A Way of Hope for our Times
A special evening of Reflection
Thursday, November 8, 2001
Sponsored by Creighton University's
Maureen McCann Waldron:
Fr. Peter Byrne, S.J.:
We want to talk to you tonight about and enter into a conversation with you basically about Jesus, about the way of Jesus and his pattern of living, and also a competing pattern of living that is offered to us and hopefully it is to deepen our hope. We want to talk about Jesus, his way of living, and what he might offer to us to give us hope. And like Fr. Schlegel said, I am looking for hope, I think we're all looking for deeper hope in these days. And we would invite all of you, whatever tradition you come from, I would assume most of you are Catholic, but if you are from another tradition, another Christian tradition or if you're from a Jewish tradition, or a tradition of another faith. What I think is really important is that all of us try to go deeper into our own faith tradition, go down as far as we can, and at the same time be in conversation with people who are also searching for a more hopeful and just world. So, on the one hand to go as deep as we can into our own tradition, but also be in conversation with people who come at life with another tradition.
I obviously come from a Jesuit tradition. I have been a Jesuit for 39 years, and so that has shaped a lot of who I am and that offers me a certain perspective of life, along with my family. I grew up in a family of seven, which shapes me a lot and the tradition of the Jesuits is especially from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Ignatius was certainly a person who saw the world as good and beautiful, and that we as human beings should use every gift and talent that God has given us all the way up, and develop them and see them as good.
So in the early part of the spiritual exercises when he has a person begin to pray, the first thing is to just acknowledge that the world is good and beautiful and that everything that God has made is worth giving praise and thanks for. However, very soon into the spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius introduces a theme that I think in our own human experiences, we have to say is true, that something is amiss, something is broken, something has gone astray.
I think of those lines out of Hamlet, “The times are out of joint.”
That came out to me a lot in the experience I had, as Maureen said, of living with people with mental handicaps. I was part of a community called L'Arche and L'Arche was started by a French Canadian named Jean Vanier. When I was just a young priest back in 1975, another Jesuit and I were working in a parish in Tacoma, that's where I met Margaret, and about a month after we had started working in the parish, we were walking down the driveway from the parish center to the house where we lived, and we met two men who had mental handicaps. One was Fred and the other's name was Greg and they were waiting outside the gymnasium of our school for an event that was to start an hour later. So we said, “Do you want to come home and have dinner with us?” They said, “Well, oh yeah we'll come and have dinner.” So they came home with us and we cooked up a little something and then about an hour later they went off and I thought that would be the last time we ever saw them.
But the next night about six o’clock…knock, knock, knock!!! I went to the door and there they were again, Fred and Greg. They were hungry, it was six o'clock. So I said to come on in and we'll have some dinner and again, they had dinner with us. Then the next night…knock, knock, knock…about six o'clock they came. They started coming back every night about four times a week and so they had dinner with us.
Finally after about six months, this other Jesuit, my best friend and I, he said, “You know Peter, you think maybe God is inviting us to have Fred and Greg move in with us, and just live with us?” I said, “Why not, why not?” And so on the feast of St. Ignatius in 1978 I went and picked them up at a congregate group home, threw their clothes in the car, and I brought them home. I had no idea, really, what I was getting into or what we were really getting into but we brought these two men and we began to share our lives together.
There were a lot of joys, and a lot of laughter and a lot of fun and we created a community of some street people and some lay folk, but there were moments when I realized there was something really deeply painful going on in the hearts of both Freddy and Greg, that something was broken there and I remembered a phrase from the man who started these communities, Jean Vanier, who said that the deepest pain that a person with a mental handicap has, is that they feel that they're a disappointment to their parents. Very quickly, they can tell whether their parents rejoice in them or when they look down at this little infant and know that they are not fully developed, that they are disappointed.
When a child with a handicap senses that -- and they sense it very quickly -- there rises up in them a lot of pain.” I thought to myself, you know that's not terribly different than you or me. One of the deepest pains we know and some of the insecurity that we experience, is that we are a disappointment to someone. A disappointment to our parents, ourselves, our friends, and that is a place of great brokenness in all of us and in our world. It is at that place of brokenness that Marilyn is going to come in now and say something about what Ignatius would really see as the critical place where the pattern of Jesus and the force of evil are really important.
Last week we were driving home from school and it started again. I don't even remember what it was. And I said “why is it that you guys are so…” and my nine year old said, “competitious?” and I said, “well, I was thinking competitive” and he said, “well, I like competitious better!” and my seven year old said, “well, I like competitive.” “Competitious!”
Here they were competing over 'competitious' and 'competitive.' Underneath that is a sense that flares up all the time of, “I'm better, 'cause I'm smarter” or “I'm better 'cause she loves me more than you…” Even for us after we've experienced a loving God, our relationship has deepened for those of us in the Christian tradition, we have a desire to follow Jesus. That anguish and uncertainty about our worth can still be present. It's really a mark of our fragility, our weakness, or dependence on God, that we can't get rid of it ourselves.
Ignatius says that it is right there, at the intersection of our desire to do good, to be faithful. Then our doubt about whether we're really worthwhile, whether we are really loved. It's right at that intersection, that the one that he refers to as Lucifer, as the angel of darkness, the evil spirit, the enemy of our humanity, all the different ways that it's said, a power that works against our journey towards God. It is right there that we can be deceived. The writer C.S. Lewis says that ever square inch of our hearts is being contested, and Ignatius knew that. He really believed that there was a power that moved us away from relying on God. Moved us to believe that when we are making choices, that were are believing that we are choosing good things, when in fact, our real motivation is to protect ourselves, to be self reliant, to be safe from harm. Eventually if we keep following those choices, we are not going to need God.
He calls those two ways (following Jesus and going the other way, the way of the evil spirit or the enemy of humanity) the Two Standards, meaning two flags. He sets up a meditation with a battlefield and different camps and it's very dramatic. What it seems he is getting at is there are two strategies, or two ways of working, that works on how we desire or what we want in our lives. He helps us, and I think that it is a valuable thing for us personally, but we are going to talk, too, about how it is helpful for us in a culture, to know what are own patterns are. To know how it is that I particularly really crave security, where is it that I look for it. Then, it asks us to be so in love with Jesus, so filled with the values of Jesus, that when we are presented with those two ways, those two values systems, we can tell the difference.
Ignatius talked about three things that people commonly use to protect themselves from being vulnerable, from being unsafe. He called them Riches, Honor and Pride. I 'm going to talk about how they might show up for us personally, and then Peter will talk about them in the culture, but I think you can see that they're often things that our culture really magnifies.
With the riches, maybe it is talking about real riches, having money, having material things that keep me from feeling vulnerable to the world. Money in itself can be a good thing but money having it also allows me to live in a good neighborhood, my children can go to good schools, people with money get good service and attention. Oftentimes it brings power which is another form of riches. Education is a kind of riches. It gives us security, it gives us jobs. I think in our culture, one kind of riches is physical attractiveness. The advertising industry spends billions of dollars convincing us that we are not good enough. And one real prime way they do it is to tell us that our appearance is not good enough; our faces our bodies, they;re not acceptable.
So men and women (and all the studies show it) have a distorted sense of both what is beautiful and what's normal, and what their own bodies look like. We can believe that if I am good looking, if I am fit, if I am trim, I can stave away aging and ill health and people will like me. It's a kind of riches.
The second thing Ignatius talked about was honor. Every one of us has some group that we are a part of. A world that we live in has certain rules to success that you need to follow. All of us have somebody or some group whose esteem and admiration we really want, whose love or care for us or just honor of us makes us feel good, makes us feel safe. Thus honor can come from having a good job, or important titles, moving up in the in the corporation or where ever our world is.
Another kinds of honor are good grades or scholarships or rank and tenure. I have a brother-in-law who's going up for tenure at his university in Canada and I can't believe all the machinations that that is taking. You know, "Should I ask her because she likes me? But if she likes me they might think she's biased! So should I ask him who doesn't like me? But if he doesn't like me, is he going to give me a good thing?" Underneath it is, "Am I going to lose my job? Am I going to have to leave this country?" Rank and tenure tell him if he is important and good enough in his world.
In the Jesuit world, Peter and I have talked about this some, it's not just like the riches and power and in that kind of sense are important. There are two ways in which Jesuits can esteem different ministries. One, we often see Jesuits working in different places where they have a lot of influence: universities, richer parishes or high schools. Those are important. They form people who have a great affect on the world. Or, they work with the very poorest, on reservations, in inner cities and places like that.
We recently moved to Saint Ignatius parish in Portland where Peter has become the pastor. Saint Ignatius is working class, doesn't have much justice outreach, just sort of average parish. It is probably the most disliked parish in the Oregon Province. It's not rich enough; it's not poor enough. It doesn't minister to Hispanics. It's not on the reservation. To tell you the truth it was kind of hard to say we'd do this and it's my parish. There a sense of what's esteemed and not and it's kind of like when they said about Jesus "Can any thing good come from Bethlehem?" It's like, "Can anything good come from Saint Ignatius?" There's kind of poverty about saying Yes to that.
Then a final place of honor can be that we can crave security through relationships. If somebody loves me then I'll be good enough. I’ll be acceptable. If somebody marries me, then all the things in the media in our culture, the soap operas, the movies, and everything else that say that our fulfillment is going to come in romantic love. That can lead to an unhealthy dependence on others. It can lead to making choices in relationships, casual sex, things like that. Searching for security through love.
Finally Ignatius talks about pride. He doesn't mean pride in the sense of having a healthy sense of self-esteem, feeling good about myself. I think he talks about pride meaning "I am the master of my world or my fate." That was in the reading from today at Mass. "I'm self-sufficient, I'm independent, I can take care of myself. All that I have or do, the relationships I have, whatever it is: they make me worthwhile. And therefore I don't need God."
Then there are all kinds of places where we can get a distorted sense of pride. I can feel like I'm worthy because I'm smart, because I make $200,000 a year (that would not be me), because I "home school" my kids, because I never break the rules, my kids get good grades. Those are all sorts of ways in which we can feel pride. Instead of looking of how it's gift. Or we can feel pride because at least I'm better or my group is better than that group. Thank God that I am not gay or I'm not a fundamentalist or not a Muslim. I'm not a white male priest. I'm not a cooperate CEO. All of us have somebody else, some other group that in comparison, we can have a sense that we're better, we can feel pride about that.
Now underneath all of these desires for whatever we call "Riches, Honor or pride" for us, are good things. It's really human and really right to know that we need love to know that we need material security, a sense of competence in the world. Those are good things. But the problem, and Ignatius would say the strategy of the evil spirit, is to have us believe that those are the places where we can get our security rather than in God, the things outside ourselves, how we look, what our profession is, how moral we are.
I think the depth of how this is in us as a society of people comes in the reaction I've seen, at least in my world, to the events to September 11. I think part of the reason it seemedto me and the people I've talked with, that it hit so hard was that it was so random, and that people had a sense that whatever it is that for them that said, "I'm safe," whether that was that I had a good job or my relationships, that I do good works, that I am a person of faith. None of that protected those people. I've seen people talk about a great deal of anguish, the anguish Peter talked about. In looking at it, it's bringing out all those questions for them: Is God trustworthy? What does my life mean? Where does my security lie? I think it has shaken us as a country because I think oftentimes we as an American people at least have looked to other things to give us that security and safety.
But its not a new predicament. I think it's been true for human nature probably as far back as we can look, that people have looked to other things for security. I mean every day I feel like I have the story of Cain and Able happening at my dinner table! The two brothers -- one killed the other! You never know. And it was true for Jesus.
There's a story early on in Luke's gospel where Jesus comes to be baptized. As he comes out of the water, it says there is a voice that can be heard, God’s voice saying, "You are my beloved son." Then right away Jesus goes into the desert and it says there that he was tempted by Satan. And what was it that Satan tempted him with? Riches, honor, pride? Even most insidious of all Satan said, "Are you really sure you're God's son? Are you really sure you're the Beloved? Why don't you try it out?"
And Jesus came through it. With fasting, prayer and God's mercy, Jesus came through that desert experience. When he came out of the desert he was ready to tell the world, "Not only am I the beloved but every one of you are loved too. Each one of you is a beloved son and cherished daughter of God."
And he spelled out; he showed a vision of reality, a life with God that was wonderful. He healed people with disease he brought people on the margins in. He said, "God just wants to set a table, a banquet table for us and there is food and drink enough for everybody. There is room for everyone and I'm going to help everybody to the table so we can all be there together." He just wanted in his ministry, in his healing, in his very presence to people to say, "God loves you". It's not because you're smart; it's not because you're beautiful. It's not because you're powerful or even because you're good and moral.
God just loves you and it is all a gift. You can't earn it. All you can do is just surrender to it and let it just go down and down and down, so that you can start to really believe it and stop having to protect yourself. He knew it was hard when he said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. He knew how hard it was to let go of whatever it is that we hold onto for our security. I think that's why he said in the Beatitudes, Blessed are those who are poor, who are hungry, those who mourn, because those are all the people who are not protected. They are not protected by the world, they don't have the security someplace else and they're not protected from God and that's the blessing. They are close to God because they know their need.
Jesus also knew that that vision could only be lived out in community, in relationships. He knew that it is in being loved by other people, especially people who know us, really know us, that we come to be able to know and feel the love of God. He knew we all need that.
There is a true story that happened, a story about a man named Richard Wetzel. Richard was a man who lived in the L'Arche community that Peter had helped to found several years ago. Now when Richard was born, he had a really severe hearing impairment. In fact, he couldn't hear and he couldn't speak. But he lived for the first three years of his life with his grandmother. She raised him and she just loved him utterly. But then she was unable to care for him any further. So, they took him to a school for the deaf. Then he got into some trouble and was hard to deal with so they sent him to what they call Rainier School at Buckley. It's a home for severely handicapped people. Richard was there for the next 50 or so years. The thing was that Richard was not developmentally disabled, he wasn't handicapped in that way. He simply couldn't hear and couldn't speak. But he couldn't tell anybody.
After the L'Arche community had been founded, they heard about Richard Wetzel. Apparently they discovered what was happening with him and they invited him to join L'Arche. So Richard came and he lived in this community of mentally handicapped people and their assistants for three years, then he died. Richard's funeral had 500 people at it. People came to know him through the L'Arche community and he made an amazing impact on people. But at his funeral, the priest who gave the homily said, for the first 3 years and the last 3 years of Richard Wetzel's life, he found love. All Richard wanted was for someone to be able to receive his gift. Then he said, "Isn’t that we all want -- someone to receive our gift?" We are beloved, we all have gifts. In community we have the opportunity to have our gifts given and received and I think it's what we all want.
Peter Byrne, S.J.:
When Septemver 11th hit in Portland, Oregon, I had only been the pastor for two weeks in the parish. That morning I was to gather with the school children in the gymnasium and they were going to give me a big welcome. They were going to give me a big red sweatshirt with St. Ignatius Parish on it, a pair of shorts and a T-shirt and come by and 'high five' me, and all of a sudden that just was all gone. So we gathered them over at the church and -- What do you say? Here are all these kids, they are frightened, they don't know what going on. I wanted to try to say something that would be comforting and powerful. But you know, to be honest, all I could say, and I said it again in the evening to the parents that came, I said, "You know, we have a really powerless God in a lot of ways. We have a God that can't protect himself, and is as vulnerable as you and me are. We have a God who in Jesus became powerless in a lot of ways and is vulnerable as you and me.
I know we all want a strong God, we want a powerful God, we want a God that will march forth, and yet, we don't have that kind of God. We have a God in jesus who in the crib was a crying little infant, and on the cross, he was just pathetically in a sense as vulnerable as you and me are. Yet, that is our real strength. That is the amazing strength, that in Jesus, we have someone who knows what it is really like. We don't have any superman. No, we just have a brother, who is our God and who shares it with us and says that this is the way to live, in vulnerable love.
I was reading a poem by Auden the other day and I kind of like it and I want to share it with you. He said:
He is not that powerful. He is not a magic man. He is not going to protect us from life and love. You know, I think that is the Jesus that we need. That doesn't fulfill some of our dreams and is the opposite of what we would make in our own image. Jesus is the one that keeps descending down into our humanity and asks for no exemptions from life. You know I am always looking for exemptions, looking for a cut in the line. Maybe I could get a deal, cut a deal. Jesus refused to cut a deal, refused to get any exemptions, refused to be anything but a full human being. He said that's the way to go, that's the path to walk, that's the road to travel.
