Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Last night I sang with the City Choir for our diocesan Chrism Mass. At this annual celebration, all of the priests of the diocese come together with the Bishop to renew their vows, and the oils to be used in Sacraments for the year are blessed and consecrated.
Many a stray and profound thought went through my mind during the liturgy, but I couldn't help but think of this new way I've learned to care for my skin, and its connection with the Sacraments. Water washes us clean on the outside, true. But oil can literally suck the decay out of us and preserve and seal into us the vitality our skin needs.
Monday, March 22, 2010
The more I write about it, the more I hope to understand.
Yesterday I pulled up a couple of helpful tidbits thanks to Google. The first is from Aquinas's Summa Theologica II-II Q.19 A. 4. Aquinas's answer to the question "Whether servile fear is good?":
I answer that, It is owing to its servility that servile fear may be evil. For servitude is opposed to freedom. Since, then, "what is free is cause of itself" (Metaph. i, 2), a slave is one who does not act as cause of his own action, but as though moved from without. Now whoever does a thing through love, does it of himself so to speak, because it is by his own inclination that he is moved to act: so that it is contrary to the very notion of servility that one should act from love. Consequently servile fear as such is contrary to charity: so that if servility were essential to fear, servile fear would be evil simply, even as adultery is evil simply, because that which makes it contrary to charity belongs to its very species.This is in the larger discussion of fear as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and here he is differentiating between the gift of the fear of the Lord and servility in fear.
Then I came across this article by Mark Shea on the gift of fear. He states, "when you get rid of the fear of the Lord, you don’t get fearlessness. You get servile fear."
The fear of the Lord. That phrase rings in my ears. I remember my former pastor (pre-Catholic) counseling me to read a book about the fear of the Lord, encouraging me to grow in this virtue. To my ears, it is probably the most attractive-sounding of the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. And I'm sure it is because something for which I have particular need.
I have faced circumstances in the last year that have made me feel that I've been living dangerously. Having said that, I've also described myself frequently in the last year as someone who is most comfortable sitting in the back of a darkened closet with a book and a flashlight. So, sometimes normal life seems dangerous. Still, I know my previous horizons have been significantly expanded. What has moved me forward? Only the sense that God's love is in front of me, compelling me, and that to turn away would be a worse pain than whatever the "danger" or risk seems to present. Love casts out fear.
Then Mark says:
It is often only belatedly that we realize that the Gospel comes, in part, to cast out such cringing, crawling servile fear. When we do finally take a hard look at the fear of the Lord, we discover that Jesus feared God, but he never cowered before his Father. On the contrary, his courage has been the model of the courage of all the saints.and I think again of those words of Scripture that hit me at Mass last week: "he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God" (John 5:18). If that isn't the most courageous act ever, I don't know what is. Ask any Jewish (or Muslim) believer what this does to their worldview. These were strikingly revolutionary words to their first hearers.
Mark throws in a political application for good measure:
There is a confidence, a free and easy step, in the stride of the saints that is in sharp contrast to the craven cowardice of the bureaucrats of atheistic totalitarian regimes who began with bold promises to liberate us from the fear of God and ended in lickspittle prostration before the terrors of Mao, Hitler and Stalin. For the fear of God is the awe and reverence due what is truly good, not a mere cowering in the face of Power.Then, this:
That feeling of delighted humility, of knowing just how small you are in the face of the immeasurably good and beautiful Power. That’s the first gift God gives us, and it is meant to turn us not into dogs, but into children who forget ourselves and the burden of pride in our joy at the sight of God.
This strange combination of fear and delight is, in fact, one of the special graces of childhood. The gift of fear graces us to carry it with us into our adult lives. It’s the mystery Kenneth Grahame hints at when Rat and Mole have their own encounter with the Ineffable in The Wind in the Willows:
“Rat!” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
“Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet — and yet — O, Mole, I am afraid!”
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
There's that word again: worship. And yes, I have known that sense that Rat had, again and again. Yet it is the kind of grace I have experienced like a drop of water going into thirsty ground. So intensely do I need this; so intensely do I long for more.
I see what was so attractive to me in John Michael Talbot, as I wrote about his testimony. I remember an exchange between him and our tour guide during the Holy Land pilgrimage when the tour guide was trying to lobby for us to attend Mass at his parish, and JMT was trying to get clear whether his Church was in union with Rome. It turns out it was, but the complicated discussion that ensued showed me that John Michael held as his top priority the fear of God, and not the fear of unsettling this particular man. Yet when the truth was ascertained, I saw the depth of humility and charity in John Michael's heart toward this man. Without recreating the conversation it is hard to paint the scene (even if I did it would be hard to recreate without the dynamic of actually witnessing it -- one of the great perks of sitting in the front of the bus!) but the experience impacted me deeply, because I witnessed John Michael's fierce love for God and the well-being of the community gathered under him. To call it ferocious wouldn't be exaggerating. And in the next instant to see his gentleness... it was astounding. I get the sense that this is rooted in the gift of fear as Mark Shea and Aquinas write of it. And it bears witness to a life lived apart from servile fear.
Veni Sancte Spiritus
Friday, March 19, 2010
This story transpired several weeks ago, when my 8-year-old son was distraught over the fact that Lego is no longer going to be producing Bionicles. He loves Bionicles. He has Mama's crusading bug, so he was busy making fliers advertising a petition to the Lego company to reconsider their decision. He took them door to door to some friends' houses. During a car trip he and I and my 4-year-old daughter were discussing his approach to spreading the word. A man of action, he simply introduced the issue by telling people "Bionicle is going!"
So my daughter, ever the eloquent one, chimed in: "I think you'd better say instead 'The Bionicle product line is being discontinued.'"
She was hired as PR consultant on the spot.
This reminded me of an experience I had early in my journey into the Catholic Church. I don't remember exactly when it occurred, but the setting was in that basement chapel of Gesu parish where I attended daily Mass from 1992-1994. I knelt at the pew before Mass began, and the Lord spoke to me. He asked me a question: "Marie, why are you here?" I was kind of flustered, and stammered around for a factual answer. "Well, uh, I'm here because I going to worship you at this Mass..." This kind of response is pretty typical of how I respond to everyone, because communication verbally usually catches me off guard. Somehow I don't have an expectation of communication, so I usually feel unprepared. Habit, I guess.
The Lord asked again, "Marie, why are you here?" This time, I got all religious on God, sort of fawning on Him, hoping that if I bent low enough, that would somehow substitute for really answering Him. "Oh Lord," I said, "I can't really know why I'm here. But you know everything, and you know why I'm here." I had an immediate sense that this made the Lord want to puke. Like an "oh, stop it, would you?" kind of sense. I realized this morning I do this a lot, too. I don't like to admit it, and I probably don't look like I do this, but internally I fawn on people a lot. It has got to stop. Fortunately it is starting to make me want to puke, too.
He asked me a third time. "Marie, why are you here?" It was then that I realized, because I felt it become possible, that the answer had to rise out of the depths of my spirit, the depths of me. "I'm here because this is my home," I said. And as I said it, I learned it. Ah. So that's it. Not unlike the words I wrote in that email today.
Somehow, this is what the Lord is teaching me again today.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
He preached on the Old Testament reading for today, Exodus 32:7-14, where the Israelites coming out of Egypt decide to build the golden calf and worship it. Fr. Dan explained how when we make an idol of something, proclaiming it the image of God in this world, we demean ourselves. Human beings are the image of God in this world. So if he would proclaim something else (like he said, the ambo where he stood) as the image of God, then that means for him, the people in front of him become lower in dignity than that ambo. True worship, Fr. Dan explained, not only aligns us properly with God, but also properly orders our love for one another.
