Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sabbath

A friend told me recently that in France everything is closed on Sundays, and I thought the opposite of what I'm sure she expected me to think: good for them! One day a week when everyone is forced to slow down, quiet down...spend more time with family, perhaps - spend more time in nature, I hope.

What could we all gain, I wonder, if we spent one day of the week in quiet, restful contemplation? In the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, one demon teaches another that the devil's goal is to fill the world with noise. Our world is choking with the pollution of meaningless, distracting sound - from our TVs, our smartphones, our computers, our shopping centers. Donald Miller, another Christian author, says that Satan wishes to distract us with pointless passions. We all have more than a few of those, I suspect.

We all struggle to escape the very alluring but soul-numbing noise. If we don't shut it down, there is no room for prayer or meaningful conversation with our fellow human beings, no calm in which to discern the movement of God's Spirit or His still small voice. No chance of keeping a Sabbath well.

I struggle to keep the Sabbath well. Oh, I believe in it; I was raised to keep it. But how do you keep it truly well?

There are a few things I have learned over the years. One is that I cannot go shopping on Sunday, especially for petty, unnecessary purchases. I always felt disquieted any time I gave in to the temptation to do so. I can't remember to keep the Sabbath holy or to talk to my Father if I am picking over clearance blouses or peering into the abyss of flat screen TVs. The noise of a mall, the pointless selfish traffic, is completely inconducive to holiness.

And our family must go to Mass. We used to skip Mass just because we didn't feel like going. Shocking to some, I know. I tried to remember on those days to read the Bible with the kids, pray with them, discuss scripture, but often I failed. My dad did it successfully with his kids for years. I felt as if Christ was in the room when our family read and prayed together, and He was ( ). And I know many families across the centuries have held home church, during the Nazi occupation, for instance. But my husband and I are not my dad, and our right to go to God's sanctuary is not threatened. We need to go to Mass, as my husband says. If we don't, the day feels strange and wasted.

I also try, try, not to do any work on Sundays. My efforts are very imperfect, however. I scramble on Saturdays to complete the chores, so the house will hold up alright the next day. And Sabbath does not start at sundown as it should. I stayed up until long past 11pm last night doing housework. Simple meals are made, but however bad the house gets on Sunday, I don't busy myself with efforts to tame it. We go to Mass, take naps, play board games (something I insist upon for family bonding that always seems to breed more arguments than camaraderie), and, unfortunately, watch far too much TV.

Ugh, the TV.

I have at least put my foot down and no longer let the kids watch it while Mama and Papa get ready right before we leave for Mass. I have also limited the shows they can watch, but, then, I always do that. Do I wish sometimes that the TV could go on Sunday, the remote missing, that box of din silent as the grave all day long? Yes, but I am afraid to make the attempt...and, sadly, I like my Masterpiece Mystery in the evening. But, oh the noise, noise, noise of it, as the Grinch might say. I am very glad there are decent periods when it is dark and ignored.

In the Little House on the Prairie books, that I am reading to my daughter currently, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes the Sabbath as starting sundown Saturday, a day when no play was allowed and only essential tasks were done. You sat quietly with the Bible or your catechism and studied in God's classroom of stillness. Kids hated it, of course. You got in trouble for laughing or running or sledding down a fresh hill of snow.

When I was a kid, even, there was a period when my dad would not tolerate radio or television on Sunday. It was family day, and electronics played little part in it unless you listened to gospel music. Of course, we could still run out into the woods or down the creek to play, and I always felt God in nature. I still do, so a hike or a bike ride or a walk with family never feels like breaking the Sabbath to me. It feels like a better way to enjoy it.

Neither scenario seems right for God's day, though: not the standard of old - the long silent sitting in one's best clothes, trying not to fidget, not really relaxing or speaking to your loved ones - nor the present, wasted days of catch-up projects or noisy solitude from the near constant belching of ingenious entertainment devices. There must be a compromise, and I'm trying to find it. I appreciate what Sabbath has to offer...to my family, to everyone.

But I recall that St. Paul said for freedom Christ set us free; the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Never Say Enough

St. Paul said, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."

That mystifies me. At what point in one's spiritual development can one declare such a supernatural thing? I do feel sure, however, that to get there on that narrow road, one must never say, "Enough."

In one of the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes that I was "helping with" (translate that to mean that I was learning wonderful and mysterious things about our relationship with Christ, with each other) this past spring, the co-leader and I were discussing discernment - how eventually you get to the point where you can see when Satan is trying to get you off course, distract you, immobilize you. The co-leader and I were nodding our heads vigorously in agreement with each other when she said something very wise. She said sometimes the way he distracts you is with the simple whisper of, Enough. You've done enough. You deserve a break. That must be the cleverest, most subtle approach, one to which we are all susceptible.

