Thursday, December 21, 2006

Giving it a rest

Let's face it, we've lost our blogging rhythm. It's not that there's nothing new in God's world to marvel over, I've simply developed blog poisoning.

What's that, you ask? I'm sure it's happened to you - you will be lost in thought, or prayer, or both, and God is leading your mind through some intricate thought, some small revelation simply by His Grace, and an irritating little voice pipes up "THAT would make a good blog entry!"

And before you know it, you are framing your thought into a blog presentation. You're no longer sharing with the Lord, you're composing a pithy little entry to start a discussion or draw attention or demonstrate your mental agility.

So, I for one am taking a break here. I am all over some of my favorite blogs, and commenting seems more spontaneous than this. My blogsister Roz is adjusting to her married life, no doubt, and you can visit her separate blog "In Dwelling" by clicking the link to the right.

For now, the Lord bless and keep you, may He make His light to shine round about you, and give you peace. I'll come back here or somewhere, and I pray that you are blessed by the religious blogworld as much as I have and continue to be.

Peace be upon you, brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 11, 2006

O Christmas Meme, O Christmas Meme

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Hot chocolate
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just place them under the tree? He wraps them. Sometimes he uses Mom's handwriting just to confuse people. On St. Nicholas' Day, St. Nick didn't wrap the presents he put in our shoes.
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Colored. I wish we could use the old Noma lights, the big bulbs.
4. Do you hang mistletoe? Sometimes. No big deal.
5. When do you put your decorations up? Part of the Nativity, and the Advent wreath, and the outside wreath and lights (weather requires), First Sunday of Advent. The tree and everything else, Gaudete Sunday (Third Sunday). But nothing gets lit up until Christmas Eve. When I was growing up, Santa brought EVERYTHING, tree, decorations, everything, Christmas Eve (my parents were heroes).
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Probably the lobster or shrimp we have, lots of it, Christmas Eve. Or the prime rib or standing rib roast of beef we used to have for Christmas dinner (too much travel that day for the big sit-down dinner any more). This food makes my childhood sound like we were rich, which we weren't, we owned the pot we p*ssed in but it was old, dented and repainted, and my mother saved money all year, literally, in an envelope, to make those fancy foods a holiday treat.
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child? See the next question.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? Mom's handwriting was a big help. But since Santa brought the tree Christmas Eve, I got to stay up and help all that happen. Sneaking past my brother's bedroom and going downstairs to help put up the tree was an incredible feeling of privilege and anticipation.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Gotta have tinsel. Most of the ornaments have meaning: old family treasures, hand-made in childhood, picked up in travels. Loaded, loaded with ornaments, but nothing's expensive.
11. Snow? Love it or Dread it? I love it.
12. Can you ice skate? No, and I can't think why I didn't learn.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? There were several and they all came after I was too grown up to be confused about from whom they came.
14. What’s the most exciting thing about the Holidays for you? The same thing as the least exciting: seeing all of the relatives. That, besides FINALLY getting the clue that God so loved us that He came to live among us, and He knows and loves me personally.
15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Plates of homemade cookies, left out and snitched at during the day with coffee mit a little schlag (whipped cream) und brandy.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Home one: listening to the old Christmas LP's, watching the old movies. Public one: trying to get to a Do-it-yourself Messiah, singing that glorious music with a thousand happy strangers-suddenly-friends.
17. What tops your tree? An angel.
18. Which do you prefer – giving or receiving? Giving a gift that I've made.
19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? This is harder than I thought: Angels We Have Heard on High for lyrics and melody, but I can't sing it worth a darn. Silent Night (Stille Nacht) in German for memories of family long gone.
20. Candy canes? Nah. Christmas cookies with sprinkles.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Come, Lord Jesus, while the house is still clean....

The Christmas cards are written and mailed.
The Christmas shopping is done and wrapped.
The baking, crafting and candy-making are underway.
I've been to Confession.
I Swiffered the dusty bunnies out of the corners of the ceilings.
Too early for the tree, but the Nativity and Advent Wreath are out. The Wise Men are off in another room, working their way towards the crib.
(Darn, the outside lights aren't up yet, that pesky snow!)

Hope your Advent is moving along towards Bethlehem.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's not bravery, it's love - Happy St. Andrew's Day

O GOOD CROSS, made beautiful by the body of the Lord, long have I desired thee, ardently have I loved thee, unceasingly have I sought thee, and now thou art ready for my eager soul. Receive me from among men and restore me to my Master, so that He, who redeemed me through thee, shalt receive me through thee. Amen.

Tradition has it that St. Andrew, being led to his crucifixion in Achaia, saw his X-shaped cross in the distance, and cried this out with joy.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Great "I Am".....Is

The holidays come complete not only with beautiful times of prayer and preparation (Advent and Lent get more precious to me every year), but a lot of family and friend contact during this religious season, when many of them reveal that God means NOTHING to them.

So I've been doing a little reading-up on the proofs of God's existence. Right now, I could more easily defend the Catholic faith than explain why I know that God exists, that He sent His only Son to live, die and be resurrected for me, to open the gates of Heaven, to establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

But faced with the usual stuff of "How can God exist and all this evil be in the world? Why does there have to be a God for this world to operate according to science?" I often stutter or stand mute, sounding very lame in comparison to my fluency on sacraments, grace, faith, etc.

Last night, I was mulling over the common objections to God, especially one I had myself for awhile while I was dragging my sorry behind to true internalized faith: that God might exist as a Creator, as a Force, but not as an aware, loving Father. "How do we know God has a personality?" I asked myself.

And the answer came: "Why do YOU have a personality, different from all others? You exist for a moment and vanish, leaving a little dust on the earth whence you came. But I took care that YOU would have a personality - so, of course, then, *I* do!" said God.

It was way more beautiful when I heard it in my soul, sorry for the lousy transcription. But it's a good explanation, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

JFK 43 years later

Where were you?

I was in second grade. Sister Willia was called out of the classroom, and came back in very serious. She was a young and bubbly sister but we'd never seen her act like this before. We had a TV in our classroom (very unusual) and she said something like "children, something very serious has happened and we will watch TV and see what is happening."

TV in the middle of the school day? Without its being one of the classes from school going to Bozo's Circus? We always got to watch a few minutes of that, to see them march past the camera and wave.

I don't remember everything but we watched TV, which was full of confused newsmen and whirling blurred camera shots, and we got the message: the President had been KILLED. Sister was crying (we didn't know Sisters cried OR went to the bathroom or had legs, even, at that age, and in those beautiful habits). A girl in my class, Lorena, who cried for everything, cried right on cue. I didn't: I was too stunned. We were herded over to the church, prayed (I can't remember what) and were sent home early. That dates me: they could be sure that our mothers were home, or for the few whose mothers worked, they could go to a neighbor or with one of us.

The weekend was very sad. The local "downtown" stores had their window curtains drawn open only wide enough to show a portrait of the President with a spotlight (where did they get all those portraits in a hurry?). TV was nothing but news. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

The next thing I remember is the funeral. We didn't have school, and I was sitting in my father's big chair with my feet off the floor, watching TV and my mother was vacuuming around the chair and me and crying. It was as bad as when my grandfather died.

We had a memorial Mass for the school the next day and they had a casket with an American flag draped over it. Sister explained over and over that the President wasn't really in there, but it was a "catafalque" (never underestimate the power of even 7-year-olds to understand new concepts). We prayed for him and secretly prayed that everything would go back to normal.

I wrote "President Kennedy assinated President assinated" over and over in the margins of a joke book I had. I found it years later and now I wish I'd kept it.

Since then, we've had Martin, and Bobby, and Oklahoma City, and Waco, and 9/11. You get "better" at fielding the shock and unsettlement of your soul, unfortunately.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Praying for the wrong person?

I went to get my mail this morning and there was a notice of the death of a neighbor, whose name I am very familiar with, and who I THINK I knew. It must have been sudden; I would have heard she was sick, that's a popular subject in the laundry room.

If she's who I think she is, she was extraordinarily kind and patient with my mother once when I took my mother to her place of employment and my mom was confused and anxious and needed kindness and patience from the whole world just then. I've commended her to God for that silently, in my heart, when I've passed her in the driveway or hall (and thanked her out loud, too) and I now pray for the blessed repose of her good soul.

