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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mocking the Devil

People who weigh in on the annual "Halloween Debate" often cite the costumes that are used by children and adults alike; they dress as devils, monsters, ghosts, witches, and all sorts of creepy creatures, juxtaposed with the also-traditional saints and angels or, of course, movie characters, persons from history (Mary Queen of Scots comes to mind), etc. To some people's minds, the more devilish costumes seem to them to be a form of "affirmation" of dark powers and principalities, and really, nothing could be further from the truth. At least not in the original intention.

In ye olde tymes, the children dressed up devilishly not to give honor, but to MOCK the devil, and oh, how the devil HATES to be mocked! It takes his power away when we refuse to fear him, and when those innocent children are doing so, it's even WORSE for him! And of course, the practice of dressing as Saints and Angels WAS a sign of honor, of how God overcomes evil. I seem to recall reading somewhere about "passion plays" where the Saints and Angels would banish the little "devils", and so the children both had fun and learned about the triumph of the redemption.

So in the spirit of remembering the olde traditions, I have been pondering how I should dress up this year if I hand out candy. A couple years ago, at work my boss and I dressed as Saints and went around to different classrooms in the school to talk about who we were. My Saint happened to have been a religious sister, so I wore a "habit" and carried the symbols proper to the Saint, then kept the costume on when I handed out candy to the little cuties who came by.

I've decided though, to be SCARY this year! I like the idea of mocking the devil, although I have no interest in putting on red footie pajamas and attaching horns to my head and a little forked tail to my butt. Somehow that look works on a child but just makes an adult look so ridiculous the actual mocking of the devil is lost and becomes mocking of the ridiculous adult.

So I pondered and pondered, thinking of all the creative costumes I've worn in the past. None are really proper. And occurred to me. What's the SCARIEST thing I can think of? What mocks the devil and his work in this world?


Oh, yeah!

I can't even CONSIDER anything scarier than that! So tonight, I'm going to dress as a womynpryst! Of course, EVERYONE knows they don't really exist, but that's also what makes them SCARIER! ARRRRRRR!

Here's how I'm going to create my costume: I'm going to find an old white sheet and cut a hole in the middle for my head, then find some kind of a belt or rope or something to tie it at my waist. We'll call that an "alb". Then I'll get a red or neon-colored plastic tablecloth, cut a hole in the center of that, and drape it over my head. We'll call that the "chasuble". Then I'll find a clashing swirly-patterned or rainbow-colored scarf, and drape that over the "chasuble" and we'll call that the "stole". Oh, and I have to find a grey wig or maybe use flour or something to make my hair gray.

Actually, as I think about it, that IS the authentic outfit of "womynpriests"! For props, I'll carry around a kool-aid pitcher filled with grape juice and a tiffany-glass bowl containing cubed French or Italian bread, maybe mixed with honey-wheat pita bits.

I wonder if I can find anyone to dress up as members of CTA or VOTF? Any takers? I might also need a womynbishop with a tall clashing badly-designed "mitre". You have to look as authentic as I do! Oh, and if you're going to do this, you have to go around scowling and railing against the male hierarchy but smiling and cowtowing to anyone who sings your same mantra.

I seriously can't think of a better way than this to mock the devil and his work.

Oh, I'm off to put my costume together!
I LOVE Halloween! This is great!

Thursday, October 29, 2009


A Free-Association post compliments of Adoro being random:

I swore to myself I'd never write about my discernment again.

Obviously I'm an idiot for EVER having done so. It's hard to write about especially now, and when I do it, I get frustrated by the comments if I leave them open. It's frustrating to me because all I'm trying to do is be heard. The voice of those who are discerning is a lost one, and one often ignored, willfully. It's difficult, then, to put myself out there as that voice, and find that even the explanations are minimized, or people think that it's something that needs to be "fixed." We are a nation of "fixers". We have this weird need to end ANY kind of suffering, even if it is suffering that belongs to a certain kind of purification or formation.

We have this weird idea that everything needs to be comfortable or that everyone needs to be comforted. And we are willing to run all OVER people as long as it means they are "fixed" according to our own personal definitions.

As an aside:
Personally, part of my discernment problem is just that I happen to be a cold fish and can't stand people fawning over me, and I don't tend to fawn over others, either. (Maybe that comes from my few German genes, dunno). I question, though, exactly how I can both be a cold fish and a total softie with my heart on my sleeve all the time, but there it is. I'm a paradox even to myself.

I don't really know why I'm writing any of this. Who really cares? (For the literalists: that's a rhetorical question coming from the wry side. Please don't answer it.)

But here goes....

This evening, I got caught in some freeway traffic. It was rainy, the roads glared, the headlights glared, the windshield was partially fogging no matter what I did, and it was raining but inconsistently, which, combined with road spray, made it extra hard to see. When I drive in such conditions, even if I'm following an Uncle Ike type, I tend to just stay there until there is a huge gap in traffic, because I fear I'll miss something in all the rainglare and end up changing lanes directly into the path of a oncoming semi or something and end up being spatula'd up off the road and sent home in a bucket.

Tonight, as I drove a particularly bad stretch of constantly changing traffic, I followed the crowd in the right lane, and when I began to see flashing lights, I did check and try to move over a lane per Minnesota law. I wasn't able to get all the way over, and in fact, a racing driver actually swept PAST me as I was passing the Police Officer walking between the stopped vehicle and his own. I was amazed by the audacity of that driver, who should have KNOWN that law but still chose to ignore it and nearly cause an accident as he went between me and a car on our left in the next lane.

I was amazed only in that weird rhetorical sense that comes with wanting a Pollyanna attitude, yet not able to find it through all the cynicism that tells me the driver was either a total idiot, a total criminal, or driving so fast through the rainglared roads that he didn't see the cop on the side of the road until he was already done cutting people off. So, "amazed" but not a bit surprised. Rather, it was expected. Which is why I don't change lanes in such conditions. I'm not a Pollyanna.

Anyway, as I got back into the right lane, I thought about that Officer, and prayed for him. The cars in front of me...NONE tried to get into the left lane, even though it was clear. They slowed down, but at 50 mph down from's still deadly.

I remembered my own freeway traffic stops, quite vividly, actually. I hated them. I hated standing at the side of the road, cars and trucks flying past me as if we weren't there, as I bent towards the driver, trying to hear, trying to yell above the sound of traffic, but still trying to make sure I wasn't entering dangerous space.

Officer Safety is primary, even when the idea is a farce.

More cops are killed in traffic stops than in any other activity.

We can hover our hand near the gun on our hips, or we can have our hand on them directly, ready to draw, but if we're taken out by a semi, it doesn't matter what we're's the bucket and the deposit in the dirt for us.

That's what happened to a friend's husband. She was a cop in the city, he was a State Trooper. I remember when they were married, how happy she was. I remember her happy she was. She was a good Sergeant and in charge of our Reserve unit. I graduated college, she was one of my references, I was hired, and after I'd left the Job, by a few years, I saw it on the news. A semi driver hit a State Trooper who was standing by a car at a traffic stop. The Trooper was killed. My friend...devastated. Their son...without their father.

It THRILLED me to see the new law in Minnesota requiring drivers to change lanes when they see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. Yet, I realized tonight, that when rainglare comes into play, the law doesn't one wants to change lanes. They are willing to slow down, but suddenly the wild card driver that kills cops becomes more real to everyone, and no one wants to give way...everyone is just trying to survive.

And so all I could do was pray, because even I couldn't change lanes to give enough room, and when I did, the idiot without regard for anyone came flying out of nowhere.


Earlier this evening I called a friend about something, and we hadn't spoken in awhile. She knew about my discernment and made a comment. But she doesn't know what's happened. She said, "I hear you've been discerning something...."

I responded, "Not anymore. Not so much. Not ever." I paused, then said, "I'm in a black hole."

I found myself near tears. I've been trying not to think about it. To be content with where I am. Which is exactly where I started: nowhere. I was surprised at the tears that nearly came, and the frustration mounting to the surface. To realize Hope is really not part of my vocabulary any more, and hasn't been for a long time.

My friend was surprised, and said, "Well, we're all trying to find our way." Yes, true, but as I pointed out to her...SHE knew she was supposed to be married...and was living that. She has a foundation.

I'm just floating. Blinded. Driving in the rainglare. Standing in it, trying to survive.


It never stops raining. I can't see through all the glare, through all the mist, and all the darkness. Are there lights? Of course, that's what causes the glare. It's not good light. It's blinding, disconcerting, and because it's glare, it's also false.

How long have I been driving through glare, using the glare as guiding light?

