Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Treating Cancer in the Catholic Church" - Fr. Pat Malone, S.J.

The following is a journal entry from Jesuit priest, Fr. Pat Malone, posted on his CaringBridge website. Fr. Pat offers us all very life-giving words as he applies lessons from his personal battle with cancer - to the deep unwellness manifesting in the Catholic Church. I took the liberty to give his entry a title; I offer it here on Passion Sunday as part of my own attempt at prayer, contemplation, compassion, and love during this entrance into Holy Week.

Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde


In a 2007 article, Fr. Andrew Greeley wrote, “The Catholic Church is in deep crisis (always has been, always will be) and desperately needs reform (when has it not?)” ‘Crisis’ is too mild of a term for the current situation. Here are lessons from this health adventure that apply to the Church’s problem, and anyone else confronting deep disaster.

Recognize what is killing you.
It could seem rather routine to recognize cancer, but, as those involved with this health journey know too well, it can disguise itself, continuing to reek harm. (When medical people were not sure of the source of the problem, some suspected it was a painful, incurable nerve disorder. When the results returned with the correct diagnosis, a doctor beamed, “Good news. It’s leukemia.”) It is more difficult to recognize that which destroys our sense of decency, especially when such action requires we give up long-standing practices. One self-exam may this: what’s our reply when the innocent suffer because of us?

Something fundamental has died, or is on life-support, when the immediate response is anything but utter shame, remorse, and outrage that this occurs at all, in an organization that has as its creed to love God and neighbor. When our instinct is anything else, we need a very long retreat. There is a critical need to remember that this problem is universal. It may be right to question the motives of those who constantly probe. It is certainly true that these problems are not exclusive to a church, nor do they represent anything but a small percentage of priests and others who work with children.

But the soul of the church suffers fatally when the instant response is anything but rushing to the wounded (in this case, to the parents). Then we see the appropriate response is not to explain but to ask: how can we be forgiven? What must be done to move forward with hope? Such a first move would reveal the absurdity—and the deepening of the pain—of speaking how this problem occurs everywhere, and this overload of attention is unfair. Both may be true, though both point to how people hold a faith to a higher standard, and both may be needed for any formidable structure to see what is destroying it from within.

When our proclamations focus on the evils in the world while ignoring our own at home, part of our reason to be gets buried. We lose more than integrity; we risk forgetting why we have religion: to re-unite, to transcend the natural drives to satisfy ourselves first, to be on fire with a closeness that created it all, to find redemption is the worst of situations. In most religions there is an additional fundamental: that we must make this world more sane for the most vulnerable. When we put anything above the need to protect them, respect them, build them up, we may have a formidable structure, but it is not holy, nor life-giving. Good news: it can always return to this central belief.

Secrets keep us ill.
All patients have unique reasons to rejoice when they arrive at the day of discharge, though most would see the end of wearing flimsy gowns to be as liberating as able to breath again. Even Gitmo prisoners get pants. Those wicked gowns are thin and flimsy for a reason: no space for cover-up. They expose the signs of disease, danger, or distress. Without them (so patients are told) healing cannot occur.

What has most rattled the world, believers and non-believers, is not that an organization has criminals and disturbed individuals within its ranks, but that those who could put the individuals out of harm’s way did not always do so, sometimes until a public outcry demanded it. The way forward was to conceal. There is a place for discretion, especially when it helps the wounded find a new normal, but secrecy too often feeds on itself: it makes it easier to stay clandestine the next time, and the next time. When we do not speak of the corruption, we do not stop it.

Secrets keep us ill. They perpetuate shame; simmer our grudges, lock us into bleakness. Keeping things secret helps us to rationalize the worst of our behaviors. They make it possible to deny that any of us can do horrific things, especially to the weak. They block us from accepting that we can act contrary to the most cherished ideals of our better selves, or that we will sometimes do the expedient rather than the right thing. Worst of all, secrets convince us that we either do not need redemption, or its beyond our reach.

