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Conflating faith with hope, I think people, and the institutions we create, can change.

Rosalie G Riegle

[NOTE: Bad Subject Rosalie Riegle had concerns that this piece was too religious for our secular and skeptical publication. Whatever has sustained the longtime antiwar activist through her own arrests in 2004 and in 2007, and tireless publicity of other imprisoned social justice fighters, is worthy of our attention. —M.M.]

For most of my life, after the turbulent teen years of doubt and disagreement, it seemed I pretty much took for granted a faith in the general doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church.

But when I parse it out, I’m far from believing in much of it. And haven’t for sixty years, ever since I came to the realization that I no longer believed in hell. For years, I’ve attended Masses without canonically ordained ministers, and until the election of Pope Francis, I no longer claimed “Roman” as part of my Catholicism, as the centuries-old patriarchal machinations of the Vatican seem anathema to the church Jesus founded. Francis is a welcome reprieve, especially in his stand for Gospel nonviolence and his continuing calls for a Christianity that is engaged with the world. So why didn’t I become a loyal Lutheran, joining good friends who work with me for peace and justice? Because Catholicism is my home, and I need to be home at this stage of my life. I lately find a good rhythm in the regularity of praying and studying and working as Benedictines do. Also, I confess I’m still tied to the sheer drama of Catholicism through the centuries, including our own. Today in the US, for instance, there are two Catholic Churches, one rigid in its conservatism and one more ecumenical and less confident in its surety. The latter is where I am and when I think about it, I’ve been there doctrinally since before Vatican II.

I remember long ago realizing that the Catholic Worker was as far left as I could go and still call myself Catholic. (Not that all Catholic Workers are Catholic, but that’s for another time.) The Catholic Worker Aims and Means (see make good sense to me as a way of relating to the world, even if no one Catholic Worker community comes close to living them out.

Lately I find I’ve been moving to a quieter faith, a faith which may be closer to hope. It involves a faith in the innate goodness of people, despite all evidence to the contrary. You could call it an Incarnational theology, as I do believe God came to earth as Jesus, but I also believe God is still with us in a goodness or God-ness within all of creation. I’ve come to believe that God is in all created matter, including human beings with our messy free will and propensity to greed. I find myself much indebted these days to Fr. Richard Rohr, who calls this not pantheism, but panentheism—God in all. In this panentheism, I’m trying to break free of the duality which has plagued Western spirituality—the good and the bad, “us” versus “them,” heaven and hell. I’m not Buddhist, but perhaps I can hope someday for this medieval God-gift, found in a post by Rohr:

The day of my spiritual awakening
was the day I saw and knew I saw
all things in God and God in all things.
—Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1212—c. 1282)

Conflating faith with hope, I think people, and the institutions we create, can change, and I’m a firm believer that sustained and fervent nonviolent direct action is one of the best tools for making that change. So is good government but we haven’t seen much of that lately, either locally or nationally, and, like Dorothy Day, I now have trouble believing in government institutions. But if we know any history at all, we know that the ways we think and interact with others can change. In fact, they must change if the earth is to survive our onslaught.

Richard Rohr again: Our crowded presence in this nest that we have largely fouled, will soon be the one thing that we finally share in common. It might be the one thing that will bring us together politically and religiously. The earth and its life systems, on which we all entirely depend, might soon become the very thing that will convert us to a simple lifestyle, to a necessary community, and to an inherent and natural sense of the Holy. (Emphasis in the original.)

Thomas Merton, another spiritual writer I’m drawn to, tells us that “we are already one but we imagine that we are not.” My hope-bound faith is that God will help us to realize and live this wisdom before it’s too late.

Rosalie Riegle is professor emerita in English at Saginaw Valley State University and a grandmother of seven whom she hopes will have a planet to live in when they are adults. She has published four oral histories, including one on Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. Two books profile resisters who have been imprisoned for nonviolent resistance to war: Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community and Crossing the Line: Nonviolent Resisters Speak Out for Peace. Rosalie is on the National Committee of the War Resisters League and currently very involved with Su Casa Catholic Worker in Chicago.

Copyright © Rosalie G. Riegle. All rights reserved.