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Sam Smith took the world by storm in 2014 with his stunning voice and passionate autobiographical songwriting in his first album “In the Lonely Hour” featuring his Grammy winning track “Stay with Me.” He made even larger waves when he came out as gay prior to this album’s release, and has since brought the public conversation about LGBT individuals into even greater light. Now three years later, he has released another brilliant and even more personal album titled “The Thrill of it All” (which I have listened to at least a hundred times already).
His new album is musically outstanding, but what really caught my attention were several songs with explicitly religious themes related to his sexuality. As I listened to the album more closely a picture emerged of a person whose relationship with God has caused him suffering, confusion, and frustration.
Smith attended Catholic school in his small town as the only openly gay student. He came out when he was quite young, was lovingly accepted by his family, and it seems that he was able to get along in school fairly well. That being said, he was still made fun of for his sexuality, and was even more self-conscious about his weight. He did not meet another gay man until he moved to London when he was 18. Despite support from others, he was in many ways alone in his experience as a gay person growing up in a Catholic school.
Speaking of his Catholic influenced upbringing and his sexuality, Smith commented
“From what I can remember, they [Catholics] believe that you can be homosexual, but you just can’t practice it, which is ridiculous…I would just say, ‘I am proof that it’s genetic. It has to be, because it wasn’t a choice.’ And that’s it. That’s my only argument, you know? You love who you love, and I can’t help that I like guys.”
What strikes me most about this comment is that after growing up in a Catholic environment for most of his childhood, the message from the Church that stuck with him as a gay person was not one of love, care, dialogue, or support. He mentions nothing about coming to know a God who loves him, or about experiencing a personal encounter with Christ. Instead, to him Catholicism represented a conglomeration of “no’s” with little of value to offer him.
Smith provides an even deeper look into his faith in his new album particularly addressing the relationship of his gay identity to God. In “HIM”, a song which is a play on two narrative themes of prayer and coming out to one’s family, he sings:
“Holy Father, we need to talk
I have a secret that I can’t keep
I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted
please don’t get angry
have faith in me”
“I’m not the boy that you thought you wanted,” he utters, with a note of twisted apology about not meeting expectations mixed with a chosen acceptance of his own identity as a gay man.
In “Pray” Smith pleads with God:
“I have never believed in You, no
But I’m gonna pray
…I am still your disciple.
I’m begging You, please.
I’m broken, alone and afraid.
“I’m not a saint
I’m more of a sinner
“Maybe I’ll pray
Pray for a glimmer of hope.”
Who is God to Sam Smith? God is one who looks down in judgement on his romantically loving other men. God is a God that does not understand, and must be told what Sam’s experience is. God is one who places burdens. God is not one who is the source of life, fulfillment, and love in his life. God is not patient, kind, slow to anger, a place to rest.
But what is perhaps most remarkable, and tragic is that Smith still calls out for God. Despite all of his struggles, he does not cast God aside. He prays that God will understand, that he can find a “glimmer of hope” in whatever he is going through. He feels alone and afraid, and is literally begging God to be with him. Yet, God feels distant, and Sam’s faith is filled with tension and ambivalence because he feels that God is judging him, especially because of how he is living out his sexuality.
In short, Sam Smith did not encounter a God in the Catholic Church that he felt truly loved by. He may have heard that God loves him, but did not experience it. He did not meet the person of Jesus who called tax collectors, poor people, and sinners. He did not meet a Jesus who called his disciples knowing they would abandon him. He did not meet a Jesus who met people where they were, loved them, and then led them on a path of following him, which did indeed demand conversion and sacrifice, but sacrifice with him, out of love, patiently, with grace and in community.
Perhaps Sam Smith’s story can invite us to suspend judgement for a moment and put ourselves in his shoes or in the shoes of innumerable other LGBT Catholics who struggle with many of the same things, and often worse. What might happen if we imagine what it would be like to feel this kind of anxiety in one’s faith? Or if we imagine those young people who – unlike Smith – are not even accepted by their families? How can we as a Church be a place of welcome and refuge for them, and what kind of vision of life and love can we offer? And even more, how is Christ present in them, in their expressions of love, in their suffering, and in their gifts?
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Kmeron of the Flickr Creative Commons.
Shortly after Christmas, I’ll travel down from Saint Louis to Louisiana to visit my family. The entire month before the trip, I’ve been preparing.
Packing? … No.
Christmas shopping? … No.
Planning a list of activities? … No.
Checking flights or transportation? … No.
If I’m not doing the obvious preparations, what am I doing?
Eating: junk food, desserts, and plenty of second servings.
Anything, for a couple extra pounds.
A beautiful routine awaits my arrival home.
I’ll drive down my quiet street, slowly keeping an eye on children who might appear crossing the road. The kids who used to live there when I lived there have all grown up; their children now fill the street with bikes, random toys, and mayhem.
When I arrive at the house I grew up in, I’ll see the single line of glimmering blue bulbs which decorate the roof. I’ll imagine that the angel with a horn, which has hung for a decade of Christmases from the roof, will announce my arrival—all in glowing Christmas lights. Though, I know she’s there to announce something greater.
I’ll park in the same place I used to park in high school. It’s the same place I parked when I’d visit from college. I’ll make a mental note to remind my parents to be careful if they have to move their cars—as my parking space almost, but not quite, blocks the driveway.
I’ll open the car door and step out, looking over the old chain-link fence at the backyard. Inevitably, the grass will be recently trimmed—it’s both my father’s hobby and his way of preparing the house for my return. The expanse of the back yard will inescapably feel smaller than it did when I was younger. “Of course,” I’ll think, “I was smaller at 7 years old.”
I’ll turn from the backyard to the carport, walking carefully towards the front door. Depending upon the weather, the screen door may be the only thing separating me from the kitchen and my parents.
As I open the door, my mom will appear, usually pretending to be busy though we both know that she’s been watching the driveway for quite a while. My dad will emerge from either the back porch or his favorite chair in the living room.
There will smiles and some sort of comment about the drive—Was it long? How was traffic? Was the weather OK? Then, I’ll hug my parents.
My dad’s hug will be firm and tight. In that moment, I’ll know how happy he is to see me.
My mom’s hug will squeeze me down to my bones… and that’s the point. It’s a trap. I know what comes next: “Are they feeding you? Have you eaten? Are you hungry?”
A couple years ago, at a lovely little restaurant in New Orleans, I sat down with two of my friends who were recently married. We laughed about the oddities of newly married life, about the shenanigans that happened at their wedding, and about their new house. Hopes, joys, and friendship filled the time.
A pause punctuated one of the bouts of laughter. Chris looked up at me and smiled, “Hey… I was wondering.” He stopped for a moment. “I was wondering… What do you eat?”
My head tilted; the question didn’t quite register: “What do you mean?”
“Like do you all, do you all have dinners or… ?”
And, it hit me. He wanted to know what I eat—or if I eat—while living in a house full of Jesuits. I laughed and explained to him that, yes, I do in fact eat. Three meals daily, actually—though, I confessed coffee counts as breakfast most days. We laughed, he nodded, and we continued visiting over lunch.
I’m Cajun, sure, so food is part of my culture and perhaps one of my favorite pastimes. I love to eat. I love to talk about eating. In fact, I often love to talk about eating—while I’m eating.
I’m a runner, sure. I run a lot—if I had my way, I’d probably run even more than I already do. I’m slim, sure, but I’m not scrawny, emaciated, or skin and bones. So why are my friends and family so obsessed over whether or not I’m eating?
Unless, it’s not about the food at all.
Maybe the strange questions from friends are subtle hints. Maybe the tight hug from my mom—which tries to feel for my ribs—is actually her way of communicating something more than food: maybe it’s a reminder that I’m loved.
Of course, my mom is still my mom. No matter how much I try to convince her otherwise, she swears I’m starving and whittling away to nothing. That only goes to show how much she loves me.
And, of course, I’m still going to try to make her happy by putting on a few pounds before my trip south. So the preparation continues…
Seconds? … Yes, please.
Christmas Cookies? … Of course, I’ll have a few.
Late night snacks and desserts? … Sure, why not.
A couple extra holiday pounds? … Yep, that’s the hope.
