Monday, January 25, 2016

Christ Has No Body Now But Yours

A few days ago I had a dream about ISIS. Though I do not recall any details about the dream presently, the eerie feeling that I had while sleeping, immediately after and even into the next morning is quite clear. My dream experience brought the reality that many have suffered and are suffering presently into the forefront of my being. For a moment, though subconscious and through a dream, I had what might be for some a very real feeling of sorrow or terror--of enslavement. The experience was personal and up close.

In today’s gospel, Jesus unrolls a scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah that the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” He then proceeds to tell us that “today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In our own time, there are many in our world who are enslaved or oppressed in variety of ways.  I would like to believe that slavery is over, for as an international community we have acknowledged that slavery is a crime against humanity. And yet, human trafficking, racism, terror, indifference, displacement and greed are harsh realities for those most vulnerable in our world.

Several years ago I lived in Nepal. Recently, I received an email from a former student who comes from a poor village. He spoke to me of his current reality: “now due to the
political instability we are facing [a] huge problem of shortage and starvation of food, fuel, gas, kerosene etc...the government leaders are also involved in that black market and earning huge money. they are selling basic needs thing(s) in triple price. the high class people they can [afford]  but poor people they are having [a] really difficult time.”

Dorothy Day once said, “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do”. December 8, 2015 began the Jubilee Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis. Our readings today draw upon a variety of themes. Jubilee, though not explicitly stated, seems to be present in both the first reading and in the gospel. In the biblical sense, jubilee was the “year of the Lord” where all debts were cancelled and slaves were freed.

A question that comes to mind today for me is: do we have the courage to set each other free? There is a long list of evils that exist in our world, and as individuals we might feel helpless. Teresa of  Ávila asserts that: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

The second reading reminds us that we belong to each other. Sometimes in prayer I visit the most vulnerable. I remind myself that if they are suffering through such horrors, then their horrors are somehow mystically apart of my story and are Christ’s mutilated body.

My prayer today is that Christians everywhere have the courage to love those in their midst and to act both within systems and in their daily lives for a more just world. While there is much work yet to do before we are all set free, still the first reading delivers words of comfort while we live in the already, but not yet realized experience of Jesus. “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It is not my problem...

The following blog entry was Fr. Robert Murphy's homily for Sunday, January 17. The readings for Sunday are available here.

It is not my problem. It is not my problem. This is basically Jesus’ initial reaction today in the Gospel. We hear that he is at a wedding with his mother and his disciples and at a certain point during the reception they run out of wine and for those of us who have planned weddings and know how much things cost it is no surprise that ran out because things add up and there is only so much money to go around and for those of us who have attended weddings it is no surprise for we know how much people like to, let’s call it “celebrate.” Now Mary knows her Son, and she knows that he can do something to help in this situation. And so she asks her son to help and he is like well how does this concern affect me, my hour has not come. Basically, It is not my problem, I not ready.

Now before we give Jesus a hard for being like this, let us check ourselves because often enough we can be like this, we can have this mentality. We can look at our country and see questions about immigration and think well I am a citizen not my problem, and we can look out and we can see abuses against life and think I not pregnant or I am not terminally ill not my problem, we can look around our city and see homelessness and think I got a place to stay, not my problem, and we can see racism and think well I am not a person of color so not my problem. And in addition, we can tell ourselves I am just a college student, I am not ready, once a get my degree and graduate then I will be ready, then it will be my time. And so we can let ourselves off the hook.

Now fortunately, for everyone at the reception, Mary will not let Jesus off that easy, so “encourages” him to do something by she simply volunteering him. And this gets Jesus to act and through the use of his gifts, his abilities, he is able to help the married couple resolve their problem even though he is not married, even though it was not his problem and even though he did not think he was ready.

And fortunately, for everyone in our country, Martin Luther King, would not let certain inequalities stand. And so he decided to do something about it, and this encouraged other people to act. And they began to use their gifts and his abilities in the civil rights movement even though many people were not ready or prepared and even if it might not have been an issue for them.

And so like Isaiah the prophet in the first reading, they could not be silent. And we my brothers and sisters cannot be silent. There are certain issues facing our city and our country that our faith, our Catholic faith not only encourages, but calls us even demands that we speak out that we act that we act until the day of vindication, until the day that certain people are no longer considered forsaken but delightful. Take a minute and think about all the different people that are hated right now who are demonized and imagine what it would look like if they were accepted and appreciated. And since we know that we are not there the question for us is not if we should act, if we should respond, it is how, not if but how.

