Transforming Our Pain
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

All great religion is about the transformation of pain and what we do with our pain—the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust experiences that make up our lives. The hurts and disappointments and betrayals, the burden of our own sinfulness and brokenness pile up as life goes on. We must find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds. We must find a way to give cosmic meaning to our pain, to find God in that pain and turn it from useless, meaningless hurt to a journey to God. Our faith is a gift that helps us deal with the tragedies of life.

Throughout history almost every piece of literature has idealized people at the top: the presidents and leaders who hold power, the people who control the system. But biblical revelation turns history upside down with its empathy for the victim. It idealizes the bottom. It says that the power of things is not at the top. Then Jesus comes to epitomize that message by becoming the poor, naked, expelled one—the one who teaches us that the way down is really the way up.

The ongoing lesson for us is that we need to stop looking for meaning at the top and, instead, go to the edges and the bottom, where we find the excluded and the expelled. By his life and his teaching Jesus reminds us that we have to be rejected, we have to experience being on the outside before we really have something to say.

This is the gift at the heart of biblical revelation. It is why we are the only religion that worships the victim, the expelled one, the one considered the problem by religious authorities.

God of Surprises
When we Christians call Jesus the Lord of history—this bleeding, naked, crucified man—we are turning human history around! In many ways, we don't realize how scandalous and silly it is to others. But when you really think about it, the crucified Jesus is an unlikely candidate for God.

But this is the very Jesus who, through his teaching and his life, is reminding us to be careful where we look for God. You can expect to find God in the unexpected places, he tells us. And so it is in all of history: It has been the excluded ones, the people at the bottom who have the privileged viewpoint. Why? Because it is from that position that we meet God, that we understand the illusion and the lie of a system built on pretense, power, prestige, possessions. But until all that is taken from us, we don't know that. Until then we are simply playing the game and enjoying the fruits of the system.

Recall how Jesus sends his first disciples out to preach in a position of total vulnerability. "Go out, take nothing for your journey," Jesus tells them. Why? Because he knows they are going to fail, that they are going to look like fools. They have to, you see, or they won't have any message to deliver.

Hard Truths
It's an initiation rite of sorts: Jesus sends his disciples out into a situation where people are going to laugh at them and consider them nobodies. Only when you are a nobody inside the system will you understand what it means to be a somebody. That is when you will find your life on new ground. We call it the Reign of God.

The Bible begins with a fall for a reason. The story of Adam and Eve is a microcosmic revelation of what will happen in every life. You and I will fall. Somewhere we will experience our own absurdity, our own utter brokenness. This reality isn't something to hold off; it's a necessary and tragic and beautiful part of the journey.

The answer to our pain is the Jesus who had been rejected, betrayed and abandoned and then hanged on a cross, bleeding and naked. The answer to our pain is the risen Christ, who reminds us that through pain we have new life.

RICHARD ROHR, a Franciscan priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He is the author of numerous books. His newest book is Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

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: Has the experience of rejection ever led to a new insight into your life or faith?

Describe the "new life" that can be found through pain and rejection. Have you had such an experience? Discuss.

Responses to this month's
Questions for Reflection

return to top

Winners Finish Last
By Judith Dunlap

Many of Jesus' sayings are hard. Surely the one from Matthew, "the last will be first," is one of them. We live in a culture where success means being number one. Coming in last is unacceptable. Yet Jesus teaches, by his words and actions, just the opposite.

Seeing the virtue in being last is difficult enough for us adults, but for a youngster, being last or left out can be traumatic.

It can be wrenching to watch your children suffer the pain of being left out. I remember being barraged by all sorts of feelings—empathy, anger, frustration—when this happened in our household. It was hard to face the reality that I could not make the hurt go away.

So what can we do when our children encounter rejection? First, love them and listen to their pain. Allow them time to talk about the experience. Help them find words to express their feelings. Perhaps you can share a story from your own childhood about a time you felt rejected or left out. Later, you might read or tell them a relevant story from Scripture. For example, you could recall the story of David (1Samuel 16:4-13, 17:1-51) or Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10).

When you share your stories and the stories of our faith family, you not only comfort your children but also plant seeds and provide a tool to help them grow. You are teaching them to connect their stories with the stories of others, and discover they are a part of a larger family where success and being first are measured with a different yardstick.

For Family Response: After discussing how it feels to be left out, talk about people in your own circle (school, work, neighborhood) who might feel excluded. What can you do about it?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.


return to top

The West Wing
By Frank Frost

"A president we can all agree on," ran an effective NBC on-air promotion last fall. Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet, in the weekly series The West Wing, is as close to a desirable president as we are likely to find portrayed in the media. Why is that?

Perhaps because this president leads and presides over a universe of fairness, integrity, honesty, reason and other values we cherish. It's a re-mythologizing of the presidency. And Lord knows, we need it.

Perhaps it's because the show tackles a variety of issues uncommon to commercial television, such as capital punishment, civic duty and religious liberty. And it manages to do this without preaching or sentimentality, while providing genuine entertainment.

