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Via another blog, I happened upon this trailer for a new movie streaming or showing somewhere. It stars Justin Timberlake and it’s about this ex-con who returns to his southern (of course) hometown and somehow ends up taking care of a young boy who’s having troubles because (you know it) he wants to wear dresses.

Justin Timberlake Stars as in 'Palmer' Trailer - Rolling Stone

It’s the next step from the Magical Negro and the Magical Gay – the Magical Non-Gender-Conforming-Minor (not creepy at all) , who showers wisdom, self-understanding and tolerance upon all in his now very Magic Circle.

And yes, the trailer enraged me. But not, perhaps for the reasons you expect. It enraged me, not for the boys, who can and will do whatever they want and then profit while the rest of the world praises them for it, whether starting wars or wearing dresses, for that’s the way of the world – no, not so much for the boys.

But for the girls.

I’ve only watched the trailer, and that’s all I’ll ever watch, and perhaps I’m off base, and perhaps the movie tells a different, more subtle story, but this is what I got from the trailer.

This boy-child is outcast and bullied because he:

  • Spends times with the girls, affecting dance moves like a drag queen
  • Plays with a Barbie
  • Joyfully imitates the moves of girl cheerleaders
  • Viewing some Disney-type princess cartoon declares that not only can he be one of them, he can be the first like him to be one of them.

It’s unclear from the trailer whether the issue is that the boy wants to become a girl or if he wants to remain a boy but be free! to do “girl things” and present in “girl ways.”

I don’t care. Any or all of those choices are repulsive, and again, it’s not because the story presents the (stupid) story of a boy who wants to do them.

It’s repulsive because of what it all says about girls.

I’m going to keep repeating this until I drop. The transgender moment is a war against females. It is built on rigid gender stereotypes and ultimately communicates that women are better off as men and men make the best women.

This, the trailer implies, is Girl World: A world of young human beings defined by fey, coy, sexualized dance moves, of cheering on males in athletic combat, of dressing up dolls with unrealizable physiques and, of course, ruled by wide-eyed, curvaceous (but not too curvaceous) princesses.

And oh! Let us pity and cheer on the brave, misunderstood person with a penis who simply seeks to enter this enchanting and fun Land of Cute!

Screw this. I am so tired of this. Exhausted. Confounded. As I’ve written before. Absolutely confounded.

Come on, little boy, do you want to learn about Girl World? Here. Listen up. Look. Watch.

Girl World is a place where there’s blood, and pain and, more often than you would expect, fear.

It’s a place where most of us, for most of our lives, bleed and cramp and are emotionally tossed up and plunged downward regularly, once a month, for days. I once had to leave a final exam in college – right in the middle – the pain was unendurable. And that, my young friend, was a normal month, a regular, bloody, body-bending part of life.

And when the time of bleeding stops, in Girl World, it’s a time of heat and racing hearts and depression and dryness and more, different kinds of pain.

What else happens in Girl World? We grow people inside of us, and through history, have died in great numbers as we strove to push those people through our bodies. When we survive, we spend years giving suck to those people we’ve grown and birthed, but not at leisure, but hours every day while keeping at the hard work of our life in the world, whether that be in fields or at the hearth or the office. All day, every day. And night.

Oh, Girl World. That place where human beings called girls and women can’t walk down a street, can’t sit in a café or bar alone without being catcalled, bothered or worse.

So no, little boy, you can never be a part of that, even if you wear a dress, and I suspect, knowing the truth, you probably don’t want to. You just want to play, to perform, to act, to act out – something. Some loss, some desire, some yearning.

But damn the culture and society that lets you believe that this imaginary Girl World of Cute and Princesses and Cheering on the Boys, wiggling asses, jiggling breasts and shiny clothes is the place for you – or for anyone – to live and pretend.

So yes, the Girl World of this kind of garbage infuriates me because it’s not about the real lives of girls and women, but about fantasies that serve other, more nefarious ends – economically, culturally, and personally.

But it infuriates me for the real girls of the very real Girl World, not only because it devalues their unique experience, but also because it reinforces that insidious, horrendous definition of femaleness that I thought we had killed off, but has resurrected, so bizarrely, over the past two decades, it seems.

I like swiveling my hips, playing with dolls, cheerleading and princesses – it’s my ticket to Girl World!

I’ll give you your ticket to Girl World. Here you go. And now, what do you see? The young female human beings who actually do have tickets to the real Girl World – don’t be fooled. Don’t get off at the Potemkin village they’re selling you. Wait a little longer. You’ll see who lives here.

Where do we start?

Athletes, astronauts, governors, senators, vice-presidents, prime ministers, colonels, captains and generals,

EPSON MFP image

scientists, CEOS and plant managers, engineers, attorneys, nurses, doctors, surgeons, homemakers, ministers, teachers, farmers, cashiers, archaeologists, pilots, chefs, coaches, nuns and artists….and that’s only the beginning.

These females – these real, biological females who live in this Girl World – the real one – are just like you. They’re short, tall, thin, heavy, have high voices or speak in low tones, giggle or guffaw, laugh a lot or just when something is really darkly funny, think princesses are wonderful or think they’re silly or never think about them all, love cheering, love playing on the field or even both, want to have kids, can’t stand kids, wear makeup and go without, spend time on their hair or get it cut twice a year, wear dresses sometimes, all the time or never, maybe want to be cute or maybe don’t give a damn.

So sorry, young dude. Affecting a cute demeanor doesn’t get you into Girl World. And a culture that encourages you is telling you a lie. But of course, those hurt the worst by the bizarre, insistent lie of the performative, superficialities of this supercute, glittery, hip-swiveling, chest-thrusting, pouty-lipped land of cheering, dancing pink-encased princesses are, of course, as always.…girls.

But not if we don’t want to be….

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Nativity scenes from the three most well-known Catholic Worker artists. More at this link.

Here are passages from some of Dorothy Day’s writings on Advent:

Advent is a time of waiting – from On Pilgrimage, 1948

ADVENT IS a time of waiting, of expectation, of silence. Waiting for our Lord to be born. A pregnant woman is so happy, so content. She lives in such a garment of silence, and it is as though she were listening to hear the stir of life within her. One always hears that stirring compared to the rustling of a bird in the hand. But the intentness with which one awaits such stirring is like nothing so much as a blanket of silence.

Be still. Did I hear something?

……

Many people think an examination of conscience is a morbid affair. Péguy has some verses which Donald Gallagher read to me once in the St. Louis House of Hospitality. (He and Cy Echele opened the house there.) They were about examination of conscience. There is a place for it, he said, at the beginning of the Mass. “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” But after you get done with it, don’t go on brooding about it; don’t keep thinking of it. You wipe your feet at the door of the church as you go in, and you do not keep contemplating your dirty feet.