He was willing, and I think this is just crucial, he says, " I've got to go all the way down to the people who have been pushed down, or pushed out, and I am going to go way out to those edges or way down to the bottom." Everything in us says, "I don't want that. I want to go up! I want to climb. I want to get to the stars." There is a good instinct in that but Jesus is always descending, going down and that is a path he invites us to. No wonder people say, "Well Lord, I'm going to try another religion. Even he found himself recoiling from that as he saw that that was going to be the pattern: to go down to the people who were cast out, shoved aside, written off. These are the people that Jesus said, "God's love is going to embrace all of them." That's where he went.
It seems to me that what we're being invited to these days, is to embrace our vulnerability as human beings; is to embrace that our deepest core is to be loved by God. To try to embrace the most marginal people in our culture and society and to try to say that vulnerable love is really finding the most powerful thing in the world.
When I was living in this L'Arche community I could really see this happening, that vulnerable love was really powerful. We had a visitor one day form Canada, a woman who had Cerebral Palsy and she had to do all her communication through one of these little computer things and she had come down unexpectedly to visit us. Living with us at that time was a former convict from Attica Prison near Buffalo, a guy name Guy. That's all I knew about him. His name was Guy. We never really bothered to ask why Guy had been at Attica. He lived in the basement of our house and hovered around our dining table and we enjoyed having him but he was really skittish and didn't want to get too close. He had a lot of protection around his heart. Even the two men with the handicaps who lived with us, Fred and Greg, they couldn't penetrate very well. He was real defended.
But, this woman came down to visit us and because she arrived unexpectedly we had to leave and we said, "Guy would you just sit here and visit with Charlene? We'll be back in about an hour." So he begrudgingly agreeing, he sat down at the table and she has her little computer and she's communicating with him and about an hour later we came back and my good friend David stopped and looked in the room and there Guy and Charlene had met each other. They had really connected. David stopped and just looked at them and he could tell that they had really met. She was kind of sitting there punching out her message and he was listening and tears were coming down his face and he didn't even know it. He was crying. Then all of a sudden, he realized that David was there, Fr. David Rothrock. And Guy looked at him and he had know that David had been trying to penetrate his defenses, and looked at him and said, “God damn you, Rothrock!” And that was true. It was this defenseless vulnerable woman who was all spastic in her movements who has no defenses. All she's got is a heart that can love and she had reached him. And that is the way of Jesus.
I would like to be that way but I would also like to be talented and gifted, I don't want to have to do this. The former superior general of the Society of Jesus, Father Pedro Arrupe, was for many of my generation the greatest -- he gave inspiration and he was a wonderful Jesuit. Well, in the last 10 years of his life he suffered a terrible stroke and all he could do was sit in a room in Rome. He began to lose the ability to speak. But people would come to see him and he would sit and take their hands and communicate with them. People said he did more good in those last ten years of his life with the stroke... He couldn't speak very well. He couldn't give inspiring talks anymore, but his heart -- it was all in his heart now! That is the way of Jesus, that Jesus embraces this and it's vulnerable love.
I think what's at stake here is so much of our culture that we live in, and much of our American culture is really good. One of the great things that I think about Jesuit spirituality is that it affirms what is really good in American culture. But it does say that there are some things that are out of kilter. I had the experience -- again some years ago -- of working in the Seattle Archdiocese. We have a big submarine base out there, Bangor. It is the home of the trident submarine. It has 24 missiles on it, each carries four to five warheads. It's the most lethal weapon system in the history of the world. When it was developed, it was the height of the Cold War and it was always a possibility that it could be used as a first strike weapon. The long and the short of it: a bunch of us, including some Jesuits, were arrested for entering the base over in Bangor, Washington. We were tried and then put on probation for three years.
I knew a chaplain in the Army who thought, wouldn't it be a nice deal for me to come and meet the commanding officer of Fort Louis Army base. That would make for a nice evening's conversation. It was a set up, and I walked into it knowing that. This general, John Warner, he said, "You know, I really don't agree with nuclear weapons. Obviously, I'm a military person so I believe in having an armed services," but then he went onto say something very key. He said unless the American society, (and this is back in 1980) unless the American society can reduce its consumption patterns, we will most certainly go to war. We will go to war because we will have to guarantee the continued supply of resources to keep that consumption pattern up. He said, "I as an officer would not want to lead young American men and women in that kind of war."
