Thursday, February 5, 2009

Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. - Dylan Thomas

So, I started this blog at the end of 2008 and promised I would write at least once a week. Didn't happen for a couple reasons. The first, I lost my inspiration. I admit, I was defeated. An Obamanation seemed too much to bear (and to defend). I mean, can you blame me? Just this past week alone, 17 covers of major magazines carried his mug. Even the celeb pubs. One of the big ones, Entertainment Weekly, have crowned him "President Rock Star" on the cover of this week's issue. I guess I've felt like we've turned our great country over to American Idol. "Protect and defend Ryan Seacrest!"

The second reason is somehow I lost my love of writing in general and the whole idea of doing this regularly was giving me what my Italian grandmother (may she rest in peace) called "agita". I used to love to write: high school reporter led to college newspaper editor led to poetry book writer and then broadcast journalist for 4 years. Ahhh, but here the story took a turn...which I won't get into now. Bad choices led me away from writing. Perfect LOVE brought me back, but these days I write other people's stories, and I DO IT ALL DAY LONG. As the GM of a Catholic PR company, I have to edit press releases, and editorial pieces, media biographies, and pitch letters. I guess I've felt I just don't have time for my own thoughts - despite the fact that I have a TON of them.

So, that leads me to this post. Something changed yesterday for me. One of the most sad and stressful days of my life opened a window in my head, and in my heart. I've had my share of sad and stressful days - don't get my wrong, but yesterday was different. Two significant pieces of news woke me up internally - like a light bulb of inspiration going off in my head and a fire that filled my heart. The first was this news -The death of a brilliant, inspirational and much loved Catholic writer and evangelist. The second was this, but I'll get to that later.

The first news was stunning, not just because this death was sudden, but because it appeared in an instant to take away great hope. Michael had recently moved to Birmingham to lead an incredible new office in the Diocese there - the Office of the New Evangelization. Despite Pope John Paul II's commission at the dawn of the new millennium to let this be the age of a new advent of evangelization in our communities, not many dioceses have answered this call yet.

You can check. I have.

But Michael's new position (and opening of this new office) in Birmingham brought great hope to those of us who have a burning, a yearning, to be responsive to this great commission. And in an instant, it was gone. Amy Welborn, another pioneer of this new evangelization and Michael's devoted wife, wrote this in a message to her friends yesterday:

There is much that grieves me about this, even as I still feel that I am in a terrible dream. I have to say, though, what puzzles me and frustrates me as much as the personal grief and loss is the fact that just in the past few months, Michael had finally arrived in this space and place where he was free to use brilliance and creativity in service to the Church in a context in which he was accepted, valued and could really lead and do much good. He had so much planned, so much cooking for evangelization and formation in this diocese. And now it's not to be. That is among the many things I do not understand.

Amen! I don't understand it either. But understanding is one of the gifts of the Spirit, and so we pray, Lord, help us to understand. Why Michael? Why now?

One of my favorite poets is Dylan Thomas. The musicality of his poetry captured me when I was very young and his themes of love, life (and death) and then new life was somehow comforting to a young girl who, at times, was confronted with very stinging encounters with the here and hereafter as she navigated her adolescence and college years.

One of them, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night was a favorite. I remember having debates in poetry and literature classes in both high school and then college about the meanings of the different stanzas in the villanelle. We know that he wrote the poem about his dying father, a once strong, authoritarian man who had been reduced to weakness and suffering at the end of his life. But DT doesn't just call out his father's path to death. He uses metaphors throughout to call out the deaths of different types of men, who meet death differently, yet the same. Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light is a mantra of frustration directed at the realities of life and death that we are powerless to change.

Yesterday, we also learned, quite publicly, about the tragic truth of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the priestly congregation, The Legionaries of Christ and the apostolic movement, Regnum Christi. Along with 800 priests and 70,000 lay members worldwide, Fr. Maciel is responsible for 68 years of evangelization and formation. The news of him leading a double life is, I'm certain, devastating to the many priests, brothers, consecrated women and members of the lay movement who trusted, believed and held in fidelity the particular "rule" that marked their charism and spiritual identity. I am not a member of the movement and so I can't speak to the specific lessons and tools of formation that have been passed down through the years from Fr. Maciel to his priests to the lay members nor can I speculate on how this revelation will affect the integrity of those lessons and the trust in that formation. I do know that I have many dear friends serving and leading apostolates within the movement, and I have met and call friends many amazing Legionary priests. My heart aches for them. Truly. My heart aches for the Church who entrusts the souls of humanity to a holy priesthood.