Here is my examination at the beginning of Advent, at the beginning of a new year. Lack of charity, criticism of superiors, of neighbors, of friends and enemies. Idle talk, impatience, lack of self-control and mortification towards self, and of love towards others. Pride and presumption. (It is good to have visitors – one’s faults stand out in the company of others.) Self-will, desire not to be corrected, to have one’s own way. The desire in turn to correct others, impatience in thought and speech.

The remedy is recollection and silence. Meanness about giving time to others and wasting it myself. Constant desire for comfort. First impulse is always to make myself comfortable. If cold, to put on warmth; if hot, to become cool; if hungry, to eat; and what one likes – always the first thought is of one’s own comfort. It is hard for a woman to be indifferent about little material things. She is a homemaker, a cook; she likes to do material things. So let her do them for others, always. Woman’s job is to love. Enlarge Thou my heart, Lord, that Thou mayest enter in.

The first column in an Advent series from 1966, which focuses on Mary:

And now even the prayer, the Hail Mary, has been left out of the listing of Catholic prayers from the new Dutch catechism, so we are told in our diocesan paper.

After reading this I changed my mind about writing about the counsels for this first of an Advent series and decided to write about the Blessed Mother instead. She is, of course, a controversial figure, the last thing in the world she would want to be.

It is fitting to write about her in Advent, and I would like to tell in simple fashion about Mary in my life.

WHEN I was a very little child, perhaps not more than six, I used to have recurrent nightmares of a great God, King of heaven and earth which encompassed all, stretched out over all of us in a most impersonal way, and

Dorothy Day – Auckland Theology & Religious Studies

with this nightmare came also a great noise like that made by a galloping horseman which increased in volume until the sound filled all the earth. It was a terrifying dream and when I called out, my mother used to come and sit by the bedside and hold my hand and talk to me until I fell asleep. That passed, and then a few years later I met a little girl by the name of Mary Harrington who told me about the Blessed Mother and a heaven peopled with saints, and this also was a great comfort to me.

Years passed and I attended high school and college and then went to work for the Socialist and Communist movements in the early 20’s. Nevertheless, I often dropped into churches. One winter when I was working in New Orleans and living across the street from the cathedral there I found great joy in attending Benediction. That Christmas a Communist friend gave me a rosary. “You were always dropping into the cathedral,” she explained.

I did not know how to say the prayers but I kept it by me. I did not know any Catholics and would have been afraid to approach a priest or nun, for fear of their reading into such an approach some expectation which was not there.

More.

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A few interesting points he makes about ministry and influences on him.

You might be interested in what he says about possession and exorcism. Short version: He doesn’t deny that it’s real, but also says that it’s very rare.  

Another kind of infirmity that caused me even greater trouble and took a lot of my time was the cure of those who were possessed or obsessed by the devil. When I began preaching missions, I saw a large number of people who claimed to be possessed. Their relatives would ask me to exorcise them and, since I was duly authorized, I did so. Only one in a thousand could be called a genuine case of possession. There were other causes, physical or moral, that I won’t go into here.

In the course of missions I have met people, converted by the sermons, who have frankly admitted to me that they had never been possessed or even physically ill but had fabricated the whole thing for various reasons, such as to attract attention or to be coddled, pitied, helped, or a thousand other things.
 One woman of this sort told me that everything she had done had been done with full knowledge and willful malice, but that some of the things she did were so striking and bizarre that she began to wonder about them herself. Doubtless the devil was at work with her. Not through diabolical possession, but through the malice in her heart, for she knew that in the natural course of things she couldn’t do some of the things she did.
 Another lady, who lived in a large city, told me that she was so adept at faking possession that she had been having exorcisms performed over a long period of time, during which she had deceived twenty of the wisest, most virtuous, and most zealous priests in that city.

In sections 234- 263, he devotes three chapters to the influence that female saints have had on him. 

In sections 264ff, he discusses prayer – and the reason I highlight this is to remind you that when spiritual teachers of the past spoke of the importance of prayer, they weren’t suggesting a vague, “Stay close to God all day through your stream-of-consciousness thoughts and good intentions.”  It was very specific – it varied according to the particular school of spirituality or context, but the point is that the vision and goal of a strong spiritual life was constructed on a foundation of  – yes – formal prayer.

On catechizing children:

The first thing I saw to was the instruction of children in Christian
doctrine–not only because I have always felt a strong inclination toward this kind of education but also because I have come to realize its prime importance. Knowledge of the catechism is the foundation for the whole edifice of religious and moral instruction. Moreover, children learn readily and are deeply impressed. Catechism preserves them from error, vice, and ignorance and more easily grounds them in virtue because they are more docile than adults. In the case of children, the only work required is that of planting, whereas adults require both weeding and planting. There is yet another advantage: grownups are often won over by the little ones, and parents are won over by their children because children are like so many pieces of their parents’ hearts. When the children receive a little holy card for their attendance and diligence, their parents and other adults read them at home out of curiosity, and this often results in their conversion, as I know from experience.

One of the things that has moved me most to teach children is the example of Jesus Christ and the saints. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. It is to just such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Mark 10:14). Then he embraced them and blessed them, placing his hands on them. There is no doubt that a child whose innocence has been preserved through good instruction is a treasure more precious in God’s eyes than all the kingdoms of this world.

The Apostles, who had been indoctrinated by Christ catechized the small and the great alike, and so their sermon became so many basic statements of the mysteries of faith.
St. Denis, St. Clement of Alexandria–a most erudite man, the teacher of Origen–as well as Origen himself, were catechists, as were St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and St. Gregory of Nyssa. St. Jerome, at the very time when he was being consulted from far and near as the oracle of the universe, was not ashamed to teach catechism to children. He spent his last days, which had otherwise been used so well in the service of the Church, in this humble occupation. He once told a widow, “Send me your
children and I’ll babble with them~ I’ll have less glory in men’s eyes, but I’ll be glorious in God’s.”

On adults:

The most productive means I have used has been adult instruction. It has helped me rescue adults from an ignorance that is greater than one might imagine, even in the case of persons who hear sermons frequently. Preachers often take it for granted that their listeners are well instructed, while the fact is that instruction is precisely what most Catholics lack. The use of instruction has the further advantage of informing adults of their respective obligations and teaching them how to go about fulfilling them.

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St. Monica…because mothers will never miss a chance to think about St. Monica…

The best source? Her son, throughout the Confessions, but mostly in Book 9. 

Such things was I speaking, and even if not in this very manner, and these same words, yet, Lord, Thou knowest that in that day when we were speaking of these things, and this world with all its delights became, as we spake, contemptible to us, my mother said, “Son, for mine own part I have no further delight in any thing in this life. What I do here any longer, and to what I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are accomplished. One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life, that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee withal, despising st. monicaearthly happiness, become His servant: what do I here?”

What answer I made her unto these things, I remember not. For scarce five days after, or not much more, she fell sick of a fever; and in that sickness one day she fell into a swoon, and was for a while withdrawn from these visible things. We hastened round her; but she was soon brought back to her senses; and looking on me and my brother standing by her, said to us enquiringly, “Where was I?” And then looking fixedly on us, with grief amazed: “Here,” saith she, “shall you bury your mother.” I held my peace and refrained weeping; but my brother spake something, wishing for her, as the happier lot, that she might die, not in a strange place, but in her own land. Whereat, she with anxious look, checking him with her eyes, for that he still savoured such things, and then looking upon me: “Behold,” saith she, “what he saith”: and soon after to us both, “Lay,” she saith, “this body any where; let not the care for that any way disquiet you: this only I request, that you would remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you be.” And having delivered this sentiment in what words she could, she held her peace, being exercised by her growing sickness.

But I, considering Thy gifts, Thou unseen God, which Thou instillest into the hearts of Thy faithful ones, whence wondrous fruits do spring, did rejoice and give thanks to Thee, recalling what I before knew, how careful and anxious she had ever been as to her place of burial, which she had provided and prepared for herself by the body of her husband. For because they had lived in great harmony together, she also wished (so little can the human mind embrace things divine) to have this addition to that happiness, and to have it remembered among men, that after her pilgrimage beyond the seas, what was earthly of this united pair had been permitted to be united beneath the same earth. But when this emptiness had through the fulness of Thy goodness begun to cease in her heart, I knew not, and rejoiced admiring what she had so disclosed to me; though indeed in that our discourse also in the window, when she said, “What do I here any longer?” there appeared no desire of dying in her own country. I heard afterwards also, that when we were now at Ostia, she with a mother’s confidence, when I was absent, one day discoursed with certain of my friends about the contempt of this life, and the blessing of death: and when they were amazed at such courage which Thou hadst given to a woman, and asked, “Whether she were not afraid to leave her body so far from her own city?” she replied, “Nothing is far to God; nor was it to be feared lest at the end of the world, He should not recognise whence He were to raise me up.” On the ninth day then of her sickness, and the fifty-sixth year of her age, and the three-and-thirtieth of mine, was that religious and holy soul freed from the body.

Benedict XVI, from 2006, sums it all up:

Today, 27 August, we commemorate St Monica and tomorrow we will be commemorating St Augustine, her son: their witnesses can be of great comfort and help to so many families also in our time.

Monica, who was born into a Christian family at Tagaste, today Souk-Aharàs in Algeria, lived her mission as a wife and mother in an exemplary way, helping her husband Patricius to discover the beauty of faith in Christ and the power of evangelical love, which can overcome evil with good.

After his premature death, Monica courageously devoted herself to caring for her three children, including Augustine, who initially caused her suffering with his somewhat rebellious temperament. As Augustine himself was to say, his mother gave birth to him twice; the second  time  required  a  lengthy  spiritual travail of prayers and tears, but it was crowned at last with the joy of seeing him not only embrace the faith and receive Baptism, but also dedicate himself without reserve to the service of Christ.

How many difficulties there are also today in family relations and how many mothers are in anguish at seeing their children setting out on wrong paths! Monica, a woman whose faith was wise and sound, invites them not to lose heart but to persevere in their mission as wives and mothers, keeping firm their trust in God and clinging with perseverance to prayer.

As for Augustine, his whole life was a passionate search for the truth. In the end, not without a long inner torment, he found in Christ the ultimate and full meaning of his own life and of the whole of human history. In adolescence, attracted by earthly beauty, he “flung himself” upon it – as he himself confides (cf. Confessions, 10, 27-38) – with selfish and possessive behaviour that caused his pious mother great pain.

But through a toilsome journey and thanks also to her prayers, Augustine became always more open to the fullness of truth and love until his conversion, which happened in Milan under the guidance of the Bishop, St Ambrose.

He thus remained the model of the journey towards God, supreme Truth and supreme Good. “Late have I loved you”, he wrote in the famous book of the Confessions, “beauty, ever ancient and ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me and I was outside of you, and it was there that I sought you…. You were with me and I was not with you…. You called, you cried out, you pierced my deafness. You shone, you struck me down, and you healed my blindness” (ibid.).

May St Augustine obtain the gift of a sincere and profound encounter with Christ for all those young people who, thirsting for happiness, are seeking it on the wrong paths and getting lost in blind alleys.

St Monica and St Augustine invite us to turn confidently to Mary, Seat of Wisdom. Let us entrust Christian parents to her so that, like Monica, they may accompany their children’s progress with their own example and prayers. Let us commend youth to the Virgin Mother of God so that, like Augustine, they may always strive for the fullness of Truth and Love which is Christ:  he alone can satisfy the deepest desires of the human heart.

2009:

Three days ago, on 27 August, we celebrated the liturgical Memorial of St Monica, Mother of St Augustine, considered the model and patroness of Christian mothers. We are provided with a considerable amount of information about her by her son in his autobiography, Confessions, one of the widest read literary masterpieces of all time. In them we learn that St Augustine drank in the name of Jesus with his mother’s milk, and that his mother brought him up in the Christian religion whose principles remained impressed upon him even in his years of spiritual and moral dissipation. Monica never ceased to pray for him and for his conversion and she had the consolation of seeing him return to the faith and receive Baptism. God heard the prayers of this holy mother, of whom the Bishop of Tagaste had said: “the son of so many tears could not perish”. In fact, St Augustine not only converted but decided to embrace the monastic life and, having returned to Africa, founded a community of monks. His last spiritual conversations with his mother in the tranquillity of a house at Ostia, while they were waiting to embark for Africa, are moving and edifying. By then St Monica had become for this son of hers, “more than a mother, the source of his Christianity”. For years her one desire had been the conversion of Augustine, whom she then saw actually turning to a life of consecration at the service of God. She could therefore die happy, and in fact she passed away on 27 August 387, at the age of 56, after asking her son not to trouble about her burial but to remember her, wherever he was, at the Lord’s altar. St Augustine used to say that his mother had “conceived him twice”.

2010:

Again, in Confessions, in the ninth book, our Saint records a conversation with his mother, St Monica, whose Memorial is celebrated on Friday, the day after tomorrow. It is a very beautiful scene: he and his mother are at Ostia, at an inn, and from the window they see the sky and the sea, and they transcend the sky and the sea and for a moment touch God’s heart in the silence of created beings. And here a fundamental idea appears on the way towards the Truth: creatures must be silent, leaving space for the silence in which God can speak. This is still true in our day too. At times there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of thinking of one’s own actions, of the profound meaning of one’s life. All too often people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the Truth or perhaps afraid that the Truth will find us, will take hold of us and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.

Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to say to all of you and also to those who are passing through a difficult moment in their journey of faith, to those who take little part in the life of the Church or who live “as though God did not exist” not to be afraid of the Truth, never to interrupt the journey towards it and never to stop searching for the profound truth about yourselves and other things with the inner eye of the heart. God will not fail to provide Light to see by and Warmth to make the heart feel that he loves us and wants to be loved.

