Friday, November 30, 2012

A Little Story

Everyone knows the story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and being unable to find a place to stay.  Everyone thinks they'd recognize the dire need of a husband with his wife, heavy with child.  However, we need only look back to the poor mother who lost her two sons in the water of Hurricane Sandy to see, we are frightened creatures who often shut doors we should not.  Yes, all of us are just as capable of saying, "there is no room at the inn."

How do I know? 

This past week, we lost a baby at what would have been 8 weeks.   Honestly, I'd spent the first three weeks of knowing saying to God, "You've Got to be Kidding!"  I'm 46!  We have no room in the van.  We have a large house but there's no room in the house!  I tried playing kid tetris, shuffling children in the bedrooms.  I didn't want to wrap around the idea that our lives would be reordered yet again, that at least three more years of diapers loomed.   Taxes, college, carseats... it wasn't my most generous moment as a woman of faith or a mother. 

But I was very grateful for the gift of the wisdom and teachings of our Church.  That let me march forward, take my vitamin, schedule the appointment with the doctor and go on with life.  I'd come around I told myself.  And every once in a while, there was a bounce in my step, a giggle under my words as I managed the brood and their needs.  But also every once in a while, there was the feeling of the bite of the world.  "I'm overwhelmed." I told God.  "I know we're supposed to love in abundance and be lavish and generous and open to life like you...." but then my voice would crack in my head, "I'm not you!"  and the world felt very dark indeed.  I kept opening and shutting the door in my heart even as I held the child in my womb.  I would have to wedge it open.  

God was very humorous, "So Sherry, ten was fine but eleven too many?"  "Okay."  (It was hard to argue).  But it was still only duty, not a joyful one.   I'd be fighting this for a while I could tell despite many resolutions in my head to not fight.  And then I felt honestly, rather lost.  This was not a happy place to be, to know that my will was fighting even as I obeyed.  There was never a danger to this baby, she was always coming, but then Tuesday, I saw her. 

Her heart was mine.

I was miscarrying.   Suddenly every step, every heart beat forward was one step away from a healthy child, to a dying one.  Suddenly, I was willing her to stay alive, begging her to stay.  I've had two other miscarriages, but this one hit harder than the other two or maybe like labor pains, I've forgotten. It's probably a mixture of both.

Like any mother who must walk to the end of a miscarriage, I felt all the crazy unfamiliar hard musings. We hadn't even told anyone yet.  How to explain a loss we hadn't yet pronounced as a gift? Sadness...I held her but not as fully in my heart. We should have screamed about her to the world. We should have celebrated her while she was here! There was shame over the twinge of relief that the part of me that didn't want more, didn't have more...embarrassment at not wanting more of God's heart in my life....and hurt at the real knowledge that when the knock came to my door. I didn't answer, or at least not well.  Guilt --could I have done something or not done something to keep this one here? 

Wednesday I took my son to basketball practice and went to the adoration chapel to clear my head, to cry, to complain, to pray the baby would be okay, that somehow, this would all just be a blip, a hiccup in the pregnancy.  I didn't get to make that prayer.  I fell asleep. Three times. (It's warm, it's quiet, it's peaceful and as a dear priest told me, if you fall asleep in Adoration, you're just like the apostles, and perhaps God knew you needed the rest).  As I was preparing to leave to go back to the gym, I found a guide for adoration I'd never seen.  Reading it, I felt like I'd somehow missed what I was supposed to do in Adoration...rather like how I missed what to do during this pregnancy.  

Then Thursday, I went back to the doctors.  The baby did not have  a heart rate anymore.  She was smaller than she'd been on Tuesday.  I could see the difference.  I remember seeing the screen with her heart rate on it, and knowing then, the heart rate was wrong before they'd said anything.   The dramatic in me likes to think she died when I was sleeping in Adoration, that even broken and failing, I'd brought her to where she should be.   And in doing so, she did the same for me.  

I can't promise my heart will remain a stable stable for the rest of my life, but for only 8 weeks, she was a masterful instructor in the purpose of Advent.  I'll remember her, and therefore her lessons. We are to be a people waiting in joyful hope.  That is how life and being pregnant should be, a source of light and warmth in a thorny cold dark world of business and tasks and difficulty.   We told our children. We told our parents.  We named the baby, Kateri Joy, Katie Joy for short.   It fits her, it fits the season we are about to celebrate and I think her name is musical.  One of my daughters liked it so much, she said she'd name her daughter the same.  She has never voiced the idea that she would have children before. 

When we get to Heaven, we will be asked, "How many did you bring?" like the servants who were to invest the talents and multiply the Master's fortunes.  I now have another lobbyist in Heaven to get all of us there.   She's an expert at wedging open the doors of hearts. 

P.S. The perfect P.S, her due date was July 14th, it is apparently, Saint Kateri's feast day...I just found that out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writer's Block and Spiritual Dryness

When I can't think of anything to post, there is a moment of absolute panic in my brain, like nothing will ever come forth that is smart, funny or interesting again.  I've said all I can say, it's all been poured out and the well is empty.

Writing on paper, I crumple up page after page.  Reading for inspiration reminds me of the fact that I am not inspired.   Then, the real desperation sets in, as I grasp at everything and anything, trying to do life such that I can then turn it into an article.  That only works if I actually forget I'm doing to create an article and start doing for real.  As long as I strain to create an experience to write about, the experience remains false and the words, uninteresting. 

No one writes about boredom because boredom is a great pain. It is also the plague of the modern age.  We seek stimulation because we want something we know not what, and think if we just click on the right link, we will feel less dull, less disconnected from the world, from others.  We want so much to belong.  We do not anymore understand the alienation we have being in this world because we no longer consider the reality of our own fallen nature, we no longer acknowledge that the world or ourselves were created to be something fuller, better, more beautiful than what we are as a result of sin.  We do not understand the holes in our hearts or lives because we no longer recognize them as holes.  We think those holes have always been there, they will always be there, they are simply part of who we are and what we are, like belly buttons, so we drift from page to page, from activity to activity, hoping at some point to feel more of that aliveness we know we're supposed to have.

