Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Enduring Beauty

Meeting at the Golden Gate, Giotto

In April, I posted some pictures I had taken of statues of St. Anne, and talked a bit about how I had been asking her to pray for my family. (You have to scroll down in this link to see those pictures.) Then I came across this picture of Sts. Anne and Joachim by Giotto on the cover of a book I was reading, Love's Sacred Order: The Four Loves Revisited by Erasmo Leiva Merikakis. The story of this meeting of Anne and Joachim is found in the Protoevangelium of James, and so is legend, indeed we have no historical evidence or scriptural proof of anything about Mary's parents. There is a long, long tradition in the Church, however, of honoring the parents of Mary by these names.

In every statue of St. Anne, and almost every painting, she is pictured with the child Mary. Often St. Anne is teaching Mary. However, when I saw this painting it really struck me that the story of St. Anne is not just the story of a mother and grandmother, but that of a wife. What we see in the above picture is an image of a marriage, a long, faithful marriage of two people who through their faith and their constancy to each other are, "...bearing fruit in old age." Psalm 92:14. It is an icon of the quintessence of  marriage, a man and woman bearing with each other, bearing children, bearing together the adversities of life, and finally, bringing one another to Heaven.

In the past couple of years, I have been thinking a lot, I have had to think a lot, about how to talk to people who have homosexual attractions about what the Church really teaches about homosexuality. How do you speak the truth without completely alienating those you love? It's so difficult, and one way that seems to provide a plausible place to begin is to offer this image, this ideal that is so beautiful, and so difficult to achieve. It is an ideal of which we all fall short in some way, an ideal that we seldom see lived out in its entirety, but which we recognize immediately when we do see it as entirely good. 

Of course, this is only a very tentative beginning, but it benefits from beginning with what is right and beautiful rather than who is wrong and disordered. It's a promise and not a wound. And so, when I saw this document which has caused so much distress and conflict, I thought, "Well, there you go."
There is also the evening light behind the windowpanes in the houses of the cities, in modest residences of suburbs and villages, and even in mere shacks, which shines out brightly, warming bodies and souls. This light—the light of a wedding story—shines from the encounter between spouses: it is a gift, a grace expressed, as the Book of Genesis says (2:18), when the two are “face to face” as equal and mutual helpers. The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self. Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift. It is this that the bride of the Song of Songs sings in her canticle: “My beloved is mine and I am his… I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3).

Friday, October 17, 2014

We've Got the Whole World . . .

I went on retreat this past weekend, and this window was on the wall opposite me. Someone was good enough to send me this picture because I didn't take any while I was there. I wish it were more distinct, but it will do.

This isn't my favorite stained glass window in the world, but as I was looking at it, I started to think about Joseph in a way that I never have before. There is a joke that I can barely remember about how when something went wrong in the household of the Holy Family, everybody always knew whose fault it was. Sorry I can't remember how it goes, but I don't think it was particularly funny even when somebody told it correctly. After a couple of hours with this image of St. Joseph staring me in the face, I started thinking about the truth behind the joke.

As anyone who has been a parent knows, it's not very long before you realize you're going to mess up. You are going to mess up all the time. You are going to try to avoid the mistakes that your parents made, and you are going to make mistakes in the opposite direction, or you are going to realize that those things you thought were mistakes, were the best things you could have done for your children. You are going to perpetuate the dysfunction of the home where you grew up because you didn't even recognize it as dysfunction. You are going to be really, really tired and be impatient with your kids.

And as I sat there thinking about how Joseph was the sinful person in his home, I realized that this had to be. Jesus if He were to be like us in everything but sin, if He were to identify with us in our suffering, had to have an imperfect parent. I'm not saying that I think St. Joseph was a bad, or even a mediocre parent. I'm sure he was an excellent and very holy parent. He just wasn't perfect. When I look at this picture of Joseph (and this is a very young Joseph although you can't tell here) looking at the infant Jesus, I wonder if he was wondering what the heck an ordinary, sinful man was supposed to do with a perfect wife and a Son that was God. He must have wondered what God was thinking. So much seemed to depend on him, and he knew that he wasn't, nobody was, up to the job. And yet somehow, he completed his task.

It also seems to me that in this image Joseph is a perfect symbol for all Christians, all of us. Here we stand with the Body of Christ, the Church, in our hands to do with as best we can. Whatever our part in the Body may be, we aren't up to the job. We know it. Everybody else knows it, too. I frequently wonder what God was thinking.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Day Late

Not that that would surprise anyone.

I wanted to post this yesterday on the feast day of St. Teresa of Avila, but I didn't get home until after 10 last night. I know that I have written about her more than once, although the search engine can only come up with one post. I love St. Theresa. I very much identify with her, not because of her holiness, but because our faults are similar. I have also relied very heavily on the following prayer which I know I've posted here before, but given all the hysteria concern about the Synod and the Ebola Virus, I thought would be worth remembering.

