Monday, December 31, 2007

It's a miracle

From Jen at Et Tu whose Christmas Eve sounds familiar:
I lifted my head to look around, and my eyes rested on the consecrated Host that the priest held above the altar. "Of course," I thought. "There He is." I had been in the presence of a miracle, and all I could do was think about how much stuff I had to pack to go out of town.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In his quietness is strength

St. Joseph with JesusI love St. Joseph. Unsung but not insignificant, he served and contemplated the divine Son and his holy Mother until the end of his life. He is particularly dear to my husband and me. We've taken him as a patron of our marriage since we each "knew" him throughout our respective Christian walks: I was converted on the feast of St. Joseph, while Henry was baptized during his college years on the feast of St. Joseph the Worker, taking Joseph as his confirmation name.

None of us knows many facts about St. Joseph, and none of his words are quoted in the gospels. His 'hiddenness' is part of the power of his influence. Pope Benedict XVI writes of him:
. . . steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God in an attitude of total availability to the divine desires, [not expressing] an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he hears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action . . . a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved trust in his providence.

As part of our night prayers, Henry and I pray the following Prayer to St. Joseph for Fathers written by Blessed Pope John XXIII. May it delight and encourage you as it does us.
Saint Joseph, chosen by God to be on this earth the guardian of Jesus and chaste husband of Mary, who passed your life in the perfect fulfillment of duty, supporting by the work of your hands the Holy Family of Nazareth, kindly protect us who trustingly turn to you. You know our aspirations, our hardships, and our hopes; we turn to you because we know that we will find in you one who will protect us. You too knew trial, labor, and weariness, but even amid the cares of material life, your soul, filled with the most profound peace, rejoiced in intimacy with the Son of God entrusted to you and with Mary, His most sweet Mother.

Help us to understand that we are not alone in our work, to know how to see Jesus close to us, and to welcome Him with grace and guard Him faithfully as you have done. Pray for us that in our family everything will be sanctified in love, in patience, in justice, and in seeking to do good; that abundant gifts of God's grace may descend upon us. Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

United in holy astonishment

- 15th century Russian icon

No matter our theological differences, Protestant or Catholic, we join in this holy season in saying out loud, slowly, with awe, "God with us. God actually born to us, a baby, fully human by simple observation and fully divine by the promises of our Father known by the prophecies of the centuries. He sent His very self to be laid in our hands, to be loved by His mother, taught by her husband, killed by all of us in our sins, to be raised by the power of God to triumph over those sins and open the gates of Heaven." We can't glory in the tenderness of the beginning without seeing the agony and power of the end. We can't see the love of the end without seeing the love of the beginning.

Merry Christmas! May God richly bless all my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Guy Mary or Guy Martha?

In the post below, the comments rock-skipped from Martha Stewart to Mary and Martha, the dear friends of Jesus, sisters to Lazarus.

Luke summarizes the story:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that [Jesus] entered into a certain village: and a woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

Women can identify with Martha, I know I can. I can hear her voice, with a bit of an exasperated whine in it, in my own mouth or head, when I feel under-congratulated and under-thanked. In my worldly life, I can easily feel put-upon, the heroine, the ever-faithful daughter, sister, aunt, neighbor, manager, friend. In work and in volunteer church life, since essentially the same roles exist, I can occasionally feel pretty much the same way. Even in my spiritual life, I can even feel unrewarded: "Lord, I put all this face time in, all this spiritual reading and study, and I pray every night and every morning, even when I have a headache blah blah blah....what blessings am I getting?"

In classic meditation practice, picturing all the players in your mind, can't you picture Martha, like that lady in that commercial, flicking a little flour in her face, to appear at the living room door looking even more careworn and exhausted with serving?

Correctly understanding Mary as contemplative, and not just passive and relaxed, at the very least, I can yearn for a more Mary-like role. In either case, I think women can project themselves into the Scripture story, sitting quietly and listening, deeply concentrating on the loved one, or flippin' them hotcakes and shakin' out them rugs and nobody even says that the dinner was good, just shoved it in and left.....

Can men project themselves into the story without too much psychological straining? Do they inevitably see themselves in a too-human Jesus, repressing a roll of His eyes when Martha appears at the door with a frustrated dishtowel in hand?

(For extra credit: can women project themselves as easily as men into the story of the Prodigal Son?)

Monday, December 17, 2007

A thought on entertaining at Christmas

From a nice, pagan Greek:

At feasts, remember that you are entertaining two guests,
body and soul. What you give to the body, you presently lose;
what you give to the soul, you keep for ever.

That's Epictetus.

So when I clean the house so that it looks like I always live like that (hah!), and pick out a menu that suggests I always eat like that (double hah!), I have to remind myself that what's important is how they feel when they get here, how welcome, how comfortable. How the conversation goes, who is honored when they talk, who is given a chance to shine, who is urged into presenting their life and opinion so that it is as important as all others'. I want to be sensitive first of all that all can be entertaining and enjoyed, whether their talk is witty and quick, or mild and quiet. If their life has been sad this year, then all should be of a frame of mind to weep with those who weep, and if their life has provided accomplishments, to rejoice with them too.

This probably has more significance to me than to you, but I have some wildly disparate sets of friends, and if I can make them comfortable with one another by my hospitality, then all will be well. This will take some patience and shutting up on my part, although I admit it's easier to spot-clean the carpet, put a little curry in the sauce and choose the fashionable wine.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

From my notebook

I'm home this snowy Sunday morning, the first time our parish has canceled Mass in anyone's memory. I'm especially disappointed since it would have been the first Sunday celebration for our newly-ordained friend, Fr. Bill Spencer, a widower edging toward his 70th year who assures his bishop that, since he is too old to retire, he will serve as long as God gives him grace. And the diocese of Saginaw is lucky to have him, too. May he live and flourish a hundred years.

So, with the blowing snow and flickering fireplace putting me in a meditative frame of mind, I offer you some excerpts I've found worth noting lately:

----------- .: :. ----------

"True faith shines forth when we come to our times of prayer day after day, month after month, year after year with no thoughts of the joys or fears that may be associated with prayer. This is letting God pass out of one's speculations and be himself."
On St. Teresa's fourth mansion in From Ash to Fire by Carolyn Humphries

On John the Baptist:
"Without John the Baptist, the angels, shepherds and wise men can turn into sentimental mush. . . . John rages against 'me' and 'my', or even 'us' and 'ours'. It is about God . . . John reminds us that God has not abandoned us. He has prepared a road home."
Fr. Michael Busch, Rector of St. Michael's Cathedral, Toronto

"The more God wishes to bestow on us, the more does he make us desire."
St. John of the Cross

"[Christmas shows us] that smallness that Christianity fearlessly proclaims, in the teeth of a world that worships only bigness, and misunderstands it at that. We are too used to the holiday; we have domesticated the birth of Christ, rather than imbuing the hearth with the mysterious might of that child, the Word through whom all things were made."
Anthony Esolen

"I truly and firmly believe that your divinity can defend me. Full of trust, I hope in you."
From the prayer to the Infant Jesus of Prague

"From the desire to be loved,
from the desire to be extolled,
from the desire to be honored,
from the desire to be praised,
from the desire to be preferred,
from the desire to be consulted,
from the desire to be approved,
from the desire to be popular,
Deliver me, O Jesus."
Prayer of the Missionaries of Charity

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hell and damnation

Got your attention, didn't I?

