Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sin of Superficiality and the Antidote of Love

I don't usually blog about other people's blogs, but today I will.

A Facebook friend posted this from Ten Thousand Places called The Essence of What God Wants. The author is a priest apparently affiliated with Madonna House, which was founded by Catherine Doherty.

What strikes me about the post is two-fold.

First, he talks about the sin of superficiality among Catholics. Everyone wants some label. Conservative, liberal, Traditionalist, charismatic, communal. I used to really love labels for all sorts of aspects of my life, and I think it was because I was new to sorting through a lot of things like being a Catholic (once I came home from Japan, settled in, and got finished being a grad student and therefore too busy to do anything other than study), being a wife, and being a mom. I wanted a label to define everything I believed, everything I practiced, and that showed me with whom I fit.

After a while I realized I change and I didn't always fit and I didn't stay sure about all of my theories forever. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, "Catholic" is enough for me. I don't want to hear political terms connected to my faith at all. I believe in Tradition, I exercise charisms, and I seek to live communally. But I am a Catholic. If that doesn't cover all that and more, we are in trouble. Superficiality as a sin is spot on. That's all a faith-label is.

The other thing that strikes me is the antidote to this superficiality, which he cites from Doherty's writings: it is to feel God's pain. We feel God's pain by falling in love. When we fall in love, something deep in the heart rips open. It's true. And suddenly we can realize the way God is not-loved by ourselves and by others, and we marvel at how God lets it persist, and the agony it must cause Him.

I wrote a song ("Deliberate") that I put on my CD that used this exact image of being taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. This was a phrase that was impressed on my early in my journey as a Catholic, except at that time I knew I had only made progress through the first three stages. There is something about being given, like Jesus is, that teaches one how Jesus is also rejected. I'll admit that this process of being in the hand of God to be given as He wills is frightening. But as I just wrote the other day fear, when in the hand of God, is silly and useless. What is required is faith and courage.

Don't you think it takes a lot of courage to love?

Friday, November 21, 2014

RambleRamble NO RambleRamble

So, yeah, that daily blogging thing is going better than I thought it would. It is good for me to go back over my day and capture something significant to ponder over and work out. It is actually easier to write (and process) this way than to write once every two weeks or something when I have the proverbial ton of thought, then, to work through.

Sometimes when I read other people's blogs I have to admit I am amazed at what people find inspirational and helpful. Someone will have 500 comments of oohing and ahhing over something that strikes me like "if you wrap your bread and seal the bag, it will stay fresher," and I scratch my head and wonder why this strikes a chord with people. I'll write something that seems soul-moving and profound, and the only reader I'll get will be a bot from Russia.

No one ever said life was fair.

And even I can't handle being in the depths of profundity every day. I am a very serious person, and I'm comfortable there, but since I live in society with people who are nothing like me, I need to develop other comforts, and other abilities, too. One of those abilities is to say, "No, I disagree" or "I have no idea what your problem is, but there it is again" or "Thanks, you depressed me." If I am me, I do need the comfort to identify other people being "other" and even to just reject what they say. Yes, for some people this comes naturally, all the time. I always want to be open to whatever possibility a person offers, and sometimes I want that too much. I recall a certain episode in my life where I wanted a person's advice so badly that I eagerly took some of the worst advice I was ever offered. I am really learning that the only directives I can be that eager for come from heaven.

Yeah, so, even when I ramble I can get out what I want to say. Gotta learn to finesse my words a little bit, too, sometimes.

Learning awesome skills, I am...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Don't be Afraid of What You've been Given

While people were listening to Jesus speak,
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
Yesterday I heard this gospel, and it was all lit up in my ears. (You only think that's an oxymoron.)

The people were thinking Jesus was going to offer them a completely finished work, something they would simply consume like a product. They did not realize that the kingdom He embodied and was bringing was the Way they needed to come into union with, build, and live. And they certainly didn't grasp that that Way was the way of the cross. One does not consume the cross; the cross rather consumes one.

