Friday, November 30, 2012

Kate Middleton, Pregnancy and Advent

It's Friday night, and I felt like squandering a little time at the computer. I worked on an article on marriage, stopped by Facebook to see what family members posted throughout the day, and did a little Christmas shopping online.

And then, I clicked onto Google News.

Kate Middleton's name caught my eye. The question everyone seems to be asking is whether or not she's pregnant. I must admit, I wanted to know.

I didn't have a driving need to know. I just wondered. It's the kind of news that brings a smile. It sure beats reading about murder or suicide bombers or the fiscal cliff.

But nobody seems to know if she is or if she isn't. (On Monday, Dec. 3, the news broke: She's pregnant.)

So, I clicked around some more and now I'm ready to log off.

But my mind is on something else now. I'm about to read my "Consecration to Jesus Through Mary" readings for the day. And I'm looking forward to Sunday.

The beginning of Advent.

The world may wonder if Kate Middleton is pregnant, but the world isn't holding its breath, waiting for that answer.

But the world did hold its breath once. All creation stopped. And. Listened.

May it be done unto me according to your word.

And the Woman conceived. Yes, I'm ready to enter the season of Advent. I love this season of quiet waiting. I need this season of quiet waiting.

It's time to enter into the mystical pregnancy of Mary - and wait.

Blessed Advent! Let us wait upon the Lord!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wedding Dance

In those final weeks before my father’s death, I remember talking with him about our father-daughter dance at my wedding reception. That dance is among my most treasured memories.
That’s when he said it, though not as a complaint. Just a passing sadness.
“I don’t know why your mother would never say yes to dancing with me.”
A few months later, my father passed away and my mom grieved. She thought back to their many experiences and intimacies over the years – all the trips and pastorates and friends and memories. She sighed and said, “I wish I had told your dad I would dance with him. I don’t know why I never did.”
It would have been too painful for me to tell mom that dad had voiced something like that as well only weeks earlier.
But I knew why she didn’t say yes. It was a remnant, a final vestige, of her puritanical childhood.
No movies. No French fries. No sleeveless tops. No playing cards. And no dancing.
Not even with your husband.
Over the years, mom had lost almost every taboo, except dancing. She had experienced every marital intimacy, given birth to his three children, listened to every sermon he preached, edited every college paper he wrote, listened to every confidence he shared – but she simply couldn’t say yes to this one simple thing.
A dance between a groom and his bride.
How sad, you might say. But I think most of us are guilty of this.
As members of the Bride of Christ, Jesus invites each of us to dare to dance.
To do something that others may not understand.
To give ourselves with abandon to the lover of our souls.
To take the dance floor – following him somewhere really exciting, or dangerous or far off.
To slip our hand in his and let him lead – any way he chooses.
To take the risk of stepping on his toes – and disappointing him with our lack of finesse.
To abandon our fear of what others might think.
To enter the dance as never before.
This is the moment for a bride’s gentle, perhaps shy, yes.
A life without regret.
His hand is stretched out right now. Where might the dance floor take you?


Friday, November 23, 2012

Looking For Jesus Over Mary's Shoulder

A reader from Kansas wrote me today. She has given me permission to share her little story here. A few years ago, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary. This year, my parish is having a parish-wide consecration which will conclude on December 12. I am tagging along, just because I want to remember what it was like when I consecrated myself that first time. Daily, I learn new things about this beautiful consecration. I suppose that is why Carol's email touched me so deeply. Her story is a metaphor what I am doing right now.

I am looking for Jesus, leaning as far forward over Mary's shoulders as I can get, to get a glimpse of her son.

Thank you, Carol!

And if you happen to know where we can find this image, please leave a comment!

"Looking For Jesus Over Mary's Shoulder"

I’ve been searching for Jesus….not in the usual sense.  I mean, I’m a Catholic Christian and I’m at a good place in my spirituality, though of course I can do better.  No, when I say I’m searching for Jesus, I really mean I’m searching for Jesus…and actually his mother too.

You see, a long time ago, while looking for images of Mary using the almighty internet, I stumbled across the most beautiful and touching graphic.  The artist has Our Lady positioned so that the viewer is almost looking over her shoulder.   She’s kneeling or sitting, holding a bunch of flowers in her arms and is turned mostly toward Jesus, shown as a young boy, maybe 7 or 8.  She reaches up with one hand to stroke his cheek and holds the flowers in the other.  I can imagine him bringing the flowers to her and as a mother would, she’s reaching up to touch his face in a gesture of thanks and love.

