Saturday, October 10, 2015


November/December 1980 
by Andrew Costello 


1980 was the Year of the Family. Did it work?

1979 was the Year of the Child. Did it work?

1981 will be the Year of the Elderly. Will it work?

1982 will be the Year of the Handicapped? Will it work?


          Unless you are a George Gallup or an Andrew Greeley and you have the advantage of a research institute you really cannot give an answer to the first two questions above. You can give opinions or feelings, but you cannot give a professional answer.  And even if you were Gallup or Greeley you would have to present quite a few clarifications because the questions cover an awful lot of territory.


          In this issue of YOU I would like to stress that each of us can look at our own territory. We can stay within our own boundaries, our own skins, and answer the questions for ourselves. Have I changed in any way with regards family life in 1980 -- the Year of the Family?  In 1979 did I do anything different with regards children because it was the International Year of the Child?  In 1981 and 1982 will I be different in my attitudes and dealings with the elderly and the handicapped?

          In this issue of YOU I want to reflect with you on the family -- making this a sort of questionnaire or better, an examination of conscience or review of life. The hope is that by putting the spotlight on issues that we often keep in the dark, we will change when we see them in a new light. This question of family is central to all of us (whether single, married, widow, widower, separated, divorced, nun, priest, brother, etc.) All of us are connected to people. Our roots get tangled with each other's roots. We are all connected to families.

          In this reflection I want to consider:

§  dad and mom (whether living or dead),
§  brothers an sisters (if any),
§  spouse (if married),
§  children (if any),
§  close friends and people I deal with regularly,
§  unraveling family knots
§  the real and the ideal,
§  conversion New Testament style.


          When God created Adam he quickly created Eve and they quickly created Cain and Abel and the Bible quickly started using the word “begat” more and more and more.

          It is not good for any of us to be alone. We need family. We need community. We need friends. Both Robinson Crusoe and Martin Buber tell us that every I needs a Thou. And so in 1980 we are urged by church and society to look at our primary need -- our primary relationship -- our family. Each of us has a dad and mom. (I think it was Groucho Marx who said, “If your parents didn't have any children, chances are you won't have any either.”

          What is the quality of my family life? Is the air at home good to breathe? On a scale of 1 to 10 how would I rate my family? Convent as family? Rectory as family? Parish as family? Is it a Garden of Paradise or are we banished outside the gates of happiness where we spend our days blaming and killing each other just as Adam blamed Eve and Cain killed Adam?


          Get 3 chairs. Sit in one of them. Now play the old T.V. game, “This Is Your Life.” It can be a great way to meditate. Picture God in one chair and then one by one picture in the third chair the different people in your life.

          Start with dad. What is he like? Do you care for him? How many times did the two of you ever sit down like this and have a good talk together? If you have brothers and sisters, who was his favorite? (Bring that question up this Thanksgiving or Christmas or whenever you get together. It can be a real eye opener or can of worms.) How do the answers to that question feel? If your dad is dead, do you believe he is with God? In the film, “The Walls Come Tumbling Down” -- an Insight film put out by the Paulist Fathers, Max (played by Jack Albertson) is completely surprised when God (played by Martin Sheen) tells him that his dad is with Him in heaven. “Oh, so he made it.”

          Be quiet and take a real long look at your dad. What is it like to be him? Listen: he'll tell you his story. If he is still living, please God you'll take the next opportunity when the two of you are alone to get some answers to these questions.

          Next invite your mom into that chair your dad was in. Ask her the same questions. How do you relate to her? Are there any questions she wants to ask you? Any problems? Resentments? Thanks? If you had to list 5 likes and 5 dislikes what would they be regards mom? If she had to do the same about you, what would they be? A priest friend of mine told me that he had to fly home for his mother's funeral. Instead of going to the funeral parlor right away, he went first to a quiet chapel to say Mass for his mom. In the penitential rite of the liturgy he had the deepest conversation he ever had with his mom in his life. Unfinished business was taken care of and he walked to the funeral parlor filled with inner peace. If we find a quiet place and we know how to use our imagination to picture people sitting with us, we can have important conversations with both the living and the dead.

          Then after dad and mom put one by one the important people in your life in that third chair: husband, wife, kids, friends, brothers, sisters, people you life with or work with. Obviously this exercise will take a lot of time and emotional energy. However it can help you get in touch face to face with a lot of unresolved conflicts and unfinished business that you perhaps have been avoiding for years.

          All of us are constantly carrying on parts of hundreds and hundreds of conversations from the past within our head. This exercise of the 3 chairs gets us to be like telephone operators connecting us up with one person at a time.

          But be careful. This is “touchy” stuff because we obviously hold onto conflicts and negative stuff from the past that never were settled. Instead of good memories, we tend to remember when we were not given a fair shake by parents, brothers, sisters, spouse, friends, etc. That's the bad news. The good news is that God is in that second chair watching and listening to everything that is going on. By prayer, by bringing God into our story, the story can change. God's presence and God's care for each of us in the two other chairs can bring about a reconciliation -- the lack of which might be draining us of all kinds of energy that could be used to help the people in our life.


