Tuesday, December 27, 2005

It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Christmas isn't over. It just started! You may have to drag that needle-shedding tree out to the curb, but please consider keeping your outside holiday lights burning and candles burning in your windows for at least the Octave of Christmas, which ends January 1, 2006.

Even better, keep that Christmas light burning through Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, on January 6th. The link has some good ideas for keeping the holiday going for the little ones (and the big ones, too).

If we want to insist on keeping Christmas alive in our secular culture, we'd be good witnesses by keeping to the timing of the liturgical calendar. Making the "Twelve Days of Christmas" an actual event in our homes is a good start.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Invisible Made Visible through the Physical

To credit this phrase properly, I heard it spoken by Fr. Thomas Loya this morning on Relevant Radio's Morning Air program. He was speaking, as he always does in his weekly segment, about Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body", a rich treasure of teaching about our true natures of man and woman.

He was speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, and dropped this statement among others, but it dinged! in my heart and mind, fresh from receiving the Eucharist at a beautiful quiet morning Mass, and I repeated it to myself all the rest of the way to work. Who else but God could do it? Not only in the Incarnation, but truly only the Holy Spirit acts within us when we do good to others, as we make God's invisible Mercy visible through our physical actions of charity.

And it describes so clearly our Church! Jesus created and described His Church and His spousal relationship to it, and left it after His Ascension, visible, among us, in the Apostles, fuelled by the Holy Spirit.

And it describes so clearly our Sacraments! Never, ever take for granted the great gift of the Sacraments, physical, visible signs of God's Mercy, God's actual Presence among us.

May Christmas be for all of you a time of marvel, of awe, of plain old surprise at the great condescension of our Creator and Savior, stooping low to enter our physical world as one of us, being born as one of us.

When I die, they're going to find "Facetious" written on my heart, and I often say that the holidays are really an excuse to dial up my family's Cream Cheese and Sour Cream Delivery Systems to Eleven, but this morning, I've got a flame over my head as the Holy Spirit is singing the Truth in my heart that He came, has come, is here, and will come again!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Now, take a deep cleansing breath and relax. . .

As usual, the view from the crow's nest at the beginning of this pentultimate week of the year is a little chaotic. Imperfect technology has added to the situation's complexity. My computer connection has been down for some time, and there is no huge likelihood that it will be fixed before the new year. I am taking advantage of friends' broadband, particularly that of my good-hearted fiancé, but it feels like someone has taken my right foot and strapped it up behind me. I'm somewhat hobbled, and I keep stepping out to do something only to fall to the floor when I realize I don't have the tool for the job. Most of the penitential potential of this has probably come to my mind. I only hope it has lodged in my spirit.

As usual, this season brings a varied flood of feelings. I love Advent, gatherings of family and friends, presents given and received, Christmas music (see here for more about that), sharing important news, traveling, and keeping happy secrets. I just don't like trying to do it all at once. I am "doing" Christmas, correcting end-of-term projects, feeling bad about once again failing to send Christmas cards, doubting that I have paid sufficient attention to the due dates of my utility bills, sleeping a bit fitfully and wishing it were next week.

Nevertheless, how can you help but like all this? I am in the parish choir this year and get to prepare wonderful music for Christmas Eve. In fact, I can't get Gaudete out of my head (especially our music director imitating the first version he ever heard --Steeleye Span doing it in a thick UK accent). I will get to see people I love and people I hardly ever get to see, including my in-laws-to-be. I will find out what my daughter has chosen to give me that has her so excited. I will even get to go to a baby shower for my first grandchild. I believe I will get everything done, not because I see how that will happen, but because I know him in whom I trust.

Which reminds me, this very minute there are things I need to be doing. If I trust God, I ought to be someone he can trust to do what's necessary, so off I go. Many warm regards and God's blessings on a happy final week of Advent.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Which Narnia book are you?

Everyone's talking about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of the new Narnia movie. I love the book immensely and am saving the movie to be a shared treat with my daughters on Christmas Eve.

But the Narnia book that keeps coming to my mind in this season is The Last Battle. It tells of combat that seems more hopeless than any that has come before, and for good reason. It will be the final campaign for the kingdom of Narnia. Toward the end, the good guys are hopelessly resisting being forced into a stable(!) in which they are to meet certain death. But when they are finally cast through the hated doorway, they are in for a big surprise. Though they expect to confront an executioner behind the door of a dim and smelly outbuilding, they find themselves instead in a glorious new country, more wonderful than any they have seen before. It is Aslan's Country in which they find themselves able to run without tiring and more joyful and fruitful than they ever thought possible. "The inside is bigger than the outside!", one of them exclaims.

Indeed. That motif has bubbled up for me throughout this entire Advent. The fruitful womb of the Blessed Virgin conceals the most magnificent miracle ever known. The fortified city, hidden and enclosed, contains the entire company of those the Lord protects (Psalm 108). The Blessed Mother hides under her cloak the whole Church for whom she prays to the Son who loves to say "yes" to her and to us. The inside is found to be bigger than the outside.

And we are invited inside.

Alleluia. Have a blessed Advent.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Explaining the love affair

It's the semi-annual discomfort with my family about church: which Christmas Mass to go to so we can fit it into the hectic to-ing and fro-ing, "how fast can we get it over with," "there won't be extra singing or INCENSE, will there?"

I have to take my mother with me to church on holidays, she's not very mobile any more, and she likes to come and stay over and spend Christmas Eve night together. And I'm glad to have her. But that invokes the Sacred Holiday Law of spending every moment glued together at the hip, as well as its Preamble: we do what the oldest person wants to do because they're going to die any minute and you'll feel bad.

If Mass lasts more than 45 minutes, she's rolling her eyes and nudging me. Get up early? Or get to church early? Heaven forbid we sing a few pre-Mass carols. To add to the mix, my brother and his family are Unitarians, so they have the day off, and want family time on their schedule. They smile knowingly at us serfs when we explain that we must go to church, which totally curdles my dwindling supply of the milk of human kindness.

This is driving me crazy. Everything I try to use to (quite frankly) manipulate the situation is going nowhere, and I am forced to be frank and honest. But what do I say?

"Christmas means more to me every year, and church is an important part of it."

"I love going to Mass, and Mass on Christmas is extra-special."

"Christmas is a celebration of the miracle of our Savior's birth, and I want to spend time rejoicing at church."

"There's a freakin' reason for the season, OKAY?"

I try them all over in my mind, and I've even murmured a few of them during the opening skirmishes, and they sound so LAME. Maybe it's because they're right out front about my faith, and I'm still a chicken around my family, because I spent so many years not caring, or not caring enough to assert my priorities.

Do you have a sure-fire statement that shuts'em up and gets them to cooperate?

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Happy Pink Candle Sunday!

It's time to kick back and do a little relaxin' in the liturgical calendar. Tomorrow is Gaudete Sunday, "Rejoice Sunday," so named because the first word in the first reading of the Mass (Phil 4:4) is "Rejoice!" The Church in her wisdom gives us these breaks in our penitential seasons, to raise our heads from the bowed positions they should be in. I want to make sure that I notice the change, since my head's been sneaking up from my original Advent goals of prayer and penitence.

Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice!

