Models of Freedom
Our retreat guide for this weeks asks us to compile something of a “Who’s Who?” of people who have influence in our lives, specifically from the perspective that we’ve been exploring the past few weeks. As we’ve seen God working in the events that come to our memory (the photo album or slide show of our past, brought in some way into the present in our imagination), and as we thank God for both the details and the big picture, now we look at those people through whom God has worked in us. Who are the people who have gotten the right balance in their lives, and in some ways have inspired me? They could be saints or others whom we know only through biography or reputation. They can also be people who were a significant part of our past, or of our present. The Grace we pray for this week says it all: To have a growing gallery of images of inspiring people who live in praise, reverence and service for God.
This week we are being asked to compile a list of people who are models of freedom to us; a kind of “Who’s Who” in our own journey in our relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ.
The first thing that comes to my mind is a fairly long list of saints whose stories have been very influential in developing my approach to life. Interestingly, most of the saints are not alone, they are pairs of saints, sometimes of one family, and sometimes intentional pairings of individuals, couples one might say.
The “Cappadocian Clan” comes first to mind. A large, extended family of saints in the fourth century, centering on the towering figures of Basil of Caesaraea, Gregory of Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa. Paul of Tarsus has a number of interesting saintly couplings. Most intriguing is Thecla, who is not mentioned at all in the Scriptures, but is featured in early tradition that may have some claim to authenticity. Scriptural companions include Barnabas, Timothy,, and Priscilla and Aquila, all of whom have their own interesting story. There’s Augustine and his mother, Monica, as well as his mentor, Ambrose. Francis and Clare are sand outs, but Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, and Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Not to forget Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross., and Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. Interestingly, though all of them are deeply related, intentional couples, none of them are married. Given the socio-economic structures of nearly all ages before our own, that may not be surprising. However, the Church in the past generation or so has tried, with debatable success, to emphasize the sanctity of married life through its choice of candidates for canonization. At the same time, the nature and meaning of marriage, as a social institution at least, is undergoing a profound change, and generating a lot of heated controversy. Where that’s going to end up is anybody’s guess. I suspect, however, that the Church will not be successful in imposing its doctrine of marriage upon secular society, and we’d better get used to that and find other, more fruitful, ways of being leaven in our world.
During this week I’m going to reflect on them, as well as any others that come to mind. But the list has to include my own personal “saints” – folks who have been, as the guide says, models of freedom for me, “inspiring people who live in praise, reverence and service for God.” The first to come to mind are Fr. John McAnulty, a Jesuit priest who for many years was my spiritual director, and Sr.Cecilia Louis Moore, who is the only woman I’v ever known whom I would without hesitation vote for as bishop, or even pope. (I have to add that there is no man I know who makes that list, so there’s only one name on it!) A bunch of lay people I have known in he many ministries I’ve served in could go one the list, but I’m hard pressed to name any other priests. There will be more I’ll think of as the week goes on. But I’ve got a lot of food for thought right now.
Stay tuned, this week could be interesting.
Much of my reflection / background time this week has been spent with one of the great figures who influenced my life early on and many times subsequently – Thomas Merton. While walking in the morning and while driving, I’m listening to a series of recordings that were made of this talks to the Trappist novices at Gethsemani Abbey. This set is on poetry: Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand. One insight from a poem (which one I don’t remember) is the God prays to us. We expect God to hear and answer our prayers, yet we ignore his entreaties to us which are for our own ultimate good, all the while expecting him to give us what we ask. This was pointed brought forth in the Agony in the Garden, where Jesus asked his closest friends simply for companionship in his darkest hour, and was denied by them. Obviously, the poem put it much better. I plan to review these talks again, and make some notes which I’ll publish here.