Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Visitation: Let Mary's Soul Be In You

In his Gospel, Saint Luke relates that after the Annunciation, Mary “went in haste” to see her kinswoman, Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 1:39-56). This is the event that is at the heart of the Feast of the Visitation (celebrated on May 31). And yet, as with so many of the Church’s festive celebrations, the significance of the Feast of the Visitation extends well beyond a simple remembering of past event.

The Visitation
by Romare Bearden

In the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, we are presented with two women who are living in expectation. Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary, carrying God within her, embody the hopes and expectations of Israel. Theirs was a waiting full of promise: “People who have to wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow” (Henri Nouwen, from the essay “A Spirituality of Waiting”). This kind of waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. Rather, it is a movement from something to something more.

In God's own time, God called the patriarchs and prophets, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and so many others, to prepare the way for his Son (cf. Dei Verbum, 3; Hebrews 1:1-2). And, in Mary and her Child, the promises and longings of countless generations were finally being fulfilled: “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times… He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock” (Micah 5:1, 3a). 

Mary teaches us how to receive the Word of God: "She exhorts us, first of all, to humility, so that God can find a space in our heart not darkened by pride or arrogance. She points out to us the value of silence, which knows how to listen to the song of the Angels and the crying of the Child, not stifling them by noise and confusion. Together with her, we stop before the Nativity scene with intimate wonder, savoring the simple and pure joy that this Child gives to humanity” (Blessed John Paul II, Angelus, December 21, 2003).

But, there is yet another dimension to the Feast of the Visitation: we also honor the spirit of service, diakonia, of Mary. Mary's generous care for Elizabeth anticipates the same spirit of service that should be the hallmark of the Church, which is sent especially to the poor. Just as in Mary, the Lord is brought forward to visit his people (cf. Zephaniah 3:14-18), the Church brings Christ to the poor and forgotten, sharing with them the truth of God’s abiding love and presence. This is the overarching theme of Mary’s great hymn of praise, the Magnificat, which she sings in response to Elizabeth’s greeting: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior… He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty…” (cf. Luke 1:46-55). It is in this great hymn, which the Church sings every day at the time of Evening Prayer, that Mary "first acknowledges the special gifts she has been given. Then she recalls God's universal favors, bestowed unceasingly on the human race" (Saint Bede the Venerable).

Although we may have a tendency to sentamentalize the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, we should keep in mind the great gift of salvation that is at the heart of this mystery and feast: "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear" (Zephaniah 3:15b). Each of us is entrusted with the task to take the same Christ who dwells in our hearts, minds, and souls out into the world: "Let Mary's soul be in each of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord" (Saint Ambrose of Milan).



Prayer for the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary +
Almighty ever-living God,
who, while the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying your Son in her womb,
inspired her to visit Elizabeth,
grant us, we pray,
that, faithful to the promptings of the Spirit,
we may magnify your greatness
with the Virgin Mary at all times.
Through our Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Extraordinary Lives in Ordinary Time


Ordinary Time (which resumed the day after Pentecost) is the longest season of the Church year and is often dismissed by many people as being, well… ordinary. As the “Green Season,” Ordinary Time spans those late-winter weeks between the Baptism of the Lord and Ash Wednesday and the summer and fall months, ending with the great celebration of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on the last Sunday before Advent.
 
Summer from the Tree of Life Chapel
at First Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood, Missouri
designed by Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
 
On the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ordinary Time is described in this way:
 The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time… take us through the life of Christ. This is the time of conversion. This is living the life of Christ.
Ordinary Time is a time for growth and maturation, a time in which the mystery of Christ is called to penetrate ever more deeply into history until all things are finally caught up in Christ.
Through the days and weeks of Ordinary Time, we hear continuous readings from the prophets and histories of the Old Testament, the letters of the New Testament, and the Gospels. The Church slowly and intentionally moves us through the mysteries and miracles of the life of Jesus. The white and red of the Feasts and Memorials of Mary and the Saints become like individual flowers amid a field of green. Most often, these days go by unnoticed, but they are there nonetheless, offering a sort of commentary on the well-lived Christian life.
 
