GOD IN OUR MIDST
Elected by God
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

"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 holiness—often not even willingness among those specially chosen.

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.

Mary: Archetype of Chosenness

All the chosen figures I know of in the Bible—Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Esther, Judith, Peter, Paul—are 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.

Ideal Vessel

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 bride—and 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 Messenger Press).

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt of Father 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:

  • Reflect on a time when you felt favored or chosen.
  • What does it mean to be chosen by God? For what are we chosen?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection
from GOD IN OUR MIDST.

 

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FAMILY CORNER
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 family.

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 than once.

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?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

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MEDIA WATCH
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, and more.

But somehow that doesn't get at the real appeal of the movie.

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 by subtitles).

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 US
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 food—frequently in more liberal portions than enjoyed by the couple feeding them.

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" unless—as a family and with others—they 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 nature."

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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