Community Newsletter – 05 August 2012
Welcome to the Anam Cara Community newsletter for the week beginning 05 August 2012. In this issue you’ll find the weekly gospel reflection, a prayer for frustrated Christians by James Martin SJ, and news of events coming soon.
This newsletter is one of the ways by which we hope to promote community. The Anam Cara Community is intended to be much more than simply a group of likeminded people. We hope it will continue to grow into a community that is a sign of God’s presence in and love for the world.
If you have a piece of writing you’d like to share with the Community, feel free to send it on to Colin (firstname.lastname@example.org). Work of all sorts is encouraged.
For your prayers
Part of the joy of the Anam Cara Community is the gift of being called to pray for others. If you would like the Community to pray for you, or for someone else, please email or phone Colin (email@example.com, 0403 776 402) or Jane (0411 316 346 or firstname.lastname@example.org) who will add them to the prayer list, and ensure they’re included in the next issue of the Newsletter. At present, your prayers are asked for:
- Anne Turner, who is recovering from gall-bladder surgery, and give thanks for improvements arising from changes to her diet. Please also pray that as God leads her into new places, that she might be willing to follow.
- Colin Thornby, who has relapsed mantle cell lymphoma. Colin is home following chemotherapy at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
- Brian Turner, as he enters into a new phase of ministry as priest-in-charge of the Parish of Avon.
- Christina Fox, a friend of the community, who is unwell.
- Participants at the current Cursillo, that it will be a time of growth and blessing for them.
- Jenny Ramage, recovering after a time in hospital.
- Brenda Burney, as she prepares to enter into a new phase of ministry in Churchill, Boolarra and Yinnar.
- The Uniting Church in Australia, following their recent 13th National Assembly
11 August 2012 – Quiet Day at Mirboo North
Bishop John McIntyre will lead a quiet day at Mirboo North, on the theme of struggling with God.
- 9.30am to 4pm
- St Mary’s Church (114 Grandridge Rd/ Strzelecki Hwy, Mirboo North)
- BYO lunch – morning and afternoon tea, and soup, will be provided
- For further information, and to RSVP contact Sue Hopkins (email@example.com, 03 5182 5542)
- Cost is free-$15 depending on means
28-30 September 2012 – ‘Exploring Spring’ Retreat at the Abbey of St Barnabas at A’Beckett Park
Marilyn Obersby will lead a time exploring the season of Spring
- The dates and shape of the retreat will depend on numbers
- Venue will be the Abbey of St Barnabas at A’Beckett Park
- For further information, and to express interest contact Sue at the Abbey (03) 5156 6580 firstname.lastname@example.org)
13 October 2012 – Windows into Judaism
A day exploring themes in Judaism, and the distinctive traditions coming out of Judaism.
- 10am to 3pm
- Allan and Jan Huggins’ home (1067 Yarragon South Road, Trafalgar South – access from the Princes Freeway via Sunny Creek Road)
- BYO lunch – morning and afternoon tea, and soup, will be provided
- RSVP by contacting Carolyn (03 5191 8343), Jan (03 5634 7616) or Marion (03 5623 3216)
- Cost is free-$15 depending on means
- Further information, and a printable flyer at: http://www.anamcara-gippsland.org/?p=730
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”
They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”
Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”
They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:24–35 Common English Bible)
This part of John’s gospel (John 6:24-70) is a long discourse that deals with who Jesus is, and what following him means and involves. Some commentators understand this discourse to be a form of midrash. Midrash is a kind of exegesis – a critical explanation or interpretation of a text. They suggest that at the heart of this discourse there are words of Jesus, and the rest of the discourse is a sermon aided by Jesus’ Spirit – so in this sense, the whole discourse comes from the Lord. The core of the discourse is verse 31 (“he gave them bread from heaven to eat”). The lectionary unhelpfully divides the discourse into parts, so the first thing I’d say is that it will help to read the whole discourse through several times before digging into it further.
The people who are encountering Jesus are materialists – they want Jesus to give them what they think they need – food to satisfy the bellies. They even appeal to the Hebrew scriptures to justify their request, noting that Moses provided manna for the Israelites to eat whilst they wandered in the desert. Jesus corrects them, saying that it wasn’t Moses, but God the Father who actually provided the manna, and then describes what real bread, real nourishment is.
If these Galileans were materialists, our own culture is more materialistic still. Our worlds tend to revolve around material things – possessions, self-improvement, self-satisfaction, status, standing, security and other material things. In fact, our society measures us by our capacity to work, to acquire property, to become functional, contributing, consuming members of a world which revolves around money and power.
The business of our churches has become consumed by these preoccupations, too, so the models of discipleship we see tend to tell us that the things that are important are who we are, what we own, and what we can contribute. Christians have long ago moved from being what they should be – counter-cultural – to being agents of enforcing a kind of conformity within a society which has values that stand directly at variance with the ones Jesus teaches. The obscenity of the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God rewards faith and discipleship with wealth, power, prestige and possessions, is an extreme example, but that kind of thinking pervades our churches. We often carry the expectation that relationship with God is like an insurance policy – so that when things ‘go wrong’ we feel aggrieved and as though God has failed us.
Jesus’ teaching in this passage is that the reality of our lives is based on something else entirely different from material concerns. The reality of our lives is based on our relationship to Jesus, and through Jesus to God the Father. When in right relationship we are fed and given what we need. ‘What we need’ in this context is something very different to what the Galileans are asking for, and for what we often desire.
What we desire is a product of our experience, what we’re taught, and what goes on around us, as well as what is in our heart. Because of this, our desires are untrustworthy. What we want is often not what we need, but a consequence of the formation we’ve received. Jesus clearly teaches that our hearts and desires need to be renewed and transformed. As we are transformed, our desire for what Jesus offers becomes stronger, and that which we prefer.
This is the meaning of the “narrow and hard way” (Matthew 7:14). Abba Ammonas was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." Amma Theodora said, 'Let us strive to enter by the narrow gate, Just as the trees, if they have not stood before the winter's storms cannot bear fruit, so it is with us; this present age is a storm and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.'
- What are your deepest desires?
- When you look at these desires, what needs to be transformed?
- What would transformation be like?
- Are you willing to be transformed?
- Are you willing to depend on the simpler, purer bread that is Jesus?
Prayer for a Frustrated Christian
Dear God, sometimes I get so frustrated with your church.
I know that I'm not alone. So many people who love your church feel frustrated with the Body of Christ on earth. Priests and deacons, and brothers and sisters, can feel frustrated, too. And I'll bet that even bishops and popes feel frustrated. We grow worried and concerned and bothered and angry and sometimes scandalized because your divine institution, our home, is filled with human beings who are sinful. Just like me.
But I get frustrated most of all when I feel that there are things that need to be changed and I don't have the power to change them.
So I need your help, God.
Help me to remember that Jesus promised that he would be with us until the end of time, and that your church is always guided by the Holy Spirit, even if it's hard for me to see. Sometimes change happens suddenly, and the Spirit astonishes us, but often in the church it happens slowly. In your time, not mine. Help me know that the seeds that I plant with love in the ground of your church will one day bloom. So give me patience.
Help me to understand that there was never a time when there were not arguments or disputes within your church. Arguments go all the way back to Peter and Paul debating one another. And there was never a time when there wasn't sin among the members of your church. That kind of sin goes back to Peter denying Jesus during his Passion. Why would today's church be any different than it was for people who knew Jesus on earth? Give me wisdom.
Help me to trust in the Resurrection. The Risen Christ reminds us that there is always the hope of something new. Death is never the last word for us. Neither is despair. And help me remember that when the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples, he bore the wounds of his Crucifixion. Like Christ, the church is always wounded, but always a carrier of grace. Give me hope.