But I might have the wrong person. I can retain names, facts and faces but not assemble them in the right order. The woman I'm thinking of I might see again! It will take awhile before I'm sure; the dead woman is so well-known in the building that I will be a little embarrassed to find a neighbor in the common areas that I can ask "So, was X the lady who worked at Y? And had blonde hair?" I SHOULD know, darn it.

So if I pray for the soul of my neighbor, but she's not dead yet, does that mean wasted prayer? Obviously, no prayer is ever wasted, no conversation with God is a loss. If she's alive, then the woman who did die (who I probably knew, too) needs prayer as she meets the Mercy and Justice of God. Loving a family member, even the wrong member, in the Body of Christ in prayer can't be wrong, because His Spirit flows from and through all of us back to Him, Its Source and Destination.

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.
- 2 Macc 12:46

UPDATE: It was her. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let Your perpetual light shine upon her, may she rest in peace, Amen.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A little more Catholic humor

HT to Matthew of the Shrine of the Holy Whapping, a dazzling blend of college knowledge, talent, Catholic devotion AND geeky wit:

Incidentally, anyone ever hear the one about Our Lady and the Infant of Prague--

Our Lord: "I'm just going outside."
Our Lady: "Not dressed like that you're not!"

Read all the comments in this post.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Banana Bikes and Moth Balls

Happy Halloween!

We've been weakening our dental work in the office all week with an assortment of Halloween candy. The bags of candy these days are so much classier than when I was a kid. We considered a Snickers Bar the ultimate in generosity, pawing through piles of that orange- and black-wrapped oddity that is apparently stale when it comes off the assembly line, gyppy Saf-T-suckers and off-brand life savers, and boxes of raisins (the hugest gyp of all; a laxative on Halloween!)

Now, the norm is the miniature name-brand candy bars, as well as gummy everything.

I miss some favorite candies of my childhood (1960's) - what we called "moth balls," which were malted milk balls, which I still love, and "Banana Bikes" which I SWEAR I thought was the right name until only about five years ago, when I discovered that they were Banana Taffy from the Kathryn Beich company. Not until I read a newspaper account of a factory fire there did I learn the right name. I like the Bike name better. They were about as "banana" as Circus Peanuts are...vanilla?....what flavor are those, anyway?

I miss the days when candy like Banana Bikes and
Now and Laters made your mouth sweat.

I'm a candy fogey.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A little Catholic humor

Saint Dominic, Saint Francis and Saint Ignatius of Loyola are transported back in time and place to the Birth of Our Lord.

St. Dominic, seeing the Incarnation of the Word, is sent into ecstasy.

St. Francis, seeing God become a helpless child, is overcome with humility.

St. Ignatius of Loyola takes St Joseph and Our Lady aside and asks "Have you given any thought to His education?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I get book recommendations from dead people

When I was in college, I worked at a public library in my home town. People whose personalities and wit I enjoyed would check out books, or bring them back, and I would take note of what they read and gave the books a try myself. It was a sort of stealth book club, and I found lots of authors and subjects I enjoyed reading about.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Lord Peter Wimsey, an English gentleman detective in books written by Dorothy Sayers in the 1920's. In the book Busman's Honeymoon, Peter's mother the Dowager Duchess makes reference to the book The Stars Look Down, presumably the linked one by A.J.Cronin, and the "latest Angela Thirkell."

Finally, after years of reading and re-reading about Lord Peter, I read both and I found a new treasure of English wit and life in Angela Thirkell.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Dick Cavett interview series on the Turner Classic Movie channel. Bette Davis was being interviewed and mentioned that she considered the best fictional presentation of what Hollywood was like at the time she was beginning in movies to be What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. I just finished it and it was a great story expressed in a writing style contemporary with the period.

Next on my list is The Playboy of the Western World, written in 1911. It's a play, and I'm not much for reading plays, but it was mentioned in another book, and I'm darned if I can remember where I saw it, so what the heck.

When we leave school, how can we be directed into new paths of literature, theatre, the arts? The media? Yeah, right. That Amazon avatar or whatever you call it that says "people who bought A also bought B" is actually kind of helpful, too. But right now, I'm using dead people.

Have you had success finding one book from another?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Close, so close

The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains -
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?
Is not the Vision He? tho' He be not that which he seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?
Dark is the world to thee: thyself art the reason why;
For is He not all but that which has power to feel "I am I"?
Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom
Making him broken gleams, and a stifled splendour and gloom.
Speak to Him thou for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet -
Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.
God is law, say the wise; O Soul, and let us rejoice,
For if he is thunder by law the thunder is yet his voice.

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah! -
Infinite ideality!
Immeasurable Reality!
Infinite Personality!
Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah!
We feel we are nothing - for all is Thou and in Thee;
We feel we are something - that also has come from thee;
We know we are nothing - but Thou wilt help us to be.
Hallowed be thy name - Halleluiah!

- by Alfred Lord Tennyson (of all people)

"Closer than He than breathing, nearer than hands and feet." Right here. Right now. Glory be to God.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Holy Boldness - retreat review

I've come to hate the word "unpacking" as in "let's unpack this problem and see how we can solve it" or "this Scripture verse needs some unpacking before we can understand it."

But I am unpacking after this Women's Retreat. I took a set of expectations, a sort-of-willing and sort-of-trusting heart, some neatly arranged trepidations and hope, hope. I came back with laughter, hours of prayer under my belt, new praise songs I need CD's of, a bundle of tersely delivered advice, a sense of what peace is, and knowledge by seeing, if not by experiencing, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are expressed in the same group of people who later can charm the retreat manager into opening the TV room so they can watch the Detroit Tigers do their stuff.

In no particular order, here is what I took away from the weekend. I am writing them down to get them out in front of me, so I fit the pieces together in various ways and see what I have:

The Speaker

The retreat master Fr. Thomas Dubay was outstanding. A precise man, a scholar, a priest to the bone. He has an academic sense of humor, that cautious Minnesota twang, and a lovely hokey archaic turn of phrase, not quite of the "23 skidoo, oh you kid" vintage, but close - to any of my sister retreatants reading this, I say "zippy-doo!"

From him, I learned that much of true holiness is direct, brusque, to the point - you are grouchy? Don't be. You want to gossip? Don't. You and your husband each have a preference? (Or your co-worker, or your parent, don't panic) - give in to their preference.

Doesn't that sound a little, well, unaccommodating, uncoddling? Darn right. We are adults and this is the meat, we're way past the spiritual milk. Why do we demand to be charmed into doing what is right? Why must we insist on being driven in golf carts on the Way of the Cross? Our pasts mean nothing, our dysfunctions, our habits - do we claim to be new creatures in Christ?

I also learned a new way of going to Confession, about which more later.

The group

The externals first. 250 women or so, in age ranging from early 20's, maybe late teens, through to the 70's and beyond. Young women with nursing babies, and their mothers at the same retreat. Friends, sisters, sisters-in-law. Easily a dozen nursing babies, brought along and cared for in a separate nursery when not hungry. So many pregnant women, and not made much of; I regret, no, I am horrified, that in many other parts of my little hunk of society, pregnancy is treated as a startling thing, people stare and comment and congratulate but as though it never happened before and might never happen again (and for many of my friends, they make darn sure it won't happen again). God is in control of these women's lives, and it's a fertile field. Jobs - everything, nurses, teachers, lawyers, bus drivers, lots of computer work. Big families. Women travelling in from both coasts. Women with 30 years of Christian life and family, recent reverts and converts. Clothes comfortable to the enth degree; I must buy me a pair of Crocs, the footwear of the Holy Spirit. Lots of skirt-wearing, which I need to do more of myself. No, I don't think jeans are the Devil's handiwork, but there is something about wearing clothes that only women wear that rings a little truer after this weekend.

What Worship Is

I am generally uncomfortable and sorrowful when Christians use the word "worship" when they talk about a sermon bracketed by singing. I think the common phrase "praise and worship" would be more precise as "praise OR worship." This weekend, all of the talks and the prayer meetings led to the true highlight of each day: Mass, the worship of the living God, Emmanuel, God with us not only at a precise historical time, but now in our hearts, and now especially at the time of Mass, present on the altar, the Lamb standing as though slain, and our Heavenly Bread, to be carried away in our very bodies and beings, to fan the flame within and to be spread through the whole world.

