Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The Consolations of Oz

If you have a growing prayer life, spending more time, more love, more attention on the things of the Lord, do you find that your experiences of the presence of God have changed over that time?

When I first met the Lord, as it were, in 1978, I was often in awe at His Creation, transfixed by nature's beauty. I sometimes could be in a crowd of people, and see Him in their hearts, which made them very dear to me. I wasn't much of a pray-er at the time, not really knowing how, not having any good examples around me (nor seeking any, to be honest) and being convinced that it was my job to re-design Catholicism so it fit me (and you know how well that went).

These last few years, I've embraced my identity as a faithful daughter of His Church, and participated in ALL the Sacraments (particularly including Confession). I've stopped picking and choosing. God Bless God, I've been given by His Grace some beautiful gifts in prayer. But I don't have any of the early experiences anymore.

I was pining for some of them recently, and after I shook myself out of it ("Seek not the consolations of God, but the God of consolations," I think St. Teresa of Avila said), I got an idea: remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door of the crashed house? She is standing in that sepia world and looks out into the beautiful world of Oz, and the colors are deep and vibrant. Viewing that, no matter how many times, gives me happy goose pimples. After she steps out into Oz, she and we marvel at the colors and life around her. But a few minutes later, we don't even notice that she's in color now, we're caught up in the story instead.

That's us, isn't it? Is it too literal to say that we cross a boundary into His Life, and become immersed in it and then can't identify an old life any more?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Heaven as Pleasure Palace

Sometimes we forget that Scripture tells that "at [God's] right hand are pleasures forevermore." (Psalm 16:11)

"Yeah, right," we say. The pleasures of harp-playing, or the satisfaction of a job well done or the pleasure that comes from owning up to it when we have offended someone -- but real pleasures?

I had the honor of pleasing someone this weekend. I know it's true. And it was wonderful. The delights of making someone happy, of giving honor where honor is due, seeing a broad smile that can't be stopped, are amazing.

I might have gotten tied up into myself, I suppose. "Am I doing this for the other person or for my own satisfaction?" Well, balderdash. I may never know the depths of my own motivations, so I choose not to care. I'll let God be in charge of purifying my motives and my heart.

In the meantime, He allowed me to share in what must be one of the most fun parts of His job. I got to be part of blessing someone with happiness. It's intoxicating. How can people stop themselves from doing this sort of thing all the time? Apparently, God feels the same way. "At His right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Ugly pants

This is weighing on my conscience, and will be told at my next confession, but listen, my children, and you may hear something that you've done:

Yesterday, I was riding in an elevator alone. The cab doors are mirrors, so I expected to have a 30-floor chance to sorrow over my contours and make faces at myself. I got on, the doors closed, and I was astounded to realize I was wearing just about the ugliest pants in Illinois. I had no idea that they were that U.G.L.Y. Laugh-and-point ugly. Why-didn't-my-friends-tell-me-they-were-so ugly?

I spent the rest of the day very sensitive to how bad I looked from the waist down. Got home, put'em in the wash and figured they'd go into the donation bag, from which they may travel to a poor person, who will put them on and make them explode into loveliness.

Funny, right? But this morning, after daily Mass, with Jesus barely past my hands and mouth, and supposedly in my heart, I went through the bank drive-through. Some idiot driver came through the narrow exit lane and stopped. I had to back WAAAAAAY up around a curve to let them through. I made one of those exasperated, eye-rolling faces, set my mouth grimly and impatiently jerked the car back, popping up onto a curb, which increased my pissed-off-ness. Then I looked at the other driver. I know her.....from church.....she and her husband are lovely, gentle, holy people.

We opened our windows and I immediately apologized for making a nasty face at her. She of course was all apologies for confusing the lanes. I waved goodbye and slid low in my seat in what, thankfully, was humble humiliation more than simple angry embarassment.

My soul's equivalent of ugly pants. The fact that it was someone I knew, and was therefore accountable to, is not the point. She is just as much the Lord's child as I, and in stark fact, much more His loving child than I. But up to that minute, I had no idea that Driver Dramatics were so un-Godly. Forgive me, Lord.

Rebelling, serving, arguing, loving, forgiving

In the daily Mass readings, we're going through some detail-heavy and action-packed parts of the old Testament right now. Prophets are lecturing kings, and God is smiting everyone, practically. Lots of rebellion, haircloth, idolatry and penitence: busy, busy, busy.

We're also going through a lot of teaching from Jesus. How to pray, how to give alms, how to forgive, how to do lots of things with His Spirit. Gentle, stern, glowing words.

The contrast in the two reading streams is interesting: on the one hand, people in the Old Testament just weren't getting it. People in the New Testament weren't getting it, either, but God's response and teaching is different.

In the OT, God asked His people to follow His commandments. When they didn't, God got their full attention, dramatically so. The relationship was sort of immature (no, God was not immature, we were): we misbehave and God yells at us. We do it again, and He yells louder.

In the NT, Jesus, God incarnate, explains it where we can see it. He is the model of ALL love, which, since He is Love, is right. He is the Spouse of our soul, and of the Church. He is our Brother. He refers us to the fatherhood of God. He is our Teacher, our Healer, our Shepherd. Every one of those relationships exist in our own human lives, and He models how we are to handle them. It's a fully-faceted, three-dimensional model that we can turn in our hands and examine.

It's as though the yelling parent God of the OT, now thoroughly exasperated, grabs the SOS pad and the dirty pot, scours it, thrusts it at us, and says "THIS is how you wash a dish!" We have to see it happen to understand it.

The infinite patience and love of God!

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Tiptoeing through Reformed theology

Before my recent reversion to the Catholic Church, I spent several years in fellowship with many faithful God-loving brothers and sisters in Christ in two Evangelical Presbyterian churches. As I discuss my faith walk with various friends, I've found that Catholic and Reformed theology are each frequently misunderstood by adherents of the other.

Here's a link to a very readable essay by Jimmy Akin which discusses the foundation of Reformed Calvinist principles in light of what Catholics believe. Two things are especially worth noting:

** Each set of beliefs is sometimes discussed using a shorthand terminology (e.g. "Total Depravity", Mary as "Mediatrix") that can foster serious misunderstanding unless the fullness of the concept is understood as it is intended. This presents opportunities for charity, assumptions of good will, and willingness to learn on everyone's part.

** I was startled at how much actual overlap there is between the underpinnings of Catholic and Reformed beliefs. Check it out and see if you agree.

As an extra added bonus, here's Mark Shea on Is Sacramental Grace Magic?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Rock solid

Today is the feast day of St. Thomas More who loved his family and loved his king, but God over all. He's known to most of my contemporaries from the excellent 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, in which he is said to elegantly confront his betrayer with "Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?"

It pleases me that he is the patron of politicians, step-parents, difficult marriages, large families and lawyers. He must love to intercede, because he's got his work cut out for him.

This line is from a letter he wrote from prison to his daughter: "Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness." May we all be blessed with the grace to follow his example in our trials, however petty or however great.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Youthful faith

This started out as a comment on Therese's preceding post on "saints who blazed up early". As I reached the third paragraph, I decided to give it more space.


I've never found myself particularly drawn to examples of early zeal, probably because I was such an example of early lukewarmth. But it's good to think about those struck by early and thorough grace.

I know a number of teens whose faith and devotion to God are incredibly edifying. Thinking about your post has made me realize that part of me subconsciously waits for the other shoe to drop, because I didn't see any such mature examples of youthful devotion while I was growing up. I'm waiting for the rebellion that so many parents (good ones as well as weak) encounter in their teenagers. But I could spew out name after name of young people I know (and some I was privileged to give birth to) who could take me to school when it comes to genuine faith and a well-formed conscience. And I've seen at least some of them persevere thorough some genuine difficulties that would stretch the faith of many an adult.

Cautionary note: They are still young people, after all. It's pretty amusing some times to see strong faith and adolescent decision-making in the same kid. I guess parents aren't going to become redundant any time soon.

Giving it all, bud, flower and fruit

Today is the feast day of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a young Jesuit who died of the plague that he contracted while taking care of the poor. His innocence and purity are stressed strongly in the Mass prayers of the day, and I thought about the beauty of the younger saints, those who died under the age of 25. St. Aloysius and my patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux were two of a kind. They had all the energy and over-the-top passion of that age, the teens through the early twenties, and used it to love God as only people that age can. Their writings and sayings are almost embarassingly affectionate, intimate and loving; I sometimes have to turn my eyes away from such transparency, such glowing love.

Compare the older saints, St. Teresa of Avila or St. Augustine. St. Teresa, who entered religious life young, lived in comfort and gabby popularity for a long time before she had a conversion of heart. St. Augustine lived it up for years, until his mother's prayers and the power of the Holy Spirit knocked him to his knees. Their writings reflect their battles, their knowledge of the world, their understanding of the weaknesses and failures of others.

Both sets of saints are equally holy, I'm not setting up a scale. But they bring a different passion to their love of the Lord and we need both kinds as examples.

Help me think of other saints who blazed up early and died young. I am very attracted to them, probably as contrast to the scratched, bug-covered windshield through which I view the Lord and His Mercy.

Friday, June 18, 2004

A "studly" Mystery - Finding Jesus in the Temple

I'm speculating on a Mystery that I think would especially touch the heart of men: losing, then finding Jesus in the Temple. I know that I as a woman can meditate on this Mystery and review the pain of losing touch with Jesus in my life, the surprise of assuming Jesus is with you when He's not, the surety of being able to find Him in the sacraments, in Church.

