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Into the forest

I have been trying to find the right voice for the blog. With indulgence, the term blog in itself is not a delightful word to the ear and there is something immediately diminishing about writing a blog. Things that rhyme with blog are words that are not conducive to inspiration: frog, fog, log, name a few.

I prayed for inspiration with measure and withheld frustration. And in the midst of this bloggers block there were two small lessons that launched the spirit after morning mass at the Holy Family Church in Blakely, Georgia.

  • Proclaim: Daily mass is a wonderful practice which adds continuity of spirit to the miles of road. Today’s reading was about St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. When Stephen was being called before the Sanhedrin to give account of the accusations that were brought forth before him the scripture stated:

“All those who sat intently at him and saw that his face was like that of an angel” Acts 6:15

Fr. Mike touched on something important in his homily. That Stephen’s angelic disposition was brought by the awareness that he was no longer subject to the stress of planning according to his time. He was in another realm where time was immaterial, and the only reality in front of him was a timeless reality of carrying out his witness to the truth with full awareness of the present circumstances; becoming in a sense identified with the very proclamation of Christ in the present. It is wonderfully phenomenological—the radical particularity of the present. And so these postings will find their purpose in the present (in so far as a recapitulative account can be in the present).

  • Piety: The second point was inspired by a perceptive comment done by one of the parishioners attending mass that morning. We spoke with him after mass, and he mentioned that he had read the blog and had a useful observation. He suggested very simply that the journey ought to convey the experiences riding across country and make a Catholic story out of it and and as I understood to find the thread that held the Catholic story together. I thought as a metaphor that within the pedaling rotation of Fern’s bike there was something like a rosary bead passing through the fingers of the pious. It was a rhythm or prayer with purpose. Different for Fern who is doing the pedaling than for me who is accompanying. In doing so I think it is necessary to find that spirit spoken by the parishioner to convey the common faith along the road in a genuine apostolic narrative. So, in so far as possible, this blog will seek to be pious.
  • Pilgrimage.  Similarly, another parishioner from an outlying mission used the metaphor of a traveling down a highway that has a common identity. She used the metaphor of Route 66 that goes from Chicago to Los Angeles which has become iconic and nostalgic and has a solid identity that binds the road across the country; there is a culture to the road. She should know as she travels with her Scampi across the highways. That common identity of course is Catholic. The idea of the blog is to convey to the American Catholic the wonderful history and common culture we all have. As with the pilgrims of medieval days who would walk and talk and learn about faith even as they journeyed, so this is a modern pilgrimage with the same intensity and desire for redemption. This blog is a recollection of a pilgrim’s journey and hopefully will inspire pilgrims into vocations.

As can be seen above, the reception of others’ faith will better shape the blog than my own subjective ideas which merely lead to bloggers block and so by necessity this account will be shaped by those we meet and those with whom we discuss our journey as we seek to increase awareness of the need for consecrated life.

We called this leg the Seminole leg because it was rooted in this indigenous culture and was encountered by the Spanish and represented the first missionary outreach of the Catholic Church. This leg or recapitulation includes the stretch from Palatka, Florida to Tuskegee in Alabama. But also because the Seminole were brought into the flow of American history during the Seminole wars and Andrew Jackson. Spanish Catholicism or rather the Imperial inception is largely archaeological in nature, yet it provides a solid foothold for the Catholic faith and reflection in America. Imperial Catholicism is either an anchor that keeps one safe in harbor or the ceremonial launching of a galleon. It is always a double-headed eagle.

We traveled along the Florida Camino Real where the Spanish had their missions and into the forest. In this area beyond the coast and the Spanish forts the Imperial intentions are lost and are incidental to the old frontier revivals. Someplace in Georgia there is a historical marker that claims to have been a vantage point of De Soto, the Spanish explorer. I think that was the turn around point. But that’s all it was: a vantage point. The Catholic history we encountered in the area relates to settlements of Catholics that hover around the 1850s and in some places as late as the 1950s. Catholic Churches here are a recent phenomenon and even more so in the rural communities. This is Baptist territory. But this is a misnomer since although the statistics do indicate over 50 % of people professing a religion are Baptist, over 50% of population in this region are unchurched. It is still mission territory and yet this doesn’t indicate stagnation. There is a deep dynamism that is under the surface.  

I think the experience so far can best recapitulated by the encounters we had at mass on Sunday, April 23 in Blakely. The mass was sparsely attended but the community consisted of Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, European, and African descendants. One couple had come from neighboring Dothan about 34 miles away. After mass we befriended (it is easy to befriend here as the communities have been very friendly) them and we discovered we had something in common: we were both Venezuelan. Well, this was a remarkable moment of diversity and Universality. The Catholic faith which was and is and is to come (with more vocations) transcends state lines. I hesitate to use the word global. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this globe; it transcends into a spiritual reality that is the revelation of the story of salvation and God’s mercy in the radical particularity of the present. And this is all part of that story. This story then is about the Catholic personality in America, today with the intention of conveying that story to build vocations.  

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