A friend of mine and her husband are going through RCIA (instruction preparatory to joining the Catholic Church) at our parish. I enjoy chatting with her because many of the issues she is examining carefully are those I had to ponder as I was considering my own return to the Catholic Church in 2004. In one conversation, she mentioned that her husband has trouble with any hint of "hell and damnation". It's not uncommon for people to find it hard to understand that this doctrine is congruent with the all-surpassing love of God, but I've been thinking about it ever since.

It is true that we, as Christians, need to accept the truths of God that have been reliably revealed to us, regardless of the depth of our understanding. But that doesn't mean that they are always incapable of being at least partially understood. I think it is this way with the Final Judgment.

For me, the major discomfort with the thought of condemnation is any implication that it is arbitrary or somehow the spiteful comeuppance of an irritable God. This is, truly, not in harmony with the nature of God as we know him, he who is merciful, gracious and made of the very substance of love more real than we will ever know. So what is the place of eternal hell in the picture?
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, "Violence!"
but you do not intervene. (Hab 1:2-3)
For me, I find tremendous hope in the fact that the evil and injustice I see in the world will absolutely not be allowed to stand. Torment, evil, vileness, malice, contempt, the snarl of envy and deceit, those who prey against the weak and helpless -- all this will be called to a halt when the Time comes. People will not be innocently entrapped nor caught accidentally in the backwash leading to everlasting death -- no, they will freely have chosen for or against love, goodwill and the kingdom of God. If they choose against, they will have made their move into the absence of God where all evil and hatred and the things unable to live in the light of Christ grow and flourish. Those loathsome things and the ones who choose them will be left outside the walls of God's city. And where God is not is no good thing.

But the people we love, what about them? There is lovableness in them. And even in those we don't love aren't constructed solely of evil; we see goodness, grace, and worthy objects of love. How can we deal with the fact that they may be condemned? How could this be?

Fear not. Eventually, each person will have the opportunity to freely and without handicap, constraint or lack of understanding answer the question of Jesus, "Will you be mine, or will you choose to have it your own way?" We will buy our own ticket for the train of our choice by accepting or spurning his invitation to ride in his railway car.

- - - - -

I'm finally writing these thoughts because I learned a young friend of mine is being caused considerable pain by being harassed at school. And then my daughters told me about the case of Megan Meier who committed suicide after being harassed by the (wait for it) mother of a former friend. I'm sorry, I'm a mild-mannered, Clark-Kentish kind of woman, but this sort of thing incites me to rage and thoughts of highly-inappropriate disproportionate illegal actions I would like to take. I am comforted by the realization that God hates cruelty and evil far more than I do, and he has a plan of action to take care of it.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

Monday, December 10, 2007

This is the day

In 1978 when the Grace I received in Baptism, specifically to make me "born again," a child of God, a sister to Christ, a soul espoused to the Bridegroom, broke open in my heart. God made Himself known to my intellect and heart and I was permanently changed, most of you know what I mean. My ears and eyes were now open to the Divine, even though it took quite awhile, years and sins and sorrows, before I informed my will that we were on the true Way, whether my will liked it or not.

I thank God and Thomas Merton, a flawed but holy man, whose writings made me dizzy when I discovered them as a college student. This is also the anniversary of his death in 1968, and I "accepted Jesus" (as other Christians say) ten years afterwards to the day, although I didn't discover that until much later.

All you holy men and women, ora pro nobis!

(HT for picture to The Boar's Head Tavern, a lively group of Christians, mostly Evangelical.)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

There is nothing longer

than a roll of Christmas ribbon that makes tiny tortured knots, skinchy little curls when zizzed with a scissors and looks lousy when pulled too hard, but you feel compelled to use it all up because there are starving children on the other side of the earth.

Run out, shiny green ribbon, damn you!

I just came across a really good one

I've added John C. Wright to my list of blogs to check regularly. He's the source of these pearls:
To those of you who think religion is a self-delusion based on wish-fulfillment, all I can remark is that this religion does not fulfill my wishes. My wishes, if we are being honest, would run to polygamy, self-righteousness, vengeance and violence: a Viking religion would suit me better, or maybe something along Aztec lines. The Hall of Valhalla, where you feast all night and battle all day, or the paradise of the Mohammedans, where you have seventy-two dark-eyed virgins to abuse, fulfills more wishes of base creatures like me than any place where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. This turn-the-other cheek jazz might be based any number of psychological appeals or spiritual insights, but one thing it is not based on is wish-fulfillment.

An absurd and difficult religion! If it were not true, no one would bother with it.

And later, in response to a commenter:

"I just thought the atheists were smarter than the Christians simply because we all said we were. I actually used to think that."

He moves right to the list of "People I would enjoy having over to dinner".

Thanks to TSO and Julie D. who offered me the breadcrumbs that got me there.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Well, it's one way to celebrate Advent . . .

A rather startled HT to First Things

Owe me a Coke

In the post below, two superstitions surfaced among our memories:

Roz says you have to pick your feet up when you drive over railroad tracks so they don't get run over.

Therese says you have to hold onto a button if a hearse goes by.

What else?

Therese still notes if she puts shoes on the bed (I presume this is tempting fate that a dead body, complete with shoes, could be laid on that bed as a result)

Therese still thinks about it a second if she spills salt, or if her palms itch, or if she and a friend pass on either side of a post when walking.

However, she has progressed to the point that she no longer punches a friend on the shoulder and calls out "Slugbug!" if a VW Beetle goes by. She still punches her brother, out of sheer habit.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Praying with the Civil Defense

Public Safety Siren

It's the first Tuesday at 10 am and the Civil Defense siren just finished wailing. It caught my ear this time, and I prayed for peace, in my family, in the world, in the Church.

Funny which seeds are planted, and how long they lay alive, if dormant. In high school, our biology teacher sister, so pious we were embarassed, made us pray for world peace every Tuesday when the then-weekly siren sounded. Her constant connecting of life to Jesus gave us brainless teenagers the nervous giggles, although we all really liked her, without understanding the attractiveness of holiness. Reminiscing: she also made us pray for the repose of the soul of the person who used to be in the skeleton in our lab. Thanks, Sister, long since gone to the Father, for those helpful suggestions of mindfulness; I'm sorry we didn't appreciate you at the time.

No reason why worldly things can't work as bookmarks in our day to stop us and remind us to lift our hearts to God.

Look! A prayer for peace that doesn't involve St. Francis!

Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed,
kindle in the hearts of all men the true love of peace,
and guide with Your pure and peaceable wisdom
those who make decisions for the nations of the earth;
that in tranquility Your kingdom may go forward,
till the earth be filled with the knowledge of Your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What I'm Listening To This Advent

The Promise, by Michael Card. I would listen to him sing "This is the way we pick up our toys." Love him. His "Joseph's Song," about St. Joseph regarding the amazing gift of Jesus in his arms, is a sure-fire tear-producer.

The Birth of Jesus, by John Michael Talbot. He sets Psalms to music better than almost anybody on earth, although he can be a little bit slow and over-serious on some of his million albums. But this one's a great Christmas play. Many classic hymns along with a few of his own compositions, so it's easy to sing along almost immediately.

Majesty & Wonder, by Phil Keaggy and the London Festival Orchestra. An instrumental by this fine guitarist. Again, lots of classics in lush arrangements but his guitar is always a distinctive voice.

He is Born, by Karl Kohlhase. Writes, sings, records and produces his own music, he allows his music to be downloaded for a donation. He is thoughtful and sincere with a nice gift for composition and each of his albums is better than the last.

In these choices, I betray my age and musical tastes. If James Taylor or Paul Simon sang songs about Jesus, I'd be the first to buy them. I lean towards that "troubador" style of music.

Can't skip over the big massed voices and instruments, too: I love to play (and sing along with) the Messiah, in its complete form. I sang it at Chicago's Do-It-Yourself Messiah for many years, until going downtown on a weeknight got more difficult. Being one of 2,500 voices in the seats of historic Orchestra Hall singing "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" or "Surely He Has Borne Our Sins" or, obviously, the "Hallelujah Chorus," is quite simply a big rush. A slightly sloppy but always genial rush on some of the more esoteric numbers, but fun nonetheless.

I play the Messiah straight through, but the others go into random play. Do you feel like I do that there is some song the randomizer never plays, that there's a little jewel I haven't heard after dozens of plays?

What are you listening to?

Friday, November 30, 2007

The End of the Church Year

St. Andrew

If you would like to celebrate his feast, have bread and fish for dinner, since Andrew, Peter's brother, is the one who in John 6:8-9 says to Jesus

There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

He is also remembered for having called out this prayer (in Latin called O Bona Crux), when he saw the cross upon which he would give his own life as his witness to Jesus Christ:

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.

Advent Eve

We have no particular festivity for the end of the church year; we look forward to the first day of Advent instead. But the Jewish people from whom we inherited our liturgical year, observe it in a lovely way in the Simchat Torah.

Since they read the Torah straight through each year (where we follow the life of Christ), they get to the end of the roll. On Simchat Torah, in temple, they ceremoniously and festively re-roll the Torah back to the beginning, singing and marching around the temple. Little kids get flags or banners to wave, to add to the festivity. During the re-rolling, the empty Ark is filled with candles because God is the True Light. They sometimes read the last verses of Deuteronomy

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.

and the first verses of Genesis

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.

one right after the other, to signal that the reading of Scripture is never at an end.

I'm jealous, frankly. We just take the Year I Lectionary to the sacristy and get Year II off the shelf.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Let there be peeeeeece on uuuurrrrrth....

Jesus says to those who seek him,
I will never pass you by:
Raise the stone and you shall find me
Cleave the wood, and there am I.

(- G Dearmer)


The subject of gaggy lyrics in the hymns chosen in Catholic churches is all over the internet. There's even an entire website dedicated to two of the greatest offending composers: The Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas. The best part of the site is the parodies, including:

Gather Us In

Here in this place, a bad song is starting,
Now will the altar turn into a stage.
All that is holy is slowly departing,
Making a way for the coming New Age.

Gather us in, though we are like captives.
But to miss Mass on Sunday, that would be wrong.
But Lord hear our plea, regarding M. Haugen:
Give him the courage to put down that bong.

The Church has two thousand YEARS of music to fall back on, but too many of our "liturgical directors" choose music from one of several categories:

1. folksy, twangy, three regular chords plus a major seventh for the thrill. There's usually a place for a really exciting guitar strum solo, and these songs never sound good on a church organ. Example: They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love
2. artistic, with at least three time signature changes so that nobody gets the rhythm straight. Men usually sulk silently after their second loud mistake and wait until the song is over. Women wrinkle their foreheads in the Earnest Singing Look and sing more and more quietly as they wander among the uneven patterns. Example: "For You Are My God" (the St. Louis Jesuit version - link is NOT complimentary)
3. wonderful old hymns, but with revised lyrics. This especially gripes me when the revision reflects a reduced opinion of sacraments. Example: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

Original lyrics:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him,
for he is your health and salvation!
Let all who hear
Now to his altar draw near,
Join in profound adoration!

Today's Kontemporary KatholiK lyrics replace the last two lines with
Now to his temple draw near,
Join us in glad adoration!

A small point, I suppose, but why, why, why????? I know why, actually; because somebody, somewhere in the 1960's decided that we were stupid and being too exclusive. Here we are, the most educated generation in the most educated country on earth, in a church with the most complete historical theological trail of scholars, and apparently we can't be trusted to be profound. And we'd better get rid of that altar, too, or our Protestant friends will be offended. Like they even care.....

So yay for Pope Benedict XVI. Quietly beautifying and re-beautifying the liturgy, encouraging greater use of Latin, especially for the parts of the Mass that are prayed together (how wonderful it would be to go to a foreign country and be able to pray the Eucharistic section of the Mass together with the local speakers in a common tongue!). The media, boneheads that they are, say that the Pope is "forcing" a change. Nonsense. His very brief speech is linked below. These days, anybody, parent, teacher, police officer, minister, who encourages a change in behavior is accused of forcing someone, abusing their "rights."

He's only asking for a more careful choice of music. He spoke briefly earlier this month to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (us Catholics got an Institute for EVERYTHING, let me tell you!). Last June, when he quietly reinstated the music director of the Sistine Chapel, who had been displaced because he was reluctant to use the more modern music preferred by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict spoke at more length about it, and the money quote that ruffled the too-easily ruffled hair of journalists was "An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

Bad, bad Pope. Gosh, I can't wait for more of this bad to come my parish's way. To move the drum kit and guitars away from the altar, back to the choir loft, or at least onto the floor with the pews at a level with us, not the altar. To get rid of the badly-written, hard-to-sing songs that make US God, instead of loving children of our Father. To sing songs that our predecessors sang hundreds of years ago, nearly a thousand years ago. We can only increase our knowledge of our heritage, our communion with those who have gone before us, our reverence in worship.

NOTABLE CAVEAT: There ARE contemporary church songs that fill the bill, and my blogsister's church is really excellent at performing and composing these, even using a band way off to one side, so I will let her choose a couple of wonderful examples. But MY parish, loaded with enviable musical performance talent, still veers between one annual selection of Ave Verum Corpus and multiple choices of Let There Be Peace On Earth - the distance between those two is enough to snap your neck. We never sing Marian hymns in May, we don't sing the good old tear-jerkers ("Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" or "O Sacred Head Surrounded") in Lent; we are truly cheated of a unifying and inspiring experience.

Mass is Mass is Mass, after all. Our music is only a type of prayer and secondary to those prayers we pray together in union with the whole Church, the prayer of the priest, to which we join ourselves without words, during the Consecration. The weekday silent Masses I attend are profoundly holy.

But garbage in, garbage out, and eliminating the worst offenders in modern music will narrow our focus and place it where it belongs: upon Jesus, Victim and Priest, the Lamb of God, upon His Altar in His Church.

I say again: yay for Pope Benedict! Long may he wave!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The bottom line is, how do we know?

I was talking to a friend about Church authority the other day. (I've been looking forward my whole life to opening a paragraph with that statement. Usually I talk to friends about baseball or where to find a really good lipstick.)

The authoritative aspect of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the authority of the Pope (let alone the mysterious doctrine of infallibility) is a sticking point for many Protestants and a number of cradle Catholics. I tripped over it myself as I was considering my return to the Church. What if I re-upped, and then a pronouncement was made that I in good conscience couldn't agree with? What if the Church said something that was wrong? What if it was right but I was unable, for whatever reason, to join in with a resounding "hear, hear!"? What should I do about this dilemma?

Like so many truths, the teaching authority of the Church is descriptive rather than prescriptive. The emphasis is not on "You have to believe this, so get with the program." Instead, we are reassured that the Holy Spirit, who promised to be guardian and steward of Christ's body until the end, will reliably preserve that body from serious error that would send it off the rails into disaster. The teaching authority of the Church draws its nature from the promises of God, not the wisdom of men. If we want to know what God thinks, he has given us Scripture and has guided our understandings throughout salvation history. That's good news, not a source of foreboding.

The doctrine of Papal Infallibility (which is much more nuanced than popular summaries make it) was codified at the First Vatican Council. As blogger Hieromonk Maximos puts it: "The pope does not, of course, by this charism manufacture truth. He recognizes it."

