The Great Divorce
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were at Aurelio’s, my favorite pizza joint, waiting for our pizza order – thin crust with sausage and mushroom and an antipasto salad. I believe Aurelio’s antipasto salad has more olives than possibly any other place in the world.
Father “Bo” asked me, “Have you read C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Great Divorce?”
I told him, “I have heard of it, but I haven’t actually read it.”
“I highly recommend it,” replied Father “Bo”.
“What is it about?” I asked.
“Have you ever heard the Latin term refrigerium?” he asked.
“No,” I replied, “but it is obviously Latin and it sounds like a cold place.”
Father “Bo” laughed. “Actually, it is a medieval idea to grant relief and a vacation of sorts from hell to certain souls. Lewis’s novel is what I would call a theological fantasy. Lewis’s narrator leaves the dreary underworld, journeying by flying bus along with other poor souls to a land the narrator comes to realize is the forecourt of heaven. There they are met by inhabitants of heaven who try to lure the visiting ghosts out of their misery.”
“Wow”, I responded. “It sounds like a very imaginative story. When you say the heavenly folk are trying to lure the ghosts out of their misery, what exactly is Lewis trying to communicate?”
“The bottom line is no one is in hell who has not chosen to be there. Over and over the various ghosts are presented with situations in which they can choose Heaven. In one way or another, time after time, they all choose to go back to hell.”
“Give me an idea of some of the theology that Lewis is trying to present,” I said. “There is an Augustinian principal,” Father “Bo” replied, “that sin is the state of being curved inward on oneself. Reality is reduced to the ego’s concerns and preoccupations. These poor souls continue to cling to their own small egos and seem incapable of opening themselves to love, which is the very life of heaven.”
“I see. C.S. Lewis’s work can be quite challenging, but it always opens me to new ideas in the spiritual realm,” I replied. “By the way, what does the title mean?”
“Blake wrote “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. Lewis is writing about their divorce,” replied Father “Bo”. “One of my favorite scenes is where the narrator comes across a magnificent procession. A woman is being carried like a queen, and all around are giving her great respect and admiration. The narrator asks, “Is this the Blessed Virgin Mary?” “No,” comes the reply, “her name on earth was Sarah Smith. She was a spiritual mother to hundreds on earth.”
“Is the point that what we honor on earth is not what God and the saints honor in heaven?” I inquired.
“Exactly,” said Father “Bo”. “Remember that Jesus said not to store up treasures for yourself here on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven.”
“The question for all of us is ‘whom and what do we honor on earth?’, I replied. “Many of the things the world looks to do not matter in the grand scheme of things. What really matters and what will last is love… love and service for others.”
“Here is how Lewis put it,” commented Father “Bo”. ‘If we insist on keeping hell or even earth, we shall not see heaven; if we accept heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of hell.”
Putting Love into Practice
Love consists of sharing
what one has
and what one is
with those one loves.
Love ought to show itself in deeds
more than in words.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
There was once a wise traveler who spent his life traveling the world acquiring wisdom. When he grew old, he settled in a small village. Soon the villagers learned of his wisdom and came to seek out his advice. One day a young man came to see him. He had had a troubled youth and was now in incredible despair. “Dear wise traveler, I come to seek your help. My life is a mess; I suffer from depression. I do not know where to turn. Can you help me?”
The old man slowly got out of his chair and walked to a vase full of rosebuds. He pulled out a rosebud and handed it to the young man. “Slowly unpeel the petals of this rosebud, but do not break any of the petals.” The young man started on his task but could not unpeel the petals without breaking them. He quickly became frustrated. “I cannot do it; it cannot be done,” he said as he handed the rosebud back to the wise traveler.
The wise traveler smiled and recited this poem:
It is only a tiny rosebud
a flower of God’s design,
but I cannot unfold the petals
with these clumsy hands of mine.
The secret of unfolding flowers
is not known to such as I.
God opens this flower so easily,
but in my hand it dies.
If I cannot unfold a rosebud,
this flower of God’s design,
then how can I have the wisdom
to unfold this life of mine?
So I’ll trust in God for leading
each moment of my day.
I will look to God for guidance
in each step along the way.
The path that lies before me
only my Lord knows.
I’ll trust God to unfold the moments
just as He unfolds the rose.
Over the last several years, I have told this story and recited this poem to hundreds of detainees at the Cook County Jail. It is difficult to describe the despair and lack of hope I have found at the jail. Mostly young men of color, the detainees have been abandoned by family, friends, and society. To start these detainees on the road to hope is an incredible blessing.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5: 3-5.
