Thursday, September 29, 2005

That Fig Tree Moment

Today's Gospel was John 1:47-51, and I presume it was chosen because of its reference to angels, today being the great feast of the Archangels:

Jesus saw Nathan'a-el coming to him, and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!"
Nathan'a-el said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."
Nathan'a-el answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!"
Jesus answered him, "Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these."
And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man."

Whatever was Nathanael doing under that fig tree? It must have been private, because Jesus' saying that He saw him amazed Nathanel so much, he was startled into revelation: "You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" In the lines before today's reading, Nathanael had just sneered "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" So he wasn't expecting much when He met Jesus.

So, let's see, he could have been praying, asking God to send a Messiah. Or asking God to reveal Himself. Or sitting in simple adoration. Or, he could have been sinning. Leaving behind the vulgar choices of sin that MY sinful mind can dredge up, let's say that perhaps he was doubting that God existed. "I am tired of praying to a God I cannot see or feel. I've had it with God. This is as good a time as any to say the heck with God!" Then he dusted off his hands, so to speak, and went on, "free" of God. And then along came Jesus.

We talk a lot about Emmaus moments, and "falling off our horses," but there are Fig Tree Moments in our lives as well, when Jesus shows us that He can indeed see us in our most private joys and sorrows, and wants us to feel His presence.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Gentle is the new Strong

In the last post, the comments were heartfelt; we all felt convicted of talkativeness, "helpfulness," lack of gentility (great and almost-lost concept, thanks for the reminder, martha martha.) So let's spend a little more time with St. Francis de Sales:

On Mildness

"Learn of me," Jesus said, "for I am meek and humble of heart." Humility perfects us towards God, and mildness and gentleness towards our neighbor.

But be careful that mildness and humility are in your heart, for one of the great wiles of the enemy is to lead people to be content with external signs of these virtues, and to think that because their words and looks are gentle, therefore they themselves are humble and mild, whereas in fact they are otherwise. In spite of their show of gentleness and humility, they start up in wounded pride at the least insult or annoying word.

As someone who is waaay too fast with the upflung hands and cutting comment in the car when someone else is dreaming at the wheel, but who loves to be seen as mellow when talking to certain irritating people in my parish, I wonder where on earth I met this Saint, how he figured me out so thoroughly.

There is a story about St. F de S that he was counselling a particularly nuts-making woman. She would go on and on and on, and the good Saint is said to have worn deep finger-shaped grooves under his desk, gripping the table in his effort to keep from responding in impatience to her. There's no end to that story that I know; we don't know if she became a saint, but at the least my money is on him overcoming his frustration, to glorify the Lord.

Don't you just love the saints? Their stories stand out in sharp relief for me, and are my particular helps towards loving God.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

"On the Art of Conversation"

From St. Francis de Sales, author of Introduction to the Devout Life, a must-read for anyone who wants to glorify the Lord in their life:

When you speak, be gentle, frank, sincere, clear, simple and truthful. Avoid all double talk, affectation and cleverness. You do not always have to say everything which is true, but you must not say what is not true.

Try never to permit yourself to tell a lie in way of excuse, or otherwise. God is truth. If you do say something untrue, try to correct this by explanation. A genuine excuse is far more powerful than a lie.

There are times when we need to keep back the truth out of prudence, but this should be only in important matters. Nothing is so valuable as simplicity.

When we need to contradict someone or give an opposite opinion, we should do it gently and skilfully, so as not to irritate our neighbors.

Wow. You do not always have to say everything which is true. I take this to heart, because I love "being helpful;" saying what I know, adding to the conversation "fascinating" extras or funny bits. But it profits me nothing to always be firstest with the mostest, and probably rarely profits the other.

Also, from St. Arsenius the Great (whoever he is):

I have always something to repent of after having talked, but have never been sorry for having been silent.

There's grace in shutting up.......

Friday, September 23, 2005

First fruits

I told you I'd be doing the Spiritual Exercises online. The first week is a review of our memories. My meanderings took me to Mark Woodward's Cow Pi Journal where I found this lovely bit.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

— Antonio Machado

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

This could be awfully good

I found a lot of cool stuff this evening. Detente is "an evangelical, a Catholic, a mere Christian blog." Very good. Check it out.

That's where I learned about an online retreat based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius sponsored by Creighton University's Collaborative Ministries Office. Even better, Detente pointed me to Steve Bogners who is providing space for whoever wants to do the retreat together and share with the virtual group that forms.

I'm too tired right now to read all the material and think about how to get started, but this is too good an opportunity to pass up without giving it a try. I love the thought of online community; this will be a lovely experiment. And it's a good time for me to make a retreat and get righter with God. Anybody else interested?

Monday, September 19, 2005

The "Cranky Catholics" get under way

Our parish's semi-regular session for Catholics who have left the Church for one reason or another, and are investigating whether or not they should return, has begun. It has a formal name, which I will not divulge for privacy, but "Cranky Catholics" works pretty good.

A very small group this time, and fairly representative of the type of people who are drawn via our ministry back to the Faith. Noteworthy:

- a man who is so horrified at the presence of an abortion "clinic" in our area that he is reviewing all of society and his entire life for sinfulness and realizing that he needs to be in church. Since he's a cradle Catholic, he headed right back our way. He's overboard on abortion, which is possible, since we are trying to cover a broad spectrum of information, but his heart is on fire.
- a quite young man (can't remember VII at all) who drifted away from all faith, and absolutely cannot explain why he is being drawn back. He says that God has a mission for him and he's kind of afraid to find out what it is.
- a lapsed Catholic who now attends both a Protestant and our Catholic Church, since her husband is Protestant. I think she wants a socially comfortable place to connect to people from our parish. The brisk discussions are freaking her out, and she might not last the whole session.
- a woman who looks and sounds like Central Casting sent her to answer a request for a 60's-era hippie-now-feminist. She challenges every word: "What is God? What is holiness? What are morals? Why do we use the Bible?" She's probably the most intellectually oriented of the group, and if she really puts that brain to work and calms down her ingrained rejection of all male authority, should do pretty well.

The others haven't broken through with a distinct style yet; we're just beginning.

It is simply STUNNING to realize what profound thoughts and sincere questions people, ordinary average people, are carrying in their hearts. And it's stunning to realize that they are willing to say them out loud to us, the team, who they don't know, in a church in which they don't know anybody.

Pray, as ever, please, for us as we ply them with coffeecake and information over the next month.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Alphabetize your spices and be holy?

Made you look.

I DO alphabetize my spices AND hang my clothes by color (and roughly in order by ROYGBIV). I like things orderly, so I don't have to remember anything. Life arranged for cruise control.

Perhaps this is why I love this quote by St. Augustine:

Peace is not the absence of activity, but the tranquility of order.

Seriously, in other words, passivity is not peace. Keeping your spiritual life in order, with humility and love, will give you peace.

This quote came back to me when I read "The 100 Greatest Catholic Quotes of All Time," an excellent post by Enbrethiliel. Golden words there, read and think of your own favorites.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I didn't know a penguin could hold a camera...

I saw March of the Penguins today. Beautiful, charming, heartening, wholesome. No wonder everybody's seeing it.

At first, you are aware of the camera crew, in that you look at the frozen trackless wastes and wonder how they stood the -58 degree temperature. But you forget quickly, remembering briefly now and then when a close-up is so close up that you marvel at the improvement in technology over the Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom days. Mostly, you're just there, in amongst the penguins. You could convince me for a least a little while that they strapped cameras to some of the less-waddly penguins, the action is so intimate.

It's a perfect "G" movie: no blood, no poop, death is frozen and still, but we don't see violence. And no overt mating, so the little children in our audience didn't ask "Mommy, are those penguins fighting?" But you knew the blood and poop and death and mating were there all the same.

I have seen some complaints on other blogs that the movie was a little too anthropomorphic, but I don't think so. I think instead that we actually see the animal soul given to them by God, that makes them protect and suffer and grieve and delight in an animal way, not a human way.

The one line that jarred me was 2/3rd's of the way through: the baby penguins (which prove that every baby in the world is cutecutecute) have been transferred from their perch on the father's feet to the mother's feet, preparatory to the fathers taking their turn to walk to the sea to eat, and Morgan Freeman (magnificent job) says

Even though the mother and baby have known each other for only a few days, the bond between them is surprisingly strong.

"Known each other?" "Surprisingly strong?" This wasn't an introduction, this was a birth. They are intimately connected, permanently connected. The bond is overarching, complete, fundamental. I hate to think that political correctness about the relationship between any mother and child, animal or human, has shifted the bond to something that can be begun or ended.

See the movie. On the big screen, the color and light are magnificent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Praying for others

A friend asked me this afternoon to pray for an upcoming incident in her life. She dropped in her request without pause while describing the situation. I said without special emphasis that I would and we went on with our conversation. And I will, now and during my prayer time before bed.

No startled surprise, no awkward silence. Simply asked and answered. What a lovely change, and what a lovely life it is when we ask our friends to pray for all the big and small events in our lives!

If you're like me, and lived a sloppy life of playing hide-and-seek with the Lord until recently, have you begun to tell others that you would pray for them, or used the slightly less pointed, "you'll be in my thoughts and prayers?" Has that surprised them? Has it surprised you?

I remember people telling me they would pray for me, and reacting with embarassment, a conversational hands-up pushing away of the act, as though they offered to pick up and carry my car. It seemed too lavish, too much for them to do, which I know now was a mirror of how difficult I found prayer.