          What we are talking about is conversion -- a major change in our way of seeing and living. We're talking about root changes. We're talking about going with God down into our basement and looking at the very foundation stones of our life. (Cf. Matthew 7: 24 - 27)

          Dig into any person's life and you'll always come to family -- mom, dad, brothers, sisters, husband, wife, children. I found out by listening to other people that my relationship to my dad and my brother were crucial for the way I act. And I know that if I continue to reflect and pray about my family relationships I'll discover more and more how my mom and my two sisters effect my life.

          Central to Christianity then is this message of conversion and change. Central to the Year of the Family is improvement of family life. Central to the message of this issue of YOU is that I change with regards my attitudes and dealings within my family.


          1) Is there anybody in my family I am avoiding or refusing to forgive? Is a reconciliation possible?

          2) Do I ever pray with my family? Read Scripture together? Rosary? Quiet prayer time together? Shared prayer together?

          3) Is God the center of our family life -- or is it the T.V. or has the center dropped out of our family and we're all going our own separate ways?

          4) Do we really believe that marriage and family is a sacrament -- an outward sign instituted by Jesus Christ to give grace to each other and to all the people who walk into our home and our life? When people meet us or visit our home (convent, rectory, etc.,) do they walk away lifted in spirit or was it a wrong move on their part?

          5) How does money effect our lives -- our time together -- the quality of our lives?

          6) Do we speak to each other with words other than sports, weather, clothes, school, food, and the world out there?

          7) Do we really listen to each other -- not just to the words -- but to the silence, the body language, the eyes, the hands, the lumps in the throat? Do we plan together? Do we play cards or games together? Do we go out, for example, to a dinner or a wedding or a picnic without discussing possible problems that came up the last time we went out together?

          8) Do we say to each other inwardly, but never outwardly, ideas like, “You can't be lonely,” or “You can't feel that way,” or “You can't think that way,” or “You can't be that way,” or “You can't say that”?

          9) Do we hold onto mistakes, comments, sins, problems that another member of the family made 15 years ago?

          10) Do we make allowances for growth, change, and development? Do we realize that we all grow differently and at different speeds?

          11) With regards my family, if I had one year to live I would .... If I had one month, one week, one day to live, I would ....


          Obviously family life is complicated. So maybe that's why we need a whole year to reflect upon it. It takes a long time to unravel its knots, spread out its different threads, and figure out just what pattern we're really after.

          A few years ago I had a special opportunity that showed me how complicated a problem can be. It showed how unaware we all can be and why people and families and groups can tie themselves in knots. I attended a week long workshop on the topic of “Group Development Skills.” It was run by an organization called MATC (Mid-Atlantic Training Committee, Inc. Suite 325, 1000 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. Washington, D.C. 20005). This organization runs many different kinds of programs, for example, “Experiential Education Design Skills”, “Organization Development Training Program”, etc.

          Well after giving us various theories about ways groups behave, we broke up into small groups so that we could experience first hand what the workshop leaders had presented. We were given time to try to put the theory into practice. I was part of a small group of 7 who were given the following imaginary situation. We were 7 friends who had $200,000 and our goal was to build a vacation house available to all of us. We were given a certain amount of time to work out what kind of a house we wanted, where to locate it, and how it could be available to all 7 of us and our families. What was interesting was that we had 3 of the workshop leaders sitting outside our circle observing and taking notes on how each of us functioned in a small group.

          In the beginning the 7 of us were rather polite and organized -- artificially bringing in and practicing the techniques that had been presented to help small groups work better. However as soon as we got going into our discussion we forgot the observers looking over our shoulders and most of what they had taught us. The situation became real -- people dealing with people -- the stuff of everyday life.

          Late in the afternoon our group hit a snag. Rita, one of our group, started asking for a complete change in plans. She wanted us to start all over again. Things we had decided on much earlier she wanted eliminated. We were almost finished our project and here she wanted to go backwards. We disagreed with her. What had started out as an imaginary game to teach us about small groups had become a real life situation. We got angry with her and told her that she was too late. “Well, if that's the case,” she countered, “I want my money back.” Frustration and confusion increased. I sat there saying to myself. “What's wrong with this woman? Weird! Well, I guess I'll never understand woman.”

          We ran out of time and never finished our task. The next day the 7 of us sat down with our 3 observers and they asked us, “What happened?” We didn't know. They suggested that we use a process often used in MATC programs. It's called, “E.I.A.G.: A Theory of Learning.” Each letter stands for a step. It's an excellent 4 step process for unraveling knots.

          “E” stands for an EXPERIENCE. Our experience was that of Rita suddenly changing her plans. As a result we had to stop what we were doing and try to deal with her, and as a result, our goal of making a common decision of using $200,000 to build a vacation house all 7 of us could be happy with, was never completed.

          “I” stands for Identify. This second step is to be more specific and identify a part of the experience that needs to be looked at more clearly. We decided to look at Rita's sudden change of behavior when she started saying things like, “I want a different kind of a house,” or “I want to build in a different place” or “I want my money back.”

