Monday, June 1, 2015

Marianist Monday

June, 2015

My dear friends in college . . . and beyond,

The English poet T.S. Eliot, in his signature modernist poem The Waste Land, famously claims that “April is the cruelest month.” But personally, I think May and June have April beat by a long shot.

You see, May and June are months of departure. I am writing this letter on a Saturday morning in May, the third Saturday of the month, when many of you are graduating from college. In three weeks, over nine-hundred young men and women will graduate from Long island’s three Marianist schools – Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres. The best of intentions notwithstanding, graduation means that we will see many of the people who became some of our closest friends a lot less than we would like. May and June give us plenty of moments to celebrate, but they also bring a series of bittersweet good-byes that tug at our hearts.

As I write this letter, I think back as well to the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Again, our minds turn to departure. The Apostles’ hearts must have been heavy. Their Lord was taken from their sight as He ascended into Heaven. I can’t imagine them experiencing anything but a profound sense of confusion and loss. The Ascension Thursday reading from the Acts of the Apostles hints at this: “While they were looking intently at the sky as He was

going, suddenly, two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?’ ” (Acts 1: 10 – 11)
May and June are the cruelest months, or so they seem. For all the bittersweet departures of these two months, however, May and June also remind us of enduring presence. Indeed, this is the promise of the Risen Lord: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) We read the same promise in the Gospel of John: “I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14:18)

These transitional days of springtime into summer, from the halls of high school to the campuses of college, and from the world of college to the world of work, are marked by two great feasts of God’s enduring presence.

One of these is Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of flame. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Two weeks after Pentecost, the Church celebrates another great feast of God’s enduring presence: Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper, He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ (Luke 22: 19 – 20). Saint Albert the Great frames the significance of the Body and Blood of Christ in this way: “Nor could He have commanded anything more lovable, for this sacrament produces love and union. It is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food. . . . as if to say, ‘I have loved them, and they have loved me so much that they may become my members. There is no more intimate or natural means for them to be united to me, and I to them.’ ”

As many of you know, the Church has just reached the midway point in its observation of the Year of Consecrated Life, convoked by Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, to celebrate the one-million-plus men and women worldwide who have dedicated their lives to Christ as members of religious 
Image result for marianists meribahcongregations. When he promulgated this Year of Consecrated Life that we are now celebrating, Pope Francis announced as his theme, “Wake up the World.” “Wake up the world!” the Pope has exhorted us, “to a different way of doing things, of acting, of living!”

Well, just what are we waking the world up to? I’d like to suggest that we are waking up the world to the gift of God’s enduring presence, to the truth of communion, and to the lived reality that you and I are not alone.

And how do we do this? By living in Community and by sharing the fruits of Community with everyone we meet. Community life, family spirit, God’s enduring presence among us – these are at the heart of so many religious congregations. And I know from personal experience that Community life, family spirit, and God’s enduring presence are certainly at the heart of the Society of Mary.

Some months ago, Bro. Rysz and I saw Disney’s film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods. It’s a retelling of several classic fairy tales, with a modern existentialist twist, of course. As the characters travel deeper and deeper into the woods, they are forced to deal with loss, confusion, and frightening decisions – the kinds of things we all experience when we fear that we have lost our way. Towards the end of their journey into the woods, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and the Town Baker team up for a heartfelt rendition of perhaps the most important song in the entire musical – “No One is Alone.” Despite the devastating losses that befall many of the characters, they nevertheless realize, “No one is alone. Truly. No one is alone. Believe me. Someone is on your side. No one is alone.”

For some reason, that song affected me profoundly. It got me thinking about the kinds of loneliness and loss that I see day in and day out. I think of the kid who’s really working hard in my class but just barely passing. Or the guy with the 99 average whose constant quest for the highest grades leaves him perpetually uptight and nervous, anxious and upset. (I was that kid.) Or the last guy to get cut from a team, or the athlete who seems to spend most of his time warming the bench, and it’s really got him bumbed out. Or maybe the last one to be picked for a team in gym class. (I was that kid too.) None of these people are alone.

The young adult who’s struggling to maintain his purity. Or anyone reading this letter right now who carries the heavy burden of sin and cannot forgive himself or herself for it. Maybe we’re battling depression, or alcoholism, or substance abuse. Perhaps a loved one is. Maybe you just received your college diploma, but you’re still having a hard time securing a job. Maybe you face a mountain of college debt. At times like these, I know that we think we’re alone. But we’re not.

Perhaps someone reading this letter is the young man who has lost a parent. The spouse who has lost a husband or a wife. Someone whose grandmother or grandfather is stricken with Alzheimer’s. Is your family emotionally drained as a loved one gradually slips away from you because he or she is gravely ill? You are not alone. Truly.

Or the single parent trying so hard to raise three kids? The family torn apart by argument and strife? You are not alone. Believe me.

No one is alone. We are not alone. We have Christ’s promise of God’s enduring presence, of His enduring love. That promise is made good – daily – in the Body and Blood of Christ that is the Eucharist. And it is fulfilled as well in the Body of Christ that is the Church – all of us, living in communion, becoming the eyes, the hands, the feet of our brother, Jesus Christ, for the sake of our brothers and sisters in this world.

“Lo, I am with you always.” “I will not leave you as orphans.” “No one is alone.”

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers, peace, prayers, and the promise to extend God’s love and compassion to you whenever you are feeling lost and alone,