Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Conspicuous: An Afternoon for Life

I wondered what we looked like from the third floor.  Surely the sight of five Catholic priests in clerics, three young women, and one seminarian clad in a black cassock whipping in the bitter fall Canadian wind would catch someone’s attention, someone’s heart.  

We stood on the sidewalk opposite of the abortion clinic, pulled out our rosaries, and began the Sorrowful Mysteries.  The beads felt cold and hard in my already-frozen fingers.  I again looked up at the third floor of the building that had been claimed by the abortionist.  The sign-less clinic shared a doorway with a Curves gym.  Most people wouldn’t know the den of horrors was overhead if it hadn’t been for our group.  Some passers-by probably wondered why we were so against Curves.  A steady stream of people came and went from the McDonald’s next door.  Everything looked normal.  Except us.

As we took turns leading decades, we fought against the wind and traffic to pray loudly enough for the others to follow.  Occasionally a bus would stop just past our group, depositing a small group of people next to us.  Shocked, embarrassed, indifferent, or indignant, the travelers made their ways past us silently, mostly, with the occasional mocking comment. 

I closed my eyes and listened especially to my priest friends’ voices reciting the rosary, warming inside thinking of how pleasing they on that sidewalk must’ve been to Our Lord and Lady.  Deeper into the mysteries I happily imagined the immense effect that five priests’ prayers would bring, equally amazed at the stubbornness of evil.

And then a door would open.  Perhaps it was a boyfriend, who waited nervously outside, smoking, looking everywhere but at our little group right across the street.  Another swing of a door, and it would be a patient leaving quickly, arms linked with a friend, hurrying down the street.  More women leaving, this time having come from the gym.  Coming and going, doors opening and closing, as our rosary went on, I wanted to scream.  Didn’t anyone see the horror of what was going on on that third floor?  Couldn’t anyone smell the loss of life, all those babies, all those mothers, the loss of soul, the scars, the damage wrought by one man and a team of “caring professionals”?  It all looked so normal.  Like any other busy street downtown.  Except for us. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mothers: Bastions of Hope, Catalysts for Change

I’ve been praying a lot for patience recently, and not too long ago, the Holy Spirit arrived and charitably suggested that I had not a lack of patience but a lack of hope. 

I despaired.  That seemed like a worse problem.

I considered it.  I typically lose my cool when a.) my child is doing something he knows not to do because I’ve told him before (perhaps ten seconds before) not to do it, b.)my child is doing something she knows not do because I’ve told her for years not to do it, or c.) my child(ren) are doing a. and b. and then the baby cries.

The Holy Spirit very gently let it be known to me that I mentally throw in the towel a hundred times a day.  I get frustrated and curt not because the four-year-old asks that I take off his shoes for him right as we get home from the grocery store and my arms full of bags and with my foot I’m trying to shoo the baby away from the giant box of candy cereal (that’s only for Mass) but because I am convinced that he’ll still be asking me when he’s in high school.  I lose my cool not because every utterance from the five-year-old sounds like a taunt, tease, or command but because I imagine her as a twenty-five-year-old telling her colleague, “Sue, make these copies for me and then we can take a break and pretend that it’s my birthday party!  What are you going to bring me?”  Mealtimes can pique my despair because I imagine the three of them, just as they are but bigger, smacking, dropping food, talking with full mouths, falling out of their seats, or crying as they sit with their families for dinner…oh, wait, I might do that now.  But, in any case, as silly as it is to write it down, in the moment of badness, it all seems so hopeless, like nothing will ever change.

So that’s my project for this week: in moments of extreme impatience, to recognize it for what it is in myself—a lack of hope—and make a little prayer asking God’s help for them to overcome whatever weakness it is that they are struggling with and then believe that He will.  New Advent offers the following definition of hope.  “Hope, in its widest acceptation, is described as the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it.” 

