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All right then, now that I have vented, some reading. And perhaps the reading will make more sense having read the venting and knowing that these writers have a common reference point: the Scripture readings for Quinguasesima Sunday, which are 1 Corinthians 13 on love and Jesus’ speaking of his coming passion and healing of a blind man.

Of course, you can check out this post for some links to readings I dug up last year.

Reading Vintage Lent, you might come away with a slightly different sense of self than much contemporary Spiritual-Speak delivers. You – the person embarking on this Lenten journey – are not a Bundle of Needs whose most urgent spiritual agenda is to feel accepted, especially as your energy is consumed by staring sadly at walls erected by rigid hypocritical churchy people.

No. Reading Vintage Lent, you discern that you’re a weak sinner, but with God’s grace for which your Lenten penance makes room, you are capable of leaving all that behind, and you must, for Christ needs you for the work of loving the world.

Here, as per usual, is an excerpt from my favorite vintage Catholic text book, published in 1947 for 7th graders:

Then this, from a book of meditations tied to the Sunday Scripture readings, published in 1904. It’s called The Inner Life of the Soul, and it really is quite a nice book. Not all older spiritual writing is helpful to us – the writing can be florid or dense in other ways, it can reflect concerns that perhaps we don’t share. This isn’t like this, and the reason, I think, is that the chapters were originally published as columns in a periodical called Sacred Heart Review.  The author is one S.L. Emery, and contemporary reviews of the book indicate that many readers assumed that the author was male, but a bit more research shows that this is not true. Susan L. Emery was, obviously a woman, and is cited in other contemporary journals for her work in translating Therese of Liseux’s poetry. 

Anyway, Emery’s reflections, which tie together Scripture readings, the liturgy, the lives and wisdom of the saints and the concerns of ordinary experience, are worth bookmarking and returning to, and, if I might suggest to any publishers out there…reprinting.

What I think is important to see from this short reading, as well as the Ash Wednesday reflection that follows, is how mistaken our assumptions and stereotypes of the “bad old days” before Vatican II are. Tempted to characterize the spirituality of these years as nothing but cold-hearted rigidity distant from the complexities of human life, we might be surprised at the tone of these passages. The call to penance is strong. The guidelines are certainly stricter and more serious than what is suggested today. But take an honest look – it is not about the law at the expense of the spirit or the heart. Intention is at the core, and there are always qualifications and suggestions for those who cannot or are not required to follow the strictest reading of the guidelines: those who are young, old, or sick, or, if you notice, the laborer who must keep his or her strength up.

The season of Lent is at hand; in three days Ash
Wednesday will be here; our Mother the Church calls
upon us to fast, and pray, and to do penance for our sins.
Each one who cannot fast should ask for some practical
and methodical work of piety to do instead ; and perhaps
few better could be found than ten minutes’ serious medi-
tation, every day, upon the Passion of our Lord. This
practice can be varied in many ways, some of them being
so simple that a child might learn them ; and God alone
knows of what immense value to us this practice, faith-
fully continued through one Lent, would be. Let us con-
sider, then, by His assisting grace, that most helpful spiritual
devotion called meditation.

In our day the necessity is really extreme of keeping
the minds of Christians filled and permeated with an abid-
ing sense of the love and care of Almighty God for each
individual soul. The ceaseless hurry and worry prevalent
amongst us, to become rich, to be counted intellectual, to
know or to have as much as our neighbor, tends to destroy
that overruling sense of spiritual things which would give
ballast and leisure to our souls. Then, when earthly props
fail us, and loiieliness, sickness, or great trouble of any kind
confronts us, the utter shallowness of our ordinary pursuits
opens out in its desert waste before us, and our aching eyes
see nothing to fill the void. The ambition dies out of life.
If we have means, people begin to talk of change of scene
and climate for tired souls who know but too well that they
cannot run away from the terrible burden, self ; though their
constant craving is, nevertheless, to escape somehow from
their “ waste life and unavailing days.” The unfortunate,
introspective and emotional reading of our era fosters the
depression, and suicide has become a horribly common
thing.