Now that I look forward to giving and receiving prayer, I am sometimes startled by people who offer prayer who didn't strike me as pray-ers. It's tempting to wonder whether they mean what they say, but perhaps my receptivity to their offer actually makes them pray a little. God surely blesses their intent and their prayer, and who knows? they may be drawn along the path to a deeper relationship with God because they felt obligated to say something to God, since I was so thankful for their prayer. (Of course, some of them may be surprised that I was offering to pray for them!)

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all, making my prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. - Phil 1:3

Friday, September 09, 2005

Dick Van Dyke surprised me this morning

I didn't think it was possible, but I just watched a Dick Van Dyke Show episode I have never seen before! It's episode #155 titled "You Ought to Be in Pictures" - Rob is cast opposite a gorgeous Italian actress in a low-budget film and turns out to be the screen's worst lover. The jokes about a largely unclothed picture of the Italian actress were refreshingly unvulgar (the cast managed to let us know how va-va-VOOM the picture was without going for the now-automatic reference to her "two greatest assets").

Now if I could just find an unread Lord Peter Wimsey novel by Dorothy Sayers. I can't even imagine the ceremony I would have to create before I finally opened the book and began to read...

What treasure do you wish you could stumble across?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Hurricane relief

Even my home state of Michigan is getting in on the act. Thank the Lord for common grace that is available to all. Surely it's his doing that so many are so generous with so much.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Being (a little) careful of Jerry Lewis

At first blush that seems kind of obvious. His overpowering style of showmanship is passing out of popularity at warp speed. But I can't help admiring his possessed combination of showman and fundraiser: the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon is one of my guilty pleasures.

I've watched for years. In college, I started Christmas sewing projects that weekend, because the telethon could run in the background and needed watching only when someone famous showed up or hearts were being warmed. I would pin patterns or crochet and sniffle whenever a particularly touching family would be interviewed. And it was fun and unreal to turn on the TV in the middle of the night to watch hokey nightclub magic acts or roller-skating dancers. It's not as showy as it used to be, but there are wisps of that old Vegas-style entertainment.

But I wondered what their position was on embryonic stem cell research or abortion. I was more than a little alarmed when they ignored my polite email questions, sent directly to their "ask us a question" link. So I looked through the Muscular Dystrophy Association website.

In short, they are charting a very narrow and studiously neutral course through the waters on these subjects. They are doing tons of research on mouse embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. But they are also using embryonic stem cells, although these are legally derived from the existing cell lines on which President Bush allowed continued work. They report on other countries' embryonic stem cell research without offering an opinion pro or con.

MDA is sympathetic to the tremendous pressure put on people diagnosed with inheritable neuromuscular diseases to abort their babies if they are diagnosed in utero. But they themselves take no position on abortion, pro or con, keeping their skirts out of the waters of public opinion.

So if you find any research, even on existing "cell lines," in embryonic stem cell research morally repellent, you might want to give your money to another organization. I already put something in a "Fill the Boot" campaign, but that will be it.

This exercise didn't prove much, did it? But I think we have to go through these reviews of long-admired organizations like MDA, to make sure that they haven't altered their policies to include abortion as an "unfortunate necessity " and embryo destruction as "exciting medical research."

So I did it for you. Sorry I can't tell you when the roller-skating couples will foxtrot on 30 square feet of stage to "Night and Day."

Friday, September 02, 2005

And a gutsy kid shall lead them

A lawbreaker in Florida has completed part of the punishment for his crime. Would you expect such an event to be personally inspiring?

Me neither. Here's the story. And here's the direct link.

O God, help!

A valiant blogger is inside New Orleans, posting things beyond the reach of the video cameras and the talking heads. I don't have the right words to characterize it, so I'll just post a quotation and let you click here to find out for yourself.
[Posted 9/1/05, 10:46 pm CDT]
The following is the result of an interview I just conducted via cell phone with a New Orleans citizen stranded at the Convention Center. I don't know what you're hearing in the mainstream media or in the press conferences from the city and state officials, but here is the truth:

"Bigfoot" is a bar manager and DJ on Bourbon Street, and is a local personality and icon in the city. He is a lifelong resident of the city, born and raised. He rode out the storm itself in the Iberville Projects because he knew he would be above any flood waters. Here is his story as told to me moments ago. I took notes while he talked and then I asked some questions:
Three days ago, police and national guard troops told citizens to head toward the Crescent City Connection Bridge to await transportation out of the area. The citizens trekked over to the Convention Center and waited for the buses which they were told would take them to Houston or Alabama or somewhere else, out of this area.

It's been 3 days, and the buses have yet to appear.

Although obviously he has no exact count, he estimates more than 10,000 people are packed into and around and outside the convention center still waiting for the buses. They had no food, no water, and no medicine for the last three days, until today, when the National Guard drove over the bridge above them, and tossed out supplies over the side crashing down to the ground below. Much of the supplies were destroyed from the drop. Many people tried to catch the supplies to protect them before they hit the ground. Some offered to walk all the way around up the bridge and bring the supplies down, but any attempt to approach the police or national guard resulted in weapons being aimed at them. . .
Read more.


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