by Leif Kehrwald
When my two sons were pre-schoolers they became afflicted with the condition that I later termed “Passive Irresponsibility.” They continually put action and responsibility in things that could not possibly take action or responsibility. A few examples:
Luke: “When will that dime that fell down my throat come out?”
Nicolo: “Dad, my underpants got peed on.”
Luke: “I was just sitting here.”
. . .
I wonder if, for many of us, we don’t get stuck on the passive side with respect to faith and religious practice.
Do we approach our faith and religious practice – whether adult, teen, or child, whether parent or grandparent—with the same degree of active responsibility as we do other aspects of our lives or our children’s lives, such as education, health care, exercise, social interaction, even athletic formation?
I’ll tell you this much, the three Magi, (or three Kings, or, as I prefer, the three Wise Men) were NOT afflicted with the condition of “passive irresponsibility.” Quite the opposite: they were fully intentional about their journey and their desire to pay homage to the Christ child.
They acted decisively on the movement of the Spirit in their lives. That’s what Epiphany means. It’s a manifestation of something unknown. It’s a moment of deep understanding. It’s “ah ha!” It’s metanoia. And it changes things. It reframes our thinking (head). It flushes us with fresh emotions (heart). And it can spur us into action (hands). It’s whole person—head, heart, and hands.
I am quite certain that each and every one of us has had Epiphany moments when the Holy Spirit barged her way into our lives and shook us up. . . . pause . . . you may be able to point to one of those moments as a life changer. And you can likely recall some such moments that rocked your thinking, stirred your heart, but for a host of reasons (excuses?) you didn’t act on it. Don’t worry. I contend that’s part of what it means to be human.
This I know: if our posture is that of passive irresponsibility, we will find it much more difficult to even notice epiphany moments, let alone act on them. But if we seek a posture of intention, active responsibility, then we might be amazed at how active the Holy Spirit is in our lives, and we will more readily latch onto those fleeting moments of manifestation, ride them out, and see where they take us.
Doors of Mercy
Our opening ritual today was beautiful, yes? We are grateful to Sr. Phyllis for designing it. What a gift she continues to be for our community. Thank you.
Those who entered the Doors represent to me the Magi – people who are foreign to me and my experience –
I think this is exactly the lesson Paul was trying to communicate to the mostly Jewish Christians in Ephesus when he wrote:
“The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Reminds of an extraordinary lesson I learned a number of years ago from my friend Mark Weber. I met Mark when he was Provincial Superior of the Chicago Province of the Society of the Divine Word, a Catholic missionary community whose roots go back to 1875. Over a period of years, I had frequent meetings at their retreat center which is on the same campus as their provincial offices. In the evenings, Mark and I would visit over a glass of wine.
One night he shared with me the renewed mission of the SVDs. In contrast to previous generations of missionary work around the world that somewhat arrogantly sought to deliver the gospel message to “heathens” giving little or no credence to their experience and lifestyle, the renewed mission of SVDs is based on three simple goals:
Mark did not like being the administrative head of his order. He yearned to get back to parish work so that he could live these three truths. As a small-town Iowa farm boy, he loves pastoring an inner-city, African American parish in Chicago. And he is preparing for his next missionary stint in Ghana.
Personally, I resonate well with the first two goals. If it involved only those two, then I might be ready to join the SVDs. That third one, I’ll be honest with you – live and work in a land/language not my own – that’s more than I can bear.
For us, the St. Charles community, I would urge us to keep the first two goals in the forefront of our work and ministry: that we simply seek the presence of Christ . . . and that presence is found in the people symbolized by those who walked through our Doors of Mercy. So how do we align ourselves with those people? I have three thoughts that go back to head, heart, and hands:
Head. We must educate and form ourselves in all aspects of our faith so that we understand and recognize the presence of Christ in our midst. We must continually ask the same question as the Magi: “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” I have a vision and process of faith formation for the whole community—not just children and youth—that I want to lay before you; that I think must accompany any major initiative, such as providing physical sanctuary for those facing deportation. We will not be effective in any such initiative without being well formed in the Gospel call to service and justice, and how that call is anchored in our weekly Eucharistic prayer, our frequent community building opportunities, and all the expressions of the St. Charles community.
Heart. We must open up our hearts to stories and experiences of those whose very lives are threatened, as well as those who have discovered Christ’s presence in similar initiatives. We must allow them to stir our emotions . . . and then we need to create safe places and opportunities for those emotions to be shared and accepted for what they are. We have some stories in hand from members of our community that we will be sharing with you.
Hands. And when we put our head-formation in dialogue with our heart-formation, if done authentically, it should reveal to us what we are called to do.
This is the Epiphany we seek.
Every so often the Spirit breaks into our lives—as individuals, families, or whole community—and we are granted an illuminating discovery of the face of God, but it requires active responsibility, intention, and like the Magi, a willingness to prepare our prepare our precious gifts, move out of our comfort zone, and lay them before the Christ child.