Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Monthly Reflections

February 2021  

The Shack

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. 

One alone
is not by nature Love,
or Laugh
or Sing
One alone
may be Prime Mover
and if Everything is All and All is One
One is Alone
Not Love
Not Laugh
Not Sing
contending Dualism
Affirming Evil/Good
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.

January 2021

We Cannot Yet Be Satisfied

by Michael J. Goggin, IVC Director, DC/Metro Maryland

As members of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC), we have witnessed the justifiable outrage, especially in the past year, at the systemic racism that is still pervasive in our country and we express solidarity with those seeking lasting change.

IVC is a service corps of people ages 50 and above, and many of our members came of age during the civil rights clashes of the 1950s and 1960s and the desegregation struggles of the 1970s. Impressed by how far our nation has come in the past seven decades, we recognize that we cannot yet be satisfied in our on-going pursuit of justice and equality while people of color are harmed by the brutality of some in positions of authority.

We also recognize the privilege inherent in having the time, the means, and the health to mobilize one’s education, skills, and wisdom into service through IVC and we hope to use that privilege to mindfully bridge the racial and economic gaps that it typically exacerbates.

As a faith-based service corps animated by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his company that has come to be known as the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), we affirm the aspirations of the order’s 2019 Universal Apostolic Preferences as openings to grace, pointing the way forward to greater faith through further contemplation and action for all who consider themselves Ignatian followers. Among these preferences is a mission oriented toward reconciliation and peace with people whose dignity has been violated. We see in the current struggle for racial equality in our country glimpses of the Kingdom of God itself, which Catholics affirm to be both “already” taking shape here on earth but “not yet” perfectly realized. We aim to give our members the opportunity not only to serve in meaningful ways but also to reflect on the meaning of the service work they do. Among the many ways they do that is through the regular prayerful reading of Scripture. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often cited as an expression of complete equality in Christ. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[1]Reiterating this point to the Colossians, Paul concludes “Christ is all and in all.”[2] To Corinth, he states, “we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”[3]

Our Christian oneness obliges us to do the works of social justice that will help to actualize the kingdom. The rich 130-year-old tradition of Catholic social teaching compels us both to charity and to action. Our members commit to offering 600 or more hours of service each year with people who are marginalized through our expanding network of partnerships with non-profit agencies in more than twenty metropolitan areas across the United States. Many of the regions in which we serve are among the most racially segregated cities in our country. Many of the people with whom we serve and many of the non-profit professionals who supervise the work of our service corps members are people of color. Countless deep friendships between members of IVC and the clients and staff of our partner agencies have resulted from our presence in underserved neighborhoods.

Our members seek not only to serve but also to reflect on their service. The IVC experience introduces many individuals to Ignatian spirituality for the first time, while rekindling the memory of Jesuit prayer practices for others. Ignatian spirituality is a spirituality for everyday life. It is marked by the desire to find God in all things. It blends contemplative prayer with active engagement in the world. With respect to the problem of systemic racism in the United States in 2020, Ignatian spirituality prompts our white members to recognize their privilege and to commit to listening deeply to the life experiences and stories of people of color with whom we are already in relationship. Listening compels us to engage in an examination of conscience in which we will reflect on our own behaviors and actions as we consider ways to grow the diversity of our IVC core communities. We trust that the current moral awakening brought about by the Black Lives Matter movement will result in concrete change for our organization as it will for the entire country. The time has come to go beyond being women and men for others, a familiar mantra to those formed by Jesuit institutions of higher education. In kinship, we also must be people with others, particularly those experiencing racial oppression and injustice. Our end-of-year evaluations will be revised to help assess how well we are achieving this goal.

As a Roman Catholic organization, we find inspiration in the words of the 2018 pastoral letter on racism from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. In “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” racism is decried as “an ugly cancer.”[4] Our own Body of Christ has been ravaged by its effects over many years. Sadly, we know that some prominent Catholic institutions, even those affiliated with the Society of Jesus, profited from their own involvement in the American slave trade. In the civil rights era, some bishops and priests marched with Dr. King in Washington but more fifty years after King’s assassination, others continue to reject the inculturation efforts needed to make the Roman Catholic liturgy a more vibrant expression of African-American spirituality. IVC commits itself to being a prophetic voice for our Church against the systemic racism that Fordham University scholar Fr. Bryan Massingale calls “a soul sickness.”[5]

As we recall the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we remember first a man who experienced a profound conversion of heart and awakening to the love that God had for him. As men and women who have lived through times of great change in our nation, we recognize that many of us have experienced similar moments of metanoia. Sharing God’s abundant love for us, we stand in solidarity with those experiencing poverty and those on the margins of society. As we grow in wisdom, age and grace, we invite you to experience making a difference by standing with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps in its pursuit of greater racial equity.

[1] Galatians 3:28

[2] Colossians 3:11

[3] I Corinthians 12:13

[4] “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love / A Pastoral Letter Against Racism,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2018.

[5] The Jesuit Post, November 20, 2017.

December 2020 

A Collector’s Christmas 

by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus

It all started on a wintry night as I and Jim Gavin, the president of The Friends of the Creche, walked over from our hotel in Salt Lake City to attend a rehearsal performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I had met Jim, but I did not know him well.

I was a collector of nativities, attending the bi-annual convention of The Friends of the Creche, a society of people who love the Christmas story and have a passion for collecting nativities. Jim asked where I was from and about my collection. I told him I had about 150 sets. I had never made an accurate count. During our conversation, he asked if I had ever exhibited my collection.  I told him that I had never seriously considered doing a show. He told me that I most definitely should consider doing one. This is where the seed was planted.

Over the following weeks, the hound of heaven started to pursue me.  I felt that I was being summoned.  The “no” changed to an “I don’t know” and then to a “maybe” and finally to a “yes”.  Once I had made the commitment in my own mind, ideas started to take shape.  I became obsessed, and I thought of nothing else for hours at a time.  There were so many decisions to make, so many details to work out.

Thirteen months later, in December 2010, the idea became a reality. This was no small undertaking. I had not experience. I had been to several exhibits and to a number of conventions. What I had learned was that putting together an exhibit took an enormous amount of work and could be a logistical nightmare.

The exhibit was called The Crib and the Cross. At the entrance, I set up a large outdoor set that had the appearance of stone, surrounded by a collection of crosses and crucifixes that I had also collected. A plaque at the front had an extensive quote from Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s “The Life of Christ”, describing the connection between the crib and the cross.

The exhibit was set up in my parish hall. I recruited a team of twelve family members and friends to help transport dozens and dozens of boxes in cars and vans and to help set up the nativities.

Members of the parish were invited to see the exhibit after all the masses on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, more than four hundred school children came over class by class to see the exhibit. In all, over one thousand people attended.

There was Christmas music playing in the background and the fragrance of burning incense candles filled the air. Of course, there had to be a Christmas tree decorated with all the nativity ornaments I had collected. The tree was flanked by a picture of Botticelli’s Madonna and Child on one side and Salvador Dali’s Madonna and Child on the other side.

I had a station for memorabilia from various Friends of the Creche conventions along with information about how to join the society. There was a station about the first nativity exhibit created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1221. On the next table, I had my favorite set, the one that started my collecting passion.

When my wife and I first got married, we realized that neither of us owned a nativity set. I was given the task of buying one for the family. I shopped for weeks and weeks but couldn’t find one that seemed special enough. Then came an inspiration; I would paint my own. I purchased a foot high, sixteen piece plaster of Paris set. For many months, every chance I got, I labored at the kitchen table, deciding on colors and then mixing paints, finally painting all the figures.

There was a touch table to small children, containing a number of inexpensive sets with which the children could play. This turned out to be a great idea, and it helped keep breakage of my other sets to a minimum.

I had tables grouping together nativities from different countries and a table with an explanation about stopkas, special sets from Krakow, the cultural center of Poland. Besides my first set which is my favorite, I highlighted my other favorite – one from the Vatican collection. It depicts the Virgin Mary kissing the Infant Jesus. Buttons were prepared with the picture of Mary and Jesus on them. The buttons read, “I saw Mary Kissing Baby Jesus”. The kids loved them.

I created questions abut the exhibit for the teachers to use with their students. All the questions could be answered through observation or by reading the various explanations displayed throughout the exhibit. I also donated two multiple-piece nativities for each grade, Christmas wrapped, that could be distributed as the teachers decided.