          “A” stands for ANALYSIS. This is the hardest step in the “E.I.A.G” process. It's the WHY question. Why did Rita change her plans? Why did she want her money back?” Why did she start to get obnoxious? When we started into this step we began to get a bit nervous, because we were getting into the area of motivation and judging others. Maybe she had psychological problems and often did things like this. An observer sensing our fear stepped in and said, “Ok, we have an hour till lunch. So let's analyze what happened.” I was glad he stepped in because none of us, including Rita, could figure out just WHY she did what she did. The observer asked Rita if she had gone to the bathroom yesterday. She blushed and said, “Of course.” “When?” “How should I know?” “Well,” asked the observer, “did you go to the bathroom during the afternoon session?” We all were quiet for a moment and Rita finally said, “Yes.”

          Then the observer asked us, “Did anybody see Rita get up and go to the bathroom yesterday afternoon?” “No.” “Well,” the observer said, “to save time, it was after Rita went to the bathroom that she started asking for a change in plans.”

          Rita said, “Well, when I went to the bathroom someone was in there and it was the only bathroom on this floor. Whoever was in there got me mad till she finally came out.” “Well, is that the reason why you got mad at the group?” Silence. “I don't know.”

          Then the observer asked us, “When did you make the decision that the vacation was going to be in Maryland? Was it before or after Rita went to the bathroom?”

          All of a sudden Rita slapped her leg and yelled, “It happened when I was in the bathroom.” There it was: the crux of our problem. Suddenly we realized that we had made a key decision and Rita was not in on it. We didn't even notice it had happened. She didn't know it had happened -- consciously. All she knew was that something had changed while she was gone and we didn't let her in on it.

          The day before people had gone in and out of the group several times for coffee or to go to the bathroom, but as far as we knew, Rita was the only one left out of a major decision. It all happened so fast. We were tired. We were near the end of the process. When she came back she couldn't figure out what had happened while she was gone. So Rita did the best thing she could think of to stop whatever was happening. When we ignored her, she “threw sand in the engine.” She said she wanted a different kind of vacation house. When that didn't work, she wanted her money back. That worked. It stopped us and we never did finalize our putting down on paper all our plans to build a $200,000 vacation house that all 7 of us could use.

          “G” stands for GENERALIZE. This is the last step in the “E.I.A.G.” process. An observer asked us when else did this happen? The answers were man: a) When a husband comes home from work and finds out at supper that his wife made plans that Monday morning for them to play cards that evening at 9:00 -- forgetting all about Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football. b) When teenagers have a Saturday afternoon all planned and all of a sudden they find out Saturday morning that dad had it planned all week that they had to go to grandma's at 1:00 that afternoon. c) In churches when parish councils and committees find out that they were ignored in decisions about things they were supposed to be consulted on.

          That night when I had some time to think about what had happened to Rita and our group, I realized that here was the reason why a lot of things in my dealings with others had gone wrong. I realized here was the reason why the learnings of so many programs and workshops never go beyond the day they end. (Somebody else set up the agenda and decided that this was what the participants needed.) Here was the reason why the decrees of Vatican II had so much trouble being implemented. The decisions were made while we were in another room. And if people think they should be part of the decision making process they might “throw sand in the engine” because they were not informed about what was happening. Here was a process -- “E.I.A.G.” -- that could help families to try to figure out “what happened” when they find themselves all tied up in knots.


          The ideal thing to do then is that every group and every family in a parish (including convent, rectory, school, etc.) make time and have a method so that people could unravel the knots they find themselves in. It would be ideal if the whole church could somehow be brought together for its discussions and decisions.

          Obviously in practice a lot of things we would love to do are impossible. Take families. Part time jobs, cheer leader practice, sudden accidents, cake sales, track meets, and a hundred other everyday events prevent even the closest of families to do the things they would love to do together. How could we expect more from the whole church or even a whole parish?

          And this puts us right in the middle of one of the central issues of life: The Real Vs. The Ideal. And even this problem has all kinds of knots of its own that need to be unraveled. Besides needing to go to the bathroom and all those other things mentioned in the last paragraph, a lot of other things prevent the ideal from being reached -- money, differences in personality, style, models, sin, -- to name just a few.

          Historians like Thomas S. Kuhn and theologians like Avery Dulles have pointed out the obvious -- but often unnoticed fact -- that people have different models in mind for what a situation should be like. Parents with a station wagon full of kids know this when it comes time to pick between McDonalds or Burger King. They know it when it comes time to turn their one TV on or where the different members would like to go for a vacation. Often a wife has one ideal for how kids should be raised and a husband quite another and their kids a third, forth and fifth ideal. As Avery Dulles has clearly pointed out, people in the church have different models on how they want their church to be. Some do and some do not want to be part of the discussion and the decision making process. They are perfectly content to be told what to do.

          Besides models and many other issues, SIN also gets in the way of the ideal being reached. Even if Rita didn't go to the bathroom when we made a key decision without her, she or anyone of us could have “thrown sand in the engine” of progress because of jealousy, or pride, or anger -- just to name some of the sinful patterns that can flow through families and groups in their power struggles.

          In order to survive we have to learn how to live in the real world of weakness and sin and personality differences. Some people have a lot of trouble accepting this. They find it hard to deal with ambiguity. They want the ideal so badly that the real crushes them. The wife wants the ideal husband and every time she sees “Mr. Wonderful” down the street playing frisbee or football with his kids or putting out the garbage, she gets angry with her pot bellied husband down the cellar working with his electric trains. Or nuns get in their own way when the convent they are stationed in is not the ideal and they have a model of a convent they wished existed somewhere in mind. Priests give bad sermons. Fathers get drunk. Mothers scream at the wrong kid. People forget they are in the shower and use up all the hot water. Teenagers scratch records. Kids spill spaghetti. Jam always gets into the peanut butter jar. People commit adultery. People have to go to the bathroom and we make decisions while they are there and we don't even know we did it.

          We're against sin -- but we have to learn to live with it. It's like riding the New York Subway. If you want to use it to get to work, you have to learn to live with the crush of people -- some of whom never seem to have watched those soap and deodorant ads on T.V. It's the same way if we want to ride this planet. We're all sinners. The sheep are mixed in with the goats, the weeds are mixed in with the wheat, and we're not going to be separated till the ride is over.

          Look at Jesus. He ate with sinners. He lived with Peter and Judas. And if we don't accept this reality -- this fact that all of us are sinners -- we're in for an awful lot of inner frustration. We're in for a very unhappy ride.

          As usual the secret is to start with ourselves. This is Jesus' New Testament message (Matthew 7:3-5; 23:25-28). In reality each of us has wheat and weeds, sheep and goats, running around inside ourselves. The plot isn't that some of us are good and the others are bad. That was the Pharisees' model of how things were. All of us contain all of us. We're both the good guy and the bad guy, the Pharisee and the Publican. Some days we play the villain and some days we play the Good Samaritan. And if we cannot live with the fact that we sin, then we might as well be like Judas and go out and commit suicide. We make mistakes. We sin. Obviously we don't know enough about Judas. It's too late to do an “E.I.A.G.” on him. Yet it seems to me that he's the model of the person who gets the ideal in the way of the real. His statue should be taken down and perhaps Peter's put in its place.


          This does not mean that we give up striving for the ideal family life. No, but it means that just as we have to learn to live with ourselves and our own weaknesses, we must learn to live with others and their strengths and weaknesses.

          And what is the ideal family? The ideal convent? The ideal rectory? The ideal parish? We find it in the New Testament vision of Jesus. We see it in practice in the picture of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. We see that the ideal, the dream of Jesus, is that our family is made up of all those who hear the word of God and act upon it (Luke 8:21). We find out from Paul that “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male of female. All are one in Christ” (Galatians 3: 27-28)

          And in Paul's letter to the Ephesians -- where we find various valuable comments about family life --- we have an ideal way to improve family life. Paul uses the example of a soldier getting dressed for battle. He has to PUT ON various pieces of equipment. Paul compares putting on a belt to putting on truth, putting on the breastplate to putting on justice, putting on footgear to propagating the gospel of peace. (Cf. Ephesians 6:10-17.) Well, each day, each of us puts on clothes, but they are not part of us. The same can be said of practicing various virtues or ideals that might not be natural to us. Being patient, understanding, forgiving, helping one another, etc., need to be practiced at first. We have to PUT ON being patient -- actually not being ourselves if we tend to be rather impatient with certain people. But through practice -- as all the old spiritual writers tell us -- patience, forgiveness, kindness, trust, not being jealous, unselfishness, -- and all the other virtues needed for an ideal family life can become second nature to us. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)


          1980 was the Year of the Family. Did it work? In general we can report that in many parishes there were sermons, workshops, seminars on family. These made people more aware of the need for conversion. We can also report that there has been an improved awareness of the cries, the pains, the needs, the problems of families, of those preparing for marriage, for those married, for the separated, those divorced, the gay, the alienated, the forgotten, etc. We can report that the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome focused in on the family. The ideal was not achieved in this Year of the Family, but there are real signs of small improvements.

          But as the current cliche goes: “Let's get to the bottom line.” We are the answer to the question whether 1980 -- the Year of the Family -- worked. If you answer “Yes, I improved,” then this year, this Christmas, your family is getting the best gift possible -- a better YOU.




March 1981
by Andrew Costello


          In the next 10 years we will begin to notice a return to an emphasis on the Saints in the Catholic Church.


          In this issue of YOU the focus will be on becoming a Saint. Part I will deal with various ideas about the Saints, the need for heroes, some reflections on why there was a de-emphasis of the Saints and why there will be a re-emphasis. Part II will zero in on 3 key ingredients that seem to be the basis for becoming a Saint.



          Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Tom Dooley, Friedrich von Hugel, Marianne Cope of Molokai, Maximilian Kolbe, John Howard Griffin, Pope John XIII, Pope Paul VI, Charles de Foucauld, Mother Teresa, you, me? Who will have been the Saints of the 20th century?

          Based on past experiences we know that there will be many surprises -- unknown people who struggled to love God and neighbors in small corners and neighborhoods around the world.

          We also know that most saints are saints with a small “s”. In this issue of YOU I'll be looking at a phenomenon of Catholic tradition, the Saint with the capital “S”.


          The Saints are Catholic heroes: Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, Thomas More of Chelsea, Mary of Nazareth -- and a cast of thousands more. The Catholic Church has often proclaimed “heroic” certain people who led lives of love that are worthy of being imitated and venerated.