In her extended reflection, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, Benedictine sister Joan Chittister shares this story:
It was a normal rush-hour day in a New York City airport. Commuters raced down concourses to make quick connections between major incoming flights and local helicopters and business jets that would take them from one small airport to another in time for supper. Men in heavy coats swinging heavy briefcases, and women in high heels loaded down with cumbersome shoulder bags skidded around vendors and carts, corners and counters in a mad rush to reach gates where the doors were already closing…
Suddenly, everyone heard the crash. The fruit stand teetered for a moment and then tilted the fruit baskets off the countertop to the floor. Apples and oranges rolled helter-skelter up and down the concourse. Then the girl behind the counter burst into tears, fell to her knees, and began to sweep her hands across the floor, searching for the fruit. “What am I going to do?” she cried. “It’s all ruined. It’s all bruised. I can’t sell this!” One man, seeing her distress as he ran by, stopped and came back.
Seeing how frantic she was, he got down on the floor with the girl and began putting apples and oranges back into baskets. And it was then, as he watched her sweep the space with her hands, randomly, frantically, that he realized that she was blind. “They’re ruined,” she kept saying.
The man took forty dollars out of his wallet, pressed it into her hand. “Here,” he said as he prepared to go, “here is forty dollars to pay for the damage we’ve done.” The girl straightened up. She began to grope the air, looking for him now. “Mister,” the bewildered blind girl called out to him, “Mister, wait…” He paused and turned to look back into those blind eyes. “Mister,” she said, “are you Jesus?”
 
Our journey through the extraordinary seasons of the Church year inevitably leads us back into the ordinary times of late winter cold, summer haze, and fall’s slow descent back into winter’s darkness. The question then becomes: what difference did those extraordinary feasts and seasons make if we aren’t able to live a Christ-life in the ordinary times and seasons of life?
 
 
In these first days after Pentecost, the Church remembers dozens of men and women who have something to teach us about living extraordinary lives in ordinary time. As varied as the times and places in which they live, these figures, like all the saints, help us to understand what it means to “be like Jesus.” Alongside the monks and nuns, priests and popes, are “ordinary” saints, who were not consecrated religious or clerics, who also lived extraordinary lives and prove that is possible “to be other than those around us who live to exploit here rather than to grow in the light of the hereafter”: Saint Euprhosyne of Polotsk (d. 1172; May 23); Saint William of Rochester/Perth (d. 1201; May 23); the twin brothers, Donation and Rogation (d. ca. 304; May 24); Saint Agatha Yi So-Sa (d. 1831; May 24); Saint Mariana of Quito, Ecuador (d. 1645; May 26); BlessedMargaret Pole (d. 1541; May 28) ; Saint Ferdinand of Castile (d. 1252; May 30); and Saint Joan of Arc (d. 1431; May 30).
 
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard wrote:
The shadow’s the thing. Outside shadows are blue, I read, because they are lighted by the blue sky and not the yellow sun. Their blueness bespeaks infinitesimal particles scattered down inestimable distances. Muslims, whose religion bans representational art as idolatrous, don’t observe the rule strictly; but they do forbid sculpture, because it casts a shadow. So shadows define the real. If I no longer see shadows as “dark marks,” as do the newly sighted, then I see them as making some sort of sense of the light. They give the light distance; they put it in its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, here O Israel, here in the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of the nothingness between me and the light.
 
The shadows which the saints cast on the liturgical calendar help us make sense of the light of the Christmas Star, the Easter dawn, and the Pentecost-fire of the Holy Spirit. By “defining the real,” the saints help us to recognize that no time is ordinary because we have each been called to live an extra-ordinary life.  

A challenge for these ordinary days might be to learn the saints’ stories and listen to them, find courage in their witness, and remember that what was possible for them, is possible for us.

 

 

 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Diversity in Unity: The Solemnity of Pentecost

In his book Desert Banquet: A Year of Wisdom from the Desert Mothers and Fathers, David G. R. Kelly reflected on these words from Pseudo-Macarius: “The heart directs and governs all the organs of the body. And when grace pastures the heart, it rules over all the members and the thoughts. For there, in the heart, the mind abides as well as all of the thoughts of the soul and its hopes. This is how grace penetrates throughout all the parts of the body.” Pseudo-Macarius understood that the heart is that place where a person’s spirit and the Spirit of God exist together. The mind, the seat of rational thought, is made complete when it abides in the heart and becomes enlightened by “all the thoughts of the soul and all its hopes.” Although our mind is an essential part of who we are, we are only at our best when our minds and hearts move together.

Pentecost by He-Qi
 
In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised his Apostles, “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26). It was on the fiftieth day after Easter that the Church experienced the reality that Jesus had promised as the Spirit came upon them in wind, fire, and voice (cf. Acts 2:1-4). What began at Pentecost continues in our own day. Because, although the Spirit does not always come in great signs and wonders as it did for Mary and the Apostles, the Holy Spirit is always present and active.