Creative boredom is the acute feeling that you will never create again, and to any artist, it is akin to purgatory.  You may know the feeling will pass, but at the moment, the feeling feels permanent. This feeling is of course, vanity, as much if not most of writing is willing one's self to put words to paper, rather than waiting for inspiration to flash and drive the prose.  Even the art one previously created seems alien, like someone else did that, because the person now trying to create, could not approximate what was done then.  

It may seem silly to compare not having the thrill of crafting a whole world or a painting or whatnot, with receiving graces and blessings and spiritual gifts via a disciplined rigorous prayer life, but the artist is a creator and God is the ultimate artist, ergo lacking the creative spark to create is in a sense, losing a touch of the Divine that one dearly dearly loves.  Not having it at one's fingertips is akin to forgetting how to play a particular piano piece or throw a baseball or ride a bicycle, we don't think we shouldn't have this ability, we know we had it, ergo it is frustrating to not have it now. It isn't that it is lost, only that it is veiled and we do not know how long we will have to endure this separation from that particular divine gift.

In prayer life, spiritual dryness also results in a panic, a sense that the emptiness will always be empty, the disconnect will never be resolved.  You stare into your soul and see the cavernous hole and wonder how in Heaven's name, it can be made holy.   Prayer feels dull and routine.  You do it anyway, hoping at some point, you will forget yourself in the process and grace will take over.  But the spiritual dullness, like the creative dry spell, is an odd sort of gift, demanding that the soul persevere in the process absent the joy of inspiration.  It strengthens the will to obey, to grow, by not giving the simplest of rewards, the "feeling" of peace/grace that can come from prayer. 

One has to be secure enough in one's faith to know, this dark night of the soul is by design.  This dark night of the soul is a rare gift given to illustrate the soul's devotion to God.   The dryness of inspiration in the artist life is also a time to till the mental soil, feed the brain, trust that the talent will reveal itself again if one only persists.   But modern living distrusts stillness, distrust waiting, distrusts not doing, ergo it has trouble recognizing that this stillness in art or in prayer life, can be the fertile soil for much deeper work.   It is a hard thing to accept.  It is harder still to trust. 
The easier thing to do is give a fuller voice to any doubts, worries or anxieties that come with being a creator.  "You were never any good." "No one will read this." "You turned everyone off." "No one cares about what you write."  All of those ugly doubt locust thoughts that usually get packed in a box and sent to the farthest corner of the brain, sense weakness and come crawling out to eat at whatever is left of the heart. They will only feel satisfied when the artist gives up and they can burp smugly and say, "Told you so."    "You should never have tried in the first place." 

The spiritual dimension of the attack on the artist seems clear when one considers these same sorts of mental pests plague any soul when they feel they've somehow wondered out into the dessert and God seems very very far away.   My best advice?  Pray.  Work.  And don't worry.   The inspiration will come when you are least expecting, like falling in love, you will be struck by beauty and seek to create it.   Rest.  You may be exhausted.  Worrying about not being able to create will not help you become creative.  Allow time to grow your creative juices and trust that they will come.  

Lastly, start creating. Anything. Use colors or clay or legos, write a letter, a poem, or a stupid parody, Don't worry about if anyone will like it, children create to enjoy the creating process.   Write because the words are like blocks and you want to create a really cool castle with them.  Draw because you love the color.  Dance because you love the song.   Pray because you love the God who made you. 

The doing for its own sake, is the whole point.   

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Payoff

Every once in a while, I pause to wonder, is any of this stuff sinking in?  This sort of question especially vexes after a mass experience where I spend much of the homily "shusshing" the child who wants to give me the roving reporter's eye witness account of what appears to be a scuffle between two children about whether to kneel or sit, followed by an extensive discussion by said reporter with me for not receiving her bulletin with due diligence.   

It pops up when after hearing about who raised their hands at mass and what they said, there is a fight over who gets to sit next to the baby on the ride home and a near rebellion when the request for a snack at the drive-thru is denied or when I've washed the hair, used conditioner, even washed the Barbie's hair, brushed, dried, blown dried, read stories and brushed teeth and get, "I hate going to bed. I'm Never Going to Bed. If you Loved Me You'ld NEVER send me to bed." as a response.  

When every day you still have to remind people to put on their socks and shoes, no toys at the table and to brush their teeth, make their beds, do their homework, turn off the TV...blah blah blah.  Is anyone listening? Even I'm bored by my constant endless loop.  

Then you get the payoff.  

The other day, my daughter explained that the tired old canard about Jesus not multiplying the loaves and the fishes because everyone just happened to pack along a picnic lunch that they could share with everyone had come up.   "So you're telling me, you believe Jesus rose from the dead but couldn't multiply the loaves and fishes to feed the 5000?" she asked.  Her friends agreed.  

That whoop you just heard in you head, it was me.   

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who Wants a World of Hurt?

No one no one no one no one no one ever wants to be rejected.  No one wants to be thought clueless, uniformed, lazy, stupid or unthinking.  We're human. We want to be in the in crowd.  We want to belong.  We certainly don't want to be written off or dismissed or ignored.

So right now, being Catholic means you probably don't want to talk about the current push for same sex marriage.  We'd honestly rather fold socks, clean out the fridge, paint the stoop, schedule a root canal, wait on hold with insurance, clean the bathrooms and deal with the I.R.S. rather than talk about this subject because we know the only way we don't get clobbered by the politically correct police is to parrot the I'm cool with that line, or be invisible, silent.  

Not a way to witness. But who wants the pain?   Then there's that nagging, "Take up your cross and follow me."  and that "denying one's self bit." and the recognition that not saying what is Truth is the equivalent of being part of the "in" crowd that went along all the way to the cross, not out of love.  The in crowd chose Barabbas.  The in crowd shouted "Crucify Him."  Being outside of the in crowd feels very very unsafe and it is, by the world's standards, but it is the only safe place, if one looks at this through Catholic sensibilities. 

How to explain being against gay marriage, when opposition has been painted as homophobic, bigoted, self righteous, angry, hateful, limited, old fashioned, unrealistic and unfair?  Why do I have to explain this at all?  Because it keeps popping up. 

Because my children will have to live in this world. 

And if I want them to understand and believe what is taught about marriage in our Catholic faith, I'd better be able to do better than stammer if I want it to be part of their hearts.  I have to compete with the 1000 little moral vipers that whisper every day, through songs, through movies, through television, through commericals and all the DJ commentary in between, all sex is permissible, all behavior is licit, there are no limits and that what they do with their bodies affects no one.     Here, have a Yaz pill.  Hit the radio, the Katy Perry song about a threesome is on.  Sounds like a party. 

It is easier to explain with other sexual sins.  Pornography for instance, hurts the person in the shot, the viewer, the producer, the purchaser, and anyone who comes into contact with the image.  It is a permanent exposure that thanks to the Internet, will live forever.  It is the transformation of the beautiful and the intimate, into the base and impersonal.  Most people can get that pornography exploits and destroys natural relationships, natural intimacy, and injures all involved.  What if all sexual sin is about the removing of the sacred, either by eliminating the relationship/intimacy or the sacrificial nature of the act itself (giving to other, open to life, part of a permanent commitment to the soul of the other)?  It is a frame of reference that demands sacrifice no matter who you are.  Single? Chaste in heart and body.  Married? Open to life and faithful forever.   Neither path is easy.  "This is hard, who can accept it?"  I believe the followers of Christ asked.  (And I would agree, it is indeed, difficult).  Are you going to leave me too?  is the next question.   No... 

But I was still afraid.  So I tabled the blog post and went to bed. 

Today, I was running behind in everything. It was a mass day at school and one child couldn't find his shoes, another his tie, a third didn't like her mass shirt. The fourth needed me to button hers, (she had it inside out and backward).  Lunches were thrown together.  Somebody's sleeve was missing a button. Two people didn't bring their band instruments.  One forgot their lunch.  Someone left a coat. I noted in the window, three needed hair cuts.  The laundry still loomed on the couch and the crazed rabid mother search for a tie and shoes and the like had revealed that at least three sets of drawers needed to be reorganized. 

I felt overwhelmed as I stopped for gas and noted the car needed to be cleaned out.  Rummaging for 4 quarters, I began the task of cleaning out the van.  Time was not my friend. I'd been late to the elementary school Thanksgiving Breakfast and discovered I only had one shot on my camera.  I had 20 minutes to make it to my youngest son's Thanksgiving party.  The problems of explaining to two children who were asking questions about same sex marriage, about Catholicism, and about what it meant, also crowded my head.  My cowardice of not writing also sat there saying, "You should have." and my own brain screamed back, "Are you nuts?" Cleaning and mentally fatigued, the phrase "Fantastically inadequate." came to mind.  It fit my mood, it fit my feelings about God's trust in me to raise these people, to manage them, to get from point A to point B on time, in faith development and in actual life.

The radio plays the mass every day at 10. I'd left it on in an attempt to quiet my own mood, but so far, it had only succeeded in sharpening those feelings, echoing what my heart was screaming about how unprepared I was as the first reading from Revelations talked about being prepared. I was the poster child for unprepared and at least today, so were my children.  I feel I feel I feel...Fantastically inadequate! 

And then the words broke through all of that junk, words whispered to my heart, "Perhaps Sherry, it's time to stop paying so much attention to what you feel."  and I flashed to Mary receiving the news she would be the mother of Christ. She didn't list all her anxieties, all the reasonable reasons why this was impossible or it was not a good idea or how hard life could/would be, she didn't give even voice to any of her feelings.  She said, "Let it be done to me."   To have a Marian heart is not to spend so much thought, feeling and energy on one's own mind, but to serve those around you, to surrender.  I'd been caught up in my own feelings, rather than trying to address the reality. The car was clean and my mood considerably lighter.

So I begin again.   We are called to love, we are called to holiness.  Everything else is immaterial.   No nation, no laws, no policies, no trends, no television, no popular people are supposed to alter that course.  

How do we witness?   How do I explain how we are to be, act, believe in a world that denies all of it as merely a flavor or opinion?  

By starting with what is beautiful, true and knowable.  

Dear Children,

The issue of same sex marriage, is the challenge to our faith in this age.  It is a hard cross to bear, and a harder truth to witness. But I suspect every age, every person has felt that hard pull and thought theirs was the hardest to face.   

God practically shouts at us from the scripture, from creation, from everyone around us, first and foremost, to be present.  To Wake Up!  Sin lulls the soul to sleep, sating the body, blinding the intellect, dulling the heart. Demand less, expect less, do less, love less, care less.    

There are tons of people out there who will tell you God isn't interested in what you do in the bedroom.  It is a goofy argument designed to turn the God who is Love into a harsh Peeping Tom.  But here's the thing.  God invented sex.   God created us male and female.  Even more shockingly, God has a plan for each and every one of us.  And whatever that plan is, there is one thing it does not involve:  Sin.   Sin divorces us from others and from God.  Sin serves itself.  Sin is intolerant of anything other than itself.  Sin always begets more sin.  Sin always corrodes.  Sin always corrupts.  Sin always isolates.  "And we wept precious, to be so alone." 

The only thing that saves us from this vicious insane awful cycle of self deception and self indulgence and self authoring, is love, God's grace evident in the world and in others, and sometimes, simply by itself, pouring into the soul when nothing else can reach so deeply.  God can break through the sin  --see Saint Paul, Saint Augustin, Saint Francis, Saint Peter, Saint Martha, Saint Mary Magdalen, etc, but when He does, the soul involved (in all these cases) radically alters their life (removing sin).  You can shortcut the process by avoiding the pitfalls all together, but only by your own free choice.  

To understand what is beautiful and intimate and of infinite value about marriage, one must first acknowledge there is something intimate, beautiful and infinite within the confines of marriage, the vow to be permanently present to one soul as a window through which God may be permanently present to that soul. For those of us not fully awake in our faith, the sacrament of marriage, and the subsequent children is one of the ways God breaks into our hearts to grow them bigger.  It is why the Catholic Church cannot sanction same sex marriage anymore than it can sanction artificial birth control. It is not open to life. It is not what God intended as we understand it from sacred scriptures.   We couldn't imagine not loving these children we receive, but we couldn't imagine loving anyone that much before.  To a person, we suffer from a fallen imagination, we cannot comprehend loving as God loves until face to face and struck by love and all its overwhelmingness.  Sacramental marriage marks the beginning of waking up to the adult plan we've not yet begun to comprehend, how we are to witness. 

Your heart is to be cherished and preserved for God, and whomever God deems should be entrusted with your heart.  Your body also, likewise is designed and created and even imagined in God's plan, for a single other soul, to grow that person's soul, and those you will touch by your relationship and your children.   Love is always based on sacrifice, on self denial, on eternity, on generosity, on kindness, on mercy, on truth.  It always reflects all of these things.  It also is always rooted in trust in the one who is Love.  

There is more, much more to tell on this, and I will keep working on it, but know we will always love you no matter what, and what we want most for you, is not popularity or all A's or accolades or scholarships, but true friends and a holy life.   Both are possible, but only through self sacrifice. 
I won't promise a world without hurt, but I will promise a world filled with grace. 

Love you, Mom

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Preparing for the Feast

Thanksgiving can be a stressful holiday, with the fattening stressful mix of intense cooking, intense cleaning, visiting relatives and the hard push of the TV, only the 32 days until Christmas, how do we make this holiday a day of blessed sacred time? By following the Saints, Saint Mary in being present and in awe of Jesus, and Saint Martha and being the hands and feet that prepare the feast out of love for others, love for Christ.
1) Invite your family and friends and ask them to each bring a dish for the meal that means something in their family tradition. Follow Christ's advice to Saint Martha, "Don't be anxious." about making everything perfect. Let guests participate in the preparations. Sharing recipes from their history is part of the joy of creating and passing on tradition. It lets you be both a gracious giver and receiver of the meal (a good moral lesson of the holiday). If it is just your family, let each family member prepare one of the things for the meal, even if it is crescent rolls or cranberry jelly in a can.

2) Prepare a parallel giving. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Part of what we are thankful for, is our own posterity. Ergo, giving to make someone else’s Thanksgiving memorable fits perfectly with celebrating this great American Tradition. Check out your local food pantry program to donate and let your little children bring the groceries in to the place. They will shine with gratitude for the opportunity. If you have older children, ask if you can help serve. Washing other peoples’ feet is a great way to demonstrate to your family, we are called to serve first. It will also set the table for your own meal, by making you fully grateful for the feast you are about to receive.

3) Go to mass on Thanksgiving before you cut into the Turkey. You’ve got at least 4 hours before the meal, the games aren’t until the afternoon and tryptophans will send you into a food coma at some point in the afternoon. Going to mass as a family to give thanks harkens back to the beginnings of this tradition and our Liturgy of the Eucharist is a Thanksgiving meal every time. It is the choosing of the better portion. What could be more appropriate?

4) Play ball. Our family has the annual turkey classic before dinner: The Gorillas vs. the Wolves. Our oldest 4 children pride themselves in being undefeated, while my husband and I plus the four younger eligible for play have scored moral victories over the years with legendary tackles that were supposed to be touch and passes that somehow displayed supernatural grace influenced the outcome. God had to put that ball in my hand. There’s no way I should have caught it. I know me. It makes for an annual tradition of bragging rights, boasts, good humor and stories that will live long after we stop using the back yard as a grid iron.

5) Count your blessings. At the dinner table, come with a notepad (not a laptop), and record what each person is grateful for this year. The thanks will flow along with the wine and the gravy. Then date the list, have everyone sign it and mail it to yourself for next year to recall the blessings of the past. In addition to providing everyone with the moment to consider what all we have to be grateful for, you will have a permanent record of the memory. (We put the score from the family turkey football classic on that page too).

Lastly, when the pie has been served, when all of the business of the Holiday has passed, recognize that we live in a blessed land where every year, we stop. We gather with family and friends. We feast and we give thanks to God for all we receive, for all of these gifts that so often, we take for granted. Thank God for this gift of our home. Say Grace after meal to remember, God is good. God is Great. God is Love. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hey! Where'd the Funny Go?

When I started this blog back in 2007, it was an exercise to see if I could generate material at the level to be a columnist.  I'd written several humor pieces, some of which were even published in paying markets and the lure of writing for a living appealed to me greatly.  I was just successful enough to order maid service on occasion or have extra pizza nights once in a while, but the bigger pull came from Catholic markets. 

So spiritual Catholic writing became more common.  I joined, got introduced to Danielle Bean of Faith & Family and did several pieces there.  Then, in 2011, things dried up a lot due to the economy.  I kept writing, but the funny story lines that used to just drop in my lap three times a week, stopped.  Maybe I was spending too much time observing and not enough doing to catch the narratives, but I don't think so.  I do think, my children had grown older and while there were still younger children aplenty, I started to hold back on stories in deference to protecting the intimacy/sacred nature of the home.  Stories of teens struggling with teen struggles were not mine to tell, when the teens themselves were still wrestling with them.  I had to guard their hearts and thoughts even if I wanted to share mine. 

I tried writing more political posts and for a time, that was fun but they do encourage in me, a touch of the merciless satirist.  I don't like her.  She leaves me irritated and agitated afterwards, not a state for taking care of any of the hearts entrusted to me.  

So I've on occasion thought about stopping the blog.  I've even stopped it once.  I've taken breaks.  The writing impulse never leaves.  It is always there.  If I stop, 16 story ideas will drop out of the sky demanding I find some way to write them, even if it's a stinking yellow green crayon and back of an envelope.  

It's a form of insanity, being a writer.  Because you are never not writing in your head, even if you've told yourself, I will focus on the task at hand.  Reading a story aloud, my brain is noting the structure, the plot devices, the scaffolding of the book itself.  Watching the news, I'm tracing the story arc and word choice, a movie or tv, the narrative and character development.  Everywhere are 1000 stories and I can't help but see them.  Not all of them go somewhere, but it's a form of permanent memory to draw everything in story form in one's head.   You note patterns and breaks from those patterns, moods and trends, pushes that indicate change, even demand it. 