But I think I finally got the singing part figured out: it IS praise, and God created us to give Him glory and praise of His Glory. I still prefer to disconnect praise and worship, but I am very willing now to connect singing and praise, singing and prayer. Yeah, I know, He who sings prays twice, (look at the link, too, it's lovely Catholic Nerd stuff), but not for me, until now. It's impressive how many songs these women knew, by heart, and their church's hymnal has been carefully selected and richly added to by many compositions by parishioners. God was good to me because the first night's Mass had mostly songs I not only knew but knew by heart, so I could spend less time fishing for my reading glasses and peering at the text and more time raising my heart and mind to God.

Peace with Pain

This is a cheerful group of women; the laughter at the silly things and the clever things was warm and loud. But talking to them individually, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, dying, all the tragedies. They weren't happy, but they were serene, not mindless, but given over to God. There were angry women, and a couple with incomplete thinking (I'm not excluding myself here), but they were striving through Christ to find solutions and peace and eternity. This is a whole community; they pray for each other and cook for each other. They criticize and love, gossip and apologize, comfort and shun, do right and do wrong. From the outside, they might look like automatons of forced happiness, but I see instead people whose lives are in order, or at least pointed toward Divine Order.

The Charism of Holding the Coats

Did I experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at least in the outward "word" gifts of tongues, or prophecy, or interpretation? Did I get my hands raised in praise past my shoulders? Nope. Does this mean that I did not praise charismatically? I don't know, honestly. I had people tell me yes and no. I did feel some pressure and "left-out-ness" when, during the prayer times, women prayed and sang in tongues, danced, when healing was named and prayed about. But other women told me that they felt the same way. Others told me that there were more charisms than those visible ones. I'm ruefully okay with the idea of displaying the Charism of Holding the Coats and Having the Coffee Ready for those who can inspire to prayer others by the Spirit gifts. Actually, I'm a little relieved, since I was just plain scared of the whole idea.

I have no fear of the Mass, of worship, deep intimacy, during that time when we meet at Calvary and the Empty Tomb. God has been so good to me, so consoling, teaches me so much. Perhaps there are others who are afraid of that.

The Same Jesus

I had a concern I didn't express before I left for the retreat that the Jesus I met at this retreat would somehow be different than the one I've come to know at home in my decidedly non-charismatic parish. Since my devout friends at home tend more towards the Opus Dei type (serious, silent, strong and holy), I've seen very little of the outwardly cheerful, passionately praising type of worship, which would be, as fruits of the Spirit received, pointers back to the Source of that Spirit.

If this Retreat Jesus was any different from Home Jesus, I planned on choosing Home Jesus as the Right Jesus, because in silence He found me, loved me, healed me, changed me. This Retreat Jesus was being shown to me, displayed in the beauty of community, and maybe I couldn't tell if I was being touched or healed. Is this incoherent? Sorry, have patience. Praise God, it's the same Jesus! I recognize Him in these women, and in their praise and worship, in their lives and families. Maybe now that I'm over that hump, I may be more open to the Holy Spirit in the future.

The Greatest Relief

In two days, I never heard one heretical word, sang no song that made US the source of good, nothing was taught that gave us any credit for anything but opening up our hearts and wills and minds to God. I didn't have to process anything through the filter I've necessarily crafted, coming from a parish where we can't go too long without an exercise where we alter the "Hail Mary" to make it about us, or hear that the miracle of loaves and fishes was Jesus' influence to make people pull their lunches out from under their coats. The chapel at the retreat center was too small for all of us to fit at Mass, so they put an altar in the main meeting room, but there was no felt-bannerism, where the decorations were plain but the vestments were beautiful, even though ancient reverence was framed in acoustical tile and fluorescent light. I don't think I appreciated that until I got home and it came back to me that I could listen with a whole heart and an unguarded intellect. THAT's worth the drive alone!

Forget Zen - for direct, try Catholic

Do these statements sound too simple?

When you're grouchy, stop it.
When you're pausing on unchaste TV, change the channel.
When you're tempted to exercise your own will, don't.
When you want to tell someone to stop bothering you, instead, smile at them.
Your feelings are not a sin; your actions are.
Take five minutes every day to examine your conscience on a specific sin and it will cease.

What is the sound of one hand clapping (okay, I'm kidding). These aren't simple and they sure as heck aren't easy. Do them not because you will become a happy little golden pool of light, an oasis of harmony to those around you, cue the sappy music, (although you will), but because they are small hidden acts of virtue practiced to put down your will and do God's Will instead, to do great AND small things for love, to join our little acts with the supreme act of Giving. We can't all be burned at the stake, but we can all stop cutting people off in traffic, handing back excess change, smiling silently when the bore you're related to tells the same story, wrong, for the fiftieth time, because of the love you have for those people, given Christ's love for them and love for you.

A life lived this way is as heroic in virtue as any warrior saint's life of brief and blazing self-sacrifice.

In Conclusion

There's a scene at the end of the movie Godspell, which, with its evil uncle Jesus Christ Superstar, formed way too much of the catechesis I received in the 1970's. Purely icky as the theology of that movie was, the end stays in my mind: the various winsome folks who have collected around the mime-faced Jesus (when the words mime and Jesus get into the same sentence, you normally have trouble, but stay with me) take his dead body down from the chain-link fence. His arms have stiffened out to his sides. They carry his body, arms protruding past their shoulders, away from the scene of death. They find themselves on a sidewalk in a downtown area, and as they turn the corner, people and cars and life start to stream past in the cross street. When the camera follows them around the corner, they're gone, seemingly, absorbed into the busy uncaring unseeing swirl of life of the city. But we know they've not disappeared, they're carrying their message of Christ's Death and Sacrifice into the world. That final scene redeems the movie (and the perfect raunchiness of the song "Turn Back, O Man" helps, too) for me.

The women in the retreat certainly took away the Suffering and Risen Christ, not as a secret, preached out of the sides of their mouths, but worn right on their faces and pouring from their hands. I want to be that way, and with His Help, I can be.

Thank you, Christ the King Parish, and thank You, Christ the King!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Skeered of the Holy Spirit

As a half-hearted joke, I've long told my Godly friends that I am terrified of the Holy Spirit. Why?

1. I'm afraid of the commitment

I know that when you meet the Holy Spirit, it's for keeps. It can't be a vague wondering, a maybe experience. I can't meet Him and turn aside and pretend that we didn't connect. That means a permanent point of connection from which I have to proceed. Am I ready?

2. I'm afraid of my reaction

What if something happens? Do I know what that means? No. Will I call attention to myself? God Himself knows that I am delighted to draw a crowd, under my control, delivering some wryly witty (I hope) comment or being friendly and connecting, drawing a crowd together. But this is different. Childishly, I'm worried. Will I cry? Will I be loud? Will I (oh heavens, I squirm) pray out loud? In front of people?

3. What if I'm fooling myself?

What if I'm caught up with the emotion of the moment, and think that the feeling is the Fact? Poop on my perceived strength of mind; I can be just as easily drawn down an avenue where everyone is acting as one, and mistaking that for a real experience of God.

My friends assure me that I HAVE met the Holy Spirit, and I know that I cannot look at the blessed times of prayer and worship I've been given and isolate those as an experience with distinct and separated Gods, as though the Trinity was walled off and individual.

Years ago, in that potent heady near-arrogance of college-fueled intellect, while I was toying (but with serious intent) with God as Energy and Energy as God, I was given a direct knowledge, a personal encounter with God the Father, the Creator. (That was December 10, 1978, in case anybody's interested.) I began to understand my place in the universe, and the universe's place in the mind of God. I, at least for awhile, got myself in right relationship with the world, and gave Him back my origin.

More recently, as I've come to real living faith, I've met Jesus, true God, true Man. I understood that He walked this earth, my earth, at a real time in real history. With my knowledge of Him, I embraced fully everything He did, His passion, His suffering, His death and His resurrection. No more picking and choosing, no more relative Truth, I met Truth and He loves me.

Now, I think I'm going to meet the Force, the Spirit, the Power. It's like meeting a tornado, personally. Well, that's a scary thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My retreat is bigger than your retreat

This weekend, I'm going to the parish of Christ the King in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to attend their annual Women's Retreat. It's worth the over-200-mile drive, to celebrate and worship with charismatic Catholics, including my blogsister Roz. The retreat master is Fr. Thomas Dubay, an ascetic, precise, dryly earnest and witty, older, wonderful priest from the Plains States, who speaks on the contemplative life just about better than anybody living today. To prepare for this retreat, we have all been reading his book, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer.

Just look at this schedule!

Friday - after arrival, a concelebrated Mass by Fr. Dubay and the pastor, a talk by Fr. Dubay, night prayers, and our choice of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament continuing until midnight or fellowship with the other attendees, or both!

Saturday - Morning prayer, breakfast, another talk by Fr. Dubay, the Sacrament of Confession, more Adoration time, lunch, prayer ministry, Rosary, Mass (the Masses are scheduled for at least an hour and a half, how wonderful), another talk, dinner, more prayer ministry, night prayer and Adoration until midnight

Sunday - Morning prayer, breakfast, Mass, a last talk with some Q&A time, lunch and beat it out of there.

That's what I call a retreat! No crappy relationship exercises, no experiments, no labyrinths, no reiki, no nothing but Jesus Christ.

What's kept me from retreats for over 25 years, besides years of shocking faithlessness, is wastes of time like that experienced by a friend who went on retreat last year to a local Illinois shrine, and she related, with some happiness, poor thing, that, among their other activities, they took baby food jars, filled them with colored sand in layers, and made the beach that represented their ideal. Their ideal what? I was tempted to ask her if they made a circle and then took turns going into the middle and falling into people's arms as an exercise of trust, but I didn't have the requisite charity to keep the scorn out of my voice...

This retreat, on the other hand, is way bigger than me, and I'm simultaneously thrilled and petrified. More on my chickenhood to come before I leave Friday.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mortification explained, beautifully

Read this article from Godspy. It is a loving, passionate, sober and clear explanation of the place that suffering and and mortification (corporal and spiritual) should have in our lives of faith.

It's a jolt to read a testimony with such common sense and love, grounded in a regular guy's life. And extra credit for using the term "money shot" in a holy way!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Through God's goodness, we're reading through Job at daily Mass right now. Except for the fact that the feast of the Guardian Angels was celebrated instead, yesterday's first reading would have been Job 1:6-22, with the Devil's cavalier and chilling remark that he was "roaming the earth and patrolling it." (Don't you get a feeling for his personality from that line?) Job's world falls apart: crops, cattle, children, all swept away in cruelty, chaos and violence. And he says "The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the Name of the Lord." Today in Job 3, he laments "why was I ever born?" I peeked and tomorrow Job tells his friends "If I appealed to Him and He answered my call, I could not believe that He would hearken to my words!"

Been there, done that. I didn't sleep, Father didn't show up for Mass (power failure, not his fault, we had a Communion Service instead), and then my day of work was a parade of pratfalls, humiliating work mistake after interpersonal blunder after diet destruction after sandbagging by fellow staff after stern email lecture from senior manager. I tried repeating between gritted teeth Job's line of "blessed be the Name of the Lord" and I got zip comfort, no consolation from it. But that's faith for you: we seek the "Lord of consolations, not the consolations of the Lord."

The Lord was good enough to give me a door to my office, so I could close it and have a nice old-fashioned cry, which was a terribly mature thing to do, no?

We are so fickle and weak - nobody pulled out my toenails, nobody in my family died, I was forgiven and understood and complimented during all the awfulness, but still I felt small and I HATE feeling small.

From the fear of being humiliated, Jesus, dear Lord, deliver me!

For an encore, I figure I'll round out the evening by setting fire to my hair. Hope your days went better than mine - but both were blessings, I trust and know.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why don't sharks eat tax collectors?

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, aka Levi, son of Alphaeus, TAX COLLECTOR (doom music).

It was bad luck not to say "tax collectors" whenever you said "prostitutes" in the culture of Jesus' time. Like peas and carrots.

Today's Gospel:

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew
sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.”
And he got up and followed him.
While he was at table in his house,
many tax collectors and sinners
came and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
“Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
He heard this and said, “Those who are well
do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Do you think tax collectors were the lawyers of that day? Admired but envied, resented, mocked, stereotyped. Surely there were honest and merciful ones, but they were lost in a sea of criticism.

There's a certain dramatic courtroom flourish in Matthew's actions: he just upped and walked away from his customs post. Picture it: no explanations, no final tallying, presumably mid-customer, jaws dropping as he walked away, silently, following Jesus. And then a big dinner with all his flashy friends....

The Donald would do it this way; Gotti would have done it this way. Their motives and impetus would be different, but from the outside, it would look the same. When I try and picture Gospel scenes in meditation, maybe I'll give Matthew a big glossy combover and a Versace suit in the "before" scenes.

St. Matthew, pray for all those who have unpopular jobs!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Erste heute

I grew up hearing adults on the grumpy blond side of my family say this when they lifted a drink (or even a cup of coffee). In German, it means "first one today" and is a pleasant, low-key toast. I did have several relatives who would say it and you knew it wasn't, but that's another grief for another day...

I was pleased anew this morning that my first audible words of the day were "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son... at morning Mass. What a great privilege!

On the days that I go early to work, or sleep in, my first words are often directed at the Starbucks drive-through speaker, or at an errant driver. I've become really aware of when I first hear my own voice every day. What are your first words every day? I hope they are loving, or pleasant, or grace-filled.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The important words

Peggy Noonan wrote an essay on the sounds of 9/11 -- the roar, the crashing, the sirens, yet more the words that the people in peril chose to speak. They didn't call the press to make a statement; they didn't call people to finish an argument. They called the people they loved:

I don't know if we'll make it out. I want to tell you that I love you and I love the kids.

Hopefully I'll talk to you again, but if not, have a good life. I know I'll see you again some day.

Tell mommy I love her. No matter what happens, I love her.

We're all going to die, but three of us are going to do something. I love you, honey.

Ms Noonan says it well:
This is what I get from the last messages. People are often stronger than they know, bigger, more gallant than they'd guess. And this: We're all lucky to be here today and able to say what deserves saying, and if you say it a lot, it won't make it common and so unheard, but known and absorbed.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A striving after wind

You really should read Ecclesiastes all the way through and soon. That "to everything turn turn" part will settle down into its proper place.

Here's a prophet who is viewing the world and its relationship to its Creator coming from the Jewish understanding that there is no afterlife to speak of. As my Jewish friend described his understanding, they will go to "the bosom of Abraham" and they have no special knowledge of what awaits them there.

So "the Preacher" as he calls himself is trying to puzzle out the reasons and results of living. The result is what I think is the most "sophisticated" book of the Bible - he's world-weary, wise and has it all figured out.

This statement originally caught my eye
Every man also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his toil -- this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart. (Eccl 5:19-20)

I took it out of context first, seeing the second line as a nice motto for a rich interior life, but I think instead that it means the contentment that comes with the "wealth and possessions and power to enjoy" will make his life smooth. We all live awfully smooth lives, when you think about it.

Read it in its KJV language or in the Revised Standard Version.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

More food-related revelation

Never underestimate the kitchen as a chapel....

I was fixing up a little lunch for an old friend who was coming to spend the afternoon and listening to a wonderful CD, Taken By Love, by the musicians of Christ The King parish, a charismatic Catholic parish in Ann Arbor (my pilgrimage destination - who needs Assisi or Compostela?). The title song contains these lyrics:

Eye has not seen, no ear has heard,
No heart conceived the hope prepared for us.
Now we see dimly, but one day clearly.
Face to face we shall behold our God....

And in that city there is no temple;
There is no grieving and there is no night.
But there is Jesus before the Father.
And by the Spirit we will wake to light.

Jesus before the Father..... I don't know the CD well enough to sing along except at the la-la-single-word-la-la stage, which was good, because I had to listen intently instead of giving forth with my own suburban song stylings. And I was rewarded in my unknowingly prayerful listening: I suddenly saw it. I saw Jesus before the Father as the only light needed for that city, and all of us joined with Him as His Body, until only He was visible, distinct but also part of the inexpressible light coming forth from the Father of light.

So now I'm teary-eyed, smiling and praying, hunched over a pot of Sloppy Joes, in my dirty housecleaning shorts and T-shirt.

There's very little point to this, except to kind of ease back into blogging and to thank the Lord for His revelation even to grubby crabby me. Why is God so good to us and why did I ever wonder if He was accessible?

The severe normalcy of the rest of the afternoon made me question a little what I experienced. I suppose that's important, though; it means that you're not in control, God is.

Sloppy Joes, homemade applesauce, shoestring potatoes, brownies, lemonade, the Lamb standing as though slain, the Holy Spirit: what a good life!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Careless soup

I am so sorry that I have been gone so long. I saw Roz and Henry get married, went on vacation (Graceland was GREAT even in 107 degree weather) and came back to busy season at work. A few weeks of not blogging got to be a few more weeks and so on...and I have so much to say and ask you all about my surprising new role as office evangelist!

