21 June 2006


I've been traveling blog-land today, after searching for "Tiber" amongst the blogs, because I wanted to read the thoughts of converts. Every time I get furious at the idiotic choices and empty words of Some Bishops and stomp off, I find myself exposed to Benedict XVI's amazingly clear, flowing exposition, and he draws me back. I'm fascinated, encouraged, admiring ... he is truly filling the role of pater for us. Anyway ... it makes me want to read others, to refresh my memory about how it was all those years ago.

Along the way, I found Musings of a Discerning Woman, a blog by a woman who's going to be a religious sister. God bless her and her order. But I read this, and it just kind of irked me:
One thing that has begun to just annoy me - and which I'm guessing I need to start getting used to - is the focus on one element of my future life as a woman religious. The # 1 question is not "how did you know God was calling you to be a Sister", or "what sort of ministry do you think you will do", or even "do people still do that", but rather different variations of the fashion question:

-Will you wear a habit?
-Will you wear a uniform?
-What will you wear?
-You won't be one of those pants wearing nuns will you? (yes … jeans even!)

Sometimes if I'm feeling generous I politely explain that my community is an active apostolic order and chooses to wear simple clothing like the people we work with (and that the traditional habits were once the simple dress of an earlier age). But the question persists, as do the strong opinions. I think it comes down to an odd mix of an American cultural obsession with the habited nun (after all you can buy nun salt & paper shakers and fire-breathing-nun-themed toys) with a desire to know who the nuns are by sight so they can be sure to be on their best behavior around them. And most of these folks are not Catholic, so maybe that's a factor too.

Note that she says, "my community chooses."
After Vatican II, lots of communities "chose" to do that (among other things).

A lot of communities folded.

I'm not saying that there isn't a time and place for donning street clothes in certain apostolates. But I would like religious to simply consider this: maybe people ask those questions because they want to see religious in habits. Maybe it means something to them. Maybe the desire to see distinctive garb was not magically removed from the human psyche by Vatican II. After all, brides still usually wear distinctive clothing. Police wear uniforms. Nurses have their uniforms, doctors white coats, even painters wear white. Goths wear black lipstick. Why would anyone have their lip pierced if they didn't want someone to see it because it meant something? Lawyers in offices which have adopted business casual for everyday are often advised to keep a full business suit hanging on the back of the door just in case they have to unexpectedly dash to court or meet with a similarly-dressed client. If it's court, the judge will wear robes. If dress doesn't matter, why are these things so?

Instead of the orders "choosing" or "deciding" how to dress ... wouldn't they seek to be led by the one they serve? What does he want them to wear? What will lead and reassure people, help them feel his whisper in their souls, awaken their yearning for mystery and the Love that makes people leave the ordinary choices of life for a life in which he makes the choices?

(Though I guess if one bristles at the notion of a "he" wanting anyone to do anything, the question is moot.)

Just wondering.

Oh, and about that pesky spirit of Vatican Two stuff ... you know, where it was mandated, or permitted, or suggested that religious abandon their habits ... sorry, didn't happen. Pope Paul VI said this: "17. The religious habit, an outward mark of consecration to God, should be simple and modest, poor and at the same becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved. The habits of both men and women religious which do not conform to these norms must be changed." (Quoted at domestic-church.com.)

Since I'm obviously "for" religious habits for the active apostolates, here are some of my favorites.

Of course, it's probably just coincidental that these orders are being overrun with applicants...

Moving, and moving on

Via Sigmund, Carl and Alfred I found this blog, written by Vicki. She writes movingly of her mother's death as well as so much about her daily life. While I read about her grieving, my heart ached for her.

My mother died fourteen years ago. It doesn't seem possible, in a way, that so much time has passed. And yet, by remembering it ... facing up to it ... I know that I can move on ... and have, in spite of myself.

As Vicki writes about her impending move, that, too, brings up things I'd rather not contemplate. I don't want to move, either, but I shall, one day. My dear one lives far away. In time, I will join him.

It's time for me to shed all possessions which are not mine: those I neither bought, nor chose to keep, nor love. A lot of those things belonged to my mother. My sister and I went through them once, together, all those years ago, and divided the ones we weren't ready to part with. Doing it again will be another kind of grieving, because I wanted to have the time to sit and enjoy those things... and haven't used my time for that, yet.

