Saturday, June 25, 2011

As By a ... New Pentecost?

My old friend Mike Bogdanovich wrote a song once that says:
Something's going on
Deep inside of me
Something very precious
Something's going to set me free

That chorus has been going through my mind of late, because something is going on inside me. There is a certain ironic twist that it is Mike's song I'm thinking of since this something has to do with Pentecost and he is a friend from my pentecostal days.

I was, as I sometimes put it, a "non-denominational small-p-pentecostal charismatic" before I became a Catholic, even though I was raised Lutheran. It was a formative time for me; I was 19-24 years old and I was expanding my horizons spiritually, mostly in ways that were good. My experience with what I learned to call the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which I experienced alone in my college dorm room with a Don Basham book in hand, was my first experiential encounter with Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, as God who wanted to interact with me. Before that I had let Him be primarily the God in heaven I believed in and prayed to. But with that introduction to "things charismatic" as I understood them, Jesus showed me He is a Person, that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and that our relationship could have elements of an actual, tangible exchange if I but came asking and expecting to receive.

Because I had learned to identify and develop this living and growing relationship with God, I kept hungering for more and more until my feeling that I had "eaten through" everything available to me left me restless. This was because God was leading me to enter the Catholic Church, an adventure I've written about several times on this blog, like here. I've never felt I've foresworn my charismatic formation or experience, although I have felt that what was once a great source of growth for me became far less edifying. I remember attending a lecture by a Carmelite priest while I was in the process of entering the Church. I asked him what he thought of the charismatic movement as a spirituality. I was shocked by his response. It was something to the effect that it was fine as a starting place for some people, but the real fruit was to be found in contemplative prayer. In my youthful egotism and spiritual inexperience, I felt as if I'd been standing on the spiritual Mount Everest in my charismatic fellowship. He was telling me I'd barely hit the foothills.

I share all this to say that when I've thought of Pentecost, the feast, for all these years as a Catholic (18 years, now) I've still held on to some sense of how we used to pray for a "move of the Holy Spirit." Back then it seemed we always believed that God was just on the verge of doing something new, something great, something unprecedented. The next revival was always right around the corner. Sometimes people would then start seeing these things, or convincing themselves that they did. This leaves people open, frankly, to mind games that aren't healthy.

Just before this year's feast of Pentecost, I was praying the Pentecost mystery of the rosary, and I realized I was praying with a yearning that my mind couldn't figure out how to package. I was still carrying around this sense that to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to pray for large, bizarre things to happen of one sort or another. But my overarching sense was that I was praying open-endedly for something from the unknown to be made known. That's the best I can do to describe it.

Then on Pentecost Sunday at Mass, whether it was actually from the prayers of the liturgy or from the comments of the priest I'm not sure, but I heard that Pentecost is the fulfillment of the paschal mystery. Yes! The sufferings of Christ we shared in Lent, His death we witnessed in the Triduum, His resurrection celebrated for forty days, His ascension into glory where our humanity is raised up -- and now His Spirit is poured out, sealing His covenant with us, quickening us, filling us with life, and sending us forth: it is all one. That struck me as very significant.

What I have experienced, I think, is encapsulated in this truth. I have been experiencing a new Pentecost in my own life, and it is a large, bizarre thing in a way. And yet it is also the flowering of the things the Lord asked of me during Lent, during the Triduum, the things that first "sprouted" in Easter. It is about serving Him with power, it is about grace flooding through my soul and from me. It is also rooted in the "charismatic" reality I learned of actual, tangible exchange with my living Lord who knows every detail of my life and who opens Himself to me. And many, many would find it mystifying. This powerful move of the Holy Spirit has been about me.... cleaning my house. Yep. Sweeping those floors, doing housework.

I am in no way kidding. This is a deep thing. It makes me marvel all over again at the work of the Holy Trinity in human hearts.

I love this adventure of living with the Lord. There is always new growth, new directives, new calls to obedience and love. It is like continuously traveling and continuously arriving at the starting gate.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On the Duties of our State of Life

Written by St. Claude de la Colombière (1641-1682)

"The good order of things in the world depends upon the fidelity with which each one performs the duties of his state in life. All disorder originates in negligence upon this point. What a grand thing it would be if everyone acquitted himself of his duties! It is, perhaps, the thing that is most neglected even among pious people, indeed probably more often among those than among others. Yet people do not accuse themselves of it. Charles V said to his confessor: 'I accuse myself of the sins of Charles, not of those of the Emperor.'

"More souls are lost for this reason than for any other. Half are damned for not having performed the duties of their state, the other half because others have neglected their duties with regard to them. The duties of one's state take precedence of private duties: for instance, a magistrate must not consider relationship or friendship. Public good must prevail over private good. Jesus Christ, who came into this world to teach us and save us, did not think of his Mother when it was a question of his office as Redeemer: he looked upon others only in so far as they concerned this work of Redemption. Those who cooperated with him are his brothers; those to whom his Precious Blood gives new life are his children; his Mother is she who is perfectly submissive to the will of his Father.

"A man who neglects the duties of his state is a discordant voice in the harmony of the world, no matter what else he does. Those we are faithful to all other duties often neglect these; those who do not omit them perform them negligently or through human motives and self-interest. This is not fulfilling their duty.

"In choosing a state of life, the human advantages are considered but not the duties. It is impossible to neglect these duties without injuring others, and as God has their interests at heart even more than his own, such neglect is very dangerous.

"People would consider it strange for a man to become a religious without knowing to what he was going to bind himself. But what of a secular who has been married for twenty years, or who has held some responsible post in his profession, without knowing the duties these states of life entail.

"Sins of omission on this point are easily committed. They are hardly noticed, and consequently reparation is rarely made for them. These are sins that are committed by doing nothing; sins that do not consist in bad actions but which are often the consequence of some good work.

"By neglecting your duties, you condemn both yourself and others to punishment: others because you do not teach them their duty and make them fulfill it; and yourself because you do not fulfill your own. The less wicked will be damned for what they have done; the most wicked for what they have omitted to do."

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Purity of a Child

I love to observe children's unabashed sentiments of friendship. My son is a popular, outgoing boy that everyone seems to love to be around. I've witnessed boys debating one another about which one of them was my son's best friend. And the disappointment on the face and in the voice of a boy who comes to our house to play, only to learn that my son is at someone else's house playing, tugs at the heart. The way my children will beg to spend more time with their friends and vice versa -- it's all so free and uncalculated. If I listen closely I hear a yearning in innocence for communion that makes my own soul glow in mystery.

What happens when we cease to be children? Or is it just me? Was it just me? I'm not entirely sure I was ever a child in the way I'm thinking about it here.

When we grow and mature, we become aware of more of what we were made for. And yes, it is communion. Profound communion. Mature hormones kick in to tell us we are made for a type of communion in which we give ourselves completely to one who is able to receive us completely, and we are meant to spiritually and physically reproduce ourselves in this world. Those drives can perfect us, and they can muck us up seriously, as well. We can become calculating. The pain of disappointment can become too much to bear, or feel, so we can start to push them down and divert ourselves from what we are made for.

But hold it. Kids can do that, too. I did. But just today I witnessed that purity I wrote about earlier -- that pure longing for friendship expressed by a child. Purity is possible, just like deformation is.

We're made for more than sex, more than marriage. The only one we can give ourselves to completely and the only one who is able to receive us completely is the One who made us, the One who holds us in life. We are made for God, for union, for unity with Him through the absorption of ourselves in Him, which makes us most perfectly the unique individuals we were created to be, free from calculations, from self-conceit.

But God has gone and created this as a sacramental universe. He comes to us, not despising created means, but embracing them, employing creation to woo us, to show us His face, to pour His grace upon us: the Incarnation.

Which is why I can look at the child at my door and feel my heart bursting with the mystery of God present with us, calling me to Himself.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Big City, Little Town

Last month my family went on a trip to visit relatives, and in the course of that trip we visited Toronto, Ontario. Toronto is a city of roughly five million people, once you take in all of the burbs.

I've done my share of traveling, and frankly I'm not a huge fan of it anymore. But there was something uniquely jarring to me about the day we spent in Toronto. Riding the subway into the heart of the city, I was struck by a  difference between that culture and the one in which I currently reside.

I should explain that subways and big cities are nothing new to me. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin; at the time the population was about 140,000. It has grown significantly since then. In college I moved to Milwaukee, which I think was something like 300,000 at the time. My next residence was in Takamatsu, Japan, on the island of Shikoku. This city was considered a quiet, backwater village of only about 600,000. Then I moved to Osaka, home to about three million people. Subways and trains were common fare to me then. In Japan everyone learns how to build a bubble of privacy around them in the midst of hundreds of strangers, even in the public baths.

And then I moved to Steubenville with its population of just under 18,000 and shrinking by the day.

