Monday, November 23, 2009

What's Your Compass?

As a Catholic I get to celebrate two New Years. This past Sunday signified the end of the Church year (the liturgical cycle of feast days and seasons commemorating the great truths, events and mysteries of Christ and the Church). With this coming Sunday, the new Church year is inaugurated by the 1st Sunday of Advent. Advent: that holy season of preparation, waiting, anticipation, contemplation. During Advent we have a two-fold focus in our liturgies (and are invited to have them in our personal prayers as well) of the Incarnation, when the Son of God assumed a human nature to dwell among us for our salvation, and the Parousia, when that same Person shall return at the close of time for the final judgment of all men and women ever created. It's a rich set of weeks, easily missed in the bustle of the "holiday season" celebrated by shopping centers and television programming.

Lately I've been troubled by how few things there are that I can count on, especially how few events or experiences I can count on happening. At any given moment, I could probably think of a dozen things that I want to happen, even that I have genuine hope of happening, but there is truly only one event left that I can count on happening. That is the coming of Christ. The 2nd Coming, to be specific. The glorious return of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, triumphant and final. Nothing else is guaranteed.

Is this a pessimistic, negative, 'to hell with all my work and plans' sort of perspective? Or is it a realistic, positive, 'everything only matters in light of Christ' perspective? I suppose it's neutral in itself. But how do I apply it? How am I influenced by it? That's where the rubber meets the road. Accepting and grasping this truth can shape those wants and hopes I have from day to day, year to year, as well as my reactions when they either do or do not come to fruition. The lasting weight of anything that happens in this life is only measurable in terms of eternity, e.g. did this loss unite me more closely to Christ? Did this gain incline me toward praise of and thanksgiving to God? "God works all things for the good of those who love Him," assuming I freely submit to His divine Providence.

In a recent discussion with some fellow Catholics, the question came up of whether or not we were wasting our time to be pondering Heaven. What can we know of it? What can we hope for? What will it be like? Admittedly, we are almost laughably limited in our capacity to understand or grasp the reality of Heaven. So do we waste our time by thinking about it? I argued vehemently, no. Pondering Heaven (or likewise, the end of time when Christ will return) is not a waste of my time. To explore the reality of Heaven is to explore my destination, my eternal homeland. To contemplate the return of Christ in all His victorious glory is to contemplate the final, definitive consummation of love. All that was begun when God, out of the abundance of His love, created the heavens and the earth and all who dwell there, all that was redeemed and reconciled by the sacrifice of perfect, divine love in Jesus Christ on the Cross, all that is hoped for and sought by the generations of faithful believers since will be completed by His return. The Kingdom of God, that mysterious 'now but not yet' reality of what Jesus has done and what we are cooperating with by grace and free will, shall then be everything there is and ever will be.

The mind boggling truth that I get to contribute to this coming of the Kingdom has the power to shape every day that I live on this earth. Contemplation of the adventus, the coming of Christ at the end of time, does not cause me to neglect the things that make up my earthly life. Rather it informs that life, contextualizing it and directing it. Heaven is our true north.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Old Friends

In preparation for a talk I'll be giving in December, I am revisiting some dear old friends-in-print: Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, the Didache, Loving the Church by Cardinal Shonborn. It all has me remembering a lot of things. Why I got into Theology; why I loved every day that I was able to study it at Franciscan U; why I thrill with elation in the moment of catechesis... I can hear Sr. M. Johanna's voice as she lectures on christocentricity, and Fr. Pattee's insightful explanation of each of the seven Sacraments. I remember the excitement of (the attempt at) absorbing the depth of Dr. Hahn's lectures, and the giddiness of grasping, after considerable effort, an eternal truth that was new to my mind and heart. Considering how frustrated, impatient and drained I get from the task, the love I have for learning the mysteries of the faith must be what keeps me teaching it. I complain because I get worn out; I weaken because I neglect prayer; I am discouraged because my calling to adult catechesis doesn't translate into a full time gig in the Church. None of this stands much of a chance though in the face of becoming a theology student once again, be it in my bedroom with a book in my hands or at a lecture or Bible study. On such occasions, I am renewed in both the joy I am gifted with when I study the faith and in the commitment previously made to be a catechist in whatever ways God allows.

I mean, when I read, "There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways," and realize I have the opportunity to not only learn but also share the very faith that the Apostles learned firsthand from Jesus and taught to the first generation of Christians, my heart can't help but cry out in gratitude to the Lord.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


"Good sir, this is not good."

If anyone can tell me what romantic comedy that line is from, I'll bake you cookies and send them through the mail. And I make good cookies.

Anyway, I started a new book this morning. "Lord! What are You getting me into?" What the heck am I doing starting a new book when I've had to set aside my current writing project for an indefinite amount of time? But the idea was there, the first paragraphs were there and I simply had no way around it. The words had to be written down. Truth be told, I've started several books, insofar as I've written down the seeds of the idea or the first paragraphs, and then never returned to them. No big deal; I just dislike letting a possibly good idea completely slip away. They're all projects that could be developed in the future or not, either way being okay with me. So maybe this one shouldn't have me worried either. I don't know, though. The concept solidified with remarkable swiftness and the urge to dive into it is strong. It's different than any of the others. Nonfiction, for one thing. I've always felt I could write nonfiction should the right project, timing and impetus converge on me. What will come of this is anyone's guess. At the moment though, it's just making it harder to dedicate myself to the responsibilities immediately at hand.

Oh yeah, and I have a vague idea for another novel too but that hasn't been written down yet. This hole I'm standing in just got dug a little deeper. It's getting tough to see from here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Not Go Empty

Chalk it up to a combination of pregnancy brain and overtiredness but when my sister explained, "I don't have my contacts in so I can't hear what you're saying," I knew it was time for her to get some sleep.

And when I left home for the weekend without a scrap of work along, resulting in a 48 hour fight against a flood of anxiety, I knew it was time to run to Jesus. It was time to remember why I serve Him. It was time to believe He could (and would) supply whatever was necessary to do the work He had given me. There was a feeling of childish foolishness as I bent my head before my Lord. In His wisdom, He did not respond with comforting, coddling words. Often when I pray in the midst of stress, I am lulled into peace of mind by His invitation to rest in Him. Yesterday though, the Lord took a different approach.

The Gospel and homily at yesterday's Mass spoke of the poor widow who gave all she had to God: two small coins amounting to a greater gift than all the donations of rich men and women who gave from their surplus. In the minutes after the homily though, it was not this story or its lessons that resonated in my mind. Instead, the 1st reading stayed with me. It's one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament.

In those days, Elijah the prophet went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the
entrance of the city, a widow was gathering sticks there; he called out to
her, "Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink." She left to get it, and
he called out after her, "Please bring along a bit of bread." She answered, "As
the LORD, your God, lives, I have nothing baked; there is only a handful of flour
in my jar and a little oil in my jug. Just now I was collecting a couple of
sticks, to go in and prepare something for myself and my son; when we have eaten
it, we shall die." Elijah said to her, "Do not be afraid. Go and do as you
propose. But first make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare
something for yourself and your son. For the LORD, the God of Israel, says, 'The
jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when
the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'" She left and did as Elijah had said. She
was able to eat for a year, and he and her son as well; the jar of flour did not
go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah. (1
Kings 17:10-16)

My heart trembled to hear the Lord speak to me, sternly but lovingly.

"Do you suppose I will not do likewise for you? Will I not supply what you need when I ask something of you? Do the work I have given you! Do it well; do it faithfully. Have I asked you to do it based on your own merit? On your own skill and talent? Assuredly, no. I have asked it of you on the basis that I am able, and I will, give what you need to do it. The prophet asked for a mere bit of bread and a drink of water, and this was a burden to the starving woman and her child. It was reasonable for her to say she could not give what was asked of her. Without my grace, she'd have been right. She could not give it, but I could. If I will you to give of yourself - to serve- then I will also supply the gift. What is necessary from you is the 'yes', the willingness and the effort required to give away what I give to you. As the woman still had to knead and bake the bread from the flour and oil which I gave to her, so there is work to be done if you are to give from what I have supplied to you. Why then do you hesitate? Why do you talk yourself out of the effort? For love of me, you will continue. If no other reward, no other comfort, comes of it, will you continue for love of me, as an act of trust in me? Will you continue with the humble confidence of one who knows that I supply what I ask of you?"

I was struck by that paradoxical truth: that everything God asks of us, He also provides. In every instance that demands from me love or generosity or compassion or patience or courage, my yes will unleash God's love, generosity, compassion, patience or courage into my own heart. The demands can be challenging and exhausting. They can be downright trying. Yet as I sat there in the church, staring up at the crucifix hanging above the altar, I knew that I could not stand my ground on one single excuse or argument against believing that God will faithfully supply for my needs as I serve Him. He will not allow my jar of flour to go empty, nor my jug of oil to run dry.