Friday, May 15, 2020

Do Nothing Without The Bishop

I'm not feeling any conflict or disagreement with the suspension of public Masses; I'm at risk, more than the rest of us. I miss being near the altar as well, but not enough to risk catching the virus, or spreading it to someone else.

Quite frankly, I think people can get possessive about the sacraments, as if the sacraments themselves belong to us as a birthright. At times like these, it is good for us to remember that the sacraments are the means--even the primary means--of loving God, and being loved in Him. That being said, they are not the only exclusive means. For me, even the thought of putting one of your loved ones at grave risk, even for the consolation of receiving Holy Communion, seems selfish. I don't live for the consolations of God, but for God Himself.

I serve a good and holy Bishop here, who understands the great family privilege of the sacraments, the gifts of grace and salvation given to us by Christ himself. Yet even if I did not, I would not dare to contradict the bishop, or to disobey him, because he rules by Christ's own appointment. And whatever and whomever is appointed by Christ is for that reason blessed and appointed by the Father.

I have been blessed to hear the Archbishop preach, and to give edifying talks on various spiritual topics. It brings me joy to think of his face, to hear his voice in my mind, or to hear him chuckle at some blessing, or some foible of ours, that needs the mercy of Jesus.

May St. Ignatius of Antioch strengthen us, and pray for us even now, as we endure this time of testing, even as it seems to near its end.

Eternal One

I exercise my cheeky option to write a post only vaguely related to what I'm actually talking about! Yet as I sit here in between writing emails and applying for jobs, I am struck by the goodness of God, just in the very fact that I am alive. That zest for living that gets us out of bed each morning committed to "accomplishing something"--granted, with its own pitfalls and idolatries--is part of the handiwork of God. I am part of the handiwork of God, even if I commit myself to dissolute living. It is a scandal and a tragedy, but I am no less His handiwork.

For what it's worth, I felt God smiling at me. I daresay I don't like myself as much as he does. What else is new? I guess that's why I am telling you; maybe you forgot, in your own case. "I haven't done this, and I haven't done that, and I haven't beaten that vice, and I never feel satisfied." Will we ever, until we are in the Beloved?

I taught RCIA the other night,--over the phone, or something close--even though I'm not qualified to scratch off a lottery ticket right now. But I told them that I had a theme verse. Even though we are Catholic, it is OK to have a favorite verse of the Bible. "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Jesus died for the broken. You may happen upon some misguided ear-ticklers, who tell you that it is perfectly acceptable and desirable to remain broken, and to celebrate your brokenness, or even to call it something else in celebration. We don't have to do that, or believe that. What we do have to forthrightly consider is that Jesus sees. Not who we would like to be, or who we think we are in the times of the pride of life, but who we are down deep, and in secret. And to think that he embraced that cross, on those terms, well, it moves the heart.

Now that's a better something to get you out of bed in the morning.

Dare to believe that you are beloved, that there is at least one someone who is happy that you exist, no matter what stupid things you have done.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

I have been obsessed with the BBC miniseries of the same name, ever since my good friend Mim told me about it. You can't go wrong with Sir Alec Guinness in the role of George Smiley. It's a spy story, from the novel by John le Carre. The author himself was a spy for British intelligence, apparently until the traitor Kim Philby blew his cover in the early '60s. I'm not going to spoil the story, and I'm not sure why I'm telling you this. Recently on the blog here, I've been sharing spiritual insights. Well, I guess I could say that there is nothing more unspiritual than a person trying to say something spiritually meaningful.

I suppose I tell you about this story, and potentially subsequent stories, because when I felt that my world was falling apart, Smiley and his friends--and his enemies--have brought me comfort. I definitely fought the urge to buy the books in the trilogy involving George Smiley. Suffice to say that when I get my next Audible credit, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is next on my list. They did a clever and great thing for that Audible edition: they're going to have Michael Jayston, who played Peter Guillam in the BBC miniseries, as the reader. Ostensibly this edition celebrates the recent 2011 film, but it's a great sign of respect to pay homage to the miniseries. Sir Alec Guinness is absolutely mesmerizing in the film, and in the film Smiley's People, produced a few years later.

I don't know why the stories bring me comfort; I don't know why I can repeatedly watch them without becoming bored. I suppose that the pandemic is also playing a role in our tendency to reach for the familiar.

On another hand still, I know a few people drawn to these stories who use them as an excuse to draw up elaborate conspiracies concerning current events. I suppose if someone is inclined to yell, "Don't trust the media!" they could find plenty of material to validate the idea that the most straightforward explanation is not necessarily the right one.

What also intrigues me about Smiley's People is that I had to watch it through about five times before I understood what was taking place. The author respects his audience enough not to participate in the dumbing-down of the material, even for a television audience. Some of the jargon is intuitive, and you get used to it, but some is most certainly not. I think one reason I appreciate these stories is that the Cold War represented an opportunity for broad Western consensus concerning political values; namely, an opposition to statist communism. The political consensus was never as total as romance would have us pretend, especially after the fact, but I am quite certain of my values, and I see them reflected here, broadly speaking.

This story draws connections in my mind with Tom Clancy's novel, The Hunt for Red October. Both stories reflect a broad Western opposition to Soviet communism, and I share that opposition, though I am no uncritical cheerleader for the capitalist alternative, nor for specific Western actions in pursuit of its goal of communism's destruction. Yet I suppose both stories make me feel patriotic in the best sense, and I have needed to belong.

In any case, I commend the so-called, "Smiley Trilogy" to you, even as I have not read it yet. It reminds us of a tense period in our history, the aftermath of which in its positive aspects, the younger generations cannot help but take for granted.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The Quiet Joy

In one sense, I am still afflicted. I don't see the world as I did before. I am not filled with a human hope and optimism for a better future. There is no more clarity in my life than there was before, and perhaps even less.

And yet, the good news of Jesus remains as true as it ever was. If life is eternal, then even the deepest suffering of this existence is but a shadow in the reality of His marvelous light. I do not aim to tell you when you will see the sufferings of this present life in that way; I do not intend to give you a timetable for when the Valley of Sorrow is behind you. I only know that the Master of life and death is truly on the throne.

I do not long suffer fools who claim to offer some map of meaning, as if we could create the meaning of our lives from the signs and symbols of existence. If life is pain, as was famously said, then the pain has its own intelligibility and purpose, whose flip-side is glory. I do not understand the appeal of the proclaimers of meaninglessness. We know better by the very fact of wanting the pain to end! I am redefined as one-who-suffers. The one who patiently endures it hopes for a recompense, when all accounts are settled.

Yet we must deal with those who speak in a cavalier fashion about suffering, as if it were desirable in itself. It is not, and it will never be. But the one from whom the eternal recompense is desired is loved for His own sake, and this is the source of endurance. It seems to me that hope is love deferred. Suffering is a testing of that love. As I sit here, I think I must be failing the test. And yet, he that is worthy of the greatest love is full of mercy, like a loving teacher, who never ends the test until his children pass.

I would have never chosen these valleys and shadows, but possibly the only thing worse than giving up is presuming that I know better than the one I am following. I am happy in this moment to accept that I am a poor helpless sheep, who would wander off the nearest cliff, if left to my own devices. Indeed, I've seen my share of cliffs, and wandered far down into rocky places before. I am looking forward to my, "I survived the valley of the shadow of death!" T-shirt, and my nice, emblazoned diamond-studded "Idiot Sheep" leather jacket. From what I heard, we won't need clothes in heaven; you don't need cocktails in Vegas either, but they're nice to have.

We are the singers of His mercy, until the emptiness of every created thing in itself is revealed, and after, when only Love remains.