Series creator and primary writer Aaron Sorkin infuses the seriousness of political debate with intelligence and constant energy. The show's trademark visual is dialogue delivered briskly during walks down White House corridors, past other people moving with deliberate haste to other destinations, talking on phones, delivering papers, working at desks. (A friend calls it "ER in the White House.") This is a complex, serious, interconnected world—one with a touch of humor.

The typical plot finds the principal conflict interwoven with interrelated subplots, all of which require moral choices—the heart of drama. (I like to size up my movie and TV experiences against the three Cs: characters, conflicts, choices.)

Any issue debated on West Wing is laced with concise presentation of data to back a cause that is being argued on both sides. Although each episode takes a definite point of view, it generally represents opposing views as intelligent and worthy of respect. And while we are not likely to pass a test on the rapid-fire statistics and arguments, we do retain a subsurface civics lesson. We learn that making public policy requires research, civil discourse, balancing political considerations against realistic goals—and compromise.

The show's multidimensional characters don't always expect to win. At the end of one show, President Bartlet tells a disappointed aide, "Go home. The day is over. We'll live to fight another one."

But the choices they make are ultimately for the common good. The message of West Wing is clear: Morality cannot be separated from politics, and we make continual moral choices through our elected officials—complex moral decisions arising from an ongoing thoughtful process.

There are elements that make West Wing and President Bartlet attractive to a Catholic audience. He quotes Scripture, he once considered the priesthood, references are made to the pope and Catholic hierarchy, he's a Notre Dame fan. But what makes him appealing is his well-informed judgment that consistently reflects fairness, compassion, justice and integrity.

West Wing establishes a moral universe we should all aspire to inhabit. return to top

By Judy Ball

St. Josephine Bakhita (1868-1947)
The remarkable story of Josephine Bakhita began in slavery and culminated in her canonization in October 2000 at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Josephine was born into a wealthy family in Sudan, Africa. By age 10 she was kidnapped by slave traders and, over the next decade, sold several times. During that period she endured repeated humiliations, beatings and mutilation. Finally, she was bought by a public servant who turned her over to a family that employed her as a nanny in Italy, where slavery was illegal.

Treated by the family with kindness, Josephine became acquainted with the Catholic faith as she accompanied her young charge to religious education classes. By age 21 Josephine herself was received into the Church and, several years later, into the novitiate of the Daughters of Charity (known as the Canossian Sisters) in Italy.

During her almost 50 years in religious life, she served the members of her community as a cook, seamstress and doorkeeper. This woman of faith and forgiveness was noted for her gentle presence and her willingness to undertake any task, however menial. Following the 1930 publication of a biography about her, she became a noted speaker who raised funds to support the missions.

Today, St. Josephine stands as a symbol of hope in Sudan, once a vibrant center of Church life but now embroiled in a civil war characterized by slavery, torture and religious persecution.

Pope John Paul II has called St. Josephine "the daughter of the Sudan, sold into slavery as a living piece of merchandise, and yet still free—free with the freedom of the saints." Her feast day is February 8.

Edwin J. Rigaud
Ed Rigaud is a man on a mission. He doesn't count the cost of the long hours, the travel, the countless meetings, the public speaking, the fund-raising efforts that make up his days. Not when the goal is the establishment of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, set to open in Cincinnati, Ohio, in early 2004.

As executive director of the Freedom Center, Mr. Rigaud, 57, hopes it can be "a catalyst to help overcome the negative legacy of slavery." The $45 million facility on the banks of the Ohio River, he says, will tell the story of the "inspiring lessons of courage, cooperation and perseverance" of black slaves in 19th-century America and the abolitionists who sought to help them through the informal network of escape routes out of the South.

Himself a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, the husband and father of three has been uplifted by the stories he has heard over the past five years. Both blacks and whites feel shame and anger about slavery, he told Every Day Catholic. But, he continued, "we have to face this history. Until we do that we can't take meaningful steps to come together." "Racism is an illness," says Mr. Rigaud, a member of St. Francis de Sales Parish who is on loan from his position as a vice president at Procter & Gamble. "The legacy of slavery is an important part of that illness." He wonders aloud if we can cure ourselves. "Yes," he finally concludes. "With help and courage and the return of the abolitionist spirit, we can do it."

The lessons of the Underground Railroad are viable for all of us, he believes, "even if only a few people are inspired to become modern-day freedom conductors."
return to top

RESOURCES related to this month's themes:

The following articles are available in full text at AmericanCatholic.org:

The following products are available from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications at AmericanCatholic.org:


I want to order a 12-month bulk subscription
to hand out in my parish or classroom.



return to top
Paid Advertisement
Ads contrary to Catholic teachings should be reported to our webmaster. Include ad link.

An AmericanCatholic.org Web Site from the Franciscans and
Franciscan Media     ©1996-2014 Copyright