A word that has gained prominence over the past months is “essential.” We speak of essential workers: doctors, nurses, researchers for vaccines, firefighters, police, ambulance drivers, paramedics, soldiers, teachers, grocery store employees. Of course, they are undeniably essential and deserving of gratitude and admiration, as well as the last spot on the nightly news. As the pandemic drags on, more and more persons join the list, such as counselors and psychologists, truck drivers and postal workers, IT personnel and maintenance. I am grateful for all these essential persons, and I make a point to show gratitude to those who serve me in any capacity. Today when I left our local library with six DVDs and nine novels from which my community of four can choose, I said to the librarian, “Of all the essential workers, today I put librarians at the top!” She gave a grateful sigh. I had seen during my visit the dedication and pace at which the librarians were restacking and cleaning. As I walked to the car, I felt confident about a weekend in the company of book and movie characters. Had the librarians not been at their job, the weekend would have been lonelier.
God said, “Let there be light!” and God created things that keep creating themselves from that first burst of energy. Everything and everyone is a creative continuation of God. The Trinity is Love, an energy of love, a relationship of love. Richard Rohr writes in The Sacred Dance: “God’s nature as relationship creates ours, and ours is constituted by this same bond, which is infinite openness and capacity to love.” Do you sense the relationship of everything?
Glaciers are melting, land is falling into the sea, thousands of acres are burning, hurricanes are tripling in number: this is not the creative continuation of God’s “Let there be light!” Nor is it the relationship that we are invited into. We humans must make an about-face to direct ourselves toward union with everything and everyone. We are running out of time.
We Sisters of Notre Dame are preparing for a General Chapter. Perhaps one question will be “What will be our mission and ministries in the future in order to unite our world in love?”
October sets a splendid table across the land. Orange pumpkins, checker brown fields. Green and red apples peek through leaves turning a rusty hue. Gray clouds like puffed rice predict cold nights. Startingly white full moons belie “the blue moon.” Baskets of yellow mums, like centerpieces, rivet the eye. Corn fields beckon for a-maze-ing adventure. Feast in the outdoors, and then come inside. Doughnuts, pumpkin pie, caramel apples await. Enjoy a cup of warm mulled cider. Outdoors and inside, October is the month for gourmets. Praise the Lord of the Seasons! Acclaim the bounty of creation!
Dick Ryan said: “Suffering can be like a grain of sand in an oyster; it can create a magnificent pearl.” Although suffering can be irritating like a tiny grain of sand, we may feel its weight like a huge boulder. No matter the size, we rarely think of the suffering’s potential to become a pearl. Perhaps we waste our opportunities to use suffering for good. Pain and hardships are rampant now, touching ourselves or people we know. Unemployment, hurricanes, fires, unprecedented unhealthy air quality, riots, physical and verbal brutality. What are we doing with the suffering with which the media—or our daily lives– bombards us? Although it’s hard to explain, somehow good can always come from suffering. I find it so in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (Col. 1:24). How did Paul find joy in suffering? How do we? We search for the pearl. Newscasts often end with the heroism of firefighters, the generosity of fund-raisers to help the hungry, the touching love amid pain. These are the pearls. Will today give you a chance to be heroic, generous, loving? Most probably. If not, we can prayerfully offer the sufferings we encounter as gifts to God and God’s People. “Here’s my headache, God. Here’s my frustration. Here’s my sorrow. Take all as gift, O God, and transform them. Turn them into pearls of prayer and help for those most in need. How all this works I can’t fathom, but I believe. After all, you can make a pearl from a grain of sand.”
The purple orbs bulge and cascade in clusters. Grape harvesting time is here. Grape wine, juice, jelly—delicious in taste, resplendent in gustatory expectation. But first, the mess, the stains, the intense labor. Is it worth it? Dick Ryan writes: “Whatever happens to me in life, I must believe that somewhere, in the mess or madness of it all, there is a sacred potential–a possibility for wondrous redemption in the embracing of all that is.” Although Ryan wasn’t speaking of grape harvest, the analogy applies. The willingness to bottle or can, taking on the demands of cooking and the mess—oh, the mess—redeems me of my selfishness. I surrender to the yearly harvest and its possibilities. Aged wine—the redeeming quality. Wine transformed into the Blood of Christ, fulfilling its sacred potential. The harvest has eternal rewards.
