by Sister Laura Coughlin
I recently bought a paper shredder so that I might securely dispose of a giant bag of documents that I’d been collecting for over a year. I’ve signed up on the “do not send” list, but it seems to have had no effect on the amount of junk mail delivered particularly by Southwest Airlines – less well known as Luv Airlines. So I confess, I had to shred the Luv because it had my identity stamped all over it.
Was this a deeply thought provoking theological question, or a key line in a country western song still to be written? We’ll go with the former thesis. Where love comes from, and what we do with it is a human question.
Luv’s offer was for two roundtrip tickets; not a bad deal although it required additional expenditure and payment of a recurring $70 annual fee. Southwest Airlines is a favorite among many sisters from my congregation. Much like the sisters themselves, the airline is efficient, egalitarian, light-hearted, and reasonable. Having been delayed by one Boston snowpocalypse this year I am grateful that they offer no-penalty ticket changes. Their bags-fly-free policy is a winner, and I’m pretty sure Southwest pilots have superpowers based on the number of times my flights have left late and arrived early. It’s just magical.
God is not magical. God is mystery.
Theologian, Karl Rahner, suggests that God also offers a type of round-trip ticket. In Rahner’s view, God gives humankind, in its very origins, an anticipation of Holy Mystery that predisposes us to discern God’s presence in the world, and to transcend ourselves when we gratefully receive the divine self-communication. In our transcendence, we are made into a person not different from ourselves, but “more” than we were before such communication. This type of transcendence does not happen by magic, but in the grace of God that enables our contemplation of the Lord in our ordinary experiences – “we and our everydayness belongs to him”. The round trip of such communication with God is known in our “return to the world” (Rahner’s phrasing) as women and men better equipped to be the kind of more for others that Christ is for all of us. In the last analysis, however, Rahner’s round trip is really a one-way ticket in which profound and ongoing personal formation leads to union.
How does this apply to religious life?
For me, the contemplation of the round trip one-way is fascinating for what I see in the glance back. I was scared, even at final vows, that I would not have the fortitude necessary for the lifelong commitment I was making. Now, almost eight years later, I see that God shared in this risk of a “yes,” and shared it earlier in the risk of postulancy, novitiate, and temporary profession. How different this perspective is than one that understands God as simply blessing our risks in a sovereign capacity – as if He sneaks in with a booming voice and rubber stamp on our big occasions and proclaims, “I APPROVE.” The risk is not ours alone, but one that is shouldered, not only “in the end,” but all the way, and all the time, by a God much stronger than ourselves.
How powerful it is to think about Mary’s fiat – her “let this be” – in this way. Mary’s fiat is rightfully held up by the Church because without it there would be no Incarnation, no understanding of “God with us.” In holding up a particular event as special, however, we should not lose sight that Mary’s “let this be” was a first risk.
Between the Annunciation and the crucifixion, many more surrenders would be required of Mary. None of these stood alone, but were, rather, striking moments in which the Blessed Mother would have been able to acknowledge her ongoing experience of God’s carriage of her from “strength to strength” (Psalm 84). Although Mary’s decision-making flowed from a disposition of total receptivity to the Divine Will, perhaps she still wondered about God’s “success rate.” After all, if Southwest Airlines can load passengers efficiently every time, isn’t it reasonable to expect some consistency from He who holds the universe together? Perhaps she thought, as many of us do when we face the unknown, “I trusted Him the last time and I see the fruits in my own life of that decision, so I can trust Him again this time.”
Whenever we make such a decision in favor of our community, and in light of God’s power in shouldering the risk, we are formed into persons who live in a state of trust. Sisters told me this would be true when I entered, but now I can claim their answer as my own through experience. I am grateful for this growth in trust – of Christ, and of my sisters in Christ. Such trust helps us to become communities whose identity proclaims – “the love can be found here among people who are trusted, and who travel in a common direction with God to God.”
 (Karl Rahner, The Need and the Blessing of Prayer, 42)
MEET THE BLOGGER
Name: Sr. Laura Coughlin
MEET THE BLOGGER
Name: Sr. Laura Coughlin
Congregation: Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill
Stage in vows: Made final vows 7 years ago
Hometown: Shelby Twp., Michigan
Current Study: Working on an MDiv (Master of Divinity) at Boston College