Last weekend, my sister graduated from her master’s program at Marquette University, and I insisted on coming down to Milwaukee for the celebration. As I guess is common at large universities, the ceremony took place in two parts: part one, held at the Bradley Center in the morning, was a ceremony for everyone, while part two, held after a break for lunch, was where the University split into its various colleges and did the actual reading of the names. “Most of my classmates are only going to the afternoon part,” my sister told me, “but I want to go to the morning part because they’ve got a graduation speaker that sounds really interesting.” She didn’t have to do much convincing to get me to come along. Since both my sister and I studied abroad in separate South American countries, and both of us were aware of the works of the School of the Americas, just knowing that Sister Margaret “Peggy” O’Neill, S.C. had worked for years in El Salvador was enough to get me interested, too.
When I was younger (being only 27, that probably means “just a few years ago”), I was often concerned with feeling the proper emotion for the occasion. At a funeral for example, you’re supposed to feel sad, so I had to be sad the whole time, right? As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that almost all occasions will be associated with a variety of different emotions. I’ve switched to the approach of recognizing what emotions I am feeling, trying to understand why, and being OK with that. So when my fellow MCC-goer said that he was glad that this had been a Lent with plenty of light moments, instead of just being all somber all the time, I smiled and nodded. Sincerely.
With all that in mind, I want to approach today not with sadness (although the readings and music at today’s service will see to it that some sadness will arise) but with love and gratitude. It’s no mystery why love is on my mind. My grad class this semester is entitled Love Stories: Our Shifting Perceptions of Romantic Love. All semester we have been looking at various examples of love (starting from Ancient Greece) and analyzing them in an attempt to figure out how things have changed and how things have stayed the same.
Here we are back in Lent, the season when I first took the plunge to write for this blog. Last year, I focused on mindfulness. A year later, I want to focus on change. Lent is a time of change — you need look no further than songs such as Change Our Hearts and calls from the readings to repent (i.e., change your ways) to see it. As Christians, we have a unique take on change. I was reminded of this during a brown bag session on making changes in your life that I attended at work. In general, it was a good session with useful information. But one thing rubbed me the wrong way: the presenter’s reminder of the old adage that the only person we can change is ourselves. I just smiled and nodded at the time (I certainly wasn’t going to change the presenter), but upon reflection, I disagree wholeheartedly. (I suppose this audacity to believe that I can change others is part of what keeps me Catholic, even when I think that the Church’s imperfections are not all my fault!) Allow me to cite some examples showing that Christians believe in changing others:
- In the early history of Catholicism, the drastic change in Augustine’s lifestyle (from partying to piety) is attributed to his mother Monica’s constant prayers
- A more modern story in Catholicism is that of Sr. Helen Prejean, who was able to convince Pope John Paul II not to allow for any exceptions in his condemnation of the death penalty.
- In the Quaker faith tradition, John Woolman is credited with changing the hearts of companions in faith on the issue of slavery, years before the United States got around to abolishing it.
- Couples heading into marriage often talk about their partner as “bringing out the best version of me” or “challenging me to be the best version of myself.”
Changing others is possible, but misguided notions of change are all too prevalent. As a gay man, I know that there are people who want me to change my sexuality; it’s not going to happen. How do the examples cited above avoid this pitfall? With patience and humility.
- Monica’s constant prayers took years to take effect, during which time, she undoubtedly had to let go and let God do the work
- Sr. Helen had no formal authority over Pope John Paul II, and yet somehow through patient dialogue, her truth won out
- Woolman’s efforts to convince the Quakers to condemn slavery took years of heart-felt dialogue before they won out.
- Evidence that healthy couples use the same techniques is in the results: through loving dialogue over the course of their years together, a change for the better can come about.
As a choir boy, I’ve heard enough of They’ll Know We Are Christians to last me the rest of my life, but isn’t it talking about this type of change? Our love for others should be so sincere that it actually makes a difference — it changes something!
May your Lent be full of change for you, and through you, for others as well.
The original plan was to have me write a Christmas post, but I appear to have missed that season by a couple of weeks. I therefore instead offer you a winter Ordinary Time post with a Christmas connection.
I’ve been handed several opportunities to think about life recently:
- Riding along with a friend, we narrowly avoided an oncoming car that decided to quickly turn onto our why-is-there-parking-on-both-sides-of-this-street? side street.
- Visiting my dad after his heart surgery, I saw the vast array of machinery that is needed to sustain life after such an operation. I also got to see him with and then without the breathing tube: he transformed from the “scary mechanical man” to “my father with a couple of tubes and wires” — it’s hard to capture in words!
