Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Good World, Still

When I was a teenager, one popular TV character would see advertisements for a show called, "Sick, Sad World." The protagonist wanted you to see everything with as much irony and cynicism as she did.

And it's not far off the mark. We could give each other a million examples. The good we're supposed to have, juxtaposed with what humanity seems to settle for could shatter the heart of any reasonable person. To be frank about it, in just this last year, I've had enough suffering and mourning for a lifetime, if it was my call. It isn't, but in case you were curious, now you know.

And maybe I'm the wrong sort of person to write what I'm about to write. I'm not exactly known for melancholy. Still, it comes to this: I think the Christian mission behind the mission will be to convince the world that this cosmos we live in is good. The whole world is screaming, "Who cares? Life sucks and then you die!" even while their souls vibrate with the truth planted inside by God Himself.

It's good to laugh again. It wasn't that long ago I thought maybe I never would the way I did before. Right in the midst of all this horror and trial all around us, laughter. Pure and good, right in every way, as full as the waters in the sea it was. If it isn't an echo of the perfect beatitude that awaits us, may I never laugh again. What does it say? "And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; neither shall they hunger anymore; neither shall they thirst anymore." Will that get you out of bed in the morning?

I think sometimes I must be imbalanced or something. I know not everyone feels or experiences things so intensely. If this is imperfect life, what is Heaven, truly?

If you'll forgive the sentimentality here, I can look into the eyes of people I love and know that I cannot adequately describe what bonds there are between us. And imperfect as we often are, demonstration is no surer a means than the feeble words. It's like the present rushes past us like a dream, and only when it's past do we begin to know what power we have.

Just by the nature of life, we know that we can't hold on too tight. We are but a breath. Still, give those hugs and words that make your friends and family ask if you're all right. If we don't, this sick, sad world will take us down.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Happy Thanksgiving!

Catholics pray too fast. I want to shake them in public prayer. The leadership wants to know why many don't interiorize their faith; it's because you permit them to say our devotionals a thousand miles an hour. The vocal part is only the exterior; mental prayer is what matters. Converts will tell you if you're praying too fast; in general, you're praying too fast.

And before some uppity cradle Catholics get all bent out of shape about the converts thinking they know everything, chill. I didn't propose a change to the Mass; I'm just telling you, if this is about our hearts, you're not even letting them in.

See, one great thing about the separated brethren is that, whether they're doing exactly what they should do, or taking a hacksaw to the faith once delivered, in any case, it's ALL FOR JESUS. I can't say I've never lost my focus in prayer. And if you have a plan to do something, do it, even if you don't feel like it. But spiritual things are not items on a checklist. God doesn't give busy work. That's why He says, "Rend your hearts, and not your garments."

I digress. I went to Mass this morning. The Communion hymn was "Gift Of Finest Wheat." A beautiful Catholic hymn that is all too rare, or so it seems. But we have two. And the second sounded like Barry Manilow. Which is not bad at all, on one hand. On the other, it seemed ill-fitting for the context. Speaking of losing focus, I could not stop myself: "Manilow called; he wants his catalogue back."

Terrible, I know. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good."

What's My Life For?

Writers write. That's what they say. And fighters fight. You can't chase someone else's imagination of what you're supposed to be. You've gotta be what you are. And if you stay beyond the place where your skills win the day, hopefully you've got that pride, the pride that still earns respect when you come up short.

The sun shines a different color when you are bound only to yourself and God. The lines on your face are from laughter, because you seek out joy, instead of thinking it's owed to you. But think how much energy people waste trying to convince other people everything is fine. If there's a weight on your soul, a drinking buddy who doesn't know you from a hole in the ground isn't going to help.

Have you hung around a place like that, when only the most obtuse person would easily conclude that these people have nothing to live for? We're not talking about some friends celebrating a promotion; we're talking about blotting the real for the surreal.

Don't do that. Life is terrible sometimes. But I'll take terrible over numb every single time. If I'm picked to suffer, that must mean there's something great on the other side.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Plan of Life

It's time to restart my Plan of Life. It's not a great existential thing; it's a phrase that describes a generally set way to pray and live each day in order to reach maximum holiness. On the other hand, what's more existential than that?

A little piece of advice from the spiritual hinterlands: If you get an idea to change the plan, and it didn't come from your spiritual director, there is an 84.2 percent chance that it came from Satan. That was a terrible month! And we know the reason now, don't we? Even though immaterial beings are not composed of matter by definition, there should be no doubt that Satan is a piece of crap. He will do anything to pull us away from God, leave us lonely, confused, and chained to our sins.

You thought you had me, didn't you? Yeah, well, I don't think so. I may go to Confession soon, just to spite the monster. But that is what the old priest had said: God speaks quieter. I should have remembered Elisha.

It's true that we often have mixed motives in doing good things. I'm probably the guiltiest one. Yet if we say "the prayers," it is far worse not to say them at all, or to think we are better than we are. So we should say them. And quite literally to Hell with all the rest. [You just associated your pagan devotional practices with the liturgy in Acts 2:42.--ed.] Yes, I did. And what's it to you? You wouldn't know any licit practices or beliefs if we hadn't taught them to you. [Pshhh.--ed.] We're still waiting for the credible reason why we should care what Calvin says. Or any of them. The bishops of the first millenium quake in fear as they wait for your "unmasking" of their "usurpation" of the "true Church." There are 200 odd successors of Peter having a good laugh, too.

