Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Fire of Love

Once again, as if it ever stops, something's going on deep inside of me (that's a song quotation, by the way). I've written about this before, but here I go again.

One of the most bizarre ways that God called to me many years ago was to tell me very clearly one day "I have called you to be an outspoken person." This was at a time when I struggled horribly to say anything to anyone. If I wanted to talk with someone about something personal, I tended to sit there and cry for an hour, first. Words just didn't flow. I didn't know what to do around people when it came to anything but superficiality, and I didn't even do very well with that. And then God spoke to me very clearly and said He called me to be an outspoken person.

God's work is never ending (praised be He) and it is very mysterious. These days I am in a completely different place than I was when I first received that call. Right now, today, I can feel my heart burning within me with a kind of a fearlessness I have never known before. This too is God's gift, and this too comes by way of a crucible. But now, I don't fear it. I want it. I want this crucible badly, and not only for me. This crucible is my place of prayer. I want the fire of God to burn all sin, all dross, beginning with mine and spreading to everyone, beginning with those closest to me. His fire is judgment, but His fire is mercy, because it is love. When we love God, the experience of His love comes to us as a blessed relief. When and in what ways we do not love God, the experience of His love is a painful, consuming fire.

I don't care if it hurts. I don't care if God's ways are hard. This is evidence of His mercy, and we should rejoice and be glad in it.

For me, being outspoken is about living with courageous faith, not about spouting off my mouth with my opinions everywhere. Being outspoken means speaking how and when and where God would have me, with no excuses, no fawning, no pretending, no pandering.

I want one thing. I want the fire to blaze. Come, Holy Spirit.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

This Blog Post has been Retitled

I'm just going to write this raw, to get it out of my system, or at least, I hope, to move it along a little.

I have been reading JPII/Karol Wojtyla's book Love and Responsibility. I read part of it for a grad class something like 14 years ago, but all I remember is it being really dense, and it making me feel that way, too. There's something about reading philosophy and about theological concepts that makes it so that if you don't have a certain amount of life and prayer under your belt, it all becomes useless blather.

I started to read it again in part because of an article a friend posted on Facebook several days ago about marriage, and how Catholics are to understand this notion that goes around and around in Protestant circles, about wives submitting to their husband, and exactly how that is supposed to work. This kicked back into my consciousness this term "personalism." I know JPII was an avowed personalist, and while I sort of knew what that all meant when I was studying theology, it hasn't been something I've thought about much lately. But as I started to read Love and Responsibility I saw that this is the precise context in which the Pope talks about understanding relationships between the sexes.

And then I saw what he contrasts personalism with. Utilitarianism. Using people. And it is starting to get me unhinged.

But not nearly as fast as it should.

Several days ago as I was praying I was moved to pray something like this: that God would give me His kind of hatred for injustices and wrongs that I tolerate. Not "out there," but in myself. I have this sense that this is because of that.

As I read the first part of the book, where the Pope lays out the philosophical groundwork of utilitarianism and why it is always wrong to treat a person as an object of use, I just kept thinking of this man that I once trusted. Really, our relationship was not worthy of the term "trust." Don't know yet what I should call it. This was some 20 years ago, and he was a man 20 years older than myself (so, he was then about the age I am now). I looked at him like a father-figure, I guess that's the best way to put it. He, for his part.... well, he was married with three kids and also seemed to believe he had a ministry to young single women. That should give you an idea of the footing this thing starts off on. But when I first got to know him, in a church context, he liked to repeat this phrase to me, using the royal we: "You're ours to use and abuse." He said it in such a way that it was supposed to give me a sense of belonging. Really, the sonofabitch was very much like a pedophile, except that the only way I was a child was emotionally.

What makes me really angry (yes, I believe that is what I am finally feeling) is that, while his comments, and his treatment of me for about 5 years registered with me as annoying, mostly I was happily resigned enough (well, "happy" can hardly be the right term) to put up with being used by him. I blocked out so much, maybe because it was just too painful to watch my dignity being shredded. Something in me wanted to believe I was being cared for, because this was as close at it got for me for the most part. I was completely blind, by choice?, to how stuff just wasn't right. He would call me almost every night and get me to tell him everything that was going on with me. When he wife started working night shifts, he would take me out for dinner two or three nights a week, treating me like a date. Physical advances started creeping (perfect word) more intense and he seemed to get a real kick out of trying to do it literally behind his wife's back. All the while, I just tried to pretend it wasn't happening. I had absolutely no sense of physical attraction to him at all. Blech.

