"There is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if by grace, it
is no longer because of works; otherwise grace would no longer
be grace" (Romans 11:5-6).
God is always selecting people in the Bible, but in disconcerting
ways. There seems to be no previous preparation or proven
holinessoften not even willingness among those specially
Biblical chosenness does not seem to mean that we are anything
special; instead, it reminds us of the specialness in which
all creatures share. It is seldom saying we are especially
good; it is always saying God is good. It is never saying
that we are inherently qualified for chosenness, but says
that God wants to give us an experience of unearned chosenness
or "beloved" status. That way we can know what chosenness
really feels like, and can better communicate that experience
to all others.
Starting with the "chosen people" themselves, beloved status
prepares them to communicate it to the whole world. God chose
the Jews not because he loved them better than anybody else
but to lead them through a 40-year training exercise, so they
could be a transformative template that would challenge all
religion in every age.
Yet the history of religion is that most of us refuse to
go on the full journey and, instead, stay deadlocked at early-stage
superiority. We somehow believe that we are chosen, right,
saved. But often, this belief does not progress into a generative
journey for others, a sympathy for other peoples' journeys
or belief in the beauty of other religions.
Biblical election is an inclusive chosenness because it is
dealing with an infinite God in whom all things cohere. Egocentric
chosenness is always exclusive and arrogant, as if there were
not enough to go around.
All the chosen figures I know of in the BibleMoses,
Jacob, Joseph, Esther, Judith, Peter, Paulare flawed
individuals who are unprepared for God's call. They are chosen
in their lowliness. There is only one case where the pattern
is seemingly different, although it is not really different
as much as distilled, concise and utterly clear.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the archetype of chosenness.
The Greek word that is used when Gabriel visits Mary (Luke
1:29) is a rare verb form that could be translated: "Hail,
Chosenness Itself!" (or "Grace Personified!"). Favor says
much more about the one doing the favoring than the one receiving
the favor. All we can do is receive chosenness. All we can
do is accept that we are accepted, which is much harder than
we think! This becomes the central biblical theme of grace.
Until Mary, most of the central chosen figures in the Bible
were men. In Mary we have the ideal vessel, the one who personifies
the state of perfectly received favor from God. There is nothing
in the biblical text that says she was worthy, prepared or
had earned this favor. It is given by God, and her glory is
that she can accept being used as a "handmaid."
Mary knows her Jewish tradition, and she knows how God works.
She knows how Yahweh, the God of Israel, consistently chooses
an enslaved race, forgotten sons, barren women and unprepared
"laypeople" so they can revel in their totally gratuitous
election. And God gets all the glory! Mary knows that it is
always a statement of God's goodness, not ours. As some later
mystics put it, it is almost as if God was waiting for a perfectly
receptive brideand God found her in Mary of Nazareth.
She receives the Divine Kiss, and swoons in gratitude and
fertility: Jesus. That is all. That is everything.
"The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is
his name" (Luke 1:49) becomes her motto and mantra. Mary looked
at God's goodness and refused to be preoccupied with her own.
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. His newest book is
Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis
in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony
to a RealAudio excerpt of Father Richard Rohr
Great Themes of Scripture, 10-part audiocassette
series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090,
Chosen in Baptism
By Judith Dunlap
Baptism is a sacrament that celebrates our chosenness.
During the opening rites of our children's Baptism they
were signed and claimed for Christ. They were immersed in
water, anointed with oil and given a white garment: all
to celebrate their call to a new life in faith. At their
Baptism, we as parents responded to the call. We said yes
for our little ones.
Consider celebrating the anniversary of that day annually
so that as your children grow older they have a chance to
say yes for themselves. Baptism, a celebration of new life,
is in effect a new birth day. So why not mark the occasion
as you celebrate a regular birthday? Serve your child's
favorite meal. Give a small gift (a prayer card, book or
video with a religious theme). Together look at pictures
from the Baptism. Talk about the ceremony, the people who
were there, the party afterwards. Light the baptismal candle
and sing "Happy New Birthday."
For toddlers, celebrating their Baptism offers another
opportunity for them to be the center of attention. For
teens, it is a chance to be affirmed and to personalize
their faith. And make certain you celebrate your own Baptism.
(If you have forgotten the date, check with the parish where
you were baptized.) By developing your own ritual to celebrate
the day, you are helping to renew the sacrament in your
Finally, some time during the celebration talk about Baptism.
Recall that in this sacrament your child became part of
God's family. Baptism may be a once-in-a-lifetime gift,
but it is a gift that can be recognized and celebrated more
For Family Response:
During the baptismal rite, the following question
is posed: "What do you ask of the Church for your
child?" If you were to answer that question for yourself
(or your child) today, what would you ask?
to this month's FAMILY CORNER.
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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
By Frank Frost
How to describe Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to
a friend? It's a martial-arts movie, but not really. It's
romantic legend, sort of. It offers great special effects,
But somehow that doesn't get at the real appeal of the
Yes, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon displays stunning
special effects in the style of The Matrix, but a
more striking similarity between the two films is their
Zen-like, futuristic-like premise (Crouching Tiger
is actually set in the past) that the enlightened mind can
burst the barriers of physical limitation.
