Sept. 27—Feast of St. Vincent de Paul

People in the US today might feel it’s slightly smarmy for someone to join the priesthood for social climbing. But that’s exactly what St. Vincent did, and what still draws people in some countries from poverty into priesthood. In fact, St. Vincent’s father’s muddy boots so embarrassed him when dad visited the seminary, he refused to see the old guy. His long-term strategy was successful: St. Vincent rose to become the queen’s chaplain and a tutor to one of Paris’ wealthiest families. He rode a long way on charm…

Sound skeazy? Then grace intervenes. After a major turning point, Vincent turned his considerable skills to the poor. After all that schmoozing with the wealthy, Vincent founded a congregation to educate priests, as well as hospitals, orphanages and homes for the mentally ill. Starting the Daughters of Charity with St. Louise de Marillac revolutionized the enclosed life for nuns, making “their convent the sickroom; their cloister the streets of the city.”

But he didn’t lose his touch with the rich. They started competing to fund his projects, including the ransom of slaves in North Africa. Today we probably all know folks who serve as bridges between the wealthy and the poor, charmingly transferring a surplus of money to where it’s needed most. (Pause here to appreciate your favorite fund raiser, or a priest/nun happy to separate you from your wallet.)

St. Vincent apparently continued the gracious ask when he was dying, informing God: “We have done what you commanded, do now what you have promised.”

Back to School

By now, most folks are settled into the school routine, and what was once brand new, maybe frightening, has become familiar. Still, we shouldn’t let it become so familiar that we miss the wonder of this extraordinary process. It’s as if all the musicians in a symphony come together, but none plays an obvious musical instrument. They are teachers, parents, students, bus drivers, crossing guards, administrators, security, classroom aides, kitchen staffs, custodians, before-and after-school care, nurses, librarians, social workers, and probably many more unsung heroes.

For the last four years (as well as for about 15 years with my own kids), I’ve been part of this process, dropping off and picking up grandchildren, and it still amazes. The crossing guard is unfailingly kind as he greets us: “Good Morning, Sweethearts!” and hoists his Stop sign. There’s a whole family in saris, a mother in a burka, and a father in the long black robe of a Greek Orthodox priest. A dad grips his ten-year old son’s hand, an image of security in the brown hands intertwining. Older siblings shepherd younger ones; junior high students cling to their phones like life rafts–what messages could be so compelling? Somewhere in that crowd, flocking to the playground by 8:10 am, there could be another Nobel Laureate, the scientist who will find a cure for cancer, a future parent who will advocate for an autistic son, a gifted novelist or doctor.

And this is only the warm-up! It was once popular to speak of the “Liturgy of the World.” If so, this is the Entrance Procession, with silent hymns, quiet trumpets and unseen banners. What transpires in those classrooms the rest of the day is nothing short of miraculous. Of course it’s not perfect, there’s some wasted time, and it doesn’t work well for every child. But at the end of a year, tiny people will know—just for starters– how to read, write, add, subtract and more-or-less sing. At the university down the road, students representing hundreds of diverse nations and cultures will learn together, and become friends less likely to bomb each other’s nations in adulthood.

On the first day, my four-year old granddaughter explains that her teacher is also a counselor. “So if you’re lonely or sad or scared, you can talk to her.” I don’t remember, at age four (or fourteen!), ever admitting I had such feelings, let alone seeking counsel. But it bodes well for the rest of the year that such a resource is ready and waiting.

This quiet, daily process occurs in every city and town, urban and rural, and might make some nations envious. We should herald it with brass bands, but for now, continue putting one foot in front of the other, carrying another pack back, making another lunch, encouraging another child. Who knows? Of such simple things, greatness might be made.

First Death Certificate of 9/11—Fr. Mychal Judge

Someday it may seem mild, but a priest who openly admitted being alcoholic and gay, then went rollerblading in his sixties was pushing the narrowly defined boundaries of priesthood in the seventies and eighties.

At one time, Mychal Judge drank so heavily he had blackouts. The drinking began in the seminary with little sips of altar wine. By 1976, “his alcoholism had become so serious that it became both crisis and opportunity.” After joining AA, Judge later attended as many of its meetings as he could. Some thought he was more familiar with the AA book than with the Bible.

The risk was dramatic at a time when “if a friar had drinking problem, it was hushed up or he was sent away for therapy.” So too for his second frontier: being gay. Judge was open about his gender preference even at a time when Archbishop O ‘Connor was quoted in the  New York Post as saying, “I would close all my orphanages rather than employ one gay person.” At first hesitant to march in New York’s first inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2000, Judge received wild acclaim from the crowd—and nervous disapproval from the church.

That continued when he was reported to the diocese for not wearing vestments at firehouse Masses. Judge told the young clerical bureaucrat who called him on the carpet: “if I’ve ever hurt the church I’ve served and loved so dearly for 40 years, I want to be burned at the stake on 5th Ave., at the front doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.” “No matter how many robes Cardinal [O’Connor] put on or how much power he tried to exert, he still could not… quash Mychal Judge.”

The story of his death is well known: Judge rushed to the World Trade Center to be with the fire fighters responding to the disaster. Some speculate that he removed his helmet to pray the last rites over a dying firefighter, was struck on the head by debris and died. Five rescue workers carried him out through the rubble; Shannon Stapleton’s photo of them was widely published. (His friends joked that even in death, Mychal still loved a photo-op.) Firefighters laid Judge’s body before the altar in a nearby church, covering it with a sheet, his stole and badge. His eulogist pointed out how appropriate it was that Judge died first; then he’d be in heaven to meet over 400 first responders who arrived later.

Judge’s biographer comments on the impromptu ritual of two cops praying over his body at Ground Zero. It’s not only OK for laity to give last rites in an emergency. It “was, in fact, entirely in keeping with Father Mychal’s own sacramental theology of hallowing the moment and was typical of the way ordinary people generated light in the darkness of that day.” The overflow crowd outside Judge’s funeral proved what his eulogist said: “When he was talking with you, you were the only person on the face of the earth.. . . We come to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.”

Excerpt from When the Saints Came Marching In by Kathy Coffey, Liturgical Press, 800-858-5450

 

Feast of Mother Teresa—Sept. 5

Her service seems as simple as the pure blue and white lines of her clothing. Mother Teresa cared for the poor, dying and homeless in the slums of Calcutta. To those who face daily the quagmire of business decisions, tangled relationships and complex scheduling, her work by contrast seems a clear, uncomplicated gospel following.

Yet few of us abandon our routines, don saris and join her movement. Perhaps we want to believe that something of Teresa’s spirit can invigorate our lives; some of her clarity can penetrate our shadows; some of her compassion can move through us to those we touch each day. Our contacts may not be as abandoned and diseased as those Teresa cared for, but they have the same needs for attention and affection.

Teresa apparently had the same luminosity that attracted people to Jesus. Everyone wanted to be near her in life, and after death she exerts the same attraction. Her biographer Malcolm Muggeridge believed that for people who have trouble grasping “Christ’s great propositions of love… someone like Mother Teresa is a godsend. She is this love in person.”

No one was less sentimental or more “earthy.” She would engage in lively discussion with beggars about their “take of the day,” eager to hear how it went. One of her favorite words was “beautiful”—in the squalor and stench of Calcutta slums! Indeed, she believed her vocation was to be beautiful. She gloried in life-surviving-against-all odds, exulting when a tiny baby survived: “There’s life in her!”

Like ourselves, she often felt exhausted, alone and miserable. Indeed, she predicted she’d become “the saint of darkness.” It’s heartening that “one of us,” as prone to depression and negativity, cheers us on.

 

Film Review: “Maiden”

Take a break this week and see a movie that’s not related to politics in any way, and isn’t controversial. It’s about the first all-female crew to successfully sail around the world in 1989-90. The film version, “Maiden” (titled after the name of their boat) begins with the sad story of a ten-year girl named Tracy Edwards, whose happy childhood crashed to an end when her father died. The man her mother later married was alcoholic and abusive. Tracy was suspended from secondary school many times before she was finally expelled at sixteen.  She ran away from home, became a nomad and worked on boats as the cook.

During one of her odd jobs, she met King Hussein of Jordan, who became a close friend and would later fund the boat and historic voyage. Edwards faced intense sexism and plenty of skeptics who said it couldn’t be done, including a Guardian writer who called them “a tinful of tarts.”

But the international crew of fourteen women won two legs, including the most treacherous through Antarctica, of the Whitbread Round the World Race, 32,000 nautical miles from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand and back, with a stop in America. In the worst sections, temperatures fell to 20 below 0, and another ship lost two men overboard. Edwards had wisely brought a doctor on her crew, who coached their competitors via radio on how to resuscitate.

Edwards became the first woman in Whitbread history to be named Yachtsman of the Year. When the yacht came into Fremantle, Edwards recalled, “the collective jaws around the world just dropped.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/07/29/how-tracy-edwards-and-the-sailing-crew-of-maiden-made-nautical-history  In characteristically dry British style, some of their male competitors and critics simply commented, “Blimey!”

To the director Alex Holmes’ delight, archival footage of the 1989 race existed: Whitbread organizers had asked for volunteers to film themselves during the race. Edwards agreed, recalling: “If we triumph, this is a record for any woman who comes after us.” The unseen epilogue, after the highs and lows of the film crashing like waves, was Edwards’ struggle with depression, her mother’s illness, her own most human difficulties.

The mature woman speaks now of her commitment to “creating visibility—about what women are capable of, about mental health, about what’s possible when you put together the right team.” https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/maiden-documentary-tracy-edwards-sailing-interview Thirty years later, her daughter Mack Edwards-Mair participated in a refurbished “Maiden’s” round-the-world excursion, a promotion to raise funds for the education of girls. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/07/04/her-mom-broke-barriers-with-an-all-female-crew-shes-about-set-sail-same-yacht/

You go, girls!

Film Review: “Maiden”

Take a break this week and see a movie that’s not related to politics in any way, and isn’t controversial. It’s about the first all-female crew to successfully sail around the world in 1989-90. The film version, “Maiden” (titled after the name of their boat) begins with the sad story of a ten-year girl named Tracy Edwards, whose happy childhood crashed to an end when her father died. The man her mother later married was alcoholic and abusive. Tracy was suspended from secondary school many times before she was finally expelled at sixteen.  She ran away from home, became a nomad and worked on boats as the cook.

During one of her odd jobs, she met King Hussein of Jordan, who became a close friend and would later fund the boat and historic voyage. Edwards faced intense sexism and plenty of skeptics who said it couldn’t be done, including a Guardian writer who called them “a tinful of tarts.”

But the international crew of fourteen women won two legs, including the most treacherous through Antarctica, of the Whitbread Round the World Race, 32,000 nautical miles from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand and back, with a stop in America. In the worst sections, temperatures fell to 20 below 0, and another ship lost two men overboard. Edwards had wisely brought a doctor on her crew, who coached their competitors via radio on how to resuscitate.

Edwards became the first woman in Whitbread history to be named Yachtsman of the Year. When the yacht came into Fremantle, Edwards recalled, “the collective jaws around the world just dropped.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/07/29/how-tracy-edwards-and-the-sailing-crew-of-maiden-made-nautical-history  In characteristically dry British style, some of their male competitors and critics simply commented, “Blimey!”

To the director Alex Holmes’ delight, archival footage of the 1989 race existed: Whitbread organizers had asked for volunteers to film themselves during the race. Edwards agreed, recalling: “If we triumph, this is a record for any woman who comes after us.” The unseen epilogue, after the highs and lows of the film crashing like waves, was Edwards’ struggle with depression, her mother’s illness, her own most human difficulties.

The mature woman speaks now of her commitment to “creating visibility—about what women are capable of, about mental health, about what’s possible when you put together the right team.” https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2019/06/maiden-documentary-tracy-edwards-sailing-interview Thirty years later, her daughter Mack Edwards-Mair participated in a refurbished “Maiden’s” round-the-world excursion, a promotion to raise funds for the education of girls. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/07/04/her-mom-broke-barriers-with-an-all-female-crew-shes-about-set-sail-same-yacht/

You go, girls!

Reflection on Recent ICE Raids

Driving with a friend recently who was pulled over by a polite officer for a minor traffic violation, we both sighed in relief that it went so well, with merely a warning. But her little daughter in the back seat dissolved into tears, barely able to gasp, “will mama go to jail?” We reassured and comforted her, but I couldn’t help thinking of the many children for whom an encounter with police doesn’t end so well…

On the first day of school in Mississippi, ICE arrested 680 migrants, many of them parents working to support their children in seven poultry plants. The White House ordered this action only days after a massacre in El Paso targeting immigrants and killing 22 people: could the racist hatred linking the two events be any clearer? Of course there was no forethought about care for the children who returned home and found their parents gone. Volunteers, neighbors and social service agencies are scrambling to care for them, but the children are, understandably, devastated.

When evil is so blatant, it’s easy to become depressed. To re-energize, it helps to focus on the good. For instance, the children of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Canton, Miss. who staged a protest in blistering heat. A sign carried by two Hispanic boys read, “I will not sit in silence while my parents are taken away.” Pastor Mike O’Brien stood with parishioners until 4 am outside the Peco Foods plant, awaiting those freed from custody and driving home several who had hidden from federal agents. Many churches have stepped forward to aid the families, and Bishop Brian Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi said forthrightly, “We are called… to speak the truth. And the truth is, this is not right.” Faith in Action has developed a tool kit to understand the issues and influence Congress: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nMHhSm3c4B7aK8C7jK0STpGeh3UarfbHlK9EZEYw8kA/edit Network’s immigration toolkit may be found at: https://networkadvocates.org/advocacytoolbox/educate/immigrantjustice

This deliberate contempt for hard-working people who happen to have brown skin is a wicked challenge to faith. We know we should “find God in all things,” but in this? Few people have answers, but we can at least fumble towards meaning.

“Jesus wept” and continues to—in the abandoned children, the heartbroken parents, the wretched mess created by apparently unfeeling authorities. And Jesus heals—in courageous protestors, concerned neighbors who make room for one more child in a crowded kitchen, legislators who intervene, teachers and all who try to mitigate the disastrous effects.

For the hundredth time, I turn to Richard Rohr and find his definition of grace: “what God does to keep all things [God] has made in love and alive—forever.” (Immortal Diamond, p. xx) In the larger picture, God is still active. Grace is not fragile nor limited, and in the end will triumph. To this hope, we cling.