During the last three years I've had what I always (thought I) wanted: time alone to live as I please. To some degree, I've enjoyed that. But life has preoccupied me, and I didn't take the time I wanted to lounge in the garden, read, and go through my possessions. But, again: I was grieving changes in my personal life, proximate and long ago, choices I'd made which had torn my heart apart and slowly depressed my life to a sad fog.

Grieving is a part of life we don't talk much about and can't prepare for. If one isn't taught how to grieve, it may not take place. Yet the human person needs to grieve tragedies in life. If grief is suppressed or denied, it will work its way out in other, less healthy ways. It has to happen.

For me, one of the great gifts of Catholicism was its coaching in grieving. Catholics don't pretend away the sadness. Visiting a grave is considered one of the corporal works of mercy. It is OK to weep and to offer one's suffering as one would offer any other suffering, laying up "treasures in heaven." There are saints who also suffered terrible losses, and whose perseverance in spite of personal tragedy is inspiring, because they were no different from us, but they stayed in touch with God, even as they went through the valley of the shadow of death.

This day, this moment, I'm not conscious of grieving. I've been having more and more moments like that lately. Instead of feeling guilty about it as I did for so many years, I'm grateful. It's finally become clear to me that I'm allowed to have a few hours, even a whole day, of well-being and joy. That is the "reward" of grief well handled: one's life is open to the return of joy, in its season.

Even in my joy, however, I will never again be unaware of the landscape of grief. I remember stumbling through weeks in a haze, preoccupied with my mother's illness, then the arrangements after her death, and the long journey through her accumulation of possessions. When someone cuts me off in traffic, or speaks brusquely to me, I'm able to remember sometimes that they, too, might be grieving. You just never know. And, until you have walked that foggy, slippery path, you will not have sympathy, because you do not know what it does to you, and how it cannot be hurried.

Today, at this moment, I know joy. I feel well. The sun is shining. I have work to do, and the prospect of a delightful weekend ahead. If I refuse to enjoy what God is granting me in these moments, I do not alleviate the grief of someone else who just now is sobbing disconsolately over the loss of a loved one, an important relationship, or a hoped-for change in life. I can pray that they will be comforted and led in their feelings of desolation, even as I accept the refreshment of a break in my own journey.

It is summer in my soul today.

18 June 2006

More mid-life musings

Found Arwen/Elizabeth's blog again via Fructus Ventris' blogroll and enjoyed reading her natterings about her yearned-for pregnancy. It's wonderful to read that she's doing well. She's a thoughtful young woman.

She wrote one post about how easily she cries, and, as I read it, I thought about myself at that age. I rarely wept. The day my dear one walked out of my life, I did not cry about it. I went through terrible times which rocked my soul and tore me up inside, but tears were not the way I handled it. Instead of crying jags, I had migraines.

Weeping was something I refused to do, so part of my life was staying away from incidents or situations which would touch me emotionally. That was part of why I married the man I eventually did, and it was certainly the reason behind my refusal to have any children.

There was a time a few years ago when all that changed. My dear friend supported me from a distance while I wept the tears I had not shed for thirty years. One of the thoughts which triggered hours of uncontrollable sobs was the acknowledgement of the horrible consequences of letting him go from my life when I did. I went on into life without the possibility of knowing what the skin of his back felt like, or realizing one day I was with child, or watching him with his babies. At the time, I deliberately shut such thoughts from my mind; if I had not, I would have collapsed.

Now, my cup of joy is full, and I can read Arwen/Elizabeth's posts without having tears overwhelm me - not because I'm suppressing them, but because they've all been cried, and I can be happy for her. However, beneath my joy, there is still the deep ache of knowing that I'll never lie with that man and have the joy of giving a child life with our love.

There has been some discussion on other blogs recently of Why childless people hate me by Emily Yoffe. Her mention that people have a skewed sense of the time involved in parenting resonates with me. During my worst and darkest years, I could not get through a day without an enormous effort of will. The thought of putting a child into that mix was - unthinkable. I never seriously considered it. I could have done tremendous damage to a child; I couldn't even take care of myself.

My choice was also influenced by the fact that my sister was born the week before I turned 11, and my parents divorced when I was 13. I spent a lot of time taking care of that little girl, and it wasn't easy and I didn't have help... not to mention I was nowhere old enough or mature enough or experienced enough to take care of a child. But that wasn't an acceptable response in those days. I had to do it; to remonstrate would have been labeled "whining." So I did my part, and it did a lot to satisfy any fledgling material instincts. I have changed diapers, and helped with homework, and ineptly advised and counselled about all types of things.

But it wasn't my child.

To all the childless by choice, I would echo Emily Yoffe's advice: be open to reconsidering. I was influenced heavily by Paul Ehrlich, but he was wrong. We cannot assume that we, with our tiny minds, can know the truth about what might happen. God can and will provide for us. Time speeds up phenomenally as you get older and as children grow. More children really can be easier than fewer, because they can help and entertain each other. We need partners in law firms and vice presidents in corporations, but none of those will be remembered for those roles the way a mother is remembered for hers.

God only knows why my life turned out the way I did. I don't know why he allowed me to make the choices I did. They were not what he would have chosen for my life, but he stayed by me and protected me as I blundered my way through a wilderness of depression and hurt and fear. Maybe that's what it took; I'm incredibly stubborn. He has granted me some time with the one my heart loves. One day, I will meet my dear one's children. Perhaps one day they and I can sit together and go through old photo albums, and maybe I'll see images of their father holding them when they were very young. I likely will weep, a mixture of joy and delight and the deepest ache a woman's heart can know, short of the loss of one of her own. I certainly won't be able to explain in those moments that I loved their father so dearly and wanted to experience the everyday mysteries of life with him... only with him, ever.

I want to touch them and hold them so much ... these young people, now grown and forming families of their own. When I look into their eyes I see their father, and I love them instinctively. It is the closest I shall ever know to that unreasoning, fierce attachment a mother feels for her child. I could not love them any more if they were my own. It is the bond I feared when I was young; the one which will slay me inside if anything happens to any one of them.

It is high risk behavior, this loving. All that is mine is transmuted into ours, us, we, let's. When I was grieving four years ago, weeping constantly for weeks and weeks, it was because I'd gotten through life without ever feeling that way, and I was having to come to terms with the reality that I never would. Like Arwen/Elizabeth in her grieving before her pregnancy, I had to let God do whatever it was he needed to do in my heart, and accept the pain without a murmur. I had to give up and let the grief rampage through my heart and soul until I was empty and quiet. And then, just as inexplicably, God heard her prayers and gave her the dearest wish of her heart. And he did the same for me.

Those who escape the realities of family... I wish them well. For their sakes, I hope they don't wake up one day, as I did, and suddenly have to face up to all they pushed away out of a misguided bid for self-protection. We were not made for ourselves, but for each other. It is only in giving up all rights to ourselves that God can, finally, enter in.

"I believe in ... um ...."

Found this exchange reported at The Cafeteria is Closed:

Dave Hartline I just spoke with Bishop Chilton and she was pressed for time so I was wondering if you could answer the question the conservative folks are asking. Is the Episcopal Church following Scripture.

Herschel Hartford You know scripture is more than the meaning of words. It is the meaning of the word. I believe we are following the overall word of God. We are accepting people as God sends them to us. How anyone can say, that they can’t accept a person who has certain feelings contrary to their own, is beyond my understanding. Where in Scripture does it say we should have a blessing of the animals, or boats and houses? We bless all of those things. I am a heterosexual man who is married and has six kids. I don't understand how anyone could be against blessing a consensual relationship.

Dave Hartline The traditional side says 2,000 years of Christian tradition is being altered. How do you respond?

Herschel Hartford Who are we to tell someone how to live and think?

Dave Hartline Do you think there is any black and white in the Episcopal Church?

Herschel Hartford Yes, we are against poverty, racism, sexism and bias against sexual orientation.

Dave Hartline Is abortion black and white?

Herschel Hartford No, it is in the eye of the beholder. It is a very complicated issue.

Dave Hartline Is human life black and white?

Hershel Hartford Again, human life and its beginnings are a very complicated issue.

Read the original article here.