And for this we turn to our second reading, for St. Paul explains that there are different types of spiritual gifts but the same spirit, and different forms of service but the same Lord, and different workings but the same God. And then he goes on to list out different gifts and how the spirit gives these different gifts to different people. And so my brothers and sisters, we have each been blessed with our own unique set of gifts and abilities. And so each of us has to identify our gifts and abilities and decide how best to put them to use. And this can be hard and so sometimes we need someone to be like Mary and encourage us.

And while at SLU we are here to be this person for each other. We are here to not only help each other recognize our gifts and develop new ones but in the mean time we are to here find opportunities for us to use them and encourage other to do the same and in this way work on the problems facing our city and our country.

Now my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not work alone to solve the problem, he worked with other. He did his part and they did theirs. So look around this space, look around this space at all the different people, and as you do think about all of the different gifts, all the different gifts that God has given us and with this in mind let us realize that there is no problem, that there is no problem that we cannot solve if we work together.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Great Campaign of Sabotage

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth” –O Holy Night, c. 1847

Sometimes, my appreciation for grammar rewards itself.

‘O Holy Night’, of course, is a standard holiday song heard, sang, and overplayed on many a radio station committed to syrupy and overproduced renditions of Christmas classics. But no matter. To paraphrase a former professor of mine, abuse of a song doesn’t negate proper use, or its lyrical prowess. It’s still a good song.

It’s this line quoted above that has long jangled a deep chord of truth within me. It both recognizes that the world is, to put it mildly, a mess and it always has been (Ecc. 7:10). And yet … the world being a mess is never the end of the story. The next line of the hymn is "Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth."

In this line, it would have been so easy to have the ‘its’ instead be a ‘His’ – as in, when Jesus was born, people’s souls were able to understand the worth of Jesus. “… and the soul felt His worth” – this sounds churchy, proper and altogether plausible, doesn’t it?

But that is not how the hymn is, thankfully so.

What the hymn actually states is what we know in our gut to be true about our world today; we live in a world drenched in sin, of people misusing one another, misusing God’s creation, and not loving their neighbors as themselves. We experience this reality locally in our city. We see and hear this play out in the news that we consume and in the news that consumes us. We taste the bitterness of it as it touches our lives, or the lives of those we know and love. The way of the world.

This was as true in Jesus’ time as it is now. Soon after Jesus was born, his parents would have to quickly become refugees in another country (Egypt) – their hometown was no longer a safe place to be. They sought shelter as strangers in a strange land.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. This is regrettably the way of the world right now.

And yet … Scripture treats the historical birth of Jesus Christ as an event foretold in the Old Testament; the fulcrum upon which creation turns. It’s what Oxford University fellow and Christian apologist CS Lewis referred to in Mere Christianity: “Enemy-occupied territory-that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

And by great campaign of sabotage, Lewis means that the birth of Christ is the firstfruits of this ‘way of the world’ (sin, violent misuse of one another and of creation) being interrupted. It's the firstfruits of us and all of creation starting to be set right by God through Christ’s love for us, justice for victims and the oppressed, of being saved from the sin that ensnares us, both in ways we have misused others and in ways we have been misused by others.

When Christ appeared, it was God’s way of showing us what we are worth. Words can only, at best, describe some of the depth, breadth and expanse of God’s love for us.

"Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth."

Sometimes, grammar and pronouns convey so much.

My hope and prayer for you this holiday season is that you would, in ways familiar and new, get to experience and know in the deepest parts of your being that you are loved by God beyond compare.

Jim Roach is the Campus Minister in Reinert Hall.

Friday, November 20, 2015

To Should or Not to Should

I recently had a conversation with a student about shoulds. In the conversation, we discussed the feelings of obligation that come with them. They tend to cause us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves which then lead to guilt when we don’t fulfill those expectations. As someone who doesn’t really like to be told what to do, when I feel like I should do something, I have less motivation to actually do it.

I don’t know about you, but I too often let shoulds run my life—there are times when I should all over myself. There are a lot of things in my life that I feel like I should do. These shoulds carry a lot of weight with them and if at the end of the day I feel like I haven’t completed enough of them, I may go to bed with a heavy heart.

These shoulds can also impact the way I live my life. I do things not because it’s the right thing to do, but because I feel like I should do them. Shoulds have a tendency to turn into have-tos, and those can feel real heavy. Not all shoulds are bad, but those that cause us to set unrealistic expectations and that induce unhealthy guilt are those that we might need to really evaluate and call into question.

Shoulds can oftentimes spill over onto our image of God. It becomes an image of God standing there shaking his finger at me, making me believe I’m not good enough. This is, in my experience, so far from who God is. Instead, God wants to free us from the shoulds. I believe God uses coulds. Coulds feel more like an invitation than a demand. When we’re invited by God, we do things out of love, not shoulds.

Ask yourself where you’re shoulding in your life. Are there tasks that you’re resentful towards and you allow yourself to easily be distracted from? Chances are there’s a should behind it. Are there spaces in your faith life in which you do things because God is shaking a finger at you rather than inviting you? Chances are there’s a should behind that too.

Robby Francis is the Campus Minister in Fusz and DeMattias Halls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints - November 1, 2015

One day a priest was visiting the home of some parishioners who had a young toddler. The parents were wondering what path their son would one day choose, so the priest said he had a simple test that could predict what would become of him. He would set out three objects and let the baby choose whichever one he wanted to have: a Bible, a wallet stuffed with cash, or a bottle of scotch. If the baby chose the Bible, he’d be a holy priest; if he chose the wallet, he’d be a wily businessman; and if he chose the bottle, he’d be a slick bartender. So the parents let the baby loose, and when he ran over and grabbed all three at the same time, the priest cried out, “Saints preserve us! He’s gonna be a Jesuit!” I can neither confirm nor deny that I was the baby in this story. But what I can tell you is that it points to something important: what it means to have a certain vocation, and what it means to be holy, can often burst apart the categories of our expectations. It’s a good time to remember this, because today we celebrate two things. It is the feast of All Saints, a day when we honor all those who, by God’s grace, lived out our faith in holiness, both the canonized and the uncanonized, both the famous and the forgotten. It is also the beginning of National Vocation Awareness Week, when the Church encourages young men and women to consider what kind of life God is calling them to.
So I’m going to combine these two occasions into a single, bold claim tonight, and say this: it is the vocation of every person in this church to be a saint. Now, when I say that it’s your vocation to be a saint, I’m guessing that you’re probably listening politely on the outside, but inside you’re more or less dismissing it as pious claptrap. I’m betting there are at least two reasons for this. First, most of us think we are way too flawed, too imperfect, to ever be remotely eligible to be a saint. What we know of saints makes them sound like religious superheroes who do things far beyond our ordinary lives. Second, most of us don’t even particularly feel a desire to be a saint, since frankly it doesn’t sound like much fun. Saints seem so austere, so otherworldly, so serious, so grim. What we hear of their lifestyle just doesn’t seem like a viable option for happiness. But maybe the categories of our expectations need to be burst apart. What I’d like to propose to you is that being a saint means, yes, being flawed and, yes, being joyful.

So, first: saints were flawed, imperfect, broken people like you and me, but they allowed God to use them. And when God used them, he transformed their very flaws into strengths, with that delicious kind of irony that God seems to enjoy. The communion of saints is definitely a motley crew—as the first reading describes them, “a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Take a closer look at some of these colorful characters:

St. Peter, a big-hearted blunderer whose mouth seems a few steps ahead of his brain, who stands up to confess Jesus as Son of God, but later denies he even knows him—God uses his generous spirit to become the leader, the rock of faith on which the Church is built.
St. Paul, a passionate, single-minded religious fanatic who goes from city to city bitterly persecuting the young Church with all his energy—God uses his zeal to become the great missionary who spreads Christianity throughout the Roman world.

St. Jerome, a crotchety old curmudgeon who’s good at languages, but complains when studying Hebrew that it sounds like farting—God uses his talent to translate the Bible into Latin, which would communicate God’s word for centuries.

St. Hildegard, a sickly woman who lives enclosed as a nun and suffers from debilitating migraines—God uses these episodes to grant her visions, which inspire her to stand up even to the most powerful men in her society.

St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Dumb Ox because he’s hefty and slow to speak, which makes him work extra hard at his studies—God uses his careful perseverance to become the master scholar who writes a huge summary of all theological knowledge.

St. Ignatius Loyola, a chivalrous but washed-up wanna-be knight who wants to do great deeds in service of his king—God uses his great-hearted vision to found a new order, the Jesuits, to serve under the banner of Christ the King.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who wants to be a missionary but lives in a cloistered monastery and dies of tuberculosis at age 24—God uses her apparent insignificance to produce profound spiritual writings and powerful miracles still today.

Why does God choose the weak, the misguided, the idiosyncratic, and do great things through them? Maybe just to show that it’s not all about us. Holiness is God’s doing: God will take even the things we’re most embarrassed about and turn them around until they are, ironically, the ways we can best serve others and build up his kingdom. So not feeling “saintly” is no excuse: God has a fondness for unlikely heroes, and the people you least expect—including you!—may turn out to be saints, whether or not you’re ever canonized. All that’s required is to allow God to work through you.

And second: no matter what they may look like in stained glass or as statues, saints were joyful people, because they were following their hearts. Being holy is not a grim, teeth-clenched, deadly serious enterprise. It means not chasing after false happiness and things that delude us, but living life to the full, flourishing as the persons we are created to be, chasing joy. In fact, our
tradition reveals many saints who impressed people by their good sense of humor:

As St. Lawrence was being put to death for being a Christian by being slow-roasted on a gridiron, he famously told his executioners, “I’m done on this side; you can turn me over now!”

St. Augustine in his autobiography wrote that he used to pray, “O Lord, give me chastity… but not yet!”
When St. Francis of Assisi’s father accused him in public of giving away all his goods to the poor, and pointed out that Francis’ own clothes were bought from his father’s hard work, Francis stripped off all his clothes, gave them back to his father, and walked away naked.

St. Ignatius Loyola used to cheer up sad Jesuits by dancing a little jig from his native country. After getting hit with a cannonball in his youth, one leg was shorter than the other, so it must have looked pretty goofy.

St. Teresa of Avila is said to have prayed, “From somber devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” She even liked to joke around with God—in one journal entry she wrote, “If this is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

St. Philip Neri was widely regarded as a saint during his lifetime, so to keep himself humble, he would go around with half his beard shaved off, or wearing a cushion on his head like a turban, or making faces at people while he was celebrating Mass.

St. John XXIII, who was pope just over fifty years ago, was famous for his wit. When asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.” And once, when he was at a fancy dinner which a woman attended who was wearing a very low-cut dress, his assistant said, “What a scandal! Aren’t you embarrassed that everyone’s looking at her?” John replied, “No! Everyone’s looking at me, to see if I’m looking at her.”

Why do saints laugh so easily? What’s the source of their joy? For one thing, they’re comfortable with themselves, and don’t mind looking foolish or drawing attention to their own shortcomings. Also, they keep everything in perspective: they know what’s really important in life, and can poke fun at the things that aren’t. Most of all, they understand that what God wants for them and what they want for themselves deep down are the same: to be truly happy, to flourish in the way they were made to be, with all their gifts and desires and personality. They know that following God’s will is ultimately never going to conflict with who they want to be. So yes, our vocation is to be saints—or put another way, our calling is to be holy. And no, our flaws won’t get in the way. And no, we will not have to give up happiness—in fact, we will find the most genuine joy we can imagine. What particular mode our holiness will take is going to be different for each of us. There are some in this church who will one day join the Jesuits. Some will become priests or sisters or brothers of other kinds. Some will get married, and some will stay single. Some will dedicate their lives to healing the sick, or defending justice, or serving the disadvantaged, or teaching the young, or building a better government, or any of a myriad of other professions. It’s up to each of us to figure out how God is calling us to be holy. The important thing is that we need not fear God’s plan for us, or worry that it won’t satisfy us. As we read in the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord: plans of fullness, not of harm, to give you a future and a hope.”

Fr. Steve Schoenig, S.J. is a Professor in the History Department.

Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 2015

Those who know me well, know that I love music of all kinds. This week as I was driving, I heard a beautiful piece on the radio:  “Im Herbst” “In Autumn”, Concert-Overture Op. 11 by Edvard Grieg.  I invite you to listen and to reflect with me.

I often pray with music and I was so moved to reflect on autumn after listening to this.  Autumn is a time when the earth is curling up for the long winter in anticipation of being reborn in the spring.   With the dying of many leaves and grasses on the vine also comes hope, and a remembrance for what was.

In this autumn, we come to the anniversary of events in our city, in Ferguson, on our campus.  Just like the leaves and grasses slow down but spring back to life, so these memories of the challenging times in our city and campus ebb and flow.  Even through the dead of winter, we can never forget the life within the earth.  We also cannot forget the issues and challenges we have personally been presented with throughout the last year, and we are called in a special way to continue to honor those issues and challenges.  We are called to honor those images which are both fragile and beautiful, those images which provide us with both a harvest of reflection and hope for the future, and those images which call us in a greater way to not only honor and care for the earth but for all creation, including every living being.

