Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Miracles

Lately people have seemed so beautiful to me. I see people walk back to their pews after communion at church and I am so moved by the uniqueness and depth of each face. I'm struck by their walks, by their hands folded in front of them or hanging down to their sides. Walking tabernacles, transformed by taking one bite.
At the Youth Ministry Food Fast this weekend, 90+ kids gave a whole day of hunger and service to raise funds, but they also navigated the social waters, watched each other with studying eyes, thought deeply about God, took brave leaps into relationship with kids, adults, Jesus.
The middle schoolers, especially, made me ache with their gawky paleness or their round baby faces, still trying to figure out their own limbs, suddenly longer than ever. Still trying to hear what their own voices can sound like and trying on relationships and personalities like shirts.
The volunteers at the Fast were brave, patient, confident, welcoming. Scott was tireless, adaptable, loving, joyful. Upstairs, new families helped out with placing pots of tulips and lilies in the just-right spots. At Mass, old men took enormous pride in handing out candles and turning out the lights at the right times.
I even feel sympathy for the terrible old-man drivers on route 1, even though they pull out of parking lots onto the highway at a too-low speed and then slow down. I see their white heads and worry about their safety.
I'm not always like this. Lately it's overwhelming me. I feel raw with love for the world, ready to cry at sweet things, daring to feel relief in the Good news of Easter and to feel hope for the future. Maybe it's this darn new Pope and his crazy loving ways, maybe it's my bronchitis. I dunno. Whatever it is, even though it's harder work than indifference, I'd like it to stay.
Happy Easter, everyone. I wish you peace, joy, love.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Q) Who made me? A) God made me.

   At a Parish Council meeting the other night, that pesky question was asked yet again. "Are the children learning their catechism?" One of our older parishioners said "I mean, can they answer 'who made me?'"
That question is troubling for many reasons. Our parish has used a lifelong, inter-generational approach to faith formation for the past ten years, emphasizing the philosophy that it's the adults in our parish who need the most faith formation-  that all members of the parish (not just those under the age of 16) need to grow in their faith, and that if we have a strong, faithful adult community, the children will "catch" the faith. But old habits die very slowly. Every generation, I suppose, asks that question in some form or another: "will the kids of today get what I got?"
   The good news is that the answer to the catechism question, even with the change in philosophy, is YES. We are consistently amazed that the kids in our program know a lot about their faith, can answer questions and remember what they've been taught... but also, it's amazing how joyful they seem in church, actually happy to be there. We hear from a few people each year that their kids are upset when they have to miss a session. This past month I heard from a mother who said she was sick on Sunday morning but her kids said "But... we ARE going to GOF, right?" and from another parent who said that they attended last month's makeup session instead of attending a school activity that night. I don't know if the people of my parents' generation- the Baltimore Catechism generation- would have skipped a secular activity for a Church one by choice, but I know that I would never have chosen a CCD class over... anything.
   In my day, the Church was bouncing far away from the Q&A format of faith formation, believing it to have created un-critical followers who could answer all the questions but did not know Jesus. We were raised on love and crafts, the far side of the pendulum swing, very little doctrine or dogma. We learned that Jesus loved us, and little else.
   Which brings us back to that question. Which is better? Knowing your faith by rote, or feeling it by heart? I think that the difference is in the life-long-ness of this model. We can take the luxury of spending time on kids' hearts, knowing that there's time for the knowing later, when (let's face it) they're more ready cognitively to handle concepts like consubstantiation. We have a whole lifetime. It's not a matter of dogma OR love. It's a hard-struck balance.
   The other night (on my way home from this Parish Council meeting, in fact) I tuned in to Catholic radio on Sirius, and heard Cardinal Dolan talking to Fr. Robert Barron. They were talking about the new Pope, and about how much the world might be learning about the Church from seeing him, from seeing our process for electing him, from seeing our reactions. Fr. Barron said "you don't start out to teach a kid about baseball by outlining the infield fly rule. You expose the kid to the beauty of the game, and eventually, the fly rule comes to make sense."
   I believe that the best place to start for faith is heart-first. If we want people to know God (who is Love), we must focus on relationships and the stories of our faith. In life and in faith we learn who we are through the relatives we encounter, the love we receive, the stories we share, and the traditions we carry on from generation to generation.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Coming Close

I almost had my first vigil tonight. My volunteer coordinator called me around 4:30, and I said I could be there whenever she needed me- the patient was close to death in a nursing home, and the family needed to go home for the night at some point, get some rest. I ended up being scheduled for the 12-2:30AM slot, so I headed for home to eat dinner, maybe take a nap, get things done before my "shift."
But the patient died, peacefully and surrounded by family, at around 7:00. I came so close! I wasn't exactly excited to go and sit with a dying person, but I am kind of anxious to get my first vigil behind me. Ultimately, as much as I feel called to this ministry (it's not technically a ministry volunteer position but it is a ministry for me), I'm nervous about witnessing death. Mostly I'm worried that I won't be a help, or that I'll cry too hard to be calm, or... I don't know.
So I wait on, for my next "opportunity."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Better Faith Through Technology

