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Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Short End of the Stick?

A few days ago while flipping stations on my car radio, I came across a protestant preacher, and stopped to listen for awhile because what he was saying sounded interesting. He was talking about the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, and how poor Joseph was "always getting the short end of the stick."  Not having heard this particular angle taken before, I listened, giving consideration to his thought process. He explained that Joseph always had things going wrong and about telling his dream to his brothers (about the sheaves bowing to his sheaf), well, he just needed to learn wisdom and grow up a little. He explained Joseph was an arrow being polished for the Lord's quiver so that he would be ready to go on God's time.

Ever since I heard that particular interpretation of Joseph's story, I've wondered about it, most particularly the "short end of the stick" part. Although Joseph went through many trials, could it really be claimed that he got the "short end of the stick"?

I decided to read that story again during Adoration yesterday and try to do so with new eyes.

You all know the story: Joseph is a child of his father's old age, so is a favored and quite coddled son. One night Joseph has a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves, and the all arose and bowed to Joseph's sheaf. His next dream was of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him, and this second dream annoyed even Joseph's father.

As I read that, I could see, of course, how Joseph was taunting his brothers. While on the surface he seems only to be revealing a dream, it's easy to imagine the not-so-pure fallen human using the dream against his brothers instead of simply keeping it to himself. His father's own reaction, rebuking Joseph, seems to support the fact that he did indeed realize Joseph was being a pill and was not merely innocently recounting a dream.

Joseph's brothers then went off to move the flock and one day Israel ordered Joseph to find them to see if they are well, and to bring word back.

This next part is fascinating, for it seems out of place:

Gen 37:14-17
So he sent him from the valley of Hebron and he came to Shechem. And a man found wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, "what are you seeking?"
"I am seeking my brothers," he said, "tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock."
And the man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say 'Let us go to Dothan'."
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Every time I read this story, I pause at this section. Who is this random unnamed man? Look again at the dialogue: "What are you seeking?"  And Joseph doesn't answer with a "what", but a "who".  "I am seeking my brothers." 

Joseph is given direction by the unnamed man who clearly knew who his brothers are, and he goes, and finds them.

This passage is so loaded; it reveals a prefigurement of the Messaiah, and a subtle shift in power; it is not his brothers who seek him, but Joseph who seeks his brothers.

Of course, he finds them, they plot to kill him and at the behest of Reuben who wants no harm to come to his brother, convinces them to put him in a cistern instead (so Rueben can restore him to his father). Instead, Joseph is sold into Ismaelite slave traders, who take him to Egypt and sell him to Pharaoh's Captain of the Guard.

Genesis Chapter 39 tells us that the Lord was with Joseph and he became a very successful man as a slave in Potiphar's house, and finds favor; he was actually placed in charge of the household.

Then the woman of the house hit on him and when Joseph refused to submit, fleeing the woman's greedy embrace, she lied and accused him of attacking her, causing him to be thrown into prison.

Genesis 39:21-22 tells us the favor of the Lord was steadfast and he caused the prison keeper to have regard for Joseph, and all prisoners were placed into his care. It was in this context that Joseph met the butler and baker of the king of Egypt.

The two servants of the king had mysterious dreams, and Joseph found them downcast, and upon learning the dreams, stated, "Do not interpretations belong to God?"  So they told Joseph the dreams and he interpreted them; both came to pass as Joseph said. The baker was executed and the butler restored to the King's service.

Two years later the Pharaoh had a dream, and the Butler remembered Joseph and told the King about him. Joseph was summoned from prison and brought before the King, where he interpreted the dream and gave advice on how to proceed with the prediction of the oncoming famine. Because of his gift and his wisdom, the Pharaoh set Joseph as his second in command and put him in charge of preparing for the famine.

Reality Check

As I re-read all of this, I kept pondering the protestant preacher's words:  Joseph was getting the short end of the stick? Really?

Let's take a closer look:

Well, first we have a spoiled brat who taunts his brothers, and he brothers go overboard on the revenge. OK, granted, that was a pretty awful thing to do; to plot to kill one's own flesh and blood and then sell him into slavery. Very low. That does seem to be quite a detriment.

Well, Ishmaelite slave traders weren't exactly known for being gentle folk, and Joseph could have been sold anywhere - but no, he want to Pharoah's Captain of the Guard. Then he is placed in charge of the household. Oh, right, he was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, but then he still found favor. After all, as scripture tells us, the favor of the Lord was upon Joseph and everywhere he went, even prison, he was the favored son and experienced the best of conditions.

No matter how I read this, I simply can't see that Joseph EVER got the "short end of the stick."

Did he suffer trials? Indeed, and yes, they were harsh!

Still, Joseph was cared for by God, and I see those trials as a purification; he had misused his gift and had to be taught how to use it. Not to benefit himself, but, rather, to benefit others. He had to learn not to abuse his gift to grow in regard of others, but rather, to grow in humility and wisdom.

While Joseph, after he favorably interpreted the dream for the Butler, asked him to remember him when he was restored, and revealed he was unjustly imprisoned, we hear not a word of complaint from him for the two following years as he continued his prison work.

It was not until he was sufficiently purified in God's eyes that he was called upon to place his gift and himself at the service of the Pharaoh and all his kingdom, and ultimately, his own family.

What are you seeking?

Look again at the unnamed man in the field and his conversation with young spoiled Joseph.

He was seeking his brothers, and even when those who had sold him came to him, he sought until he had found them all. Joseph was not satisfied with only a few brothers; he ached for his family and his homeland and knew he could not reveal his identity until the time was right, and when all had been properly restored...and forgiven.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Food I Would Serve Jesus - Fall Edition: SOUP!

Welcome to Fall!  In honor of the changing of the seasons to my favorite time of year, and also celebrating the Feast of St. Padre Pio, I bring you....SOUP!

Yesterday I was craving Italian soup, and couldn't find a recipe for what I I made it up as I went along, stopping at the store only to get the main ingredient: ground Italian sausage.

The soup was comprised otherwise of the items I already had on hand and needed to use, and so, with this monastery-like "spirit of poverty", I dedicate my new invention to my dear St. Padre Pio - I would serve it to  him and to Jesus without reserve!

Italian Sausage-Tomato Soup:

1 package sweet ground Italian sausage - Johnsonville
Chicken broth - I used a box of Swanson's 1/3 less sodium
Vidalia onion
1 can diced tomatoes, garlic and basil flavor (I had DelMonte on hand)
1 fresh perfectly sweet tomato (from Aldi's)
fresh basil
celery salt
tomato sauce (well, I didn't have any so substituted leftover pizza sauce)
red wine vinegar


Start to heat the chicken broth in a soup pot while browning the sausage and chopped onion in a sauce pan. "Break" it up as you go so you don't have huge misshapen meatballs. Drain excess fat, then carefully add the meat/onion mixture to the broth. Open the can of Italian diced tomatoes, add to the pot, along with the other chopped fresh tomato - as many as you'd like. Add the tomato sauce and herbs according to taste. Cover the pot and simmer, but stir and taste-test occasionally for balance.  I also added additional water to the broth, and salted with celery salt.

When you're satisfied with the flavor, add some kind of pasta. I had Orzo in the cupboard so used that, but any pasta would be fine - take care not to overwhelm with the pasta unless that's what you're going for. I wanted a very "brothy" soup, something perfect for dipping a hard roll into.

Serve with crackers or bread of your choice, garnish with Parmesan cheese and a fresh basil leaf.


A few notes:

If you can, cook this in a slow-cooker so you can really give the flavors a chance to blend. I simmered on the stove for a couple hours, but I'm picky that way. You could simmer uncovered for a much shorter period of time and it would still be very tasty!

As this soup is very basic, you could turn it into a hearty stew by adding other garden vegetables, substitute the pork for ground turkey - the sky's the limit! (Not that turkeys fly or anything).  :-)

Perhaps I'll re-post my French Onion Soup recipe soon, complete with a photo of the finished product. Anyone interested?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Restored to Innocence

A couple days ago, I went to Confession, cringing once again at having the same laundry-list of sins. I'm the kind of person who could probably LIVE in a confessional and never run out of sins ot confess, but of course, if I were to never leave, I would never have a chance to try to overcome my numerous faults and weaknesses that lead me into sin.

Every now and then I long for the days of childhood innocence; back when I didn't understand real evil and even better, had never experienced it or had been the author of it.  Yet even this frivolous longing carries within it God's grace, for it makes me even more grateful for the Sacrament of Confession.

All of this was on my mind when I entered the tiny room and knelt down behind the screen, the priest already intoning the beginning of this most sacred rite. I listed my always...knowing that God already knew what I had done and had only been waiting for me to come to Him to take full responsiblity and ask for the grace to overcome them, to start anew. Once again.

I listened to the advice of the priest and when prompted, began my Act of Contrition, the very same one I learned back in First Grade when I received the Sacraments.

"Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you. I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell....

And then it happened. I can't properly explain it, but there, as I prayed the words, it was as if I was taken back in time to a confessional long long ago. I was again six years old, and, having confessed my little sins, things like fighting with my brother and disobeying my mother, was moving haltingly through the Act of Contrition. I could feel my page-boy style hair cut and in my mind's eye, see a little of the light of day peeking through the woven wicker-type screen, revealing the silhouette of Fr. W. as he waiting patiently for me to complete the prayer, his hand already raised in anticipation of absolution.

But most of all, because I offended You, O my God, who are all Good and deserving of all my love....

There I was, kneeling in the Confessional, an adult, having committed much greater sins, having now had a long life of having gravely, over and over again, severed my relationship with God in ways I couldn't even have imagined as a child. I knelt there and the tears came as I recalled that sweet, sweet innocence of childhood.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace, to confess my sins...
It truly was as though suddenly, I was a child again, kneeling humbly before my God, knowing His Mercy, and overwhelmed because I am also an adult, an adult who has been wounded by sin. As I said that ancient prayer, I knew without a doubt that in my sorrow, in my repentance, in my desire and will to lean on God in order to overcome my sin, in His Mercy He indeed restored me to that beautiful innocence of childhood. do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
Still experiencing the sense of timelessness, lost in the echoes of childhood, I bowed my head to receive Absolution, my tears turning to joy with the unmerited, undeserved gift of a greater knowledge of God's incredible love. 
As I stood to go, renewed, restored, I had come fully to myself again but could still turn to look at memory's image of me as a six year old, skipping gaily out of the confessional when only moments before I'd trudged in shyly and a bit guiltily, sent in to expose to the light the sins that could only exist under the cover of darkness.
I wiped the tears away as I returned to the chapel where I knelt once again to pray, this time to offer my assigned penance, raising my eyes to Jesus in thanksgiving, knowing His mercy is eternal and that in His eyes, I am once again a child of God.
Through the Sacrament of Confession, Jesus gave me glimpse through His own eyes; now I know that I need not long for that innocence of childhood, for it is but a mirror image of holiness, and through the grace of the Sacraments, we each can be that reflection for eternity. That is our Call.
The Sacrament of Confession restores us; no matter what we have done, by humbly accusing ourselves before God, through contrition for our sins, we open ourselves to His Grace. While we may still suffer the effects of sin, God remembers no more what He has forgiven. It doesn't matter if we are six or seven or eighty-one; once we have come to Jesus, it is, in His eyes, as though those things have never happened. We are, once again, a mere child He delights to indulge in His great love.
Thank you, Jesus.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A New Stage

It's no secret that I've been suffering from writer's block.

Part of it is the fact that because I work in a parish, sitting down on my off time to write about religious topics feels like work. And not work I really care to do, especially when I'm supposed to be getting away from work.

I've been seriously considering bringing this blog to a close simply because I don't think I have anything else to say. It's all been said or is perhaps being said better by someone else.

Still...this blog has been a wonderful outlet for me over the last several years, and I've met many friends, learned many things and I admit it's still a bit of an attachment. So, instead of hanging it up I'm switching gears for awhile.

That's right...I signed up for NaNoWriMo for the first time.

Perhaps, I thought, if I can put my focus into a non-religious topic, perhaps I'll find my Catholic muse again, and my motivation.

Or, perhaps, once November hits, because I'm supposed to be working on a novel, I may be struck once again by great topics for the blog.

Who knows? In any case, expect more erratic posts about random topics of interest to me (if not by anyone else) and, if you REALLY want me to post something, feel free to post your own random questions to spark my motivation.

After all, one of the things I love to do is answer sincere questions about our faith by people seeking to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ.

Until my next inspiration.....

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dear Old Friends

Even before I could read, I have loved reading. I remember looking at picture books, listening to Mom help my brother with reading; he was sick for much of First Grade and got far behind the other students, so truly struggled with the foundation of reading and writing. I wasn't invited into those lessons because I was too little, and so I would ask Mom to read me books, and in so doing, would try to memorize them so I could perhaps make the connection between what I was hearing and the figures on the page.

I strongly recall picking up a book I was CERTAIN I remembered, and, bringing it to Mom and Dad, announced that I had learned to read and I was going to PROVE it!

Unfortunately, when I opened the book, to my chagrin, I could not understand those characters and was forced to make up a story which turned out to be very lame; after all, since I couldn't read, I didn't actually know what the book was about. Mom and Dad laughed, said that was cute, and left me to look at pictures.

Ultimately, learning to read was never a struggle with me...when it was finally time, I took to it like a fish to water. My particular problem was that I would pick up books, fall in love with them, and set that particular book as a "gold standard". I would have books read to me, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and because I wasn't quick enough on Library days to get that particular book, and I wasn't at the top of the elementary grade "A-list", to get the library's only copy of any given Little House book, I was forced to peruse the shelves, looking for something I actually wanted to read.

We had the most freedom in Fourth Grade, and it was that teacher who, frustrated with me always being the last to choose a book, quickly but carefully grabbed one for me and forced it into my hand. "Go check out. You're reading THIS."

I would go to the Librarian, pouting because it wasn't what I wanted to read. But because of that vigilant teacher, I read books that taught me something MORE, for the popular books with the other girls, the ones I could never obtain, were the ones our teacher had already read to us as a class. She didn't want me to stick with the status quo, but rather, to branch out to many genres and most importantly, discover new territory. She didn't object to students reading on their own the books she read us in class, but didn't want us to remain there; she wanted to use books to inspire us, to discover new adventures, new worlds, and of course, improve our reading and grammar because we WANTED to read.