My ears are extra-perked these days for mentions of worship, and this caught my attention as a worthy nugget for me to mull over. This tells me that pride is a form of idolatry. Pride is essentially self-worship. Now, it is in once sense correct to say that I am the image of God in this world. But the difference comes in when I see myself as somehow a wholly unique grain of sand, somehow more enlightened than those other grains of sand that surround me. This also tells me that if I have trouble owning my own dignity, there is also a form of idolatry going on. I am looking to something that is not God to empower me. And probably becoming damn frustrated that it is not empowering me as I wish. God is "my glory and the lifter of my head" (Ps. 3:3). It is worship of Him, it is the exchange of my life for His in every moment, on which my knowledge of my dignity is based.
There is something in this that has been slippery in my hands all my life. I think a line in Scripture that stood out to my yesterday at Mass and sort of whapped my ears is connected to this: In the Gospel it was said of Jesus "he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God"(John 5:18). This verse resounded in my ears like a bullhorn. I immediately thought of how we pray every single day: "Our Father...". The dignity God has given me is not just that of being a decent person. It is the dignity, literally, of the Son of God. In Baptism, He's given me His own life. All that "priest, prophet and king" stuff from the Baptism liturgy isn't poetry, it is a reality that I experience and own as I live a life of worship. There is a spiritual authority in it. "Asking permission" is not the right posture of worship. Neither of course is brash assertion or presumption. God is I AM, not I Would Be If I Could, nor Up Yours.
True worship embraces the truth of God and gives me the truth of who I am. Only in the truth of who I am comes spiritual authority. In that authority comes life for others. This thing of spiritual authority keeps crossing my radar screen... I am reminded of my days wading through the Strong's Concordance that the one of the two common words in Greek translated authority or power is exousia. 1849: privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence:--authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength. Hmm, now that's an interesting surface to scratch: the relationship between authority and liberty as synonyms. All sitting in this spiritual context. Hmm..
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It is no wonder to me that this man's spirit resonates with me so. I am remembering the time being on pilgrimage with him in the Holy Land. I saw that his lightheartedness is real and yet there is a certain ferocity in his ability to wield the truth authoritatively (as captured in a moment when he tells the audience, I think it is in part three or four, that it is not funny how well he was able to lead people out of the Catholic Church in his Protestant days). I really respect that latter capacity. It gives me hope to see how love can shape a soul.
When we finished listening, my son asked "Can we invite him over for dinner?" I assured him that we certainly could, though I'm not sure the chance to fulfill the invitation will come during this life.
It was silent.
I threw all my attention at that absence, waiting to pick up something – some sigh of the wind in the pines, or the call of a night bird or insect.
But there was nothing. It was thrilling; like a void that had swallowed my young companions, the memory of sound, even time itself. I had to shift my weight and hear the report of pebble on pebble to reassure myself that I had not gone inexplicably deaf.
Read Fr. Mike's whole post here.
Monday, March 15, 2010
And I remain very intrigued. I believe these authors have struck upon a very necessary and accessible approach to the evangelization of modern American adult men and women, namely alerting us to our need to be in touch with the deepest desires of our hearts. In part they do this by shining a light onto some of the ways we hide our pain, especially the religious ways. The authors are non-Catholic Christians, and occasionally their use of Scripture feels awkward juxtaposed with the Catholic understanding of certain passages. But with this minor criticism aside, they do strike at a Catholic understanding of the human person and the role of grace. Take for example this quote from Wild at Heart: "The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than a 'sinner saved by grace.' You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God. In the core of your being you are a good man" (p. 144).
It seems the evangelization they are therefore most effective at is reaching those who already regularly fill church pews, but who have lost touch with the reality of Christ. This is very exciting to me. To paraphrase yet another book I am reading right now (The Impact of God: Soundings from St. John of the Cross by Iain Matthew), the wounds of the world are the "spaces through which God may graciously enter." Yet if we keep our wounds and our desires out of sight and out of mind, how are we to gain healing or encounter the Healer?
