIFE/ Change comes from a long and patient cultural work

An article I wrote for Il

A recent Gallup poll (May 2009) indicates that significant numbers of people in the United States have changed their minds about abortion, and that now, for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995, more Americans identify themselves as pro-life (51%) than as pro-choice (42%). These results are even more dramatic when compared to those obtained in 2008, when 44% said they were pro-life, while 50% reported that they were pro-choice.

In the United States, the terms pro-life and pro-choice carry emotional, as well as political or philosophical weight. Whether one is pro-life or pro-choice is influenced by multiple factors, including past and present social milieu, the family of origin's attitudes and beliefs, norms among fellow professionals in the workplace, ideas expressed in the media, or religious belief; and it implies membership in a loose group of like-minded people. All these factors exert pressure on the individual to remain either pro-life or pro-choice; therefore any change in the way Americans identify themselves in this regard is significant.

What could account for the change in attitude reflected in the Gallup poll's data? Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, has said, "The days of legal abortion in this country are numbered" because of the number of women who have had abortions and have come forward to describe the devastating effect of abortion on their lives: "The other side wants us to think they are on the side of the women, and we are on the side of the baby.... You can't love one without loving the other. You can't hurt one without hurting the other." Fr. Pavone also credits those who have been working in the abortion industry who have witnessed the devastation first hand and who are now closing their clinics. "They are coming out of the industry by the hundreds," Fr. Pavone said. In addition, Pavone noted that the use of ultrasound technology has helped the pro-life cause by providing the evidence that the fetus is indeed a human life.

Recent dramatic events in Texas support and illustrate Fr. Pavone's assessment. Abby Johnson was the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, Texas for two years until she resigned last month, after using ultrasound to view an abortion. Johnson is now volunteering with the Coalition For Life, a pro-life group whose volunteers pray regularly outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic where Johnson once worked. Shawn Carney, director of the coalition, issued a statement that concluded, “Abby believes in the power of prayer and she thanks all of you for your peaceful presence outside of her former workplace all of these years.”

Abby Johnson with Coalition for Life Director Shawn Carney

This episode calls to mind another similar incident documented in Letters section of Traces magazine (April 2003):

Dearest Fr Giussani: For 37 years, I was in charge of the instruments in an operating room in the Obstetrics and Gynecology ward. In my region, Molise, the rate of recourse to voluntary interruption of pregnancy has always been very high compared to the total population. Because of my affection for Jesus, I applied to be an objector, but I did not wash my hands of things just because of this. Quite the contrary. I tried to make Jesus present in those circumstances in every way my creativity could invent. I would talk with the women to open them up to welcoming the little seed that was already inside them; many times I would sterilize the instruments that others should have checked so that the operation would not result in more pain; I would debate with my non-objector coworkers to show them the lack of sense in their choice, and above all I would talk with the doctors who performed abortions. In so many years, the Lord has given me the grace of seeing many babies saved through me. But the greatest gift the Lord gave me came the day the abortion doctor on my ward phoned to tell me that after so many years of my witness, his heart had been touched, and he had decided to apply to be an objector. He had understood that my admonishing him, urging him, was born of a real affection for him, of a real desire for his good. The Lord has used me so that the creature He loved could discover the love of his Creator. Now I have retired, and in the hospital where I worked, as a consequence of this doctor’s objection, abortions are no longer performed. I have learned from this experience that what counts in man is the task each one has in life, but no one is ever alone in this task, because God’s Mercy always makes itself our Companion. Thank you, Fr Giussani, because the Yes that you said one day has made the Lord’s embrace possible for me in a way that responded so fully to my heart. Enza, Termoli

From the above examples, we can make the following conclusion: to change from identifying oneself as pro-choice to seeing oneself as pro-life requires that something new happen to the person. This newness must be unusual and unexpected, and most of all, it must be patient. Despite the sudden change from the 2008 to the 2009 results in the Gallup poll, the cultural work of bringing others to see the value of human life in its earliest stages is slow and hidden. The poll results simply reflect the final step of conversion. May many others have the courage to take the same step!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

THE POOR/ With obedience, a way to sanctity

Something I wrote for Il Sussidiario:

sabato 17 ottobre 2009

On Sunday, October 11, 2009, the Church canonized five new saints. Far and away the most famous is St. Damien, the priest who gave his life to serve leprosy patients quarantined on Molokai in Hawaii. Most reporting did not mention the names of the four others who were canonized with St. Damien, but there was one among them, St. Jeanne Jugan, who has been called " Mother Teresa before Mother Teresa” (Dr. Edward Gatz), and in her poverty and compassion, Eloi Leclerc compared her to St. Francis himself.

Who was this woman that even her fame seems hidden from notice?

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44 NAB).

Generations of scholars have read these words of Jesus and asked, "Why does he hide the treasure once he's found it?" There have been various answers, but perhaps the life of Jeanne Jugan provides the fullest and most satisfying answer.

Born in 1792, three years after the French Revolution, in Cancale, a small fishing village on the rough and windy coast of Brittany in France, the first "secret" of her life was the illegal catechesis she received from members of a lay order founded by St. John Eudes (she later joined this order). At age 18, she received two marriage proposals, which she turned down, explaining to her mother, "God wants me for himself. He is keeping me for a work, which he has not yet founded." This certainty in the Unknown would form an essential support for the work she would accomplish during the remainder of her life.

