Who We Are, What We Are
issue carries an
imprimatur from the
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
by Eugene Kennedy
that in this device-laden age we may purchase a kind of Personal Locator
that tells us exactly where we are in the physical world. This bauble
of invention has it just backwards: We know where we are. We want
to be somewhere else.
asked a friend who had been ill, "Are you feeling like yourself yet?"
He answered, "I’m not doing well feeling like myself. I’d like to
feel like somebody else."
humorously of the serious yearning of many Americans. Our real challenge
is to get the true coordinates of our spiritual whereabouts. We long
to move on. That we cannot finish the phrase is instructive. It lacks
an object and an objective. We want to move on but we have no clear
destination in mind. We just want to be out of here, away from the
stress and distress.
are is just as vexing for many people who try on the fashions of the
times only to find that they don’t fit very well. Style arises, blooms
and disappears faster than a summer garden—a perfect illustration
of our chronic problem with identity. The question in America is not
Microsoft’s "Where do you want to go today?" but the culture’s mocking
inquiry, "Whom do you want to be today?"
queries not of the hard-hearted but of the broken-hearted, those who
feel hungry in boom times and, most discouraging, feel that their
sense of aimlessness is an epidemic. Is there a Moses who can end
our wandering for us?
Life in the ‘intermission’
in fact, living in a great intermission in history. This is abetted
by the millennial feeling that has slipped like a fog into our lives.
We feel that something in history is dying and that something different
is about to be born. We hear death throes as well as labor pains.
How tantalizing to live in such an in-between era in which, as at
all intermissions, we don’t quite know what to do.
lived through at least part of the thundering first act of the passing
century that set the scene and stated the problem but did not resolve
it. We are restlessly waiting for the second act to discover our common
destiny. In the meantime, there is no protocol for the interlude at
this opera of our lives; nobody really knows what to do or say. As
in all the interludes, the prompter has left his box. As in the theater,
we wander—unsure of ourselves among strangers unsure of themselves.
real question is about who we are and where we are going. But the
times do not provide an adequate answer. The interlude between acts
of a play is generally held in a large, well-decorated hall or space
designed for in-between wandering—not unlike the yard in a minimum-security
is life for many at the present time. It is a holding area but it
is not a place you can call home. We dwell in a period after the collapse
of the authoritarian model of government, a design that, until this
century, was used by all the great institutions that hold civilization
together. Religion, learning, medicine, law—you name it—expressed
themselves through hierarchical, autocratic structures. That is why
even banks dwelt, like colleges, in Greek temple buildings.
authority existed within this structure, just as love survives totalitarianism.
Most people, however, confuse authoritarianism with authority. Authority
has yet to find its true voice. Far from suggesting the control of
authoritarianism, authority comes from the Latin augere, which
means to create, to make able to grow; it is the same root for author.
Our struggle in the interim is to recover our authority, our capacity
to author our own lives.
model disintegrated early in the century with the fall of the great
monarchies in World War I. The Space/Information Age, like a demolition
team, has razed the temples and healed the estrangement between earth
and the heavens. The obsolescence of hierarchical housing has not
invalidated the purposes of great institutions. Truth remains, as
does faith, art and law. But these stabilizing and identifying entities
have not yet found new housing for themselves in this vastly transformed
why everything seems to lack direction. Standards and morals have
not disappeared, but their authoritarian modes have peeled away. This
creates the "intermission" feeling in both Church and state. Their
task is not to weep for the illusion of certainty in Victorian times
but to find their true voices again in the Space/Information Age.
Doing something about it
step in securing our identity is to understand that we are living
in a wilderness in which the old signs do not work anymore. We are
reenacting the biblical myth that is also a mystery, that of being
exiled from Eden. For it is eating of the tree of all knowledge that
has jumbled the cycles of history and left our great institutions
a lap behind in learning the "entirely new languages" that, at Pentecost,
the apostles were commissioned to learn and to speak.
step in understanding ourselves is the realization that we are living
in an interim and that we naturally feel a failure of direction in
history. That authoritarian structures no longer express it well does
not mean that morality no longer exists. Concerns that we are a moral
minority or that we are the crazy ones are, in fact, the responses
of healthy people to this intermission period. But our task as believers
is sharpened as we are called to name freshly our experience, as Adam
did the animals, in the emerging language of this new time. That is
far from being accomplished, but it puts the world and our challenge
recognize the phenomena, especially in the realm of faith, that arise
in such an indeterminate period. The New Age, for example, is the
"shadow self," as psychiatrist Carl Jung called it, of true religion.
The "shadow self" is that other, lesser self that trails from us.
We glimpse it, as we do our own shadow, an insubstantial companion
that does not, like a phantom, disappear but gains a sharper outline
in the sunlight of careful observation.
is the perfect non-religion for this intermission. It has no structure,
no morals, no dogma; it makes no demands on those who would flock
to it. It tells us of our hunger for sacraments but it does not fulfill
it with its crystals, its channeling, its energy spots and its high-colonic
enemas. The New Age fits the interim because it is essentially vague
and narcissistic, and delivers a mood as background music does in
a cocktail lounge or a department store. It may be mysterious but
it has nothing to do with real mystery.
terrible disaster occurs New Age has nothing to say. It lacks the
depth to comprehend or to symbolize the tragic religious mystery of
human life and loss. New Age is just a fleeting shadow of the real
religion. It cannot respond from its depths because it doesn’t possess
any. It is, alas, the house Jesus described in a parable as being
built on sand.
gain little if we only criticize an ephemeral movement such as the
New Age. It is only a symptom of spiritual hard times. Nor need we
shuck off civilization to find an environment that, possessing the
Spirit, is unaffected by the buffeting but empty winds of popular
culture. This calling to provide spiritual shelter is as old as the
Christianity that arose as a counterculture. Catholicism never curses
or abandons the world but wants to give it light and life. We derive
enormous support from the Church as a believing community with a moral
tradition that understands us as sinners even as it encourages us
to be saints.
