Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Poets, Prophets and Mystics in an Era of Crisis

By Sr. Mary Lonergan

We live our lives between moonlight and sunlight, midnight and noon, darkness and light, ignorance and knowledge, loneliness and love, oppression and freedom. Christian mystics down through the centuries have used the term “bright darkness” to describe their inner experience with God in their hunger to meet him in quiet prayer.

The poet T.S. Eliot, looking down the dark tunnel of Europe’s postwar pessimism, prophesied that the mystic, the contemplative was “our only hope, or else despair.” In our equally critical era we need prophets to awaken us to the ills of our society, contemplatives to ground our actions for justice, and writers who can wean us away from war, letting us see again the power of the pen over the bomb and the bullet.

Thomas Merton, modern mystic and prophet, continually reminded us that proclamation of Gospel values and social activism has to be grounded in faith and contemplative prayer to be authentic and effective. That to appropriate and live the vision of Christ we must regularly leave behind “business as usual” and flee routinely to the “reality of the desert” -- to meet God and find grace, to be transformed for service.

Our lives are forever blest if we encounter someone who has been changed by this personal experience of God’s abiding grace. Recently, I have been grieving and celebrating one who would not have dreamed of calling himself a mystic. He was -- in its true and faithful meaning.

Some weeks ago, Ron Rolheiser headlined his column in the Catholic Sentinel: ON A ROAD IN GUATEMALA THIS SPRING, THE CHURCH LOST A PROPHET. Rolheiser tells the story of Larry (Lorenzo) Rosebaugh, an American priest, assassinated while driving with Oblate companions from Guatemala City to a meeting in Playa Grande where the missionary had worked with civil war survivors in the rain forests of the northern El Quiché. Lorenzo was no ordinary man and no ordinary priest. He was a special gift to the world. He was a special grace in my world.

A prophet, a mystic activist, he walked always in the muddy footsteps of Francis and the dusty desert footprints of Jesus. For some brief memorable years he was a companion and guide, inspiring and illuminating my own feeble footsteps, brightening the grim darkness of war-weary and downtrodden poorest of the poor. He lived daily in the hope of miracles for his people. In truth, he was the miracle.

Lorenzo’s life, rooted in faith, powered by prayer, was a kaleidoscope of loving service., an adventure in compassion culminating in the extreme sacrifice- martyrdom in the cause of justice, advocating and agitating for those on the margins. A gentle, unassuming, non-violent man, Lorenzo lived the paradoxical life of Priest, Peacemaker and Prophet. He went to prison as a Vietnam protestor, hitchhiked to Brazil and lived on the streets of Recife, homeless and celebrating Eucharist with those whose food generally came from garbage cans. He fasted at Fort Benning, volunteered at the Catholic Worker in New York and ministered to military and freedom fighters in El Salvador.

He was caregiver for his elderly mother and protector of children surviving in the garbage dumps of Guatemala’s capital city. He lived simply, loved mightily, walked humbly, disturbed corrupt politicians and annoyed more than a few prelates. He lived the title of his brief memoir: Journey of Compassion, Resistence and Hope.

Lorenzo made a vow of love, a vow that took him over some pretty rough roads, mostly alone, often on foot. For him the Gate of Heaven was everywhere. He lived in hope. He died with hope. Because of him I think I know better what a poet, prophet and mystic can do.

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