Lent has its "by week" as well, starting with Laudete Sunday, again from the opening word of the first reading. The verb "Laudare" usually defines the expression or the berbalization of praise from our mouths. The verb "Gaudare" often describes action more than words, appearance more than intention. (We get the word "gaudy" from it, which has declined into a sort of negative way of pointing out the flashy or "loud" aspect of someone or something.)

I like Gaudete better: it sounds "noisier" than Laudete. I'm in the mood for a little noise...

Note that these words, Gaudete and Laudete, are commands. The "te" is a "you" after the imperative form of the verb. "Rejoice, you!"

So, we are commanded to give God praise, and in that, we should be happy and celebrate that we know that we have a God and Creator to praise, and what He's done for us, coming all that way to be born and live among us.

The priest should (although some, sadly, don't) wear rose-colored vestments on Gaudete and Laudete Sundays. Our parish's only set of rose vestments veers, no, crashes heavily into powder room pink and are quite forcefully ugly in pattern, too, so only the bravest priest puts them on, the others opting instead for white or gold.

I hope you all have a little feast in honor of our praise of God, a feast of fellowship or fun or food. I'm making pot roast and having friends over to bake pizzelle cookies for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Catholic Toes

I love being Catholic. In amongst the blinding washes of Grace, it's also so amusing.

This morning as I was gazing at myself in the mirrored doors of the office building elevator, I realized that the toes of my newish shoes are getting scuffed.

A grade school phrase flashed back to me: I have "Catholic Toes" on my shoes from kneeling, isn't that great? Even my clothes are getting into the service of prayer!

I love being Catholic....

Friday, December 02, 2005

Zeal for Thy Gingerbread House Consumes Me

Advent and Weight Watchers

I continue on Weight Watchers, losing weight realllly slowly (heading towards 40 lbs total since May). They say it's a process, not a diet, and they're right. Some weeks are easier than others, and I'm getting the hang, sort of, of "balancing" a day: go out for a big festive family brunch and eat fruit for dinner, contentedly.

But man, is this a hard time of year. For two historical reasons:

1. I don't think I've had an adult year until this year when I didn't hit December first and think "Well, there are about twenty days until Christmas. I could lose twenty lbs! Or ten lbs! I could be down a whole size and fit into that whatever on the hanger, or that size in the store....." On December second, I would get up, do a 1/2 hour of aerobics, pack six celery seeds and an eyedropper of water for lunch, park eight miles from the office and walk briskly.....then all the flurry of aerobics and calorie-counting and whatnot fades off nearly immediately into another grim status quo, another "fat Christmas." (This was even in years I wasn't overweight by more than ten pounds - sheer habit.)

2. Chocolate chip cookies! Aunt Mary's candy! Mom's Hungarian horns! My peanut brittle! My stollen! Homemade this and special that comes rolling into the house, and even worse, into the office. It doesn't seem like Christmas unless there are some red and green Hershey's Kiss wrappers in the cupholder in the car....

The grace of Advent helps with both these issues, I'm finding, with God's help. First, we WAIT for the feast, we don't fall face forward into it. We give up lesser things and wait upon the Greater. When we do arrive at the Holy Day, we do enjoy the happy tastes, smells and sounds of life, but in reflection of His Gift, not just because. Second, if we trust, whether it be in the Weight Watchers Points System or in the Word of God, and stop making every last little damn decision ourselves, we will prosper. This is not to make God into a system, but He did give us a system, a model, a path, a Way. I think adults just don't trust enough, in anything. We are super-competent and judge all for ourselves. It's good to trust in God, and the gift He has given me of Weight Watchers.

The biggest revelation of all to me is that, if I firmly believe that God has given me my life, my gifts, and the meal in front of me, that it would be piggish to be, well, piggish. If what is in front of me is of MY OWN DOING, that I got it, made it, bought it with my money, then if feels like it's MINE, and I can treat it as my right and can consume it, spend it, eat it, give it away, even, using only my own satiety and sense of status as a measure of "enough."

So, I'm making the usual stuff (maybe I'll post a few recipes as we go along), to give much as gifts, but to leave some for home, for entertaining and for myself. I'm very comfortable for some reason in putting it all away, without leaving out one or two or a hundred: I am promised that we will feast, on Christmas Day. Why that's making the difference, I don't know - guess it's that Grace thing.

I'm also not obsessing over what I shall weigh on Christmas Day. I'm losing weight, I'm working to look and feel better, and with God's Hand on me, it will come in His Time.

I don't want to make it sound like this is totally easy, but it's certainly joyous around here lately.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin'

Dusty Springfield, did you guess right?

We are ready to celebrate Advent as a time of anticipation of the blazing fact of the Incarnation of God in real time on real earth. I spent part of today writing many times on Christmas cards "best wishes for" whatever blessings I thought the recipient would need.

However, wishing is an easy step downwards from praying. Wishing, viewed within a life of faith, is kind of suspect. It's asking for something without the requisite acceptance of God's Will for whether we get it or not. Wishing is usually pretty specific and demanding: we wish that we don't get a cold before Saturday, or that the football team wins this Sunday. Of course, we should pray to be open to God's decisions for us instead, since He has a plan for us for good, not evil (cf Jeremiah 29).

It's scary how shockingly evil wishing can become, a silent mental weapon. "I wish that skinny little size 4 would gain thirty pounds and see how she likes it." "I wish that old so-and-so would lose his job he's always bragging about." "I wish that the cops were around that corner and pull over that rude driver." Maybe we know wishing can be a mere incantation, so we can lapse into these awfulnesses....but they do our souls no good.

So I'm working on banishing the phrase "I wish that" from my vocabulary, even at this wishy time of the year. However, I still retain a few wishes that I won't bother God with:

1. I wish there were fewer Brazil nuts in cans of mixed nuts. They take up valuable cashew space and they taste like wax-infused chalk.
2. I wish I liked goat cheese as much as I like Cheez Whiz. It tastes like they leave pieces of actual goat in it, but it's so damn classy.
3. I wish I could find a color of lipstick that doesn't make me feel like I'm walking into a room mouth-first.
4. I wish office Christmas parties were fun.
and finally
5. I wish the leaders of all the world would require, by force of law, that car manufacturers put the gas inlet on the SAME SIDE of every single blessed brand and model.

What do you wish for?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Waiting for it, part II

The bareness . . . has a different bareness than Lent. It's a rich bareness, if you will . . .

That's it exactly, Therese. A rich bareness. Stepping back from complexity into simplicity for a time isn't necessarily self-mortification. It blesses us by amplifying the contrast between the paucity of what comes before and the abundance and glory of what comes next.

Some people I know refer to Christmas as the Feast of the Incarnation. We need to be reminded of its astounding significance. Creation was transformed that day, never to revert. In C.S. Lewis' Perelandra, another world is at stake as Satan tempts its newly created First Couple, who surprisingly resemble earthly humans. The hero, a visitor sent to help them vanquish the tempter, wonders about what appears to be a coincidence; he learns from them, however, that after God was incarnate on earth, there is no other form in which he ever would create beings intended to be in his own image. A corner has been turned. "Can my little world make that big a difference?", the hero wonders. The woman is gently puzzled. "I don't understand. On my world, 'corner' is not the name of a size."

As a devout Reformed friend of mine loves to say, the best words in the Bible are "But God!" There are many times in Scripture when things are bleak and without hope. But then comes the mighty phrase, "But God . . ." followed by the corner to be turned -- what God intends to do. Sometimes I think that the Incarnation must be heaven's biggest joke on hell. Leave glory behind, taking up squalor and pain? "Never!", the devil would say. There's no math in the world in which losing equals gaining, right? But God!

So, we wait. We wait in hope, knowing him in whom our hope is placed. We immerse ourselves in the "before" so we can fully enter into the "after".

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Wait for it....

We're coming to the First Sunday of Advent. We begin another penitential season, awaiting with joy a great Mystery, the Incarnation of God as Jesus Christ, in real time, in a real place.

When I was little, my parents, more from ethnic memory than religious conviction, made our Christmas especially wonderful because when we went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was NOTHING in our house. No tree, no glass Santa heads full of ribbon candy, no red stocking caps covering the spare toilet paper roll on the biffy, no plastic angels and reindeer (we were real style-makers, make no mistake), no Christmas linens, no nothing. With only a small celebration on St. Nicholas Day, finding oranges and chocolate coins in our shoes, we spent the rest of December with an Advent wreath, an Advent calendar, and whatever Christmas decorations we'd made in school. We made cookies, and wrapped presents, and those were put away where we could see them, but Santa brought everything else after we were asleep.

This was especially generous of them because my father, as a police patrolman, was usually working a lousy shift, and still everything was put up and put around and decorated after we went to bed. To keep us from passing out with concern that Santa hadn't been to our house, a specific little elf was placed at the base of our staircase, so we could peek over at 5 am and see it, and know Santa had come, and go back to bed and vibrate until our parents gave the word that we could go downstairs. (I still have the elf, and I still put him near the door.) First, we went to Mass, passing the shut parlor doors (the advantage of a drafty creaky 1895 house is that we HAD a parlor with big sliding oak doors), smelling the tree in there, and then coming home to everything lit up, glowing and beautiful. I give thanks to God for their care and generosity, because the excitement was a great gift to us!

All these years later, I've finally realized the beauty of keeping to this custom. I do put up the outside lights (just as my parents did), because the weather will be getting harsher, but I don't light them. I'll put the tree up the weekend before, because of practicality, but I won't light it, either, until Christmas Eve.

The bareness of the resulting Advent decoration (a wreath of candles on a purple table runner, a Nativity scene without the baby, and a real wreath on the door), has a different bareness than Lent. It's a rich bareness, if you will, with the closet full of presents and the pantry filling with homemade gifts and sweets. Glitter and color and memories are packed away in boxes, but will come forth at the proper time.

If you are planning when to put up the decorations, will you consider waiting a little, as long as possible? It is really necessary to have Christmas decorations up so long that they get dusty? It's exactly analogous to our birthdays; do we put up the "Happy Birthday" garland a month ahead? If we do, we may be saying that our birthday isn't a specific day, an exact event. It is, and so is the Birthday of Jesus. Don't rush it, I beg you, at the risk of insulting your family traditions.

Happy Advent! We are preparing our hearts, lowly mangers that they are, to become the throne of the King!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Shopping, chopping and mopping

Everyone's cooking tonight, and cleaning ("Oh, the house always looks like this!"), and dusting off dishes. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

Friday, November 18, 2005

What carries you over unbelief?

Is it beauty? Is it truth? Is it the people? The art? The music?

What carries you past the time when you are kneeling in church, and suddenly everything looks futile, worn, a little tacky. "This can't be really TRUE, can it? Is Jesus around now? Can He hear me? Why do people bother? Does it make any difference if I'm here, or if I believe?"

I'm not talking about those little niggles of doubt, when someone in the Church gets a little too far over the line into Mariolatry, or yaws the other way and insists that the miracle of the loaves and fishes is that "Jesus convinced everyone to share their lunches." Those just send a momentary little frisson of discomfort and embarassment up my spine, and are gone, since I have gathered enough information to understand their human error, sympathize and continue with my faith undamaged, if a little amused.

I mean those times when you're praying your heart out. You're listening to the Gospel with every ounce of your attention, and there opens in front of you a future of similar effort and straining, for what?

Last night I went to a special prayer service at my church. It was a first of its kind for us, involving some decoration, music and prayer styles that are new for my parish (it's the first time I've seen hands raised and modest bashful suburban swaying in prayer in the pews in which I spend a lot of time). It was actually quite beautiful, in a homely sort of way. The music had some rough edges, the hems on the draping around the special altar setting were a little unraveled and didn't meet the floor evenly. Somebody in charge believed that if candles are nice, a LOT of candles are even better. The reader went too fast and shrugged her shoulders whenever she lost her place. The congregation didn't quite know what to do when, although all were willing to give it a good honest try.

I kept noticing the deficiencies, not in a critical way, but more in a clinical one. Resolving to keep my mind focused on the worthy reason for the service, I was still overtaken by the human reality of the middle-grade results. Part of my mind got busy solving all the problems, and I had graceful and economical solutions for every one, which didn't help me get un-distracted. Old helpful me....

But, thank the Lord, after the Blessed Sacrament was placed upon the altar, one of the priests began to pray, in spontaneous prayer, not rehearsed, but in his normal conversational cadence. It was heartfelt, aching with emotion, torn with truth. It was love, naked love, for Love. It was how any man would talk to one he greatly and tenderly loved. Oh. Oh.

Lord, thank you for the gift of Your Beauty. I can't stop seeing the rust and dents and dings of the world, (hell, my doors are dinged up pretty good, too), but Your Beauty comes right through them, permeates them, bursts forth from them. When I first slouched back to You, I was carried away and along by the Beauty of the logic of faith, the way everything fits and hangs together. Last night, and at a lot of cold dark morning Masses, it's Your Beauty now that pulls me forward, by the small gold and flame of the altar, the dignity of careful love by the priests, lecters and servers, the quiet of deep emotion and reverence in your people. Nowhere else in the world is that Beauty found, nothing else in the world can contain it.

What carries you guys over when you hit that flat part of faith, that featureless part of the road of worship and belief?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

's up.

I have been busy -- some details to follow -- but I've also been caught in that blogging "do loop" of: "Okay, it's embarrassing that I've been AWOL so long. I've got to start back up with something really worth reading, something with substance. Hmmm. Maybe . . . .? No. Hmmmm. Hmmmm. Uh, perhaps tomorrow."

Things are good but delightfully complex. I'm teaching a couple of classes at a local Christian college, I'm doing a little bit of executive coaching and working to develop consulting engagements, but I've also been house hunting and planning a wedding. I'm going to be married next June. As Yoda would say, "Blessed I am."

Of course all the caterers think I'm giving a wedding for a daughter, which always reminds me that this is not the only expensive party I'm likely to throw in the next several years. It's going to be far from high falutin', but as you go on in life, you acquire more friends and more relatives so guest lists swell proportionally. We are paring down to family and immediate friends, but it will by no means be able to be classified as a "small" wedding.

Another effect of going on in life is the gradual acquisition of "stuff", including real estate. I have had my house on the market for a while (initial plans to subsequently purchase a small condominium suitable for a single woman have been thrown out with the trash), and when I do, we'll buy a house appropriate for a couple with several almost-grown children. My intended will move in when we marry after which he will sell his house. Sounds easy, no? Hah.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to being in conversation with you all again. May God be blessing you with abundant grace.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Mistaking the Thing Created for the Creator

Friday's first reading at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was from Wisdom 13:

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;

But either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.

Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them.

Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.

But yet, for these the blame is less; For they indeed have gone astray perhaps, though they seek God and wish to find him. For they search busily among his works, but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.

But again, not even these are pardonable. For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world, how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

I was surprised and delighted to find this reading yesterday in the Mass, because it's my favorite piece of Scripture outside of the Gospels. It changed my life a long time ago. I may have told this story already, but I can't hear if you try to stop me:

Being in undergraduate biology studies, I and my fellow science- and engineering-major friends all took biochemistry, genetics and physics classes together. We spent hours in the cafeteria, smoking and slamming coffee, easily solving all the world's problems, and had excitedly created a view of God that was based on Energy. We decided that since "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed," and the measurement of our aliveness was our metabolism, then the loss of Energy at death must be what people described as the loss of the soul. God must therefore be the name of the Life Force that powered the universe. A million parallels and proofs leaped up. One hilarious one I remember is that we thought this explained why you could get the feeling that someone was looking at you: the thought and look were disturbing the balance of Energy!

We grooved on what we saw as the true meaning of Communion: being fed, being given Energy. Gosh, we couldn't get enough of our own thinking. To our credit, we didn't react against God as a puppet-master, or blame our Christian ancestors as old meanies and prudes. We simply thought that science was our way to connect with God, in a pure, clean, provable way. The God we created didn't know us personally, or care what we did or what we were made for; he was instead a Power beyond our understanding. He certainly seemed big and mysterious enough to be God.

Although I loved the power of my college-aged mind (didn't we all?) I had a little itch in there that this might not be the whole story. My friends and I enjoyed continued filling in the details and proofs of our Energy God, but at home, I started reading Thomas Merton, finding him by picking up a book with an attractive picture of a monk on the cover. Setting aside his curmudgeonly anti-war liberality, which I was a bit too young to understand, I was transfixed by his descriptions of Love beyond understanding, Understanding beyond knowledge, Knowledge beyond words. I read some of his books over and over, especially New Seeds of Contemplation.

Then God guided me to this exact verse. I realized what my friends and I had done; we confused God's Creation with God Himself. The beauty of His Creation is only a mirror of His own Beauty. While I was pondering all of this one day, God showed Himself to my mind and heart and I KNEW...

Any of you who have received the blessing of the sense of God's Presence can finish the story from that point. I'm sorry to say that my continuing conversion was stalled for many years after that, while I was busy sinning.

I'd like to have the opportunity some day to show this verse to some eager acolyte of Science, and leave it to them to think over. I hope if you haven't read the Book of Wisdom, that you spend a little time with it. It's like Proverbs, but with more warmth and less of a "helpful hints" feeling to it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Roz digs toe into rug

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Jesus was not a magician!

Today's Gospel is John 2:13-22, on this feast of the Lateran Basilica, where Jesus goes up to the temple in Jerusalem, and found the money-changers doing business there:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade." His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

What I noted is that Jesus made a whip from cords. He didn't put out His Hand and poof! there appeared a whip from nowhere. Elsewhere, He multiplied the loaves and fishes His Apostles found among the crowd. Again, He didn't just wave His Hand and make food appear.

Jesus uses our world to get His message across, to share Himself. The Word is incarnate right down to His tools! How can anyone doubt that the bread and wine, blessed and broken and given by Him, remain ordinary and unchanged?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

New job = sore feet

After being out of work for three months, I began a new job yesterday. I'm very happy with the opportunity, the location, the position, even the money. I hope to glorify God in my efforts and interactions there. The time off was great; I had a chance to help family and to relax. Unemployment income kept me laying low and peaceful, I didn't have to think about starting any capital projects.

Today's my second day, and I'm wearing my softest unconstructed shoes that still look like shoes, because in the time I was off, I didn't have "hard shoes" on my feet for more than a couple of hours each week. I rubbed blisters into both my heels, my legs hurt from sitting at a desk all day, my eyeballs were gritty at the end of a long day of contacts (and no naps).

I can't find anything in my briefcase; heck, I can't remember what I kept in it and what's drifted out into regular supply. I stared into the refrigerator this morning, trying to figure out what in there would work as a packed lunch.

In only three months, only 90 days, my body AND mind forgot about work. How it goes, how it feels. I've worked full-time for 20+ years, and I rarely take vacations that last more than a week. I've worn a deep groove on the work treadmill, at least I thought so, until I got off of it for a very brief period.

This is an object lesson for me: I should never assume that I've got my devotional life running just right. Daily Mass? Rosary? Scripture and other spiritual reading? Adoration? Confession? Don't assume they're permanent and unremovable in life, that the change in rhythm would be unendurable, and we would NEVER stop or change.

We're just not that dependable. Only God is dependable.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Another post for luck

I'm still having trouble with blogger, or ATOM feeds, or something. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.....

Ungenerous virgins? Mean old king?

Original post lost....

It was a very nice post about comparing the virgins of today's reading who wouldn't share their oil with the foolish virgins, and the king who threw the guy out from his son's wedding feast, after he was invited in at the last minute, because he didn't have a wedding garment. Readiness is the key; neither the virgins or the wedding guests were expected to bring presents, just themselves, properly armed with lamps, oil, and wedding garments.

I lost the article somewhere in blogger or because of AOL problems. Trust me: it was a nice effort. I won't rewrite it, we'll just move on as soon as we solve our problems....

Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's like doing math problems for fun

I went to a riverboat casino yesterday. Took Mom; she's an elderly video poker shark, has all the statistics and plays and odds in her head, spends almost nothing, usually comes out ahead. It certainly keeps her mathematically-inclined brain happy, and I'm not worried about any addictions in her case.

In the morning, I did a swift study of the standard rules of Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild, crammed into that 15-Minute Parking Only slot in your brain where you keep the Rules of the Road until you take the test. I spent what I budgeted, and I "got a lot of play" out of the money. Actually, I lost most of my money on goofy clanging blinking slots with cartoon illustrations and Hee Haw story lines.

Where is the fun in this? Betting at games isn't necessarily evil, but it's such a slippery slope not to dip into the wallet for the extra $20 or more, to spend what you shouldn't. I could feel my brain going out of gear, and had to stop myself from putting more money in the machines by going outside for a few minutes.

It's less seamy than the harness track, people aren't so desperate-looking. But too many of those people at the machines weren't smiling. Hell, they weren't even focussing. They could have been fitting cogs together in a factory, for all their faces said. There certainly isn't any of that tuxedoed champagned elegance, standing at the roulette wheel or the craps table, thrilling at the chase, the nerve, the power of money.

It WAS kind of fun to use rules and see if they worked, for awhile. But the proliferation of casinos in the country does not foretell a taste for doing math problems for fun. It's instead a spread of scratching that sinful itch for distraction. I'm probably being high-and-mighty about this, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, as well as a smoky smell in my hair.

If I evince even the slightest discomfort with casino gambling and casino proliferation in the state, and the dependence of the schools on the tax revenue, I get jumped on as an Old Kill-Joy and Crabby Church Lady. Am I alone in this? Should I get a grip, or a clue?

A yes-no proposition

Today's morning readings in Magnificat (not necessarily in the Liturgy of the Hours) are about Yes and No in Christ. 2 Cor 18-20 contains one of those lines of Scripture that make me want to bang my head on the pew: "As God is faithful, our word to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not "Yes" and "No," but "Yes" has been in Him."

Huh? "Has been in Him?" Not "has always been in Him" or "is now in Him?" The next lines make a lot more sense, although they don't clear up that first sentence: "For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in Him; therefore, the Amen from us also goes through Him to God for glory."

Okay, that I got. The only way to God the Father is through His Son. Our Amen, our Yes, must go through Him to God the Father. And Jesus is certainly God's final Word, His "Yes," to us.

The morning readings also contain Matthew 5:37: "Let your "Yes" mean "Yes" and your "No" mean "No." Anything more is from the evil one."

Got that, too. Truth in our Yes is the same Truth in the Yes that is in God. From God comes Truth; Jesus channels (sorry about that word) God's Truth, and channels our Yes through Himself to the Father, and vice versa. This must also mean that "No," at least in the face of Truth, can only come through Satan for HIS glory.

I like the fact that St. Paul says in 2 Cor that "the Amen from us also goes through [Christ] to God for glory." It bold-faces the fact that "Amen" means "Yes." How many Amens do we say at Mass? There are a few people at weekday Mass who can't resist throwing in a few extras, not in a praise-and-glory way, but because a prayer must seem unfinished to them.

I'd like to work a little harder on putting a lot of "Yes" in my "Amens."

Monday, October 31, 2005

Where's the mercy?

This morning at Mass, our priest drew from today's readings (Romans 11:29-36 and Luke 14:12-14) to tell a story of God's Mercy shown to him.

The first reading in Romans tells us that "God delivered all to disobedience, so that He might have mercy upon all." The second reading in Luke warns us not to invite the relatives and the wealthy to dinner, with the inevitable rewards of returned hospitality, but to invite the "poor, crippled, lame, blind: blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay..."

Father related that, when he was caring for his severely ill mother, she was incontinent and the house smelled strongly of urine. It embarassed his mother, and one day, when a friend called him and asked to visit and talk, embarassed him in advance. He prayed for humility in the situation, and, when the friend arrived, the friend said without prompting "Why, the house smells like you have roses all through it!" The celebrant told of his gratitude for God's Mercy.

Now, where WAS God's Mercy in this? (1) Did God make the house actually smell of roses? Or (2) did the friend, arriving in the middle of the smell, pretend not to notice and in generosity (perhaps noticing a lone flower in a vase, even) said that the house smelled great? I didn't ask Father after Mass and I probably won't, it's not important.

What's important is that God's Mercy was truly there, whether the friend poured it forth or God did a pleasant small miracle.

The story reminded me that God's Mercy can flow through us in the serene indifference* to someone else's awkwardness, in sensitivity to their embarassment, but not by commiserating or pointing it out and forgiving it. We must avoid the reward of "Wasn't that NICE of Therese to...." and simply proceed as though we were deaf and blind in a world full of little bodily blurps in the elevator.

* I don't mean that in terms of "not caring," WHAT word do I mean? Detachment?

Friday, October 28, 2005

I didn't expect to like this book

Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles by Raymond Arroyo, is doing exceptionally well on the NY Times Best Seller List. I got it from the library and read it in two nights. I couldn't put the darn thing down.

I've gotten a lot from her EWTN network, but I've never enjoyed seeing her own show, neither when she was healthy nor in reruns now after her stroke. She always seems too chirpy, old (in a bad way), and annoyingly smirky. But now that I've read the tough row she's hoed, operating without knowledge or money, with faith and guts, and in the face of condescending insults and irritating attempted power grabs by bishops and millionaire Catholics, I'm far more indulgent of what's been transformed for me into the slightly irritating personality of a eccentric genius.

Raymond Arroyo is a good story-teller and moves the story along. He's not too rah-rah, although he clearly dotes on her. The details are just as much a good business success story as a journey of faith.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

W-w-w-w-world Series?

In the big inning God created the Heavens and the Earth:
Eve stole first
Adam stole second
Gideon rattled the pitchers
and Goliath was put out by David

As a lifetime resident of Chicagoland, I am unable to figure out how to take the fact that the Sox won, and won fast and big!

Most of my family are Cubs fans, but I'm pretty neutral, although I think Wrigley Field is the most beautiful ballpark in the most beautiful city in the United States, and I usually go there once a year, get a hot dog and a beer in a squishy paper cup, burn my nose and the part in my hair, and bother my neighbors by asking stupid baseball-rule questions. I generally don't care who wins; the best part for me is seeing which celebrity shows up to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the seventh-inning stretch.

I really enjoy the low-key personalities of this team, and I am especially enchanted with the fact that you cannot understand every third word that Ozzie Guillen says. Listening to him, everybody in the room squints a little, trying to fine-tune their Venezuelan language filter.

Now we have a huge victory, for the first time since the unreal Michael Jordan days. Nobody exactly knows how to behave. Chicago has a better personality for underdogs than champions.

(piping up awkwardly) Go White Sox! Go Chicago!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Breakfast of champions

Too bad that Wheaties took that slogan in 1933. I think it should instead be used for daily Mass. I know I talk about this a lot, but to those of you who can possibly go to a weekday Mass, PLEASE go!

It's Mass in its plainest form, no singing, no carefully composed petitions, celebrated by people trying and often failing to get their circulation going all the way to their feet. Sometimes the lecters' singing voices crack and lose traction on the "Alleluia" before the Gospel. Beginning this time of year, there is a muffled orgy of sinus-clearing, and I regularly hear stomachs growl and knees crackle, the silence is so complete. We're spread way out in the pews, the Sign of Peace is usually a small but warm wave to others too far away to touch.

But the reverence always rises and gathers strength, warming us as we proceed through the Mass, standing and kneeling as one, since the order of the Mass has worn its path in our brains and hearts with frequent attendance. We have all the fun and glory of celebrating the feasts and memorials of the saints and martyrs of the Church Triumphant. The Scriptures for the week, save special ones for special feasts, are read serially, each day's reading breaking off at an exciting part or after a significant thought, to be resumed tomorrow, leaving us in anticipation, like children listening to a bedtime story.

I feel united in action and intent with the entire congregation. When I pray the prayers we've all said a billion times, they often come as though new from my heart and mind. At Communion, even when I'm badly distracted (why is it that my need for a can of Pam, some walking-around money and an oil change flashes across my mind in the middle of the Offertory?), I KNOW without dilution that the Lover of my Soul waits for me. In a way I never feel on rustling distracted Sundays, we pray together with one mind, one spirit.

I left Mass this morning, filing along out the side door behind a few others on our way to our cars. Some mornings we wait for each other and chatter and check on our families. This morning, by mutual consent, we drifted out in a haze of recollection, savoring the Feast.

It's worth it. Please go: your life will be re-centered in a way you can't even guess, and paradoxically, you will love your fellow parishioners and know them better.

Friday, October 21, 2005

That's funny, I'd don't look Greek OR Jewish!

I might be drifting into an error. I am interviewing with several people at one company for a job I'd really like to have, and, in a desire to be obedient to God, to listen to His voice about not being puffed-up, prideful, or just not embroidering the truth in an interview, I've been praying in the car before I go in. "Lord, please give me an honest and humble heart, and let me know if this job is where You want me to be. I want to glorify You in this interview and in my work."

The first time I went, I noticed that the car to my left and the car facing me in the parking lot both had rosaries hanging from their rear-view mirrors. A sign? The second time, I met with someone who turned out to be related to a deacon at my church, with whom I get along well, and would probably say good things about me. A sign?

A sign of what? Is it "Take the job, Therese..." from a stentorian Voice? Or "I am with you always, Therese..." ditto?

In the years I spent slouching back into faith, I first started thanking God specifically when I'd get a nice close parking space, or if I caught a dropped cup before it broke, or the weather would be nice for something I planned. That became meaningless, because it wasn't based on a purposeful desire to be intimate with Jesus Christ. I still go through phases now where I try to thank God for lousy stuff that happens, so that I can offer it up and practice humility. I'm clear on the fact that He sends us personally-significant trials to test and strengthen our faith.

Now, am I looking at normal things and seeing signs? Is that valid? Maybe the right way to handle this is to see the "signs" and merely take them as reminders of God's role in my life, not as His special Howdy to me.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
(1 Cor 1:22-24)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Mass intentions for extremely dead people?

I have a question: how long should Masses be said for the repose of the souls of people who have died?

This morning at Mass, the name announced during the usual petition for grace for our beloved dead was, we'll call her, Joan of Arc Turtlebaum.

Her real name is distinctive enough that it catches the ear and must be the same person whom I have heard memorialized at weekday Masses and Sunday Masses for a couple of years now. A fellow Mass-goer happened to mention that she had known Joan, and that she had died over twenty years ago!

These Masses aren't on the occasion of her birthday or day of her death, because I hear her name a lot, all over the map of the liturgical year. (Or every day's a holiday for the Turtlebaum family....)

The Catholic Church has always urged the offering of Votive Masses, during which the special intention is for the repose of the soul of a loved one who has died. Actually, the word "votum" merely means a "special intention" and we should always come to Mass with a very specific intention in our heart, to ponder it in the light of the glory of the Scriptures of that day and the Eucharistic Gift.

(In fact, it can be a very interesting way of "playing Bible Bingo." Instead of letting your Bible fall open to see what God has to say to you at that moment about whatever's on your mind, you wait for the Scriptures of the Mass of that day to speak to you instead!)

Masses for the Dead have their intention directed towards the soul that has gone to Final Judgment, as we implore God's Mercy on that soul. The Catholic Church teaches the beautiful doctrine of Purgatory, which for our non-Catholic readers does NOT mean a final hasty repentance for sins unrepented-for in life, but instead a final purgation or cleansing of the soul before it unites with God in Heaven, since "nothing unclean shall enter Heaven" (Rev 21), and we understand that our intercession for those souls is needed, just as we pray for our brethren still living on earth.

But if a person has been dead a really, really long time, should Masses continue to be said for his or her repose? Do they still "need" them? I know that the soul, being dead, exists in God's Time, not ours, and always needs our prayers, but since we don't yet live in God's Time, should we be directing our prayers for the behalf of others more recently deceased?

I still occasionally am moved to pray for the soul of my father, dead five years, and I ask FOR the intercession of my relatives and friends now (hopefully) in Heaven, but it doesn't jump to my mind or heart to ask the priest to make any particular Mass a special Votive Mass for any of them. Am I being neglectful, or is the family of the above-mentioned Joan just not letting go?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Aw heck, angels

Hmmmmmm. I had an experience last night....of angels, I believe.

I was done with Evening Prayer from Magnificat (doesn't tie in to the prayer of the Universal Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, but a darn fine daily resource) and was shutting down my mind and body for sleep, when I became aware of a white light in my mind, intensely white. I didn't have time to decide if I was having a stroke, and me in my not-best nightie, when I "realized" (not heard) that something I'd said, very careful to hit a light note, to evangelize someone was being received by them right then, not just by their mind but by their heart. I was calmly reassured that they'd heard it for their good.

(This is like trying to describe a circular staircase without using my hands, and I don't mean to be obtuse (no, not obtuse, I mean abstruse), but it's not anyone's business what I said or to whom.)

I then "realized" that I was learning this from an angel. Not the overpowering Presence of God, but an individual person or spirit or...aaargh, how do you describe it? I wasn't afraid of this understanding, but sort of serenely nonplussed. I had a moment of "Oh my, that was a first!" and I thanked God and went to sleep. And behold, this morning I received an actual response from the person, not directly referring to my statement, but giving back out what I'd more or less said to them, with joy. I got the impression that they didn't remember I'd even said it, which is just dandy with me.

Is this okay? Does this happen to anyone else who reads this blog? I truly don't tell it in pride, because it was none of my doing, and I certainly didn't feel rewarded for my alleged holiness or anything, it was just communication. Upon review, I feel compelled to check it with other faithful people, so I tell it to you here, rather than tell a friend face to face.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Charismatic Catholics and/or me

Visited my blogsister Roz this weekend and attended a charismatic Catholic Church. This is the second time I've been there, and I'm still trying to figure out (1) what makes it feel so right, (2) what my place in that style of worship is and (3) what it portends for the whole Catholic Church.

Catholic charismatic Masses at this parish, and I fervently hope everywhere, are exactly orthodox: no foolin' around with the Order or the intent of Mass. We are there to participate in the once-for-all, ever-present Sacrifice of the Lamb of God. We join Jesus, outside of time as God is, in the Upper Room, on Calvary and at the empty Tomb. We are given God's Life in the Body and Blood of our Lord. According to Roz, it is the charismatic congregation's openly-expressed love of the Lord that makes them very careful to keep the Mass as it should be and not stray off into irrelevancies. They don't need to make Mass "more meaningful;" by being deep in their charismatic prayer life, they find all the meaning that was already there!

The outward actions are very much those of a reverent, decently-catechized group of people. Actions are devout, the reading of the Word is measured and thoughtful, the homilies both careful in teaching and passionate in leading. The songs are chosen to reflect our desire to live in His Will and participate in His Joy. The Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Offertory and the Consecration, is done according to the rubrics, but fueled by visible joy, serenity and love. Most other ordinary parish Masses pale in comparison; my own parish seems rushed and casual. (I must say right here that I know that my parish Masses are too done sincerely, and at times, wonderful joy and reverence is explicit. I have been to weekday morning Masses that truly approached Heaven on earth. Since it's the Truth no matter how it's done, I am not alarmed by the differences, but only yearn for the greatest expression possible of gratitude for the Gift of His Body and Blood.)

The additions, for those of you who have not participated in a charismatic Mass, are not additions per se but extensions. They do not replace or dominate any of the normal parts of Mass. Instead of the expected singing of the Gloria and then getting right on with the prayer before the reading of Scripture, the singing winds down into a short time of "expressive prayer," that is, the music continues underneath a flowering of the end of the required prayer into anything anyone wants it to be. My pew neighbors sang again any of the lines of the Gloria: "We worship You, we give You thanks, we praise You for your glory!" Or they praised Jesus in spontaneous words of praise and thanks. Or they didn't, and just remained standing in prayer. (Me, I mostly shut my eyes and remained both listening and preoccupied with my own prayer.)

Many of the congregational prayers, like the Sanctus, were accompanied by raised hands. If you made a silent movie of those moments, you wouldn't be able to distinguish the prayer styles from any Protestant prayer service: upraised hands, swaying, closed eyes, beautiful smiles. I've just realized in review that that style of prayer only occurs while the congregation is on their feet: there is no hand-raising while kneeling, which seems just perfectly right. (Me, I shut my eyes, peeking a little, and remained both listening and preoccupied with my own prayer.)

After Communion, the songs became music to underpin and make beautiful the time of thanksgiving and praise. The various voices rose and fell, thanking the Lord for the gift of His Sacrifice, His Body and Blood, His Goodness. People rose from their kneeling meditation as they chose to, and spent some time in audible thanksgiving. (Me, well, you got the pattern by now...)

The first time I attended, last year, I was so surprised by the combination of the ancient reverence I exult in and the open demonstration of how people really felt about their Lord and Savior, I cried through the whole thing. After Mass, as I was being introduced to friends in the vestibule, people noted my red eyes and nose (when WILL I learn to cry pretty?) but my friends said simply "Oh, it's the Spirit" and that was that. These people expect to see tears and emotion. I was undone by the mixture of holy boldness and aching care to keep to universal worship, to join our Mass with the Mass being celebrated at all times at all places in the world.

At about the time I visited this parish, I had been in a long time of praying "Come, Holy Spirit, but make it a glancing blow. I'm afraid of what You'll want me to do!" This year, I have become more accustomed to submission to His Will and could pray "Come, Holy Spirit, inflame my heart and I want to love You as You should be loved. If that means a little extempore praying, well, so be it and thank You." But nothing "happened." I didn't pray aloud; I didn't even raise my hands (at least, I don't think so). Interestingly, after we got home much later, I found myself wandering around the backyard in deep prayerful conversation with the Lord over a specific issue in my life, without deliberate intent.

It is easy, so easy to compare myself to others in any group I'm in. We all do it constantly; we are social beings. I had to keep fighting off the urge to feel "left out" because I didn't "feel" the Holy Spirit. I wanted to honor the Lord with the prayer not only of my spirit but of my body, and it didn't happen as it happened to the others in the church. I was of course comforted and fed by the Eucharist, so this worry was only secondary, but I actually needed a little reassurance that the Holy Spirit seemed to be active in my life. I know by faith, formed by the constant teaching of the Church, that I received the Holy Spirit expressly at Baptism and again at Confirmation, and of course in a constant flow of grace both sacramentally and during prayer in every moment of my life. But I wanted to be JUST LIKE the people I'd seen around me at Mass, overgeneralizing everyone in the pews as perfectly conformed in the Spirit and audibly rejoicing in His gifts.

I wonder how Protestants in expressive praise traditions do it every week. Are they so disciplined and developed in their prayer that they can pray in tongues at 10:15 am every Sunday, but then don't burst out with it while they're going through the car wash on Tuesday? Do they feel let down if expressive prayer doesn't come from them one week, and get tempted to worry that they have offended the Lord or become lax in their worship? Is someone who is habitually silent among expressive worshipers eventually feel frozen out or isolated? Do other people judge them by whether they seem to be "in the Spirit" or not? Do they feel able to rely on "faith alone" to know that they are right with their Father, if they feel dry and unable to join in with the rest of the congregation? Without the central jewel of the Eucharist in their worship services, are they "measuring" the truth of their worship by the flow of their participation in expressive prayer, and losing faith if they cannot match the general level of praise?

What does the charismatic movement bode for the whole Church? I think that it's a good thing. It is certainly a powerhouse for church growth and vocations and service work, astoundingly fruitful. I'd like to link to an excellent post and comments here that say much better than I could what this movement means. I can't add to it, except to say that, as long as this style of worship is not a divergence from right practice, that people do not divide themselves by it, that it is an expression of holy desire that shakes me to my foundations and can be a powerful way of opening me to the unending and overpowering love the Lord has for me. Its power and beauty reassures me that "eye has never seen, ear has never heard, nor has it dawned on the mind, what God has surely prepared for those who love Him."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The thoughtful TSO included this thought in his reminiscences about his recent trip to Toronto:
Mass today. Homilist quite good, quotes the poet Auden. Talks about how we usually think of love between a man and woman as having an infatuation phase and a "realistic" phase, the former seeing too much in a person. But Auden argued that the infatuation stage was more accurate, more realistic, because we are seeing with the eye of God, Reality Himself. When we see what they are capable of becoming - little less than angels - we then realize that thinking too well of people is more accurate in the long run than thinking less of them. [Emphasis mine.]
Might it be true that God jump-starts our love relationships with an insight into the truth of what's possible? Marriage is a direct reflection of the eternal giving and receiving within the Trinity and our clearest photo of the mutual self-donation Jesus wills between himself and his Bride the Church. So of course he will do many things to create and maintain a strong couple bond between us and our intended; what makes us think that "falling in love" isn't a direct occasion of God's abundant grace? Certainly we can waste it, wallow self-indulgently, or use it for evil ends just like many of the gifts he gives us. But the fact that we are charged to be responsible in its presence, just as we must in the presence of sexual desire or a large amount of money that doesn't belong to us, gives us a chance to bring our free will into cooperation with our abundant Lord.

I have had some experience of being in love. At its most mature, it has almost nothing in common with sappy sentiments (although the English language unfortunately is impoverished when it comes to non-sappy expressions of genuine love between a man and a woman). Its home is the warm gaze between the lover and the beloved in which the soul, the essence of the other person is seen, welcomed, loved and honored. There is no thought of pluses or minuses, strengths and weaknesses - they are backstage. It is the unreplicable person, the real You, that is loved. In that light, of course, we want to do all we can to bless the other person, ask God for protection over their welfare, and tell the other what we see and love in them (because they won't be able to see it themselves).

How similar this is to the love of Christ in which our sins are forgiven and set aside while Who We Really Are is strongly yet gently seen, loved and cherished by the One who made us. So although we may consider being in love as simply a wash of emotion, perhaps we should pray that this deep love of the real person stays and grows in spite of the interfering static of daily life.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

St. Francis' wardrobe issues

Happy Feast of St. Francis of Assisi!

There are two often-mentioned events in his life that concern the good Saint's clothing: the first, when he stood arguing with his father over Francis' giving of family money to the poor, and when his father demanded repayment, Francis took off all his clothes, left them in a heap before his father and ran off down the road (I believe that I've even read that he was singing with joy) to do the work of God. The second, when he lay dying, blind and suffering, he asked his friars to remove all his clothing and lay him on the bare ground to meet his Father in Heaven utterly poor and defenseless.

