Monday, January 29, 2007

Title Change

So, I've decided to change the title of this blog, whilst keeping the address the same. When I lived in Japan I learned this handy phrase: "naru hodo". I was taught to understand its meaning as "Now I get it".

And it seems that's a bit like what this blog is/does for me. It is a place for me to write out my current burning thoughts, which sometimes later become clearer. Then I can (hopefully) look back and say oh, now I get it!

Monday, January 22, 2007

What Things Are Yours?

Yesterday my family had the pleasure of visiting a local order of Sisters as my husband, as Grand Knight of the local Knights of Columbus council, had a donation to present to the Sisters on behalf of the council.

The Sisters showed us joyful hospitality. I have felt welcomed in homes, but this welcome truly felt different. We shared a snack and then a look around the convent as we made our way to the chapel for the official Donation Presentation Photo. Our children kept everyone entertained. On our way out, one of the Sisters offered to show us the hermitage where she is currently staying. We drove down a narrow gravel road to a cozy little cabin in the woods.

While we were there, something prompted my son to ask a question that was ringing in my ears as I woke up this morning. He asked the Sister what things in the little hermitage were hers. She explained that her clothes were hers, and her prayer book was hers, but everything else were things that she shared with everyone else in the Community.

And this morning, that exchange is reverberating in my head.

I noted while visiting the convent that everything looked simple, but it didn't look "poor", by which I guess I really mean junky. As the Superior made me a cup of tea, I admired the "always on" hotpot for water, thinking that that was the sort of thing I've really wanted to get for convenient tea. Things in the convent looked nice and newish. But what stood out to me most was that there wasn't a lot of STUFF everywhere. Everything that was there was for serving the needs of the Sisters and others.

A few hours later we gathered with some friends and neighbors for a reunion of sorts of a certain ministry we've been involved with in the past. Several couples talked about their need to get rid of all the STUFF they have accumulated, whether in two or 40 years of marriage. I myself have recently finally heeded what I've long felt as a call to sell some excess possessions and give the money to charity. I've launched into the world of ebay and in about two weeks have netted about $30 of profit.

So, somehow my son's question has helped me form a connection. The example of evangelical poverty is not about making oneself miserable because somehow it is reaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllly Catholic to do that. Evangelical poverty, as religious are called to, involves total donation to Christ within a certain vocation. Things held in common are for serving human needs of the religious, and the religious exist to serve the needs in those to whom they are sent. To serve as Christ would serve, and to serve as serving Christ. Stuff is to be used, not to be accumulated. I'm sure there are emotional needs that all people at one point use stuff to try to assuage. But that's not what use is supposed to be about, because we also have a most real human need to bring our emotional issues to the Lord. Anything less is less than human.

Families, of course, need different things than religious do, and my house looks quiet a bit different also because there are not 20+ adults who each take responsibility for cleanliness and order! But it has been good food for thought today.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pondering Conversion

I am involved with a committee for re-vamping Baptismal prep for parents in our city. This is part of a larger reconfiguring within in the Diocese of Steubenville, right now having most impact on the city of Steubenville itself.

Background for anyone who actually reads this blog... this is a small diocese, mostly rural, and the biggest Catholic population center is the city of Steubenville. It used to be a booming town but has gone bust with the dwindling steal industry over the last 30-40 years. We now have a population of 18,000 with eight Catholic parishes within the city limits. Not to mention probably 8 or 10 more within an easy 10-15 minute drive. So six are closing in the city, including the Cathedral, and all are being consolidated into this new Cathedral parish. (A new Cathedral is being constructed, which has drawn a huge amount of flap, sigh.)

So last night we had a meeting of this group who has created a Baptismal prep plan/presentation, which will be offered to prospective parents who come forward on the first Sunday of each month, if they want their child baptized in any of the Steubenville parishes.

But when we started, the current DRE of some of the parishes involved expressed her frustration with the level of "not-getting-it-ness" among parents. This woman is supposed to coordinate Sacramental prep for children, and she found almost two dozen kids who had not registered for Sacramental prep, even though they were of the designated age to do so. The presumption was the parents didn't realize what the timeline was, even though it has been set as it currently is for a decade.

That led to discussion of the need for deeper catechesis for parents. There was discussion of having classes coordinated with each year of their child's age. So, your child is birth to three, you go to these classes each year. Kindergarten and first grade, that class; First Holy Communion and Confirmation prep, that other class, and upwards. (Our diocese has recently decided to celebrate FHC and Confirmation together at the same Mass, at age 7/8, otherwise known as 2nd grade. Radical!)

But this doesn't sit well with me, primarly as one who has suffered infertility and an eternity-long adoption situation where my son was technically in foster care with us. If we tie in Adult Faith Formation strictly to childbearing and raising, where does that leave singles and marrieds with no children? Marrieds who, heaven forbid, lose their children? How does it work with single parents? Teens with kids?

So many variables.

But what it seems to come down to is this: If you want to effectively reach children, you cannot realistically expect children to experience conversion that their parents have not. At least, you cannot expect for the children to have an easy time of it if they are swimming upstream against their home culture to live their lives in the Lord.

Maybe even more basic than that is that every person is called to ongoing conversion in Christ, and this is the dire need among adult Catholics, even those in the pews, even those with kids in Catholic schools -- even those who are catechizing others.

So the question is: How do we bring others to conversion?

My, this sounds like a question that Lay Apostles are being raised up for. Why does everything in life seem to come back to that for me?!