But men have a natural protective and guarding instinct that I think would make them dwell on the terror Joseph and Mary must have felt. The searching, the feeling of loss of control, the threat of failed parenthood. Men don't even have to be parents to exercise this guardianship.

Is this indeed a "studly" Mystery?

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Sending it 'round again

Just to keep the kettle boiling, here's a link to my previous post on the visitation between Mary and Elizabeth. Therese's and my minds clearly run in similar channels, though the adjective "great" to describe them might be a bit of a stretch.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The "girly" Mysteries - The Visitation

When I pray the Joyful Mysteries, I'm sometimes struck by the intensely feminine spirituality of them. Not to the exclusion of men, but there is a special dimension accessible to women's understanding, I think.

One of the most notable is the Mystery of the Visitation. Mary, now pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit, but not married, goes, maybe even flees, to visit her relative Elizabeth in a distant town. Elizabeth, with some surprise, finds herself pregnant at an age where she must have lost hope. So we have two bemused women (holy does not stop bemusement, I'm sure) who come together, who visit.

A beautiful line in Scripture: "the babe in Elizabeth's womb leaped for joy." I have such a vivid picture of two women, laughing, crying, hugging, praising God. Elizabeth was the first to recognize the presence of the Lord in Mary's womb. I am sure Mary found comfort with her cousin, safety, understanding. They also probably did a little cooking, a little sewing, told each other which neckline or hairstyle looked best on the other. Why not? They were women!

Do we recognize the presence of Christ in the hearts of our friends? Do we fully participate in God's particular love for that friend? That can be done in the context of shopping for bathing suits (a chance to exercise the virtue of mercy), or writing out recipes, or gabbing on the phone. Do we want the highest and best for our friends? When we do, I think we know that by observing the results, whether we are yet people of faith or not. But, knowing that Jesus loves you in a very specific way through me, makes me more careful of your soul, more vigilant for your salvation.

How beautiful to be a woman of God.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Window into heaven

This Sunday was the feast of Corpus Christi -- celebrating the absolute reality of Jesus' presence with us and self-offering to us in the Eucharist. I'm speechless with awe, and those who know me will acknowledge that it doesn't happen often.

As I look at the consecrated host and cup, I wish I had eyes that could see through into the reality of God's act of offering on the other side. It feels like a pinhole - I know the fullness is over there, but I can't quite make it out. Maybe some day it will be a larger window and then a massive door through which I will be able to not only see, but walk.

In the meantime, I am full of gratitude.

What a gift.

Reading our way to Heaven?

We're told not to multiply our prayers, and I'm often guilty in the middle of distracting life, of thinking that if I say one more Rosary or say one more prayer, that I will have paid "enough" attention to things of the Spirit.

I went to a huge used book sale over the weekend and stocked up on all sorts of books, including theology and saint's lives and such. Does that pile of books now waiting to be read indicate my holiness? I'm afraid there're times I think so. They can become idols themselves, and saying that you've read them an occasion for pride.

What do you do? Read and study and work to know God, or be still and know God, or examine all the faces around you to try and find God, or...? I see why spiritual direction would be darn handy. I'll pray for the right balance in my life, and the right attention, and the right recollection (see below).

Is there a good reading plan out there for lay Catholics?

Friday, June 11, 2004

Finding recollection

Recollection is “the attention to the presence of God in the soul.” When work gets really frenetic and I try to re-center my life in Christ, I’m reminded of that organization The Society For The Prevention, Diagnosis, Prognosis and Treatment of Attention Deficit Hey Let’s Go Ride Our Bikes....

Yesterday was hell at work day. Deadlines were coming, passing, hit or missed. I was forever asking, wheedling, explaining, praising, cajoling and demanding. It just didn’t stop. Finally I tore my attention from my not-important-to-the-world but very frenetic work for five minutes to bolt down lunch, which was my breakfast bagel never eaten. I managed to remember to say the Angelus, but it was mentally barked out with a certain grimness and I felt the need to write something on my calendar mid-Hail Mary, and did so.

It’s better that we praise God even in the midst of bustle and hassle, than waiting “until later” which often never comes. But I’d like to get my heart and mind in a better place when I do it, and I know that doesn’t mean requiring a hushed cathedral, dimly lit by flickering candles.

How do you recollect yourself? How can you tell if you’re recollected?

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Things just keep getting better

It's a pure pleasure to offer an enthused welcome to Therese Z, my new co-blogger. Therese is a holy, witty, wholehearted woman with a gift for snappy insight and heart. We have -- as you might expect in this virtual world -- never met, something we intend to set right as soon as possible.

Enjoy getting to know her as I have.


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We are grateful ladies with a point of view and a sense of humor. Like-hearted people are welcome. Others, too.

For a glimpse at our lighter side, hop over to In Dwelling.

E-mail us.

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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