A number of different people have told me that because of their personal experience of suffering and the misery in the world, they no longer believe in an all-loving God. Without doubt, human misery can shatter belief, not only in God, but in the goodness of humanity as well.
As we enter into Holy Week, the Church invites us to reflect on how Jesus viewed his suffering and death. Throughout his ministry, we know that Jesus freely accepted suffering as the cost of his revolutionary proclamation of the reign of God. As his death approached, he felt deep anxiety in the face of suffering, sweating blood as he prayed to be spared the inevitable. Nevertheless, he resolved, with God’s help, to stand in fidelity to his mission. Then, in the throes of his agony on the cross, it seemed that even God, whom Jesus had preached as compassionate and loving Abba, had forsaken him. He cried out the opening line of psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mk 15:34), expressing his real experience of the absence of God. Yet, at the heart of his vulnerability, was an unwavering belief in his own goodness as well as a deep trust in the psalm’s promise of God’s help and vindication. The hidden closeness and strengthening love of God within him was made visible when Jesus offered forgiveness to those who crucified him, (Lk 23:34) promised paradise to the penitent thief, (Lk 23:42) and entrusted the care of his mother to the beloved disciple (Jn 19:26-27). Even as Jesus was lifted up in crucifixion, his loving communion with God was made available to all people in their most perilous experiences of suffering and death. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says of his death, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself” (Jn 12:32).
In his Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, (I 59) Rainer Maria Rilke portrays our loving God, who walks with us through life, encouraging our trust especially in times of suffering. Rilke writes:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
Then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
Go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
And make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
This Holy Week, may you experience the hand of God take yours in everlasting love.
I do not know about you, but my love for self, others, and God is far from unconditional. For example, there are a number of conditions I lay down before I will love myself. I need to be successful in my work, have friends who treat me according to my will and have things go my way, just to name a few. Here is an everyday example of what I am talking about. When I am driving on the back roads of Michigan, I am peaceful, content, driving along as fast as I want, enjoying the scenery. This loving feeling changes quickly, however, if I happen to get behind a car that wants to take their time going 45 miles per hour. Suddenly, I am no longer peaceful, content and enjoying myself. I have become more and more frustrated and resentful that I’m stuck behind this driver, and there is little opportunity to pass. I have put a condition on my love for myself, that is, things must go my way. The good news is that when we catch ourselves in the act of loving conditionally, we can make a change. I have learned to take a deep breath, and enjoy the scenery even more because I am now going at a slower pace. I will give myself the feelings of peace and contentment no matter the conditions. The love I give myself is enough. As the author of The Presence Process Michael Brown says, “There’s no reason, excuse, or justification for treating ourselves with anything less than unconditional love” (208). God loves us with an unconditional love and calls us to do likewise. When we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, we can more easily love others and God this way as well. How unconditional is your love? What conditions do you place on yourself, others and God before you will love them?
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
Even though we elect our public officials, I believe that God elects every human being to serve the world according to their unique giftedness. For God, there is no need for campaign speeches and ballot boxes to prove our worthiness to love and make a contribution to the common good. In the eyes of God, there are no winners or losers, only the victory of God’s love embracing all of creation. All people are created with an innate dignity and special capacities to make the world a better place. The real challenge is discernment, that is, making a decision in conversation with God about how and what we will do to promote the reign of God’s justice and peace on earth.
In this “land of the free,” are we making life-decisions from a place of internal freedom? God always works through interior freedom, never forcing us, but allowing us to respond out of our deep desire for love. The famous Jesuit, Father Pedro Arrupe, puts it this way: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love—and it will decide everything.” What love is worthy of the commitment of your freedom? What love has your vote?
This week’s blogger is Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP.
What led me to promote racial equality throughout my life? Maybe it was because my parents were born in Jamaica, or maybe it was the cultural diversity of my own birthplace and years of growing up near Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was taught at the side of my parents that God loves every one of us, we are all made in God’s image, and every nation on Earth is held in the gentle palm of God’s loving hand. I know that God’s call to enter religious life and encounter people of different cultures came while working with the Hispanic community in southern Colorado.
As a young person, I observed the actions of others in my neighborhood – those who would have nothing to do with persons of color or those who would cross the street if there were people who were not part of “their group.” I remember being told by older people that it was probably not “wise” to associate with different races since we had nothing in common with them, i.e. language, features, customs, food, and religious affiliation.
At the time these so called “words of advice” caused me to wonder, and later to brood over this seemingly widespread attitude of discrimination. I began to clearly recognize the subtle and overt ways minorities were portrayed, and the dislike, cruelty, and hatred that developed. I began to study, read, and immerse myself in actions that would promote racial equality wherever I ministered.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have recognized, encouraged, and supported this deeply profound truth of God’s love for all. Our Vision and Enactments, both past and present, have given me the freedom to live this truth.
True love, the foundation of discernment, never avoids conflict. This kind of discernment is the most difficult to practice. It arises out of a situation in which we are suffering from a situation that we think is caused by the person or community that we love the most. We might refuse to ask the person or community for help in understanding and dealing with our hurt.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, tells of a young Vietnamese man who went off to war, leaving his pregnant wife behind. When he returned after three years, his young wife and son welcomed him home with tears of joy.
When his wife went out to buy food for their celebration, the young father tried to get his son to call him daddy. The little boy refused, saying, “You are not my daddy. My daddy is somebody else. He visits us every night and comforts mommy when she cries. Every time my mommy sits down, he sits down, too. Every time she lies down, he lies down, too.”
The young father was stunned, heartbroken, and humiliated by these words. When his wife returned, he refused to talk to her or even look at her. He stormed out of the house and spent the day at a bar. This went on for several days. Finally, the young woman was so distraught over her husband’s change in behavior that she threw herself in the river and drowned.
When the young man heard the news, he returned home, and lit a lamp. Suddenly, the little boy exclaimed, “Look, it’s my daddy! He’s come back!” He pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall.
In reality, his mother had been so alone in the house that every night she had to talk to her own shadow. Now her husband’s false perception was corrected, but it was too late. His wife was dead.
We all fall victim to our misperceptions every day. When in a painful situation of conflict, we must check things out with the other person before taking action if we want true love to guide our lives.
Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP
“Well, my love story began….” I was so struck by each of the young women speaking with me. I had asked each of them to share with me their story of how they came to religious life, and every single one referred to her “love story.” I thought it was so beautiful!
I was visiting our Sisters in the Philippines and I heard the stories of the five temporary professed sisters, two novices and two candidates – each one of whom knew she was on that path because of Jesus’ love for her. And it wasn’t an insular love – it wasn’t a just “me and Jesus” kind of love. Each story included giving and experiencing love with the other Sisters and with the people they serve. It is a love story that leads each woman out to love and serve others.
Their love stories weren’t all smooth. There were often many challenges. But being grounded in that base of love enables them to go forward in confidence – with the one that loves them by their side.
It is true for all of us, whatever our path. The love of Jesus can sustain us, lead us out of ourselves, and give us the courage to continue forth.
Can you sense Jesus walking with you?
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!