The Christian Mission

Since this devastating persecution of Christians and other non-radical-Islamic-terrorist/thinking persons began in the summer I’ve been posting a number is articles from Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress at Patheos.com. I’ve never gotten a comment on these articles. Perhaps it is because the topic is too gruesome or upsetting, perhaps it is because clicking a “like” button just isn’t the right thing to do, perhaps because people don’t want to think about it, like contemplating death.

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I just don’t know the reason. More recently, I posted this:

“Is anyone hearing about the slaughter/exile of our Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria from the pulpit? I feel like I’ve only heard about it twice and today the message was we should be more concerned with what’s happening here at home, which while that is important, with everyone plugged into their own personalized digital world, it seems like a little global awareness of our fellow man could be a good thing for us.”

Only one person responded. She wrote “I heard about it once.”

Next she posted this on my page as food for thought and I thought it was very good. To summarize: the internet floods us with news from the minute to the magnitude, from what happens in my no-stop-light hometown to New York to Nigeria to the Kardash ians. We can become so passionate of what’s happening over there that we fail to feel for what is happening here. Live locally he says. Do not be telescope Christians, as Peter Kreft says, with only our sights and sighs set on what happens far from neighbor. Here is my response:

I agree with what he says. I really do. I think we can live too much of our lives on the internet. However (if I could italicize that word I would) I think no matter where we hear about ISIS, internet/newspaper/pulpit, the awful thing is that as Christians are we suffering for our brothers and sisters? Do we hurt knowing the reality that they are dying in the name of Christ? Being exiled or sold as slaves? We should hurt for our fellow man, our local fellow man, we can’t bleed for every cause, but God help us, can we tear away from the leisure and entertainment to care that a massive persecution is taking place? Those places are relevant to us. The Church, the place of the ancient Church is relevant to us. We are one Body and all that jazz. Christ is being crucified, and nobody is talking about it (or so it seems). This is not the same thing as Cardinal Dolan or Fulton Sheen’s cause or celebrity gossip. It’s not even the same as Israel and Gaza. They are Christians! They are our people, our heritage. I heard more about the movie on the Mexican persecution than this one. Are they not just as much our people as the people who lived during through the Cristeros war are our people or the people of those whose families or are themselves from Mexico? We share the same Blood in Holy Communion. They are our people! And so my brother and my sister are being killed because they are in my family. Yes, there are people dying here, people on drugs, people committing suicide, and I care, I really really do, but this strange silence about ISIS…”

The author here makes some great point on a similar path as mine. She says “We must stand witness to these our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering and dying for Him. We must. It is our charge, our call and duty. It is our vocation before God. We must write about them and develop a literature for them as the Jews did for those who died in the Holocaust. Because this is another holocaust. It is the holocaust of Christians in an entire region of the world.”

So why the silence? What if it is because the question that arises is, what can I do about it? And quickly the devil answers, nothing!

Today I read this, Ephesians 3:13-21: Brethren: I pray you not to faint at my tribulations for you, which are for your glory.

If we are remotely alert to what is happening in Iraq and Syria, we should not be overcome. We should not held in fear for the fate of non-Muslims or Sunni Muslims or moderate thinking Muslims here in the US. We should not lose sleep. Our thoughts should not be consumed.

For this cause I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.

We must pray for them. In all we do, we must pray for those suffering. Yes, those for suffering locally and those suffering in far off lands. We are called to pray for the innocent. Pray for strength, pray for endurance, pray for an end to this terrible, horrific thing.

That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height, and depth. To know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge; that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.

In this old translation, these words sound so lofty. The Christians he writes to are shocked at his suffering, they are overcome and he tells them not to. He says to use the scandal of his sufferings to deepen their prayer, their faith, to find strength in what he endures. When we hear about someone enduring, somehow, it gives us to the strength to endure more. When we hear about them starving, we can be thankful for this meal we have. When I am home with my children I experience an acute awareness of their existence. They are always on my mind because I must be mindful of them for their well being. I can carry an awareness of my brothers and sisters in the Middle East in this way, praying for them, allowing it to deepen my gratitude and my charity towards my neighbor. Each man on the stret is Christ to us. If I want to help those suffering there, I can help those suffering here and offer that sacrifice as a prayer for the safety and survival of those persecuted.

Now to Him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand, according to the power that worketh in us: to Him be glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations, world without end. Amen.

And it will not be in vain…

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Why not preach about that?

Comfort, give comfort to my people.

What is the function of mass? Depending on what generation of Catholic you are (if you are Catholic) the answer to this question will vary.

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Some say the function of the mass is evangelization or to build community. The importance is to reach out to others, to make the mass accessible to others. This will shape the direction of the physical components of mass, the smells and bells if you will. There will be an emphasis on cultural fitness of particular properties of the mass.

Some express that mass is primarily the vehicle through which we receive our Lord in Holy Eucharist. Mass is how Jesus comes to us. Confessions will be offered more readily so that there are no obstacles to receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Cardinal Ratizinger, we read the mass is what we give to God. It is our duty. As such one attends closely to the rubrics developed through tradition regarding how those smells and bells should be used and ordered.

The mass is also the un-bloody representation of Christ’s crucifixion. Here the mass becomes solace to the suffering. What of the weary Christians in Iraq, fleeing for their lives from the ISIS? They reach the church, crowded, ill, hungry, thirsty. Perhaps they walk farther in looking for a little space to lay down and sleep, longing for a sense of safety. They hear the priest saying mass. Wandering over, they sit, they pray, they offer their hearts, their longing, their anger, their gratitude that they are alive, their desperate prayers for those left behind. The smell of incense lifts their hearts, reminds them that some things are the same now as they were when they had homes. My God, why have you forsaken me? Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Into your hands, o Lord, I commend my spirit.

The mass is all these things and more. This wedding feast of the Lamb cannot be separated and divided up in the function and benefits we receive. I believe it is primarily what we give to God. But what if I believe that because of where I stand culturally? It is the last thought, that mass as a place of comfort for Mary and John on Calvary, that makes me consider that God uses the mass to bring us to him from wherever on the path we may be, personally, communally and culturally.

Yet what we believe we need is not always what we truly need. Of late, I have pursued a conversation on what I believe to be an over-emphasis on the welcoming aspect in liturgical music. In an effort to make mass welcoming, and make the music accessible for those who do not read music, over time sacred music in many local parishes has been dumbed down. The popular mass setting used in this diocese is remarkably similar to the theme of My Little Pony. There seems to be a pathological fear of changing the mass setting because then people won’t know how to sing the ordinaries (as if no one could memorize the words without the music or as if the churches were in chaos before 2011 when our bishop requested the parishes use one of these three settings to help limit confusion with the new translation for parishioners).

What if, here in the American Roman Catholic Church, we do not need the emphasis to be welcoming? What the emphasis on welcoming is really a guise for comfort. Is the concern more that people should feel comfortable?

A growing generation of Catholics seem to long more for truth and the other-worldliness of the mass. Mass takes us from the mundane into Heaven. Here we see the truth. Here is clarity, not the mess of marketing and technology outside the church. We long for architecture that forces us to whisper, because it just seems too sacred (and too ambient) not to. American culture and progress seems, to me, obsessed with comfort. We avoid suffering at all costs. I think perhaps the over-emphasis on making people feel welcome, comfortable, at the expense of art, music, and architecture, at the expense of what we give to God, is a product of the American emphasis on comfort.

In Gothic times the churches were built to make the individual feel small, to direct his eyes to Heaven. I believe the newer generation of Catholics are looking for this. We need this. Here in America, we don’t need more comfort or more gratification. We need to be reminded we are sinners, that we are the pinnacle of creation and image God himself, but that we are terribly ungrateful sinners in need of his mercy. We need to be opened to the greater Church, the suffering Church, the longing Church. We are not home yet. It might help us to be reminded of that.

If we focus on the mass as pointing us to heaven rather than making us feel at home here in our church buildings, people will actually feel more at home. For all our choices and comforts, we are less secure, more depressed more anxious. The call of technology places us in a constant state of the “now,” of trends, of progress. Yet we are all the more unable to focus on the details, we are distracted. It’s difficult to meditate with the hum of technology all around us. We need a place we can step away from it all.

We must be careful to avoid the errors of thinking that comes from our cultural or personal weaknesses. The same can be applied to an overemphasis on outreach, on rubrics, on so many things, but I chose to address this issue of comfort because it seems ubiquitous here in America.

One final thought: as Americans, there is also a particular benefit to owing something to Someone, because we’ve been told for so long that all that matters is what we want and the virtue of rugged individualism, but that is a post for another day.

In medio stat virtus

In all things moderation.  Jealousy in moderation, particularly.

A study (link: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0069841) shows us we’re less happy when see people’s picture perfect lives on facebook.  We can probably generalize those findings to other forms of social media as well.  I see the home she bought with her banker-husband all set up.  I don’t see the toys lurking behind the couch in the current favored hiding spot of her three-year old toddler.  I see the new hairstyle, the fancy dinner, and I think, oh, they have money or they have time and freedom to either make or cook such a meal.  Ah, to be a newlywed!  And I feel a little bit less joyful about the life I’m living.

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And then what happens?