The spiritual tone of the movie comes in part from the
eternal clash of good and evil in which honor, integrity
and love are put to the test. It also comes from the fact
that achievement of extraordinary physical gifts can be
gained through meditation and study with a spiritual master.
Quite frankly, part of the effect may also arise simply
from the exotic nature of hearing Chinese spoken (translated
The story line follows a four-centuries-old sword and the
way it intertwines the lives of two strong women and a retired
male warrior. The warrior, Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun Fat), is
pursuing his quest to redeem the death of his spiritual
master at the hand of Jade Fox, a powerful evil enemy. Yu
Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) is a mature woman, a former martial-arts
expert whose love of Li Mu Bai is reciprocated but has gone
unexpressed by both of them over the years. Jen (Zhang Ziyi)
is young and intemperate, driven by passion and disregard
for tradition. She rebels against her high-level arranged
marriage and is attracted to a desert outlaw (Chang Chen),
whose world represents everything hers is not. The evil
Jade Fox (Pei-pei Cheng) lurks hidden in their midst.
The characters' interaction around the sword triggers physical
dueling that involves the ability to swirl, kick, parry
and chop too fast for the naked eye, or the ability to snatch
a swift deadly dart out of the air. The choreographed fighting
is actually upstaged by gravity-eliminating chases that
take flight along rooftops and through treetops. All of
this remarkable athletic prowess becomes an image of spiritual
battles fought not for things, but for abstract values.
As the conflict reaches its inevitable climax, someone
will die. Who triumphs, and how, provides a surprise ending
with an unusual touch.
Crouching Tiger and The Matrix, both recent
blockbuster movies, explore the same new frontier in their
technical virtuosity of imaging reality. They both suggest
the potential of the enlightened mind to transcend and transform
a physical world. After you watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon for its wonderful fight scenes, gorgeous photography
and romance, perhaps you'll agree that what this movie really
is about is spiritual power.
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SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG
By Judy Ball
St. Isidore (1070-1130)
Isidore lived long before the term "farm crisis" entered
the language, centuries before the family farm was at risk
of being swallowed up by conglomerates and corporations.
But he spent his life working on a farm he did not own.
The patron of farmers, St. Isidore was born in Madrid,
Spain. From an early age he served as a field hand on the
estate of a kind and generous man who appreciated Isidore's
devotion to his duties as well as his strong religious instincts.
Some of Isidore's fellow workers were not so kindly disposed,
however, and complained that he failed to put in a full
day's work. True, Isidore started each morning with Mass
or a visit to a nearby church, and he frequently prayed
as he tilled the soil. But his employer agreed the accusations
of co-workers were without merit.
Isidore and his wife, who is also honored as a saint (Santa
Maria de la Cabeza), were the parents of a son who died
young. The couple became known for their generosity to the
poor despite their own limited circumstances. The poor often
followed Isidore home, where they were given foodfrequently
in more liberal portions than enjoyed by the couple feeding
A popular myth tells of Isidore arriving late for a parish
supper followed by a crowd of beggars. Advised that there
was not enough food for such a large gathering, Isidore
expressed confidence that Jesus would provide for them.
The food was mysteriously multiplied. There was more than
enough for all.
Isidore is also the patron of the National Catholic Rural
Life Conference. He was canonized in 1622. His feast day
is May 15.
Joe and Brenda Cochran
Joe and Brenda Cochran are proud of their work as dairy
farmers in Westfield, Pennsylvania. They labor hard and
their days are long. The advantages to rural life are many,
says Mr. Cochran, including the freedom of self-employment,
the simplicity of country life and the opportunity to work
the land to produce food for the common good.
"This is a vocation and a God-given gift," says Brenda,
48, who typically spends more time inside the house than
outside. But the mother of 14 children (ages 27 to 5) is
an important part of the family farm.
"Brenda is a lot of the motivation behind things here.
She is an activist," says Joe, 50. He admits he is often
tempted to focus all his time and energy on the 213-acre
family farm and the additional 700 acres he rents. Even
with the help of many of the Cochran children in the field,
chores typically begin at 5 a.m. and end at 10 p.m. seven
days per week.
But Brenda has convinced Joe that "nothing will change"
unlessas a family and with othersthey work on
the many problems and injustices small farmers face today.
The most pressing issues, the Cochrans told Every Day
Catholic, are pricing and the dominating presence of
corporate interests and multinationals for whom money matters
more than people. "The family farmer," says Joe, "is doing
a much better job in terms of quality, efficiency, respect
for the environment. We're not exploiters; we co-exist with
The Cochrans, active in the National Catholic Rural Life
Conference, turn to the Church and its rural life leaders
for support and inspiration. "We have to seek justice as
Catholics," says Joe.
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to this month's themes:
The following articles
are available in full text at AmericanCatholic.org: