I am praying Advent this year with Cameron Bellm’s “Advent with St. Oscar Romero,” and the reality of my life is that my first day, I was looking at last year’s edition instead of this year’s. The takeaway of the day was:: if God was present in all the upheaval and injustice taking place in El Salvador in 1977, when Romero wrote the homily I was praying with, then that applies today, too. God is present. Even in this. The good, yes, but also the bad.
Given the reality of pandemic, persistent injustice, fake news, and the constant apocalyptic thinking that characterizes both sides of the political spectrum these days, this seems like a particularly beautiful thought for this Advent.
On days when I ride out to the Missouri River, I often take the book The Ignatian Adventure (Kevin O’Brien, S.J.) to guide reflection and prayer. Yesterday, the Scripture verse was Jesus asking, “What are you looking for?”
Instantly, I thought: “Peace.”
Then I thought: “No, it can’t be that easy.”
As previously established on this blog, my Enneagram personality type is #1, The Crusader. I am hyper-aware of everything in the world that is NOT AS IT SHOULD BE, and I feel if I do not expand my last drop of energy attempting to fix it, I am derelict in my duty. I am very hard on others, but I’m harder on myself. Integrity tops the list of traits I value most.
None of this facilitates a peaceful spirit.
Further complicating the acquisition of a peaceful spirit is the sheer intensity of family life in a time of division and pandemic. Peace, for me, is achieved in solitude and quiet. These days, solitude is hard to come by. I walk around my house all day turning off things people turned on, closing doors they opened, yelling at them to put away things they got out and left (food, dishes, dirty socks, electronics, you name it), and to quit annoying each other out of sheer boredom… and (let’s call a spade a spade) boy mischief.
And all of you who are out there feeling smug right now about “well, if you’d just teach them,” just remember how resistant your own kids are/were to the lessons you tried to teach. And imagine being stuck in a house for seven-plus months trying to correct such patterns with people whose mental health is as precarious as your own, during one of the most blisteringly, ugly, divisive times our country has ever experienced.
So yes. When Jesus asks, “What are you looking for in following me?” the honest answer is: “peace.” The peace that comes from assurance that everything is going to be okay, and not just someday on the far side of death, but here, in this world. This beautiful, fragile, fractured world given to us as practice for Heaven.
I love this quote from Julian of Norwich. It is so comforting–except when people use the quote to suggest that we shouldn’t be worrying about solving real world problems because the only thing that matters is what comes later. As if you’re ever going to be allowed INTO the world beyond without working for its realization on this side of the great divide.
And yet, also, I have been slowly waking to a new insight, these past weeks. Sometimes situations are so messed up, there IS no human solution. The division in America, for instance. No matter who wins this election, the problem at the foundation isn’t going away. We don’t have a solution for the ugliness and bitterness and extremism of our politics. We’ve chained ourselves to them.
There must be away out—a way toward unity and cooperation—but I can’t see it, and I don’t have much faith that anyone else can, either.
So my prayers, of late, have been asking God to show us the path we can’t find on our own. And recognizing that the path TO that path may be so steep, tick-and-poison-ivy-infested, and rugged, we may just have to take it on total faith that we’re heading the right direction at all. That regardless of what I can see or comprehend–no matter what it looks like right now–all will, eventually, be well.
There’s so much bad stuff going on in the world–and even in our houses, the wearing daily grind of togetherness causes so much stress–that it feels almost insensitive to acknowledge out loud how beautiful some of this stay-at-home experience is.
How can we find beauty in our world when so many are suffering and dying, when so many have had the pain of losing loved ones they can’t even be with in their last hours? Can’t gather to bury?
But beautiful things are happening in our homes alongside the stress of isolation. With the punishing busy-ness removed, creativity has flowered, giving rise to new traditions. My family kind of hopes the birthday parades continue! For Mother’s Day and birthdays this spring we wrote up affirmations and left them hidden around the house for the honoree. We’ve cooked well, regularly eaten together on the deck. Taken lots of walks and bike rides, done lots of work in the yard. All because we weren’t chasing the futility of the rat race all over town.
And for all of that, in the midst of this upheaval, I give thanks to God.
Posting here has become sort of irregular, but I doubt that comes as much of a surprise. We’re all stumbling along through this new reality, experiencing Holy Week and sharing in the passion of Jesus with a depth of experience that gives it new meaning, even while we lack the emotional bandwidth to fully unpack it as it unfolds.
It seems everyone is passing around things to keep us busy and make the time pass in this brave new world, but I don’t need anything else to do! Some structure, a break in the unceasing grind of togetherness? Yes. But not more to do. I’m supervising four kids’ schoolwork now, and I’ve learned that if I take the time to do something of my own, something for the kids is going to be sacrificed. Hence: irregular posting at Intentional Catholic.