 
The truth is that no one person or group could have made the Church. As Eberhard Arnold observed, “No heights of oratory, no flaming enthusiasm, could have awakened for Christ the thousands who were moved at the time, or produced the life-unity of the early Church. The Spirit did not, as you might think, descend upon the speakers in such a way that they preached a sermon or gave a speech to an unenlightened crowd. Instead, fiery tongues of the Spirit ate their way into the hearts of the hearers and inflamed the crowds in one common experience of the same Spirit and the same Christ” (from the essay “Spirit of Fire” in Innerland: A Guide into the Heart of the Gospel). This is the meeting of the human spirit and the Spirit of God in the faithful heart that Pseudo-Macarius wrote of so many centuries ago.

 
Although it is an element that is often overlooked, the great gift of Pentecost was a restoration of lost unity. As a sort of reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel (cf. Genesis 11:1-9), at Pentecost each believer spoke a language that each of those present heard as their own (Acts 2:5-8). In this powerful sign, the Spirit spoke through human instruments in a way that foretold a future in which all humanity would sing God’s praises in one voice. The Spirit that binds us all together in praise also enriches us with a diversity of gifts. This diversity is essential to the life and health of the Church and if we fall into the trap of equating unity with uniformity then we are, as it were, restricting the work of the Spirit.


Communion of Saints
by Elise Ritter
 
Saint Paul reminds us, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). The great Solemnity of Pentecost is a celebration of possibilities, both for individual believers and for the Church. The Pentecost of the first Christians was a witnessing of the unifying power of the Spirit for the future.

 
This future is lived out in each of us in the moments of our lives, when we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit. By being open to the Spirit, individually and communally, we can celebrate legitimate diversity which is based on giftedness and vocation rather than labels, and we can live a unity that is not afraid of questions, doubts, challenges, and possibilities. We are led outside of ourselves for the sake of others. Saint Paul reminds us that not all will speak in tongues, but each person, with unique gifts, is essential to the Church.

 
As individual believers and as a Church we have to seek out and heal those wounds that threaten the body of humanity and the Body of Christ. Fear, discrimination, war, disregard for life, bullying, and exploitation are among the many, many forces of evil that lead people away from community and into loneliness and isolation. If the gifts we have received are for the common good, then our Pentecost mission is to share our gifts and spend ourselves nurturing others, drawing them into the unity of the Spirit and the Church, and to open ourselves to the workings of the Spirit in the diversity of the gifts and lives of others. 

  
 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Remembering the Vision: The Ascension of the Lord


In her novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson shares the fictional autobiography of Reverend John Ames who, looking back on a life of pastoral service, love, loss, faith, and hope, tells his young son:

Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time. For example, whenever I take a child into my arms to be baptized, I am, so to speak, comprehended in the experience more fully, having seen more of life, knowing better what it means to affirm the sacredness of the human creature. I believe there are visions that come to us only in memory, in retrospect.

The New Testament is the story of the expanding vision of the early Church. Having lived alongside Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and all of Jesus’ followers had to discern what his life, death, resurrection, and return to the Father revealed about who Jesus was and what God was asking of each of them and of the Church. But, the New Testament also shows us that this process of discovery and discernment didn’t take place in a vacuum—it was within the lived experience of the Church that answers to these fundamental questions began to take shape.
 
The Ascension of the Lord
by Giotto in the Cappella Scrovegni  in Padua, Italy


An understanding of Jesus’ return to the Father, of his ascension into Heaven, was one of those visions “that come to us only in memory, in retrospect,” just like the experience of Jesus’ resurrection could only be understood after the disciples lived their Easter faith through years of praying, preaching, communion, fidelity, and suffering.  


In his book Living Jesus¸ Luke Timothy Johnson reflected that “the withdrawal of Jesus is not so much an absence as it is a presence in a new and more powerful mode: when Jesus is not among them as another specific body, he is accessible to all as life-giving spirit.” Although, for many believers, the Ascension of Jesus seems to focus on his departure, the truth of the Ascension is that Jesus is still alive in our midst, but in a new way. As Pope Francis recently said, “He is no longer in a specific place in the world as he was before the Ascension. He is now in the lordship of God, present in every space and time, close to each one of us” (General Audience, April 17, 2013).


