Friday, December 31, 2010

Praying for Unity

Yesterday my children and I had the opportunity to attend Mass at St. Patrick's in Pittsburgh's Strip District. The structure of the interior of this church is a bit unusual as the seating area for Mass is at the second floor level. The entry level of the church seems to be primarily an area of devotional prayer. The prominent feature that catches your eye immediately upon entering through the front door is the Holy Stairs, a replica of the 28 steps in the Church of the Holy Stairs in Rome. Those steps were brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Helena and were said to be the very ones that lay between Christ and Pontius Pilate when Christ was condemned to death.

The custom, in Rome and in Pittsburgh, is to climb these steps on one's knees, praying as one ascends. In 1993 when I visited Rome, I did this with the vast crowd there present, and yesterday I did this with my children. It was a powerful moment. As we started up the steps, I remembered distinctly how I prayed back in 1993. As a brand new Catholic, so new I could almost still smell the chrism on my forehead, with each step I prayed for people of various Christian denominations to return to union with Rome. At first yesterday I began to pray the same way, but it struck me that differentiating people this way, by denomination, touched nothing of the depth of need we all have. Instead I prayed for the grace of conversion for those who have been repulsed by Christianity and organized religion because of the sins of Christians and those acting in the name of the Church.

Christian unity comes as we all repent of our sin and embrace the cross. Only in the cross will we all be drawn together.

May this be our aim in the coming year. May the world know that we are Christians because of our love for one another.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflecting on "The Big Silence"

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted the first of 12 parts of a BBC documentary entitled "The Big Silence." It is the story of an endeavor of a Benedictine monk to teach five ordinary people the value of integrating silence into their daily lives.

There were enough buzz words in just the short introduction to the clip to have me completely hooked into the story, and by this morning I had spent the requisite three hours to watch the entire documentary. It was the most interesting thing I've seen in ages. I was completely intrigued by the experiences of these volunteers as they entered first into a monastic "dry run" of silence, experimented with trying silence on their own, and then as they dove into, and subsequently came "down off of" the meat of the experiment, which was an eight day silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat center. Their encounters with themselves, with God, with each other, were all fascinating to me.

Silence is fascinating to me. Like many things, I have this intuition that my relationship with silence is somewhat inverse to that of most people. It seems that many people fear silence. They fear facing themselves in silence; they fear what demons and dragons may emerge if they are alone with no distractions by which to dodge reality. I normally consider silence my friend, even though sometimes it goes by the name Darkness, that Simon and Garfunkel once sang about. I get wiggy if I spend too much time without silence. Far from fearing silence, I often crave silence. But I do experience a related difficulty. There are times when I try to take refuge in silence when I really need to speak out. And sometimes, that speaking is exactly what I fear. There are occasions where I fear what demons and dragons may emerge if I speak my mind too freely to someone. And there are times when Jeremiah's words are my own: "I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." (Jer. 20:9)  I have discovered that sometimes, in order to return to my peaceful quiet, I absolutely must say, or write, something.

Yesterday, before I started watching this documentary, I was pondering hard on a comment made by the friend of a Facebook friend (or, in other words, a total stranger). She had commented to me that sharing my conversion testimony (the post I wrote on Christmas Eve) must have taken a lot of courage. I suppose, in a way, it does require courage to share something from the depth of my heart. But I realize that I have practiced doing this for years. Starting when I was barely 11, I would write letters to my best friend almost every day, and I quickly discovered that writing was a way I find understanding, and that understanding brings relief to my soul. So, I hardly think about it any longer, the courage it might take to use my pen (keyboard, these days) to dig out my heart for another. The thing I struggle with is not the digging out, but choosing, or desiring, or (ouch) really needing to say to another person "I need you to hear this. I need you to read this. I need to say this to you." But I have discovered that there are times when I cannot get back to my fertile silence unless I purposefully make my voice heard to others. That thing of making my voice heard, of moving out of the silence with the word that burns in my heart, that is where my heart quakes.

I am left strongly challenged by the experiences these five individuals shared in this documentary. I am curious about the quality of my own relationship with silence. Though I love it, there are times when I am stung by how silence rhymes with violence, because indeed there have been times when the silence I keep is the silence that kills, as Rich Mullins wrote about. I have always been moved by a sequence of songs on John Michael Talbot's album The Regathering. The song "Keep Silence" (Keep silence/before the Lord/And wait for Him...) is followed by the fiery song "For Zion's Sake" (For Zion's Sake I will not keep silent/For Jerusalem's sake I will not be still/until her vindication shines forth/like dawning/and her victory like the flame of the Lord). There clearly is a time for silence and a time to speak (Ecc. 3:7). It seems, though, that there is a fine point of discernment here to know when each is appropriate. Or perhaps more accurately, both silence and speech that are open to the power of the Most High require courage that is born only of grace.

To explore the BBC series, check out The Big Silence, Growing Into Silence, or simply start watching the first portion of the program below:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Impact of Liturgy Celebrated Well

A few weeks ago, I happened to be listening to a CD by Scott Hahn on Advent, which is available from Lighthouse Catholic Media. Some of you who read this blog may realize that I used to work for Scott several years ago. So you'll understand when I say that this is the first recording of his that I've listened to in a long time! In fact, I was listening, and at a certain point I got a little bored with it, and I put in on pause and went about other business. But the next day, I realized it was still on pause, and I hit play. It just happened to be at this following section. Listening to it was one of those "peeling the paint off my soul" moments. It struck me so hard that I went back to listen to it over again, and then went back again and transcribed it all.

I share it here as I continue to ponder it. He is talking about what Pope Pius XI wrote on the occasion of establishing the Feast of Christ the King.

"There is no better way to establish Christ's kingship than to institute this special feast in honor of Christ the King. For people are better instructed in the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the interior joys of religion far more effectively by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by even the weightiest pronouncements of the teaching of the Church." Catch that? We learn the truth of Christ more profoundly, more personally, in a more life-changing way through entering authentically into the liturgy and the liturgical calendar whereby we celebrate the Mass, the glorious sacrifice, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the different seasons that correspond to the redemptive work and the cycles of Christ. He says that this is more profound and lasting, the changes this brings, than if the Church made all of these weighty pronouncements. "For such pronouncements," Pius XI says, "reach only the few, and these generally the more learned. Whereas the faithful are stirred by the celebrations and feasts." Amen. Especially if they are done well. Pronouncements speak only once; celebrations, he says, speak annually and forever. Pronouncements affect the mind primarily, celebrations have a salutary, a saving, influence on the mind and the heart, on the whole man. Man, being composed of body and soul is so moved and stimulated by the external solemnities of festivals and such is the variety of beauty of the sacred rites that he drinks more deeply of divine doctrine, he assimilates it into his very system and makes it a source of strength for progress in the spiritual life.

I'd encourage you to throw yourself, body and soul, not only into the spontaneous worship that the Holy Spirit inspires but into the liturgical worship of the Church, which the Holy Spirit has also inspired. The Holy Spirit can inspire you in the moment and the Holy Spirit can inspire us through the ages, according to the natural cycles and the seasonal festivals that our fathers established. For what family grows strong that doesn't celebrate anniversaries and birthdays with a lot of vim and vigor? When we enter into the season of Advent, this is the greatest birthday celebration of all....

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Christmas Eve Conversion Story

I have a rare opportunity this Christmas Eve evening to sit down in silence and write. Tonight my heart is pounding against what contains me to mull over what I think of as my major conversion experience. So, let me  tell the story.

It was 1991 or so, I don't remember the exact month. I had a very good friend who was married to a man attending Lutheran seminary. For some time he had been toying with the idea of becoming Catholic. His wife, my good friend, was not thrilled with the idea, and I commiserated with her. In fact I suggested that he was being attacked by demons to wish such a thing. This drama went on for several months, and finally my friend announced to me that rather than fight with her husband about it, she had agreed that they would become Catholics. Gulp.

About the same time, a man who attended my charismatic fellowship who had been raised Catholic announced to me, somewhat privately, that he was going to receive Confirmation and return to the Church. I was agitated by my married friends' announcement, but I was dumbfounded by his. I had always considered him the most intelligent, theologically correct person in the whole fellowship. And besides that, I was in love with him. In my confused way, yes, I was in love with him.

These announcements hit me within a very short time of each other. I was left very confused and very compelled to start some serious thinking about Catholicism. Growing up as a conservative Lutheran, in a church which taught that the papacy is the anti-christ, I nurtured a strong anti-Catholic sentiment. It was somehow a strong part of my own spiritual understanding of my world that I was not only not Catholic, but I was opposed to Catholicism. Why? Because I honestly believed that God was opposed to Catholicism. I believed it was an evil religious system. I remember earnestly and honestly praying this way: "Lord, I know that you hate Catholicism. But when I think about hating my friends, I get confused. Lord, if you don't want me to hate Catholics, then you have to show me why not."

It took me a long time to emotionally calm down enough to get to the point of grasping that I knew nothing about Catholicism except what I had been taught as a Lutheran. Well, it wasn't only a matter of calming down emotionally, it was also a matter of surrendering my pride. I truly thought I knew it all. I truly thought I was superior. It took me several months to come to see that if I wanted to understand the Catholic paradigm, if I wanted to understand what made Catholics different, I had to start investigating Catholic sources. I remembered that I had read Medieval mystics in college and my heart had caught fire, so to speak. I just didn't believe that anyone knew about them anymore (because, of course, I didn't, before then). That little spark of hope awoke. I bought a Catholic Bible, a copy of the documents of Vatican II, and later the book Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck. And tapes by John Michael Talbot and the Brothers and Sisters of Charity.

I read. I studied. I prayed. I was shocked. Catholics quoted the Bible. They talked about evangelism. They talked about the supernatural power of God to change lives. The arguments for doctrines like Apostolic Succession and the Marian dogmas were logical, and Biblical. I began to discover valuable riches. Things began to make sense.

Some time before this, I had been experiencing a sort of hunger for something in the worship I had loved so much in our charismatic fellowship. I had thought of liturgical worship as a ball and chain, but more and more I saw that what we did had a similar kind of planned format. I felt as if I were experiencing nothing but the "dead religion" we railed against in the mainline churches. I had been musing that surely, Lord, there was something deeper than this. I wanted to be free of "dead religion" at all cost. But it seemed to cling to me.

And here I was now, discovering riches. This process had taken all of 1991. This man who I was so in love with had left Milwaukee for seminary in London (there is so much to that story; don't know if I'll ever write about that one!). But he wrote to let me know he was coming home for Christmas. We had arranged to go out for lunch on the 23rd. On the 22nd, my grandmother passed away, and we decided that our family would not celebrate Christmas until after her funeral, which would be the 27th. This left me in Milwaukee on my own for Christmas. Keith (yes, he has a name) therefore invited me to go to the Midnight Mass with him and some friends on Christmas Eve. I was ready to say yes. In fact, it had been going through my head that attending a Mass probably would be fitting for me at some point, as another step in my investigation of Catholicism.

Before the Mass that night, we gathered at his friends' house. One of them tried to show me his rosary that had turned gold, but I couldn't look at it or even touch it. I wasn't that comfortable with Catholic things! All that stuff that had to do with saints and people and humanity turning holy -- that was just still unfathomable to me.

We walked in the church, which was named for St. Anthony of Padua. There was a large statue of him in the foyer, and I instinctively recoiled from it. I was trying to be open, but those saints were the hardest for me to stomach. We went into the church to sit down, and I saw another statue of some other Catholic guy I didn't recognize. I grumbled to Keith, "Who is that?!" "Marie!" he answered, somewhat shocked at me, "That's Jesus!"

We sat there in silence for a good long time. Other than the fact that I vaguely recognized the liturgy (it had been only four years or so since I had been at a Lutheran service), I remember only two main things striking me. (Well, the one really odd thing was how at the beginning of the gospel reading the entire congregation developed an itch on their foreheads at the same time!) The first was the penitential rite. The way I heard it, the priest was asking his people, the Catholics, to repent of their sin. It reeked of humility. And I was undone. I thought to myself, "No, Lord, it's not these people that need to repent -- it's me! I have spent years and years belittling them, hating them, making fun of them, judging them, using them to make me feel superior... They don't need to repent, Lord, I do." If that moment brought me to my knees, the next profound moment put a state of awe into me, and literally I have never been the same. Keith and his friends went forward to receive the Eucharist, and we were sitting in the very front pew. As they came back and sat down around me, my eyes were drawn to the Eucharist at the altar and I suddenly was aware that this was Jesus. This was the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, giving Himself away right there. And what, my heart shouted, was Jesus doing in a Catholic Church?

Keith dropped me off at home and I sat up until at least 4am, mostly just staring. I can't even say I was trying to take in what happened. I was so shocked. I read a magazine Keith's friend had given me, and I stared some more. Finally, I slept. I spent the next day with friends from my church, and the following day at work. But internally I was still in this moment of complete shock. I couldn't even pray, or ask the Lord about what had happened. Finally, on the evening of the 26th, I was doing some envelope stuffing at home and listening to yet another John Michael Talbot tape a friend had given me. His voice sounded so peaceful. I had to turn it off. I yelled at the tape player: "You're a Catholic, and you're supposed to be wrong. I'm a Protestant, and I'm supposed to be the one with all the peace!!"

I had finally broken the ice to sort of speak about what had happened to me at that Mass. I felt the Lord Jesus, as real as if I could see Him, sort of tap me on the shoulder and say "When you're ready to talk about this, I'll be right over there" (on my couch, where I often went to pray). I went over to the couch and began sadly lamenting and complaining to the Lord that I didn't know what to do or what this was all about. I had a lot of lament to pour out. When I was done, the Lord showed me a sort of mental vision. There were two roads. One road was wide open, and empty. I knew that this represented my life as it was right then, and I knew that one option for me was to continue on just as I had been. Then I saw the next road. A short ways down it, there was a cross standing in the road. I immediately knew three things. The cross meant that that's where Jesus was. The cross meant the Catholic Church. And I knew that I would choose to go that way.

More lamenting. (I did a lot of that in those days! No joy.) I told the Lord, in a martyrish sort of way "Oh Lord, Ok, if you want me to become a Catholic, I will. I'll become a Catholic." The Lord answered me clearly. "I don't want you to say it. I want you to sing it." The Lord was after no less than my heart. No surfacy response would do. Suddenly I sprang up. "But Lord, what about that thing about saint intercession. If I could just find that Bible verse again and ask you how that really speaks of the saints praying for us?! I'm just not sure about that yet." The Lord was stern, but kind. "Sing."

Somehow I knew exactly what to sing, so I did:

I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, No turning back

The cross before me, the world behind me; The cross before me, the world behind me; The cross before me, the world behind me
No turning back, No turning back

Though none go with me, still I will follow; Though none go with me, still I will follow; Though none go with me, still I will follow
No turning back, No turning back

Well, no, come to think of it, that isn't what I sang, but it was in what I sang which was this:  "I have decided to become a Catholic. I have decided to become a Catholic. I have decided to become a Catholic. No turning back, No turning back."

I am still unpacking this experience. I realize now that it was absolutely no mistake that this happened at a Midnight Mass of Christmas. The message that has been sinking into my heart ever since that night is that in the Incarnation, God proclaims that holiness and humanity have wedded. In Christ, the way is open for holiness to enter the frailty of our human existence. This does a drop kick to the notion that humanity is, in its essence, depraved and capable only of depravity. The goodness of creation is once again restored and proclaimed and affirmed, and in it I too am restored and proclaimed good, and affirmed. We humans are made for the lofty purpose of receiving from the Lord glory, and bearing it forth to all the world. We are made for transformation unto holiness. We are not only loved by God because we are have been cleaned up by Jesus' blood. While we were yet sinners, Christ loved us, unto death! He loves us because of who we are, even in our sin! I think my notion of Christianity had been that our sin had messed things up so badly that Jesus had to fix us and then God let us into heaven simply because he agreed to forget about who we really are. But all along it was really only Himself that He loved. No! The Incarnation proves that Jesus loved us enough to live among us in our sin, and to patiently love us until we are made hungry for His love.

The Incarnation continues, of course, in the Body of Christ, His Church. I love being Catholic, but more importantly, I love Catholics! I love non-Catholics too, but I have a special love for the very type of Catholic I once judged myself superior to. Every time I see a run-of-the-mill Catholic (no, wait. I decided just recently these don't exist. Each Catholic is a miracle.) Every time I witness a certain flame of the love of God in the heart of a Catholic person, I well up with awe inside my soul, and a wave of unworthiness to be in their presence washes over me. There are moments when I kneel in Mass and I am so overcome with gratitude for the privilege of just being there. God has filled me with great joy, great peace, and great delight.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 915)

Post Script:
After I wrote this post, at Midnight Mass, the priest in his homily commented on a quotation from St. Leo the Great that sums up succinctly what is in my heart: the key of what we are given in the Incarnation is our own dignity, restored. The quote:
"Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom. Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit."

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Miscarriage Anniversary... Gift

Some days simply have so many joyful bits and deep important things happening in them that I feel like I go around with my arms full of jewels, dropping them all over as I go.

Today I had an experience that left me feeling God wrapping me in His strong arms, pulling me close to Him, and whispering in my ear, "It's OK. I understand." Even if I write it out sloppily I wanted to try to capture it in words before I drop it, too.

This morning I had about 25 minutes to work on learning some music we will sing in choir for Christmas. It's in Latin and sort of polyphonic, which is not the sort of thing I can just belt out at first sight-reading. It requires work. My attempts to work on it thus far have not gone well at all. While it is true that my brain does not learn music well when the piece is in Latin, in the past I have been able to learn such things by putting in a lot of effort. It just wasn't working for me, now nor did it last year when we practiced it (but ended up setting it aside as it wasn't coming together). Today, attacking the work with great determination, I realized the hurdle I wasn't clearing was precisely the memory of last year's effort. Though I tried then, I was simply too depressed last year to do this type of work because I was overwhelmed by the first anniversary of a baby we lost, two years ago tomorrow. And until I faced that haunting memory I emotionally associated with this piece, my attempts to work at learning it were futile. But face it I did, and I was finally able to make great strides in learning it today.

Right after this realization, I gathered my children and we were off to Mass. When we go to Franciscan University I always drop them off near the door of the chapel so that they don't have to walk with me up the big hill where I park. While I walked I thought of how I had struggled so hard against singing my alto part for this song. The tenor part sunk into my mind, but I just couldn't focus on my part. I thought to myself, part of my grief of losing this baby is this experience of my part as a woman, of my body becoming a graveyard. It felt even a bit too melodramatic as I thought it, but thought it I did, and I shed a few tears in the quick moment up the hill. I realize that sometimes when life hurts, I really don't want to be a woman!

I was seated as Mass, and heard the reading from Isaiah:

Raise a glad cry, you barren one who did not bear, break forth in jubilant song, you who were not in labor, For more numerous are the children of the deserted wife than the children of her who has a husband, says the LORD. Enlarge the space for your tent, spread out your tent cloths unsparingly; lengthen your ropes and make firm your stakes. For you shall spread abroad to the right and to the left; Your descendants shall dispossess the nations and shall people the desolate cities. Fear not, you shall not be put to shame; you need not blush, for you shall not be disgraced. The shame of your youth you shall forget, the reproach of your widowhood no longer remember. For he who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth. The LORD calls you back, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, A wife married in youth and then cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer. This is for me like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah should never again deluge the earth; So I have sworn not to be angry with you, or to rebuke you. Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
The priest in his homily talked about how the kingdom of God belongs to the small, to the forgotten ones, and does not come in glitz and glamor. The all powerful one comes, how? As a baby. What could be more vulnerable, he asked, than a newborn baby. (I can tell you, I thought. A newly conceived baby.)
As I continued to pray in that Mass, I sensed small ways the Lord has been nudging at my heart, and just as had happened with the first baby I miscarried, I had a sudden insight into the significance of the name we had chosen for this baby. (It was really my children who chose the name; I could not bring myself to be involved.)

All of these things floating through the hour and a half I've talked about here were like one flowing conversation with the Lord. I was washed over again by the mystery of His presence with me, the tenderness of His love toward me, and His persistent yet mysterious leading.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"Please Be Joyful"!

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

December 1, 2010
My dear apostles, together, we are making advances. Humanity groans with the changes coming upon them and yet heaven’s servants become holier and holier. The project that is your holiness is on track. Dear apostles, this is the most important thing and this should be your greatest concern. I want you to be aware of your progress. Instead of being distracted by the changes occurring in the world, you are actively participating in the changes through your personal commitment to remain connected to My will in each day. You are offering your service through your allegiance prayer and I am accepting your service and using you to teach others what true holiness looks like. From the outside, you probably look as though you are working hard. From the outside, it is probably evident that your commitment has cost you something, meaning, your own plan. You have submitted your plan to Me and I have handed you My plan in return. Accepting My plan for your life is not easy and some moments are more difficult than other moments, and yet, you continue. You strive for total acceptance of My will. This is what I am asking of you and this is what the Father asked of Me. Abandonment. If you want to learn about abandonment, simply look to My figure on the cross. My Passion offers you a glimpse of where abandonment took Me. Your joy in service offers others a glimpse of where abandonment has taken you. Please be joyful. Your joy offers the world hope. Joy is infectious. And hope is infectious. Suffering passes away and what remains is your offering. I am returning. I tell you this because it is true and I want you to be prepared and to help others to be prepared. All is well. The infant King looks out upon a world which craves Him. Bring Me to others, that they may also herald My return.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yearning For Advent

With this post I have successfully completed a full month's blogging. And with a quick pat on my own back, I shall now forget about it until next November, maybe. Not that I won't blog, of course... There is something nice about setting a goal and fulfilling it, and there was something helpful to me in requiring the discipline to write daily. But it is an effort that sometimes left me feeling I was sacrificing more important things. I suppose part of the value in doing it is embracing those more important things with greater intention.

But, enough of this writing about writing about writing.

Where my heart finds me right now is longing for Advent. Oh, we're in it all right, but that doesn't mean that my heart can't still be longing. More and more I find Christ calling me right in the midst of laundry and cat litter, history and letter sounds, dinner prep and brushing my teeth. It is a strange sense, because sometimes I even think I want to fly from these in order to pray, or think. But then I realize that my dinner prep, offered with a longing in my heart for Him, is prayer, and makes meaningful the words when I do say them, or the thoughts when I meditate on them.

I am challenged, too, by something John Michael Talbot often repeats about what it means, for example, to forsake even one's family for the kingdom of God. He emphasizes that it isn't some cult-flavored hatred or shunning or forsaking we are to do, but a Christ-flavored surrendering we are to do. When I surrender my whole reality, especially those who are closest to me, to Christ's lordship, then Christ returns into my life my reality imbued with His Spirit. In Christ, family is no longer my slave or master, my judge or my whipping-boy. My family becomes the call of Christ to me to follow Him, and to be free. When I follow Him, my world widens, my heart widens, my family widens. I think those old Coke commercials appeal to us ("I'd like to teach the world to sing/in perfect harmony") because there is a yearning in our hearts for a communion that is beyond our power to create. It is the communion that is created only as we follow Christ. We fear following Christ, I think, like we fear death and pain. But as we keep our eyes on heaven, on what lies beyond the death and pain, on the love Christ bears for us right here and right now... yeah, we are empowered and en-couraged to go where He is, to follow after Him in hot pursuit.

So, a Blessed Advent to all. May you following the yearning in your heart for peace, for unity, for love. He is real. You aren't yearning in vain.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Laziness is Unsexy

On Saturday I was at a wedding and heard a fairly good homily. The focus was on the term "passion" as suffering, and how love is truly love to the extent that it costs. The priest talked about how the phrase "this is my body, given for you," is fitting in not only the sexual context of marriage, but in every aspect of the physical giving that we do. Of course, this would include work, childbearing, care taking, and etc.

It strikes me that for this reason perhaps, laziness is a very unsexy characteristic! If I am to demonstrate love for my husband, but do not wish to sweep the floor because it seems like too much work, then I am not particularly embracing the passion of married life. That is not to relegate certain tasks to certain gender roles, of course. My point is that being willing to give of oneself must be enfleshed. The passion of life, the fire, the love, the excitement, does not come in great waves of emotional exaltation (or perhaps I should say not only in great waves of emotional exaltation) but also in the free and decided gift of my effort, my sweat. And perhaps especially when this goes mostly unseen, unapplauded. I think this is not only sexy, but grace-filled! I'm actually not sure there is a real need to differentiate between the two adjectives.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Choosing Happiness

I'm still feeling a bit stunned by an experience I had tonight while watching a movie. I want to just hold on to that for now, so that's all I'll say about the movie. But in response to it, my heart feels like making a sort of declaration: I am going to be happy.

Now, this isn't a statement of a future plan, as if I'm feeling unhappy, currently. It is more of an assertion that I deserve to be happy. Maybe it feels more theologically comfortable for me to say that God created me for happiness, and I will live as God created me to live. Maybe that's just too complicated. For the moment, I'll stay with "I deserve to be happy."

Seems weird, doesn't it, for someone to struggle against their own happiness. We are made for happiness. I once wrote a whole blog post about what the Catholic Catechism has to say about it. All I can say is that I have been at war against my natural desire for happiness for as long as I can remember. Maybe we all do that? I don't know enough about every other person on this planet to answer that. (Tell me if you think it's true for you. I'm interested.) I think that somehow I felt that my happiness would hurt others around me, especially those who were not happy. Happiness became something I had to hide, squelch, sneak, or deny in an attempt to... keep others happy! How stupid! But how perfectly descriptive of how I have lived! This has really affected my spiritual life over many years, because I "had to be" so private about my happiness. So many life decisions I hesitated over because I feared that the happiness I found in my decision would wound someone close to me. Or, because I was so bound up worrying about disappointing or upsetting someone, I failed to put energy into discerning well the decisions that were in front of me.

I think this all goes back to a child's wish to be able to wave a magic wand and to make all the world's problems go away. To make all my world's problems go away. I remember several years ago, maybe ten now, watching Shirley Jackson's The Lottery (the movie version, obviously). I remember that two things struck me: First, the people were performing a sacrifice, a horrible, unthinkable, and deeply anti-Christian sacrifice, in order to keep the world as they knew it in orbit. Second, this mirrored something in my life. It was deeply disturbing, and I remember going to Mass soon afterward as if I were waking up from a bad dream, and thinking about the sacrifice of Christ and how it was for me... as if I were meeting this truth for the first time all over again. Grace works deeply, and God is so patient to see His work accomplished. To seek to kill off one's own desire for happiness to accomplish the "salvation" of someone else is anti-Christian. My desire for happiness is my desire for God. Unhappy people in my life do not need more misery to surround them. Just like I do, they need God, the One they, in their unhappiness, are seeking.

It's hard to be happy around an unhappy person. I'll never forget a brief exchange I had with a priest, my former spiritual director, Fr. John Campbell, S.J. He wasn't my spiritual director at the time, but it was a few weeks before the first time we met in that context. We had already been introduced and I'd been attending his daily Mass for many months, so we knew each other to a degree. It was after a Sunday Mass, and for some reason I don't remember, after Mass I was sobbing my little eyes out. I was standing in the main aisle of the church when he passed by me and said, purposefully, "Have a good day." It seemed such a strange thing to say to someone who was so obviously sad. But it struck me that rather than him trying to wallow down into my sadness, he was trying to invite me to come out into something better.

Is it not so much better to feel one's powerlessness in changing another person but stay united with Christ in hope than it is to gain some sort of twisted sense of power by making of oneself a pagan holocaust? If I just make myself miserable, that will help you! How silly. The only good I can ever offer anyone will come from Christ through my relationship to Him. That relationship comes first, at all cost.

Even the cost of finally accepting that God wishes for me to be happy, and therefore I must embrace that wish of His as my own.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Few-Worded Weekend: Copying Beethoven

Watched this movie tonight for the third time.

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Need to Trust my WHAT?! (Part Two)

I've been allowing the challenge recently brought to me by Fr. X to soak in a bit. I'll tell you how it hits me. I could imagine myself bravely taking a bullet for the Lord in a firing squad, but the prospect of feeling and expressing my emotion reflexively makes me want to run and hide. Yes! I admit it. I'm a chicken.

Here's what I typically do: I identify an emotion within myself, and then I treat it as a puzzle to solve, to connect it with meaning, to see how it calls me to think about my life and reality. But I skip over the part of actually feeling it. Or, if I find I cannot skip over it because of its power, I feel like someone being dragged behind a powerful force, which in and of itself is really frightening.

I couldn't help but think at Mass today how each time we receive the Lord in communion we "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." Or, as Scott Hahn said, we "swear an oath," giving our lives completely to the Lord unto the death. At that point in the Mass we have just witnessed what our salvation cost Christ, and now we are called to respond with the pledge of our own lives, fueled and empowered by the grace our response to receive Him gives us. So, while today my call is not to take a bullet from a firing squad, my call is to heed where the Lord in our relationship is pointing me. We are never called to what is theoretically heroic or virtuous, but to what counts -- where the rubber hits the road!

I realize I've developed quite a "talent" if you will for talking about deep and personal things, and even doing so expressively, but with my emotions at a distance from me. I think this makes writing a double-edged sword, because even though it does allow me more freedom to get my thoughts out than speaking does, I also know it doesn't always require emotional processing. I think it is a sort of personal meditative type work, really. It takes silence. I need to manage my use of silence differently, I see.

But acknowledging that I can sit in silence with my emotions tells me that God who holds my life is bigger. Him, I trust. Why haven't I trusted my emotions? Well, I suppose having felt like they were dragging me like someone chained to a pick up would be a good starting clue!

Ok, I will venture to write about something and actually feel it. With Thanksgiving at hand, I've realized how much I looked forward to, longed for, felt comforted by, getting together with my extended family when I was a kid. Even then, though, there was an element of longing for other times. I remember seeing pictures and hearing people talk about when the gatherings were bigger, and were not just by aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents, along with my family, and any stragglers-in or hangers-on in the mix. (My aunt and uncle provided adult foster care for many years, and besides those folks it seemed we often had other random people in the mix that I didn't know.) Even as a kid I had a sense of nostalgia for a time I never personally knew, when my grandparents' siblings and their families would also gather. They are all dead now, and I haven't seen my two cousins in twenty years. Entering these feelings now, I can be happy that my children can experience this same sense of comfort when we come together as a family, though we are much smaller now. I can also see I have grief in my heart for the death and the loss in my family of origin.

There they are -- my feelings. It is unusual for me to not follow up with "and this is what it means" and "here's the spiritual reality that heals it" and "here's the good that comes from pain." For now,these are all a bit tired. Peace does come in giving up the fight against feeling.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's Thanksgiving; I'm Taking the Easy Way Out

A list of ten things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving:

1. sunshine
2. gardens
3. my daughter's voice
4. my son's willingness
5. laughter with friends
6. food
7. my computer
8. warm blankets and warm showers
9. music
10. Daily Mass!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Practical Wednesday: product review!

Time for a nice, practical post in the midst of holiday preparations.

Product review!

I recently purchased a bottle of Ecover Limescale Remover, and I give it a big thumbs up. We have pretty horrendous water in our little town, and an old tub that has never seemed clean regardless of what I've used (which has included bleach, Comet, Barkeeper's Friend, and a variety of cleaning soaps). I sprayed down the tub with this, let it soak, and then scrubbed and reapplied. (Truth be told, I let the stuff dry on because I forgot about it for a few hours.) It looks so much better. I like the fact that it isn't toxic, doesn't stink, and is safe enough to let my daughter help me. It's not dirt cheap, and I suspect the active agents could be purchased and assembled for much less, but sometimes an easy clean is simply worth the price to me.

On another note, I have given up on the idea of alternative cat litter. I like to try alternative just-about-anything, so when I read about pine I gave it a try. I got a 40 lb bundle of pine shavings, and then one of pine pellets, from the local feed store. While the cats enjoyed it fine, and it did actually seem to cut down on the odor and it was scads cheaper, the mess factor, in the end, ultimately has driven me back to the conventional junk you poor in the pan. However, we are trying to train the cats to go outside, which is the next best thing to teaching them to use and flush a toilet.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Need to Trust my WHAT?!

Recently as I was talking with a priest friend, he said something that really stunned me. He said, "Marie, you need to learn to trust your feelings." I think I physically jerked my neck back. I repeated the words out loud. It was as if he'd told me I'd look great with a rose bush blooming out of my nose.

I have done a lot of things with my feelings over the years, but it struck me then that using the verb "trust" in relation to them is completely foreign to me. Doesn't trusting one's feelings lead to irrational decisions? Doesn't it mean one is carrying around by whims of fancy, today going one way, tomorrow some other way? Don't feelings always lead us to baser desires, to laziness, to gluttony? Don't we have minds to free us from the tyranny of doing what we feel like doing by choosing what is right instead?

Thoughts like these sprang up immediately as I pondered his statement.

But I realized he was not speaking in general terms, he was speaking to me. Obviously he was not advising living based on emotion, only to allow emotions to stand on proverbial level ground with all of the other facets that make up my soul, and to no longer be made to sit crouching outside the back door, whimpering for table scraps and hoping for a chance to come in a get warm now and then.

This prospect is so fascinating that I can't help but write about it.

I am rather cerebral and logical. If I can see how a series of facts lines up in logical order, it gives me a sense of peace. But I do, I know, run the risk of shutting out my heart, my gut, my feelings from this process. And this makes my sense of peace, of completion, incomplete. I see that now.

Trust my feelings. I almost need to say this over and over to myself, just to get used to the feeling of the words in my mouth and the concept in my heart. They are not the final boss. They do not contradict reason. Jesus is far surer than my reason, my feelings or my heart. He is Certainty. I am finite, and shifting. But within my finite, shifting, growing, imperfect little heart, I need to trust my feelings, this capacity which Christ Himself created within me, so that the mechanism He has created for me to discern His will and follow it can function smoothly.