On the eve of the show, my niece (who is also my godchild), presented me with an exquisite framed needlepoint nativity scene. She told me that she had been working on the piece for several years. When she found out that I was going to be doing the show, she worked day and night to have it ready for the opening. Of course, I made this piece another highlight of the exhibit. A number of women told me it was a grand piece of workmanship.

I remember one little first grade by standing in the middle of the exhibit. With raised arms, he whirled around and exclaimed “This is awesome!” I remember thinking to myself that he was right; it was truly awesome. The son of God came down to earth to join us in our humanity and ultimately redeem the world.

To me, the Incarnation is the penultimate miracle. That the exhibit came off was a small miracle. How do you measure the success of such a show? After the exhibit, my pastor told me that a parish member I did not know wanted to contact me so I gave her my email address. He told me that she had some kind of religious experience while viewing the exhibit.

Here is a quote from her email: “That was the most influential exhibit in my life and it has made a positive impact on my faith. The Christmas season is often lost in the shopping, lights, and festivities, but your nativities and narratives and explanatory pieces were a beautiful reminder of why we celebrate Christmas and what it means worldwide. You showed how the important symbolism in Christ’s birth was just as important s the symbolism in His death.”

For my myself, if the exhibit could have such an impact on just one person, it made it all worthwhile.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.”  John 1:14

I hope that each of you had a happy and blessed Christmas.

November 2020 

The Divine Catcher 

by Rich Pozdol, IVC Alumnus

Father “Bo” T.M. Lyons, spiritual director extraordinaire, and I were sitting and waiting expectantly for our take-out delivery.  Since the onset of the pandemic, no dine-in restaurant option was available.  I told Father “Bo” I had just viewed a documentary about circuses.  I had never realized what a great impact circuses had on entertainment in our nation from the turn of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century.

Father “Bo” said, “I was most fond of the clowns as a child.”  I told him I was quite the opposite. I said, “I always found them a little creepy.  I did like Emmet Kelly though.  He was very sad.” 

“What was your favorite part of the circus?” asked Father “Bo”.  “I loved the trapeze artists,” I replied.  “The ring master always said they performed death-defying feats.”

“Did you know that Henri Nouwen was fascinated with the circus?” asked Father “Bo”. “I did not,” I responded.

“Yes,” said Father “Bo”. “At one time, Nouwen became very friendly with the Flying Rodleighs and actually travelled with the circus.  Nouwen was especially fascinated with a remark of one of the trapeze artists.  The flyer told Henri, ‘the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything When I fly to the catcher, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me safely over the apron behind the catch bar….. A flyer must fly and a catcher must catch, and the flyer must trust with outstretched arms that his catcher will be there for him.’”

“I think that was why I so liked the trapeze artists, even as a young child.  I marveled at that demonstration of trust,” I responded.  “I still marvel at that absolute trust.” 

Father “Bo” went on.  “In the last months of Nouwen’s life, he had to deal with the death of Adam Arnett, a 34 year old whom Nouwen had cared for at Daybreak.  Adam couldn’t speak, dress himself, or brush his own teeth.”

“Is there a place I can find out more about Adam?” I asked.  “Yes,” answered Father “Bo”.  “Adam, God’s Beloved was Nouwen’s last book.  Nouwen wrote of Adam, “Adam was – very simply, quietly, and unquietly – there! He was a person who, by his very life announced the marvelous mystery of our God: I am precious, beloved, whole, and born of God.  Adam bore silent witness to this mystery, which had nothing to do with whether or not he could speak or express himself…It has to do with his being. He was and is a beloved child of God.” 

Father “Bo” said, “Henri wrote that Adam seemed to be talking to him.  He said ‘Don’t’ be afraid Henri…Let my death help you to befriend yours. When you are no longer afraid of your own death, then you can live fully, freely, and joyfully.’ Nouwen wrote that dying was trusting in the catcher.” 

I said that I liked the image of Jesus as the divine catcher.  I think of the great prayers given to Saint Faustina was “Jesus, I trust in you.” Being able to develop that trust, to let go, is to fly into the waiting arms of the Divine Catcher is a lifetime journey.” 

Jesus, I trust in you.