What to say in welcoming 2018?

January 7, 2018

Most years of late I have found myself writing a reflection on the turning of the year. More often than not it takes the form of a spiritual musing, with a religious flavor to it. This is much less than surprising, I suppose, since June of this year will mark thirty-five years since my classmates and myself were ordained priests by Humberto Cardinal Medeiros at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston.

But this year . . . what to say? This year there has been a week’s delay, at least, in any musings on the passage of 2017 into 2018. There is no sense in me, either, that a reflection on this year’s arrival should touch at all upon my own life or what ‘resolutions’ might be appropriate to the new year.

Why? That’s the question I have been carrying. Carrying into prayer. Carrying into pastoral visits. Carrying into conversations with family and friends. Carrying into dreams, or rather into nightmares.

The answer seems to be along these lines.

Never before through the decades and passages of my living,

  • not in my childhood, watching Walter Cronkite on the evening news announce each week how many had been murdered in that week’s dark efforts in Southeast Asia;

  • not in my early teens rushing home from school to watch Senator Sam Ervin’s hearings reveal the depths of Nixonian drama in and around Watergate;

  • not in the dreadful antics of the Bill Clinton White House in the Monica Lewinsky affair;

  • and not in the innumerable other revelations, in and out of government, of the foibles of human beings and the truth of the teaching on Original Sin, which I have been unlucky enough to witness leave their mark on the years of my living;

never through it all do I recall feeling as oppressive a dark cloud hanging over daily life as I have since the morning of November 9, 2016.

Our own daily lives, our work and our vacations, our friendships and our pains, always take place within the larger context of the world around us, what I sometimes call ‘the big world.’ Sometimes that context is experienced as hopeful and life-giving, as carrying light into darkness. Sometimes, much less so.

But never in my experience of living has the larger context within which we live and move appeared so grim, as consistently grim as the set of the mouth of Donald Trump. Never before in my life has that larger context loomed so heavy, leaning down deep into every day, every event, every conversation like a heavy weight to bear, like noxious smoke poisoning the atmosphere, like winter’s darkness implacable and ongoing. Never before, I affirm again, reminding you that this is stated by a guy who watched the evening news daily as a kid and who chose the Watergate Committee hearings over extracurricular activities in high school. I have actively engaged and watched the big world and have enjoyed noting its relation to the world of everyday life.

But the feel of the present time, though others have sought and found words to express it, I cannot do justice to in any word or set of words I know. This is a time of lament.  Wait, perhaps that is the word.

Lament, and here is a corner to turn, is one of the many genres of literature found in the Scriptures. To cite but one place it is so, there are deep lamentations within the 150 psalms. For me as a believer, these not only furnish both permission and encouragement to cry out in the agony of the present time, they do something more as well, something that provides a window toward a yet larger context.

These scriptural cries of burdened hearts not only put before God tough situations within which God’s people struggled to survive. More than a few times, they also include complaints directly aimed at God, more or less saying, “When are you going to kick into gear, dear God, and respond to this mess as only you can do?” Given who the community of faith proclaimed God to be, it was a fair question. But one thing more: the simple fact that the lament ended at God’s doorstep stated clearly that the final context within which all things happened was the presence and the desire and the ways of the God who ultimately could not be denied. Pace my atheist friends, this is still and always our ultimate context.

So yes, here I am, ending up back among things spiritual and religious. I guess it was inevitable. But while I take this arrival place as a sign of hope in the midst of developing tragedy, I do not take it as a refuge. Beyond the context of life as it is now, that I see as darkness, there is a brighter horizon. But that horizon is not an escape route. It is, rather, a call to action, to practical and measurable action. Many are arriving at that call, by several routes, and that is little wonder.

I saw 2017 expire in a heap and give birth to a whining brat of a new year. There is one thing that can begin to mature the new year and that one thing would only begin by the end of the Trump misadministration of the nation.

donald_trump_official_portrait-copie-810x1013

Official Portrait.  Source: White House

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Posted in Words!

Neighbors

A word by way of introduction.

This afternoon I have embarked upon the beginning of what might be expected to be somewhat straightforward – spring cleaning.  

But when you have moved 11 times in 10 years, and counting; when you have moved from priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church to a once-in-a-lifetime position at Boston College, and then to priestly ministry in the Episcopal Church in another metropolitan area; when you begin to unearth boxes and folders that have traveled with you from a grand old parish in West Lynn MA to Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick to BC to Brooklyn to Mercer School of Theology in Garden City NY; when you find snippets of conversations and good wishes and prayers and questions answered and unanswered . . . then spring cleaning becomes something worth beginning that may never be ended.

Every inch of that landscape is marked both by the compassion of God, made flesh in great people, and by my own strivings, needs, half-understood yearnings, and throughout a faith that is the foundation of all.   Absolutely all.

