Missionary Thought for the Week of April 24, 2017: Love Makes Impossible Tasks Possible (Continued).
A quick recap from last week: “Love,” for our purposes, means CARITAS: An over-arching regard for the care and well-being of others.
People acting from “love” often do heroic things, on small and large scale alike. Inconvenient favors are somehow easily offered to friends in need. Our willingness to look silly increases with the degree to which we hope to gain another person’s affections. The Good Samaritan in each of us ignores rules, drops everything and offers help when someone has a sudden and urgent need.
When it comes to people with autism, the same principles apply... only, we know it takes a degree of heroic motivation just to navigate the ordinary interactions.
Heroic? Yes, we think so. Living with autism is intense. Emotions are amplified, sensations are overwhelming and isolation sometimes feels necessary. For a person who finds eye contact distressing, speaking painful and interactions exhausting, greeting another person is a corner quickly cut in the name of “I’ll do it another time because I need to recharge right now.”
We know you do. We know the confusion, the longing to think more and speak less, the way your heart races when someone looks you directly in the eye, the embarrassment you feel without knowing why. It is very reasonable to want space in solitude and the freedom to “be” without having to rehearse rules you don’t always understand or believe necessary.
But, as impossible as it is to rise above these challenges in everyday situations, we also feel that love… CARITAS… can make it possible.
CARITAS by itself is a nice goal, but it might seem a little off in the distance. Maybe even a long way. Lofty. Abstract. Idealistic. Maybe you have a general sense of good will toward others but are not ready to act on it yet. Maybe you want to feel that way but find it too difficult. Maybe your anxiety is still too strong.
This is where “MISSION” comes into play.
Why are we the “Mission” of Saint Thorlak, and not, say, the “Society,” or “Ministry,” of Saint Thorlak?
The Online Etymology Dictionary can help clear that up. The earliest use of the word mission referred to an act of sending; a dispatching; an act of release or letting go.
We don’t simply ponder things; we ponder them to act on them. We first gain understanding, then accept the call to employ what we’ve pondered. Contemplative prayer + Contemplative action = Mission.
The very definition of CARITAS requires us to deliberately act in order to realize it, covering the sending and dispatching part.
What about releasing or letting go?
We might say we release ourselves from our hesitation and let go of our fear in the name of CARITAS because we choose to be more concerned about the spiritual nourishment and well-being of others than our dread of discomfort, looking silly, making mistakes or forgetting rules.
The CARITAS of St. Thorlak is like a manual override switch we can activate each time we make even the smallest gesture in the name of our Mission – which then empowers us to take that different route. Instead of avoiding the usual anxieties, hesitations, difficulties and reservations we have about interacting with others, we head straight into them, ready to welcome the discomfort and the consequences! Why? Because we aren’t just acting as ourselves anymore. We are acting in the name of our Mission, which shifts our interest from ourselves to the welfare of others. We become more interested in putting an end to spiritual starvation than avoiding distress.
In sum: We aren’t just practicing pro-social behavior to earn praise from our teachers and acceptance from our peer group. No! We are on a MISSION of CARITAS! Specifically: to understand, recognize, address and prevent spiritual starvation among people we pass day after day. By doing this, we feed our own souls from the same bread of friendship we offer… and, as we ourselves are nourished and strengthened, those impossible tasks become even more possible.
Love (CARITAS) empowers us do things we would never ordinarily do. Even when autism screams that we can’t. Even if autism makes us look impossible to reach.
Love makes impossible tasks possible.
We had to do it sometime: We need to talk about love.
“Love” as a topic is covered in far too many other places, especially in youth and young adult ministries, for us to focus on it too long. Then again, it does appear twice in our Mission objectives:
- To make people aware of their humanity: their human need to be known and loved
[- To make people aware that these are also the immediate needs of those around them]
- To make people aware that these needs spring from God's thirst to be known and loved.
We included that middle one because it implies that others around us need to be known and loved, so that counts in this discussion.
For our purposes, throughout the entire body of Mission of Saint Thorlak material, print and multimedia, retreats and readings, exercises and encounters: the “love” to which we refer is CARITAS: Love which is rooted in goodwill, justice and sincerely caring about the others around us.
We could spend hours exploring degrees and types of love. We do not want to take up too much time discussing and partitioning characteristics of agape, philia, pragma and ludus as pertaining to friendship (… did you even realize there were that many forms of friendship-love?) We also want to make it very clear that we do not include or discuss erotic and romantic love simply because those concepts are specific and highly subjective, personal forms of love that tend to overwhelm people, on or off the autism spectrum, and are best rooted in caritas in the first place.
To us, caritas is the term that most fully embraces the manner of love we are seeking to tap: a measure each of brotherly/sisterly love, motherly/fatherly love, loving friendship and loving kindness, extended by us to those who meet the criteria of being human.
Does that concept of love qualify in our future discussions of God’s thirst to be loved? Yes. St. Thomas Aquinas covers this in Question 23 of his Summa Theologiae as he explains caritas as humankind’s seeking a deep friendship with God, reflected both in love of God and love of neighbor.
Why are we choosing to use the Latin word caritas instead of its English translation, “charity”? We could use either word interchangeably, but we know there are many connotations that go along with “charity” which blur our intentions. We want our motives as Missionaries of Saint Thorlak to be completely spontaneous, voluntary and rooted in a sincere desire to get to know the people around us. We think of the work we do as rallying around the delight that gaining a new friend brings to us. There is simply too great a chance that our functioning as a missionary apostolate might lead us to confuse “charity” with its popularized meaning, “giving to others from what we have plentifully.” No; in fact, we approach others in our spiritual poverty, hoping they will give their friendship to us from THEIR plenty!
Okay, then… back to our thought of the week: Love makes impossible tasks possible.
Hmm. Love… caritas... Do goodwill, justice and sincerity make impossible tasks possible?
Let’s do just one more test, to make sure this concept of caritas is the one we are looking for.
“LOVE makes impossible tasks possible.”
We all know, from poets to pop music, cartoons to epic romances, that falling-in-love drives people to do things they would normally never do. So, that works.
We also know that parents extend themselves way past the borders of comfort in every direction when it comes to caring for and helping their children. Familial, maternal and paternal love all work.
How does caritas make impossible tasks possible?
By leveling the playing field between humans. We need what you need. You need what we need. Let’s help each other, and accomplish both.
Becoming a Missionary of Saint Thorlak requires one to actively cultivate a spirit of caritas toward the people around us through contemplation, giving us a purpose we would not ordinarily have: to deliberately feed the spiritually hungry with our own need to be fed.
Okay… (thinking about that)…
To feed the spiritually hungry with our own need to be fed?
That’s absurd. It doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s impossible.
Unless… caritas really does make impossible tasks possible.
The progression of our Missionary Thoughts so far goes like this:
1) Friendship’s Secret Superweapon: Asking others to be OUR friend is more powerful than asking others if we can be THEIR friend, because in asking, we come from need (spiritual poverty). This draws people to us by soliciting their talents, not imposing ours on them.
2) Humanity: The origin of this word stems from “consideration for others.” If you’re human, you arrive with the need to be known and loved as part of your humanity.
3) Spiritual Hunger: Every human carries some degree of spiritual hunger which is relieved by others knowing us and befriending us. As we engage others to assess and feed their spiritual needs, our own spiritual hunger is fed… because, where two or more gather in Christian friendship, Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, source of our True Spiritual Food, becomes present.
4) and 5) Sincerity is coming from a place of acknowledging our own needs, and is a crucial ingredient to feeding spiritual hunger.
6) When we fear our own needs, we create barriers.
Now, #7, a paradox: Others can be fed spiritually by our own hunger… if we seek and obtain in mutual caritas, making this impossible contradiction possible.
* * *
If you’re feeling lost, don’t worry: next week we will explore this in much more concrete and familiar terms. For this week, consider the times when love, in any of its definitions and forms, has made the impossible possible in your life.
Missionary Thought of the Week for April 10, 2017
Don't fear the need.
You, as a human person, have many needs.
Go back to last week, when we contemplated our interactions and examined our sincerity. How many moments of INsincerity popped up when we felt needy in some way?
“Needy” does not have to be anything dramatic. I may need to say something before I forget. I may need to put someone on hold while I ask a customer to wait. I may need to feel like I matter, in a world that is stylized to an impossible ideal on social media and seems to have forgotten that I’m even here.
It is amazingly intimidating to admit we have a need... especially when it requires another person. Maybe it’s their help, or their approval, or their companionship. How small we feel when we fully confront that fact, that we are at another person's mercy. Yet… how universal.
Not one person can exist in the absence of others.
Every human depends on other humans.
Nobody escapes without needs. Nobody. Some of us may feel them more intensely than others, and some of us may not realize we have them at all. But there they are.
When we fear our own needs, we create barriers.
One such barrier is insincerity, worn as a mask over our need - either to hide it, or magnify it in the eyes of others.
People act insincerely for hundreds of reasons. It might be a sport to them, or a function of greed. More likely, it is a desire to prove to ourselves that we are important as we are. These all speak to a need, somewhere beneath our behavior, that triggers an alarm begging us not to reveal our vulnerability. Fake it! Hide it! Play it up! Play it down! Before anyone finds out!
Many times, we’re not even aware we’re doing it.
Many times, the first victim of our insincerity is ourselves.
How many times do we catch ourselves saying: “Fine, I don’t care!” and “I don’t need them!” and “What difference does it make?” and “I can do it myself!”
Well, sometimes those statements are true, and are good ways to motivate ourselves to keep at something. Sometimes, though, they are said in anger, or in reaction to hurt. Those point to need.
We here at the Mission of Saint Thorlak freely admit our needs. We have loads of them. We need you. We need to reach everyone who is starving. We need to take autism treatment to the next level.
And, each person who works with our Mission has the same basic need as we do: to know others and be truly known by them; to accept the friendship of others, and be accepted by them.
There is no escaping that need. It is part of humanity. How good, then, that there are others around us to help out!
Chances are, if you cultivate the habit of recognizing and embracing your needs, the others around you will be comforted: by knowing they are not alone in their needs, and by being able to help another person.
