The Silent Creed

What a comfort it is to know that our faith exists within a community! According to Scripture, God does not only save individuals—God saves his people. The great covenants of the Bible—the Mosaic Covenant and the New Covenant in Christ—are not made with individuals but with the Israelite people and then with the entire world. Although it is true that God is eternally and devotedly focused on each one of us—to the point of counting every hair on our heads!—it is also true that God creates and loves each of us as members of communities: our families, our Church, our world.

A friend of mine once told me a powerful story about a difficult time in her life. She had just given birth to a baby girl, and the little girl was struggling to survive. Devastated, distraught, exhausted, and totally stressed, my friend went to Mass. When it came time for the Creed, she couldn’t speak. She was empty. She wasn’t sure what or if she believed.

What happened next both surprised and sustained her. As the voices around her professed the Creed, my friend felt lifted up. Their unwavering, believing voices were like strong arms lifting up her heart, her mind, her body to God. Was she struggling to profess, to believe? No matter. The community believed on her behalf, and she let them.

I tried this myself on Sunday. I was silent during the Creed; I listened. All around me voices rose up. I had never thought of my parish as particularly robust, but they were loud and strong! I looked around at all of the faces and bodies. I knew how different we all are, how even when we say “I believe,” we are thinking, meaning, believing slight variations on the themes of our faith. But these were my people, speaking “I believe.” These were God’s people, the ones of the covenant.

This weekend when you go to Mass, I encourage you to stay silent during the Creed, just this once. Listen, be lifted. Be reminded how strong is the faith of our Church. Be reminded that your brothers and sisters believe for you when you feel empty or you cannot speak. They are loud enough. They are strong enough. Let their voices lift you like arms. These are your people.

We are as interconnected as these water droplets on a spider web. Photo by Mary Weems. Used with permission.

We are as interconnected as these water droplets on a spider web. Photo by Mary Weems. Used with permission.

The Hardest Word

In 2006, I had two reconstructive hip surgeries (“triple pelvic osteotomy” for those who like to google). The first operation was a success hip-wise, but it was hard on my body. When I woke up in recovery, my pain was out of control. Over the next several days I had five or six blood transfusions, erratic heart rates, and pain. A lot of pain. I remember how lonely the pain felt, like no one else understood. I felt completely alone.

Six months later when I returned to the hospital to repeat the surgery on the other side, I remember looking into my surgeon’s eyes. He wasn’t the touchy-feely type. He wasn’t really a good listener. Not much of a talker either. But before we went into surgery he said something reassuring that—for him—probably required mustering forth and dusting off some nurturing spirit from deep within. I remember something firm, something I could hold onto, something like: “That’s not going to happen to you again. Not on my watch.” And then I told him the truth: “I trust you.”

As the anesthesia took effect and I drifted into unconsciousness, I felt deeply the reality of what I had done. Trust has no guarantees.

Trust may be the hardest thing we will ever do—harder even than love. Because trust so rarely comes with feel-good emotions. It is more often just a choice we make. But without it, we are utterly paralyzed. Without it we are so afraid, afraid of everything. This is no way to live.

Trust is not something that is cavalierly restored, once it has been broken. Sometimes it is never restored at all. But something happens when someone looks us in the eye, and from the heart, speaks restoring words—words like never again and not on my watch—and then does restoring things, like setting bones right, or listening, or being humble, or changing. Trust has no guarantees. But we are only half-alive if we never trust. Our whole human community is based on our ability to do this one hardest thing.

I pray that trust will be restored in our Church, and in the life of every person affected by the pain inflicted by and in this Body. Now we feel the cutting of the bones, the loneliness of the pain, the confusion of the aftermath. I pray for healing for every single one of us, so we can trust again, so we can be a healed, restored, strengthened, unafraid Body.

May God heal our Church and restore trust among us.

“I trust in God, I do not fear” (Ps 56:5).

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.

