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)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Lazarus, Come Out!

The Lord can reach through time and space
And touch a wound, heal a pain
Fill a gap, leave a grace
Leaving a soul richer than the day of its creation

If only we will but see
The many ways in which we are not God
See and believe how much bigger is He
Than our efforts, our worries, our self-bandaging

Be still, little girl, He spoke to my soul
Be still and know I am God
I am Love; I heal where you cannot
In your heart, I come to stay

And from you, I go out; Bring love to a world
Which wounds in its wounding and pain
I heal you to heal; I love you to love
Gaze on Me: together always.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Vengeance: Who's Going to Pay for This?

This afternoon I heard a homily on forgiveness. Because my children were with me and there were noses to wipe and pieces of paper to retrieve and little chats to put a stop to, I was not completely glued to every word that came forth from Father's mouth. But my attention was caught by his last point, which concerned how to differentiate forgiveness from emotional or feeling-based responses. At times, people think that if they have any negative feelings toward a person, they must not have forgiven. Or, they think that forgiveness requires one to like an individual that one finds unpleasant. Father's point was that you can know you have forgiven when a) you do not seek revenge and b) you pray for the person.

I'm not sure why that struck me so, but it did. I don't resonate much with the word vengeance. (Though it reminds me of a video by Rich Mullins where he says "I know the Bible says 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, but I just want to be about the Lord's business!") What I resonate with  -- no, resonate is not the right word here. Resonate has too positive a quality to it. What I equate with vengeance is the feeling that somebody has to pay for this. And that somebody, somewhere in my gut, always seems to be me. There's something very wrong with that. And I think at heart, fixing it has a root in the need to properly forgive.

Really, not being vengeful is a matter of allowing justice to be carried out by the Lord. Entrusting injustices to Him. What is vengeance, after all? Is it not the idea that I will do something to replace what has been stolen from me, or from someone? And that someone that is done is generally another violation, another violence. Blame, a grudge, a punishment, a torment. A price. It is me declaring that I have the superior oversight of objective reality, and I know what a sin costs, and I know how to extract what it takes to heal.

In other words, I'm God; I'll handle it.

But in my heart, my own personal version of this, has never been really to unleash purposefully hateful or violent acts toward another, to get even. It has been to inflict them on myself. Maybe this shows an intuition of reparation or intercession, but it still really boils down to I'm God; I'll handle it.

And then there's when I see someone who can do this better than I can. Someone who feels the need to say "excuse me" when another person burps. The first person to stop to pick up things others have dropped. I'm sure it is possible for someone to do that because their heart is full of generosity. But I see an ability to say You've just made a mess in my life. This is really an injustice. Someone has to pay, and it has to be me. I have to absorb your fault. Not "allow me to help you" but "I have to."

In other words: God is not doing His job. I have to.

Nuances, nuances! There is such a difference between being motivated by the love to say "I would do anything to make you happy," and "I hate how this pain has disrupted my life, but I want to avoid the complication of blaming or wanting to destroy another (maybe because it doesn't make me look so good), so I'll take the vengeance inside myself, do the violence to myself, and try to make myself happy by letting you avoid pain."

Or, it could just be a child's magical thinking inside an adult psyche: if I pinch myself until I hurt, I can take away the hurt I see going on around me. The mind has habits, and this is why St. Paul admonishes us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

God alone is my Savior, and God alone is the Savior of the hurting person next to me. If I am to give anything at all to the hurting person next to me, it must come from God. Or perhaps better yet, if that hurting person next to me is to receive something that will heal her, it must come from God. I could heap all sorts of things on all sorts of people, and it might only clog them off or confuse them from receiving from God. It's not that I need fear about giving from out of my heart, but I do need love to motivate me in all things, never a twisted sense that I have to pay for this.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Citizen of a Political No-Man's Land

The more involved I am in the political scene, the less I identify with partisan politics.

So it was a strange feeling today when I ran into a friend who was giddy-excited over the results of yesterday's elections. She gushed her sense of relief that nearly all of "her" candidates won, and the key candidate we had mutually hoped to lose actually did. I wasn't quite sure how to emotionally process what was coming across to me. I wasn't sad about the election results. But I couldn't get that excited over them, either. I suppose it is because elections don't change the direction of the country. Oh, elections have consequences, I do know that old saying is true. But the truth is, we won't know what those consequences are until those who have been elected start acting in office. Will my new Congressman respond personally to my letters? Will we see him in the district more than the outgoing one? Will he introduce legislation that I want to see introduced? Toward whom will he gravitate? Will he turn out to be power hungry and forget that his role is to represent, not engineer?

I don't know. I'll have to wait and see.

A few days ago I read a blog post by DownsizeDC.org that I appreciated quite a bit, entitled What Will The Election Change? It included this gem:
We don't like talking about political personalities. They pretty much all stink.
And we think partisan politics is even worse. Parties are palliative to thought. They're toxic to discourse. They provide social proof that cognitive dissonance is just dandy, while logic and consistency are dangerously radical.
I'll admit that until just before the election, I was getting ready to throw in the towel on my "public" political involvement, to the extent that I lead a local Tea Party offshoot group. But DownsizeDC once again has re-encouraged me to consider that the important part of the political process is not who gets elected, but moving enough citizens to exert enough pressure on those who are elected -- whoever they are-- to consider the issues, to put forth the legislation, to open the dialogue and debate, so that laws can be passed that change the way things happen in Washington. Simple, common sense measures that would drastically change the way politics works, like the One Subject at a Time Act (where bills about health care can't change the statutes covering education loans) and the Read the Bills Act (so we don't have to pass bills to find out what is in them).

So, keep your excitement over the Republicans taking over. I would like common sense to take over. When I see that happening, I'll throw a party.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pachinko, Garbage, and Peeping Water Buffalos

So, here I am on the second whopping day of the write-every day challenge, and already I realize why I don't write every day. Forget simply not having the time, sometimes I'm just too dang hormonally challenged uncreative to come up with anything I feel like saying.

But since my theme is stories I never get tired of telling, I'll pick a silly story today. This happened to me in Japan. I often felt that Japan was booby-trapped for foreigners, there were that many occasions for me to make a complete idiot out of myself in the two-and-a-half years that I lived there.

One of these occasions happened on an evening when I was taking out my garbage. We had lots of different garbage pick-ups per month, with different types of garbage collected each time. This was probably plastic pick up day, because I had stuffed my junk into a plastic shopping bag. I dutifully took it to the "corner" (well, the little alley ways were hardly in a grid pattern, so it was no corner, but it was the neighborhood trash spot at least). The spot was just near a pachinko parlor. Pachinko, if you are not familiar, is the Japanese equivalent of a combination between a loud, obnoxious computer game with the social factor (sort of) of bingo. Oh, wait. A picture is worth a thousand words:

Except you really need the audio. These places loudly blare animated-type pinball sounds and music constantly.

Ok, so there I am with my garbage, stacking it at the corner of the pachinko parlor. Suddenly I realize the bag has come untied. I bend down to tie up the bag. All fine and dandy. Until I glance up just a bit and see a surprised man's eyes meet mine, as he slams a window shut. It seems that I had been tying my bag just outside the window of pachinko parlor's men's restroom. And I had been bending over at the perfect level to peep in the window and watch this man pee. Except, I wasn't! of course. I was tying my freaking garbage bag. Can I help it if Japan is simply built too compactly?

Lacking the culturally appropriate phrase to use for this kind of misunderstanding (do you really suppose there is one?) I simply slinked back to my apartment, cringing just a bit more than usual and feeling like the stereotypical water buffalo in a tutu.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Jesus Describes His Love For Us

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.
November 1, 2010 

Dearest apostle, be assured of My good will toward you. At times, I see that you forget that you have a beloved and constant friend. I am a friend who never finds you tiresome or difficult. I am with you during your calm periods and during your storms. I find you a precious companion regardless of your disposition in any moment. Think of someone whose companionship you crave or whose companionship you craved in the past. Just the thought of spending time with that person could bring you consolation. With that person, you felt comfortable, safe and there was joy. You could be yourself and felt that you fit well with this other. Dear apostle, for you, I am that other. For Me, you are that other. We fit together. When you are with Me, you are with the one who completely understands you and completely loves you. My love for you is sympathetic, understanding and unchangeable. My love for you will weather any strain or pain, any mistake or any emotional storm you experience. I will never leave you. I will always love you and welcome you in My heart. Your answers and your clarity will be found with Me. Sometimes, dear apostle, you fear that I am not giving you the answers you require. This is not true. If you need an answer from Me, you will receive it. If a course correction is necessary, I will direct you to it. Your prayers are instantly at home in My heart and I rejoice that you have come to Me with these requests. It is not possible that a beloved apostle will be rejected. Do not think that I ignore your pain or that your pain leaves Me indifferent. You, dear apostle, have shown Me that you are interested in My pain which will always involve the pain of humanity. This moves My heart to the greatest generosity. I answer your prayers in a mystical way. Some day you will see that I answered your prayers in the most beneficial way possible, given the intention. Many unnecessary calamities are avoided because of prayer. The greatest mercy flows down to your loved ones through your prayers, even though you suffer terribly when you see your loved ones hurt or when you must be separated from them, particularly when you do not expect to be separated from them. I am the merciful Christ in all of these situations. Understanding will come, dear friend. Believe in your prayers. Believe in My merciful presence with you. Believe in the impact of your service and believe in the gratitude I have for you, even when you do not feel it.

Here's Why I Love the Feast of All Saints

This morning when I woke up, it struck me clearly why I love the feast of All Saints so much. In days gone by, it seems I could never look at a human being, myself or anyone else, without getting depressed. I am by nature the type of person who sees flaws, failings and weaknesses. I see the problems in a picture. Add to this tendency having been taught the theological notions of the total depravity of man and justification as a legal fiction, and you have a recipe for a mess. I don't know how many times I heard the idea that being justified means that God looks at us with some holy sense of amnesia, "just as if" I'd never sinned. The idea was that, for Jesus' sake, He plays along with the charade and calls us holy, imputing Jesus' righteousness to us legally. Grace meant we were "covered," not changed. We stay rotten, abominable sinners, unable to do anything good. Then we die and get to heaven and finally we are really holy because we've left this world and sin behind.

It could be worse. The basic things are there: Salvation comes through Jesus, heaven is the goal, we sin. But there's this huge, gaping span called the course of human existence that gets left on the dung heap, to use the metaphor Luther was fond of. It occurred to me at one point in my life that if we were doomed to live this sort of dungy type of existence, and bliss and Jesus awaited us in heaven, why not just check out ASAP to get there? Why bother living? Why was suicide not a great option? There was a logical inconsistency here, and my life depended on it.

So, I will say that it was when I became a Catholic that things changed, although in this instance I use the phrase "becoming Catholic" in its ongoing sense of constant conversion. There wasn't one date where I suddenly believed a different doctrine and everything changed. Transformation doesn't work that way.

I learned the theology. I learned that grace as a legal fiction is inadequate, and unbiblical. I learned that grace is about sonship and entering God's covenantal family and being transformed from glory to glory. This not only was Scripturally consistent, it resonated with the deepest needs my soul had always felt: If God cannot transform me, I thought, who needs Him?

All that learning helped me understand, and my constitution requires understanding things. But where my heart is really torn open is in interaction with other people. In some ways, I only became a Catholic a couple of years ago. (In other ways, I suppose I'll only become a Catholic this afternoon or tomorrow or next month!)

How's that, you say? Well, I realized about two years ago that I had always kept a certain reservation in my heart. I think perhaps it comes from having always seen everyone primarily as a package of flaws. Oh, of course as I matured I was well aware of my own flaws and did learn to have mercy on myself, and therefore I would not go around having a cow over everyone's flaws. However, the yearning in me to behold, well, God in all His glory, just always turned me off from getting too familiar with regular ol' people. The contrast was too jarring, too sad. I couldn't stand the constant disappointment.

Then the Lord surprised me and brought me amongst a group of people whom I could trust enough, and be focused elsewhere enough (not on myself -- very important), to completely forget about my reservation. What was this reservation? I think it can be summarized thus: If all this God stuff is real, then He transforms regular Catholics. That is the proof. And I'm afraid I'll never see it. This was no conscious realization. But it seems many people I've talked with, converts at least, have a certain litmus test in their heart that either keeps them cautious or flings wide open the floodgates of their hearts. This was mine. God, if what you say is true, show me in plain ol' garden variety Catholics.

Part of how this litmus test thingy works is, of course, we fear. We hold on to the test, in the package, so to speak, unopened. We fear that we really have been deceived all along, that it is too good to be true. We know it can't be, but dang, that litmus test -- if we actually do it -- is going to show it one way or another. It's going to change things. So for many of us, it takes several years and circumstances out of our own control before heaven is able to slip in and settle (or perhaps stir up!) those fears, and let us actually run the test.

And then one day, when I wasn't concerned about being guarded, without making a big deal out of it, God seemed to pick up my litmus test, rip it open, and dip it into... my parish choir. I remember telling a group of friends at School of Community, in tears, shortly after I joined my parish choir that I knew then that it was all true. All true. All the good things I'd learned in my head over the last 15 years were all true. It was a deep, intuitive ... floodgate opening in my heart. And then I realized there was a weight of glory that had a claim on my life, and that was real, too. This was to change quite a bit.

Why? Because God allowed me to see Him in the faces of plain people who had flaws, failings and weaknesses. He was there. Just like I could perceive Him the in the Eucharist that night of my conversion on Christmas Eve (but that's another story entirely. One story at a time!)

I love the Feast of All Saints, because it gives me a completely new way of looking into the face of every person.