All great religion is about the transformation of pain and what we
do with our painthe 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 onethe
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.
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.
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
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.)
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 feelingsempathy,
anger, frustrationwhen 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?
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
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
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 worldone with a
touch of humor.
The typical plot finds the principal conflict interwoven with interrelated
subplots, all of which require moral choicesthe 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 goalsand 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
officialscomplex moral decisions arising from an ongoing thoughtful
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
AND HEROES AMONG US
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
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 freefree 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
return to top
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: