Wow! I know it’s been many months since I’ve posted here but just think of what we’ve seen in less than three months: Pope Benedict retired, Pope Francis was elected, legislation to reduce gun violence failed and immigration reform has resurfaced…and those are just some of the “macro” events of life. They have had a significant effect in the “micro” dimensions of my life as I try to make each day count.
What does it mean for a pope to retire? For me, Pope Benedict’s explanation of his discernment process was the most significant achievement of his papacy. In announcing his decision he mentioned his personal prayer and reflection, counsel with his spiritual director, more prayer and reflection, careful consideration with confidants and advisers, more prayer and reflection, testing the decision and then making the decision. I work with young adults, especially those discerning life directions. To have the witness of Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Christ, still discerning his call after all these years, was great encouragement for all of us who are committed to obedient listening to the voice of the Spirit. It also reminded me that the Holy Spirit is still animating the Church, still surprising us and moving us forward!
When the cardinals of the Church were in the second day of the conclave Sister Carol and I were out for our morning walk, talking about what name the new pope might take. I asked her, “What name would be chosen by someone who wanted to really call the Church to solidarity with the poor, to be a reconciling person, to be a person of peace and justice?” I was actually thinking about Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, a Capuchin Franciscan. Carol thought for a moment and said, “Francis.” Well I don’t think anyone has ever chosen that name, I replied. Less than four hours later, someone did. Surprise!
The words and example of Pope Francis have continued to surprise almost everyone. To me, the most beautiful and challenging words of our pope are those that call us to be a Church that is poor and with the poor. Go to the edges, be with the marginalized, touch the body of the suffering Christ in those places, Pope Francis has insisted. I realize how long I have hoped to hear that message from our religious leaders. Especially in these recent times when women religious in the U.S. have been criticized for being in those marginal places (and not in the schools, hospitals and parishes that may once have been marginal but now have an established and central location in the Church) the words of Pope Francis give me hope that perhaps there will be a deeper desire to understand why we do what we do.
I have only lived religious life since the renewal called for by Vatican II. I entered after most of the external changes had occurred and in the midst of the ongoing discernment of what internal transformation was required as sisters read and responded to the signs of the times according to the Gospel and the founding charisms of their congregations. In 1990, Mary Jo Leddy wrote in Reweaving Religious Life: “The cries of suffering and the songs of hope of people on the periphery have always called forth new visions of religious life. But we cannot hear those cries and songs, we cannot attune ourselves to them, unless we place ourselves with those on the periphery of the empire. (p.102-3)
My life as a sister has been lived in those margins. From the edges, especially in the past twenty-one years at the U.S.-Mexico border, I have had a privileged vantage point. C.S. Lewis said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” What I have seen and heard has given me a kind of “preview of coming attractions” for the center places. The experience of going back and forth from the periphery to the center and from one side of the border to the other has created a built in reality-check. I hear the national news or read a post by a Facebook friend and I think, “Wait a minute! Is that true?” I have been given a different perspective from my life in the margins.
The issue of legislation to control gun violence is a good example. The constitutional right of U.S. citizens to keep and bear arms is not the only “right” needing to be preserved. Others have raised their voices about the rights of the victims of gun violence. From my vantage point at the border, one of the busiest ports of entry for U.S.-made weapons into Mexico, there are other rights to be considered. The guns we have a constitutional right to own and bear, and also to manufacture and sell, have been like gasoline fueling the fire of drug cartel violence in Mexico.
Comprehensive immigration reform? I have many friends who live in the margins between here and there. I know families divided, unaccompanied migrant children in detention centers, good people who are arbitrarily denied crossing visas or legal permanent residency. I cross the border every week so when I hear that we must “secure the border” before we can consider immigration reform, I wonder what more security would look like? We already have a wall and more border patrol agents than ever before. They are everywhere visible in cars, on horseback, in helicopters, using cameras, infra-red, motion detectors, checking our passports entering and leaving the U.S. Perhaps we need to ask why men, women and children continue to risk their lives to cross the border to a country that is so unwelcoming?
Life in the margins is not comfortable. It raises many questions that have no easy answer. I feel sometimes off-balance, my vision a bit out-of-focus, belonging neither here nor there. I realize that I come from a place of privilege and have had opportunities that many who live here can not imagine. But I am increasingly aware that being in the margins is one of the greatest privileges of my life. Here I know how important it is to make each day count and I meet Christ who helps me to do just that. Christ is alive, suffering and rising from the dead, in the margins.