Oh, once I found the strength to say I didn't want to see him at all for two months or something like that. I think that may have been after I knew I was becoming a Catholic and new graces started to reach me. He was right back at my apartment on the exact "last day" of that arrangement. Finally, right before I moved to Japan he figured he had to go whole hog and take his chances with pushing it as far as he could. And finally I did the most violent thing I could muster in our religious context, which was to pull away and yell "God damn you" at him.

Even then, it mostly just meant "Would you stop being so annoying."

That was 1994. It took me until about 2010 to realize that all that while, I was being wronged by him.

And right now it fills me with revulsion to think that I ever accepted that being used by someone is in any way synonymous with being loved.

Pope JPII points out very well that this is pretty much the cultural standard that infects modern thinking very deeply, including even some strains of theology wherein God is depicted as the grand "User" of people to fulfill His ends apart from their own intrinsic good.

This is why Catholicism alone preserves the truth. This is why when I encountered this very Catholic theological vision of God that I'm not really smart enough to articulate right now, but which presents God as not at all using us, but creating us as human beings, and His law and plan made for us and all that.... that's why my heart throbbed for joy to understand on some level that God does not at all, ever, in any way, intend for people to be used, to be treated as objects.

But it takes a long time for truths to work their way into the fiber of lives so that they start to affect what I am willing to accept as treatment of myself. There's a certain personal bearing one must have before it makes any sense to say "I won't accept someone treating me like that." I guess I mean the mouth can say anything, but it has to be the heart, the life, the whole being that can say that.

This is still rocking my interior, and while I'm not sure what happens next, I also get the sense from God today that all this realization pleases Him, and that it's going somewhere good. It never feels good to have junk kicked up, and to potentially look around and say "My God, what else is infected?" But I do trust God and know He loves me dearly. So, I'm Ok.

And you know, it does feel much better to finally get mad at that sonofabitch.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Royal Throne and the Hundredfold

Some days I come home from Mass with a homily-redo running through my head. Today was one of those days. You know, you hear the readings, and your mind starts putting things together, and then the priest goes off in a completely different direction that leaves your thoughts like a pile of bricks begging to be reassembled properly. Tell me that happens to you, too. Right? Well, never mind, it is my blog, after all.

Here are those readings, by the way:

Basically, there's Ezekiel prophesying to an extremely wealthy and arrogant politician that all of his money and all of his supposed high-and-mightiness wasn't going to do him a whit of good when, shortly, he would face a bloodthirsty murder who would stick a sword through his belly. (This reading wasn't very familiar to me; I guess we skipped it in my Sunday School class when I was a kid.)

The psalmist actually was quoting arrogant people saying obnoxious things about how they don't need God, and the response was God saying "It is I who deal death and give life."

(I was the lector today, too, so I was really feeling the this-ain't-so-rosy-ness of these readings.)

Then there's the gospel of the rich young man who really wants to follow Jesus, says he's kept all the commandments (yawn), is there anything else Jesus can think of he might try as a spiritual exercise? And Jesus tells Him "sell what you have a give to the poor, then come, follow me." And the guy goes away, waiting, I guess, for another rabbi with better ideas to try.

But then, and I think this is the key, Jesus continues talking to his disciples about this. And here I'll quote:

Then Peter said to him in reply,
"We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life.
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first."

What hit me as the key to understanding all this is that talk about thrones. Yes, in heaven, Jesus is depicted as seated on a throne (in Revelation, and therefore in art). But what is that royal throne as it appeared on earth, in Jesus' lifetime? Where was He high and lifted up to draw all men to Him? From whence comes Jesus' right from the Father to sit as judge of the world (Jn 5:22)? The answer to all three is the cross, of course. Jesus' throne in glory is the flip side of His cross on earth. And Jesus tells his disciples that they, too, will sit on thrones, and they will judge the twelve tribes of Israel, which is the new covenant people, the Church. The promise of real authority must have encouraged those men, after all they were always going off about who would get the prime positions in the kingdom. But what a blow that crucifixion was to them, completely and utterly messing with everything they had ever envisioned the kingdom to be. Still, I think Jesus planted these words in them so hope couldn't die and so that they wouldn't all go off like Judas and hang themselves on Good Friday. And so that after Pentecost they could look back and realize that the experience of the cross is necessary for every Christian.

So what about this wealth stuff that caused the prince of Tyre to be impervious to the doom before him, and that caused the young man to get turned off by Jesus, even though he was a "good person"? The key is that following Jesus means going to the cross with Him. It means dying to the idea that I'm all-powerful, that I need no other god but myself. Dying to self means to open myself totally to give and to love, as Jesus did. The basic truth of life on this fallen earth is that love has an enemy, but that we get  victory over the enemy by dying with Jesus and rising again. That happens when we are baptized; and after we are baptized it happens when we repent and confess our sins and then live in the truth of that victory. That is why Jesus promises his followers the hundredfold in this life, and eternal life in the next. The hundredfold is the riches of the Christian life. Look at what it is, by the way: not money and power, but people, and a place. The apostles were to gain lots of people into their lives all over the then-known world.

There. Now that I've got my homily out, I feel much better.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila

Just today I finished reading The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila, translated by Mirabai Starr. My heart just wants to say Thank you, Lord for this incredible gift!

I think it is accurate to say that St. Teresa is the first woman I have ever encountered who my soul immediately wants to call "mother." I read smatterings of her works years ago when I first met the Carmelites (which I wrote about before, including here.) But this is the first that I've read one entire work by her. The translation is modern, and seems to preserve Teresa's own rather earthy and blunt writing style, and also her tendency to ramble. Her growth, her struggles, the temptations she endured and the things she beat herself up over, worrying that they were faults or sins are all laid out for all to see. Of course, she didn't write it knowing it would be read for 400 years by people all over the world. She thought she was writing privately to a few of her confessors. God had other ideas.

And why does my soul want to call her "mother"? Well, it is evident how hard she struggled and wrestled to come to, or to receive from God, the certainty about her experience of prayer, discerning what is of God and what is not. And she did this in a point in history when she (at first) seemed compelled to keep denigrating herself for being unlearned and a woman, and when it was easy for many to dismiss her efforts to reform the Carmelites (really, simply to obey God) as "the silly notions of women." It also made me so happy to read her descriptions of some of her spiritual experiences and say "Yes! I've been there, too! I know just what you are talking about." But it makes me even happier to realize that she went far beyond where I have been, and this was written 20 years before she died! Here's a woman from whom I can learn so much, who has so much to teach me. Really that makes me so happy I could cry.

And I guess it is not for nothing that she is a Doctor of the Church!

I could quote vast chunks of the book that were helpful to me, but I'll restrain myself to one area. I really appreciated her frankness in discussing her relationships with various men in her life: priests, confessors, and lay men, and how these relationships both helped her and blessed her, but also sometimes caused her soul trials. I'll let her do the talking:

I have had this experience many times over the years: whenever I like someone very much, I am filled with nearly unbearable longings. I want to see this person utterly surrender to God. While I want everyone to serve God, my yearning is especially acute when it comes to the people who please me the most. Thus, I fervently beseech the Lord on their behalf. This is what happened to me when I met with the priest I am speaking about.

He asked me to pray wholeheartedly to God on his behalf. But he didn't need to ask. I was already so filled with prayers for him that I could not have done otherwise. (pp. 273-274)

Here is one benefit I derived from [a certain vision]. Before he appeared to me, I had this troubling tendency to become very attached to anyone I thought liked me. As soon as I began to detect that someone had fond feelings for me and I myself found them attractive, I would start thinking about them all the time and recalling every detail of our encounters. I had no intention of forsaking God, but I was very happy whenever I got to see these people. I loved to think about them and reflect on all the positive qualities I perceived in them. This habit was becoming a serious problem and leading my soul astray.

(And then she relates how seeing a vision of Christ made every other attraction dull in comparison.)

I experienced this kind of liberation in the case of one of my confessors. I have always had a tendency to develop a deep fondness for the men who guide my soul. I believe they stand in God's place in a very real way, so my thoughts of them are intimately entwined with my thoughts of God. Because I feel safe with them, I express my affection. This often seems to make them uncomfortable. Being God-fearing servants of the Lord, they are afraid that my love for them -- even if it is a very spiritual love -- might become a dangerous temptation for me, so they have treated me harshly.

...Sometimes when I saw how they were misinterpreting my feelings for them, I would laugh to myself but wouldn't let on how unattached I really was to any human being. But I did reassure them, and as they got to know me better, they realized that my primary attachment was to the Lord. (pp. 304-305)
I was wondering one day if the joy I derived from my relationships with my spiritual guides represented a dangerous lack of detachment. I loved being with these men....Then the Lord spoke to me. "If a man who had been close to death attributed his recovery to a doctor, it would not be a virtue for him to withhold his gratitude and love from that doctor. And so it is with you. If it hadn't been for these people in whom you have confided, what would you have done? Conversation with good people can never be wrong! If you consider well whatever you say and always speak with integrity, you have no reason to avoid their company. Not only are such conversations not harmful, they are beneficial"

This was very comforting to me. I had been worrying that because conversing with these men gave me such pleasure, it must be an attachment. This made me not want to talk to them at all. (p. 341)

Two years ago it was St. John of the Cross who showed up on my doorstep after pretty much keeping silent for two decades of my life (wrote about that one here). Last fall I started in on Edith Stein before writing music pulled me away. (Hmm... just noticed that...) Next I plan to read the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whom I have to admit I've never developed a fondness for. Probably that's because of my own disconnectedness from a sense of ever having been a child. And next Sunday, please God, I will finally get to my very first lay Carmelite formation meeting.

Because maybe I should start taking the hint.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Confessions of an Evolving Unschooler

So, my kids are really in for it. Who am I kidding -- I'm really in for it.

We are homeschoolers. Geez, I hate that term. I used to say that we are unschoolers, which some people understand and most don't. Let's just leave it at this: I don't send my kids to a school. We learn without it. Now, I suppose I might scandalize my UnschoolingCatholic friends with this (then again, I know they are a great bunch of women who don't scandalize easily, plus I highly doubt any of you are still reading this blog since I've pretty much dropped off the face of the UC group in the last few years), but we are moving steadily away from true-blue unschooling. I've always been about finding what best serves my chidren's needs, and really I think that's more what the intention of unschooling is (unless one just really wants to grind an ideological ax, and yes there are people who groove on that sort of thing).

I found a few years back that my son was complaining to me about his academic formation. Specifically some of his friends were calling him stupid and spoiled because he didn't spend as much time on schoolwork as they did. My son took this to heart. Now, it doesn't help that most of my son's friends are older than he is, and some of them really delight in demonstrating at every possible turn how smart they are. But while he could read far beyond what would be considered normal for his age, he could barely add single digit numbers without counting on his fingers.

Well last year I (gasp) bought him a math textbook. And with great effort on both of our parts, he went from 0 to 60 mph in about nine months. He also really got a kick out of telling his friends "I can't play now; I have to do my Latin."

Now he is 11, and I informed him that this year I will be expecting a lot more from him.

In a way, I have been waiting since his toddlerhood for him to be 11. It is such a great full-speed-ahead age, and such a perfect age to not be in school, fighting for one's life against the social shark-infested waters.

And then there's my daughter who is as smart as a whip but tries very hard not to let on. She has an amazing capacity to memorize, and she is so dutiful. She's a girl, for crying out loud. The child's academic world is made for her.

So, I've announced that we are going to move full steam ahead, doing all sorts of not-very-unschoolish looking things. We are going to master some great skills. We're going to study and learn so much.

Can you hear me salivating?

And I'm in for it.

See, I love learning, and of course all of the stuff my kids are learning right now is very simple to me. My very big problem, I admit, is that I do not know how to patiently come alongside someone who is learning. I think I should coach football, because my style is more the push-and-yell-and-challenge style. Think! Use that brain! Stop being lazy! Do it over again! Go, go, go!

My son, I think, needs this. I know God matched me correctly with the children He gave me, but I fear I will crush my daughter, and I know I am capable of deeply frustrating my son, too. I need to take breaks to go off and do push-ups or something, because I get my choleric dander up and I just lose my ability to be patient and understanding and encouraging. I love working hard, and probably my primary way of bonding with my kids (or anyone) is to work hard with them. But there's a big difference between working hard with someone and dragging them along by their hair. Unless, of course, I hit a snag of depression, and then I say "Oh, hell, go watch a movie, I'm going to lay in bed today." I suppose this will eventually (if it hasn't already) leave the impression on my kids that if I'm pushing them it's because I'm happy. Hopefully that will balance out whatever other psychosis I impress on them.

And hopefully the years of personal formation I did with the ideology of unschooling will keep me from going really bonkers on them and forgetting that learning is everywhere and always. And I do already know deeply that they are more important than their performance and grades. I haven't completely lost it!

So, ask me in a few months how it's going.

On second thought, mind your own business.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Hard Ways and the Love of God

This morning I've been thinking about some of the hard ways in which God has led me.

It is, indeed, of ultimate importance that we come to understand that God never has any thought toward us other than total and complete love. But I guess that means that we also come to disassociate our ideas and our experiences of love from our desires for indulgence. Indulgence means that right now, today, I have an idea of something that I believe will satisfy me, and I want tons of that and I want to wallow in it, even disappear into it. That's pretty much a definition of disordered love, is it not. First, we know by experience that what we think will make us happy today doesn't always make us happy tomorrow. We also know that just because a little of something gives pleasure does not mean that a lot of that same something gives a lot of pleasure. Sometimes a lot of something just makes us sick, or at least sick of that thing. And disappearing into something? People disappear into prison cells.

Disordered love is about willing bondage.

What about real love, then?

Yes, there is such a thing. Even people who "believe in God" sometimes doubt, based on their experiences, whether real love exists, or at least if it will ever show up in their lives. If God loved me, then I wouldn't have xyz going on in my life, children wouldn't suffer and everyone would be good to each other. It's not a far leap to chuck the idea of a personal God entirely, except perhaps as a cultural icon, an idea, after one questions God's love in this way.

Moderns like their theism to be self-styled, and this kind of junk betrays that one has remade God in one's own image. I think what one is really saying is If I were God, I would get rid of xyz in my life, and I'd make everyone happy. I'd be a great sugar daddy!

Reminds me of listening to a bunch of kids (or maybe candidates!) making plans for the country after one of them becomes President. Everything is free and everyone has all the money in the world.

Back to the top. I've been thinking about some of the hard ways in which God has led me.

God's love, the real stuff, has as an effect our freedom. When we really let God do His thing with us, it will (get ready, you can take it) hurt, but only to the extent that what binds our lives up gets broken away and what imprisons us gets destroyed. We simply have to want real love more than we want the bondage we create.

So, I was thinking of all those jobs where I had to make and answer hundreds and thousands of phone calls. Me, the phone-phobic woman. Some of those I answered were extremely intense when I worked for the Right to Life office and got grieving or angry or sometimes just downright evil people on the other end. And I thought of the time I spent in Japan. At a time when I struggled to speak even to friends in English, I plopped myself into a foreign country by myself where I could not communicate with anyone beyond the level of a toddler. For 30 months my soul scraped the dregs of isolation and loneliness. And then there was the whole infertility thing, when I felt that God Himself was thwarting my deep desire to become a mother. That pain was only second to the pain and mental torment I'd endured wondering if I would ever have a husband in the first place.

Often during these years I'd say to the Lord through my tears, "I don't see your love in this."

God's every thought toward us is love. His every movement toward us is love. His every desire toward us is love. Love entails the giving of oneself. But for God to give Himself to us in a way that we can receive, we need to have space, openness to Him. All of these painful things were really like sunlight shining on me, melting my frozen, fist-like heart that would not open to receive anything from God because of fear and shame and all that bad stuff. If ice could think, it might think sunlight is an enemy bent on its destruction. It might not realize that there is an entirely different state in which it can exist -- that of life-giving and refreshing water. It might not realize that it is meant to be part of a cycle of movement and change and that if it gives itself even to the hottest sun, it won't be annihilated.

Sometimes the things that cause us the most pain are the deepest evidence of God's loving presence in our lives. He is coming to liberate us. It is who He is and what He does. He is our freedom. We can trust Him.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Faith Had Led the Way

Yesterday I was listening to a teaching by Mother Immaculata, a Carmelite nun, on St. John of the Cross. Good stuff. This is I think my third time through the CD set, and of course each time something new is what grabs me.

This morning as I thought about what I heard yesterday, I had a naru hodo moment. She was talking about the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity, and how they grow and develop together. Actually, she was talking about what St. John has to say about faith, and how we fail in faith by not believing that God's mercy can apply to us, in our particular lives and circumstances. In that context, she made a comment, something along the lines of "thanks be to God, because all of the theological virtues hang together, our acts of love also build up our faith and our hope."

This morning, it struck me. Throughout my life, faith has led the way.

And then I could understand what Mother Immaculata was actually saying. In her experience, and maybe most people's experience, love is the virtue that we are called upon to exercise the most in most normal contexts of life. It is perhaps the most "natural" of the supernatural virtues to most people because of our constant need to use it. And she was grateful that it helps build up faith as well.

Well, ain't the case in my life. I have often thought of a song my friend Gail wrote when we were young adults. She grew up in a Buddhist household and was baptized at 19. The first line of this song was, "Where I grew up Jesus was a dirty word." I think of this because in my young life, "love" was a dirty word. Love was something illicit, something you didn't talk about, something from which you avert your gaze. And then there was "God is love," but that was mostly just words. The devil was pretty effective at snatching the concept and reality of love away from my mind and heart and making it appear as putrid as himself.

Then, there's hope. Oh my, what a laugh. My brooding, dark personality needed little help settling down into utter despair. I was so drawn to dwelling on the negatives of life that it was simply habitual to me to give up hope for anything good. Ugh. It's oppressive to even think about how easily I abandoned hope.

The one virtue left, the one little toe-hold of grace that was left to me, was faith. Perhaps it helped that my Lutheran formation emphasized the importance of faith almost to the exclusion of all else. I know that I didn't have a right intellectual understanding of faith, but one doesn't absolutely need right understanding to exercise a virtue (thank you, Lord!).

Looking back, I can see all the times the Lord called me to trust and take a step forward. I think I have gotten a lot of exercise in this primarily because of how frightened I was of everything. I see now how my timidity has been a gift. I think of a certain book bindery we now pass by every time we visit my Mom, because of where she lives now. I worked there as a temp during the last summer I lived at home, so when I was about 20 years old. The first day I walked in there I was so petrified. I felt like I was walking into the belly of the beast, like I would be killed. The truth is, I've felt that way about almost every new situation I've ever encountered!

And I think of how I used to write letters to my friend Keith when was a missionary in Africa. I wrote maybe three or four times a week. And every time I dropped a letter into the mailbox, I was stretching my heart out in trust. And I vividly remember at the time this image of a spider spinning a web. One tiny thread at a time, the web gets bigger, wider. I could feel how my heart slowly was expanding, and how I was able to say, "Yes, Lord," and step into life. And I see now, too, how true it is what Mother Immaculata said. As my faith, my ability to entrust my life to the Lord, grew, I had more hope and even more charity.

Then God called me to become a Catholic. Wow. That was a leap of faith. Then I went to Japan. Well, that felt like a leap of stupidity, but in the process God really restored my sense of hope and purpose. Then I got married and had children, and finally I began to learn that love means giving oneself.

And now, well, I feel like I'm finally firing on all cylinders. To be honest, on the occasions where the words "I love you" actually come out of my mouth, I am fully aware that this is a miracle. I'm sure this is why it has taken me so long to "get" that doing my daily duty is how I build up the kingdom. Faith is still my strongest cylinder. I don't scare nearly as easily as I used to, but God knows how to work me into situations that challenge my faith again and again. Maybe it is because I have such an intense need to understand that He often directs me to step out in faith at His call, without understanding. I don't know. I've made plenty of stupid mistakes with this faith business, but I guess that's why you call it "practicing" one's faith.

Anyway, I realized this today, and I'll just join in Mother Immaculata's sense of gratefulness with my own twist: Thanks be to God that the exercise of faith can also make one grow in hope and charity.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Glory of God is Scary

The priest whose homily I heard today made a passing comment about how the scientists were all whooping it up after the successful landing of Curiosity on Mars, and how he wondered if Peter, James and John maybe should have reacted similarly to the Transfiguration.

Now, I love this priest so I'm not being critical, but my immediate reaction was, "Oh, come on, Father. Even I know that one. No way!"

Think about the scene. Jesus knows what is coming; He's going to undergo horrific suffering which, in His humanity, had to strike hard at His heart. He also knows that even His closest disciples were almost totally clueless. But the Father had a plan. Like so many things God does, it wasn't going to make much sense at all to those disciples at the time. God seems to like to plant things in our lives that only make sense after all the pieces of His plan come together. He does this so that eventually we learn to have faith when we can only see part of something.

