Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tanking up before Lent

"Anyone who is not a fool at Carnival is foolish for the rest of the year."

Why don't we have Mardi Gras before Advent?

Knowing Ash Wednesday is on its way next week, and the penitential practices to which we are invited, to prepare our hearts for Easter, it's traditional for the devout Catholic to have a little Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday." We're about to say "farewell to meat," the origin of Carnival, Carne Vale, or candy, or television, or sleeping late on Saturdays, or whatever we push away from us to welcome more time for prayer and to free up more money or time for almsgiving and other charity. The chance to party went hand in hand with the practical decision to cook up and either eat up or give away all the prohibited meats, eggs, butter and other fats, so they wouldn't go to waste.

So little is asked of us now: able-bodied Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and refrain from meat on Fridays during Lent. We are also urged to "give up" something pleasant to us, to remind us of the greater joys won for us by the cross of Christ. I'm looking forward to it, and each year I've carefully practiced it, I find that I lose a small vice more or less permanently, because when I let it go, it lets go of me.

But why doesn't one of these feasts precede Advent? Advent is also a time of penance and prayer, less reliably understood by Christians, but most know it as a time of waiting, praying, hoping, walking the path of Joseph and Mary as they sought out the stable, marvelling with the shepherds and the three kings.

Lent is feast-fast-feast, but Advent is fast-FEAST. Do we need another Mardi Gras before Advent, or do we need to play down the Carnival aspect before Lent? Is balance needed? Heck, I don't know. Maybe you do. I've got ice cream in the freezer and a few trashy TV programs to enjoy before Wednesday.

Have a good Carnival!

Monday, February 20, 2006

My kind of guy

I came across some of the writings of St. Josemaria Escrivá. Although I had heard of him, I was (and remain) largely unfamiliar with his work. Well, lo and behold -- I have found a modern counterpart to my pithy favorite, St. Teresa of Ávila. I offer for your pleasure several of his sayings which will continue to do me good:
  • Diamonds are polished with diamonds, and souls with souls.
  • If you abandon prayer, you may at first live on spiritual reserves and, after that, by cheating.
  • A disciple of Christ will never treat anyone badly. Error he will call error, but the person in error he will correct with kindliness. Otherwise he will not be able to help him, to sanctify him. We must learn to live together, to understand one another, to make allowances, to be brotherly and, at all times, in the words of St John of the Cross, ‘where there is no love, put love and you will find love’.
  • You are unwilling, are you? Well, try to become willing. And let that be the end of it.
  • As soon as you willfully allow a dialogue with temptation to begin, your soul is robbed of its peace just as consent to impurity destroys grace.
  • Meditate upon this carefully and act accordingly -- people who think you are unpleasant will stop thinking that when they realize that you really like them. It is up to you.

And, being fond as I am of saintly humor, I will leave you with this delightful anecdote found at

On one occasion, St. Josemaría and some fellow priests were being driven erratically around Madrid by an inexperienced driver called Caesar. The passengers were petrified, especially when the car swerved off the road, travelled along the pavement for a few yards and finally collided with a lamp post.

In the silence that followed, Josemaria's voice was heard: "Ave, Caesar, morituri te salutant!" ("Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die salute you!").

Friday, February 17, 2006

So, what's new with you?

For what's up with Roz, click here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Here's my chance to give honor where honor is due

From Julie D. who is one of them:
If there is someone on your blogroll who makes your world a better place just because that person exists and who you would not have met (in real life or not) without the internet, then post this same sentence on your blog.

The first person I thought of is Therese, my esteemed co-blogger, who delights my heart whenever I think of her and was a huge encouragement as she helped lubricate my way back to the Church.

There are so many out there. Thank you, all of you. May God reserve us a reunion room in heaven.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Working in the Spirit

Naw, I don't mean anything showy or glorious, I mean just plain working, paycheck-every-two-weeks working, getting-along-with-your-coworkers working. But with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ.

Sorry for my silence, it's a busy time of year. I cut this out of the Magnificat for January, and it's on my desk among the various post-it notes and scraps:

When the holy abbot Antony was living in the desert, his soul fell into a weariness and confusion of thought, and he began saying to God, "Lord, I would be made whole and my thoughts will not suffer me. What shall I do in this tribulation, how shall I be whole?"

And in a little while, rising up, he began to walk in the open, and he saw someone, as it might be himself, sitting and working: and then rising from his work and praying: and again sitting down and making a plait of palm-leaves, and then rising once again to prayer.

Now it was an angel of the Lord sent to the reproof and warning of Antony. And he heard the voice of the angel, saying, "This do, and you shall be whole." And hearing it, he took great joy of it and courage. And in so doing, he found the deliverance that he sought.

- Saying of the Fathers, ca 150-400 AD

Ain't that just the feline's nightwear? We are to sit and work, rise and pray, sit and work, rise and pray. It's my only goal right now, and I pray that I and you may reach it.

God bless you. Now, get out of my office.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Free-associating in the Holy Spirit

My weekly appointment at the Eucharistic Adoration chapel is at 7:00 pm on Sundays. (And, yes, it took some conscious sacrifice to be there during the Super Bowl. Not much, but some.) I prefer mid-day because I'm less inclined to get sleepy, but there's something good about closing out the Lord's Day with some one-on-one time with Jesus.

I almost always pray a Rosary at some time during the hour. It took me a long time to get into the rhythm of meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary while praying the decades. I didn't know them all by heart and for a while it seemed like an ancient form of stressful Windows multitasking. But it comes more easily now, and frequently the Lord bestows little insights about his nature out of nowhere while I'm praying.

So I had a couple of those delightful moments last night. The first arrived as I was hanging around thoughts of the resurrection. I realized that Jesus had been fully dead and, in the space of no time at all, became fully alive. I don't know whether I had harbored a secret mental image of one of those trick birthday candles that always have a hidden spark left that later bursts into flame to fool you. But I found it striking. There was absolutely nothing left of life in Jesus. Nothing at all. Until the power of the Holy Spirit restored not only his full human life but full divine life as well, it was gone. Done. And then, instantly, it was better than it had been before. I'm sure the application here to times of being bereft is worth lots of thought.

The second reflection relates to the interval between Jesus' ascension to heaven and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.

A quick sidebar: At Mass yesterday, my fiancé read the first reading from one of his favorite books, Job. In part, it read: "If in bed I say, 'When shall I arise?' then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again." When he returned to his seat, I remarked to him, "Thankfully, Job was mistaken." Henry's response was, "He was right."

I believe both Henry and I were correct. Job was telling the absolute truth. He was miserable through no fault of his own. Life was bleak, dark and full of misery. Yet he hadn't yet seen the end of his own story where "the Lord [will bless] the latter days of Job with more than he had at the beginning." (Jb 42: 12) Job was right about the present, but he wasn't in a position to see what God had in store.

It must have been like that for the disciples during the interval time. Jesus ascends to the Father. Period. The disciples have learned a lot about his divine nature, he has told them of plans to bless them, but at that moment there is nothing of Jesus that can be found anywhere in the world. I hope they waited in faith. But if they extrapolated from the present ("I pray but nothing happens," they might say, or "He said it would be better if he went away, but look around -- it's not!"), they would reach the wrong conclusion. Their facts are right. But their assumptions wouldn't take into account the tremendous generative power and love of God.

So much of anxiety stems from the inadequacy of our data. We have the concrete facts right, perhaps. But the part of the equation that will be supplied by the enormous loving kindness of God hasn't yet been made apparent. We can wait. Or we can do what seems more proactive -- we can fret.

Oh, dear. Teach me Lord, teach me Lord to wait.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

You Too Can Enjoy Wakes And Funerals

Admit it: there are a few fun parts to them, even those for your dearly beloved. Here are some:

1. Little kids' questions - Our family's array of children are getting to the age that this was their first wake, at least that they remember. After their solemn visit to the casket with their parents, and their wonderment at their parents' tears (can't you remember how awful and unsettling that was when we were little?), they loitered around the back of the funeral parlor and gradually loosened up. They thought the coffeecake and free soft drinks in the refreshment room were ALL RIGHT. During the long evening, they wandered up in pairs and trios during the evening to stand in front of the open casket and ask really loud questions: Is she sleeping? Will she get better? Where are her feet? Did she like flowers? Will she wear that dress forever? Why is she smiling?

The answers: No, she's dead and she's living with Jesus and Uncle P in Heaven. No, she won't get better, but she doesn't feel sick anymore. Her feet are right under there, they just close that part to put the flowers somewhere. And yes, she has shoes on (does she? I wonder myself, sometimes). Yes, she loved flowers and we loved her, so we got her a LOT. She's smiling because when she was alive, she smiled all the time, don't they remember?, and her face stayed that way.

Several children were surprised when they had to go to school the next day, because they thought the wake was a normal family party, which would normally be held on a weekend.

2. Christian-spotting - Since I found my faith (right where I left it - who'd a thunk?) I play the game in all large crowds, so I got to play a few rounds at the wake, too. You can't pick out Christians by whether they make the Sign of the Cross or kneel at the casket: that may simply constitute "good wake manners" to them. But you listen to other signals: people's churches get named in their self-introductions; they refer to my aunt's death in her sleep without a struggle as a "blessing" and they mean it; they talk about Heaven, happily and without any wryness; they know all the responses at the funeral service; they not only actually READ the prayer on the back of the memorial card, they sort through them to pick out a saint that they don't already have, like holy baseball cards ("Look! Here's a nice St. Francis. Do they have a St. Anthony for my friend?").

3. Bringing in dinner for the family room - I always get a small charge out of going through the McDonald's drive-through and ordering 25 hamburgers, 25 cheeseburgers, 40 small fries, etc., etc. I even enjoy paying for it.

4. Peeking at the other wakes - The funeral home we were in had four "viewing rooms" and three were being used. I always peek quietly in to see (1) if we have a better turnout and (2) if their families look like ours. They do, regardless of ethnicity; grief wipes out individuality. You could almost match us up, pair by pair: the young male cousin who doesn't own a suit yet, so he puts on any black shirt he owns and his good eyebrow ring and who usually brings his absurdly young and awkward girlfriend who weighs all of 87 pounds and who has apparently never been to a wake before and on the whole doesn't like it; the aunt who thought Sandra Dee was a good role model and sees no reason to abandon that opinion; the distinctive laugher, who can be male or female, but who can be heard all over the funeral parlor; and the little boy with one shirttail out, sporting one of those all-one-length haircuts you want to rub your hand over, who is always being snatched out of the air in mid-run or off the big couches in the front, which he is intently tackling, lacking only a compass and a canteen....

5. Driving to the cemetery - Silly me, I dig the little orange flags on my car. I love driving through red lights. I enjoy taking a million side streets (avoiding the expressway to keep the funeral cortege in one stream). I am always surprised at the ways that you can get there from here. And it never fails that the people in your car, provided that they are not the chief mourners, will point out a restaurant or store on the way and fall into an animated discussion about the food that might be there, or that they ate there, which leads to a food-poisoning story, or a rude waitress story, or....

None of the fun parts take away one jot or tittle of the grief, they're a simple human response to the exhaustion and sadness, and they leaven it a little.


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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