I feel like I'm still on the side of the road, doing what I have to do, turning my back to do so, just waiting for that semi to come out of nowhere to run me down.

That's the nature of discernment. Everyone discerning their Vocation has to stand at that roadside, focusing on something else, trusting they'll survive, but knowing that everything depends on it. Vocation IS eternity in the sense that it is what brings us there. We're just trying to find the RIGHT road.

But a few of us wander for a very long time. 40 years isn't unheard of. Maybe more.

And we should expect to be trampled, to be run over by everyone else, because, after all, we're in their way...even when we're not. We should expect to be splashed, to be yelled at, to be given bad directions by people who aren't even FROM the venue within which we are seeking. That is the life of a traveller.

That's what discernment is; trying to find the road to our destination in spite of all the glare, in spite of all the rain that causes the glare. We're trying to get through the false signals, figure out the source of light from the mere reflections, making our way with the proper speed through the signals, moving with the traffic but not passing our own proper place.

Keep in mind: a Vocation is only the road...not the destination. It's the road we need to LEAD us to the destination, that destination being Eternal Life.

What IS our proper place?

Good question.

The Present. Where we are right now, in this moment. If we need to move over to accommodate some one else, we do so. If we need to dodge to avoid someone reckless, we do so. If we have to brake, we do so. And if we are totally blinded by the rain and by the glare, we stop and get our bearings, for to do otherwise is folly and may cause us to be lost.

Or maybe we DO need to be the one standing at the side of the road, with someone else, putting everything on the line. After's ALL about sacrifice. We never know when we'll be called to offer our lives.

Just ask the Saints....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

It's easy, when the sun is shining, to look at Jesus and say we will be faithful. It's easy, when the sun is shining, to look upon our Crucified Lord, and the Blessed Sacrament, there as we kneel comfortably at the Consecration, and say we will follow Him everywhere. It's easy to SAY we are willing to offer ourselves so completely, so least, when nothing is being demanded of us.

But it's different in the darkest hours of the night, when we are alone, when we have awakened from a nightmare and find that the nightmare is perhaps only beginning. It's a different story when we are there, in that darkness, where the shadows have teeth and even the light of the flickering vigil candle isn't enough, for it seems to be guttering. There, in that nighttime abandonment it's easy to forget the promises made in comfort and sunlight.

When we are assailed by doubts, tormented by fears, and unable to face them, when the terrors of the night encroach upon our sleep and refuse to release us back to the blessed repose we so deeply need, and God seems so far away, it's easy to forget we OFFERED to take on suffering, and that spiritual warfare comes part and parcel with the territory.

It is in those moments, or hours, or days or weeks or years, when the Shadow of the Cross falls over us that we most want to flee back into the sunlight where we could find comfort. Yet we know we should go directly to the Cross and cling to it, taking refuge under the shadow of His wings and, oh, the irony! The irony of this flight, for it is ONLY because of the light of Christ that we can discern the shadow of the Cross from the shadows that gnash at us, seeking the destruction of our souls!

There is the folly and the glory of the Cross, once again, for we know we MUST pass through that shadow if we are ever able to enter into that eternal light. And still, we struggle, we scream, we want to flee, whom can we go? And to what corner of the earth can we flee from the love of Christ?

When I am in the midst of such a struggle, I say to Jesus through my own folly, "Lord, I thought I could do this but I was wrong, let me go! I don't like this game and I don't want to play it any more!"

But Jesus is patient, and He is kind, but always, always firm in his chastizement. He bids me look at him, bleeding upon the Cross. "This isn't a game."

No, not a game. Salvation isn't a game or a sport or a frivolous pursuit.

When we do battle in those nightmarish hours of the night, or any time of the day, that is when our faith becomes tangible. Are we continuing to claim our love for Jesus when suddenly it's OUR blood falling upon the ground? When we experience some kind of abandonment, or the doubts and fears overwhelm us, and maybe temptations threaten, do we enter into prayer or do we give in? That is not to say that we don't experience sadness or fear or doubt, but in those times, do we give up on God completely or do we, in some way, continue to cling to His hand, reaching out for Him even if it "feels" like He's not there?

That's the battleground. That's where we are conformed to Christ, and it's not meant to be comfortable.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits that prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I love the readings this weekend. The story of Bartimaeus has long been one of my favorites. This time, though, I'm not going to post anything new, but re-post what I wrote only a few years ago when we had the same cycle of readings. It was also a talk I gave to the RCIA class I was "teaching" at the time. You can find the original link here, although I am posting it fully below:


When I first began to reflect upon the readings for today, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary time, I initially had a different idea in mind as to what I wanted to talk about, but with deeper consideration, I saw that there is a theme running throughout, (beginning with Jer 31:7-9) which speaks of mercy, it speaks of going away in tears, consolation, and guidance. It ends in rejoicing. The second reading (Heb 5:1-6) speaks of patience with the ignorant and erring, referencing those called by God to offer gifts and sacrifices on their behalf.
Bartimaeus was me just a few years ago. I had been raised Catholic but fell away and was living a life in which I was involved in the occult, palm reading, and other things my Mom did not raise me to do. On occasion I attended Mass, and each time, I cried from pretty much the opening prayer until about a half hour or so after it was over. It completely freaked me out, and as a result, I rarely attended the same parish because I didn’t want people to recognize me as the “weird crying lady”.

Gospels of Mercy

A curious thing was happening during these years…I went to Mass so infrequently that I seemed to go only when the readings were about the Prodigal Son, or about similar themed Gospels such as this one about Bartimeaus. I began to think that the various parishes only recycled the same readings, over and over!

I remember, though, as I sat weeping at those Masses, how much the way I was living my life contrasted with what was being taught, and I was made aware, even though I didn’t want to see it, that the life I was living was one of darkness. I was really lost in all that mess. I was not living the life my Mom had intended for me, or that God had intended. I remember in those times, praying for Jesus to have mercy on me, to have pity on me. I was so blind, though; I didn’t understand that I was crying because Jesus DID have pity on me…and He was calling me to Him via the Gospels and the homilies - and the tears.

In this regard, Bartimaeus was far wiser than I, for in his blindness he still recognized the Son of God. I just sat there crying for mercy and when Jesus called me to Him, I ran away in tears.

The Problem of Confession

Slowly, though, I began to come back, and for a few years, I knew I needed to go to Confession, but I could not work up the courage to make an appointment and I could not bring myself to stand in line: the Weird Crying Lady strikes again! I’ll admit at this point that part of my struggle was with my pride; I didn’t want to be so exposed in my weakness.

The thought of going to Confession literally made me shake in my shoes. But I continued to pray for mercy, and I began to attend Mass more often, trying to go every Sunday. Unfortunately I also continued in my own personal darkness, living a life divorced from God’s will and everything I’d been taught about morality.

As it was, whenever I attended Mass, I felt like a fraud, like I was not holy enough to be there. If I saw the parish priest, I'd run away even MORE quickly; I was sure they could see through me, and if they spoke with me they'd immediately say I had to go to Confession. So I fled, not wanting to hear that. I knew it already. The knowledge was killing me.

No, disordered life was killing me.

But the Lord is faithful, especially when we are not.

Jesus went so far as to directly send me a Priest! I happened to be at a friend’s house one evening, and the priest at the parish I had been attending was a family friend, and “just happened” to be there for dinner. He and I had a great conversation about cooking, garlic, and wine or some such things. Through this conversation, I considered that he was a pretty cool guy...and maybe I should contact him and make an appointment for what promised to be a difficult Confession. I had a sense that he was an empathetic soul and that maybe I could trust him.

A few times I picked up my phone in an attempt to call to make an appointment, and then quickly slammed it down. A few times I went so far as to get into my car, drive to the parish for Confessions on Saturday...and as soon as I saw the Church, I hit the gas and got out of there as quickly as I could!

The Gospel for this weekend (Mk 10:46-52) refers to those who rebuked Bartimeaus, and indeed, there were those in my life, too, even as I prayed for the grace to return to my faith, there were people who rebuked me. They stood there as obstacles personified, giving every reason why I should not run into the loving arms of Our Savior. Every convert and revert hits this obstacle, time and time again. Every sinner hits this obstacle constantly.

God is faithful, and sometimes those who rebuke us have the opposite effect of what they intend. For some reason, I kept running into co–workers and other people who attacked the Catholic Church, and they ALWAYS brought up the Sacrament of Confession, claiming "it's not scriptural" or some other alleged complaint. Rather than being driven further from the Church, I began to ask questions I should have asked long before.