Help me to believe that your Spirit can do anything: raise up saints when we need them most, soften hearts when they seem hardened, open minds when they seem closed, inspire confidence when all seems lost, help us do what had seemed impossible until it was done. This is the same Spirit that converted Paul, inspired Augustine, called Francis of Assisi, emboldened Catherine of Siena, consoled Ignatius of Loyola, comforted Thérèse of Lisieux, enlivened John XXIII, accompanied Teresa of Calcutta, strengthened Dorothy Day and encouraged John Paul II. It is the same Spirit that it with us today, and your Spirit has lost none of its power. Give me faith.
Help me to remember all your saints. Most of them had it a lot worse than I do. They were frustrated with your church at times, struggled with it, and were occasionally persecuted by it. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake by church authorities. Ignatius of Loyola was thrown into jail by the Inquisition. Mary MacKillop was excommunicated. If they can trust in your church in the midst of those difficulties, so can I. Give me courage.
Help me to be peaceful when people tell me that I don't belong in the church, that I'm a heretic for trying to make things better, or that I'm not a good Catholic. I know that I was baptized. You called me by name to be in your church, God. As long as I draw breath, help me remember how the holy waters of baptism welcomed me into your holy family of sinners and saints. Let the voice that called me into your church be what I hear when other voices tell me that I'm not welcome in the church. Give me peace.
Most of all, help me to place all of my hope in your Son. My faith is in Jesus Christ. Give me only his love and his grace. That's enough for me.
Help me God, and help your church.
“Don’t miss the second half”
As he's entered middle age, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, who has been riding the spirituality circuit for more than 30 years, has started to think about life in halves: the first dedicated to establishing boundaries and a sense of self in one's own group, the second to opening oneself to a more universal vision of the world.
Rohr is quick to point out, though, that you've got to have the first before you pass into the second. "We need to begin ‘conservative' with clear boundaries, identity, a sense of ‘chosenness,' " he writes in his newsletter Radical Grace. "Then as we grow older, we should move toward more compassionate, tolerant, and forgiving worldviews."
Rohr's own first and second halves have been full and busy. In his first half he founded the charismatic New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in 1971 and the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1986. Today, though still a popular speaker and author, Rohr spends more time alone, living in a hermitage behind his community.
Rohr became a Franciscan friar in 1961 and was ordained a priest in 1970. He is a prolific writer and popular speaker on male spirituality, scripture, prayer, and other topics, and is the founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation.
You've said that spirituality is different in the two halves of life. What do you mean by that?
In a nutshell the task in the first half of life is the development of identity and boundaries. One must develop a necessary concern for the self: "Am I special? Am I chosen? Am I beloved?" Unfortunately it often takes the form of "Am I right?" leading to either/or thinking.
This accounts for much of our contemporary confusion, it seems to me. The first half of life is concerned with the container; the second with the contents. But most people become preoccupied with the container.
Can you give an example of a first-half-of-life person?
Let's look at a typical military school cadet. Who would not admire him? His pants are creased; his hair is cut; he's clean; he's polite; he's on time; he loves God and country. If I need to hire an employee, give me a West Point cadet. He'll do what he's told. Great stuff, but don't for a second call it the gospel.
But, unfortunately, I think we have. For many of us, that's what it means to be a Christian, and that not only misses the point, it openly obstructs it. Remember what Jesus said: "Your virtue must surpass the virtue of the scribes and Pharisees." It's a virtue of sorts but not yet what he is talking about.
A mere concern for order, purity, identity, self-esteem, and self-image is necessary to get you started. You have to have an ego to let go of your ego. You have to have a self to die to yourself, but the creation of a positive self-image is not the issue of the gospel. Quite the contrary. That's probably why Jesus did not start teaching until he was 30 and seems to have almost exclusively taught adults.
Once you teach something like "love your enemies," you're not talking about tit-for-tat morality anymore. That kind of thinking is not understandable to people still involved in the tasks of the first stage of life. In fact, it appears dangerous and heretical to them.
How does someone move from the first half of life to the second?
The two stages are not primarily chronological, although they can be affected by chronology.
Normally there has to be a precipitating event that leads to transformation. I call it the "stumbling stone," using a biblical term. Your two-plus-two world has to fail you, has to fall apart. Business as usual doesn't work. Usually that involves something very personal: suffering or failure or humiliation.
The fair-haired boy or girl who just dances from success to success will easily stay in the first half of life forever. I think that's what Jesus means by saying that it's harder for a rich man to enter the reign of God than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. It's a strong statement.
Thomas Merton wrote about new monks coming in and said he thought that since the Second World War American parents had tried to keep their children from any negative experiences. He recommended that monasteries not accept anyone who had not gone through a spiritual crisis. He argues that they weren't ready for religious life. In fact, he thought the monastery's job might be to facilitate a spiritual crisis for many of the monks.
If you are lucky, God will lead you to a situation you cannot control, you cannot fix, or you cannot even understand. At that point true spirituality begins. Up to that point is all just preparation.
Does suffering always lead to the second half of life?
Not always. Sometimes it just leads you to circle the wagons of your own little group. It depends on whether you deal with your suffering in secular space or sacred space.
The secular response to suffering is to fix it, control it, understand it, look for someone to blame. You learn nothing. Unless suffering pulls you into sacred space, it doesn't transform you. It makes you bitter.
In sacred space, if you can somehow see God in it, suffering can lead you to the universal experience of human suffering, even identification with the suffering of God. At that point, you're moving into the second half of life. The questions are now more mystical than merely moral.
Are you in danger of idealizing suffering?
Yes. But I'm not saying go out and search for it. Suffering is inevitable, and if you can be convinced that it is a teachable moment and not something to run from, you're doing yourself a great favor.
There are really only two paths to transformation: prayer and suffering. But because few of us just walk into a wonderful journey of surrendered prayer, you can really say there is only one path, which is suffering.
That's why Jesus talks about the Way of the Cross so much. Until your nice, coherent interpretation of reality has been beaten up a bit, why would you let go of it? Some form of suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the ego, in my opinion.
What specific experiences can cause this to happen?
Loss of a job can be a big one, especially if you're very invested in your work. Death, of course, is the biggest of all, especially the death of someone close or an unjust death. A major humiliation is another way. I know a lot of priests who have come to God through being accused-rightly or wrongly-of sexual abuse. The public persona isn't there anymore, so who am I now?
Moral failure is a common biblical pattern that leads to the second half of life, as we see very clearly in both Peter and Paul. Somewhere along the way my own moral failures have the power to get me to finally fall into the mercy of a loving God. If I lied to that person or I used that woman, I have to ask myself, "What kind of person am I that I did that?"
I think this is what Paul meant when he said that the law was given to us to induce failure (Rom. 7:7-13). We try to make the law an end in itself. But it is only the necessary starting place, an impossible goal of perfect love to force us to rely upon God.
I'm not encouraging sin, but I recognize that it's going to happen anyway, so you better learn from it and listen to it a bit, instead of thinking, as religious people love to do, "I'm above that."
What characterizes the second half of life?
The second half of life is love, joy, peace, and the Holy Spirit. You've experienced the death of the need to be right, to think well of yourself, to think you're superior to and more moral than other people. It's a tremendous peace. You don't have anything to prove anymore. You don't have to live up to or to live down to your reputation, you just are who you are. You have met the enemy and the only enemy is you, not any other group, religion, nation, or race.
People in the second half of life are not rebels. If you're a rebel, you're still trapped in the first half. That's not wisdom yet. At the wisdom stage, you don't need to rebel or hate or oppose.
I do think only a small percentage of people get there. Some get there in the last two or three years of life. But why not start this enjoyment and freedom when you're in your 40s, 50s, and 60s?
Can you actually help people move from one stage to another?