I am late to this analogy because I am the last living American to get a GPS. I remember that my friend Paula described this idea many years ago, and it made sense then but I really get it now, now that I've experienced it. It just goes to show you.
I got a hand-me-down GPS just a couple of weeks ago. I had been toying with the thought of possibly considering getting one, but couldn't really justify it because my iphone does almost the same thing (no voice though... you have to read it which is a little dangerous when driving, no?) when my friend offered me hers. She said she never uses it anymore and I leaped at the opportunity. Now, every time I use it (which has only been a few times so far) I'm amazed at how God-like it is. Well, no, it's not God-like, but it reminds me of how this journey with God works.
A professor of mine said that it's not quite right to say that God has a "plan" for our lives. Plans are like a list of directions that we are expected to follow, and if we step off plan, we are hopelessly lost and we're on our own. He said that we could think of it more that God has an "intention" for our lives. Which is to say, God has our destination plotted, but our path toward that destination can (and will) vary. Like with the GPS, we can follow the prompts, but we can also choose our own way- and like the GPS, I believe, God is willing to "recalculate" our path, to again prompt us to move toward His destination for us. So merciful.
I've learned that with the GPS, I have to be moving in order for it to tell me if I'm headed in the right direction. I can't park my car and expect to get anywhere... and in life, this journey requires that I keep walking. In our faith journeys, we must be moving toward coming to know God better, toward working our missions. Wisdom comes from the travels, and it's earned.
Today as I was driving from one place to another, I realized I hadn't heard my GPS' voice in a while and I had a (very) mild panic... had I missed a turn? Had she (she?) been trying to get my attention and I was distracted? Had it come unplugged? Was I hopelessly lost? But I realized that the GPS hadn't said anything because I was just expected to keep going the way I was going. No turns coming up, no exits to take, just stay the course.
It reminded me of how often I'm looking for God to tell me what to do next, to tell me what's coming- to assure me that I'm doing okay. I thought, maybe in my life right now I'm not meant to be getting ready to turn... maybe I'm just meant to carry on until I hear differently. When it's time to go, I have to trust that God will let me know, and help me recalculate.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Getting Ready to Be Ready

   What a week! At various turns I updated my resume, stared intently at a little chimney with a seagull on top waiting for white smoke, worried about the future, steamed at my mother, and laughed with friends. This morning I was barked at by two different parishioners as I was reserving seats for the baptism of a baby whose mother had screamed at me (really- screamed- over the phone when she found out the regularly scheduled baptisms for this month were already booked, because she had already rented a hall for her party and sent invitations to her family and friends. Without registering for the actual baptism.
   Yesterday Scott and I took a day trip to find a retreat center at which I'll be leading a retreat next month, and visited two parishes that we came upon on our way home. We do that a lot, I'm sure you know, stop in to visit churches that we find in our travels and see what their bulletins say, what their architecture is like, and peek at their Youth Ministry presence on the bulletin boards and in their halls. But now as we're in the midst of worrying about changes that we can't predict, these visits have a different feel. Now we look around and think "could I be working here a year or so from now?"
   I'm excited about the new pope. I love that he keeps using the word "poor" which seems to have been spoken only by the "liberal" Catholics for so long. I see signs of hope in the spring of this pope's leadership, small shoots of green goodness that I hope will flourish. Watching the proceedings on that day was so fun and I felt like part of a great church full of excitement, even if we had no idea who (or what) we were going to get.
   On the local front, we're five weeks in to Lent, and I'm exhausted, and it only grows to more of a fever pitch from here, peaking at Easter Sunday, the best day of the year, when Scott and I crash and revel in our co-survival of the craziness. As we like to remind each other, it's not like we're ditch-diggers; our work is luxuriously indoors and warm and personal and gratifying- but it's still work and still wipes us out.
   And, as I mentioned, there's an undercurrent this year of anxiety and sadness that this time in our lives may come to an end at any point-we're in perpetual one-shoe-has-dropped mode here. It means we have to Be Here Now AND get ready to go somewhere else.
   I read this about our new pope and his Jesuit-ness, from Fr. James Martin:

Jesuits are asked to be, in St. Ignatius' Spanish tongue, disponible: available, open, free, ready to go anywhere.  The Jesuit ideal is to be free enough to go where God wants you to, from the favela in Latin America to the Papal Palace in Vatican City. We are also, likewise, to be “indifferent”; that is, free enough to flourish in either place;  to do anything at all that is ad majorem Dei gloriam, for the greater glory of God.

   Remember, my New Year's Resolution was to be RTG (ready to go)? If I'd known the word "disponible" I would have said it that way. Now my prayer is asking God to help be me disponible, and to help me to wait until I have to, to start mourning... and to allay my anxiety about being in this state of limbo for however long it lasts. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Real Deal

The Gospel readings this Lent are shocking, or must be shocking to the most self-righteous Christians among us.  This weekend Jesus challenges onlookers who are trying to see if he's the real deal  by asking him to judge a sinful woman, "caught in the very act (yikes)" of committing adultery. He says "let the one among you without sin cast the first stone" and spoiler alert: He's the one among them without sin! But when He gets His chance, He doesn't condemn her, even though He's the only one qualified to do so.

Last week the father welcomes his sinful son much to the derision of his "good" son, the realer deal, who doesn't think his father is doing it right. The week before, Jesus showed us that God's love and judgment aren't  fair, which is a pretty good thing, because if God worked in our level of justice, we'd be done for.

In all three stories, the character that God steps in to save is a sinner (obviously, right?) but note this too: none of them said they were sorry. None of them apologized, none of them (the fig tree, the prodigal son, the woman) promised to change their ways. None of them earned or deserved or even outright asked for the grace and forgiveness given them.

Every week I see posts on Facebook from some of my "real deal" Christian friends that say things like "I am for supporting the poor, but not for supporting the lazy!" or "if I have to take a drug test for a job, you have to take one for welfare!" and I'm no theologian, but I can't help but see a clear parallel to these Gospel stories.

Maybe being a Christian means giving and giving and giving, even when it's not fair. Maybe it means forgiving, even when someone doesn't have the good manners enough to beg for it. Maybe it means helping and caring without judging someone's worthiness.

The theme that keeps coming through to me this Lent is mercy- unearned, undeserved, sometimes unbidden mercy that is, thank God, offered to us despite our un-real-deal stabs at Christian living. And if we're going to accept that grace, maybe we'd better be willing to give it, too.