May the intercession of the Virgin Mary, of St Augustine and of St Monica accompany us on this journey

St. Monica is in The Loyola Kid’s Book of Saints under “Saints are people who love their families.”  A page:

From Living Faith in 2014:

We may not all be mothers, as Monica was, but we all have had one. Our relationships with our mothers might be terrible or beautiful, or somewhere in an in-between place: bewildering, regretful and hopeful.


Desire lies at the heart of our mistakes and successes as parents, caretakers and children. Monica desired her son Augustine’s salvation, and Augustine yearned for a love that would not die. Around and around they went.


What is it I desire for others? Is it that, above all, they find authentic, lasting joy?

Lord, may I be a help to others as we journey to you.

 

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Sorting out St. Rose of Lima can be a challenge.  Perhaps you know the basics – what I knew for most of my life: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

Digging deeper,  I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Quartet in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

It’s July 31 – the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola.

St. Ignatius was in my Loyola Kids Book of Saints, and you can read the entire chapter here:

Because he had spent all those months in his sickbed, Ignatius got bored. He asked for something to read. He was hoping for adventure books, tales that were popular back then: knights fighting for the hands of beautiful ladies, traveling to distant lands, and battling strange creatures.

But for some reason, two completely different books were brought to Ignatius. One was a book about the life of Christ, and the other was a collection of saints’ stories.

Ignatius read these books. He thought about them. He was struck by the great sacrifices that the saints had made for God. He was overwhelmed by their love of Jesus.

And Ignatius thought, “Why am I using my life just for myself? These people did so much good during their time on earth. Why can’t I?”

Ignatius decided that he would use the talents God had given him—his strength, his leadership ability, his bravery, and his intelligence—to serve God and God’s people.

While Ignatius continued to heal, he started praying very seriously. God’s peace filled his heart and assured him that he was on the right path.

When Ignatius was all healed and ready to walk and travel again, he left his home to prepare for his new life. It wasn’t easy. He was 30, which was considered old in those days, and he was getting a late start in his studies for the priesthood. In those days, the Mass was said only in Latin, and Latin was the language all educated people used to communicate with each other. Ignatius didn’t know a bit of Latin. So for his first Latin lessons, big, rough Ignatius had to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 10-year-old boys who were learning Latin for the first time too!

That takes a different kind of strength, doesn’t it?

saints

 

— 2 —

 

Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

In The Words We Pray, I wrote about the Suscipe Prayer. That chapter is excerpted here:

The more you roll this prayer around in your soul, and the more you think about it, the more radical it is revealed to be.

One of the primary themes of the Spiritual Exercises is that of attachments and affections. Ignatius offers the account of “three classes of men” who have been given a sum of money, and who all want to rid themselves of it because they know their attachment to this worldly good impedes their salvation.

The first class would really like to rid themselves of the attachment, but the hour of death comes, and they haven’t even tried. The second class would also like to give up the attachment, but do so, conveniently, without actually giving anything up.

Is this sounding familiar at all?

The third class wants to get rid of the attachment to the money, which they, like the others, know is a burden standing in the way. But they make no stipulations as to how this attachment is relinquished; they are indifferent about the method. Whatever God wants, they want. In a word, they are the free ones.

The prayer “Take Lord, receive” is possible only because the retreatant has opened himself to the reality of who God is, what God’s purpose is for humanity, and what God has done for him in a particularly intense way.

A Response to God’s Love

The retreatant has seen that there is really no other response to life that does God justice. What love the Father has for us in letting us be called children of God, John says (1 John 3:1). What gift does our love prompt us to give?

In ages past, and probably in the minds of some of us still, that gift of self to God, putting oneself totally at God’s disposal, is possible only for people called to a vowed religious life. Well, God didn’t institute religious life in the second chapter of Genesis. He instituted marriage and family. I’m not a nun, but the Scriptures tell us repeatedly that all creation is groaning and being reborn and moving toward completion in God. Every speck of creation, everything that happens, every kid kicking a soccer ball down a road in Guatemala, each office worker in New Delhi, every ancient great-grandmother in a rest home in Boynton Beach, every baby swimming in utero at this moment around the world—all are beloved by God and are being constantly invited by him to love. And all can respond.

— 3 —

Depicting Dante’s heaven:

“Dante is often presented in a very secular way,” Schmalz said, noting the obsession that universities, artists and writers have had with the Inferno, ignoring the rest of poem.

According to Schmalz, limiting the poem’s scope to the Inferno means “not giving the proper representation of Dante and also the Christian ideas that are in the ‘Divine Comedy.’

“As a Catholic sculptor I have been very angry about this for many years,” he said.

An example of the fascination Dante’s Inferno has had on artists throughout history is the famous “Thinker” by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The popular image was originally meant to portray Dante as the “Poet,” and a miniature version of it can be found atop Rodin’s massive representation of “The Gates of Hell.”

“Because I am a Christian sculptor I will right this wrong,” Schmalz said. “I will do what has never been done before in the history of sculpture, which is to create a sculpture for each canto of the ‘Divine Comedy.’

 

 — 4 —

On a biography of Charles Peguy

In a way, Péguy preserved and cherished each of these influences: He would maintain an obsessive concern for the dispossessed, an ardent passion for France, and an unyielding faith in God all his life. But his intensity of belief did not prevent him for recognizing and pointing out the flaws in that which he loved. Péguy deplored the Catholic Church’s reactionary excesses and the Third Republic’s racialist conception of citizenship, and his unorthodox view of socialism rejected Marx’s enforced equality and anti-religious undertones. To him, solidarity — and politics itself — began with the “mystical,” that is, the set of myths and shared transcendent beliefs that underpin the construction of communities. Resolutely anti-cosmopolitan, he did not believe in the transnational alliance of workers that would become central to the Soviet project. For him, to reject the centrality of local attachments was to abstract away the suffering of people close-by; only cold-hearted bourgeois were rootless enough to live in multiple cities at once, to oscillate between cultures and languages, to detach themselves from the warmth of traditions and communities. The very small and the transcendent were the scales that mattered. Real change would not come through centralized Jacobin putsches, but through local micro-revolutions.

Péguy abhorred all attempts to demystify life’s mysteries. He rejected the scientism of his era, and laughed at the claim — seemingly blind to its own metaphysical assumptions — that empirical science would ever supersede the need for metaphysics. He thought that Adam Smith and Karl Marx had equally simplistic views of history, views that sacrificed transcendence on the altar of materialism. Yet he did not believe that the Bible had all the answers, either — or, at least, he did not believe that any human being could ever access all the answers. In fact, he fervently opposed what he saw as a conservative attempt to weaponize scripture. In a way, he thought, both sides emptied metaphysics of their significance; the Left reduced religion to “the opium of the masses,” and the Right relegated faith to a mere political tool. Like Dostoevsky, Péguy thought that in the absence of God, men would devolve into beasts; unlike Dostoevsky, he also believed that if God were too present in human affairs, the same degeneration would ensue.

— 5 

Watch out. This Sunday brings us the Miracle of Sharing….