In the gospel reading (Luke 10:25-37) at Mass today, a young lawyer approaches Jesus, and after confirming that the greatest commandment in the law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, being, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself, he asks Christ to tell him who his neighbor is - wishing to justify himself, the gospel says. He was hoping to narrow it down, perhaps, to the guy next door, to people of similar social standing, to merely the Jewish people at least - to avoid too much trouble or putting himself at risk. Jesus tells him the story of the man on the road to Jericho, how he was robbed and beaten, left half-dead by the road. A priest and a Levite came that way and passed around the other side, avoiding, but a good Samaritan stopped and helped the man, bound his wounds and took him to an inn where he paid for him to stay until he recovered.

Jesus asked, "Who of the three was neighbor to the robber's victim?"

And it is clear. There is no saying, But that can be interpreted in so many ways....

The lawyer said, "The one who treated him with mercy."

Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

Our priest in his homily today said that a Christian cannot hope to merely get by with the Old Testament law, Thou Shalt Not; we have the law of Christ which is much more. It is the law of the New Covenant, the You must do with love and service and selflessness, the law of taking up your cross daily and following Him. We cannot hope to be God's children merely by avoiding sin and being decent to family. There is a reason the greatest commandment is two, the first to love God above everything and the second to love your fellow human beings, whom He created in His likeness, as yourself. The world is open before us, full of neighbors whom we must serve when we can. And we do not get to say enough, or charity stops here! As Fr. Bill said today, "Not what we have to do, but what we can do...which is limitless."

And the Holy Spirit gives us courage not to be discouraged by our sins in what we have done and what we have failed to do, not to use them as an excuse to give up and to stop trying to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. No. We seek the strength and encouragement to fight our own proclivities, to keep striving to be like the good Samaritan, that good neighbor on the road to Jericho.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Home, Vocation


I was supposed to write on Sunday, but I didn't because I was tired and indolent and put out by my family after squabbles over a board game.

Sunday is the one day when I feel truly inspired to write here, because I have been to Mass. My second home, spiritual home, I call it, but it is really my first home; it is where I touch Christ and see less darkly, less muddily, through the glass of this existence.

I could go anywhere in the world, and Mass would be the same except for the language. And despite the language, I would understand clearly what is going on; the Liturgy does not change from parish to parish. No, it is always home.

In June I went with my oldest sister's family to their church. Such a beautiful church! With its sweeping verdant lawn, its bordering woods behind and up the hill, and its views of Virginia farm country, it was a place where one could definitely talk to God and hear Him call back in the symphony of insects, see Him in the prance of the deer and the hop of the curious rabbit.


I loved it. Yes, the Gloria and almost every other song in Mass was sung much slower than at our parish, and the church was much smaller than our own in Arizona, but home is home, and after all I was back in the South, the place where I grew up amid all that untethered green. And two things impressed me very much in that small parish. The first was the way in which the priest, Father Staples, repeated Christ's words at the last supper. Like the songs, the Eucharistic Prayer was recited much more slowly than I had ever heard it done before. I had heard my sister praise Fr. Staples' for his reverence in Mass, and my husband and I began to understand and appreciate just what she meant as we knelt before the Sacrament, meditating.

The second thing that impressed me had a great deal to do with my sister Vinca's family, I'm afraid. My sister is parish secretary and a cantor and sometime lector. My brother-in-law is an usher. My nephew is an altar server. All three of them serve nearly every single Sunday. The parish, as I said, is small. Line for communion is short. Each person in that church must do more to keep their community vibrant, and my sister's family exemplifies that commitment. My nephew shows up to each Sunday prepared to serve if need be, and usually he is needed. Amazingly, every Mass had three altar servers while we were there in that tiny parish. In our own huge-by-comparison church, we struggle to have one or two.

As for Vinca, the deacon recruited her for months to be the new secretary, and she resisted. But if you're sincere toward God, you're walking on that suspenseful road toward Him, trying your darndest to chart what might be coming around the next corner, but willing to say yes to the surprise. Vinca eventually said yes, and she works pretty much constantly. Still, she's good at it, just as God and her deacon knew she would be. And she was only confirmed a little over three years ago! Now, it seems to me, her little sister, that her family is the backbone of that church. But perhaps I'm biased.

More importantly, it makes me ask just what I am doing for the kingdom of God. I wonder if I am sometimes saying no to the One we cannot refuse simply by turning my face away at the hint of a question, fearful of what I may need to give up, frightened by the inconvenience. I recently read this great, thought-provoking article and this essay. The first one made me think that my sis and her husband Dave could cry with Jeremiah, "You duped me, O Lord..." Their lives are full and full of God's work. It can be stressful and exhausting, even discouraging....but it invariably brings light and life to us and to others when we accept our vocation. So, shouldn't we all wish to be duped by the Mastermind of salvation? God hears the faintest, shakiest whisper of, I think I'm ready. Lord, help me.

Pray the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into the harvest.

I find myself praying more and more here and there throughout my day, trusting God, my Father, to bring me along despite my weaknesses and inclinations toward self-preservation. I ask Him to make me less selfish, more humble, to guide me in using what talents I have in His work. I am learning to pray, without fear, about my vocation. I'd rather cry, "You duped me, O Lord!" then fail as the servant, seeking no profit, that Christ told us all to be.

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