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Archive for July 14th, 2014

imageA Little Suffering for Justice

When I first saw A Man for All Seasons, I knew right away what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Like Thomas More, I wanted to be a lawyer.  I also wanted to be chancellor of the king of England.  And lastly, also like Thomas More, I had no particular desire to become a martyr.  Like him, I could see clearly that I was not the stuff of which martyrs are made.  Unlike him, however, I have been right about myself on that score.

As for my professional aspirations, I’ve struck out on two and am rounding the bases on the third.  I didn’t become a lawyer, and I think it’s too late now.  Nor did I become chancellor of England, which turned out to be a wildly impractical goal anyway.  But I think I’m still on target when it comes to avoiding martyrdom.  I’m still not the stuff of which martyrs are made, and I remain thoroughly convinced of that.

imageLike many, when I hear Jesus bless those who suffer for righteousness’ sake, I think immediately of martyrs like Thomas More and Thomas Becket.  I conjure up people like Mother Theresa, who worked her fingers to the bone so that a few wretched souls might have a moment of grace and love as they died.  And I think of the millions who have died under the boot of fascism or communism or all sorts of other oppressors.   I give thanks for their witness, of course; but to be frank, I also give thanks that God hasn’t called me to the same vocation.

There’s no denying that untold numbers still suffer for righteousness’ sake, all over the world.  But if the truth be told, most of us who look in the mirror don’t see people who walk in their shoes.  Most of us are blessed to live rather serene lives, hassled only by the normal challenges that people face.  But we’re only kidding ourselves if we count ourselves among the Christian martyrs of our day.

So what do we do with a Beatitude that blesses those who suffer for justice’s sake?  Is this Beatitude wasted on the likes of you and me?  I think not.

imageThe other day I read a comment from a frequent flyer who wrote that if you want to change the world, then smile at the flight attendant.  Up until then it had never dawned on me that I could contribute to peace in the world with such a simple act.  What good could that possibly accomplish?  Then I was persuaded otherwise.

Each workday thousands of flight attendants all over the world are forced — for professional reasons — to smile at all sorts of people.  Crabby people.  Cranky people.  People in a big hurry.  People absorbed in cell phones and iPads.  People who never even look back at them.  It would shock you to know how many people never bother to smile back at the person who is committed to saving their lives in the event of an emergency.

Then it struck me.  There certainly is suffering that comes to those who search for righteousness, as we see in the cases of the heroic.  But those people do not exhaust the opportunities for such witness.  Simply put, the world needs all the justice and righteousness it can get, and all of us need to contribute in any way we can, no matter how small the instance may be.  Most of us may never make the supreme sacrifice that Thomas More and others endured, but there are not a few simple inconveniences that are worth our trouble.  And they come in the cause of securing a tiny bit of justice for our corner of the planet.

imageThe opportunities are myriad, but common to most of of them is the thought that a little sacrifice on my part can go a long way in helping another.  It will not kill me, for instance, to thank someone who has done me a special kindness.  It will not impoverish me to give a decent tip to a service employee who did a good job for me.  It will  not ruin my day to acknowledge the good work someone has done, or to encourage young people who are doing the best they can.

In short, you don’t have to  undergo beheading to witness to the need for justice in the world.  We can all contribute through the little kindnesses we extend to one another.  They may be slight inconveniences for us, and they may demand just a bit of sacrifice.  But blessed will we be when we can make even a small difference in the lives of others.  On top of that, we may even make for a better day for Jesus.  Happy will he be when he sees that his words have not fallen on deaf ears.

 

imageNotes:

+On July 8th Abbot John clothed two candidates in the monastic habit, and so began their year of novitiate.  Brother Aidan Putnam is from Oakland, CA, while Brother Brad Rothrock is from Boston, MA.

+On July 9th I presided at the Abbey Mass.  The text of the sermon, We are the lost sheep of Israel, can be found in Presentations.

+On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict, and at the liturgy we witnessed the renewal of vows by monks who first professed sixty, fifty and twenty-five years ago. It was a wonderfully festive day.

+In June a new exhibit of original folios from The Saint John’s Bible opened at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, CT.  The exhibit will be available through November 2nd, and the museum staff members have done a wonderful job of staging it.  Though I encourage you to visit in person, you can also take a virtual tour of the exhibit.  And if you don’t have time for that, you can drive by the big billboard on the Connecticut Turnpike that advertises the exhibit.  It is located between a sign advertising some local lawyers and another for a car dealership.  Two friends called me from the Turnpike to report the sighting, so I know it’s there.

image+Believe it or not, I still do quite a bit of reading in between other activities.  I have just finished reading Harriman vs. Hill: Wall Street’s Great Railroad War, by Larry Haeg.  Larry is a long-time friend and an alumnus of Saint John’s University, and his book could make for a great Hollywood production — except that all the events in the narrative happen to be true.  For those who enjoy railroad and business history in the Gilded Age, this is a great read.  For those who like Wall Street chicanery, this book has plenty of it.

+The pictures in today’s post all come from the monastic garden, which was built by several of the monks in the late 1920’s.  The photos today focus on one corner of the garden, affectionately referred to as the Scary Mary Garden.  It takes its name from a statue of Mary Queen of Peace, by New York artist Doris Cesar.   While the statue portrays her as rather exhausted-looking, with the olive branch drooping, she still has a hint of determination in her face.  The quest for peace is never easy.

 

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