Imagine it – a cozy creche with the shepherds, magi, and animals all in awe of the newborn baby. A joyful mother and father look tenderly upon their new son, Jesus. The star above shines brightly, welcoming the Christ. “Oh Holy Night” rises softly out of the reverent silence.
I’m struck by how often we romanticize the manger scene. This romanticization can easily make it more palatable and more comfortable, which also makes my prayer easier. But this romanticized version does not reflect the reality.
While I love the peacefulness and ease of the scene, I’m also uncomfortable about how it glosses over reality. Jesus was born into an incredibly broken situation – a mother who would be spurned for accused sexual immorality, a political leader who wanted Jesus dead, and the poor showing up front and center at the birth. I’m left wondering – what does it mean to have a real Christmas story? A Christmas story that is not romanticized, but speaks to this reality.
Here are several stories that speak to that Christmas reality:
- “Every day I live in fear.” My student was teaching the class about immigration and immigrant justice. “Every day I worry that I’ll come home and find only my sister there and learn that they’ve taken my parents. I worry that my sister, because she’s so young, will never get to love my parents.”
- So many women have shared their #MeToo narratives. “They’re just doing it for attention.” Students were in the fitness center discussing the #MeToo movement. “Sometimes we as men just can’t help ourselves.” I cannot fathom the number of women who have been told to brush off their hurt and their pain, told that their stories are invalid.
- Wade was waiting outside Walgreens, asking for spare change. Not having cash, I told him to come inside and grab a sandwich while I picked up some eggs. Wade shared about being from Orlando and how much easier winters were there, but how his desperation to find better work compelled him to move to chilly Milwaukee. He felt sad for not being able to better support his family.
Each of these stories points to different aspects of the true Christmas story: students who are afraid of losing their families to government officials; women whose stories go ignored; people in poverty trying to provide for their families. These are the Christmas stories I so often ignore out of convenience because they don’t fit my sanitized narrative. But I must reconcile myself to these stories and the people that live them.
Last year, the worldwide Jesuits gathered in a General Congregation. One of their main documents was “Decree 1: Companions in a Mission of Reconciliation and Justice.” The document spoke very directly to me: “Those who have all the necessities of life and live far from poverty also need the message of hope and reconciliation.” It further states that we must recognize the “call to share God’s work of reconciliation in our broken world.”
There are three types of reconciliation – with God, with community, and with creation. The first is a call to more fully experience the Gospel and life of Christ. In the second, “we hear Christ summon us anew to a ministry of justice and peace, serving the poor and the excluded and helping build peace.” In the third, we see that our “current economic system with its predatory orientation discards natural resources as well as people.”
— Valerio De Cesaris (@ValerioDeC) December 15, 2017
This reconciliation calls for incredible depth, reflection, and a willingness to go beyond our own stories. It requires discomfort and an open heart. As we reach the end of Advent and start of Christmas, my desire for reconciliation forces me to abandon the comfortable and romanticized manger and to accompany those facing modern Christmas stories.
It can be easy to romanticize the Nativity, to sing “Little Drummer Boy” and imagine myself as a shepherd standing off to the side. The real story of Christmas, however, reveals the brokenness and heartache of our world. It reveals Jesus who came not to the powerful, but rather called the powerful to realize their need for reconciliation. The Nativity is a story that demands I reconcile myself to Christ, to the poor and oppressed, and to creation. Ultimately, Christ became incarnate to enable this reconciliation, destroy death, and establish justice in our world.
Image courtesy of pixabay.
**Note: This article dives into some of the details of the recent movie—which I highly recommend—but that also means it’s full of spoilers. So, read on, but be warned! **
“We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down to the ground.”
At the end of The Force Awakens (VII), Rey’s outstretched hand holds a glimmer of hope and a lightsaber out to Luke Skywalker. That faint twinkle of hope carries us into The Last Jedi (VIII), but quickly all expectations are dashed and the characters’ very faith is shaken. They find themselves questioning: Can we hold onto that spark of hope when all seems lost?
The outstretched hand of Rey delivers the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, and in response he takes the lightsaber and throws it over his shoulder and walks away. After persistence, Rey convinces him to teach her, but Luke agrees to teach her only three lessons designed to convince her that: “It’s time for the Jedi… to end.” But still we hold out hope, however faint, that Rey can convince him to rejoin their cause. In the end, she leaves him alone in his exile; alone, she goes to face the Supreme Leader Snoke and Kylo Ren.
Kylo Ren offers us echoes of hope. For much of the narrative, he seems torn wrestling with both his darkness and his light. He kills Supreme Leader Snoke, and for a single moment hope burns brightly. Yet, in this moment, Kylo Ren turns to Rey and asks her to turn to the darkness and rule the galaxy with him. In response, she asks him to turn to the light, but he refuses. What was hope, falls apart. Kylo Ren was never good—we soon realize his action was motivated not by the light, but his own selfish desire for power.
Throughout the movie, the Resistance is outgunned and on the run. It’s a desperate chase, with the Resistance using every ounce of their fuel to stay just out of reach of the First Order. As they run, they lose—piece by piece—the entirety of their fleet. They move in numbers from thousands, to a couple hundred, to only a dozen.
The floundering Resistance calls for help, yet no allies arrive. As the impending doom seems knocking, Leia hangs her head and says: “We fought until the end, but the galaxy lost all its hope. The spark is out.”
In that darkest moment, Luke Skywalker shows up… In the battle that ensues, he throws every last bit of himself into tricking the First Order and Kylo Ren, in order to provide the rebels an escape. The power and the strain kill him. And with that, the last Jedi dies… Only, that’s not quite the case.
The spark remains. Hope remains. Rey remains. She understands in that moment, that she is a Jedi, that she is the hope, that spark remains within her. She accepts the role, and she and Poe Dameron lead what’s left of the Resistance to safety. Luke Skywalker’s words echo in their hearts, “The rebellion is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And, I will not be the last Jedi.”
There is a faith that drives the hope, protecting it and carrying it through even the hardest of moments. A faith in the Force, in something more than oneself, and also in each other. A reassurance that even when surrounded by darkness, there is light still. The movie’s plot is a narrative spiral into an abyss of darkness; every expectation and hope that the rebels have, fails them. Yet, still they continue on.
It’s that faith and hope they hold onto to which makes them strong—it brings them through even the darkest moments into the light. Even if it fails their expectations, they hold onto it—trusting that it’ll bring them through it all.
It’s that same faith and hope that we need to carry us through our darkest moments and greatest challenges. The moments where our expectations are not realized, and we have to rethink what is possible. Even in the darkest of moments, we are neither alone nor ever completely in the dark.
The cover photo is featured courtesy of Wikimedia.
Click here for English.
[Nota del Editor: Se realizaron las elecciones presidenciales en Honduras el 26 de noviembre. Los resultados de las elecciones han sido cuestionados por varios fuentes locales e internacionales, y no se ha nombrado a ningún ganador oficial. P. Ismael Moreno, S.J., más conocido como Padre Melo, es sacerdote jesuita hondureño que se desempeña como Director de un canal de radio nacional (Radio Progreso) y su organización de investigación social llamada “ERIC” (Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación). La siguiente es una carta que revela bastante de la convulsionada realidad política hondureña. El Padre Melo pide solidaridad, ayuda para contactar a los políticos y apoyo financiero.]
Queridos amigos y amigas:
En la madrugada del día domingo 10 de diciembre –día Internacional de los Derechos Humanos–, Radio Progreso salió abruptamente del aire en la zona central de su cobertura que se corresponde a la capital de la República y lugares adyacentes.
El día viernes 8 de diciembre dos supuestos técnicos de CONATEL (Comisionado Nacional para las Telecomunicaciones) se presentaron en la sede de Radio Progreso en Tegucigalpa para hacer solicitar informaciones sobre una frecuencia AM que solo funciona en la zona del Valle de Sula a unos 200 kilómetros de la capital. Era una inspección de rutina en un lugar que no correspondía a la frecuencia solicitada. Sin embargo, cuando se pidió que firmaran la visita, los supuestos empleados estatales se negaron a hacerlo.
De acuerdo a informes que hemos recibido de nuestro equipo técnico, la interrupción de la programación se debió al derribo provocado y deliberado de la torre y de la antena de transmisión ubicada en uno de los cerros en las inmediaciones de la ciudad capital. Se trató sin duda de un sabotaje a la transmisión de la Radio Progreso en un contexto político de alta polarización y confrontación tras las elecciones generales celebradas el día 26 de noviembre pasado, y cuyos resultados no han dado todavía a un ganador a la presidencia, aunque es de amplio manejo de que los resultados favorecieron al candidato de la oposición al actual presidente Juan Orlando Hernández quien a su vez propuso su candidatura pasando por encima de la Constitución de la República que prohíbe que bajo ninguna circunstancia un presidente puede aspirar a un segundo mandato.
Radio Progreso ha sostenido una línea editorial en contra de la ilegalidad de la reelección y ha cuestionado los resultados electorales en la misma línea como lo ha hecho la Misión de la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA) la cual establece que el proceso electoral fue muy irregular, con muchos errores y problemas sistémicos. Además nuestra Radio Progreso ha cubierto las diversas manifestaciones y ha llevado las voces que desde la academia y la investigación cuestionan el proceso electoral, al que califican de fraudulento.
Nuestro temor es que este sabotaje sea el inicio de un plan orientado a acallar la voz de Radio Progreso, como lo hemos venido analizando a lo largo del presente año. Tenemos temor de otros sabotajes a las otras antenas que tenemos en el interior del país, y tememos por la integridad física de los miembros del equipo humano de nuestra Radio y del ERIC. Valoramos que esta acción de sabotaje se inserta en la violación creciente a los derechos humanos y a la libertad de expresión a través de la represión y uso de la fuerza desproporcionada en contra de la población que sale a las calles a manifestar su repudio al fraude electoral y en demanda del respeto a la voluntad popular expresada en las urnas.
Hacemos un llamamiento internacional a tener puesta la vista en nuestro país porque prevemos que las siguientes semanas y meses serán muy agotadores, y las amenazas a defensoras y defensores, periodistas independientes y dirigentes sociales y comunitarios seguirán en aumento. Es necesario tener la mirada puesta en nuestra radio puesto que tenemos la convicción de proseguir con nuestra misión de informar, analizar y denunciar con seriedad y profundidad lo que va sucediendo, y desde el equipo del ERIC y la Radio aportar en la búsqueda de propuestas que conduzcan a salir de esta crisis.
Pedimos que nos ayuden con la denuncia de las violaciones a los derechos humanos que el gobierno a través de las fuerzas represivas comete contra las personas que se manifiestan en las calles en contra del fraude electoral y exigiendo que se respete la voluntad popular expresada en las urnas. Es necesario que se hagan llegar cartas a la Embajada del gobierno de los Estados Unidos en Honduras por avalar, primero la reelección ilegal del presidente Juan Orlando Hernández, y segundo, callar las violaciones a los derechos humanos y avalar el fraude electoral.
Nuestra propuesta es, junto con otras instancias nacionales, demandar la anulación de las elecciones celebradas el 26 de noviembre, e invocar la carta democrática de la OEA para convocar a nuevas elecciones en un próximo futuro. Lo peor que le puede ocurrir a nuestro país es la continuación del actual gobierno de Juan Orlando Hernández por su compromiso con reducidas élites, el control personal de los diversos poderes del Estado, el encubrimiento de personas de renombre vinculadas con el crimen organizado y la estigmatización, discriminación, represión y eventualmente eliminación de personas y organizaciones que no se someten a sus arbitrarias decisiones. En este abanico de amenazas se encuentra nuestra Radio Progreso y el ERIC.
Si esta mirada de solidaridad se concreta en apoyo económico, por pequeño que sea, para restablecer nuestros equipos y para proseguir nuestra misión en esta situación de emergencia, lo agradeceremos profundamente.
Con mi abrazo y oración.
Padre Melo, S.J.
Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación ERIC-SJ
Haga clic aquí para español.
[Editor’s Note: A general election was held in Honduras on November 26th. The results of the election have been called into question by numerous local and international sources, and no official winner has been named. Ismael Moreno, S.J., more commonly known as Padre Melo, is a Honduran Jesuit priest who serves as the Director for a nationally broadcast radio station (Radio Progreso) and its social research organization called “ERIC” (which is an acronym in Spanish for “Reflection, Research, and Communication Team”). The following is a letter casts light on the tumultuous political situation unfolding in Honduras. Padre Melo asks for solidarity, assistance in contacting politicians and financial support.]
Dear friends and colleagues:
In the early hours of Sunday, December 10th – International Human Rights Day – Radio Progreso went off the air abruptly in the central area of its coverage, which covers the capital of the Republic of Honduras and its surrounding areas.
On Friday, December 8th, two men claiming to be technicians from CONATEL (the National Telecommunications Commission), appeared at the Radio Progreso office in Tegucigalpa to request information about an AM frequency that only operates in the Sula Valley region, some two hundred kilometres from the capital; it was a routine inspection in a location that did not broadcast at the frequency requested. However, when they were asked to sign in, the two supposed state employees refused to do this.
In accordance with reports that we have received from our technical team, the interruption in programming was caused by the intentional and deliberate demolition of the transmission tower and antenna located on one of the hills on the outskirts of the capital city. It is being regarded as an act of sabotage aimed at Radio Progreso’s broadcasting, considering the highly polarized and confrontational political context following the general election on November 26th, which has still not produced a President, although it is widely known that the results favored the current President, Juan Orlando Hernández. His candidacy overrides and contravenes the terms of the Constitution of the Republic which prohibits a President from being able to run for a second term under any circumstances.
Radio Progreso has upheld an editorial line against the illegality of the re-election and has questioned the electoral results, just as the Organization of American States (OAS) Mission has done, stating that the electoral process was irregular, with many systemic problems and mistakes. Furthermore, Radio Progreso has broadcast coverage of the various demonstrations and has given voice to those from academic and research circles that are questioning the electoral process they view as fraudulent.
Our fear is that this act of sabotage is the start of a plan aimed at silencing the voice of Radio Progreso, as we have been seeing over the course of this year. We are afraid of other acts of sabotage against other antennas that we have in the country, and we fear for the physical security of the human team members of our radio and of ERIC. We consider this act of sabotage to be part of the growing abuse of human rights and freedom of expression, through the repression of, and use of disproportionate force against, the population demonstrating against electoral fraud and calling for the will of the people expressed at the polls to be respected.
We make an appeal to the international community to look to the future of our country, because we foresee that the coming weeks and months will be very difficult, and the threats to human rights defenders, independent journalists, and social and community leaders will continue to increase. It is necessary to look to our radio since we have the conviction to carry on with our mission to inform, analyse and report what is happening with depth and integrity, and for the ERIC and radio teams to support the search for proposals to lead us out of this crisis.
We ask that you help us through the condemnation of the human rights violations which the government, through the forces of repression, is committing against those people that are protesting against electoral fraud and demanding that the popular will expressed at the polls be respected. It is necessary that letters reach the Embassy of the United States in Honduras which, firstly, endorse the illegal re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández, and secondly, conceal human rights violations and endorse electoral fraud.
Our proposal, together with other national bodies, is to demand the annulment of the elections on November 26th and invoke the Democratic Charter of the OAS to call a new round of elections. The worst thing that could happen to our country is the continuation of the current government of Juan Orlando Hernández, due to his close relationship with a small number of elites, personal control of various branches of government, the cover-up of links between well-known figures and organized crime, and the stigmatization, discrimination, repression and, eventually, the elimination of those people and organizations who do not comply with his arbitrary decisions. The threats that Radio Progreso and ERIC have received fall within this remit.
We would be profoundly grateful if this vision of solidarity could be realized through economic support, however small it might be, in order to re-establish our teams and continue with our mission in this emergency situation.
Sending my best wishes and prayers.
Rev. Ismael Moreno, S.J.
Reflection, Research and Communication Team, ERIC-SJ
It’s 7:45 am at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. The onslaught of students crossing over into the main building from the cafeteria has begun. They hustle to their lockers, swapping out textbooks and jamming class binders into their swollen book bags. Some retie their ties. Some stare intently into the doors of their lockers, presumably doing one last mirror-check before heading to class. Some relish every last second with their earbuds in. God forbid they get their phones confiscated when the clock strikes 8:00!
The students that are slightly more awake chit-chat. The roar of head-tilting laughs jolt me as I open my classroom from the inside and flip down the door stand with my foot.
“Yo, Mr. Hanson – were we supposed to turn in our uniforms?” Carlos asks.
I’ve been barraging my student-athletes non-stop about turning in their soccer uniforms for days. Carlos isn’t the only one on my list. “Yeeees!!!! Last week!” I say exasperatedly, sweeping by him on a mission to the faculty printers.
“Yeah, well what if I don’t wanna turn it in?” he says softly, sheepish about the truth but desiring to express it. I turn around and shake my head, walking backwards for a couple of steps. Inside, though, I’m grateful that my suspicion about the number of missing uniforms has been confirmed: they love their school and everything it represents.
It’s the 22nd year of the original school of the Cristo Rey Network – the “OG school,” some call it. Spanish proficiency is an admission requirement, and the students weave in and out of the language as they weave through the hallways. In November, the school is filled with altars for Dia de los Muertos. School masses are bilingual and the daily announcements have elements of Spanglish in them. Signs on bulletin boards encourage events like the “Traditional México” Homecoming Dance, where students will dance to cumbia, banda, tamborazo, bachata, and more. Real fútbol dominates our sports scene, and championship banners hang proudly in the gym. Everything at this school celebrates who they are.
But nothing as much as the Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass.
La Virgencita embodies them. She shares their skin color. She shares their roots. Devotion to her has migrated all over the world, enriching the lives of all who draw near to her, much like these students’ ancestors. And nobody can articulate what she means to them quite like my students and their immediate relatives.
Her gaze is a mix of tenderness, peace, love, consolation, and understanding. You sincerely think that you are, above all, her favorite child. And she’s with you, right there with you, by your side. You close your eyes and feel her powerful presence, her essence.
-Mother of I.M.
My mom deposited all her trust and love in her after losing my dad. She was her strength and consolation. My mother, a widow with eleven children and without a source of income never lost her faith.
-Mother of A.V.
When I crossed the border, she miraculously covered me with her cloak when Immigration (officers) were in front of me.
Mother of P.P.
“She is my guide and helps my faith remain firm and solid.” My aunt, who says this, says it with such passion, such love, that it even lights up her eyes!
[When he woke up from a dream in which Guadalupe appeared to him] he was soaked in sweat. He saw his drugs on the table and wanted to grab them, but he heard a voice that told him to remember what he had promised in his dream…he never consumed them again.
[While migrating] my grandmother was sick. She wouldn’t eat or drink and was very weak because she was pregnant with my mother…She arrived at the Basilica [in Mexico City] on her knees. With much faith she prayed not to lose her baby. La Virgen was very generous and granted her prayer, and she crossed [the border] safely.
“Are you crying, Mr. Hanson?!” A few students look over as we sit on the bleachers during a dramatic recreation of the Juan Diego – Guadalupe story.
“Of course!” I say shamelessly.
“I have many messengers, Juan Dieguito, but I have chosen you. You, my poor, little, helpless one,” La Virgencita says to her hijo as he struggles to convince the ones in power of the divine message.
After the Mass, the whole community devours tamales and conchas, chasing them down with champurrado. We listen to the mariachi band play and chit-chat with one another. Large gestures and head-tilting laughs abound.
“So…what’d you think?” a fellow faculty member asks.
“As we approach final exams and teachers and students get restless for the break, nothing quite reminds us of why we’re here like this story.”
Indeed. They are still chosen today, like Juan Diego all those years ago. Their identity is embodied in the story, and their mission is clear: to bring a message that the powerful of the world are afraid to hear. God will do great things in them, and La Virgencita is their strength and consolation.
Click here for English.
¿Cómo acogemos al forastero?
Miles de personas que viven en los Estados Unidos no se sienten acogidas en este momento. Los estudiantes de secundaria y universitarios que se benefician de la Ley de Acción Diferida para los Llegados en la Infancia (DACA, por su sigla en inglés) enfrentan un futuro incierto en este país. Los refugiados que han huido de desastres naturales y han recibido protección del Estatus de Protección Temporal (TPS) ven que su bienvenida se expira. Se construye un muro.
Esta no es la forma de acoger al forastero. Esta no es la manera de responder al llamado de Dios. Estamos inequívocamente llamados a recibir al forastero.
El Antiguo Testamento destaca esta obligación: “No maltratarás, ni oprimirás a los extranjeros, ya que también ustedes fueron extranjeros en tierra de Egipto” (Éx 22:20). Jesús tampoco deja dudas: “porque yo era forastero y me recibiste” (Mt 25:35)
La enseñaza de la Iglesia nos instruye a “socorrer en sus sufrimientos a los refugiados dispersos por todo el mundo o de ayudar a los migrantes y a sus familias.” Además el Papa Francisco nos dice: “A la globalización del fenómeno migratorio hay que responder con la globalización de la caridad y de la cooperación, para que se humanicen las condiciones de los emigrantes.”
Nuestro sentido de amor y caridad es suficiente para obligarnos a actuar cuando nos encontramos con personas necesitadas. No podemos pensar en los refugiados y los migrantes simplemente como amenazas a nuestro trabajo o estadísticas alarmantes. Tenemos que verlos como las personas que son. Tenemos que conocerlos, colaborar con ellos y escuchar sus historias.
La Virgen María puede ser nuestra guía. Hoy es la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, que celebra la aparición de la Virgen María en el Cerro de Tepeyac en la Ciudad de México como una joven indígena que habló con Juan Diego en su lengua nativa de Náhuatl. Ella se encontró con Juan Diego como él era y así nos ofrece un modelo de encuentro con los demás con dignidad y respeto. Se declaró a Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe como la Patrona de las Américas. Desde entonces, ha sido considerada como una defensora de los migrantes y las poblaciones vulnerables.
Mientras celebramos su fiesta, reflexionemos sobre nuestras naciones vecinas, los refugiados y los migrantes que huyen de sus países de origen y sobre cómo podemos poner en práctica el llamado evangélico de la hospitalidad. Y tomemos medidas.
Al enfrentarnos con los problemas de nuestro mundo, frecuentemente nos sentimos paralizados en la inacción. Incluso cuando sabemos que necesitamos impulsar un cambio, nos quedamos estancados al preguntar: “¿pero cómo?” Cuando se trata del llamado de acoger al forastero y extender la hospitalidad a los refugiados y los migrantes, aquí algunos consejos para ayudarte.
Inspirada en los esfuerzos de otras partes del mundo, la Conferencia Jesuita de Canadá y los EEUU lanzaron la “Campaña de Hospitalidad” a principios de este año. Coordinada por la Red de Solidaridad Ignaciana, esta campaña busca involucrar a las personas a través del encuentro, entendimiento y acción.
Se puede participar en la campaña como escuela, parroquia o individuo. Al participar, se compromete a llevar a cabo al menos tres iniciativas por año. Algunos ejemplos de iniciativas incluyen:
- Colaborar como voluntario en un albergue para migrantes.
- Contactar a los Congresistas a favor del Dream Act o para extender el TPS.
- Participar en una campaña de redes sociales.
Una de esas campañas de redes sociales se lleva a cabo hoy, para la Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Muchos jesuitas, incluyendo el personal y los escritores de The Jesuit Post (TJP), participarán con otros de la Red de Solidaridad Ignaciana para publicar fotos. Busca las fotos en Instagram, Facebook y Twitter bajo la etiqueta #CforH (la Campaña de Hospitalidad).
¿Quieres participar? Usa esta imagen de Guadalupe con el mensaje: “Rezo para que personas que migran sean tratadas con respeto y dignidad.” Toma una foto de ti mismo con otros mostrando la imagen y etiquetalo con #CforH y mándanos saludos @thejesuitpost and @IGsolidarityNET.
La Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los EEUU (USCCB) junto con sus organizaciones asociadas Catholic Charities USA y Catholic Relief Services (CRS) también han lanzado una iniciativa llamada “Compartiendo el Viaje” (“Share the Journey”). Su sitio web ofrece una variedad de consejos útiles para abordar el tema de la migración. Es un buen sitio para aprender más y tomar medidas.
- Leer historias de migrantes y refugiados.
- Explorar las oraciones y actividades educativas en apoyo de refugiados y migrantes.
- Aprovechar el kit de herramientas para el Adviento para entrar en esta temporada litúrgica con actividades, videos e incluso un retiro en línea.
Si hoy participas en la campaña de redes sociales, también puedes añadir la etiqueta #ShareTheJourney.
Mientras nos acercamos a la Navidad, recordemos la historia de una María embarazada y su esposo José cuando viajaban a Belén. Tocando puerta tras puerta, estaban buscando una bienvenida. Pero nadie los recibió.
Entonces sucedió que nuestro Señor y Salvador nació no en la calidez de un hogar ni la comodidad de una posada, sino en un establo humilde.
Hay un llamado a nuestra puerta. ¿Cómo acogeremos al forastero?
Podemos comenzar abriendo la puerta para conocer a la persona del otro lado. Dejará de ser un extraño. Y si miramos de cerca, veremos el rostro de Jesús en ellos.
Mientras continuamos en esta temporada de Adviento, abramos la puerta, conozcamos al extraño y mostremos nuestra hospitalidad.
Haga clic aquí para español.
How do we welcome the stranger?
Thousands of people living in the United States feel unwelcome right now. High school and college students benefiting from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation (DACA) are facing an uncertain future in this country. Refugees who have fled natural disasters and received protection from Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are seeing their welcome expire. A wall is being built.
This is not the way to welcome the stranger. This is not the way to respond to God’s call. We are unambiguously called to welcome the stranger.
The Old Testament makes this obligation clear: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). Jesus also leaves no doubt: “for I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Church teaching instructs us to “alleviate the distressing conditions of refugees…and assist migrants and their families.” Pope Francis further tells us, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions for migrants more humane.”
Our sense of love and charity alone compel us to action as we witness fellow humans in need. We cannot think of refugees and migrants simply as threats to our jobs or alarming statistics. We have to see them as the people they are. We have to meet them, work with them, and hear their stories.
The Virgin Mary can be our guide. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which celebrates an apparition of the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City as a young indigenous woman who spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl tongue. She encountered Juan Diego as he was and thus offers us a model of encountering others with dignity and respect. Our Lady of Guadalupe was later declared the Patroness of the Americas. Since then, she has come to be seen as an advocate for migrants and vulnerable populations.
As we celebrate her feast, let us take this day to reflect on our neighboring nations, the refugees and migrants who flee their home countries, and how we can live out the Gospel call of hospitality. And let’s take action.
Confronted with the problems of our world, we can often feel paralyzed into inaction. Even when we know we need to create change, we get stuck asking, “but how?” When it comes to the call to welcome the stranger and extend hospitality to refugees and migrants, here are some resources to help you out.
Inspired by efforts elsewhere in the world, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States launched the “Campaign for Hospitality” earlier this year. Coordinated by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, this campaign seeks to engage people through encounter, understanding and action.
You can join the campaign as a school, parish or individual. By joining, you commit to participate in at least three initiatives per year. Examples of initiatives include:
- Volunteering at a migrant shelter.
- Contacting members of Congress in favor of the Dream Act or extending TPS.
- Participating in a social media campaign.
One such social media campaign is taking place today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Jesuits from around the world, including TJP staff and writers, will be joining others from the Ignatian Solidarity Network in posting photos. Look for the photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #CforH (Campaign for Hospitality).
Want to participate? Use this image of Guadalupe with the message “I pray that people who migrate are treated with respect and dignity.” Take a photo of yourself and others holding up the sign and tag it with #CforH and give a shout out @thejesuitpost and @IGsolidarityNET.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) along with partner organizations Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services has also launched an initiative called “Share the Journey.” Their website offers a variety of helpful resources for engaging the issue of migration. It is a great place to learn more and take action.
- Read stories of migrants and refugees.
- Explore the prayers and educational activities in support of refugees and immigrants.
- Take advantage of the Advent toolkit to further enter into this liturgical season with activities, videos, and even an online retreat.
If you participate in today’s social media campaign, you can also add the tag #ShareTheJourney.
As we approach Christmas, let us recall the story of a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. Knocking on door after door, they were looking for a welcome. But they received none.
So it came to be that our Lord and Savior was born not in the warmth of a home or even within the comfort of an inn, but instead in a humble stable.
There is a knocking on our door. How will we welcome the stranger?
We can start by opening the door and meeting the person on the other side. They will cease to be a stranger anymore. And if we look closely, we will even see the face of Jesus in them.
As we continue in this Advent season, let us open the door, meet the stranger, and show our hospitality.
TJP recently sat down with Bishop Paul Tighe, secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture to discuss the Church’s digital ministry.
John Allen recently called you the Vatican’s nicest guy. How did you get that reputation?
My mother’s reaction was quite good: “Well, if you’re the nicest, I wouldn’t like to meet the nastiest.”
When people think of the Vatican Curia their first thought is not exactly Twitter or Instagram.
Yeah, no. I suppose when I arrived at the Vatican one of the things that I hadn’t realized was how small a reality it is, the Holy See as an administrative reality. When we were studying theology we read the documents produced by the Pontifical Council For Justice and Peace, documents on economic justice and things like that. Then you arrive here and realize it’s only about 10 or 15 people.
When I came here to work in communications 10 years ago I did not have a strong background, I had never studied communications professionally. I wasn’t a journalist. I didn’t come from TV. I didn’t come from radio.
But that actually became a strength, because we immediately looked on digital as the future. We might not have known anything about it, but neither did anyone else. So we weren’t particularly disadvantaged.
The next step was realizing that what was happening with digital revolution was radically changing communications. When I say radically changing communications, not so much changing the technologies or the instruments you use, but the style of communication, because social media requires a much more participant-driven and interactive approach. It privileges more visual styles of communications, photographs, images and video.
We also began to realize that the way in which people’s social networks function have been radically transformed by social media. So for churches it’s not just about how we communicate to these people, but how are you going to get present in the environs in which they are living their lives?
Then on the other hand you began to realize that digital communications was affecting how people debate politics. Unfortunately, technology that seems to be wired to bring us closer together, to help us to appreciate better unity of the human family because it makes our world smaller, actually ultimately serves at times perhaps to radicalize existing differences.
Why is the church engaged in social media in the first place?
The church has always been engaged. Whatever else we do, we’re here to communicate. We don’t exist for our own name. We exist to communicate, and the message we’re here to communicate is not our own message. It’s the message of Christ, which has been entrusted to us.
People communicate not only to exchange information, but also to build relationships. Social media has tied those two things in much closer to each other. People nowadays will accept information from people they trust, and know, and like. Then they will build relationships with people whose information proves dependable and reliable and worthwhile.
So, again in the Church we’re all the time calling people into relationships. The message of Christ is not a message just for intellectual ascent. It’s a message that invites people into relationship with the person.
Social media has also highlighted that we live in different networks. But although we live in different environments, most of us, if we were to step back and look at our own faith journey, we’d find connections.
I grew up in a small parish, which was linked to a diocese, which linked me to a universal church, so I had a normal, institutional feeling for church. At the same time, I attended a school that was run by the Loretto Sisters, who were people who had sent Mother Teresa of Calcutta to India, so therefore from a very early age I was hearing stories of India.
Even at a very local level you were being inserted into something bigger. All the time you belonged to different networks and those different networks, which were interlocking and overlapping, were actually the source of our Catholic identity.
So, for all sorts of ways, I think social media was something of a natural fit for the Church.
How did the Vatican’s Twitter account start?
Pope Benedict basically said, “Are you saying this is something that will allow me to reach people I wouldn’t otherwise reach with short messages of hope and it’s not going to demand a lot of work from me?” “Yes.” “Go with it. I don’t need any further explanation.”
At this stage now Pope Francis, who inherited that Twitter account, has built up something over 40 million followers across the different language platforms. That’s important in itself, but more important is that we’re told by Twitter that we have a very high reach range, so that the messages of the Pope are reaching out to people who don’t follow him.
Why does Pope Francis communicate so well in our digital culture?
It is extraordinarily fortunate, and it’s not just fortunate, I think it’s providential, that we have a pope whose communication style is very direct and very simple. Very short video clips capture something of the essence of the spontaneity, the good humor, the smile, the simplicity, the generosity. We’re just very blessed in this moment we have somebody who is rather visual in his style of communications. But, I think he would be very disappointed if it didn’t get beyond him to where he’s trying to point people, which is to the Gospel itself.
So, one of the things that becomes very clear, is that what people see is what they get. I think it’s a reminder for us all to recover a certain authenticity in terms of digital media, that we’re seen to be people who have a concern for the other.
Most people in social media may be trying to sell you something or convert you to a cause. We have to be there with a certain gratuity. We’re there as good neighbors. We’re there to listen. We’re there to spend time with people, and if appropriate we also want to share the grounds of our own faith with people, but not as a type of bombarding or trying to, but actually authentically to say, “Well look, the reason I can draw hope is because I have this privileged sense of being loved by God.”
What is the role of the laity in social media?
When I look at the social media engagement of Catholics, particularly in the English-speaking world, there is a risk is that we focus on our own internal debates.
I can understand strong convictions, and being Irish I can perfectly understand the desire for a good battle occasionally. But at the same time let’s say you came across this and you weren’t a believer. Is it something that you would find immediately life enhancing? Would you say, “Oh, I really would want to join that group”?
So, I think the other thing that we need to think more about is how, without being glib about it or superficial about it, do we find a way of being able to offer witness to our faith in a way that would be life-giving and supportive to other people?
In our part of the world it’s not quite cool to be too overt about the faith. But I think that the challenge for us, even then, is to somehow find a way of responding to things that shows a certain sort of tolerance and a certain understanding that people might ask, “Well, what’s the source of your hope?”
What we want to come across is a desire to support people rather than necessarily a desire to somehow sign them up for our cause.
What spiritual practices should Catholics engage in to keep our social media presences loving and hopeful?
The first thing is to, engage with the platforms of the media that work for you. Not everybody has to be a content-maker, but a very useful job can be just if you’re good at spotting good, helpful materials and sharing that around without having to make it yourself. Some people can be good on Twitter, and other people can realize that Twitter brings out the worst in them.
On the more spiritual side, I think it’s about being self-reflective and conscious of social media. Somehow not allowing yourself to be brought down to the level of a bad conversation.
I want to encourage lay people and Catholics generally to stay involved in social media. You could say it’s a negative environment, there’s a lot of nasty comment, a lot of rough dealings with people. But then we’d abandon that field and let the trolls have it.
The key is how can we be there without being fully sharing the culture. Sometimes people blame the culture of social media, saying things like, “Twitter made me do it. That’s not really who I am.”
But you have to say no. The culture of social media is itself generated by what individuals do, and we have to work together and encourage one another to be supportive of a better form of communication.
If somebody is looking at what I’m saying and things I’m engaged in, and the tool with which I engage with things, do they see somebody who’s shown signs of having been redeemed by the love of Christ, or somebody who seems rather antsy and cranky rather than blessed?
TJP thanks Fathers James Martin, SJ and Thomas Reese, SJ for invaluable help with this interview.
Looking for comfort and joy? It’s going to take some effort. Check out this week’s (extremely) brief One-Minute Homily by Fr. Michael Rossmann, SJ. Based on the Sunday readings for December 10, 2017, which you can read here: http://bit.ly/2A3xZyi.
Am I the only person tired of the word “woke”? Maybe it used to mean something, but the term seems to have devolved into a badge of coolness meant to be flaunted publicly.
Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with the original meaning of woke. After the tragic shootings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and many other black youth, the term gained widespread usage as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. At its beginning, woke was used to indicate a person’s active awareness of social justice issues, especially surrounding race and privilege. Considering the the current hostile state of politics and issues surrounding race, it seems perfectly legitimate to coin such a term that calls to light otherwise unrecognized prejudice.
But that’s not how the term is generally used anymore. The word has rather been reduced to a badge of honor. Checking one’s privilege publicly and practicing other woke gestures have become more of a declaration of one’s superiority, rather than the humility they’re supposed to convey. In a New York Times op-ed, journalist David Brooks considers whether the woke ethos is comparable to the “cool” ethos of the 20th century. In his assessment, Brooks thinks that woke and cool share the same “rebel posture” but concludes that the two ethoses are ultimately different. Brooks wrote this Op-Ed earlier this year, yet, the more the term is used, I fear that the two ethoses are growing ever closer.
The other thing that gets me is woke’s “meme-worthiness.” The term’s virality just shows how diluted the term has become. If woke’s original meaning was supposed to mean radical awareness, then woke’s meme-worthiness shows that its meaning has become superficial awareness, at best. #StayWoke remains a mere flashy afterthought attachable to a selfie caption or at the end of some 140-character message.1
Considering that we are now in the season of Advent, the emergence of ‘woke’ as the popular term might seem timely. After all, Jesus orders us to “Be watchful!” and “Be alert,” in the gospel reading from Mark on the first Sunday of Advent. But let’s take another Christian teaching to heart, as well. As the gospel teaches us, righteousness is an inward disposition. Jesus himself had a distaste for people who were all show; so much so that he called those who do good in order to be seen, hypocrites.
So don’t be a hypocrite. Jesus wasn’t woke and neither should you be. It’s time to put woke to bed.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user Jonathan Koren.
I stood just a few feet from the altar and watched as small clouds of incense tumbled out from the censer swung by Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He had come from Rome to celebrate the Beatification of Fr. Solanus Casey, a poor Capuchin friar who died in Detroit 60 years ago. Bernard Casey (later Solanus) was born in Oak Grove, Wisconsin in 1870 to Irish immigrant parents, the sixth of sixteen children. In 1897 he entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Detroit, MI. Since the Capuchins’ academic formation was in German, he struggled to pass many of his classes and as a result was ordained a “simplex priest,” unable to preach or hear confession. He spent the rest of his life as a door keeper, first in New York at various friaries and then at St. Bonaventure’s Friary in Detroit. After living for a decade in Indiana, Solanus returned to Detroit for health reasons where he died in 1957 at 86 years old.
Sixty years later, at the Mass of Beatification held on November 18th at Ford Field in Detroit, the feeling was palpable and sometimes voiced aloud: “We have a saint – Detroit has a saint!” Fr. Solanus is only the second American-born male to be beatified, and the first American “blessed” to spend his whole life in the United States. But of all places, Detroit? Yes, Detroit. The wounds Detroit carries in its body – the burnt-out houses and abandoned city blocks – are not a sign of Detroit’s failure. They are the sign of our nation’s failure. Driving past boarded windows in Detroit stings like the memory of unconfessed sins. Even though Solanus didn’t live through the , the sin of which it is a symptom was as noxious in his day as it is in ours. Detroit is an uneasy reminder of our nation’s appalling history of shirked responsibility for the past, economic tunnel-vision in the present, and relentless systemic racism binding the two together; Solanus to so many Detroiters is a reminder of the power of the Gospel over the very same systems of sin and oppression.
Booker Ashe, the first black Capuchin in America said of Solanus, “He was ahead of his time for the way in which he treated me…he saw all people as human beings, as images of God. All the rest was secondary.” Solanus used to say he had two loves: the sick and the poor. People of every race and creed came to St. Bonaventure’s to ask for Fr. Solanus’ prayers and guidance, and when they did not know his name they simply asked for “the holy priest.” When Detroit was hungry, Solanus founded the Capuchin Soup Kitchen; when Detroiters were sick, hundreds found through Fr. Solanus’ intercession.
The offertory hymn is beautiful and as I continue watching the redolent clouds of smoke flash into existence, tremble a moment, then vanish into the lights above, I consider that perhaps not only our prayers but our lives are like that incense, as sweet as they are passing. Solanus Casey was here a moment then vanished with no books, speeches, or worldly accomplishments to his name. Yet he left something invisible behind, something that brought 20,000 people out to march with his little wooden casket in 1957 and then 66,000 to worship and pray at Ford Field in 2017. It’s something that smells a lot like faith, hope and love for a city, nation, and world too often poisoned by their opposites.
Back at Ford Field, I watched as the incense drifted up and away into the stadium’s expansive ceiling. I thought of the prayers of the over 66,000 souls gathered to celebrate the life of Fr. Solanus rising up to heaven like the incense. Then I imagined Fr. Solanus there with us. What would he be praying for? I remember my Capuchin friend telling me stories of Solanus. He said there was no word more precious to Fr. Solanus than the word “appreciate.” “If we only appreciated God’s gift to us…” Solanus used to say. I’m startled out of my pious reverie by the perfume of incense as the fan behind the altar blows it like a fistful of roses in my direction.
“Let’s hope some people leave here with a greater love for the poor and desire to forgive, heal and reconcile,” my Capuchin friend said to me, before the Mass began, “That’s what Solanus would have wanted.”
Maybe that’s what Solanus would have been praying for – maybe he still is. I hope so.
Blessed Solanus Casey, pray for us.
1. You wish you could remember more than just the first verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
2. You’re in solidarity with Mary because of your Thanksgiving-to-Christmas food baby.
3. You’re trying to stay in the spirit of Advent while hanging Christmas decorations and drinking peppermint mochas.
4. You watch every Christmas-themed movie that Netflix offers.
5. You really can’t wait for Christmas… break.
6. You’ve already eaten all the candy in your Advent calendar.
7. You briefly ponder why there aren’t more Advent songs before turning up the volume for Mariah Carey.
8. You use candles to keep track of the date.
9. You have fights over how the Nativity scene should be set up.
10. You know it’s a season of hope but still feel you should get to confession.
11. You put out all of your shoes in the hopes of a payday on December 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas.
12. You’re unsure whether or not you should be eating meat on Friday.
Begin Advent 2017 by being watchful for Christ in your everyday life. Listen to Henoch Fente Derbew, SJ’s, (extremely) brief, yet powerful reflection, based on the Sunday Mass readings for December 3, 2017: http://bit.ly/2nle3Fq
I rarely have to think about what it must be like to be HIV+. Like many others, I grew up in a community where I knew no one who was HIV+ or had died from AIDS. My exposure was the RENT soundtrack. And seeing the film, I couldn’t really understand what the reality of seeing someone I love suffer from HIV/AIDS must be like. Then, after college, I met Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson was a client of mine at the Bread for the City legal clinic I worked at in Washington, DC. He came to our clinic for help with a Social Security disability claim that had been denied. Mr. Johnson was chronically depressed, had a long-standing back injury, and could barely walk. And he was HIV+. Thankfully, HIV medication has come a long way. For Mr. Johnson, it was the other ailments he had to worry about. If he continues to take his medication each day, he’ll live a normal life, albeit with HIV.
It’s true HIV medication has come a long way, but a cure is still needed. While doctors and researchers continue to search for a cure, many people continue to live with the effects of stigmatization for their HIV status. This stigmatization has ripple effects across our society starting with the demonizing of persons who are HIV+. Living with outdated ideas of how HIV is spre
ad, some people still end a friendship when they learn the friend or family member has HIV. Many with HIV report higher levels of depression and isolation.
Consequently, others decide not to get tested because a confirmed HIV status would mean being classified as deviant, evil, sinful, and dirty. And this means that HIV could continue to spread. As the disease spreads, so does the stigma.
It’s perhaps a simple coincidence that World AIDS Day falls near to or during Advent each year. Advent, we know, is a time of praying with the deep longings in our heart for wholeness, community, and joy. It is about allowing ourselves to search for how God is about to bring something new into the world. And where the work of God has already been preparing the way.
When I was still living in New York last year, my parish announced an upcoming fundraiser to support persons who are HIV+. The speaker invited participants of the parish to get involved, saying that HIV/AIDS ministry has been a long tradition of the parish since the mid-1980s. At a time when the White House itself “turned a blind eye” to people dying of AIDS, further perpetuating stigma, this parish heard the deep cries stirring in the hearts of its community members and decided to take action. Their continued action calls us to examine in what ways people are stigmatized today – by us personally and by all institutions in our country.
A voice cries out in the wilderness: ready the way of the Lord. In moments of hope and encounter, our heart’s stirrings meet those of the stigmatized. And if we’re attentive, we see God’s signs of mercy and love prompting us to be present to our hearts’ greatest aches so that others’ hearts will ache no longer. There, we’ll see how God longs to encounter us all the same.
The cover photo is featured courtesy of ttfnrob of the Flickr Creative Commons.
The name “Mr. Johnson” is a pseudonym to protect client confidentiality.
As we conclude this month of remembering our dead, I think it’s important to take note of how we, especially men, deal with this difficult reality. It seems to me that how we approach such sadder parts of our lives has consequences both for us and others.
A “Guy” Thing
There are lots of ways Christians deal with death. I’m especially intrigued by groups that discourage crying at funerals, with the argument being that the dead person is already in heaven, and therefore there is nothing to be sad about. There’s a stoicism and certitude that I have to admit is attractive to me there. But why is that? I have to ask myself.
I think back to my college orientation speaker who proposed that the reason for women living longer than men in America is that we men regularly choose not to express ourselves fully, and that bottling up our emotions like sadness leads to all kinds of consequences including poorer health. Speaking strictly from my own experience, I’ve found this to be true at least for me.
During our novitiate experience in a cancer hospice for example, we were exposed to the sadness of death everyday. Rather than think of how hurt I was to see people die who I’d just spoken to hours earlier, I subconsciously labelled that kind of thinking not useful. Besides, I still had work to do and other patients to help.
On reflection, what was motivating me from evading the hurt wasn’t some holy call for being productive, but more so the typical spiritual roadblocks (strengthened by a lifetime of “manly” formation): rationalization, defensiveness, etc. – essentially, doing everything I could to not face the sadness inherent in where I was.
So who was asking me to keep the straight face? Societal norms, sure, but probably not God.
Facing Sadness and “Toxic Masculinity”
I’ve come to find how unhealthy it is to not face sadness properly, whether in my own life or in the lives of others.1 Especially with the latter, rather than confront the struggles endured by so many marginalized people, this set-up makes it convenient to resist going there.
Could this be why it’s so hard for us men to be more active against things like sexual violence? Could our “toxic masculinity” (which usually follows packing away emotions) be part of why sexual violence is so normalized? Is it that we’re better at machismo than entering into the grief of others’ experiences (which, by the way, we so often create)? Or is it simply easier to come up with creative reasons for why good things happen to bad people than companion another into their darkness?
More generally, perhaps anyone’s lack of compassion (“suffering with”) when encountering others’ difficult or traumatic experiences is partly to blame for keeping us so apart from one another. Instead of sitting with their sadness, we find ways to change the subject and distract ourselves.
Anyway, who wants to talk about the hard stuff when you can binge on that new Netflix series?
Captain Picard’s Two Cents
I’m a big fan of Star Trek because it captures the human experience so well, including how we deal with sadness. One of my favorite episodes is the one where Captain Jean-Luc Picard explains to Data (an android) a memorial service for one of their crewmates. Data is confused about what the point of it is and feels that he has done something wrong because his thoughts keep coming back to how sad his life will now be without his friend.
The captain thinks for a moment then affirms him. Data’s not wrong at all. When we mourn our dead, Picard reasons, it’s about them of course, but it’s also about us, and it’s OK to own that sadness too.
Just as well, we also need to fully face what’s going on in our lives, the happy and the sad, and sometimes that means tears.
The Grace of Tears
Pope Francis has no problem with crying (neither did St. Ignatius or Jesus). In fact, he’s suspicious of Christians who do not cry.
This is not an argument for living as morose a life as possible, but just like joy, it’s important to recognize that sadness is a part of the human experience too. It is essential to healthily process life’s sadness before we can effectively move on to what else we need to do. Other strategies may be more efficient or may make us look better, but ultimately end up being good for nobody.