Finally, after watching EWTN, and doing some reading about the Catholic Church and our beliefs, as Easter was approaching I resolved that I was going to finally go to Confession. I did a web search of all the parishes in the area and found a communal penance service with individual confessions afterward. [Note: this was NOT an illicit General Absolution service, but an approved form which has a short liturgical celebration which includes absolution ONLY with individual confession, as is proper and required.]

I had finally reached the point where I realized that I really was completely wrapped up in my own darkness, and I knew that I couldn’t go on like that anymore, and I couldn’t keep running away from Jesus. I was literally saying to God, “Master, I don’t want to be alone in this darkness any more…I want to see!”

Firm Purpose of Amendment

One of my obstacles had been in my lack of understanding of the Sacrament. I actually thought that I had to perfect myself, I had to turn away from everything in order to have what they call a “firm purpose of amendment”. I knew that I couldn’t just change so drastically, and by going to Confession, I was, in a way, making a solid commitment to God. While I was quite a sinner, a healthy respect for God had been instilled within me and I did not want to make matters worse through any form of insincerity. What I learned was that it’s God’s job to perfect us, and that we can’t always just cast everything away without his Grace.

If we refer to the Gospel again, we see that the blind man cast away his cloak, a representation for sin and those things that encumber us and prevent us from following Jesus. Again, Bartimaeus was far stronger than I, or maybe most of us, because it’s so difficult to leave it all behind and approach Jesus. I couldn’t do that; I needed Jesus’s help and the grace of the Sacraments to give me strength.

So I went to the church that evening, and at the entrance there was an examination of conscience, which was, in a nutshell, a list of mortal and venial sins. For example, it listed the 1st Commandment: I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods except Me. Then it went on to list offenses which fall into this category, such as Occult practices; palm reading, divination, Tarot, etc. Well…THAT hit home! I actually became convinced that I was the WORST SINNER EVER.

Keep in mind that EVERYONE there was at that church for Confession…and the church was FULL! Draw your own conclusion.

I was already crying, and sat near the back of the church, listened AGAIN to the story of the Prodigal Son, and this time, I knew that it was all about me, and I saw the pattern of the last few years…all about blindness, returning home, and the rejoicing that followed. God was not trying to scare me away, yet as I stood in line for confession, I couldn’t stop crying. There I was…the Weird Crying Lady again.

I think I stood there for about 45 minutes or so, but it felt a LOT longer. I had hoped to go behind a screen, but the line there was MUCH longer and I realized that if I moved to that line, I might lose whatever courage I had and just leave...but I didn’t want to leave. It was time to answer Jesus’ call to me.

Confession To God Directly

One of the objections I’d always heard, and still hear from people, is that we, as Catholics, aren’t confessing to God...but to man. It’s important to point out that in Confession, we ARE confessing directly to Jesus, but the priest is there in persona Christi, which is a term you will hear a lot. It means, “in the place of Christ”, so while we may see or hear the Priest and what he has to say, when he tells us that we are absolved, it is not him speaking under his own authority, rather he is speaking as Jesus because it is JESUS who forgives our sins through the priest. So that night, it was Jesus I was going to see.

Finally it was my turn, and finally, I was the blind man who had come to Jesus, finally ready to say, “Master, I want to see.

I was a complete mess--that poor priest!

I could barely speak, so I just handed over the examination of conscience and said, “’s been about 12 years...”

There was a pause during which I was sure the full judgment I thought I deserved would come crashing down upon me.

“THAT’S WONDERFUL!” the priest proclaimed. “That’s GREAT! YOU’RE the prodigal DAUGHTER!


Not what I’d expected to hear! In spite of all the Gospels I’d heard, in spite of everything...I thought I deserved to be condemned and cast away. That’s not what happened.

I made my confession, most of it completely unintelligible, but this priest NEVER ONCE asked me to repeat what I had said...because he wasn’t the one who needed to understand, or decipher my words. He knew I was doing the best I could, and it was Jesus who heard every single word.

I will NEVER be able to explain what it was like to make my Act of Contrition and walk out of there, 12 years GONE.


And you know...I really could see more clearly after that day. I could identify those parts of my life that needed to change, and through this pivotal moment, I was able to find the courage to walk away from those things that had held me captive for so long.

I wish I could say that my life immediately changed, but it didn’t. I was still encumbered, like we all are, by various things, people, relationships, etc, which held me back, but slowly, through prayer, through the sacraments, through a true desire to follow Jesus, those things changed. Those things are still changing, every single day. And I’ve found that the closer we become to God, the more clearly we can see.

Twice in this Gospel, Jesus gives the blind man a choice, because we ALWAYS have a choice. When Bartimeaus called out to Him, Jesus didn’t just go to him, but he CALLED to him in response. He gave him a choice rather than approaching him on the roadside. He was asking for a commitment, a willingness to do something other than sit there and cry.

Then, again, after he restores his sight, Jesus tells Bartimeaus, “Your faith has saved you...go your way.” And Bartimeaus, his sight restored, chooses to follow Jesus. He could have gone back to his old life…he could have just walked away, grateful but unchanged. Jesus gives us all this choice and does not enforce it. He tells us to go our own way…and lets us make that critical decision.

Our way...or God’s way?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delicate Souls

"God never reveals sin without revealing His Mercy."

I don't recall who said it; my professor a few years ago in talking about one of John Paul II's writings, or maybe John Paul II himself. So I guess I can't give proper credit for the quote, but the message is loud and clear. It's been revealed to be true in my own life, and sometimes, by God's grace, I get to be a part of it for someone else. I hope.

Part of my parish work is sacramental preparation. If parents miss the informational meetings, they have to meet with me to get that information, and I always find those meetings to be fruitful, often for different reasons. Sometimes it's because the parent isn't Catholic but wants to be faithful to what WE believe, and wants to understand that belief so they can teach it with integrity. (I find these parents to be heroic, and pray that they will enter the Church through what they are teaching to their children. The Holy Spirit is with them.)

Sometimes, though, it's fruitful because the person is struggling with something, maybe has questions about the Faith, maybe is trying to come back...and doesn't know how. Something.

This week, it was my privilege to meet with such a person. I am grateful to God for that.

At some point in the afternoon I was inspired to go into the Church and pray for this meeting, so I did.

I expected it to be fairly routine. A nice woman, with whom I have spoken before, both on the phone and in person. I figured I would move quickly through the information, skipping over some things, reading her for her receptivity to the message and tailoring what had to be said.

As it was, we connected in a way I didn't expect, and hadn't "read".

When I speak to people about the Sacraments, especially Confession, I give a part of my own personal conversion story, and for a couple reasons: firstly so that they will realize that I am just like everyone else. Secondly, because so many people have been poorly catechized about this Sacrament, or, like me have fallen away, that they only come back because of their children. But they don't go themselves because they don't know why they should!

In talks to a group, I keep things general. In smaller meetings, though, I may get more specific.

In this particular meeting, although it didn't go as I planned, God's hand guided it. As I told her about how, when I was "away" I'd felt like a "fraud" whenever I rarely went to Mass, and thought everyone else could see through me, this person confessed she is "there" right now.

She feels disconnected, yet...still connected. She wants more, but can't seem to get to Mass as often as she desires. She admits some of this is her own fault and said outright she knew it was a sin.

It lead into a conversation about mortal sin, and the fact that missing Mass, intentionally, is a Mortal Sin.

Before I said the words that needed to be said, I prayed.

In fact, as soon as I realized she was struggling, I began asking the Holy Spirit for help with a delicate soul.

After some discussion, she said that she HADN'T known the full teaching on this, the depth of sin, but that she probably learned it in the past and that fact probably made her more culpable.

But she said something else, something ALL of us need to hear, to read, to take to heart:

"I have family members who are really really Catholic, really Traditional. If I tell them I don't go every week, they make me feel like a bad person. It makes me not WANT to go, because, if going means I'm like them, I don't WANT to be like that or with them."


I've paraphrased a bit as I don't remember the exact words. But we've all seen it, maybe we've been part of it. A family member, a friend, admits they haven't been a "good Catholic" because they don't go to Mass or have some other favorite sin; how do we react?

Instead of hearing what they are REALLY trying to say, we tend to beat them over the head with the Bible and the Catechism and remind them of their Baptismal responsiblities.

As this woman said, this makes her feel like a "bad person", like she is being "judged", and it scares her away. If she started out desiring to attend Mass, she leaves the discussion thinking that if everyone is like THAT...and it's not worth it.