Ultimately, the books tell us, each man and woman has a key question that will in one way or another not allow them peace until they bring the question to God and receive His answer. The woman's question is "Am I lovely?" and the man's question is "Do I have what it takes?"
I found both books helpful and insightful, but Wild at Heart was perhaps a more valuable read because of the help it gave me in understanding the men in my life (particularly my husband and son.) But there were certain sections that helped me understand my own experience as well, both of myself and of men.
A few quotes that I found particularly useful:
To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do -- to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst -- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed. (quotation drawn from The Sacred Journey by Buechner, cited on p. 137)
It seems crazy that a man would sneak away from his strength, fear it to show up, but that is why we sabotage. Our strength is wild and fierce, and we are more than unsettled by what may happen if we let it arrive. One thing we know: Nothing will ever be the same. One client said to me, "I'm afraid I'll do something bad if I let all this show up." No, the opposite is true. You'll do something bad if you don't. p. 149
Whyte talks about the difference between the false self's desire "to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul's wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be." You literally sacrifice your soul and your true power when you insist on controlling things, like the guy Jesus talked about who thought he finally pulled it all off, built himself some really nice barns and died the same night. p. 203-4This next passage reminds me a lot of Fr. Giussani's teaching about the trajectory of freedom, and articulates so well exactly the process of prayer I have employed.
To recover his heart's desire a man needs to get away from the noise and distraction of his daily life for time with his own soul. He needs to head into the wilderness, to silence and solitude. Alone with himself, he allows whatever is there to come to the surface. Sometimes it is grief for so much lost time. There, beneath the grief, are desires long forsaken. Sometimes it even starts with temptation, when a man thinks that what will really make him come alive is something unholy. At that point he should ask himself, "What is the desire beneath this desire? What is it I'm wanting that I think I'll find there?" However the desire begins to surface, we pick up that trail when we allow a cry to rise from the depths of our soul, a cry, as Whyte says, "for a kind of forgotten courage, one difficult to hear, demanding not a raise, but another life." (p. 207-8)I think these books speak to our current American culture well for a few reasons. First, many of us have grown up with the cultural influence of gender-neutrality. God however did not create neutered persons, he created humans male and female. Second, churches have not always been ready to respond in a healthy and helpful way in a discussion of what maleness and femaleness means. The Eldredges claim that for both men and women, the churches have been a major contributor to the problem, announcing to women that they are to stay busy serving, and to men that they should be "nice guys." Is that truly the fullness of the call of Christ? Be busy and nice? Does that resonate with the deepest desires of your heart? Is that really going to attract the lost 20-something who doesn't want to be a Church Lady or Mr. Rogers? If we want to reach real adults with the real gospel, we have to bare our souls to Christ first and allow Him to transform us at our deepest. This is what the Eldredges are after.
I'd recommend these books to anyone who happens to be a man or a woman, or who lives with or closely associates with men or women, or who will one day soon become a man or woman. Or anyone raising someone who will one day become a man or woman. Ok, some of the language and discussion might not be appropriate for children, but you get my drift.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Recently there have been a couple of things that the Lord has impressed on me to pursue, and I'm just now saying ah, naruhodo, there's a lesson in humility here for me. One of these things has required me to call this certain priest several times now. For the most part, our phone exchanges have consisted in me leaving him a message to call me back. Well, yesterday my cell phone rang in my purse, and as I fumbled to find it and yank it out, in the last fading milliseconds of the ring I saw his phone number, and then it stopped. I frantically pulled out what I needed to talk with him about, while negotiating a cookie argument between my children, and called him back, (amidst the somewhat loud aftermath of the cookie issue).
After the phone rang for what seemed like forever, he answered, and I stumbled into unprepared conversation. And he then explained that he had actually called me by accident; he had a minor household mishap, was out of town, and was trying to reach his neighbor; he'd have to call me back another day.
No problem. Talk to you later. Bye.