Monday, November 22, 2010

St. Cecilia, I love you! Pray for us!

St. Cecilia at the Organ by Carlo Dolci.

I love this story so much that I have to tell it again.

Today is my birthday, and it is also the feast of St. Cecilia, a martyr who lived about two hundred years after Christ, and the patroness of musicians. I have a unique history with this woman, and with each passing year she grows dearer to me. The story I love to tell is the story of how we met.

On Christmas Eve of 1991 I attended Midnight Mass with my friend Keith, who was home from seminary in England. It was the first time I ever attended Mass with any openness to worship, although I was still very edgy and skeptical entering Catholic territory. We went to this Mass with two friends of Keith's, and other friends joined us later. I am quite sure they all prayed for me, because I had been trying to pick a fight with my friend Keith about his newly re-discovered Catholicism ever since he left the charismatic fellowship where I'd met him. Really, I was grilling him to hear his defense of his decision. But instead of arguing, he kept encouraging me to read and pray, and I had been doing just that for the better part of 1991.

So, there we were at Mass. One of his friends asked when my birthday was, and I told her: November 22. The group of them all tried to remember who was celebrated that day, but they couldn't. It really seemed to frustrate them.

The Mass that night completely changed my life. It deserves a post of its own, but the two intense movements in that Mass were the penitential rite and the distribution of Holy Communion. At the penitential rite, towards the beginning, what I saw was the priest leading his people, the Catholics, in confessing their sin. I was so convicted. My heart cried out "Lord, they are not the ones who need to repent -- I am. I have insulted them and belittled them for so long!" And at the distribution of Holy Communion I was suddenly struck with the reality that the One on the altar was none other than Jesus Christ. It was a complete shock to me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined meeting Jesus Christ in a Catholic church.

For three days I was too shocked to pray or touch what had happened with my mind. But finally it was as if the Lord was tapping me on the shoulder, saying "I'll be right over here on the couch when you're ready to talk." (That was my favorite prayer spot.) As soon as I tried to pray, the Lord challenged me to follow Him just where He had shown me He was, in the Catholic Church. I countered with my confusion about this one doctrine I just couldn't handle: intercession and veneration of the saints. I really didn't understand how honoring human beings and asking them to pray (they were dead, after all!) didn't detract from the worship of God. The Lord made it clear that His question to me was whether or not I would follow Him. And He knew the answer. As utterly weird as His proposal seemed, I knew I could not live without Him. That night I gave Him my heart in this completely new way.

The next day, now December 27th, was my grandmother's funeral, so I did not go to work. The first thing I did that morning was go to the Catholic bookstore to buy a breviary. As I looked around the store, I was drawn as by a magnet to the section where all of the saint stuff was. I suddenly remembered the consternation of Keith's friends several nights before when they couldn't remember who was the saint on November 22. I grabbed a book and paged through. I found the date, and I read "St. Cecilia, Patroness of Musicians." My eyes ran with tears. For the first time ever in my life, I knew a very real reassurance that my life was not a mistake, a goof, an unfortunate accident. I thought, "Maybe, just maybe, God has a plan and my life has a meaning." It was as if heaven held its breath, waiting for this moment when I, who couldn't handle the veneration of the saints, was met by not only the one honored on the day of my birth, but who prays for and assists those who have a passion for music, as I did then and do now. It was no small thing for me to give up the musical community I left to become Catholic. But when I "met" St. Cecilia on that December morning, she was like the advance runner of all the host of heaven and all believers on earth who came to embrace me and welcome me into the family of the Church, and to introduce me to so many others.

And I am so, so grateful.

St. Cecilia, I love you! Pray for us!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

After Worshipping with the Presbyterians

I had an experience this morning that has the wheels of my interior processing going at full speed. For the first time in about 18-some-odd years I attended a Protestant Sunday worship service. My parish choir shares a director with a Presbyterian congregation in the area, and today we sang together at both their church and ours. Oh, I've been to ecumenical things here and there (where the service was kind of a no-man's land), but this was unique. I'm trying to grab some very powerful impressions and wrestle them into words.

The unity of all Christians is something I pray for every single day. My heart is all for acknowledging what is good and holy in every Christian communion, and for that matter in every religious or spiritual community. My heart is also deeply attuned to the need for on-going (or first time, for that matter) conversion to Christ in the heart of every person.

That’s where I am today. I think this morning's experience put me in touch with elements of my religious past that I can now see with much different eyes. I guess what really struck me today is the huge, gaping divide between religion and an encounter with the supernatural. I will say that we need both, but in very different ways. Religion, as I am using the term here, is a human, natural virtue. It is the natural virtue of being reverent, of knowing that there is a God and acknowledging His right over His creation and humanity. It is about a sort of natural justice and goodness. There are people, I know, who have no formal religious affiliation at all who excel at these virtues. There are probably lots of people in every church whose religious lives express these sentiments.

But it's not Christian.

I think there are other people who go through churches who aren’t strong in these natural virtues, and they look at the claims of organized religion and the actions of the people around them and they declare Christianity a bunch of worthless sentiment. They might believe there is a God, but find the practice of religion meaningless. And sometimes I think they might actually jettison religion as an exercise of virtue, because our somewhat crude culture emphasizes not so much to respect form but to seek what is real and what actually works.

Here’s the real kicker: The natural virtue of religion must have a supernatural encounter with the living God, or you can't call it Christianity. There is so much more than religious form, and you’d better believe it’s real and it works! Lived Christianity is supernatural. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, broke into our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary -- that is an absolutely reality-altering experience! God came to show us His face; this is what is above nature coming into what is our nature. As a result, He raised us up to be with Him. God makes us to "share in the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). The life we live is not one powered by warm fuzzies because of a great example of a good man, it is breath breathed into a corpse that resurrects! Christ did not come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live! This is that which is above nature blasting into life our fallen humanity. He raises us up, anoints us with His Spirit, and sends us out to participate in the same supernatural, miraculous ministry that He had.

That is Christian.

I have been in healing services and heard accounts of powerful healings. I have prayed over people to receive charismatic gifts. I have personally had various supernatural experiences happen to me in prayer services. And while fully acknowledging these, I will also say that the single greatest evidence of God's presence is love in the human heart. Love will do the humble thing; it will also care of the physical needs of anyone at hand, just as Jesus did. Is this not exactly evident in the fact of the Eucharist? There is no Eucharist without a miracle, without the supernatural breaking into our ordinariness. And then, Jesus gives Himself to each one, feeding us, loving us, and bidding us and enabling us to love one another. How absolutely perfect!

At times in my life, I have been toxically religious. By that I mean that I was deeply entrenched in a system of human efforts to reach God, but that I lost sight of the goal and became addicted to the system and the effort. And, I must stress, this toxicity is possible in any ecclesial community, for Catholics as easily as for Protestants. Today I am so thankful to God for exactly the path He has chosen for me. He never left me to drown but allowed me the grace to call out to Him for rescue. Thanks be to God for every painful step, for every bit of confusion, and most especially for the witnesses to the supernatural He has sent across my path to show me there was a way out being traveled by others.

Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Wordless Weekend: I Will

A little love song from the Beatles...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Writing Lessons

I'm more than halfway through this month of daily posting, and I'm noticing some valuable lessons. For one, I realize that sometimes I need to speak in order to be silent. Sometimes I simply cannot be at peace if I have something bubbling around in me and I don't say it, or write it. I have a tendency to struggle against my desire to speak until it does me violence. So, writing has a bit of a salvific edge to it for me. St. Vincent de Paul said that it is in silence that God communicates His graces to us. Expressing myself is vital to my ability to be silent and continue to receive God's grace. Trying to living without grace is like trying to live without breathing. But expressing myself, well at least, always feels like a death to me. It is perfectly fitting! To live the risen life, I must die with Christ.

So, I also realize that it is work to express my thoughts. I was really struck by something said at the Mass I attended last night, about this thing of God desiring us to be transparent vessels of His love to others. I think that one thing I have struggled with quite a bit all my life is this paradox that I am both very reserved and very open. I might not say anything to you, but if I will tell you anything, I'll tell you everything. This is a big struggle for me in many ways. But it gave me peace to consider last night that transparency is something that God wills. It is work, though, to choose words, to consider what should be said and left unsaid, and finally to simply open my heart and give and not worry about whether some will find me unpalatable or whether I may expose my own silliness, or my jugular, so to speak. They will, and I will, but if I speak because I can't figure out any other way to live my relationship with God, I trust He will take care of correcting and protecting me as needed.