The Solemnity of the Ascension is a celebration of two promises: Jesus has promised that he will send us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to guide and sustain the growth of the Church but the Ascension also contains a promise about what is now made possible for us in Christ:
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,
What are the riches of glory
in his inheritance among the holy ones,
and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
for us who believe,
in accord with the exercise of his great might. (Ephesians 1:18-19)
 

The challenge for us is to live in this promise. It is so easy for us to become weighed down by our day-to-day responsibilities and the legion of distractions and diversions that are such a part of our contemporary culture that the hazy promise of some future reality (however glorious) can’t really compete. And yet, as Christians, this is who we are: “Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love” (Saint Augustine of Hippo in Sermo de Ascensione Domini).
 

The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord is time to celebrate the certainty of Christ’s presence among us with joy. Jesus disappears from the disciples’ physical sight so that he might become more present to the eyes of their hearts. As Blessed John Paul II observed, “He frees himself from the limits of space and time to become present to the people of every time and place, and to offer everyone the gift of salvation” (Homily of May 23, 1998).
 

We are called to foster the same spirit of discernment that the Apostles and the first generations of Christian practiced as they gradually came to understand who Jesus was and could be for them. The vision of the glorified Lord, a promise of future glory, is something to be realized and lived here and now.


 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Measure of a Life

 
This post is adapted from a reflection delivered during an ecumenical vespers service at Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, on May 10, 2013, the commemoration of Saint Damien de Veuster.
 
 
At the beginning of the second act of the musical, Rent, a question is asked: “How do you measure a year?”
 

For those of you who know the show, you’ll recall that a number of answers are given: “In diapers, report cards, in spoked wheels, and speeding tickets; in contracts, dollars; in funeral, in births.” For those of us who might be a bit more pragmatic and practical: “525,600 minutes.”
 

All of these are good answers—true answers. The best answer, however, was saved for last: “measure in love—measure your life in love.”

 
Tonight, we remember that for us, as disciples of Jesus, love is the only measure for our lives—not doctrines or devotions, customs or conventions—only love.

 
The theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., once observed that the Church as the duty to proclaim the holiness of its members because, before anything else, we have the duty of proclaiming the power of God’s love and what that love has wrought in the hearts of believers and in the world.
 

And so, we talk about great Christian philanthropists and humanitarians, benefactors of hospitals and universities, artists, poets, and composers, servants of the poor, and prophets with clarion voices crying out for justice.
 

Even within this noble company, this “great cloud of witnesses” (cf. Hebrews 12:1), a figure like Damien de Veuster (Father Damien “the Leper”) stands out as a remarkable “servant of love.”
 

Saint Damien de Veuster
shortly before his death from Hansen's Disease
on April 15, 1889.


In 1863, Damien left his home, family, and religious community in Belgium to serve as a missionary in Hawaii, sharing pastoral care for an area covering nearly 2,000 miles. Ten years later, on May 10, 1873, (one hundred and forty years ago today,) he arrived at the leper colony of Kalaupapa on the island of Moloka’I and he found he had arrived in a “suburb of hell.”
 

The priest prayed with the sick and dying, offered Mass, taught hymns and the Bible, witnessed marriages, cared for and educated orphans, dug graves and buried the dead. He brought faith and compassion into a place ravaged by drunkenness, abuse, rape, neglect, and a despair that destroyed the spirits of even the strongest women and men exiled to that God-forsaken place… women, men, and even children, who had been abandoned by family, government, and even the churches.

 
Father Damien, however, wasn’t just some sort of social worker or human rights activist. He was, before anything, a Christian. Damien… Father Damien… Saint Damien, lived a life given over to countless acts of kindness, solicitude, and compassion—acts that were most often small in themselves, but which were nonetheless heroic because of the isolation, poverty, suffering, disease, and death he and his people faced day-in and day-out. These countless good works were not the sum, the measure of his life and ministry: the measure was love.
 
 
 

This morning, as I was thinking about Father Damien’s life and our time here, I found myself caught up in the wondrous view of the Pacific Ocean this campus enjoys. As I looked at the ocean, the same ocean whose waters confined Father Damien and his people in their island-prison, I thought of the hills of East Tennessee where I grew up and the valley in southern Indiana that I now call home. I realized that I have always lived in places where I could walk to the horizon. But here, this morning, I was struck by the expanse of the ocean and the miles and miles spreading out before me and I thought: This is what love is like.

 
Love is expansive and boundless. Father Damien understood this—he more than understood it, he lived it. His love, the expression of his faith (cf. James 2:18), was boundless and all-encompassing, like the depth and breadth of this ocean… like God’s love for the whole of creation. For you. For me.

 
Tonight, here in this chapel by the ocean—Father Damien’s ocean—we offer up a song of thanks and praise for life (both his and ours) and for the love that is the measure of life.

 
We remember that our call is to live and love with a love that knows no bound, no limit, no horizon—a love that is as expansive as the ocean.
 
