Friday, November 29, 2013

The Power of Managing a Household Well

There have been a few themes clunking around in my head like stuff you keep in your trunk and keep telling yourself, every time you take a sharp corner, you are going finally unload it so you don't have to keep listening to it.

And pretty much it boils down to how parents are supposed to get sanctified by raising their children. It is just a slight variant on saying we are sanctified by fulfilling our duty. Those who are not married or are married without children are in no way exempt from this kind of sanctification, although I admit that it possibly might be harder to see and carry out duty.

But I do have children, so to dig into my own reality I have to write about it that way.

And I keep coming back to those passages like 1 Tim. 3:4 where Paul says a bishop needs to manage his household well. (You can read elsewhere about the history of married priests and bishops in the Church. That's not my concern here.)

Managing a household well is constitutes being a channel of grace for one's family, and this is no small thing. If having been a child is not reminder enough, I am reminded constantly by my children's behavior that their eyes take in all my day-to-day behavior: the good, the bad, the ugly. They are their own persons, to be sure, but I am communicating to them a certain standard of "normal." They know what they can reasonably expect from me. And that will shape them until something more powerful comes along to shape them differently.

Some of the safest-feeling times I can remember as a child (and they did not flow thick) were when I would come into the kitchen in the early evening and find my mom cleaning up. I'm sure that she didn't do it because she loved in any more than I do it because I love it, but her work made me feel secure. I see the same thing in my daughter. When I am working, she will contentedly do whatever she is doing. Especially when she was younger, when I would be reading emails or Facebook posts, she would be far more restless. She could sense that I wasn't really spending that time for her.

But there's more to managing a household than being this kind of grace-channel. There is also my own sacrifice and pruning. Just recently I realized I needed to put more effort into making family meals a more attractive and stress-free service for everyone. So I made a meal plan, and we all benefited and enjoyed dinner more. And then, lo and behold, I had a schedule change that really made having that thing in place not just nice, but a sanity saver. This is how God teaches me the wisdom in following His inspirations. God prunes us and asks things of us for our own good.

I have also found it a "pruning" for me to take the time to teach my kids to do things for themselves and to serve the rest of the family. It sometimes suits my choleric nature to just plow through doing everything myself. But this short-changes my kids, and in the end can frustrate me. I also have to have the humility to patiently instruct my husband about some things, because it is simply better emotional hygiene for me. I realize that my needs are not about me lording it over others or insisting that everyone pull his weight. My needs are the signals for me to provide the training that others really need from me so that everyone can be happy together.

There is also a layer in all of the hidden work I do that is prayer and sacrifice offered for others. There are so many times when taking that next step in front of me in my duty is just so much not what I feel like doing. And yet, it is there. When I choose it because it is an act of service and love, I can (and do) offer that movement of my will as intercession for the salvation of souls and the conversion of sinners. That is why I make that daily offering in the morning, uniting my day and all that it in it to the desires of God. My work isn't about priding myself on being a perfect homemaker, but about humbling myself to offer prayer that is so quickly forgotten, even by myself.

And in the midst of this way of living, God teaches me, guides me, speaks to me in real-life ways. I am a slow learner, but I learn wisdom this slow way.

And that is exactly how St. Paul is saying bishops are supposed to learn to shepherd God's people.

I will never be a bishop, but this is also how God teaches me to have spiritual wisdom to minister to others. No textbook courses or gnostic wisdom. It is about living daily life, doing dishes and laundry, and interacting with children who very gradually develop maturity. Along the way, they forget their times tables, they chronically leave their belongings strewn everywhere, they have a hard time managing all of their emotions, they ask hard questions, they talk endlessly about things in which I barely know how to be interested, and they need to be trained to work and express care about others. And I am called to respond with love, patience, wisdom, attentiveness, and all the other virtues that get shown up in me as so very lacking. So I fall on my knees and beg God for help.

That's exactly how it is supposed to work, for moms and bishops.

This is what power in the Church looks like and where it comes from. It is not a power that makes any sense to the world.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Edith Stein, and What's New

Last week I rather unexpectedly ended up spending a lot of solitary time in my parish hall, which is immediately connected to the church proper. In other words, I had about 20 times more "face time" with Jesus in the tabernacle than I normally have in a week.

Which was lovely.

And powerful, and just slightly weird.

Because that's the way my life works.

One of the things I did a lot of was reading this book on the life of Edith Stein:

The more I read by her and about her, the more I am stirred in my soul to the point of being stunned. I wrote about what happened in me on her feast day this year here. That was like a whole bunch of bells going off, alerting me to my need to read everything I can get my hands on by and about her. She resonates with me. But she also thoroughly "schools" me when it comes to moral conduct. Kowabunga! She is just exactly the woman I need walking with me right now. But, of course, the fact that she was a martyr of Auschwitz is more than sobering to me. I would almost say it is just a tad on the scary side.

Here's a quote from a letter she wrote to a fellow former student of her beloved phenomenology mentor,  Edmund Husserl:

I suppose it is good to be able to speak freely with him about ultimate questions. And yet, not only does it increase his own level of responsibility, it also heightens our responsibility for him. Prayer and sacrifice, in my opinion, are much more crucial than anything we can say ... It's very possible that he could be a "chosen instrument" without being in a state of grace. I don't mean that we should judge him, and of course we have every right to hope in God's unfathomable mercy. On the other hand, we have no right to conceal how serious the issues are. After every meeting with him, I come away convinced of my inability to influence him directly, and feeling the urgent necessity of offering some holocaust of my own for him.

I don't have someone in Husserl's exact circumstance in my life, but then again, I myself could write something similar to this in a certain circumstance I do have....

And besides having Edith Stein burrowing into my soul, I am sensing God's call to me to propose a few things in my parish. Hanging in the hall also gave me opportunities for people to strike up conversations with me that normally would not happen. (Yes, that's the way it goes with me; people sit down and start telling me everything, and I listen. Works for me.)

Which reminds me of some things I've learned recently. I realize I don't spend much time at all thinking about what other people must think, about me, about things we are involved in together. This is good to the extent that I don't spend time comparing or being jealous. It is not always so good to the extent that I don't always have a good grasp of others' needs, unless they spell it out to me. People assume a lot, and generally they assume that others think as they do. Which is probably not true, most of the time. I've also learned that I have a certain characteristic that most other people do not share: I regularly deal with deeply personal and even intimate things rather analytically. That doesn't mean that I am cold and distant from their reality. But it does mean just what I said. For, I guess, most people, deeply personal and even intimate things strike the emotions and not the head. I have a deep need to thrash through things, to wrestle with them, to understand (to seek truth, like Edith). For others, these things strike the emotions, and they react emotionally, and then they are done. If it is a "happy" emotion, that lingers, and if it is an uncomfortable emotion, that lingers. In my world, emotions have to be evaluated because of how they are connected to our passions, and it is the movement of the passions that determines the moral value and whether these emotions should be nurtured or whether reason has to step in and turn to soul in a new direction.

Yeah, and I've also had the clearest example yet in my life of what it is like to be hated.

Hah, I'm just thinking how every once in a while someone will ask me "What's new?" If I were honest, I'd read them this blog post. Sometimes I wonder why people ever ask me that. And I wonder what really would be holiest response for me to give when someone asks me that. I have absolutely no idea. Most of the time I am baffled about how best to be myself with others. At least in theory, like when I sit and write on my blog and no one is actually speaking to me.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

When the Son of Man Comes, Will He Find Faith?

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.’”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  Luke 18:1-8

Consider how easy it is to get impatient with a person who unjustly ignores our need when they are in a position to help us get our need met. Consider how irritating it is when after several of our best attempts, we are treated with contempt and cold-heartedness. There is some huge disconnect between my human need and that person's human capacity.

Now consider who it is who teaches us this parable. Consider that it concerns praying to God and making our concerns known to Him.

Consider that this God has been actively pursuing and forming a people for ages unknown. Consider that for almost two thousand years, this God has descended into the hands of priests on altars around the world. Consider all the graces of baptism and all the other sacraments He has poured out. Consider His Word which has resounded daily from the time it was prayed "Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One."

There's patience.

That patient flood of giving awaits a response from us that is not cold-hearted or filled with contempt. That work of God draws us out of our self-focus, out of our personal empire of indifference to Reality.

"Faith on the earth" means that we know there is Something bigger than ourselves that has loved us into existence, and we bow before this Love. This is the only way we learn who we really are.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Like a Fire In My Soul

There have been many times I've come to my blog wishing I could effectively scream with a keyboard or maybe write in tongues so that I could get something from the inside of me to the outside of me.

I'm not even sure what it would accomplish, or what I even want when I say that.

I say that I write so that I can understand. I think I also write to find some relief from what I hold inside.

Well, I've decided some things lately. For good or for ill, this is the way it goes:

I really don't care how I compare to other people. I've been reminded of late, verbally, that I'm not like other people. In the past, I've usually greeted that with a half of a smile and a thank you, but in this context it was clear that I was supposed to apologize for that. But you know what? I'm not going to. I may irritate you, I may challenge you, I may make you feel uncomfortable by not being like everyone else. That is your problem, not mine.

I don't believe in the word awkward. I was at a prayer meeting last night with a bunch of young people, and they talked about the viral picture of the Pope hugging the man with neurofibromatosis. They talked about how this would make them feel awkward, like they don't know what to do with themselves, and for that reason, they would shy away from someone with some deformity. And I kept thinking of a woman I used to work with who had NF. I'm sure she had her challenges, but to me she was another co-worker. When I think of feeling awkward, I think of a general life condition I faced for decades, and one which I  have exercised myself against adamantly for decades. I just don't believe in awkward. The feeling of being awkward is a call to conversion, and I say embrace it.

I confess that sometimes I don't know how to look at humanity without falling into despair. I know that there is another way, because God looks at us in all His perfection, and He does not despair. He looks at our poor, pitiful, wretched, blind and lame state and is filled with merciful love towards us. His heart must break sometimes with the desire for us to turn our stubborn wills and just open to Him a crack. Maybe I opt for despair because the option of aching with that much love just seems unbearable. Or maybe I just haven't found the way to splay my heart so that His love can love in me like that. I don't find it natively resident in me.

Spiritual battle is real. That I didn't decide, I realize it. Battle means there is something of value whose control is being determined. And it probably means a whole bunch of other things, too. I'm an intercessor, so I know it goes beyond my little world. And that goes with....

We can be connected with heaven now. In fact, it makes things make more sense. I first was wooed into being able to think this way through reading the writings of Anne, a Lay Apostle. And it makes so much sense. We say that eternity is what matters, and our life here is preparation for it, and that we work and pray for the salvation of eternal souls. But so often those words ring like meaningless religious platitudes. However, they are the deepest truths. And I think they are where I got my first two statements. When we are thinking in terms of eternity, who cares about comparisons, social niceties, and being cool?

I told someone recently that although I look like a quiet person, I am actually a volcano. But it is not anger that churns within me. I think it is words. In my younger days I prayed for years and years that my words would have the power to heal people. I don't know that lava is a healing force, but I keep experiencing results my words that show me there is a power there. It is actually not the delight I imagined, but rather scary. "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Prov. 18:21). Pray for me that I (and my tongue, and my words, and my voice, and my keyboard) may be all God's.