Jesus, I trust in you.
My Friend Jesus
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were enjoying a Lenten fish fry at the local VFW hall. I was having the lake perch and Father Bo was having the shrimp. Masks and social distancing were required. We were talking about imaginative prayer.
Father Bo asked, “Do you consider Jesus your friend?”
“I do,” I responded.
Why is that?” Father Bo asked.
“Well,” I replied, “like a true friend, he is always there for me. He is always willing to listen to all my problems and concerns.”
“Do you ever wonder about Jesus’s problems and concerns?”
“Not really,” I responded.
“We believe that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine, do we not?” asked Father Bo.
“Yes,” I answered. “What’s your point?”
“Do you think that Jesus continues to be fully human even after the resurrection?”
“I suppose so,” I said.
“So he continues to experience all the human emotions he experienced on Earth?”
“I think so,” I replied.
“So he can be sad and concerned about what is happening in His world?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Every once in a while in prayer, instead of focusing on me, I like to focus on Jesus,” Father Bo shared.
“Explain,” I asked.
“I ask Jesus about how His day is going.”
“Interesting,” I said. “With billions of people telling Him about their problems, I can’t even began to imagine how that would be.”
“Yes, that is a huge challenge for my imagination. I like to localize it. Talk about what is happening in Chicago and how He feels about it. That brings me to how can I help as a friend. It gives me a different perspective on things.”
I immediately saw the possibilities and told Father Bo I would try it.
Colloquy with Jesus
At the end, I turn to Jesus Christ hanging on his cross, and I talk with him.
I ask how can it be that the Lord and Creator
Should have come from the infinite reaches of eternity
To this death here on earth, so that he could die for our sins.
And then I reflect upon myself, and ask:
What have I done for Christ?
What am I doing for Christ?
What ought I do for Christ?
And I talk with Jesus like a friend.
I end with the Our Father.
Joseph Tetlow, SJ
by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus
A while ago, I reread “The Shack” as part of the great American read. It is a novel by William P. Young that has sold millions of copies. It is the story of a young father, Mack, who tragically experiences the murder of his young daughter and the struggles he goes through with his subsequent grief. He raises many questions we all raise when we deal with grief.
I would like to focus on one aspect of the book, that of relationship. The young father finds himself back at the scene of the crime, a broken down shack deep in the woods. However, the shack has been transformed into a beautiful cottage.
The first person Mark encounters is a matronly black woman who is busy preparing dough for bread. In the course of a discussion with her she represents herself as God the Father. Mack is doubtful and asks “What happened to the long white beard?” God gleefully responds, “Oh, that is Santa Claus.”
God asks Mack to help with the kneading. The young father again questions, “If you are really God, why don’t you just miraculously make the bread appear?” God responds, “Oh, what is the fun of that?”
As the story progresses, we see a very loving relationship being presented between God the Father, presented as matronly black woman, Jesus as you would expect him to look, and the Holy Spirit as a slender attractive Asian woman. There is great joy being shared by these three.
On reflecting on God the Father’s comment, “Oh, what is the fun of that,” it occurred to me that God is having fun with his creation, intimately involved. He is not the stern judgmental God with whom many of us struggle.
As the three sit down with the young father to share dinner, they are obviously enjoying the dinner and each other. It seems to me that most of us spend too little time focusing on the trinitarian aspects of God, three persons in a loving relationship.
As Richard Rohr pointed out in his book “The Divine Dance, The Trinity, and Your Transformation”, Karl Rahner, who was a major influence at the Second Vatican Council, said, “Christians are in their practical life almost mere monotheists. We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.”
Rohr notes, “if trinity is supposed to describe the very heart of the nature of God, and yet it has almost no practical or pastoral implications in most of our lives…if it’s ever possible that we could drop it tomorrow and it would be a forgettable throwaway doctrine…then either it can’t be true or we don’t understand it.”
Since Rohr believes it is true, he spends the rest of the book trying to explain the mystery of the it all. I think the following statement by Rohr is a perfect synopsis of the book. “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love.”
In William Paul Young’s forward to the Divine Dance, he gives us this poem.
is not by nature Love,
may be Prime Mover
and if Everything is All and All is One
One is Alone
and striving towards Balance
At best Face to Face
But never Community
Face to Face to Face
Love for the Other
And for the Other’s Love
A fourth is created
Ever loved and loving.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.