With an energy spike, other projects have taken off – Behold, Antoinette Moms!

Some recent time ago, my energy spiked. It’s been rather insatiable. There has been the energy to do things for our home, but an intellectual energy as well. This was in part satisfied through my summer position, interviewing and writing for the marketing department. But other projects have been brewing.

My desire for a stronger community continues to grow. A stronger community for myself and my family, and a stronger community that the Catholic Church is part of. It is a tragedy when the local Catholic parish has done nothing to reach out to the town it is situated in. Too many churches open their doors and expect the people to simply come. Or they have events to encourage and create friendships or projects for those who attend their parish. It becomes a nice little self-satisfied microcosm. Perhaps it will do some pro-life work. But where are the trenches?

We don’t see the individuals, desperate for direction who enter those office doors. We don’t hear about them from the pews on Sunday.

But we need too. In fact, we need to go out into them. We are in a mission field and the Church is the hospital. How can we care for those who are ill or wounded if we never go out to find them, into the hovels, as Mother Teresa did? There are traces of it here and there, but I have yet to see a parish that partners with other local non-profits. If Republicans complain about too big government doing too much for the people and the people accepting too much from big government, then make the churches bigger, stronger and provide more, gasp, social outreach.

Why have the priests and parishioners I talked to never heard of the amazing non-profit where I have worked off and on for the past seven years. In part, it’s my fault, never following through on promoting it. But really, shouldn’t every youth program know about the temporary shelter for teens that provides crisis counseling and family advocacy. Or the family resource centers that hold ESL classes, help people complete paperwork for food stamps or aid for bills or the forms for health insurance? There isn’t enough information being spread around. I’m not sure I believe the local parishes are looking outward enough.

I’m seen touches of it, of course. On youth minister took the teenagers out to feed the homeless. They loved it of course, because teenagers and young adults are zealous beyond compare if we just give them the opportunity to do so. But what else, besides partnering with pro-life organizations are we doing?

So it’s been on my mind. Therefore, I’m beginning a mom’s group in my town. The goals are to provide support, fellowship and formation for mothers in the area, pointing out without reserve that mothers of any walk of life are welcome: married, divorced, never married, abandoned, with children long gone from home, with children who were never born, with newborns and toddlers. There will be play dates at the local park because we need to create third places, those centers in the community where people gather together spontaneously, like the bar in Cheers or Luke’s in the Gilmore Girls. We won’t do that if we don’t ever go there to begin with.

There will also be family potlucks. Too many demographic specific groups serve only that group. It never opens up to a wider group. It never utilizes the incredible gifts of that group to serve the community. Teens feeding the homeless certainly does, but how many Catholic youth groups have regular and consistent service projects? Not enough. So family potlucks because if anyone in the world tends to be other focused, its mothers. It’s the feminine genius after all.

So beyond the temporary support provided by monthly meetings or play date, family potlucks can provide opportunities for free social activities at the parish that are not fundraisers, and help families get to know each other in that soclal setting.

I also would like to see an annual yard sale hosted at the Church, where each family has their own table, proceeds benefiting the family. Some parishes may object because they are cash strapped, but families, often, are too. It’s marketing. Provide things that benefit the consumer and the consumer will come back. “The Catholic Church is a place that understands, where we can be who are, perhaps, as poor as we are. We don’t have to pretend we’re not in need of a little extra cash to paint that room or pay that bill. The whole person is welcome here.” Imagine if ordinary people said that.

I’d like the group to provide concrete support by advertising meal planning websites to the entire parish when a member of the parish has a baby or has a child who is ill or who is grieving.

And I’d like the group to also keep track of important days for members of the group and in the parish. Telling a kid happy birthday when it is some time around the play date. Giving a lady a rose at an evening meeting to celebrate her wedding anniversary. Offering prayers when a day of remembrance, such as the death of a spouse or child rolls around. Seeing if she needs anything when an anniversary of a divorce comes about. Taking into account the whole person. It’s on her mind, and we can be there for her.

So that is the vision! I’ll write more on the patronage soon.

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Reflections on Death on a Friday Afternoon, Chapter 2: Judge Not

Below are two reflections from Richard John Neuhaus’s book, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross, Chapter 2: Judge Not. To read my reflections from Chapter 1, please click here.

An Approach to Faith

As a 8th grader, attending daily mass, I fell in love with the Lord through the Holy Eucharist. After high school I served one year with the National Evangelization Team, NET Ministries. In that year I learned how to pray using the lectio divina. Following that year, a friend invited me to make a holy hour every day. Throughout college I planned my courses around daily mass and my holy hour. It was a blessed time.

Then came adulthood. In my first year of full time work, I struggled to find rhythm in my prayer life. Then marriage, then pregnancy, then baby, so on and so on. During pregnancy I regained my spiritual strength to pray upon waking, but then baby. “Routine is beauty,” Mark Berchum, founder of NET Ministries said. How to find the beauty when the routine continues to change?

I struggled for a long time with this. The markers I used to diagnose my spiritual life had all changed. With a new vocation I had to look at it with a totally different tool. When I sought counsel, some excused me, some accused me. One day I attended mass, either without my child or with my child asleep. After communion I felt the Lord, I knew that presence, I knew him. “That’s right,” I said, “I love you.”

In the second meditation on Christ’s last words in his book, Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard John Neuhaus has this to say:

When our faith is weak, when we are assailed by contradictions and doubts, we are tempted to look at our faith, to worry about our faith to try to work p more faith. At such times, however, we must not look to our faith but look to him.

Look to him with whatever faith you have and know that your worry about your lack of faith is itself as a sign of faith.

I learned to stop worrying. Periodically I have glimpses of his light and I am reminded, yes, I know you, I love you. I am the same person and you are the same God and our relationship still exists. Step by step, I will continue to follow his path. I have to remind myself to accuse myself, to confess. Each season I need to seek out ways to pray, to read, to grow. I try to be more merciful towards myself and how far we are from the goals we set for our family prayer.

So this is good advice for me.

Desire all to be saved

As Neuhaus reflects on the interaction between the Good Thief and Christ, specifically Christ’s response to him, “Today you shall be with me in paradise,” Neuhaus considers whether all can or should be saved.

“For paradise we long. Fer perfection we were made.”

“Given the evidence of Scripture and tradition, we cannot deny that hell exists. We can, however, hope that hell is empty. We cannot know that, but we can hope it is the case.”

Some might object to such a notion, and indeed many intelligent minds have. To one objection, Neuhaus reminds the reader of the parable of the workers in the vineyard, called at different times throughout the day, but paid the same wage. In response to the indignation,

“‘What is the point of being a Christian if, in the end, everyone is saved?’ People who ask that should listen to themselves. what is the point of being first rather than last in serving the Lord whom you love? what is the point of being found rather than lost? what is the point of knowing the truth rather than living in ignorance.”

Some would say that since no one can be saved except through Christ, that those without Christ do not know the truth, and thus cannot be saved.

“Everything that is true—in religion, philosophy, mathematics or the art of baseball—is true by virtue of participation in the truth who is Christ. The problem is not that non-Christians do not know truth; he problem is that they do not know the truth they know is the truth of Christ.”

At length, Neuhaus lays the foundation of understanding that God has made us for paradise and wants all men to be saved. So we must pray as the persistent widow.

“Prayer creates space for possibilities that would not otherwise be possible.”

We must care, we must desire that all be saved because this is what God desires.

“A Christian is not saved against the rest of humanity, to be separated out from the rest of humanity. Rather, we are saved, as it were, on behalf of all—to be reconcilers, intercessors, mediators for all.”

And we must make an effort to share that truth. We should not be bashful.

“Many Christians are embarrassed by this claim (that there is salvation by no one else). They are intimidated by a culture that decrees that all truths are equal. Who are you to claim that you have the truth and other do not? That is indeed an intimidating question, unless we understand that we do not have the truth in the sense that is it ours by virtue of our having discovered it; we do not have the truth in the sense of its being possession under our control.”

It is God’s truth, it is he who has made us aware of it. And so we should share it, and share in his desires that all men be saved. This is the way of evangelization. One more piece of the puzzle.

Fresco depicting the friar preaching to the Florentines

 

 

Summary of the Outline by Pontifical Council for Culture

The summary below of the outline Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference, was originally written to be part of my consideration of the use of a sculpture by Man Ray, Venus Restored, on the Vatican website to represent this document. However, the article became too long and so I have posted it here separately for those who wish to know more.

Venus Restored, by Man Ray

 

Content of Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference

The outline begins with a wonderful articulation of the male-female difference and what it means to be feminine.

“The expression “women’s cultures does not imply any division from men’s cultures, but shows our awareness that there is a women’s “perspective” on the world and all that surrounds us, on life and on experience.”

John Paul II wrote that femininity is woman’s way of being in the world. It is how she experiences it, and masculinity is man’s way of being in the world. Masculinity and femininity do not refer to set traits, but general experiences that shape the life of the person in question, making him masculine or her feminine. Both are complete as they are, not in need of the other to be complete, as the opening quote by Edith Stein to this outline so beautifully states.

“I am convinced that the human species develops as a twofold species, ‘male’
and ‘female’; that the essence of the human being, of which no trait should be
missing, is present in both, manifesting itself in two ways: and that the entire structure of being highlights this specific mould.”

The outline begins with an articulation of the presence of a women’s culture, which is experientially different then a man’s culture, because woman experiences the world differently, as a woman. The document takes a realistic view that at one time these different cultures created different spheres of influence for the man (public) and the woman (private), but in time that gap has lessened. Despite the narrowing of the gap, a woman’s reality continues to be quite different than that of a man, and she identifies herself with different terms. The writers propose some important questions regarding the co-existence of equality and difference.

The next section focuses on the concept of generativity and the nature of woman to be linked to and defined by her body. “Putting it in an excessively simplified way, we can affirm that the generative path is divided into four moments: desiring, bringing into the world, looking after, and finally, letting go.” Woman’s genius is not limited to her bio-physiological orientation towards child-rearing, but also in every day practice, the way she goes about the world. “Women executives and managers, for example, who develop managerial processes based on respect, welcoming, making the most of differences and skills, generate and protect life expressing fecundity.”

Recognizing the value of the feminine body, the document goes on to examine the abuses that happen specifically towards women and how these abuses are linked to her body through poverty as “both a cause and consequence of violence on women”, slavery, feminicide (“selective abortion, infanticide, genital mutilation, crimes of honour, forced marriages, trafficking of women, sexual molestation, rape”), domestic violence, non-medical plastic surgery, reducing woman from generator to producer of children, and using woman’s body for marketing, commercialization.

The last section explores the role of women in the Church, which John Paul II called for, as coming to fruition. Continuing the hard, realistic look at the state of things, the authors ask, “What is not working, today, so that the image of womanhood that the Church has kept, does not correspond to reality?” Woman’s engagement with the Church seems to be diminishing. Rather than calling for the replacement of men in positions of liturgical power with women, the authors continue to plea of John Paul II:

“A realistic objective could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.”

In Catholic circles, we’d like to think that the good we see makes up the majority of the reality, but unfortunately it is not so. Faithful and informed Catholics are quick to point out the Catholic Church has a singular historical role in valuing woman and her contribution (through motherhood, the saints, the Virgin Mary, mystics), educating women (through convents/monasteries, Catholic schools) and creating positions of power (abbess) and importance (teaching, Catholic hospitals). Woman is valued, perhaps now, more than ever and her role discussed with great honor and respect via the writings of John Paul II.

With only a like button possible to quickly post our views, we’re tempted to post only positive things because if we talk about the negative, communication online quickly breaks down. Nevertheless, the conversation is important and must be pursued. I hope you will take a look at this document, and further the discussion of what we can do to help women in society to discovered, with unbridled freedom, her glory and dignity.

Reflections on Only the Lover Sings, Chapter 4

Below you find my reflection on the fourth section, titled Music and Silence, of Josef Pieper’s book, Only the Lover Sings. Click here for reflections on Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Music and Silence

“Music opens up a great, perfectly dimensioned space of silence within which, when things come about happily, a reality can dawn which ranks higher than music.”

Music creates a listening silence wherein we are opened up to the divine. It clears the channel of noise, distraction and thought so we might receive.

1 Kings 19:11-13

11 And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli′jah?”

God is to be heard in the quiet, in the receptive, listening silence.

This is why music is essential to the liturgy. Youth programs such as Life Teen and the National Evangelization Team understand this powerful role of music to lift the heart to God. It seems the music one encounters at a typical Sunday liturgy ignores this fact. Jennifer Fitz, who is wonderful at saying it as it is, acknowledges part of the problem is choice. Some parishioners or priests, whoever it is who makes these decisions at some parishes simply do not want better music. We have experienced that. There may be many psychological reasons for it, but it comes down to a lack of openness and a lack of recognition of what the fine arts have to offer.

The self/we-centered hymns of OCP keep one firmly grounded, they do not open us up to a listening silence that goes beyond the music itself.

Considering more on silence, let us contrast this power of music with Edward Munch’s, The Scream, discussed by Daniel Siedell via a Peter J. Leithart post on First Things. The Scream, we read, expresses Munch’s desperate silence scream through art.

“The painting is ‘the sound of our response to nature’s brute silence and indifference, undisclosed as gift through God’s Word’ (21).”

