Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rite of Election

This afternoon I had the privilege of singing with our City Choir for the Rite of Election for the north half of our diocese. It has been a few years since my work as a catechist with RCIA, so I haven't been to a Rite of Election for some time. I suppose I should explain that this is the official welcome of those who are preparing to enter the Catholic Church through Baptism at Easter, and also the "call to continuing conversion" for those already baptized who will join with the Church in Confirmation and Eucharist then.

Our Bishop got my attention when he preached on the topic of what it means to worship, since I have been pondering the same question. He talked about how the decision to worship God, to give oneself completely to Jesus Christ in Baptism, is a decision even more profound that marriage since it is a decision to belong entirely and only to God. Everything else finds its place and its meaning within the act of worship that is submitting to Baptism, to entering the Church.

I choked up on the last verse of the closing hymn we sang (to the tune of Ode to Joy)
Once you were an alien people, strangers to God's heart of love
Christ has brought you home in mercy, citizens of heav'n above
Let his love flow out to others, let them feel the Savior's care
That they too may know his welcome, and his countless blessings share
And it occurred to me that something as powerful and beautiful as this Rite, and indeed even the Sacraments themselves, are really best appreciated afterwards in witnessing others receive them. When it is all so new, it seems so bewildering and the meaning can float right by. I think this is why Lent is designed for the whole Church to travel with the Catechumens/Elect each year. We need to remember and thereby finally go deeper.

Here's an old David Meece tune, offered in solidarity with the Elect and candidates throughout the world. I will hold you in my prayers and affection, as I have promised today.


On the mountain top
The revelation
The glory, the voice, the witnesses

Sleepy, confused, clutching

The Cloud
The Voice


They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen. Luke 9:36

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pope Benedict on Pseudo-Dionysius

From Pope Benedict's audience on Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite. May 14, 2008. The entire article is here.

All Creation speaks of God and is praise of God. Since the creature is praise of God, Pseudo-Dionysius' theology became a liturgical theology: God is found above all in praising him, not only in reflection; and the liturgy is not something made by us, something invented in order to have a religious experience for a certain period of time; it is singing with the choir of creatures and entering into cosmic reality itself. And in this very way the liturgy, apparently only ecclesiastical, becomes expansive and great, it becomes our union with the language of all creatures. He says: God cannot be spoken of in an abstract way; speaking of God is always - he says using a Greek word - a "hymnein", singing for God with the great hymn of the creatures which is reflected and made concrete in liturgical praise. Yet, although his theology is cosmic, ecclesial and liturgical, it is also profoundly personal. He created the first great mystical theology. Indeed, with him the word "mystic" acquires a new meaning. Until then for Christians such a word was equivalent to the word "sacramental", that is, what pertains to the "mysterion", to the sacrament. With him the word "mystic" becomes more personal, more intimate: it expresses the soul's journey toward God. And how can God be found? Here we note once again an important element in his dialogue between Greek philosophy and Christianity, and, in particular biblical faith. Apparently what Plato says and what the great philosophy on God says is far loftier, far truer; the Bible appears somewhat "barbaric", simple or pre-critical one might say today; but he remarks that precisely this is necessary, so that in this way we can understand that the loftiest concepts on God never reach his true grandeur: they always fall short of it. In fact these images enable us to understand that God is above every concept; in the simplicity of the images we find more truth than in great concepts. The Face of God is our inability to express truly what he is. In this way one speaks - and Pseudo-Dionysius himself speaks - of a "negative theology". It is easier for us to say what God is not rather than to say what he truly is. Only through these images can we intuit his true Face, moreover this Face of God is very concrete: it is Jesus Christ.

And although Dionysius shows us, following Proclus, the harmony of the heavenly choirs in such a way that it seems that they all depend on one another, it is true that on our journey toward God we are still very far from him. Pseudo-Dionysius shows that in the end the journey to God is God himself, who makes himself close to us in Jesus Christ. Thus, a great and mysterious theology also becomes very concrete, both in the interpretation of the liturgy and in the discourse on Jesus Christ: with all this, Dionysius the Areopagite exerted a strong influence on all medieval theology and on all mystical theology, both in the East and in the West. He was virtually rediscovered in the 13th century, especially by St Bonaventure, the great Franciscan theologian who in this mystical theology found the conceptual instrument for reinterpreting the heritage - so simple and profound - of St Francis. Together with Dionysius, the "Poverello" tells us that in the end love sees more than reason. Where the light of love shines the shadows of reason are dispelled; love sees, love is an eye and experience gives us more than reflection. Bonaventure saw in St Francis what this experience is: it is the experience of a very humble, very realistic journey, day by day, it is walking with Christ, accepting his Cross. In this poverty and in this humility, in the humility that is also lived in ecclesiality, is an experience of God which is loftier than that attained by reflection. In it we really touch God's Heart.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Of Music and Mystics

Lately I have been in a mode of searching for clarity, understanding, and the Lord's direction regarding various aspects of my life. I am thrilled to say that the Lord does not disappoint those who seek after Him. This has really been an adventure in prayer for me.

