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 arein 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 famebecause we know we're
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.
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.)
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 healthyphysically,
emotionally and spirituallyis 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 complimentswords
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
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.
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, andhere's the interesting partwhen 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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AND HEROES AMONG US
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
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
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
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related to this
The following articles are
available in full text at AmericanCatholic.org: