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Issue Date:  April 14, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

'Learning to fast from our fears'

“Freedom, the gift of life, is gift unbounded, graciously poured out. And yet so often we allow ourselves to become crippled, imprisoned,” Charity Sr. Edith Prendergast told a jammed arena at the Anaheim, Calif., Convention Center.

“There are times when we all feel bound up like Lazarus, paralyzed like the paralytic, or degraded or exploited like the prostitute. But we take hope,” she said at the outset of the 2006 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.

The theme of the March 30-April 2 gathering was “Step into Freedom/Paso a la Libertad.”

The congress itself is a step into freedom. For me, it was at least a temporary step into a rich and deeply textured Catholic world, one of the broadest, if transitory, experiences of the Catholic community I’ve had in a long time.

The lineage of the congress, sponsored by the Los Angeles archdiocese, goes deep into the history of that local church. The current three-day format dates to 1967, when it became apparent that growing attendance was outrunning the accommodations at various high school and university sites.

On one level, the numbers tell the story: More than 15,600 participated in a youth day that preceded the general congress; another 22,286 preregistered for the three-day congress; and they came from nearly every state, including Hawaii and Alaska. Nearly 300 were from outside the United States.

The gathering included every hue of skin under the sun; young and old; progressives, conservatives and all manner of persuasion in between; habits and cassocks as well as nuns and priests in street clothes. The 200 speakers represented a range of views and specialties. The church’s divisions and problems got their due, but so did the infinite variety of ministry and other holy work. We’ll have more on the content of the congress in coming weeks. The liturgies were also packed, vibrant and diverse. This, indeed, was a church unafraid.

“Learning to fast from our fears and anxieties is key,” said Prendergast, in an exhortation fitting for the season. “In letting go we see more clearly and gain positive energy to deal with our challenging realities. It is our choice. We must bid farewell to the tomb and everything that binds, and climb toward the light.”

Some people, she said, won’t risk it. “They become so used to the tomb that they find a home in it. It is not so much that they like it, but they’re unable to imagine a better place. They would prefer to be unhappy in their present situation rather than to risk the unfamiliar, and so they remain stuck.

“Freedom lies in being bold. And the invitation is to roll away the stone. … Our risen God, Christ, is wanting desperately to reach into our dingy confines, to invite, to entice, and if needs be, to yank us free.”

That set the tone. What followed were three days of instruction and discussion fearlessly engaging. At a time when the instinct in many places is to define authentic Catholicism by attempting to throw up a wall around it and proscribing rather than engaging, I found the congress a place to take hope in the wealth of our tradition, the richness of our teaching and the faith of the community.

~ ~ ~

In a similar vein, Jesuit Fr. Leo J. O’Donovan invites us to “turn the great gem of Easter faith to try to see new light in it, new depth, new hope, new reasons for loving the Lord.” And in the turning he, as one might expect, finds intriguing new dimensions to the old words and images. The challenge is to see the Resurrection not as an event in isolation or simply a promise of immortality, but an occasion through which Jesus reshapes a community. “His forgiveness is their new freedom; his outstretched hands become their hands stretched down the years toward us who likewise need forgiveness and reunion.” It is always a pleasure to bring you O’Donovan’s words and these, I think, provide wonderful material for an Easter meditation. (See story)

From all of us at NCR, best wishes for a joyous Easter.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2006

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