          And any of us who are over 40 and who have been brought up in the Catholic faith know all about the Saints. Names like Tammy, Jason, Todd, and Dawn were usually “no, no's” for our baptismal certificate. We were named Mary, Joseph, Anthony, and Barbara. At catechism and at church we were told about St. Martin of Tours and St. Monica. When we lost things we prayed to St. Anthony. If we had a hopeless case we prayed to St. Jude. And some even knew that St. Rita was “even better”: she was the Patroness of Impossible Cases.


          Suddenly (for most) St. Christopher and St. Philomena were off the list. Statues of Saints disappeared when church buildings were renovated for the “new liturgy”. Why? What happened to our long tradition of stress, devotion, “advertisements,” books, sermons, holy cards, and pictures of the Saints?


          The most obvious answer would be the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 1965).

          On January 25, 1959, after being in office for only 90 days Pope John XXIII announced his plan for an ecumenical council. How's that for a surprise from a 78 year old man? After a lot of preparation he finally started the council in October of 1962. The council took 4 years and John's successor, Paul VI, brought it to completion (December 8, 1965).

          And all of us who have been to meetings know that what is prepared is only that: preparation. It helps. The real “action” takes place where people are away from their daily priorities and put in a room to consider different priorities. The Catholic Church put about 7,000 people in a room --2,300 who had a vote -- and obviously things began to happen. Lots of things were discussed and lots of things were changed.

          But it is after the meeting, after all the talk, after the paper chase and paper writing, that we find out if anything can be accomplished. History points out that it has been after an ecumenical council especially that the real dramatic changes take place  -- actions and reactions, changes in stress and the stress some people feel in change.

          And with the exception of St. Joseph's name being put into the canon of the Mass (a change made by John XXIII without consulting the council), the Saints got lost for the most part in this public re-evaluation by the Catholic Church on its contents.

          This is obvious. The Church from time to time decides to move. And when we move we can't take everything with us. Once this was brought out to me on a retreat. We were given the following Values Clarification Exercise: “If your house was on fire and you could save only 3 things, what would they be: 1) _____________, 2) __________ 3) ____________,?” Well, for any group that becomes sluggish, there are times when its members need to get together and list its values, priorities, and goals -- i.e., if it wants to catch fire. And one of the main roles of the church is the role of Christ, “I have come to light a fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49).


          What are the 3 most important values of the Catholic Church: 1) _____________, 2) __________ 3) ____________,? Certainly the Church's tradition about the Saints would not make this list.

          The image or metaphor that John XXIII used to describe his goal for the council was not that of a burning house. It was that of staying in the house and opening up the windows. Yet both wind and fire are symbols of the coming of a New Spirit (Cf. Acts 2: 2-3). Meriol Trevor in her biography of Pope John reports, “When someone asked him what he expected a Council to do, he flung open a window to let in the fresh air” (p. 254).

          The key word is “flung”. Did he? Some people at the grass roots level of the Church felt that the Saints and a lot of other Catholic values were “flung” out of their Church. Cardinal Gracias (Bombay) voiced what many of those uncomfortable with the changes in the Church felt, “Pope John opened the windows slightly to let in fresh air, illustrating thus his `aggiornamento'; others are letting in a hurricane, so that the interested Catholic finds himself at times not only hanging on to his hat, but to his head as well.”

          How loud was the wind at Pentecost?


          With hindsight, 16 years later, can we say that the Church opened up its windows so that the statues of the Saints would be knocked off their pedestals? Did the Church make a change in Catholic practice with regards the Saints?

          The answer is “No.” They were not even on the agenda. Other things were far more important. Christ is more important than St. Patrick or St. Joseph. We all know this. We all knew this. But amongst ourselves, we Catholics admit that many of our brothers and sisters had given up the practice of the faith -- appearing in church for weddings, funerals and to take pictures of kids at baptisms, first communions and confirmations. We all know the jokes about Palm Sunday, Christmas and Easter Catholics. And we knew that some Catholics dropped Christ, but hung onto some Saint (doing this of course not in word, but in practice). Superstition was a reality.

          The light of faith can go out. The fire can die. Ashes (Ash Wednesday) can become more important than the fire -- the burning Fire of the Spirit or the Bread of Life.

          Vatican II helped spark a long list of priorities for Catholics: a greater knowledge of Christ, Bible reading, an improved liturgy, a new attitude toward the world, the call to the laity to holiness and to use their powers and gifts to create a better world, a new attitude toward other Christians and non-Christians, renewal of the clergy and religious, etc. The Saints did not make the list!

          Moreover this ecumenical council had the added feature of trying to reach out to our separated Christian brothers and sisters and some of them did not have our tradition of Saints. Catholics look at Saints as 1) heroes to be imitated, and 2) people we can pray to for help. It was this second point that has often been protested. For example, a group on the 13th century called The Waldenses objected to the idea of praying to the Saints. And in the 16th century Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin also spoke out against this invoking the Saints for help.