This nobleman went off to obtain his kingship, but first he entrusts gold to servants. "Engage in trade," keep what I've given you busy and growing. There is a necessity for faith here. The servants had to trust the nobleman's ability to get what he was after. They had to have a bond of trust among themselves that was stronger than the corrupting power of gold.

His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
They had quite a bit to act against, since he was rejected on a grand scale by the very people he intended to rule.

But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”

After he had said this,
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
 Now, I'm not sure what happened to the other seven since only three reactions are mentioned, but it is fair to say that some of the servants remained faithful, trusting that the nobleman was going to accomplish what he set out for, and they stayed busy with investing, despite the naysayers.

What dawns on me is that the investing these servants were to be busy with was a testimony to their faith in the absent nobleman. The dynamism of putting capital to work was to strengthen their own faith-resolve as well as mark them out as decidedly different from those who were actively working against the establishment of the kingdom. Who is the wicked one here? The one who wants to stay neutral. The guy who hides what the noble gave him doesn't want to put out a lot of effort or risk faith that the noble will be crowned, nor does he want to completely reject him by going with the anti-king faction. He just doesn't want to commit his life one way or the other. The fact that he has the gold coin betrays the fact that he had been in intimate enough communion with the noble to receive it. But all he wants is to give it back, sort of regretting that he ever got mixed up in this ordeal in the first place.

That guy is not just lazy, he is a coward. He is afraid of the dynamism of living, afraid of enemies, afraid of the noble, afraid of what he had been given.

And that just never can be the right answer. It seems the one who is afraid of what he has been given does not actually believe in the Giver. He does not really believe it has been given to him; he believes it is some freak accident that his own freakish nature has originated. He is proud. He does not realize he is a contingent being, that he did not make himself.

The joy of the dynamism of working and investing is that of trial and error. This works; this flops. This needs something else in order to go further. All this development process is like growing in holiness, and it is the work in building the kingdom we are called to do. We only do it with the gold we are given. The capital is not ours, but the development of it is. We have all the helps of grace we can ask for, as well as all the goads we need (like those anti-kingdom workers whose efforts spur us out of comfort). I would rather move forward by trial and error, trusting the grace of the Holy Spirit to correct, guide and inspire, than sit and fret and worry and be afraid and stew in my own juices.

Work in the kingdom is meant to combat fear and to build trust in the One who gives everything we have.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stop. Don't.

I need to take a break from heavy thinking, writing and evaluation for tonight, but I don't want to give up my daily blogging streak.

But I do want to comment on something I experienced today.

Since when did this beloved-to-me 80s classic:

become this:

No. Just no. (Ok, yes, I know I'm 16 years behind the times. But I only discovered this horror today. I'm sorry.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How Do I Meet You?

This morning at Mass, I was thinking about the different ways we can meet each other. The priest gave a very simple but profoundly true homily about how we need to encounter the Lord in the same way we encounter the people around us: we "rub elbows" with them, experience them, get to know the by the things we do together. He talked about how we can come to communion every single day and receive Jesus sacramentally, but he raised the question of whether we are really allowing Jesus into our private territory. Because Jesus doesn't just go there without being asked.

It was basic and profoundly true.

How often to we meet people in ways that actually allow them into our private territory? Do we even know how to do that? Do we even frequent our own private territory? I'm convinced that many people avoid their souls and seek distraction in order to keep avoiding their souls.

I wrote yesterday about our need to entrust our dignity to others and experience it being honored. We do this in ways big and small, and of course what we can control is not the response we get, but the ability to entrust ourselves. It takes some wisdom and learning how and when and how much to do that.

There are many different ways that hearts can range from closed to open, with a lot of thoughtlessness mixed in, and with emotions that range from fiery to dull to absent. When people are always dull or absent, engaging them is like pulling teeth. Fiery emotions meeting head-on can be extremely difficult in a different way, but at least there is something to work with.

But there is that moment where one heart can meet another and truly entrust its dignity to the other and experience being honored, appreciated, cared for, valued. When that happens, I think there is a permanent shift in the fabric of the universe, because God makes His mark. Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est. To have this experience ruins one for life, you might say. It is not so much the experience of a person, because that same person might turn around and mar and betray, or die. But God speaks, God acts, and God transforms. Even if I then turn away from Him, that will stand for the rest of my life as evidence God has deposited with me. He will always call me by that truth, and I can always remember and choose again to believe.

To experience this is a gift and a grace. But there are so many hindrances to meeting others on this level, as I alluded to earlier. Thinking those through is for another time.

Monday, November 17, 2014

That Could be Sold and the Money Given to the Poor

I am becoming instinctively aware that there is a certain realm of the dignity of the human person that is graspable, but hasn't been grasped by me.

I could run to blame it on temperament or upbringing or other things, but maybe instead I should just look at it and see what there is to see.

(Geez, this is one of the things that zings me about November daily blogging, but then again it is one of the reasons I do it: it makes me vulnerable to my own thoughts.)

What conjures all this up in me is a certain event I'm watching develop which has reminded me of both a Scripture and a comment I once heard made that I think unintentionally quoted that same Scripture in a way I was able to recognize as unnecessarily sad. The said Scripture verse comes out of the mouth of Judas Iscariot, no less: "That could be sold and the money given to the poor." Scripture makes it clear that Judas had no real concern for the poor; he was a thief and was looking for a bigger treasury to steal from.

Now, before I go further, I wonder exactly how Judas stole. Did he take coins and deposit them in whatever banking system there was? Did he hand them off to his family? Did he make sure that he unevenly distributed whatever he bought for Jesus and the disciples, giving himself first and best dibs on food and supplies? When he was out to buy fish and bread did he pick up an extra chocolate bar, just for him? Whatever it was, somehow he took unto himself something that belonged to others.

And who were the poor, to Judas? Were they the unfortunate ones, people for whom he cared deeply? Was his heart filled with compassion? No, they were an excuse. He used other people's misery as an excuse to take stuff for himself. He may have even believed that the extra money he sought really was for them, because I'm sure some was indeed given to the poor. But in reality they were an excuse for him to pursue his comfort.

(Now here's a thought: was Jesus some kind of lame mismanager for not kicking Judas out of his position? Did Jesus not realize what Judas was doing?)

We have to remember what it was that prompted this comment: Mary was "wasting" expensive ointment on Jesus, expressing love in what Jesus saw as a prophetic and symbolic gesture: she was getting him ready for his burial. Jesus approved of her extravagant act of love. Was He somehow unmindful of the poor and starving? Such a thought should not even be articulated. As always, He values love above all things, and He knows that the sacrificial love involved in Mary's offering is worthy of acceptance and that His own offering of His life is the singlemost worthy act ever to be performed on earth. His death is worthy of all reverence.

Perhaps right here is the crux of the matter: why did Jesus offer His life? Because that singlemost worship-worthy act was for me. You. Him. Her. It was because human beings have immense dignity that Jesus gave His life. Because we are God's creatures, and the Blessed Trinity considers us worthy of Divine Blood as the price to pay for our ransom.

That's where I stagger and fall over and can't quite take it in.

That second time I mentioned, when I had heard words like this, was a few years ago when by odd circumstance a Protestant relative of mine happened to witness a May Crowning, with lots of children bringing flowers their families had purchased to lay before a statue of Mary. "They could have given that money to the poor!" was the almost knee-jerk response to witnessing this understandably difficult-to-digest event. What was really being said: Mary doesn't deserve that kind of honor. It's a waste to put flowers in front of a hunk of plaster!

Catholics understand (or at least are slightly more likely to understand) that teaching children to express love to God for the gift of our spiritual Mother is of great value. We understand what loving Mary means. She has immense dignity. Loving her is right.

