By Fr. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., Provincial Director
Albert Schweitzer once said, “The real tragedy in life is what dies inside a person while he is still alive.” We have seen this tragedy played out in people we have met along the way who, although still alive physically, buried their dreams long ago. They may still be active in ministry but they simply go through the motions and find little meaning in what they do.
Pope Francis addressed this crisis in The Joy of the Gospel when he wrote about three temptations for missionary disciples. The first temptation, he said, is “heightened individualism.” The pope described this as a “concern for personal freedom and relaxation,” where missionary disciples see their work as a “mere appendage to their life as if it were not part of their very identity.” While maintaining some semblance of a spiritual life, those who succumb to this temptation may practice “a few religious exercises which can offer a certain comfort but which do not encourage encounter with others” (78).
The second temptation raised by the Holy Father is what he called a “crisis of identity.” Here “pastoral workers can fall into a relativism which, whatever their particular style of spirituality or way of thinking, proves even more dangerous than doctrinal relativism…it consists in acting as if God did not exist, making decisions as if the poor did not exist, setting goals as if others did not exist, working as if people who have not received the Gospel did not exist” (80).
Finally, the third temptation brought to light in The Joy of the Gospel is one of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins: acedia. Pope Francis writes how some fall into the grip of acedia “because they throw themselves into unrealistic projects and are not satisfied simply to do what they reasonably can.” Others, he says, experience acedia because they “lack patience to allow processes to mature” and “unable to wait, obsesses with immediate results.” Still others fall victim to this disease of the spirit “because they have lost real contact with people and so depersonalize their work that they are more concerned with the road map than with the journey itself” (82).
When these temptations get the best of us we can be overwhelmed by what Pope Francis frames as a “tomb psychology” that “transforms Christians into mummies in a museum” (83). This is the part of The Joy of the Gospel where one of Francis’ famous phrases surfaces: “One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’” (85).
Reflecting on this “tomb psychology” that can leave us spiritually dry and dead inside, I am reminded of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary and beloved friend of Jesus who was buried deep in a tomb. Each of us has a Lazarus inside of us that, in the view of Kayla McClurg, “no longer seeks to grow and learn, no longer asks if we might be of use to God’s unfolding story, fearing the response. We hunker down in caves of regret; we zone out, grow numb, live small.” She describes this Lazarus within us as “whatever lies beyond our ability to restore, so bound up in old beliefs or hurts that spiritual rigor mortis has set in.”
But when we respond to Jesus’ shout, “Lazarus, come out!” we submit to another chance, a new lease on life.
As we look forward to our 200th anniversary as a congregation and our 50th anniversary as a province in 2015, why not shout to the Lazarus hiding in the tomb within us, “Lazarus, come out! Wake up, Lazarus!” Whatever has died inside each of us; whatever lies buried under the dead weight of old regrets; it is time to rise. We have work to do. We are going to reveal how good God is by living in a way that reconciliation is realized in the manner in which we treat one another.
As we were reminded at the Assembly, this year affords us the opportunity to, in the words of St. Pope John xxiii, “Consult not our fears but our hopes and our dreams. Think not about our frustrations, but about our unfulfilled potential. Concern ourselves not with what we tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for us to do.” While leadership has proposed the possibility of expanding Precious Blood Center as a place of renewal and reconciliation as one way to incarnate the vision of the 2013 c.pp.s. General Assembly to begin new ministries rooted in our charism and spirituality and responding to the signs of the times, what other dreams do members and companions have for the Center? One of our members mentioned that Altmann Guest House could be a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Another suggested a halfway house for those getting out of prison. Still another offered the possibility of a homeless shelter.
Our younger incorporated members met during the Assembly to explore possibilities of ministry with the millennial generation. The members from our Vietnam mission met with province leadership for three days after the Assembly to participate in a process of Appreciative Discernment that resulted in a positive vision with provocative action steps that will guide the mission into the future. Our companions have been gathering for more than a year to explore creative ways to be in relationship and ministry together, and discern a vision for the future that will call forth new leadership for the movement. These are the kinds of dreams that suggest Lazarus is dancing out of the tomb and is not content to rest in peace.
At the Assembly, I quoted the late Sister Lauretta Mather, former president of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who once looked out upon her community and said, “The community of persons closest to us has the power to keep us in the tomb of fear or to call us into the daybreak of hope.” I pray we are a community of compassion not cowardice, of freedom not fear. I pray we are a community that is known for how we live our charism and spirituality and not for what we are against or with what or with whom we are angry. I pray we are a province that promotes reconciliation and does not contribute to the polarization that exists in the church today. We will be these ambassadors of reconciliation and renewal if we remember who we are as a beloved community bonded together in the blood of Christ.
In the words of Pope Francis, may we not allow ourselves to be “robbed of hope” but instead let Lazarus out of the tomb and into the light of a brand new day.