But here's the tiny idea that inspired me to come back:

I was on the phone all this evening, arranging weekend happenings and catching up with friends who have complicated lives. I crouched the phone on my shoulder and got around finally to making soup with the fridge full of veggies that have been peering out reproachfully at me every time I looked in there.

I talked and chopped and laughed and sauteed and interrupted and didn't measure anything and threw all sorts of things in there. Tossed in some herbs, don't know which ones, I was listening to someone just then.

The soup is phenomenal, among the best I've ever made. And I didn't make my usual 400 gallons because I don't know when to stop fussing with it; it made about a half-potful, three portions to freeze, one to eat for dinner.

Perfection with about one-fourth of my mind on the effort. Why is this? Is this a good model, or just dumb luck?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I like men

I do. I admit it. I've been married to two wonderful men who know how to be good friends as well as good and provident husbands and fathers. In a mixed gathering, I often find myself in a corner with guys talking about business, sports or current events. (A husband of a good friend once told me, "You're the only one who remembers who spoiled Milt Wilcox's almost-perfect game* and will also ask me how things are really going." This snippet is included as a reassurance that I'm not secretly a guy myself.) I just like them.

So my eye was drawn to a paragraph in the May 2006 issue of First Things in which Richard Neuhaus reports that Marian Saltzman, coiner of the descriptive tag for cosmopolitan men "Metrosexual" (which is so last year), has come up with a term for this year's man: "Ubersexual". Hold your horses -- repellent as the associations with that term might be, the definition is pretty attractive:
Ubersexuals are “men who embrace the positive aspects of their masculinity, such as confidence, leadership, passion, and compassion.” But they do so “without giving in to negative neanderthal stereotypes.” “The ubersexual has a passion for principles. The metrosexual has a passion for fashion,” and so forth. The ubersexual does not “turn up his nose at any cultural pursuit that doesn’t involve sports, beer, or burgers.”

Well, I had no interest at all in Last Year's Man with his "passion for fashion" -- actually, I had little notion that he was Last Year's Man -- but I very much like and respect men with "confidence, leadership, passion and compassion."

If this definition helps men like this be identified and distinguished from the herd, all the better. I have some wonderful daughters and delightful single friends who would like to meet you.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

P.S. Therése once identified another characteristic of admirable men, in a backward sort of way. "Men who go to daily Mass are studly." Eloquently put.

* Jerry Hairston, Chicago White Sox, 4/15/83

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"You there, come to the big kids' table", said Enbrethiliel

Hey, a tag! I wish it had been for something that wouldn't spotlight my lowbrow tendencies quite so much, but I accept with thanks.


  1. One book that changed your life

    Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morison
    This is the book that tipped me over from unbeliever to believer when I was a freshman at the University of Michigan. I needed a fact-based defense of the actual invasion of the natural by the supernatural, and God sent it in this book.
  2. One book you've read more than once

    Oh, so many. Let's choose Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
  3. One book you'd want on a desert island

    Desert Survival Skills by David Alloway
    I am nothing if not practical.
  4. One book that made you laugh

    Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin
    This is also the book that taught me how to avoid unwanted committee assignments without being ungracious or feeling guilty.
  5. One book that made you cry

    Again, so many.
    The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  6. One book you wish had been written

    I've thought a lot about this.
    Blessed by Adversity: How Being Overthrown in a Coup Changed My Life
    by the Rt. Rev. A. Hitler
  7. One book you wish had never been written

    The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, et al.
  8. One book you're currently reading

    Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
    (Don't be too impressed, fellow lowbrows. My husband's good influence is being felt, but we're still newlyweds. The jury is still out on whether my taste can be rehabilitated.)
  9. One book you've been meaning to read

    Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer by Fr. Thomas Dubay
    It's on its way from Amazon. Fr. Dubay is leading our parish women's retreat, and this is the pre-reading.
  10. Bloggers who I'm tagging

    Therese, are you there? Do you have time for this?
    Henry, whose answers will be particularly interesting
    TSO, I don't know if you "do" memes, but Tag, You're It.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

In praise of being subject to another

Alice von Hildebrand has written a wonderful piece called The Secular War on the Supernatural. The subhead reads, "The supernatural is a partaking in God’s very life. There is not one single religion that can compete with Christianity, a religion allowing us to become God-like by participation in His life."

There are more profound thoughts in her writing than I can point out here. Please, oh please, click over there, print it out and read it thoughtfully. But she makes a point that struck me especially because of my newly-wedded state. No fan of feminism with its focus on the secular realm, she is deeply attuned to what makes women special in supernatural (i.e. God-partaking) reality. She talks about the depth of being subject to another, as a wife is subject to her husband, and the advantage of being a woman who, in the course of her life, will find herself with more natural opportunities to be subject to another than a man will normally experience. (This, as is apparent to all of us, is not a broadly or easily embraced viewpoint.)

This will be a little long, but please read along with me. I'll throw in some emphases so it's not just a broad expanse of eye-tiring text.
If you read the Gospel, women play a very secondary role. Even the Holy Virgin is mentioned very rarely and speaks very little. The very moment that you put on supernatural lenses you are going to come to the strange conclusion that it is a privilege to be a woman. It is a privilege precisely because, to be in the background, from a secularistic point of view, to be humiliated, which often happens, is a tremendous supernatural advantage.

This is something St. Teresa understood so profoundly. It is not true that to be humiliated is to be inferior. It is not true that to be subject to one’s husband is to be inferior. If you read the Gospel of St. Luke when Christ was found in the Temple in Jerusalem and then went back to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, it is said "He was subject to them".

Would you like to be in the situation of St. Joseph or in the situation of Mary? St. Joseph had original sin and was a creature. Mary had no original sin and was a creature. And the Child Jesus was God. And Who was subject to whom? God was subject to these creatures. It’s not a comfortable position to give orders to someone who is Divine. Therefore to be subject does not mean to be inferior, but it means simply the supernatural outlook that to accept humiliation is to come very close to God, because that is our way to Paradise. It’s a blessing. But I claim that women have a particularly religious mission.

Why a religious mission?

Because women, by their very nature are more receptive than men. You see this in the mystery of the sexual sphere. The woman is receptive, which doesn't mean passive. That was one of the dreadful confusions made by Aristotle, that he identified passivity and receptivity and then declared the male superior to the female, which is a pagan nonsense.

The woman has a great advantage over the human male, she is receptive and religiously speaking, receptivity is a crucial virtue. The Holy Virgin taught us that when she said at the Annunciation "Be it done to me according to Thy Word". She wasn’t doing, she said "be it done". In other words she was receptive and her receptivity enabled the Holy Spirit to fecundate her and at that very moment the Son of God was made incarnate in her womb.

St. Teresa of Avila and St. Peter Alcantara say that many more women than men receive extraordinary mystical graces, and if you study the history of mysticism you will be amazed how many more women than men were mystics. Why? They are more receptive and you see, towards God we are all females. A saint becomes a male saint because he learned to be receptive to God’s grace. "Give it to me, O Lord, I cannot do it by myself".

Mrs. von Hildebrand says, ". . . towards God we are all females." We are all Bride in the nuptial reality of union with God. Women have the blessing of being able to consistently make ourselves at home in the reality of active and welcoming receptivity. Our brothers have a considerable challenge -- be priest of God to his family and in his calling, but be Mary towards God. It is possible with God's help, but probably easier if we, their sisters and wives, can share with them the vision of the blessings and security of receptivity in the house of God.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Not being tagged won't stop me

I've been gone so much that nobody tags me for anything anymore. But memes are so much fun that I tag myself with this one, courtesy of Julie D.

4 jobs I've had:
  • Legal secretary
  • Labor relations representative
  • Executive coach
  • Mediocre waitress
4 movies I could watch over and over:
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Frequency
  • Sleepless in Seattle
  • Anything with Mel Gibson
4 places I've lived:
  • Rye, NY
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • St. Louis, MO
4 TV shows I love to watch:
  • NYPD Blue
  • Project Runway
  • Whose Line Is It Anyway
  • Homefront, if they'd ever bring it into syndication
4 places I've been on a holiday:
  • Ephesus
  • London
  • Sanibel Island, Florida
  • Lakeside, Ohio
4 web sites I visit every day (it's feast or famine on this one - lately not so much):
4 of my favorite foods:
Therese, will you take a turn?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Q: Is Jesus annoyed when we ask him for help?