Because if I as a mother have no hope in my own children, this all is for naught.  If I don’t believe in their ability to mature, with grace, then who will?  And what a powerfully dangerous thought: what if I do hope in them?  What if I do hope that with God’s grace they will blossom into mature adults, mature children of God, thoughtful, capable, and reasonable individuals?  Bright points of light who’d willingly reject our culture in favor  of helping God’s kingdom on earth flourish?  In short, saints.  What could happen if I hoped in their sanctity?  I don’t know, but I suspect St. Monica does.     

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To Whom Are We Opening Ourselves?

The phone rang last night at 9pm and when I saw a family member’s number on the phone display, I sensed that something was wrong.  I answered, and the normally upbeat voice of my relative sounded a little unnerved and she quickly revealed why.

She shared with me how she had just heard from a friend of hers who had lost her husband some months ago.  Recently, overwhelmed with grief, the friend disclosed that she had met with a medium in hopes of contacting her late husband.  And, it appeared to the widow, that she had.  Both comforted and a little skeptical, she, a woman of shaky faith, turned to my relative, a woman of strong faith, for her take on the matter.  She said the medium had been able to describe in detail moments shared only between her and her husband in his last days, despite only having known her first name.  What, the friend seemed to imply in the email, should she make of this encounter?

The experience reminded me of a book that I had read in college—probably a bit prematurely in my spiritual journey, but helpful nonetheless—that dealt in part with such things.  I shared with my relative how mediums really can in some cases contact “the other side”, but it is never Our Heavenly Father that they reach.  Evil spirits can mimic deceased persons or recount such “hidden” knowledge as the last moments in a person’s life.  A favorite trick they pull is showing or commenting on how happy that person is and how no one should worry about him, serving to both cheat the deceased out of prayers and having Masses said for him (the family now doesn’t think it’s necessary, though in reality the deceased might be suffering greatly in Purgatory) and also to ensnare the soul of the one seeking out the medium, becoming more involved in the dark powers in a misguided attempt to connect with the loved one.  My family member remarked that this had been the case, as the late husband was shown to be in great spirits, laughing and telling jokes.  

Fortunately for the friend she is a Catholic and we brainstormed ways to get her plugged back into her Catholic community.  For the friend, it was important that she find the positive alternatives to what she was seeking.  Clearly, she wanted to keep that bond of love between her and husband alive, and we have the beautiful teaching of the communion of saints, knowing that our connection is stronger than death and that we can pray for each other as we strive for heaven.  We also can pray for our deceased loved ones in Purgatory to help speed them on their way to heaven.  Second, by seeking out a medium, she was indicating a desire to meet with someone who’s a mediator between the spiritual and earthly worlds.  And happily for us Catholics, we have them!  Priests!  Our beautiful friends who walk this earth in persona Christi; Christ who is the ultimate mediator between God and man.  Finally, she experienced this in a group and how much more comforting a Catholic support group could be.  And Mass.  And sacred scripture.  And the rest of our beautiful sacraments.  We quickly had a long list of ways that the friend could open herself up to the spiritual world, but in ways that Our Lord Himself has given us, true, reliable, trust-worthy ways, and not by taking matters into her own hands.  The danger in this friend’s case, we decided, was the feeling of a “quick fix”, of feeling like she had an immediate connection to the deceased.  As Monsignor Pope wrote a few days ago of spiritual and physical growth needing time to develop, this friend’s faith would also need time to bloom, probably, before she could appreciate the lasting fruit of feeling a true connection to God and his children.

Feeling very hopeful for the friend and so grateful that she had such faithful friends in my relatives, I hung up the phone.  For about eight seconds I felt really proud that I had been able to share some good thoughts with my family.  And then I got the creeps—big time.  I tried to reason with myself that our house was blessed, that we frequented the sacraments and prayed regularly as a family, so I had nothing to worry about.  But as I pulled the comforter up to my nose and curled up into a ball, someone reminded me of all the evil I had personally welcomed into my house that day through my sin.  I acknowledged it and asked Jesus for His forgiveness and protection, which I was confident that He would give.  But it left me with the parting thought before sleep took over: what—or rather, who—do I open myself and my family to during the day?

The Vatican Radio on Monday wrote, “A very small word that sums up Christ’s mission on earth was the focus of Pope Benedict XVI’s Angelus reflections this week: "Ephphatha," which means, "Be opened.” Drawn from the Sunday Gospel, Mark Chapter 7, which recounts Christ’s healing of the deaf mute, Pope Benedict XVI said Jesus “became man so that man, made inwardly deaf and dumb by sin, would become able to hear the voice of God, the voice of love speaking to his heart, and learn to speak in the language of love, to communicate with God and with others”.

Today as we honor the Most Holy Name of Mary, let’s pray that we, our families, and our communities may be opened, as our Our Lady was, only to the infinite beauty, grace, and love that comes from the Godhead, and deaf and dumb to all messages contrary to Him and His peace.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Filling Up on God

You know that feeling of knowing that God’s got your number?  When He goes out of His way to send you an internal light and then has someone else tell you the same thing?  That happened last week.  I forget what I was doing, but I think very suddenly one day, a voice—very certainly not me—asked me if I had my hopes and dreams for that day pinned on coffee.  Was that, the voice asked, the best thing that could happen to you today?  I had to consider this.  Yes, actually, when I was honest with myself, that did seem about as good as things would get.  I was frustrated with the children, the house was messy, I was preparing for my husband to leave us for a few weeks…yep, a cup of coffee with some milk and sugar was a guarantee—I could have control over it and could have it when I wanted, which was about the only thing I could count on last week.  I again considered how awful things had been recently.  The voice asked again gently if that beverage would be sufficient to get me though the obstacles the week had lined up for me.  No, of course not, I thought.  Nothing would get me through what I had to do except a massive miracle and magnificent, jaw-dropping love because I was running on empty.  Oh…I paused for a moment.  I felt someone smile at me.  I guess I didn’t have to settle for being propped up by caffeine.  We, as Catholics, have something—Someone—so much better who will love us in a way material things can’t.

Just in case I would be tempted to discount such a dangerous suggestion (is there really more to life than just coffee?), a beautiful priest gave an awesome homily a few days later on how we on earth are like those parched in the desert and unless we turn to God, we’ll cling to any drop of refreshment we can get through pleasures like food, drink, relationships (and worse, he implied).  Check.  I had heard that voice properly.  That message had been for me.

Friday, my fasting from coffee day (and other non-water beverages and sometimes! treats), and it was a good day to take God up on His suggestion of filling up on Him.  It was another very difficult day and every four minutes, my thoughts returned with increasing crankiness to the forbidden cup, and it was only with great difficulty that I could translate that desire into a little cry for help and love from Love Himself.  The four minute cycle repeated throughout the day, and I caught myself feeling embarrassed and silly for how often I had to cry out to God in my need, in my loneliness, in my frustration, in my sadness and anxiety, in my guilt.  I felt very poor and very much like my little children, who call on me just as often and for whom and their myriad needs I suddenly had a greater tenderness.  With great relief I went to bed Friday evening knowing that Saturday and its promise of coffee would come.  It did, and it was followed by a challenging weekend that was also accompanied by lots of treats and my husband, and during difficult moments, I forgot all about being poor and little and tried to take control of my emotions by filling up on those things.  It didn’t work.   

Now that my husband’s gone for a while, I hope that the feeling of being little and poor won’t be forgotten so quickly.  I hope I can learn to put coffee and treats in their place—as energy—and not as a poor substitute for our heavenly Father’s great love.  I hope that I can remember, with our Lady’s intercession, that I was given by my parents the gift of my Catholic faith, that I can fill up on the Eucharist, that my heavenly Father loves me in my poverty and littleness and that He has my number.