          So instead of stressing what we disagree about, we stressed what we can agree upon -- especially our faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, since the Bible is common to all of us Christians, the Catholic Church in the past 16 years has made an effort to get its members to become more familiar with the Scriptures. In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation it repeats St. Jerome's warning, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

          As Andrew Greeley put it, the Church came up with a “New Agenda.”


          In the next 10 years the Church will place on its practical agenda a return to an emphasis on the Saints.

          The reasons are obvious. We need heroes. We look up to people. We are interested in people more than we are interested in ideas. “Don't talk about love, show me!” The Catholic Church has known this all through its history. For a while, however, we lessened our stress on the Saints, and that includes Mary, to put greater stress on Christ. Some removed statues in hopes that people would focus better on the scripture readings and what was happening at the altar. The eye can only see so much. “Chase two wolves and you won't catch either,” as the Russian proverb goes. Our Church proclaims Christ (Cf. 1 John 1:1-3; Romans 1:1-4.)

          Some had turned from Christ to Mary or a Saint because they pictured Christ as a severe judge or inhuman. Some in practice denied the humanity of Jesus. The research, the books, the work in the field of Christology in this century has been enormous and we won't be receiving its full benefits in the area of popular sermons, literature, and even works of art, till well into the 21st century. But we're all well aware, hopefully, that Christianity is about Christ.

          And now that  we have dramatically re-stressed Christ, especially in his humanity, we will be hearing more about the Saints. They don't take away from Christ. They are ikons of Christ -- as all of us should be. They “endorse” Christ. They endorse the values and teachings of Christ by showing how his followers live the gospel message.

          Long before TV commercials showing famous stars and athletes walking into a tavern to endorse a certain brand of beer, I've heard in sermons many times the story of St. Clement Hofbauer and the day he walked into a tavern. It was in Warsaw and he was German. He went in and begged money for his orphans. The crowd made fun of him because he was a foreigner. In fact they accused him of being a German spy. A cobbler named Wilszek jumped up and said, “You want something for your orphans, do you? Here I'll give you an alms.” He took a big sip of beer and then spat it into the priest's face. For a moment Hofbauer flushed in anger. But he caught himself and wiping the beer from his face said, “That was for me. Now do you have something for my boys.” It worked. What a tremendous TV commercial it would make. It was a dramatic way of endorsing Christ's words about forgiveness which he uttered at the Sermon on the Mount and which he practiced on Mount Calvary.

          So if famous people can endorse beer and panty hose, why not have famous people endorsing forgiveness, care for the poor, and turning the other cheek? This has been the Church's tradition -- to show love in action -- to picture it -- to tell about the Saints.

          And it's the same with statues or pictures of Mary and the Saints. We walk into shopping centers and see al kinds of stores selling posters of Bo Derek, Loni Anderson, Robert Redford, W.C. Fields, etc. And people buy these pictures because they project onto some value.

          People are interested in people. We buy novels and the National Enquirer, watch the “soaps,” Dallas, and Mash. We gossip over the phone and over coffee. We talk inside our heads constantly about what? Most of the time it's not about the weather and sports. No, we spend our energies and money reading, talking, listening, admiring, envying, and thinking about other people. We love people. We hate people. We're jealous of people. We want to be like other people. It's people then, and stories about people, that take up much of our lives.


          And that's what Christianity is about -- a person and persons. It's not so much about words -- especially rules and regulations -- or teachings, abstractions, and dogmatics. They are important (as we saw dramatically in the stories about the personalities who were on stage at Vatican II). Words like faith, hope and charity need to become flesh. “Don't talk about love, show me” It is beautiful to read that God is love, but it's far more beautiful to see Jesus visiting, touching, healing, caring, feeding and reaching out to people, especially to children. His story showed that God knows about us and our story in particular.

          And that's what Vatican II tells us about becoming a saint (without worrying whether it's a big or a small “s”). All are called to be Jesus in our geography. All are called to holiness. A saint then is Christ, -- the Church, -- God, -- right here, right now. A saint is love present in the world to other people. I heard a sermon once where Chesterton was quoted as saying, “Men are the million masks of God.” Behind our mis, our persona, should be God's love, God. And those who do that, they are the saints, the heroes.


          We are living in an age of the expose -- the taking off of masks. Our heroes are often caught in the wrong bedroom or with their hand in the wrong cookie jar. Behind the mask something was missing. And so we look back with nostalgia to the good old days when we had heroes -- people we could look up to without any fear of being disappointed. Willie Nelson sings, “All my heroes have been cowboys and clowns.” W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, have all left the scene. John Wayne is dead. Send in the Saints.


          In reality we still have heroes -- people we admire and look up to. And becoming aware of who our heroes are will help us become aware of who we are. They are Rorschach Blots. Show me your heroes and I'll tell you who you are.

          Who are the 5 people you admire the most: 1) _________,   2) __________, 3) __________,4) __________,5) __________? Who are the 5 most looked up to people in our world today:  1) _________,   2) __________, 3) __________,4) __________,5) __________? Were you surprised at the way and at the number of people who reacted to the death of Elvis Presley or to the murder of John Lennon? Reflect for a moment about the person you admire and look up to the most. What three qualities do you admire in that person the most:  1) _________,   2) __________, 3) _________ ? Rate yourself on a scare of 1 to 10 (the highest) on how strong each of these qualities are in you. Have any of your heroes ever disappointed you? Is there someone in your family that you look up to? Do you put yourself down as a result?

