GOD IN OUR MIDST
Accepting Our Acceptance
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

"It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations" (Deuteronomy 7:7).

God has chosen us. That is simple and clear. But for us to accept that we are chosen or beloved is actually quite difficult, just as it was for Israel. It demands major freedom from self. (Only the "nobodies" seem to be ready for chosenness. Meanwhile God has to lead most of us on long 40-year journeys before we get to that place.)

God chooses each of us—not to "raise us up a notch," but to lead us through necessary and transformative journeys so we can allow ourselves to be beloved, and to relish a mutual relationship. At Pentecost the Spirit is poured out on "all humankind" regardless of status.

The election of the Jews, God's "chosen people," eventually becomes a message for the whole world, and not something to keep them superior, satisfied or apart. It will take the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jonah, Jesus himself, the rest of the Book of Acts and the fierce ministry of Paul to resolve God's universality. Because the implications of "one God who created all things" gradually became clear, they soon called this new religion "catholic." Our attempts to limit this election have often made us more ethnic than catholic. Not only does God end up looking very small and scarce, but we do too.

We are ready for the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit only after 50 days of enjoying the wisdom of the risen Christ. It takes a while to move from Jesus as mine to Jesus as everybody's. Originally only Paul was strong enough to get the point, and his ministry to the gentiles (which is most of us!) was a scandal to James and Peter. He had to argue with Peter about this, and God had to give Peter a vision to prove it to him.

Choosing, Changing

When God makes a choice, it is definitive and irrevocable. The biblical God does not love us if we change, but so that we can change. God has not stopped choosing Israel any more than God stops choosing us because we do not respond (see Romans 11). As our Catholic tradition and recent popes have affirmed, the Jews are still the chosen people.

God's love, it seems, is never determined by the worthiness of the one loved, which is almost impossible for us to comprehend—because that is the only way we know how to love. The biblical God seems to be both extremely patient and extremely humble. This is good news, for where would any of us be if God's choice depended upon our response?

Since God's choice is not determined by the worthiness or even readiness of the chosen, the Bible speaks of God's love as being steadfast, faithful, forever and like a rock! We have never kept our side of the contract, and yet God always rises to the occasion and holds up God's side. You could say that is the very definition of what it means to be God and what it means to be a human being in the Bible: Humanity always fails, God always saves.

Resting, Rejoicing

As humans, we cannot recognize, much less affirm, another person's inherent, God-given goodness until we have rested in that lovely place ourselves. God is inviting us first of all to rest and rejoice in what it means to be God's beloved son or daughter. When we have learned to live and abide in that chosenness, only then can we communicate that same beloved status to anybody else or any situation at any level of depth, joy or freedom.

This is the only wedding feast there is. If we have been there, we can proclaim a true and new alternative to the drudgery and darkness of this world. This is healthy and happy religion, and it is offered to us.

As we say at Mass, "How happy are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

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:

  • When have you felt accepted just as you are?
  • What do you think it means to be a son or daughter of God?

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

 

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FAMILY CORNER
Pentecost People
By Judith Dunlap

We are a Pentecost people. Like the first disciples, we are gifted with the Holy Spirit so that we can share our faith with others. This is not always easy. Many of us were raised to believe that religion is a private matter. It can be difficult for us to talk about God or our faith. And yet, faith-sharing in families is crucial.

We live in a culture that in many ways no longer supports Judeo-Christian values. More than ever, young people need to hear and see the people most important to them talking about and living the gospel message. If faith is going to be real in their lives, they need to see that faith is a reality in the lives of those closest to them.

Celebrate Pentecost this year (June 3) with your family by reading or retelling the story from Acts 2:1-13. Talk about how you would have felt if you were in the upper room, and invite other family members to do the same. Discuss the Holy Spirit in your own life. How have you experienced the gifts of courage and understanding? When have you felt the Spirit's fruits of joy and peace? Finally, have fun with the symbols of fire and wind. Weather permitting, spend the afternoon flying a kite. Decorate a windsock or put together a wind chime. Have a special dinner with lots of candles. Talk about why you think fire and wind are symbols of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is the day the disciples were empowered by the Holy Spirit to leave the safe closure of the upper room and share their faith with a city of strangers. Why not take the risk this Pentecost and share your faith with those closest to you? Trust in the Spirit. Like those early disciples, you may be astonished at the results.

 

For Family Response: If you were one of the disciples on that first Christian Pentecost what would you have wanted to share about your faith?