Even a Christian mind becomes tainted with this pre-
vailing evil of despondency, which needs to be most forc-
ibly and promptly met. Two weapons are at hand, — the
old and never to be discarded ones of the love of God and
the love of our neighbor. …

….
Oh, if in our dark, dark days we could only forget our-
selves ! God, Who knows our trials, knows well how
almost impossible to us that forgetfulness sometimes seems ;
perhaps He ordains that it literally is impossible for a while,
and that it shall be our hardest cross just then. But at
least, as much as we can, let us forget ourselves in Him
and in our suffering brothers; and He will remember us.

I did a search for “Quinquagesima” on Archive.org and came up with lots of Anglican results, but here’s a bit of an interesting Catholic offering – an 1882 pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Westminster to his Archdiocese. The first couple of pages deal specifically with Lent, and the rest with Catholic education, which is interesting enough. But for today, I’ll focus on the Quinquagesima part. He begins by lamenting a decline in faith – pointing out the collapse of Christian culture. And then turns to Lent:

We are once more upon the threshold of this
sacred time. Let us use it well. It may be our last Lent, our
last time of preparation and purification before we stand in the
light of the Great White Throne. Let us, therefore, not ask
how much liberty may we indulge without positive sin, but how
much liberty we may offer to Him who gave Himself for us.
” All things to me are lawful, but all things edify not ; ” and
surely in Lent it is well to forego many lawful things which
belong to times of joy, not to times of penance.

The Indult of the Holy See has so tempered the rule of
fasting that only the aged, or feeble, or laborious, are unable to
observe it. If fasting be too severe for any, they may be dis-
pensed by those who have authority. But, if dispensed, they are .
bound so to use their liberty as to keep in mind the reason and
the measure of their dispensation. A dispensation does not
exempt us from the penitential season of Lent. They who use
a dispensation beyond its motives and its measures, lose all
merit of abstinence, temperance, and self-chastisement. If you
cannot fast, at least abstain. If you cannot abstain, use your
dispensation as sparingly as can be, and only as your need re-
quires. If in fasting and abstinence you cannot keep Lent,
keep it by prayer, and Sacraments, and alms, and spiritual
mortifications. Chastise the faults of temper, resentment, ani-
mosity, vanity, self-love, and pride, which, in some degree and
in divers ways, beset and bias if they do not reign in all our
hearts. In these forty days let the world, its works and ways,
be shut out as far as can be from your homes and hearts. Go
out of the world into the desert with our Divine Redeemer.
Fast with Him, at least from doing your own will ; from the
care and indulgence of self which naturally besets us. Examine
th^ habits of your life, your prayers, your confessions, your
communions, your amusements, your friendships, the books
you read, the money you spend upon yourselves, the alms you
give to the poor, the offerings you have laid upon the Altar, and
the efforts you have made for the salvation of souls. Make a
review of the year that is past ; cast up the reckoning of these
things ; resolve for the year to come on some onward effort,
and begin without delay. To-day is set apart for a test of your
charity and love of souls. We may call it the commemoration
of our poor children, and the day of intercession for the orphans
and the destitute.

Finally…do you want to be correct? Well, here you go.

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…or Candlemas:

Another great piece from Roseanne T. Sullivan in Dappled Things. 

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.
  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil candlemasand to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.
  The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
  The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

I love the way Elena Maria Vidal puts it:

At Christmas, we adored Him with the shepherds at dawn; at Epiphany, we rejoiced in the brightness of His manifestations to the nations; at Candlemas, with the aged Simeon, we take Him into our arms. With the prophetic words of Simeon, the day also becomes a preparation for Lent and the Passion of Our Lord. We must offer ourselves with Jesus to the Father; we must embrace our own purification.

This feast day links Christmas with Lent, the joyful mysteries with the sorrowful mysteries.

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

And now for some #B16 from 2011

This is the meeting point of the two Testaments, Old and New. Jesus enters the ancient temple; he who is the new Temple of God: he comes to visit his people, thus bringing to fulfilment obedience to the Law and ushering in the last times of salvation.

It is interesting to take a close look at this entrance of the Child Jesus into the solemnity of the temple, in the great comings and goings of many people, busy with their work: priests and Levites taking turns to be on duty, the numerous devout people and pilgrims anxious to encounter the Holy God of Israel. Yet none of them noticed anything. Jesus was a child like the others, a first-born son of very simple parents.

Even the priests proved incapable of recognizing the signs of the new and special presence of the Messiah and Saviour. Alone two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, discover this great newness. Led by the Holy Spirit, in this Child they find the fulfilment of their long waiting and watchfulness. They both contemplate the light of God that comes to illuminate the world and their prophetic gaze is opened to the future in the proclamation of the Messiah: “Lumen ad revelationem gentium!” (Lk 2:32). The prophetic attitude of the two elderly people contains the entire Old Covenant which expresses the joy of the encounter with the Redeemer. Upon seeing the Child, Simeon and Anna understood that he was the Awaited One.

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On this first Sunday of Advent, the Scripture readings speak to us of what God promises his faithful ones, and of the need to prepare, for that is what we do during this season: prepare for his coming.

There is no lack of resources for keeping ourselves spiritually grounded during this season, even if we are having to battle all sorts of distractions, ranging from early-onset-Christmas settling in all around us to  the temptation to obsessively follow the news, which seems to never stop, never leave us alone.

Begin with the Church. Begin and end with the Church, if you like. Starting and ending your day with what Catholics around the world are praying during this season: the Scripture readings from Mass, and whatever aspects of daily prayer you can manage – that’s the best place to begin and is sufficient.

I found this wonderful, even moving homily from Newman, centered on worship as preparation for the Advent of God. The spiritual and concrete landscape that is his setting is particular to England in the early winter and might not resonate with those of us living, say, in the Sun Belt or in Australia, but nonetheless, perhaps the end-of-the-year weariness he describes might seem familiar, even if the dreary weather does not. I’ll quote from it copiously here, but it deserves a slow, meditative read. 

YEAR after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out: spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have {2} come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand,” that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty,” and “behold the land which is very far off.” These are feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ.

And such, too, are the feelings with which we now come before Him in prayer day by day. The season is chill and dark, and the breath of the morning is damp, and worshippers are few, but all this befits those who are by profession penitents and mourners, watchers and pilgrims. More dear to them that loneliness, more cheerful that severity, and more bright that gloom, than all those aids and appliances of luxury by which men nowadays attempt to make prayer less disagreeable to them. True faith does not covet comforts. It only complains when it is forbidden to kneel, when it reclines upon cushions, is protected by curtains, and encompassed by warmth. Its only hardship is to be hindered, or to be ridiculed, when it would place itself as a sinner before its Judge. They who realize that awful Day when they shall see Him face to face, whose {3} eyes are as a flame of fire, will as little bargain to pray pleasantly now, as they will think of doing so then….

….We cannot have fitter reflections at this Season than those which I have entered upon. What may be the destiny of other orders of beings we know not;—but this we know to be our own fearful lot, that before us lies a time when we must have the sight of our Maker and Lord face to face. We know not what is reserved for other beings; there may be some, which, knowing nothing of their Maker, are never to be brought before Him. For what we can tell, this may be the case with the brute creation. It may be the law of their nature that they should live and die, or live on an indefinite period, upon the very outskirts of His government, sustained by Him, but never permitted to know or approach Him. But this is not our case. We are destined to come before Him; nay, and to come before Him in judgment; and that on our first meeting; and that suddenly. We are not merely to be rewarded or {4} punished, we are to be judged. Recompense is to come upon our actions, not by a mere general provision or course of nature, as it does at present, but from the Lawgiver Himself in person. We have to stand before His righteous Presence, and that one by one. One by one we shall have to endure His holy and searching eye. At present we are in a world of shadows. What we see is not substantial. Suddenly it will be rent in twain and vanish away, and our Maker will appear. And then, I say, that first appearance will be nothing less than a personal intercourse between the Creator and every creature. He will look on us, while we look on Him.

….Men sometimes ask, Why need they profess religion? Why need they go to church? Why need they observe certain rites and ceremonies? Why need they watch, pray, fast, and meditate? Why is it not enough to be just, honest, sober, benevolent, and otherwise virtuous? Is not this the true and real worship of God? Is not activity in mind and conduct the most acceptable way of approaching Him? How can they please Him by submitting to certain religious forms, and taking part in certain religious acts? Or if they must do so, why may they not choose their own? Why must they come to church for them? Why must they be partakers in what the Church calls Sacraments? I answer, they must do so, first of all and especially, because God tells them so to do. But besides this, I observe that we see this plain reason {8} why, that they are one day to change their state of being. They are not to be here for ever. Direct intercourse with God on their part now, prayer and the like, may be necessary to their meeting Him suitably hereafter: and direct intercourse on His part with them, or what we call sacramental communion, may be necessary in some incomprehensible way, even for preparing their very nature to bear the sight of Him.

