Friday, January 27, 2006

A Good Aunt

I spent this week over-working, feeling guilty about not blogging, going from especially beautiful morning Masses to gritty too-fast work, running home late and eating foods I'd be ashamed of having analyzed by the coroner ("she died after a dinner of Cheetos and orange juice and a Lean Cuisine and a, a, pickle....") when I was brought up short.

My aunt died today.

She was "old enough," in her 80's and in poor health, but her mind and spirits were sharp. She was a good aunt, an aunt always glad to see me, not classifying and limiting me to the role of the big blonde piano-playing cousin in the hordes of wiry brunette cousins, far down the list, but as me, Therese. Those of you from big families know what I mean; you get assigned a slot, sometimes, and you stay in it. Now, she might have always called me by three other, older, cousins' names before she got to mine, but she made me know she appreciated me, and I appreciated her.

She was a extra-good story-teller, had a ribald chuckle, and didn't skimp on the truth. If one of my great-aunts, who I dimly remember as a nice little old lady, spent the 1940's weaving her way to the liquor store in her bare feet and nightgown, I heard in hilarious detail what the neighbors thought, not the sanitized version my mother stuck to. If my aunt thought something I cooked or canned was good, she told me exactly WHY it was good. Sometimes she told me how it could have been better. When I was very small, I stayed with her when my brother was being born, and she not only took me to Woolworth's and let me buy whatever I wanted (a brass bell), but she bought me my favorite cereal (Kix) AND let me ride their enormous German Shepherd. Isn't it funny how over forty years later, I still feel a special bond and fondness because of that little act of silly kindness?

My uncle died six years ago, and she lived near me in a retirement home. Her children were very good to her, but I lived the closest, so I stopped for coffee every couple of weeks so after church. In among the drunk relative stories, we reviewed her married life, and her working life. I got to know her, not as my aunt (talk about the slots), but as a girl, a woman, a person. Since I nearly always saw her for coffee right after Mass, she even started asking me careful shy questions about why faith was important; she'd never been "very religious," but eventually she shyly and proudly told me that she had started going to the communion service one of the local priests would conduct at the center once a month, and even got a little glow on about it.

I am, of course, very sad to lose her, but I am especially struck by her loss when I realize how much we measure our own mortality by the lives of our families. The babies are driving, the teens are getting married, the aunts and uncles are suddenly frail under your hand when you reach out to steady them. One day, they cackle instead of laugh; they seem littler when you stand next to them.

But I age, too: my mother is sobbing in my arms, and I know what to do, and do it. It seems like only yesterday when a grandmother or someone died, and I was almost embarassed at my lack of ability to know what to say or do or where to look.

Roles reverse, slowly, and the feeble but merciless light of mortality shines now on my mother's head, as the oldest surviving sibling in her family, two having gone before. My dad's been gone for six years. My brother's been bald so long I can't remember him with hair. His children can't sit in my lap anymore without causing any of us an injury. My oldest cousins are in their 60's. My youngest cousin went into premature labor with her first today; she doesn't know about the death, yet. Without times like these, I can fool myself that the family is passing me on some sort of aging conveyor belt, while I stand off to one side and age at a different rate. Wrong.

I thank Jesus for His Light, as He guides me surely through what I have to do at times like these.

Good night, Aunt Eileen. I love you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What do you wear?

I was pulling the clasp of my "Five-Way Medal" around to the back of my neck just now. When I was little, we always made a wish when the clasp of a chain worked its way around to the front. Now I pray a little prayer.

I didn't choose the five-way because I had a special devotion to the group represented, particularly: it was a cross shape, I wanted something to make me mindful and to signal my faith, a little. I didn't like the crucifixes in the display case of the place I was shopping at, but I think I'd prefer one when I see a beautiful small one that doesn't cost a fortune.

So, what do you wear? A crucifix? A Miraculous Medal? A Brown Scapular? Nothing, on principle? Everything, on principle? How long have you worn whatever you're wearing?

Does it "work?" I mean, does it make you mindful of the glory of God, of the Communion of Saints, of the Church visible and invisible?

Inquiring minds want to know, but they have to go back to work.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Go away, kid, ya bother me!

Scripture, when heard through the Spirit, comes so alive, I marvel.

Today's first reading, 1 Samuel 3:3-10,19, tells the story of Samuel who was sleeping near the ark of the Lord, and kept hearing someone call his name. He jumped up several times and went to his master, the prophet Eli, who returned him to his sleep, saying that he hadn't called Samuel.

Finally, Eli caught on to what was happening and told Samuel to answer the Voice, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." And Samuel went on to serve the Lord. We spent last week and will spend this week at Mass listening to the high points of the first book of Samuel, very suspenseful.

My toes curled when I read this before Mass. Much was made in today's homily of the obedience of Samuel, trusting that it was the Lord calling him, but think of what would have happened if Eli, woken from sleep, had snapped at his servant, "Whaddya want! I TOLD you, I didn't call you! You gotta stop eating that spicy food before bedtime!"

The next time Samuel was awakened by his name, he might have thought to himself, "Well, I'm sure I heard my name, but if I bother Eli again, he'll murdalize me." And rolled over and dismissed the call.

Although the reading fit today's Vocation Sunday focus (we had a seminarian speak to us after Communion: always nice to put a face to the men for whom I pray), it also fits our daily vocation as Christians to be ready to give Christ's Love and Truth to others. Someone comes bounding up to us with what seems to be an inane opinion or an elementary question, and are we tempted to dismiss them with a quick putting-off response, eager to get on to the next thing, or with an over-strong answer that surpresses any further interaction? Do we ask them why they're asking or opining?

It doesn't have to be about faith, either. How many times each week are we jumped with what seems like an obvious or even stupid question? I know that I will be shown in Purgatory all the times I sent the person away, even interrupting them, with an efficient but hasty answer, leaving nothing for them to do in the decision, solving their problem for them, getting them away as fast as possible so I can recollect my broken attention and return to the task at hand. Better to pray to relax and listen, being open to them, serving them. Even if the next question isn't "How can I attain Eternal Life?" I will still be acting as Christ would if He were the One in the situation.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Je le recherche toujours que mon âme aime

As I alluded in an earlier post, I am going to be married this June. Unlike most traditional June brides, I am not young (still deludedly calling myself "middle-aged") and, unlike most of the current crop of June brides, I actually blush. I am delighted, our almost-grown children are very supportive, and, to the surprise of both of us, we are being blessed in mid-life by something we never expected to happen.

Although I have known my fiancé for over 30 years with commonly-held memories and a deep faith, our experiences of life have often been different. I was happily and sacramentally married for 26 years before the death of my husband of cancer in early 2003. My beloved intended had a far different experience of the married state, unhappily (and, it turns out, invalidly) linked to his daughter's mother for 7 years before she left him and their young daughter for different pastures. As you can imagine, we tend toward distinctly different expectations of the married state. Thanks to God's abundant grace, the wise counsel of others, and the God-given ability we have had to communicate with courage, we have grown into a mutual hope for a genuinely blessed marital union.

The circumstances have given us a chance to explore the nature of true sacramental marriage more deeply than we might otherwise have done. Henry learned a lot through the annulment process. I learned more experientially what kind of bond God creates through the sacrament of matrimony. Now, we are learning together about growing into oneness.

I find a lot of meaning in Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. The marital bond between Christ and his Church (that is us, folks) speaks volumes to my heart of the depth of love and union that God originally intended for Adam and Eve, the restoration of much of that through the redemption of the Cross, and the amazing fullness that we will know when we join him in heaven. As I anticipate and work toward marriage, I can smell a whiff of the resemblance between true union with my husband and our eventual complete union with God. It makes me want to be as pure and conformed to Christ as possible so that we won't put up blockages between ourselves or between us and the Lord from whom our whole lives are suspended.

Gee, I meant to be concrete and specific, and here I am flying off into theological metaphor and being "spiritual." I can't help it. I am caught in the concrete preparations for the wedding, of course, but they resemble reality only in the way that keeping the kitchen clean contributes to sustaining a loving and hospitable home -- necessary but falling far short of the overall truth.

So help me here. What is it I'm trying to say? What have you found to be true? What do you imagine?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Christmas Schmissmas

As we head into the second week of Christmas (keep those decorations up and those candles lit!), and we continue to sing Christmas hymns and carols in church (yay for the Catholics!) do we notice that there are many Christmas favorites whose lyrics DON'T RHYME?

Doesn't it seem unusual? I know that some are the result of close translations of lyrics in other languages, but surely there are better rhymes than these:

Silent Night, verse 2:

Silent Night, Holy Night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior, is born!
Christ the Savior, is born!

(admit it, you have occasionally happily sung "allelui-yar"....)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing, verse 2:

Christ, by highest heaven adored;
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the Virgin's womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with man to dwell;
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

(so do you sing "coom and womb" and "come and wumb?")

For that matter, there's also verse 1:

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King!

("proclaim" and "Bethlehem" might rhyme, depending on your regional accent, perhaps)

Wait! There's more - Joy to the World, verse 4:

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

(Christmas lyrics seem strangely spiritless when printed out this way, don't they?)

The big winner is The Holly and the Ivy, whose first THREE verses AND the chorus itself don't rhyme:

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown!

O, the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom,
As white as lily flow'r,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our dear Saviour!

The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To do poor sinners good.

(This song gets Ye Olde Englishe Passe on differences in rhyme caused by the age of the song, but it's interesting that so many words have changed in their sound since this composition.)

I wonder if this phenomenon happens in Easter hymns?


Sample Text

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Sample text

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

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009