Taking Jim’s Advice

In case you opened this to see what words of wisdom my brother imparted — wrong Jim. I’m actually referring to Father James Martin, SJ.

Since reading his book, BECOMING WHO YOU ARE: INSIGHTS ON THE TRUE SELF FROM THOMAS MERTON AND OTHER SAINTS, (three or four times, actually) I’ve become a fan of his. I’ve read or listened to most of his books, including THE JESUIT GUIDE TO (ALMOST) EVERYTHING, which I also read more than once. In addition, I’ve become one of his 55,000 Facebook friends, and had the audacity to contact him personally on several occasions. He had the graciousness to respond, and signed his email messages “Jim.” And so I’ve come to think of him as Jim.

This morning, before I even crawled out of bed, I checked Facebook to see what he’d written about the Apostolic Exhortation the Vatican released today. Evangelii Gadium — or, for those of us more fluent in English, “The Joy of the Gospel” — is the first major document that Pope Francis himself penned. Earlier this year, an encyclical that Pope Benedict XVI wrote and Pope Francis lightly edited was released — Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) — but it didn’t sound like the pope who has inspired me from the moment his election was announced.

The words of Pope Francis so often inspire me that I put the Pope App on my phone so I could read his homilies. And because I am trained to recognize an author’s voice — it’s absolutely amazing what years of college literature classes will teach you — I’ve come to know the way he uses language, the poetic way in which he uses repetition to create depth of meaning, the inviting way in which he shows us how our lives can be transformed by the Word of God. Pope Benedict’s writings inspired me, but Pope Francis’s words excite my imagination — perhaps just a difference of nuance, but definitely a difference.

And because Jim had read the interview with Pope Francis which was published in AMERICA MAGAZINE, a national Catholic weekly published by the Jesuits, before publication, I anticipated he’d read “The Joy of the Gospel” as well. Since I knew I wouldn’t get to it until after work, I wanted a hint regarding what it contained. What he wrote made it difficult to wait until this evening to begin it: “I cannot remember a papal document that was so thought-provoking, surprisiing and invigorating. Frankly, reading it thrilled me.”

As he briefly summarized Pope Francis’ vision for the Church I found it difficult to be the lone Catholic in this household. I wanted to share what he’d  written. “Francis is challenging himself … it poses a fierce challenge to the status quo … it seeks to overturn the way that we have done things, and to be fearless in doing so …  it is a hope-filled, positive and energetic view of the church actively engaged in the world….” Near the end of his blog, Jim wrote, “My advice to Catholics would be: Read the entire document.Take your time. Be generous with it. Let it excite you. Pray with it. And be open to the Holy Father’s call ….”

As I sat down with Evangelii Gadium tonight, I found I could only take my time with it. In fact, I read only the first section — eight paragraphs. Some sentences I read over and over, letting them seep into me. I made marginal comments and checked one Scriptural quotation. (Is that really in the Bible? Yes, it is! How could I have not seen it before?)*

Nearly an hour after I began to read, I knew I could read no more tonight. One passage had touched something deep and I needed to reflect on it, on the sense of affirmation I experienced as read those words for the first time — an affirmation as ethereal as an angel’s touch and yet undeniable. Pope Francis had written, “No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by [God’s} boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will” [3].

Start anew, as I am now. The other night as I sat knitting a blue cowl for Sara, I thought, “I’m pregnant.” Not literally, of course, but metaphorically. I am waiting, just as I did when I carried my beloved children, for the moment of birth, for that new beginning. It’s coming; I’ve felt it for months. Sometimes it’s powerful, almost tangible, as it was on those summer mornings when I felt I was living on the cusp of a miracle. At other times, it’s gentle, and the mystery of not knowing the shape it will take is balanced by a quiet certainty that in trusting God at this moment I am allowing his promise to ripen within me.

That is not to say I sit around and twiddle my thumbs — or knit. No, I get up in the morning and go to the $8 per hour Experience Works position that has been mine since mid-October, and put in the allocated hours (not to exceed 21 per week). At home, I do the laundry, help out with the dishes and the twins, and occasionally do a little cleaning as well. My primary job, though, is seeking employment. In the evening, I sit down at the computer I inherited when Sara and Brodie upgraded and do what must be done — job searches, resume revisions, application submissions.

But under the activity is a quiet assurance that God is at work, and when the time is right — hopefully sooner than later — a door will open that I cannot even begin to imagine at present. As I once rested my hand upon my swollen abdomen to feel my children move within me — not knowing in those pre-ultrasound days whether I carried a son or daughter — and knew an inexplicable contentment, I now rest my hope in the Lord and feel equally content, equally blessed, knowing my life will again be touched by the mystery of the new life.

This is me, lifting  up my head. This is me, not stripped of my dignity by life experiences that eroded my self-confidence for a time. This is me, experiencing joy which the Lord has restored to me. I may be 58 years old and virtually unemployed, but God has touched me with his boundless and unfailing love, and with great tenderness has opened my heart to the possibility of a personal resurrection.

Yes, Jim, I will take time over Evangelii Gadium. Thanks for the suggestion.

* “My child, treat yourself well, according to your means … Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment.” (Sirach 14:11,14)

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