As a telephonophobic, there is probably nothing worse than calling someone to the phone who then says "You're not the one I need to talk to right now; goodbye." I didn't take offense. That's not the point. The point is to have someone actually directly verbalize my worst nightmare: I need to be doing something else more important than talking to you.
But it's a gift. It's a gift because I know it is God who put this into my heart to pursue, and the nightmare will not be the last word.
Maybe an hour later I was still feeling the angst stirred up in me by this exchange and was reverbalizing it to my husband. Just then the phone rang; it was Joe from the choir. He's involved in another matter that the Lord put on my heart recently. It is getting to the point where one could write a comedy sketch about how our phone exchanges tend to proceed. But after the choir business we discussed he made another statement about this benefit concert endeavor we are pursuing that sort of threw me by its unexpectedness. The conversation eventually proceeded something like this:
Joe: "What was that?"
Me: "I said 'um'. Um... Now I said it again. Um... Now I've said it a third time! I'm really on a roll, here. Um... Oh, I'll figure out what I wanted to say by tomorrow."
At least he realizes how much I dislike phones. I made polite goodbyes, slammed down the phone, and stayed just slightly jittery all night.
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor.12:8-10
It seems that most reflections I've heard about this Sunday lean towards saying "Aren't you glad Lent is half over with? Soon you can get back to all those things you gave up!" But to me, this is missing the beauty and the point of Lent that the Church intends to give us.
I think of an experience I had several years ago as a member of the on-line Catholic infertility support group I belong to. Someone suggested that all who wished should join together in praying a 54-day rosary novena. (This was the first of many novenas the group prayed.) The idea was that for the first half we would be praying for each other for the healing we all desired, and for the gift of children. Then in the second half we would pray in thanksgiving for the graces God had given and would give.
This was the first time I ever participated in something like this, and praying the rosary every day for 54 days was a major undertaking for me. I was in a very painful stage of our infertility journey; the ache in my heart for a baby was intense and unrelenting. I did all right with the first half of the novena, pouring out my pain on my own behalf as well as for my on-line friends. But when it came time to shift to thanksgiving... ooh, that was hard. I didn't feel like I'd gotten all the pain emptied out. I didn't suddenly feel more hopeful. But the directive was to start praying in thanksgiving and gratitude for what God had given and what He would do. The directive was to make an act of faith and hope. I felt more like staying attached to the pain.
But I did it.
I didn't miraculously become pregnant during those 54 days, but some women did. And one woman who had long since given up hope of ever being able to conceive discovered at a medical exam that she was actually five months pregnant! We were all deeply encouraged at the power of praying for each other.
And I learned something about Lent.
If we live this season honestly and openly, I believe, we encounter again our intense desire for the glory of God to be revealed in us, through us, and in our world, and the utter impossibility that our own power should accomplish this. We are simple vessels. The power is the Lord's. It is His power, His initiative, and our need, our ache. Our emptiness for Him to fill. We are invited again to look at our lives, make emptiness where perhaps we have cluttered ourselves, open up the space to invite Him in.
And then, we are invited to rejoice. Not because soon we can clutter our lives again, but because in this wonderful dance, in this wonderful harmonization with the Lord, we know He will not fail to do His part! We may well fail, and we do! But He will not. We rejoice because He is coming in power. He is coming to break the bonds of death. He is coming to bring new life that we cannot now even imagine. He is coming to breathe on us, filling us with His Spirit, recreating us -- and the whole world! We are filled with anticipation and hope, not because of anything we can do to bring on the power, but because He is the one who fills the hungry with good things and raises up the lowly from the dust.
So with great joy, let's allow ourselves to experience our hunger, our lowliness, our poverty, the beauty of Nothingness. Jesus overflowingly fulfills all of our expectations, usually in ways we least expect. Let us walk on towards Jerusalem now, with the loving and longing eye of Our Lord ever on us.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
I have found that it plays better for me on Internet Explorer than on Firefox.
Monday, March 01, 2010
The Mass was pretty full, populated largely by those associated with the charismatic covenant community in town, and the former charismatic parish that was closed in recent years along with several others here in a consolidation process.