The real miracle is that Christ keeps a bundle of miserable sinners (and a bureaucracy!) on track in spite of ourselves and the potholes we dig for ourselves along the way. Well, he turned gritty well-water into sumptuous wine at Cana, and he hasn't stopped his work of transformation yet. We are in good hands.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And a tip of the headdress to Tom McMahon.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Calling for a recount

Note to the blogfamily: I've been caught in that tangle of "so much has been going on that I can't separate any one thread to write about". We went to Italy in October, truly a wonderful experience in many ways. Hopefully I'll leave breadcrumbs here and there of the riches we found. Today, though, I offer you something else.

Psalm 96:3 says "Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples." This is one of the easiest commandments of Scripture to obey, because when God does wonderful things, it is an amazing experience to tell, recount, recall and praise.

When I married my first husband, he was at risk of being deported from the United States for one of those offenses that were common in the hippie culture of the '60s and '70s. Our desire to remain was more than simple preference; Dave felt a specific call from God to serve in Ann Arbor, where I continue to live to this day. We were prepared for a years-long legal battle, up to and including the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, through a series of events that had God's fingerprints all over them, the cause for deportation was spontaneously dropped by the government several months after our marriage and (wonder of wonders) the bureaucracy of the Immigration Service put his permanent visa in our hands a mere 2 days after the decision was made.

Thereafter, every April 24 in our family was "Visa Day". Each year, we had a special dinner and recounted the story of how God had shown mercy to us and displayed his power on our behalf. As one of the Allied commanders stated in his report after the Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II, the positive outcome was attributable to the "definite partiality of Almighty God." We never forgot it.

I remember a retreat day I went on with a longtime friend. We took our Bibles, spiritual reading, notebooks and pens to an apartment in the woods for a day of prayer and reflection. What ended up happening, though, is that we began talking about the action of God in our lives, past and present and never quit. It was an amazing experience of being inspired, drawn into Christ's love, being filled with gratitude, and giving God glory. From time to time, as we spoke about our children, our hopes, our disappointments, we would move into praying for those things or expressing our heartfelt thoughts directly to God. Then we would continue with recollections. It was one of the most wonderful retreats I've ever been on.

In Joshua, chapter 4, God commanded the Hebrews to erect 12 large stones on the bank of the Jordan where the ark had rested as a memorial of his great work of bringing them into the Promised Land. "Proclaiming his marvelous deeds" serves as a visit to the memorial stones of our lives.

Let's never forget.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Christian living 101 (That's 101 AD)

From The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither
by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe....
[but] they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life....

They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.
They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.
They love all men, and are persecuted by all.
They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.
They are poor, yet make many rich;
they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all;
they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified.
They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified;
they are reviled, and bless;
they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour;
they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers.

When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life;
they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks;
yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

from Chapter 5 - Read the whole thing. (And it's a great website too, with extra-Scriptural writings about the early, early EARLY Christians.)

- Hat Tip to The Shrine of the Holy Whapping

Is there any word of this that needs changing? I don't think so. It touches me somewhere, where patriotism and love of nobility live.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bad Reasoning from Oz?

The world is full of "love comparison" statements:

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make
- the Beatles

If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they're yours; if they don't they never were
- Richard Bach (or should we say "Richard Bleccch?")

Over the weekend, I was watching the Wizard of Oz for the umpty millionth time. It's like picking through a box of chocolates; you only look up for the your favorite, special parts. I'm a "Lollipop Guild" fan myself, although I also enjoy watching Judy Garland's hair get longer, then shorter, then longer in mismatched takes.

The Wizard, when awarding the "heart on a chain" to the Tin Man, says to him "You judge a man's heart, not by how much he loves, but by how much he is loved by others."

At first hearing, that seems like a decent-enough statement. But think about it: it comes perilously close to becoming a popularity contest. Loving in hope of the return of love is certainly not what we believe as Christians, nor as modelled by Jesus or taught by St. Paul. We should instead give without hope of gain, we invite to dine without hope of return, we give freely without counting the cost.

I know that there is a way of interpreting that statement, that our own lovableness, when credited to our walk with the Lord, will grow. But even famous old Technicolor movies can be unreliable philosophical guides. They all seem so clear-cut: good conquers evil, hard work breeds success, honesty is the best policy. But you see a movie a hundred times, and only on the 101st seeing does something strike a cracked note....

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Using up those blessed candles

Catholics over a certain age can remember when every house had a Sick Call Set on the wall in the hallway. I will be grabbing the one off my mother's wall after her death, a pretty walnut crucifix with the requisite candles, holy water bottle, and prayers. Candles play a big part in the arrival of a priest with the Blessed Sacrament - you meet him at the door with a lit candle, to greet the Light of the World.

Keeping "sick call equipment" around the house strikes many people as morbid: the idea of Anointing of the Sick is often terrifying - lots of people think if they get anointed and blessed they will die, right then and there, Amen and Plunk. But it's quite comforting - I was anointed a few months ago for a long-standing problem, which is still a cross to me, but I understand that God blesses us with purifying suffering. It's probably scarier when you're on your way into surgery.

But I had a bright idea related to it. I have a pair of blessed candles I got at church on Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of Mary in the Temple. Nice long beeswax candles. I'd stashed them with my other candles, but wondered what to do with them. They are blessed and I'd feel funny using them for a dinner party, but I don't want to be superstitious or idolatrous and be afraid of using them for any but a "holy purpose."

I had a friend come for breakfast this morning, who has a world of trouble in her family life: multiple deaths, current dying relatives, wayward children, legal problems with foster children, etc, etc. Even her new couch showed up in the wrong color after a two months' wait. I made a nice meal, and duded up the place a little, and I put the candles on the table and lit them when we sat down to breakfast.

She isn't religiously minded, and I didn't tell her, but I silently thought "These candles will remind me to be Christ to her." And it worked - when I was tempted to push a subject away, or gossip, or be mean about someone else who is playing hell with her life, I looked at those burning candles and shut my mouth a little longer and listened with more of my heart.

They will last a long time, because they're beeswax, and I now look forward to lighting them whenever I need a visual reminder to remember Who lives in me.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Feast of All Souls

- 1910, Aladar Korosfoi-Kriesch, Budapest

A sad day right after a happy feast. So logical. First we celebrate the saints who stand before the Throne of the Lamb, chanting "Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of Power and Might" and then we remember and intercede for those souls being purified by the fire of God's Love, so they will be clean before God, a joyful pain we can only faintly imagine.

I was lecter at Mass this morning, and this is one of those "multiple-choice" reading days. Any of the second readings and Gospels for the Masses for the Christian Dead can be used. But the first reading is required, and it always chokes me up:

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect.

- Wisdom 3:1-9

(I hear my Protestant friends flipping through their Bibles, thinking "this is where?" Sorry, you don't have this beautiful book in your version.)

Then, as if any tiny sniffle was about to be successfully beaten down, we get to hear and pray:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
with your rod and your staff that give me courage.
You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

- I don't have to tell you that's Psalm 23, slightly chopped and changed so that it can be used as a responsorial prayer

God's Mercy is just as terrifying as His Justice, sometimes. But this is a tenderness we should hold onto for dear life.

I always feel close to my Jewish friends in issues of birth, death, family, and our turning towards God in those times, so I looked up the Jewish traditional prayer said in remembrance of the dead, the Kaddish:

Glorified and sanctified be God's great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

Remember your dead today, and commend their souls to God's Mercy and Love. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

For All the Saints...

Happy All Saint's Day! All Hallow The Saints! Have a Snickers Bar! Or even some of that nasty orange- and black-wrapped candy....

