Tuesday, January 03, 2017

A new year - for the long haul

New Year's evening I sat down and wrote this note on Facebook:
New Year's Day - slept in until 6:30; prayed without showering (no electricity until 8:30); presided and preached at the Celebration of the Word and Communion in Plan Grande; watered the flowers; went to Mass in San Agustín in the afternoon where I served as deacon and preached. After returning home, I made dinner - omelet (with cheese and chives), fried plantains, and oven-baked small potatoes with garlic and rosemary. Now to clean up the kitchen, praying, reading, a glass of wine, and sleep. 
The Lord is good.

The book I picked up was Ten Commandments for the Long Haul by Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

Father Dan passed into the loving arms of his maker this past year – prophet, priest, servant. Ordained a priest to worship the one true God, ordained a prophet to unsettle us bourgeois Catholics, ordained servant to care for the lost and broken, as he did for some time in a cancer hospice.

On the evening of the first day of the new year, I looked around for a book to read and came upon this book, originally published in 1981. I stayed up late and read many pages that offered me hope and challenge – and a call for newness. I finished it in two days – and now I have to turn it over in my heart to be able to live.

I’ve been impressed with Father Dan, his integrity, his commitment to a God made flesh amid the suffering, and a certain impishness I found in him.

He has hard and harsh words in the face of a world gone mad. But, unlike some self-styled “prophets,” I have found in him a certain lightness in the face of the somber themes found in many of his works. He can say difficult things in a manner that does not raise hackles, at least in me.

For a long time, I have thought that he could write and speak this way because he was a poet. Even his prose is not prosaic. Unlike some dour prophets, there always seemed to be something more.

But after reading this book, I think his lightness comes from a deep love of God and a mystic spirit.

In the first chapter of this book, he recalls the cry of despair of some in the seventies who would ask him, “How can we become activists?” (p. 14)

His response was a type of jujitsu:
“But that is not the question at all. Here’s a better one: ‘Can we uncover the contemplative springs that are the source of our humanity?’”
As he wrote in a later essay, “I believe that we were created for ecstasy. And redeemed for it, at considerable cost.” (p. 146)

Getting to the basics – the contemplative, ecstatic source of our being – is the way to begin to respond to a world gone mad.

And in all this, Fr. Dan kept a distance from the sullen seriousness of so many activists. For he believed, with Gandhi that the truth has its own power and, therefore, what is essential is “Don’t get in the way” (p. 24), “to be nonimpeding” (p. 85).

 There is much more in this small book that moves me (and there are a few things that catch me off guard), but Father Dan has crafted a series of essays that offer both challenge and hope.

“What indeed are we to do with our lives in such mad times?” he asks.
“There will be no sane or peaceable future unless we are creating here and now a sane and peaceable present: in the very jaws of Leviathan.” (p. 125)
And so, in the final essay, he casts out to us words of proverbial wisdom:
“About practically everything in the worlds, there’s nothing you can do…. About a few things you can do everything. Do it, with a good heart.”  (p. 155)
“Call on Jesus when all else fails. Call on Him when all else succeeds.” (p. 155)
“Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly toward the improbable. There are at least five fire exits.” (p. 156)
He said this because, at the center of his live, his living, was a grace, a Person, who revealed what is at the center of our lives:
“Word had gotten around about a dead man who stood up again, and was beating at the door.”
In a dialogue with his soul, Father Dan found himself challenged:
“I was insisting … we get back to sources, see how this so-called sacrificial love got started.
At the beginning I find a few people who don’t mind dying for good reasons. And, like our own obscure rabbi [Jesus], they become hot so obscure. Because they wouldn’t stay dead.”

Live that life.


Here's a picture of my New Year's dinner, a real treat.

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