Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Page Out of Butler's

I am deep in my February volume from the Bulter’s Lives of the Saints, given to me by my darling husband so that I may not be at the mercy of Google when it comes to learning about our saintly brothers in Christ.

The February 27th entries sparkle from the page, each saint or blessed’s life a little jewel reflecting the great light of God’s mercy and love.   There’s St. Julian and Companions, Martyrs (250):  “After lamenting the fact that so many fell away from the faith in the face of threats and torture, Dionysius describes those who stood firm, among whom was an old man named Julian, so crippled with gout that he could not stand, let alone walk.  Two friends had to carry him to his trial; one of these renounced his faith and was released, but the other stood firm with Julian and was condemned.  They were ‘taken right through the city, which as you all know is immense, mounted on camels and whipped while perched aloft.  Finally, while the whole population milled around, they were burnt up with quicklime.’”

I look up quicklime and view pictures of gout—a better use of Google—imagine the temptation to renounce the faith at the first lick of the whip, and marvel at their courage.

Next is St. Baldomerus (c. 660): a locksmith in Lyons.  “He lived devoutly and austerely, giving away all he could afford—and sometimes what he could not afford, such as the tools of his trade—to the poor.  He greeted everyone he met with an ‘arrow-prayer’—In nomine Domini gratias semper, “In the name of God, let us give thanks always.”

I think, too, of St. Baldomerus’s bravery.  Would I ever have the courage to praise God so freely in polite conversation?  Or to give away my KitchenAid stand mixer?

Next in line the also-brave St. Anne Line, Martyr (c. 1565-1601):  Born to staunch Calivinists, Anne and her brother converted to Catholicism by the age of 20 and were disinherited.  Anne later married Roger Line, also a disinherited convert who would eventually become imprisoned for attending Mass and later exiled.  Anne, despite suffering from great poverty and ill health, gave the rest of her life to helping fellow Catholics and on February 26, 1601 “she was charged with harboring a priest…she spent her last night in prayer and was taken to Tyburn to be hanged on 27 February 1601.  There she kissed the gallows and prayed till her last moments.”

I wonder if I would pray, too, before my death.  I wonder if I would panic and doubt in the prison cell, tempted to believe that I somehow had done something wrong to deserve this punishment, that God had left me.  I know I would not have kissed the gallows.

Then, Blesseds Mark Barkworth and Roger Filcock:  “Mark Barkworth, venerated as the first English Benedictine martyr, and Roger Filcock, a Jesuit priest, were executed immediately after Anne Line (above).  Mark kissed the hem of her dress and her hand as she hung from the gallows, saying, ‘Thou hast got the start of us, sister, but we will follow thee as quickly as we may’ (otherwise reported as, “Ah, sister, you’ve got ahead of us but we’ll soon catch you up’).  Roger:  “As he watched Barkworth die, Filcock cried out, “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.”

The clear theme of how Christ’s burning love animated these men and women, inspiring them to see a bargain in dying a grisly death in return for eternity with Him, deeply impresses itself on me.  I feel keenly that Christ’s love must be so much stronger, passionate, intense, and irresistible than I know now.

St. Gabriel Possenti comes next:  “He was born the eleventh of thirteen children of a distinguished lawyer who held a succession of official posts in the Papal States and was christened Francesco…he was a bright student and by all accounts a cheerful youth with a reputation of being something of a ‘ladies man’–damerino.”  He later joined the Passionists, and “the rest of his short life was one of scrupulous attention to duty and to the needs of others in every tiny action—redeemed from excessive piety by his unfailing cheerfulness,” and this, too, and the massive effort it must’ve required sober me.  I feel my vocation as a wife and mother can benefit from his example and intercession, and I resolve to commit his life and name to memory.

And finally I come across Blessed Mary Deluil-Martiny, Martyr (1841-84):  She helped found the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus in February 1876 and “on Ash Wednesday, 27 February 1884, she was attacked by the convent gardener, Louis Chave, who was fanatically anti-religious.  She died from her wounds, being heard to exclaim, ‘I forgive him…for the work…for the work!’”  Such a strange and awful death and it, too, is made beautiful by her sacrifice, not outside the realm of God’s love.

Gout and quicklime, gallows, whips, and death-by-gardener–I love my Butler’s because God is there in every page.  Nothing is too evil or ugly for Him.  Indeed, the darker the circumstances, the greater His desire must be to rescue us from them.  He is with us, come what may.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Young Hearts, Ancient Gifts: When Millennials Ask for Gifts of the Spirit

He sat down in our living room , putting his head back on our chair like he hadn’t slept in a while.  Still uncomfortable, he shifted and pulled his smart phone out of his sweatpants and placed it on our coffee table.  He settled back into the chair again and closed his eyes.