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

 

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MEDIA WATCH
Erin Brockovich
By Frank Frost

Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for best actress in the title role of Erin Brockovich. But there's more to commend the film than that. Its depiction of justice and courage, based on a real story, is truly inspiring. Erin is hardly a model of behavior in many ways (and her foul language keeps this from being a movie for impressionable children), but one of the motifs of the story is "Don't judge by appearances."

From the beginning of the movie, nothing is going right for Erin, a brazen, profane, stubborn former beauty queen whose disastrous life has left her with two divorces, three kids, no education and no job (though, heaven knows, she's looking). Still, she expects justice to prevail when she goes to court for damages and medical expenses after she is broadsided by a car that runs a red light. But all she wins is a lesson in the power of money and appearances. She doesn't stand a chance against a defendant who is an upstanding doctor with a good lawyer.

But that is nothing compared to what she will soon encounter. She talks her unsuccessful small-time lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), first into a job, and eventually into challenging a $28 billion corporation—Pacific Gas & Electric—whose toxic waste has led to cancer and every manner of health problems for members of a community living near the power plant. What begins as a single real-estate case mushrooms into a multimillion class action suit, thanks to Erin's sense of humanity and fierce belief in righteousness and justice.

Erin's struggle is not just with an impersonal corporation. She is also fighting herself for a sense of self-worth, and everything she does forces her to negotiate her responsibilities to her children. Her personal crisis comes to a head when her live-in boyfriend, who is her children's caregiver, delivers an ultimatum: give up her job or give up him. She discovers new-found self-respect by choosing to persist in her struggle against injustice.

In the end David slew Goliath. And so, Erin and Ed bring down the giant corporation that lied to people while rendering their water supply deadly. The monetary settlement granted by the courts cannot erase the people's grief over disease and death caused by the toxic water. But the truth is also cleansing, and holding the power company accountable provides relief.

Perhaps one of the most telling messages of this story is that it's not just the responsibility of perfect human beings to perform courageous moral acts. Toughened by years of hard knocks, Erin inspires harsh judgments in others by her appearance and language. But in the end, her idealism as Miss Wichita years before does not seem so foolish after all. Then she had dedicated her reign "to the end of world hunger, and to the creation of a peaceful earth for every man, woman and child."

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SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Thomas More (1478-1535)
Anyone who has seen the classic film, A Man for All Seasons, is familiar with Thomas More: devoted husband and father; prominent lawyer, theologian, writer, member of Parliament; outstanding statesman and public servant to the King of England; man of unshakable faith and conscience.

Called "the person of greatest virtue" ever produced in the British Isles, Thomas More went to his death rather than deny his religious convictions. For his life of service, loyalty and simple goodness, he is admired. For his final act of integrity—placing his allegiance to God before his loyalty to King Henry VIII—he is revered and honored as a martyr for his faith.

After decades of devoted and distinguished service to the king of England, More's integrity was tested to the core. After divorcing his first wife, King Henry VIII married again and declared himself head of the Church in England. More resigned his post as chancellor and then refused to swear his loyalty to legislation that made the king head of the Church of England. For that act of conscience, Thomas More was imprisoned in the Tower of London. In 1535 he was convicted of treason and ultimately beheaded.

In late 2000, close to 500 years after his death, Thomas More was officially proclaimed the patron saint of politicians. Pope John Paul II, speaking to 1,500 politicians from 95 countries, urged them to look to Thomas More as a model who "never compromised his conscience" and a man who "always placed himself at the service of the person, especially the weak and poor."

St. Thomas More's feast is celebrated on June 22. He was canonized in 1935.

Father Daniel Coughlin
When he first arrived in Washington, D.C., in March 2000 to undertake the role of chaplain for the House of Representatives, Father Daniel Coughlin needed a scorecard.

Elected politicians—435 of them (as well as their staffs)—made up his new parish. The priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, never one to follow politics closely, was resourceful. He pored over the House photo directory and prayed he would remember Congress members' names when he encountered them in the halls!

Fifteen months later, Father Coughlin, 65, the first Catholic priest ever to hold the position of House chaplain, is at home with his "parishioners." And he is impressed by what he has seen in many instances: men and women who operate out of a religious motivation, devoted public servants who work hard to keep family life a priority, people who look carefully at "the ripple effect of their judgments and decisions."

"The weightiness of their responsibilities demands prayer for them—and for them to be people of prayer," Father Coughlin told Every Day Catholic. Each morning he quietly prays for members by name. His public, daily official prayer as House chaplain is more universal in scope.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives serving in the 21st century do not face the prospect of death, as their patron saint did, for witnessing to their conscience. But, Father Coughlin believes, they are called "to vote on the basis of their conscience. The judgments they make—we make—each day register the values we stand for."

Politicians in particular, he says, should be "people for all seasons."


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