As we move into this period of dormancy, we ourselves cannot lie dormant about the challenges and issues which call us to our faith that serves justice.  Perhaps now, in this period of quiet and fragility, it is time to revisit some of the important questions we are called to ask ourselves.  These questions were presented to the campus last autumn from the Department of Campus Ministry.  I invite you to call them to mind again this autumn:

·         Do I condone prejudice by my participation or by my inaction, particularly when speaking out seems like a greater inconvenience than silence?
·         Do I make the connection between faith and action by critiquing structures and attitudes that diminish others?
·         Do I make an effort to get to know people who are different from me in appearance, beliefs, and lifestyle?
·         Do we listen to members of vulnerable communities, both on and off campus, who can help us to see our own blind spots about how our unchallenged assumptions perpetuate hostility?

As always, please remember that there are resources on campus that will engage in dialogue with you around these challenging questions.  My hope and prayer for you is to consider these questions in light of your faith tradition, and in light of the mission which you are a part of here at SLU.  Autumn is a good symbolic reminder that we need to take some time to reflect on our own greater purpose.

Sue Chawszczewski, Ph.D.
Director of Campus Ministry

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Never again, never forget: commemorating to make a difference

This upcoming week, August 29, marks the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Many of my friends and fellow New Orleanians - and I - lost everything, relocated, rebuilt their lives and their homes. Plenty of people I knew found ways to commemorate that moment: leaving up the spray paint marks left on front doors by the National Guard, saving memorabilia that survived the flooding, and lots and lots of fleur de lis tattoos. All of them shared the goal of demonstrating the change that this event had on our lives, how we have been wounded, and how that wound does not just heal but leaves a permanent impact on us from then on.

This evening, Sunday August 23, SLU will hold a vigil for peace and justice, echoing the vigil we held in the same spot one year ago, the Sunday immediately before classes began, to share our desire for peace in a city that so desperately needs it and to challenge ourselves to be engaged in making that change happen. The university is working on plans for a memorial of last year’s #OccupySLU and the Clocktower Accords that concluded that challenging week - a week for which SLU’s leadership has been hugely lauded and hugely criticized - but statue or no statue, we still have a long way to go as a university to be more connected to the city around us.

Last year opened more, and more serious, dialogue about race, privilege, and the place of our university in St. Louis than I have seen at any other time during my seven years here. It was a singularly difficult year, but one that challenged us to pay attention to problems that have been going on for decades and centuries in this city, but which we on our campus have mostly had the privilege of not having to look at. As our newest SLU students and staff and faculty join us, I wonder what it is like for them to come here, knowing at least something of what has taken place in St. Louis and on our campus in this past year. I can’t abide hearing tour guides on campus talking to prospective students and parents about how safe the campus is as long as people don’t go north of Delmar or into this or that neighborhood. The so-called “SLU bubble” is made more real by telling people they should be afraid of this city, particularly in neighborhoods that are poor and/or mostly African-American, but our SLU Mission is made LESS real by reinforcing that prejudice. On the contrary, in one of his essays on the role of Jesuit higher education in the world, the superior general of the Jesuits talks about the importance of engaging with the “gritty reality” of the world, and last year forced us to do so; we did not keep this city’s racial issues north of Delmar, and to our benefit. I think of that week in October of last year when we were “occupied” - some of us tried to minimize our contact with the disruptions, keep focused on the alleged “real work” of being a student or professor or staff member, while others of us tried to listen, or dialogue, or challenge, or keep a respectful eye on the proceedings. One of my new colleagues recently discussed with me the difference between “safe spaces” and “brave spaces” - being able to risk a conversation or an encounter that is challenging rather than being so focused on keeping everyone feeling safe that no hard realities can come to light.

I have been student and faculty and staff member here over the years, and cliche though it may be, I am increasingly convinced that the “real work” of Jesuit higher education only makes sense to the degree that it puts us in contact and keeps us in contact with the world around us - not in sterile, abstract, numerical ways alone, but through real solidarity with real people and stories of their real lives. A lot of us got our butts kicked last year by being shown how out-of-touch we were with what is going on just a few miles, just a few blocks, away from the comfort of our offices and classrooms. Many of your friends, your professors, and your classmates put themselves in the thick of the action over and over again, both to help magnify the voices of those who have gone unheard and to educate themselves about what is going on away from campus. As we begin this year with a vigil for peace and justice, I hope that we will take seriously the goal of transformation - we are not praying in a light, easy, “hope-to-God-something changes” kind of way, but out of an earnest desire to learn about what is going on and to be a part of building a better reality.

Patrick Cousins is a member of the Department of Campus Ministry.