I either defend my lifestyle by defending my undone hair, baggy clothes, laundry mountain, my tired expression and say all that matters is my children are not starving and are loved.  Or perhaps I internalize the messages sent to me via facebook and multimillion or billion dollar marketing strategies to make me believe that truly, my life should be spotless, my face should be spotless (then painted with make up), my wardrobe complete and my cooking completed with the ease and flavor of Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals. Then I will put endless amounts of pressure on myself and hate myself when my life does not measure up, when I don’t sleep well enough, when pregnancy prevents me from doing anything other than holding a horizontal position.  Is there some middle way?

According to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II) vice lies on either side of the virtue.  It is the extreme, the excess or deficiency. Virtue lies in “the golden mean.”  In the Summa (Question 64) Aquinas says this is consistent with Christian morality.  In medio stat virtus.

Why should I dismiss the idea of a life well ordered, presenting myself as put together and working on a house maintained, just because it can’t be perfect?  Why is it I hear that message so often from women on social media?  “Don’t be my friend if you can’t handle a messy house.” Comments then follow about how clean her house looks in the photograph.

My guess is it may be a response to guilt.  But is it guilt over not fulfilling one’s vocation or guilt over not meetings one’s standards of perfectionism.  In medio stat virtus.

We have to find the middle way.  We have to allow ourselves to have an ideal that is realistic. I can dust, but I should not expect the toys to be carefully concealed in a toy box for the duration of the day.  I can vacuum, but should expect to see crumbs, pasta sauce and yogurt on the floor beneath the highchair one hour later. I should expect that I will clean again.  I can shower, do make up, and dress very chic, but I should expect to see my tired face again in the morning after spending a few hours up with the baby.  And I need to know that this is okay.

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Where is the lie?  We go can go on social media every moment of the day.  I go just when my life is look the most bleak in my ill-fitted pajamas, gray robe, stuffed nose and messy hair.  At that moment I see that everyone else’s life looks put together and perfect?  Of course that is only the moment he or she chose to photograph.

Perhaps it is not that people only post attractive pictures of themselves, but that the time I am most likely to access those photographs is not during a coffee date but at 5am after the baby just went back to sleep and I can’t sleep because my nose is overrun by allergies.  So the fault is with me.

Should I then dismiss any aspirations towards beauty and order?

I should not!

I should rather take stock of my position in life, find ways to make the most of the situation, make a realistic plan and implement it accordingly.  In my plan I should include consideration that things will not go according to plan, but expectation that I will not chuck the plan when that occurs.

We’re called to know our weaknesses and our strengths.  We aren’t called to be the wife of Proverbs 31 literally. But we aren’t called to dismiss her either.  In medio stat virtus.  We’re called to find the middle way, the golden mean, and live our lives to the full.

I won’t claim and special insight here.  I would like at add the conviction I found in this weblog: http://www.organizinglifewithlittles.com/2014/01/26/for-the-unappreciated-mom/

What’s really happening, whether I obsess or dismiss perfection and the call the perfection, is the focus on myself deepens.  I lose sight of the love I am called to give those in our lives.

When I was a child…

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”  I fell in love with Christ at the ripe old age of 13.  My personality was formed around devotion to God and his Church.  However, there are some childish habits I took on as a child that come back to me at times.

I looked for God in every sign, in every symbol.  Everything was a product of his will because as I mentioned in a previous post, I was spared suffering as a child.  So it was easy to see God’s hand in the goodness of my life.  Naturally this view came into trouble when suffering entered my life.

I wanted to see a cosmic connection with each moment of every day.  I wanted to read into every incident that God was active in my life.

So he was, only, not as I expected.

When I married nearly five years ago, we trusted in God in the same spirit of trust that I had always had with God.  What did we do?  We married, we left stable jobs and moved across country answering a call in my heart to attend graduate school at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences.  Did I earn my doctorate in clinical psychology and go on to become a professional in the field?  Hardly.  We did not find work.  We had a baby.  We were running out of money (money to live in Washington D.C.).  We discerned that I could not give the time needed to commit to continuing the program if I was to be the mother I needed to be to this little rascal.

We returned to our proper coast, still making ends meet.  I stayed at home, learned to manage the house in the spirit of  A Mother’s Rule of Life and found deep joy in having a dinner prepared for my husband when he returned home from work. Remembering the day I cried over an unattractive meatloaf, this state was the triumph of my vocation.  But we were running out of money again.

I returned to work and the joy and peace we experience during that time (albeit, not financial peace) disappeared.  We suffered, we struggled, we had to draw new lines in how we communicate and spend time with each other.  It was the ugliest time in our marriage.  Up nights with rascal #2 for an hour at a time, dragging in the afternoons because the second day of training I found out I was pregnant again, weeping because the stress of work and disappointment of losing the joy and not being the mother I desired to be.

So we’re back to trusting again.  That means we’re back to being poor.  I’ve gone down to part time in order for us to have harmony in our home and to provide for our children the things that matter most, stability, love, devotion.  So what happens now?

A job interview for my husband at his choice location.  An offer from my parents to provide a down payment on a home. And a home for sale in our ideal community, with a layout and lot that fits our lifestyle and desired lifestyle perfectly.  An offer offered the day we saw the house.  A dream of not living next door to pot-smoking neighbors. Why is it so tempting to think that God is lining up the stars for us now?

I try to keep those thoughts at bay.  I try to keep the excitement, the hope, the anticipation at bay.  Excitement works on me like anxiety.  I remind myself that we made an act of trust, we decided what mattered most was the inside of our home, not the inside or reliability of our bank account.  So if it works, wonderful, but if not, we already made this choice because now we know what matters most.

Is that what God was waiting for?  “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child…”

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We’ve been here before, only with fewer ideal possibilities.  So many times we thought, this is it, we’re going to have the life we’ve wanted.  But it didn’t work out.

Why do we try to predict the movements of the Holy Spirit?  “Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”

So we’ll have to keep waiting.  “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”

Self-sustaining parishes

I was struck several weeks back to hear that a local parish rents out part of their property to a radio station and from the monies they receive in this arrangement, were able to pay for building repairs without touching their operating funds.  It brought to mind the monasteries that are self-sustaining and produce some product, which they sell to the public.

The first thought: how important to support those businesses. What better place is there to put our money and what better products could be bought?  We are lovers of mystic monk coffee and another religious orders’ products were brought to my awareness (http://summitdominicans.3dcartstores.com/). I think the products look amazing and the pricing is very good.  Is it not better than supporting the massive salary of a CEO or despicable advertising methods, which seek to manipulate our view of ourselves and the world, or worse, actually degrade women and men in their presentation?  We so often buy cheap as if cheap wasn’t made possible through dishonest pricing or labor.  Those companies are out to make a profit and if profits aren’t increasing the company is failing.  We have all the technology to do produce in ways and produce products that will do significantly less damage to the environment than in the past.  Religious orders seek to support their way of life, it isn’t for profit, it’s for the glory of God, and producing a good, honest product is how they can do their work well, how they can work with virtue.  We can often find this when we buy locally, whether from a religious order or not.

The second thought: what if diocesan parishes sought to be self-sustaining?  This wouldn’t be possible in the same capacity of a religious order since there are few people who live at a diocesan parish.  I see it achieved through two means: (1) if priests lived simpler and (2) making use of the property and grounds at their disposal.

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(1) If priests lived simpler.  Pope Francis inspires this thought.  He has brought up the issues of clericalism in our churches.  As Archbishop he cooked his own meals and took public transportation (common in Buenos Aires, not so common in rural Stanislaus county).   Why do priests have servants (cooks and housekeepers)?  Because not all men can cook and clean?  I want to honor our priests, but if Christ came poor, a carpenter in Nazareth, priests should live like those in their parish.  Is it to free up their time to be able to serve the parish more?  While I do not harbor an ardent desire to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, there is a certain peace achieved in the act; and in cleaning I can feel the effect of my labor on my environment in satisfying ways.  Priests are men and if they can live a more balanced lifestyle they will be better men.  Many priests maintain hobbies to maintain their sanity.  This would be part of that.

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(2) Making use of property.  Parishes could be more savvy in how they use their property, whether renting it for receptions or other businesses. But also this: imagine this experiment: a parish happens to have ten acres donated to them or just own that much property from the old days, or even less, may just two acres.  What if a few volunteers or employees from the parish began a garden or planted larger crops, such as fruit trees.  Not only could the products feed the priests living at the parish, and be sold (either to a separate company or through a fruit stand) but labor would need to be hired to pick the fruit.  The homeless man or woman who comes to the door for a sandwich can be given dignified work for the season.  It doesn’t tax the wealthy of the parish but can bring together the great and small in the endeavor.

It’s just a thought, and just two examples of what could be done.  In small parishes under poor management, the wealthy feel bled but not fed.  There is a lack of community.  The parish turned in on itself, becomes sick, as Pope Francis warns us will happen.  If the parish looked outward, focused not on gaining volunteers but on serving the community and evangelizing the culture; not focused on who they can ask for donations but what can the parish produce to give to the poor, I think mighty things would happen.  I believe this is part of the New Evangelization. I am so grateful for Pope Francis to take on this new step in the journey.