By the time Jeanne Jugan had reached age 47, a friendship had formed between herself and two other women, and the three moved into a small apartment together in 1839, so that they could lead a life of prayer and dedication to God. Shortly thereafter, as Jeanne was returning home one winter night, she met an elderly blind widow named Anne Chauvin. Moved with pity, Jeanne lifted Chauvin and carried the older woman over her shoulder and brought her up the stairs to the apartment. That night Chauvin slept in Jeanne's bed while Jeanne went to sleep in the attic. At the time, Jeanne was working as a maid for Monsieur Leroy at Saint-Servan. When Jeanne told him that she wanted to devote the rest of her life to the poor, begging on their behalf from door to door, he asked her who would respond to her requests. "People like you," she replied. He laughed at her but then gave her 3000 francs. Soon other elderly poor had arrived at the apartment, and Jeanne spent days on end begging in order to support the poor in her care. She would go out into the town with a basket over her arm, persistently knocking on doors, and with gentleness and love, she would accept even the smallest donation with gratitude. When she was slapped in the face by a man who refused her, she replied, “Thank you. That was for me. Now please give me something for my poor.”

From these small beginnings, other generous young women joined Jeanne; soon a new and larger house was needed. During these years of difficult and fruitful labor, Jeanne was recognized for her service. In 1845 the French Academy awarded Jeanne the Montyon Prize "for outstanding meritorious activity." And the Freemasons conferred a gold medal on her. She had this gold medal melted down and made into a chalice to be used at Mass.

In the meantime, two of Jeanne's friends had a spiritual adviser, Fr. Auguste le Pailleur, who began to advise the small group of women about various aspects of their life. In 1841, Jeanne Jugan was elected Mother General of the small congregation. But then, in December of 1843, Fr. le Pailleur, on his own authority, annulled a second election that again unanimously named Jeanne Jugan Mother General; soon after, he named himself Father General and gave Jeanne the task of begging. Not content with the possibility that Jeanne should receive any recognition, Fr. le Pailleur then ordered Jeanne to halt all her interactions with donors, assigned her the rank of novice, and sent her to the new Motherhouse at La Tour St. Joseph's in Saint Pern to live with the novices. Jeanne Jugan's biographer, Paul Milcent, wrote, in Humble So As to Love More: “The Abbé le Pailleur’s behavior has something odd about it, pointing to some kind of psychological disturbance. He was determined, even at the cost of falsifying the truth, to concentrate power and fame in his own person.”

After moving to La Tour St. Joseph, Jeanne Jugan lived for 23 years in obscurity, hidden away, her work stolen from her. The novices, among whom Jeanne lived, had no inkling as to her identity or role in the founding of the order they had joined. This period of the saint's life most fascinated the friar and author, Eloi Leclerc. In his spiritual biography of Jeanne Jugan, The Desert and the Rose, he explores the hidden life she led in complete obedience to Fr. Pailleur, despite his injustice. When a novice might ask her about a rumor she'd heard, Jeanne would reply, "They’ll talk to you about me. Don’t pay any attention. Our good Lord knows the whole story." We who thirst for justice are confounded by her attitude. Why didn't she defend herself, fight for the right to a holy work that God himself had begun in her? What we have from her instead is a long silence. Leclerc, having studied accounts given by those who spent these 23 years with her, concludes that she expressed no bitterness but rather accepted that the "unknown" work that God had first given to her had changed to become a hidden work upon her, within her person. Thus she retired willingly , until her death, at age 86 on the feast of St. Augustine. Rather than disturb the pomp and celebration of his feast day, Fr. le Pailleur postponed the announcement of her death; and in a circular letter he set two days later, he made no mention of Jeanne Jugan.

Monday, November 2, 2009

For you, dear friend

We must welcome our neighbor as a "guest" of our inner self. Hospitality means precisely to allow others to be part of our lives. After the sacrifice of one's life, hospitality is the greatest sacrifice, so much so that we find it difficult to be true hosts, we cannot even welcome our self. A true imitation of Christ consists in making others part of our life, just like Christ made us so much a part of his that we have become the limbs of his very Body. The mystery of the Body of Christ lies also in the fact that he welcomes our lives into his own.
- Don Gius, The Risk of Education, pg 42
A friend asked me for prayers today, and the above passage seems to reflect the new energy and compassion with which she has been facing her desire for the world and for those around her. I cannot think of a better prayer to accompany her through all the challenges that crop up as we attempt to welcome our neighbors as guests of our inner selves...


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Something new this morning

For over twenty years, the dominant thought/feeling I have had on waking in the morning is of amazed gratitude: How is it that you have preserved me in life, O Lord? This beauty that I am given to participate in seems completely disproportionate to all my weakness and evil. Please make me worthy to face it and to receive it. It makes me tremble a little to admit to this in public -- it sounds like a boast; but what's to be done -- it's the truth.

But this morning, I had an entirely new feeling, one that expressed itself in these words: Okay God, give it to me! And it's easier to admit to it because it seems so, well, rude and impious and presumptuous of me to speak in such a way to God and to have such an attitude in front of the Almighty! But I trust God understands that these words were accompanied by a great spirit of adventure and curiosity and even submission to God's prerogative to choose precisely what "it" will be during this day. And this sense of adventure and curiosity and desire to follow were not something I chose to attempt. Isn't it great to be alive?!

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."