Jesus is on the mountain, Moses and Elijah appear, and suddenly He is revealed in His heavenly glory. And Peter, James and John witness it.

Mark's gospel has it that they were "exceedingly afraid." Matthew says they fell face down because they were overwhelmed by awe.

The glory of God appears, and the response is fear. It happens over and over again in the Bible. This is why the angels are always saying, when they appear to folks, "Fear not!"

Now, these days God's normal plan is not to send angels to manifest themselves visibly to people so that His glory can be known. No, His plan is even weirder than that. "All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18).

You see, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And we are baptized into Him, and we receive and behold His glory, not as the Israelites did (and that was glorious enough, St. Paul tells us), but like that Mount of Transfiguration. We see with eyes of faith. Faith is not mere intellectual assent to what the Bible says or what the Catechism teaches. Faith is the head and heart in a union that says "Yes, it is true" and "Here I come!" as I fling my whole life into God's hand at His bidding.

Flinging ourselves, that is, real faith, is scary. The glory of God is scary. Seeing God revealed is scary. Hearing His call is scary. Witnessing Truth, Beauty, and Goodness alive and at work in our midst is scary.

I love Peter's reaction to this scary situation. He starts blurting stuff out. He must have been an extrovert. It is almost as if the words out of his mouth about building these booths were like a buffer he tried to throw up in order to protect his soul from the scariness, to keep it at a manageable distance from himself.

But he need not have worried, because the scary thing passed, and the disciples were left seeing Jesus only. And they were charged not to mention it until after Jesus rose from the dead. Talk about adding mystery on to scariness. I love that line in Mark's gospel after Jesus said this, "They discussed among themselves what 'rising from the dead' meant." They couldn't even get that, let alone why they weren't supposed to say anything about this bizarre experience that they couldn't begin to take in.

There was a work this experience had to do inside these men. They had to figure out how to respond to it. It had to eat away at them like some kind of a purification. Eventually, they needed to respond in faith. I wonder if Peter and John thought of this, or mentioned it to each other, as they were running to the tomb on Easter morning, or on the way back. "Hey, remember that day on Mt. Tabor? Remember how Jesus said we shouldn't tell anyone until He rose from the dead?" I wonder if perhaps John's response to Tabor was what helped him show up at the crucifixion. Eventually, though, all the pieces fit together, faith blossomed, the Holy Spirit empowered their understanding, and Peter, James and John each in their own way embraced their own share of the Lord's passion, and taught other believers to do the same.

Talk about needing to completely recalibrate one's life. The glory of God appearing has a way of making huge demands on us, because suddenly we have light and can see reality. We need to choose whether to stay with the gloriously terrifying light or to revert to the now-dissatisfying dismal murk of life in the world and the flesh. It is good for us that the glory of God is even more attractive than it is terrifying.

P.S.  One of my all-time favorite songs for good measure.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

August 1, 2012 Lay Apostles Message

For the first of every month the Lord has given a message for all apostles and this message should be read at the prayer groups.

August 1, 2012


Dear apostles, how I long for your fidelity. One apostle remaining faithful and attentive can bring about an enormous amount of change in the world over the course of his life. But there is a great deal of distraction around matters which are of small consequence. These distractions obscure matters of greater importance and indeed even matters of urgency. Dear apostles, I am inspiring the faithful leaders in My Church to point to Me and to those matters which are of concern to Me. Will you, My faithful apostles, listen to your leaders? Or will you be distracted? Will you pursue My goal for you by allowing Me to live through your yes answer to Me? If I have your fidelity, then you will be richly blessed and the world will be richly blessed, also. If I have your fidelity, I will consider you a friend, the closest of confidantes, and you will come to understand what is in My heart. I am the King of love and there is only love in My heart for humanity. It is for this reason that I have alerted you and called you into dedicated service as My apostle. If you recognise Me, Jesus Christ, as your King, then you must remain firmly fixed on service to Me. I will not abandon you. I will remain firmly fixed on you and together we will bring about a merciful renewal for all who crave love. Be deeply peaceful. I am with you. All is well.

This is to be the last of the "real time" messages delivered for the Lay Apostles' prayer groups. To read more about this movement, check out