Oh, it's not like I could be disappointed by a Mass. That's not what I mean to imply. But there's this strange-to-me phenomenon I note, having my experience of the charismatic renewal pre-date my Catholicism by a few years. It's not that I feel I left the charismatic renewal in becoming Catholic. But I think the truth of the matter is that with all of the experience and understanding of Christianity I had, I then found myself called to the Catholic Church. Many other of these friends found themselves somewhere in or still near (but exiting) the Church when they were called to the charismatic renewal, or at least experienced a true conversion in its midst. Everyone's path is different.
I'm rambling here, trying to tease out my point.
Worshipping God in the fullness of the Holy Spirit's gifts to me is what gives me life. So, who wouldn't want to be at a charismatic Mass with our Bishop and lots of people who love God? But as I was at Mass I kept thinking about something I'd read in The Joy of Music Ministry by John Michael Talbot. To paraphrase, he said that in order to enter into worship (and to lead others) one needs a sort of nakedness of soul and of spirit: a complete openness to God and vulnerability to God's Spirit. Only in this state is worship "in the Spirit." And (to continue with that lingo) I was unable to get that breakthrough during that Mass. In this regard, my spirit is very fussy about music ministry. I can't deeply enter in to just any worship music. Oh, it doesn't mean there was something "wrong" with it. But I was reminded again of when my husband and I were discerning whether to join the covenant community shortly after we got married. My discernment was no, it didn't fit. Same with the lay Carmelite community we tried out. It didn't fit. Not-so-oddly, both times it was my strong sense that we were called to simple parish life. We found that parish the year after we married.
But I believe it has only been within the last year that I've really entered into the reality that belonging to my parish is actually a vocation. And that specifically, belonging to the particular music ministry I'm in there is actually a vocation. Because I realized that my fussy spirit is completely at home and completely free right there -- there is the charismatic Mass that gives me life. The "hugeness" of this to me cannot be overstated.
As if to confirm my thoughts, after I got into my car a woman from my parish tapped on my window. I rolled it down, and she said she'd been meaning to tell me how much she loved it when I cantor, because she could always tell when I "go off in the Spirit." (Every movement has its lingo, no?) She told me repeatedly how much of a blessing it is, and she told me "Please, don't stop!" I thanked her repeatedly, and drove off shaking my head and pondering with amazement the gifts and charisms God gives. I might have just smiled at her phraseology, had I not been thinking about what John Michael wrote about worshipping "in the Spirit."
The gratitude that washes over me sometimes to imagine that these great things could be part of my life is practically breath-taking. How, indeed, is it possible, but by the sheer graciousness of God?!
On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
March 1, 2010
My dear friends, you are making progress. I, the One who sees all, can mark progress in many ways which are not available to you. I can mark progress in terms of your holiness, which you will experience as a greater awareness of your flaws and weaknesses. I can mark progress in terms of the advancement of My plan, which I experience in an increased longing for goodness in My children. I can mark progress in the commitment of more and more of My little apostles to the spread of My healing graces. I am pleased. Your time on earth will be used to the fullest possible extent, if only you will remain fixed on My presence in your day. So much depends on this awareness of Me. Your comfort in this time of change will largely depend on this and that is why I have come in the way that I have come and in the time that I have come. I prepare you, My friends, so that you can then prepare others. There is a groaning in My Church, a sigh of exertion as she pushes forward into a renewed period. You feel this aching strain but you also feel the spark of My hope. Dear apostles, for what reason would I come to you in this way if not for a good reason? Why would I deluge My Church in grace if not to renew her? Please. I urge you to rejoice. I am the Messenger who brings salvation. You are the heralds of My salvation. Does a herald look downhearted and hopeless? Of course not. One who heralds the King’s return stands with eyes alight, filled with anticipation and happiness. Be this for Me in this world where darkness is delivered by so many. Be heralds of the Light, rejoicing, so that others may see their future.