- Walking from the bus stop to work on one of the coldest days of the year, I was at the same time aware of just how alive I am (since I could really feel the cold) and of how fragile life is (with the weather working so hard to take it away)
- Since they needed a cantor, I found myself at an Embracing Life Mass at my parish in the middle of the week. A Mass that I probably wouldn’t have attended otherwise turned into a hour of grace for me as we reflected on the importance of all life and had 17 petitions to pray for the unborn, LGBT individuals, the elderly, and everyone else.
What’s the Christmas connection? John 10:10 (ASV) tells us that Jesus said:
I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.
This Jesus-life connection hit me again at The St. Norbert Abbey’s monthly celebration of Taizé prayer where we sang:
With you, O Lord
Is life in all its fullness
And in your light,
we shall see true light
So what? With all this thinking about life, I should be intensely grateful for it and yet I still have gloomy mornings where I find it very challenging to get up at 6am and give thanks to God. I still have no quick answers to a political system that can be very devoid of live-giving energy. However, I have noticed in myself a more intense desire to do life right. At the MCC church, where the traditional sermon time is replaced by a group dialogue, I have begun to ask more questions (such as, “What part of this do you struggle with and why?”) in an effort to really understand the wisdom of my fellow travelers in faith. As my dad continues to recover from his heart surgery, I let the question of whether or not I am doing enough to help my parents eat at me a little. I am more aware of the time I spend on entertainment Web sites such as YouTube and find it easier to stick to just a few videos at a time. And I hear myself asking how I can ensure that my interaction with others is life-giving.
Returning to our vaguely Christmas connection, I can think of no better closing than Clarence’s words from It’s a Wonderful Life:
You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life!
Last month, I finished a class on servant-leadership, a concept formalized in 1970 by Robert Greenleaf. What have I learned after a semester of studying the topic? Mainly that servant-leadership really is a simple, yet elegant, concept. While many essays and books can be (and have been) written about this subject, it always comes back to Greenleaf’s best test:
“The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
This will come as no shock to you, but Jesus is one of the examples Greenleaf uses of a servant-leader. Let’s see how he does (this should be easy). First of all, who are those served? Reading further in Greenleaf’s work, it would seem the answer is, “nearly everybody.” This was later codified (by Wolfe, Sheth, and Sisodia) into the acronymn SPICE (society, partners, investors, customers, employees). Jesus benefitted society by challenging unjust laws and raising up the least privileged in society. In terms of his partners, the woman at the well became his partner in spreading the good news, and she certainly became freer and more likely to serve. Investors? As Catholics, we believe that an investment in the kindom of God pays the ultimate dividend of eternal life. Customers? Those who needed to be healed (such as the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, the blind man, etc.) were healed. Those that needed to be challenged were challenged (such as the rich man who thought he was all set to enter the kindom of God). Employees? With one notable exception, the apostiles did pretty well. They are remembered by us for their transformed lives and their good work to build the kindom.
So why bring this up? I must confess that at the start of the semester, Jesus did not come to mind as we were brainstorming the concepts of leadership. Clearly, he should have. I thought I hadn’t read any books on leadership. Clearly, having read the Bible, I have. In light of this, “What would Jesus do?” seems like a very legitimate question to ask an executive. So what would Jesus do? It’s not about being soft: Jesus was full of challenging demands of those he served; one set is so difficult to take that we literally refer to them as the hard sayings (plucking out your eye, cutting off your hand, etc.). But it is about putting people first: “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27, MSG). And it’s definitely about compassion. Once again we find the we can’t separate our faith from our work!
Today I want to break from the homily-style format of my first two posts and simply take an inventory of what being a gay Catholic means to me at 27 in the Green Bay, WI area. I’m trying to be neither positive nor negative here — just realistic. I’m sure your experience has been different (surely there are better and worse places to be a gay Catholic than northern Wisconsin), and perhaps this post will encourage you to share.
What does being a gay Catholic mean for me right now? Continue reading
Editor’s note: Francis Beaumier is a new contributor on Young Adult Catholics. His first post on his Lenten practice of mindfulness appeared here. He plans to contribute once per church season. He says, “I’m excited about having a regular commitment to writing these reflections because I’m finally getting myself to do at least a few “spiritual push-ups” (that’s what my pastor calls his practice of writing a daily homily whether he needs it or not).” Welcome, Francis!
In our liturgical calendar this week, we have arrived at the ascension, the final stop before Pentecost, and the 7th time that my pastor will say “Happy Easter” to us. While Lent often gets extra consideration, it occurs to me now that perhaps the Easter season needs a little attention, too. During Easter especially, we should be rejoicing with an indescribable joy (1 Peter 1:8), but I’m not sure that I’ve done much to make my Easter stand out. With only one week left, an old favorite from Albert Einstein is worth some pondering: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Continue reading