This is my home in every emotional sense of that word. That means that I find great comfort here, even while occasionally feeling annoyed or amused by some aspects of the experience. I am annoyed, for example, at how drivers seem to constantly disregard the sirens of emergency vehicles (I once saw four cars pass in front of a fire truck at an intersection), and I am amused, in a slightly irritated way, at the pronunciation to which some words are subjected. But, as I think happens when one is very comfortable someplace, I didn't realize just how this place that is my home has formed me with certain expectations, certain assumptions about how people interact with each other.

On the subway in Toronto I was struck by a North American version of the Japanese privacy bubble. The Toronto bubble, however, didn't feel like a cultural understanding of respect-by-distance. It felt more like mutual alienation. Everyone avoided others, except if they traveled as a group, and then the entire group interacted in such a way that communicated avoidance of others. Just an example: in one group of young men, a coffee spilled on one man's backpack. They all groaned over the disgustingness of this while the young man wiped his backpack on the seat between him and another person, as if no one but they were present.

Then I think of life here, where it is not uncommon for drivers who pass each other on country roads to wave to each other, just because. It's not that everyone makes eye contact with every stranger here, but I routinely have strangers greet me. It's just sort of common courtesy that we say hello to whomever we meet when out walking. I've done quite a bit of petition work, and I've found nearly every stranger I've stopped willing to chat. I love the feeling that when I go grocery shopping I usually run into an acquaintance at the store.

I know from my husband, who grew up in a town much smaller than this one, that small town life can instill a sense that one has no private life, because everyone knows everything about everyone, and is probably talking about it with everyone else. Perhaps I just have the best of both worlds: I presume that everyone is minding his or her own business and ignoring everyone else, while experiencing that people are relatively aware of each other. I also have a relatively low level of gossip paranoia.

One might claim the the level of friendliness experienced here is limited in its value because it only goes so far: there are people who are suffering, lonely, abused, and even murdered right in our neighborhoods. A wave and a howdy isn't going to prevent that. But it does do something for me. I have a sense of peace and safety. I have a sense of belonging, knowing that neighbors would help each other in case of any kind of emergency need.

The feeling I had in the big city was by far more one of self-protection, guarding against strangers, mistrust, suspicion. I had forgotten, or not realized, just how much I had moved out of that mindset. I have had to coach my son in the proper application of self-protection and mistrust in public, when he had a gift card stolen from him last Christmas. But I would rather teach him to constantly keep his wallet in his hand than to watch him have to pry his heart open as an adult, constantly and routinely on guard with friend and foe alike.

I do think that human need brings out the neighborliness in most of us, regardless of our culture. I guess what it boils down to is that it makes me sad to think of all of the varieties of loneliness there are in the world -- and especially how it can crush the soul while people are crushing in on you from all sides.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Watch What I can do with Your Yes

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

June 1, 2011 


Dear apostles, humanity suffers. If you have eyes to see, then you will see that all around you there are children of God who have become disconnected from their Father. When a child suffers, that child is consoled if his Father is nearby and engaged with him. The child feels understood, even in his great pain. The child feels that there is ultimate safety, even when he faces temporary risk. To know that one is destined for ultimate safety provides for a disposition that withstands any difficulty, even the prospect of death. Beloved apostles, so close to Me, do you see that you have something that most do not? Do you see that your anticipation of ultimate safety provides you with a solid wall at your back which will, someday, absorb you into Itself? At that time, you will never be at risk again. You will be one of those who rejoices completely, not only in your own safety, but in the safety of all those around you. You will be absorbed into the Communion of Saints who now so perfectly understand the struggle of humanity that they work tirelessly and joyfully for the salvation of their brothers and sisters remaining on earth. When you finish your time on earth, you, too, will understand the great things that I accomplished through the little yes answers you gave Me on your journey through time on earth. You will say, yes, it was worth everything. You will say this, dear friends, regardless of the amount of suffering or sacrifice you endured. But, even as I rejoice in your heavenly heading, I urge you to strain forward in My service. Others should possess this confidence and security. If I told you that there was one person who was lost and that he could be found, would you rejoice with Me? If I told you that this person, currently suffering, could be claimed for heaven through your allegiance to Me on this day, would you give Me that allegiance? For one more day? This is what I am asking of you. Answer yes to Me. Give Me this day today. Watch, dear apostle, what I can do with your yes answer today. Look back and see what I have done with your yes answers in the past. You will see, in looking back, the barest truth about what I accomplished through you. Only in heaven will you see the full extent of what the Father has gained through your presence in His heart. Trust Me, while I obtain peace for you and peace for others through you.