Friday, August 31, 2007

What is Teresa teaching us?

Time magazine's recent (excellent) piece on Mother Teresa's dryness and "dark night" experiences during most of her spiritual walk has made quite a stir. And I have indeed been stirred by the realization that her faithfulness, love and service stemmed completely from grace, not even assisted by those moments of joy and spiritual consolation that most of us think we need in order to keep our spiritual lives on track.

The uber-predictable Christopher Hitchens, who has made a lucrative profession as an Atheist, has a slightly different perspective.
So, which is the more striking: that the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favorable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe?

Well, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Mr. Hitchens seems to believe that everyone is on the lookout for the Main Chance and is ready to leverage all for personal advantage. Ergo, I believe, his rather energetic and hysterical responses over the years to Mother Teresa as the epitome of all things Christian. More fool, he.

But another sort of reaction takes me more by surprise. TSO wrote a lovely post in response to the Time article. In a headstrong moment, he sent it to a local Baptist minister with whom he has swapped ideas in the past. The minister's response is, um, puzzling.
I am absolutely astonished at the "spin" people are putting on this!!! I simply can't believe what I'm reading. To live a life devoid of peace, joy, faith - is nothing to be admired. Her works, absolutely - but the life described in her writings is the polar opposite of the entire New Testament.

I am blown away by the rationalization I am reading from people simply trying to defend the undefendable.

As I said - I am truly astounded. And I honestly, sincerely mean that.


I find this stupefying. "Rationalization"? "Undefendable?" Is he saying she was in a state of sin and separation from God? That it's evidence that she wasn't really a Christian? What on earth would he suggest that she do? Go out and manufacture some better feelings? Drown her sorrows in whiskey and be less honest with her confessor? Learn to like Gilmore Girls to take her mind off her troubles?

It makes me want to throw things.

Where is this man coming from? Help me, please. I don't want to sin against this guy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Affable evangelism

Call to mind someone you might think of when the word "evangelist" is mentioned. Clean cut? Lots of jargon? Trying to convince you of something, is he? Perhaps he's wearing a conservative shirt and tie -- maybe even penny loafers. Do you feel comfortable? Would you like to look him up for lunch? If not, what a missed opportunity for the Holy Spirit.

I heard about a different approach the other day. A friend of my daughter went on an organized mission trip with a church group, I believe. They were in a poor area of a Latin American country; they had brought lots of beans and other food to distribute and a boatload of Bibles.

But this young man got a bit impatient with his friends' foot-dragging as they got everything organized and programmed. So, he went down to the place where the men of the village appeared to gather, the local bar. He was warmly greeted when he walked in and offered a drink, but he explained in his halting Spanish that he only had $1. A shout went up - no problem! - and soon, equipped with a beer, he was swapping stories of his home town and hearing about their families, their chickens, and their difficulties finding work.

He left to get some money and convince his friends that he had stumbled onto an opportunity. So, better bankrolled this time, he returned and bought a round of beer to good cheer. Soon, one of his friends walked in with a load of the beans they had brought. Could anybody use some beans? Hey, sure, everybody could, and wasn't it great that the visitors had turned up with all that extra food. The fun continued.

Soon another friend came in with his arms full. Could anybody use a Bible? Huzzah, sure, that's great. Thanks, come on and sit down, what will you have? You guys read the Bible? Yeah, I've wondered about that too, but the really important stuff like our good Lord is all there plain as day. Yes, even though it's mostly women in the churches, manly men are stronger when they are living like God wants them to. Want help getting those beans home? Sure, we're staying for a week. I'll get you back tomorrow for that dart game.

* * * * *

My daughter tells me that this fellow "was a guy before he was a Christian." Maybe that's the secret.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Speaking of rallying prayers....

This morning at Mass, we said the St. Michael the Archangel prayer in quiet unison as a sort of recessional:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.
And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God,
thrust into Hell
Satan and all his evil spirits who wander the world
seeking the ruin of souls.

And suddenly, I was struck by the tone of it. If we could have gotten into a football huddle and piled up hands to say it, it would strike just the right note! Especially if you built the volume and fervor and came down hard on some of the words - "rebuke" and "thrust" and "evil" and then said "Amen" instead of "Break!"

