More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


Rootedness in God

Sr. Mary Persico, IHM
January 09, 2009

Reflection: Rootedness in God

It is beautifully obvious from our prayers and readings this evening that the theme of this prayer is rootedness in God. For our friends who have joined us this evening, allow me to explain a bit about this choice. The IHM Sisters have identified five characteristics, those things we call core values, out of which we live our lives, upon which we base our decisions, through which lens we view the world. These values are rootedness in God, community, justice, respect for diversity, and wholeness. In subsequent prayers, we will recall and reflect upon each of the remaining values and we invite you to be with us as we pray about and aspire to each of these moral imperatives in our lives. Let us consider our rootedness in God.

As creation swirls around us every day of our lives, there is a uniqueness in everything that is not of the species known as Homo sapiens. The moon, for instance, can never be anything but the moon, growing into fullness every twenty-eight days, never surprising, ever precise. A mountain has no choice but to be a mountain, majestic or ominous, pure rock or lush with vegetation, nonetheless a mountain. The dawn always breaks, whether we can see it or not. A tulip can never grow the thorns of a rose and a dolphin can never fly like a bird. Animals, too, are wonderfully equipped with a predictable internal compass called instinct that directs the cycles of life. It is only human persons who can choose to be other than what we were meant to be. As human beings, we can choose evil. As women and men, we can turn our backs on love or turn our hearts from kindness and peace. People are often tormented or unsettled by these choices, but just the same, such choices are made every day, and some of them, to a lesser degree perhaps, are even made by us. Tonight we pray to be attuned to another alternative; we can choose the path of godliness.

"The glory of God is the human person fully alive." No doubt most people in this room will recognize this quotation (or a slight variation of it) from a bishop of the late second century, St. Irenaeus. But I wonder if you realize that those familiar words are only half the quotation. In its entirety, it reads: "The glory of God is the human person fully alive; moreover, the human person is the vision of God." But what do we understand that to mean? Is it that humanity, poor and vulnerable as it is, is the result of God's dream for the world? Or could it be that the person fully alive manifests the presence of God in the world? In either case, the thought that we humans have the capacity to be bearers of God's vision to and for all of creation, is an awesome concept.

Interestingly enough, in holy or authentic people of each of the great spiritual traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – there is a desire, or perhaps, better put, an instinct toward beauty, peace, love of neighbor, harmony of all that is, and always justice. Also, deep within the spirit of every good person is a yearning that is never satisfied. It is a searching for something deeper, a sacred longing. Now if, as the moon can only be the moon and the dawn must break each morning, if we human beings could be fully alive, truly authentic beings, we would be the peace and love and harmony and truth and beauty for which we long. Our lives would be rooted in God.

In our Christian tradition, we are fortunate to believe in the incarnation, in a God who became a human person and walked among us. I am reminded of an excerpt from the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen who wrote of children and their Catholic faith:

We will pass down the story to our children: There was a woman named Mary who was visited by an angel. And that angel said, 'Do not be afraid' and told her that though she was a virgin, she would have a child. And He was named Jesus and was the Son of God and rose from the dead. Everything else our children learn in America...will make this sound like a fairy tale, like tales of the potato famine in Ireland and the little ramshackle houses with grape arbors on hillsides in Italy. But [they will say] these are my fairy tales and so, whether or not they are fact, they are true.

Yes, we are fortunate to believe and celebrate and rejoice in the Christian story because it is the story of our salvation. We learned it as children and many of us taught it as teachers. This story is as much a part of our lives as is breathing. We couldn't imagine it any other way, nor would we want to. And if we study the Jesus of this story, we will learn what it means to be rooted in God and why we cannot call ourselves Christian people fully alive, if we are not. Our faith and faithfulness lead us to the person of Jesus whose loving, suffering, and liberating lead us along the pathways of godliness. In St. Paul's letter to the people of Ephesus, he prayed that the power of the Christ might dwell in them that they might be rooted and grounded in love. He prayed that they might be filled with the fullness of God.

We IHM Sisters stake our lives on the fact that in order to be faithful to the vocation to which we have been called, we must choose to be rooted in the God we have come to know from the deep Christian story out of which we live our lives. What does it look like to be rooted in God? The characteristics of people who plumb, as Paul writes, the breadth and length and height and depth of God are many, including among others courage to be faithful to the promptings of God within us, boldness to teach the Word of God, compassion to heal the brokenhearted, and belief in the redemptive nature of suffering. I choose for our consideration this evening the two Christian challenges to love and to liberate in the name of Jesus.

