Sparks, Souls, & Luminaries Receiving the Medal of Freedom

While there is much to criticize in current America, let us pause for a moment to meditate on the sparks and light that shine from among the 17 recent recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honored by President Biden Thursday night.

Matthew Fox, Sr. Simone Campbell SSS and Hildegard of Bingen at the Call To Action Conference

Thomas Aquinas offers a stunning teaching when he says it is a great thing to do miracles, but it is a greater thing to live virtuously.  I think it can be said that each of these people, through their work and the strength and virtue it took to sustain it, has lived virtuously.  A thing greater than a miracle?

When people develop the sparks inside and steer them, in spite of nothingness and obstruction, to service, wonderful and praiseworthy things happen. Light and luminosity result that the rest of us can admire and be grateful for.  And look inside to nurture the same within us. 

One of the recipients, Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer on behalf of the poor and oppressed, I know personally.  An executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice organization, she headed the “Nuns on the Bus” movement advocating for healthcare, economic justice and immigration reform. 

Sr. Simone Campbell SSS addresses the 2020 DNC with a word of prayer. Originally posted to YouTube by Currents News.

Her honor is not only richly deserved, but in many ways I see it as applicable to the many wonderful Catholic sisters of my generation who stood up and were counted without fanfare while standing for the poor and neglected, even when often being hounded by loud voices and well heeled forces on the right whether in church and society. 

Simone is a perfect representative of these many solid women who walked their talk and made a life of justice-making inspired by Vatican II. 

Not least among them is my former student, Sister Dorothy Stang who died a martyr in the Amazon for defending the forest and the peasants and the indigenous people of the forest.  In her, as in so many, was a heart of courage and caring and generosity and a commitment of steel.

Coverage of the 2022 Recipients of the Medal of Freedom, including famed Gymnast, Simone Biles. Originally posted to YouTube by TODAY.

Other recipients of the presidential award include Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in history and a prominent advocate for athletes’ mental health and safety and victims of sexual assault.  Fred Gray, attorney for Rosa Parks, the NAACP, and Martin Luther King who said he was “the chief counsel for the protest movement.”  Raul Yzaguirre a civil rights campion and president of National Council of La Raza for thirty years.  Richard Trumpka, president of the AFL-CIO for more than a decade, advocate for social and economic justice.  And many more you can look up here.* 

Meditating on these people and their accomplishments is a prayer practice in itself.  Meister Eckhart says: “Who is a good person?  A good person praises good people.”

May we all turn our sparks into light and be luminaries for others.

*President Biden announces the Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

See Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, p. 128.

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 97-100

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Closeup of the US Medal of Freedom, highest national honor bestowed by the President. Originally posted to Flickr by US Army Europe.

Queries for Contemplation

How do these recipients of the Presidential Freedom Medal inspire you?  What difference does that make?

Recommended Reading

Meditations with Meister Eckhart: A Centering Book

A centering book by Matthew Fox. This book of simple but rich meditations exemplifies the deep yet playful creation-centered spirituality of Meister Eckhart, Meister Eckhart was a 13th-century Dominican preacher who was a mystic, prophet, feminist, activist, defender of the poor, and advocate of creation-centered spirituality, who was condemned shortly after he died.
“These quiet presentations of spirituality are remarkable for their immediacy and clarity.” –Publishers Weekly.  

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8 thoughts on “Sparks, Souls, & Luminaries Receiving the Medal of Freedom”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Before I answer the Queries for Contemplation, I would like to say that I agree wholeheartedly with Aquinas when he says “it is a great thing to do miracles, but it is a greater thing to live virtuously.” Thursday night, President Biden honored 17 recent recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, two of which were your friend, Sister Simone Campbell, a lawyer on behalf of the poor and oppressed and my former student, Sister Dorothy Stang who died a martyr in the Amazon for defending the forest and the peasants and the indigenous people of the forest. And you say these and more are worth meditating on these people and their accomplishments is “a prayer practice in itself.” Meister Eckhart says: “Who is a good person? A good person praises good people.”
    You ask, “How do these recipients of the Presidential Freedom Medal inspire you?” They inspire me to do great things–but not for recognition but because its the right thing to do. So, “What difference does that make?” It makes a lot of difference–especially to the people who are helped. I believe that we should live compassionately with others–the poor, the homeless, the sick and the dying. James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” (James 1:27)

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    What I see in the recipients of the Presedential Medal of Freedom, are those souls whom made the conscious choice of taking responsibility
    for tending to the garden of their own hearts, in which both the seeds of the virtues and vices are planted. These one’s were aware of the seeds of vices that were growing in the hearts of others and at times also within themselves, but rather than focusing on criticizing or judging these others or themselves… in an attempt to uproot them… they focused on patiently practicing walking the talk of tending to, nurturing, and cultivating the growth of the seeds of the virtues within THEMSELVES.

    The miracle-grow they used was one part patience and one part practice. Everything else that they encountered and experienced in this daily work… the personalities, events, and circumstances… basically all the things beyond their control to change… became the fertilizer that created rich nutrient soil, for their own transformational growth of the virtues to unfold, evolve and emerge from within.

    This inner beauty blossomed, releasing its powerful fragrance, in due season, for awhile… then like all things, these souls then turn back to seed… carried upon the winds of spirit. The testimonial stories of their souls journey, now find a new resting place… in time and space… in the garden of the hearts of others… inspiring them to patiently practice the wisdom ways of the Master Gardener… whom has learnt how to unfold, evolve and emerge as a virtuous being, amidst and inspite of the many weeds of vice. This wisdom is living water, for our own souls journey.

  3. Avatar

    Well said Richard and thank you Matthew, good has a way of seeking out good of which sadly the opposite can be true also. Thankfully the truth & light are brighter as a ship is guided by the light seeking shore or stable moorings. May we always seek our higher callings & principle’s as these recipients and others grace us or have graced us with. Do justice, seek mercy, walk humbly and I might add do good be good.

  4. Avatar

    Great definition of virtue, as “participating in divine power.” The faith of sister Campbell in the video is indeed virtuous and admirable in reminding us that God, and God in us as a collective can at times bring order out of chaos — but not always. As ceremony, the Presidential Awards are also reminders of same. Yet they too must serve as sober reminders that an increasingly larger percentage of Americans, while agreeing in principle, seldom actually practice or uphold what these virtues symbolize. Its hard not to notice the growing national chasm (1) between head and heart, (2) the body politic and the spirit of the republic’s ideals of old, (3) the governed and the governing, (4) the result of large scale social disconnects, isolations, divisions, and lethargy in the populace (especially among youngsters). As in institutional religion, where ritual and ceremony become devoid of Spirit, such detracts from the authenticity of handing out so many decorative ribbons and hardware. Honestly, though valid, it makes them ring hollow. Says here, the dark side of virtue is increasingly detracting and distracting from the McCoy and its ceremonial acknowledgements. Quite frankly, it has stolen the show, shamefully rendering the latter so much happy talk, and collective whistling in the dark. In viewing the recent 4th of July celebrations in the nation’s capital and major cities, with all the gun violence preceding as backdrop this year, anyone else other than me feel not only the hypocrisy in celebrating the holiday this year with explosives (fireworks)? To say nothing of the ironic inner meaning and national message (that almost no one got) that amid the noisy fireworks of that “celebratory” day, were the infamously sickening ‘rat-a-tats’ of yet another automatic weapon butchering lives? Seems “the bombs bursting in air” anthem lyrics “gave proof through the nite that our flag was still there” all right — once upon a time, as in a Disney fairytale. Like meaningless token religious ceremonies, too bad that what such national holiday pomp and ceremony have come to betoken of late has become so much crepe and window dressing. And Labor Day is just around the corner. So while virtue is indeed admirable, it plays out more in individuals than collectives, in sprinklings of saints, martyrs, and mystics, and only occasionally in small communities. Unfortunately, not in whole nations, not even wandering Israel of old. “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Ps. 127:1). Truth be told, history’s greatest heroes, martyrs and saints have come and gone unceremoniously, with little or no worldly recognition.

    1. Avatar

      As for me, Joe, the handing out of the Presidential Medals of Freedom is extremely important. One, I need to be reminded that living a virtuous life and standing up for justice is worth doing. There is so much darkness. We need to be reminded that it is still worthwhile to be good. It’s so tempting to give up. Two, it is greatly important to see the chasm between the kind of person the previous president awarded the medal to and those President Biden gave the medal to. Three, reminders of the value of using one’s talents–be they gymnastics or leading a movement–stir one on. My talent is writing, so I have offered this. Couched in the voice of a fictional character, here’s what I have to say about working within our country’s ideals to resist darkness–even when it seems hopelessly naive:

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    If all who deserved a Medal of Honor were to receive a real one a new industry would be opened in this country and around the world making Medals of Honor. But that isn’t necessary is it. Those good people shine without gold or tribute. We know who some of them are don’t we. In fact, it’s an Honor to know them. Some practice St Theresa’s
    “Little Way” and are part of her bouquet of Roses ?
    As we ponder the evil that surrounds us we can be brought to the realization that
    these good people can inspire true Hope in our own lives.

  6. Avatar

    God bless all past and present lightworkers inspired, strengthened, and guided by God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Truth~Peace~Justice~Freedom~Healing~Strength~Creativity~Compassion~ Divine Will… God Living Loving Light Spirit Present within us inspires all of us on our own daily spiritual journeys of our eternal evolving unique souls with one another, with beautiful Mother Earth and all Her creatures/blessings, with our spiritual multidimensions and spirit guides/Angels, and within our multiverse Loving Oneness co-Creation~Evolution Cosmos … our Beloved Cosmic Christ Consciousness…. I hope no one tires of my ending prayer/mantra of faith/Divine Love….

  7. Avatar

    Living virtuously is a major miracle and very difficult, but it is the only way that we will survive as a species, in my opinion. There are a lot of people going about it in quiet ways, individually or in small groups–and larger ones–and I am sure we could all identify some of these in our own lives. These are what inspire me and give me some hope. The core principle of Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation is: the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. We do need to identify and criticize evil, but our actions are often most effective when we simply go on doing the better.

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