I can only do this work for so many hours at a time.  I have to stop then, return to the present place and time, and consider well.  There may be some things I deem worthy of sharing as they are (re)discovered.  You may not find much in them, but for me they are worth transposing into another key, with hope and a tear or two, a smile, and a grateful heart.

This prose poem – without skill or guile that I can see! –  bears the date of 6/6/06.  That was the period of time between Sacred Heart in Lynn (hi guys!) and Boston College’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry (a beautiful reality, now tucked into BC’s School of Theology and Ministry).  I believe I was at the time of that writing staying in a condo in the beautiful town of Newburyport, a condo owned by a friend from Sacred Heart.  I was upheld entirely and without want by the love of friends and strangers, and the Lord whom I could see standing between them. God bless those generous friends, every moment and always.

I have no idea almost a decade later who the ‘neighbors’ are as they are mentioned here.  I hope they weren’t put off by a neighbor between them who was thinking a lot, as is still and always true, about the meaning of our lives together.

A porch to either side

on a sunny June afternoon;

one seen from an upstairs window

an infant carefully placed in a carriage asleep,

one unmoving hand visible,

and in it the potentials of a lifetime.

Another seen from a kitchen window

an old woman, still, in a rocker,

breathing in another June

old dog by her side,

each hand lain on a rocker arm

and in them the history of a lifetime.

 

Young mother comes with care in quiet,

raises the young one to her cheek

and enters the house.

The old woman lifts herself with care

as the dog rises too,

no ease for either,

and enters the house.

 

Neighbors, infancy and age,

Between them is life

shared,

held in common,

valued,

as neighbors.

(J. McGinty 6/6/06)

old woman and baby
Greatgrandmother and child (NY Daily News 4/1/15) 

 

 

 

 

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/life-dad-social-network-deluged-elderly-baby-photos-article-1.2168459

Posted in Images, Words!

Word & word. 1st Sunday of Lent ’16

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

from the Gospel according to Luke 4:1-13

Are there times when good and evil somehow cooperate with one another?

It is fascinating that ‘filled with the Holy Spirit,’ and ‘led,’ (or as it is sometimes translated ‘driven’) by the Spirit, Jesus is moved following his baptism directly into a place of loneliness and privation.  But even more than that, he is driven directly into the sights of the devil who stands ready and eager to engage him in conversation.

Rather than this being a kind of instance of cooperation between good and evil, it might be better seen as a moment in which the devil unwittingly is co-opted by the Spirit for the sake of good.  The devil believes, alone with Jesus whom he testifies in effect is indeed ‘the Son of God,’ that he [Satan] is in charge and setting the agenda as he puts one temptation after the other in Jesus’ way.

But there is deeper agency here.  Underneath the devil’s promptings the Spirit of God, the Spirit that animates and moves Jesus, can be seen using the devil to bring the Son of God to a point of readiness to open his ministry.  Jesus is brought by these 40 days of hunger and temptation in the desert to the perfect expression of self-offering to what the Father asks of him, not what Satan asks of him, nor what his own humanity might choose.

Jesus chooses to trust the Father in the Spirit to nourish him, to give him what he needs to carry out his mission, to protect him from ultimate harm, even when ultimate harm will indeed be visited upon him.

There is great hope here as Lent begins for we who live on this same earth of deserts and hungers and temptations today. Evil still goes about doing its harm, planning its triumph. It does not realize even yet that its power is illusory and that Another is guiding all things to the good (Romans 8).  Every day the news we hear is full of the apparent advance of the agenda of disunity, of violence, of heartbreak, and death.

Through it all, we are being polished bright, burnished by the wing of the Spirit to shine in the world, to reflect the everlasting light of the good God who will not allow anything less than the full-throated shout of joy to be the final word of this creation and the first and lasting word of a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1-7).

Botticelli, detail 2
Three Temptations of Christ, detail (1481-82) fresco by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). Sistine Chapel, the Vatican
  • JP McGinty
Posted in Uncategorized

Being Afraid

I arrived last evening at Amagansett out east on the Island. I will be supplying for Saint Thomas Chapel here this weekend. It is a pretty village, an old and quaint little chapel (inasmuch as I could see it at dusk last night) and a comfortable cottage behind it.

I slept uneasy last night, with vague dreams about the downsides of me as a person. It was weird. Then I woke early this morning with a feeling of fear – not of anything in particular, but just of fear. Prayer begins to help. The beauty of this morning begins to help. Going out in a moment to search for strong black coffee will help.

But more importantly, as this feeling is unusual for me, it moves me to pray for the many around the globe who live with real fear, and real reason to fear, day and night all their days. Dear God, embrace them all – mothers and children, soldiers who don’t want to be soldiers, those in pain, all who fear. I have no reason to be afraid in the shadow of what these brothers and sisters of mine suffer today. Abba, be God for them, present, warm, strong, sufficient in every need.