As I said, I found the graphic a long time ago…and to this date, have not found it again.  I have often wanted to use just that particular graphic…I’ve prayed for it, but it remains hidden.  So I continue on, scanning through all the other graphics, using variations of the same keywords:  “Jesus and Mary,” “Blessed Mother and Young Jesus,” ”Virgin Mary and Young Jesus”…and while I scan the internet images, looking for “the one”, I think about all the lost souls out there who are also “searching for Jesus” but in even more desperation than myself…..I feel blessed, because though my graphic collection is missing this one beautiful piece, at least I have “found” Jesus in a much more valuable sense….and I am forever grateful.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Skinny Jeans

I’ve crossed into that tenuous zone of middle-sized clothes. The “fat” pants are waiting – ready to see some action. The “skinny” clothes are missing me – afraid they have been abandoned.

Only time will tell if I can moderate my habits better in the next few months than I have in the last few months.

Citizens of undeveloped nations don’t have this problem. It is the great American problem.

But I think Americans can see a spiritual lesson here – if we are willing.

There is no guarantee that I will make it to heaven. I’d like to believe that my choices can’t derail me. I’d like to believe that I will remain faithful to the teachings of Christ.

I used to believe that I was “signed-sealed-and-as-good-as-delivered” to the eternal realm.

I used to look at one event in my life and cite it when I thought about that ultimate question: if you died tonight, where will you end up?

But the answer to that has everything to do with living out the faith by saying yes to daily grace than it does to something I did (prayed) when I was in second grade.

I’m in my middle-sized spiritual clothes right now. And what happens next depends on my ongoing yes to God.

When the Son of Man returns, He will divide the people. Sheep and goats. No middle-sized clothes in that moment. The day of decision is over. If you cared for the least of these, daily making good choices, daily giving your yes to His inspirations, then you will go off into eternal reward.

If you did not care for the least of these, daily choosing to just get through life, indulge in your own little world, refusing to give in to His inspirations, then you will go off into everlasting punishment.

Right about now, I’d like my Protestant confidence that I am signed-sealed-and-as-good-as-delivered to heavenly bliss.

But not all who say to him, “Lord, Lord…” will enter the Kingdom. Only he who does the Father’s will. Daily. Today.

This is the middle ground where eternity hangs in a balance.

Even that holy man, St. Paul, wrestled with his final finish line. To be like St. Paul is to recognize that we are running a race, so as not to be disqualified. So as not to be the one who says, but Lord, don’t you know me?

I’d like to be confident that my skinny jeans will fit again. I’d like to be confident enough in that fact that I can throw out those fat jeans.

But I know me.

I am weak.

Spiritually speaking, I am also weak. And so is everyone that is still living on this earth. If we are prone to go through life and not see Jesus in our neighbor, the poor, the immigrant, the unborn, the priest, the forgotten, the sick, the aging – then we are weak.

Because, if we cannot see Christ in them, Christ will not recognize us on that day when we want most of all to be recognized and called friend.

I long to hear the words: Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the kingdom prepared for you.

We are saved by grace. Our yes to grace yields more faith and more inclination to say yes to good works in Christ Jesus.

I have faith that those skinny jeans will fit.

But faith without works won’t get me in them.

Believing is not enough. Not when it comes to self-control in eating choices.

And not when it comes to eternity. For even the demons believe, and tremble.

Christian belief must lead to Christian action.

Loving Christ is easy. It’s easy to love someone who gave up everything for you. Loving Christ in others – ah, there’s the rub.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

To Wed or Not To Wed?

Katherine is working on a degree in family studies. And, she’s a recent convert to the Catholic Church. She sent me an email recently and asked my thoughts on something she was hearing over and over in her classes. “The research is consistent in demonstrating that marriage does not benefit women on a personal, health, social, and emotional level,” she writes. And then she drops her question in my lap. “I remember you mentioning that you married young and divorced, and are now remarried. I would love to hear your perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line.”

She said that the research, data, and facts are stacked against marriage for women. Men benefit greatly from marriage, but for women, it’s “a power structure in which women are oppressed.”

Her question seemed sincere. It didn’t seem like she was trying to goad. And yet, how could I address her questions honestly, when I had personally experienced some of what she described in my first marriage?

It’s true that many women do not experience anything remotely akin to marital bliss. Many give everything they have to their husbands and children, only to be cast aside when something new comes along. Some of my closest friends are living proof that women get the shaft all too often.

But then, Katherine makes an erroneous assumption. ” When I read the research, marriage no longer looks like it has any potential to be a sacrament.”

Marriage is a sacrament. What is broken is our society. We have taken the beautiful prenuptial dance and reformulated it. It no longer serves as a foundation for the sacrament of matrimony.

We call it marriage. But it is not marriage. And when the “marriage” self-destructs, we sort through the aftermath and come to the conclusion that marriage is passé. It’s so yesterday.

Katherine wants to know my “perspective on this, as someone who has been on the front line” because, as a single woman, the idea of marriage to her seems “absolutely terrible and terrifying.”

I immediately thought of Pat Barnard. Just days before Katherine’s email arrived, I had been with Pat. When I last saw her, she was standing beside an open casket, telling me stories about her life with her husband. Pat and Bob had been in RCIA class with me in 2005. Pat smiled, as she wiped away tears. So many good memories, she said. One of her favorites? The day she sat beside him, wondering if he still remembered her or if the Alzheimer’s Disease had taken that last precious memory, too.

“Do you still love me, Bob?” she’d asked him, not expecting an answer at all.

“I love you exceedingly.”

Somewhere inside that failing mind, the memory of their love still existed. And Pat clung to his words, even as she stood beside his body at the visitation.

Katherine, I can tell you that marriage is not outdated. It is not “a power structure in which women are oppressed” or "the wife usually dissipates and disappears” until there is nothing left of her. That is not marriage and any statistics generated by such a union must never be used to malign the sacrament of marriage.

Just ask the widow standing at the side of her husband’s casket. She’d give almost anything to have those years back again.

Real marriage is life-giving – in every way.

For the man.

For the woman.

For the children.

For the Church.

For the community.

For the country.

Coincidentally, my husband wrote his doctoral dissertation on poverty in the United States. He was the first one to tell me about the current cultural bias against marriage.

According to the 2011 U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey (Annual Social and Economic Supplement), two fifths of single mother families are poor, triple the poverty rate for the rest of the population. Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families. The poverty rate for single-mother families is 40.7% compared to 8.8% for married-couple families.

The Rand Corporation published an article entitled “Children at Risk: Consequences for School Readiness and Beyond” which says economically disadvantaged children lag behind other children in kindergarten readiness – which measures far more than academic and cognitive skills. The physical, social, and emotional development of these children is also compromised.

Bottom line? Marriage is intrinsically good, not bad. The problem is not with the sacrament itself. The problem rests solely with a culture that has trampled on marriage and now blames a host of societal ills on their shipwrecked recreation of marriage.

Yes, I was married before and divorced. The Church determined that my first marriage was not a sacrament. I married again. And I can tell you from experience. The sacrament makes all the difference in the world.

Katherine, don’t be afraid.

The statistics don’t describe sacramental marriage. They describe the imposter.

And the only authority qualified to make the determination on that which is a sacrament and that which is an imposter is Mother Church. But thankfully, we are not left to figure it out on our own.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Fallen Leaves

Our home sits on four acres. We have only one little tree. A red bud that is not even three feet tall. Even so, this morning, as I sit at the kitchen table and work at my laptop, I see leaves, carried by the wind, landing here and there on our treeless property.

There aren't enough leaves to rake. But there are leaves. And I have no idea where they came from.

Only God and the wind-He-sends can know the answer to that question.

And so it is with the Good News of Jesus Christ, which we share. We don't know where that offering will land. We cannot predict where the Wind of the Holy Spirit will take it. Or whose back yard it will find. We cannot know if it will join a host of other leaves and be raked up and tossed away.

But maybe, just maybe, it will find a home and discretely rest in someone's yard. Almost undetected. And so it will be spared. It will not be discarded.

It will remain through the winter and it will feed the soil, God's compost for spring's new birth.

One leaf.

It is so small.

Its smallness saves it.

Today, I choose to be small and let the Holy Spirit send my gifts wherever that Holy Wind chooses to blow.