The Seven Churches and The Pilgrimage of Life

It’s a frequent topic of conversation: DC’s transient population.  Young adults flood the city’s universities.  The ebb and flow of Congress brings with it aides, lobbyists, staff, family members and more.  And of course even if you’re not new to the city, there’s no guarantee that you’ll live in the same apartment for an extended period.  Rents change, buildings get bought for redevelopment, neighborhood dynamics shift… and then there’s that wonderful thing called marriage whereby your simple thousand-dollar-a-month efficiency just doesn’t cut it anymore.

At its most exalted, we call this culture of movement, “dynamic,” but when the rubber hits the road on moving day it’s just burdensome.

Iconic of all this… I was walking one day, and discovered a moving box rental company… I can’t say that I’d have much confidence in preowned cardboard boxes, but I digress…

In demographic terms, we refer to a constantly shifting population as transient (such a sad sounding word), but might we look at this especially DC phenomenon through eyes of faith?

In “Meditations of the Christ,” Father Romano Guardini (see previous post) describes Jesus as always being “in passage.”  It’s true.  The Lord was always moving about, slipping in and out of crowds, developing his ministry to its ultimate goal: the Passion Death and Resurrection.  Using the widest angle lens possible, we say that Christ was always on a pilgrimage back to the Father in heaven.

Our most ancient authors, especially St. Paul, speak beautifully about this sense of a life-pilgrimage to heaven:

“So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.  Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away.” (II Cor. 5:6-9)

Seen in this light, a culture of frequent moves doesn’t have to be quite so daunting… It’s just one more reminder of the reality that we’re invited to somewhere greater – heaven.

Yesterday, a group of intrepid Washingtonians took part in a beautiful exercise meant to remind all of us that every day of life in our city is part of a larger pilgrimage to the City of God… Our Young Adult Ministry, (www.DCCatholic.com) engaged in the Seven Church Walk.  Started in Rome by St. Philip Neri, the Seven Church Walk was a pilgrimage to the holiest basilicas of the Eternal City.  The faithful pray at each stop, but along the way they find Christ in each other through conversation, laughter, song, and food.  Some years ago this venerable tradition came to Washington.  Each year the faithful trek to 7 different historic parishes of our fair city… with the added bonus of tweeting, instagraming and facebooking the experience as they go!  Since I was occupied with holy week activities at my own parish I took great inspiration from the social media version of the pilgrimage!

As Catholics observe the start of Holy Week, we’re literally walking with Christ toward the Cross and Resurrection.  Never forget that whether it’s Holy Week or the Seven Church walk, all of this is a microcosm of how we can understand each and every day of our lives… moving, from apartment to apartment, job to job ever closer to God and our final goal, Heaven itself!

Reading Recommendations for the End of Lent

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Father Romano Guardini

 

“It is not the faith of cheerful fables that is demanded in these times, but rather a hard faith, for the softening and accommodating enchantment is falling away from all things, and everywhere the contradictions collide roughly with one another.” -Romano Guardini

By way of some recommended reading for the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, two suggestions from one of the great fathers of late-twentieth century Catholic theology: Romano Guardini.

“Meditations Before Mass”  and “Meditations on the Christ Model of All Holiness”  both volumes are published by Sophia Press and make for great bite size reading before mass, on the metro commute or sitting with your espresso in the early morning (as I am now).

Guardini was born to an Italian family but grew up and studied in Germany.  I like to think of him as a mutant, an “X-Man” among theologians combing all the beauty of Italian aesthetic theology with the undeniable power of German logic.  His thought, joining together the best of our mystical and practical traditions, became a foundation for the Second Vatican Council… and consequently for the current New Evangelization ethic of the Church.  Happy Reading!

The social life of… an alleyway??

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During our last snowfall… and I do hope it was our LAST snowfall, I stayed with brother-priests for my day off.  Their rectory backs up on something quintessentially urban… an alleyway.  At first blush so what; most homes in downtown DC backup on an alleyway, but there’s more here than meets the eye.  Alleys are, in the first place – to be sure – places of utility.  They’re built so that  city residents have access to parking, and so that garbage trucks, repair crews and other day-to-day workers can access homes without blocking street traffic.  Reading in the morning light of my third-floor urban aerie, I noticed another side to alleyways: they’re places of great social interaction!

If a front garden is the outdoor drawing room of a townhouse, the back yard is the den where Washingtonians really let their hair down.  How interesting to watch a retired resident thoughtfully sipping hot coffee on a chill morning.  Small children in another yard pelt each other with snowballs.  In still other precincts young adults with the world on their shoulders clear off cars for a day’s work.  Taking out the trash, homeowners enjoy a shared moment, talking over everything and nothing all at once.  An old woman receives groceries from a helpful neighbor… And everyone engages in a cautious industrial waltz backing cars in and out of their garages, carefully giving way to one another, venturing out for another day contra mundum.  They alleyway is also, in a certain sense, a place of safety, “Yes… I’ve made it through Washington Circle alive once again!”  They’re the entry ways to that special reality called HOME.

Speaking about evangelization and urban life, Pope Francis has this to say in Evangelium Gaudium,

“God’s presence accompanies the sincere efforts of individuals and groups to find encouragement and meaning in their lives.  He dwells among them, fostering solidarity, fraternity, and the desire for goodness, truth and justice.  This presence must not be contrived, but found, uncovered.”

If this isn’t what I saw going on in a DC alleyway last week, I don’t know what is.

Seeing through eyes of faith in Lent

Last Wednesday, a beautiful reading came up in the Liturgy of the Hours.  It’s an excerpt from the writings of St. Theophilus of Antioch.  In it, the saint exhorts us to do whatever we must to “open the eyes of our mind and heart.”  He’s talking, of course, about seeing through eyes of faith.

First, an important realization – It’s not an automatic thing; seeing through eyes of faith.  It takes work.  Some argue that anything that isn’t automatically inbred in ourselves ends up being just smoke and mirrors, a sort of self-deception imposed by hostile outside forces (in this case, a Judeo-Christian society).  Proponents of such a position will suggest that the most natural thing is just to let our eyes roam, assigning equally good value to everything.  Such ocular non-discrimination is the most natural thing in the world, we’re told.

I’m not quite sure about such a position.  After all, some of our greatest assets are learned… for example: speech, writing, art.  None of these are automatic at birth but by disciplining ourselves, directing our innate talents, we flourish through our words and our artistic creations. The way we use our eyes is no different.  Indeed, as St. Theophilus suggests, the greatest good we can possibly imagine (contact with God) comes through disciplining the senses:

[The senses] distinguish light and darkness, …proportion and lack of proportion, elegance and inelegance, excess and defect… So it is with the eyes of our mind in their capacity to see God.

God is seen by those who have the capacity to see him, provided that they keep the eyes of their mind open.

How, concretely, can we keep our eyes open to see God, particularly as we approach Easter?

Again, St. Theophilus offers a suggestion:

A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light.  If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it.  In the same way, no one who has sin in him can see God.

Two practical suggestions from a DC Faith and Culture point of view:

  1. If you’re Catholic, go to Confession, have a direct encounter with the divine physician speaking to you through the words of his priest, “I absolve you of all of your sins.  Go, you are free!”  All throughout the Washington area, in the weeks leading up to Easter, Confession is readily available at all our parish churches, especially in downtown.  Check out this link to the central website: http://thelightison.org  It’ll offer lots of tips, schedules and guides to confession throughout our area.

    If you’re not Catholic, you’re warmly invited into any of our churches to sit, and talk with God according to where you’re at in your journey with him.  Ask him to cleanse you of whatever needs cleansing and to make you ever-more ready to engage him in a relationship whose goal is heaven itself!  You might be interested in this recent effort by the Church in downtown DC, “Light the City,” opening our doors to anyone who wants to come and pray.  Check out the video on youtube: https://youtu.be/5mr_g-8SOzw

  2. For everyone in DC: LOOK UP… our city is so phenomenally beautiful.  The turrets on our row houses, cornices, small artistic highlights, the edifices of our federal buildings, the ingenious creativity of our modern architecture… All of it is soaked in the very best of the creative spirit God shares with the human race.  So often, our city-eyes are downcast avoiding puddles, loose paving stones and the like… and now thanks to our cellphones, we are all too often absorbed in a digital world that – while dazzling – can be so inhuman.  If you want to see through eyes of faith, LOOK UP… see God’s creativity at work in man’s city and then keep looking up to the heavens that he desires us to possess one day.

Faith Love and Black Ice

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The last few weeks have turned DC into – alternately – a snowy, muddy, icy mess.  And while I’d never event try to compare our situation to what my brother has experienced in Boston this winter, those of us accustomed to winters of warm(ish) southern comfort have been given pause over the last few weeks.  Last night in particular, I didn’t walk so much as skate down one of the streets.  It got me thinking…

One of the most common aspects of life for we Washingtonians, indeed city-dwellers everywhere, is our stoops.  You know, the stairs leading from the sidewalk up to our houses, apartment buildings etc. Stoops can be wonderful places.  In spring they’re points for congregation: impromptu barbecues on spring nights after work… cold beers and a neighbor’s guitar make for a great stoop-sitting conversation.  And who doesn’t love sitting out with friends after a summer day’s heat solving all the problems of the world before bed?  Right now, on the other hand, stoops are places of fear and trembling!  Ice and wrought iron… ice and granite… really, ice and anything turn a stoop from the glorious forum of summer life into a deadly precipice inviting catastrophe at every step.  I’m thinking in particular of the stoop we had at the GWU Newman Center on F Street.  It was high, steep and painted with thick, slick nautical paint to protect against the elements.  Every step was a risk in the winter.

What’s the point of all this?  As winter gives its last icy gasps, we might consider our stoops through eyes of faith.  Each day we try to do good loving acts in the world.  Whether we work for Congress, the Executive, an NGO or whoever, we in DC try to build a better country, a better world.  Even if we’re not overtly engaged in that project, our work supports our families, our social circles and so fosters life.  The prerequisite to all this is leaving our front door, which -in winter as we’ve seen- is a trickier proposition than one might think.  It takes a degree of faith to believe you’ll make it to the sidewalk alive.  Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once preached that faith is needed before acts of true love can occur.  Might we see something of this in our ice-clad front steps?  Even when the weather gets warmer, might we consider saying a prayer, making an internal act of faith, committing our day and our acts of love to the protection of God trusting that he will bring them to happy fulfillment?  Just a thought.