Some of the familiar Bible stories are almost opaque to me. I have become so insulated from their power and deaf to God's whisper by the lamination of overfamiliarity that I might as well wrap them in cotton batting and put them in the attic for all the good they do me.

But then, the Holy Spirit does something about it. Last week, I finally encountered Jesus stilling the wind and the waves in Mark 4.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?"

I asked myself, "What would have happened if the disciples had not awakened him?" Well, it appears that the boat would have been swamped and sunk. When Jesus rebukes them, is he saying that they should have taken no action but instead sit peacefully with their faith? Why, of course not!

What would he have wanted them to do? He clearly wants to be the provision of what they need. Jesus isn't rebuking them for waking him from his sleep and asking for his help. That, just as we find in our own storms, is the only way to be saved from the waves. He takes the same action he would have taken if they had awakened him without fear -- he calms the storm. But he knows their hearts and shows us and them what he considers truly important. Do they live in an igloo of anxiety or in the homestead of hope, faith and knowledge of his love?

What does Jesus want? He wants our love and trust. How will we act if we love and trust him? We will wake him and ask him for what we need. Does he want to provide it? Why, yes. Is he surprised and dismayed when we can't provide our needs for ourselves? Absolutely not.

Wouldn't he prefer that we leap directly to asking him for grace and help before spending an agonizing length of time trying to fix things on our own? Doesn't he long for our presence and love as if he were a bridegroom, hoping that we will find our all in him? Didn't he make the longest journey from heaven to us in hope that we might turn to him with joy when he taps us on the shoulder? Isn't it stupid and pretentious to overlook his power and aid in hope that we can take care of business by ourselves?


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sometimes the last paragraph of an anecdote really should come first

After our wedding Henry and I spent several days in Stratford, Ontario, home during the summer months to a renowned Shakespeare and theater festival. We stayed at a charming bed & breakfast attached to a restaurant; the delightful morning meal in the Garden Room was fully worth the trip.

Since we had industriously combined our households into our new home during the three weeks before the wedding, R&R was high on the priority list. Although theater holds center stage in Stratford (deservedly so -- go if you possibly can), the days were filled with relaxing and meandering. Stratford is in the middle of fruitful Ontario farm country, and it so happened that the Ontario Pork Congress (yes, you read that right) was taking place at the local fairgrounds. Well, we didn't have anything else to do that morning, and the thought of a country fair sort of thing was intriguing, so we made our way over there.

There were no piggies in evidence, however. This industry gathering for pig farmers meant business. Huge shiny tractors lounged around the parking lot. Inside the steel buildings, neat fellas in polo shirts and khakis promoted farm equipment, herd management software, genetic laboratories (these aren't your grandpa's pig farms), deordorizing power washers, and everything the industrious swineherd might need to maximize his market day profit. We were a bit nonplussed, but we were in a mood to enjoy whatever life brought, and the barbecue tent smelled pretty good. And both of us are curious about new things.

As we wandered the arena, we fell into conversation with Art, a representative of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. He was taken aback, to say the least, that (1) we were not pig farmers, (2) not from Ontario, and (3) we had wandered over from the Shakespeare Festival where we were spending our honeymoon. Since an industry gathering isn't the best place to find Christian fellowship walking by, he was probably genuinely glad to chat with us for a while about his organization, his family's roots in farming, and his hopes (however remote) that one of his children might take over the farm someday.

One of his daughters gave us a small New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I haven't had one of those since my college days. They're very handy to keep in a purse, so I accepted with thanks. As we strolled away, Henry began paging through it and found a favorite passage. He began to read it aloud, as he does so well. It was delightful, but one of the more improbable romantic moments one might hope to encounter during one's honeymoon.

* * * * * * * * *
And that's how to came about, boys and girls, that Roz's dear husband ardently declaimed to her Proverbs 31's praise of the excellent wife in the middle of the Ontario Pork Congress.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Roz and Henry's Wedding Mass Readings

These readings draw us towards and through the mystery of Jesus' relationship with His Bride, the Church. What a tender picture of love, protectiveness, strength, giving, receiving, yielding, honoring, sacrificing!

First Reading - Hosea 2: 14-23

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards,
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

"And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, `My husband,'
and no longer will you call me, `My Ba'al.'
For I will remove the names of the Ba'als from her mouth,
and they shall be mentioned by name no more.

And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground;
and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land;
and I will make you lie down in safety.
And I will betroth you to me for ever;
I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice,
in steadfast love, and in mercy.
I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD.

"And in that day, says the LORD, I will answer the heavens
and they shall answer the earth; and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel;
and I will sow him for myself in the land.

"And I will have pity on Not Pitied,
and I will say to Not My People, `You are my people';
and he shall say `Thou art my God.'"

Second Reading - Revelation 19:1, 5-9

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying,

"Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just."

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and
pure" -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me,
"Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."

Gospel - John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee,
and the mother of Jesus was there;
Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his disciples.
When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine."
And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me?
My hour has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification,
each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water."
And they filled them up to the brim.
He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast."
So they took it.

When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine,
and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew),
the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him,
"Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely,
then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God, huh?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Holding out the sign of Christ's presence to one another

Last Saturday, Henry and I were married. We were accompanied by a throng of good friends and family and ushered through the gates of matrimony by two priests, three deacons (including one of the Byzantine rite), three altar servers (coincidentally, all seminarians from our parish) and St Joseph, if he accepted our repeated invitations. Fr. Ed opened his remarks by assuring those present that the population of the altar should not be taken as an indication of the amount of clerical firepower needed to marry a couple of more mature years. We just happen to be fortunate in our friends.

It was wonderful -- everything we might have hoped. We had prayed for a long time for God to show his love to everyone present, and I believe he heard us. We were intent on taking the focus off ourselves and putting it on God and the Sacraments, so we made some changes to what is commonly done (all approved and well within the rubrics). We chose to enter quietly from the side of the church; the procession consisted of the normal clerical procession as found at Sunday Mass. We didn't have matched sets of attendants -- our three daughters served as bridesmaids and our marriage was witnessed by them, Henry's best man and my son who had served as one of the ushers. The music (beautiful, if I do say so myself) was sung by choir and congregation together with the exception of a choral setting of Mary's own exclamation when wedded to God: "Behold, the Lord has done great things for me and holy is his name."

I think, though, one of my favorite elements involved the Nuptial Blessing. Neither of us is fond of the approved translation which dilutes much of the nuance of the Latin and, to our horror, omits an explicit invocation of the Holy Spirit who I am counting on with all fervor to do everything that we're incapable of doing on our own. After significant thought (and negotiation with the diocese), we asked Fr. Ed to proclaim the blessing in Latin with Henry's translation printed in the program.

Here is an example of the difference:

Approved translation of Nuptial Blessing B:

Father, to reveal the plan of your love, you made the union of husband and wife an image of the covenant between you and your people. In the fulfilment of this sacrament, the marriage of Christian man and woman is a sign of the marriage between Christ and the Church.

Father, stretch out your hand, and bless N. and N. Lord, grant that as they begin to live this sacrament they may share with each other the gifts of your love and become one in heart and mind as witnesses to your presence in their marriage.

Henry's translation of the Latin text [Ordo celebrandi matrimonium]:

God, in order to reveal the plan of your love, in the mutual love of spouses you desired to foreshadow the covenant into which you yourself would deign to enter with your people. In the fullness of the meaning of the sacrament, the marital union of your faithful ones reveals as a mystery the nuptial union of Christ and the Church.

ver these your servants Henry and Rosalind extend, we pray, your right hand of favor, and pour into their heart the power of the Holy Spirit. Be present, Lord, that, as they enter into the common life of this sacrament, they may share the gift of your love between them, and, holding out the sign of your presence to one another, become one heart and one soul.

Somehow, "holding out the sign of [God's] presence to one another" speaks more powerfully to me than being "witnesses to your presence in [our] marriage."

Regardless. May it all be so.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Birthday's a'comin' - Part I

I'll be fifty in early July. I'm emotionally numb and perfectly okay with it at the same time. My faith helps me over the "I'm an old failure" moments and my sense of humor helps when some young whipper-snapper at the office marvels at some memory I have that happened when they were five.

I got a major case of list-mania over the last few days, thinking about what's happened to me and to the world in the last fifty years. Everything's in fives, in honor of my five decades. Let's start:

Five Famous People Who Died Way Too Young

1. Judy Garland, died at 47. She was a psychological train wreck, but her great good taste in music would have been fascinating to see in its maturity.
2. John F. Kennedy died at 46. Don't you wonder what he would have accomplished? I have a feeling he would have become more and more like his brother Teddy, a natural leader with a shallow and convenient integrity.
3. Jim Henson, died at 53. I can only assume he would have continued his quirky genius. What an individual talent!
4. Steve Goodman, died at 36. Maybe he's too much of a Chicagoan for you to know, but he wrote The City of New Orleans and wonderful folky and funny songs. Couldn't have gone anywhere but up.
5. Rod Serling, died at 50, uh oh. The scariest TV show of my childhood (that I was actually allowed to watch) was "The Twilight Zone." The creepiest episode I can remember is the one where the man who works for a wax museum takes home all the figures when the museum closes, and they begin to speak to him and tell him what to do.

Five x Two Degrees of Separation

These are famous people I haven't met, exactly, but I know someone who knows someone who... I have an aunt who specializes in this, her happiest boast being that her hairdresser used to do Cher's hair.

1. My mother dated Arthur Lake, the movie and radio Dagwood of Blondie & Dagwood. Looking at the picture on the link, I have just realized how much like Arthur Lake in coloring, height, hair and build my father looked! Hmmm.

2. I had the same grade school teacher as Mike Douglas, the talk show host. Don't laugh - Sister Bertwina was very proud of that! She taught him in eighth grade and taught me in first grade. His brother, Bob Dowd, stayed in town and was a well-known good neighbor and volunteer.

3. In WWII, my dad was in the Coast Guard with Carl Ballantine (fourth from left in the linked photo, it was really hard to find a photo of him in his prime). Said "he was a very nice fellow."

4. Tom O'Horgan, the director of the original Broadway production of Hair, sang at my parents' wedding. When the musical became famous, they were embarassed and defensive, although it occurred long before his "hippie days," but they thought any music newer than Patti Page and Vic Damone was beyond consideration. Hair as a cultural phenomenon could reach down into a small Chicago suburb; because of their "connection," my parents went to see it and I can remember them being apologetic about going among our more pious Lutheran and Catholic neighbors and relatives.

5. I brought a can of pop to Cyndi Lauper before her open-air performance on the plaza at NBC Tower in Chicago. Our office was used as a changing room for the performers (NBC asked us and we enthusiastically abandoned work once a week to comply) and it was fun. Her accent is part of her act; she called home to check on her family and spoke like a normal Jerseyite, and then ramped her accent back up to 125% to thank me for the Diet Coke.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Priest's First Mass

I went to the Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by a priest who was ordained yesterday. He held his First Mass at our parish because he is (was, I guess) a parishioner, and the entire parish was invited.

I know that the priest, conforming himself to Jesus Christ, marries the Church, his Bride, and that is touching beyond understanding, if you put your mind on it for a little while, but I never realized how much a First Mass resembles a wedding in its temporal aspects:

1. Everybody faces the back when the priest, with many fellow priests and deacons, process up the aisle. There is a general gasp of joy seeing him vested. No bride in the most beautiful white satin could be welcomed with any more emotion. The imagery isn't hollow, either: waiting for the priest at the front of church is the altar on which he will celebrate the mystical and intimate union of Jesus with His Bride, the Church.

2. The priest actually changes his name: he is now permanently Father Don or Father Paul. He is changed at the very essence of his being, God has called him to a permanent union, and instead of physical children, he will have thousands of spiritual children.

3. There are rows reserved for family, and little kids are running around, misbehaving in their best fluffy dresses and little suits. All the older ladies of the family are wearing pastels and orchids, and the parents of the "groom" are wearing big smiles and flowers.

4. The music is all to be chosen by the new priest and his friends do the singing and the readings. Some of the family members really shouldn't be reading in public, or singing, but they were asked for the reason of love and love carries them through and makes them welcome.

5. There are the inevitable family members who don't have any power of concentration and are looking around the whole time. I was amusedly aware of a probable-cousin who chose to wear a dress that was so low-cut and revealing that she couldn't have sat anywhere but in row 3, directly in front of the pulpit (what was she thinking?).

6. There is a videographer and several photographers darting around, and every significant gesture is met with a set of flashes.

7. Everybody beams and everybody cries, even those people who don't know the new priest. I used all the McDonald's napkins I brought in from the car, for myself and my pew neighbors. People didn't even try to hide their tears.

8. There were some congratulatory speeches by priest mentors and the pastor and everybody clapped for everybody. There were priests there who were ordained last week, and fifty years ago, and seminarians who would be ordained next year and the year after. It was like having couples celebrating their silver and gold anniversaries, and engaged couples, introduced by the bride and groom.

9. We got favors: a holy card with the new priest's date of ordination on the back, and a blessing from him in the receiving line. I had a rosary that had never been blessed, so I toted that along and got a nice low-serial-number blessing!

10. The reception in the parish hall was WCC: wine, cheese, crackers (the only other option being a CBS reception (chicken, beef and sausage)) and there was a big white cake, in the shape of a cross, with a blue Holy Spirit Dove. A buck says the priest cut it and got his picture taken doing it, I didn't stay long enough to find out.

One surprise: the readings were those of today: Pentecost Sunday. A wonderful feast to begin a life of priesthood, but I kind of expected there to be a special set of readings for a First Mass.

It was all BEAUTIFUL. God's call was answered by this man with a total gift of self. A holy awe, please, for the grace that flows by and through the gift of the ministerial priesthood to the sacramental life of the Church!

Friday, June 02, 2006

Do ethics = holiness?

Commenter Deb/Deborah/Debbie said in the "Is It Sin?" example below:

I like this sin or not sin concept. The paper I work for used to have an ethics column wherein a business dilemma was described each week, and the best answers were published the next week along with the next ethical conundrum. It was amazing how most readers opted for ethical response, but in so many different ways so that the least harm was done. It gave me great faith in humanity's ability to discern between right and wrong, if not our actual choices between them.

I've read those kinds of columns, too, and always enjoy the exercise of logic and ethical standards.

But it brings up a bigger question What is the difference between ethical behavior and sinless behavior? Isn't ethical behavior the honest and fair living-out of an agreement, whether that agreement is a law, a contract, a decision reached mutually? But isn't holiness (gotta use that word) the living-out of love?

If I live up to the teeniest part of a promise I make to you, no matter how it inconveniences me, then I'm being ethical. But note that I can resent it like hell, and complain about it to everybody else I know, and even maybe point out to you what a complete hero I'm being by honoring my commitment. My ethics would therefore have no grace, but they would still be very high.

But if I live up to the truth that God teaches me, that you and I are BOTH children of God, that we have equal value in His Eyes, both of us being totally "Crucifixion-worthy, then I am still rigorously honest in our hypothetical agreement, but I do it sweetly, at least on the outside, and better still, sweetly on the inside, never minding the effort, "offering up" my own prideful discomfort and giving up my desire for pats and praise.

So, not taking the mayo can be ethical (I wouldn't take another's calculated profit margin for my own ends) or it can be holy (not only would I not reduce the restaurant's profit margin, but I wouldn't give myself an over-comfortable life, I would keep it simple.)

Right? I am thinking out loud here. I have more examples to come, I am suddenly fascinated by how I can serve the Lord in my everyday actions by omission of previously selfish behavior.

In the meantime, please read my old "Ugly Pants" post, written, terrifyingly, nearly two years ago (I surely thought I would be holier by now...)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sin or not sin? The "free" condiment

Okay, we settled the last question, and here's another situation:

I go to the little lunch place in my office building. I buy a salad and a bottle of water (okay, okay, I buy a package of Oreos, too). On my way out, I grab a plastic fork and a napkin which I need to eat the salad. BUT they have bins of mayo and ketchup and taco sauce, which I definitely don't need but I wouldn't mind having one or more of each for my office drawer for another meal.

Is taking them wrong?

To those of you to whom this seems like scrupulosity, I answer that I don't think it is. It's more "boundary-drawing." If taking a couple of folders from work to put my recipes in at home is stealing, which it is, then perhaps taking packages of condiments I don't need is also stealing. It's a matter of where what *I* want vs. what I *need* becomes my own self-definition of sin.

Maybe a package of mayo seems absurdly small to think about, but it multiplies pretty fast, and soon we're justifying keeping too much change returned to us at the grocery store or deliberately hiding a small mistake in our work instead of simply fixing it, admitting it, taking the tiny humiliation and moving on.

