Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On the Carrying of the Cross

Once, it was pointed out to me that the Stations of the Cross can be sort of fit into this mystery. I've been praying it that way ever since. (The first station has kind of already happened by this point, though, and it works out best if you just gloss over that as far as counting them on the Hail Mary beads goes.)

Jesus Takes Up His Cross

Jesus Falls the First Time
He's only just picked up the cross and already He's fallen? Little wonder our New Year's resolutions and whatnot last mere days before we slip. The important thing, of course, is that He gets right back up.

Jesus Meets His Mother
The most striking commentary I've ever heard on this mystery is from a homily of my old pastor, Fr P. I can't recall how he phrased it so as not to sound cumbersome at the outset (as my own words here are bound to do), but he asked what words Jesus would have read in her eyes in that one moment? Fr P then declared that they must have been words of encouragement, a sort of "You can do it!", with perhaps a hint of "I'm so proud of you!" (ok that last part I think I've added on over the years). When he first said that, I thought it was cool but VERY hard to wrap my mind around! But as time has gone on, I've come to see how one can put aside one's own feelings in support of another, knowing that the greater good was truly being served. I'm not doing justice to the idea here, but I really do think it's the most perfect presentation of this moment of connection between the New Adam and the New Eve on the path to Calvary that I've ever heard.

Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
I've always identified with Veronica. Anybody know where we keep her veil? 'Cuz undoubtedly it's perfectly preserved somewhere in Christendom. I love being Catholic!

Jesus Falls the Second Time
I have long found this to be one of the more painful stations. After three stops of other people providing aid or comfort to our Blessed Lord, He falls again - so soon after Veronica had wiped His Face! If only this station was switched in order with the one before it; then at least her kindness to Him would have lasted longer. But alas!

Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
Can you imagine being one of those women? Upset for the injustice to this poor innocent man (or maybe they actually believed in Him; who knows?), and expressing to Him their sympathy, and instead He tells them to shove it? Not really, but that must be what they felt like at the time. 'Don't cry for me, but for yourselves and your children.' Seriously? Why should I weep for my perfectly happy, healthy child when you're over here being beaten slowly to death? Scary words!

Jesus Falls the Third Time
I once read reference to someone "sinning like a Christian" - that is to say, he'd fall into sin, but he'd get right back up again and keep trying, no matter how many times he sinned. That's where we should be.

Jesus is Stripped of His Clothes
The pain of clotted wounds being ripped open! The humiliation of being stripped naked for all to see! *sighs* I'm so glad He did this so I wouldn't have to.

Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
When I was a child, this was always the station that sent shivers down my spine. Of all the painful things Jesus went through, having nails pounded through your hands and feet always took the cake for me. My hands almost hurt just thinking about it!

Any stations that occur after this point belong more properly to the fifth sorrowful mystery, so I'll address them next week. I hope.

Monday, March 30, 2009

On the Presentation

Yes, I know I'm fully a week behind. My apologies. But look on the bright side: If I can get back on track where I'm supposed to be, that means I'll be posting a meditation on the Institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday! Woot!

* * *

I used to puzzle over this mystery, but it has slowly but surely worked its way into my heart as a dearly beloved favorite! There's just so much here on which to wonder!

First off, the Holy Family comes into the Temple and Simeon is right there, praising the Christ Child (assuaging the internal doubts His parents had probably been fighting), proclaiming the glory of the Lord, and predicting the suffering of His dear Mother. And she held all these things in her heart. The fact that the whole Church prays in Simeon's words before retiring for the night suggests to me that their significance is even greater than I yet understand.

The reason they came to the Temple, of course, was for the traditional Jewish ceremony in which the son is circumcized and presented to God as a partaker in His covenant - symbolized by the naming. First, the circumcision. As I remarked a few months ago, our loving Savior could not wait 'till Calvary to redeem us by shedding His Precious Blood; He rushed to His circumcision, the drops of blood spilt from which were more than sufficient for us, and He has never stopped giving of Himself in such painful and intimate ways.

Again with Dr. Bergsma's class. He pointed out that in the original covenant God made with the Jews, each firstborn was consecrated to God's service, but that later on (as things changed) the sons of Aaron and Levi were the only ones who performed priestly duties. But because of the original covenant, an extra sacrifice was always made at this time to "redeem" the son from his duties as a lifelong servant of God in the Temple. No mention of such a sacrifice was made in the Gospel texts; thus we see that Jesus was never released from His duty to spend His life in the service of the Father and His people.

His naming. In Hebrew tradition, names were a big deal. Telling someone your name was a mark of intimacy; names weren't just thrown around like they are today. (Hence the fact that many Jews refuse to even speak or write the Divine Name, partly because it's too sacred to be profaned by letting just anyone hear It.) The name Jesus means "God saves" - talk about your name declaring your mission in life! Wow!

Another beautiful facet of the naming of Jesus is that it was always the father who presented the child to be named. St Joseph gave to Jesus His Name, as commanded by the angel, thereby truly owning his role as the Child's father. I'll come back to this next week, but St Joseph's fatherhood is so strikingly beautiful to me!

Then, of course, there's the sacrifice made for Mary's purification. Absolutely unnecessary, because she wasn't defiled in any way. But in profound humility she consented to go through the motions, for everyone else's sake (to avoid scandal and all that). That shoots straight through our innate desire to keep our good name clear, doesn't it?

Finally, to bookend it all is Anna's praise of the Child on the way out. At least, I seem to recall that she came in at the end of the event. Her words aren't recorded, but she was another voice praising, confirming God's great blessings. Don't you love how, when God gives us hard things, we ask Him for confirmation over and over again - and He gives it to us? It makes me smile to see Him confirming His plan for His family, even though Mary at least didn't need such confirmations to get by. It's beautiful how He takes care of His own, going above and beyond.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

On Liturgical Ministries and the American Way

In many parish settings, an idea is prevalent among the congregation that liturgical participation means doing a liturgical ministry. This seems to be the normative view among Catholics today, with more extreme views on both sides. The liberal/modern view is that everyone has a right to exercize a liturgical ministry (dealing with such people was one of the more difficult parts of being on Liturgy Committee). The traditional/conservative view is that no one has a right to do particular actions in the Sacred Liturgy, even the priest (though argument could be made that his ordination does give him a lot more sway in that department).

I had kept the former idea in my head for years, because my parents were formed in the years when lay ministerial participation was in vogue, and we were always one of this heavily involved, highly visible families - there'd been many a Mass when Mom was the cantor, I was also in the choir, Dad was an EMHC, and T was an altar server. Admittedly, my reason for being in liturgical choirs was more because I loved to sing than because I felt a need to be "active", but I would have ended up as an altar server were I not otherwise occupied in the choir. It was just what you did.

I eventually learned that liturgical participation means so much more than merely doing a ministry in the liturgy, and began (after far too many Masses at which I filled two or three lay-ministerial roles) to step back and learn to pray the Mass as an unremarkable member of the congregation.

Then I discovered the traditional Latin Mass, at which the sheer volume of lay ministerial roles is shrunk exponentially, and at which I had to sit in the congregation. Here I learned a completely different way of entering my soul into the priest's prayers, and, later, of communing with God even in ways that didn't look exactly like what was being said out loud! But I'm getting off-topic. :)

When you hear "It's the American Way!" and you're in a somewhat cynical mood, of what do you think? I think of self-centeredness (both as individuals and as a nation), of impatience, of complaining, and of demanding our rights (I also think of dumb lawsuits, but that's just an obnoxiously loud subpoint of this last one). Think about it - everything we've been taught since youth is that we have a right to things - good education, a decent standard of living, the freedom to live life how we want, the ability to pursue any career, to be treated with respect, a good family life, our own personal choice of leisure activities &/or vices... the list goes on. But the point is clear: I have a right to do what I want when I want it how I want it just because I want it!

Pretend there's a segue here. Or, if you prefer, pretend there's a Segway here.

In recent months, I’ve been enjoying my felt right to simply sit quietly in the congregation and pray the corporate worship of the Church in my individual way. As any Catholic with a decent singing voice knows, this never lasts long. I hadn’t even yet considered joining the parish when I was first hit up to join the choir! My fatal mistake was agreeing to sing with for Christmas. Admittedly, possibly more than half of us who sang for Midnight Mass were not regular choir members – but all the rest of them were also not regular parishioners! (I suppose making friends with the family of the choir director probably also helped drag me in.) Agreeing to sing occasionally for weekday feasts got me in even deeper. But what really put the nail in the coffin is the fact that I knew every single polyphonic piece they sang during Lent. Every single one! And I was sitting in the congregation instead of lending my voice to help the poor one other alto (who’s new at this, to boot) to round out the sound for the greater glory of God. Every single song! And I don’t even think I have that great of a repertoire of traditional liturgical music!

The point I’m trying to elicit here is this: I find myself, yet again, on the opposite side of “most people”. Instead of demanding my right to participate in the liturgy via a ministry, my “right” to not participate in the liturgy via a ministry has been forfeited. Ah, well. Me singing in the choir for liturgical events is an unbroken trend since 4th grade, and I don’t foresee it stopping any time soon. Perhaps when I have kids I’ll get a break. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On the Proclamation of the Kingdom

This one's dense, and I know I'm not good at it.

For one thing, it doesn't refer exclusively to just one point in the Gospels! Jesus preached the Kingdom pretty much constantly. That's always been a bit of a sticking point for me.

Still, the Kingdom of God is among us, is heaven on earth! So we'd better start living like it, and paying attention to the heavenly (read: eschatalogical) dimension of things. After all, as St. Paul said, "The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit" (I'm sure Taizé took some minor translation liberties for the song from which I recall the verse, but the crux of the issue is the same).

Probably my most cherished reflection on the Kingdom of God comes from the classroom of Dr. John Bergsma. Unfortunately, I don't have my notes handy, and dinner just beeped (mmm, leftovers!), so you're getting this entirely from memory.

That parable about the wheat and the chaff - you know, the one in which the farmer plants wheat, and then his enemy sows weeds in among the wheat, and the farmer's servants wants to weed right away but the farmer won't let them because they might inadvertently rip up some wheat, too... long story short, when it comes to harvest time, the farmer separates the wheat from the chaff (and the sheep go to his right, the goats to his left, if you'll permit the mixed metaphor).

Dr. Bergsma drew a diagram on the board (his drawings are so simple, and so wonderfully explicatory!), of which I will attempt to reproduce a semblance here. He started with a box.

In the box, he drew little circles (the wheat).

Then little x's for the weeds/chaff:

So that's what the kingdom of God looks like right now. Many people (he, a convert and ex-minister, pointed to Protestants, but I see the same tendency in traditionalists and many, many other groups) like to pretend like the Church (the Kingdom of God upon earth) should look more like this:

But that's just what we think, what we want, not what the Jesus said. Remember the farmer's words in the parable: he didn't want to remove the chaff because some wheat might be taken away with it. He said nothing about rearranging the garden. We will always have those bad seeds in the Church, n'importe quoi (no matter what), until the end of time.

And that's part of the package. The Kingdom of God on earth is far from perfect. So are we. Remember that the next time we go to judge someone, especially someone within our beloved Church. Time's not over yet, so we must pray and put up with those x's in the midst of our beautiful little circles.

On the Descent of the Holy Spirit

Wow, am I behind! My apologies.

I was particularly partial to this mystery when I was a full-blown charismatic (it is, after all, one of the foundational Scriptural references of the movement).

My earliest memory of this mystery was learning about it in school in 6th grade. At that point, our teacher explained the tongues spoken by the apostles as spontaneously speaking a different language they'd never learned (modern example: as if Paul spoke French, and Andrew spoke Russian, and Bartholomew spoke Swahili...). I didn't like that very much. I had always preferred (and still do) to think of it as the apostles speaking the same language they'd always spoken, but the hearers in the crowd each hearing them in their native tongue (so it's not like you had to find the apostle speaking your language in order to get the awesomeness).

The massive conversions that happened that day literally blow my mind. Like, I actually can't wrap my mind around those numbers.

What I can focus on, though, is that this was really the first novena. The apostles, Mary, and possibly a few others had just holed themselves up in prayer (admittedly, perhaps also partly in fear) for nine days. (This is why it makes me cry when Ascension Thursday is moved to Sunday. Huzzah for Jersey bishops who've done this right all my life!) I try to always do a novena to the Holy Spirit before Pentecost.

And no "Happy Birthday, Church" celebrations on Pentecost. We'll talk about that at the fifth sorrowful mystery, when she was really born.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Women, Radical Feminism, and Crossing the Bridge

While sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's office this past Friday, The View came on tv. I was less than thrilled, as outspoken ultra-liberal feminist elite celebs chattering about whatever they feel like is rarely enriching, but I determined to simply ignore them until it was my turn and I could leave the tv behind. This proved impossible, as the first thing the women discussed was this article in L'Osservatore Romano, in which a Vatican reporter asserts that the invention that liberated women the most was the washing machine.

Surprise: The ladies on The View disagree! They didn't even bother to consider a serious explanation for that suggestion; they instead referred to the fact that we do not have female priests, and expressed surprise that Rome would let a woman even write an article for the paper! Their chosen objects that most liberated women were, of course, the birth control pill, followed possibly by the vibrator. Ugh.

But as the day went on, I realized that what bothered me most was not their immediate rejection of the Mother I hold dear, nor their dumb opinions, but the outrageous difference between their philosophical underpinnings and my own - and the fact that I had no idea how to even begin to cross that barrier! Admittedly, such differences can only be met individually, and when both parties are invested in finding common ground, but where to begin even so? I found myself constantly coming back to think about it, getting nowhere and stopping in frustration.

I know the Church has shown me the Truth (and the truth, for that matter). And I know this is in large part rationally defensible. But ask me to justify that to absolutely anyone and I freeze up. I can't do it.

Even in school, I was never satisfied with any of the rational proofs for God that we learned. They all just seemed to be lacking somehow.

Perhaps those of you who've spent significant amounts of time with nonbelievers while at the same time living your life unreservedly for Christ can shed some light on this for me. How can I justify my faith and my perspectives without going for the dumb old, It feels right for me or this is my path or other such nonsense?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the Crowning with Thorns

This mystery is less about physical suffering (though that is most definitely a factor) than it is about what I think of as perfect humility.

Humility has two aspects. The first aspect is more basic: Seeing yourself as God sees you. (Easier said than done, sure, but still very positive.) The second aspect requires much more supernatural grace: Remaining in virtue when others do not treat you as your God-given dignity deserves. Everything about the Crowning with Thorns smacks of this perfect humility. He was God, for goodness' sake! And here he was being treated like a common miscreant! On top of that, they were mocking His Kingship - a kingship of which He was very aware especially during His passion.

Lord, remind me not to get upset and snap back when others fail to give me the respect I deserve. Teach me how to just take it like You did. Teach me how to let myself be walked all over - and more importantly, when it would be beneficial to do so.

And help me to embrace the crown of thorns You've set aside for me throughout my life.

On the Nativity

Honestly, I have trouble with this one. Something about the mystery being too vast to fit into one mere decade... Perhaps more to do with the fact that this one's constantly being presented to us, and we did just spend a whole season meditating on it not too long ago...

Still, the Virgin gave birth to a Son, and the animals in the stable rejoiced, and the angels cried out in glory, and Israel came to worship, and the Gentiles came with gifts in adoration, and even nature preached to the world the joy of the birth of the Savior, the King of Kings...

I do find it telling that we have more beautiful Christmas hymns than Easter hymns, though we are an Easter people (and Easter is about three times longer than Christmas). There's just something enchanting about the birth of the King...

On the Wedding at Cana

So I'm a few mysteries behind. I'm sure you've noticed by now my habit of blog-binging. Bingeing? Spellcheck prefers the first one, but they both look wrong to me...

For a long time, I meditated specifically on the sacrament of marriage here, and the added dignity and all that that Jesus gave to it ("from the beginning it was not so" and all that jazz). Then one day I suddenly realized that essentially, this mystery has little to do with marriage at all!

It was His first miracle. Not a healing, nothing spectacular - just a little housekeeping detail that His mom asked him to take care of. It's mysteries like this more than anything else that've helped me to understand the purpose of Marian intercession. Just because she asked Him to! Now that's obedience!

And it was just an everyday little detail! We don't even know if anyone directly benefitted from this miracle (save for the host, who was saved embarassment, and perhaps the slaves who saw what was going on), but He did it anyway, to make the day that much more perfect.

I really need to pay better attention to the little things in my own life.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Crosses That Don't Feel Like Crosses

I had a wonderful reminder today that the Lord uses all sorts of crosses to purify us, including those that don't feel like they should count as suffering. Not that we should take a "Woe is me" attitude, but that it's perfectly legitimate to recognize that we do carry certain crosses, and that they hurt more or less at various times (and it's okay to just acknowledge that you're hurting).

Thanks for a good cry, K. It was exactly what I needed. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Passion, Balance, and Not Selling Out

Warning: This is liable to be a very long post. I've been chewing on these ideas for some weeks, and I'm still not even sure I can spit it out intelligibly. But I'm ready to try.

One of the biggest compliments one can receive from a high schooler is to be recognized as "hardcore". This is approximately the "cool" word for one who is passionate about and devoted to something in a way that is worthy of respect (as opposed to pathetic). Teens in particular are searching for what is real and true, and when they see someone so fired up, they almost can't help but admire.

Passion excites. That's just in its nature. I don't mean the passions, as in philosophy, or Christ's Passion, as in theology. For the remainder of this post, the word "passion" refers to the noun form of the adjective "passionate", whose meaning you've all known since long before you began to study the loftier sciences.

Returning to my point: Passion excites. By definition, passion is intimately connected with strong emotions. When a passion is shared with another, the other is invited into the speaker's awe or outrage or whatever. The other then is able to experience the speaker's passion, even if he cannot understand. I was dining with friends recently when a musician, was asked what his degree was in. He responded "Math," and our tablemates were surprised. He then went on to briefly explain the particular discipline in which he'd specialized, and he did it with an affection and intimacy that brought it to life. Now, I'm not a math person, and I couldn't tell you anything about Abstract Algebra that I didn't just learn right now from skimming the Wikipedia article, but I walked away from that evening with a feeling that his undergrad studies had been in something beautiful, little though I understood it.

Think back to temperance. Not the Prohibition kind, but the virtue. Temperance is a balance, the mean between two extremes. As such, it is inextricably connected to truth: not to say that truth is the mean between two extremes, but that extremes develop on either side of the truth. Consequently, we very easily step aside from the narrow road that is the Way and lean toward the Left or the Right, if you will. But leaving aside politically charged metaphors: Isn't much of life about balance? Don't we want to be neither a teetotaler nor a drunkard? Neither a "sexually enlightened" free lover nor a virgin from prudishness alone? Neither an manipulative control freak nor a pathetic doormat? Neither obese nor anorexic?

You get the idea. We want our lives to be balanced. And we're certainly not attracted to people who've lost their balance. Addicts are an easy example. So are most people with whom we disagree politically or philosophically. But there's another way one's passion can be undermined.

Think back to high school. What was the worst "sin" one could commit? (I'm speaking in an irreligious context here.) Selling out. Calling someone a sellout is possibly the strongest invective known to teenager. And it was used a lot. The teens in question, of course, were not the sellouts themselves. Selling out is something that happened to an unfortunate number of people with age or fame. Let me back up a bit.

A sellout is someone who compromises their values for any number of reasons: money, fame, convenience, lack of zeal. It's usually someone who was particularly hardcore in some way or had a strong driving passion, but has normalled out, if you will, or gone soft (or mainstream). When someone sells out you lose respect for them.

My problem, however, is that a humble man sometimes looks like a sellout. And the catch-22 is that, in his humility, he won't correct the calumny. For instance: If one is a catechist just beginning to build relationships at a parish, and a guest speaker or higher-up catechist speaks some doctrinal error (major or minor), immediate confrontation is not usually the best course of action (for charity's sake). True, the scandal of the false teaching persists, but it's not the responsibility of the new catechist to coldly correct others' factual errors so much as to live the truth in charity and draw them to Christ (and to greater truth) in love. However, this makes the new guy look like he's just being a doormat. And perhaps he is, in humility, responding as did Christ to Pilate or Herod. And very probably, the fact that he's letting this obvious injustice go uncorrected, though by so doing he stops himself from committing worse injustices, pains him on top of his self-reflective realization that, to an outside eye, he looks like a coward at best.

That's only one of many possible examples, but they all serve the same point: Though becoming like Christ makes one more fully onesself, taking on His intense humility and accepting injustice as if it were deserved serves also to hide the self from others for the sake of glorifying God.

When one's primary driving passion is loving the Lord, lessons like the above are very important, because what's given up is a valuable gift to our divine Lover. Still, what must be hidden is often what's most important to us: St. Faustina, for instance, was forced to hide from her peers her intimate conversations with the Lord and to accept instead their complaints and belief that she was responsible for their errors.

Therein lies the essential difference between humility and selling out: The humble man has hidden his passions, whereas the sellout has simply laid them aside. And no reason for laying aside a passion like that can match with the gift of pure love that is humility. After all, since the days of St. Paul the Church has preached "Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:23-24).

Still, Christianity is a religion of contradictions. How else do you explain a simple illiterate visionary like St. Bernadette Soubirous meriting heaven right alongside a pillar of Western philosophy like St. Thomas Aquinas? What about a great mystic like St. Gemma Galgani, who hardly left her own house, along with Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, whose missionary charity is world-renowned? So, while humility is a pretty basic essential in the preparation for holiness, it must still be possible to wear one's passion on one's sleeve even when not surrounded by those who share such a love for Christ.

Because when people who care at all ask what you want to do with your life, they're less concerned with what your plans might be, because they realize those plans will change. Sure, they want to see that your life-plan is fairly rational, that you're not going to starve in the streets because you're so set on being an Elvis impersonator in Vegas that you refuse to start off with smaller gigs, but more than that they want to see your love for what you do.

Especially at our age. If we don't take advantage of the passion of youth now, how will we expect to ever retain such passion later on in life, when it no longer comes so naturally?

In short: I feel like I've lost the ability to relay to others with no base in faith and tradition the things that really fire me up and to which I wish to devote my life, which is a shame, because I would very much like for others to be able to see the joy and zeal that the Lord brings to my life.

Still, if I won't be remembered for the strong passions I held and the crazy things I did, I'd be quite content if what was said of my co-worker's grandmother at her funeral was said of me at mine: "She never said a bad word about anyone." It's not an absolutely unique way to be remembered, but I still think it's a pretty good goal.

And if you stuck through this all the way to the bottom, you deserve a gold star. If I could figure out how to make one appear next to your username every time you comment me, I would totally do it.

On the Ascension

The Ascension underscores that the body and the soul are connected. Both are good! What a truly novel concept!

It's a very easy trap, to fall into anthropological dualism, especially for those of us who understand that the spiritual is greater than the bodily. Still, the body is good, and we mustn't forget that. I often think fondly of St. Thomas Aquinas' enjoyment of food, not to the point of gluttony, but quite enough to flummox those silly Pelagians! (Wikipedia is not backing me up in the Pelagians' gnostic denigration of the body. Can anyone confirm?)

I have found it difficult to strike a balance between fasting from what is good as a gift to the Lord (or as a cry in supplication) and enjoying the good gifts He has given us (without going so far as to be gluttonous). Our Lord's ascension gives me hope of enjoying heaven, and the knowledge that my body will be there with me, a part of me.

Saints have had visions of heaven, and theologians understanding and knowledge thereof. All I really need to know about heaven is that I will be perfectly happy and fulfilled, and part of God in a way I cannot even conceive at present. Still, it's fun to think about possibilities of what things might be like...

I can't for the life of me figure out what we might all do with our bodies up there in heaven. But there are two particular speculations of what we might look like that intrigue me very much:

1) We will bear the marks of Christ's glory as in death. That is to say, St. Denis's head will not be attached to his body, St. Sebastian will have a few arrow holes in his flesh... You get the picture. Martyrs in particular will bear the wounds of their martyrdom. (Think of the whole theology of icons, and you're pretty much there). I imagine, too, that stigmatists (even the secret kind) would also bear their wounds. I'm not sure what the majority of Christians, who are crucified by splinter, would look like, according to this theory.

2) We will bear the marks of Christ's glory as in what we left behind. This theory suggests that we will somehow bear our sins in heaven, as if to say, "I was into this and the Lord brought me to Himself! Look how great He is!" Perhaps it's just my fallen human nature talking, but I'm not such a big fan of that idea, though I can see its theological appeal.

Which reminds me of my final point (who knew I had so much to say about the Ascension? I sure didn't!): As Fr. Dr. Dan Patee, TOR, Ph.D. (did I miss anything, Sana?) once reminded us in class: To dismiss an imperfection by the phrase, "We're only human" is quite the fallacy! It's not our humanity that keeps us from perfection but the sin of our forefathers. It's a simple point, really, and at first I thought he was just splitting hairs, but the longer I let this sit in the back of my mind, the more important it seems. We were made perfect. We were designed for perfection. That just got screwed up for us. But we can strive to become ever closer to the perfect. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that human perfection has been achieved by some saints towards the end of their lifetimes.

Just another reason not to become complacent in our sin. We've definitely got a lot more potential than we tend to give ourselves credit for.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the Scourging at the Pillar

As a child and adolescent, I was acutely aware that my peers had an impoverished understanding of the Lord's passion, and (not being yet in touch with my spiritual nature) focused on the physical torture highlighted in these mysteries.  Thus I would feel remiss were I not to at least mention the incredible torment Our Lord suffered so meekly as His sacred Body was whipped and torn by bone, glass, rocks, and other sharp, painful edges.

I think often of the scene from The Passion in which Mary and the other woman take white cloths and sop up Christ's Precious Blood, spilt so thoughtlessly there for all men.  Well, thoughtless for some, anyway.

I sometimes get angry at Protestant depictions of our Lord's passion, because they usually have Him scream out in pain at some point.  But his continued silence is one of my favorite things about the great suffering He bore for us: look at all that He endured for our sake, and He didn't cry out once.  How, then, do I complain about the smallest thorns in my side?

Acceptance of suffering, when it's not the type of suffering we'd choose for ourselves.  What a hard task!  I look to You, O Lord, for hope.

On Speaking One's Mind

Last night's patient on House suddenly lost the ability to filter what he thought from what he said - suddenly every thought that crossed his mind was spoken aloud for all to hear, and he had no control over it. It turns out this character was a highly self-regulating man: he had a lot of sexual thoughts and degrading opinions, but he'd worked hard throughout his life to filter himself so that he was socially acceptable, so that he was supportive of his wife (even if he secretly thought her work was dumb), etc. Throughout the course of the episode, hs said many hurtful things to his wife and daughter (though his wife admittedly asked loaded questions), and when he was finally cured at the end, he and his wife left the room, with definite tension between them, but still an optimistic determination to rebuild what was ruined by the revelations of his infection.

I can't imagine living a life like the one that man must have led: brimming with thoughts, ideas, opinions, fantasies, yet hiding them from absolutely everyone and living behind a mask so as to be acceptable, so as to function in society, so as to care for one's family.

Perhaps I'm simply spoiled by the Christian mentality I've grown up in: He that looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart, and all that. And that does seem to me to be the point: if you're not a good person on the inside, doesn't it make you a bit of a sham to be one on the outside? Perhaps that's why Dr. House thinks everyone who seems like a good person is just a hypocrite: because he hasn't yet encountered Christ through a Christian who truly lives his faith.

Although the priest from this recent episode was a good start. We Christians do seem to be making inroads into Hollywood, albeit very slowly...

Monday, March 9, 2009

On the Visitation

Our Blessed Mother traveled great distance to call upon her cousin Elizabeth immediately following the Annunciation.  Differing traditions suggest that she went with Joseph, or alone with a handmaid (though I tend to favor the latter).

We all know what happened when she got there.  When her greeting reached Elizabeth's ears, John jumped within her womb.  I read once that his original sin was removed at that point (making him third in human perfection - an interesting possibility).  But, in keeping with my love of obscure references between the Testaments, I must point out that the verb used when John "jumped" is the same one that narrated David's dancing before the Lord with abandon, upon the city of Jerusalem's celebration that the ark of the covenant was home.  As one who has, at times, danced with abandon before the Lord, I can promise you that the intensity is just a bit greater than a simple "jump."  I do enjoy Biblical-translation understatements, once I've learned the real context.

The other thing I often return to in this mystery is the human element.  Mary had just been given a supernatural pregnancy by the Lord - so had Elizabeth!  Yes, I'm sure Mary served Elizabeth while she was out there (though I'd imagine Elizabeth served Mary at times as well), but it remains that Mary was human, and as such she sought companionship, someone who knew what she was going through.  Talk about spiritual sisterhood!

When I'm going crazy and can't figure my life out on my own, I sometimes remember our Virgin Mother and Elizabeth, and smile as I pick up my cell phone and dial...

On Jesus' Baptism

Sorry for the delay - I had a friend visiting this weekend, so there are several posts backed up in my head. I hope you'll see them hit the page in the next few days.

There are several noteworthy elements to the theophany at Jesus' baptism, as is the case for every other mystery of the rosary. As has seemed to become the norm here, I will illuminate simply my favorite(s) rather than trying to exhaust the whole mystery (as part of me feels falsely bound to do). Feel free to drop your favorite theological illuminations in the combox.

All of salvation history is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We all know that. But we don't think about a physical manifestation of the events of salvation history, though we were blessed with a New Adam and a New Eve. In this mystery, as Jesus enters the Jordan river, He is taking to Himself His Jewish ancestors who crossed the Red Sea as they were being led from Egypt to the Promised Land (albeit via a long desert exile, but that wasn't part of the original plan).

So as each child is baptized into Christ's death and everlasting life, he is also baptized into the long but eventually fruitful path to the Promised Land (in our case, heaven).

I just love it when connecting the dots draws a formerly unseen beauty.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On the Resurrection

Believe it or not, the resurrection is one of the mysteries on which I always have trouble meditating. I know, I know - it's pretty much the central mystery of our faith. I think that's part of why it gives me so much trouble, actually: it's always in front of me, in every moment of every day... I guess that's why I have trouble making Easter truly last eight weeks, too (but that's a subject for another post, a few months from now).

At this point, we know that God died for us. Other religious traditions have men or demigods returning from death for some selfless reason, but even there Christ is unique - He didn't get out on a technicality; he pretty much destroyed death, so much so that He extends the inviting hand of life to us all, His family.

I will, however, go into two little details of the resurrection story that bring me particular joy. The first is when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and, when she finally recognizes Him, He says "noli me tangere" - do not hold me. For years, this meant nothing to me, until I was shown Songs 3:4, when after the bride has been searching for him all night and says, "Scarcely had I passed the, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go..." Talk about nuptial and eschatalogical imagery!

The second detail that I love so dearly is in John's gospel: The women report the empty tomb, and John and Peter both go running. John arrives first, and sneaks a peek in the door, but doesn't go in. Instead he waits outside (can you imagine!?) and lets Peter enter first. Talk about Petrine authority! Wow!

I know, I hardly said anything about the central point of the resurrection. But isn't that part of the point of having your own blog - you don't have to follow the rules?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On Proposition 8 and the American Government

I am morally in favor of Proposition 8. That is irrelevant.

I am politically outraged, scandalized, and demoralized by what is happening to Proposition 8, and it has nothing to do with morality. It can pretty much all be traced back to my 5th grade Social Studies class (the earliest taste of American civics I can remember).

As I recall, our government is a democracy - that means government by the people for the people. I also recall that our government has a tripartite structure so as to prevent one branch from becoming inordinately powerful. It's an old, dead argument that the judicial branch is hogging all the power. But this situation just takes things one step further down the endless spiral...

Somebody sued somebody else and the courts ruled that gay marriage was legal, though the question was already on the ballots for the general populace to decide whether they wanted gay marriage to be legal. The people said No (not overwhelmingly, but clearly enough), and the law was passed, in the typical fashion.

Except the lobbyists weren't happy. Enough noisy people were unhappy that this law, legitimately passed in the face of the great pressure, was immediately sent back to the courts, where they were sure to win (as are most special interest groups). Ridiculous measures have been put in place, down to revealing how people voted on this issue. It's as good as revoking their right to a free vote. How patently unamerican! Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their grave to see how we're completely disregarding their carefully constructed government documents.

The people spoke, and said that marriage is between a man and a woman. I don't care whether you agree with that or not; our government is a democracy, and the people have spoken. You can fight it through the normal means, but don't bully it out of them.

I am extremely disheartened by this whole situation, and it has less to do with the continued destruction of the institution of marriage than it does with the continued destruction of the American government.

On the Agony in the Garden

Immediately following the Last Supper, in which Jesus gave to His disciples His Body and Blood, He retreated to the garden to pray, for He knew the steps ahead of Him.

Perhaps the reason He asked His disciples to remain awake and pray with Him, and why He took the three closer in, was less because He knew what was coming in the near hours and more because He knew that very part of His passion would be the hardest - the spiritual suffering.

We all know that He suffered immensely in the privacy of that garden. He bore the interior pain of every sin - both the separation from His Father incurred by the sinner, and the pain or evil received by the one sinned against. Has it been considered that "Father, take this cup from me - But Thy Will, not mine own" might have referred to the suffering which he underwent in those secret, trying moments? After such pain, physical suffering would have been almost a relief, save for the emotional suffering piled on top (if you're confused, just wait a week).

I just cannot fathom how One with such an inbred hatred for sin could withstand the pain of every sin ever committed. Sin is really awful. I know it doesn't seem like it to us, but think of the great saints, who fervently detested their tiniest imperfections because of the pain they caused Our Lord. The God-man Himself must be infinitely more sensitive to such things.

If only I could have a greater sense of sin. Perhaps it would help me to offend Him less. At the very least, it would allow me a deeper share in this part of His passion.

We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee,
Because by Thy holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.

On the Annunciation

It's only day two and I'm already behind!

One of my goals this Lent was to reinforce my own meditation (and possibly edify you folks) by posting reflections on mysteries of the rosary each weekday (well, Mon-Thurs of weeks 1-5, anyway). So, without further ado: The Annunciation

Mary is a pretty normal (if extremely holy) young girl. Younger than we, but at a similar stage in life, considering how things were different there and then. She's betrothed to a great guy, and her future looks exciting.

Then an archangel appears to her and asks her to be the Mother of God. She accepts God's Will without argument (though with a bit of confusion), and the Word was made flesh - the very Word by whose incarnation, passion, and resurrection we were reconciled to the Father and invited to live forever.

What a great honor, to be chosen for such a fate! And at the same time, what confusion? The great trust we admire in our dear Mother was, I daresay, expressed more in her fidelity to the Lord than in this split-second decision. As the days went on and this child grew in her virgin womb, she probably had no idea what the future would look like - whether Joseph would stay with her and provide for the child, what would happen when she became an outcast of society (as she surely would), even whether she'd still be supported by her parents. And yet she trusted.

Perhaps that supernaturally unwavering trust is why she received the name Full of Grace.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

On Reputations, Transition, and Getting Dressed

Disclaimer: This post will contain many references to various friends, all of which will be abbreviated by first initial. It is not important for you to keep them straight or to know who's who; I'm leaving them in solely for my own future reference.

At the end of my freshman year of college, J, distressed that he wouldn't see me for eight months, demanded a "last hurrah" with me, and we spent three hours talking about everything that had happened to each of us throughout the year. I still remember clearly a number of the things he said to me that day, one of which was a comparison he drew between us, which caught me completely by surprise. While he'd spent his year slaving away for the theatre department, working hard to make himself known, I had unknowingly amassed a reputation simply by being myself: I was known across the campus for my distinctive clothing (not always done attractively, but in a way that didn't matter) and my loving hugs, given freely to all.

I don't know what really started the outrageous dressing, save perhaps for the sudden liberation from the school uniforms in which I'd been living for thirteen years. Too, I've always enjoyed the bright colors and the crazy patterns, and thought it silly to have in your closet something you love but never wear. It's just been a source of joy for me, and usually for those around me.

In the fall of my junior year of college, I was conversing with a former dormmate (who'd lived in the next room freshman year), who lamented the fact that my wardrobe and I had moved to the other side of campus. True, it's not that long of a trek, but it's quite too far to just pop in and borrow that perfect accessory she lacked. I told her she should stop by and pick out an outfit someday, and she agreed, but it had that air of a "We should get coffee!" statement that one knows will never come to fruition. That day, I came up with the idea to host a day on which people from all over the campus would wear my clothing. It was a raging success, more than half the clothes were returned to me within 24 hours, and I had everything back within a week. So we did it again. And again. And again. It was a hit each time - even those who wouldn't wear anything of mine loved to watch for "me" all over the place...

And it was interesting for me. Some people looked in and wanted a ready-made outfit, preferably something fun and flashy that they otherwise couldn't get away with. Some just grabbed something small, for the sake of saying they were participating. Others looked through my stuff for something that was mine but suited their more refined style (I've given away a good deal of clothing this way). It was a unique way to see how people thought of me. And it was always funny.

But as college went on and I got busier, I had less time for Wear Claire's Clothes Days (I had to be available in my room for about a week beforehand, and had to spend much time and energy publicizing it, or it would flop); I don't even think I had one my last semester. Since I joined Liturgy Committee and thought of myself as on call to do any needed ministry at Mass any day of the week, my clothes became less outlandish and more sophisticated (though still coordinated). As I became a leader on campus and worked with people in a different capacity, and as I encountered students who weren't interested in a hug every three hours, I slowly but surely stopped hugging everyone consistently. With the increased knowledge that comes with limited authority, I grew bitter at the blockage of beaurocracy. I became tired of the pressure, possibly just self-imposed, of always looking distinctive in some way. L will attest that getting dressed in the mornings became a nightmarish ordeal towards the end.

Then came to transition to reality (by which I mean: life after college). I never expected it to be so difficult, so lonely, so completely changed! I couldn't hug people whom I met in a business capacity, and those I knew in a friend capacity I didn't see very often (though I had the same twofold reputation there as I'd had in college). I found little desire to dress to impress, and instead found solace in the fact that good friends don't care what you're wearing, and like you just as much if you're tired and just throw on jeans, a tshirt, and white sneakers than if you have a carefully coordinated outfit such that every visible article of clothing is blue.

During this time, I found a pair of jeans that fit me comfortably, which I like to wear very much. When they were new, I (who rarely gives me physical appearance compliments) remarked that he very much liked me in jeans, that it's nice to see me dressed down like everybody else. I guess that's kind of like when a girl who dresses nicely and wears just the right amount of makeup is told that she looks great in sweats with naked face and hair tied messily back - it's not meant to denigrate the usual snazzy look, but to acknowledge the intimacy that is observable when one's guard is let down (not that I'd intentionally had a guard up, but you know).

I continued wearing the jeans to social outings, considering that compliment each time I got dressed but wearing the jeans really for my own sake, because I wanted to. After three weeks, K said to me in jest that she was worried I was becoming normal on her, that I'd show up soon in khakis and a tan blazer. So the next day, as I was dressing for a girls-only event I knew K would be at, I was inspired to throw together a truly crazy outfit such as I haven't worn in many months (and I used the jeans as part of it, to boot). I pulled together four separate outfits that day (each was warranted by the situation, I assure you), and enjoyed every second of it. That weekend made me feel like, "I'm back!" and reportedly I seem happier, too. My co-workers have noticed that I look better put-together as a general rule, and I am again interested in pulling together cool outfits for events. Not that I'm going to be wearing my punjabi suit just for the heck of it or anything like that, or that I won't pull a jeans-and-a-tshirt combo more now than I would have previously, but I suppose my faith in my closet (and my own ability to match things) has been restored.

But today after Mass brought to mind something that baffles me still. I've really only made friends with one family since joining this parish in August or so, but already T and J have nicknamed me "huggy Claire" (to differentiate me from Other Claire, who predates me at this parish), and T asks for a full view of my outfits each week, because she knows they're colorful and lovely. I haven't even been trying, and I suppose I've been suffering from a mild case of transitional depression, and yet again it happens that while I'm not paying attention to myself, I draw people to me with these two distinctive aspects of my personality about which I forget so easily. I guess they're more important than I'd thought.

And I'm going to hug my friends more often. J informed me this morning that I level up by so doing, and I've presumably lost quite a lot of xp since the days when I gave out over 150 hugs daily. It's high time I got back in the game.
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