Mr. Rogers, Fr. Stanley, Uncle Ted

I am supposed to be writing about the Mr. Rogers movie.
But I can’t.

It’s always good to be Catholic. But sometimes it’s really hard. My heart is heavy this morning for the big picture. I have friends amidst the Carr fire in Redding, CA. I am heartbroken for the scandal of Theodore McCarrick and others. This is one of my favorite times of year for keester-kicking saints, including today’s saint — a first-timer! And we have great poignant readings today that speak to this. Yet I have no idea how to pray about this.

I’m afraid there are lots of things intersecting for me today.

And so I find it interesting and poignant that on the first feast day of Blessed Stanley Rother, the priest who faced martyrdom because “the shepherd cannot run from the sheep at the first sign of danger,” is the day our Pope Francis accepts the resignation of (I don’t even really know what we call him now) Theodore McCarrick. Another big report is going to be released on Tuesday out of Philadelphia that will be just as damaging. There are voices of victims crying out in the wilderness longing for shepherds — or anyone — to prepare and make straight the ways of the Lord.

Sometimes the shepherd needs to get booted. But how do we tell? And what now? How do I cry the gospel with joy amidst this terrible reality. And yet I know it is the voice of God who tells me there is still important work to be done — even amidst the ravaging, consuming fire of evil and sin in our world.

I am supposed to be writing about the Mr. Rogers movie.

And perhaps he has the answer.

Everyone has seen the meme/story about Mr. Rogers’ mother telling him he need not focus on what frightened or upset him; he needed to “look for the helpers.”

And so today, I am trying to remember
…that God is never the cause of suffering…
…that He never allows suffering that He does not also intend to comfort or heal…
…that our God is wild! And always creating! And always doing the mighty work of restoring, redeeming, unifying, and reconciling all things to Himself. He can open doors no one can open and shut doors that no one can shut…
…that He has proven again and again that he can make the most amazing good come out of the most gut-wrenching bad…

It’s not a game. But God will not interrupt our free will. Otherwise we cannot freely love Him.

And so today, with the help of Mr. Rogers and his mom — I am thinking and praying about the helpers.

I’m thinking some too about Mary’s mom — St. Anne — whose feast day we celebrated earlier this week. She and her husband/St. Joachim must have had to really dig deep and rustle up faith amidst their fears — even in their own lives as God’s great love for the world poured out over more than one potentially wild scandal in their family.

Like the Mr. Rogers movie — I wonder if St. Anne encouraged her husband amidst confusion, heartbreak, and scandal, to “look for the helpers.”

They would have found Joseph.
And Elizabeth.
And Zachariah.
And Baby John the Baptist.

And later on — this would prove to be valuable faith formation for Mary, as she accompanied Jesus from the wood of the manger to the wood of the cross.

Where even today we suspect — just as we have encountered in our own tradition — we dare to hope amidst scripture and tradition that Mary also encountered helpers:
Pilate’s wife…
The Weeping Women and children…
Mary Magdalene…
Joseph of Arimathea…
The Roman Soldier(s)…

I so desperately desire to believe there existed and earnestly pray for those who were the helpers in the lives of victims. Those chosen to receive the most difficult of stories. The most tragic of encounters.

Fred Rogers, in his applied study of communications, particularly television and it’s medium, and message — after leaving the Presbyterian seminary — called the space between the message and the receiver “holy ground.” A place that was “wide open Christianity,” and a way for “direct communication into their hearts.”

How extraordinary!

In my life right now I am being challenged on multiple fronts to consecrate space…new space in my life in new ways for God. For prayer. For a deeper friendship with Jesus. And this is exactly what Mr. Rogers pointed to.

He identified point A and point B — but what he really cared about was the space between. The sacred space between. Dave Matthews Band would be singing their most famous song. Our British friends across the pond would say “Mind the Gap.” And that’s what Fred Rogers took care for. The space between. Sometimes it was space that needed to remain empty — like “slow space,” “wasted space,” and “silence.”

And sometimes that space — that gap — had people in it. Children and families. Those who were marginalized, judged, hurt, afraid. People and puppets communicated the societal impacts and implications of current events even for those visible yet voiceless subjects.

Fred Rogers and his family believed that there was human dignity in tv and in silence. In hurt and in triumph. In sickness and in health. That “love is at the root of everything.”

When there didn’t seem to be many or any helpers, he became a helper; and inspired others to become the same. He said “let’s make goodness attractive.”

That’s really the thing, isn’t it?

He was outward about each individual’s dignity and inherent value as a beloved son/daughter of God. And that each person had been endowed by the Creator with GOOD.

And when there wasn’t much good — he charged himself and others to be repairers of creation.

Sounds a lot like the precursor to *that we may merit to be co-heirs to eternal life.*

Finally — my favorite part of the move was the end — when the viewer is challenged by his words to consider and remember for a moment “the person who loved me into loving.” Participants shared about all kinds of people in their lives — and I was moved to tears by that Who Mr. Rogers truly used that question to point to was God. And the people He has given to us to mediate His Presence.

Mr. Rogers was always all about invitation. Encounter. Love of God and Neighbor. Authentically Christian and *whisper* more catholic (universal) than maybe even he understood. But we do.

He was never really my favorite as a child — but today as an adult I recognize that my life was just as impacted by his accompaniment as the shows before and after — Sesame Street and Electric Company.

HA! Again — Mr. Rogers — even without me realizing it until right now — existed in the Space Between my 2 “favorite” shows. Sat silent in the Invisible Sacred Space — until I noticed it.

Well played, Mr. Rogers. And thank you, God. For helping me write my way out of the desert of the world today and into a new confidence about really desiring to be #WheatAmongWeeds — like Blessed Stanley Rother — and so many others who lived out courageous accompaniment of God and neighbor.

A certain triumph over sadness and sin by #SweatersAndShoes