The past few days I’ve been enjoying an “old” book of James Martin, SJ. I showed it to my wife, and she said, “Ah, that was excellent. I read that last year.”
She also chided me a number of months ago for “never” accepting her suggestions for reading material. I guess that’s why she never told me about this book. I’m gong to have to work on that never, I suppose.
The author describes this book as “a meditation based on Thomas Merton’s idea of the true self. It grew out of a lecture given at Corpus Christi Church in New York City in 2005.”
I’ve read other things by James Martin and I’ve heard him speak in audio format online. I’m always impressed. This must have been some presentation to have heard, folding in Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, and Jesus of Nazareth to guide the reader/listener to aim for a “true self.” The reading was so hospitable, in retrospect I can see how the words were made for listening, and how they translate so smoothly to the printed page.
Friday night, I went back to the office to edit the Sunday prayers, assemble Mass announcements, field some liturgy volunteers. Busy work for a night I usually spend at home with my family. But necessary work, so I could escape early Saturday for the weekend in Kansas City.
Anyway, I was wrapping up things quickly, and noting that a summer Friday in a college town leaves the student center abandoned and, importantly, quiet. I ducked into a room with my journal, a Bible, and this book. My passage for lectio was Mark 13:9-20. Apocalyptic and cryptic. There’s not always an insight in the Scriptures, and I’ve learned not to force that. I looked up at the wall, and I was startled to see my name in a framed pencil drawing. The first line of calligraphy read, “Todd, I call you.”
Not no to God, but, no I don’t see my name in a picture frame on the wall. This is the Francis and Clare Room. I looked again. Still there. Took off my glasses and squinted. Closed my eyes again. I’m going to get up, I thought, and I’m going to see what it really says. But I stayed put. Predictions of persecution didn’t poke at me that night. But I had been thinking about James Martin’s book. And the call to sainthood. Not just for the mighty figures of Tom Merton and Henri Nouwen, but for all believers. I preach universal sainthood to students. Do I listen to it–really listen–myself?
I did get up–my curiosity needed satisfaction. And sure enough, the pencil strokes of the calligraphy, and the smudge of a drawing changed “At … (something) I call you” to “Todd, I call you.” I sat down and looked up at it. God was still calling.
The central theme of Fr Martin’s book is Merton’s quote from New Seeds of Contemplation:
For me to be a saint means to be myself.
And in order for me to be myself, is to move toward choices that help me to be more loving in the ways I can love.
And that was it. I sat in the sofa, and glanced again at the wall. I wrote a few lines in my journal. And I realized that it was late on a Friday evening, and it was time to close the books and go home to my family. And so I did. I did not indulge a “false self” and set up overnight shop in Francis and Clare or in front of the tabernacle.
I had a very difficult encounter yesterday. My wife warned me about it, and unlike her book suggestions, I followed her instructions and it helped. While I was sitting with two strangers, I was listening a lot and praying and asking what was going to move me closer to love and to my real self. And I felt a weight lifted as one person grew more agitated and the other became more upset. Conferring with my wife later, she helped crystallize that some aspects we my responsibility. Other aspects belonged to the people I met yesterday. And that was that.
I recommend James Martin’s book very highly. In his last chapter, “All Saints,” he reflects on the diversity of God’s call in the saints. Noting that the saintly life is not without conflict, he suggests:
But there is a problem with this diversity, that is, the challenge in appreciating another person’s path that is different from our own. While the saints grasped this, it can present more of an obstacle for the rest of us.
It can be especially difficult to accept another’s unique way of discipleship if we are unsure of our own. Such misunderstanding can lead to disagreement and even strife within the Christian community.
Fr Martin goes on to detail the 1957 dust-up between two saints, Dorothy Day and Flannery O’Connor. His conclusion:
The unity in the lives of the Christian saints rests on their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Not so much his settling of disagreements, but their fundamental trust in him. They may have said to themselves, “Okay, Lord, I don’t like that other fellow very much, and I don’t really understand him, but if you say he’s part of our group, that’s good enough for me.”
And in reflecting on my own experiences in an adversarial blogosphere, I see I have room to be more honest, and move toward more loving choices. I also see a bit more clearly a few antigospel themes: the small church, getting smaller, and the ease and glee with which some believers treat the erosion of the Body.
That’s enough for now. Maybe I’ll be back tomorrow for a word or two. Meanwhile, look for the young miss and I on tv today.