This all may sound elaborate, but really, it is so fundamental that it happens minute by minute without normally having to think about it. All it takes is an interaction: verbal or nonverbal; in thought, word or deed.
Sincerity is embracing our need. The degree to which we scorn that need is the degree to which we create barriers between ourselves and others.
People with autism: Would people understand you more if you unmasked your needs?
People with no diagnosis: Think of someone who troubles you, and then ponder if that person has any needs. Would they behave differently if those needs were met? Do you put barriers between you and that person? Are you willing to accept that they may not be ready to abandon their troublesome habits yet? Does that change your willingness to help? Why?
Newsletter subscribers: Have a look at the video which we posted about halfway down our Mission section last week. It tells of the power in one woman’s willingness to be upfront with her need for a familiar face. http://mission-of-saint-thorlak.weebly.com/mission.html
Sincerity, as we learned last week, is a vital nutrient to our spiritual diets. We thrive as humans when we act authentically toward others, and also when we receive authenticity from others.
There was also a pretty stern warning that NOT showing sincerity can lead to dire consequences.
How do we know we are being sincere?
Simply saying, "Oh, I am!" is not enough. Human nature is much more complicated than that. If everyone in a room were asked if they believe they are generally sincere, most, if not all, would say "Yes!" and “sincerely” believe it. But since The Mission of Saint Thorlak is a contemplative ministry, it is our duty to slow down and really examine that, to make sure it is... well... sincere.
We're only going to focus on ourselves. Be aware this week of every interaction you have with another person. Everyone. People you live with, people you work with, people you encounter in your day to day business. People you know, people you don't know. People you text. People who read what you post. People on the other end of the phone.
First, repeat enough times what "sincere" means: whole, pure, unmixed; that which is not falsified.
Next, apply that to your SELF. Imagine what it looks and sounds like when you present yourself just as you are: whole, pure, unmixed; not falsified.
Whole: All of you. Not just part of you. Nothing to hide. Even the sides of you that are weak, or timid, or embarrassing. Even the parts of you that you don't like. Even those areas you vow nobody will ever know. Interiorly, be aware of your whole self when you interact with others this week.
! Now, hold on just a moment: We are not suggesting that you advertise all of your deep, dark secrets. There are very good reasons we don't talk about our most sacred and intimate thoughts, feelings and memories. You can be aware of them, however, without spotlighting them. Just imagine yourself as an integrated whole, with all of your aspects visible to your interior sight. (If people don't know about your hidden aspects, they won't know to ask about them, right?) So, don't worry that you have to be completely inside out. Just be aware of yourself as the total of who you are.
Pure: Keep your intentions good and simple. No corrupt motives or agendas packaged as sweetness. No making any moves to gain on anyone or put anyone beneath you. This is sincerity, not strategy.
Unmixed: Keep your focus and your motives unmuddied. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and be direct. Try not to be purposefully vague, coy or ambiguous.
Not falsified: We hope this is obvious. Be truthful. Honest. Upfront. Humble. Don’t duck who you are. Don’t put on a face that isn’t yours. Don’t mislead. Don’t agree with things unless you agree with them.
This description already sounds like one you'd hope for in a best friend. It feels like a stream of oxygen in an environment of variable smog. Wouldn't we all like a friend like this?
Good. Now, as often as you can, be aware of your interactions, and see how they match up to this close study of sincerity.
Do not despair if you fall short.
We all do.
There is no one person among us who can maintain perfect sincerity all the time. A few of us might do a great job out in public but then switch faces at home, like when we duck those responsibilities we don’t enjoy. Others might look at the cashier or teacher or bus driver and think we don't have anything to lose because that person doesn't know us anyway, so we can portray ourselves any way we please. Or, there is that friend on the phone who loves to talk. "I'll talk to you later, I've got to go..."
Ugh. It's hard.
It's hard for EVERYONE. It's even harder when you're a person with autism because you have probably been taught from a very early age that you have to follow the rules of social situations, and just having to constantly rehearse and recall them makes you feel like you're an actor following a script. Is it sincerity when you are doing what other people have told you to do, especially when you'd rather not be talking to the other person at all?
If you [sincerely] want to grow, it’s okay to not like when it gets difficult, so long as your effort is sincere. So, yes, it is.
Then there are complications of nuances. It's very poor taste, for example, to brush someone aside by stating "I can't stand talking to you," even if that would be sincere. Sincerity does not excuse the need for discretion, manners and consideration of the other’s feelings.
What, then, can we do, if we find we’re not always sincere?
Go back to our contemplation, and look interiorly.
Contemplate your humanity.
Contemplate that other person's humanity.
You don't have to know the other person, you don't have to enjoy the situation, and you don't have to be anyone else than who you are right now. Sincerity does not even have to be spoken. It can just as easily be felt, thought, recollected as you act. Recall your humanity and think of what you need in that moment.
Simple as that.
Well… not really. Does it still seem complicated? Thought so. Okay. Let’s try one more time, and this is what we want to leave with you for this week. Does this explain sincerity? Here goes:
Sincerity, simplified (and a preview of next week’s thought): DON’T FEAR YOUR NEED.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak