Exploring Our Roots
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

How many times have we heard or read the words over the years: "God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27). We are created in the image of God. In other words, our family of origin is divine.

Perhaps we've heard it so often that we don't get the existential shock anymore of what those words are telling us. Beginning with the opening lines of the Old Testament, God tells us that we are fundamentally good and that we have a foundational identity with God. This is nothing less than extraordinary!

To put it another way, God is extending an invitation to us: God is seeking to give away God, but it is with great difficulty! You would think the invitation would be readily accepted, but not so. One of the most common responses to God's offering of self is "O, Lord, I am not worthy." It may sound humble, even respectful. But it can also be the way we humans avoid God's call.

Not so the young virgin from Nazareth. When the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she is to be the Mother of God, this humble teenager from the backwater town of Galilee does not run away from God by protesting unworthiness. No, Mary just wants to understand how she can bear a son under such unlikely circumstances. Once she realizes how God plans to work through her, her openness to the invitation is quite extraordinary. She becomes for all time the archetype of receptivity. Mary is the one perfect vessel who knows how to say an unquestioning "yes" to God's invitation and to God's free gift.

Trusting God's Goodness
Most of us, however, do not accept God's invitations so readily. Unlike Mary, we question our worthiness, refusing to believe that God is speaking to us. Meanwhile, God is trying to tell us that there is nothing we need to earn, there is nothing we can attain or accomplish, there is nothing to work up to. We've already "got it" by being part of the family of God. Our relationship with God is about awakening rather than accomplishing, realizing rather than performing. Trust is the issue, and that becomes the biblical concept of faith. It's all about confidence that God could love us enough. It's all about confidence in the goodness of God.

This sense of being inadequate, of not being enough is what I prefer to call Original Shame rather than the more familiar Original Sin. As God's creatures we are a mixed blessing. We are filled with contradictions and mystery, darkness and light. But God, who has taken the risk of creating freedom inside us, is always gracious. God persists in loving us-mixed blessings that we are—in all our unworthiness.

New Kind of Fame
Just what is God seeking from us? God isn't looking for servants, for slaves, for workers, for contestants to play the game or jump through the right hoops. God is simply looking for images that can bear the mystery of the glory and the darkness of life. God invites us, his creatures, to a relationship of love. What God wants are icons who will communicate who God is, what God is about.

Once we accept and believe that we are made in God's image, we have found our identity. We don't have to be so preoccupied with roles and titles, with clothing and cars and all the things the world holds up as ideals. We do not need material things to assure us that we are special. We know we are radically significant by reason of being a son or a daughter of the Lord. We have less need to be visible or showy, to make a name for ourselves, to take our place in history. We no longer need our 15 minutes of fame—because we know we're famous!

Our family of origin is divine. You don't get much better than that!

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a popular retreat master, speaker and writer. He is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He is the author of numerous books and gives retreats and lectures internationally. In the spring of 2001 he will publish a book with St. Anthony Messenger Press on the Franciscan path of transformation.

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt of Richard Rohr.

(Taken from New Great Themes of Scripture, 10-part audiocassette series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090, $49.95.)

Questions for Reflection: Do you find it difficult to say "Lord, I am worthy?" Why? Why not?

Name someone, living or dead, who mirrors/mirrored God's love for the world. In what way is this true?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection

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Mirroring God's Love
By Judith Dunlap

Having raised five children, I know what a tremendous responsibility it is to be a parent. Helping youngsters grow up to be healthy—physically, emotionally and spiritually—is an awesome task. There are so many things to teach them and protect them from. Often our conversations with them center on preaching or teaching or warning against. Yet we know that what our children need most is our love and affirmation.

According to a national study, one of the traits of a strong family is that its members affirm each other. They congratulate each other on their achievements. They are quick to say "good job" or "well done." Even more important, they affirm each individual. It is a parent's job to model this love and affirmation.

We do this by offering gentle hugs and unequivocal compliments—words or actions that let our toddler or teen or young adult know they are loved no matter what. This does not mean we stop teaching or even preaching. It does mean we take care in what we say and how we say it. It also means we spend time each day listening to our children, affirming them and assuring them that they are loved. In short, we are asked to reflect God's unconditional love to our children.

Mirroring that love can be a difficult task if we do not first accept God's unconditional love for us. We need to remind ourselves that we, too, are God's children, loved with a love that is unearned and unjustified. When that happens the whole family is healthier, both emotionally and spiritually.

For Family Response: Have each family member write or draw one or two things about the qualities they most like in each of the other family members (moms and/or dads too). Show what you have written or drawn.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.


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Pay It Forward
By Frank Frost

Too few movies make for good conversation with family and friends. A film as constructive and positive as Pay It Forward is unusual entertainment— good story-telling with a hopeful message. This is one most family members can see and enjoy, but it's not for young children due to adult treatments of sex and alcohol abuse.

