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Fr. Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.


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9/17/2017 Fr. Joseph Chamblain, OSM    


In the 1980’s, when I was a newly ordained priest serving in a parish in New Jersey, I spent my two-week vacation roaming around New England in my Mercury Topaz. One of the places I stumbled upon was a small museum in Arlington, Vermont, devoted to the work of Norman Rockwell. Rockwell lived and worked in Arlington from 1939 to 1953. Rockwell, as most of you know, was famous for his magazine covers depicting small town America. More of an illustrator than a “serious” artist, his work was generally dismissed by art critics for being overly sweet and sentimental. But he was enormously popular in his time and his art was widely reproduced. What was interesting, though, about my visit to this museum was that the volunteer on duty that day had been one of Rockwell’s models when he was working in Arlington. She pointed to herself as a young girl in several of the magazine covers on display. She had often heard the criticism that Rockwell painted a picture of America that was too idealized and which never existed in real life. She said, “He painted life the way it really was in our village. If you people in New York and New Jersey don’t live that way or can’t imagine people living that way, that’s your problem.”

Rockwell did have a social conscience and later in life chose to address some of the pressing social issues of the 1960’s in his magazine covers. He knew that not all of America was like a small New England village. In fact, he was raised in New York City. But this former child model’s words have remained with me through the years. In these troubled times, her comment is a good antidote to what seems to be an increasing temptation for too many people: the temptation to become extremely cynical about life and about the possibilities for our country.

Since the 1980’s small town America has been racked by many of the same problems as the big cities. The small factories that once dotted the landscape and provided employment for locals have closed; Wal Mart and its kin have turned town square businesses into empty storefronts; young adults have left for the big city or, if they remain, have too often gotten mired in a drug culture.  The latest annual report that the town of Arlington has posted on-line is from 2014. That year the town of 2,900 reported an increase in homelessness and in clients for the local food bank. The sheriff’s crime statistics indicate that there were four incidents of domestic abuse, one theft, one arrest for stalking and eight drug-related arrests. Animal control had to deal with two dog bites and three loose dogs, one of which was a repeat offender. These numbers may pale compared to the 2,100 homicides in Chicago these past three years, but they remind us that Arlington, Vermont is not the Garden of Eden either.

But here is the bottom line. God chose to invest heavily in our world. First, God created it; and, second, God chose to become a fully human part of it; third, God sent his Spirit to live within us through baptism. There is plenty of evidence in the Gospels that Jesus became frustrated and angry at religious and government leaders who were mainly concerned with enriching themselves or polishing their reputation at the expense of others. He had to deal with disciples who were lukewarm in their commitment and crowds who were after him only for favors. He lived and died in a nation that was oppressed by a foreign power and in great economic distress. But at no point did Jesus say, “Well, enough of this. I’m going back to Nazareth and hammer together some tables. Let the world go to hell in a handbasket for all I care.” Despite of all the things that could easily have made Jesus cynical and despairing and despite all the things going on at any moment in history that could have led his Heavenly Father write off the world as a really bad investment, God continues to love the world. God gave his life for the world.

There are certainly great challenges ahead for us as a nation. A few hundred protesters have managed to burn away the thin veneer of racial peace in our country and reignite the issues that were never really settled by the Civil War. The President is allowing the fate of nearly 800,000 Dreamers to float in the wind. We are all over the place with environmental issues, even as we are hit with one natural disaster after another. Fewer and fewer people see God’s word as having authority over their lives. Do we give up? What about the prayer many of us say every day, “Thy kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Is that prayer too idealistic? Or, is that our vision and our plan of action?

                                                                                                Fr. Joe   


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