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.