Now I think of my own thoughts rumbling through me. My history of dealing with money, the poor, my own needs, and my own sense of dignity has not been without violence. The only natural virtues I learned to develop in this regard have been miserliness and suspicion. (Perhaps, deep down, Judas just couldn't trust in care for him coming from anyone but him. Maybe he stole because he couldn't entrust his dignity to anyone else. And so he lost it.)

For probably 15 years, the Lord has been enlarging my heart towards the poor to the point that I really long to effectively give more away. But giving things away, I realize, means nothing without love, as 1 Corinthians 13:3 makes clear. And love, if it is like God's love, is rooted in the reality of the incredible dignity of the human person -- that dignity that is worth dying for. We all possess a dignity which we need to learn to entrust to others, and we need to have the experience of it being honored and respected by them. And we need to extend that honor and respect to those, especially, who do not have it for themselves.

To really be able to look at another person and say, not "You're worth spending ten bucks on" but "You are worth dying for," especially with no personal gain to be necessarily had in return, well now, there's something worth opening myself to the Lord for.

Because that sounds Christ-like, doesn't it?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Emotions are Stilled

Some days are lessons, and some days are practice of those lessons.

If last week's lessons included discerning the steadiness of God's activity in my life despite emotional roller coasters that swirl at the same time, then today's practice is recognizing that same activity, that same presence, the same reality of God when there is no emotional engagement at all.

This kind of thing can take on roller coaster dimensions if one allows it to, and if one requires a certain level of emotional ruckus to feel alive.

Emotional ruckus is not mandatory, though.

A day like today (when my digestive system is recovering from a mid-night disturbance) reminds me that God's presence with me is something I open myself to and become aware of, not something I generate or need to generate by working myself into any kind of state. He is the Ever-Existing; I am His creation. I am not responsible for Him; He is responsible for me.

In other words, I can feel sick and peaceful, because I know God's presence with me is not dependent on my ability to conjure Him up.

It seems what I've been meditating on here recently rhymes with St. Therese's notion of spiritual childhood. He does everything. I bury my head in His chest, and what He puts in my hand, I pass to those I am called to serve. I have always carried this burden of a notion that the well-being of everyone and everything (my divorced parents; my alcoholic father; every problem I met) had to rest on me. But this new injection of life of spiritual childhood teaches me rely on God in faith instead of to surrender to the deceptively self-centered notion of "service" in picking up all the slack for other people's lives. The devil does not try to pull Christians off course by tempting with blatant mortal sin nearly as much as with good pushed to compulsive excess and done for the wrong reasons.

And I'm leaving that junk behind. There is so much peace without it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Realizing What I Forgot

Today I had one of those moments that I might have thought was never, ever going to happen to me. I realized that I had forgotten all about a pain that had once been so deep as to control my emotional life, namely, infertility.

I was talking with a woman I had just met, and as we were getting acquainted and she was telling me about her large family, she asked me how many children I have.

I told her, I have two. Not only did I not explain, defend, or mourn over the fact to her, I didn't even really think about doing it. It was only her expression that stirred me to remember I once would have done that.

Living among faithful Catholics can be difficult for women whose family size seems inadequately generous. Yes, people make either judgments or assumptions. Because there is nothing that is considered everyone's business as much as the intimate details of other women's reproduction. The sense of a required story to stay in other's good graces can be overwhelming. I've heard it so many times both from women who struggle with low fertility, or even just women who for other reasons have "small" families. And how many times oy vey! have I heard from some people that every last evil in the world is caused by all those selfish women who would rather live in their nice houses and go on trips rather than have children. Because we all know that women with few or no children choose that.

It can be a cesspool of judgment and rash talk.