I knew during our discussion I'd have to deliver a hard message, but I didn't want her to be chased away by the Truth that was unsuccessfully delivered by people around her. What I heard was that she was looking for someone to understand her, to hear her problems, and most importantly, her DESIRE to attend Mass every week. She WANTED to be there, but was STRUGGLING HARD with getting there, with apathy, with deciding to do other things, often related to her very young children.

Like many parents, she has been chased out of Mass by crabby grumps who can't seem to tolerate the joyful voice of a chatty toddler who can't seem to maintain silence during Mass. She, like so many others, has been shamed away and feels like she CAN'T come back until her children are old.


I say "SHAME" to the grumps chasing parents of young children away from Mass! Keep your evil eye to yourself, refrain from Holy Communion and go to Confession to ask for forgiveness for all the parents you've chased out of Mass by your holier-than-thou-silence-your-children-with-duct-tape-so-I-can-have-perfect-silence attitude! May you all have perfect hearing so that you will NEVER stop hearing the cries of children EVERYWHERE you go, ESPECIALLY at Mass where they belong! They're a heck of a lot holier than YOU are, so if ANYONE needs to leave when they are crying, or chatty, it's probably YOU!

OK, < /rant> back to the topic:

As we spoke, I did deliver the moral teachings pertinent to our discussion, along with the message that the teaching didn't come with "judgment", as I am a sinner, too, and every day find myself in need of God's Mercy. Every moment. I let her know that indeed, it is my job to present her with the teaching, I understood her position and wanted to help her, and I've been there, too, if in a different way.

Then she confessed she hasn't been to confession in years and years. I don't know how many...but a long time.

I was actually planning to skip over it, but our conversation lead into it; I knew I had to tell her my story.

I told her the story of my "Big Confession."

A few years ago, I couldn't even THINK of that confession without crying. But now I've told it so many times that I can do so completely dry-eyed. Until this particular meeting, that is. As I explained to her my struggle to get there and finally that moment of Absolution and Mercy, I actually teared up. It wasn't a slight tearing I could just hide with a pause or forcing myself to move on, but tears actually SPILLED from my eyes.

I apologized, explained that didn't normally happen and told her that THIS is the most powerful testimony I had of God's mercy; that particular experience. And I told her I'm grateful for it.

She actually teared up, too, so we looked at each other, red-eyed in understanding. I asked her if she was nervous, given that she really DID plan to go soon. She admitted she was. We spoke of the Saints, of Divine Mercy, and I told her that I knew what it was like to be there, so I would pray for her and if she had any questions, at all, she could call me.

Take This to Heart!

This was an important meeting. Yes, a soul is coming back, and I ask you ALL to pray for her, and anyone struggling with the same issues. She WANTS to come back, is aware of sin, doesn't deny it, and really, is a soul in a state of suspended conversion.

Suspended WHY?

By her own testimony she has many good, practicing Catholics around her.

What I find disturbing is that she identifies them as "Traditional" and with the term "Traditional", she also links, some spoken, some unspoken but by context, "Merciless, Condemning, Judgmental."

Do any of US match those words? When we deal with our family members and friends who have fallen away, can we be linked in the same way?

The fact is, of course, that for some people, ANY declaration of absolute Truth, no matter how gently, of authentic Church teaching means we would be called all sorts of names and accused of all sorts of things. I'm not speaking of those rabid souls that are fleeing conversion.

I am speaking here of delicate souls desiring God, desiring to do better, but stuck, somehow, looking for someone, anyone, to hear them, to reach out to them, and help bring them in.

If someone reaches out in their crisis of Faith, having fallen away, as if out of the boat, do we hit them with the deadly aim of the anchor or do we throw them a life ring and help them swim in?

What she was experiencing was the deadly strike of anchor, and I'd argue that those who threw the anchor at her were sending out a weighty boomerang that is likely to cost them a great deal in their own final judgment.

We are indeed called to fraternal correction, and those of us who are in positions of authority, to speak for the Church, are in a special place. HOW that message is delivered is important. It makes a difference to the soul in question; are they being frightened away in a delicate state, or are they being encouraged in God's Grace, in the conversion they desire but can't seem to find?

I pray that I said the right things to this woman, and offered a life ring. I pray that she didn't leave feeling "judged" but rather, in solidarity with another struggling sinner.

Please pray for those who are seeking conversion and who are struggling to live the Faith they desire to live, in all its fullness.

We, the faithful, are ALL charged as keepers of our brothers and sisters, so we must ALL remember to speak in charity, to listen, and to guide in the seeking souls. There are those who are obstinant in their sin and reject Our Lord, and there are those who accept the teachings but are struggling to live them. Each require a different treatment. Are we willing to put our own pride aside so that we can reach out in charity and provide, in love, for the needs of the souls that come our way?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What If? Arbor Vitae....Redemptionis

Some time ago I wrote a post about the fact that fiction safely asks the question, "What if?"

It asks us to suspend belief, to enter a different dimension and accept the parameters of the fictional life being given. This crosses all the genres; historical, future, science fiction, mystery, and the obvious fantasy. Even anecdotal accounts have a certain amount of "literary license" or "poetic license" in the telling of tales.

There is beauty in this, though, for often these fictional worlds force us to consider things that transcend us. Not all of those things are good; not all have at their heart Truth or Beauty or Goodness. Not all of them INTEND to have those things at their source, not because they want to challenge us, but only to present something totally oppositional to what we live, which, in the end, forces us to realize those things that ARE true and good and beautiful.

Of course, there is fictional writing out there worth even less than the "Piss Madonna" or whatever that waste of urine is called. Oh, and not just the "artist" but his blasphemous work, too.

But I digress.

This evening I had a conversation with a friend and we discussed a few things that have come to mind during the last few years of my theological studies and some recent talks I have given.

The conversation made me muse a bit more, realizing that questions are important and it's possible to ask them in a way that doesn't offend Truth, but perhaps maybe reveals it more clearly. I don't know. All I know is that I am pondering some theological questions, hope to do so faithfully and no matter where I tread, I hope to remain a loyal daughter of the Church.

Of what, you ask, do I muse tonight?

It goes back to Genesis and Original Sin.

Fascinating stuff, of course. We know what happened but I'm going to recap anyhow:

Eve was hanging out in the Garden one day, minding her own business when the Serpent slithered up the Tree of Life under whose branches Eve was innocently contemplating God's Glory.

The Serpent, a real snake of action, never known to be appreciative of contemplation himself, rudely interrupted her reverie and asked her randomly,

"Did God say you shouldn't eat of ANY tree in the garden?"

His deception was simple and subtle and he licked his lips while he waited for Eve to process what he'd asked. But she was actually more astute than he'd realized.
Eve, rising from her prayerful contemplation, corrected the Serpent, and said, "That's not what God said and you know it. He said we can eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but if we eat from a particular tree in the center, we can't touch it lest we die. THAT tree, not "any" tree. Be proper in your use of language; language can be really misleading. You should know better."

The serpent, realizing that God had gifted humanity with a real intellect and not just tree sap for brains, saw that he had to be even more sublime in his tactics. But he also saw an opening.

Rather than engage in the semantics of the argument, he started a new one, to see if he could keep Eve guessing. This was fun!

"WHAT?!" The Serpent exclaimed. "He said WHAT?!"

He noted with satisfaction Eve's expression, alarmed both at the blasphemy (for which she didn't have a word) and the seeming intelligence of the Serpent.

Eve felt a shadow creep into her intellect and will. She deliberated and thought maybe she should listen to the Serpent for a moment, even though every fibre of her being told her she should run away screaming.

The Serpent, seeing in her eyes the doubt creeping in, continued in his most enticing of voices, speaking in a conciliatory manner so as not to offend her sensibilities, "You will not die. God knows that when you eat of this fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

He waited, licking his lips, resting on a branch in a bit of sunlight that had made its way through the leaves. He moved a bit so that the light wouldn't fall directly on him, for he hated when his scales reflected the sunlight. He found a satisfying spot in the crotch of the tree and rested there, burrowing deeply in satisfaction, sighing in preparation for a nice nap after his present work was done.

Eve pondered the Serpent's subtle words. "Eyes opened?"

Did that mean her eyes weren't opened? She reached up and wiped her eyes for a moment, looking around her at the beauty of creation, the sun, the dappled spots on the ground, and the animals crowded around her feet. They all seemed oblivious to this conversation, but only went about gnawing on leaves or resting in the shade cast by the Hosta plants under the Tree of Life. Eve wiped her eyes again, wondering if perhaps it was possible there was something she WASN'T seeing? Could the Father have held something back from them? The Serpent seemed to think so. Why would he use that phrase if she already knew everything she was supposed to know? Was she supposed to know MORE?

And what of this "good and evil"?

What did that mean?

Eve looked around her, and saw that everything was good. She had intimate union with God, she was physically comfortable all the time, she had enough to eat, just the right amount, and life was perfect. Most importantly, she reveled in the love of God and perfect union with Him while enjoying His Creation.

What was "evil"?

This made her curious. What would the deprivation of good be like? Was there another side to things? Wouldn't it be interesting to see what it was like where God was not present?

The Serpent rested, watching Eve's deliberation, watching her eyes taking in everything around her and finally alighting on the Tree of Life.

Her eyes, focusing on the Arbor Vitae lit up in a different way. She saw that the Tree was good, too, and the fruit...quite inviting. It was colorful and emitted a tantalizing fragrance, perhaps even more so because it was forbidden.

She'd noticed it before but in purity of intention considered it nothing more than an inedible flower in a different form. But now, wondering if God perhaps hadn't told them EVERYTHING she felt her mouth watering and reached out to the tree, almost against her will...but not quite.

Once it was in her hand, she hesitated no longer and quickly brought it to her mouth. The taste was sweeter than anything she'd ever experienced or imagined, and this solidifed the doubt introduced to her by the Serpent. Yet she could not understand the sudden bitterness that caused her to spit out the seeds, gagging but unable to eject the pulp she'd ingested so willingly.

The sense of nausea and bitterness faded quickly, and overcome again by the inviting fragrance and salivating taste buds, Eve bit again into the flesh of the fruit, then offered it to Adam, who finally appeared out of the dappled shadows of the garden.

He did not hesitate to eat of the fruit offered to him from his beloved spouse, although she offered him no explanation. It was enough to him that the fruit was in her hand. The fragrance of it called to him and even if he'd been able to resist the sensation, her trusted hand, he thought, would never lead him astray. In his love of Eve, he ignored the echo of the voice of God speaking deep within him cautioning him against eating of the Tree of Life. Eve...her hand...her fruit...was Life ITSELF!

He bit deeply of the fruit, wallowing in it, reveling in it, not even noticing the Serpent gazing from the crotch of the Tree, his forked tongue betraying his excitement.

Then Adam and Eve locked eyes and were ashamed, for they realized neither were covered, and they stood immodestly. They both dove to either side of the Tree and then, carefully made their way to the foliage on either side, both pulling Hosta leaves and fig leaves as they went, trying to cover their shame.

Neither understood the sudden desire they had for the other, a desire that focused not on their ends, but on their parts; not what the other would attain in sanctity, but what they could experience physically in that moment.

Then God walked through the Garden as was His custom and called out to Adam and Eve who were suspiciously absent from their typical joyful greetings.

"Where are you?"

God knew where they hid, but knew they had a choice: to accept or reject His loving question. He knew their shame and was saddened, but instead of condemning, He asked them first to come to Him in love and humility.

They did not come. In their shame, they continued to hide, and gather more leaves to cover themselves.

Adam, the first to speak, blamed Eve, and in so doing accused God, blaming HIM for putting "that woman" with him.

Eve, incensed, spoke up from the next thicket, claiming that it was all the fault of the Serpent. But she did not come out from hiding, for she was busy weaving clothing from the foliage that surrounded her.

We know the rest...we're living it every day. We know that Christ died because of this very event and the effects that followed.

But WHAT IF....

What if, when God walked through the Garden, Adam and Eve had come to Him as He called?

What if Adam had gone to God on his knees with the remainder of the fruit of the Tree of Life? What if he had taken personal responsibility for his actions, and instead of blaming Eve, had admitted that he firstly had neglected to protect her and secondly, had directly disobeyed God both out of his own will and out of his disordered love for Eve over God?

What if Eve had knelt in humility before God and admitted she engaged the Serpent instead of walking away, instead of calling God, and, worst of all...for doubting Him in favor of the word of a creature she could crush under her own heel if she but tried?

What would our theology be like, what would our world be like if Adam and Eve had, in effect, gone to Confession?

Yes, their sin would be a degree. But original sin, in some sense, would remain. Temporal punishment would still be a reality, for the wound would still be present. The propensity to sin would still have been introduced.

It would make sense for them to be ejected from the Garden, and for the same reason we recognize today; if they continued to have access to the Tree of Life, having already tasted its sweetness they would not be able to withstand it without eating of it, and, of course, if they continued to eat of it they would not be able to be healed of their disobedience and doubt. Ejecting them from the Garden was an act of Mercy which pointed, from the beginning, to the coming Redemption.

But, in the case of Adam and Eve's repentance, would the effects of original sin be lessened? Would the world be more like the Garden but without the Tree of Life? Would there still be pain in childbirth? Would food be brought forth through thorn-infested land or would it grow more easily with minimal efforts to harvest it? Would the preternatural gifts of the original pair be part of humanity now? And would death have entered the world?

I have all these questions, and more.

As my friend pointed out this evening, this is what happens when one gets a little theology. We ask the deeper questions, the "what-if" questions. Not seeking to change reality, but rather, hoping to better understand the reality that we live every single day.

My own pondering will continue, and as I understand it, this is of the type that has kept theologians awake for centuries. "What if?"

It's the "what if" that brings us into contact with God and forces us to pursue Truth. True questions don't lead us OUT of the Church, but INTO it.

On a personal note...

I look at the story of Genesis, and realize I'm a part of it. I live it every day. I give in to the Serpent's suggestions, I enter into dialogue, I deliberate and I eat of what is forbidden. And knowing my influence, I offer it to others, those who should know better.

We all live Genesis every day.

I am reminded of the Exultet sung at the Easter Vigil:

"O Felix Culpa!" O Happy Fault! O Happy Sin of Adam that has won us so great a Redemption!

Oh, yes, I've experienced the greatness of God's mercy. I fell hard, and I fell long but when I came back, God's mercy was far greater than my sin, for the Redemption is ALWAYS more powerful than the Fall.

I guess "what if" doesn't matter. When I look at the story of our Redemption, I do not see the the Fall, even though I live it. Rather, I am drawn into the Wounds of the Savior who reaches for me from the Cross, which has taken the place of the Tree of Life, for Jesus is life itself and feeds us directly from His own Body and Blood, while the Serpent lays crushed dead beneath the weight of the Cross and the heel of the Mother of God who kneels with all her children, pointing to her Son, pointing to Love Incarnate.

The Cross, the Crucifixion...there is the Tree of Life, the Arbor Vitae, the Redemptionis Sacramentum. There is Life Itself, raised up, drawing us to Him, just as He promised.

God always keeps His promises.

Contemplate the Cross

WHEN you are alone in your room, take your crucifix, kiss its five wounds reverently - tell it to preach you a little sermon and then listen to the words of eternal life that it speaks to your heart; listen to the pleading of the thorns, the nails, the precious Blood. Oh what an eloquent sermon!

~ St. Paul of the Cross, Flowers of the Passion

Today is the Memorial of St. Paul of the Cross, priest and founder of the Passionists. I have a special devotion to him for many reasons, although I am only now beginning to discover his writings. Devotion to the Passion of Our Lord is a rare thing, especially in today's culture that seeks to escape suffering...never to embrace it. Yet in contemplation of Jesus, how can anyone expect to really know and love Him without that perfect unitive love that comes ONLY through suffering?

It is ONLY through suffering that we can know Christ with any real intimacy. He invites us into His Passion, to contemplate His wounds, suffered for love of us. He gave all. The Father looks at us through the wounds of Our Lord, and through those same wounds, we are absorbed into Him and given the grace to rest, completely, within His Most Sacred Heart.

"Love is a unitive virtue which appropriates the sufferings of the Beloved."

Spend some time each day contemplating the Cross, seeking to unite yourself with the Passion of Our Lord. Recall that each time you attend Mass, you are kneeling at the very foot of the Cross, the one and only Sacrifice of Calvary, having just offered yourself as a holocaust in union with
Him. Know what you are seeking, know what is being made present to you, and know that it is possible to be completely lost within the wounds that bring us all to salvation...if we are only willing to drink deeply of that cup so freely offered for our sins.

"Would that I could set the whole world on fire with love of God!"

St. Paul of the Cross....PRAY FOR US!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Autumn Tale of Beauty and Disaster

Tonight is Story Time With Adoro. Why? Because it's been awhile and my readers are bored.

I love Autumn. It's my favorite season. The vibrant colors of the trees capture me, the cooling temperatures soothe my heated brow, and the scent of leaves and bonfires sends me soaring.

So many see this season as a time to begin school or other things, and indeed, I see that, too. I await with dread all the things that "ramp up" and wish I could just escape into the beauty, rather than into the imprisoning chambers of work or school that prevent me from touching the majesty of God's creation.

This year it's been awful; a week ago when my street was supposed to bloom into full golden glory of color, it froze, it snowed, and then a wind blew. Less than twelve hours later all of the trees were bare and both the gold and the green leaves were plastered to the ground. Those leaves left on the trees were already turning pruny, and the next day were brown and dead. No glory this year. We went from pretty and lively to....dead and hopeless.

Not helpful, God, but I love you anyway. I'm sure there's a metaphor there somewhere, to be figured out when I get around to it.

But! Instead of lingering and moping about my street's lack of beauty, I have decided to remember what I love about this usually-beautiful season, and share with you one of my favorite memories of this time of year. It's one that unites the heights of joy and the depths of humiliation and agony.

Are you interested? Read on.....

The Red Maple

When I was a little girl, growing up in a little country neighborhood, I was enchanted by the Maple tree that graced our front yard. It was my favorite place. I could sit down and rest against it, I buried my dear guppies there with great ceremony (hilarious story I must tell one day), and that tree is where I first learned to contemplate...and to fly. Maybe even to trust.

Everyone knows that children are inventive. I grew up while video games existed, but were considered to be indulgent luxuries. We knew all the great cartoons, but spent most of our days playing in our country neighborhood, exploring the hills, talking walks, playing with other children, and...inventing new games and new adventures.

You can imagine, then, how my older brother saw the Maple tree not as something simply beautiful to behold, but as our own personal jungle gym. It seemed an obsession with him...every time we left the house, he would head directly to the tree in his quest to conquer it and rest among her branches.

His constant quest to climb higher constantly aggravated Mom, but intrigued me.

I wanted to do what he did. I wanted that courage. I wanted the vantage point he described. I wanted to rest in those branches, too!

It wasn't long before I went to the tree and, with heartfelt tears, complained I couldn't climb because I couldn't reach the lowest branch. Initially my brother teased me, but eventually good will overcame him and in a rare show of brotherly love, he pulled our picnic table to the tree and instructed me to stand on it, feeling I would be able to reach the branch and climb from that point.

I was still frightened, but my brother encouraged me, directed me and finally, I made it to the first branch. I don't recall whether he pulled me up or pushed me up where needed, but I do remember that I didn't make my first climb alone. It took several tries before I finally figured it out. He tried even to encourage me to venture out into his favorite branch, but I refused at first, needing to become accustomed to the lowest before ascending to what was higher.

The unfortunate part of this was that "my" branch was our JUMPING branch; it was...our exit from the Maple Tree.

Oh, yes...what goes up must come down. And if it's fun, it must come down REPEATEDLY and with much enthusiasm!

We had a new hobby!

My brother and I would rake up leaves beneath the lowest branch (which wasn't that low), and in a rare show of sibling support and love, we would get along in this great endeavor of survival. Where usually we argued, in the Maple Tree we had peace. It was an unwritten and unplanned sanctuary. It didn't matter what hatred we had for each other below...but while in those branches and leaping from them, we loved each other and willed each other's good.

That meant that we developed rules.

The first rule was that I had to learn to climb the tree by myself, but there was a grace period given to me for that, based on my height and ability. You see.,.my brother was a good teacher and a good brother, at heart, and knew I couldn't do anything on my own or without his wise direction. Or limits.

I hate to admit it, but he was right. I respected him and dang it...learned to climb that tree because of HIM and no one else!

Our second rule was far more serious, for we had the basic understanding that anything hitting the ground from any height tended to explode. If it worked with eggs, it worked with us.

Our exit custom involved raking the colorful leaves into a nice big pile under the designated exit branch, and after my brother had experimented with the softness of it, he finally convinced me to take this great leap, rather than having him assist me down via the picnic table.

Oh, what a terrifying leap it was! Oh how I stared at those terrible leaves, trying to imagine them as feathers, trying to trust the brother who so normally tortured me...but would never will my ultimate demise!

I still recall perching on that forked branch, there among the red-colored leaves, knowing my only way down was to let go....

And so it was....

I still remember the leap and the soft landing, the explosion of color, and the rapid ascent of us both as we sought to repeat the thrill of weightlessness and color.

Of course, it wasn't long before Mom came outside in terrified horror (or was it horrified terror?) to inspect our new game. She saw that, in fact, it was a good game, we had our own rules, and established in stone that we could ONLY leap from certain branches. She saw our rare cooperation and thought it a good thing, over and above the danger that we might be injured. She saw love before she saw anything else, and in the end, gave her approval.

Not all such games were good, though.

Stupidity and concupiscence always enters Eden

Our neighbor, a teen I greatly admired and even adored, didn't have a tree in her yard. She saw what we were doing and, because the leaves from the forest and her neighbors were plentiful, she had no problem raking them into a big pile in her own yard.

One day as I played alone, she invited me to join her which was a very big deal. Why would Annette ever want me to play with her? But I went, and we had a great time leaping from the top of a ladder she'd erected, landing in the leaves. From the ladder, maybe it was lower than the branch, but it was an easier climb which meant more chances to free-fall into the crunchy, colorful leaves

They were so soft that they led me to misunderstand physics.

So it was that I climbed the ladder, and, from the top, bent my knees hoping to land on them in the same way I landed on my springy feet. I didn't understand how the human body absorbed shock, I didn't understand that the leaves weren't really "springy"; my legs were. The leaves just helped a little.

I remember leaping, and in mid-air, hearing Annette scream at me in alarm, "DON'T DO THAT!"

She was older and understood physics in a way I did not. It wasn't scientific, but practical.

Annette couldn't do anything to save me from the disaster that awaited me.

I remember landing, my legs bent beneath me. I didn't "bounce" as expected, but rather, the concussion of the landing compressed my entire body, the landing a complete, abrupt shock.

I didn't "spring" or "bounce" or anything. Instead, I was driven into the ground as a whole and rolled to the side, stunned, unable to move my legs, unable to stand.

It was pain...but it wasn't. To this day, even KNOWING about spinal injuries, I can't describe the sensation. It was a pain I'd never felt, but which told me that this time, it was serious. I quite literally couldn't will my legs to move, I couldn't stand up although I tried.

Annette asked me if I was alright but all I could do was cry. I wasn't "alright" but was afraid Mom would find out what I did and punish me. I felt helpless and hated Annette's comments, telling me I was fine and telling me to "GET UP! You have to get up! Stop crying!"

I couldn't get up. I tried. Several times. I couldn't. My back and legs hurt so badly that I couldn't move, my legs actually wouldn't work at all, and I realized I had to do SOMETHING.

To her credit, Annette told me to just wait a minute. I wanted to go home. She didn't want to let me go home.

It was years before I realized Annette was terrified, too; just as terrified as I that I'd been seriously injured. From my perspective, I didn't want Mom to know. From her perspective...she was older and felt like she was at fault. I wish I'd listened to her and just laid there, waiting either for someone else to come, or just to feel better.

But I have never been one to wait when things are wrong, and, well...she let me go.

In tears, I went home. In tears, still unable to stand, barely able to move at all, I CRAWLED across her yard, across the street, and through our yard, hoping Mom wouldn't look out or think anything strange of my behavior. (Yeah, right...Adoro crawling across the street. Not strange at all...never mind the gravel...)

All I knew was that something was seriously wrong with me, I didn't want any attention, and hoped that if I just got home and ignored would go away. I don't know how, but I managed to crawl all that distance (in excruciating pain), across the gravel road, into the house and to my room, pulling myself into bed. Hoping that maybe a nap would make it all better.

I remember thinking about Jesus, and how He fell when carrying His cross.

I remember Mom yelling at me from some other part of the house when she heard the door open, asking what I was doing. I just said I was tired and wanted to take a nap. Mom probably figured that was a blessed event, and never actually came out of the kitchen to see what I was doing. I was glad...I still couldn't stand up, and I was exhausted from all that crawling.

It didn't take me long to cry myself to sleep in terrified exhaustion. I never wanted to jump out of anything ever again.

I remember opening my eyes that afternoon and moving my legs. I remember carefully sitting up, carefully standing. There was no pain. It was all gone. I stood in my room and even JUMPED, waiting to collapse to the floor. It never happened.

I wondered if it was a dream, but knees and my palms told another story, one told by gravel and dirt, and not all of it could be washed away.

Mom NEVER knew and STILL doesn't know of that event. I still puzzle it over, having had some medical training. I have a few theories but can't say I totally understand. Obviously, much of the pain was muscular, but when I consider the distance of my leap and the compression upon my spine, I am amazed I DIDN'T have a spinal injury, and have NEVER had back problems that didn't come from a different DIRECT injury (later in life - a result of an assault at work.)

As it was, I lived to walk another day, to run, and even to leap. I never again leapt from Annette's ladder, although I do recall she was overjoyed to see me walking later, and even teased me a little. Yet...she never brought it up again. My brother and I, we continued to leap out of the tree and a year later, used both the lower and higher branches to exit in to our respective piles of leaves. One branch became "His" and I would bring books up there so that, if he was gone, I could sit up there and read, or contemplate, or imagine. I "wrote" stories in my imagination, concealed myself in color and perhaps learned that the best place to be, ever, is in the present, especially when one is enclosed by colorful leaves and resting in the strong arms of a majestic maple tree somewhere in the Midwest. return to those days....

Why do any of us ever have to grow up?

Friday, October 16, 2009


One of the problems I find with studying Moral Theology is that it is so, so disheartening. In studying the Virtues, I realize how virtueless I truly am and how far I have to go. Yes, I am seeking holiness, but my failure become ever more clear.

This week in prayer I was pondering advice recently received in Confession, and heard that little voice of Jesus telling me quietly to stop being so overwhelmed by all of the knowledge I am gaining. What is really important, He said, is that I keep my eyes on Him. That little voice was entirely congruent with the advice received in Confession, and other advice from my Spiritual Director this week.

So I began to ponder that necessary gem; keeping my eyes on Christ. Him alone.

The Saints were experts in "living in the present moment." They sought to do God's will in all things, and how else could they have done so had they taken their eyes off of our Beloved Savior?

I realize how easy that sounds, but how hard it is to carry out. I've often awoken or renewed a promise during the day to "keep my eyes on Jesus" yet so quickly I am distracted and look away, falling from prayer, falling from tasks, all for whatever "shiny object" catches my attention. As if Jesus isn't enough, I have to go seeking other things!

And it is there I get lost. Falling away from prayer comes even before I take my eyes from Christ, I find, for without that anchor, I am set adrift to the whimsical winds of...whatever happens along.

It is disheartening to realize how often I choose sin over sanctity, but one of the important concepts in class revealed that this sense of being disheartened is a symptom of Pride. We are only dust; Jesus came because we do not have the ability to overcome our sin, so we should not be so surprised that we fall. Rather, the moment we realize we have slipped, we have to immediately look to Him to pick us up and set us back in place, there with Him.

This is not a denial of our own responsibility, but rather, a recognition of who we are and who God is, and an act of humility to know that we haven't the power to keep from sin...but God has the power to help us overcome it, if we but let him.

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St. Theresa of Avila, who wrote the famous words:

"Nada te turbe
Solo Dios basta."

"Let nothing disturb you.
God alone is enough."


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

La Llorona

Ah, this is a tragic, tragic tale.

There are a few versions to La Llorona and I will let you search the web for them. I see that there is a movie that links her to the story of La Malinche, for, as we all know, legends take on a life of their own. As it is, I suggest you search out the term yourself and see what you find. I will try to piece it together here in a simplistic way:

Most legends of La Llorona (Weeping Woman) begin with the beauty of a young Mexican woman who catches the attention of a noble man, and in fact, men of both wealth and poverty. Predictably, she becomes the concubine of a wealthy man, possibly a Spaniard, and bears him two sons. Some stories suggest she already had her two sons when she met the nobleman with whom she fell in love.

In any case, the man is tempted either back to Spain or at least to live out a more "noble" calling by marrying a woman of higher privilege...maybe one without children. In some legends, he is a man whom, she believes, hates children and finds them an obstacle. In other legends, he has already fathered children by a noblewoman whom his family has convinced him to marry. In either case, La Llorona, as the scorned woman, is so distraught that she believes that if she is without children she will become the cherished bride she has always desired to be, and so she takes her infants and stabs them in the heart, dropping them into the river where she cries out in distress, "Mis Hijos!"

And still she is rejected by her lover, the death of her children was a vain sacrifice to the altar of convenience and selfishness.


There are other legends that tell a similar tale, but one more tame. In this other version, the sons of La Llorona played by the riverside in the evening while she cavorted with the men who so desired her beauty. And in her neglect, unsupervised, they found themselves without assistance in their boyhood games and, tragically, were drowned.

The final outcome of all the legends has the distraught mother weeping and wailing at the riverside for her lost children. Yet, she isn't crying through innocent loss, but her direct involvement in their deaths, whether through negligence or her own hand.

In the end, she took her own life, and to this day wanders the riverside, weeping and wailing for her lost children, seeking them eternally.

Mexican and American Southwestern folklore has La Llorona seeking her own children, a malevolent spirit wandering the riverbeds, digging in the mud but willing to swipe living children from the hands of other neglectful parents who allow their progeny to wander alone in dangerous areas, especially at twilight where the Xtabay also lingers seeking to devour lost souls.

Pondering La Llorona

I can't ever read this particular folklore without thinking of the reality she lives every day, in the women who so willingly slaughter their children...and in those who stand up and declare the morality of abortion.

When I hear or read the word "abortion", I see and hear La Llorona, weeping and wailing for her lost children.

I remember the laws recently passed in Mexico, and wonder how a culture that has La Llorona and Our Lady of Guadalupe so ingrained within it, which so IDENTIFIES it, can find the abomination of abortion to be compatible so as to be made LEGAL?

I don't understand how on one end so many in Mexico and America can give witness to the Legend of La Llorona and to the pregnant belly of Our Lady Of Guadalupe with the unborn infant Jesus, and how a culture so Matriarchal and so aware of the spectrum and battle for human life can, in the end, adopt the culture of Death.

I don't understand.

Can't the people, EVERYWHERE hear La Llorona crying in agony for her lost children?

Can't we hear the cries of ruptured infants, crying for their mothers, crying for their fathers who would ALLOW such destruction? Can we hear the cries of La Llorona's drowning children?

SHOULD we care for the cries of the selfish Llorona? Or should we leave her to Perdition?

In Jeremiah 31:15 we read:

Thus says the LORD: In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more.

The Legends of La Llorona reveal her as a woman with unbound hair, a woman of sin, weeping among the banks of Mexican rivers. When I drew my picture of La Llorona, though, I drew her in union with the Blessed Mother, who weeps for all her children.

When I ponder the story, of the woman in sin, I also hear the echoes of Sacred Scripture that point to Redemption.

In the Eighth Station of the Cross, (Luke 23) Jesus meets the weeping women.

"Weep not for Me," He tells them, as He bleeds upon their sandals, and their tears mingle with His blood, "But for your yourselves and for your children."

Our Blessed Mother wept for her Son, whom she gave up to the Cross on our behalf.

Our Lord bade the weeping women to weep NOT for Him, but...but for their own sins and those they inflicted upon their progeny, for if they could not first weep for what they lacked in themselves, how could they ever have children to mourn? Can life come out of death?

At the foot of the Cross, Jesus gave His Mother to us all, and so she weeps not for Him, who is our Savior and hers, but for all, especially those who do not weep for the right reasons. Our Lady wanders among us, crying her tears as she snatches us not to a watery grave, but to the eternal water that means life for eternity, to the ever-flowing blood of the Cross that warrants redemption, for the oil that is the Holy Spirit that empowers her children to bring life, not death, into the world.

My La Llorona shown above with a veil similar to Our Lady's, is also a tragic figure, but one who seeks out those who sacrifice their children on false altars, knowing what it is to allow true sacrifice for ultimate Redemption.

When I look at the La Llorona of folklore, I see the world as it is, a world that refuses Hope. But when I consider her under the mantle of Our Lady, I realize that even La Llorona does not weep in vain, for she is only one of those who meet Jesus as He carries His Cross, and in her weeping, helps to unite us all with our bloody Bridegroom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Today, finally, I met with my spiritual director. I will admit, I didn't want to go. Again, I found myself in the situation of not wanting to tell him what I had to say. Sure, I knew he'd be understanding, but it has to do with things that are hard for ME to talk about. Which, of course, means that they are exactly the things that need to be discussed.

He knew some of what was going on as I'd sent him a word document with my last appointment request, a reflection I'd written that pretty much stated, at the core, some of my position. But it didn't say everything...a few things were held in reserve. I couldn't even WRITE them, but knew I had to STATE them when the time came.

God's grace. Always, His grace.

Our discussion was fruitful and dredged up something that has long been a problem. It's not really the first time it has come up, but this time, he saw something in this that points to something else. Something lacking in my life.

Suddenly he asked me, "Can you get away, even for a day? Find a retreat? Just...get away?"

I had immediate schedule, grad if I "get away" my books come with me, thus rendering the retreat not a retreat. He understood, of course.

In hearing his suggestion, initially I was thinking, "I just WENT on a few retreats! I haven't been back that long!" I confess, though, that I wish I could take another weekend away in the silence and solitude of the monastery. The cost might be a problem as this wouldn't be a discernment retreat anymore, but I was already shrugging his suggestion off, anyway.

Our discussion continued, and near the end of our time, he restated that I should find the time to just...get away. Not to discern, not to "do" something, but to just get away from "HERE", meaning everything in my life. Get a new perspective. Get away.

"You need something to look forward to," he said, glancing at me appraisingly. "Everyone needs something to look forward to."

He's right.

It took me awhile to see it, but in reflecting on our conversation, I remembered he was asking me what I see in my future, the things going on in my life. Essentially...What's going on in my life that has any real meaning? I cited work, which we discussed is just a job, not a calling or a career, I cited grad school, to end in May, graduation in June, God willing. But...then what? Sure I look forward to graduating, but it's not attached to anything but a piece of paper and a lot of debt. And I have this job that can't pay the loan....

I said it without explicitly stating it: I have nothing to look forward to.

I have nothing to work toward. I don't know my Vocation, I don't know what to do with the grad degree I'm working on and I'm stuck.

"Go visit your friends in Ohio!" my SD exclaimed. "Go! They'll be good for you!"

Dunce that I am, I still left his office thinking of the impossibility of "getting away" right now. Stretched ahead of me I see few free weekends, no time off, just work and school and family for Thanksgiving, and then the insanity of Christmas, then back for my last semester of school. Get "away?" I'd LOVE to! I LOVE my dear Ohio (and Indiana!) friends! I WANT to go back to Ohio!

But of course, as good spiritual direction goes, the important message eventually kicks in.


Of COURSE! Get away!

Sure, first he suggested a retreat, which would be nice, but there's no way I could go on a retreat and not turn it into discernment. I have this problem of needing to make everything "useful".

What my SD sees is that what I really need is what I'm COMPLETELY lacking in my life: fun.

There's no fun. Anywhere. Everything is compartmentalized. Everything is regimented, and my free still dedicated to the "hum-ho" of life. It's not exactly "fun". Oh, sure there are the occasional weekend evenings with friends, but out of months at a time of intensity, what is a few hours of friendly escape? Just a drop in the bucket and that drop is too small to even create a ripple.

He's right. The reason I've been so danged depressed is that I have no goals, I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to plan and "romance".

It's so completely obvious I can't believe I didn't see it. looking at the calender. Am not sure how I'm going to pay for it with so much debt, but if God wills it, I am going to Ohio, I will figure out how to pay for it (seriously, the plane ticket is usually not THAT expensive), and I'm looking forward to seeing my friends again!

Of course, looking forward is much easier when the date is actually circled on the calender and the plane ticket is being located....

Oh, I need this......

The email has been sent to my friends.....oh, now planning the adventure is underway.....

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spiritual Gymnastics and The Force

I've always wanted to be a Jedi. Not because I had a crush on Luke Skywalker (which I did), but because he could do cool flips over fallen logs with green aliens on his back and he could do all sorts of cool things by just raising his hand! I have to admit that I think my love of gymnastics arose out of the swamp scenes in the Empire Strikes Back.

I don't advocate that a Catholic use "Star Wars" (the original trilogy) as spiritual fodder, but maybe God can use it anyway as a tool for a few of us wannabe Luke Skywalkers as we aspire to our Vocation, aka "Jedi".

Anyway...yup...I just called all of you who know and live your Vocation "Jedis". Congratulations. Don't let it go to your head. It's contrary to the virtue demanded of being a Jedi.

Tonight I watched "The Empire Strikes Back" for the what-hundreth time in my life, but I paid special attention to the scenes involving Yoda and Luke Skywalker.

In the beginning....

What does young Luke do? He lands in a dark place, cut off from communication, his ship is sunk, he's surrounded by darkness and rain and mud and awful things.

Then some annoying green swampy guy starts digging into his stuff, doing his utmost to try Luke's temper...and succeeds quite easily. Luke is rude, impatient, clearly trying to express himself, but failing he thinks. And yet, Yoda understands him perfectly. Far more than Luke understands himself. (Sound like anyone you know? *ahem*)

But Yoda is patient, welcomes this strapping, prideful young man into his own home, feeds him even though Luke had refused to share his own dinner, and finally reveals that he is, in fact, the One Luke seeks to train him in the Jedi Arts.

Doesn't God do the same thing to us?


I know that's what happens to me. I try to seek holiness, and what does God do but try the virtues I don't possess, just so I realize I don't possess them. Yoda laments that Luke does not have patience. Um... yeah. Me, too.

Other than the first scene, we don't see Yoda acting crazy. Once Luke knows who he is, he behaves as a Jedi should, revealing that the first instance was a test of Luke's character.

The difference for we Christians to note is that God doesn't just test us in the "first scene". He continues to do this throughout our lives. Over and over again, lest we rest on our laurels. No virtues are ever truly "possessed". We tend to rest on our accomplishments, so if we are to grow in them, we must be constantly tested.

Back at the Jedi Training Swamp...

...After a period of training, Luke must enter into a cave. Yoda tells him he enters with only that which he takes with him, and admonishes him not to take his weapons. What does Luke do but glance at Yoda and strap his belt around his waist? Luke reveals that he is going in with all that HE has, relying on himself, not The Force.

What do any of us take into discernment but our usual weapons? Like Luke, we can't seem to lay them aside. What does Luke see when he goes underground? He sees Darth Vader, wins that battle, but what does he see defeated...but himself?

We as human beings tend to want to rely on what we have in the natural order, disdaining what is available to us in the supernatural order. Anyone who has studied moral theology can see this, for constantly we are tempted to rely on ourselves, and not on God. Yet, discernment calls us to rely ENTIRELY on God...and how difficult that is for us!

And How accurate that we disdain God (or "The Force")

In discernment, we must lay our own "weapons" aside. We take into it only what we have...what we are. If we are encumbered, we take sin with us and we face that sin, that anger, that lack of prudence. We face everything we are...and mostly what we are not.

It is a humiliating experience, as it should be, for none can approach God without humility.

If we take weapons with us into discernment, if we go with an attitude, we don't do anything but battle ourselves, and that, unfortunately, is where most of us start.

So many people don't understand the difficulty of this task, for we don't understand it ourselves. In order to know God, we MUST know ourselves, but in order to know ourselves, we MUST know God! We are called to trust, we are called to act, we are called to disdain all that we thought we knew in favor of what God desires us to know.

I won't say it is a journey of "self-discovery" for that does not go far enough; rather it is a journey to know oneself THROUGH God, for it is Our Lord and His Cross that defines us in every moment of our lives. We can't understand ourselves unless we can see ourselves in the light and the shadow and all the glory and folly of the Cross.

The difficult part of this is that we encounter ourselves as we really are...not as we'd like to be. We don't encounter our own holiness, but rather, what we lack. We see what we truly value, what we disdain to give up and we convince ourselves it's easier to flee than to accept the challenge of, say...raising the ship out of the swamp that devours it.

Maybe that's akin to raising our own souls out of the mud of sin that encumbers us. We try and we try, but we have no faith, and so as we try to rise, we are pulled back down.

Why? Because we do not trust. We do not love. We do not adore.

But it's fun to flip around and over things, isn't it? It's fun to run at obstacles and overcome them...unless they do not give. It is easy to take shots at targets...unless they send our own ammunition back in our direction.

Discernment is humiliating. It shows us who we really are, in complete, stark relief. Nothing is hidden. Everything is brought bubbling to the surface. Every single vice. Virtues are hidden if they were ever there at all.

Discernment is nothing but spiritual gymnastics, as we rise to meet obstacles, to crash in defeat, and rise again to meet a new challenge. We don't know what we must do, what we are called to do, or what feat we must accomplish to rise to any occasion.

All we know is that we have been called to a purpose, and anyone who takes the time to find that purpose must enter into this swamp, blindly, trusting in God alone, and we don't have the option to cut our "training" short for if we don't meet our own calling...other souls hang in the balance.

God does nothing by accident. But will we, in failing to discern...cause a fatality?