Church responds to our needs and our woes with the sacraments that
are the spiritual mirror images for life’s telling experiences from
birth through death. It also responds at the pastoral level with the
human understanding worn smooth and subtle by centuries of keeping
vigil with men and women in their joy and suffering.
people who quarrel with the official Church over some issues. But
we should not mistake that chronic buzz for the Mystery of the Church,
that mystery of human relationships, that "People of God," as it was
defined by Vatican II. With all the faults that come with being staffed
by humans and living in time, the Church remains a vessel of mystery,
especially in the sacraments that break the grip of time and give
us a taste of the eternal.
Who we are spiritually
Church provides a home for us, we must provide one for each other.
Although the shelves sag with books that promise you can have everything
you want (and plenty of things you don’t need), Catholicism makes
no such pledge. It points to eternal life but it understands and ministers
to us as people living in time. "Where there is time," Joseph Campbell
has written, "there is sorrow." So the Church addresses itself to
the imperfect, the wounded, the people who need encouragement more
than condemnation. No wonder people speak of it spontaneously as a
"family" or a "home." Those are the places where we can count on being
accepted as ourselves.
and reassuring part of finding our spiritual hearth in Catholicism
is that it does not speak of God as a distant being who has made so
many of us that he long ago took us off his mailing list and out of
rich revelation of God in his creatures. When St. John writes of how
God loves us, one expects him to conclude that we ought to love God
in return. Instead, he writes that since God loves us so greatly we
must love each other in return.
St. John writes, "is love." We believe in him because we have been
loved by people who thereby reveal God’s nature to us. How else could
we understand a God who loves and wants to share his life with us
if we never loved someone so much that we wanted to share our lives
with them? We would be staggered by the idea of eternity except for
those moments, so dear in life, when time’s bonds are broken and we
sense the eternal. Life is seeded with such moments, and religion
exists to underscore them as our participation in the great mystery
out who we are, for example, when others reveal themselves to us by
lowering their defenses and trusting in us or believing in us before
we believe in ourselves. It is God’s forgiveness we experience when
someone else forgives us from the heart. There is more of us alive
after we believe—have faith in or keep faith with—another more than
before. Fidelity is not an outmoded notion because it is the proclamation
of God’s love in us and our love for each other.
really are arises out of our everyday lives with each other. For that,
rather than a distant mountain, remains the place where we find ourselves
by losing ourselves in loving others. That is the timeless teaching
that the community of the Church proclaims and supports about finding
God and being ourselves. Behold, God says simply that his kingdom
is in the midst of us. So, too, is he. That sustains us through this
intermission, and, at the same time, gives us a preview of the second
Dr. Eugene Kennedy is professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. Among his many books is My Brother Joseph, published by St. Martin’s Press.
Kennedy Shriver has been given a multitude of opportunities
and gifts in her life. A member of one of the most established
and successful political families in America, she has been surrounded
by power and privilege. But the gift she most treasures is her
Catholic faith. It is a faith that was instilled and nurtured
by her loving parents, Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy.
The truths, lessons and prayers she learned as a child are central
to who she is now.
For Mrs. Shriver it is only natural to want to share the faith
that is so precious to her. As a mother she has done her best
to bequeath that gift to her five children, now grown. And,
as executive director of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation
in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Shriver is now putting her energy
behind a comprehensive effort to share the richness of her faith.
The Foundation is funding the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program
to Improve Catholic Religious Education for Children and Adults
with Mental Retardation. The curriculum project is operated
out of the Department for Persons with Disabilities of the Diocese
It was through her own late sister, Rosemary, a person with
mental retardation, that Mrs. Shriver learned firsthand about
"these special children of God." Founder and chairwoman of the
Special Olympics International, she has received many awards
for her service to the disabled community, including Notre Dame
University’s Laetare Medal and the Presidential Medal of Honor.
new religious education curriculum focuses on bringing persons
with mental retardation fully into the spiritual life of the
parish. And that, Mrs. Shriver believes, is where they belong
with their "great gifts of love, innocence, simplicity, fidelity
and respect. By their very being," she says, "they imitate the
gospel values" presented in the program. Her hope is that God’s
special children will be inspired to look for "heroes and heroines
of the Catholic faith" who will serve as "models for service."
Kennedy Shriver is a woman known for her humility, a Kennedy
who does not have the name recognition of the more famous members
of the clan. But her life speaks for itself, as does her commitment
to her faith.*
by Judy Ball
the world’s most-traveled pope comes an invitation to join him
on a new kind of pilgrimage. Through his new compact disc,
Abbà Pater, John Paul II offers a musical and spiritual
experience aimed at helping the listener meditate on the real
meaning of the forthcoming Jubilee Year. Cardinal Roger Etchegaray,
president of the Vatican’s Jubilee Committee, notes that the
pope’s voice is that of a pastor who seeks "to render visible
to men, women and youth the inner pilgrimage" that the Jubilee
11-track CD, featuring the voice of the pope against a musical
background, offers prayers, chants and homilies in Latin, Spanish,
Italian, French, English. Recorded by Vatican Radio throughout
the Holy Father’s pontificate over the past 20 years, the selections
include a Gregorian chant version of the Our Father, meditations
on Scripture, a homily on forgiveness delivered to youth. The
title track, Abbà Pater (combining the Aramaic and Latin
words for "father"), was originally spoken and sung by the Holy
Father at a 1995 celebration at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Pater is being released by Sony Classical. Royalties go
to Vatican Radio and an Italian order of priests which produced