Monday, April 22, 2013

No, not one.

I've been immersed in a lot of suffering and death over the last several days, both in my country and in my little sphere of friends and family.  What stands out in review is that tragic circumstances bring out the best selves in some people and the worst in others.  There are days when I look around me, and then ultimately in the mirror and ask, "Is there any good man?" and the answer comes back, "No, not one."  What a sorry lot we are, when ten minutes after finding out about a massive national rupture, a dangerous and unfinished debacle, our first instinct is to start blaming, speculating on what horrid behavior "the other" will engage in, and feathering a nest for confirmation of our own pre-existing theories about the good and evil teams of the world. 

I looked online for homilies about the parable of the good Samaritan.  It's always encouraging to me, and a reminder that Jesus wants us to ask ourselves just who our neighbor really is.  I find the answers spin outward in concentric circles.  To some people, there really isn't any neighbor.  They are looking out for number one, and the only ally is someone who backs up their agenda or feeds their ego in some way, family and a few like-minded friends included.  Then there are those who do truly care for neighbors, providing that the neighbor is somewhat similar to them, and certainly safe to be around.  Moving outward, we see the Samaritan, and we see what Jesus' standard is: our neighbor is everybody, and by that Jesus means EVERY ONE.  That includes those we don't trust, those we don't particularly like, those who are opposed to us, and those who are intent on our destruction.  

Now, of course, and it hardly needs to be said, this does not mean that I should lay myself down in the middle of the street and let someone run his car over my head because he is my neighbor and this would satisfy his desire to kill.  That wouldn't be loving my neighbor, because it would be encouraging and perpetuating his sin.  As I've discussed before on this blog, a Christian may not EVER encourage, assist in, celebrate, condone, or turn a blind eye to sins that Jesus was tortured and died for.  EVER.  So you've called a sin a sin.  Now what?

After you've identified a sin, you call it what it is and rebuke the sinner.  Sometimes the truth and nature of the sin is so obvious that "calling out" is not necessary, but we must always be clear in our minds about what sin is.  Then what?  Well, these are things we do NOT do: we do not glory in the sin or hope for the suffering and damnation of the sinner.  We do not puff ourselves up in our gratitude and pride that WE and everyone who thinks the way WE do could never commit such a sin.  We do not mock and laugh at the sinner, or torture the sinner, or do anything to FURTHER erode his or her innate human dignity, which has already been compromised by his or her sin.  

What we DO is: pray for the sinner.  Find ways to learn from the sinner.  Find sins in ourselves that resemble on some level the sin that the sinner committed.  Find someone around us who may be at risk for sinning and try to catch him or her before the fall.  Live as an example of uprightness, kindness, mercy, peacefulness, forgiveness, and fairness.  

Justice will be served, and we know this because God is justice itself.  God is all good things, and justice is a good thing.  God will provide what is needed for the victims of a horrible sin, and He will provide what is needed for the sinner.  We have temporal means as well to deal with sinners who have violated laws and/or personal boundaries.  But God Himself has told us that vengeance belongs to HIM, not to us.  We are not to take our big ball of imperfect emotional idea of justice from the middle of our guts and hurl it at the sinner, thinking somehow we are carrying out God's divine justice.  That is not the way it works, and we better be glad it's not, because in about three minutes it will probably be YOUR turn to sin again.  And you don't want the justice of imperfect men, do you?  You want the merciful and perfect justice of God.

What I have found perhaps most beneficial about being Catholic, in a practical, real life way, is the daily self-examination.  I present this analogy: in my bathroom, I have an 8x magnifying mirror.  It's great for tweezing eyebrows, and great for keeping me humble.  Because I see my face for what it really is, aging, imperfect, temporary.  It doesn't make me beat my breast and want to go out and get Botox.  It actually makes me feel free.  It's just a face.  I'm not keeping it forever.  I won't need it where I hope to be going.  The daily examination of conscience works kind of the same way.  Don't just look at your behavior and your thought patterns in a fuzzy, faraway, or cursory way.  Look at your heart and your intentions, your words and your acts, in an 8x magnifying mirror.  Now you don't look so hot.  Now you get that Scripture was right.  No, not a good man, not even one.

But you don't have to turn away from the examination of conscience and go wear a hair shirt.  You can take a few steps that are more constructive.  Confess your sins and receive absolution.  Then go about the work of implementing a two-pronged plan.  Avoid the occasions of sin, and use your newly found humility ('cause if you do Confession right, you're going to come out humbled) to aid you in loving your neighbor.  That is, after you've identified correctly and Biblically just who your neighbor is.  

Is there anyone out there who is not my neighbor?  Anyone so repugnant and evil that he does NOT deserve my prayers? Anyone who is thinking and living so contrary to the Law of God that surely she is worthy of my scorn and hatred?  Anyone so stained by sin that Jesus would surely pat me on the back for spitting on this person, laughing at this person, refusing my heart's mercy to this person?  Is there anyone at all who is so damnable and laughable and horrible that this soul is beyond forgiveness and redemption?

No, not one.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Illusion of Change

My mother saw me off on my first day of Kindergarten, wearing giant sunglasses and a plastered-on smile.  I think she was closer to tears than I was. It was such a foreign experience for me to be away from her that I knew I had to stare hard at her face, trying to singe the image on to my brain permanently.  That smile was not her own.  I would see it again many years later, when she tried to tell me she was going to fight the cancer.  We both knew the truth.  And again I looked at her face, green of her eyes, tremble of her smile, and took a photograph in my head.  Stay, stay.  

I heard a psychologist on the radio once say that the world is comprised of a bunch of five year olds making life and death decisions, because we are all essentially the same people we were at two years old, the very same people, just adding experiences and snapshots along the way, usually to our own emotional detriment.  I can see a sliver of truth in it.  When I'm comforting my son, I sometimes feel we are two children together, completely equal.  Who's comforting whom anyway? I'm no wiser than he is, and no more able to understand evil.  I've just been around longer, so I can only whisper, "Mom knows.  Mom knows."  

My husband is my anchor.  I can't hold him tightly enough.  Sometimes I hug him so hard I hope I'll just blend in, stop being me for a second and be able to be him.  It would be easier to just absorb into him instead of trying to carry on alone, with my own plastered on smile, and my big bag of snapshots.  

But a mother, a child, a spouse . . . these aren't gods.  These are not the foundations of a life lived abundantly and rightly.  Marriage is Sacramental and motherhood is a noble and wonder-filled vocation, but neither is the rock.  Only Jesus is that.  Only Jesus.

John Donne said for all eternity to heed: "No man is an island, entire unto himself."  None of us has to feel isolation and loneliness.  None has to fear the changes in the future, or look darkly back at the hideous images of the past.  Because that is all illusory. The future is non-existent, and the past impossible to retouch.  Only in this moment can I reach out my hand and have Jesus grab it.  Then the assurance comes.  Nothing changes, at least nothing that matters.  Jesus is still Jesus.  He has always been here and always will be.  Heaven is Heaven.  Being is Being.  The eternal things are immutable, and they exist beyond our linear and limited space and time.  This is confusing to some, but really the very simplest element of our faith.  Because it's the first principle: what is a thing? Identify it.  What does it do?  What do we do?  We hang in existence and bob and weave through this earthly battle, and occasionally manage to glimpse Divinity.  That's it.  To surrender should be the easiest action, particularly when we are surrendering to the author of the universe, the One who formed us from top to bottom, inside and out, numbered each hair and pore, He who measures and loves each breath we take.  To whom, to what else, would any reasonable person give any power in her life? Give any obedience? Succumb to, open fully to, and trust with the growing pains of her trip here in this dimension? There can be no other name, no other answer.

All around me people are being born, being killed, crying, drinking, laughing, deciding on idols and costumes.  They want so badly, fight so passionately, to manage and control, predict and stockpile, assess the angles, predict the changes and permutations of the changes.  What futile strivings. 

 My son calls out randomly, "This is the best day of my life!" Nothing has happened to prompt it; he feels in the moment that he is secure even in this mystery.  That is the faith I aspire to: to look at Kermit Gosnell, and hear about bombings in Israel, and find out someone I thought was a friend is not a friend, and pray for yet another person dying of cancer and in the apparently ugly face of all that to still know that all is well with my soul.  This is not the "crutch" or denial of religion that non-believers scoff at and use to write off even our most complicated theological principles.  This is above anyone's opinion.  

I almost have to suppress a giggle when someone thinks that, despite my love for the Eucharist and my daily immersion in my Catholic faith, that he can say something or show me some new piece of evidence that will make the entire construct fall around my shoulders. The hubris is not the amusing part; that's human nature, the sin of pride.  Sin numero uno.  The part that makes me giggle is this little secret I have that this person can't get, almost like he isn't in on a private joke.  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Jesus is alive.  He's a person; He's with us, every day in every Catholic Church in every place in the world.  I have THAT.  And you think you're going to sell me your secular snake oil?  Oh, dear.  That is a hoot.  I guess there is something to that radio doctor's theory, because the notion that you can pry me away from my focus on the Real Presence is very childlike in its wishful thinkingness.  You want it to be so.  You want me to think the way you do.  But I can't; I can't ever go back.  Once you've been that intimate with Jesus, you can never go back to anything less.

Pain is real, alright.  I do not endeavor to tell you today that your pain is illusory.  I do intend to tell you that it's only a paper moon, hanging over a cardboard sea, and that nothing on this stage is made of anything that's going to be here for as long as Jesus is.  Today might not feel like the best day of your life.  It may feel like the worst.  But a day in His courts . . . it's worth it all.  Think on it.  Meditate on it.  On this stage, on this island, we do have to say goodbye occasionally.  Give that pain to Jesus.  He knows what to do with it. He will not let anything be taken from you that you really need, and that which is taken here that is for your good He will give you back, refined and beautified and perfected.   He knows every second of what you are experiencing, and He knows your limits.  He cannot err, and He will not fail.  No one who walks with Him will be ashamed or disappointed.  These are things He told us; do you not believe Him?  Keep His face always before you, and your view will never change, in spite of how high you fly or how far you fall. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Your Real Estate

Recently there was a question asked of some of the more widely read Catholic bloggers, which they answered with great variety and great poignancy.  It was a simple go-round, really.  In 200 words or fewer, why are you Catholic?  My parish did something similar a couple of years back, and published the congregants' responses in the weekly bulletin.  The answers ranged from plain to poetic.  One elegant grandmother I know answered in part, "Being Catholic is all I have ever wanted to be." Another gentleman wrote about how nothing in the world made sense to him without the Church's rules to order it. Another wrote about how family and religion go hand in hand and always will, and he couldn't imagine one without the other.   As a convert, I have told my story in a number of ways: in print, and on television, and in "on the fly" responses to people asking me at a party.  It's not a simple question, although some of the best answers are the simple ones, like "Because it's true." or "The Eucharist." I find my own answer can be contained in one sentence, or could really be my whole life story, because I see now how every experience, from my earliest memories as a toddler to this moment at this keyboard, are and were divinely interconnected and exist for one purpose: to know, love, and serve Him.  For me, the best way to do this is in The Catholic Church because She possesses and offers the most numerous graces and helps.  

When I was a Protestant, which I was for my whole life save the last three years, it was like living in a basic, builder grade home.  It was serviceable, and I had the essentials.  But that was all I had.  Now I have all the upgrades.  Did they cost more, just as they do when purchasing a home?  You bet. My behavior has changed, and my level of obedience has changed.  My accountability has changed.  I give more, in every sense of the word.  And, paradoxically, the more I give of myself, the more Christ fills in those empty spaces with something better, something real.  Of course, conversion is a process that never ends, as my RCIA director told us many times.  When you stop converting, you become stale and dry in your prayer life, you resist or neglect the confessional, and your offerings likely decrease.  And for what?  What cheap builder grade feature did you hold on to?  A television show? The big laugh at the lunch table? A look of envy from another woman at what you're wearing?  Why not go for the upgrade? EWTN or better yet, some spiritual reading.  A compliment for someone who irritates you. A donation of the fifty dollars you were going to spend on another pair of shoes. 

On Good Friday night, my husband and I sat in our living room and watched The Passion of The Christ again.  If you haven't seen this film, do.  If you have seen it, but not recently, watch it again.  See, hear, and absorb what He suffered for you.  See the horrible weight of our sins on Him.  If this doesn't renew your commitment to Christ and His Bride The Church, then come back and tell me I was wrong in my recommendation.  But I know it will if you watch the film the right way.  

What I mean by that is to put yourself in the film.  And not as an onlooker, a viewer.  No.  You are Pilate, relativizing truth and "washing your hands" of a situation like abortion or human trafficking.  You are Peter, denying your relationship with Jesus out of fear (not for your life, but merely of social awkwardness or a verbal confrontation!).  You are the crowd, laughing at his suffering, when you look past an offensive joke or visual about our Savior or His Church, or our Pope.  You are Simon the Cyrene, called against your will to carry a cross.  Will you respond by carrying it with all your strength?  Or will you walk away and let it be someone else's burden? You are Herod, asking Jesus to perform tricks for you to prove His Kingship.  You are the Jewish leaders, threatened by His radical teachings, wanting to keep your own wealth and autonomy.  You are Judas, selling Jesus for some bag of gold.  What is your gold? What are you choosing over Jesus?  Popularity?  Coolness? Political correctness?  Vanity? Sexual satisfaction? 

My husband has to avert his eyes when the nails are driven into Jesus' hands. It hurts him too much to see Jesus tortured in this way.  I ask you not to avert your eyes.  Watch.  Imagine our Savior's pain.  Now imagine yourself, some two thousand years later, laughing at, throwing parades for, celebrating, encouraging and assisting, remaining neutral about, the very sins that drove those nails into his hands.  We cannot.  We cannot and still call ourselves "little Christs." 

My time on this earth is finite.  I try not to mourn the years I spent outside of The Church.  I am here now.  I have a position to fill, and it is one only I can fill.  The same is true for you.  There is exactly one of you, and you have a role to play in His plan that may right now be going unfulfilled.  Why do you wait?  Your treasure here on earth is dust.  No matter what you accrue, whether it be material possessions, family members, friends, acclaim, the big win in debate after debate, physical beauty that trumps that of everyone you know, children whose accomplishments shine brighter than those of your friends . . . guess what?  Dust.  Your expensive education at the best schools out there? Dust.  Your job title and pay raise?  Dust. Your car, your bike, your hair, your skin, your heart and all its whims?  Dust.  All that is real and true is Christ, and the more you can get of Him the more you should get of Him and MUST get of Him.  

So why am I Catholic?  Because my life before Catholicism was like real estate hunting.  And when I opened the door to The Church, I knew it was the one. I found my dream house.