To love. Quotations about Christian love have one common theme – love for others. Teilhard said it simply: "Love one another, or you perish." St. Ignatius of Loyola noted: "Love shows itself better through deeds than by words." And Pedro Arrupe, whose famous line "Love decides everything," has written "Only by being a man or woman for others does one become fully human...."

In Joan Chittister's 2007 publication entitled Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and its Meaning for You, she told the true story of a wealthy and well-dressed man who happened by a soup kitchen where she was in Erie, PA. It was a blustery cold and rainy day. She writes: "[This] well-to-do man saw a homeless man in summer sandals on a cold day, bent over, took his own shoes off, and walked away barefoot." Some people tried to go after him so as to keep him from being out in the cold with no shoes, but he was insistent and visibly moved as he hurried away. And by the way she told the story, it seemed as though the man had been overcome by love.

I can never forget another story about an incredible act of love that took place just one year ago in New York City. A young man suffering from a seizure fell onto the subway tracks at the 137th Street Station and a 50 year old construction worker jumped onto the tracks and over the man to save him by pinning his body, flailing arms and all, between the rails as an oncoming subway train actually ran over them. They both escaped unharmed. Now that's being overcome by love!

I believe we are all created to be overcome by love. The restlessness we experience in our lives is an emptiness waiting to be filled by acts of love. Opportunities to love others cannot be quantified. Some people do great things; others do small acts of kindness. Our individual acts of love are not as dramatic as that of the Good Samaritan at the NY subway stop, but that doesn't make them any less significant. What we are doing here this evening is supporting each other in our loving. I am daily inspired by the good that is done by all our IHM Sisters, our Associates, former members, and colleagues wherever they are – in ministry and community, in their personal and professional lives, in quiet and humble ways. For example, my heart is touched by stories of our students volunteering to work with poor children in Guatemala or to teach English writing skills to students in Africa. This is one of many examples. We praise God in the silence of our hearts for all the examples that come to your thoughts. Jesus, in Matthew's account of his vision of the Last Judgment reminds us of the one thing that matters: "Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me." That we might all be overcome by love!

To liberate. Our loving becomes justice when we seek to liberate those who are oppressed in any way. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God's passion for those who are poor is revealed in themes of justice and liberation. And in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is pictured reading the scroll of Isaiah in which the Messiah was pre-figured "to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to give recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free."

Today we approach the end of the Christmas season but the work of Christmas lasts a lifetime. These following are the words of Oscar Romero from his Christmas Eve homily, 1979:

We must not seek the child Jesus
in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs.
We must seek him among the undernourished children
who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat,
among the poor newsboys
who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways.

Often in our lives, we can name categories of persons "out there in foreign lands or home here in inner cities" who need to be liberated and empowered through education, access to adequate health care, the security of work, and the right to dignity. It is our Christian responsibility to do so and perhaps even easier to imagine and accomplish, one day at a time, than the prospect of liberating ourselves and those around us. Is it a fair guess that each one of us personally knows someone ever so close to us who needs to be liberated, if perhaps not physically, then psychologically or emotionally or spiritually? That person may even be you. As we begin this new year reflecting upon the deep Christian story of the birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, let us begin the work of Christmas by allowing ourselves to be so overcome by love that we have the courage to set ourselves free from hurts and anger, fears and jealousies, even injustices that have caused us pain, and all the personal barriers that keep us from embracing the Christian call to liberate.

The IHM Sisters claim rootedness in God as intrinsic to our lives as disciples of Jesus. We do this because as members of the human family, we experience the yearning for something greater than ourselves. We do it because as human beings, we choose the paths of godliness and turn away from the darkness. We do it because the Christian story of a God who created us, redeemed us, and dwells with us has captured our hearts and minds. We do it because we believe the human person is the vision of God. We do it because good people everywhere want to believe that there are those whose lives are rooted in God. I pray with St. Paul that God's strengthening power within us will root us in love until we are filled with the fullness of God. The glory of God is the authentic human person fully alive. As Elizabeth Johnson writes: "God's glory is a stake in the flourishing of people, every single one and all together." May our lives flourish and give glory to God, every single one and all together. Amen.