She was successful but I must confess that my propensity to be loyal to favorite authors has never died, and even as an adult, I return to the literature of my youth.

The Best Friends a Girl Could Have

My family moved to Minnesota when I was in Fifth Grade, and sometime that year or perhaps between Fifth and Sixth Grade, I came home one cloudy, humid, rainy day to find a few large boxes on the floor of my room, all containing musty-smelling hardcover books.

"Where did these come from?"  I demanded.

"Your Aunt Laurie. She read all of them and thought you would enjoy them. Take care of them; she wants them back when you're done reading."

One by one, I pulled the books out. The Bobbsey Twins, one about Barbie and the Florida Keys, and about thirty books about a girl named "Trixie Belden".  A couple Nancy Drew.

I didn't want to read ANY of them, but at the time, I wasn't reading anything else, the weather prevented other activities so I began with the "single"  books, putting off the lame-looking "Trixie Belden" series, certain I'd hate them.

To my surprise, I enjoyed the first few books I read, and began to see my aunt in a new light. Maybe she DID know what she was talking about in recommending these books. Even though I wasn't enthused about the Trixie books, I realized I should at least read one of them; that way I could give those boxes back to my aunt in good conscience, even if I didn't like them.

Much to my surprise, when I opened the cover of the first book, Trixie Belden and the Secret of the Mansion, I found I couldn't put it down. One by one, I absorbed each book voraciously, and if a one was missing in the sequence, I'd go to the public library with the desperation of an addict.  Over one summer, I was at the library every other day, looking for the next book and placing orders for interlibrary loans.

Because of my enthusiasm and "frequent customer" appearances, I got to know the Librarians, especially one named "Laurie" (not my aunt, her agreeable name merely a coincidence).

Over time, I finally exhausted both my aunt's books and the library's resources, even through interlibrary loans. Some of the books simply weren't available anywhere, although we continued to look. Some were being reprinted and I ended up receiving a couple of the later books as gifts or by purchasing them myself.

I read and re-read my favorites of the series, but realized, as my Fourth Grade teacher had taught me, that I couldn't stagnate. Laurie, the Librarian, seeing my consternation at running out of my beloved Trixie books, strongly recommended Nancy Drew, and so I moved on to that series, too, and before long, was coming to the reference desk to ask her to place more orders for interlibrary loans.


 When I left for college, I think,  I had to finally release my aunt's books back to her, so I'd carefully packed those old friends away while suppressing the tears. Over the years I'd read and re-read those books I had initially not wanted...and like so much of life, learned that what we think we'll hate is often what others realize is just perfect for us.

I also knew that one has to move on to greater things, and as much as my old friends Trixie, Mart, Brian, and Bobby Belden, Honey Wheeler, Jim Frayne, Dan Mangan, Di Lynch, Regan, Miss Trask, Tom Delaney, Nancy Drew, Midge....had become nearly "real" to me, one must always grow up. Instinctively I'd understood that the series had ended because the characters had to grow up, too, and life doesn't ever remain the same...not even in storybooks.

Still, I didn't go to college untouched by these mere "childhood" books, even though I didn't realize until recently how much they have impacted my life.

Good Literature does not point to itself...but to even GREATER Literature

Recently I went to the public library and admittedly, somewhat abashedly, entered the "Children's" section of the huge hub, and went through the fiction stacks. Although I found Nancy Drew, and knew from a previous computer search that this library DEFINITELY had SOME of the Trixie Belden books, I couldn't find a single one. I looked under both author names under which the 39 books in the series had been penned. Nothing.

Shamefacedly I approached the librarians and confessed I could not find my beloved Trixie Belden, and they helped me locate it on the shelves - under Title, not author, simply because of the duality of authorship.

For the last week or so, I have been DEVOURING these books and realize how much they contributed to my own formation in my teenage years.

Although they were written in the '40's and '50's, and use archaic words such as "dungarees" instead of "jeans", and to this day, I still have no idea what a "sharkskin suit" is or why it is considered to be "cool" for a hot day, I took to heart the moral lessons within the pages. Now that I am re-reading as an adult, I can see the values instilled in the characters, but still the personalities, temperaments, and utter teenage stupidity that made the books so appealing.

It is because of Trixie Belden that  in my Jr. High years I took it upon myself to read Edgar Allen Poe, the works of Shakespeare, and inquire about other classic literature - simply so that I would be able to understand the references the characters made. In fact, because of these books, I questioned why I had never had to study these greats, and why we didn't touch them in English classes or other electives until High School?

Through Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, I became interested in the world around me, not just my immediate locale, but the larger world, and suddenly, History became important, and other cultures became even MORE interesting than they had been before.