The silence of Advent approaches. I hope this November writing exercise might push me beyond my sort of writing comfort zone into a place where I am really emptying myself, allowing new room for the silence of Mary and Joseph to fill me, and for the light of the glory of God to truly burst out again before my eyes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mass with the Charismatics

Tonight at my parish there was a "charismatic Mass." I use quotation marks to express the little bit of confusion that phrase always gives me. Yes, I know full well what is meant and commonly understood by it. And yet, the contrarian in me always wants to ask, what Mass isn't a charismatic Mass in a more technical understanding of the term.

I was there, and it was a happy thing. I wrote about an experience last March of another charismatic Mass which left me with different ponderings. As I re-read my thoughts about that Mass, I wondered how much my rather strong sense of anticipation then affected my experience. With today's Mass, I remembered it only last night as I checked the dutifully filled-in calendar. I looked forward to it as I look forward to going to any Mass every day, but with no particular heavy expectations of the community or the experience. I wasn't going to "get," I guess. I was going to give.

It always does interesting things inside my brain to mix together different facets of my history in unexpected ways. There I was, in my own parish church, which is filled with a wide assortment of very current memories, singing songs that I had learned and sung frequently some 25 years ago. Unlike the last Mass, I was able to enter in immediately into the praise and worship before the Mass began. I was struck with an urge to dance as I used to long ago and far away at my charismatic fellowship. I have never danced in a Catholic setting (my one experience as a liturgical dancer at a parish Mass on Pentecost excepted -- yes, really) and I wasn't entirely sure how it would culturally fly. Then I looked around the church and realized that the average age meant that the Holy Spirit would need to move people somewhat miraculously to get anyone to hop around! Pews and kneelers inhibited me more than the people around me, though, so all I could really do was shuffle.

I always wondered when I was in my early days of transitioning into being a Catholic if I was going to be missing out on really satisfying worship. To go from Pentecostal hootenanny to a staid or routine-like Mass was a seismic cultural shift. And while I can say that for someone like me to whom music is so central to my heart and therefore my worship that I can enjoy praising God with certain worship songs, clapping, hand raising and yes, dancing, there is absolutely nothing more satisfying than the Mass. It is what we are made for. Oh, we can't be too precise about rite because there are of course other valid rites than the Latin, but the experience of God coming to us in Word and Sacrament -- there is nothing else than can compare. Nothing.

God's call to us tonight was to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, to make us transparent vessels of His love, so that this power of His love could spread to and through His children far and wide. To be joyful, to be peaceful, to be confident that we are loved amid the dire turmoil of life -- this is evidence of the supernatural at work. These are signs of hope to those who need to see. This is what Jesus desires for us to become.

And I say, Yes! and Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tired Ramblings about Marriage, Treasure and Risk

Tonight I am thinking about my dear husband, today's gospel, and treasures.

My husband and I have been married eleven years (11.5 come next Monday). Today's gospel was all about investing your talents. And treasures? I'm thinking in terms of the spiritual treasures that are available to us, in Scripture, in graces, in the Church, in the saints, in holy places -- the whole bit.

It is so easy, after time has passed and romance grinds into regular life, to lose any sense of pizzazz, of wonder, of the desire to stretch and grow and seek new territory. And I mean this with regards to marriage, to work or vocation, and to the spiritual life. It's so easy to settle into a rut, repeating familiar patterns, staying in a dull and unfulfilling safety zone.

What did the king in today's parable (Lk. 19:11-28) have to say to the one who decided to play it safe? He called him a wicked servant. There was potential for this servant to do something with the riches entrusted to him, but he, out of fear, let the potential slip away by doing nothing.

It can be so easy for the potential in a marriage to slip away by doing nothing with it. It's so easy to daydream about how wonderful it would be to have someone who would give us everything, do everything we want, be everything we want. But if marriage partners spend all their time dreaming, who is going to do the personal investment required to become that sort of person in the other's life?

My husband is truly a treasure. It can be tempting to want perfection in the other, but really what we need is just the right combination of struggles and flaws to complement our own struggles and flaws. God always seems to provide with abundance in this regard! Spouses need to be thankful for the ways our frailties and weaknesses are both challenged and supported as we stumble forward toward the one goal of our eternity.

So I mentioned those spiritual treasures of the Church, as well. (Forgive my sloppy writing, will you? This daily blogging late at night makes for some less polished and more stream-of-consciousness writing!) Treasures can be very nice to admire, but they really do make for a lot of work and care. My son and I are reading J. R. R. Tolkein's The Hobbit right now, and those dwarfs sure go through a lot of peril and effort to reclaim their treasure. So many Catholics, just like so many married couples, might think "oh yeah, we've got a lot of neat stuff here... somewhere," but in effect the treasure is never theirs if they don't do the work to own it. What good does it do that prayer can produce miracles if we never put in the effort to persevere in prayer? What good does it do if we know that Scripture can transform our minds if we don't put the effort into soaking in it? What good does it do to realize that all the saints and angels in heaven stand at the ready to intercede for us if we never employ their help? If we don't make the investment of our hearts, which is measured in our time, our labor, our resources given in firm, consistent pursuit of the good, pulling together like those pitiful, battling and murmuring dwarfs (and hobbit), then that treasure that exists objectively will never become our very own possession.

So, I'm challenged. Risk, invest, push forward with who God has made you. Everything changes when I remember that my husband is given to me to help me to do this. The fact of the matter is, I need the way my husband keeps me grounded. I need his reliability, his steadfastness, his loyalty which flow out from him in rich abundance. And, he needs me to keep jumping off of cliffs, testing how my wings work, gazing wild-eyed into heaven.

There is nothing like the gift of being embraced for exactly who one is. But there's also nothing like the work it takes to press forward to invest what we've been given.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today's Thoughts on Communion and Liberation

This morning my prayer led me to contemplate the role, the meaning, the presence of Communion and Liberation in my life. There is a little bit of a sting in this for me, because how I relate to CL as a movement has changed rather significantly within the last year, and while its all good, good can also feel bewildering to me when it involves relationships with other people. In my mind I have often repeated the phrase I don't do people well, and while I believe this less as time goes on, I do sometimes wonder whether other people get as consternated as I over what is appropriate and inappropriate with regards to relating to other people.

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement started in the 1950s in Italy by Fr. Luigi Giussani. It grew up with high school youth and then college students, and then blossomed over into a movement for adults, and it is all about living Christianity (Catholicism) not as an inherited cultural set of baggage but as a living encounter with Christ Who is present here and now. As my CL friends always liked to say, it is nothing other than basic Christianity re-proposed in modern times. But as with all movements there is a definite spirituality, a way of expressing these truths, of living them. When I was newly drawn to the Catholic Church it confused me just a bit that there were different spiritualities such as religious orders and movements. If it is a good thing to be a Franciscan, then why isn't everyone a Franciscan? I wondered. I suppose I could have just as easily asked If it really is good that I am me, then why isn't everyone me? which betrays the misbelief I had about myself, and my misunderstanding of God as the creator and lover of individuals.

About two years ago I proclaimed myself a devotee of CL to the extent that I joined the fraternity, which is simply an official way of saying one is following this way of life. This was a lover's leap, but it was an immature one. In hindsight, I can see that I was responding to a clear recognition that CL is centered on Christ. I suppose I still have a hermeneutic of suspicion when it comes to groups that are in some way ancillary to the Church. Ok, maybe they are legit on paper, but what's it like on the inside? I was so happy to find a true desire for Christ that I figured a desire for Christ was all it took to "be claimed by" a spirituality.

Let me just say plainly that in my personal judgment, not to mention that of the Church, there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with CL. I'm taken back again to this notion of religious orders. To a man called to be a Dominican, there is nothing "wrong" with a Jesuit or a Carmelite. But of course, the key is that we do not make our selves, we do not choose our way, really. We are chosen, called, embraced, and we respond. God is the orchestrator, and in the full but mysterious exercise of our freedom we become exactly the one He knew us to be all along. We are His.

So as I began to heed exactly what I was gleaning from CL, and following Christ as He presented Himself to me, I began to see that the way I adhered to CL itself was a problem! In many subtle ways, I found myself trying to follow something extrinsic to myself, as if I were eating a certain kind of food and insisting that it was delicious. At the same time, the Lord was calling to me strongly, wooing me with frightening intensity, in other directions. I started to feel as if I were being pulled in two.

After an intense struggle, in my mind I "let go" of CL. The collapse hurt, but at least I collapsed onto my Lord. It took time to incarnate this letting go and to have the strength to own it (because of the human affection involved with my CL friends, all fine people).

But this morning, to continue the story I nearly started, in prayer I was reading Scripture and was drawn to the Psalms, and I specifically thought to pick up Giussani's book on Psalms and read a few entries. This is a book I've had for a couple of years but had never read from at all. In the two entries I read, Giussani repeated familiar themes, of our need to see Christ with us, to be aware of Him. He asked repeatedly "where is this presence?" While the question itself is completely valid, I found my heart shouting out "Right here!! He's here!" Going to another random selection and finding the same question "where is this presence?" I suddenly started hearing it not as a provocation to delight, but as a nagging doubt. "Where is God? Is He really here? This is our sin, that we don't see Him. We need to see Him..." And my heart became sad.

I put down that book and searched out another that I read voraciously in the months after my "collapse" : Iain Matthew's The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross. I opened it, again to a random chapter, and found my spiritual journey described, understood, and re-enkindled. In fact, St. John of course said the same thing: "Where have you hidden, beloved?" But somehow in this difference I caught the glimpse of the God who had called me, personally -- to me -- through and in my particular history and circumstances, and I could almost blush with the awareness of the intimacy of it. There is a world of difference between following truth because one acknowledges it is truth and submits obediently, and being gripped in a passionate love where life and death hangs in the balance of being with the Lover or not. Truth, acknowledgment and obedience are all involved, but passion .... ah, that's the ticket.

It is all about the Lover who calls. He is here! And I just want to be with Him and live as lovers live.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thoughts Sparked by Fr. Larry Richards

Tonight I listened to the first half of Fr. Larry Richard's talk "The Mass Explained" from the Mary Foundation. Unfortunately I wasn't able to finished before my space and quiet for the task were entered in upon, but I need and want to go back and finish it very soon.

Here, in fact, is the first part of the talk from You Tube.

I was struck by how he speaks of the Mass as the single most intimate and important thing we can do with our lives. And I suddenly realize that I have always considered the interchangeability of those two words with each other and with the spiritual quest as the foundation of my life. It is so powerful when I hear someone else speaking my life back to me. It helps me understand again who I really am. And I think that is the essence of evangelizing: telling someone who they really are. This is love.

Fr. Larry spoke of how the Mass is not only the most important thing we can ever do, it also requires of us our very life. We go to Mass, he says, to learn how to die. Jesus died to give us His body and blood, this intimate communion, and we as well are called to die to give ourselves to Him in love to our brothers and sisters.

So, what is it again to evangelize? Ah yes, to tell someone who they really are. What is it to evangelize? To love. How do I love the people who are closest to me? Do I lecture them on how they need to lay down their lives for me? Gosh, sometimes I think so. But no, I love them. I tell them who they really are.

I feel like I've spent most of this afternoon locking horns with my son. Whenever I lock horns with my son it is because there is something the Lord needs for me to see. This much I have learned from experience. Sometimes I have this question in my heart: when does loving someone turn into letting them walk on me? When is speaking a hard truth love, and when is it my desire to lecture someone about their need to love in a way that serves me better? I don't have the answers for all that today. I just know that sometimes when I meet with a lack of faith or courage or love or industry, part of me wants to just push the subject in question face first into this good, for their own sake, ya know? But something tells me that love suffers and offers it as prayer, and waits.

This is pure rambling, you see, but it is a ramble my heart needs to do just now.

Do yourself a favor; listen to the whole talk, too (you'll need to go to YouTube and follow the talk segments). Feel free to share how it moves you, too.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Of late I have been wondering, in the substrata of my soul, about the purpose desire serves. Oh, I never think in neat words (hmmmm, I wonder what purpose desire serves....), but I guess what I mean to say is that my heart has been rumbling a lot lately, and this is the best way, in hindsight, that I can put that rumble into words.

Why, indeed, would a heart surrendered to God fittingly have seasons of longing, of finding no deep fulfillment, of wanting, of craving, of a nagging emptiness? Is not the One I adore enough to satisfy?

Well, yes, but there must be more than this... (as this song begins)

Our hearts intuit that we are made for the infinite. We intuit that there must be more, and so we are filled with longing.

I think longing becomes frightening and dangerous only when we have no faith, no hope. With faith and hope we know we are not only made for the infinite, but the Infinite reaches to us and draws us onward to Him, into His embrace. Even when we lose all sense of this truth, if we retain this truth with our minds, our memories, we can take another step forward and long in safety, because we know the cry of our hearts is not going to bounce out into an empty universe and merely echo back into our own ears and no other.

How do we long for something we already have? We can't.

Every desire is a desire for God. Not every desiring heart realizes it. God is always bigger than we are. That's sorta the definition of The Infinite. So those feelings of longing, of wanting, of craving, of dissatisfaction... what do we do with them? Let them drive us to what numbs us? Stuff them and try really hard to ignore them? Beat ourselves up over how surely holy people don't crave something else? Wallow around in some thing at hand that seems to come close to what we desire? Cry out with a passion we don't really understand?

Yes, that seems about it.

And today, I read this: "The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes you may see and be utterly satisfied." St. Augustine.

Desire is fitting for this time in the liturgical year when we are heading toward Advent and desiring the Returning King. Desire now allows us to be fully satisfied when He who is our life appears to us. Both now, and in the final coming.

Desire is never something to be shut down, only brought into the light, purified, and intensified.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Church Door Phobia

So, here's an interesting blog post idea: strange phobias. I don't have many of them, really. I'm working through my issues with the telephone, at least in my head. But I did once have a sort of anxious catch in my heart about church doors. This goes back to the time of my conversion to Catholicism as well.

Some Catholic churches have so many doors, no doubt owing to the evolution of how people arrive at church. Doors off sidewalks accommodate walkers. Side doors accommodate parking lots and handicap accessibility. But sometimes there are just so dang many of them that it is hard to know which is the best door to use. Then there are the round churches. Who knows where those doors will lead! Back in my early days of trepidation my chief worry was that I would open a door that would lead me smack into the front of a church -- right on the altar how about -- when a Mass was going on. I could picture a crowd of 500 Catholics going pin-drop silent as the poor wayfaring stranger stepped in. Everyone would realize I was deeply clueless. (I was just a tad self-conscious.)

One of my favorite memories of God's care for me amidst my now seemingly silly insecurities involved church doors. The Lord had given me the instruction to "be going to Mass," which I knew meant daily Mass. I tried to obey. Since I had overheard a volunteer at work mention that she went to daily Mass in the morning, I figured I had to go in the morning as well. I had to be at work by 8:30, but I knew a nearby parish had a 7:00 morning Mass, so one morning I mustered myself up to go. As I walked, I fretted, because this was one of those big, old churches with six different banks of doors at three levels. I had never been in this church before, and I had no idea what I'd find once I walked in. So I prayed, begging the Lord to send someone ahead of me whom I could follow in. As I approached the church, sure enough, a man crossed the street and my path in front of me, and went in. The door he entered was two inches from closing when at a natural gait I approached it, took it in hand, and went in. I followed him down the steps, right into the rear of the lower church where people were gathered for Mass. What a relief that was!

Now, I had gotten used to services that were nearly three hours long, so when the entire Mass was finished in 20 minutes, I hardly knew what hit me. I had barely gotten comfortable in the pew, and it was all over! Bewildered, I never went back to that early morning Mass. In fact, it took me almost an entire year before I started daily Mass in earnest -- in the late afternoon after work!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Making Phone Calls Changed my Life

Ok, when I started this blog-every-day-for-a-month challenge I stated that my theme was going to be "stories I never get tired of telling." I haven't really done that yet. But today I will pick one such story, brought to mind by my post yesterday.

And this story is all about a little work assignment I was given back when I worked at Wisconsin Right to Life. This was a very providential little task that had a pretty significant impact on me, and it shows how God has a very keen sense of humor.

This was "back in the day" when technology was not very developed. Internet and email were things barely heard of even by our computer guy, and all of the contacts we generated had to be done the old fashioned way. So we did a lot of networking with groups and churches.

In one particular networking blitz, all of the churches in the local area were broken down and a few of us were assigned to help get some information out to them. This is how I was assigned the task to call every Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. I even asked "Couldn't I call the Protestant churches?" No, I was told, we need you to do the Catholic ones. Ugh.

I always loathed the jobs where I had to call hundreds of anybody, but I was especially fuming at this point over calling the Catholic churches, because I had just had three friends announce to me that they were becoming Catholics, and I was extremely upset about it. I really was not in the mood for having my face rubbed in it any further.

Called I did. Call after call after call. Sometimes I got a grumpy response, and I felt justified in disliking these odd people. I felt my know-it-all pride poked and prodded as I looked at parish name after parish name and realized I had no idea who most of these saints were. (There were parishes named after women, for heaven's sake. Wasn't that scandalous?) Oh, then there was the time I came across a parish named "Mary, Queen of the Universe." I had to get up and take a short walk after coming across that one. What kind of heathens name a church that?

But something happened as I talked with all these... people. I started to realize they were people! At one point I sheepishly asked a Catholic co-worker, "Do I call them Father John or Father Smith? What about Sister Mary or Sister Jones? What's a "Monseigneur"? I slowly felt the inconsistency bubble out of my heart: I was supposedly (in my mind) this loving, Spirit-filled super-Christian, but I was firmly entrenched behind a bigoted hatred for people simply based on their religious affiliation, and it was excruciatingly painful for me to acknowledge any good coming from them. Even though I had acquaintances and co-workers whom I knew to be Catholic, I'd never really spoken to any Catholics as such in my life, really acknowledging them as representatives of this group I disliked. Catholics as such in my mind were worthy of contempt, because they were so wrong about so much. They were essentially a theoretical group of people whom I hated, and now I was talking with them and discovering they were human beings.

It was in the course of the weeks that I made these hundreds of phone calls that I realized that one cannot hate a group, or an idea, without being unjust to individual human beings. The discord within my own heart made me realize that something was very wrong with how I was discerning truth.

Up until that time, my logic went "Catholics are idiots; it's reasonable for idiots to believe lies." When I came to grips with how blatantly disrespectful this was, I had to humble myself enough to change that. I realized that Catholics had a completely different paradigm than I did for discerning truth. My paradigm was "The Bible says this, the Holy Spirit says this." And, I knew that whatever the Catholic paradigm was, was wrong. But I had to admit I had no idea what the Catholic paradigm was. I had no idea what their starting point was that enabled them to end up with churches named "Mary, Queen of the Universe" or to believe in a Pope or sacraments and all the rest. I had no idea what the paradigm was because I had never learned anything about Catholicism except from a Lutheran (or other Protestant) perspective.

I realized that to understand why Catholics were so goofy, I'd have to read Catholic sources and authors.

So I did. And within a few short months, I was telling the Lord I would follow Him and become a Catholic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lord Is My Shepherd, There is Nothing I Shall Want

Today at Mass the responsorial psalm was Psalm 23, probably the best-known Psalm in the world. It seems to me that it is easy for best-known Scriptures to lose their punch from familiarity, if this familiarity comes simply from rote memorization or the "oh yeah, I know this one" check-out procedure upon hearing it. But there's a different kind of familiarity, as of that between lovers. That is when words or images trigger memories of a path walked together, a path where pain and understanding, where anxiety and gentle reassurance have once met. Then, familiar words bring all these experiences that have shaped a relationship, a history, to life all over again.

That was what hit me when I heard those familiar words today: "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. He makes me lie down in green pastures... He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake."

The memory triggered for me today was a spot where I sometimes spent my lunch breaks in Milwaukee. Just a few blocks from the office where I worked was the beginning of a city park, where a river was helped along towards Lake Michigan by a concrete embankment. There was a bridge where a road went overhead, and I often climbed down onto the concrete and sat under the bridge to ponder and get away from the noisy office phones I was responsible for answering.

As I look back now, it seems the whole point in my having the job I did at the time was that it gave me an excellent backdrop for my conversion to Catholicism. All the details about that belong to another post, I suppose, but my time there bookended my journey very nicely, predating its advent by several months and ending as I headed out to "missionary life" in Japan as not much more than a neophyte. But I digress.

It was somewhere in the middle of this time, when I was committed to becoming Catholic but still in the process, that I was sitting in my favorite park spot one day with a real worry in my heart. The process of conversion cost me a lot, internally. I was leaving everything I knew; I left a church fellowship where I felt secure for a faceless crowd of Catholics, among whom I had not a single spiritual friend. (Those who had been instrumental in my conversion lived an average of 1,355 miles away.)

The Lord took excellent care of me, though. The immediacy of His presence to me, the evidences He showed me of answered prayer and His special attentiveness to me, I now can see, were extremely abundant. It was one of these moments when I felt I was walking into a desert alone that He brought to my heart and my mind this psalm. Even though it felt ridiculously impossible and 180 degrees away from what I was then experiencing, the Lord gave me this image of walking with Him through deep, verdant, rich pasture, being richly fed with everything I could desire. He challenged me to trust Him.

In the time that has passed since then I've known His promise fulfilled. There have been so many times that I have knelt at Mass and my heart has felt like bursting with gratitude and fullness, not only because of the abundance He gives, but because it reminds me He promised, and He fulfilled.

So when I hear "The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want," I want to tell people "It's true! He is my Shepherd, He has led me, and even though it didn't always feel this way, I now know that He gives freely, richly, and He satisfies. It's true!"

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

In Right Relationship With Glory

Today at Mass, I was reminded of this quote from Pope John Paul II:
Man must reconcile himself to his natural greatness.... he must not forget that he is a person.

At one point in my life, this would have shocked me, scandalized me even, to a degree. "Natural greatness" just seemed too deep a contrast to my understanding of sin and its effect on the soul.

But today's homily, on the occasion of the feast of St. John Lateran, focused on the glory of God coming to rest on this earth (Ezekiel 47) and then, in particular, in the person of Jesus Christ in the miracle of the Incarnation. Fr. David spoke of a modern painting of Mary at the moment of the Incarnation, with her abdomen surrounded in an orb of light which she embraced, kneeling, awestruck and humble.

I was struck by this realization because everything about the Incarnation really stops me in my tracks and makes me catch my breath. The Incarnation has been the theme of my journey with the Lord for the last 19 years. It seems that I have come to be able to accept finding the glory of God revealed through another human person. But what struck me today is the awkwardness I have at accepting the glory of God revealed through myself to others. This, I believe, is the key to humility and the antidote to pride: to know that the source my good is the Lord, to really and truly acknowledge this, and then live in right relationship with this fact. To the extent that I mistake the glory of God for my own efforts, or vice versa, I am not in right relationship with this fact.

And this too is a work of God's grace. But Mary shows us the pattern for us: to look intently for and at the glory of God, to be lost in adoration, praise, and worship as we gaze deeply into the reality before us, including the work of grace within ourselves, as one aspect of God's vast design.

Monday, November 08, 2010


Wow... I'm hitting that "it's almost time for bed and I haven't written my daily blog post" point. I think this is why NaBloPoMo hasn't always worked well for me. Ah well, soldier through!

What is on my mind today is this matter of partnering. I find that this is a deeply important paradigm for me to keep in front of my awareness in terms of both my relationship with my Lord and my relationship with my husband. It keeps me focused on who I am and who I am with.

This is what I mean: The reality of my day (on a Monday, at least) is that my husband goes off to work and I am home with my children, doing domestic living and learning. Then he comes home for dinner, some portion of the family goes out to activities, and finally we all call it a night. I can live this with the awareness that my husband and I are partners in making our home and raising our family, that we each have the well-being of all in mind and heart and purpose, though each is involved in different aspects of the effort. Or, I can live this with a sense that I am doing "my thing" while my husband is off doing something completely different, and that because we are doing different things we are each detached, even alienated from the rest. It is completely possible that the exact same set of circumstances could be lived either way. The difference is attitude, or perspective. Where is my heart?

The reality of my life is similar. I can live my life filled with activities, thoughts, plans, sufferings, joys, prayers. I can operate as if I have an agenda to fulfill, a standard to meet. I can regularly evaluate how I measure up against myself. I can even nod my head towards God as the supposed Author of my agenda and my standard, but really hold the whole management of my life in my own hands. Or, I can begin each day (as I do, in reality) with a Morning Offering, entrusting everything that happens that day and everything I do, as a prayer and offering to the Father in union with Jesus. In this way, I am acknowledging that nothing will touch me that is not also touching my Lord. He is with me closer than I can know, experiencing everything as I do. And with my prayer of allegiance, I ask for the grace to obey every direction the Lord might give throughout that day. It is a very quick prayer, but it sets the stage of my day to be open at every turn to the Lord present with me. In this way, God Almighty becomes a partner with me, and I with Him, throughout my life. This is incredible! But what else can it mean that my relationship with the Lord is personal?

For me, the key to love is "personal." As soon as I get abstract, theoretical, figure-headish, role playing, in any relationship, I know something has gone astray. The concept of partnership reminds me constantly that I have what is mine to give, but I am not alone in that. In the case with my husband, as with other people, I give in faith, trusting him to do the same, and being helped by his giving when I get lost and give up. With my Lord, it is all the Lord who gives in faith ("while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us") and enables me to respond to Him. It's in this way, I suppose, that those who partner with us mirror to us God's faithfulness.

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.(Philippians 1:3-6)