Ask a nurse how to heal from the hidden decay and dangers in our lives: Take responsibility for self-care. Let others see it, name it, help evaluate its problem. Stop making it worse by pretending there’s no need for a painstaking cleansing. Don’t let your disease make more people ill. Use what is good in your body to help fight it. In this case, use the church’s under-rated tool (handed down from the Jewish faith) of reconciliation. Use it to see hear how others have paid a price for one’s lack of self-care. Use it because it gets easier to openly speak the truth the next time, and the next time.

Welcome visitors.

Listen to those who know you are not well. Welcome their questions, even if you have no answers, even if you don’t know why they ask it. Let yourself be available, candid, trusting. Do this not because it is comfortable, but because it keeps us from getting unaccountable, gruff, and removed from the day to day realities of the people around us. Welcome and listen to them, knowing we learn most about ourselves when we have interruptions.

Our hope for healing may be in how much we allow others to show where we are weak. We do not always see what is obvious to others. We may know we obsess over some small points; they may see the big points we are blocking. We may have grown accustomed to our manageable mess. They may see the mounds of chaos that surround us. We may be convinced we have the answers to this terrible tragedy. They may show us we are avoiding the tough questions.

Receive the full strength of women.
It’s a scary thought to imagine a hospital without the dedication, leadership, and joy of women. Now we know this absence is a frightening scenario for any institution. Its hard to imagine that the skewed priorities of preserving an institution’s reputation over the well-being of a damaged child could occur had there been at least one grandmother in the conversations. Men are certainly able to avoid the trappings that come with holding moral authority. They can be kind care-givers. It is just that the current betrayal of trust requires us to no longer impede anyone who can restore guidance, credibility, and confidence to a hurting institution. Golda Meir wrote, “
Whether women are better (leaders) than men I cannot say - but I can say they are certainly no worse.”

We need the wisdom from those who have moved civilization forward when others have gone to war. We need the perseverance from those who have stayed with the sick, the uneducated, the hungry. We need the passion from those who know the sting of being ignored. We need the love of those who stay focused an organization’s core mission. Dorothy Day wrote in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness: “I loved the church for Christ made visible. Not for itself, because it was so often a scandal for me."

This week, followers of this Christ enter into their High Holy days, and hear again—to confirm Andrew Greeley’s point—stories of betrayal, angst, and innocent suffering. May this eternal love become more visible, trustworthy, and humble in this vessel that desperately needs reform. May our own encounters with life’s fragility help us to make the church ever closer to what its founder intended; a place where the mistreated, the ill, the sinner all find healing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Week's End Assignment: Passion Reading!

If you are anything like me, you are tense navigating this past week's news. You might be celebrating the passage of Health Care Reform, while holding the conflicting responses emerging in a polarized nation's warring verbiage. You recognize the complexity of financial costs associated with such Health Care legislation, and hold these dollar amounts alongside images of uninsured friends and family members, (maybe former students and their relatives) with whom you are in direct relationship. You work diligently to defer judgment about enraged people's responses bombarding your email inbox, Facebook page and television screen, and try to navigate calmly the barrage of words, posing your own critical questions:
(What does health care cost? What does it mean to lead as a democratic nation? How do we model liberty and opportunity for all? How does a government's allocation of tax dollars reflect the priorities of a nation? Where is creation and wellness in this financial picture? Where is education? What is life-giving? What results in death or further destruction? What research and experience do we all need to read, reflect on, or engage in?" )

Perhaps your heart aches with anger and outrage over the headlines announcing the current pope's connection with the sex scandals in the Catholic church. Perhaps you align yourself compassionately with a stance of forgiveness and mercy for all perpetrators, while seeing the past sins in not recognizing the need to acknowledge the many victims. Maybe you struggle as a catholic or religious person who wants to celebrate the tenants of his or her faith in a life-giving, liberating fashion. You want freedom and joy and radical love to be known -- and justice for all people, regardless of their beliefs or skin color or economic standing. You wonder about how you move forward in faith, in hope, in love for all that is at hand in these messy human circumstances. You try to trust that something powerful is at work in the collective conscious of a church -- or in a politicized nation and impassioned people.

