Wednesday, August 26, 2009


This morning after Mass, my pastor told me he'd seen me on TV the day before. Remembering the clip (which you can see here), I reflexively responded to him, "How terribly embarrassing!" To which my pastor simply but pointedly responded, "Why?" There was a lot of hubbub going on around us at the time, and it was stated somewhat rhetorically. But that question, and that little exchange has hung in my mind today. Why, indeed.

Maybe it was the sign I was holding. Someone handed it to me. Because I was supposed to be in the meeting that got canceled, not standing outside with protesters, I didn't have a sign of my own making. The sign said "I am not your ATM machine." And yes, it is true that I believe government should not impose oppressive, and especially unconstitutional, taxes. Truth be told, though, I am not at all good at standing up and saying "What is happening to me is unjust." I don't think this is a virtue, but I am more inclined to accept injustice to myself than protest it. So, perhaps it was the sign that expressed personal indignation at injustice that seemed embarrassing.

Or maybe it is just that I still have this reflex about sharing something out of my heart in public.

Why am I always spilling my guts in my blog then? TV is just a different form of media... Ok, never said this was a logical feeling.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Contemplating the Straw in Bethlehem

Today at Mass I couldn't help but think of the straw in the cave where Jesus was born. Here is the immaculate Son of God, the One desired by all ages. There, animals. St. Joseph did his best, I am sure, to make sure the animal droppings were cleared out for Mary, but the scent of that stuff has a way of hanging on. The animals themselves have a certain scent, and it wasn't the scent of wood shavings from the carpenter's shop.

But as I contemplated that scene, two concepts welled up in me. First, Reality. The amazing Incarnation, the Son of God truly present in the world. Along with the smelly animals. Second, affection. When I truly behold what has happened, I do not, I cannot, think less of Jesus because of the animals, I have to think more of the smell because of Jesus. I know that I do not like the smell of cow dung. But it is here, with Christ, and so somehow, it also is taken up in my adoration of Him. That smell of cow dung might put me off from kneeling before Christ (what if I kneel in it?), but I have to go back to the heart of Reality. It is Christ.

I looked out over the congregation as I cantored today, and I remembered the times before I entered the Church when I cringed at the thought of being identified with those people, those Catholics. Today I looked with a sense of affection. I realize I still might be put off by the way Christ chooses to be present with us, but I am encouraged to see others kneeling in my straw and not worrying about getting their knees dirty. God grant me the courage to always do the same.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Happiness

I've selected some of the passages from the Catechism that mention happiness as I meditate a bit on my last post. I started to put passages in bold that were particularly striking, but found myself bolding almost everything...

1718 The Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness. This desire is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it:
We all want to live happily; in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition, even before it is fully articulated.

How is it, then, that I seek you, Lord? Since in seeking you, my God, I seek a happy life, let me seek you so that my soul may live, for my body draws life from my soul and my soul draws life from you.

God alone satisfies.

1818 The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

2548 Desire for true happiness frees man from his immoderate attachment to the goods of this world so that he can find his fulfillment in the vision and beatitude of God. "The promise [of seeing God] surpasses all beatitude. . . . In Scripture, to see is to possess. . . . Whoever sees God has obtained all the goods of which he can conceive."

45 Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness: When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrow or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete (St. Augustine, Conf. 10, 28, 39: PL 32, 795}.

1723 The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement - however beneficial it may be - such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love:
All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world - it may be called "newspaper fame" - has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.
30 "Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice." Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, "an upright heart", as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:

The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.
1024 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.

Profound stuff here. I see that seeking after happiness through the desires in our hearts is indeed God's idea. I remember Fr. Roberto at the CL Lenten retreat last year talking about how all of our desires are to be heeded as the beginning of the way to seek God. That seemed really radical to me. Of course, our desires can go quickly askew to the degree our hearts are impure, but this is the other startling thing I glean from this reading: the desire for happiness is key to how our hearts are made pure by God's grace. This is exactly how St. Augustine could say "Love God and do what you will," because the love of God will purify our heady, indulgent, disordered desires as we walk with our hearts open to Him and His Church. The openness has to be concrete, though, meaning that our lives need to be, to a fitting degree, open books to our friends in Christ. Else we too easily deceive ourselves. Hence all this talk of living in communion.

Golly, I love being Catholic!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lookin' for Fun and Feelin' Guilty

Ok, so usually when I post on this blog I take great care to have well-worked out thoughts. But there are times when I use blogging itself as a way to work out thoughts, and I seem to be in more of this mode these days.

I have noted throughout my life that I don't identify with having the feeling of guilt. This used to be a sort of strangely prominent thought in my mind's landscape, as odd as it is for an apparent absence to be prominent. But today I identified a feeling of guilt, and I'm wondering what this is telling me.

I told my husband this tonight and he burst out laughing (well, "burst" in the very mild way he bursts). My feeling of guilt was over the fact that we went to the 11am Mass this morning instead of the 9am Mass. You see, yesterday morning he had suggested that we go to the 9am Mass, since we've been getting up early and all these days, and because we had our parish picnic this afternoon. I said at the time "I suppose we could," but in reality my feeling was "No, that would be so disappointing!" The disappointment stemmed from thinking of not being able to talk to my friends who go to the 11am Mass. I'm just not able to process this freely enough yet to be able to simply have the thought available to say to my husband, "No, that would disappoint me because I wouldn't be able to talk to my friends!"

As it turned out, my daughter woke me up at about 3:50 for a drink of water, and it was after 5 when I got back to sleep because the cat had gotten herself stuck in the bathroom, and I was too awake to not worry about her falling through the false ceiling tiles onto the kitchen floor (long story) and too tired to get her out of the bathroom. So when my alarm went off at 7 I duly turned it off, and when my husband came to wake me up I explained I'd missed a chunk of sleep and wanted to sleep some more. In the meantime, my son woke up, so hubster and he built a Lego town until I got up, too close to 9am to comfortably make it to that Mass.

So, I should have been happy, right? I got what I wanted. We went to the 11am Mass, I got to see two friends and their brand new babies, I set up a play date for my children and had a few other side conversations. But no, my heart was not completely free, because I felt I had stolen what I wanted, and I felt guilty. That was perhaps most noticeable to me because of the conversations I did not have or pursue, but wanted to.

This makes me realize that my seeming lack of the feeling of guilt in the past is probably better understood as such a ubiquitous sense of guilt that I knew nothing else but. My inability to enjoy has been essentially a denial of my right to be happy unless it happens to me absolutely, unarguably by accident. It's not my fault that I'm happy! is the only condition under which I once was used to happiness. Happiness was always a purely passive experience of something happening to me, and not something I sought after. No wonder I experienced it so rarely.

Now I feel like I am learning to undo all these bizarre and twisted ways of thinking about my relationships and my happiness. Well, I can't undo it, but I can become conscious of it and pray for and receive the grace to be free, and ask my friends "This is bizarre and twisted, isn't it?"

This is bizarre and twisted, isn't it?

P.S. If you need help with the blog post title, this is for you.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Random thoughts on the Feast of the Assumption

This morning my family went to Mass at our parish for the non-obligatory feast day (in this country, at least, because of the Saturday). Hence this post, and the sharing of some random liturgical thoughts.

First of all, I've recently become an Eight O'Clock convert. What I mean by that is I've begun getting up early to bring my children to the Mass at our parish at 8am rather than the 12:05 Mass at Franciscan University which we have frequently for the last, oh, six years or so. When my son was very small and always woke me up early we went to this 8am parish Mass. But then the days were seeming extremely long to me, and I needed the midday break to go out at noon. I developed a strong affection for that Mass community as well. But these days I've just found we need more of a chunk of time together at home, and we need to get up earlier (myself included). So after summer scheduling gave us the incentive to try out the early Mass, I could see that we needed to make this a "permanent" part of our routine. (As permanent as things get with family life.)

And I have found that I am once again developing a really strong affection for my parish. I think this has also grown out of my experience with my choir. The choir has not met now since June, but I have found that when I see people from the choir at church, or other places, I experience a kind of affection for them that really surprises this mostly non-affectionate person. Last Sunday when I cantored, I had the words poised on my lips to ask Joe (the organist and choir director) "So, WHEN are we starting up again?" the moment he finished his postlude, but alas he beat me to it and told me before I could ask. I don't even have any complaint in my heart going to daily Mass and singing with the daily Mass organist who struggles just a bit. I just feel like everything in my parish is bathed in this lovely light of belonging. It makes me sad for all the years I spent nitpicking things to death, both as a Catholic and before.

So, those random liturgical thoughts. It struck me today: if people want to spontaneously hold hands without rubric-heed, wouldn't it make more sense to do so during the creed than during the Our Father? In the creed we are speaking as one people, and it isn't really a prayer, it's more like a declaration. It is the symbol of our unity. Ok, so prayer is done in unity as well (yes, all of Christian life), but why that prayer? Well, that's not really my point.... my point is why not the creed? Of course, those who are going to pay rubric-heed probably won't do it at all. But, you know, just for the sake of argument...

Another thing that struck me today: There's a name for the part in the Mass where the priest holds up the consecrated host and then we pray "I am not worthy to receive you...", and I can't think of the liturgical name right now. But at that point today our priest said "Behold the Son of Mary, the Son of God...." And it struck me -- I could understand how some misinformed person could understand him to have just said "Mary is God." But of course Mary is not God. The truth is amazing though. Jesus, who is completely divine, is also completely human, and by grace and the exercise of freedom of one human being, this (humanly) impossible union came to be. Mary, a mere human elevated by God's grace by a unique gift, brought forth the Son of God into the world. I, a mere human elevated by God's grace in the common gift of baptism, am called to bring for the Son of God into the world through my union with Christ in His Church. There is this amazing, mind-blowing thing that happens in my heart, through my life. I meet Christ, here, now, in the flesh and blood people of the Church, a powerful transformation takes place, and something new comes to life that I cannot make. I could meditate on that every hour for the rest of my life and I think it would still not cease to amaze me. I think for some time I was like the person who had heard someone say "Mary is God." I'm frequently reminded of what Dr. Mark Miravalle always said: "If you get Mary wrong, you get the Church wrong. If you get Mary right, you get the Church right." So, so true.

This leads well into another stray thought: I really love bowing at the line in the creed "By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." I always like kneeling on Christmas and the Annunciation at that point, too. I wish I could just lay prostrate, but that would be a rather awkward liturgical gesture! That one line is the basic content of my life of conversion, and it tends to make me teary-eyed.

I think a sense of belonging is something I have longed for my whole life, without always being able to name it. It is a little scary sometimes. I remember once years ago talking with a Risen Savior friend (my pre-Catholic fellowship) who had just gotten married. The conversation was generally about how he would give anything the Lord asked him to, and one comment he made stuck with me. He said he hoped the Lord wouldn't ask him to give up his wife, sort of ala Abraham and Isaac. That stuck with me because I could identify with that desire to please God in all things and yet the insecurity of wondering if the delightful things in my life were really "mine to keep" or if I would experience God snatching them away. I am sure this fear and mistrust is rooted in negative life experiences and not in a knowledge of God's goodness. Yes, people do die, friends move away, relationships sour and crumble. But it is a tremendously painful state when these potentials make basic bonding and belonging difficult to ever achieve in the first place. And so holding the gift of belonging, knowing that I do not make it, knowing it is given to me from God, is I guess an exercise of poverty, a real freedom, a real call to courage, a call to give rather than to hold on to.

Like Mary belonging to Jesus. Rewarded at the end of her life by seeing Him again, face to face. Wow. Those faces must be far more valuable than I can comprehend.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Relationships are funny things. They require a lot of energy from me. But even though I am pretty darn introverted, I am a human being, so relationships are vital to who I am.

At Mass this morning I was reviewing the landscape of my relationships right now, and I found all sorts of odd and conflicting feelings arising as I reviewed. Because the Steubenville for Liberty meeting is coming up tomorrow night I am once again very aware of the crowd of strangers that I have recently welcomed into my life. This is a political education and activism group that I am facilitating as an offshoot of the local Tea Party I organized in the spring. Just one of the many ways that this endeavor is striking to me is that in the past I tended to think that I was only comfortable interacting with people who thought like I do. This gave me a pretty good excuse to eschew or reject a lot of people on the suspicion that, in fact, they were not me. This group of folks throws me in with lots of people that I know for certain are not me. But through them I've learned that I have changed, and that I can respect and have affection for people with whom I have all sorts of different ideas and motivations. It's funny to discover this in a group that is sort of based on the premise of like-minded people coming together.

Politics is weird, too. I am motivated by going to the root of issues with people and judging how to live, how to be, how to think in light of what is there. I am not so motivated by trying to push and shove for power in society. I am allergic to paranoia and fear-mongering. I do, however, believe that many aspects of our government are actually far worse than most people suspect. But at heart, I know that what empowers us to live in the face of these realities is the encounter with Christ. And as completely "daisy on a field of tanks" as it feels, I realize I am called to bring the presence of Christ to this crowd of strangers, and witness to His presence that I find there. So, it's about relationships, even though I feel weak and vulnerable both in myself and against the political landscape. That's one weird set of feelings I encountered this morning.

Then, I think about the relationships that just make me happy. I was struck with the realization that whether I try to frantically grasp these close to me out of insecurity or whether I sort of neglect them and take them for granted or just lack gratitude for them, these relationships are gifts that I did not create or give myself. Yes, I know that for a relationship to be so I need to take a part. I have a lot of experience at not picking up the receiver on friendships. But I did not give myself my husband, my children, my parish, my friends, those who call me to cling to Christ. The antidote to the strange mixture of anxieties I felt this morning is simple: gratitude. It all comes from God's hand. I'm guessing because I'm having trouble embracing with gratitude feeling like a daisy on a field of tanks, I'm also having trouble living in gratitude (and not anxiety) about my other relationships.

Time to pray:

You have no need of our praise, but our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our thanks adds nothing to your greatness, but helps us grow in your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. Help me, Lord, to grow in your grace by the gift of gratitude.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Fr. Giussani and the Escape from Alcatraz

Every time I turn around these days I find myself indebted to Fr. Giussani and the movement of Communion and Liberation for my ability to make sense of living. Last fall I was experiencing a lot of frustration with CL and my involvement with it, because suddenly this thing which had seemed so attractive to me took on a puzzling nature. I couldn't get over the special lingo the movement tends to use, and in the midst of wanting to duel over lingo I had to figure out exactly how I was supposed to live what I was learning. Call me silly, but it was hard for me to understand how I was supposed to see Christ in other people when I knew other people were just like me: limited, fallible, weak, needy. And sometimes they were not like me: dictatorial, controlling. No thanks, I'll pass.

But then at the beginning of this year God in all of His humor and wisdom unfurled the perfect coup de grace in my life (just read the posts tagged choir). Now suddenly what Giussani writes and what those CL folks talk about experiencing is not like an elusive beauty that flits past me occasionally like a butterfly there and gone. It is something I have experienced and can ponder.

That scene from the movie Helen Keller comes to mind, where Helen has her first inkling of understanding what those irritating hand motions Anne Sullivan does are for. She drops the pitcher and articulates "wa-wa". As the lights go on in her consciousness, she begins running from thing to thing, demanding to know what they are. I don't know if that's exactly how it happened in history, but it makes a lovely dramatic moment in the movie. To tweak that moment a bit, I feel like in every challenge I come across lately the lights go on for me and I see how that which I have gained from CL makes all the difference for me.

I'll try to illustrate.

Recently I had an experience of traveling with my family. We went to several places that have strong mental associations for me of times less happy than now. Add to the mix some sensory processing issues (take for instance the phenomenon of shrieking children and a 12 hour car trip) and other interpersonal challenges, and you have quite the recipe.

I've endured all this before; it was nothing new. But what I realized this time was how much I need Christ and His Church! My life-long gravitational pull has been to go inside my mind, inside myself, like a possum playing dead. I started to do this, and although the numbing effect was evident, it no longer registered with me like anything remotely connected with freedom! It was awful and felt dangerous. I also felt frustrated and upset.

Then, I happened to have a chance to be online, and I posted a silly little something on Facebook, which expressed my dilemma to those with ears to hear. A good friend happened to be on at the same time, and she posted a quick comment back. Suddenly, it hit me. I guess you could say "it" was the whole content of our friendship, which is about reminding each other of Christ's presence in our lives. And suddenly I was shaken out of that yucky Alcatraz-memory place and brought into the memory of Christ's presence. Early the next morning my sleep was interrupted by a troubled child, and for hours I rehearsed in my mind the "marvelous deeds of the Lord" that have transpired in my life. The rest of the trip was still rough sledding, but I was at least more aware of what I needed.

That's the thing -- would anyone go on a trip with absolutely no provision for eating? No food, no money to buy food? Would anyone think, "well, I'll just forgo eating for a week or so, no big deal"? Of course not! But I realized that when I set out on this trip I was not thinking of what my whole family would need the most, what I in particular would need the most: tangible ways to be reminded and to remind each other about the presence of Christ in our midst. I lost touch with my need, and lost touch with how to have sympathy for it. And I have a far-too-strong stand-by ready to jump on board for that kind of passive approach. Foolish. Dangerous.

That's just one example.

As time and life permits, perhaps I can blog a few more!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Living in the Gospel Push

Can I just take this moment to say how very much I love Jesus?

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

August 1, 2009


Dearest apostles, I thank you for your efforts for Me. Do you see the fruit of your labours? Perhaps not. Perhaps you continue serving, living out your commitments with no understanding of how I bless the world through your service. I hear your sighs. I am with you in your uncertainty. In humanity, there is always uncertainty. In humanity, there is always doubt. There also comes fear and each human will experience heaviness in his heart some day. None of these things should persuade you that you are serving in vain. None of these things should distract you from a zealous representation of the gospel message. You see, the message is so much bigger than each of you. And yet, each of you is necessary. The gospel truth pushes itself into a world that craves truth, even while it rejects truth. You, beloved apostle, are part of that push. You will feel the strain in your body and soul. You will feel the sacrifice. If you did not feel any such strain or sacrifice, there would be cause for concern because living and spreading the gospel is work. When you feel tired, remember that I also felt tired. Never separate your sufferings from My sufferings and you will be at peace, even as you carry your share of the cross for this time. I am with you, loving and sustaining you. I am ever watchful. When you need Me in a special way, you shall have Me, with every grace required. Do not be afraid of anything. Your Jesus will never abandon you.