6–

One of the newsletters I enjoy reading is The Convivial Society..about tech and life and such. This is from a recent edition – not from the author of the newsletter itself, but from a writer named Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation (1981). See if you can relate.

Rather than creating communication, [information] exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning. A gigantic process of simulation that is very familiar. The nondirective interview, speech, listeners who call in, participation at every level, blackmail through speech: ‘You are concerned, you are the event, etc.’ More and more information is invaded by this kind of phantom content, this homeopathic grafting, this awakening dream of communication. A circular arrangement through which one stages the desire of the audience, the antitheater of communication, which, as one knows, is never anything but the recycling in the negative of the traditional institution, the integrated circuit of the negative. Immense energies are deployed to hold this simulacrum at bay, to avoid the brutal desimulation that would confront us in the face of the obvious reality of a radical loss of meaning.

 

 

— 7 —

Tomorrow is the memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori, whom I wrote about here. Just a brief excerpt – related to the travails of writers, which he shared:

The letters reflect quite a bit on his concern to get this books out there to people who will read them – Naples is always out of copies, but that’s one of the few places he has an interested audience, and the priests, well….

I am glad that the History of the Heresies is finished. Once more, I remind you not to send me any copies for sale, as the priests of my diocese are not eager for such books; indeed, they have very little love for any reading whatsoever.

Besides, I am a poor cripple, who am Hearing my grave, and I do not know what I should do with these copies.

Rest assured, that I regard all your interests as though they were my own. If I could only visit Naples, I might be able to do something personally. But confined here in this poverty-stricken Arienzo, I write letters innumerable to people in Naples about the sale, but with very little result. I am much afflicted at this, but affliction seems to be all that I am to reap from these negotiations.

So, writers….you’re not alone!

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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amy_welborn2

 

His memorial is today.

peter_to_rot_stamp_2

Here is a good version of his life:

One of the patron saints of World Youth Day 2008 in Sydney, Australia, was Bl. Peter To Rot, a native son of Papua New Guinea. A second-generation Catholic during the evangelization of his Southern Pacific island in the early twentieth century, Peter was an exemplary husband, father, and catechist. In 1945 he suffered martyrdom at the hands of Japanese soldiers for his courageous defense of Christian marriage…

 

…The mission field in Oceania was immense but the missionary priests were few, and so young men were trained as catechists to work with them. Peter threw himself cheerfully into his new daily routine at St. Paul’s College: spiritual exercises, classes, and manual labor. The school had a farm that made it largely self-supporting. When the tropical sun was blazing and some of the students preferred to take it easy, Peter by his example and urging convinced them to get down to work. He was a “joyful companion” who often put an end to quarrels with his good-natured joking, although he learned to refrain from humor at the expense of the instructors. Through frequent Confession, daily Communion, and the Rosary, he and his fellow students fought temptations, increased their faith, and became mature, apostolic Christian men.

Peter To Rot received from the bishop his catechist’s cross in 1934 and was sent back to his native village to help the pastor, Fr. Laufer. He taught catechism classes to the children of Rakunai, instructed adults in the faith and led prayer meetings. He encouraged attendance at Sunday Mass, counseled sinners and helped them prepare for Confession. He zealously combated sorcery, which was practiced by many of the people, even some who were nominally Christian.

In 1936 Peter To Rot married Paula Ia Varpit, a young woman from a neighboring village. Theirs was a model Christian marriage. He showed great respect for his wife and prayed with her every morning and evening. He was very devoted to his children and spent as much time with them as possible.

A Time of Trial

During World War II, the Japanese invaded New Guinea in 1942 and immediately put all the priests and religious into concentration camps. Being a layman, Peter was able to remain in Rakunai. He took on many new responsibilities, leading Sunday prayer and exhorting the faithful to persevere, witnessing marriages, baptizing newborns, and presiding at funerals. One missionary priest who had escaped arrest lived in the forest; Peter brought villagers to him in secret so that they could receive the sacraments.

Although the Japanese did not outlaw all Catholic practices at first, they soon began to pillage and destroy the churches. To Rot had to build a wooden chapel in the bush and devise underground hiding places for the sacred vessels. He carried on his apostolic work cautiously, visiting Christians at night because of the many spies. He often traveled to Vunapopé, a distant village, where a priest gave him the Blessed Sacrament. By special permission of the bishop, To Rot brought Communion to the sick and dying.

Exploiting divisions among the people in New Guinea, the Japanese reintroduced polygamy to win over the support of several local chiefs. They planned thereby to counteract “Western” influence on the native population. Because of sensuality or fear of reprisals, many men took a second wife.

Peter To Rot, as a catechist, was obliged to speak up. “I will never say enough to the Christians about the dignity and the great importance of the Sacrament of Marriage,” he declared. He even took a stand against his own brother Joseph, who was publicly advocating a return to the practice of polygamy. Another brother, Tatamai, remarried and denounced Peter to the Japanese authorities. Paula feared that her husband’s determination would result in harm to their family, but Peter replied, “If I must die, that is good, because I will die for the reign of God over our people.”

MORE

And then the homily on the occasion of his beatification by Pope John Paul II, in 1999:

3. Blessed Peter understood the value of suffering. Inspired by his faith in Christ, he was a devoted husband, a loving father and a dedicated catechist known for his kindness, gentleness and compassion. Daily Mass and Holy Communion, and frequent visits to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, sustained him, gave him wisdom to counsel the disheartened, and courage to persevere until death. In order to be an effective evangelizer, Peter To Rot studied hard and sought advice from wise and holy “big men”. Most of all he prayed – for himself, for his family, for his people, for the Church. His witness to the Gospel inspired others, in very difficult situations, because he lived his Christian life so purely and joyfully. Without being aware of it, he was preparing throughout his life for his greatest offering: by dying daily to himself, he walked with his Lord on the road which leads to Calvary (Cf. Mt. 10: 38-39).

4. During times of persecution the faith of individuals and communities is “tested by fire” (1Pt. 1: 7). But Christ tells us that there is no reason to be afraid. Those persecuted for their faith will be more eloquent than ever: “it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you” (Mt. 10: 20). So it was for Blessed Peter To Rot. When the village of Rakunai was occupied during the Second World War and after the heroic missionary priests were imprisoned, he assumed responsibility for the spiritual life of the villagers. Not only did he continue to instruct the faithful and visit the sick, he also baptized, assisted at marriages and led people in prayer.

When the authorities legalized and encouraged polygamy, Blessed Peter knew it to be against Christian principles and firmly denounced this practice. Because the Spirit of God dwelt in him, he fearlessly proclaimed the truth about the sanctity of marriage. He refused to take the “easy way” (Cf. ibid. 7: 13) of moral compromise. “I have to fulfil my duty as a Church witness to Jesus Christ”, he explained. Fear of suffering and death did not deter him. During his final imprisonment Peter To Rot was serene, even joyful. He told people that he was ready to die for the faith and for his people.

5. On the day of his death, Blessed Peter asked his wife to bring him his catechist’s crucifix. It accompanied him to the end. Condemned without trial, he suffered his martyrdom calmly. Following in the footsteps of his Master, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn.1: 29), he too was “led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Cf. Is. 53: 7). And yet this “grain of wheat” which fell silently into the earth (Cf. Jn. 12: 24) has produced a harvest of blessings for the Church in Papua New Guinea!

He’s included in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints in the section, “Saints are People Who Come From All Over the World.” You can click on the individual images for a larger, more readable version. I include just the end of the entry because that’s what’s available online.

 

 

 

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Thoughts, of course, are leaning towards the fall and a new school year. As families drive by and drop off books, tablets and laptops at school, you can’t avoid the question, what next?

Some systems and schools in some areas probably won’t change much of what they were doing. Others will institute new policies directed at greater cleanliness and distancing – which, I’m going to say, for a school, is not a bad thing. Schools – as is the case with all public places – are probably going to be a lot safer, health-wise, now that we’re plunged into this sanitizing craze. More thoroughly clean those spaces inhabited by six-year olds all day? I’m for that. Make sure they keep their grimy hands off each other? Spacing in buses, giving less proximity to the bullies? Good idea.

There are various graphics circulating which purport to summarize CDC recommendations on this score. I don’t know how accurate those are, but this is the CDC’s actual page on recommendations for schools – and it’s updated regularly, it seems. 

Looking through it, I’m struck by some of the same thoughts that I’ve had in considering back-to-Mass regulations. As in: all those innovations we’ve been pushing on you for decades?

Never mind. 

In this case, for example: “Turn desks to face in the same direction (rather than facing each other)”

File:Queensland State Archives 1640 Kelvin Grove State School ...

Hah.

Of course, they’re not six feet apart.

But. 

This is for parents.

If your school – private or public – or system starts instituting procedures and rules that strike you as over-the-top, guess what….you can check out. Leave. Walk away. Don’t have to send the kid there.

It will be hard. It’s hard. You will have to rethink so much about your life.

You don’t have to be a part of it.

You just don’t.

Yes, your child needs an education. He’s a human being with a mind and soul that naturally wants to learn and figure things out. School is not the only place that can happen.

And guess what – a school environment filled with rules and regulations and loads of invisible lines is not, to say the least, one friendly to learning.

School  – while it can be great – can also be very hard  for children and families. It can be stressful and harmful to a child’s sense of self. Peers can be brutal. A highly competitive atmosphere can skew a child’s understanding of what it means to be human. A  chaotic atmosphere can lead to days and days of nothing but frustration and wasted time. From a parent’s perspective, the hassle of understanding school procedures, keeping up with pedagogical fads and demands, and just signing all those damn forms can be exhausting and alienating.

Very simply: if it looks to you as if school this fall is going to be a stressful, ridiculous mess in which your child will be spending eight hours a day being told don’t get so close – don’t touch that – don’t talk, just listen – no you can’t play catch because you’ll be touching the same ball – no you can’t sing because that spreads the virus – 

….Get. Out. 

Getting out can mean any number of things. Depending on the situation in your particular area, it definitely doesn’t have to mean what it’s meant for so many over the past months:  an “education” based on isolation, with your kid’s work reflecting someone else’s educational priorities and philosophies, with little contact with friends or activity outside the home.

It can mean anything. I’m not going to do a rehash of what it means to homeschool. You can go here in case you’re interested in my perspective and (limited) experience.

But what I hope is that if, indeed a school or a system embraces extreme, stress-inducing procedures for this fall, parents and families will, yes, #resist and engage, creatively with each other and find the will and strength to create alternatives – which can be all over the map, ranging from online classes to individual tutoring to small-scale co-ops or tutoring groups.

As I say over and over again – this is hard. People have to work. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work in greater numbers by the fall, which makes taking a kid out of school daunting and perhaps near-impossible. Supervising a child’s education responsibly takes far more effort that switching on a laptop at the beginning of the day. I’ve written over and over about this – I’m not anti-school in general.greatly appreciate what a quality school and dedicated teachers give my children.

But….

am anti-schools that restrict, restrain and limit a child’s experience and horizons. I’m anti-schools that present a child with a single vision of “success,” “achievement” and “accomplishment” based on the current pedagogical fads and social expectations. I’m anti-schools that don’t respect family time and a child’s need for unstructured time.

My fear is that this pandemic will only lead to more of what’s most damaging about the school experience and will just encourage the worst, control-freak instincts of educational administrators and that parents, stressed-out, fearful and seeing only very limited options, will just say yes, convinced that this is the only way.

It’s not. 

***

Kerry McDonald writes:

We should care deeply about children’s health and safety, but like much about this pandemic, it’s important to make sure that the response isn’t more damaging than the virus itself. Many parents and educators are rightfully concerned about children’s mental health during these lockdowns, but when lockdowns end and schools reopen, children’s mental health could be worsened with extreme social distancing measures that remove any of the potentially enjoyable pieces of schooling, such as playground time, extracurriculars, and gathering with friends.

Stripped of these accessories that can often compensate for the more oppressive parts of conventional schooling, it’s not surprising that some parents and students would choose to continue with homeschooling or virtual learning until the pandemic ends.

****

Now, as I was writing this, something else occurred to me.  We could actually go either way on this, right?

This situation could encourage megalomaniac school administrators to, indeed, go even deeper into their authoritarian fantasies, making everyone’s life hell – or….

…just as the work-from-home situation has alerted employers to the efficiencies and cost-saving aspects of increased working from home, so might those engaged in education, from families to churches to schools, be forced, by circumstance, to a different way.

That is: maybe we can best protect everyone by getting students in and out of this place as quickly as possible. 

Minimizing social aspects of the day. Moving away from the ideal of school-as-community and simply focusing on what needs to get done. No meals served on campus, no extraneous group activities.

Get ’em in. Sit ’em down (all facing the same way!). Teach them some stuff. Everyone’s on the clock, since we’re in smaller groups, perhaps one half of the school here in the morning, the other half in the afternoon. No time to waste. And then, after three or four hours of focused work – off you go, back home.

The only glitch being, of course, that no one would trust that this 3-4 hours (the actual instruction time in a typical school day these days anyway)  would actually be “enough.” The kids would be followed home by all sorts of assignments and websites to check in with at home. And it would be endless. 

Or maybe not. Maybe the challenges and of these past few weeks will have soured the taste for that sort of thing, too, as teachers and families reflect on the fact that one of the meanings of online school is that….school’s never out. 

And who wants that?

1967, SCHOOL LAST DAY SCENES | Historic Images

 

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There’s a lot of scolding going on.

So much scolding. All the scolding! Just… a lot. 

Scolding, along with posturing, virtue signaling, and presumption of motives.

I really don’t know a way out. I am resisting the temptation to, you know, scold.

But every day, I wonder,

What happened to #Resist? 

And moving back the referential point a few decades:

What happened to “Question authority?”

It’s funny, sad and weird. But not so weird, because this is just human nature and human behavior: to follow crowds, to get caught up in mass hysteria and to be so, so selective in our outrage and judgment.

What seems to be at the heart of so much of the fraughtness of public discussion on the response to Covid-19 is, no matter what “side” you are on, is an insistence on the absolute veracity of the evidence supporting your side, invariably accompanied by an insistence on the condemnation-worthy motives of those you see as your opponent. 

gif-apprehensive-doubtful-emma-watson-skeptical-thinking-gif

I’m sure students of rhetoric and argument have categories for all of that.

I find the first point – the insistence of the absolute veracity of your “evidence” – as amusing and incomprehensible, for the most part. More on that in a bit.

And I find the second point – the judgment and condemnation of your opponents’ motives – as predictable, since the internet seems to have exacerbated that very common tic.

But you put those together, and you get massive toxicity, which is deeply unhelpful in maintaining any civil society, making wise public policy decisions or helping anyone grow in wisdom or charity.

And you see it in the Catholic world, too. Proclamation of infallibles, invariably accompanied by hurling of excommunications.

You call yourself pro-life.

You say you care about the common good. 

I’m not offering a simple formula. How to Discuss a Pandemic Without Losing Your Mind or Your Soul. 

I wish.

But I’m just saying  – skepticism is…fine. 

What do I mean by “skepticism?” I mean simply an attitude that accepts how little we know about anything: about cause and effect, about what helps and hurts, about institutional and individual motives.

And above all, it’s an attitude that understands the existence of a specific reality that we know for sure exists, even if we can’t be certain about anything else:

Unintended Consequences. 

They. Will. Come. And they bite. 

It’s not an invitation to paralysis or agnosticism. It’s an invitation to realism and charity and most of all, humility.

So:

  • “Science” is wrong all the time, and always has been. “Science,” in fact, learns and grows from its mistakes and misapprehensions and limitations. There is no particular virtue in waving the flag of “the science says.” “The Science” has said a lot of bonkers things over the years.
  • With a moving target, a newly-emerged illness like this, of course the “science” is going to change and develop – we do what we can with the knowledge we have, adjust and change as new knowledge comes forth, and knowing this, it’s okay to have healthy skepticism about any current status. That’s not the same as dismissing – it’s simply humility.
  • Skepticism about science as it converges with government and/or with profit-making is absolutely called for. This kind of skepticism doesn’t make you a “conspiracy-monger” (remember what I said about presuming motives?) It might just mean you know about things like the Tuskegee Study, the Guatemala Syphilis Study, the American military Mustard Gas study….and countless others. As well as the ways in which the results of scientific studies are massaged and controlled in order to promote products or desired results by research labs, corporations and other entities.
  • Skepticism about social and civil response to crisis. We can get things very wrong. We can go down wrong paths. It’s happened. We can enslave, oppress, put people in internment camps, experiment on vulnerable populations, engage in unjust wars and commit atrocities. To put the brakes on and question is a good thing. 
  • Skepticism about social and civil response to crisis because of incomplete information and because of the motives of those with vested interests in certain outcomes. Who’s profiting from this – is not an unreasonable question.

And see..here’s the thing. We know this.  We look back on history and we’re amazed at how gullible people were, how unquestioning their trust was, how their fears moved them to support injustice. But somehow, when we get in the midst of a crisis like this, it becomes a thoughtcrime to apply the questions we willingly ask of the past to the present.

…you’d think we’d know better.

Short Version of all of this:  To gripe about the inefficiencies, dishonesty, graft and corruption of government in the past, to note mistaken, misleading, outright deceptive and self-aggrandizing postures from science, tech and other entities, especially in crisis, in the past, to be explore serious issues of economic inequality and exploitation and the balance between economic and human cost of our actions in the past –  but then to treat similar concerns about the present as simply beyond the pale  – makes no sense.

And I could go on. Okay, I will.

  • Skepticism about lockdowns. To want everything shut down for safety? Sure. Tell me about it. Talk about it. What’s your experience? To want things opened up to various degrees? To be concerned about the cost, about jobs lost, about schooling interrupted, about lives interrupted, about domestic abuse, about loneliness? Sure. Tell me about it. Talk about it. What’s your experience? Neither perspective makes you a monster. Let’s talk about why you think what you do, why you propose your particular solution.
  • Skepticism about the long-term consequences of government action in a moment of crisis. Patriot Act, etc.
  • Skepticism about various individuals and entities stake in a lockdown situation. Sure, why not? Dig through it. Question why Amazon and the Walton family should enjoy amazing profits right now. Question the stimulus bills and who’s getting what and why.
  • Skepticism about the response of health care institutions and the more general impact on public health. Asking questions about the impact of current restrictions on treatment of non-Covid-related conditions – on the availability of services, on reduction of services, particularly in already underserved areas, on the unwillingness of those suffering to seek help, either out of fear of contracting Covid or – just as powerfully – the fear that if something is found wrong and they must be treated – they will be going at it alone, with No Visitors Allowed. Asking questions about that, wondering what the right course is to balance the risk of infection with treatment of non-Covid ailments and the mental health of patients – does not mean you want to kill grandma or HONESTLY HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF PROLIFE. MONSTER. 
  • Skepticism about information and information sources. Agendas, biases, motives. All there, all worth exploring, nothing taken for granted.

And now…the Church.

Lots and lots of scolding out there, sniffing for the travails of our poor bishops. Well, maybe. I know a few, and sure, this is not easy. There are so many factors to consider and balance, and many, many clergy and others in pastoral ministry find this truly agonizing and difficult.

But again. Given history? It’s okay to be skeptical and to ask questions. From the perspective of humility and respect, but sure. Given history – that no, it is not true that Church officials always make decisions with the common good in mind and are never craven, lazy, protective of turf, fearful or indifferent to their most profound responsibilities to God and to the faithful –

….yeah…

Remember what I said about not judging motives? Yup, that applies here, too. Not assuming anything, not judging decisions we know nothing about.

But …asking questions and posing them and exploring different options? In a spirit of humility and co-operation? And being willing to answer and discuss, rather than dismiss with platitudes?

Absolutely necessary. 

Robust discussion of facts and figures and policies is so important in a crisis, but it’s just as important that this discussion happen in a spirit of humility – about the information we have and the motivations of those who might disagree with our perspective.

I do not, for the life of me, understand why it’s seen as acceptable, especially among those who call themselves Christian, to respond to disagreement with, “Well, you obviously just…” instead of “Okay. I’m interested in your perspective. Why do you think that? Let’s talk about it some more.”

 

 

 

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In a week to few weeks, most Catholic parishes will be reopening for regular Sunday Mass. It’s already begun in some places. There will be much reflection about What This Has All Meant and How We Have Been Changed.

I’m going to do something I generally try very hard not to do – which is to make suggestions about what other people should do. Sharing information and trying to make connections is more what I’m about. Hell, I don’t even see myself in the business of encouraging and inspiring you.  But I am feeling, as we say, a burden on my heart, so here goes – from someone who just sits in the pews and listens. And is sort of dreading it.

Speaking of burdens, it will be a heavy burden and responsibility to get up in front of a congregation – deacons, priests, bishops – and preach for the first time after months of empty churches. There is a great deal to unpack. But here’s my simple suggestion as a way to begin thinking about an approach:

Don’t assume that everyone has had the same experience of this time. 

Just start there.

And for sure..

Don’t assume that everyone shares your experiences and opinions of this time. 

Let’s survey the range you might find in a typical congregation:

  • Those who have suffered from Covid-19 personally. Those who have been ill. Those who have known individuals who have been ill and cared for them. Those who have known individuals who have died from Covid-19.
  • Those who have seen their businesses skate to the edge because of shutdowns, those who have lost their businesses.
  • Those who have lost their jobs.
  • Those who have have been sent home from school, who have missed milestones like graduation.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are sanguine about it.
  • Those who have been negatively impacted by the shutdowns and are confused, angry and resentful.
  • Those who haven’t known anyone personally impacted.
  • Those who have kept working during this time, who’ve not lost time or money.
  • Those worried about the stock market, not because they are fat cats, but because there goes their retirement income.
  • Those who have welcomed this as an opportunity for change and growth.
  • Those who have resented the experience and are angry. Outraged, even.
  • Those who are impacted in a negative way by the constant flow of news and speculation.
  • Those who are at peace with it all.
  • Those who are totally on board with restrictions.
  • Those who are restriction-skeptics.
  • Those who are afraid of being infected.
  • Those who aren’t afraid – those who don’t think that they are at risk, or those who are accepting of whatever comes.
  • Those who started wearing a mask on March 1.
  • Those who pull their shirt collar up over their nose for a mask and resent that. 
  • Those whose family lives have been deepened and enhanced by the time in quarantine
  • Those for whom the quarantine and extended time with family has exacerbated tensions and made problems more obvious
  • Those who think this is a Very Big Deal
  • Those who think this is Not Such a Big Deal
  • Those who have experienced this as a call to change.
  • Those who just want things to go back to the way they were.
  • Those who have, for the first time in their lives, thought seriously about questions of life and death. And are maybe coming back to the church for the first time, or for the first time in a long time because of it.
  • Those who are rethinking their priorities and choices as a consequence of the shutdown and the mystery and possibility of serious illness

You may not find every permutations of this variety in your pews, but I think you’ll find a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by the echo chamber of news, reporting and discussion that most of us fall into that confirms our own biases. Some of those perspectives might drive you crazy and strike you as so very wrong, but well…there are as many different experiences and opinions of this time as there are human beings. That’s just the way it is.

My point?

I am dreading a slew of homilies that do little more than echo the endless drumbeating of We’re All In This Together PSAs with a particular modern Catholic flourish of We’re an Easter People, everything will be all right!  Nice to see you again!

So how can a preacher, teacher or speaker communicated in this moment without assuming too much, but then, as a consequence, simply falling into platitudes and pious generalizations?

I don’t know. There! That solves it!

Well, perhaps part of the answer might come from Bishop Robert Barron, whose homily we watched yesterday.

(We have, as I mentioned, been attending Mass at the parish where my son is employed as an organist. But a week ago, he had a bike accident, lacerated his elbow, and is still on the mend, so we stayed home this weekend. He’ll be back on the bench this coming weekend.)

 

 

Here’s the recording.The point Bishop Barron makes, in his words mostly addressed to other preachers, but applicable to all of us, since all of us are called to give witness, is to look to Peter’s approach, as described in the first reading from Acts:

Focus on Jesus, not yourself, your own doubts, your own experience, your own ideas. And pray, not that your words give superficial comfort, but that they cut to the heart. 

I’ve always felt that the great strength of Catholic liturgy – of any high liturgical tradition – is to give space. It all seems, from the outside, very full  – but all of the proscribed words, gestures and symbols function, in the end, as a space of freedom. Your worship is not about an individual standing up in front of you telling you how to feel in a certain moment or how to respond to God right now.

Within the space of a highly structured, rich liturgy, there’s room for everyone to feel whatever they are bringing with them – joy, sorrow, confusion, doubt – and to sit with it, pray with it, present it to God, and respond to him freely. And it does so in whatever context it’s happening, in a place of privilege or poverty, comfort or insecurity.

It’s a space in which, when we are open, no matter who we are, or where we’re coming from, there is the chance that we might be cut to the heart. 

Powerful preaching, it seems to me, should fit that paradigm. Proposing the Gospel, presenting it in all its fullness, pointing to Jesus, clearly and joyfully – but without manipulation, respecting the wild variety of hearers, respecting God’s power to redeem and save, offering the Gospel that the Church has always preached, forcefully, clearly and humbly – and then stepping back. Letting the Spirit do its work.

So where do we start? Where we always do.

With the liturgical season, with the liturgy, the Scriptures that we’ve been given. It’s Easter Season. Maybe your parish will be gathering for the first time on Pentecost, or Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi. That’s where we begin.

And I do think, no matter how different the experiences of each of us have been, it’s possible to draw connections without platitudes or incorrect generalizations.

For what have we all experienced?

The cold hard fact that the “control” each of us have over our lives is limited.

My life on earth is transitory. Ephemeral.

I don’t walk on earth as an isolated individual. I’m impacted by things I can identify, and many which I can’t, and are unpredictable and mysterious. It may not have felt like it over the past weeks, but I am in deep communion with every other person on earth. I affect them, they affect me.

Suffering and death are real. Unintended consequences are real.

Human beings stumble as they attempt to solve problems.

Life surprises us. Maybe I don’t know as much as I thought I did – about my own life, my family, about how the world works and why.

Maybe I need to change.

A yearning for permanence, health, security, normality, life – but a realization that none of that can be promised to me on earth. But still I yearn for it. Why? Is it perhaps because I’m created to yearn for this Good, and it is, indeed promised? Promised to me in an eternal way, to feed my eternal yearning?

 

Traditionally, Catholic spirituality is intensely centered on the Incarnate presence of Jesus in this broken world, in our broken hearts. It’s about reassuring us that yes, indeed, he’s present, that he loves us and that his Risen Life can be ours as well.

And it’s about helping each of us – no matter where we are or who we are – recognize that Presence and that Voice.

Essentially:

Where is God present in this weird, unpredictable life we lead?

and

What is God teaching me right now? 

Posing the question isn’t the same as answering it. The crucial thing is to propose that ancient truth that every moment of life on earth, no matter who we are,  provides an opportunity to do the most important thing: to know Him. To hear these words that we’ll hear in next Sunday’s Gospel and understand that they are true – right now. 

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

And no matter who we are, and where we’ve been over the past weeks, no matter what our opinions or experiences are – that’s what we all have in common. We need Him. Every experience we have can, if we are open, alert us more deeply to that reality – that right here, right now, we need Him – our only Way, our only Truth, our only Life.

 

 

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