This blog has been changing for some time from a humor blog and mommy blog into something else.  I think it is supposed to be a Catholic blog, discussing (hopefully if the com boxes cooperate), what it means to be Catholic in the modern world.  I think it is supposed to articulate the How and the Why we must risk more of ourselves in the age to come, and hopefully, it will be a vehicle of growth for all.  

Who am I to write a Catholic blog?  I am a lay person.  I have no degree in theology.  I am a mom, a wife, daughter and sister, I am a practicing Catholic, a writer and fitful reader of fiction and to my surprise and my Dad's delight in his soul I suspect, lover of writings about theology.   We are all called to walk out our faith life and this is an invitation to walk with me on this journey deeper into what we profess to believe and what it means for how we live. 

P.S. Don't worry, if something outrageous happens that I need to memorialize in Internet amber, it will still get written and shared. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why Fast?

Every year the Catholic high schools in our area have students collect canned goods for the local food pantries.  Every year they also have the students engage in a day of fasting.  They get a cup or so of rice and water.  Every year I hear the same litany of questions/gripes/complaints. 

"If we have to fast, how is it a sacrifice?"
     "Are you complaining?"
      "It is not easy even though they do it for you?"
      "Then it is a sacrifice." 

Or this one: "What is the point of my not eating?  It's not like it gives someone else food. It doesn't make them less hungry." 

"You get to understand that while you are temporarily put out, others have this ache without end."

 I've heard similar rants against mandatory volunteer work, where the requirement in their minds, undermines the spirit or true purpose of the act itself.   Now I know it is the contrary nature of children to fight and chafe at limits, at lessons, at lectures.  I see the eyes roll when I launch into the "Sometimes not having helps you be grateful for what you do have...bit." All the reasonable reasons in the world do not penetrate the mind or heart if the mind or heart are more set on being annoyed. 

But the deeper question of why fast flitted about and kept resurfacing.  Why fast? Of what good is denying one's self a good or at the very least, a neutral item?  How does that affect the soul?  How is it a prayer?  How is it important to God? Why is it important to God?  

I'll start with why fast? Is it important for Catholics? 

Yes.  It is important. It is a vehicle of prayer that reminds one all day of the sacrifice.  Mindfulness is something a full belly or sated appetite ignores.  We are much more sleepy in our thoughts and words if our stomach is full. Fasting can take all forms, but it is always about self denial.  It brings us closer to the virtue of humility, because our wants are not paramount. 

How does fasting work?  We live in a world of plenty, which is also filled with invisible want.  Denying our own visible wants, allows us to see better, the invisible needs around us.  Our vision becomes clearer.  I could point out that in scripture, every time fasting is prescribed and tried, grace overflows.  Who does not need overflowing grace? 

We understand boycotts for justice, we understand Gandhi's hunger strike.  If we can understand these worldly fastings to address worldly issues, we can comprehend fasting for others. If we understand fasting before receiving the Eucharist, then we can understand fasting in ordinary time as a means of making ourselves less attached to that which is not the Eucharist.  We fast to grow our own souls, while becoming mindful of those tangible constant blessings we take for granted every day and the lack of them in others' lives. 

So now we come to the means/spirit of fasting.  If fasting is involuntary, is it still a means of grace? Yes.  All suffering, voluntary and otherwise, is a path to grace.  The issue is being open to that grace. Being fallen creatures, we constantly shut the doors of our hearts to grace, our ears to wisdom, our lives to miracles because it is much easier to stay angry, stay fearful, stay annoyed, stay focused on our own pain, our own lives, our own troubles.  We do not understand how much good would come from being willing to suffer even the slightest of inconveniences to our lives, and we endure such trivial nuisances with poor spirit.  You should hear me when I can't find one of my kid's shoes and we were running on time up until then. 

But there is this image of fasting which denies reality.We understand setting ourselves during a diet, setting the will to refuse things which will sabotage our progress. This does not mean we don't crave or don't want or don't sometimes complain/rant about the lack.  Holiness is not the absence of want in our heart, it is the soul being willing to override that want, even as it wrestles with the wanting.   Fasting is a training of the soul to be more capable of enduring want.   Fasting involves allowing one's self to endure want, even when it would be soooooo much more comfortable/pleasant in the moment, to indulge or submit.  

Finally, Jesus fasted. If the Son of God understood the need not to be ruled by the appetites of the body in order to do battle with powers and principalities, then why do we not get that being lesser beings, we would need to do this more, not less.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Little Early Christmas

My daughter is 7.  Her brain runs down rabbit holes of thought so quickly, keeping her the age she is remains a constant challenge. 

This morning upon finding a dollar under her pillow, she starts. "Mom, Did God create fairies?"  Before I can answer and believe me, I'm stalling, hoping for inspiration, my other daughter (5) responds.  "Of course God made the fairies. Some of them have wings and some of them don't."she answers authoritatively.  She is satisfied with her sister's explanation.  

"Is there such a thing as Pixie dust?" she asks.
"That's an invention of Disney." I smile.

"Yeah, I thought so."  She packs her dollar in her purse, along with three quarters so she can buy  donuts. 

At mass, she turns to me during a song, "Is Rudolph real? Is Santa real? Some kids in my class say he isn't." She's in first grade. I'm not ready to burst any child's imagination, nor do I want this conversation in mass.  I don't want her joy removed for the sake of truth she cannot yet digest.   So I whisper, "Christmas is real. Jesus is real. He was born in the stable to Mary, with the angels singing, and the three kings bringing gifts.  All of that is real. Saint Nicholas is real. He was a generous man and a saint who brought people to know Christ, who made Christmas something that we celebrate with gifts and joy and wonderfulness every year." and give her a hug. She nods her head.

"But deer don't fly." she says. "And they don't have red noses."
"That's the song and a cartoon." I answer. "Regular deer have regular noses."
"That makes sense." she agrees. 

She is satisfied, but I know the question will pop up again.  So I fret.  Will the sparkle in her eyes be snuffed prematurely by those around her?  While I've never fed them the myth of Santa Claus, it has become known, if only through the Night Before Christmas and all the stories and films that inundate the season. 

The readings for today are not the Widow giving of her need, even though those are scheduled. We are celebrating the feast of our patron Saint, Saint Martin.  She hears the story of the soldier giving half of his cloak to the beggar and the dream of Christ saying, "Look what Martin has given me."  as he holds the half given to the poor freezing man. 

When it is time for the collection, she reaches into her purse.  I'm shocked to see the newly acquired dollar being placed in the basket with nary a moment of thought.  She has a generous heart.  She has a generous spirit.  I think back to every food drive and how she wants to bring ten cans each day.  She holds the true spirit of the season yet to come in her heart.  The widow's mite is in her heart too. 

"Can we have donuts after mass?" she asks when she realizes she's given away what she planned to spend.

"Will there always be donuts after mass?" she asks.

"There will always be something good on Sunday." I answer. 
Taking my dollar and running to stand in line, she says, "I hope it always has frosting and sprinkles."

Me too. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Training for the Test

Our society has grown steadily more blind and deaf to the notion of something as old as sin, namely sin itself.  It persists in singing that if everyone agreed to get along, the aches and motivations of the human heart that tend toward the darker elements of life would somehow be snuffed out.  It is an earthly rendition of the Heavenly promise absent the one focus (God) that would bring about that perfection.  COEXIST! It commands.  It never says how.

The fallen earthly tune sings that somehow without the Greatest Good, the Only Good, we will be good, all gazing out at the heavens in our Federation land of tolerance and harmony where no one thinks outside of how one should think no matter what.   In the land of tolerance and diversity, we will become Borgs without the implants, serving the quality of life for the state, and thinking only what the state deems agreeable.  Resistance is futile.  

But don’t worry, you can still call yourself whatever you like.    You can even practice your faith if no one else is affected by it ever, not in the workplace, not at school, not in politics, not in your homes or on your lawns or in your children’s hearts.  It can only be you communing with whatever it is you commune with, and it should only feel good.  No one’s God should be in the business of challenging His creations. He should have made us better.  So we are free to worship a god of one’s own imagining, the inverse of who we are, beings made in the image and likeness of God. One need only look at the daily barrage of the news, entertainment and politics to know that we are losing this battle against the world. 

We need allies.  As such, we need to know how to win hearts and minds to the reality that 1) there are objective truths and 2) they are knowable.  Even within the Catholic Church, relativism has watered down the purpose of Christ’s teachings and the person of Jesus to a cool progressive ancient teacher who hugs and encourages you to share, sort of a Barney for adults who need that sort of thing. Modern thinking is Love should require no sacrifice, Love makes no demands, Love makes no judgments, Love should only always feel right.  Ergo, Modern God doesn’t demand anything of our souls either.  God doesn’t care if you take birth control and He gets that you need to have an abortion or Jesus never said anything about homosexual sex.  God doesn't care about what you do in the bedroom.  That's just silly.   He only cares about other sins, real sins.
The only sin in the modern age is judging others or naming sins as such.  If you do either of those two things, you’re a hater.  Because Jesus said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  It is the only quote that still gets raised.   But if one argues, judging me a hater is rendering judgment, that’s just being sophomoric or clever.  You declared a limit on behavior, ergo, you’re still a hater.

Christ is more than a man who said, “Be Excellent to each other.”   He said, “I am the way, the truth and the light.”   He told us we were to love our neighbors as ourselves and “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”  He told us he did not come to unite but to divide, and that He was the fulfillment of the law.  After giving us the Beatitudes and exhorting us to be salt and light to the world, He cautioned us not to water down His words or our faith or our thinking.  * “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 
Do I think this battle can be won in politics or law?  No.  And it was never meant to be won there either.  As we know with so many other past battles, we cannot legislate or politically bully hearts to be other than as they are.  We can only live out lives steeped in service to others and love of God, obedience to God's teaching.  We must do good because we love, we must love because God created us to love.  We must recognize that however much we give, pray, love or serve, it is insufficent.  It is baseline.  The God who is Love, always wants us to love more. So ours is an infinitely Demanding all just all merciful God.
How many of us would consider ourselves more righteous in our lives or thinking, obedient in thought and words and deeds than those who had the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus at that Sermon on the Mount?  How many of us if we look hard in our hearts, seek to mold Christ to fit our hearts, rather than grow our hearts outward toward God’s vision for them?  How many of us pay attention to the existence of sin in our own hearts and thoughts and words and what we do and don’t do?  Do we even know what is sinful anymore?  Can we name the sins of our lives, not in the generic “Naughty and Nice” categories, but the real ways in which at some point, we scream at God, “No! I Will Not Serve!”

Do we understand that all sin is an echo of the first sin; Lucifer’s breaking with Heaven, and of the second sin, Adam and Eve refusing God?  “No, I will not obey.”  They are the opposite of “You shall love your God with all your Heart, Soul, Body and Mind.” (Serve God first).  And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Obey the commandments in mind, word, thought and deed toward everyone around you, everyone in the world.

How poorly do we see ourselves?  More importantly, how do we learn to see more clearly, the planks in our own eyes that we may pluck the splinters from others? 

We will have to put on the armor of Saint Joan and ask for the fiery tongue of Saint Paul, the steel reasoning of Saint Thomas Moore, the understanding of our faith parallel to Saint Thomas Aquinas and the simplicity of Saint Teresa of Lisieux. We need the hands of Blessed Mother Teresa, the charity of Saint Francis, the clarity of Saint Augustine, and the wit of Saint Catherine of Siena.  In short, we will need to train under the communion of the Saints. They lived through difficult times, they spoke truth. They prayed hard. They struggled before God and surrendered. They gave everything to God. Their spiritual battles should be studied in preparation for our own. We will need their bones of thought to stiffen and strengthen ours.  We will have to lean on the 2000 years of thinking and prayers and tradition and beauty and riches of our Church until we can add our bit to the walls.   As laity, ever reaching upward, we should be seeking to be part of the walls, the blood and the brick and the mortar of Christ’s Church. 