See, when you embed our daily round into the liturgical calendar, it makes perfect sense for a feast today!

Thank you, all my saints and friends, Triumphant and Militant.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Numbered hairs

Yesterday's Gospel reading:

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the multitude had gathered together that they trod upon one another, he began to say to his disciples first, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.
Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.
Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

- Luke 12:1-7

I can remember when that gave me a bad feeling, that GOD WAS WATCHING ME and HE WAS MAD. I was trying to hide my sins from Him, as well as the world, and I was uneasily aware that it wasn't possible.

Today, I find that statement comforting. He's got my back; yes, He sees my sin (I see it a lot better myself), but He has me in the palm of His Hand.

I forgot sometimes how far I've come, and I need to curb my impatience with those people who don't see to get it, yet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Returning from retreating

Reflections upon my return from the Women's Retreat:

God Club vs. God School

Because I came back to faith largely on my own, not initially having any models in my daily life to whom to turn, to ask questions of or to study their lives*, I studied my way into understanding my relationship to Jesus and to His Church. I was delighted by the connections, the elegant and symphonic logic, the connections to art and science and birth and death and creation. So I am accustomed to making progress, having "aha" moments only in my head. I resist the urge to do the Te Deum dance when the Holy Spirit clicks together two seemingly unrelated issues, a life problem and a Scripture, let's say, since it happens not at a prayer meeting, but while I'm waiting for a conference call to start, or watching EWTN at home, vegging on the couch. I have been going to "God School" since 2002.

(* although if you try and deny the intercessory power and help of the Communion of Saints, I'll kick you right in the slats, at least in my heart. So many saints were so helpful to me.)

At a retreat, especially one like this, you're steeped in fellowship and resources and everybody is praising God right in front of you in all different ways. You can have conversations about current events, and your opinions, if not the same, are governed by the same Rule of Life. People offer advice, and their motivation is for you to grow in holiness; none of the what-if's are immoral. Besides which, you can tell a joke with a teasing reference to Scripture and not have to explain it. You can make any reference to Scripture, and it's understood with the same readiness that a popular culture reference would be in the everyday world. It's "God Club" and it's the supreme version of any immersion camp you would provide to a horse-crazy or sports-crazy child. I really needed this.

Idealization, part 2

Last year, I assumed that these women didn't have any problems. They all seemed so darn cheerful! That idea was knocked out quickly, as I heard heartbreaking stories of illness, family problems, death, job struggles. Their problems are exactly those of the world.

But this year, I realized that I presumed that these women always had the right solution, being rooted and grounded in faith as they are. That they would take a deep, sad breath and peacefully say "I want to discern the Will of God in this, and I will take it to prayer."

That's slightly less true: I didn't necessarily hear anybody laying out their plan of action and thinking to myself "What a lousy idea," but I could also see that their reactions to the problems of their lives included rage and resentment and mistakes and disputes, AND a turning to God as their rock. It's that both-and I learned this year.

"Precious" Moments

There was a time in my life that if someone had said "Let's spend some precious time with Jesus" I'd have winced so hard you'd have heard me two rows away. Words like "beautiful" and "precious" had no place in my God vocabulary, because I'd relegated those words to either untouched, unmanufactured things, such as magnificence in nature (for which I gave God some credit), or to kitchsy, souvenir-store, who's mommy's widdle ootsy pootsy cavity locaters, bite down and zing! call the dentist.

I joyfully reclaim the word "precious" because the treasure in the field, the precious pearl of great price, is communion with the Lord, anywhere along the continuum from prayer to Eucharist.

Confession ain't so bad

Another first (I write these out not to brag but to continue my role as Awful Warning of what you get when you worship yourself for most of your life), is that I could not WAIT to get to Confession. I haven't been since April, although I have enough access to it. I just kept putting it off, and ducking it, and getting busy. Nothing in the presentation before it pointed directly to reconciling myself with God, but I was clock-watching during the meditation time afterwards and dashed down to the chapel to get in line.

One tiny benefit was that I know none of the priests who were hearing confessions, so I was spared that temporal itchiness of "well, howdy Father, old friend, here's the same old sins again and I still doubt my firm amendment to change!" I know that Father hears me with the ears of Christ, but it's just plain embarassing, when looked at in the wrong spirit.

It was a good confession. I don't remember anything anyone said, but I came out of there righteous before the Lord entirely due to His Grace, not by my own efforts, and that was a joyful penance of prayer.

Real friends bring you Jesus

I have friends who have taught me to bake, to make slipcovers, who sat with me during my divorce and listened. I've taught friends to can and preserve, sat with them during the death of their parents and listened. Great to be friends; great to have friends.

But I cannot stop marvelling over the fact that I was at this retreat, worshiping our Creator in worship, meditation, praise, song and ministry, joyfully and wholesomely, at this unique parish, because of a tiny blog-directed friendship: I met Henry while we were both writing entries about annulment and its benefits. Side conversations developed with Roz, his Then-Main Squeeze and Now Wife, and we began to blog here together. Do not EVER think that God does not bring Greatness out of Niceness, Fantastic out of Okay, Mountaintops out of Backyards, and Blessings out of Pleasantries.

and, as a last review issue....Fashion Tips for Retreats

Last year, I admired everybody's Crocs, the footwear of the Holy Spirit. They looked kind of clunky-cool, so I got my own Crocs and packed them, to find that they've moved past them to a kind of sleek low leather clog. Gosh, the frenzied pace of Christian women's fashion.....

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


It's Women's Retreat time again. This weekend, I will join my blogsister Roz at her parish, Christ the King in Ann Arbor MI.

My posts leading up to last year's retreat, my first ever as an adult, are here, here and here.

I was pretty nervous last year, wondering if I would fit in, if I would over- or under-react, if false teachings would be presented with enough passion and charisma that I'd be drawn astray. The last item is no problem; that is one devout bunch of women, wonderful happy faithful hearts. All of us worry a little if we'll make an idiot of ourselves, but that's just pride packin' its bags to come along.

What IS new is that I am looking forward to "prolonged periods of prayer," as the schedule says. Not that I'm any better at prolonging my concentration; if anything, I think I'm worse at it than a year or so ago. What I am is more content to sit and wait upon the Lord, to draw myself back to the meditation at hand, to offer up for God's Mercy whatever is jumping around in my mind.

The speaker this year will be offering us some insights in Ignatian Spirituality, the loving path to God described by St. Ignatius for his Jesuits. I don't know Thing One about it, except that the classic Ignatian retreat is 21 days, so it must be very rich and very exacting. Cool! - what else in life these days is rich and exacting?

St. Ignatius of Loyola. I wish his look wasn't quite so penetrating...

So pray for us. I'll pray for you, all Christians in my corner of the blogworld specifically. If you have a prayer intention you'd like me to take with and offer to the Lord, please email me or put it in the comments below.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Gleaned in the adoration chapel

St. Teresa on recollection:

We need no wings to go in search of Him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.

It is well to reflect for a time but then we must sometimes remain by His side with our souls hushed in silence. If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking upon Him who is looking at us. Keep Him company, talk with Him, pray to Him, humble ourselves before Him, have our delight in Him.

He will teach you what you must do to please Him. Do not be foolish. Ask Him to let you speak to Him and, as He is your Spouse, to treat you as His bride. Remember how important it is for you to have understood this truth -- that the Lord is within us and that we should be there with Him.

Various writings of St. Theresa of Jesus excerpted in I Want to See God by P. Marie-Eugène OCD

Monday, October 01, 2007

Too much for words

Blogging is tough. The most important things reduce themselves least readily to words.

