"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). These are the familiar opening words
of Jesus' Sermon on the Mounthis inaugural address.
At the very beginning of his teaching, Jesus gives us a revolutionary
understanding of how change happens.
In God's reign, the "poor in spirit"those who have
been excluded, rejected, overlooked and deemed uselessin
fact have a big advantage. They have a "privileged seeing"
over the rest of us.
The poor in spirit are those who have been defeated somehow
and who then rediscover themselves in a new place of utter
security and freedom. They no longer need or believe in the
old power or the old identity and often appear simple and
naive to those of us still playing the game. In our competitive
eyes they are poor and powerless. In Jesus' eyes they are
"blessed" and "happy."
Beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures and continuing through
the remainder of the Bible, we are taken on a journey into
powerlessness. Over and over, biblical revelation is undercutting
what we call power and relocating it. It is one of the most
difficult messages God has to deliver.
The word of God is seeking to stop the cycle of violence
that has plagued human history and to unlock it from within.
Problems cannot be solved by changing things from the top
down or the outside in. Instead, the Bible gradually reveals
what I would call "relational" or spiritual power:
transforming things from the bottom up and the inside out.
Spiritual power is the ability to influence others through
one's very being, through who one is in God, through the transformative
power of truth and love. It moves from God's very being to
people who have let God love them, and from these people who
have been loved by God to everything they touch. Yes, it is
slow but it is ultimately effective.
Only vulnerable people can keep growing and converting. They
allow events to influence them. It is always the vulnerable
and powerless ones that God can risk sharing power with because
they alone know how to handle power. All the rest of us will
normally abuse it.
Who does God choose to show God's self to? An enslaved people
rather than a dominant powerthe Israelites as opposed
to the Egyptians or the Babylonians. They gradually learn
that they are not alone, that Someone else is in control.
And so, they can let go of control!
The theme continues with barren women (Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca
and Elizabeth), neglected sons (Isaac and David), rejected
prophets (all of them) and in the daily ministry of Jesus
with the lepers, blind, lame and poor (who respond to him,
while the powerful fight him and finally kill him).
Spiritual power reaches its fullness in Jesus. He never forces
God's will but invites and awaits transformation. Even after
he models the way of powerlessness to his apostles, they argue
about who is the greatest. He challenges them: "You know that
the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great
ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not
be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among
you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among
you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come
to be served but to serve..." (Matthew 20:25-28).
Through his life and teaching Jesus has forever revealed
the nature of true power. He has given us a critique of all
systemic power, prestige and possessions that we are still
hard-pressed to accept 2,000 years later. Without the experience
of true spiritual power, we will never have the security to
let go of all of its lesser forms.
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 from Father Richard Rohr
Great Themes of Scripture, a 10-part audiocassette
series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090,
Struggle for Independence
By Judith Dunlap
One of the most awesome and challenging responsibilities
of parenting is helping our children accept their limitations
as they work towards self-reliance. The struggle for independence
Remember when your toddler was learning to stand on his
own? At some point you had to remove your fingers from his
tiny grasp and watch him teeter back and forth. Sometimes
he would fall. At other times he might reach back and grab
your finger for support. This process of letting go and
standing by continues until our children reach adulthood
and learn to balance independence with a healthy need for
The process isn't always easy, but allowing our children
to experience the consequences of missing the bus or forgetting
their homework teaches them responsibility. Offering them
help in an emergency teaches them trust. They also learn
to rely on others to support and supplement their efforts
as they work together with family members on projects around
the house or in the neighborhood. They learn to rely on
God by witnessing our trust in God and by being taught to
pray for the support they need. We know we have been successful
as parents when our children can stand on their own, knowing
they do not stand alone.
We parents learn the same lessons as we struggle with our
own powerlessness. When Jesus talks about becoming like
a little child (Luke 18:16), one of the things he is referring
to is a child's powerlessness. Perhaps he was telling us
that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are able to
acknowledge their limitedness and realize the source of
true power available to them.
return to top
By Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
What do the following have in common: Geoffrey Chaucer,
The Princess Bride, the Nike logo, spiky hairstyles,
the World Wrestling Federation, Gone with the Wind,
feminism, democracy, the cult of celebrity, Academy Awards
fashions, MTV and spectator sports?
Discovering these anachronistic references and more can
turn writer-director Brian Helgeland's A Knight's Tale
into a healthy dose of cleverly administered medicinal laughter.
In this semi-spoof action film Heath Ledger plays William
Thatcher, one of three squires in service to a French knight
who dies on the way to a jousting match. William decides
to impersonate him to earn much-needed money. Knights must
be of noble blood and have patent proof of their lineage
so they can participate in tournaments. William, now Sir
Ulrich, bluffs his way in and wins. After, William convinces
his friends to continue the scam on the tournament circuit
rather than return to England.