The main character is 11-year-old Trevor McKinney. He takes seriously the challenge of his social studies teacher: Think of a way to change the world, and put it into action. Trevor decides to " pay it forward" instead of paying it back. Rather than returning a favor (or taking revenge) he will initiate help for three people in need who are not asking anything of him. And he will ask each beneficiary to "pay it forward" to three more people. If it works, the first efforts will multiply into staggering numbers, and the world will be changed.

We learn what is wrong in Trevor's world up front. Arriving at school, he observes bullies beating up on a smaller, vulnerable boy. Leaving school with the challenge in his mind, he bicycles past a barrio and clutch of homeless people living on the edge of town. Trevor, a latchkey kid in Las Vegas whose alcoholic mother works two jobs, is moved to help them. He also selects his 7th-grade social studies teacher, whose badly scarred face and body betray a scarred psyche.

Trevor establishes some rules for "paying it forward." What he does must be something a person cannot do for himself/herself, and it's not supposed to be easy. And easy it's not. Trevor's best efforts seem at first to fail.

But is it really necessary to succeed in helping someone, or is the effort its own contribution to goodness in the world? The movie's answer is in the ripple effect of Trevor's actions.

With an edge of humor and complex characters (Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense ), director Mimi Leder avoids traps of sentimentality, at least until the end. Her characters are beset with a variety of moral and/or behavioral failings, and—here's the interesting part—when they decide to express gratitude for the gifts they've been given by paying it forward, they don't become different people but they contribute to the chain. We learn that it doesn't take an extraordinary person to help make a better world.

It's easy to get totally absorbed in the movie and to suspend disbelief. But could this idea really work? For me it can, but in smaller increments than drama requires. For one real-life example, check out the "1,000 Years of Peace" project ( www.PledgePeace.org), which predates this movie, and which invites people to indicate what actions they will take to help bring peace to the world. Add yours. I would have preferred a different ending to Pay It Forward. But when there's a good, positive movie around, take advantage of it. See it. Talk about it.
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By Judy Ball

Blessed Andre Bessette (1845-1937)
Little, if anything, about the early life of Alfred Bessette suggested he would do great things: a body frail and weak from the moment of birth in rural Quebec; a limited and unspectacular education; attempts at a series of trades, all without success.

But in time it became apparent that God had blessed him with an expansive heart and a deep faith.

It was his gifts— not his limitations— that came to define him. For almost 70 years he lived a simple life of goodness and compassion as Brother Andre, the name he took when he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross. Forty of those years were spent serving as doorkeeper at Notre Dame College in Montreal, where he lived in an office near the entrance and slept on a bench.

His special love of and confidence in St. Joseph prompted Brother Andre to recommend devotion to the saint, particularly for the sick. Whether they came to him or he went to them, the suffering credited Brother Andre with amazing healing powers. In time, thousands began flocking to see him, but Brother Andre always insisted that no credit should go to him: "I do not cure. St. Joseph cures."

In 1904, a small chapel was built to honor his beloved St. Joseph. It soon became too small to accommodate the crowds. Enlarged several times, St. Joseph's Oratory was completed in 1967 and is located on Mount Royal in the heart of Montreal. Each year two million people come in search of the peace it promises.

When Andre Bessette died in 1937, an estimated one million people filed past his coffin. "It was as if all of Quebec stopped breathing," one observer noted. Brother Andre was beatified in 1982. His feast day is January 6.

Sister Maria Rieckelman, MM
In her many years as a Maryknoll Sister and a psychiatrist, Maria Rieckelman has witnessed again and again the enormous potential humans have to heal. She has seen it happen...while working with a missionary threatened by violence, helping a depressed client return to a sense of equilibrium, conducting retreats around the globe.

The healing that occurs "may not be total or on our timeline. Life goes on as the healing takes place," she says.

As a therapist, Sister Maria sees herself as the companion rather than the healer. "Healing happens from within," she says. Her role is to focus on the health that is present in a person, not the problem. As the companion, she brings care, respect, compassionate listening and, as needed, "hard truth— the healing truth. Sometimes I challenge, but I always support," she told Every Day Catholic in a telephone interview from her home in Bethesda, Maryland.

Sister Maria entered the Maryknolls after high school. When she was sent to Korea, she fell in love with her new life and work there. But her community leaders sensed that she had potential in the field of medicine. Since finishing her medical degree she has traveled the globe, working as a psychiatrist and a retreat and workshop leader. Much of her professional practice has focused on helping missionaries who have suffered violence, typically in foreign countries.

"Faith is a tremendous grounding for me and for most people who heal well," says Sister Maria. "I try to help people appreciate that they are rooted in the energy, power and healing presence of God. I have never been afraid to integrate psychiatry and spirituality."
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