This weekend, I attended a reunion of about 250 middle-aged God-lovers who had been members of an intentional Christian community together during our dorm days in the 1970s. Though that community is around in one aspect or another still, most of us are involved elsewhere and living elsewhere now. Those times together in the '70s had been wonderful and difficult; we were younger and stupider then, and more naive; and we thought in simplistic terms because of the aforementioned youth and lack of experience. But there was no question then that God was doing something wonderful among us, and there is no question now that that was and is true.

If you're like me, you've been to reunions for high school or college. You try to look smooth, you mentally rehearse your "bio" to sound as casually successful as possible, and you dearly hope that the cheerleaders and valedictorians will no longer seem intimidating.

This reunion resembled that sort in no way whatsoever. These were 250 people who were looking forward, after a year of anticipation, to seeing people they had loved, and finding out with a certain amazement that the love was still there.

It was wonderful. And God was there. I was filled to the brim with joy and gratitude. Small talk wasn't small, because there is no small talk when it's family. And, in a sense, a family reunion is what this was.

Those of us who were able to stay in town held a prayer meeting on Sunday afternoon together with the "non-dormies" we hadn't seen the night before but are still active in that community today. The Holy Spirit was present in a particularly powerful way. I, for one, am going to have to sit with it all for a while. I think this weekend was non-trivial, but I don't know how.

Genuine community of brothers and sisters in Christ is all too rare. I thank God, not only that I had a chance to live it for a while but that, as I realized in a new way, once God builds something, it stays built.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ever a sucker for a good turn of phrase

Before the uber intelligent Scott Carson of An Examined Life wanders off into prose that I'm not smart enough to understand (at least at this hour), he frequently kicks it off with a pithy introduction. I thought I'd bring you an example in hope that some of you will find his thoughts as intriguing as I.
To be perfectly honest, dear reader, I begin this post in the hope of allowing myself the luxury, at some point herein, to trash the liturgical tastes of my co-religionists at great length, because verily I say unto you that I have suffered through too many banal liturgies with too much banal music and I am about ready to puke.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God da....oh, I'm sorry

I often praise the Lord (though I also wonder why it should be so) that merely by his presence, and without saying a word, a servant of God should frequently prevent people from speaking against Him.

- St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection

Anybody familiar with her style knew it was her by the first parenthetical comment - Teresa and St. Paul ("I am not lying" or "I speak as a fool") both have this habit.

Isn't this true? How many times have people to whom you have never deliberately witnessed, taken the name of the Lord in vain or used a vulgarity and then turned and apologized to you? Or, conversely, when you yourself have used a swear word (I'm thinking of the milder scatalogical ones), they laugh and say "I never expected to hear that out of you!"

It IS a good reminder to guard our tongues when someone is surprised by our speech, but the original thought is nice, isn't it? When people have to think about using the name of our Lord and Savior to express frustration or anger? Does it make Him more real to them?

I have devout friends who are driven piously crazy by "brown talk," as they term it. Having a taste for the salty, I like this verse:

Let your speech be always in grace seasoned with salt: that you may know how you ought to answer every man.

- St. Paul to the Colossians 4:6

Sunday, September 23, 2007

That's so on the blog!

It's time to initiate a new classification here on Exultet. It's an homage to (heck, it's an outright theft from) Cacciguida's description of one of his and Elinor's priceless dialogues.

To kick it off, here's something that caught my attention during this morning's homily on our need to become well-formed in Scripture and Church teaching:

"The 'trickle-down effect' of infallibility does not make it all the way to this pulpit."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Where the heck am I?

The development labs of the Curt Jester have once again come up with an indispensable piece of equipment for our Christian travels - a spiritual GPS (Grace Positioning System).
Through gyroscopic precession the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son into your life is tracked. When you start to back slide it causes our specially made gyroscope and accelerometer in our inertial guidance system. The inertial guidance system measures directly how inert you are to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When it detects back sliding the negative acceleration is detected and you are immediately warned.

One of its extra features is the Tabernacle Locator, handy for those churches where it's hard to know which direction to genuflect. Warning: plotted routes will tend to be narrow and steep rather than broad and flat.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Deeded over

I found something beautiful today in one of the books in the adoration chapel:
Has God, then, in giving himself for us, made himself ours? Yes, replies St. Bernard. 'He is born who belonged to himself.' He who appertained to himself chose to be born for us and to become ours; love triumphs over God.

This God, over whom none besides can rule, yielded himself captive to love. Love has gained the victory over him and, from being his own, has reduced him into our possession.

St. Alphonsus Liguori
The Incarnation, Birth and Infancy of Jesus Christ
--the Eternal Word, from being his own, has made himself ours

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Internet Monk, as usual, asks great questions

Michael Spencer, over at Internet Monk posted 5 Questions for Roman Catholics. Due to the fact that (1) it was linked by the ever-popular Amy Welborn, and (2) he wasn't able to get in to moderate and post comments for a while, he was flooded by voluminous and thoughtful answers of remarkable consistency.

Here are his questions:
  1. Do Roman Catholics consider Protestant ministers like myself valid ministers? More particularly, if a good friend becomes Roman Catholic, are they now confessionally required to believe that I was never called of God to be a minister?

  2. Why is so much of my dialog with Catholics frustrated with “cafeteria Catholicism?” Catholics will tell me that I must accept the church’s teaching on subject X, but if I point out that they also must accept the church’s teaching on subject Y, I often hear, “Don’t put words in my mouth. That’s not what I believe.” With all due respect, since when did the beliefs of an individual catholic matter? If a Protestant demonstrates that the church has infallibly taught Y, isn’t that the end of the discussion for the catholic?

  3. What would be the church’s view on someone who is convinced the Catholic faith is true, but who is unable or chooses not to openly convert to Catholicism at this time? Is such a person committing a sin?

  4. Exactly what is meant when a non-Catholic goes forward at communion to be blessed, but not partake? What if such a person- like myself- openly disagrees with some of the church’s teaching and is not seeking reception into the church?

  5. What is the church’s view of leadership and submission in marriage? Would the church teach that a wife should join the church over the objections of her Christian, but Protestant, spouse? If so, how does this fit into the church’s teaching on marriage?

My thoughts were stimulated by the questions but, as usual, I went in a slightly different direction. I sent him a note which I'll post here as the most efficient way to share my musings. I'd appreciate your thoughts.


I was fascinated by the questions you asked and the (remarkable) consistency of the answers. (That's what you get for moderating comments -- everyone speaks up thoroughly instead of building on what has gone before. It's illuminating.) Since I am nothing like a theologian, I was not particularly competent to give answers. But as a consultant and a business coach, questions are my business. And the answers you get always depend on the questions you ask. Your questions were, legitimately, about the Catholic Church's view on particular things. That's the right approach because, as you've noticed, if you ask individual Catholics what their particular opinion is, you'll get a wide and unhelpful range of answers. But there's a way that answers to those questions, good as they may be, might not really address the particular issue at hand.

There is a difference between Catholic and Evangelical mindset. (I'm going to speak in wide generalities for the sake of making a point. Please graciously impute more nuance than I'm articulating.

N.B. - A bit about my background: Raised Catholic, spent 15 years with late husband and family as Presbyterian, began considering return to Catholic Church around 2001, then did so about a year after his death (Easter, 2004). Long-time participant in interdenominational intentional Christian community, so I'm coming from a background of respect and familiarity with key commonalities and differences among denominations.])

In my view, most orthodox Christians share a temptation toward legalism, stemming from the human desire to avoid uncertainty and construct as much solid footing for ourselves as possible. If we learn something from God, we tend to want to extrapolate it to (1) others, and (2) situations that appear similar.

This plays out differently in Evangelicals and Catholics. For Protestants, doctrine and practice issues are determined at the level of congregation, presbytery, synod, reformed-branch-of-original-denomination and the like, often adapting (healthily or not) to cultural or situation-specific understandings. Therefore, it's not unexpected that we might find, for example, formal acceptance of finely-tuned analyses of the precise mechanisms of grace, salvation and predestination; establishment of unswerving primacy of one scriptural principle (i.e. wifely submission in marriage) to others (charity to the poor, say); or pastoral practices, beyond those found in scripture, that would foster a sense of community (such as prohibitions against drinking or dancing).

This desire for certainty seems to work itself out different in Catholics. It doesn't happen as much at the institutional level. Despite sometime appearances, the Catholic Church does not make "policy pronouncements" about issues unless it has been necessary at some point in history to do so, either because of a pressing leading of the Holy Spirit or in order to counter an error that is widespread and dangerous enough that it needs to be addressed. So we find the Church being very specific about, for instance, the truth that Jesus was fully God and fully man from the very beginning, or the fact that it is solely by God's grace and not our merit that we are saved. (See CCC para. 2009.) But it is not specific about the exact method by which that grace is made available to us because there isn't a clear understanding that's been given to the Church as a whole by the Holy Spirit. Respected and honored Catholic theologians have often expressed disagreeing ideas on important topics, and frequently either is held as acceptable for a Catholic to believe.

But, we have this desire for solid ground. So individual Catholics, in my experience, might experience more of a temptation to individualized scrupulosity. They may hairsplit about the things the Church has, in fact, already said. They may ask their parish priest exactly how high their temperature must be in order for them to be too sick to go to Mass. They may be critical of couples who choose to limit their family size, even if done so within the guidelines acceptable to the Church. They may lose sight of the fact that all prayer, devotion to saints, even frequent participation in the sacraments are only vehicles God uses to increase our union with him rather than ends in themselves.

Well, Michael, that is turning into quite a treatise from someone who is spectacularly unqualified to so do. But there is a point to this.

A number of the questions you asked really have the answer, "It depends." For instance, you brought up the situation of a woman whose husband discourages her conversion to the Catholic Church. I have a friend who is as Catholic as you can possibly be without being fully received into the church, but out of charity toward her (solidly Christian) husband who would have a strong antipathy toward her converting and leaving the church life that they have shared as a family, she is waiting and asking God to work in the situation. In my opinion, my friend is firmly in the middle of God's will for her life. However, another situation might call for another action. There are objective things that are right and wrong and will never change. But there are sometimes pastoral-application issues in which wisdom and counsel can be brought to bear. It's one reason that the ordained priesthood, the confessional, and the tradition of spiritual directors can be enrichments to Catholic life.

So, although there are non-negotiables that we need to accept as Catholics, there are many questions on which there are numerous acceptable answers. One of the questions facing a prospective Catholic is: "Can I accept the fact that there will be people in full communion with this Church who decidedly disagree with me on this?". When I was returning to the Church there were a number of issues I decided to wait and consider from inside the house rather than do it while I was lurking in the front garden, so to speak. The real presence of Jesus in the sacraments - yes, I was right there. The competence of God to preserve the Church as a whole from serious error - yes, I was there. An exact understanding of how I could draw near to Jesus by drawing near to Mary - well, that was going to take some time. But it wasn't necessary, and I was able to trust that there was a non-heretical understanding that I would enter into sooner or later. But I had to humbly accept that perhaps some of these people who I thought might be a little "off the deep end" might be further along in an understanding of the truth than I was.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What have I got for God?

During an excellent explanation of Mother Teresa's spiritual Calvary David Warren quoted John Henry Cardinal Newman:

If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him. In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. ... He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”

In my season of overwork (I hate summer: prickly heat, humidity and budgets), I sometimes look up at the crucifix before Mass begins and mentally empty out my pockets and purse. I have the nice thing I did for a neighbor, or a patience displayed with a gabby old relative, or even an act of humility when I didn't tell somebody I'd heard their joke before, but I more often have tension, exhaustion, mental dust bunnies, unresolved conflict at work, undone responsibilities.

Gotta offer it all up, a dusty wilted stale-smelling spiritual bouquet. Remember those? I found one I wrote out for my mother in a prayer book: One Our Father, One Hail Mary, One Glory Be and Playing With My Little Brother So My Mother Could Rest. Were that it was still so simple.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pulling no punches

I've just discovered Frederica Mathewes-Green, former Episcopalian now Orthodox, former pro-choice now pro-life, author and speaker. This quotation is from "Personhood of the Unborn", broadcast on NPR's All Things Considered January 21, 1998.
When we question whether someone is a person, it is because we want to kill him. We do this with our enemies in wartime, or with anyone we would like to enslave or exploit. Before we can feel comfortable treating others this way, we have to expel them from the human community.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Science and religion: memorize this concept

The world of science lives fairly comfortably with paradox. We know that light is a wave, and also that light is a particle. The discoveries made in the infinitely small world of particle physics indicate randomness and chance, and I do not find it any more difficult to live with the paradox of a universe of randomness and chance and a universe of pattern and purpose than I do with light as a wave and light as a particle. Living with contradiction is nothing new to the human being.

By Madeline L'Engle (1918-2007), who died today, although her website hasn't mentioned it yet.

HT to Rod Dreher who links to the New Republic blog The Plank.

I LOVE this concept! Of course there is mental tension when thinking about science. Everybody who takes a physics class, even at an introductory level, runs across the mind-bender questions like "Astronaut Bob is flying away from Astronaut Adam at 80% of the speed of light. They fire at each other. Who dies first?" But does the atheist say that the unseeable but reasonable supposition that light is a wave and a particle means that scientists are deluded folk with magic invisible particles helping them see?

God rest her soul. Even on the day of her death, she was teaching me.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Cripples for dinner?

With Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in mind, today's Gospel is deceptively easy in the beginning and surprisingly hard at the finish:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place.
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Then he said to the host who invited him,
“When you hold a lunch or a dinner,
do not invite your friends or your brothers
or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors,
in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.
Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

As I attain rank (mostly by virtue of seniority) in my profession, I have the worry of teaching others their jobs but I also have the privilege of sending them to do stuff to make my work life easier. I can actually get away with sending people to pick up my work from the printer, or make copies, or run and get me a reference document, or do icky little research or organization tasks to save me time. I've gotten awfully used to it, and don't quail as much as I used to; no explanations or apologies, just "go get me....please."

So I have the new occasion for sin of feeling pretty darn nice when I do a little running for a staffer when they're busy.

As my mother and aunts and uncles age, I and my cousins do a lot of door-holding and food-getting and ride-giving and "while I'm here, why don't I take out your garbage and change the light bulb and run stuff to the attic." They get first crack at the shrimp and the champagne and, after the little ones, even the piece of cake with the rose on it. It's very natural, because their age and infirmities, and our debt of life to them, makes it obvious and even kind of an honor (we won't have them forever).

So I go up high at work, and go down low in the family. In my self-conceit, I am tempted to think they balance. I know that's not for me to say, that I efface myself enough everywhere. Shoot.

About that second part, inviting the lame, the crippled, the poor: I can't even get a model of that in my mind. Be nice to the irritating woman who comes to an event at church that I volunteer for? Okay. Listen to the frighteningly immoral activities engaged in over the weekend by one of our more mistaken admin staff and seize upon the parts I can praise? Probably. But I think I'm totally blind to opportunity to give without ANY chance of return, not even of self-satisfaction. Someone explain it to me please.

Friday, August 31, 2007

What is Teresa teaching us?

Time magazine's recent (excellent) piece on Mother Teresa's dryness and "dark night" experiences during most of her spiritual walk has made quite a stir. And I have indeed been stirred by the realization that her faithfulness, love and service stemmed completely from grace, not even assisted by those moments of joy and spiritual consolation that most of us think we need in order to keep our spiritual lives on track.

The uber-predictable Christopher Hitchens, who has made a lucrative profession as an Atheist, has a slightly different perspective.
So, which is the more striking: that the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favorable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe?

Well, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Mr. Hitchens seems to believe that everyone is on the lookout for the Main Chance and is ready to leverage all for personal advantage. Ergo, I believe, his rather energetic and hysterical responses over the years to Mother Teresa as the epitome of all things Christian. More fool, he.

But another sort of reaction takes me more by surprise. TSO wrote a lovely post in response to the Time article. In a headstrong moment, he sent it to a local Baptist minister with whom he has swapped ideas in the past. The minister's response is, um, puzzling.
I am absolutely astonished at the "spin" people are putting on this!!! I simply can't believe what I'm reading. To live a life devoid of peace, joy, faith - is nothing to be admired. Her works, absolutely - but the life described in her writings is the polar opposite of the entire New Testament.

I am blown away by the rationalization I am reading from people simply trying to defend the undefendable.

As I said - I am truly astounded. And I honestly, sincerely mean that.


I find this stupefying. "Rationalization"? "Undefendable?" Is he saying she was in a state of sin and separation from God? That it's evidence that she wasn't really a Christian? What on earth would he suggest that she do? Go out and manufacture some better feelings? Drown her sorrows in whiskey and be less honest with her confessor? Learn to like Gilmore Girls to take her mind off her troubles?

It makes me want to throw things.

Where is this man coming from? Help me, please. I don't want to sin against this guy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Affable evangelism

Call to mind someone you might think of when the word "evangelist" is mentioned. Clean cut? Lots of jargon? Trying to convince you of something, is he? Perhaps he's wearing a conservative shirt and tie -- maybe even penny loafers. Do you feel comfortable? Would you like to look him up for lunch? If not, what a missed opportunity for the Holy Spirit.

I heard about a different approach the other day. A friend of my daughter went on an organized mission trip with a church group, I believe. They were in a poor area of a Latin American country; they had brought lots of beans and other food to distribute and a boatload of Bibles.

But this young man got a bit impatient with his friends' foot-dragging as they got everything organized and programmed. So, he went down to the place where the men of the village appeared to gather, the local bar. He was warmly greeted when he walked in and offered a drink, but he explained in his halting Spanish that he only had $1. A shout went up - no problem! - and soon, equipped with a beer, he was swapping stories of his home town and hearing about their families, their chickens, and their difficulties finding work.

He left to get some money and convince his friends that he had stumbled onto an opportunity. So, better bankrolled this time, he returned and bought a round of beer to good cheer. Soon, one of his friends walked in with a load of the beans they had brought. Could anybody use some beans? Hey, sure, everybody could, and wasn't it great that the visitors had turned up with all that extra food. The fun continued.

Soon another friend came in with his arms full. Could anybody use a Bible? Huzzah, sure, that's great. Thanks, come on and sit down, what will you have? You guys read the Bible? Yeah, I've wondered about that too, but the really important stuff like our good Lord is all there plain as day. Yes, even though it's mostly women in the churches, manly men are stronger when they are living like God wants them to. Want help getting those beans home? Sure, we're staying for a week. I'll get you back tomorrow for that dart game.

* * * * *

My daughter tells me that this fellow "was a guy before he was a Christian." Maybe that's the secret.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Speaking of rallying prayers....

This morning at Mass, we said the St. Michael the Archangel prayer in quiet unison as a sort of recessional:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.
And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God,
thrust into Hell
Satan and all his evil spirits who wander the world
seeking the ruin of souls.

And suddenly, I was struck by the tone of it. If we could have gotten into a football huddle and piled up hands to say it, it would strike just the right note! Especially if you built the volume and fervor and came down hard on some of the words - "rebuke" and "thrust" and "evil" and then said "Amen" instead of "Break!"

I like this practice, which only one of our priests permits. First, it takes the place of a sung or chanted recessional (I do wish we could alternate it with the Regina Caeli, for which I would volunteer to teach the right chant tone, but one thing at a time, we just got this going two years ago.) We don't have to get distracted by listening to the priest's shoes squeak as he pads off to the left. Second, it points us out the door towards the big bad wonderful world out there, since the majority of the attendees at my early Mass are commuters, with a few retired golfers like pastel sprinkles through the group. We're going to face our own imperfections as well as the fallenness of the world, and it doesn't hurt to ask for help against the Father of Evil, since we DO have help! Third, it reminds me of the Communion of Saints. If I keep mindful of the bigger church I am part of, I am more likely to try and be a good member instead of comparing myself to myself.

Memorized prayers can be very dear, or very dull, or very meaningless. But they're awfully handy to get our hearts calmed down and our minds lifted up. Then we can talk to the Lord and consult with the saints in Heaven and ponder the Scripture we ideally just read or heard.

Now, Roz, shall we take on the sing-song "Angel of God?"

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Time to get ready

I've tended to think of the Gloria, if I thought of it at all, as a sort of throwaway prayer that was there to create a spacer between decades of the rosary or as a notification that you were done with a series of prayers and ready to move onto something else. Has anyone ever heard it prayed in a fervent rather than a mumbled tone? I thought not.

But it's been getting my attention lately. Isn't it the complete epitome of worship?

Glory be to the Father!

And to the Son!

And to the Holy Spirit!

As it was in the beginning . . . is now . . . and ever shall be! World without end!

I've seen you people. You're just like me You're perfectly capable of standing on your feet, waving your arms and screaming when you have seats on the 50 yard line and your team is driving for the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Well, think of being in the middle of a hepped up group of God-lovers jumping, smiling, laughing and shouting "GLORY BE TO THE FATHER! AND TO THE SON! AND TO THE HOLY SPIRIT! . . . ." Does it or does it not give you gooseflesh? It does me.

Okay, now the $65,000 question: Do you think heaven will look more like this or like a sedate, mannerly mortuary waiting room?

Yep. Better start practicing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gee, sorry you're so unhappy

In Cacciguida's words, this guy stereotypes, sure, but he does it really, really well.

I had to laugh at his description of Latin Mass at St. John Cantius in Chicago: "The sanctuary, behind a long communion rail, looked oddly barren because it lacked the modern altar on which a priest, facing the people, prepares the Eucharistic meal." Does this look barren? Or this?

He does understand why some people are happy about having more access to the traditional Mass. To wit:
They’re right that Mass can be listless, with little solemnity and multiple sources of irritation: parents sedating children with Cheerios; priests preaching refrigerator-magnet truisms; amateur guitar strumming that was lame in 1973; teenagers slumping back after communion, hands in pockets, as if wishing they had been given gum instead.
(I have to say that if the Latin Mass ever comes to my parish, there will be no lack of parents sedating their kids with Cheerios. Father calls our church a "cry room with a tabernacle.")

This fellow doesn't like feeling left out. Fair enough. Let's make sure that good handouts are always available so the first-time visitor can stay apace. I'd appreciate that myself.

And he misses the "family meal" emphasis that has crept -- no, galloped -- into the liturgy since the 1960s. If he pays attention, though, and keeps an open mind, he's in for some wonderful surprises. Deep participation in the bodily and spiritual presence of the redemptive Christ is way better than a family meal, no offense to Mom. And no one says we can't go out together for brunch afterwards.


Sample Text

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

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

E-mail us.

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