So, please, as you remember not only those you have lost this year but also those who are suffering here and now, resist tucking it all away out of sight. Face your emotions fully, as you mourn or as you watch the news (or your favorite Hallmark movie, because that’s OK too), and see where that takes you. You may be surprised. But whatever happens, let yourself be you. And if you tear up, know that there’s nothing wrong with that.
Image courtesy FlickrCC user Gonzalo Vega.
Gold flakes fell softly, a 24K snowstorm caused by an over-glittered, giant masquerade mask hanging above the doorway. As students walked into the dance, shoulders newly shimmering, I wondered whether more of them would show up.
All told, it was a humble crowd. The music was fine, the dancing left faces glowing, and we had enough sub sandwiches to send everyone home with leftovers. But there was skepticism in the air. People came in and out all night long, eyes searching their phone screens for something better to do. No one fully committed, like a wedding where the bridal party doesn’t dance. Those of us who planned the event wanted it to be something more.
Strange then, that on Monday I got a surprising number of inquiries. When will the next dance be? Why weren’t tickets sold in classes? Can we bring friends from other schools? Was there pizza, or just subs?
I asked the inquirers, “Why is this such a big deal now? We pushed this dance for weeks, and you didn’t show up!”
And then they showed me why it was a big deal – a long series of Instagram posts. They made our less-than-well-attended, glitter-littered dance look like Times Square on New Year’s Eve or the end of Ke$ha’s TiK ToK video. Even I wanted to be at that party. But then I remembered – those posts showed me something that wasn’t real. Not really.
In a world of fake news, Snapchat stories, and custom hashtags for weddings and sporting events, Instagram has become my social media outlet of choice. There’s something that feels more pure about a picture. I follow friends and family members, acquaintances, Jesuit companions, and schools and organizations I’m passionate about. I ‘like’ virtually everything I see, because I know the people, places, and purpose of the posts.
A few months ago, I was on the subway in Chicago. I scanned the train car, and a few feet from me sat a young woman – someone I follow on Instagram. She was wearing headphones, and a magazine sat in her lap. We didn’t know each other well; she would have known I was a Jesuit that sang in the choir at school, and I knew she played in the orchestra. Somehow, we connected through social media, and in my daily perusal, her posts popped up. I saw her with a cat on her shoulders, with a new tattoo on her inner bicep, at the gym breaking a new deadlift personal record. I presumed to know these things about her.
I’m the kind of guy who isn’t afraid to strike up a conversation with strangers on the train. Any reason will do – an expression of joy for just making it past closing doors, quick commiseration about some inexplicable delay, a Green Bay Packers hat and a mutual distaste for the Bears.
But when I saw this woman sitting there, head down, moving from one moment in the city to the next, I froze up. I said nothing. I felt suddenly like I was an intruder – like I had access to photos without her permission, or that I knew more about her life than I should. She was less than a stranger and nowhere near a best friend – like a kid from my high school class I run into at a bar the night before Thanksgiving. I felt awkward and embarrassed about the fact that we had no real connection. She never looked up, and I never said hello. We both know we’re out there somewhere, likely never to meet again. Chicago is a big city after all.
I still see her posts – cats and tattoos and weights and all – and I still ‘like’ them.
I’ve got a few friends who have sick kids in their families – sons and daughters and nieces and nephews with illnesses that keep them in constant flux about whether the next treatment or operation will work. Their Instagram posts show small bodies tethered by tubes to machines that are meant to sustain their fragile, important, trying lives.
I’m not with these friends in the flesh very often; I see their stories unfold on my phone screen. There’s nothing posed about the images they offer – they’re not fabricated dance-offs or selfies with cats. They capture a struggle that calls me to hold them close, to know more deeply the reality of their plight, to remember that love is the filter and the frame.
There’s a place for all of it somehow – the falsely-hyped party, the person I ‘like’ but don’t really know, the haunting image of a sick child. Sometimes I need an escape, and a suspension of reality is just the ticket. Sometimes it’s good to know that someone, somewhere really loves their cat. Sometimes, a reminder that all is not well in others’ lives is a call back to prayer.
It’s up to me to know the difference between them. I am always called to find the real and the good, and to remember that it’s not always clear in an instant.
“So. Um. Would you wanna…hang out…sometime?” I take a drink of the brown lager in front of me, feigning interest at college football showing on the screen above the bar. It’s my attempt at playing it cool and calm even though my insides are frazzled. I’m trying to make a friend – something I’m not so good at doing.
“For sure!” He’s smiling through his response. Kevin. That’s his name. We work together.
“We could, you know, see a movie, I love movies. I see movies all the time.” I sense his interest is fading. “But we could do so many other things…like hike!”
“Hike?” He takes a drink of his whiskey, the ice clinking as he sips. His eyes are squinting at me, seeing right through my suggestion. Perhaps because my pear-shaped body doesn’t really align with the idea.
“I’m kidding. Ha. Ha. I have no idea why I said that.”
“You’re alright, dude.” He smiles and laughs. “Actually, a buddy of mine…”
My mind drifts off. I’ve been in Chicago for five months and don’t have any friends. I’m totally fine with being alone and doing things on my own. Dinners, movies, having a drink, all of it by myself. But it’s getting boring. So, here I sit at a bar trying to navigate how to make this colleague a friend. And it’s unwieldy. And I’m aware of my idiosyncrasies. For instance, offering absurd propositions like hiking, which I’m lukewarm about at best. I rub my sweaty hands on the top of my thighs, and I drink more beer to calm my insides.
“…so you wanna go?”
“Sure! Would love to…er…that’d be sweet…nice, and stuff, yeah.” God, I’m making this awkward. And I have no idea what he just said, but I recognized an invitation. I wave to the bartender for another round. I notice Kevin reach for his wallet so I amateurishly say, with an overly planned grin, “Put your money away. It’s on me.”
I moved to Detroit a few months ago. When I arrived, I saw strange roads, foreign buildings, different neighborhoods. Now, there’s familiarity. The Lodge is a highway. I live on 6 Mile. Great Lakes Coffee makes a good cup of joe. And I’m – slowly – calling this place home. But, lately I’ve been overwhelmed with loneliness.
Alone, I am not. I’m surrounded by many wonderful and loving people. Yet, at my favorite coffeeshop, I notice people talking and laughing with each other. I’ve been in Detroit for almost five months, and I realize I’m at that same point I was back in Chicago. It’s time to surround myself with affable faces now that the roads and buildings are comfortable.
Then I remember all those times I’ve had to work at making friends. Like Kevin. The uneasy effort of trying to be laidback and nonchalant makes me feel nauseous. The thought of making friends feels daunting and ignites my anxiety. It’s like I’m the new kid at recess with no one wants to play with, except I’m an adult. And, adults aren’t always ready to let new people join in.
My desire for quality friendships outweighs quantity. I’m selective at who I let into my life. I’m no longer interested in casual acquaintances, but rather friendships that have depth and meaning. If I’m honest, I’m also aware that I can disappoint, frustrate, and hurt people, and I don’t want to do that. Sometimes, that self-awareness gets in the way of taking those first steps towards friendship. But, most of the time, I’m cognizant of the fact that I no longer need friends the way I did when I was 18 or 25. I desire friends, yes, just differently. Navigating adulthood to include new friendships is beautiful when it happens. Identifying people who will be those friends takes time.
My grandfather said, “Friendship is an extension of God’s loving hand on Earth.” I am blessed to have an intimate inner circle of friends who remind me of those words. It’s a small inner circle but a strong one, and I thank God for them everyday. But, I also know the importance of friendship in proximity of my daily life. And it’s a life I want to share with people who won’t mind the uneven schedule of my commitments, and the offbeat quirkiness of my personality.
Maybe it’s simpler than all of this. Maybe it’s remembering that all those years ago, Kevin didn’t run away from me. Maybe he wanted to be my friend too. Maybe there are others around me simply waiting for me to invite them into my life. Maybe they need friends as badly as I do. And then, all I have to do is say something I’ve said before: “Hi, I’m Damian – you wanna see a movie…or go hiking?”
Jesus has a clear message in today’s Gospel and he isn’t kidding around. Check out this week’s One-Minute Homily from Fr. Marc Fryer, SJ. Based on the readings for Sunday, November 26, 2017, which you can find here: http://bit.ly/2A7l6Ew