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How can I become small enough to ‘fit’ the narrow range of perception of a person with whom I share so little experience, philosophy, language, or understanding. Only love can make a way where there seems to be no way, no bridge of commonality. And what does that look like?
I often say, “Love condescends,” as shorthand for this process of smallifying the self in order to be in unity with someone younger, or with less receptivity for what is being given, being communicated. Our example? Christ’s own condescension when He “emptied Himself of all but love” on the Cross.
Chiara Lubich and her Focolarini had a huge influence on this teaching, for which I’m grateful.
- First, I love because God first loved me. I cannot go into a ‘tight spot’ without awareness of my dependence upon His loving mercy to carry me, to make up for all that is lacking in me as I try to communicate with and engage them.
- Second, I must do only what I can do in true freedom, otherwise my gesture may violate the other person and will not be an invitation to freedom. If I do what I feel I must, do it with an interior demand for a response, or act without consideration of my own reality (limits, aspirations, resources), I may (sigh…how often have I done this!) clunk in like a bull in a china ship instead of slipping gently through the crack in their defenses.
- Third, I need to empty myself of contempt, resentment, irritation toward this person. I must erase all the mental labels by which I have distanced myself and protected myself from identification with him. I must open myself to the mystery of this person and approach his delicate being with reverence. Loving condescension is not looking down my nose at him, but descending toward him in love, believing I will see Christ through this encounter.
- Fourth, present and attentive toward this person, aware of but not impatient about my hopes for him, attuned to God’s love for me that wants to pour itself through me into this ‘smaller’ vessel, I wait (Yes, actually stop and wait; be still and wait upon the Lord!) for the dawning of creativity. When the Spirit moves upon the whole of the factors I am embracing, some form will take shape as a response, a gesture, an act of freedom by which I can love this person and, thus, invite him to freely respond.
- Fifth, I will know the mot juste, the Right Thing, the perfect gift, the path to take, because it will be beautiful!
Members of the Catholic Creatives Salon spent Season Ten considering the beauty of festival as a preparation for the Eucharistic Feast. Together, we created a Feast of St. Joseph that was a miracle!
It’s a miracle when friends spend Real Time together…a miracle when ten friends spend four long hours together around a dinner table…a miracle when those four hours are so rich and full of life they feel like kairos – time out of time. It’s a miracle when wine is present to symbolize that a spirit of prayer and joy pervades a time of fellowship.
I spent last night experiencing such a miracle. After a lovely St. Joseph vespers with hymn and chant-tone psalms, we ten sat down to hear food blessed and recite the St.Joseph Memorare before digging in to the salad course, served on fine china, amid candles and lilies.
Between the salad course and the soup & bread – minestrone, full of goodness, and hot-from-the-oven sheaves of wheat – we listened to readings about St. Joseph’s role in the life of Christ, and his patronage of all we brethren of the Lord. Likewise, before the main course, readings about the miraculous St. Joseph staircase and St. Teresa’s statue – the ‘tattletale’ St. Joseph.
After Sicilian meat roll, creamy garlic & cheese potatoes, basil carrots and asparagi al forno (oven roasted asparagus – heavenly!), we learned of St. Joseph’s patronage of families, fathers, expectant mothers (pregnant women), travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people…and that San Jose is the most used place name in the world. No wonder!
As the cheese and fruit were passed, we heard a beautiful prayer to St. Joseph in Italian. It’s hard to express how perfect Italian felt in this place, at this particular time, for all of us whose hearts all long a bit to go home to Rome. Talk turned to Blessed Pope John Paul and our various visits to the blessed city. Mmmmm….delicious, in so many ways. Two poems – my own St. Joseph Carpenter, and one by Paul Claudel (I surround her on all sides, Joseph says, of Mary….) – served as literary dessert.
It’s a miracle when you can eat all that and still have room for dessert! But then, the whole evening was an experiment in miracles. How fully is it possible to in-fill time…to layer meaning upon moment in a densification of time…to place eternity within the negative space of agenda, content, activity? Chocolate-almond biscotti and, traditional for tavolas di San Giuse, ricotta-filled, chocolate-ganache-topped cream puffs…we found room!
It’s a miracle when friends pull together a drama like this and then stay together to strike the set. But stay they did, until the loaded table was cleared; until every dish was washed, dried and put away; until the spilled wax was scraped up and the floor swept; until everyone’s prayer request was in the basket destined for a Mass in honor of St. Joseph; until the borrowed space was as though we had not invaded it with our merrymaking and solemnity. Just as we stay until Father cleans at the altar, we stayed.
It’s a miracle when, tired and busy-tomorrow and facing long drives home, friends stop for one more moment in kairos together – a sung Litany of St. Joseph and a closing prayer. Our desire had been to learn, to experience, to realize, “What is a feast, a festival, festivity?” “How does our capacity for festivity relate to our capacity for Christ?” “What kind of miracle is made by human effort that forms a vessel for the infusion of grace?” And we had. Thank you, St. Joseph, and thank you, my friends, for the miracle of this feast!