But you know what, I know my own story. I am personally very happy to share my story. But I don't feel compelled to defend myself with my story. And my story is by no means dominated by grief and mourning. Becoming a parent has been a wonderful gift from God, just as He fills my life with so many gifts. My life isn't like anyone else's that I know, at least not in detail. I can also respect that others have a story, gifts and a call. And today I realize there is great peace in not only being myself, but in allowing myself freedom from all the thoughts or potential thoughts from others that could reach me. In the right context, to be able to say, "you know what, I don't care" is extremely healthy.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Grains of Sand

I don't have much left in this day in terms to time in order to meet my daily writing commitment, so I'm winging through it today.

A whole bunch of experiences today have reminded me of one of the big lessons I learned when I lived in Japan (and came out the other side as it were through a purgatorial meat grinder). And the lesson is this: relative to the might and grandeur of God, all human beings are pretty much like grains of sand. We find ourselves so amazingly different one from another, and we can develop jealousies and insecurities or self-hatred based on who we think we should be. But really, when you zoom out with the macroscopic lens, we are all basically the same.

And this is meant to be a reassuring, humbling, and peace-making thought.

This is what allowed me to come back from Japan and trip and fall into a job working for a very well-known person (in Catholic circles) and not treat him like he was anything other than my brother in the Lord and a normal person. I think it is also what has taught me to have respect for people I once would either have looked down upon or been afraid of. I, you, they, we are all equal in our need, our humanity, our propensity for greatness and holiness, and our propensity for sin and evil.

And my thought goes back again to that theme from my retreat this year: we all tend to spend energy on covering up our miseries and the things that cause us to desperately need God's mercy. Or just the things that make us uncomfortable, that make us feel like weirdos, so different. I had so many people tell me this sort of thing this week, including myself. Next time I'll say "yeah, you're so different, just like everyone else!" As long as we have the Lord, there need be no fear in how we appear to other people. We might have problems, but we are all works in progress. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us from every sin" (1 Jn. 1:7)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Second Thought, Maybe this was a Good Day

Today was our first snow fall of the season: not a lot, just enough to say it snowed. The house feels cold, the sky is grey, and my children and I were exceptionally unmotivated to do much that required a great outlay of energy.

Some days are like that, and I'm ok with it.

And somehow this seems to fit with a little flash of insight I had when praying this morning. It fits with, or rather follows on from, the post I wrote yesterday.

It was after one of the most unscintillating times of prayer I've had in recent days that I had this thought about the value of reason as governor of my choices and actions. It fits with yesterday's post because so often in the midst of those intensely formative moments of experiencing God's calling me forward, when all the emotions and passions are getting riled up in me, those can get the upper hand. Even if it is the most intense emotion in the world that inspires me to say or act or commit to something, this is not automatically good unless it also conforms with reason. Reason asks questions like, "What does the moral law say about this? How is this going to affect the commitments I already have in place? Am I conveniently avoiding any truth, here?" and etc.

No, this isn't rocket science. But subjectively, if I were to always operate this way in the case of really riled up schnee* in me, it would be a huge movement of grace at work.

Because, you see, I have often tended to be ruled by my own impossibly high standards of perfection, all of which tend to grow out of or get wrapped around said soulish excess to the point where it seemed I didn't know who I was or what to do without requiring my soul to be puking out chaotic, pressure-filled demands.

This is how people get driven through life by ideology, or by ideology cloaked as theology or spirituality, which is probably far more toxic.

But today I thought, "I'm tired, it's cold, it's gray and snowy; we have these books to read, this outing to do. It's ok if I don't pushpushpush for a lot of unreasonable accomplishments and spend the day getting angry that we aren't all meeting some stupid, made-up, and impossible standard that says now our behavior is acceptable."

Yes. I like this. And I think my inkling is starting to unfurl.

*"Schnee," by the way, is a family word I borrowed from a co-worker many years ago, which basically means what it sounds like you are trying not to say.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Being Called On

So, maybe I've reached that magical time in National Write a Blog Post Everyday because it's November (er something like that) where I get to dig a bit.

I had an inkling yesterday. That's a technical theological term for a little thought that surprised me and said "Hi. I'm not all here yet, but I'm going to be significant." I get these, and I've learned to pay attention to them. But they require some digging, some working over, and some living with.

