Monday, December 31, 2007

It's a miracle

From Jen at Et Tu whose Christmas Eve sounds familiar:
I lifted my head to look around, and my eyes rested on the consecrated Host that the priest held above the altar. "Of course," I thought. "There He is." I had been in the presence of a miracle, and all I could do was think about how much stuff I had to pack to go out of town.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In his quietness is strength

St. Joseph with JesusI love St. Joseph. Unsung but not insignificant, he served and contemplated the divine Son and his holy Mother until the end of his life. He is particularly dear to my husband and me. We've taken him as a patron of our marriage since we each "knew" him throughout our respective Christian walks: I was converted on the feast of St. Joseph, while Henry was baptized during his college years on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, taking Joseph as his confirmation name.

None of us knows many facts about St. Joseph, and none of his words are quoted in the gospels. His 'hiddenness' is part of the power of his influence. Pope Benedict XVI writes of him:
. . . steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God in an attitude of total availability to the divine desires, [not expressing] an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he hears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action . . . a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved trust in his providence.

As part of our night prayers, Henry and I pray the following Prayer to St. Joseph for Fathers written by Blessed Pope John XXIII. May it delight and encourage you as it does us.
Saint Joseph, chosen by God to be on this earth the guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, who passed your life in the perfect fulfillment of duty, supporting by the work of your hands the Holy Family of Nazareth, kindly protect us who trustingly turn to you. You know our aspirations, our hardships, and our hopes; we turn to you because we know that we will find in you one who will protect us. You too knew trial, labor, and weariness, but even amid the cares of material life, your soul, filled with the most profound peace, rejoiced in intimacy with the Son of God entrusted to you and with Mary, His most sweet Mother.

Help us to understand that we are not alone in our work, to know how to see Jesus close to us, and to welcome Him with grace and guard Him faithfully as you have done. Pray for us that in our family everything will be sanctified in love, in patience, in justice, and in seeking to do good; that abundant gifts of God's grace may descend upon us. Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

United in holy astonishment

- 15th century Russian icon

No matter our theological differences, Protestant or Catholic, we join in this holy season in saying out loud, slowly, with awe, "God with us. God actually born to us, a baby, fully human by simple observation and fully divine by the promises of our Father known by the prophecies of the centuries. He sent His very self to be laid in our hands, to be loved by His mother, taught by her husband, killed by all of us in our sins, to be raised by the power of God to triumph over those sins and open the gates of Heaven." We can't glory in the tenderness of the beginning without seeing the agony and power of the end. We can't see the love of the end without seeing the love of the beginning.

Merry Christmas! May God richly bless all my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Guy Mary or Guy Martha?

In the post below, the comments rock-skipped from Martha Stewart to Mary and Martha, the dear friends of Jesus, sisters to Lazarus.

Luke summarizes the story:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that [Jesus] entered into a certain village: and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Women can identify with Martha, I know I can. I can hear her voice, with a bit of an exasperated whine in it, in my own mouth or head, when I feel under-congratulated and under-thanked. In my worldly life, I can easily feel put-upon, the heroine, the ever-faithful daughter, sister, aunt, neighbor, manager, friend. In work and in volunteer church life, since essentially the same roles exist, I can occasionally feel pretty much the same way. Even in my spiritual life, I can even feel unrewarded: "Lord, I put all this face time in, all this spiritual reading and study, and I pray every night and every morning, even when I have a headache blah blah blah....what blessings am I getting?"

In classic meditation practice, picturing all the players in your mind, can't you picture Martha, like that lady in that commercial, flicking a little flour in her face, to appear at the living room door looking even more careworn and exhausted with serving?

Correctly understanding Mary as contemplative, and not just passive and relaxed, at the very least, I can yearn for a more Mary-like role. In either case, I think women can project themselves into the Scripture story, sitting quietly and listening, deeply concentrating on the loved one, or flippin' them hotcakes and shakin' out them rugs and nobody even says that the dinner was good, just shoved it in and left.....

Can men project themselves into the story without too much psychological straining? Do they inevitably see themselves in a too-human Jesus, repressing a roll of His eyes when Martha appears at the door with a frustrated dishtowel in hand?

(For extra credit: can women project themselves as easily as men into the story of the Prodigal Son?)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A thought on entertaining at Christmas

From a nice, pagan Greek:

At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests,
body and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose;
what you give to the soul, you keep for ever.

That's Epictetus.

So when I clean the house so that it looks like I always live like that (hah!), and pick out a menu that suggests I always eat like that (double hah!), I have to remind myself that what's important is how they feel when they get here, how welcome, how comfortable. How the conversation goes, who is honored when they talk, who is given a chance to shine, who is urged into presenting their life and opinion so that it is as important as all others'. I want to be sensitive first of all that all can be entertaining and enjoyed, whether their talk is witty and quick, or mild and quiet. If their life has been sad this year, then all should be of a frame of mind to weep with those who weep, and if their life has provided accomplishments, to rejoice with them too.

This probably has more significance to me than to you, but I have some wildly disparate sets of friends, and if I can make them comfortable with one another by my hospitality, then all will be well. This will take some patience and shutting up on my part, although I admit it's easier to spot-clean the carpet, put a little curry in the sauce and choose the fashionable wine.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

From my notebook

I'm home this snowy Sunday morning, the first time our parish has canceled Mass in anyone's memory. I'm especially disappointed since it would have been the first Sunday celebration for our newly-ordained friend, Fr. Bill Spencer, a widower edging toward his 70th year who assures his bishop that, since he is too old to retire, he will serve as long as God gives him grace. And the diocese of Saginaw is lucky to have him, too. May he live and flourish a hundred years.

So, with the blowing snow and flickering fireplace putting me in a meditative frame of mind, I offer you some excerpts I've found worth noting lately:

----------- .: :. ----------

"True faith shines forth when we come to our times of prayer day after day, month after month, year after year with no thoughts of the joys or fears that may be associated with prayer. This is letting God pass out of one's speculations and be himself."
On St. Teresa's fourth mansion in From Ash to Fire by Carolyn Humphries

On John the Baptist:
"Without John the Baptist, the angels, shepherds and wise men can turn into sentimental mush. . . . John rages against 'me' and 'my', or even 'us' and 'ours'. It is about God . . . John reminds us that God has not abandoned us. He has prepared a road home."
Fr. Michael Busch, Rector of St. Michael's Cathedral, Toronto

"The more God wishes to bestow on us, the more does he make us desire."
St. John of the Cross

"[Christmas shows us] that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims, in the teeth of a world that worships only bigness, and misunderstands it at that. We are too used to the holiday; we have domesticated the birth of Christ, rather than imbuing the hearth with the mysterious might of that child, the Word through whom all things were made."
Anthony Esolen

"I truly and firmly believe that your divinity can defend me. Full of trust, I hope in you."
From the prayer to the Infant Jesus of Prague

"From the desire to be loved,
from the desire to be extolled,
from the desire to be honored,
from the desire to be praised,
from the desire to be preferred,
from the desire to be consulted,
from the desire to be approved,
from the desire to be popular,
Deliver me, O Jesus."
Prayer of the Missionaries of Charity

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hell and damnation

Got your attention, didn't I?

A friend of mine and her husband are going through RCIA (instruction preparatory to joining the Catholic Church) at our parish. I enjoy chatting with her because many of the issues she is examining carefully are those I had to ponder as I was considering my own return to the Catholic Church in 2004. In one conversation, she mentioned that her husband has trouble with any hint of "hell and damnation". It's not uncommon for people to find it hard to understand that this doctrine is congruent with the all-surpassing love of God, but I've been thinking about it ever since.

It is true that we, as Christians, need to accept the truths of God that have been reliably revealed to us, regardless of the depth of our understanding. But that doesn't mean that they are always incapable of being at least partially understood. I think it is this way with the Final Judgment.

For me, the major discomfort with the thought of condemnation is any implication that it is arbitrary or somehow the spiteful comeuppance of an irritable God. This is, truly, not in harmony with the nature of God as we know him, he who is merciful, gracious and made of the very substance of love more real than we will ever know. So what is the place of eternal hell in the picture?
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not intervene. (Hab 1:2-3)
For me, I find tremendous hope in the fact that the evil and injustice I see in the world will absolutely not be allowed to stand. Torment, evil, vileness, malice, contempt, the snarl of envy and deceit, those who prey against the weak and helpless -- all this will be called to a halt when the Time comes. People will not be innocently entrapped nor caught accidentally in the backwash leading to everlasting death -- no, they will freely have chosen for or against love, goodwill and the kingdom of God. If they choose against, they will have made their move into the absence of God where all evil and hatred and the things unable to live in the light of Christ grow and flourish. Those loathsome things and the ones who choose them will be left outside the walls of God's city. And where God is not is no good thing.

But the people we love, what about them? There is lovableness in them. And even in those we don't love aren't constructed solely of evil; we see goodness, grace, and worthy objects of love. How can we deal with the fact that they may be condemned? How could this be?

Fear not. Eventually, each person will have the opportunity to freely and without handicap, constraint or lack of understanding answer the question of Jesus, "Will you be mine, or will you choose to have it your own way?" We will buy our own ticket for the train of our choice by accepting or spurning his invitation to ride in his railway car.

- - - - -

I'm finally writing these thoughts because I learned a young friend of mine is being caused considerable pain by being harassed at school. And then my daughters told me about the case of Megan Meier who committed suicide after being harassed by the (wait for it) mother of a former friend. I'm sorry, I'm a mild-mannered, Clark-Kentish kind of woman, but this sort of thing incites me to rage and thoughts of highly-inappropriate disproportionate illegal actions I would like to take. I am comforted by the realization that God hates cruelty and evil far more than I do, and he has a plan of action to take care of it.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

Monday, December 10, 2007

This is the day

In 1978 when the Grace I received in Baptism, specifically to make me "born again," a child of God, a sister to Christ, a soul espoused to the Bridegroom, broke open in my heart. God made Himself known to my intellect and heart and I was permanently changed, most of you know what I mean. My ears and eyes were now open to the Divine, even though it took quite awhile, years and sins and sorrows, before I informed my will that we were on the true Way, whether my will liked it or not.

I thank God and Thomas Merton, a flawed but holy man, whose writings made me dizzy when I discovered them as a college student. This is also the anniversary of his death in 1968, and I "accepted Jesus" (as other Christians say) ten years afterwards to the day, although I didn't discover that until much later.

All you holy men and women, ora pro nobis!

(HT for picture to The Boar's Head Tavern, a lively group of Christians, mostly Evangelical.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

There is nothing longer

than a roll of Christmas ribbon that makes tiny tortured knots, skinchy little curls when zizzed with a scissors and looks lousy when pulled too hard, but you feel compelled to use it all up because there are starving children on the other side of the earth.

Run out, shiny green ribbon, damn you!

I just came across a really good one

I've added John C. Wright to my list of blogs to check regularly. He's the source of these pearls:
To those of you who think religion is a self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment, all I can remark is that this religion does not fulfill my wishes. My wishes, if we are being honest, would run to polygamy, self-righteousness, vengeance and violence: a Viking religion would suit me better, or maybe something along Aztec lines. The Hall of Valhalla, where you feast all night and battle all day, or the paradise of the Mohammedans, where you have seventy-two dark-eyed virgins to abuse, fulfills more wishes of base creatures like me than any place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. This turn-the-other cheek jazz might be based any number of psychological appeals or spiritual insights, but one thing it is not based on is wish-fulfillment.

An absurd and difficult religion! If it were not true, no one would bother with it.

And later, in response to a commenter:

"I just thought the atheists were smarter than the Christians simply because we all said we were. I actually used to think that."

He moves right to the list of "People I would enjoy having over to dinner".

Thanks to TSO and Julie D. who offered me the breadcrumbs that got me there.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Well, it's one way to celebrate Advent . . .

A rather startled HT to First Things

Owe me a Coke

In the post below, two superstitions surfaced among our memories:

Roz says you have to pick your feet up when you drive over railroad tracks so they don't get run over.

Therese says you have to hold onto a button if a hearse goes by.

What else?

Therese still notes if she puts shoes on the bed (I presume this is tempting fate that a dead body, complete with shoes, could be laid on that bed as a result)

Therese still thinks about it a second if she spills salt, or if her palms itch, or if she and a friend pass on either side of a post when walking.

However, she has progressed to the point that she no longer punches a friend on the shoulder and calls out "Slugbug!" if a VW Beetle goes by. She still punches her brother, out of sheer habit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Praying with the Civil Defense

Public Safety Siren

It's the first Tuesday at 10 am and the Civil Defense siren just finished wailing. It caught my ear this time, and I prayed for peace, in my family, in the world, in the Church.

Funny which seeds are planted, and how long they lay alive, if dormant. In high school, our biology teacher sister, so pious we were embarassed, made us pray for world peace every Tuesday when the then-weekly siren sounded. Her constant connecting of life to Jesus gave us brainless teenagers the nervous giggles, although we all really liked her, without understanding the attractiveness of holiness. Reminiscing: she also made us pray for the repose of the soul of the person who used to be in the skeleton in our lab. Thanks, Sister, long since gone to the Father, for those helpful suggestions of mindfulness; I'm sorry we didn't appreciate you at the time.

No reason why worldly things can't work as bookmarks in our day to stop us and remind us to lift our hearts to God.

Look! A prayer for peace that doesn't involve St. Francis!

Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed,
kindle in the hearts of all men the true love of peace,
and guide with Your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who make decisions for the nations of the earth;
that in tranquility Your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth be filled with the knowledge of Your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What I'm Listening To This Advent

The Promise, by Michael Card. I would listen to him sing "This is the way we pick up our toys." Love him. His "Joseph's Song," about St. Joseph regarding the amazing gift of Jesus in his arms, is a sure-fire tear-producer.

The Birth of Jesus, by John Michael Talbot. He sets Psalms to music better than almost anybody on earth, although he can be a little bit slow and over-serious on some of his million albums. But this one's a great Christmas play. Many classic hymns along with a few of his own compositions, so it's easy to sing along almost immediately.

Majesty & Wonder, by Phil Keaggy and the London Festival Orchestra. An instrumental by this fine guitarist. Again, lots of classics in lush arrangements but his guitar is always a distinctive voice.

He is Born, by Karl Kohlhase. Writes, sings, records and produces his own music, he allows his music to be downloaded for a donation. He is thoughtful and sincere with a nice gift for composition and each of his albums is better than the last.

In these choices, I betray my age and musical tastes. If James Taylor or Paul Simon sang songs about Jesus, I'd be the first to buy them. I lean towards that "troubador" style of music.

Can't skip over the big massed voices and instruments, too: I love to play (and sing along with) the Messiah, in its complete form. I sang it at Chicago's Do-It-Yourself Messiah for many years, until going downtown on a weeknight got more difficult. Being one of 2,500 voices in the seats of historic Orchestra Hall singing "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" or "Surely He Has Borne Our Sins" or, obviously, the "Hallelujah Chorus," is quite simply a big rush. A slightly sloppy but always genial rush on some of the more esoteric numbers, but fun nonetheless.

I play the Messiah straight through, but the others go into random play. Do you feel like I do that there is some song the randomizer never plays, that there's a little jewel I haven't heard after dozens of plays?

What are you listening to?


Sample Text

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"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009