“How was this weekend?” my husband asked our friend.  I had forgotten that this had been the winter retreat weekend at the college campus center.

“Good,” he replied.  His phone suddenly turned blue and vibrated.  He picked it up, read something for a moment and smiled, and clicked it shut.  He looked at us again a little more intently, “Yeah, it was really good,” and he said, sharing details about the weekend, the long drive, a peaceful night in adoration, the miraculously long lines for confession, and then casually, “and my friend received the gift of tongues, so I was happy for him.”

My eyebrows shot up.  I will admit it: I am dazzled by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  I know they’re supposed to be for the building up of the community and not for show, but really, it’s just pretty cool to see the Holy Spirit show up in such a concrete way.  Trying not to give myself over to sensationalism and wanting very much to show our friend—who was a little nonchalant about it all—that I understood the purpose of these powerful gifts, I listened to the stories about the rest of the weekend,  purposefully commenting on the true miracle of all those college students receiving the sacraments.  Which really was a miracle.  For sure.  I’ve always imagined our college campus center as a powerful little center for grace in the middle of an expensive Calcutta.  But I still really wanted to hear more about the gifts given that weekend.  

When I could stand it no longer, I had to ask, “So what does it sound like?”  

He paused for a moment.  “It’s different for each person.” He said that for one friend it sounds like Spanish, for another like an African dialect, still another Aramaic.  He mentioned friends who had the gift of tongues, friends we had heard him talk about for years, and others who had different gifts of the spirit like healing and prophesy.  He revealed how they had asked for the gifts to better help the students at the retreats, how they then used the gifts to help pray over kids.  He told a story about one college student who had left the room after having been prayed over to another room where he fell prostrate in front of the Eucharist, looking like spiritual chains had been broken.

Our friend’s phone chirped and he flipped open a miniature keyboard to type something, paused, then put it away again.  

I was agape.  Here, our ultra-hip friend and his cool friends, every bit millennials, receiving these ancient gifts to build up the kingdom of God.  Kids who had Facebook and Twitter accounts, iPods and earbuds, laying hands, speaking in tongues, and prophesying on the weekends.  I looked at our friend who was  looking more and more like an iApostle.

At the end of the evening, he picked up his backpack and we bid him farewell as he drove back to campus.  His stories stayed with me for days.  Making a bed one morning, I smoothed a comforter over a pillow, thinking yet again about the whole scene.  What struck me most is that those kids received those gifts simply because they had asked for them with faith.  Simply, of course, but with great faith from trusting hearts.

As I picked up toys and put away dishes and cleaned around the mysteriously dirty hinges of the toilet lid, I felt a pang of jealousy.  Did I want the gift of tongues?  I scrubbed some more.  I didn’t think so.  But I did want patience and gentleness and joy.  I’m pretty sure that if I started being patient, gentle, and joyful during the day, my family would be more convinced of God’s power and mercy than if tongues of fire had blown into our house.  I washed my hands.  I didn’t deserve those gifts, no.  But maybe I could just ask Him for them.  I’d then have to send our friend a text to say thnx.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hope in the Pieta

Last May as my husband and I were leaving St. Peter’s Basilica with our group, someone whispered, “There’s the Pieta.”

My heart skipped a beat and I looked around quickly, eager to spot one of my favorite works of art before we’d left for the day.  I glanced to my left and saw it:  Our Lord and Lady captured in that heartbreaking moment for all time, bathed in light in a side chapel.  It drew me and the rest of our group in and instantly we were at the railing in front of the statue.

Our Lady’s face was so beautiful and so young, untouched by the stain of sin, as she gazed on the body of Our Lord lain across her lap.  Jesus looked so strange, his limbs seemed too long on her lap.  It was a mistake—it should have been an infant that she was holding, not a fully-grown man at the peak of his youth and strength.  Mary sat underneath the weight of it all, serenely cradling him with one arm and turning up a palm with the other in a gentle appeal to Heaven.  The whole scene was so beautiful and looked so wrong.

The mother in me couldn’t take my eyes off of it.  Mary wasn’t supposed to be holding her dead child—no parent is supposed to.  Without faith the moment would appear to be the pinnacle of despair, yet Mary’s expression is one of peace.

This morning I’m looking at a little replica of the Pieta that’s sitting on my coffee table, a treasure we brought home from the Vatican museum store.  I don’t know where to put it, though swapping out our nativity set—that’s still up—for it is one idea as Lent begins.  There it would be by the window that I’m endlessly looking out of, a beautiful reminder that there is always hope, even and perhaps especially at the moment when it appears that there is none.