Announcements:

  • Save the date for our One-Night Lenten Mission 2019! A Nor’easter got us in 2018, but we’re trying again! Hear 3 speakers and 1 wonderful choir! Wed., Mar. 13, 7:00 pm, 295 Benham St., Hamden, CT. Snow date is Mar. 15. For more information, go to amyekeh.com/lent.

  • If you’re looking for a Lenten devotional for use by yourself or with a group, why not try my 3-session book Lent: Season of Transformation? It’s a nice, neat little package of Scripture, commentary, reflection questions, and prayers. You can buy it on amazon, or purchase it at littlerockscripture.org for bulk rates!

  • Thanks for bearing with my slow blog pace! Someday when my kids are grown, I’ll miss these busy days! But for now, I’m just trying to keep up! Blessings, all!

People Last Forever

My friend Fr. Ivan Tou, CSP, is a very interesting person. One interesting thing he does is that he does not age. No one really knows how old Ivan is because he looks the same as he did twenty years ago.

Another interesting thing Ivan does is write wonderful, chatty Christmas letters that are part litany-of-people-and-places-he’s-visited-in-the-past-year (this is where you find out that he has about 28 godchildren), part analysis-of-movies-he’s-seen (which I skim over when he gets too sci-fi), and part wisdom-gained-in-the-past-year.

Several years ago, Ivan shared some Christmas letter wisdom that has stayed with me. He described how, in his parish work, he is keenly aware that so much of what he does is bound to be undone as soon as he leaves a parish. A statue he purchased may be removed. A garden he planted may be made into a parking lot. A new ministry he initiated may fizzle out. And so on.

This could become quite discouraging over time, to feel that one’s work doesn’t last. But Ivan said there is one thing that doesn’t change, one thing that can’t be taken away, one legacy far superior to improvements to property or even ministries—and that is people. Love between people—relationships, friendships. Ivan said that over the years, this is what he holds onto—the people he has met and loved, and those who have loved him.

Of course, people and friendships can change too. But what does not change is the impact they’ve had on us, the memories we make, the wisdom we’ve shared, the meals around a table that enriched us, the time and the effort and the goodness of people.

This is what the Church is made of, after all. People, relationships, love. This is what matters. This is what lasts.

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After I wrote this, I found Fr. Ivan’s Christmas letter from 2016. Here is the paragraph I remember!

One thing I’m constantly relearning is nothing lasts. All the great software I wrote for HP has been erased and the back-up drives probably live in some landfill. The great ideas I started at my previous parish are no doubt forgotten as the replacement pastor and new parish staff invent their own ideas. And the things I’m doing at Berkeley will probably fade away when I move on, though Fr. George, a pastor here in the 80’s, reminds me that the current red carpet and patio gates are his doing. What seems to matter is the journey and the relationships we make along the way. People last forever, everything else has their time and then fades away. So a meaningful life seems to be connected to touching people and touching them deeply, or as Jesus taught us, love God and love neighbor with your everything.

Thank you, Fr. Ivan Tou. Come see us in Connecticut!

Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Guest Blog: We Grieve, We Believe

My colleague at Little Rock Scripture Study, Cackie Upchurch, wrote these clear, gentle words in response to the recent revelations about our Church in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and beyond. These words helped me, and I hope they may help you too. I don't want to be bitter, I want to believe. But I have children, I have been a child. A sacred trust has been broken.

In times of confusion, we need guiding voices to acknowledge truth and point us back to the light. I found one here.

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We Grieve, We Believe

We grieve the scandals that have plagued and continue to plague our Church. 
We grieve because we are outraged and disappointed and even disgusted by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse, and the lingering violence these do to the human person.
We grieve the cover up and the misplaced loyalties.
We grieve because the body of Christ is injured and in need of healing that will not come easily (nor should it). 
We grieve because, as communities of faith, we’re not quite sure how to proceed – how to bind up ugly wounds so that they heal and are not simply covered over, and how to be forgiving but also demand consequences.
We grieve because our ideals are tempered by ugly realities that demand a reckoning.
We grieve because we know the corrupting influence of power that goes unchecked.