The end goal can overwhelm given the immediate fears that might darken the heart.  Family won’t like what I say. Friends won’t like what I say.  It will hurt. Have courage.  Take heart.  We do not yet know the roles we have been given by God. This is training.  Start reading. Start learning in this year of faith. Stay close to the sacraments and ask the Holy Spirit to direct your feet.  You will find your Calcutta; your place where God’s will is being presented.  All you need do is obey.  There are an infinite number of graces God hopes to flood in our souls if we would only submit.  It is a luminous promise, to be transformed such that we will only see Jesus in our lives.   So trust that all that is, is an opportunity for grace.  Trust that if we seek, we will find.  If we trust, the words will be given to us to speak and more besides, and if we pray and submit, God will grant us the infinite amount of grace needed to get us through the test of this world soul intact and bring a whole bunch more with us in the process.  We want to make sure everyone is at the feast. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Why I Voted For Romney

The election is over.  The President has secured another 4 years.  I wish him well as leader of our country and hope his stewardship of our nation improves from past experience. 

But I thought I should tell you why I voted for Mitt Romney.

I voted for Mitt Romney because I am pro-life. 

The President has signed into law the HHS Mandate that requires all Americans with the limited exception of churches --not schools or charities or hospitals, to pay for sterilizations, birth control and abortions even if doing so is in direct violation of one's moral code or religion.  If you don't believe me, go read the damn mandate or do a search of it for abortion. I have. It's there. 

I voted because the Current President sends unmanned drones to bomb countries in the War on Terror, killing innocent civilians without any more qualm than the prior president did.  (And I was troubled then).  And I hoped if there was a change, the press would wake up and pursue truth or at least less than the White House Spin.  I also thought there would be more desire for an end to foreign wars than there seems to be, or do the deaths of countless innocents abroad and soldiers far from home (2000+ in Afghanistan) only matter if the Commander in chief has an R attached?

I voted because the current President's first act in his first term was to repeal the Mexico City Policy that had prohibited the spending of federal dollars abroad to fund/support abortion. 

I voted against Planned Parenthood continuing to receive 300,000,000 in tax dollars to use however they see fit, which is mostly to lobby for more support of Planned Parenthood.   They don't do mammograms. They only do referrals. No one would be robbed of the opportunity to get a mammogram by defunding them. 

I voted against a man who voted against providing medical help to infants that survive abortion attempts while in the State Senate.  You may say, that was a long time ago.  I would say, it doesn't matter.  He wouldn't help those born if the mother had willed them otherwise. 

I object to my nation's treasure going to fund things I KNOW to be evil and immoral even if they are completely legal.  

Before anyone lectures me on how Not Pro-life Mitt Romney is, recognize I know the candidate I voted for is imperfect.  But the President is an aggressive advocate of abortion. 

So one issue voter --you betcha.   I had no illusions about repealing Roe-vs. Wade, nor was I entertaining such notions, but I did hope the nation might not think funding them unchecked forever might cause some pause. 

For those who say Safe, legal and rare...55 million plus children have been lost...or 1/6th of the population since 1972.  3000+ a day.  At what point, does it stop being rare?  

I voted in hopes that a new President would stop some of these things. I presume the current President, since he continued or started these things, won't.  

Do I sound mad?  Yes. I'm disappointed.  I knew there would be loads of hard work if Romney won.  But there's even more because he didn't.   We have a lot of hearts to move if only on this issue, that all life is sacred.  All human life is precious, from unborn to elderly.  The other issues to me are turf wars and pork barrel projects, fights for bragging rights and titles.   I'm pro-life.  That's why I vote.  That's why I voted.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

Campaign Promises We Wish We'd Hear

Everyone has been saturated with campaign ads, campaign calls, political spin pieces and constant junk about what to vote for, but no politician on either side has ever offered to the hungry public what they really want.   Here are proposed campaign promises, which if actually kept, would ensure whichever person/party embraced them, would hold total domination for the next 100 years out of gratitude from the voting public and their posterity.

10) Don't Call PAC List Protection Policy:  Any PAC or Super Pac that called someone on the Don't Call List would instantly forfeit half of their collected resources to the charity of the offended caller's choice. 

9) Fact Checked Poll Sampler Requirements:  We have regulations for gas, sugar content and television ratings, why not for tools designed to present snapshots of where we are as a nation.  Must contain 90% proof of numbers and proper sampling technique to be considered valid and be sent out on the wires for news consumption.   No more Trans-Fact Free samples.  They're bad for everyone.

8) Mommy rules of Discourse:  You must say three things (true) and (nice) about your opponent before you can render a criticism.  You may only tout your own accomplishments and plans, let the voters compare and contrast.   You may not sic your older or younger siblings/friends on your opponent. It's the same as you.   Play nice.  

7) Daddy Rule:  No more bundling.  No more corporations giving to politicians or parties.  No more suspicious credit cards from out of our country.  If you do any of these, your campaign is suspended until all incorrectly or illegally received funds are ferreted out and rejected. 

6) Responsibility rule:  Tie the staff/salary of all elected officials to fulfilling their obligations.  If you don't pass a budget, you and your staff don't get paid next year at all.  If you still don't pass a budget, you forfeit any pork projects that would have gone to your constituencies.  If you still don't pass a budget after that, you will present yourself on the Washington Mall as a target and the American people may throw rotten vegetables until you get the point. 

5) Executive Order Elimination Destruct Zero Zero Zero:  Eliminate all the regs/policies passed up to this point with the Executive Order, including in this Executive Order, the new policy, there will be no more (EVER) Executive Orders.  End Runs around Congress=No need for Congress.  This needs to be written into the Constitution so that the Executive Branch never again gets this kind of power that has been abused by Republican and Democrat alike.   It short circuits the legal process of creating law and removes the people's opinions/values from the law itself.  We cannot safeguard our liberties if we have no say in the creation of what becomes law. 

4) Cutting through the Credibility Press:  If they're going to pick a side, they must print headlines in red (Republican) or blue (Democrat) ink.  Some enterprising person will create the Purple papers if they're serious about truth first in all things. 

3) Math for Congress 101:  We will bring in financial planners or Household Budgets for Dummies or Team Umizoomie (whatever it takes), and hold a seminar.  No recess until they all get A's.  