This inkling was about the experience of being "called on." By that, I mean being encouraged to go deeper, to grow, to rise to a challenge. And in this case, I mean in spiritual matters. In other words, in real life.

More specifically, I thought of various occasions where another person has called me on in various ways. But here's the key: the inkling is about what, or perhaps closer to say how God was actually teaching me in those moments.

I'll give the clearest-cut recent example I have.

Three years ago I had a couple of kind of strange months conversing with a man in formation as a monk who I had met almost, but not quite, out of the clear blue. He is a musician; I had two of his albums produced before he went to the monastery. What did happen out of the clear blue was that he challenged me to write a song every week, record it, and send it to him. Even though he is younger than I, he kind of scooped me under his wing like a little bird and gave me a firm butt-kicking about music production. At first we conversed quite a bit, via email and chat, then only on Saturdays. But he had my attention, and, dang -- I started churning out music like I hadn't since my 20s. I was in the midst of recording my CD at the time, so music was very happening at the time. But the weirdest thing was that this happened. A little monklet causing me to turn my heart completely to music like I hadn't. And then one day (we agreed on the length of time it would be, roughly the season of fall) he basically said as of the next day he wouldn't be talking with me, but that I should send him my CD when I finished it.

It was weird. Out of the blue he was there, then he wasn't. But I saw the many differences it made to me.

I could narrate several other stories, like the manipulative ex-con 26 years my senior who taught me, as a 19-year-old, about charismatic gifts and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The seminarian who first caused me to realize what love means, and whose friends prayed me into the Church. And others.

But the inkling I began writing about is really this: It has always been God. The one calling me on, calling me deeper, challenging me to move ahead, has always been God. He has used a variety of people, but it has always been Him. Usually, my response has been to resonate so intensely, so powerfully, so dramatically, so seriously to these instruments of His that it has made my soul quake.

And that's a euphemism for saying my immature soul has kicked up a wide variety of crap in the midst of God's work.

I think humility sees both: my soul goes on a drama fest, and God is at work. Both are true. Some portion of God's work is really all about calming down all the drama. Even though it has looked an awful lot like He orchestrates it in the first place. It seems what God desires is that I am able to enter into certain situations without getting my soul all coming apart at the seams. And that makes me understand why St. Teresa of Avila says that courage is far  more important to the spiritual life than it seems at first.

So, it has all been God. God does indeed employ persons as His instruments. That still makes me shake my head. Why, Lord. So much potential for screw ups! Does heaven sometimes call us on directly? I think so, but the Lord seems not to prefer this route. At least, when I have sensed direction this way, it has generally taken years and years -- and lived experience with other people -- for me to understand heaven's intent. The Lord really has a thing about Church.

Ok, I'll file this as mulled over, and see if there is something else to come from it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An INTP Contemplates a Social Invitation

This morning I received an invitation from a friend to a get-together. The invitation was extended to a group of women who make up pretty much the closest friends I have. We would pray, we would eat, we would chat and spend a few hours soaking up each others' friendship to heal our souls.

I read it and I felt the cold chill go down my back. My muscles tensed. I breathed deeply.

I was just about to email the friend back with a question, not exactly a commitment, but trying to work my way there, when I read it again. Carpooling strongly suggested? Escape routes blocked! I put my phone down. Ok. Calm down. You can do this.

Had to stop for a moment of self-awareness. It helps me to step back and look at personal situations objectively. I imagined myself explaining what I felt at the moment to someone else. I imagined what contrast I could paint to put someone into my shoes.

Suppose I orchestrated an event that would foster bonds of friendship, something that would bring a deep sense of value and meaning to me and help me look at those other women as comrades-in-arms. What would it look like?

Marie invites you to a prayer solidarity gathering. We will gather from 2-4 am in the garden beside the Cathedral downtown. We will kneel on the ground outside, mostly in silence, with the exception of perhaps chanting a psalm or two together. We will pray silently for each other's needs, but especially in reparation for sins committed in the downtown at night and for the conversion of the town.