I like this practice, which only one of our priests permits. First, it takes the place of a sung or chanted recessional (I do wish we could alternate it with the Regina Caeli, for which I would volunteer to teach the right chant tone, but one thing at a time, we just got this going two years ago.) We don't have to get distracted by listening to the priest's shoes squeak as he pads off to the left. Second, it points us out the door towards the big bad wonderful world out there, since the majority of the attendees at my early Mass are commuters, with a few retired golfers like pastel sprinkles through the group. We're going to face our own imperfections as well as the fallenness of the world, and it doesn't hurt to ask for help against the Father of Evil, since we DO have help! Third, it reminds me of the Communion of Saints. If I keep mindful of the bigger church I am part of, I am more likely to try and be a good member instead of comparing myself to myself.

Memorized prayers can be very dear, or very dull, or very meaningless. But they're awfully handy to get our hearts calmed down and our minds lifted up. Then we can talk to the Lord and consult with the saints in Heaven and ponder the Scripture we ideally just read or heard.

Now, Roz, shall we take on the sing-song "Angel of God?"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Time to get ready

I've tended to think of the Gloria, if I thought of it at all, as a sort of throwaway prayer that was there to create a spacer between decades of the rosary or as a notification that you were done with a series of prayers and ready to move onto something else. Has anyone ever heard it prayed in a fervent rather than a mumbled tone? I thought not.

But it's been getting my attention lately. Isn't it the complete epitome of worship?

Glory be to the Father!

And to the Son!

And to the Holy Spirit!

As it was in the beginning . . . is now . . . and ever shall be! World without end!

I've seen you people. You're just like me You're perfectly capable of standing on your feet, waving your arms and screaming when you have seats on the 50 yard line and your team is driving for the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Well, think of being in the middle of a hepped up group of God-lovers jumping, smiling, laughing and shouting "GLORY BE TO THE FATHER! AND TO THE SON! AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT! . . . ." Does it or does it not give you gooseflesh? It does me.

Okay, now the $65,000 question: Do you think heaven will look more like this or like a sedate, mannerly mortuary waiting room?

Yep. Better start practicing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gee, sorry you're so unhappy

In Cacciguida's words, this guy stereotypes, sure, but he does it really, really well.

I had to laugh at his description of Latin Mass at St. John Cantius in Chicago: "The sanctuary, behind a long communion rail, looked oddly barren because it lacked the modern altar on which a priest, facing the people, prepares the Eucharistic meal." Does this look barren? Or this?

He does understand why some people are happy about having more access to the traditional Mass. To wit:
They’re right that Mass can be listless, with little solemnity and multiple sources of irritation: parents sedating children with Cheerios; priests preaching refrigerator-magnet truisms; amateur guitar strumming that was lame in 1973; teenagers slumping back after communion, hands in pockets, as if wishing they had been given gum instead.
(I have to say that if the Latin Mass ever comes to my parish, there will be no lack of parents sedating their kids with Cheerios. Father calls our church a "cry room with a tabernacle.")

This fellow doesn't like feeling left out. Fair enough. Let's make sure that good handouts are always available so the first-time visitor can stay apace. I'd appreciate that myself.

And he misses the "family meal" emphasis that has crept -- no, galloped -- into the liturgy since the 1960s. If he pays attention, though, and keeps an open mind, he's in for some wonderful surprises. Deep participation in the bodily and spiritual presence of the redemptive Christ is way better than a family meal, no offense to Mom. And no one says we can't go out together for brunch afterwards.

There's nothing like a good shepherd

Bishop Robert Baker of Charleston (rumored to be soon moved to the long-vacant diocese of Birmingham) has written a diocesan pastoral letter on the application of Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.

The I've found the Theology of the Body to be incredibly rich, both in my growth into union with my new husband and as a framework within which Christ's full donation of himself to his Bride, and ours back to him, can gleam with light and depth.

Here's a taste. If you like it, you can read the whole thing here.
A central tenet of the Theology of the Body is that faithful, self-donative love, and the communion which results from the giving and receiving of that gift, is the creative dynamic which reflects the inner life of the Holy Trinity. Self-donative love is the gift of self on behalf of another person. It is the life-giving love of the Trinity at creation. It is the love of Jesus Christ, especially at Calvary. It is the love which inspired the martyrs of the Church, and it is the love which is the heart of the marriage covenant. From this generous gift of self for the other flows the whole of the Gospel.

Dog-eared in the waiting room

My dentist is a prince among men. Unlike any other professional's waiting room in my experience, he has current copies of interesting magazines lying around to help me pass the interval between my appointment time and the time the professional's assistant moves me into an inner room to hide the fact that I'm still waiting. I bless my dentist. I would bless him even more if he tended to run behind schedule, because no sooner do I get engrossed in an interesting article in the New Yorker or U.S. News and World Report but I am summoned to the reclining chair to offer penance for my sins of gum neglect.