Enter, of all people, Geoffrey Chaucer. Wearing nothing,
he trudges past the three as they travel along the road
to the next tournament. Amazed, they question the man who
introduces himself as an author who can write letters of
patent for nobles. He tells the men to call him "Jeff,"
and they later discover he is also a gambler with a talent
for shtick. In return for clothing and shoes, Jeff creates
the necessary patents for William's phony persona and becomes
his hammy herald who warms up the crowds with panache.
A beautiful female blacksmith makes new armor for William
and joins the itinerant group. A sultry noblewoman, Jocelyn,
sees William from the stands, and they fall in love. William
consistently bests Sir Adhemar. William also jousts with
an anonymous knight who turns out to be the Black Prince,
Edward. He plays a key role in the feel-good resolution
of the film's "conflict."
The world jousting championship is held in London. William
seeks out his father, now blind, who had placed William
in the service of the French knight 12 years before in hopes
that William could change his "stars" and make a better
life for himself. They reunite just before Adhemar exposes
William's humble roots and has him arrested. William is
rescued, knighted, gets his lady and all ends well.
A Knight's Tale is a kind of romanticized medieval
road movie "lite." It offers words of wisdom and deeds of
honor along with sounds and images of medieval Christendom,
however "lite" the religious understanding of the characters
seems to be. These play out through the lens of today's
American popular culture with humor rather than depth. A
Knight's Tale does not take itself too seriously. It's
a fun watch for most teens and adults that will probably
induce a stream of chuckles rather than belly laughs. And
sometimes, this is just what the spirit needs.
return to top
SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG
By Judy Ball
St. Edith Stein (1891-1942)
The short life and brutal death of Edith Stein offer a
poignant lesson in the power of redeeming love in the midst
of one of the most hideous chapters in human history.
Gifted, generous, headstrong, passionate, devoted: Only
strong, forceful words can describe the young girl, then
teenager, university student and scholar growing up in pre-Nazi
Germany. These qualities that had served her so well were
only strengthened in the next phase of her life as she converted
to Catholicism at 31, entered a Carmelite convent at 42
and died in a concentration camp at 51.
The youngest of seven children, young Edith was almost
certainly the favorite of her mother, a devout Jew. But
Edith was also headstrong, and charted her own course from
an early age. She showed limited interest in Judaism. As
a teen she announced her intention to give up prayer and
leave school. Later, she was one of the few women to obtain
a doctorate (in philosophy) from a prestigious German university.
During World War I she risked health and safety caring for
typhoid victims at a military hospital. She pressed for
women's right to vote.
But as hatred swept through Europe, Edith Steinby
then known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Crosscould
find no haven. She was rounded up in a sweep of Jewish converts
to Catholicism and sent to a detention camp in Holland in
August 1942. There she offered what food and comfort she
could to distraught children separated from their mothers.
One week later she was transported by boxcar to Auschwitz,
where she died on August 9, which is now observed as her
Pope John Paul II canonized Edith Stein in 1998.
Father Emmanuel Charles McCarthy
The date of August 9 is rich in meaning for Father Emmanuel
Charles McCarthy. It is the day Edith Stein died in a Nazi
internment camp in 1942; the day of his 1981 ordination
as a priest of the Roman Catholic Church (Melkite); the
day his youngest daughter was born in 1984 and given the
(Latin) name that Edith Stein used in religious lifeTeresia
The connection with Edith Stein hardly ends there. At
age two, Teresia Benedicta McCarthy, who had been living
with her family in suburban Boston, lay in Massachusetts
General Hospital close to death. Her liver was irreparably
damaged, and doctors had pronounced her case medically hopeless.
McCarthy family members and friends prayed to Edith Stein.
Two days later, the little girl's physicians reported that
she had made a full recovery. By 1997, officials in Rome
ruled that Teresia's recovery was in fact a miraclethe
miracle that made possible the canonization of Edith Stein.
Celebrating her 17th birthday this month, Teresia Benedicta
is a healthy, happy high school senior. And her father,
who is acting rector of St. Gregory the Theologian Melkite
Catholic Seminary in Brookline, is convinced that she is
named after one of the Church's greatest saints.
"In a world drenched in evil," Edith Stein showed that
"the ultimate road to truth is the way of Christlike love,"
Father McCarthy, a veteran peace activist, told Every
Day Catholic. Her whole life was about "fidelity to
the will of God in the moment." And as she walked to her
death in a gas chamber, he noted, "she continued to love
as Christ loved all along the way to the final moment. This
was an incredible human being!"
return to top
to this month's themes:
The following articles
are available in full text at AmericanCatholic.org: