Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

How Religious Communities Heal Hearts

Anchoress, thanks for this video from the Boston Globe.

It got me thinking. That's always dangerous. A beautiful couplet of books, The Man on the Donkey, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2, by H. F. M. Prescott, show a similar dynamic.  The pair of books unfold and draw together the lives of disparate historical and fictional characters living in the time of Henry VIII.  In them, a battered and abused girl is sent to a convent so that she will no longer burden her older sister by existing.  Previously, the convent had been portrayed as worldly and petty in its aspirations: life was filled, apparently, with bickering over rugs and boasting over which sister had the most gold pins to hold her veil upon her head.  As the abused girls moves into the convent, the reader begins to see another side.  In this world vastly kinder than the one into which she was born, the girl begins to blossom as a person, having encountered simple, untangled and unmanipulative love for the first time.  I myself was startled by the ease with which the author, without ever re-representing or changing the personality of the convent, shows it first from one perspective, and then from another: worldly than it ought to be, but a haven of sanctity compared to the world.

During my time in seminary I saw something of the same dynamic.  Many of the men, myself included, thought the place very much more worldly than it ought to be.  Yet visitors were always and uniformly amazed by its quiet warmth, friendliness, hospitality, and the ease with which a heart lapses into prayer in that place.  We did not live in a place of lollipops and sunshine, and there weren't love-bombs, either... which is probably a good thing.  But there was a place where genuine love could gradually, organically grow and bring about real healing and a real kind of new life in the men that arrived there.  I saw it happen.  I recall one man who was very poorly socialized, a bore and boor, and very quickly found himself nearly isolated in that house of 150 Christian men because of it.  I suspect it was not the first time people had a hard time saying, "Well, that's just So-and-so.  You know how he is," because for most people, even good people, at some point, enough is enough.

But I also think of a friend of mine, a man who lived across the hall from me - well liked and popular because intelligent, athletic, easy-going, responsible, and kind.  This man told me that he was not going to just watch So-and-so crumble and fall away.  He couldn't bring himself to think, "Good riddance."  I also know that the petty unkindness and gossip against the unpleasant man became so bad that a very popular, well-respected, and high-ranking faculty member addressed So-and-so's class in his absence.  He told them that the faculty were aware of So-and-so's problems and issues.  There was no need to keep pointing them out to the faculty or to each other.  It was best just to be a friend to So-and-so, and to pray for him.  At first, I thought it unprofessional or even reckless of the faculty member to address the class so openly about what would probably be considered their classmate's personnel matter.  At least, that's what it would be considered in the world.  But there, in that house of God, it was a personal matter - and personal matters sometimes require far more delicacy than personnel matters, and sometimes far less.

Lastly, I think about how I watched, saw with my own eyes, the growth of So-and-so.  An irritating mannerism fell away.  A new friend was made.  Someone invited So-and-so to join in.  Another perplexing behavior was moderated.  So-and-so made another friend.  People stopped saying things harshly about So-and-so behind his back.  More people were willing to invite him to more things.  It became clear that he wasn't so stupid as people thought at first, even if a bit more uncouth than they liked.  People went from defending him on principle to defending him on the basis of his actual strengths.  It turned out he was athletic enough that, his abrasive characteristics diminishing, people didn't mind - no, actually wanted him on their team.  He started to enjoy his studies.  More prayers were offered up for So-and-so, doubtless, than anyone on earth will ever know.  For that matter, So-and-so went from being known for the amount of time he spent in front of the community television to being a man noted for the discipline of his prayer.  A man who looked like he wouldn't last the first year because he was so aggravating has since progressed well on the way to being a good and holy priest, certainly of great use to the People of God.  In that seminary, that house where seedlings are transplanted like stalks of rice, that man came alive in a new way.

So it is with the Church as a whole.  In the rock tumbler of our shared life in the Spirit, we are first to grind down sharp edges, then polish natural virtues, and at last glow like gems of holiness.  It is not a romantic thing, but a gritty thing.  Well, it is romantic in the sense of being adventurous, but not in the sense of being smooth or suave.  Temptations do not flee the life of holiness, but flock to it like moths.  We in the Church are called to live in a way different than that found in the world outside.
For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, (Romans 12:4-21).
We will not always do it very well, but our company should be a place where people will encounter the healing touch of Christ made present in His people, in His priests, in His word and sacraments.  It might not happen all at once, and it certainly will not happen without bumps and bruises along the way... but the more we rely on Jesus to make it happen, the more surely we will see progress before our very eyes - the more we will see souls open and blossom in a way the world can barely conceive, let alone imitate.

For that matter, a Christian family is supposed to be very much the same sort of thing as a Christian church.


Christopher said...

Your post reminds me of an expression I once heard about religious life.

Religious life is like throwing a bunch of rocks in a dryer...they all smooth each other out.

Thy Handmaid's son said...

Absolutely true.

The catch is that we are not supposed to wait until we live in religious communities to live life in such a way: bumping into each other, apologizing, forgiving, growing, learning, loving.

We're supposed to start now, wherever we are, whomever we're with.