Yesterday I managed to do a quick web search for words of comfort from the saints, and this one popped out immediately. It speaks to me about a particular area of my life right now, but it also speaks to the larger situation where we all find ourselves, working from home and supervising children in an intensity of togetherness we could scarcely imagine a month ago. There is a meaning to be found in this time, an opportunity to be embraced.
This is my prayer for my family every morning and every night right now:
I’ve been thinking lately, as I watch the skyrocketing numbers of people watching daily Masses (895 people watched my parish’s Saturday Mass, in whole or in part–a Mass that *might* get 75 ordinarily) and other religious formation events online, that we as Church have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when the bans are lifted and we are together again.
People will be back, and they will be spiritually hungry; for the first time in years, they will have been forced–collectively–to examine their lives. Not that individuals among us haven’t had this experience before, but now we’ve done it as a Church. This means that we, collectively, as Church will be aware of the gift that is the parish, the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy, and our communities.
We need to be ready for this. We’re going to have a window that we have not had in my lifetime, for sure, and maybe for many generations. We don’t want to squander this. People who recognize the gift they’ve been given are people who are more open to giving back. We have to be ready to give what’s needed and to ask for help.
And if we take advantage of this window, we could revitalize our weary, beaten-down Church.
And of course, there’s the ongoing stain of the sex abuse scandal.
Given all this, it was pretty demoralizing when that Pew research survey came out a few months ago. The one suggesting that Catholics don’t even really understand the one thing that, above all others, defines us: the Eucharist.
Today I want to offer two points as words of hope. First, this article. Words matter, and the way the Pew questions were written, many of us would hesitate, caught between our faith and the way certain words are used in the modern secular world. I mentioned this at choir practice shortly after the survey came out, when people were expressing their dismay about the survey, and a recent convert, who had to navigate those waters on the way into the Church, nodded vigorously in agreement. The authors of this analysis suggest a more hopeful picture, and their argument resonates with me.
Which brings me to the second point: part of the reason for that resonance is an experience I had when I was working as a full-time liturgy director. I was jaded even then about the view and understanding of the Eucharist among the average Catholic Mass-goer. Convinced that most people really didn’t “get” it.
Then one day, when we had a no-show, I substituted as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister.
It was an amazing experience. One after another, people raised their eyes and their hands. The looks on their faces remain with me to this day: raw, naked, vulnerable, longing, hopeful, reverent, transfigured. Those people knew they were receiving Jesus. Knew it at a visceral level that tells a truth far deeper than any survey can illuminate. By the end of Communion, I was nearly in tears.
So when the division in the Church seem ready to rip us apart at the seams—when despair tries to get a hold on my heart—I choose to hope. To believe that what I was taught as a child remains true now: the Spirit is in control, that we are led at this point in time by the person the Spirit knows we need, and that nothing can destroy the Church. Not even us.
Until I started reading Evangelii Gaudium last fall, I had never thought much about the relationship between joy and faith. The very beginning of this apostolic exhortation consists of a list of very familiar Scripture quotes that I never before thought of in terms of joy.
Simple, childlike joy: if we want to evangelize, Pope Francis said, we do it by showing that our faith in Jesus Christ gives us joy.
I have to admit, “joy” is not the vibe I get off most of the people who make a big Thing out their Christian faith. Some…yes. But a precious few.
More to the point, it’s definitely not been the vibe I sensed from myself. I want to see the world as God sees it—yes, there’s beauty, but there is also so much that is not as it should be. How can I help being grieved by what grieves the heart of God?
For years, faith has reminded me of Jacob wrestling with God/the angel. What is the point of faith, after all? Isn’t it to challenge us to become better than we would be without it? If the point of faith is to pat us on the head and tell us how we’re saved and forgiven and we’re blessed in temporal terms because we’re saved—well, I would submit that what we’re actually worshiping isn’t God at all, but our own comfort.
The psalms encompass the breadth of human emotional experience. I know this. But this is Psalm 34. There are more than a hundred more psalms after this one. There is no way that David never had more troubles after writing this song.
Maybe being set free from troubles just means those troubles don’t rule you. You still have to walk through the dark valleys, but you don’t have to let them define you. They don’t have to define your identity.
So maybe it’s okay to be angry with the things I see happening in the world. But I don’t have to internalize it, dwell on it, and lie awake fretting about it. (Or what people think of me for calling it out, for that matter.)
And maybe it means that I can advocate for the will of God in the world, as best I can discern it, but I don’t have to be crushed when the inevitable setbacks come. I can default to joy, even though things aren’t as they should be.
There’s no doubt the Church is going through a period of darkness and ecclesial weakness right now. Many have left the Church and plenty of the rest of us have been shaken. This is such a beautiful reminder for this time and place. Come, Lord Jesus! Come, Holy Spirit!