It didn't stop there, though. I can't help but notice the words being used and how cleverly the authors of the series clearly sought to elevate their readers to the next level. Julia Cambell, "Caroline Kennedy" (pseudonym for several authors), and Katherine Keene (Nancy Drew author) did not talk down to their young audience but sought to increase their vocabulary. Perhaps they did this unconsciously, for it does not read as "gimmicky" but like books written by readers for readers out of respect for the intelligence of readers everywhere.

I can't help but recognize the influence of these authors upon my own writing, both in fiction and that which I use on my blog, and I wonder sometimes if I am channeling Mart Belden - and if I'm not, I wonder if perhaps he could have stepped in to become my muse on occasion, especially when having to compose academic treatises. (Only Trixie Belden fans will understand this reference).

Dear Old Friends

For years I have been reading some pretty hard-core stuff:  between real-life autobiographies to deep Theology and some Fiction, it has been Flannery O'Connor, some CS Lewis, murder mysteries, and well...some serious adult content consistent with my history and training in Criminal Justice. Because I enjoy "BONES", the TV show, I have read Kathy Reichs, the series upon which the production is based, and even though it interests me scientifically, it still makes me occasionally scream and want to write to Ms. Reichs about what she's getting wrong about Catholic theology. So often, when I read even FICTION these days, it feels like work, because as a theologian now, I can't help but take what I know and interpret everything through that particular lens.

 [Remind me to write to Dr.. Reichs and offer my services as a specifically Catholic theological consult. She's made some really embarrassing errors with regard to Catholicism both in the books and on the show - or her current "theologian" on her payroll has, anyway. It makes her look like an idiot and she has a HUGE Catholic following to whom she is doing a great injustice and has been for a long time. *sigh* ]

Because life has been so burdensome of late, I realized I needed something lighter, and so I turned to my old friends. I found that it's been so long I have forgotten the plots of these "juvenile" mysteries, and even though the core of the story has remained, I can still re-read these books as if for the first time, introduced all over again, entertained all over again, reminded all over again.

I love turning these precious pages, getting lost in the stories in a way I could never really  be lost in theology, for both forms utilize the intellect in different ways. I realize that I have to get back in touch with my own roots, my own motivations, the very basic love of literature at the simplest level, engaging my imagination so that I can once again gallop along the bridal paths (an experience I've actually finally had in real life), once again thwart the bad guys (another experience I've had in real life), once again enjoying the camaraderie of great friendships in good times and in bad (an experience that is ongoing as long as the sun rises and sets.).

Ah, my dear friend Trixie, how much you taught me about life, about literature, about selflessness, about manners, about goodness, about adventure, about the very mystery of life. How much I would like to be like you, even now...but still am grateful for many of my adventures in real life were inspired by your fictional ones.

Thank you.

Now, my readers, please excuse me...I have books to read and many old friends with whom I have been longing to be reacquainted.

Consider this an invitation to meet them, too:

Trixie Belden

Nancy Drew (I read only the original series and always saw the later "files" and such as bastardizations of what was originally a good story and good character gone to agenda.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later: 9/11/2001

The Anniversary has always been hard for me, and over the years, although I've written many posts about it, I always go back to the beginning: to where I was on that date. That's what we all do, we who remember the day. We know where we were.

This morning I went to Mass, already walking a thin line emotionally, and pondered how perfect were the readings for this day, as if God knew exactly what we needed to hear and pray on this tenth anniversary - and indeed, He did, for 9/11 didn't take Him by surprise.

I think what's hardest for me right now is that ever since I left emergency services, I don't have any friends now from that time period. I don't have any friends who wear badges...or ever have. I don't have any friends in police or fire services, or any area of EMS.

When I left for the last time, I left for good and because I was never truly called to those careers, I did not maintain the friendships - and so 9-11 is not just a sad day, but a lonely day, because there isn't anyone who understands my pain. Those I know NOW  saw the images on TV, like any other disaster. But they didn't see it as a rescue worker, they didn't have friends or relatives there - for the people around me, they don't understand why I continue to take it to heart each and every year.

One friend of mine, usually very sensitive, said to me today, "Yeah....but it was 10 years ago. Get over it."

I think my silence in response to that remark said far more than any blog post I've ever written.

There are just some things that can't be expressed in words, but only through shared experience, shared understanding at a visceral level...shared understanding with others who know what it's like.


I am saddened to see many of my fellow faithful Catholics poo-poohing the images of September 11, 2001, and several have expressed the fact they desire to FORGET. They admonish we who watch the looping video from that day, bringing in the Sacrifice of Christ, pointing out that remembering does not mean seeing.

That may be true to a certain degree...for them.

Indeed, in the Sacramental Theology of the Church, the Sacrifice of Christ takes place EVERY DAY, an unbloody re-presentation, making us present there, at Calvary, and yes, I believe this and agree with it.

But that doesn't mean I don't need my bloody crucifix of Christ to remind me that His death was anything but pristine, and the ransom He paid for my sins was anything but comfortable. When I gaze upon the bloodiest renditions of Christ in any work, I am moved, for I am forced to confront the violence of sin and the very bloody price paid for my Salvation.

While certainly, maybe we don't "need" from an intellectual level, we who are faithfully enlightened, to see the bloody images of Christ to know about His Sacrifice, and maybe we don't "need" to see looping footage from 9/11 or for that matter, any other given disaster anywhere in the world, on a very visceral human level...yes...some of us do.

I can't agree with some of my dear friends that the images from 9/11 should not be shown, for I hold that we DO need to see them in order to properly recall the full extent of human evil and human suffering, and human triumph on that day. We need to see those video loops because we can't help but witness the best of humanity brought about by the very worst. (Caveat: some can't handle the sight of blood and/or violence; I offer my "need to" with the suggestion of prudence on behalf of sensitive individuals.) 

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago I was a rookie with some serious life experience, but still grasping to learn, on the cusp of belief in immortality and recognition of mortality.

Ten years ago I was barely practicing my faith, although I was trying, and not a day went by at the Training Tower that I did not pray, "I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me." It was the litany that got me through many terrifying tasks.

Ten years ago, I didn't know my Faith and I only prayed when I was afraid or when I had a big decision to whether or not God was calling me to take the Fire Test, or if I passed, whether I was really supposed to be a Firefighter. Because from the beginning, it terrified me and with God's Grace, He pushed me through fear into...well....I'm still not sure what.

Firefighter training, and for that matter, coupled with earlier Police training/experience  made me realize my mortality, and drew a very clear black-and-white line in the sand for me...especially on 9/11.  Although I went back to class on my deceased father's birthday, September 12, in looking back, I think that perhaps was the day I realized I didn't have it in me to do what the 343 NYFD Firefighters had done the day before.

Even though I didn't even know what my life was about, or perhaps, BECAUSE I didn't know what my life was about, I knew I couldn't lay it down for anyone. I didn't have the courage for I didn't even know the cause. The First Cause.

I think that in the last ten years, I have been seeking a cause, and that's what led me to study Theology. In confronting death, I was forced to confront God and learn, at a very basic level, who I am in relation to Him and therefore, everyone else.

But that doesn't explain 9/11 or why each year I spend this day holding back tears. Why MANY of us hold back tears, and live in the loneliness of grief we can't express, for that grief has nowhere to go and no ears, hearts, and souls that truly understand. 

I can't explain what it was like that day to stand there in a Fire Dept. uniform, learning about and discussing the SOP's about skyscraper fires only to learn about the worst ever known, happening live on TV.  I can't explain what it was like to watch a Fire Chief weep while teaching a lesson, live, in real time, about something happening NOW, because, had we been there, we would have been called to go in, too, especially because our brothers and sisters had just been killed.  And in fact, his own dear friends had just been pulverized before his very eyes, and still, that Chief chose to teach even through the tragedy because that was what he was called to do. That's what most honored his friends, who had taught him.

I can't explain what it was like to have the reality of a "Job" brought so close to home, knowing that at any moment, we could get that Call, too, simply because of who and where we were in that given moment.

I can't explain what it was like to watch people leap to their deaths, for to us, it wasn't just news video, but the very reason we had applied to the Fire Department: so that no one would ever have to do that.

I can't explain what it was like to stand there, unable to do ANYTHING, watching futility in action, watching Firefighters in New York, Police in New York, Paramedics in New York...go into buildings to help victims of a coward's attack...and never leave.

I can't explain the grief within my soul that surfaces this time every year, even though I haven't worn a uniform and badge since May of 2002.

Do you know why I refuse to stop watching the footage from that day?

Now, ten years later, I have a Masters in Theological Studies, and although I am well versed in the theology of suffering, of redemption, of the Sacrifice of Holy Mass and even teach it to others, I find that mere theology is not enough.

It's easy to intellectualize and theologize suffering.

It's hard to LIVE it. It's hard to look into the eyes of those who are experiencing or have experienced REAL suffering and just tell them Christ died for them and therefore the images aren't important. To those who lived 9/11, and survived it, it is not sufficient to speak of the "unbloody re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary", for to them, there isn't anything "unbloody" about it.

We always have to remember that suffering is not an abstract idea, but it is real, it is painful, it is agonizing and brutal, and the recognition of its bloody violence is ALSO necessary; for that is what paid our ransom for sin.

I am grateful for the programming each year that shows the footage from 9/11, because I NEED that, and I know that others do, too.

What I pray for is understanding from my fellow Catholics, that our desire to watch those events again is not "gawking" and is not "denial of the sacrifice of Christ", but rather, is perhaps a way to continue to seek to understand, to realize that others, too, struggle to explain this loneliness of grief that can't be easily expressed, and because we NEED the visual ensure that we will NEVER forget.

