Fr. Jack Conley, CP
Renewal through Compassion within our own lives
Airport layovers are not usually moments of inspiration for me. But last week I was in Atlanta and I was privileged — for over forty minutes between planes — to be a layover spectator. I watched a young mother and her little toddler almost non-stop. Instead of listening to music on her iPod, or texting on her cell phone, or reading a magazine, this noble parent was focused on her youngster the entire time! They reviewed the names of colors, they spoke of characters from stories, and she kept asking him questions. The chemistry, the delight between them was palpable. In a recent article on the Synod on the Family, the authors said it was a very successful gathering, because Pope Francis’ vision of “engagement, not denouncement… dialogue, not judgment” continues to bear fruit. That kind of engagement I learn from loving parents; they challenge me. Shelving their own desire for gratification or fulfillment, they are the Body of Christ, dying to self to live for others.
Renewal through Compassion within our Ministries and Mission
“I play tennis for a living, even though I hate tennis. I hate it with a dark and secret passion, and I always have.” Agassi’s narrative makes for a great read, but I wonder how many of us embrace OUR jobs or careers, our vocations or missions, with real fire or passion? It seems to me that Jesus chooses his disciples — not because of their brilliance or their virtue, their holiness or their patience — but because they had fire. And somehow that passion was transformed into compassion, through Jesus’ love.
Habitat for Humanity founder, Millard Fuller, once said, “It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.” I live with our Passionist Community at our school of theology in Chicago; on any given day there could be four or five countries represented at the breakfast table — with all the associated languages and foods and smells! If ever I am to embrace the inclusiveness of Jesus in the Gospel, if ever I am to reach to the existential peripheries of which Pope Francis speaks, I must begin with language and culture and diet. I must act myself into a new way of thinking.
Maybe the reason some folks resist the prophetic challenge to address the issue of climate change rests solely in the requirement to change our habits and lifestyles. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis states, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis, which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.” But maybe if we decided to work at this together — much like friends who choose to exercise together — we would find joy and peace.
Renewal through Compassion within our communities
These days we are already growing weary with all the political jousting. There seems to be no limit to the blustering bravado of different candidates. In contrast I was pondering the tremendous influence that someone like Henri Nouwen has had on my life. His humility — his transparency and his vulnerability — have repeatedly transformed me. After teaching at institutions like Yale and Harvard, after an extremely successful publishing and lecturing career, he chose to relocate to Toronto, where he cared for a severely disabled young man, full time, and lived within the confines of that L’Arch Community. That gives me energy and hope.
Renewal through Compassion in education
In a wonderful book entitled The Holy Longing, author Fr. Ron Rolheiser lists four essentials or non-negotiables — pillars upon which we build our spiritual lives: 1) private prayer, 2) social justice, 3) community as a constitutive element of true worship, 4) mellowness of heart. Sometimes, even if I have a fertile prayer life (1) and I am involved in extensive works of charity and justice (2) and I am tethered to community or Church in a most committed way (3), but I am a grumpy old man! I don’t have mellowness of spirit. I will never forget some of the Passionist priests in my home parish — Frs. Benet and Joe and Roger — they were cheerful, positive men, who led me to Christ, and I owe a big part of my vocation to them.