You pray.

If you are anything like me, you want to not be so tense. You long to release anger, frustration, and see each headline, email, television broadcast with Love's eyes.

Here's an assignment that I gave my praying, searching, spiritual self this morning, given all at hand. Perhaps you will find this helpful?

Read Passion Sunday's scriptures: Luke 22: 14- 23:56.

If you can make space in your brain, meditate on the story of betrayal. Move closer to the suffering of Christ. Hold fast to the tensions present in the innocent being tortured. Marvel at all the human dimensions that this enfolding drama extends -- while recognizing the radically transformative outcomes - of Divine proportion -- that are possible in this Passion tale.

Then find yourself in this story. Locate your current leaders. Consider present lawmakers alive and in this narrative. See the uninsured and abused. See how you are all connected, all one. And let your heart, mind, and spirit be softened, as you let go of your need to know everything, be in control, or be right.

Let Love lead you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Conversion and Calling of Oscar Romero – Alive and Inviting us to North Minneapolis?

The following was originally posted at the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis blog site.
"I do not believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."
-Archbishop Oscar Romero

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero. As I hold this man's legacy and witness to the gospel in my prayers, I think about Romero's story. I meditate on his conversion experience. I think about how he went from being a bookish sort of fellow, intentionally removed from any sort of gospel activism, to one who became immersed in prayerful action for an oppressed and impoverished people, unpacking and applying the tenets of liberation theology. I am moved as I contemplate what transformed his heart, his spirit, his presence in the warring nation of El Salvador. I imagine the night, just three weeks into his appointment as archbishop, that he traveled from the capitol to a country side church in Paisnal, where one of his priests had been murdered - along with two other parishioners - for standing with the peasant farmers in their desire to create farming cooperatives. I see the people gathered around Romero, quietly beseeching his support, and I ache fathoming what anger mixed with compassion must have started a fire in his own heart.

As I contemplate Romero's presence among the terrorized people in this rural community, I wonder how any of his experience inspires or relates to my own - so far removed from Central America? How does his life and witness to Love inform my own call to live as a catholic in this global community? Where am I being invited to stand in solidarity? What spaces of poverty or injustice am I called to witness first hand? How am I being invited to recognize the struggle that calls for the immediacy of Christ's presence?

"God needs the people themselves to save the world . . . The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will arrive only when the poor are not simply on the receiving end of hand-outs from governments or from the churches, but when they themselves are the masters and protagonists of their own struggle for liberation." - Archbishop Oscar Romero

Romero's conversion hinges upon his knowledge and first hand experience with the poor. It's his relationship with the victims of violence, his proximity to the peasants and priestly people struggling to live in peace, that informs his transformed ministry and leadership in El Salvador.

Today in North Minneapolis, the Visitation sisters are going about their daily lives of active prayer and communal ministry. They rise for early morning prayer at 7am, attend mass at 8am with neighbors and friends; go about their days with a commitment to open the door to whoever rings the bell, inviting them to be their vocational calling and "Live Jesus!" They pray again at noon, 4:45pm and 8:15pm. In each internal experience of prayer, the sisters will tune into how they are experiencing Christ alive and calling to them through their neighborhood. They, not unlike Romero, are witnessing to the transformational power of relationship, of proximity to the poor and those living on the margins. They are following in the footsteps of their founders, Francis and Jane, and finding alignment in the gospel narrative of Mary and Elizabeth: visiting and tending to the love wanting to get born in each of us.

In our urban ministry, the Visitation Sisters of North Minneapolis choose to reach out in a special way:

  1. to companion and affirm those who are impoverished and lonely — those living on the fringes of society.
  2. to support those committed to a ministry of peace and justice by sharing our Salesian spirituality with them.
  3. to educate and network with those who, in being materially secure, seek ways of growing in faith, hope and love by bridging with people in our multi-cultural community.
  4. to provide spiritual formation for those affiliated with us in a variety of ways.
    - From "Ministry of Prayer and Presence"

Tonight, a group of people ranging in age from 20-45 will convene under the auspices of the Visitation sisters in a space devoted to discernment. These young men and women will be dwelling inside the questions of calling, of vocation; they'll be prayerfully focusing themselves, at least for two hours, on the invitation to live their gifts and honor their divine purposes. They will, not unlike Romero, be invited to "come and see" the love on fire within their own hearts for a ministry, career, calling -- in possible proximity to the poor.

I hold all this information as I pray through my writing this day, marveling at the juxtaposition of the beloved Romero, the presence of the Visitation sisters in North Minneapolis and the way a whole host of men and women are entering into this space of intentional reflection.

Please join me in prayer for all that is at work on this day, and in the many to come, as the spirit of Romero is felt alive and resurrected in the people of Salavador, as well as those many miles beyond: in the hearts and minds and actions of the spiritual beings in North Minneapolis.

Peace and gratitude,
Melissa Borgmann Kiemde
Visitation Companion

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Desmond Tutu on Human Rights

I came across the following writing by Desmond Tutu this week when a friend in Cape Town, South Africa, posted a link to this Washington Post article on her Facebook page. For the past couple of days, I've returned to Archbishop Tutu's words, and been inspired by the simplicity of his message; the largeness of love conveyed in his writing.

I've boldfaced passages that struck me in particular. Let me know what strikes a chord in you.

In love, peace, solidarity,
Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde

In Africa, a step backward on human rights
By Desmond Tutu
Friday, March 12, 2010

Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity -- or because of their sexual orientation. Nor should anyone be excluded from health care on any of these grounds. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity.

It is time to stand up against another wrong.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God's family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms. Men have been falsely charged and imprisoned in Senegal, and health services for these men and their community have suffered. In Malawi, men have been jailed and humiliated for expressing their partnerships with other men. Just this month, mobs in Mtwapa Township, Kenya, attacked men they suspected of being gay. Kenyan religious leaders, I am ashamed to say, threatened an HIV clinic there for providing counseling services to all members of that community, because the clerics wanted gay men excluded.

Uganda's parliament is debating legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment, and more discriminatory legislation has been debated in Rwanda and Burundi.

These are terrible backward steps for human rights in Africa.

Our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear.

And they are living in hiding -- away from care, away from the protection the state should offer to every citizen and away from health care in the AIDS era, when all of us, especially Africans, need access to essential HIV services. That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said "Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones." Gay people, too, are made in my God's image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

"But they are sinners," I can hear the preachers and politicians say. "They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished." My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?

The wave of hate must stop. Politicians who profit from exploiting this hate, from fanning it, must not be tempted by this easy way to profit from fear and misunderstanding. And my fellow clerics, of all faiths, must stand up for the principles of universal dignity and fellowship. Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths to freedom and justice.

The writer is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Making Way for Baby K....

It's time to clean! Spring is here, (or pretending to be with today's glorious sunshine) and I have some serious fever for clearing space! Tidying! Making way! Organizing! (Perhaps you recall my past Queen Mab documentation of transforming spaces when I was readying 1188 Juno for the market?) In the spirit of simplifying and capturing my own cleaning process, I give you this blog entry.

Today's Challenge: Prepare our two bedroom apartment for a new child, as well as his or her nine year old older sister to join us for the summer -- all the while maintaining some kind of office/ writing space for moi.

Today's task: Preparing the second bedroom to be not only an office and Gabby's bedroom when she visits, but also a baby room. How to accomplish this? By simply beginning to sort out all the paper work, bills, old files, writing samples, and bags of wedding cards/ programs/ info and clean, dust, remove, recycle, and reassemble.

What follows are snapshots from today's first step in making way for Baby K.
Enjoy! Stay tuned!

Melissa Borgmann Kiemde

Start of Day, entering the 2nd Bedroom/ office...

Evidence of a room that needs to be cleaned! The bed and desk need to be tended to...

What do you see that needs to get addressed on that desk?
Note overwhelming files on top and baskets desiring attention below...

See the files boxes, gift bags, old computer? Can you imagine Baby Kiemde's crib
in the right corner? This is what Francois and I are
thinking and dreaming....
But first: we must clean the shelves!

Maybe you want to note the striped basket as a target object for my sorting and transforming process. Key: get that basket emptied, to receive our incoming mail!

The "Wedding Corner" which includes cards, invites, programs, thank you's, and all sorts of "Wedding Prep" paraphernalia trying to hide beyond the foot of the bed...

To clean it all out, we must first SEE it.
The process of pulling out the baskets and files for sorting...

Mid-way through the process: Paper Recycling is in full effect, along with lots of stacking related documents for next step filing!

Evidence of Work! Two bags of recycling, one stack of sorted folders, documenting teaching/ collaboration work, and those wedding items consolidated for storage!

Aha! Now look at that guest bed and desk top!

Project Corner Clean Sweep: Accomplished!

Yes, a sweetly organized desk. (Perhaps you note less paper and office items in those baskets?)

Computer monitor removed, striped basket cleaned, and a new system for filing cards/ pictures put into place! Amen.

Yes! Red filing box is gone. Next steps: Open that door, and organize in there;
Move the book shelf out to make room for the crib.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Leaning toward New Life

My grandfather is in the nursing home dying. He is no longer eating, refusing food, and taking only water for the most part, in tiny sips or doses from a sponge, when he is able. His mind remains sharp, but his body is in rapid decline.

I hold this knowledge in my own limbs as I move through my day, acting as normal as possible, but knowing death is imminent. It's a precious time. A sacred time. These are days, moments of privilege and re-ordered priorities, as family members recognize the closeness of Francis Liewer's passing.

Last Friday afternoon, in lieu of driving directly to Omaha, Nebraska, from St. Paul, Minnesota, to see my siblings, my husband and I changed routes and instead pointed our car to Norfolk, to St. Joseph's nursing home, where my grandfather had just been moved. It was a happy choice we made, shifting our course, and going to my hometown. My mother's voice the other end of the line -- tearful, weary, breaking in a rare occasion, after spending eight days next to her ailing father; Francois and I knew we were being called to grandpa's bedside.

At six months pregnant, I am not only emotional, but my body is larger than it's ever been, carrying baby and new weight, readying and making way toward giving birth. Tending to my grandfather's health brings all aspects of our human bodies and vulnerabilities into fuller awareness. Grandpa's thinning skin, his clammy fingers and touch, the bulging bed covers where underneath, I know, are further apparatus to aid him in blood and bodily fluid flow. I sit next to him at St. Joe's, hold his hand, moisten his dried, cracking lips with a damp cloth, and marvel at the proximity of age, death, wisdom, angels. Inside my own belly, baby Kiemde kicks and rocks, rolls over. The nearness of new life is almost enough to make me buckle: Grandpa's, my child's.

My dear friend Sr. Jill Underdahl recently wrote to me saying that, among other things, "St. Joseph is the patron saint of happy deaths." As a sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, Jill shared this information about her order's namesake, expanding my prior knowledge of the saint. "Because it is imagined that both Jesus and Mary were present to Joseph at the time of his death, Joseph's death is called 'happy.'" This information makes me smile. In addition to being patron to carpenters, fathers, the universal church, Joseph is busy tending to the dying.

In my previous investigations regarding St. Joseph, I discovered a much cruder kind of patronage placed upon him: that of happy home sales. As I put my Juno Avenue house on the market two years ago, I did much research on this matter, and found a way to move beyond the superstitious "buy-a-St. Joseph-statue-and-bury-him-upside-down-in-your-backyard" action, to my own prayerful, ritualistic way of placing his figure in a sacred spot where I paid some serious homage. I looked on Joseph as father, foster father in some respects, tending to baby Jesus, holding this precious, innocent life: protecting, loving, guiding, nurturing the child from youth into adulthood. I meditated on the many ways that that kind of parenting, that kind of care could be akin to the process of letting go, releasing something, anything beloved, and letting it evolve, become anew.

Selling my house became a seriously spiritual action. I believe St. Joseph oversaw this process. My grandfather passing, is another spiritual action. Here again: I see, (hope, imagine, pray,) Joseph is overseeing this!

As Grandpa releases his body, lets go of his limbs, these human bones and muscles and sinewy tissues that make up his earthly form, and becomes pure Spirit, (as I so believe), St. Joseph is there. As his physical body betrays him in its functioning, I imagine a larger kind of liberation occurring. The tethers of his skin and bone form are retracting, and allowing something inside him to open up, be born anew.

In a few short months, I will give birth to a new baby. At this time, my husband Francois and I have discerned that our child will be delivered at a hospital in downtown St. Paul; it's one bearing the name of "St. Joseph."

Last Friday, holding my grandfather's hand, I looked into his eyes, and asked him if he was aware that we were expecting a baby.
"Yes. You are due on May 5th,"he announced. While he had the date wrong, his knowledge of the correct month Baby Kiemde is to emerge made me beam.
"Grandpa, I have a request: I want you to be there, at the birth,"I said, placing his hand on my stomach. "We will be at St. Joe's, just as you are now, with this saint overseeing things, but we'd like you there in your spirit, pure soul form. Can you promise this?" He smiled when I asked the question. "When our baby is born, he will know you; she will see you, and probably scream and cry. But you will witness this all, and help him or her come forward."

He grabbed my hand again before I left, and squeezed.

These are moments of life I'm clinging to as I lean toward all that is imminent, on the verge of shifting, coming forward, getting born.

In peace, prayers, contemplation,
Melissa Borgmann Kiemde

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bearing the Beams of Love: A Journal Entry from Fr. Pat Malone, S. J.

The following is a journal entry from Jesuit priest, Fr. Pat Malone, published on his CaringBridge website, where his journey battling recurring leukemia is documented. As a guest presider at the Visitation Monastery in North Minneapolis, I have had the great and good fortune to hear him speak and break bread with him. His homilies always inspire me. These CaringBridge entries are not unlike his homiletic musings. As Pat delves into his own suffering, humanity, he aligns his journey with some larger notions of Love -- with others who have known the intensity of extreme life circumstances, and gleaned some kind of wisdom. His words move me deeply; they are guiding me in my own journey through this season of Lent. I am grateful for having made Pat's acquaintance and extend to you his most recent writing on love, posted below.

Happy Contemplating!

Journal Entry
Sunday, March 7, 2010

When I served in Peace Corps, I carried a conviction, even if I could not own up to it, that some of these volunteers—and some nearby nuns—could not possibly be as tender as they appeared to be. It is a ruse, and they will explode with snarliness or self-interest when the situation gets too tense. Yet they never did, even in the most wearisome of circumstances. This was true even when their best efforts at helping poor communities were thwarted at the last minute by others’ greed.

On the contrary, the more demanding and unfair the situation, the more these ordinary souls showed tenderness, tolerance, charm. It would have been understandable had they let slip some sign of contempt, or sarcasm, or self-entitlement. Yet they plugged along with an apparent trust in humanity’s goodness. None of these inspiring souls was trying to make a statement; none was naive to the odds that future projects could be just as vulnerable to failure. Yet they could not keep from evoking a rare mix of pragmatism and joy.

If they were formidable forces—a title they would laugh at—it was not because they insisted but because they invited. You trusted them. You wanted to hang with them, whether it was for a round of tea or for a big project, because you knew that they must trust that things will work out. It would be years later that I would understand that the great value of working in extreme environments is not what was accomplished, but what was absorbed from those who seem to be grounded in love.

It would be years later that I would understand that the great value of working in extreme environments is not what was accomplished, but what was absorbed from those who seem to be grounded in love.

In her book, Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard writes: “Angels, I read, belong to nine different orders. Seraphs are the highest; they are aflame with love for God, and stand closer to him than the others. Seraphs love God; cherubs, who are second, possess perfect knowledge of him. So love is greater than knowledge; how could I have forgotten?”

Most of us earth-bound pilgrims can easily forget the proper order of things, but there seems to always be individuals nearby who ground us in ancient truths. We will not pick up on all their cues, and they will certainly not showcase their great insight. All we know is that we like to hang with them. We wonder how they maintain such tenderness in a world that seems to revel in crushing it.

We humans do not love well. Perhaps the temptation to put knowledge or other attractions above love is too great. But if there is any lasting lesson from Peace Corps that carries over into this health adventure, it is that even if we do not love well, we do it better than any other action. When I have to come off as knowledgeable, people will get hurt. That never works well. When it is vital that I be necessary, I will get in the way. When it is critical that I be outraged, I will get exhausted. When I have to be taken seriously, I become a burden. When I am overly suspicious of others’ sincerity, I am as useful as an Internet troll.

When I have to come off as knowledgeable, people will get hurt. That never works well. When it is vital that I be necessary, I will get in the way. When it is critical that I be outraged, I will get exhausted. When I have to be taken seriously, I become a burden. When I am overly suspicious of others’ sincerity, I am as useful as an Internet troll. But when I try to love, I will sometimes succeed.

But when I try to love, I will sometimes succeed. I will certainly absorb the goodness in others that before may have seemed too unbelievable. I will be less on an automatic pilot to be suspicious, more inclined to notice those who are grounded in something other than human attractions. I will quit trying to analyze if another’s disproportionate kindness is genuine, and more disposed to see such extravagance in the least likely of places. “The most important question any of us will ask,” Albert Einstein wrote, “is whether we believe that the universe is a friendly place.”

A Jesuit companion scribbled in a get well card, "In the end, of course, its only love that will resolve everything, so let's keep practicing." We practice not in the delusion that we will do it perfectly, but because nothing else resolves. Love does not remove horrors. It does stop us from, at times, hurting people out of misplaced frustration. It does not rough out unfinished business. It resolves. It integrates. It is gives a proper perspective. It gives to us, as it does to burning seraphs, a chance to be light.

Love does not remove horrors. It does stop us from, at times, hurting people out of misplaced frustration. It does not rough out unfinished business. It resolves. It integrates. It is gives a proper perspective. It gives to us, as it does to burning seraphs, a chance to be light.

The human love we receive is not always pure, welcomed, understood, or well-timed. The same is true for what we throw out there. But enough times in our lives we receive lovethat boggles. It is the love that burns out even the most entrenched parts of our cynicism. Such a purging is not sweet. Arrogance does not leave us without a fight. But receiving such over-the-top gentleness eventually heals even the deepest of wounds. That has been the lasting lesson from this health journey. As William Blake wrote in the poem The Little Black Boy, "And, we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love.”

It takes time a lifetime to fully bear these beams. So we don't forget, some folk take 40 days each year to get re-grounded in this ancient truth. It is a prayer that we will place love as the formidable force of our lives.

-May my love be the primary motivation when making decisions.
-May my love be humble, helping me put others before self.
-May my love be courageous, not waiting for others to love me first.
-May my love be healing, not afraid to enter the world’s suffering.
-May my love be genuine, with no effort to persuade or manipulate.
-May my love be enduring, tolerating the ebbs and flows that accompany all relationships.
-May my love be holy, without limits, without preconditions, without scrutiny.

Fr. Pat Malone, S. J.