For one thing, I find myself called back to the "places" where my attraction to the Catholic Faith first sparked. By this, I don't mean geographical places so much, but people and internal places. One of these significant "places" is the lives of saints like St. John of the Cross and St. Bernard of Clairvaux: the mystics. I first met them while working on a research project for a philosophy class as an undergrad. I vividly remember looking up from my books in my college library, my heart overheating from the beauty I was witnessing, and fervently praying, "Lord.... if there are any people left like this on the face of the earth... any people who live like this, those are the people I want to be with."

Another significant "place" that the Lord has led me back to is the ministry of John Michael Talbot. Both his music and he personally had a significant impact on my early conversion to Catholicism. Then I went to the Holy Land on pilgrimage with him and Dan O'Neill of Mercy Corps in 1993 just after I entered the Church. I hovered as close to him as I dared during this trip, watching him, listening, conversing at times. There was one very significant, life-changing Mass I experienced at the Tomb of Lazarus where his prophetic gift truly helped me, and I believe the rest of the congregation gathered, to understand what had transpired. (I wrote about that here.) Later that year I even spent time at Little Portion Hermitage discerning a vocation to his order (which obviously I didn't have, despite the powerful sense of drawing I experienced).

So, largely led by my good ol' Facebook friends, I found myself several weeks ago drawn back to these two places. I began to feel the "click" when I started reading a book of John Michael's entitled The Joy of Music Ministry. Given my experiences with parish music ministry of late, I thought this would simply be a nice read from an old friend. Then I realized that he was talking about music ministry in the parish as a function of the mystical experience of Christ in His Church. Oh... My... It made me remember the first time I visited the Retreat Center associated with JMT's order. The retreat I was scheduled for had actually been cancelled, but I drove the 11 hours to Arkansas, anyway. Someone else who had turned out gave me his copy of the book the retreat was to be based on: The Lover and the Beloved. As I was reading outside on the silent hilltop, I remember suddenly gasping and saying out loud: "Oh... My..." because it suddenly hit me. There were people left on the face of this earth who lived and believed like the mystics of old, and the very spot on which I sat proved it. Well, that was that book. With this book, The Joy of Music Ministry, I realized that this "Oh.... My...." was the realization that within that prayer I prayed in my college library was something of a nascent call that I can now recognize as having sprouted in my life.

So, that's where it comes back to being about the heart of worship, as the video says that I posted yesterday. As I look around the basement room where I am currently typing, I see a tremendous amount of clutter, stacks of papers, toys strewn everywhere, and lots and lots of things that violate my grandmother's rule: a place for everything and everything in its place. I'd like to think that my soul is not as cluttered as my basement, but I know that I can cling to things in my spiritual life and the life of my soul that I think I truly need to live. The truth of the matter is, sometimes I can start to choke on these things, and I need a re-ordering. I need spring cleaning. The song I posted says "I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it's all about You, Jesus." Ok, that's not lofty Gregorian chant. Doesn't have to be. But the truth is, I am compelled within myself to respond when Jesus calls me: Yes, Lord. Your way, Lord.

This took on an interesting incarnation for me last Saturday at the School of Community meeting I attended. I was sort of a backhanded moment of realization for me, because as we talked about "where have we experienced the gratuitous love of God," I suddenly felt I could not for another minute bear talking about Jesus as if I were looking through my wedding photo album but ignoring my husband who was right next to me. I can't enter into an intimate relationship with a photo of my husband! And if Jesus is present, the call to my heart says "Fall down on your face and worship Him!" To paraphrase the Blind Boys of Alabama, I don't want to walk and talk about Jesus, and I'm seeing His face, so let's get on with this program and worship!

Which of course begs the question of what worship is. There is worship in the formal sense, in the liturgical sense, in the personal sense, in the action sense. It is offering our lives, in union with Christ, to the Father. Worship is something we do that springs forth what what we are, in our new life in Christ. It is our lives lived sacrificially unto God. (See Romans 12.) Then, there’s the amazing reality that worship is a gift of God that brings healing and the graces of God into this world.

This one big, broad, brush stroke of a blog post (let alone my entire lifetime -- or eternity -- of contemplation) cannot capture even the smallest fraction of the beauty of the mystery of God as it unfolds before me. The only way I can fathom to take in this reality is like the two-year-old who plays "Daddy's helper" by carrying one small tool (and creating an incredible need for caregiving) out onto the building site where Daddy and the other grown-ups are building a fantastic house. Our Father and all of heaven works, and I carry a tool, and try to stay out of the way as best I can, and stay somewhat attentive for when He calls. What a life! What a beautiful life!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's All About You, Jesus

For the moment, I want to share this worship video. Meditational blog post to follow, as soon as time and life permit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Lenten Theme Song

In this post, I mentioned a song for the opening ceremonies of my Lent this year. As I couldn't find a public version of it to share, I recorded a "cover" of it.

It is called "I Will be With You" and was written by Bill Batstone, copyright 1988.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Serving In Many Ways

This article from the Direction for our Times newsletter represents another facet of Anne's talk that really struck me on Monday. I'm hoping to get access to the MP3 of the talk to link on this blog.

Serving in Many Ways
by Anne, a lay apostle

In the past few years we at the core of this apostolate have been blessed to meet many Catholics from many parts of the world. To see the living Church in action has been truly inspiring because we have this tendency to think that we are the only ones working. Isn't it true? We see how hard we're working and we forget that we're part of a big family. We are all working very hard for Christ.

What is the same about everybody that we meet is their love for Jesus and their commitment to the Gospel message. What is very different is the way each person and organization lives out this commitment.

Cardinal Avery Dulles was an American Catholic Theologian. He was a very clear thinker and writer. One of this writings described five different models of the Church.
  • The Church as an institution, meaning the hierarchy.
  • The Church as a mystical communion, meaning a communion of people.
  • The Church as a sacrament, meaning a transmitter of God's graces.
  • The Church as a herald, meaning a proclaimer of God's Good News.
  • And finally the Church as servant, meaning sharing the concerns of mankind and assisting those in need.
Each model offers beautiful, necessary contributions and comes with both benefits and risks. Any one model, though, as far as I can see, serving to the exclusion of others, would be incomplete. All models bring something.

I see today that people tend to become really excited about specific areas of service in the Church. I'll give you an example. I was listening to three young Catholics one day and they were talking about a current event in the Church. One of the persons said, "Well, if I was there I'd be out there protesting. I'd be holding a sign, that's what I'd be doing and I think that's the right thing to do. If we don't stand up for our faith, nobody will." Another one said, "Not me. It's a circus. My job, I think, would be to stay home, see to my duties and pray for all these people involved." A third one said "You're both wrong. We should be there dialoguing with these people trying to create bridges, not walls. You guys aren't getting this right."

Now of the three, who got it right? I think they were all getting it right. Each one was inspired by the Holy Spirit to respond to the situation. Who got it wrong? They all got it wrong because each one was convinced that their way was the right way and that the others were wrong. Nobody was really ready to admit that there was a place for all three types of service.

Let's consider another example. Take a humanitarian service crisis today. If we have a room full of Catholics sitting at a table, we're going to have differences of opinion on how we should respond. Some might think practically, some might think mystically and some might think metaphysically. What will each bring?

Well, the practical ones might bring food. The mystical ones might bring the sacraments. The metaphysical ones might study the causality of the crisis.

On a good day all of these people will work together as a team and there will be peace in their service. On a bad day the practical ones will accuse the mystical ones of bring out of touch. The mystical ones will accuse the practical ones of being too earth bound and they'll both turn on the metaphysical people for thinking too much and complicating matters.

I'm sure that God delights in all of us and I know He needs all of us. He has commissioned all of us to do His work where He has placed us. I think He's so pleased when we support each other and I think He's very disappointed when we tear each other down. We should each thank God, of course, for the opportunity to serve Him where we are and we should thank God for all of our brothers and sisters serving in different ways throughout the body of Christ.

My friends, if we have disunity we lose our effectiveness. If we have disunity we lose our peace. And, if we have disunity Jesus loses the opportunities that He hopes to use in our vocations.

We as lay apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King, and, as a spiritual movement in the Church, are called to participate in a great renewal. Everyone is welcome in this movement. Everyone is needed.

I look at the uniqueness of the individuals who work along side us and I'm so happy. It makes me rejoice. No one personality or experience will characterize us because we are all unique and because we're all needed.

We're obedient to the Magisterium of the Church because we understand the Church as protective. We are obedient because we love. Our obedience is rooted in love. We do not hold up obedience like a false god and use it to whip other people. We don't hold up our obedience as proof that we are any better than anybody else. Our obedience is deeply personal and should be viewed, at least in part, as a blessing from God, a gift.

We have to accept, my friends, that if we were in different circumstances we might find it very difficult to be obedient. We can't judge. This should make us humble. This fact should create in us a reverence for Catholics who are living away from the Church.

We should be reverent about our brothers and sisters who are out of the Church at this time. We may be getting it right in some areas, and I feel sure that is true. But we also may be getting it wrong in other areas. And maybe when we can't seem to get it right in one area, we're doing better in another area. The people away from the Church aren't any different in many areas of their life.

Many people who are living away from the Church are drawn to this apostolate. They say that they don't feel welcome in some of our churches. Now this hurts us. We want people welcome. We want to be loving and welcoming because Jesus is so loving and welcoming to each one of us. But we have to face this truth. Many don't feel welcome.