          What about the Saints in your life? Do you agree with my comments about Vatican II and the Saints? In the past 16 years did they all but disappear from your life? Have you gone totally secular when it comes to heroes? Who are/were your 5 favorite Saints:  1) _________,   2) __________, 3) __________,4) __________,5) __________? Put a quality down for each of the Saints that impress you. What does that say about you? Rate yourself once again on a scale of 1 to 10 regarding those qualities.


          One of the great needs in the library of spiritual reading is first rate lives of the Saints. Way before Vatican II we knew this. We moderns are more literate and want more exact research when it comes to biographies and psycho-historical lives of the Saints. Many of the pious and inspirational lives of the past are just that -- literature of the past. The new books will have to have the quality of Ida Friederike Gorres' classic book on St. Therese of Lisieux: The Hidden Face. Or they will have to be like Erik Erikson's book on Young Man Luther or his book about Gandhi, viz, Gandhi's Truth. Or they will have to be like the books that have come out about Dag Hammarskjold, e.g., Sven Stolpe's book, Dag Hammarskjold: A Spiritual Portrait or Gustav Aulen's, Dag Hammarskjold's White Book: The Meaning of Markings.

          Because of historical events like the Kennedy assassination, the Kent State killings, Watergate, etc., we are used to exact investigative reporting or the desire for it. The new lives of the Saints of the future will have to have the quality of good secular biographies or first rate historical novels. The time and work put in by Monica Furlong in her recent book on Merton: A Biography point out how difficult a task it is. The older books were often easier to put together being a different kind of literature.

          Hopefully, authors who make a living writing biographies, will move into this field and tell us more about the Saints. The Saints are unique, profound, strange, amazing, obsessive, real people. They can make excellent reading. And we hope that their sins and weaknesses will not be cut out. Sin sells. Augustine because of his sins and his struggle with a conversion impresses us far more than the story of some Saint being fed by a raven.


          This leads us to the end of Part I of this consideration of the Saints. Vatican II and the Scriptures call out God's word to each of us to become a Saint. And the key word is “become”. It's a process, a journey, a pilgrimage, a passage, a step by step transformation, as all those other recent spiritual and secular words for growth bring out.

          Part II of this issue of YOU will bring out 3 main ingredients for becoming a Saint. What 3 ingredients do you think stand out in the lives of the Saints: 1) ___________, 2) ___________, 3) ___________?


          I think that the basic ingredients for becoming a Saint are three: 1) Becoming a person who prays, 2) doing the will of God, and 3) serving the people of God. And psychologically they develop in that order.


          A Saint is a person who prays.

          In a recent article on Saints in U.S. Catholic, James Breig gives examples of how varied in personality the Saints have been -- noting some very odd and “mentally sick” characters. Father Thomas Legere in his column Crossfire recently made the point that many of the Saints would not be considered “well adjusted” personalities. To many of us moderns, being well adjusted and having a good self-image are most important values. They are. To the Saints, however, God comes first.

          And putting God first comes from prayer. God is a Saint's first concern -- their top value. In the past 10 years there has probably been more literature -- words -- communication -- books -- tapes -- about prayer than at any time in our Church's history.

          But that is not enough. More than the words about prayer is the need to pray and to make a choice about becoming a person who prays regularly. And that is what the Saints and all this literature and talk about prayer is saying. We need to take time out to pray. Sometimes the multitude of words about prayer can make us immune and “ho hum” about actually praying. We're smart. We know that at “The Other Side of Silence,” the other side of the light (or darkness) is God and God is the one we are scared of. We're scared of what He might ask us to give up. We're scared of what He might asks us to give. And so we avoid God by reading about Him or by saying a lot of words. The words, the books, the Bible, the mantras, the praise, the candles, the atmosphere, the music, all can be helpful, but the moment of Truth comes when we “shut up” and listen to God. Silence. We need silence in the presence (or felt absence) of God.

          And when we are silent before God, the first experience we often have is a recognition of our own sinfulness. It's the basic test of prayer and our basic reaction is either to run away or to ask God to run away from us. We're like Peter -- all mouth (especially in our prayers) -- and suddenly we realized the transcendence of Christ and we fall down saying, “Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). If we can't understand why the Saints -- people we consider 1000 times better than ourselves -- are always seeing their sinfulness, then perhaps we never have gotten that close to God in prayer.


          After that initial shock of our sinfulness God will give us a mission. Peter was called to be more than a fisher of fish. “With that they brought their boats to land, left everything, and became his followers” (Luke 5:11).

          It always happens. That's how God works. He has a will of His own. We know that. We know that -- but when we experience that -- we fall to our knees in awe and fear and a host of other emotions. Prayer for many is making requests of God. From the Saints we learn that prayer is usually God making requests of us. Prayer is more God asking us for help than we asking God for help.

          “The will of God.” I used to hate that phrase. It always sounded so cold -- so hard to take -- sort of as if the words were made of razor blades. It always seemed to appear along with news about suffering, cancer, or death. Or it was used in situations where people asked me to do things I felt were their will and not God's.

