Letter to the Editor: Homily for SNC Knights for Life Pro-Life Vigil, April 27, 2015

FROM FATHER ANDREW CIFERNI, O. PRAEM.

The Kingdom Within Us

Are you naked? Are we in prison? Are you in need of a visitor at your sickbed? Are we starving?

Years ago the Jungian psychologist John Sanford wrote a little book titled “The Kingdom Within.”[1] In that work he suggests that every element of a gospel story is somehow a reality in each of us as individuals.

I have found that idea to be helpful in preaching, and I want to use it this evening as a tool for moving us at least a bit beyond the abortion wars.[2] Rather than engaging in the kind of deaf (“we won’t listen to you”) and dumb (“we have nothing to say to any dialogue on the matter”) character of so much of contemporary American politics, I’d like to engage us in an exercise of identification that might open us to the depth dimension (what one writer on spirituality calls “deep mind”[3]) that will lead us back up into a dialogue that will help us see what we have in common with others that, at worst, we demonize and, at best, dismiss as perhaps good but deeply misguided fellow human beings.

The Kingdom Within Others

If we can stretch our imaginations to first see our own needs for nurturing, healing, protection and companionship, we might then stretch further to recognize that our other-minded interlocutors have the same needs and that this evening’s gospel calls us to dare to believe that to minister to them is to minister to Christ. That stretch might then lead us to an exercise that I believe can provide a way for us all to move beyond the silos of our pro-life/pro-choice dichotomies to a common ground of hope for the protection of all life, a common ground for moving from a large size seamless garment to an XXL frock.

I – Thou / Horan / Johnson

In “I and Thou,”[4] a seminal work that bridges academic theology and pastoral care and spirituality, the twentieth- century philosopher Martin Buber made the distinction between I–It and I–Thou relationships. In I–It relationships, the other—including other persons—is treated as objects to be manipulated, dominated, controlled. In I–Thou relationships the other—including inanimate objects—is treated as a “you” to be encountered, met, entered into dialogue with, engaged in mutual exchange. Whether or not they have derived their thought from Buber, there are two contemporary Roman Catholic theologians I see using the I–Thou perspective in their work on a theology of the environment. One is the young Franciscan Daniel Horan, who shifts theological discourse from language about our stewardship of creation (creation as “it”) to a language of all being part of the community of creation (creation as “thou,” as family rather than something that we care for because we own) it.[5] Horan’s thought explicitly echoes that of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, who in “Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the Love of God”[6] also calls us to a dialogic reverential love for all that God has made.

An example.

Once I begin to encounter the altar in this church as a “Thou,” I am open to its story. About how it was once a pulpit and how Abbot Pennings preached in and from it and how it was transformed from being a bearer of the Word to being a Bearer of the Body. This kind of encounter is ever expansive and is, of course, prelude and rehearsal for the ultimate always and everywhere encounter with the God who is all “Thou.”

 

Mystics / Pietas

Now there is a type of person who appears to have the habit of I–Thou relationship with trees and rocks and the tires of their cars, the fries with their burger and the Eucharist they receive. This type is called the mystic. These are folks who, contrary to common misconceptions both outside and within religious circles, are not women and men who seek extraordinary religious experience. In fact, authentic mystics will undoubtedly report how infrequently that have “excess of mind,” how frequently they are distracted when engaged in the practice of “deep mind,” but how they know the fruit of the gift of deep vision they have received in their daily lives. But should you think that thinking of yourself as a mystic might be an act of hubris, then dare to think of yourself as pious, a person who is in the habit of exercising pietas, reverence for family, nation, church, and all creation with which we share the same building blocks of stardust

Beyond Seamless Garment

All of this is perhaps contorted way of getting back to the seamless garment, but it suggests that maybe where we are today requires a language of the community of creation. I suspect that some men and women who are pro-choice might have little quibble at praying with us St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Sun,”[7] but perhaps that is a place where all of us can meet as novice mystics, a place where polarized opponents can begin to hear one another’s stories, a place to begin to see that, when we say that all life from birth to natural death is sacred, we mean all life from the Great Flashing Forth to the consummation of the world is sacred.

 

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!
All praise is Yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.

To You, alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of You;
through those who endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace,
for by You, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Bodily Death,
from whose embrace no living person can escape.
Happy those she finds doing Your most holy will.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks,
and serve Him with great humility.

[1]The Kingdom Within: The Inner Meaning of Jesus’ Sayings

[2] Cf. Charles C. Camosy, Beyond the Abortion Wars. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2014.

[3] Maggie Rose, Silence: A User’s Guide. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2014

[4] I and Thou. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1937. Reprint Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004,

[5] http://americamagazine.org/issue/community-creation

[6] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love. London & New York: Bloomsbury, 2014

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun

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