If the nothingness of consumer-driven Christianity is to be beaten back by theology in community, as we are told countless times and ways, this is where the two-fold vise-grips of the means of credibility really starts to crank. On the one hand, theological continuity/stability, and on the other, visible unity. It still remains that the answer to the question, "Who asked us?" for any Protestant community is that no one did. On the other hand, to even ask the question that way supposes that the community has real authority. Which is the real heart of the problem, actually: Whether the church has real authority that is binding on the faithful in the Protestant world. The Leithart thing actually had nothing to do with Leithart. It was the perfect picture of the failure to really answer this question. And it's no one's fault. They're both right, and both wrong. The confessionalists rightly nail Leithart to the wall for failing to uphold tradition; Leithart gently reminds them that this whole movement was started as a rejection of tradition. Tradition, that is.

The quest to build the more perfect fundie has reached its pinnacle in guys like Leithart. But here's the funny part: he's no different than the mega-church guys; he's Rob Bell with a bigger bookshelf. At least with respect to who decides what is dogmatically true. It's the faith once-delivered, with a line-item veto. Same question: Who asked you? Or better said, "Who sent you?"

Monday, November 19, 2012


I willingly went to a funeral today for the first time in 23 years. I lost my father in 1989. Three years later, I ended up at the funeral for my grandfather's sister. I fell apart completely. I had to leave. I had a firm determination never to do that again.

But earlier this week, I found out that my dear friend Carol (Confirmation Sponsor Lady) had lost her mother. She and her husband know that I'd do anything for them. Of course I have to go. Just tell me when to show up. If I can get a little sentimental here, I don't think either of them realizes how special they are to me. And I'm not the only one.

Dad understands my reticence all this time, but I know he'd tell me to go, too. If I can take a moment and try to describe what it's like to lose a parent, I'll do my best, and I hope you're still with me.

It's like falling down in a well or a hole. The darkness is your anguish, but there is no floor. Somehow, time pulls you out, and you go on. But God puts the hole behind a locked door. He hands you the key. You may be able to talk about what's behind the door, but you don't open it. It's just a hole, after all. I'm not sure how I've told the story so many times without falling back in the hole.

But I go back behind the door at times, not of my own choosing. You don't really heal; you just learn what not to do. Or if you can't, you just know what a fall down the hole will cost you. My life waits, for the most part. And if not, tough. Those who are close to me have seen The Sadness From Nowhere. If not, maybe you have good timing.

I was worried today. I was worried that these people would be consoling me instead of Carol. But something happened. I don't understand it. God was there. His promises of eternal life in Christ were like the beats of our hearts. He was in the air. Today I knew like I have never known: This isn't the end. We heard the story again of how Pat made her peace with God, not only in her conversion, but in the days before she died. This was special to me in ways beyond words.

The Mass. For the Catholic, there is no purer joy on Earth. This is where the worlds meet, after all. I'm sure our words hardly do it justice, but they are still true. And so, with a few alterations, we did what we always do: sing the praises of God in His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit had surely opened our eyes.

I was not overcome by sadness; the moment came when the priest mentioned "choirs of angels," and I could hardly keep my breath. It was as though the idea had a piece of glory in it.

We went to commit her body to the ground. I'm not sure I've prayed that hard before. Days like this will test your faith; days like this will grow your faith. I still marvel at the liturgy of Mother Church; whatever we might say about the holiness of the people, the people who wrote these prayers have gospel coming out their ears. I felt my soul cling to each promise like a needy child.

Let me end by saying that the day felt like a turning point: where there had been hopeless anguish for me, there is simply hope. The days ahead may be filled with tears for my friends. This is good and right. But Carol will not be like that little boy on that winter day in 1989. May the Lord be praised for that.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Death Is Wrong

Death is all around us. In neither takes imagination or great vision to notice. And it's fundamentally wrong, though it is commonplace. At this point, it'd be easy to say, "How horrible! Come, Lord Jesus!" and move on. But we can't. We've got to think through some things.

You know, we weren't supposed to die at all. Death came through sin. On the other hand, that gift of immortality was just that, a gift, and one above our nature, at that. (Contra Crazy Uncle Marty and others) God somehow saw fit to pair an immortal soul with a mortal body, and to keep them together in redemption. Thus ends the theology lesson for the day. Except to say that the mortal will become elevated, and not the other way around.

Wasn't it always one of those baffling Bible mysteries that Jesus waited for Lazarus to die, knew he was going to raise him, and cried anyway? If the God-man who is the perfect man wept, maybe the hope of Heaven isn't meant to be the only answer or word on the pain of death.

It says to me that "She's in a better place," even if true, isn't supposed to make it all OK. We know this by intuition, but often forget. But the other thing we forget is that spiritual death is far worse. What we hope in any one case is that the lesser death is not the sign of the greater.

Christ in the Eucharist is the food of eternal life. May our hearts break to be found unworthy to receive Him! But even if that is so, a man who acts in Christ's own person is not far away. And even if not, may that desire to be with Him pardon us while we wait for Christ's healing touch in the Sacrament of Penance.

Some say that such a sacrament offends the love in Christ's own finished work. Poppycock. Doesn't it rather say that the Savior will go as far as he needs to bring the cripples to His Table? The priests extend the humanity of Christ to the ends of the earth. Others can say 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace. His true priests can touch me and speak to me in the name of the Prince of Peace.