Caring . . . and Health

I’m at Sears car care this afternoon, joyfully buying two new tires for the car. They have 58,000 miles on them, so I guess as they say, they don’t owe me anything.

When I checked in the gentleman helping me – he says he is on Medicare, so he’s 65 or more – asked me if I knew if Congress had decided on the healthcare bill or not. I answered that I didn’t know, but that they’d been in session since 1pm. It was then 3pm. He went on to say how he believes the bill is unneeded and fears that it will mean higher insurance premiums and less available for him through Medicare.

As I wandered through the Square One Mall waiting, I thought about what he had said as I passed hundreds of people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. The diversity of the nation was right there with me (and me, the middle-aged white guy part of it!). I wondered as I looked in their faces how many of them have faced or are facing stresses related to getting adequate healthcare for themselves, their children, their parents.

There has been much debate, some of it overly loud and impolite, as to whether or not healthcare is a right. In terms of Catholic faith, it is. The question then for those who accept the Catholic viewpoint is whether the present bill provides healthcare as it should be and in accord with the dignity of each person and each life.

Another constant in the public debate over healthcare reform over the past year has been cost. I’ve heard everything from “those who can afford care will buy it, and the rest are on their own,” to “it’s just too expensive and so we can’t do it.” I hear this in the context of our national priorities as reflected in how we are spending our money. Some time ago the war in Iraq – a war that Karl Rove now says George Bush would not have begun if he knew the truth about no-weapons of mass destruction – had cost the USA in the neighborhood of $700,000,000,000. This is without mentioning the cost of the war in Afghanistan, nor the human cost on which no dollar amount can be placed. Little is said about whether or not we can ‘afford’ this cost as a nation.

But if we can, can we not also ‘afford’ or rather do we not have a communal responsibility to provide care to all? We belong to one another and are responsible to and for one another. This is fundamental Christianity. If fundamental Christianity has nothing to do with the decisions we make, we as individuals or as a nation, then the worth and significance of our professing Christian faith needs to be carefully considered. What I mean is this: the question of cost is not the final question here. There are more fundamental questions at hand.

As I write pro-life democrats have agreed to the measure. I emphasize: this is not a perfect law, but it moves us toward what we owe one another in justice. Will it need revision in the future? Undoubtedly. Will i$perfections in its provisions become apparent? Of course. But I ask you: if we waited to act in this world until we had the perfect answer and absolute unanimity about anything, would we ever move at all?

This is the time to move.

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At the terminal

Sunday evening, March 7

I’m in Terminal A at Logan Airport, waiting with a Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate and a bunch of other tired-looking humans. I’m expecting a friend who works at Duke, flying home to New England as that school begins spring break.

I actually like the airport. It is a little bit of time outside of time, place outside of place. It doesn’t belong to any part of life except moments of transition and passage, major or minor. We’re either making those transitions ourselves, or helping others to make them. When you’re the helper, this time feels made for contemplation, for assessing where I was before I reached the ‘terminal,’ – for the moment, in the world’s original sense, ‘the end,’ the termination of the journey. In a small way, a visit here is a stepping aside, not unlike a retreat, though minimized. Where have I come from? Where is the journey taking me? Do I have a sense of movement, of purpose, of proceeding toward a goal?

It also invites reflection on humanity. The people passing by, pulling luggage, waiting around a baggage belt, sitting together looking at a laptop screen: who are they? Where is their journey taking them? Will our paths cross again, perhaps more significantly than they do this evening? Each and every one of them matters in the sight of God. Do they matter in my sight? Do I really ‘see’ them at all? Especially in comparision to the Eye of the All-Compassionate, All-Understanding One?

And this is a place of order. Everything has a place and is in that place. Every person, every bag, every scrap of identifying, enabling paper. And if anything is out of place, disordered, there is a place to put it in its lack of order: Lost Baggage, Oversize Baggage, Lost Objects, even lost children. Everything is screened. Announcements encourage the keeping of order in every fashion. In the face of all this it’s no wonder that these are places into which those often called ‘terrorists’ choose to sow massive disorder, even chaos. In this setting, that break in the ordered and expected feels harder and heavier than elsewhere. That chaos gives a new and darker meaning to the word ‘terminal.’

So here I sit, obviously thinking too much. I see my reflection in the massive windows facing the street. I’m unclear, but visible. Beyond the world moves at its usual break-neck pace. Out there the retreat is suddenly over. Back into time, and behind time. Back into place and onward we go.

On the line

We’ve been teeter-tottering on the line between winter and spring.  Anyone who lives in Boston (or New England for that matter, knows that we will totter here until mid-May at least.  But yesterday and today afford some hope that later or sooner we will step out of the dark and out of the cold and into the warmth and the light. Sounds like the hoping for salvation.

Two of the highlights of this week were a couple of  really wonderful dinners taken in the North End with friends.  Both meals were splendid and I was blessed in spending time and conversation with two amazing people, each of whom is destined to do great stuff in and for this world.

Looking from the North End toward the Customs House

Yesterday I worked the morning.  We held the second in a series called Carmelite Authors 101, in cooperation with the Institute of Carmelite Studies and BC’s School of Theology and Ministry.  Kieran Kavanagh, O.C.D., a Carmelite priest of 82 years of age, spoke about the three principal writings of Saint Teresa of Avila (Saint Teresa of Jesus).  Kieran Kavanagh has spent the past 50 years translating these works of Teresa into the English language.  Just think about that for  a minute – or maybe for 50 minutes, just giving a minute per year of his labors.  Isn’t that amazing?

And it showed.  He knows Teresa as if she were standing here now.  The suspicions under which she wrote; the Inquisition present and active in her time; the way she stepped out of what was  ‘supposed to be’ at the time the very limited role of women – all this and much more reveals her as an amazing soul.

Teresa of Avila

At one point books on prayer, suspected to be leading people astray (?) were banned by the Inquisition authorities.  Teresa lamented and received a mystical message in which Jesus told her not to worry.  He said “I will be your book.”  Pretty blessed cool.

Father Kieran was asked in the question and answer session why it took so long for Teresa to be named a Doctor of the Church, officially one who has wisdom to offer and teach to the whole believing community of every age.  He delightfully responded, “Well, Saint Paul said that a woman had to keep quiet in the church.  That was a woman’s place.  They had to get over that first.”  You can learn more about Teresa here.

There were about 150 people present at this gathering about Saint Teresa.  They were of all generations from the young to the very old, and from every state of life.  The continued and obvious relevance of  someone who lived in the 16th century in an enclosed monastery is quite an amazing thing.  It makes me think that the significance of our own lives depends not so much on what we do at all, but on whether or not we are in the place we are meant to be, living the life we are meant to live.  You might call it destiny or fate.  I would rather call it being in tune (in sync we might say in this computer age) with Love, with the source of love who is God.

We met in the Trinity Chapel on BC’s Newton campus.  This was the campus of Newton College of the Sacred Heart until its merger with Boston College in 1974.  I find the colors in the chapel’s windows to be just beautiful.

From Trinity Chapel, Newton Campus, BC
The light burns on at Trinity Chapel.