Let us then take this view of religious service; it is “going out to meet the Bridegroom,” who, if not seen “in His beauty,” will appear in consuming fire. Besides its other momentous reasons, it is a preparation for an awful event, which shall one day be. What it would be to meet Christ at once without preparation, we may learn from what happened even to the Apostles when His glory was suddenly manifested to them. St. Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” And St. John, “when he saw Him, fell at His feet as dead.” [Luke v. 8. Rev. i. 17.]….

…. It is my desire and hope one day to take possession of my inheritance: and I come to make myself ready for it, and I would not see heaven yet, for I could not bear to see it. I am allowed to be in it without seeing it, that I may learn to see it. And by psalm and sacred song, by confession and by praise, I learn my part.

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. {11} Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave. Thus in many ways He, who is Judge to us, prepares us to be judged,—He, who is to glorify us, prepares us to be glorified, that He may not take us unawares; but that when the voice of the Archangel sounds, and we are called to meet the Bridegroom, we may be ready….

…And what I have said concerning Ordinances, applies still more fully to Holy Seasons, which include in them the celebration of many Ordinances. They are times {12} when we may humbly expect a larger grace, because they invite us especially to the means of grace. This in particular is a time for purification of every kind. When Almighty God was to descend upon Mount Sinai, Moses was told to “sanctify the people,” and bid them “wash their clothes,” and to “set bounds to them round about:” much more is this a season for “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God;” [Exod. xix. 10-12. 2 Cor. xii. 1.] a season for chastened hearts and religious eyes; for severe thoughts, and austere resolves, and charitable deeds; a season for remembering what we are and what we shall be. Let us go out to meet Him with contrite and expectant hearts; and though He delays His coming, let us watch for Him in the cold and dreariness which must one day have an end. Attend His summons we must, at any rate, when He strips us of the body; let us anticipate, by a voluntary act, what will one day come on us of necessity. Let us wait for Him solemnly, fearfully, hopefully, patiently, obediently; let us be resigned to His will, while active in good works. Let us pray Him ever, to “remember us when He cometh in His kingdom;” to remember all our friends; to remember our enemies; and to visit us according to His mercy here, that He may reward us according to His righteousness hereafter.

From a 1945 9th grade religion textbook, Our Quest for Happiness: the Story of Divine Love

 

Expectation or waiting is a dimension that flows through our whole personal, family and social existence. Expectation is present in thousands of situations, from the smallest and most banal to the most important that involve us completely and in our depths. Among these, let us think of waiting for a child, on the part of a husband and wife; of waiting for a relative or friend who is coming from far away to visit us; let us think, for a young person, of waiting to know his results in a crucially important examination or of the outcome of a job interview; in emotional relationships, of waiting to meet the beloved, of waiting for the answer to a letter, or for the acceptance of forgiveness…. One could say that man is alive as long as he waits, as long as hope is alive in his heart. And from his expectations man recognizes himself: our moral and spiritual “stature” can be measured by what we wait for, by what we hope for.           -B16, 2010

 

 

 

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

-Anne Ridler (1912-2001) , who introduces the poem: 

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Links to good commentaries on the readings of Advent are at the blog called The Dim Bulb. Excellent. 

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 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.”

-1 Samuel 8:19

Some post-election thoughts. These are very specific. I have a lot more, but who knows what will become of them.

As I watched the course of the presidential campaign over the past couple of years, my long-held convictions about a fundamental problem with the shape of the process were confirmed. The reactions of the supporters of Clinton since the election have only deepened those convictions.

It all comes down to this: the office of the presidency has become too important. 

There are both spiritual and political dimensions to this.  I’ll take the political first.

So most of you, I trust, are familiar with the United States Constitution and the general shape of our government. There are three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. The intention of the founders was to create a system in which power would be balanced and checked. Hence the term “checks and balances.”

The President is the head of one of those branches – the executive.

He is the head of the executive branch which “executes” the laws that the legislature enacts and the judicial branch evaluate in terms of their constitutionality.

Here is Article II of the Constitution, which delineates the powers and responsibilities of the president. 

He is not the king. He is not a “ruler.” Moreover, he is not the representative of anyone’s soul, identity or deepest yearnings.

But of course, that limited sense of the president has not held.

I sometimes think, although it was probably inevitable, that it was unfortunate that a hero was chosen as our first president. It sets the bar high and imbues the office with an aura prone to idealization and idolatry – hence the 1865 fresco in the rotunda of the dome of the US Capitol, The Apotheosis of George Washington– which depicts Washington rising to the heavens in glory. “Apotheosis” means deification. 

washington

How much better it would have been, I think, if John Adams had been our first president!

The temptation of make too much of the presidency is also an extension of this country’s deeply-rooted sense of its own role in Divine Providence, beginning with the Puritans, continuing through the Revolution and formation of the nation and reaching a peak of sorts in the 19th century.

The expansion of the federal government, especially the executive branch, has not helped.  Beginning with the Progressive Era then escalating, of course with the Great Depression and World War II – big, global problems that seemed to call for big solutions that, once in place, are all but impossible to roll back. And yes, books have been written on the “Imperial Presidency.”

But now we are at a point at which people spend years of their lives, sacrifice their family and personal lives and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to attain this office, an office which has far more power than the founders intended, partly because the branch of government which it heads has far more power than it should.

Yes, there are and always have been profound differences in views about the shape and direction that the United States government should take. People with varying views group themselves in political parties to put forward their view and bring it into power. So in a way, yes, the President does “embody” something and that something can involve not only administrative responsibilities but the ideals that shape this direction. Fine.

But it’s too much. 

There is something wrong when the country is more or less constantly thinking about the president: who it is now, and who it will be in a few years. Don’t you resent the obsession and the attention to the office of the presidency? I do.

It seems to be a sign of a fundamental instability and lack of a core, as well as celebrity culture.

And of course politicians play on this. “Make America Great Again.” “Build a better world for our children.”  It’s all part of the same thing.

Which brings us to the spiritual, as it always does.

Over the past few days, protests have broken out over the country, centered on the meme #NotMyPresident. The anger, shock, dismay and yes, grief, is on full display.

When I look at this on the news or on my social media feeds, I see, above anything else, a spiritual vacuum.

There is room, of course, and if your conscience demands it, an obligation to express hesitation and opposition to a stated program of action with which you disagree or feel some aspect of your life to be threatened by. But even so, most people would, you know, wait for the person to actually take office and make decisions to make a judgment on how to react to that. To engage in this kind of protest at this stage is nothing more than attempts at intimidation.

No, what I sense goes deeper, and it’s not just the events of the last couple of days that lead me to that, but also the spiritual dimension of what I wrote above.

It’s too much. It shouldn’t be that important. 

But for some reason, it is. Why?

Well, when God has been chased out of your life, when the transcendent is simply what you make it to be, it is almost inevitable that the inborn yearning that we have for certainty in identity, belonging and meaning will be transferred.

Basically, this: If the election of the head of the executive branch sends you spinning and feeling distraught because the president doesn’t represent your values and moves you to disrupt your life to cry out  #NotMyPresident! …the presidency is too important to you. It’s become an idol.

It is possible to have high expectations of our leaders’ competence and abilities without deifying them or expecting them to embody your personal values and be crushed and outraged  and moved to violence and hatred when they don’t.

Perhaps a good way to get my point is to take it down a level. Think about the governor of your state. The mayor of your city or town.

When you consider who to vote for those offices, what enters into your decision-making? I’m going to guess it’s pretty practical.  I would think it would seem pretty strange to deal with the identity of your governor or mayor in the deeply personal way that some seem to be dealing with the presidency.

I don’t vote for mayor, governor, Senator or President, looking to have my ultimate personal values reflected or my sense of the ideal human being or social construction represented. After all, then I would never vote, would I? And if a candidate I vote for happens to win and hold office, I don’t look to he or she to do anything but move the workings of government in the general direction which he or she promised, and do as little harm as possible.

I can understand being upset. I really can. I can even sympathize with the identity politics aspect of this and the disgust with Trump’s personal character. Absolutely! Perhaps you are saying that you will be “embarrassed” to have Trump as president. Well, there are some of us who have been mostly  “embarrassed” by the president of the United States since the Gerald Ford days, more or less continually, for various reasons, so it gets to a point at which you realize…he’s just the president and there’s no need for me to tie who I am, even as an American, to the identity of who the president is today. 

So yes, the angst seems totally out of proportion to what this office *should* be about. I mean…who among us who was alive and sentient in, say 1977, looks back and says, “Gerald Ford! His presidency was satisfying because it represented me and satisfied my soul!” ?  Or..”That Ford presidency really did a number on me. Never been the same since, and what is life, my friends, anyway?”

So yes, resist.

Resist the temptation to put your trust in kings.

Resist their attempts to exploit your yearning for meaning and the transcendent.

Resist…and be free. 

 

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A Birmingham-based writer and acquaintance of mine had a piece about mental illness and faith published in the Washington Post today. It’s very good, and I’d recommend anyone in any kind of pastoral ministry read it:

The Scripture for this morning was John 16:16-24. The pastor read the verses aloud and said a short prayer. As soon as he began talking through his main points, I braced myself for the disappointment I knew was coming. I suspected he wouldn’t take this opportunity to discuss things such as depression and anxiety in the Christian life.

I was right.

Although much of what he said was good and biblical, he didn’t mention mental illness. Instead, he said if you aren’t experiencing joy, you should examine your life and repent of any sin that might be blocking it.

I don’t want to hijack Charlotte’s excellent piece for my own purposes – but, well, old habits are hard to break. My tangent is to observe how this attitude reflects the dangers of superficial religious practice in which definitions of things like “joy” and “peace” have been untethered from hundreds of years of tradition – which means, basically, “human experience” – and come to mean not much more than what the culture-of-the-moment says they mean.

For indeed, traditional, historic Christian spirituality may not have understood the nature of mental illness the way we do today, but it did embody an understanding of the complexities of the human person, accept a mystery of how our particular personalities interact with the transcendent, and provide understanding pathways of how to navigate that.

It also points out to me, once again, why emotion-based religious events are so terrible. Usually I say something like “inadequate” or “flawed” when I talk about this, but I think I’ll just move on and say that gatherings in which individuals are manipulated into a certain emotional state by music, environment, rhetorical tricks, guilt and even personal witness are terrible.  Defining “great worship today” by the tears shed or emotions felt by the hundreds swaying along to your music makes me think, Fascist! 

Back to Charlotte’s point. This is an important one, and I think her treatment is balanced and fair. It’s not, she says, that every word spoken should revolve around the reality of mental illness, but neither should it be ignored, especially when speaking of the practice of spirituality.

Therese Borchard has been writing about the issue of spirituality and depression for many years.

I know someone who read this book – A Catholic Guide to Depression –   and found it very helpful.

****

This brings another, somewhat related point to mind.

I was talking to someone who knew a younger teen who was experiencing some faith questions. In fact, this young person had reluctantly determined that he must be an agnostic. Why? Because he didn’t and couldn’t seem to feel anything. 

When I heard this, my heart cracked a little and then I experienced a moment of clarity, in which my sometimes inchoate skepticism about youth ministry all pulled together and made sense.

I thought about all of the youth ministry programs that I see and am somewhat familiar with, that my kids are invited to participate in. They’re all emotionally-based. One one level, they’re about the emotion of enjoyment and fun, based on the assumption that this is necessary in order to just get them in the door. Moving to another level, they tend to emphasize other emotions – joy, remorse, connectedness, excitement –  from retreats to Adoration events that feature praise music and personal witness.

What if you’re a kid who searches for evidence of truth mostly through your head and not through your emotions? 

Adults can look at all of this with some perspective. We can separate the emotion from the core of faith. We can understand that for a lot of us, that emotionally-based stage – the affective stage  – is important and maybe even necessary. It was for me, when I was a senior in high school, and was deeply moved and felt an individual, very emotional encounter with Christ at a class retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta. But that was one moment, and perspective taught me that there was more to faith. The holistic nature of Catholic spirituality taught me that this type of intensity was rare, and didn’t define faith – my faith.

But teens?

Most of them probably don’t understand this. I’d say that the vast majority don’t. They just haven’t lived long enough. And so picture a kid whose personality and character is not oriented towards truth-seeking via emotion. Perhaps this stuff even makes them feel uncomfortable. They’re in all of these youth ministry events in which they’re constantly preached at about feelings of joy and happiness as the definition of faith, in which other kids are crying because Jesus is so real to them…

…and they’re not feeling it. They’re not crying. It’s not intense for them.

Does that mean I maybe don’t have faith? At all?

*****

(What helps? Correctly defining faith, to begin with. Start here.)

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For years, I have been answering the question, “Why go to Mass?” for myself and others. You probably have, too. It  tends to comes up.

I answered it for high school students. I discussed it with adults. I talked about it, wrote about it. I answered it for my own children, and I contemplate it myself.

The answers we give teens and young adults these days – and let’s focus on them –  tend to flow from a particular focus: YOU.

Go to Mass because you will get something out of it. You will be happier. More at peace. You will feel closer to God. Your week will be off to a great start! It’s awesome!

There’s nothing (not much) wrong with this. Taking for granted that the salvation of one’s soul is, indeed, about yourself, other self-centric concerns aren’t ignored even by spiritual writers from the past. Francis de Sales:

Strive then to your utmost to be present every day at this holy Celebration, in order that with the priest you may offer the Sacrifice of your Redeemer on behalf of yourself and the whole Church to God the Father. Saint Chrysostom says that the Angels crowd around it in adoration, and if we are found together with them, united in one intention, we cannot but be most favourably influenced by such society. Moreover, all the heavenly choirs of the Church triumphant, as well as those of the Church militant, are joined to our Dear Lord in this divine act, so that with Him, in Him, and by Him, they may win the favour of God the Father, and obtain His Mercy for us. How great the blessing to my soul to contribute its share towards the attainment of so gracious a gift!

Introduction to the Devout Life

From a 1958 high school textbook:

His goodness to us in instituting the Blessed Sacrament is beyond measure. He comes to the altar at the call of the priest and comes to dwell in our souls and in our bodies, transforming us, comforting us, bringing that ‘peace which the world cannot give.’

Of course this is why we go to Mass. God graciously created us for life with him, and after Baptism, this is the core of it. Everything is there in Him, and there it is we find our true selves, which means we find peace and yes, happiness.

But when it comes to encouraging young people to go to Mass and like it, by George, I tire of the appeal to the self. I tire of the appeal to the self in relation to all contemporary spirit-talk, as a matter of fact.

For in a culture dominated by economics and the market, the line between evangelism and marketing is quite thin. It is challenging for evangelizers to make their case without thinking of their listeners as consumers who must be sold on the personal benefits of their product. Impossible, apparently

But the appeal to the self and its feelings is not enough, and it’s not true to authentic Christian spirituality, which is rooted, not most of all in how our spiritual acts will make us feel, but how they reflect our duty to love God and neighbor, since that is where authentic peace is found. The spiritual masters know a lot about the mystery of emotion, most of all that emotions can reveal, but emotions can also distract and conceal. Our emotions can tug us forward and lead us to a real place with God, but just as quickly, they can mislead us into thinking God is present where He isn’t – or absent when he is quite near.

So I am afraid that if I were to ever return to the classroom, my patience with coaxing, marketing and promising good feelings as a selling point for Mass would be shot at this point.  I wouldn’t even bother. As I have gotten older, as one does, and witnessed more and more suffering in the various circles of my life, near and far, the reasons for going to Mass have flipped. The urgency I feel (ah!) about me going to Mass, about my kids and everyone I know going to Mass is not about inspiring or soothing feelings we might derive from the experience.  After the basic, no-other-reason-is-necessary – duty to give thanks to God and join in Christ’s sacrifice, I really just want to say…….

the world needs prayer. You need prayer. I need prayer. Your friends need prayer. So many sick people. Have you heard? Violence. Despair. People afraid and lost.

How about we try to stop being so lazy and self-centered  and pray for each other?

You didn’t make it to Mass this week? Forget about yourself..don’t you care about anyone else enough to get out of bed, turn the phone off, put some decent clothes on and bring all the people you say you care about into the presence of the only One who can give any of us real peace in our suffering?

We are all so scattered, we are all so busy, and even when we take the time, our spiritual and corporal works of mercy reach one person at a time, for a moment.

Our hands, no matter how expert, can heal and cure, but not for all time, and only until the next pain strikes. Our understanding words can help, our contributions can turn life around, our time can save someone’s sanity. All of this is true.

This is what we can do, what we are called to do, what we are mandated to do.

But as we know to our frustration, even this, even at the level of the saints, is only so much.

In the Mass, those walls crumble. We enter into the Presence of Infinite Love poured out on Calvary for every person in the entire world. We are right there.

Knowing the hurt, confusion and fear, knowing the physical suffering, knowing the spiritual isolation that haunts the world, how can I say no to the chance to bring this mystery of human suffering into the presence of the greater Mystery of Love?

So there you go. My new pitch to the Kids:

Try to stop being such a selfish jerk. Go to Mass and pray for your mom. She needs it.

You think it will sell at youth group?

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Here is the background on the devotion.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from 2008:

Yesterday we celebrated the Cross of Christ, the instrument of our salvation, which reveals the mercy of our God in all its fullness. The Cross is truly the place where God’s compassion for our world is perfectly manifested. Today, as we celebrate the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we contemplate Mary sharing her Son’s compassion for sinners. As Saint Bernard declares, the Mother of Christ entered into the Passion of her Son through her compassion (cf. Homily for Sunday in the Octave of the Assumption). At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. As in the case of her Son Jesus, one might say that she too was led to perfection through this suffering (cf. Heb 2:10), so as to make her capable of receiving the new spiritual mission that her Son entrusts to her immediately before “giving up his spirit” (cf. Jn 19:30): that of becoming the mother of Christ in his members. In that hour, through the figure of the beloved disciple, Jesus presents each of his disciples to his Mother when he says to her: Behold your Son (cf. Jn 19:26-27).

Today Mary dwells in the joy and the glory of the Resurrection. The tears shed at the foot of the Cross have been transformed into a smile which nothing can wipe away, even as her maternal compassion towards us remains unchanged. The intervention of the Virgin Mary in offering succour throughout history testifies to this, and does not cease to call forth, in the people of God, an unshakable confidence in her: the Memorare prayer expresses this sentiment very well. Mary loves each of her children, giving particular attention to those who, like her Son at the hour of his Passion, are prey to suffering; she loves them quite simply because they are her children, according to the will of Christ on the Cross.

And from 2011, from a visit to Germany:

When Christians of all times and places turn to Mary, they are acting on the spontaneous conviction that Jesus cannot refuse his mother what she asks; and they are relying on the unshakable trust that Mary is also our mother – a mother who has experienced the greatest of all sorrows, who feels all our griefs with us and ponders in a maternal way how to overcome them. How many people down the centuries have made pilgrimages to Mary, in order to find comfort and strength before the image of the Mother of Sorrows, as here at Etzelsbach!

Let us look upon her likeness: a woman of middle age, her eyelids heavy with much weeping, gazing pensively into the distance, as if meditating in her heart upon everything that had happened. On her knees rests the lifeless body of her son, she holds him gently and lovingly, like a precious gift. We see the marks of the crucifixion on his bare flesh. The left arm of the corpse is pointing straight down. Perhaps this sculpture of the Pietà, like so many others, was originally placed above an altar. The crucified Jesus would then be pointing with his outstretched arm to what was taking place on the altar, where the holy sacrifice that he had accomplished becomes present in the Eucharist.

A particular feature of the holy image of Etzelsbach is the position of Our Lord’s body. In most representations of the Pietà, the dead Jesus is lying with his head facing left, so that the observer can see the wounded side of the Crucified Lord. Here in Etzelsbach, however, the wounded side is concealed, because the body is facing the other way. It seems to me that a deep meaning lies hidden in this representation, that only becomes apparent through silent contemplation: in the Etzelsbach image, the hearts of Jesus and his mother are turned to one another; the hearts come close to each other. They exchange their love. We know that the heart is also the seat of the deepest affection and the most intimate compassion. In Mary’s heart there is room for the love that her divine Son wants to bestow upon the world.

Resources related to today’s feast, because they are about Mary:

Pray the Rosary 

and

my now-free e-book, Mary and the Christian Life

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