Staying Active in the Holy Spirit

493px-peace_dove-svgWe learn in high school English class the significance of the birth metaphor: something important has taken place, our hero has crossed the threshold to a new level, and they will never again be the person that they used to be. The feast of Pentecost is full of birth imagery. It’s no accident that it’s referred to as the birthday of the church, for it represents the moment when Jesus’s disciples were transformed from scared followers asking “now what” to bold preachers willing to spread the good news at all costs. The description of Pentecost in John (“After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy spirit.’” 20:22, The Inclusive Bible) echoes the second creation story, the birth of humanity, where “YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, The Inclusive Bible). Recall, too, the presence of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’s baptism, his spiritual rebirth: “the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove” (Luke 3:22, The Inclusive Bible).

The birth metaphor, with its images of life and breath, reveals another fact about the Holy Spirit: she is associated with action and movement. The appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Acts reading for Pentecost is accompanied by “what sounded like a violent, rushing wind” (Acts 2:2, The Inclusive Bible). The disciples present act on the spirit’s urgings by preaching in a multitude of different languages. The breath mentioned in the John passage above is an image of movement, too – we can feel the rush of air! In modern English, I only have to use the phrase “spirited debate” for your brain to be filled with images of animated people gesturing wildly and perhaps moving about the room in order to make their point. The word spirit carries energy.

Unfortunately, the feast of Pentecost shares a fatal flaw with the other major appearance of the Holy Spirit: the Sacrament of Confirmation. With both celebrations, the story too often ends right then and there. For some, the Sacrament of Confirmation marks the end of regular visits to Church for the foreseeable future.  In the case of Pentecost, it can feel like the last stop before our brains kick into summer mode. (This is culturally reinforced: school lets out, vacations begin, and the church choir is on hiatus.) We may still be there physically for the summer months, but our spiritual development stagnates.

How do we face spiritual stagnation head on? At the MCC church, one way we do this is to declare the season after Pentecost to be Pridetide: in this time of gay pride parades and festivals, we take time to reflect on our place in the celebration and show up, claiming our own place among the groups. In this active spirit of Pentecost and Pridetide, my summer goal is to continue my spiritual growth. During Lent, I developed the habit of asking, “What do you want me to hear?” Now I’m asking, “What do you want me to do?” If I am successful, Advent will not only mean beginning again; it will be a new beginning.

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

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Why I needed a retreat (and you might too!)

pause-303651_640Chalk it up to nature or nurture, but I tend to rejoice in what I have rather than lament what I don’t.  In the Catholic world, I celebrate that I’ve been given access to the Sacrament of the Sick before being at death’s door and that I’ve been on plenty of retreats, rather than believing that “retreats are for really holy people.”  Before college, retreats were just built in to my education.  There was 8th Grade Retreat, Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Retreat, Kairos, and yes even Les Miserables Cast and Crew Retreat.  While retreats didn’t force their way into my life in college, they were readily available, and I took advantage of two that I can remember.  Then I spent a year in the Norbertine Volunteer Community and was on no less than 6 retreats.  My time in the NVC wrapped up in July 2010 and then … Nothing.  For five years I went without the beloved retreat.  How did this happen?  I’ve got no good excuse.  But I finally broke my streak on September 18th when I went on my parish’s men’s retreat.

Where’s the power in a retreat?  It’s simple … or rather simplicity.  Life is stripped down to its essence.  There was a whole list of don’ts for me that weekend in September, each one empowering:

  • Don’t worry about a thing (your parents or your boyfriend will call the emergency phone if something happens in the world that you really need to know about)
  • Don’t check your email (good luck getting Internet anyway)
  • Don’t worry about a daily routine
  • Don’t worry about getting anything done
  • Don’t worry about food (one weekend without your diet won’t kill you)
  • Don’t hesitate to take some alone time
  • Don’t cut yourself off from the group
  • Don’t worry about what time it is

Even without the talks, this “stripping down” should help you to disassemble and reconstruct your life.  Even if all the pieces go back in, at least you know that they really needed to be there.  Ideally the talks supplement this.  One thing that Fr. Tim said that really stuck in my mind is the acronym T.U.B.E.D. – tired, used, bored, envious, depressed.  The point, of course, is to recognize the signs of this in your life (one telltale sign: going through the motions of life events, like Sunday Mass, and not really getting anything out of them) and take steps to combat it.  I was definitely feeling pretty tired and maybe a little used up, and so I found a scrap of paper and wrote “Anti-TUBED plan” across the top and reflected:

  • What’s taking up all my time?
  • What has to happen first?
  • Can I have one day a week where I’m not trying to just get as much done as possible?

I had already been splitting up my homework among the days between classes on my calendar; now I decided that I should probably get my homework done for the day and then clear out email rather than clear out email and then get to my homework.  I resolved to stop trying to use the computer and eat meals at the same time. I chose Saturday as a day to just do one thing at a time rather than always trying to get two things done at once.  I can’t say that I’m doing a great job sticking to this plan or that I became an expert time manager — I’m squeezing in this post about a September retreat (described at spiritplantjourneys.org) more than a little after the fact, for example!  But on the good days, my busy scurrying seems more meaningful.  And I’ve become less afraid to turn down invites to good things that just don’t fit in right now.

I’m looking forward to my next retreat!

About the author: Francis Beaumier is on the leadership team for the Dignity Young Adult Caucus and an active member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Family as well as Angels of Hope Metropolitan Community Church.  He currently works for Brown County Library as an IT Specialist and is pursuing a Master’s in Liberal Studies at St. Norbert College.

Of Heaven, Handicaps and Haecceitas

“Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:/

…myself it speaks and spells,/

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ

(from As Kingfishes Catch Fire)

Community living includes facing together the mystery of death: saying good-bye, memorializing, and grieving – a process I experienced several times in my years of community living with adults with disabilities. I recently attended the memorial service for “David,” a former community mate who had died unexpectedly. As I grieved his passing and reflected on his life, several well-meaning friends offered as a consolation that David is in heaven now, free from the disabilities which challenged him his whole life.

I certainly understand that the idea of a loved one who has struggled with a physical or intellectual disability being freed from that disability in the hereafter can be deeply consoling. Yet somehow as people expressed this sentiment, it did not sit comfortably in me. Our own deepest intuitions as well as the wisdom of our faith tradition tell us that we are more than our physical bodies; there is a spiritual element which somehow transcends death. It is important to err always on the side of humility in the face of life’s great mysteries, of which death is arguably the greatest, and not fall into simplistic thinking or biblical literalism.

I find myself engaging in that mystery in the face of David’s death. I can’t avoid wrestling with those questions we inevitably ask when a loved one dies: how does that person remain with us in some non-physical way? What are we saying in the creed when we claim to believe in the resurrection of the body? How do we understand eternal life? Given David’s disabilities, these questions take on an added dimension.

Heaven

In my ponderings, I invited into the conversation medieval Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus with his concept of haecceitas: the property that uniquely defines an object, its “being-ness,” “thisness” or “suchness.”  With Scotus, we claim to be created in God’s image and likeness; that we – and all created things – are unique, unrepeatable, one of a kind. My sense is that our haecceitas is not some perfect ideal, but includes all of our being: our quirks as well as our passions, our weaknesses as well as limitations, our handicaps (and we all have them – diagnosed or not!) as well as our strengths.

To love and be in community with another is to know something of that haecceitas – the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. When I reflected on that unique “being-ness” of people with disabilities with whom I’ve shared life, their disabilities and how they deal with them are woven into that “being-ness.” Certainly, we are infinitely more than our limitations – whether they be a mental health diagnosis, an intellectual disability, a visual impairment or any of the myriad other challenges which come with this messy, beautiful experience of being human. And yet our limitations, how we respond to them, and how they shape us are undeniably a part of us, part of that unique haecceitas. The idea of eternal life is impoverished if we envision it simply as our own and others’ perfection, the attainment of all the ideals we could not fully reach in this life. The eschatological hope of God’s Kin-dom is certainly broader and more magnificent than simply our own limited vision of what our “perfect” self might be.

David’s haecceitas includes his radiant smile, his love of Top 40 music, his bright laughter, his distaste at getting his hands dirty, his concern for others, his love for sushi and aversion to salad, kindness to children, and boredom at the “long poems” I shared in community. It also includes the hesitancy with which he walked because of his vision impairment, and how that hesitancy would lead him to reach for my arm when we walked down a flight of stairs. It also includes the speech impediment that required patience from him and others which led him to learn American Sign Language and write carefully crafted notes to others to communicate his needs, wants, hopes, and gratitude. It also includes his hands which – though they appeared so fragile because of a problem with connective tissue – baked bread, created art, held a spoon to feed a community member unable of feeding herself, and performed countless other acts of creativity and service.