Why? That's the question that we each have to answer. As I have said before, I think many people want to come back to our faith but I think they feel as if there's a 'STOP' sign outside the door. We want to make sure that we're not holding any of those 'STOP' signs. We want people to come back to the Church and work out their transformation from inside our Catholic family.

Jesus wants to bring in His people. I think He wants to use us to do it.

You might say, "These people are defiant. They don't like us. They get mad if we ask them to come back to the faith." It was never an easy job to evangelize but in this lay apostolate the Lord has given to us beautiful tools and these include the little "Heaven Speaks" booklets.

You might be looking through these booklets and you might say, "Well, I'm not depressed, so I'll save this one for Susie who is depressed. And I didn't have an abortion so I don't need that booklet." However, I think we need to familiarize ourselves with all of these booklets. Learn what heaven would say to someone who suffers in that way and then we will have really good help for God's children around us. I think it would be a good way for us to reach people. The Lord will use them.

Jesus encourages us so much. And in the September 1, 2009 Monthly Message He says this, "I want you to increase both your dependence on heaven and your awareness of your dependence on heaven. Each day, everyday, ask heaven for help throughout the day."

Lay apostles, if we do this we will truly become the humble servants that God needs. We will not be delivering our version of heaven, we will be delivering Christ's version.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

This article is reprinted from the December 2009 newsletter of the Lay Apostles of Jesus Christ the Returning King, and was written by Anne. When she spoke at my parish on Monday, this was one aspect of her talk that made a big impact on me.

An excerpt from Lessons in Love

"For the Lord takes delight in His people." (Psalms 149:4)

This is so apparent. Jesus experiences each of us as His closest family member. Jesus experiences us as lovable and filled with promise. The experience Jesus has of us is constant and consistent in that He does not check in with us once a week or once a day or even once an hour. The Lord has been with us in a continual and uninterrupted fashion. Jesus never takes His gaze off of us. Given that He has never been away from us and that He has never stopped considering us, and indeed that He created us, Jesus knows us better than anyone. Jesus knows exactly where we struggle. The Lord understands what we find confusing and where we need greater clarity.

Because His consideration of us has always been, Jesus understands any wounds we carry from our past and how we are living our life because of these wounds. If we are having difficulty as a reaction to woundedness, Our Lord is compassionate and seeks to heal us.

Jesus wants to heal us. Our healing is a process which Jesus undertakes personally. Jesus takes the project that is our healing very seriously. Yes, our emotional and spiritual healing is a deeply personal goal for Jesus.

Consider in silence that Jesus is with us now and has been with us for every single moment of our life. He has missed nothing. It is all there in His gaze. We must look at Jesus. We must return His gaze. What do we see in the eyes of our Savior?

There is complete acceptance and compassion in His gaze. We do not have to say one word. Jesus understands everything. His eyes are serious and filled with love for us.

Jesus does not condemn us. This does not come from our beloved Lord. Self condemnation is planted by Our Lord's enemy, who does not want us to accept the Lord's love and heal and then grow in love, taking our intended role in the family of God.

Jesus extends His mercy with the hope that we will understand that in all truth the Lord takes delight in His people.

As the Lord walks through our time on earth with us, His experience of us changes as we change. During some periods, the heart of Jesus is safe with us because we are at peace as a child of God. At other times, there is rebellion and Jesus is hurt by our anger and sinfulness. Does He turn away from us when we hurt Him? Does His heart harden against us?


Consider the love we have for a small child who misbehaves because he is overtired or over-stimulated or who has been hurt by a sibling and who then strikes back in outrage. A parent sighs when a child retaliates against another because of anger. Often a parent must lift a kicking and screaming child into his arms and remove him from a situation that has gone wrong and that shows no hope for improvement. Jesus views our periods of sinfulness in this way. Because He has been with us through each experience, He knows why we behaved badly, if in fact we behaved badly. Our past sins are not viewed as isolated acts but as sins which are often understandable when connected to our pain. Jesus is not harsh. Jesus sees a bad phase for what it is and urges us out of these troubled times. Jesus forgets the past in the interest of the present and the future. We must give Jesus our past and let Him erase our mistakes so that we can rejoice in the present, where Jesus loves us completely.

We must offer ourselves as a safe place for God. Let God look at us and say, Yes, I can count on this apostle to help Me. Jesus offers us gifts of forgiveness and healing but we must accept these gifts. Let others continue on the path of rebellion and confusion. We will turn sharply now, at this moment, and walk into the Lord's heart completely, where there is mercy and healing. This is the only way for us if we desire heaven. Jesus will take us to His Father and say, Look, Father, there is love for Me on earth. I am welcome in the soul of this apostle.

This is the right way for us. We must turn away from the world and its shame and walk with Jesus.

Repent, And Believe the Good News!

Jesus Christ the Returning King

I've always liked best the way it is said in Japanese: kaishin shite, fukuin wo shinji-nasai. The very literal translation of this is: I command you to turn completely around and believe the gospel. Regardless of which formula the priest uses who signs me with ashes, that is what I always hear repeating in my heart.

My heart aches, clumsily, with an ardent love for Our Lord Jesus, who tells me most emphatically He is with me. Not watching from heaven, but with me intimately, experiencing everything in my life as I do, seeing my life, as through my eyes. And what does He think as that happens? Ah, meditating on that changes what I see, too. I was so blessed to hear Anne, a lay apostle of Direction for our Times speak about this last night at my parish.

Here are the lyrics for the opening ceremonies of my Lent this year. I believe I will be making the very first music download purchase of my life in order to get a copy of this song which I remember fondly from years ago. I wish I could link it for you now, because it is so moving. (I linked it here!)

My traveling companions will include St. John of the Cross and these Medieval and Renaissance saints, as discussed by Pope Benedict.

And, as I know the Lord will be with me, I'm sure He will make the journey to Easter very engaging.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Belated Feast Day

I am several days late; so sorry.
For several years now my family has participated in the pious custom of "being chosen" by a special patron for the year. The idea is that a system akin to lots is used, with prayer of course, for a certain saint to select each of us as a special companion for the year. Many times we have seen a special significance and resonance from the get-go; other times it has become more evident as the year goes on.
This year my special patron is St. Scholastica. This made me smile right away. She, of course, is most famously associated with her twin brother, St. Benedict, and there is the well-known story of how they would meet but once a year, each leaving their respective monasteries. In the year she died, she longed to spend more time with her brother, but he would not hear of it because he did not wish to break his own rule by being away from his monastery over night. She prayed, and there was a violent storm. "Sister! What have you done?" Benedict asked her. "You said no to my request, so I asked God, and He said yes," she answered. I have to admire a woman who persists in seeking what she desires.
St. Scholastica, pray for us!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Integrity and Liberty

Once again today I heard a homily that was particularly striking. I wish I knew the priest's name to credit him properly; if anyone who reads happens to have been at the Noon Mass at Franciscan University, perhaps you could clue me in.

There were actually two separate points that he made that struck me. One pertained to the matter of integrity. He talked about a testimony given in his parish where this man spoke of how he was given an urgent desire to break out of a prayer life that amounted to empty, meaningless ritual. That really piqued my curiosity, because oddly enough it was that very desire that ignited my search that ultimately led me out of the charismatic fellowship to which I belonged, into the Catholic Church. That desire was a key catalyst, even though it seems ironic, because "empty, meaningless ritual" was something I, at that time, strongly associated with Catholic worship, not the "free, spontaneous" style I was experiencing. But why then did it begin to seem so "same," so empty? It hadn't, always. What did it mean?

This priest went on to explain exactly how one breaks out of empty, meaningless prayer. (And I would add that I think "prayer" can be used in a very broad sense here, to encompass just about anything in life that is an expression of one's soul.) He said we break of it when every part of our lives is connected with every other part of our lives, and all of it is drawing its life from Christ. This is integrity. So how I pray, what I eat, how I treat my husband and children, how I think about political questions, how I manage money and my time -- none of these things gets a separate compartment that is yanked out from the rest, and all draws its life from Christ. That's the aim of integrity.

Though what he said sounded great, at first the connection between vital prayer and personal integrity was not blatantly obvious to me. But as I swished it around some more, I saw the wisdom in what he said. If prayer, or my duties, or my job, or my parenting, or my whatever starts to feel like a dry chore, could it be that there is some area in which I am either not conscious of drawing my life from Christ, or I simply am not doing it, apart from subjective awareness? So the need is either for obedience, that is for adherence to Christ, or for awakening of my consciousness to see Christ's presence. The need is for integrity. The need is for all of me to get on the same page as the Lord. In my case in the past moment I referenced, my need was to seek out what page the Lord was actually on before I could obey Him there. And what a surprise that was.

The second point that struck me was nearly an aside in the homily, though it fits with this notion of integrity as I'm thinking about it now. He commented that when people's hearts are far from God, they need lots of laws. Perhaps "need" here is two-edged: there is both the objective need for behavior to be reigned in for safety of self and others, and "need" is also a felt need. People feel lost and so they feel the need for more and more laws and rules to give them a sense of security, identity and direction.

I see this reality playing out in both parenting and politics in ways that I think are more similar than dissimilar. Because all of life is about the human desire for God expressed, wrestled with, nurtured, denied, and/or celebrated, laws of the State or rules of the family have everything to do with our relationship with God. I don't think it is accurate to say that a 3-year-old's heart is far from God, but her intellect has not matured to the point where she can freely access and choose from all the options of the world what is best for her. She needs someone to provide the goods, and then offer her toast or fruit, pink pants or orange skirt. She needs to learn to freely choose from options, and this in turn nurtures her ability to freely respond to all the choices in her life. The grace of Christ can make its gentle presence felt in this process, and virtue can develop.

But what if the tutor of freedom is overpowered by the taskmaster of laws? You must do this, you must do that, you have no choice, and don't bother to understand why you are doing it. One possible response to this taskmaster is rebellion: I will have my way; I don't care what you say. Another possibility is compliance: Ok, I'm not allowed. Just keep telling me what to do. I was very sad when I overheard a grown woman (a mother of a newborn) tell someone recently "I was told I wasn't allowed to have kids." A heart dominated by rebellion or compliance provides fertile ground for the development of slavery, not freedom and virtue.

Government (and the parent) does have a proper role to play in protecting the goods of life, property, defending from fraud, that sort of thing. But I believe there is a degree to which government (and parents) can deaden the conscience's yearning for God by the imposition of too many restrictions and rules that have nothing to do with justice. We have enough of a propensity for feeling lost due to our sin; I don't believe we need it compounded by accepting a cultural load that chants in a hopeless, constant drone "Our hearts are far from God... our hearts are far from God..." We human beings desperately need mentors; we need to see love in the faces of others in our lives who are showing us how to live. Parents generally know this, even if we don't always practice it. Rules and laws are a poor substitute for a person who teaches us how to live, or how to succeed in our trade or business.

I think because I personally have been far more influenced by the tendency to comply with any silly thing that is demanded of me, I see the liberty movement as one necessary wheel on a bicycle. (Maybe it is my bicycle, and yours operates differently. I can dig that.) I want others with this need to awaken to the reality that excessive rules, regulations, taxations, punishment schedules and centralized control in government and society can lead to a demeaning and erosion of human dignity. But this can become nothing more than I will have my way; I don't care what you say if the other wheel is not also in place: our hearts are only truly free when we are drawing our life from Christ. The liberty movement is like an alert, waking people up to remember the dignity for which they were created, which is the ability to choose the good freely. But no political system or thought can give that ability. It comes from Christ alone. We cannot buy goods of society with human dignity as the price, and we must protest when that bargain is proposed. But the only way to keep a culture or a nation from devolving into totalitarianism is to evangelize, bringing Christ to the hearts of all.

He alone brings healing, integrity, wholeness, meaning, vitality, and freedom.

Monday, February 08, 2010

More on the Being of Oneself

The theme of my last post could be summarized as coming to more fully appreciate the substance of one's own values by running head-first into a person who expresses values of a different substance. (Well, I'm not really sure that "substance" is the right term here, but I'll employ it anyway. Those whose linguistic values have just been broadsided can comment accordingly.)

Now, I had wanted to go farther in my post on the vocation of being oneself at the time I wrote it, however the call to sleep and the difficulty in summoning forth the proper words led me to opt for a later second installment. I think I'm ready to move forward with that now, and I've been helped along by another sort of head-first experience that resulted from my previous post. My friend, upon whom I am affectionately bestowing the moniker Suzanne the Irritating, and I had an exchange on my last blog post. To make a short story even shorter, a conversation today clarified the intent and the heart of each of us behind that exchange, which had gotten a bit problematic to me and was compounded by an email I sent to her bouncing back to my spam folder without my realizing it.

Now a bigger realization has occurred to me. It really is very good and satisfying to be able to fully clarify to oneself why one feels irritated.

In the blog post in question, I used images that spoke of a solitary journey and of a singular vocation that feels very different from what those around seem to have been given. It is true, of course, that each individual is given a unique vocation (You are completely unique... just like everyone else!) and that none of us is on a solitary journey in the Christian life because the Church is a people and all that. But this type of thing is decidedly not what I am contemplating there. Even though I sort of like using the word "terrifying" for what I am contemplating (as in the title of the post "The Terrifying Vocation of Being Oneself"), I see that to most people this gives the wrong connotation. If someone is terrified, the inclination of many, like my friend, is to emphasize how I am not really alone, because company eases terror. But I realize I see "terrifying" more as a synonym of "exhilarating". Maybe spiritually I am like someone who absolutely adores the fastest and wildest roller coasters. So suddenly it struck why the help my friend felt to give registered with me as incredibly irksome (sorry, my friend!). It struck me as it would had my husband and I used the lock on our bedroom door, and my eight-year-old son banged on it and said "I don't want you guys to feel alone! Let me in!" Naruhodo: When I speak of the terrifying vocation of being oneself, I am talking about a deeply intimate and exhilarating experience of being with the Lord where he takes me (anyone) where no human being can. It is the experience of being His, alone, existing in reference only to Him. This is the only place I become who I truly am. I cannot find the way to become who I am in any other way but in this intimate embrace with my Beloved. I cannot cling to a group identity or hide behind others. It is, in the most fitting truth of it, He and I, as the book celebrates.

Now the story I was initially going to tell to illustrate this I contemplated calling "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned Being an Alto." It's got a ring to it. But think of it. An alto, for those who don't know, is a woman's voice part in a choir that generally is harmony as opposed to melody. An alto line, sung alone, sounds somewhere between boring and weird. But as Joe has told us altos in choir occasionally, "Without you, we don't know who we are." In other words, the note the altos hit often make a chord either major or minor or just messy. I remember the first time Joe said that, because it sort of peeled me to my core. It is hard to articulate why, but it has to do with not only being able to embrace uniquity (here represented by singing alto) but also for it to be needed by others to make the whole, whole. Mix that into my realization that it is Christ who makes me myself, and I suppose that comes close to why that struck me so hard. Christ's aim is always, as Mt. 10:27 says "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops." Just as parents introduce their children to the world, so that which the Lord plants deep in our hearts is meant for the world.

I've also been thinking about that which originally drew me to the Catholic Faith, before I was drawn to the Catholic Church. It was the mystics, like St. John of the Cross and St. Theresa of Avila. I've been reading again the poems of St. John of the Cross and finding that tremendous resonance in my heart. He is all about that solitary, interior place which is not solitary at all.

Sum of all perfection:
oblivion of the world,
remembrance of the Maker.
Look to your inner life,
ever loving the Beloved.
--St. John of the Cross

Oh, and now I feel another post coming on about the Christian mystics. For another time.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Paradigm Revelation

Yesterday I had an experience that was one of those revealing myself to myself moments. Maybe if I put it more precisely I would say it was a moment of seeing a paradigm in my life and realizing the extent to which this paradigm is not shared by all others.

It's a parenting story. My family was out in a public place with which we are all fairly familiar. The need arose for some of us to be in different locations in this place, and then it became clear that other people for whom we were waiting would need directions so we could meet them. We nominated my son to wait near the entrance to give this direction, because there were no employees (and indeed, few other people at all) for anyone to ask . He was about a 30 second walk from where the rest of us were. In a few minutes, an employee marched my son back into the room where we were. She had a disgusted look on her face and asked if this boy belonged with us. I explained the task we had given him, and she walked out.

My son looked at me and whispered, "See Mom, no one trusts me."

Later, the security guard with whom we'd chatted plenty beforehand, and who seemed far more intent on being friendly than worried, explained that this woman had been fearful that someone would kidnap our son. I talked with him a bit about this, and it was then that this paradigm difference started sinking in.

I realized several things. First of all, I know my son better than anyone. I know the freedom and the independence that he fights me for constantly, and I have a very good sense of his limitations. If anything, I overestimate how limited he is and don't trust him enough. But I also know his fears, his physical capabilities to defend himself and inflict pain, and the reaches of his common sense, which are considerable for his age. We've been over how to deal with people who spell even the remotest sense of danger, and I've seen his reaction in other situations. Standing in a hallway in a public place is not something that had me worried for him.

But under all these parental judgment calls is a deeper paradigm. I realized that the way we live assumes that people are to be served, not feared. Now, I know that lots of people reading this would start into the "oh, but what about... and don't you see this on the news... and you can't trust people..." and blah blah blah. But just this morning I read again Mt. 10:28 "Do not fear the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul." That is not a mere suggestion from the Lord, that is a command. There is a reasonable and virtuous sense of caution we need to form in our children and in ourselves, because let's face it, all people are dangerous because all people sin. But either we walk in trust in our Lord and live, or we curl up into the fetal position and retreat from the big bad world. Either I act as if sin is the ultimate power of the universe, or Love is. Perfect love casts out fear, though it never casts out reason. Ultimately, reason is to live in conformity to our Lord Jesus Christ, "who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The difficulty that my son faces as we live this paradigm which I has silently formed in our family culture is generally that others want to instill fear in him. He encounters this at times even at church when he, not sharing my need and desire to attend daily Mass, will, with my blessing, sit in the narthex or gathering space and read a book. He says that well-meaning people will sometimes tell him he needs to go back by his Mom. Even though no one is afraid of physical danger there, my son feels fear of the social pressure of conforming to what these strangers or acquaintances expect of him. I've even suggested that I could give him a note saying "My Mom gives me permission to read here."

I know people are well-meaning, and I do appreciate their concern. I prayed this morning for that woman who looked at me disgustedly, because I'm sure she's had experiences that justify her fears to her, and she only wanted to protect him from what she feared. I suppose it does not happen readily that people look at a child and gain courage. I think that might be unfortunate.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Terrifying Vocation of Being Oneself

I've been thinking about something the Lord first spoke to me a long time ago. The time was the very early days of my attending Mass, more than a year before I entered the Church. The place was "my parish," which I had chosen simply because two nuns who were well-known in charismatic circles were members there. The precise occasion was seeing one of them leave her pew after Mass had ended that morning. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed by the sheer weight and intensity of this new, bewildering universe I was entering. I felt like a bobbing dinghy surrounded by ferries on chains with centuries of history of set and predictable travels. I wanted to do what God wanted of me in this new world, but I was less than clueless about how to proceed.

What God said to me when I saw Sister was "If you want to serve, simply, be yourself."

That was 18 years ago.

This theme has re-echoed in my life many times since then, and in my mind, in my heart, there is something in this that is unique to my Catholic experience. Previously I had believed that becoming holy meant somehow becoming someone I was not. I believed that transformation in Christ meant becoming, for example, extroverted or suddenly developing new capacities and talents that had been foreign to me. Or that at least such would be the end result for me of holiness. I had a basic misunderstanding of God's opinion of my humanity. And therefore, at various times when I would again hear God saying this in my heart: "I want you to be yourself," I would feel utter dread. Terror. Like I was being asked to do the impossible -- to believe that God accepts me exactly as I am, and to do the same myself.

In high school a friend gave me a coffee mug that I still have. Amid a group of normal looking penguins stands a grinning penguin in boxer shorts with hearts on them. The mug says "I Gotta Be Me!" I realize that in many ways I am walking paradox. For example, I am both very open and will tell just about anyone anything, and yet I am very reserved and often say nothing to anyone. In a similar way I have always been the odd man out, willing to be different (as my high school friends knew), and yet taking steps that are uniquely my own is fearful to me to a degree.

This reality struck me when I saw it in someone else just a few days ago. I went to a concert and art presentation by an artist and his family. The family sang a variety of Christian praise music acapella and the artist, Fred DelGuidice, shared slides of his portraits and talked about his work and his vision for a renaissance in the visual arts in the Catholic Church. At first, I admit, I was trying to figure this family out. Isn't it weird, after all, for families to go about singing together? Ok, they mentioned that the parents were reverts of five years to the Catholic Church; that much explained something to me. (I can relate to certain types of Protestants doing this, and reverts all the more.) But as the man shared about his life as an artist, I began to understand. He stressed how his life was one of faith. He and his wife have five children, and as he put it, if we the audience knew what he earned as an art professor we would be stunned. And yet, God has always provided for them and they've never missed a meal. But he repeated frequently how it seems crazy to trust God this way. He and his wife are not so far away from that bobbing dinghy feeling, and they bobbed with their whole family. It seems crazy to trust God that way. It seems crazy. He tried at first for a "safe" career, he tried to take the sane path his parents advised. But he said he knew if he didn't pursue art, if he didn't follow the Lord, if he didn't take these crazy risks, he would be miserable.

I feel that, and have felt that at many junctures in my life. I think at heart the issue is not so much that we ourselves feel the risks of following what God gives us are crazy. It is that we either fear or we know that others will perceive our choices that way. Been there, done that. Lots of times.

There's more, I think, that I want to say on this. But for now I'll let this stand as one complete thought, and wait for another opportunity to write the next.

Monday, February 01, 2010

You Are Surrounded by Heaven

Jesus urges His followers to disassociate in their minds the fact of their suffering from the fact of their service to Him.

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

February 1, 2010


My dear apostles, I am directing you. I am giving you guidance. I am prompting you, again and again. Do you hear Me? Are you learning to separate My voice from the voices of the world? Do you hear Me when I urge you to greater and greater abandonment? You are suffering, I know. I am listening to your prayers and I am with you in your pain. Please do not think that you are experiencing suffering simply because you are serving Me. Look at those who do not serve Me or even those who do not know Me. Are their lives free from suffering? I am helping you to reject the temptation to believe that if you were not walking this path with Me you would be freed from suffering. It is not true. It would be true to say that if you were not united to Me, you would be suffering without the benefit of My companionship. Such lonely suffering. Such hopeless pain. Instead, I offer you the widest variety of consolations. I offer you understanding of the relationship between sacrifice and holiness. I offer you soothing graces to assist you in preparing your soul for heaven and bringing others comfort and grace. Dearest apostles, you are surrounded by heaven. You are surrounded by grace which supports you, even when you feel you are unsupported. If you feel you cannot stand, allow yourself to fall back and rest in My arms. I will care for you and give you all that you need to continue. Your life is changing, it is true. This should not alarm you. You should expect your life to change as I draw you more and more fully into the plan that I have for your time of service to heaven. It is always the way that I bring you forward, never backward. There is always movement and change. If you were to reject service to Me, your life would still change. Change comes in life whether you are serving heaven or not serving heaven. You may wonder why I am telling you these things. I am helping you to resist the temptation to attach your commitment to Me to suffering. If you are suffering, it is because suffering is part of My plan for you. Each life will include suffering. Beloved apostles, you are trying so hard to serve heaven. Please believe that heaven is serving you, too. You are protected and loved. You need only remain on the course I have laid out for you and all will be well.