We believe and affirm that Christ is suffering with us, in us, and through us.
We believe and affirm that we have a sacred trust to bring Christ into this broken world, and into our very broken Church.
We believe and affirm that God’s mercy and goodness will have the last word.

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Cackie (Catherine) Upchurch is the director of Little Rock Scripture Study, general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, associate editor of The Bible Today and contributor to Give Us This Day. She is the author of four volumes of the Alive in the Word series, including Mary, Favored by God and Christmas: Season of Wonder and HopeCackie finds great joy in meeting people around the country and beyond when she speaks at conferences and leads retreats for lay people and religious communities.

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Retro-Post: Sr. Blanche's Desk

This week I’m re-posting one of my first and favorite blog posts. It’s been off my site for several years as I wanted to make a few edits, and then I just never got around to re-posting it. Some of you may have read it in That Mighty Heart.

My first ministry position was as a parish DRE in Clinton, Maryland. I was 23 when I started, and I honestly had no idea what I was doing. This essay is about my office at the parish, which I inherited from the matchless Sister Blanche Twigg, MHSH. The bookcases of Sr. Blanche’s office were lined with Little Rock Scripture Studies and Catechist Magazines, two publications I never dreamed that I would someday write for. What a beginning I had there, with co-workers who mentored me and parishioners who accepted me. What a place that was to be, sitting at Sr. Blanche’s desk!

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Sr. Blanche’s Desk

I will never forget my first “real” job interview. Fresh out of graduate school, I was applying for a parish position as a Director of Religious Education. I was 23 years old. 

The interview was by all accounts fairly average until I asked the pastor why the former D.R.E. left the position. He looked happy and sad, amused and wistful, all at the same time. “Sister Blanche served here for 25 years,” he told me. “She was 82 years old. She has gone to be with the Lord.” Later I would discover that Fr. Tom’s emotion was the result of a long and solid friendship with this formidable religious sister. Twenty years his elder, she called him “Tom” in a mother’s tone and ran the show as she liked. And she liked a tight ship.

In the coming months, I would hear many legends about Sr. Blanche – how every morning she “pointed” her car in the direction of the parish and drove to work; how no one could say no to her; how children obeyed her and parents feared her; how she was a force to be reckoned with; how much they loved her. Sr. Blanche was a gifted educator, a respected Scripture scholar, a master recruiter, a thrifty manager, a green thumb, a tough cookie, a trusted friend, a spiritual guide, a miracle worker.

My first day on the job, I walked into Sr. Blanche’s office. Her plants had been cared for, her books arranged neatly. I sat down at Sr. Blanche’s desk. It felt large and unfamiliar. Unsure what to do next, I opened the top drawer. I looked at all the things Sr. Blanche had left behind – things she had used so many times, things she kept at the ready. Who was I to clean out this desk? With whispered apologies to my predecessor, I began to pick up the items inside, one by one, trash can at the ready. But I couldn’t throw away much more than a few brittle rubber bands. Many of the items were unidentifiable or just really old. In her eyes, they might have a use someday. Who was I to decide they wouldn’t? 

This was my first encounter with Sr. Blanche. And in my own way, I encountered her many more times in the coming years. I was the opposite of this great lady – I was young, I was new, and it became obvious rather quickly that no one feared me. I needed her, I leaned on her in some inexpressible way. Her influence mentored me. Her legend challenged me. And all the while, those strange things in the top drawer comforted me – old things waiting to have some new use. 

I never tried to be Sr. Blanche. It would have been utterly futile. But I took care of her plants, I read some of her old books. I tried to care for her people, and sit earnestly in her chair, and make her proud in my own small ways. And in the years I occupied that desk, I happily left the top drawer just as it was. It contained treasures I did not yet understand. 

As I look back on that time, I like to imagine that together, Sr. Blanche and I were like the scribe training for the kingdom, like householders bringing out of our treasuries what is new and what is old (Matt. 13:52).

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Sr. Blanche Twigg (1917-1999) joined the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in 1936 and served as the Director of Religious Education at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clinton, Maryland from 1974-1999.  Among other things, she was known for her thriftiness and her love of Scripture.

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