Saturday, October 22, 2016

Please People, Always Bring your Toddlers to Confession with You

I went to confession today.

I think some of the silliest temptations that ever go through my interior strike me when I am considering or planning going to confession. It is crazy. One of the thoughts is generally that I have no sins to confess. Another is that any other time would be better than now. Another popular one is that I am in the wrong mood or the wrong frame of mind to make a good confession. And it is all balderdash, of course.

Overthinking is no good either, and that used to be what plagued me, to the point where sometimes I could not get any words out at all because I had worked myself into a state of emotional paralysis.

So anyway, I went to confession today.

I hated going to confession for years, or rather I did it because I knew I should, but I couldn't really grasp what was supposed to be happening. I have stumbled and bumbled through for 23 years now as a Catholic, but now I realize that every single time I go to confession, I experience an encounter with the Lord. Often it shakes me deep down. Always, I think, I leave re-oriented.

Today I went by faith. None of the appropriate feelings seemed present. But then there was that woman with her kids.

One of them was old enough to be confessing, I'm guessing 8 or 9. The other was about 2. The older one popped out of the confessional just as mom was going in. This left the toddler looking a little forlorn about disappearing Mommy. He looked with huge, sad eyes at the closed door, and told his brother he wanted Mommy, and resisted a little being picked up by brother. Just then, he caught my eyes, too. I could feel that little boy's pain, and I tried to reassure him that his Mommy was right there and would be right back. Just then, the CD playing in the church went to a song based on Psalm 42: "Even as the deer pants for running streams, so my soul longs for you. When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter and see the face of my God?" And the refrain rang out "My soul longs for you// My soul longs for you."

Those words, sung to that melody, and the face of the little boy became a sudden scalpel opening my heart in such a way that if it had lasted very long at all, I would not have been able to bear it. I realized that under all my adult clutter and dullness of soul and foul play in relationships, my soul is desperate for the tender embrace of God. I design so many things to hush up that desire, to make it more manageable, less of a panic.

But the panic is reasonable, because I am needier than a toddler. But it also is not necessary, because the tenderness of God, and of His Blessed Mother, his greatest minister, is imminently available to me. I need only come and ask.

It is hard to stay with the feelings, with the raw experience of the need that fuels asking, and of experiencing the need for tenderness being met. I thank God I can experience this to one degree; if I could really feel my need and God's response always I would not be able to carry on with normal life.

The beautiful thing to realize, of course, is that other people need simple human tenderness and personal presence from me, because this is the normal way that God's healing presence is mediated among people.

These days in our country have not been tremendous moments of tenderness. Everyone is riled up, it seems. We toughen as a way to cope.

But, let's do this: let's long for God. Let's allow our souls to long for God. He is able to break us out of cycles of longing for not-God, for things that never will satisfy. He is not slow to hear our desire, nor is He slow to answer. So let's honor Him with our trust and make a carte blanche of our souls, intent on Him alone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Changing a Pharisee's Heart

Today's gospel reading was this:
After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”  Luke 11:37-41
This is a gospel passage which struck me right between the eyes one day while I lived in Japan, and today I am back at meditating on what Jesus is getting at with his admonition to "give alms from what you have. (Four years ago, my thoughts went like this.)

Just last Friday, I was at the National Rosary Rally in Washington DC, where a speaker challenged us to broaden our understanding of almsgiving beyond an act of putting money in a collection plate. Almsgiving, he said, is any act of charity, any act of pouring out love from ourselves towards other people. My favorite definition of the human person is "a walking, aching need for love." Whenever we acknowledge the human dignity of the person before us, and meet that person with our hearts, we enter that moment of charity, of almsgiving, ripe with potential for our generosity. The first and last thing almsgiving consists of is self-donation. It may very well take the form of giving something to meet a material need. But I think we all have experienced a time when a presenting need was for the contact with a human heart, and what was given instead was a thing, food, a gadget, a present, money. A gift given without a heart moved is a sad thing, indeed. A heart moved without action taken is a cowardly thing. Christians don't have to be sad and cowardly. Because of grace, we can be like God.

But, I want to get back to this text and what it is provoking in me now.

I used to suffer greatly from a heavy dose of pharisaical religiosity. And what I mean by that is I was extremely concerned with having the right ideas, with having correct doctrine, and with having right religious observances. Now, none of these is bad, and I would say I am still concerned with these. However, back in the day, I was concerned only with these, and there I stopped. And I saw today that this results in the very big problem that Jesus is talking about: interior filth. Death on the inside.

Merge Jesus' remedy with Friday's speaker's expanded notion of almsgiving, and you get something beautiful. Jesus doesn't ever tell the Pharisees to give up their external practices and precise theology. He tells them to give alms. They should let flow from their hearts the charity which can only be present by God being present within them.

First, the Pharisees need to be joined to Christ, that streams of living water are present to flow up from within them (Jn. 7:38). Second, as the stream begins to flow and they begin to open their hearts to give, junk from their hearts will come out. Oh crap! People might see! I'll have to see it! However will I be able to live with myself!?! How? With the humiliation and purification that comes from confessing your sins, that's how (1 Jn. 1:9).

It is only when we have the humility to know our own misery, our own need, our own humanity, our own "walking, aching need for love," that right ideas, right doctrine, and right observance will serve God and neighbor. Otherwise, they, like everything else, will simply serve ego. Ego loves to hide on the throne dressed in religious robes marked "God and neighbor."

When I open my heart to give alms, my interior is made clean. My egotistical vision of myself is trashed, and that trashing is a very wholesome thing.