 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

More Than We Imagine


In his Rule, Saint Benedict instructs the abbot to call the community together whenever there is important business to discuss: “Let the Abbot call together the whole community and state the matter to be acted upon. Then, having heard the brethren's advice, let him turn the matter over in his own mind and do what he shall judge to be most expedient. The reason we have said that all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best” (Ch. 3). As with so many of the Rule’s precepts, Benedict bases his teachings on a balanced understanding of the human person and community dynamics, as well as the experience of the broader Church.
 

Synaxis of the Apostles
14th century icon


In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke presents the first generation of believers as living an almost idyllic existence: “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers… All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (2:42, 44-45). This utopian community was short-lived, however. The fledgling Church soon experienced persecution from religious and secular leaders and, perhaps more importantly, internal divisions that began to erode the foundation that had been laid by the Apostles after Pentecost. As those first Christians wrestled with questions of inclusivity and what should be expected of the new non-Jewish believers, they worked to determine what was essential for membership in the Church (cf. Acts 15). Something new was beginning to happen and the community had to discern how to respond to the challenges they faced.
 

The Church’s leaders enlisted the help of others to assist them in their mission: “The apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones they chose were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers” (Acts 15:22). Recognizing both limitations and opportunities, the leaders looked beyond the enclosed circle of the Apostles to find new workers capable of responding to the present needs. This willingness to “look beyond the boundaries” was recently held up as the ideal for the Church by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, only days before he was elected to the Chair of Peter. In a speech delivered during the “general congregations” preceding the conclave, he said: “Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also in the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance, and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
 


In Lumen Gentium, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council reflected that each of us shares in the Church’s prophetic office, especially through the witness we offer in lives of faith, charity and praise: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief… the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but ‘allotting gifts to everyone according as He wills’ (1 Corinthians 12:11), the Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank” (12). To live the life of the Church places a burden of responsibility on each of us, clergy and laity alike. Whether we style ourselves “a ministry professional” or simply as “a person in the pews,” each of us is called to walk the same path: “Thus in their diversity,” Lumen Gentium says, “all bear witness to the wonderful unity of the Body of Christ” (32).

 
 
Collaborative ministry, exemplified by the Early Church and in the mutual discernment of Benedict’s monks, allows for each of the Church’s diverse members to contribute to the building of the Kingdom, whether this is expressed in consent and support of new movements, evangelization, and doctrinal development, or in questioning and challenging what might be outdated policies and modes of governance.
 

Contrary to what some may argue, the greatest threat to this vision of collaborative ministry is not magisterial oversight or Curial power. Rather, it is the tendency to privatize our faith and disengage from the life of the Church. In our contemporary culture, in a time when the number those who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious” or who claim no religious affiliation is rising rapidly, the Church is seen by many as a relic of the past. And, if we believe that we ourselves are the sole actors in the life of the Church, that we make the Church, then we would be right. But, what if we look beyond our egos and allow for the work of the Holy Spirit? Can we risk engaging a universe larger than the comfortable worlds we have created for ourselves?


Madonna Enthroned with Saints
The Maestà of Duccio di Buoninsegna
in the Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana del Duomo, Siena
 


In Acedia & Me, Kathleen Norris emphasizes that we must begin to cultivate a “greatness of spirit” if we are going to combat this tendency to focus on our selves, our comforts and our agendas: “In a priggish culture such as ours, this magnanimity of spirit is precisely what we lack, and if we persist in denying any truth but our own, the danger to society is that our perspective will remain so narrow and self-serving that we lose the ability to effect a meaningful change… This mentality may be of some use in business, but in a family, including a family of faith, it is a disaster. It permits us to treat our churches as if they were political parties instead of the Body of Christ, making them vulnerable to crass manipulation by ideologues” (116-117).
 
 
The antidote for all of this is faith. If we are willing to allow the Advocate promised by Jesus to come into our hearts and dwell there, then we will be able to live the communion with Christ and one another that is the life of the Church: “Life reaches farther than our biological existence. Where there is no longer anything worth dying for, even life itself is no longer worth living. When faith has opened our eyes and has enlarged our heart, [the message] of Saint Paul attains its full illuminating power: ‘None of us lives for himself, and no one dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord; whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s’ (Romans 14:7f)” (Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion, 155-156). It is only when each of us comes to own our faith, accepting our unique vocation, that the Church can more perfectly reflect the beauty of that Heavenly Jerusalem, becoming more than we ever imagined she (that is, we) could be.