Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:
Peace be with you. Thanks to each of you, our Council continues to stabilize and make measurable progress as, day by day, we engage in our modest version of God’s work.
From a business standpoint, I am pleased to announce that we have hired Megan Witty as our new Director of Store Operations. Megan has extensive management experience running thrift store operations for Goodwill Industries. She starts Wednesday, May 8th. Welcome aboard, Megan!
I. The Important Art of “Story Telling”
We just completed our annual Lenten season and Easter celebration. The miraculous transformation that occurs from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is the very essence of our faith.
As we embrace what lies ahead, no matter where you may find yourself or what you may be facing, let us remember that in just three days, the family and followers of Jesus Christ went from abject hopelessness and profound despair to great hope and eternal joy.
During his remarkable life as a man, Jesus Christ used the art of “story telling” to share His core messages. In fact, He left behind no writings of his own. Instead, the gospels are stories trying to convey the messages of Jesus. It is this collection of stories, passed down from generation to generation, that help capture what Jesus taught.
In that spirit, I briefly reference four, well known gospels recently read at Mass that touched me deeply. Two dealt with Lent and two with Easter.
a) Unwillingness to Forgive – the first gospel from Matthew spoke of a Master who had compassion and forgave a significant debt of one of his servants. In turn, the servant then refuses to forgive a modest debt owed to him. Instead, he has his debtor severely beaten. Jesus taught that we should strive to “do unto others as I have done to you.” Every Mass before communion, we confess that “Lord, I am not worthy.” Nonetheless, like the Master, Jesus forgives us. For as long as we possess the gift of Life, we have the capability of acting “God-like” by choosing to treat others as Jesus treats us. In that regard, do we go to Mass, profess our unworthiness, discover that we are accepted by God “as is”, and then choose to treat others with disrespect and no compassion? How often are our actions like those of the unforgiving servant?
b) Being Judgmental – the second gospel from John told the story of Jesus and the adulteress. During Passover, under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers perched atop the city walls, a crowd gathered in Jerusalem’s Temple square and confronted Jesus with an adulteress. Curiously, the story makes no reference to the alleged adulterer. The crowd wanted her stoned to death. But, in response to Jesus’s challenge, no one in the crowd was willing to cast the first stone. Instead, the accusing crowd quickly left. After it dispersed, Jesus found
himself alone with the woman. He could have lectured her about her sin and judged her. Instead, he simply said, “go and sin no more.” How often do we lecture another in need as we help them? How often do we comment to others whether those we serve deserve our help?
People help us every day. They see us “as is”. When we choose to judge or lecture others, we are succumbing to temptations like those Jesus faced in the desert. When we do, even as we help another, we exhibit a close-mindedness that has been described as an “imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he/she is locked up.”
Everyone walks in different shoes. Every day, we choose between acting God-like – e.g., forgiveness, acceptance, selfless love of another, “unworthy” soul – or surrendering, once again, to un-God-like temptations. Shouldn’t we strive to help others in need without judging them? After all, our Vincentian Rule (1.9) provides as much; and we are all in need.
The gospels, our stories, are profoundly rich signs if only we “slow things down” and reflect upon the messages they contain. Until one does, we may find ourselves stuck in a personal desert of unwillingness to forgive, judging all others with whom one disagrees (e.g. morals police), and general loneliness and discontent. Collectively, these are characteristics commonly attributable to our journey of darkness that the Lenten season asks us to reflect upon.
III. Easter Life Is A Process
The miracle of Easter reinforces our belief in Jesus as well as the need we have for others – all others. By it, we segue from darkness to light and from despair to joy and peace. In that essential sense, Easter is a process of how we view our Lord, our world, and each other. Two recent gospels, in particular, capture this reality.
a) Resucito! (He has risen!) – On Easter morning, we heard the gospel of John. It told the story of three people going to Christ’s tomb on Sunday morning, three days after His murder. Mary Magdalene goes first “while it is still dark”. Upon noticing that the tomb is empty, she does not enter it. Perhaps she was frightened. Perhaps it had to do with then prevailing norms for women. Instead, she shares the news with others. Peter and the “favored disciple” then go to the tomb and enter it. Peter, the leader, assesses the situation, but does not comprehend what has happened. One can be blinded by power or status and not “see” the situation. The “favored disciple”, on the other hand, sees and concludes that Jesus has risen. How interesting that two people can see the same situation and draw such different conclusions!
b) Those Who Have Not Seen, But Believe – The Sunday after Easter, we heard another gospel from John. In it, Jesus appears to some of the disciples, but Thomas was not among them. “So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’ ” Later, Jesus appears before His disciples again: “Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’. (emphasis added).