As I ran that over in my head, my first thought was "They would think I was being sarcastic." But I knew I wasn't. I imagined what words would spring forth from people to describe such a thing.

Dangerous. Difficult. Painful. Brave. Sacrificial. Unreasonable. (unvoiced: Weird)

So I kind of smiled inside. Yes, Imaginary Voice of my friend. You understand. You understand what it feels like for me to go to a women's chitchat lunch.

But no, I thought, I couldn't really take myself seriously, so why should anyone else, unless I was really prepared to do such a thing. I mulled this over in my head awhile.

And then it struck me. I already do this. Except I don't pray outside at the Cathedral. (Yet. I like this idea.) I pray in a Eucharistic chapel once a week at 2am. And it is only for an hour, an hour that always seems to go by way too fast. And it dawned on me that I could invite people to join me, and we could indeed work on growing this type of bond as we intercede for mutual needs and for conversion.

This would totally work for me as "friendship that heals the soul." To me, bonds really form through sacrifice, and good bonds form through mutual sacrifice. Ironically, it doesn't feel like quite as much of a sacrifice to pray in the middle of the night as it does to do the chitchat thing, and this probably has something to do with why I have a sense of a bond with some of these women in the first place, regardless of whether it is reciprocated, because it costs me something to "chat".

But there's something about that sacrifice. It needs to be an act freely chosen and carried out, not just an act I survive because I can't avoid it. That doesn't build up love. And sometimes I treat social settings like things I survive, because it feels like I imagine people would feel about kneeling outside in the middle of the night in silence. I can easily think of 300 things I'd rather do!

An act of love really has to come from inside me. There's no use any of us pretending, and there's no use any of us being afraid to love in the ways peculiar to us.

So, maybe I will go to the chatfest. (I haven't firmly decided yet.) After all, I can study how it all works. But maybe I will invite them to join my holy hour once a month, too. And who knows; someone might even seriously think about it.

Monday, November 10, 2014

It Takes All Kinds

This morning as I was driving home from Mass I was musing on this thought: I wonder how many of life's difficulties, big or small, are created when we presume that other people have the same perspectives we do.

I had been chatting with a friend about an idea. He is practical and his first thoughts are about how difficult things are and everything that could go wrong. I am ambitious and willing to work extremely hard to make things go well. It's not that one of us is right and the other is wrong. He presumes no one will pitch in and he will be stuck with lots of work. I presume everyone will pitch in, and by now I should realize that not everyone is as die-hard as I am. But I've seen things that he thought were impossible yield good results because people did actually come together and pull it off. And yes, some people just really enjoy doing difficult things! And some don't!

So I'm back at that pesky reality again in this post about how God has created so many different types of people with varying temperaments, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. I used to really think I was just extremely defective, instead of simply different from others. (Oh, I'm defective, too, but not in the way I was thinking.) It is very, very good that my friend has the ability to make practical plans, and it is good that I want to pour my heart into a giant challenge, and we both need lots of other types to provide several other perspectives to really do something good to build up the kingdom of God. And that's what it takes -- each person offering who they are with humility, being no more and no less than who God has gifted them to be. If we really believe that God builds us living stones into a dwelling place for His Spirit, then we have to be willing to say "here's what I've got, now you show me what you've got, and you, and you, and you" and then, through us together, God does what only He can. Pride probably hides things as much as it boasts about things. Both are means of trying to stand aloof and keeping oneself untouched.

It has always impressed me that one of the first thing an authentic conversion produces is movement towards other people. Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him, then Jesus follows Matthew back to his own house and his own people. Jesus explains our judgment will be based on how we treat "the least of these, his brothers." Even a cloistered monastic who seems far removed from everyone is in reality praying and wrestling for the salvation of all and is in close union with the suffering of the world, because Jesus is.