Well 10 years later when the Gulf War started, I thought, that is exactly what is happening. The American consumption pattern of oil was of such a nature that we went to war to guarantee the supply of that. Our consumption patterns are a pattern of trying to find in the consuming of goods and services, things to satisfy our heart. It will never work. Not that some things aren't good and not that the world isn't beautiful. But it will never touch the part of our hearts where we long to be received and accepted.
Not only that, our consumption patterns are very destructive to the rest of the world. So that is one thing about our American culture that we have to be so vigilant about, that the level of our consumption pattern not only injures us, and will never satisfy our hearts, but it is injurious to the rest of the world.
We live in a culture that really extolls choice if you want to appeal to Americans, you say, "You've got a choice!" and choice is a wonderful thing. But, "choice," if it's elevated to an absolute value is destructive. It is destructive of human relationships and commitments, and the autonomous self. We all want our independence, but if that's raised to an absolute value, we are the loneliest people in the world. Mother Teresa used to say that: "You Americans, you are lonely." Yet these are good values in themselves but if carried to an extreme they really are injurious to us and they harm other people. The way of Jesus is always to keep those in balance.
Marilyn is going to speak a little bit more about how Jesus speaks to the culture. Then we will come back with some concluding remarks.
I think that can be true in this dominant North American culture. Our approach to it sometimes can be to water it down: to say that the message of Jesus is that you should be nice, you should care about others, you shouldn’t do wrong things to other people, and that's. It doesn't question our fundamental cultural values.
Last year, the new TV show "The Weakest Link" premiered and this show extolls some of the extreme values of our culture. It is about competition, survival of the fittest. The host is nasty and cynical and people have to vote each other out in a real nasty way. So my sons saw advertisements for that and they were really attracted to that. So I said, "Ok, we'll watch it once together and you can see what it is about." So we watched "The Weakest Link." As each person is voted off, the host says to them, “You are the Weakest Link! Good-bye!” then they have to slink off in a walk of shame. We watched this and a little bit later my son who was six at the time came up to me and was trying to understand what this was about.
So I said, "What do you think would be the approach of Jesus if he was the host of this show?" He thought about it for a minute and then came and put his hand on my arm and said, “I am sorry, but you are the Weakest Link. You'll have to go. Goodbye.” So, I stopped and said, "Andrew, what would you do if I said that I think maybe the approach of Jesus might be when the first person gets the worst score he would say, "We can see that you are spiritually the most important person here because you are the one who is in most need of our care. So we're going to give you the million dollars. And on top of it, we're going to throw a party for you and we are all going to come and celebrate." And Andrew looked at me and burst out laughing like that was the silliest thing he ever heard. I thought yeah, in some ways he probably never has heard it.
But I have a sense that it is the vision of Jesus. It's not a nicely dressed-up version of our culture but there is something there that just turns it all around. I think that what this sense of the good, that it can be good for our security, the strategy of the evil spirit and the strategy of Jesus that says you have to go down. You have to be with the marginalized. You have to risk that when you are with the marginalized you'll get rejected and humiliated too. You might make choices that people aren't going to understand. You might choose professions that your parents are going to say, "Are you kidding? You're going to volunteer? What is that about?"
But it's right! But our culture's powerful. Every culture is powerful. Half the time we don't even know it is in our culture, what the values are, because it's what we live and breathe. So if we do see ways in which the values of Jesus that we want to follow, if that's what we choose, run counter to the culture -- what hope do we have of changing it? It's so powerful. Look at the billions of dollars in the advertising industry. What chance do we have to make a difference? I think that's another place of hope in Ignatian spirituality. Because Ignatius really believed that grace is underneath everything, that grace is everywhere, that Jesus is always at work, laboring always to bring redemption to bring goodness, to bring grace not only in our personal lives, but in culture.
I remember when a Jesuit Novice Director in Oregon, turned to me at one point in a meeting and said to me, "Do you really believe that Jesus is the Lord of history? Do you really believe that Jesus is the Lord of culture? Do you believe that he is the Lord of your personal life and history?" I have to say at that moment I was kind of ... [grimaces.]
I feel challenged by that, to believe that grace is really at work in culture. I also know that no one group can do it alone -- not Catholics, not Christians, not Jews, or Muslims, or people who have the good of humanity at their heart. We need each other, one group isn't going to make a change. We need to join in with others, to see that this culture of consumerism and consumption is not the way that is going to bring real fulfillment to people. We really need each other.
I think that there are a few things, maybe many, but a few things that I'd point out that in the story of Jesus, bring a message of hope to our world. His story is a different of version of what reality is like, a sub-version. One of the things that is hopeful is that he tells us that we are people that are made for relationships with others and with God and that our real fulfillment's only going to come when we're interdependent. When we can create communities of love that will include everyone. Not just our own group either but love that keeps going out in widening circles, even embracing the one that we call the enemy.
We're blessed in this country to have a great deal of freedom. One author I just read who was reflecting on September 11th said, "We do more than any other culture to allow people to have a sense of personal fulfillment. We don't waste people as much as some other cultures do." We have choice and that's good, but we have to realize, as Peter said, that our choices affect other people both very near to us and far away. We have to be mindful of that. In this whole discussion about September 11th, sometimes people say, "I don't want to hear why this happened." Yet our choices have been affecting people far away and they have feelings about that. It's making a difference in what is happening in our world.
The freedom that we have is a freedom for: for loving, for choosing to bring freedom to others who are imprisoned. It's a freedom to work to bring real justice in our country and all over the world so there can be real peace.
Finally, that way of Jesus is the way of vulnerability that really
is the way to peace. I don't know what that means for the difficult
situations, and solutions, and conflicts that we are dealing with now.
Yet I hear person after person, great spiritual writers, Ghandi, and
King, they say they really believe that violence could only bring even
more violence. We have to struggle with that. What does it mean to take
this way of Jesus? What does it mean to trust that having "power
over" is not ultimately going to be the way? What does it mean to say
that we are called to trust God?
Peter Byrne, S.J.:
There is a wonderful story of a Special Olympics event in which five or six children with Down's Syndrome were going to run this 100 pace race and they were just squealing with delight, they couldn't wait to start. They all wanted to win. So they lined up and the starter shot the gun and off they go. One little girl was just running like mad and was going to win the race and she was pedaling away and she looked behind her for just a second, and one of the kids had fallen. She looked ahead she said, "if I keep going, I can win." But she decided to stop, she turned around, she went back and helped this little boy up and together they crossed the finish line last. But you know, they won.
That's kind of like Jesus, he lost. He really lost -- but he won and that's what love does. It is the willingness not to be number one or to be first, but to really win. Some people say that America is the country of the best deal. We have so many choices, we want to get the best deal.
One of my older brothers who is six years older than me, about a year and a half ago had a stroke. It was a really serious stroke and he can't speak and the first time I was able to see him was about 8 days after the stroke took place. I saw him on the day of his birthday, St. Patrick's Day. So I went into the hospital and one of the nurses said, "He can maybe say a few words that were 'Parrott' words" like 'hello' or 'thank you,' because they are just in memory somewhere. Then she encouraged us when we spoke to my brother to sing to him. She said sing to him because music was on one side of the brain and lyrics are on the other. So this nurse encouraged my sister-in-law to sing to my brother, "Terry, I love you." And he could sing "I love you." So I said by extension if he could sing that, could he sing a song that he used to remember? She said, "Why don't you try it?" Well it was St. Patrick's Day and the only song I could think of was "Silent Night." So we sat around his bed and we started to sing, [sings], "Silent Night, Holy Night." Then, he started to sing, "Silent Night, Holy Night" and tears are coming down his face.
Now when I go home to see him and we have a Mass, which he really loves because it can touch into some things in his memory, our opening song will be, "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" and it is in the middle of July. We'll keep singing Silent Night. And my sister-in-law just realizes that when she took those vows, "I'll be true to you in good times and bad, in sickness and health," she isn't looking for a better deal, because in a way, she has got the best deal she could ever have.
That is probably it. We all want "the best deal" and the
strategy of Jesus is to say the best deal really is just to love each
other in all our humanity, in all our weakness, in all our vulnerability.
The strategy of the world or the evil one is to say, "No, that's not
the best deal. The best deal is to keep looking for the most beautiful
or the strongest or the most powerful. But Jesus, no, the best deal
is to love in all our weakness and vulnerability. That is the best deal.
The Collaborative Ministry Office