Freedom, Attachments, Authenticity, and Meaning: Finding Hope Away from Home

Nichole Flores writes:

The Cuban-American theologian Roberto Goizueta calls community “the birthplace of the self.” The loss of our community—along with the places and spaces in which we come to know that community—can shake our identity and sense of self to its core. Reading these reflections on the relationship to homeland in exile allowed me to hear Psalm 137 speaking to the spiritual dimensions of the loss of home and community in a new way. While it illuminates the spiritual dimensions of our political relationship with place, it also shows how our sense of self is shaped by attachments we have that give us a sense of home. Losing these attachments means losing our self-understanding, but also our sense of belonging both to the community and to God….

It was not until we had our first child that that feeling of home began to seem insufficient. A perfectly mundane pregnancy and labor gave way to unexpected difficulties with the delivery. It took only moments for sheer joy to become unimaginable terror as our first and only child was wheeled out of the delivery room in a plastic bassinet for emergency treatment in the neonatal intensive care unit. The attachment between my son and me, one that had been fully embodied for the better part of a year, ended abruptly. I was unable to cradle him in my arms for the first four days of his life. I spent those days surrounded by family, friends, doctors and hospital staff. But I had never felt more alone in my life. Thankfully, his treatment was successful, and we were able to take him home just six days later. But the rupture engendered a sense of the fragility of life and of our attachments that would become the central spiritual challenge of my earliest days of parenthood….

My experience of loneliness was complicated by the trauma I experienced during my son’s delivery and the first week of his life. Why had this horrible thing happened to my son? As the days, weeks and months of sleep deprivation wore on, I began to wonder if God was angry at me. I began to ask for the first time in my life whether God really loved me. While this kind of spiritual upheaval is commonly referred to as a crisis of faith, it seemed more accurate at the time to call it a crisis of hope. While I did not doubt that God existed, I lost hope that I had a home with God. I lost hope that God would rescue me. I felt the abiding sense of home beginning to unravel. I felt angry. For the first time in my life, I felt truly adrift….

The current state of our society’s relationship with home has been fraught with neuralgia because on a global and national scale, debates rage on about the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Unimaginable violence in Syria and the ensuing refugee crisis have led millions of vulnerable humans to seek asylum, only to be turned away by neighboring nations that are their only hope for safe harbor. Unbearable images of suffering migrants have been cast across social media, searing our consciences with the image of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach, or Omran Daqneesh’s visage covered with blood and ash. These images are a reminder that the loss of home usually causes irreparable harm, especially for the most vulnerable among us….

Our social attachments have come under pressure in our contemporary society. Once viewed as the bonds of affection necessary for living in a society together, our relationships with others are increasingly seen as expendable. But, as Ms. Marandiuc argues, such attachments are necessary for a sense of authenticity: “Authenticity of the self in fact requires attachments,” she says.

To understand the role our attachments have in shaping the self, argues Ms. Marandiuc, it is important to understand how they are formed within a framework of meaning….

Despite this inherent subjectivity of our contemporary orientation to frameworks of meaning, however, Ms. Marandiuc argues that the loss of a framework is a profoundly disorienting experience that raises questions about the foundations of meaning. Drawing on the writing of Charles Taylor, Ms. Marandiuc says: “To lose such a framework is tantamount to being adrift ‘at sea, as it were,’ to lose one’s sense of orientation with respect to who one is.”…

It was this same feeling of loss more profound than loneliness that I experienced as I felt my attachments eroding as I tried to raise my son without the support of nearby family and in the context of trauma. My framework of meaning is my Catholic faith; to feel a rupture in that framework was to feel as though I was losing everything….

Similarly, contemporary life in an atomized, deeply individualistic society such as the United States can be antithetical to the formation of such attachments of love. The theologian William Lynch, S.J., wrote of the “problem of freedom” in this regard, noting that the “problem of freedom is not about the goal of freedom, but the far more difficult question of how, in our actual lives and in the life of the city, we move to attain real freedom—how, in other words, we understand the relation of freedom to the contrary reality of limitation.” When humans seek complete autonomy from concrete commitments, the result can be a loathing for oneself, for one’s background, and even for one’s country.

Our attachments, in other words, are central to our shaping of the self. They allow us to give and to express love, and thus give us a sense of belonging, and help us to “be at home” in ourselves and in our actual homes….

Our attachments—to people, to places and even to institutions and ideas—are fundamental to human experience and identity. Respecting and nurturing those attachments, as well as acknowledging the serious implications of both the loss of those attachments and the maintenance of harmful attachments, is thus essential to attending to human physical, emotional, intellectual and moral formation in the 21st-century global context….

I asked Ms. Marandiuc how Christian faith helps us to recover a sense of self resulting from ruptures in our frameworks of meaning. But she suggested that I shift the question from the theological virtue of faith to the theological virtue of love. “What helps us to recover the goodness of home is love more than faith,” she said. While we rightly conceive of the church as a means of communicating the overwhelming sense of God’s love, she argues that love helps us to form attachments with others….

I concur with her about the significance of love for forming these kinds of attachments. But it is also essential to highlight hope. It is these attachments that allow us to experience hope in an abiding sense.

Pope: Governments Should Ensure All Have Access to Health Care

via the AP:

Pope Francis called on governments Friday to ensure everyone has access to suitable health care.

In an annual papal message reflecting on the needs of ill people, Francis urged health care institutions and government leaders “not to neglect social justice out of preoccupation for financial concerns.”

The pope lamented in his written statement that many in the world have no access to health care because they live in poverty. He advocated solidarity to make sure all receive the medical care they need to stay healthy and to recover from illnesses.

Why Does the Catholic Church…

Why does the Catholic Church have so many rules? Why does the Catholic Church use incense? Why do they still use Latin? In the season 2 finale of Jesuit Autocomplete, Fr. Eric Sundrup and Fr. Paddy Gilger answer some of the Internet’s most searched questions about the Catholic Church.

Pope: The Lord is Absolute Tender Love and Sees the Beauty at the Core of Each Person

via the Vatican:

God does not love you because you think and act the right way. He loves you, plain and simple. His love is unconditional; it does not depend on you. You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you. How often do we think that God is good if we are good and punishes us if we are bad. Yet that is not how he is. For all our sins, he continues to love us. His love does not change. It is not fickle; it is faithful. It is patient. This is the gift we find at Christmas. We discover to our amazement that the Lord is absolute gratuity, absolute tender love. His glory does not overwhelm us; his presence does not terrify us. He is born in utter poverty in order to win our hearts by the wealth of his love.

The grace of God has appeared. Grace is a synonym of beauty. Tonight, in the beauty of God’s love, we also discover our own beauty, for we are beloved of God. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, whether happy or sad, in his eyes we are beautiful, not for what we do but for what we are. Deep within us, there is an indelible and intangible beauty, an irrepressible beauty, which is the core of our being. Today God reminds us of this. He lovingly takes upon himself our humanity and makes it his own, “espousing” it forever.

The “great joy” proclaimed tonight to the shepherds is indeed “for all the people”. We too, with all our weaknesses and failures, are among those shepherds, who were certainly not saints. And just as God called the shepherds, so too he calls us, for he loves us. In the dark night of life, he says to us as he did to them, “Be not afraid!” (Lk 2:10). Take courage, do not lose confidence, do not lose hope, do not think that to love is a waste of time! Tonight love has conquered fear, new hope has arrived, God’s kindly light has overcome the darkness of human arrogance. Mankind, God loves you; for your sake he became man. You are no longer alone!

Pope: Recognize in Every Person with Disabilities a Unique Contribution to the Common Good

Pope Francis states:

Great progress has been made towards people with disabilities in the medical and welfare fields, but still today we see the presence of the throwaway culture, and many of them feel that they exist without belonging and without participating. All this calls not only for the rights of people with disabilities and their families to be protected, but it also exhorts us to make the world more human by removing everything that prevents them from having full citizenship, the obstacles of prejudice, and by promoting the accessibility of places and quality of life, taking into account of all the dimensions of the human being.

It is necessary to care for and accompany persons with disabilities in every condition of life, also making use of current technologies but without regarding them as absolute; with strength and tenderness, to take on board situations of marginalization; and to make way alongside them and to “anoint” them with dignity for an active participation in the civil and ecclesial community. It is a demanding, even tiring journey, which will increasingly contribute to forming consciences capable of recognizing that each one of us is a unique and unrepeatable person….

We are called to recognize in every person with disabilities, even with complex and grave disabilities, a unique contribution to the common good through his or her own original life story. To acknowledge the dignity of each person, well aware that this does not depend on the functionality of the five senses (cf. Discussion with the participants in the Convention of the CEI on disability, 11 June 2016). This conversion is taught by the Gospel. It is necessary to develop antibodies against a culture that considers some lives to be “League A” and others “League B”: this is a social sin! To have the courage to give a voice to those who are discriminated against for their condition of disability, since unfortunately in some countries, still today, they are not recognized as persons of equal dignity, as brothers and sisters in humanity.

Indeed, making good laws and breaking down physical barriers is important, but it is not enough, if the mentality does not change, if we do not overcome a widespread culture that continues to produce inequalities, preventing people with disabilities from actively participating in ordinary life….

A person with disabilities, in order to build himself up, needs not only to exist but also to belong to a community.

I encourage all those who work with people with disabilities to continue with this important service and commitment, which determines the degree of civilization of a nation. And I pray that each person may feel the paternal gaze of God, who affirms his full dignity and the unconditional value of his life.