We watch the footage, again and again, because Theology has never been about mere intangible Philosophical theories, but about children of God who, every day, suffer the Passion of Our Lord, and never is this more apparent than during a disaster. Ten years later, those who suffered on that day CONTINUE to suffer, and those images are not mere images, but reality, for they live it day in and day out. To watch that footage is to enter into their suffering, to suffer with them, to take it to heart and to have, even briefly, a glimpse of their grief.

To forget that day, and those images is, to many of us, a denial of the heroism of those who went into those buildings, even though they knew they might never come out. To deny the images is to deny the very real, visceral, sacrifice, taken on willingly, by human beings who realized what their lives were really about. To forget that day is to forget all those who continue to suffer the losses of that day.

Anyone who has lost a loved one through the most ordinary of deaths knows that although there is much "support" in the beginning, it quickly ebbs and months, even years later, the survivors are forgotten, although they still suffer. So it is with 9/11 - many continue to suffer and many others who have been direct casualties of the wake of that day. To forget is to ignore them, too.

Bl. John Paul II wrote eloquently about compassion, explaining that this virtue was about being with others in their Passion. When I watch the annual 9/11 tributes and memorials, when I watch the footage, I know that in prayer, in emotion, in solidarity, I am with those for whom 9/11 never ended, for the reality of it goes on and on for the 3,000+ (and counting) who were murdered and were injured that day in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.

No, not everyone needs to see the images, but I can no more look away from the carnage of 9/11 than I can the carnage of the Cross. They are one and the same, for Christ gave His own sign of His presence that day through the death of Fr. Michel Judge, the first official death recorded for that day. Even 9/11's foundation was laid upon the altar, a priest who died offering his life to bring Christ to the hopeless through the Sacraments.

Today is September 11, 2011, and I pray that we will never forget.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Age of Reason

Several days ago I posted a story that I think made national headlines. I know that a week ago Monday it hit every local NEWS station's site, and that Wednesday, there was FINALLY video of this, probably because of the utter hilarity of the crime of goat rustling and WHO committed it, while wearing...PAJAMAS.
I love this story but not just because it's, well...hilarious....but because it reveals so much about the intelligence and awareness of children. That intelligence and more importantly, AWARENESS, is exactly why Pope St. Pius X allowed children of "the age of reason",  usually figured to be about age 7, to receive Holy Communion, and therefore, the Sacrament of Confession.

Why? Because at that age, children can discern the Body and Blood. They are aware of Sin, of what that means, how it separates them from God, and they are most importantly aware of the fact that He gives Himself to them, in pure innocence, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

No, they don't understand all the reasoning of 4,000 years or more of Judeo-Christian philosophy and theology, but they sure do know what is required to steal a goat and they know enough to try to hide their crime by lying about what they did.

Even more importantly, they sure do know that stealing a goat is WRONG or they wouldn't have, at the age of 5 and 7, escaped their home with a very viable plan, with a leash, walked a mile or so to a farm, liberated a goat, leashed it, and walked it home, then lied to the police officer who confronted them.

Should Children Receive the Sacrament of Confession?

In my parish work, I have become aware of a number of local parishes that do not offer First Reconciliation before First Holy Communion.  Their reasoning:  children can't possibly commit mortal sin. Children don't understand sin and their "sins" aren't really sins because children don't understand what is wrong and why.

Hmmm...there's so much wrong with this, and yes, I'm going to talk about it, but first, let me tell you a little story.

Oh, the webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive....

When I was about 4 years old, I spent the morning in our little country neighborhood playing with my friends down the road. When it was time, I went home for lunch, having made solid plans to return to my friend's house to continue playing the afternoon away.

To my surprise and horror, Mom told me that no; I wouldn't be going out to play. I would be taking a nap.  Of course I thew a fit becuase I was both wide awake and wanted to PLAY! Well, of course, me being 4 and Mom being Mom, she won that argument and sent me to my room, but you see, there's a bit more to this story...

As I sulkily ate my lunch, punishing Mom with my pouting silence, I came up with a plan to make Mom THINK I was napping, but I was REALLY going to go play with my friends. I was going to choose adventure and fun over obedience.

When I finished lunch, I (apparently) obediently went to my room, found one of my dolls, and placed her in my bed. You see, Mom always commented on that particular doll and how much her hair resembled mine. And I ALWAYS slept with covers over my head, even on hot summer days like that particular one, so it wasn't odd for me to cover my head but still leave a bit of hair poked out. I knew Mom would "check in" on me during my "nap", so I made sure to rustle the bedcovering a little. I think I even changed my shoes so she'd see a pair by my bed as though I'd kicked them off before climbing in.