Let nothing disturb thee.
Let nothing afright thee.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains to all things.
Whom God possesses in nothing is lacking.
God never changes.

I'd like to add that this isn't just a nice pious idea. It's very hard work, but it's possible for perfectly ordinary people, not just great saints. We have to turn our minds over and over again from whatever it is we're worrying about, but if we persevere, we can succeed. The Lord will help us to succeed. There will be times, many times, when we fail for one reason or another, and maybe even St. Teresa couldn't do it all the time, but as she said, it's that patient endurance.

Also, remember the Prayer of St. John Fisher on the sidebar. Couldn't be a better time to start praying for our bishops.


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Anteroom

The Net Mender, Marianne Stokes
In April I wrote in another post that when someone in our family dies, we move into a little anteroom of death--not able to follow  our loved one to the place where he has gone, but unable to go back to the everyday world, and it's the rare friend who is able to come in with us. This is what I expected to experience when my mother died, but I didn't. I didn't feel at all removed from the everyday world, nor did I feel at all separated from those around me. When I thought about it later, I realized that the reason I didn't go into the room was that I was already there. This is where I live now. And this is where I'm at home.

I know that many of you probably think that this is morbid or depressing. I'm sure that a few years ago, I would have felt the same way. But it's not. It's just that I have reached that place in my life where I have done all I felt that I needed to do, and that everything that comes now is just a prelude to that step over that final threshold.

Don't think that I'm saying that I think this is imminent. I don't. I might live for another 20 or 30 years. I might be called to do a lot of surprising things. I'm happy with my life and I'm surrounded by people I love who love me. I'll be happy to stay, but I'm also looking forward to letting go. It's a very peaceful place to be.
Death is swallowed up in victory. 
Where, O death, is your victory? 
Where, O death, is your sting? 
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 
But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Should you want to comment and find that Blogger is being recalcitrant, try this, write your comment and copy it. If it doesn't post, paste your comment into a new box. For some reason, this seems to work for me. JTC

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time to Go?

We are thinking about moving. Neither one of us really wants to move, but we are thinking that pretty soon, we must. So now, on my way to and from work, or wherever else we are going, I keep my eyes open. I want to store it all up--and it's making things very difficult.

It is almost as if, knowing that I am thinking of leaving, the world around me is courting, It's been especially beautiful lately because of the mist.  This morning, there was a blanket of fog hovering over the cotton fields and the sunlight was at just the right angle to lay a veil of gold over the gray. It reminded me of that song that Lancelot sings in CamelotIf Ever I Would Leave You

How can I leave now when the mist is rising and weaving new mysteries every morning, or in the winter when everything is that lovely grayish brown except the one cardinal sitting in a tree like a burning heart; or in the Spring because of as e. e. cummings said, "the leaping greenly spirits of trees/and a blue dream of sky;and for everything/which is natural which is infinite which is yes"

And summer, well I have to admit that if I have to leave, summer would probably be the easiest time. It's so often hot and sometimes so muggy that I can hardly breathe, and I might be tempted to go even if Lancelot said that, "[my] face [had] a luster that put gold to shame." Still, it will be even hotter in the city where the concrete doesn't cool off even at night and there are no stars to speak of.

When Jane Eyre thought that she would have to leave Mr. Rochester and go to Ireland to be a governess there, she said, "I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death." And that is what it is like. It will be like a little death. But, death holds a promise, and that necessity doesn't sound anywhere near as threatening as it used to, about which more later.

For the present, at least, we are here and probably will be for a while. It might be a few years or a few months. I'm going to try to go on as if I will be here forever, although I'm hoping to get rid of some stuff. After moving my mother's stuff twice in less than 3 months, after moving a good bit of my own stuff twice in three months last year, I'm not in any hurry to start packing, and when I do, I want there to be less to pack.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been writing lately. I've wanted to, and there are things that I very much want to write about, but I just have not been able to do it. I think that my thoughts have been too unsettled and I haven't been able to concentrate on any one thing long enough to write about it. Things have begun to settle down now, though, so hopefully it won't be another 6 weeks before another post appears. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

St. Martin's Blog

I think that I have mentioned before in a post that the page with the Novena to St. Martin de Porres which can be found on the sidebar has had as many visits as all the other posts combined. Sometimes people leave prayer requests in the comments, but they don't show up in the Recent Comments box because it's a page and not a post.

Recently, I've been talking to a young man who asked for prayers fairly often, and I would like to invite you all to read the comments on that page, and pray for him as he is in a situation where there is little spiritual support.