In her essay Evolution Toward Personhood, Ilia Delio writes: “If we relate only to the past deeds of others, we will always be at least one step behind where they themselves presently are and thus we will never really be in relationships with them, only with their ‘remains.’” I’ve never thought of living persons as “remains,” but I can see what Delio means: we tend to deal with persons not as they are now, but as we think they are according to past experiences with them.
When it comes to other persons’ faults, I don’t suffer from memory loss. If I meet a person ten years after they hurt me, I remember the hurt and assume “they haven’t changed a bit.” But haven’t I changed in the past ten years? I trust I’ve become wiser with age. Didn’t they? I’ve learned from experiences. Haven’t they? I hope people take me as I am today, not as my “remains.” May I do unto others as I want them to do unto me.
When asked “What’s new?” during this time of COVID, we might answer with a sigh “same old, same old.” Days blur, little is newsworthy, and we mark time by trash pickup days. With little stimulation and in-person interaction, it’s easy to feel lifeless. To add spark in my life, I read biographies, where I find in the famous figures of past centuries the precursors of leading figures today. Apparently human nature doesn’t change, and I sometimes find myself in the historical figure’s foibles. More life-giving, though, than biographies, is enhancing someone’s life through a phone call or good deed. Ilia Delio in her essay Evolution Toward Personhood writes “The more one affirms life in one’s fellows and gives oneself to enhance their lives, the more one is truly alive and thus truly oneself.” With more time on our hands, we can more easily think of easing another’s burdens. Even when we expend our energy, we feel more life and humbly get in touch with our own goodness, our ways to find in routine the “same new, same new.”
As an international congregation, we Sisters have occasional opportunities to travel to other countries for congregational conferences and ministry. You may know our mission in Papua New Guinea and our presence in a dozen countries around the world. Our Generalate—our “headquarters”—is in Rome, established there in 1944 from its original site in Germany to be close to the heart of the Catholic Church. With Sisters from around the world, Sisters from northwest Ohio have been a perennial presence in the Generalate—as community leaders, cooks, assistants. Sister Pat McClain will be traveling to Rome soon to take the place of Sister Linda White (another Toledoan), who will be returning to Ohio after seven years. Although Sisters have some choice in their place of residence and work, we are mindful of our worldwide congregation and know that our following the Lord in Notre Dame may take us from our homeland. Sister Pat will be in Rome three years. At her farewell she told us she made a journal with photos of all of us. When we need a prayer, Sister Pat will include the intention in her journal with our photo. This is one way to keep us united in our congregation as all of us around the world incarnate the love of our good and provident God.
For what do you long during this unusual year when day after day we shelter in place or refrain from non-essential travel? Words like novel or extraordinary or exciting have dropped from our vocabulary. I’m ready for anything out of the ordinary. So how do we find novelty from the vantage point of our armchair? I suggest we look to the universe, which Ilia Delio characterizes as “irreducible novelty.” She writes in The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, “The mark of emergence is irreducible novelty.” The on-going story of evolution is fantastically novel, creative, and futuristic. Just this week I read a newspaper article about the discovery of dozens more planets. (In grade school there were so few planets we memorized them!) Our tiny Milky Way has a mere 200 billion stars and a diameter of 100,000 light years. Delio suggests we consider the universe as one great thought whose physical structure is love. Teilhard de Chardin’s writings have shown that love is the core energy of evolution and its goal. Now if that isn’t a novel thought, what is? Put one of Chardin’s or Delio’s books on your armchair, and find a universe bulging with novelty. While sheltering in place, you can be light years away.
In her book Radical Spirit Joan Chittister writes: “Silence is the great equalizer, the forerunner of a genuine democracy.” In the great din of national conventions to elect our next president, there is little room for silence. Maybe we should make room. Take a breath, place your own thoughts on pause, and listen to another side of an issue. Perhaps we will find common ground. Chittister adds, “Ironically enough, it is silence—self-reflection and listening—that makes a person an honest citizen of the world.” It has been almost twenty years since the Twin Towers fell. Would our world be a better place, our democracy firmer, if we spent time in silent reflection on our citizenship in our country and in our world?
Silence may be the best way to observe Patriot Day (September 11).