We need serious prayer power going on. We can have programs up the wazoo and they won't be effective without the grace of God empowering them.

The priest on our committee returned to the question: How do you get people to show up? That is a very good question. Prayer. One on one. Maybe people don't need to show up to another gathering; they need to change things in their own lives. Empty them out of the constant running. Conversion.

Well, I'm not writing this to produce the answer, but to ponder it. Please, if you are out there reading, ponder with me. You can leave a comment as "anonymous" if you don't have a Blogger account.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Importance of Setting Goals

Brain Science New Years Resolutions

This article has me pondering my own goal-setting. I believe in a way as I have been lead down the path of a Lay Apostle, the Lord has been trying to establish in me (in all of us) the goal of striving for sanctity through devotion to daily duty. This is pretty much the basic thrust of the Christian Faith, but it certainly has been reawakened to me with specific import. For example, I began feeling drawn to always pray a daily consecration about a year ago, so when I discovered this as a key element in the Lay Apostle spiritual practices, it was a natural fit.

This also raises questions in my mind about other goals: what about my children's education/unschooling; what about my tendancy to make a goal out of every interest I ever have?

Much more pondering to do here, not enough time right now.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mother of a Soul

Happy New Year to... well, to you, if you happen to read this, and happy feast day of Mary, the Mother of God, celebrated by Catholics today.

I've had two phrases rummaging around in my mind all day today.

One was from this morning's homily at Mass. Msgr. Cornelius was preaching on the theology of today's feast day, elaborating a bit on why and how we call Mary the Mother of God. (The simple version being that Mary is the mother of Jesus, Jesus is God, and therefore Mary is the Mother of God.) But the more elaborate meditation he gave was that Mary is the mother not just of the humanity of Jesus, apart from His Divinity (as there is no separating the two). Rather, Mary is the mother of Jesus' human nature and His divine nature. That is mind-boggling. But the thing that personally struck me more was an illustration Msgr. gave. He stated that a child is conceived, God creates the soul and puts it inside the teeny tiny body in its mother's womb. And the mother is the mother of not just that child's body, but that's child's soul, even though the soul did not originate with her.

The mother of a soul. That struck me.

We are separated from animals by the fact that we have souls; obviously that is extremely important. I started to think-- how conscious am I that holiness needs to be the number one desire I have for my children? Far beyond anything material; a college education, good paying job, even good health, even happiness?

Now, thanks be to God, I am no longer in the place I once was regarding a dualistic view of life that exalts "spiritual" things above "earthly" things. The whole point of the Incarnation is that the earthly and the spiritual have met in Christ and He raises up the whole kit and caboodle to be sanctified and glorified for the greater glory of God. So I'm not going to set up some false dichotomy that the material is bad and must be denied so that the spiritual can be embraced. But there's also the other end of being so focused on the temporal, the "what's it going to take for me to be happy this very second" to not keep in clear view that souls are made for God, to be united to Him, and that my vocation is as a wife to one and mother to two souls.

Ok, the second thought, I see after writing the above, is actually linked to this first one. I'm reading the last book in my stack from Anne, a Lay Apostle, called Climbing the Mountain. In it, the co-author, Bill Quinn, relates a conversation with Anne about what it means to be a lay apostle. She says, "Some souls pray a great deal... but do not love. This is not unity to Christ. This is unity to prayer..."

This also reminds me of a conversation I had with Erol when we were either dating or newly engaged in which he rather casually made reference to my interest in spiritual things as a hobby. Talk about a (much needed) pin in my balloon of puffed-upedness! I know that I depart from being loving much quicker than I depart from being religious. So this, too, I have been mulling over. Being "religious" per se, is not what Jesus is after from me -- He is after me being loving. I find it very doable to be religious and selfish at the same time. But one cannot be truly loving and selfish at the same time.

When I was on the road towards becoming Catholic, I remember slamming up against the gospel passage which sounded so offensively Catholic to me: "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me". The parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus blesses those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and the prisoners, etc., and declares condemned those who refused to do so. That gospel really got in my craw. I think it was because I pretty much realized that I not only didn't do those things, but I didn't find it important to do those things. I admit I found it almost offensive for people to do those things and claim they were serving Christ. I don't know why I had such a hard time with that gospel, but I did. I was very much the extremely religious Pharisee who was only interested in people if they were sufficiently interested in being religious, too.

Well guess what. Children, and most other normal people, are not religious addicts. They are human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, fully worthy of respect and honor because they exist. They have souls, created for God and to be in union with Him. Religiousness, especially apart from love, can actually repel people from God, because God is love. God comes through my love. Love is best expressed in service, especially where there is a felt need. Love needs to stay aware of those around me, and their needs. Love needs to just roll up its sleeves and do what is necessary. When souls, especially innocent souls of children, encounter love, they breathe in naturally and easily the Truth of God. They do not balk when they hear His Word. Jesus is, mysteriously, there with them, the least of His brothers.

So, where is this rumination going? I could boil it down to "my vocation is to love". But that rolls off the tongue too easily and can sound like a religious platitude. Someone once said that the Truth is simple but it isn't easy. The Truth is simple, but I am not! I am knotted, complex. To want nothing more than to simply sing the song God gives me, not veering off to selfishness, not forcing compliance to ideals I don't even meet as my standard of accepting others.... to not fear that I have to add to what Jesus says...

If I have not charity; If love does not flow from me, I am nothing.
Jesus, reduce me to love.