life’s transitions

Ray Roussin

Bishop Raymond Roussin, SM in Gravelbourg, SK

The optimist views life’s transitions as opportunities for character building, the metaphorical fires that purify gold. Sometimes, the transitions are overwhelming. We yearn for the boring days of “same old, same old”.

Life events have forced me to face inevitable transitions for over a year now. Some are glorious. Our family rejoiced as we welcomed two more beautiful grand-babies last summer.

We are also grieving the end of a child’s marriage and the pain and uncertainty that it brings when young children are involved.

We mourned the loss of David’s father, and journeyed with his mother and family through the difficulties of the first year without him.

After selling our practice to a wonderful young dentist, we have been mulling the big retirement question. What next?

Last month, we lost a dear mentor, and spiritual guide. Archbishop Raymond Roussin, SM has been a treasured friend for almost 40 years. His death marks the end of an era for many of us. I struggled to write a fitting tribute to him for the Prairie Messenger.

Sometimes we can control transitions, choosing when, where and how we choose new paths in life. Other times, especially with unexpected losses, all we can do is hope that the journey will eventually bring us to new truths and deeper wisdom.

the mysticism of open eyes

“The challenge of this pontificate is far more radical than most suspect. It is a challenge for conservatives, who dont want to let themselves be surprised any more by God and who resist reforms, just as it is for progressives, who expect feasible, concrete solutions right here and now.

“The revolution of tenderness and love and the mysticism of open eyes could disappoint both groups and in the end, nevertheless, receive its due.”

via Walter Kasper, popes theologian, reveals the brains behind Francis heart | National Catholic Reporter.

Curial politicking is not a new concept, but it was usually done stealthily within the shadows of Vatican halls. Today, high-ranking Cardinals are using the media to promote and gain support for their views. One issue being discussed is the role of theology in the papal style of Pope Francis.

Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), acknowledges that Francis is more pastoral than Pope Benedict XVI. But, he is going further by insinuating that Francis does not have the theological heft of his predecessor. Therefore, Müller believes, the CDF must “theologically structure” Pope Francis’ pontificate.

For those of us who embrace the Pope’s teachings and vision, this all sounds rather ominous. Does Francis really need Cardinal Müller to interpret or approve his message for us? Should the CDF always have the final say in things theological, even over the Pope himself?

On the other side of this debate, we have Cardinal Walter Kasper. Kasper is a long time promoter of a more merciful Church. His book,Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life was personally endorsed by Pope Francis. In his latest book, titled Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love, Kasper argues that this pastoral pope is no theological lightweight. In an interview he stated,

“I wanted to make clear, in order to help Pope Francis, to make him better understood to theologians and more academic people, and to interpret some of his good visions — to say that he is fully in the Catholic tradition, in tradition with his predecessors, and much more with [Pope Emeritus] Benedict XVI than it seems,”

I’ve been a fan of Cardinal Kasper for many years. His support of Pope Francis’s efforts to reform the mind and heart of the church comes as no surprise. Kasper’s choice of words to describe this reform is brilliant,

the revolution of tenderness and love and the mysticism of open eyes. 

Some are quick to criticize such emotional language. Tenderness and love? Is this just some hippy dippy, liberal, pie in the sky nonsense? Images of peace signs, love-beads and incense (not the good, thurible-swinging kind) threaten their traditional sensibilities.

Yet Francis shows us, in concrete ways, what tenderness and love is all about. He speaks of it, and he does it. He physically reaches out to the poor and broken. He never tires of challenging the church to focus less on clerical hierarchies and rules and more on being an instrument of mercy in the world. He is truly a genuine pastor, but being a genuine pastor does not automatically exclude having a solid theological grounding. Can you not be both a pastor and teacher? And, aren’t the best teachers those who teach with both words and actions?

The “mysticism of open eyes” is a wonderful expression to describe Francis’s mission for the church. We tend to associate mysticism with the interior life. Art depicts the great mystics with eyes closed in deep prayer or raised to the heavens in divine trances and visions. The world is forgotten as mind, body and soul  are united with God and God alone.

Deep prayer experiences are wonderful, but they are meant to be more than a personal affirmation of God’s presence in our lives. They are meant as fuel for the journey, our mission to bring God’s presence into the world. To BE God’s presence in the world. The goal of prayer is not to shut out the world. The mission of the church is not to raise the ramparts against society and barricade itself inside a doctrinally pure fortress.

Pope Francis is calling us to pray with open eyes, to read “the signs of the times” in the words of the Second Vatican Council, so that we may act wisely and justly.

A church of tenderness and love. A church that is reaching out rather than closing in on itself. This is the church of my dreams.




placing ourselves in the passion story




VATICAN CITY Preceded by young people and clergy waving tall palm branches, Pope Francis began his Holy Week liturgies by encouraging people to ask themselves which personality in the Gospel accounts of Jesus passion, death and resurrection they resemble most.”Where is my heart? Which of these people do I resemble most?” Pope Francis asked Sunday as he celebrated the Palm Sunday Mass of the Lords Passion.

via Pope: During Holy Week, ask which Gospel character you resemble | National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis was inviting us to enter into an Ignatian style of prayerful imagining. In the Passion story, who do you most identify with? For me, my heart, mind and gut are united with Mary.

My grand-daughter doesn’t like it when I call her my grand-baby. At the ripe age of 2 1/2, it insults her sense of maturity in relation to her one year old brother. I tried to explain to her that her daddy is still MY baby. “No, Grammy”, she argued. “Daddy’s not a baby!” It was useless trying to explain to her that the strapping young man who is now a wonderful husband and father will always be my baby boy.

One of the most glorious gifts of parenthood is rejoicing in all the accomplishments of our children, from first steps to graduations to careers to parenthood and beyond. One of the hardest aspects of parenthood is suffering with them through the many struggles of life. As wee babies they stole your hearts and never gave them back. Their pain became your pain, and continues to be.

I resist pondering Mary’s agony as her son was tried, tortured, humiliated and finally put to a gruesome death. It is too much to bear. This was her baby boy, now grown and trying to fulfill God’s will in his life. How did Mary find the courage to stay beside him, to remain standing even at the foot of the cross when others had fled? How does a parent survive the breaking of their own heart when they see their child suffer so?

Pope Francis, in his wisdom, knows that nudging us to enter into the gospel with our mind and heart can touch us more personally than soaring theological treatises or lengthy sermons. This is a powerful, yet simple exercise. What about you? Who do you identify with in the Passion readings?