If we were all the same, how could we love without simply loving only what we find in our selves? Perhaps humanity requires diversity simply because we require the exercise of humility and charity for salvation.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Yes, We Use This for Family Prayer Time

I wonder if we might be the only household anywhere who currently uses the combination we are using for our family prayer time.

Currently, we read the daily reading from this, along with a decade of the rosary:

We've used quite a variety of things through the years, but a few months ago I decided on Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. While we haven't read every entry of the year yet, everything we have read is entirely compatible with Catholic faith. In fact, it does a very good job of emphasizing the life of discipleship that, while thoroughly Catholic, tends to be overlooked or gets all the teeth pulled out of it by the average Catholic devotional writer. It is somewhat frustrating to me that the depth of challenge most Catholic devotional materials get is "maybe you could try to think about God a little today." And as much as I love and live by the liturgical year, there is also something refreshing to me to have a devotional that addresses perennial spiritual needs of Christian disciples, so that it has more of a spiritual reading flavor than liturgical. 

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Those Parents Who Brought Their Toddlers to Confession Today

I didn't know them, but then again even if they weren't visitors from another parish I am a little bit out of the parents-of-toddlers loop. We parked at about the same time, and right away I realized I needn't rush to beat them into the confession line, since they were going to be unpacking out of the car for awhile. Dad came inside the church by himself, but several minutes later it seems the fascination of everything outside, in the bathroom, and in the narthex had worn off, because eventually one little boy face poked through the door. He saw the holy water font and dove for it like a winning layup. I broke into a laughing smile. He was obviously excited about holy water.

Eventually he came running past me straight into the arms of his Dad, and then I saw a woman enter with a slightly older boy in tow, and she was mouthing "Sorry" to him.

What ensued included those very whispered verbal tours of all the beautiful things in the church that most Catholic parents have probably done. I overheard one bit about the Divine Mercy picture. Dad and Mom were explaining bits of how everything reminds us of how God loves us. Little boy #1 was asking insightful questions about why the picture had light in certain places. (Specifically, he meant around Jesus' head and his hand extended in blessing. But He asked not, "why is it painted gold there" but "why is there light coming from it." This boy saw it the way it was intended to be seen.)

Moments later little boy #1 and little boy #2 were sent a few feet away, a specific place for children in the church, still within eyeshot (Though not my eyeshot. I was taking it all in by hearing.) Within moments, there was a bump on the arm of Littler Boy. Weeping ensued, which seemed to trigger some type of innate memory of all suffering and woe that has occurred since the dawn of time, and it was all mourned once again. Both parents went to give comfort, to console, to quiet.

And I understand why they did that, of course. Just like I understand why they whispered their lessons about the sacramental items around the church. It is part being good parents, and it is part their cortisol levels going through the roof as they worry about What Others Will Think. In fact, I could feel their cortisol levels rise.

But it ministered to me to simply hear a child honestly wail over his bumped arm. Healthy children don't hide when they are hurt. They cry, let it out, and then it conjures up My, I'm actually a bit hungry, and tired, and frustrated too. And I was there at confession because I was going to tell Jesus where I hurt, too. I really needed to unload it all on Him, at least as much as I could identify. It was good to have company and have someone show me how to just naturally let it out. And to find solace in Mother Church and Jesus.

And then, as Mom escorted the boys back out to the narthex again until her turn came, I overheard the Older Boy commenting that he had actually bumped his head, too. He was not going to let Little Brother be the one getting all the consolation. He wanted in on it, too. See, even for him, one vulnerable expression of pain triggered his own needs to the surface, too.

So, dear parents that I don't know, thanks for bringing those two boys to confession today. They were anointed for ministry at their baptism, and don't you doubt for a minute that they are living it out. Thanks for teaching them, for making them aware of Beauty in the church. Please keep doing it, and always teach them beyond what you think their years can hold, because that's where kids typically are, anyway.

And I hope your cortisol levels are ok.