Both times, he used his clothing to make his point. I wonder if he was over-fond of his clothing, if he suffered from vanity? The rich clothes of his youth must have been a pleasure; that was a very dressy time in Italy. But even his ragged robe as a Franciscan could have been a source of pride to him, because it marked him out as God's man, so it too had to go at the end.

Today's first reading, Jonah 3:1-10, tells of the effect the prophet Jonah's walk through the city of Ninevah had on the king and the people:

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he cried, "Yet forty days, and Nin'eveh shall be overthrown!"
And the people of Nin'eveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.
Then tidings reached the king of Nin'eveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
And he made proclamation and published through Nin'eveh, "By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, or drink water,
but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them cry mightily to God; yea, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands.
Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?"

This is not a reading specific to the feast of St. Francis (they are from Sirach 50, Galatians 6, and Matthew 11) but it fits, doesn't it? The people gave the outward sign of their repentance by doffing their own clothes. Even the beasts were ordered to wear sackcloth!

I actually planned to shop for clothes today, truly. St. Francis, help me to make the plainer choice, to take less pleasure in plunking down the bags when I get home!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Just because I could, that's why

I am planning to melt some Jello, to see whether, when it cools, it firms back up again. Why? Because I will have some spare Jello, after I make a recipe, and I always wondered if it would.

I once threw a four-cushion couch off a third-story back porch (with a friend of mine), giving it a lot of loft, and accompanied by animalistic screams, just to see what would happen. It made a GREAT dent in the yard, but broke into far fewer pieces than we hoped for.

What have you done, just to see what would happen?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Five Idiosyncracies

I've been tagged by Julie at Happy Catholic to list five things that I think are special to me, that would blow my cover if I was placed in the Witness Protection Program:

1. Like her, I read all the time. While cooking, while I'm in the bathroom, sitting in a doctor's waiting room, anywhere. Every single night before I go to bed, propped up on my "reading pillow." I have piles of books next to my bed, but I don't care what it is I read. I like the cr--shoot of picking up whatever's handy, because I don't usually have anything with me. I can get absorbed in Business Practices for Dermatologists or Fishing Digest, I don't care.

2. I know all the lyrics to millions of songs, including commercials, operetta, folk and Girl Scout songs. Once I get them down, I don't lose them, except a word here or there. I can't help it. I can even sing lyrics in other languages, phonetically, like those little Japanese child choirs that used to show up on the Ed Sullivan show - "I vant to beee hoppy buttai kent beee hoppy..." I will sing to the music in grocery stores quietly or in the car loudly. With gestures.

3. I adore card, board and trivia games, but I am almost unpleasantly competitive. I am happy if you win, but I am much happier if I win. I will do little victory sambas on my way to and from the kitchen to get you more snacks or another drink. Ruthless but hospitable.

4. My feet are never covered when I sleep. If they were, I would burst into flames. They're my temperature regulators.

5. Whenever I make soup, no matter if it's beef or sausage or chicken, it all comes out tasting the same. I make Therese Z soup, apparently. It's not bad, it just isn't very....varied.

Okay, go for it, my friend Justin at Thirsty and my blogsister Roz at your other blog In Dwelling.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bonne fete du Saint Therese! *

I don't like telling people when it's my birthday, it seems grabby, but I sure don't mind celebrating the feast day of my patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux. Happy Feast Day to all us Thereses, Theresas, Tereses, Teresas, Terrys, Terris, and Teris!

For our (few) non-Catholic readers, a Saint's feast day is the day they died, because what greater day to celebrate than the day they met the Lord?

It took me awhile to get used to her utter childlike abandonment of love to her Heavenly Father, and her Victorian writing style. She wants to be the ball the Child Jesus plays with....that takes a little getting used to.

But there is a womanly understanding of love, complete trust in God, and even a motherly reaction to the slights of the world, absorbing the little hurts and crosses, for the glory of God and the good of His children, that becomes apparent when you read and re-read her autobiography The Story of a Soul. I may have given this advice last year, but if you haven't read it, or haven't read it lately, consider doing it this way: the book is in three parts. Read Part II, Part III and THEN Part I. I couldn't get through the first part the first couple times I tried it, too late-1890's-sweet. But when I started in the middle and then came back around home plate, I got it. I got her "childishness" as simplicity, hard-bought simplicity, pared-clean submission and trust.

There is a tradition of asking St. Therese for a rose. She may grant you one in the next week or ten days. I asked once, long ago, and got one, sort of. I didn't ask again, fearing superstition. But I asked again two days ago and I'm looking for a rose, understanding, I think, that the Saints in Heaven can act on earth, only with the consent and power of God. I'll let you know if it shows up, and I've promised the Lord and St. Therese to have faith no matter what happens.

Eat French food in honor of the day. Or at least French fries!

From her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love:

In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!

* I most emphatically do not speak or write or read French. I tinkered this together with Babelfish. Please fix it in comments, if you would. Merci.

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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jesus, please help them

New Orleans and much of the deep South will never be the same again. More importantly, the survivors and the families of the lost will need great grace from God and help from us.

The people at Wiki have established a Web clearinghouse for offers to help. Click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Quote without comment

From Kathy Jo at Barefoot Meandering.

Roscoe: Did you know that God made you?

Sam: That’s what Jack said!

R: We tell God thank you for Sam every day.

S: I want to hear God.

R: You can’t hear God.

[a pause]

S: He said, “Yes.”

[a longer pause]

S: He said, “You’re welcome.”

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Canst thou can?

I finally kicked off canning season, a little later than usual. Pint jars of home-canned tomatoes and tomato juice are quietly cooling under a bath towel on my counter. Next week: peaches and peach preserves. Then corn relish. Pickled beets. Maybe pumpkin butter. The hell with pickles this year.

Besides the famous Ball Blue Book, I use old family recipes to make the old favorites in pickles, preserves and simple veggies and fruits. People act as though you bled into every jar, they are so impressed. They shouldn't be: it takes only lots of hot water, newspapers and a good timer to do a fantastic job of canning. (Sounds like emergency childbirth, doesn't it?)

Canning shifts your mind much like baking bread does. It takes you back to a more effortful time in making home pleasant and food good. You become sensitive to the seasons, worrying how much longer peaches will be at the Farmer's Market, frowning seriously at boxes of green beans, critically tasting plums "to see if they'll can." Canning books routinely contain chapters on smoking meat, drying fish, preserving nuts and beans. The older ones even tell you how to butcher hogs, and make sausage and render and store lard, and we're not talking 100 years ago, either. It is humbling to realize with what luxuries we live and how protected we are against the environment and against hunger.

Do you remember your mom, your grandma or aunts canning? Are their recipes still available? Make them a batch of something they used to make; instant happy tears. Or, if you need Christmas gifts for those hard-to-figure-out people in the office or in the neighborhood, consider canning. (The trick is to train them to return the jars and lids, with the promise some day of more, then all you have to buy for the next time are the flat lids for about $1.50 a dozen.)

I've had a great time showing a wide assortment of friends how to can. They are enticed by its unique combination of craft and cooking, and realize how much thought and love goes into every batch.

UPDATE: This entry has nothing to do with my walk with Jesus. But sometimes simple satisfaction in a job completed is the best part of a day, and I keep patting the jars as I walk by. The high points of my day today therefore are Mass and jamming tomatoes into jars.


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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