Sunday, May 27, 2007

"In One Place, Together"

Before all else, thanks to so many for the e.mails wondering whether I was: 1. alive and 2. OK. Thankfully, I'm both... and more than just sometimes, I find that to be a miracle in itself.

Away from all the facts and figures, one thing I'm trying to burnish is living liturgically, living in the calendar, and it seems the days between Ascension and Pentecost really sucked me in. This feast is often called the church's "birthday," and no anniversary or milestone for anything we're part of is duly observed without a moment of reflection, a time for taking stock of things, figuring out what's working and what isn't, and resolving to take the best of the past (while leaving its lesser elements behind) that the future might be better still.

We each have to do this for ourselves, and more than just sometimes -- I've learned that, especially in my own journey, if I don't do it with something of a relative frequency, others tend to experience the consequences rather easily, and that doesn't help anything. So thanks for the patience.

The timing of this mini-retreat was particularly apropos to today's celebration. "Going underground" is exactly what the early church did for the ten (or, in much of today's Catholic world, seven) days after the Son's departure and the Spirit's descent. They didn't know what the next step was or how it would make itself manifest, but "devot[ing] themselves to prayer," the account in today's First Reading tells us they were all "together in one place." And so, together, there came the "tongues as of fire" that split off and "came to rest on each of them."

...and only from there did they go forward ...only from that being in the same place and encountering the same phenomenon could they go forward and the work begin.

Of course, it was the same fire that parted and "came to rest" on those in attendance in the Cenacle that day, but what it brought out in each was unique to the one who was receiving it. That doesn't mean that the gifts enflamed in one or another was greater or lesser than the rest -- each was as different as each was necessary, and the project that lay ahead couldn't be its best, truest and most effective self unless everything the fire brought out in those who received it was incorporated inside the Upper Room and advanced in the great outdoors.

Sure, fire can destroy. But it also purifies, it tests and tries, it instinctively calls to those fumbling in the darkness to come and see -- and in that latter sense, it unites, it enlightens, it helps us see things more clearly than we would've were it not there.

Ergo, just as it was on that "birthday" two millenia ago, that fire's still in this place -- or, at least, it's still supposed to be. There are more than a few out there who need to see it, and that's not a call to start stacking up old couches and score a couple gallons of fuel or lighter fluid. Let 'em see it in you, may we see it in each other, and don't forget that it all begins with, albeit figuratively, being in that same room, together in the same place. Even if it doesn't always mean every one is up to the same thing or meshes instantly and perfectly, keep in mind that it still comes from the same Source.

Of course, we have a name for all this: the vocation (for our newcomers: yes, they're more than just to the priesthood) or the charism.

In layman's terms, it could well be called "the thing that makes you burn."

And what's yours?

Whatever the answer, go on and let it burn... burn to shine.

No less than B16 had a few things to say about this oft-neglected aspect of the life of the "birthday church" earlier this year, in his Q&A with the clergy of Rome.

Take it away, Boss:
It seems to me that we have two fundamental rules.... The first was given to us by St Paul in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: do not extinguish charisms. If the Lord gives us new gifts we must be grateful, even if at times they may be inconvenient. And it is beautiful that without an initiative of the hierarchy but with an initiative from below, as people say, but which also truly comes from on High, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, new forms of life are being born in the Church just as, moreover, they were born down the ages.

At first, they were always inconvenient. Even St Francis was very inconvenient, and it was very hard for the Pope to give a final canonical form to a reality that by far exceeded legal norms. For St Francis, it was a very great sacrifice to let himself be lodged in this juridical framework, but in the end this gave rise to a reality that is still alive today and will live on in the future: it gives strength, as well as new elements, to the Church's life.

I wish to say only this: Movements have been born in all the centuries. Even St Benedict at the outset was a Movement. They do not become part of the Church's life without suffering and difficulty. St Benedict himself had to correct the initial direction that monasticism was taking. Thus, in our century too, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has given us new initiatives with new aspects of Christian life. Since they are lived by human people with their limitations, they also create difficulties.

So the first rule is: do not extinguish Christian charisms; be grateful even if they are inconvenient.

The second rule is: the Church is one; if Movements are truly gifts of the Holy Spirit, they belong to and serve the Church and in patient dialogue between Pastors and Movements, a fruitful form is born where these elements become edifying for the Church today and in the future.

This dialogue is at all levels....

Now, as a synthesis of the two fundamental rules, I would say: gratitude, patience and also acceptance of the inevitable sufferings. In marriage too, there is always suffering and tension. Yet, the couple goes forward and thus true love matures. The same thing happens in the Church's communities: let us be patient together.

Let us be grateful to the Holy Spirit for the gifts he has given to us. Let us be obedient to the voice of the Spirit, but also clear in integrating these elements into our life; lastly, this criterion serves the concrete Church and thus patiently, courageously and generously, the Lord will certainly guide and help us.