When I came across the following passage from Isaiah during morning devotions, it reminded me of those people, and all leaders of the flock who, when put on the spot, do not first talk about our Lord and his Way, but about intellectual concepts. In reading it I was graced with a sense of the infinite power, and strength, and care, of our God:

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?

13 Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?

14 With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust.

16 Even Lebanon is not enough to burn,
Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering.

17 All the nations are as nothing before Him,
They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.

18 To whom then will you liken God?
Or what likeness will you compare with Him?
21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

23 He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.

24 Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.

25 "To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?" says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"?

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired
His understanding is inscrutable.

29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.

30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,

31 Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

(Isaiah 40)

"I saw a saint at sunset"

Peggy Noonan's meditative and evocative remembrance of an audience at the Vatican with Pope John Paul II:

John Paul was rolled slowly onto the stage. He was seated in a brown wooden chair that rested within a kind of wooden rig on little wheels. It was like a wheel-throne; it was like the kind of big wooden roller they use to get something off the top shelf at Home Depot. It looked both practical and absurd.

Everyone applauded, and as I clapped, I looked around me and saw faces set in a determinedly pleasant look, as if they were thinking, I am so happy to see you, but the sight of you is breaking my heart.

He was dressed all in white, bent forward in his chair. White surplice, white zucchetto -- the skullcap popes wear -- white gold-fringed sash. As the wheel-throne reached the center of the stage the pope was surrounded by a scrum of aides and cardinals. They helped him to his feet, helped transfer him to a white upholstered high-backed chair. Then they turned it toward us.

He looked out at us. We looked back at him. His face was -- oh, his face!

* * *

And yet as I watched him, I realized I did not see him as ill and frail. I saw him as encased -- trapped in there, in an outer immobility. Outside he is old and frail, but inside he is John Paul, the one who had walked out on the Vatican balcony and dazzled the crowd twenty-four years before. And for the first time I thought: He is a victim soul. His suffering has meaning, it is telling us something. He is giving us something, a parting gift.

He sang to us a little at the end, like an old man sitting in the sun. Most of us couldn’t tell the words or the tune, but he was doing it for us, and there was something so beautiful and moving in it. I turned to a friend. “We are hearing a saint singing,” I said. I wanted to put my hands over my ears so I could hold the sound in my head forever.

* * *

When I returned from Rome, I talked to the writer Michael Novak about the meaning of the suffering of the pope. He spoke of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who believed her suffering could be given by her, could be almost lifted out of her, to help others. She would take her moments of pain or sadness and offer them to God, believing they could in this way become united with His great love, united, that is, with an infinitely powerful force. She would ask that her suffering be used to help the missionaries of the world, that her pain be used to make their day sweeter, their efforts more fruitful. She knew, Michael said, what Dostoyevsky knew: There’s a kind of web around the world, an electric web in which we’re all united, all connected in suffering and in love. When you add to it what you have, you add to the circuitry of love.

Thérèse was a Carmelite, and Michael spoke of the papal biographer George Weigel’s observation that John Paul II had a Carmelite soul, a soul at home with the tradition of everyday mysticism. That tradition is informed by a conviction that all is connected, all is part of a wholeness.

The pope’s suffering tells us, Michael said, that it is important in an age like ours to look beyond the surficial. We honor and adore surface things -- beauty, youth, grace, vigor. And it’s understandable: They’re beautiful. But the pope reminds us it is crucial to see the beauty in the old, the infirm, the imperfect. They have a place in life, a purpose, a deep legitimacy and due. John Paul not only said this, of course, he also lived it. He showed us this truth by presenting himself to the world each day as he was.

Found at Women for Faith and Family in the online edition of Voices Vol. XXI, No. 1. Read the whole thing).

When I was young, I was terrified of being around human death. After my mother's long illness, and watching her die, I understood. Death is fearsome only to those who don't know that life is more than what makes our hearts beat and the thoughts tumble inside our busy minds.

Death cannot be put off. It cannot be appeased, asked for a reprieve, negotiated with, or explained away. It is inexorable, and it is required. It is the greatest tool we have in the arsenal provided us to beat back evil.

When the father of lies threatens your peace with sinister suggestions of want and woe, pain and loss, starvation, humiliation, or abandonment, show him the cross. Lift up before him the sign and cause of our faith: the Suffering Servant stretched on his gibbet, head hanging, body limp, blood dried except where it leaks from his wounded heart. Fill your eyes and heart and mind and thought with the enormity of that gift and let gratitude and a healthy, holy shame wash over you that you ever doubted he would leave you alone and friendless, after all he did for you.

In your absorption, you will not notice that the cowardly liar has slunk away. He cannot give you anything you do not already have. He cannot love you. He can only pretend at love, offering stinking, empty shells where there were once pearls.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his own dear son to be the sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

07 June 2006

From abuse to hope

When someone in an appropriate role of authority in a child's life consistently trains the child to do something which is healthy, or at least neutral, in a certain way, it is virtually always good for the child. If the same person in authority one day out of the blue punishes the child for doing the same act in that certain, carefully trained way, it's abusive.

The Church changed course on a dime after Vatican II. Its behavior went from being perhaps too paternal to being unrelentingly cruel and abusive. It reversed itself on things which people had held in the highest regard for generations, and began to punish those same people. It called its people unflattering names, spoke of them in terms dripping with condescension, and gravely insulted them. The Church still does so, at times, in the person of her clerics. Tod Brown is an excellent example. Not to be outdone, this Trautman person is apparently wanting to be thought clever. I am indebted to Shawn Tribe at The New Liturgical Movement blog for linking to this article at the Los Angeles Lay Catholic Mission site.
"Alluding apparently to defecation, the bishop garnered more audience guffaws when he recited the following proposed translation for Eucharistic Prayer II: "make holy these gifts, we pray, by the dew of your Spirit -- D-E-W."

Susan Larker, 37, of Long Beach, who attended Trautman's talk, said the bishop "doesn't want to say that 'Jesus took bread into His holy and venerable hands.' He laughed at the Vatican wanting this translation and said that that the laity can't relate to this sort of language."

If they don't revere the Shepherd, they won't care about His sheep.

The Lady in the Pew has a straight-talk take on the incident in Minneapolis over the weekend:
Most Catholics, or so we're told and from what I've seen I've no reason to doubt it, don't believe in the Real Presence. Oh, heck, we go to church on Sundays if there's nothing better to do but that's about it.

How else does one explain:

The common — yes, common! — way so many people receive the Eucharist. (I call it the "snatch and grab" technique.)
The frequent, casual pocketing of the Consecrated Host (to what end? one wonders)
The nonchalant passing of the Tabernacle without so much as a glance, never mind a genuflection.
The voiced, priestly preferral that people refrain from receiving Jesus on the tongue (what's that about?)
It's time for plain talk from the pulpit.

Yes, I hear, as I'm sure you do too, the priest occasionally talking about the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (and in the Word, and In Each Other...as if they were all the same thing).

It's time, I believe, for priests and bishops to plainly explain the do's and don'ts about the Blessed Sacrament.

And never the bleep mind calling the incident described here as "confrontational."

It was more than that...it was an attack, pure and simple.

And it's happening again and again and again.
We need to quit blaming the priests and bishops and take simple, effective action: walk out when your boundaries are being deliberately trampled, you are bullied, or your intelligence is insulted. When your Holy Mother Church forgets herself and gets boozy and starts doing embarrassing and inappropriate things, you can distance yourself. God does not want you to stay where you are being hurt. Go where you feel safe. It's basic survival 101 for those with loved ones off the rails due to drugs or alcohol or the mania of liturgical novelty brought on by "the spirit of Vatican Two."

Between the inexorable pressure of restating the truth about the human person, and the in-your-face example of traditional worship and Catholic custom which he constantly provides, Benedict is beginning to turn the tide.

It's as though he's saying, If you're going to walk out of church, do so because it's your choice in response to being told the truth about yourself as a cherished, unbelievably special being, ransomed by God to enjoy a spiritual relationship with Him. Benedict is slowly making it clear that he does not want you to walk out of a Roman Catholic church because you were defrauded of true worship, because then it is not your choice, but a reasonable action to preserve your peace and your faith.

A good parent is consistent, even when the kids don't understand, even when they leave in a huff. A bad parent caves. A good shepherd protects his sheep from being confused and starved by those who want to tell them they now must eat only straw because of this or that inane reason, instead of the good sweet grass in the pasture.

He gets it.

That man gives me hope. I thank God for him.