2) Reentry into the Wild: Animals that spend time in captivity must be reintroduced to the ways of the great out doors. The same I suspect is true of humans who enter into the political arena. So after serving in office in whatever capacity, former legislators must spend a year to work a minimum wage job in the private sector before they can return to DC as a lobbyist or aide or what have you. It will remind them of the real people they work for, who must abide by all the mischief lawmakers otherwise create.

1) All Animals are Equal Rule:  For every drone sent over our country, a single drone will be assigned to each law maker.  It will record their every move. As part of the honor of being a lawmaker, you must submit yourself to an IRS audit each year of your service.   Thank you for your service.  Be good.

Don't forget to vote tomorrow and God bless our country.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Wake Up Call

Back in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, the day after everyone thought they'd dodged a bullet until the levees broke. 

If you didn't know then, getting to New Orleans is only possible via a few routes, the biggest being I-10 which stretches for hours inbetween exits.   We had friends who had family in the most threatened areas and they drove to my parents home to wait out the storm and its aftermath until Hurricane Rita made everyone evacuate from my home town for the same reasons.  

I remember in the weeks following, there were constant news casts and the 1-800 number for Red Cross flashed across the screen almost continually.  The NFL did a pitch during Sunday games and everyone was invested and involved in trying desperately to show they cared.  

Like past hurricanes, it isn't necessarily the size or the wind that did the most damage, it's the water.  Hurricane Ike eliminated the Bolivar Peninsula as I knew it back in 2008.  It is still recovering. 

Now, Staten Island has been destroyed.  I am looking at the television.  I am listening to the news.  I hear reports of tragedies and anger and frustration and politics and opportunism and blame and the like.  I do not see the united cry for the nation to wake up and be generous. 

So here's my little part.  Here in the year of faith, these are our neighbors. They need clothes, food, heat, light, warmth, shelter, comfort, a hint of normal.  Wake up. 

Here are the numbers:

Red Cross: 1-800-733-2767  or here's their website: Red Cross.  (I know some people are really mad at the Red Cross but they still do good work and it's up to you to decide where you will donate your money). 
Catholic Charities USA: 1-800-919-9338 or Catholic Charities USA.
United Way: United Way  (I couldn't find a phone number on the site).

Want to do more? 

1. Give blood.  (It's always needed).
2. Contact friends in NY/NJ/CT and the like and check in. Ask what is needed.  Even if they're okay, they're close to where the need is, so they might have a better sense of what is needed.
3. Ship it...whatever it is. 
4. Hope for good weather for all involved in rescue and coping and clean up.
5. Pray for all who must live with the aftermath of this storm. 

We're not supposed to only give when we're moved.  We're supposed to give in excess of our depth of feeling, because love isn't a feeling, it's an action which requires more of us than what we would otherwise allot if allowed to simply go on our own impulses.  When we are generous, it is an act of grace, and we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit, being the hands and feet of Christ by clothing, feeding, nurturing the hungry souls around us.  Today being the feast of All Souls day and Friday, offer up the pizza you would have had for dinner to make life easy, to make someone else's life that has just been hit pretty hard, a little easier. 

I'm now going to sign off and go figure out what to defrost for tonight's meal. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dress Code for All Saint's Day

This morning we had a Halloween hangover. The house, once pristine from 4 days of nothing electronic to distract from creating a sense of order and a desperate need to find something to do when cards, cookies and books had lost their luster in the 48 hours sans power, now was littered with wings and hats and socks and masks, wrappers and mummy wrap, traces of pumpkin goo and all the goodie bag rejects from parties on October 31st.   It took three times to wake each child for All Saint's Day...a mass uniform day.   It seemed cruel to ask this of children drunk from chocolate the night before, not to mention the parents, also somewhat punchy from snatching the occasional snickers or almond joy.  

So we were running late.  My ten year old always helps with the littles. I change them. She dresses her littlest sister.  Normally, I lay out the outfit. Today I had not.  "I'll get it." she said and she was off.  My beloved daughter is the most helpful kind heart I've ever met.  She also loves fashion that favors the Barbie/sparkle/Disney/24-7 rainbow style.  I admittedly felt a bit apprehensive when she joyfully volunteered, but agreed.  

My 20 month old was thrilled with the ensemble.  A silver tu-tu complimented the striped pink and white leggings, red socks and strawberry fruit patterned onesie in a clownish sort of way.  If it had been Halloween, I'd have added a red rubber nose and voila, instant Circus performer.  But it is All Saint's day.  My son is reading at the mass.  I'm fully planning on attending. 

"Doesn't she look great?" My daughter asks for a compliment.
Her sister twirls and beams.
"She loves it!" I admit. "Time to load the car."

We're off for the morning air craft carrier launch of schools, five backpacks, five lunch bags, five coats, five kids, two toddlers strapped in and all by 7:35 if we want to make it.  We get there. We unload. I discover we forgot one coat and one lunch box, (two different kids).  Not to worry, we'll be back for the All Saint's Mass. 

Back home before 8:20, the bus arrives to take her older brother away for his school and now it is just her and me.  The clown princess and I spend our morning organizing the house. I fret about how she looks but tell myself, if I change her, I will hear about it and I don't want to hurt her sister's heart.  I tell myself, she will wear what she will wear.  It will be fine, she's 20 months. You aren't going there to show off your daughter, you're going there to be at the mass. 

But the petty part of me wishes the outfit were at the very least, coordinated.

Fortunately my littlest girl is 20 months. Being 20 months, she solves the problem for me as only a 20 month old can do.  Without going into any unnecessary detail, she needed a complete change 30 minutes before leaving for mass.  From top to bottom. I'm not making it up.  Nothing was spared. 

Arriving at the church, my older daughter found me and smiled. She pointed at her sister, "Why did you change her outfit?"  "It got messy." I explained.  Satisfied, she took her baby sister off my hands to show her off.   I'm so glad she loves her sister. The touch of vanity in me is glad for the new dress too. My daughter then takes off her own sparkly headband and adds it to her sister's head.  "Now she looks perfect." she explains.

And she does.  

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!