Easter is not just a day in the year. Rather, according to my inspirational Pastor, Msgr. John Zenz, Easter life commenced from the very beginning of Christ’s earthly days. It is a saving light that radiated through Him even in His darkest moments of abandonment.
“Easter life” dwells within us, too. It is seeking to radiate through us. It gives us the capacity to accept, forgive, and love all others. It is that light that creates a strong sense of community among those who believe. So often we say to ourselves, if only I had a sign from Jesus. Let us look inside ourselves to find that sign by choosing to share generously our Easter life.
Clearly, the road to salvation can be difficult and most challenging. At times, it may seem not unlike carrying a heavy cross. As we struggle and continually fall short, we should be heartened by the assurance that Jesus will never abandon us. We should not be afraid no matter how bleak life might seem. Therein lies precisely why spiritual formation should be communal in nature.
From a salvation standpoint, we need God, above all. But we also need one another in at least two, quite distinct ways.
First, when one chooses to see and accept “imperfections” in others (just as Jesus does with us), one miraculously converts crisis into opportunities to grow and thereby develop into a more loving human being. In that sense, how one chooses to deal with another’s “imperfections” are some of the most important choices one can make. When confronted by the imperfections of others, are we living our Easter life, or are we choosing instead to live as self-appointed, unforgiving “referees” who criticize, judge, and condemn others for “being human”?
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we?
Easter life offers a second, entirely different promise. Clearly, one’s understanding of God and His world is limited. According to noted Christian author, Katelyn Beaty, “I need the insights of others in order to fill in what I, owing to ignorance, sin, or immaturity, cannot see.” Consider it this way. Assume that understanding of God is a seven billion piece jigsaw puzzle. Each of the seven billion people on Earth is a “piece”. How many pieces have you assembled? So, we should be striving for inclusion. Instead, for a variety of reasons, we tend to remain huddled in our comfort zones.
These days, a significant, practical challenge to inclusion is that many of us tend to listen only to those who share similar views. Moreover, a growing number of social media sites caters to those who wish to remain ideologically narrow. That mindset can have serious ramifications for the individual and for a pluralist society and religion like ours.
We need others, all others, to grow in love and to grow in understanding. Doing so involves that currency of selfless love about which Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. so eloquently spoke at our Evening of Reflection.
Our world is being seriously challenged in many ways. One could say it is still working its way through a desert of its own. Easter life offers the remedy to those who embrace it. While truly glorious, it is not easy. We must overcome temptations like unwillingness to forgive, harshly judging others, jealousies, and even hate to “get there.” Only then can one truly emulate the Risen Lord and believe even though one has not seen. After all, faith should not be about everything turning out ok. Rather, it should be about being ok no matter how things turn out.
The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. Herein lies why we need God and each other. That is precisely what our Vincentian values promote.
Just as humans are flawed, we have discovered, painfully, that human institutions can be as well. To the extent possible, we should apply these same principles to our relationship with our institutions, especially our Church. It is not always easy to do. But making time for prayer and reflection reminds us of who we are living for. In that regard, the President of the University of Notre Dame, Rev. John I. Jenkins, had this important reminder about, in the final analysis, what really matters.
“Yet genuine faith is not founded on a confidence in the goodness of human ministers, but on the mystery of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. The Church is the sign and instrument of that mystery, but we hold the treasure in the earthen vessel of human fallibility. True faith calls us not to be discouraged by human sin, but to focus more completely on the hope offered by Christ. If we do this, we can deepen our prayer, strengthen our commitment to live good and holy lives, and foster a hope that will shine more clearly.” Thank you, Fr. Jenkins. Well said. After all, while vitally important, “field hospitals after battle” are, like the noble patients they serve, hardly models of perfection. Rather, they are earthen vessels of human fallibility. Notwithstanding plenty of hypocrisy in our world, Easter life is still rock solid and available to all those who seek it.
May our collective, selfless service for all in need as well as our “Easter life” serve as the inspirational, spiritual antidote to the senseless, shocking barbarism we continue to witness. Let our prayers especially include the poor victims and their grieving survivors in Pittsburgh, Poway, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere who were savagely murdered as they worshipped. Lord, have mercy.
I look forward to seeing many Vincentians at this year’s Awards Breakfast on May 19th at Sacred Heart Seminary. It promises to be an enjoyable celebration. God bless.