Quickly, I opened my bedroom window, opened the screen (something my brother had recently shown me how to do), made sure there were no spiders as that was the ONLY thing that would keep me inside, and seeing that the coast was clear, I climbed out, closed the screen behind me, leaving it cracked just enough so I could open it again when I got back, and snuck around the house remaining below the windows to avoid being seen.

I spent a few hours with my friends, blissfully playing, but unfortunately, we got into a fight. I ended up stomping home, steaming mad, and because I was so angry, I completely forgot about my plan of escape and return. As such I burst through the front door, stood in the kitchen, hands on my hips and announced that I was NEVER going to play with D. and J. EVER AGAIN!

I can still see my Mom standing in the kitchen, wiping her hands off on a dishtowel, staring at me in shock and growing anger.

"I thought you were taking a nap!"

Uh oh!   I can still remember the sense of horror that I had just exposed my very big lie.

I actually tried to race to my room ahead of Mom to erase the evidence, but predictably, she beat me to it, tore back the covers and exposed the deception and disobedience.

That was the first time I was ever grounded.  I was four years old.

Let's Break This Down

I know that some of you reading this will first question my age - four years old, running around the neighborhood?  Yup, that's right, and no exaggeration. I'd been free to run around at about the age of 3, within limits. Our home was surrounded by retired couples and stay at home moms who knew all of us and where we were allowed to go and when. My friends lived the equivalent of a block from my house and we all knew to watch for traffic on the gravel that only served our immediate homes.  Besides, times were very different then and there wasn't a lot of crime in our sleeply little town, and certainly not in our immediate neighborhood.

So, that objection handled, let's talk about a child's ability to reason.

1. I knew that I was disobeying my mother, and willfully so. Proof:  I hid my crime and deliberately pretended to obey by going to take my "nap" without argument once Mom refused to give in. (Premeditation)

2. I went to great lengths to plan how to hide my disobedience, to include the return trip of climbing back in the window.  (Deliberation)

3. I knew that if Mom discovered my deception, I'd be in BIG BIG trouble, but I did it anyway. (full knowledge that what I was doing wrong, consent to do it anyway)

What are the three elements of mortal sin?  According to paragraph 1857 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a mortal sin must be an objectively grave matter, committed with full knowledge and consent.

Now, I will not say that my sin that day (or rather, slippery slope of many sins) was mortal, for the simple act of disobedience, no matter how complexly I went about it, is not normally a "grave matter", especially for a four year old. However, I would argue that it was sufficiently grave especially considering my age, the danger I could have been in, and the fact that one intent to disobey led to a whole host of other sins, including the fight with my friends which ultimately ended our friendship. (That's a long story and I don't want to tattle!)

Can children commit mortal sin? Yes, I would argue that they can. Usually, though, the fact they don't have sufficient knowledge and certainly can't reason through the consequence of their actions even if they can reason the concrete "how" to commit them, prevents them from meeting the definition of "mortal sin".

Always, though, when I speak with someone who advocates a more mature age for First Confession, if they argue on the grounds that "children aren't capable of mortal sin", I query, "Why would you wait to teach them about right, wrong, and sin when they ARE capable of doing something that grave?"  Seriously...wouldn't that be like closing the barn door when the horses have already escaped?

For some reason, some adults of a certain age have no problem telling their children about right and wrong and even mete out punishments and corrections as they grow, but when it comes to Confession, they balk and say, "Oh, my kids can't really sin." 

Except they do, all the time, and they are AWARE of it - but they need US to teach them what sin is and how that affects their relationship with God...and with others. How are they ever to learn about consequences if consequences aren't taught? Children know how to choose what is right, and they do THAT all the time, too, and understand that if they obey here, there are good consequences that follow, and that reinforces their good behavior. That's even basic psychology!

Confession, though, also teaches children how to identify their sins, how to correct them, and learn the consequences, not just in this life, but for the next.

And you know what? Children really really love Jesus a great deal, and they want to please Him, they want to be right with Him, and that want that deep, personal relationship with Him.

Still, there's one other thing we can't miss when talking about the Sacraments:  Grace.

Not only do children need to learn how to identify sin and take responsibility for it, but they need that final revelation that SINS CAN BE FORGIVEN! Remember:  God never reveals sin without revealing His Mercy.

Children can learn that, and not just learn it, but EXPERIENCE it, and then, in the Sacrament of Confession, receive the Grace to be strengthened against temptation, to be guided in learning to live in Christ. They can be placed on the path to Sainthood and perhaps, learn to never commit a mortal sin!

Dare we hope for such Grace? And why not? God freely OFFERS it!

Certainly, people can argue all day long about whether or not children can commit mortal sin, but when it comes to the mysterious workings of God's Grace in the soul, that's where the argument ends.

Why would we ever want to risk a child's eternal soul by denying them the Grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially, and properly, before they receive Our Lord's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in their First Holy Communion?