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The Scream – an 1895 lithograph

There is a silence that is a barricaded silence, a solitary silence, a silence in which you find you are truly alone. Then there is the silence that is peace, rest, respite, hushed, that opens our hearts to hear the word of God.

Pieper describes the former which is the “malignant absence of words which already in our present common existence is a parcel of damnation. Isn’t this the silence we, in this society, are so afraid of? With the constant distraction, I’m not sure I agree with those who say we are afraid of silence because are afraid to look inside. Many are, it is true, fearful of that introspection found in silence. But I think, for many who do not know God or the celebration of life made possible by the knowledge of a life beyond this life, the silence is a frightful fearful thing because it is empty. It embodies the scream, the solitary life without meaning.

Fine music opens the heart and mind. The silence is not empty and so need not be a cause for fear. One must be willing to listen. When one is ready to listen. The use of music as a path to interior silence must not be underestimated as a tool for evangelization.

The Capitalist Culture

Where does your culture come from? Definitions of culture from the dictionary include “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group” and “the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.” The United States is made up of many diverse cultures and ethnic groups which results in a fusion of cultures. Some groups remain separate from the larger culture, but typically their children developed a mixed-heritage way of life, balancing between their parent’s culture and the American culture at large.

Traditionally the ingredients of culture might include a unique style of music, unique-historical clothes, religion and its included practices, parenting styles, expected familial and gender roles, and a community to practice all these things in.

Modern secular society comes in stark contrast with these ingredients. One by one:

Music is no longer a product of culture in the United States, it is a product, largely technological, sold to make money.

Clothing is an ongoing development of styles, taking from many traditions, but focused on profit and the effort to get you to keep spending, out with the old, nothing stays on the shelves so buy now.

Religion is old-fashioned and man-made. Science is truth. Tolerance is the new religion and as such traditional religion should not be publicly practiced because it might offend others and offense is the greatest sin against the religion of tolerance.

Out with the traditional family. Most children are born and raised in family structures other than two-parent intact households.

Gender roles are socially constructed. Gender is socially constructed and fluid. Therefore any roles typically attributed to one gender is a limitation of that gender’s potential and should be negotiated.

What community? From rural to city to suburban, by and large we no longer know our neighbors. Since religion is out, community won’t be found there. Don’t trust your neighbors. Most likely someone you know will be the one to harm your children in lasting and traumatic ways.

The definition includes a note of transmitting culture. If culture is derived from religion, the motivation to transmit comes from a motivation to evangelize. If culture is derived from ethnic heritage, the motivation to transmit, while here in the United States comes from a desire not to lose one’s history in the melting pot that is middle America. But families begin to intermarry, as is good and the American way, and when a child’s ethnic heritage consists of ten different regions, the family begins to pick and choose which culture they identify with most. In the Greatest Generation, those who were young during the Depression and fought of World War II, there was a spirit of American conformism. Men and women changed their more ethnically sounding names to fit in. It must be a white, Protestant culture, so the sentiment went. If you didn’t conform, you were out of luck and so you were excluded.

Now we have a different movement at place. Cultural guilt is a real thing. In the US, in general, there is such an amount of guilt over the treatment of minorities, that now the sentiment is less “who has less color/who is native born (go to the front of the class)” and now more, “who can be more diverse,” or “who has more color?” So it seems to me the heritage that might have been passed down through white European decent is thrown into a box labeled “white” and nothing more.

Many elements of our modern society wipe out traditional ingredients and sources of culture. We are left with a vacuum. What takes place then?

As Archbishop Chaput indicated in his recent Erasmus lecture, “democracy isn’t just ‘allied’ with modern technology; it depends on it.” In practical terms, this means that the entertainment industry is the most powerful manufacturer of public opinion. Politicians themselves acknowledge this fact by spending vast amounts of money to buy space in the media and in the craven pursuit of celebrity endorsements at election time (Carl R. Trueman).

If we do not make an effort to build up the culture, to preserve our cultural heritage, to seek a way to transmit cultural practices to future generations, then something must take its place. What else is there?

Since the strongest community for the young is an internet community, and much of what the young spend their time doing (social media) is driven (behind the scenes) by profit seeking, the young are, knowingly and unknowingly exposed to advertising. What is not a product of advertising? Thanksgiving becomes a holiday meant for shopping. The Christmas season, now the generic holiday season is about Santa and shopping (in school it is about Santa, elves, Elsa, and presents). People sigh helplessly and how stores push holidays earlier and earlier, but where else do we gather with people for leisure if not in the marketplace when the churches are out of the modern equation?

We should not give up hope. We can take a conscientious stance on culture, holding onto and transmitting traditions from our past, adopting new traditions that incorporate the sentiment we hope to pass on.  There is a fascinating movement attempting to retake culture through the green movement, organic products, home farming, diy projects. It is anti-corporate. It practices subsidiarity, operating the most local level possible.

Some will fight for culture, those in religion, but then even those not in religion who see something being lost in the bland marketing playground of American society. I am eager to see what happens. I think that the transcendent aspect of religion acts as the glue to bind it all together. What is the core value of the secular millennial movement? It is not the rebellion that captivated the 60’s and 70’s. It is something more. I await the revelation with bated breath.

The need for moments of transcendence

Have you ever experience a moment of exquisite beauty?

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You walk into a building, a piece of music, and have to catch your breath.

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You look around you, bewildered at the sight, pause and take in the sounds that are foreign and yet familiar.

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You feel your heart lifted, your thoughts quiet, your soul settles on a higher plane. These are the effects of transcendence.

Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse

We need to experience moments of transcendence from time to time. Is not life bitter? It rains, the clouds overwhelm the visual appeal we may or may not have achieved at in our homes. The crumbs on the floor, the clean and dirty clothes scattered throughout the preschool kid’s room after she has learned she can move her chair, climb up, and empty and all the contents of her dresser; the crying, yours and your infant’s; forgetting to take our the garbage can; wiping noses, rushing to wipe the nose before the toddler uses his hand over and over and over again; stepping unintentionally in puddles (when it’s intentional that is okay). Life is muddy, mundane, monotonous. Fish spend every waking moment looking for food. What else have we?

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We need to be reminded we are not merely men, not merely animals. We have souls, spirits, like the angels and can be lifted up to where the angels are. Why else do we need God? The animals worship God by their very existence. They are not aware. We need something more. It is not enough to just show up and bless him with our presence (he’s just happy I’m here). No! We need to turn out thoughts, our mind, out intentionality, because we are, unlike the brutes, able to will) to God. We must give to God.

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How can I be drawn to give this gift of myself and my spirit if the liturgy merely inspires the brute and not the spirit? Modern liturgical music and architecture are designed so we feel comfortable. Words anyone can sing, therefore no one sings. Melodies that take us back to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Homiletic anecdotes I read in a chain email eighteen years ago when the Internet was up and coming.

But if I walk into the Church building and it is other-worldly, meaning it reminds me of a place not of this world…Heaven, I am reminded that there is more to my life than the again and again of life and family. My life becomes imbued with a sense of wonder and transcendence. It becomes easier to move through the tasks at hand with the recent memory of that moment in my mind. Just as it is not enough to have only heard sweet nothings from my spouse on our wedding day but never again, I need frequent reminders because I am human. Why begrudge each other that? Are we afraid that because we have lost a sense of transcendence that others will not be drawn to it. Did the devil creep when we whispered to ourselves “I feel so small.” Did he creep in and add “because you are nothing” and then block any of the beautiful thoughts that could follow that, “I am nothing, but yet God still cares for me, died for me, created me, protected me.”

It is happening in some places. New churches are being built. Times are changing.

I live in a predominantly rural area. It is common for inhabitants of rural areas to instinctively find the arts superfluous. My father agrees every child should learn music because he believes what he read that learning music early on enhances one’s ability to learn the other subjects. But at the same time, he can say schools should only teach the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. So while our family is being blessed by attending a parish that actually wants my husband’s musical gifts, the memory is still fresh of encountering again and again a “what’s-the-point” attitude from two parishes where he was previously employed.

What’s the point? Perhaps we need to experience more of it in order to know it.

AWAITING A NEW LIFE

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The soldiers knew and her family knew…wedding plans were about to be made. The girl just did not know when exactly the king would marry her. More time had to pass pass, but the girl knew the waiting would be beautiful, filled with white roses and wild flowers, just like when she was little. She could return to so many things in her past. She was so young, yet so in love. He had given her many wild flowers in the beginning of their relationship. Some said they were weeds. She never saw them in that way. “They’re flowers,” she said. The girl felt desperate to protect these gifts from the judgment of others.

In truth, the girl loved those weeds because when the king found her and she found him, she felt like the weeds he gave her. She felt rejected and unloved by all the things around her, by all the things she loved. So when he took her gently into his arms and called her beautiful, she felt beautiful for the first time. And he waited.

The king lavished on her gifts and love. He made known his intentions to make her his. Yet he waited until she could see how beautiful and valuable shew was before he would ask her to be his completely. He wanted her to move beyond simply finding value in a weed. The girl had to grow to understand that she was truly a flower. Little, of course, but beautiful. Not merely a matter opinion.

He waited and he waited and he waited until the time was perfect. She heard him perfectly, in that arena. Through the noise she heard his voice. He asked her. As the world stood still, she answered him.Hands and Flower3

She sat outside her home and reflected. Now they would wait some more for her to adjust to the outside, outside the arena, before he could take her into the palace to leave her family and live with him. The girl had visited the palace many times, visited it, received his gifts and love. Though it felt like home, there were places she may never ever in the palace before they married. It was a simple house. It was an oasis. “It’s made for you,” he told her. He wrote her name in the walls as it was being built, as he wrote the names of all those who lived there. “You belong here,” he said softly.

The girl had no regrets. Nevertheless, as she sat thinking, the girl thought of the places she would never visit if she married him now. She was so young. When the girl spoke these thoughts to him, the king reminded her that this was what she always wanted. As a child, her only dream was to fall in love and be loved. This was her dream. This was real.

Nineteen. The number echoed in her mind. At thirteen the king told the girl he loved her and wished to marry her. He proposed when she was eighteen. She once thought she heard him whisper that she would marry him at nineteen. The king was unclear now. She wondered. Was it real? Would she miss the things of the world? What were they compared to love? She was so young. But she knew this was right.

So she reassured herself: she would wait and see. He would tell her. She was not afraid. Soon though. She would not be disappointed if he wished her to wait longer. If he waited till she was old, she would wait happily. But if she was old, she would ache for it. It would be hard to know and wait so long. If it meant she could grow to love as he loves, she would do anything.

It seemed like there was more for her to experience before marriage. Everything seemed to melt away when she was with him. Yes, she would choose him before anything else. He had already chosen her. He was calling her. Whenever he said the word, she would run to him, and they would be together, closer than they had ever been, only to draw closer still.

 

At home she did not feel too far from him and the wisdom with which he taught her. It was difficult to be out of his shelter. She felt confused. The girl felt drawn to other things and people. It wasn’t as pure as in the arena. She felt selfish.

Before a long journey, a friend gave her a beautiful ring, with a tanzanite stone and white gold. She moved it back and forth from hand to hand wondering what such a gift meant. Did the king ask the girl’s friend to give it to her. Was it truly just for her or must she return it? It was so different than all other gifts. She held it, but felt as though perhaps it would not be her’s forever. She saw her friends’ reflections in it and the girl felt confused. The sense she had must mean something.

The girl needed to adjust to the feel and the weight of that beautiful ring. “Don’t make it an engagement ring yet,” her friend told her. The girl looked for signs. What did it mean? She looked at her king with perplexed eyes. The king was silent.

He placed his hand on her back and said to her, “peace. It will make sense. Hold on now; look at it in peace. Do not be afraid. These things are good. I love you.”

To cool her anxiety she reminded herself that the king would never forget his love. All that he willed for her was good. Love wills only wills good for the beloved. The troubles that lay just around the corner, on the other side of the wall, she would face it tomorrow. That was reality. The king stood tall on her right side. She looked up at him, lay her head on his chest and thanked him. “I know it doesn’t make sense, my dear king, but…I trust you, I do.” He wrapped his arms around her and they stood together watching another sunset. Life was changing quickly. Her king stayed the same. “Are you afraid of me?” he asked.

“No,” she answered. “Not anymore. I don’t remember when it all changed. Perhaps, last winter with my new heart, but I know you better. I understand you. You let me understand you.”

“Yes,” he said smiling. She knew he was faithful. That is why she trusted him when it seemed there was no one she could trust.

That night they sat together longer than usual. The arena was almost a week gone, her fellow soldiers almost a week gone, and her heart had been through so much since then.

He sat beside her on her couch. They faced the same direction. He turned his head to look at her, then slowly turned his whole body and gave her his attention. The girl told him, “I want to serve you again, through everyone.” He was proud of her desire to support his mission. The moment energized her. She felt a that familiar zeal of the arena and the battlefield.

“Fear not,” he said. He moved closer to her. She rested her head on him again. The king told her, “stay here tonight. Tomorrow I will take you out to the battlefield again.” The girl knew he did not mean the battlefield where she had been before. It meant they would be away from each other. She would have to fight her own fears, her own loneliness. She was afraid of the independence he pointed her to. The girl feared thinking she was closer than she really was, thinking they were closer than they really were. She had to trust him.

So tonight she would stay and love him. She would await tomorrow with eager love.

The next day, it felt like a battlefield. She felt sad. The girl reminded herself that he was her king and she was working for his kingdom. She felt broken. It was difficult to remember both his greatness and his tenderness. He was not only her friend, but a great king. She felt broken with love. Of course, the girl was not at the battlefield. She was beginning her life at home.

Reflections on Gift from the Sea: The final sections (6, 7, and 8)

When I was in 8th grade, I fell in love with Christ. Every year following that was romance, beauty and yearning for his battlefields. When I married, my world became smaller. The trials we experienced were pressing and though a part of me still looked out to the larger world, planetal awareness, as Mrs. Lindbergh calls it, my attention was necessarily focused, and is still focused, towards the little world of our family.

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I recall the lesson of Mother Teresa. How to change the world? Drop by drop.

I asked a priest once, can one still experience total union with Christ if one is married? He answered, yes, all three of you.

How does it all happen? On a practical level, how does it happen?

We don’t often hear these stories and even if you do, is it ever really enough to fully fit the image into your psyche?

Anne Morrow Lindbergh has painted a picture for me. Shell by shell, step by step, she opened up my awareness to the beauty of alone time, of creative work, of alone-togetherness, of the middle functional period of marriage, and the evolution that takes place so that slowly we become whole persons able to give like we’ve never given before, because we’ve never been so complete. And now what?

Two sections ago I was thinking, these are good things I am working on. I feel so good, so satisfied. Each week I read a little, write a little, do some craft or design. And I feel good. I’m spending more time with my eldest, delighting in her a little more, missing her when she is at my parents’ home for a visit. Then I thought, this is all well and good, but shouldn’t I be working on my spirituality too?

If it feels good, just don’t do it, eh? I’m told that’s an old Irish philosophy. If I feel this happy, I must be missing something, right? (My low self-esteem talking)

Then comes the last section, “The Beach at my Back.” Here are the quotes:

Modern communication loads us up with more problems than the human frame can carry.

It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not as elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.

Can we solve world problems when one is unable to solve one’s own?

If we stop to think about it, are not the real casualties in modern life just these centers I have been discussing: the here, the now, the individual and his relationships.

The here, the now, and the individual, have always been the special concern of the saint, the artist, the poet, and—from time immemorial—the woman. In the small circle of the home she has never quite, forgotten the particular uniqueness of each member of the family.

The path to holiness that I must walk takes into account the world in which I live, a busy, chaotic world, where we are informed nonstop of the plight of others and not just the masses, but human, personal stories of individuals. And it’s painful to bear it.

Start at home. Start with one’s community. We are here given permission to let go a little of the troubles around the world. We are not meant to bear all these crosses.

The feminine genius, according to St. Pope John Paul II, possesses a particular openness to the person. This genius acts as a light to guide mankind back to its center. The ebb and flow of life. We can be go out but must return inward.

Perhaps it feels good precisely because it is right. As Mrs. Lindbergh says, I must take these seashells with me, for me these are these reflections I have written, let them be the eyes of the sea for me, reminders, guide posts of what matters, in order to point me on my way.

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THE END OF THE ARENA

It was quiet and the sun was setting for the day. What a long day and yet, as she saw the colors change in the sky, the laughter and love among companions, she thought to herself, “we have been blessed.” It was a good battle. The last fight was carried by their king’s strength. Not all battles were victorious. The littlest were often the hardest, but the final battles all promised victory. She thought to herself, as they winded down, how the last moments would be as they walked from the arena to their homes for the night.

The sun was getting low. One more battle remained. It seemed almost frightening, this night, a night without her fellow soldiers, but she would not fear, nor would they. Their time together drew them close together. Battle wounds remained, but the victory so shined in their eyes that the suffering was no longer visible. In fact, like a woman with child, the memory of pain had become abstract, a memory, no longer felt. Joy alone remained. The king smiled as he had seen them between battles. “You are mine,” he told them. They shouted back with love. There was something in those shouts, something so deep. It could not be expressed. The girl thought of love and her king and her new dedication to him. Battles will end, but love and the cause will always endure. She could see in the past weeks his revelation to each of them which battlefields they would go to next. Some were called back to the arena that they might do great things. It would be in different places, with different soldiers, fighting different battles, but with the same love.

She could see the sun setting and that night, they would think of each other and think of the king. He had chosen them and placed them together, made them a team. How good the king was to them. He never left the battle for even a moment. In training and in war he had become more than a king, he was their father. She looked up at him that night. The shadows and light fell on his face. He waved his hand. She smiled and prepared herself for this moment. The hardest moment here would not be the fight, but the knowledge that once the sun was down, the battle would be over. It would be time, but what a day it had been.

 

To each of the soldiers the girl wrote:

I love you. I have fought with you. I have known you. I will not forget you. We are leaving this day, but we will remember. You are men and women of our one King. We are all and will always be his. I do love you. I will always love you. Do not forget me. We are fighting for the kingdom, may we finish in victory. Thank you for your love. All for the kingdom! All for the king!

Questions on suffering: why do we suffer?

We need it all. This is part of gradualism. Presentation of the Church as a haven. Heaven with angels and harps. But to some whose hearts have had to harden to survive, this is distasteful. They want reality. What is reality? Reality is a cross. Good Friday is reality. Mass is reality. If we go through life thinking every moment is not imbued with Christ’s passion than we are the one’s living in an illusion. Christianity without the cross is such an illusion.

It is the act of bringing the fear of suffering into the one place that makes suffering make sense.

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I am not consoled when I am told, everything is going to be okay. Well, I am a little consoled. But then the tribulation comes again…and again…and again. What then? When will it be okay? It is not okay now. When I have heard the legends of other mothers making it through. Then I am consoled. Hearing, “oh, it is awful, but it passes” then I am consoled. I am encouraged to advance, to hold strong. “This too shall pass” my English teacher said to me when with my drivers’ permit, I ran up on the curb with my mother’s car and the tire popped, on her birthday. This too shall pass.

We have to acknowledge the suffering, have to acknowledge that it is painful and hard.

So why do we try to escape the message of suffering. “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Perhaps somewhere (maybe in the 1970’s and 1980’s) the message got out there that people will be attracted to Christianity by the witness of our joy. And perhaps joy was misunderstood as cheerfulness (God loves a cheerful giver, you know). And with the American can-do attitude, the emasculation of men in society and media, and the over-representation of women in the pews, maybe the concept of joy in the midst of suffering was lost. We were trying to sell something to the people outside of the pews.  “We welcome you to our Eucharistic Celebration.”

It’s true, but with a happy-go-lucky tune and few references to the unbloody re-presentation of Christ on the Cross during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the image is unfortunately skewed.

Gina Loehr has some important points in her article, “The Passion of Pregnancy.” Perhaps the media would not be so successful at spinning conservative efforts to protect the unborn as a war on women if more recognition was made of the suffering of women who become pregnant, planned or unplanned. Taking a more compassionate approach, walking with the person (as many pro-life groups do), might get us further in the effort to support all life.

I am moved by the articles I read from those who suffer, encourage those who are also suffering. Philip Johnson, a 29-year old seminarian writes an open letter to Brittany Maynard, another 29-year old, who announced her decision to end her life and committed suicide on November 1, Feast of All Saints, rather than go through the stages of cancer. Men like Fr. Benedict Groeshel were open about their suffering and the nature of the cross. With this honesty, he reached out to countless seekers seeking answers.

The Baltimore Catechism (Q. 636) recognizes two goods of suffering. “: (1) To remind us of the misery that always follows sin; and (2) To afford us an opportunity of increasing our merit by bearing these hardships patiently.” If we recognize where suffering comes from and the goods it entails, and live our Christian faith with lively, honest hearts, evangelizing by attraction and by mercy, than I think we can make progress. What is suffering? There is the suffering that is part of life (illness, death, severely cold or hot weather). The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (P. 385) puts it succinctly that these seem to be “linked to the limitations proper to creatures.” We are bodily creatures. These bodies have natural limitations. And so we suffer.

Then there is the suffering where we inevitably have the sense that it is unjust, “this should not have happened.” In Christ and in religion, we find some explanation: the evil of sin unmasked in its true identity as humanity’s rejection of God and opposition to him, even as it continues to weigh heavy on human life and history (P. 386). Our actions ripple outward from ourselves and the consequences of one person’s sins, be they material consequences, physical, or psychological consequences, affects the generations that follow.

God is not the author of evil. “God is infinitely good and all his works are good” (P. 375). In the cross he suffered, and in the Resurrection he conquered suffering. We do not need to ignore the cross and have only images of the Resurrected Jesus. If we see images of what he endured, it provides comfort to those in agony, and we know, because we profess it that he lived, he rose from the dead. Each Passion message comes with the Resurrection message. With this understanding, our suffering can begin to make sense, and God-willing, a process towards healing our hearts.

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