          Leo Dunn, a priest and good friend, with whom I have been giving retreats with for the past 4 years, mentioned once in a sermon something that destroyed my narrow understanding of the phrase, “The will of God.” Talking about Jesus and what motivated him, he mentioned the Datsun commercial: “We are driven!”

          All of us are driven people.

          The think that drove Jesus was the will of the Father. And the Father is driven! Jesus spent a lot of time alone in prayer and he came out of that inner room -- that desert -- a driven person. “Doing the will of him who sent me and bringing his work to completion is my food” (John 4: 34).

          In prayer, after being hit with the feeling of sinfulness, after the feeling of running away is felt, then suddenly we realize that God is a “person” and persons have a will of their own. Persons have dreams. Persons have hopes, visions, and an agenda. Martin Luther King Jr. screamed out in Washington D.C., “I have a dream.” He was dreaming the dream of Isaiah. He was dreaming the dream of God for us.

          Don't I? Billy Joel sings, “Everybody has a dream.” I have a dream of my own -- plans, hopes, ideas about what I want to do today, tomorrow, next week, this Lent, this year. I have priorities. They drive me. I vote with my feet. I vote with the way I spend my time. I spend my time doing what I want to do, what I like to do. And when I have to do things I don't like to do, I do them because of my own needs (to make others happy, to earn a living, to gain prestige, etc.). And often I wish and imagine I am elsewhere “doing my own thing.”

          There it was, -- a way to understand the meaning of the phrase, “The will of a person.” There it is, a way of understanding the great wrestling match that takes place in prayer. Christ wrestled with his will and the Father's will (The Way) all through his life -- in the temple, in the desert, in the mountains, in Jerusalem, in the garden, on the cross. The Saints did likewise.

          “The will of God.” The phrase sill sounds cold and sharp like a sword. But when I pray I won't hear the phrase, “The will of God”, specifically. No, I'll hear something else -- other words.


          When I pray, I'll hear the names of people. I'll become more aware of those around me -- especially the poor and the suffering. Prayer then is never an ego trip.

          A short time before his death, Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great modern rabbi and “descendent of the prophets”, made a remarkable autobiographical confession on The Eternal Light TV program. Before he began working on his profound book, The Prophets, he said he loved to spend his time thinking, meditating, reading, and being by himself in his study. But when he began to read the prophets he found out that God wanted him elsewhere -- in the streets, out there doing something about prejudice, war, peace, housing, jobs. These are the cries of the prophets. God takes life very seriously. God takes how we treat one another very seriously. We learn this from reading the prophets.

          We learn this from listening to the prophet, Jesus. When Jesus came out of the carpenter shop, and then out of the desert after his long prayer, he came back to Nazareth. He became a driven man. Luke tells us how he went to his own neighborhood synagogue, stood up, unrolled the book of the prophet Isaiah and found the passage where it was written,

                    “The spirit of the Lord is upon me;
                              therefore he has anointed me.
                    He has sent me to bring glad tidings
                              to the poor, to proclaim
                              liberty to captives,
                    Recovery of sight to the blind
                              and release to prisoners,
                    To announce a year of favor
                              from the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19)

          A phrase like “the will of God” might not get us out of our study -- or ourselves -- but those words of Isaiah, which announce a profound liberation theology, could drive a person to give one's life for others.

          And if we read the lives of the Saints, we'll see just that -- people deeply concerned about the poor -- people deeply driven by a dream -- people driven by love -- people who have come to serve and not to be served. (Cf. Luke 22: 25-27)

          Jesus washed feet. Francis kissed the leper. Jesus fed the hungry. Frances Cabrini took care of orphans in Cogogno, Italy and New York City. Jesus reached out to children. Benedict Joseph Labre, the beggar Saint, gave alms he received to those he felt were more needy. Jesus healed the possessed boy. Vincent de Paul freed slaves.

          Service. Isn't that what the Saints did? Isn't that what we all want -- from the person in the restaurant wondering where the waitress is to the uncomfortable and sometimes impatient patient in the hospital bed wondering where the nurse is. We all complain about our public servants: politicians, priests, teachers, doctors, people who repair cars and appliances, etc. We go to the public restroom hoping it will be clean. We want service. We like good service.

          God's will, dream, plan, way for the world is a Kingdom, a place, where all will be servants. If you can buy that then you're saying, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done ....”


          Prayer then leads to service which is the will of God.

          In a talk at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, historian William Irwin Thompson, said that people in the 1960's, who were part of the Encounter Group scene, etc., were told to get in touch with their dark side. And when they told a group, “I have dreams of raping women and killing people,” the others would say, “Now you're really getting in touch with your basic human nature.” But if you said, “I have dreams about being a Saint,” the others would say, “You got a hang up. Why are you always holding onto this sense of perfection? Let it all hang out. Get in touch with your shadow.”

          Hopefully this issue of YOU about becoming a Saint stirred up in you a desire to approach God about what He wants of you. Hopefully, you will be part of the prediction I opened up this issue of YOU with: “In the next 10 years we will begin to notice a return to an emphasis on the Saints in the Catholic Church.”