If I believe that Jesus Christ is the Ruler of EVERY aspect of my life, that goes for EVERYTHING, sex and ethics and charity and equitable treatment of others' businesses.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The (koff, koff) Mental Health Day

Is it a sin to take a sick day when you're not....quite.....sick?

It's compelling to re-examine ALL aspects of one's life when you fall in love with Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church. In that first happy rush in a deeper conversion experience, you tend to take care of tithing, not sassing your mother, not stealing office supplies, no nooky outside of marriage, you know, the big stuff.

The little things take years to be illuminated. Recently, I thought about the unkindness of not letting someone into traffic, even if they are big pig hogs who should have seen the "merge" sign two miles ago. Then there's the issue of ANY gossip or repeating of knowledge, not lying, truth-telling but about things that are not mine to repeat, much less spend any time judging or regarding.

Here's the latest little spark in the stubble: if I have separately defined vacation, sick and personal days, and only unused vacation days can roll over to the next year, and I plan to use all my vacation and personal days, but next week one day I wake up over-tired, can I take a "sick day" because I don't feel "well?"

I don't have diphtheria, I just didn't sleep well, I worked too hard at home or at work. I know my work is caught up and I won't inconvenience a customer or a co-worker. I really DO feel crummy, but I have no temperature. I will probably spend the day doing laundry, making soup and sun tea, napping on the couch and enjoying "Martha Stewart Living" and "Jeopardy!"

Is this moral? Should I submit to Caesar, who has power only because God has given it to him, and take only the time Caesar has rendered unto me? Or can I shift the definition of "sick" to suit my needs?

If it's moral, then it would be better not make up any illnesses, wouldn't it? The excuse could be limited to "I don't feel well," which is probably enough detail for the boss. I know that in my managerial life, I've heard WAY too many details about people's visits to the bathroom in the middle of the night when staffers have called me to report they're sick.

I think I know the answer, but I might be slicing this too fine....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Holy Spirit at the Movies

There's not much difference between sucking and blowing, when you read the early critical reviews of The DaVinci Code. Can't help but enjoy the critics' disillusionment with the product of two powerful and popular actors and moviemakers. Enjoy it? I love it!

Why is this movie such a mess, such a dreadful mess of cliche and lowering turgidity? You can answer the question when you remember the beauty and strength of The Passion of the Christ. There's tangible grace in that movie, the joy promised and given to us by the Passion, Death and Resurrection. The passion of Mel Gibson flowed from his love for Jesus, and flowed back out in the movie. I think the only passion inflaming Ron Howard and Tom Hanks (both of whom I really like and am really disappointed by) was to make a sensational film, a lot of money, and that type of passion shows in the final product, at least per the critics.

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for showing us Your Divine Breath in the arts and in literature. You are the source of all Beauty and all Truth, and You've given us another visible sign of Your Presence.

Monday, May 15, 2006


God has promised forgiveness to your repentenance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.

- St. Augustine of Hippo

What's worse, procrastinating so that nothing gets done, or directing and re-directing your energies and attention so that everything gets done (including lining up the cinnamon sticks by height in the bottle on the spice rack) instead of the thing you really must do and don't want to do?

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow

- Mark Twain

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lector Challenge

I am a lector at morning Mass twice a week. No, not the kind of lector who is on his way to priesthood, I'm a lay lector. We are actually installed in our posts by the bishop, who designates his power to the parish, who makes sure that we can read intelligibly and clearly.

In this day's readings, we find a classic in the "what did I just say?" category of Scripture. The First Reading is Acts 13:13-25:

From Paphos, Paul and his companions
set sail and arrived at Perga in Pamphylia.
But John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
They continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered into the synagogue and took their seats.
After the reading of the law and the prophets,
the synagogue officials sent word to them,
“My brothers, if one of you has a word of exhortation
for the people, please speak.”

So Paul got up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow children of Israel and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors
and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out,
and for about forty years he put up with them in the desert.
When he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan,
he gave them their land as an inheritance
at the end of about four hundred and fifty years.
After these things he provided judges up to Samuel the prophet.
Then they asked for a king.
God gave them Saul, son of Kish,
a man from the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.
Then he removed him and raised up David as their king;
of him he testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”

Besides enjoying the truly exciting day-by-day diary of the Church between the Resurrection and the Ascension, did you spot the "lector challenge?"

It's this: With uplifted arm he led them out, and for about forty years he put up with them in the desert...

He put UP with them? (Yes, we all just said in our hearts, God does put up with us...) I do pre-read these, but who knows what will fall out of your mouth when you get into the pulpit? I have the "with" underlined in my daily Missal so when I hit that reading I get it right: "He put up WITH them."

Now, if I can overcome my fear of saying "prostate" for "prostrate."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I've made a million!

(over my working life, that is...)

I got that annual Social Security Statement of Earnings that they mail (when did that start?) and a quick eyeball addition of the wages I've made since 1973 ($726 that year) total well over $1.2 million dollars. Goodness gracious, so THIS is what a million looks like - a condo and a ten-year-old car and a little moolah in the bank.

It furnishes food for thought: if I'd tithed 10% of it over the years, I'd have given about $100K to charity. If I'd saved another 10% over the years, I'd have $100K in the bank. IF IF IF. Neither of those happened in any consistent way, and I wonder if I'd have ever missed the 10% of either, since I do more than that now, and have a comfortable cash flow.

Too bad we can't see other totals of our working life or adult life or sex life. How many lies? How many kisses? How many apologies? How many good deeds? How many filthy thoughts? How many gossipy unkind asides? How many Holy Communions? Or the facetious ones: how many Quarter Pounders? How many margaritas? How many episodes of Dick Van Dyke?

Or think of what you can count up on one hand: how many martinis (3)? How many skiing attempts (1)? How many car accidents (3? 4?)? How many Star Wars movies (0)?

While you perhaps ponder those big and little numbers in your own life a moment, I think I'm changing my mind mid-post about whether it IS too bad we can't have that measure set before our eyes.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What I think of Amy Welborn

She's the best. That's not just a flowery buttering-up compliment. When you ask someone in the Catholic blog-world which bloggers they read, they will give you a selection of some of the great variety of sterling writers and commenters online, and then will inevitably finish up with " . . . and, of course, Amy Welborn."

So I jumped up at the chance to hear her speak at a local parish. It didn't matter to me what her topic was. Her writing has a pithy incisiveness that I hoped would be reflected in her speech.

It was. As I menioned in my comment on Amy's post, she was "engaging, energetic, witty, with an unerring eye for the true and the ridiculous and the ability to tell them apart." Unlike some others who also believe fervently in what they are saying, she offered her listeners more than just worthwhile information or contagious fervor. She structured her talk about Decoding DaVinci in a way that not only explained the key issues of the book, but also equipped us for intelligent conversation with those for whom the plaintive cry, "It's only fiction!" is not protecting them from changing their worldview in response to Dan Brown's work of non-scholarship. And she's amusingly engaging. Excellent combo.

It was simply great to meet her and her delightful family. I wish I had met the other bloggers in the room, but we'll just have to look for another opportunity.

Okay, how powerful is this guy anyway?

My house has been on the market for 8 or 9 months now. It's getting down to the wire, because my dear fiancé and I had decided to go ahead and buy our new family home in faith that the Lord would find us a buyer for our houses. I haven't been anxious, but I've been a bit -- let's say, concerned.

On Wednesday, I never got around to opening the mail, even though it contained an interesting, knobby little parcel from my aunt. Back to that later.

Thursday morning, Henry and I were at the closing for our new house. Our realtor stepped out to take a cell call and returned to tell us that an offer would be coming over that day on my house. We reviewed it and accepted it that afternoon. So, amazingly enough, in all the 2,912 two-hour periods since I listed the house, God chose that one to bring me an acceptable offer to purchase my own. I love it when God reminds me that he's in charge.

Back to the knobby little parcel: It turns out my aunt had been concerned about the failure of the house to sell, so she sent me a little statue of St. Joseph to bury in my front yard. I'm quite fond of St. Joseph, though it never seemed particularly respectful to me to bury a representation of him upside down anywhere for any reason; I certainly had been happy to ask him to pray for me. Now I find out that he's such a powerful guy that, no sooner does he cross the threshold of my house, it sells like a hotcake.

I certainly feel well looked-after.


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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