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We Grieve More Often Than We Think
"When churches fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals are chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate, and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?"
This is an excerpt from a poem by Philip Larkin (1922-1985) called "Church Going"
We see the Church divided today along ideological lines; we see a church in decline with membership. We see young people saying I am spiritual but don't attend Church; it is not meaningful.
We often know what Joseph Cardijn and others of the Vatican II council would say if they were alive today. But are we sure? As in the poem, what makes a place "unlucky" to be at? Was it for us and the younger generations growing up and starting careers the sex abuse crisis? Was it just bad preaching? Was it a lack of adult education? Or do we blame technology?
What can we do?
We tried hard to be faithful to our ancestors and studied, learned, and taught with as much honesty as possible. Yes, we were using the SEE-JUDGE-ACT method. Organizing and working, we often feel like we are on a treadmill, collecting miles and going nowhere.
In our Cardijn movements of various flavors globally, we have planted zillions of grapes maturing into wines most of us will never drink. I have faith and hope that those wines will be like leaven in the dough.
Living in the United States, I think we have that reality of “idolatrous Catholicism" and "Evangelical Christian Nationalism" is seen in our news almost daily. We see it in many of our parishes; we see it on full display on social media. Still, in places of the world, and I have visited a few, the vast majority of people try to make it through life without the drama of idolatry or Christian Nationalism. Most people sitting in the pew are trying to make a living for their families, do what is right, and hope for the best.
Joseph Cardijn, in 1919, saw people suffering where they had no apparent control or influence over what was happening in their lives, and he grieved. He acted for the greater good. He was imprisoned and wept over his mother, having a nervous breakdown over his imprisonment. Cardijn suffered from tuberculosis due to his imprisonment, and we can imagine a period of grieving occurred. From those experiences, Cardijn 1919 started La Jeunesse Syndicaliste ("Young Trade Unionists"). This group at first met resistance from within the Church, and imagine the grief Cardijn must have felt with the original resistance. He had persistence, and we should remember that persistence is a virtue. It's the ability to continue with an opinion or course of action despite difficulty or opposition.
Grief comes in many flavors throughout our life. Suppose we look at Albert Nolan. From 1976 to 1984, he was Vicar-General of the Dominicans in South Africa. In 1983, he was elected Master of the Order of Preachers. Think of the grieving process Nolan experienced in the decision-making process about the election. He grieved for the people of South Africa and what they were experiencing because of apartheid. In that process, he came to see the greater good. He declined the office, which meant transferring to his order's Rome headquarters. He preferred to remain in South Africa during this intense political and social transition decade. There was more than likely an experience of grief in knowing what he chose as the greater good meant he would not experience a new role with leadership and prestige. He saw, he discerned, and he acted.
We often find ourselves grieving over not only current decisions but also past decisions we make as we experience the process of See-Judge-Act.
Think of people in Europe, the German states, who trusted their wits in the 30s and were very wrong. And later grieved over what they believed and experienced. The question becomes, "Did the grief produce a greater good?"
What should we do?
How often might we feel a sense of "grief" over our efforts and not seeing the harvest we expected? How often do we experience "grief' when loved ones say they don't believe anymore, but you see they are more spiritual and more involved in changing the world than the person sitting next to you in a pew Sunday morning?
Grieving over a decision for the greater good is coping with the loss or sacrifice made to make a decision beneficial to a larger group of people or society. This can be a difficult and complex process, as it often involves weighing one's personal needs and desires against the needs of others.
What should we do?
Yes, sometimes we should grieve. Please realize that the process is discovering the self and the world around us. The See-Judge-Act method is an excellent process to help ourselves and, most significantly, others through a grieving process.
How often have we thought about when people like Cardijn may have grieved? Think of what Cardijn saw and felt about the working conditions of people and the life of students in the heat of the Industrial Revolution. Grieving over a decision that pits a person against the world is often difficult. It sounds easy and seems easy when we read it in novels and study it in history, but it is challenging in real life. Think of times in your life, whether at work or in family, where you felt you had no control or influence over the situation; that feeling you had was a form of grief.
In each situation or case, people grieve over the loss of someone or something important to them. Still, they also know that their sacrifice has made a difference. This can be a source of both comfort and pain. On the one hand, it can be comforting to know that one's sacrifice has made a difference. On the other hand, it can be painful to grieve the loss of someone or something important in one's life.
If you are grieving over a decision for the greater good, allowing yourself to feel your emotions is essential. Reaching out for support from friends, family, or a therapist is also necessary. Grieving can be a complex process, but it is vital to remember that you are not alone. David Kessler states, "Grief is a Reflection of Love."
"That perhaps grief can be seen as a kind of exalted state where the person who is grieving is the closest they will ever be to the fundamental essence of things. Because, in grief, you become deeply acquainted with the idea of human mortality. You go to a very dark place and experience the extremities of your own pain–you are taken to the very limits of suffering. As far as I can see, there is a transformative aspect to this place of suffering. We are essentially altered or remade by it. Now, this process is terrifying, but in time, you return to the world with some knowledge that has something to do with our vulnerability as participants in this human drama. Everything seems so fragile and precious and heightened, and the world and the people in it seem so endangered and yet so beautiful. In this dark place, the idea of a God feels more present or perhaps more essential. It actually feels like grief, and God are somehow intertwined. It feels that, in grief, you draw closer to the veil that separates this world from the next. I allow myself to believe such things because it is good for me to do so." — Faith, Hope, and Carnage by Nick Cave, Seán O'Hagan.
Many of our younger generation understand "church" as community and service, more like the early movements of the Jesus followers. Liturgy is not something they relate to, but service is vital to them…my 50+ students in my class talk about this as something they see in their kids…I tell them I am not afraid of that or concerned as much as they are, and I remind them since it is a comparative religion class, you see this in all religions. We see this as what it means to be human and the difference it makes.
When you reflect on the life of Cardijn, we see these experiences; we know the transformation extends into the community. We see change.
"For it is the bitter grief of theology and its blessed task, too, always to have to seek (because it does not clearly have present to it at the time)...always providing that one has the courage to ask questions, to be dissatisfied, to think with the mind and heart one ACTUALLY has, and not with the mind and heart one is SUPPOSED TO have." Karl Rahner
Emerging technology (AI) will significantly influence this area of awareness in ethics, what it means to be a human, and the difference it makes, and should it be essential. I see AI driving home the core teachings of all the great prophets and teachers, including Jesus. Do we SEE the difference in being human and the difference it makes?
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