Not easily. And we cannot do it to ourselves either. We can only trust the Holy Spirit to lead us there. This is why Jesus taught what he would have called the sign of Jonah: going into the belly of the beast, into darkness. From that place God will spit you up on the right shore.
Once you learn to trust the redemptive pattern, the dying and rising of everything, you don't need to be on top all the time. Once you realize the Paschal Mystery as the redemptive process, I think you naturally pass out of the first half of life.
Jesus modeled it all for us in a dramatic way, so once and for all we could see the pattern and believe it. Unfortunately we just keep thanking him for doing it instead of recognizing that he said, "Follow me."
So Jesus was trying to move people into the second half of life?
It seems that Jesus saw much of his work as getting people to see the insufficiency of mere ritual practice and tribal belonging. The majority of Jesus' teachings and healings make a hero of the non-Jew, the nonobservant person. He discredits any affiliation as a substitute for real transformation.
We still cling to that: I'm a Catholic. I'm an American. When we haven't really been transformed, we try to ride on the coattails of our group. That becomes our self-image and our identity.
I think Jesus is trying to precipitate the fall, the disappointment, by pulling away all idealistic badges and loyalty systems so we have to find our identity in God, not in groups.
Jesus also made discipleship an invitation, not a requirement. It's an invitation to a transformed life, which allows you to live in the reign of God now.
You've said that we did a good job of helping Catholic children in the 1950s in the first half of life. What happened after that?
There is much criticism about the form of religious education we used in the 1970s and 1980s, and for good reason. If you reject a good container, you eventually reject the contents, too.
Because the older generation had the first half of life shoved down our throats, we reacted against it. So then we didn't teach children how to say the Hail Mary and what the feast days are, all of which solidify your sense of specialness inside this Catholic universe.
But we were so aware of how many people had fallen in love with the container and never got to the contents. "Church-ianity" is a very common substitute for Christianity, and I think it's on the rise again. It always seems to happen in insecure times.
Still, every generation has to walk the whole journey for itself.
So you absolutely need the first half of life, right? What if you don't get it?
Yes, you absolutely need it. If you don't get it when you're young, it's a big problem. You end up needing rigid rules and superiority systems in your 30s and 40s, which is precisely why fundamentalist religion is growing.
I was a jail chaplain in Albuquerque for 14 years, and these young men who wasted their youth on drugs, sex, and rock and roll were invariably very black and white in their thinking.
The young liberals of the 1960s who jumped directly to the supposed second half of life, thinking they didn't need the first, are almost always a disaster.
So how should parents who didn't get good first-half-of-life Catholic education pass the faith along to their kids?
We need to give children the experience that there's something good and rich about being Catholic. Once you know that, you don't need to know that your faith is better than all the others. It's only the self-centered ego that is preoccupied with the question, "Are we right?" The soul doesn't need to know the answer to that. The soul just asks: "Is this real? Is this good? Is this true?"
Kids need to see something that their parents are "juiced" about, are energized about. You can't fake it. Kids need energy, and they like positive energy.
An example: My niece and her husband each take time out for an hour of eucharistic adoration at their parish in Kansas every week. I'm convinced that this single act is what has made their four kids say, "Boy, there is something good and deep and worthy about Catholicism." Just that one single action.
Can first- and second-half people find common ground?
For me, a litmus test for whether people are in the second half of life is whether they can be compassionate and patient with people in the first half of life. That's proof that you're there.
But first-half people will either be enchanted, attracted, and lured by people in the second half-which is the pattern in a healthy culture-or they will put up huge roadblocks against them, which is what's happening in our country, both in the church and in the culture. To the person addicted to the container for its own sake, people who are into the contents will often look dangerous, heretical, sinful, and unorthodox-just as Jesus did.
Who are some people who are or have been in the second half of life?
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador is a good example. He was clearly a first-half person when he became archbishop, but the suffering of the Salvadoran people was transformative for him. He incurred the judgment of many of his fellow bishops and was very much alone by the end of his life.
I think Cardinal Joseph Bernardin moved into the second half right on schedule. In Cincinnati he was the fair-haired boy who had gone from promotion to promotion, but his heart was humble and open. I saw that personally. I think clearly by his later years in Chicago, he was a second-half-of-life person. But it wasn't the false accusation of sexual misconduct or even his illness-it was happening before that because he was teachable and honest.
I am convinced that Jesus' famous line that "the truth will set you free" was not referring to some kind of dogmatic truth, but would probably be better translated as "honesty will set you free." Absolute honesty will lead you to the second half of life.
I meet a rather large percentage of religious women who are clearly in the second half of life. They seem to walk a tightrope between loyalty to the church, the tradition, the poor, issues of justice, and their own inner experience. They hold together a very big picture.
Many people seem to gravitate toward Eastern religious practices these days. Does that have anything to do with movement from one half of life to the other?
I think there is a fascination, especially in the last 50 years, with Eastern religions because they are more open to both/and thinking. Their ability to describe the contemplative mind in today's language is more developed than ours. Our Western consciousness is just moving there.
Some people will hear that as "relativism." That's not what I'm saying at all, but people in the first half of life will hear it that way, and you can't do much about that. Much of what Jesus said would be called relativistic by honest readers of the gospel, but that is the way second-half-of-life people appear to you when you have not done your inner work.
If you know where you stand, precisely that knowing, going deep in one place, opens you up to a universal place. Every spiritual teacher knows that the point is to get to the universal, to get to the truth of the God who's everywhere, what Jesus called "the reign of God."
To do that you have to go deep in one place. You have to surrender to the God before you, the God image you fall in love with and allow to be your teacher and leader, and to whom you surrender. When that journey has happened, you'll be able to see the goodness and sweetness in all people.
Coming up at the Abbey of St Barnabas at A’Beckett Park
We encourage Associates and friends to access events at the Abbey of St Barnabas at A’Beckett Park. Events coming soon include:
- Fire and Creative Writing: 17-19 August 2012. Led by Philip Muston and Sue Fordham. For those interested in creative writing.
- Wind and Music: 14-16 September 2012. Led by Fay Magee and Don Saines, for those who seek expression through music.
- Exploring Spring: 28-30 September 2012. Led by Marilyn Obersby.
- Earth and Art: 12-14 October 2012. Led by Pene Brook, a must for those who are interested in art and visual expression.
- Water, dance and movement: 9-11 November 2012. Led by Susanna Pain – for those who like to move and dance, reflect and take time to relax.
Support on the journey
The Anam Cara Community’s ministry is to be a support to those who are on the inner journey into God. Each person’s journey is different, and we recognise that there are some for whom the Christian tradition is difficult or not supportive. We’re committed to finding ways to hear the needs of each Associate, and support them as we can.
The Community can offer support in a number of ways:
- Spiritual direction / soul care: Spiritual direction is a process by which one person helps another grow in intimacy with God and in right relationship with all creation. This ministry has a long and revered history in the Christian tradition and has been practised by lay people, religious and ordained ministers. The focus of this ministry is the relationship between God and the person seeking direction. For more information and a referral to a director, contact Colin (0403 776 402 or email@example.com) or Jane (0411 316 346 or firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Quiet days: usually held monthly across Gippsland, and in Canberra. Details are in this newsletter, or on the website.
- Library: maintained in Sale, but available for borrowing by post. Contact Sue (email@example.com, 03 5182 5542) or visit our webpage.
- Publications: Waterholes is the news-magazine of the community. Contributions are welcome.
- Fellowship: Available at our events, by email, on the phone, and the website.
- Website: Full of news, resources, reviews and other interesting information and supports.
- Directing to other resources, such as events at the Abbey of St Barnabas at A’Beckett Park.
Love and prayers
Colin Thornby and Jane Macqueen