As you may have noticed, Exultet can tend to get a bit creased and dog-eared between posts. Therese is neck deep in professional demands, and I have been likewise absorbed with work projects. However, that's no reason we should neglect you. We are sorry.

While we restart our literary engines, here are some tidbits for you, all nice and glossy:
Thank you for listening. We now return you to your regularly scheduled web cruising.

Friday, August 03, 2007

A Matter of Focus

Can you remember looking out the car window from the back seat as a kid? You could make your eyes focus on the raindrops running down the window, or change and focus outside, past the raindrops. Get bored enough, it was mild fun to make your eyes focus close, then far, then close. (ah, the days before DVD players in cars....)

I have been busy at work lately - we provide budgets for our clients, and my mind is already deep in 2008. Sorry for the silence. My focus is primarily on work, and on car buying and home repairs. One or another of those topics is usually on the top and front of my mind, and concentrating and being serene about prayer and worship is getting slightly short shrift from me.

What struck me the other day is how faith focuses your eyes. I was driving to work and realized that without many extra miles, I can pass an abortion clinic, an off-track betting parlor, an "adult toys and lingerie" store with vulgar clothes and things right in the window and a bar and restaurant that "everybody knows" is mobbed up.

The preset buttons on my car radio could be set to any number of Chicago "morning zoo" radio stations, where the smut level continues to rise. I could easily install satellite radio in my car and listen to Howard Stern not just push the envelope on lewdness, but knock that envelope down and pin it to the mat.

I could go to any number of movie theaters showing movies whose "R" ratings don't mean just a little too much violence and a little dirty talk, but needless nudity, a calm acceptance of sexual promiscuity, active denigration of the Gospel, and intellectual shallowness deluxe. I could go to a clean, brightly lit, safe-looking place and get tattooed or pierced or branded or implanted, with no limits to the choice of inked words or pictures or the vulgarity of the final effect.

But I also pass a crisis pregnancy center. I know where the Catholic churches are between home and work, including mine, where I go to Mass weekdays and Sundays as well as other devotions, Confession, and family-oriented social events. I drive past my favorite crafts stores, a wonderful family-owned butcher shop where the staff is always laughing and joking, a Panera Bread where the counter lady gives me my coffee free most days, the pleasant and helpful public library, the high school where I vote, two religious bookstores who are always raising money for small and loving local charities, a car dealer who has quietly given cars to struggling immigrant families, and so on and on.

I listen to Morning Air, the morning drive-time Catholic radio program (Jesus and weather and catechesis and traffic and history and sports and heart and humor, it's great!) or play a tape of Christian music, with an occasional visit to the local newsradio station. I find myself uninterested in most movies, and I gave up buying the great-fitting underwear at Victoria's Secret because they depict women in ways that aren't healthy for society. I stopped meeting friends at a local bar that persists in showcasing "Jagermeister Girls" pushing too many drinks on customers, and I managed (only with the help of two other Christians, men, on the staff) to persuade our majority-female staff that going to Hooters for a department lunch was a bad idea.

Because I am easily tempted to "observe" the steamier side of life, I block a few channels, and watch Catholic television like EWTN's The Journey Home (love those convert stories!) or happy shows like Dirty Jobs.

It's not that *I'm* righteous, that's not it. My tastes changed as my faith grew, and my focus is different, and I am grateful to God and His Church for the education and growth in His Peace in my life.

But I worry that, by guarding my eyes and concentrating on other, holier things, I've made a Happy Land for myself and become essentially oblivious to the pain and sin around me. Should I be fiercely praying as I pass the sad places, instead of merely avoiding them? Should I be listening to the smutty channels or checking out the insulting TV shows, and writing in polite protest, or contacting public officials about the location of the OTB or the abortion clinic? (I did join the protest against the clinic, but we lost that round.)

How should we live? Seeing only the good and holy in the middle of the ugly and dying? Sure, I pray for all the lost and damaged and suffering, but have I made it too easy on myself?

I remember hearing about some saintly person who literally couldn't see sin in others, he saw Christ instead. I would LOVE to be that kind of person. But I don't think my unfocusing on the hard and sharp edges around me is the same thing, it's being sort of a holy ostrich.

What to do?


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