Monday, December 31, 2012

The Gift of Passion and Purpose

When most Roman Catholics of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis went to church last week-end and Christmas, they left with more than the usual spiritual inspirations of the season; each family was offered a gift from their Archbishop, a special-edition hard copy of Matthew Kelly's 319-page book, Rediscover Catholicism. Nicely wrapped in Christmas paper, the books struck the right note for folks unused to leaving church with such surprises, but the real surprise is likely to occur later, as the books are actually read and discussed.

Subtitled "A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose," the book hits the "Me" generations in their central concern: themselves. Doesn't everybody want to live with passion and purpose? The book demonstrates how to use the traditional Christian disciplines to become the best me, or, specifically "the best version of myself," as opposed to the current version of myself. The sacrament of reconciliation heads the list of tools for this personal actualization. "Your weaknesses are the key to the unimaginable bigger future that God has envisioned for you," Kelly writes. Could there possibly be any tack likely to be more successful than this with Boomers (post WWII babies), Generation X (1960s babies) and Generation Y (1980s babies)?

Although Kelly is writing about the "Big C" (Roman Catholic) Church he obviously loves, his wisdom and advice is wholly applicable to "little c" catholics, as well, namely those Protestants who consider themselves part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. If Christians of all stripes can rediscover the treasures of their faith, Generation Z babies won't need to read a book like Kelly's; they will be even luckier, catching their faith through the osmosis of living among their newly-energized predecessors.

Let us wish the good Archbishop Nienstedt well in this ambitious undertaking. May every Roman Catholic in the archdiocese read Kelly's excellent book and thereby rekindle a passion and purpose that is sure to be contagious and history-making.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hope Even Now

Matthew 2:18 - “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

I like this icon a lot. By coincidence, there are twenty-two babies pictured, the exact number of children wounded in China last Friday. While Newtown, Connecticut's, homicidal maniac used a gun, 36-year-old Min Yingjun used knives in his vicious attack on the children walking through the gate to their elementary school in Henan province.

We are avoiding the truth if we don't acknowledge that there likely were children all around the world murdered, wounded, and otherwise traumatized last week, that we don't even know about. The hotspots of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria; the favelas in Brazil, the giant trash heaps in India, and the Nigerian churches eyed by terrorists come to mind. We don't live in a safe world, and it is a luxurious illusion to which we Americans have become all too-accustomed, to think that the world is, or can be made, secure and pleasant. It was into such a world that Jesus was born; his family had to flee in order to escape Herod's homicidal wrath. Ultimately, Jesus would take the whole world's wrath, from all of time, onto himself as he died on the cross.

So why do I like this picture of Mary keeping watch over twenty-two infants? Part of it is because the swaddled babies pictured look ever so much like twenty-two Christmas-card-worthy Christchilds. The point in that is that every baby, God's very image, enjoys God's tender-loving care as depicted here, channeled through Mary's motherly care. So we need to care for every child in the world--just as much as Kate and her husband William care for the prince or princess growing in her womb.

In the icon, Mary's grief-stricken gaze is upon the babies, and her arms are lifted up in prayer on their behalf. So must our eyes be upon the suffering masses of humanity and so must our hearts be uplifted in prayer on their behalf.

At the center of the icon are Mary's prayer-crossed legs, forming a triangle, pulling us, as all good icons do, into the presence of our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Like this icon, so must we center ourselves in God. Although evidence for despair may encircle us, the love from this center radiates and vanquishes it.

The icon is painted in the calming Advent shades of blue and purple. Advent is the season of hope, and this icon calls us to hopefulness even in the midst of tragedy. The tragedy is not the final word at this time. Mary's prayer and our prayer is the final word at this time. God's answer to our words of prayer comes in the Word made flesh, Jesus, who was in the beginning, is now, and evermore shall be.

Come, Lord Jesus.