This is again a moment where we search our hearts for wisdom and understanding. Lord, help us to understand. Give us wisdom and discernment. Why Fr. Maciel? Why now?

When I started this blog, I was inspired by an encounter brought alive for me in The Passion of The Christ. The encounter begins with Jesus before Pilate with the question, "quid est veritas?", What is Truth? It continues with Pilate and his wife Claudia, who cannot answer him except to admonish, "If you will not hear the truth, no one can tell you." Evangelization, in its many forms, is the hearing aid to the Truth. It is our task to point others towards what is True, what is Good, and what is Holy, and to be trustworthy in word and example.

My company happened to be working on a project with Michael's new office in Birmingham. We hoped to do a big event with the pro-marriage film, Fireproof, to evangelize the faithful about God's plan for marriage and to save marriages that are in trouble. His secretary Allison and one of my staff members had become telephone buddies. Yesterday, Allison and Lisa spoke; She was devastated of course, wondering aloud what this all meant and why. But in her grief, she shared with Lisa the content of Michael's last column which he had apparently been very pensive about. In fact, yesterday, his Facebook status still held his micro-post from Sunday, "Still thinking about that column." For someone as prolific as Michael has been with words, I remembered thinking, how difficult could writing a column be? Little did I know that would be his last status update, and surely little did I know what his "thinking" would become.

We serve a great God. And he gives us glimpses into his Majesty through the witness, example and inspiration of others. There is no doubt that in God's omniscience, he prepared Michael a dwelling place of inspiration in these last words to us. Through them, God also left something for those left behind - a love letter of sorts for those who question, who search for understanding, those of us (like me) who at times feel like we need to know "the plan" and rarely surrender our will to that of our Heavenly Father's. In our forgetfulness, He reminds us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9)

Amy shared the full content of the column today on her blog. She calls it The Last Column and it will be published this week in the Diocese of Birmingham's weekly newspaper. Let it be a consolation for all of us that fall victim to the "Big Lie", that which is not Truth. Not God. Not what we're meant to be.

So, yesterday was a troubling and emotional day. But within all this tragic news, I was given the reminders of why we do what we do - why the New Evangelization commission is needed now more than ever and why we can't give up when we feel defeated.

While I still love Dylan Thomas, I'm pretty sure he was not able to hear the truth. Any biographical read of his life bears witness to that. But the amazing thing about the poem, "Do Not Go Gentle.." is that it still serves as a tool of understanding for those who believe. The wise men, the good men, the wild men and the grave men of Dylan Thomas' poem "rage against the dying of the light" only when something they left behind cannot be continued or finished.

I've been inspired to be faithful to the path that God has set before me, to rage against the dying of the light, which is Truth, now, while I am here, willing and able. So in my disappointment and my grief, I am thankful today and I am hopeful.

"..and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. - St. Paul (Romans 5:5)

** Side Note: My participation in the Catholic Writers Conference Online in the midst of all this emotion yesterday was a bright spot. If you haven't checked them out, you should. Their online conference is all week long. I also apologize to them for breaking my 600 word rule for blogs. Hey, there are exceptions to every rule!


Cassi said...

Excellent post, Lisa. Thanks for sharing :)

Meghan said...

Your thoughts inspire me beyond words!

Lisa M. Hendey said...

Amen, dear Lisa! Thank you for capturing in words many of the thoughts that have been ringing in my heart for the past two days. Your writing is a blessing...keep it up!

Elizabeth said...

ditto above - and I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets "agita" or knows what it is! haha :)

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Lisa: It's okay to go over 600 words ... when so much needs to be said.

One of the most amazing aspects of God's promise to "make all things work together for good" is that He does not shield us from human frailty and error, but makes this beautiful despite these things.

I suspect that Michael is able to do even more good on behalf of that diocese, interceeding from heaven, than ever he could have done on earth. Yes, there are many who miss him (Amy of course being top on the list).

Fortunately, God is not limited by things like physicality. You wait and see. Every time a seed dies and goes into the ground ... the crop is plentiful!

I'm glad you started writing again!