Sunday, January 27, 2013

This Too Shall Pass

I went for a drive in the country today & was overcome by the beauty of a little tree lined bend. On either side of the narrow two lane road was a deep drainage ditch & no shoulder to speak of. It had been raining on & off & the sun was just beginning to break through a coal black sky. The scene was ridiculously picturesque & my senses were practically salivating at the thought of capturing it. I had my camera with me, but I couldn't stop. I had been following a truck that slowed significantly to make the turn, forcing me & the person behind me to brake...

Sometimes its dangerous to slow down or stop & take in life's breathtaking moments.  The only thing one can do is stay the course & drink it all in as you pass by... 

Friday, January 25, 2013

55 Million

55 million children have been aborted in the U.S. alone in the 40 years since Roe v.s. Wade. That number seems astronomical.

When I was younger, I didn't think there was anything wrong with abortion. Of course every woman has a right to decide what to do with her own body, especially in the case of rape, disease or potential risk to mother &/or child. To say otherwise would be "unconstitutional". But we throw that word around like its some kind of skeleton key to unlock any closed door.

The issue is not about what is constitutional or what is a woman's "right". The issue is far bigger than our grand old amendable document or our 5 year life plans. Its about the "un-amendable" foundations of basic morality.

But abortion isn't murder, they say. Its just a procedure. Its just like getting a mole removed. That thing growing inside you? Just a lump of tissue. Its not really alive, anymore than a mole or a tumor is really "alive", so its removal is justified. No one is held responsible for its "death" because it was never "alive" in the first place. Well, that makes everything alright, doesn't it?

So does life start at conception or at birth? Does life start when the "fetus" has all its faculties? When its human features are unmistakable? When it starts kicking & moving about inside? Anyone who has seen the pictures of that little creature curled up safely in the darkness of its mama's belly must have some inkling that this thing is in fact not a "thing", but a life. But it doesn't become real until its "out", until its outside of ourselves & able to be seen by all. Until then, we can tell ourselves the baby is more of a concept. Like any concept, it can be altered with little or no perceived consequence.

I recently heard someone compare abortion to the mindset that allowed slavery to flourish. In the 1800's, the Dred Scott Decision legally declared that people of African decent could not claim freedom or citizenship in the U.S. & therefore had no legal rights. They were considered nothing more than property & deemed inferior by the very same government that now rules in favor of abortion. The unborn have no legal rights. They're considered the property of the mother... hers to do with as she pleases. But life is not anyone's "property", it is a gift of God & we are merely stewards. My mother never had the right to abort me even if she'd wanted to. No mother does.

I can't help but consider why I was chosen to survive...  55 million human beings were snuffed out before they ever saw the light of day & I got to live. Its a humbling thought.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Rope & Anchor

Yesterday on my way to work, I was listening to EWTN's daily Mass. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Fr. Mitch Pacwa as the celebrant. While I'm not exactly a big fan of his particular vocal stylings, I often find that if I listen long enough, he has something worthwhile to say. Yesterday was such a day.

The New Testament reading came from Hebrews 6:10-20.

Mitch noted how Jesus was not a priest in the order of Aaron, but Melchizedek. He talked about how the High Priest (and only the High Priest) was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on one day a year (the Day of Atonement). He had to have a rope tied around his ankle, just in case he should happen to die in the presence of God & needed to be dragged out. What a lovely picture, eh? But it happened.

Jesus entered the Holy of Holies with a kind of rope attached to Himself as well, but not for the same reason as an earthly High Priest. Mitch painted a wonderful picture of Jesus being the "anchor for the soul". Christ, our High Priest, Christ, our anchor does not need to be dragged from the Holy of Holies... No, the rope is actually there to pull US in...

For more, check out the audio here:
1-22-13 EWTN Daily Mass

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Forest of Thieves

Jesus & many New Testament writers talked much about dying to one's self, laying aside the old man for the new or buffeting the body to bring it under submission to Christ. What a contrast to the picture of Christianity that was painted for me growing up. I heard those scriptures often enough, but the concept was lost on me. Death is an aspect of the faith that seemed eerily absent in my formation. Like many things, it was nothing more than a symbol. The cross was empty & death was swallowed up in victory. End of story.

I recently came across a quote by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.” 

The crucified Christ is more than a morbid symbol. Without the cross, I have nothing. But  my dying (that is, being crucified with Him) is the beginning of His life & mission in me. Without the cross, I have nothing. Without Jesus, I am merely a slave, burdened with the heavy yoke of sin & no one to help me. 

My sins roam free like medieval thieves in the King's forest. These "thieves" aren't just anyone. They're part of me. I have an affinity for them by virtue of my possession or rather, their possession of me. But I must take them captive & deliver them to the executioner out of love for the King. They must die so I can live to Christ... Rather, I must die to live in Him. It seems like a no brainer. Of course I can just choose not to be angry or envious or bitter. Why sure, I can sow peace & be kind & love all at the drop of a hat (scoffs). 

Like Jesus, I can't do my dying alone. Even He needed others to nail His hands & feet & to take His body from the cross when all was said & done. It was only the power of God that raised Him up from the dead days later. I must somehow find a way to present myself as a willing participant, to suffer as He suffered. I have to remember that my dying is the beginning of His life & mission in me. But its not that easy. Its never that easy. I'm the one who slips some of the captives spoons & files in their  layer cakes. I'm the one who leaves the doors open for others to escape. I make excuses for so many of my "sympathies", only to find myself spending time to round them all up again. This is all part of the process of dying. It's not always a once for all thing, like the gift of sudden trauma. Its slow & cellular. It happens gradually, subtly... one by one, like the days & hours that led up to Christ's own death.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On The End For Which We Were Created

I was gifted a copy of St. Francis De Sales'  Introduction To The Devout Life  for Christmas. Its a book I've had "digitally" for some time now, but was never able to get into for that same reason. Having a physical copy definitely makes a difference & its been my companion nearly every day.

In the first part of the introduction, there is a collection of ten short meditations. Today I completed the 2nd entitled "On the end for which we were created". I admit, I've been experiencing some difficulty with that concept lately, feeling sorry for myself & wondering what my purpose is in this life. I've felt lost, messy, used up & weighed down. But what I read today threatened to change my mind.

"God has placed you in this world not because He needs you in any way- you are altogether useless to Him- but only to exercise His goodness in you by giving you His grace & glory. For this purpose He has given you intellect to know Him, memory to be mindful of Him, will to love Him, imagination to picture to yourself His benefits, eyes to see His wonderful works, tongue to praise Him..."

The meditation goes on, encouraging one to further contemplation:

"Humble yourself & rebuke your soul for its misery... say, what did I think about, O my God, when I did not think of You? What did I remember when I forgot You? What did I love when I did not love You?"

My answer? Me.

" ...I should have fed on the truth but I glutted myself with vanity..."

Gluttony & vanity are words we don't hear much of these days, but their concepts are more than glorified in society, now even justified. But me, why... I'm no glutton of... of  vanity! Or am I? My first thoughts turned to things like overindulgence or narcissism. I pictured a snobby rich person or an addict, a hoarder, a schemer. But then, I was still thinking according to modern day definitions. When I tried to think in terms of what a 16th century author might have meant by the word "vanity", I discovered the archaic definition is actually more akin to senselessness or foolishness... "something worthless, trivial or pointless" (according to Webster's). And that's actually a lot closer to how I've been feeling about myself lately.

"...The trifling, foolish things which I have hitherto devoted myself to, the vain uses to which I have put my days & the affections that have filled my heart shall from now on be looked on with horror..."

Sounds like St. Francis was a little over the top here. I can maybe work up to disappointment at my trifling & foolish affections, but horror? I believe He used this specific word for a reason. If I really believe God placed me in this world in order to exercise His goodness in me & through me... if I really believe He's given me His grace & His glory to know, remember, love, dream of & do for Him (because of His love for me & for all), then to dare be enticed by or even willfully embrace any other thing should naturally invoke the fear of the Lord in me. That is to say, if "something worthless, trivial or pointless" threatens what God has entrusted to me out of His love for me, horror at my potential for betrayal seems more than appropriate.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Altar-nate" Reality

In the course of constructing this simple home "altar", the crucifix fell to the floor & Christ's body popped off with a small, metallic clink. Thankfully, there was no real damage. Apparently, the craftsman (or woman) neglected to nail Jesus to the Cross. They simply glued His hands & feet & called it good. I began looking for tiny nails to do the job right, but it proved impossible without the right tools. I ended up resorting to super glue. It felt strange to hold His hollow body between my fingertips & press Him to the cross, as if I were a modern day centurion "crucifying Him all over again" (He. 6:4-6).

But there were no nails... I could easily pull Him off the Cross if I wanted to. I suddenly realized that without the nails, the whole premise of the Cross is actually weakened. While Christ crucified is foolishness to the world, Christ crucified is the very salvation & power of God for those of us who are continually being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). Jesus willingly gave Himself over to be nailed, hands & feet to the wood for a reason. I need those nails to live. I need His suffering to be able to endure my own.

The "altar" I fashioned is a simple wooden wine crate. In each corner are rocks I picked up during prayer walks on the coast. The fabric inside is actually one of those snazzy oriental rug mouse pads. I think it adds a little color to the mix. The framed picture is of a crucifix that hangs in a Church in Limpias, Spain. Its 6 feet tall & has been known to open & close it's eyes, sweat & even breathe. I have no idea if it's true & quite honestly, I don't really care. Its the look on Christ's face that gets me. He just looks so... real. You can almost hear Him saying "Father, forgive them..." To the left is a one decade rosary I bought well before I was a was my introduction to a more structured way of contemplating His life & sufferings outside of the Easter season. A tiny Mary (Our Lady of Grace is apparently the official name of this particular representation) stands at the foot of the cross with open arms, inviting a closer look. Finally, I have some incense & a candle for ambiance.

So whats the point of having an "altar"? Yeah, I admit it sounds kind of creepy. But there won't be any sacrificing of small rodents or ill-gotten body parts here. This is an altar dedicated to the salvation & power of God... Its a place to remember the suffering of Christ. Again, why? Truth is, I know my own suffering well enough.  I've seen those around me suffer & we all know the world languishes daily. But its not very often that the notion of Christ's suffering is mindfully & actively joined to my own (or another's) daily outside of a Sunday Mass or a random Rosary.

My "altar" is specifically meant to be a stopping point, a place to pray daily  & remember the Passion (that is, the sufferings) of Christ. Without His sufferings, my sufferings & those of the world mean nothing... But as I acknowledge His sacrifice, His horrible death, His glorious resurrection & eternal Lordship, I not only come to know the purpose & worth of His suffering & consequent triumph... I am able to gain hope for my own as well.