I celebrate and remember with warmth all these (and so many more!) elements of David’s haecceitas and trust that all of them are a part of his identity as God’s beloved. Though the challenges his disabilities created were undeniable, they are still pieces in the mosaic of this lovely, unique, never-to-be-repeated man. To imagine David in the great beyond – however it is imagined in our finite, human minds – without those mosaic pieces is, I believe, to do a disservice to his spirit and to diminish the greatness of his love-filled life.

I dare to believe that in the eyes of God all of us is beautiful – even those elements which limit and challenge us, those elements which we and others wish weren’t there. Somehow I find myself hoping that those elements are somehow included in that mysterious beatific vision. That in the fullness of time our shortcomings and frailties do not disappear but are held in that great, creating and re-creating Love and so made new (Rev 7:17).

I hold to this hope for David – and for all of us – in the paradoxical words of poet James Broughton in his poem Easter Exultet: “nothing perishes; nothing survives; everything transformed!”

photo credit: Wendy L. Wareham photography

 

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Sensus Fidelium and the question of women’s leadership

The scene is familiar, one that has been recreated many times in parish social halls across the country: One wall is lined with a long table laden with cookies, cut vegetables and dip, cheese and crackers. The walls are decorated with banners from past parish missions and a crucifix adorned with a woven palm branch. The faint smell of oil from last Friday’s Lenten fish fry hangs in the air.

Parishioners from a three-parish cluster come in, are welcomed and encouraged to sign in at card tables by the door. They smile as they recognize the faces of friends across the hall. There are the requisite hugs and handshakes; people asked after each other’s family members, commented about sports, local politics, and the cold winter weather.

The pastoral associate called us to order, offered a brief opening prayer, and introduced the speaker, a representative of the diocesan office, who is to speak about Pope Francis and the New Evangelization. After a power point presentation highlighting themes from the apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” about being missionary disciples and some anecdotes about applying Francis’ words, we were given time for discussion at our tables. Each table was to discuss “what the church needs to leave behind” and “what the church needs to carry forward” and then share insights with the large group.

At our table the ten of us looked at each other expectantly. A metal chair squeaked when the woman beside me shifted her weight. Her husband beside her flipped through his copy of “The Joy of the Gospel.” The woman next to him took a bite of her cookie. We heard the murmur of conversations from neighboring tables.

“We’re going to need to give a report back soon,” someone said, frowning slightly.

“So,” I said, jumping into facilitator mode and pulling out a notebook and pen, “let’s start with the first question: what does the church need to leave behind?”

There was a thoughtful pause.

“Well,” ventured one woman, “what about the position of women in the church?”

Our formerly quiet and unengaged group of ten became instantly animated around this question and I jotted down notes as quickly as I could so as not to lose any threads of the conversation. Several people at the table remembered the post-Vatican II energy when it seemed to them women’s ordination to the diaconate and priesthood was a distinct possibility. One man spoke about examples from the New Testament of women in leadership roles in the early church. Someone else pointed out Pope Francis’ words in Evangelii Gaudium about a “more incisive female presence” in the church. I mentioned a recent article by Mary Ann Walsh, RSM in America magazine which gave concrete examples of ways women could assume more leadership in the church even without engaging the question of the ordination of women.

“So,” I said, “based on all I’ve heard, here’s a statement: ‘in order to move forward, the church needs to leave behind the exclusion of women from particular leadership and decision-making roles.’ Do we have consensus?”

“Yes,” came the resounding agreement.

The speaker re-convened us, thanked us for our work, and started with the tables in the back of the hall. The ideas shared ranged from big-picture and abstract to nuts-and-bolts practical. One table spokesperson spoke about the need to use personal invitations and not just rely on bulletin announcements to engage parishioners. Another recommended greater collaboration in several ministries among the clustered parishes. As ideas were shared, those gathered listened and occasionally nodded in agreement.

The speaker pointed to our table. I repeated our consensus statement: “in order to move forward, the church needs to leave behind the exclusion of women from particular leadership and decision-making roles.”

No sooner had the words been spoken than the room burst into sustained, hearty, and enthusiastic applause. One guy a few tables away even let out a cheer, pumping his fist in the air. I looked around the parish hall at the about 100 Catholics – mostly lay, but several deacons and priests – continued to clap.

holy-spirit-people-in-worship

When the applause finally subsided, the speaker smiled graciously, made no comment about my statement or the community’s response, and simply invited the next group to share. I sat down and someone at a neighboring table tapped me on the shoulder, grinned and gave me a thumbs up.

Please note that this took place in a rural, economically depressed part of Western Pennsylvania and not in some left-leaning urban area. This wasn’t a group of progressive, lefty millennials or hyper-educated academics. The parish hall that night was filled with women and men who are steel workers, teachers, nurses, small business owners, retirees who are committed to their parish family and Catholic faith. I wager most of the 100 people in attendance wouldn’t self-identify as feminists or activists for church reform. It was a room full of average American 21st century Catholics, responding out of their own experience.

As I reflected on that evening’s events, I began to look at them through the lens of sensus fidelium (sense of the faithful) which Pope Francis defines in Evangelii Gaudium #119 as the “instinct of faith which helps them {the People of God} to discern what is truly of God”. It’s a tricky concept, described as an “intuition” about “the right way forward” for the church. It would be an abuse of the idea to say that it turns the church into a democracy which conflates majority opinion and doctrinal teaching. On the other hand, it is problematic to claim that sensus fidelium should never be invoked to contest or challenge the teachings of the Magesterium.

According to the document Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church by the International Theological Commission, “not only do they {the laity} have the right to be heard, but their reaction to what is proposed as belonging to the faith of the Apostles must be taken very seriously, because it is by the Church as a whole that the apostolic faith is borne in the power of the Spirit.”

The document goes on to speak of “new ways for the journey…as they are sensed by the people.” I was graced to witness and articulate something which was “sensed by the people” in the social hall that night. In our little corner of Western Pennsylvania, 100 Catholics spontaneously, unanimously, and enthusiastically spoke about the need for inclusion of women in leadership and decision-making roles in the church.

What are the “new ways for the journey” to which we are being called as the Pilgrim People of God around questions of women’s leadership?

About the author: Rhonda Miska (rhonda.youngadultcatholics@gmail.com) is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Originally from Wisconsin, her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities. She is currently a Partner in Mission with the Sisters of the Humility of Mary at the Villa Maria Education and Spirituality Center in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania.

Ite, missa est

Where my career on the Young Adult Catholics blog began. Big Star Restaurant, Wicker Park, Chicago. Via bigstarchicago.com.

Where my career on the Young Adult Catholics blog began. Big Star Restaurant, Wicker Park, Chicago. Via bigstarchicago.com.

“You do know the young adult group has a blog,” my friend told me.

It was an 85-degree evening in August 2010. We sat in front of a gas station in Chicago’s Wicker Park that had become a restaurant, which is the sort of thing that happens in Wicker Park. We were eating artisan tacos and drinking Goose Island, which is the sort of thing you do in Wicker Park.

A month before, I’d taken a trip to Boston. There, I’d audited a graduate course taught by liberation theology pioneer Gustavo Gutierrez. I was at a point in my life when I was stuck. Upon returning home, I felt I’d been given a huge shove to do something with my life right now, and to do it for God’s justice.

By the end of July, I had connected with Call To Action. I started volunteering there. I proceeded to announce it on Facebook. That’s where my friend saw it. She messaged that we should talk.

She had once worked for CTA. Now she was telling me about their young adult ministry, CTA 20/30. Which, she said, had a blog.

“You need to get a column on that blog,” she emphasized, apropos of nothing. We weren’t talking about writing, or my being a writer, at all. Her instruction came from thin air.  Continue reading

In memoriam: Robert McClory (1932-2015)

On Good Friday, I boarded the Metra Electric train to the Chicago Loop. There, I represented Call To Action at the annual Good Friday Walk For Justice, which is sponsored by the 8th Day Center For Justice.

The walk is a modern-day Stations of the Cross that examines contemporary social issues at each station. Each station has a different organization presenting it. With CTA program director Ellen Euclide, I read for the Fourth Station, “Helped In The Struggle.” It focused on the struggle for justice within the church.

Other Call To Action folks were there. They included our colleague, retired chapter liaison and development director Bob Heineman. As Ellen and I completed our station, near the Chicago Board of Trade, Bob looked grim. He told us he had a new message on his voice mail. He needed to check it now.  Continue reading