Will You Sweep Away the Righteous with the Wicked?

by Bill Mauldin, via Wikipedia

When I was in college, I thought America was pretty wonderful. As I got older, I was bombarded with the many ways she has fallen from her ideals, and I felt obligated to pretend that there wasn’t anything fundamentally wrong, or at least nothing that we couldn’t overcome. To acknowledge America’s faults felt like a betrayal of my love for her. These days I’m working on detachment–loving what’s good about America, but not pinning my hopes on her when they should be elsewhere. I am reminding myself that America is just a country–a country with a lot of God’s truth at her core, and a country I’m lucky to live in–but still just a country: a country that comes and goes in the blink of God’s eye like any other.

For all who have felt my disillusionment, remember that detachment doesn’t mean that you don’t care about something; it just means caring about it only as much as is proper to its intrinsic worth. You can love America without being crushed by the idea that someday she will be gone. But whatever you may think about America today, it’s at least worth praying for. If God was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous men, don’t you think He could find ten righteous things left in America worth saving, if we remind Him?

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7QT: Why I love Magnificat

Happy Friday! Have you ever seen an issue of Magnificat Magazine at the back of the Church and wondered if it was worth the price? It’s so worth it. One year I used part of my birthday money to subscribe and I’m on my third year as a loyal reader. (I wasn’t asked or paid to endorse this, by the way, but if they want to send me some freebies that’s okay with me!) Here’s 7 reasons I love it:

      1. It has everything in one place. For me, it’s very helpful to have prayer written down, because I have a very hard time focusing on unguided mental prayer; and having a set of prayers for the day in one handy little book makes it much more likely that I’ll pray that day. It’s pathetic, but it can be overwhelming for me to look up the daily Mass readings, look up the saint of the day, find my Divine Office and find the right prayers for the week, and so on.
      2. There’s enough that you can pick and choose your favorite devotions, but not so much that it’s overwhelming: a shortened version of morning and evening prayer, night prayer, and the daily Mass readings. In addition, there are saints’ stories, reflections from various authors, special devotions for holy days and seasons, and special sections on Christian art, history, conversion stories, and more. Everything is short, and introduced with quotes, context, or biography when necessary, to help you grasp the theme of the day.
      3. I love the “Saint Who?” section. There’s a different saint almost every day, aside from whoever’s feastday it is, under a different theme each month: saints who were parents, saints who cared for the imprisoned, saints who did great work in their old age, etc. I find out about so many new people this way, including St. Benedict Menni, a man who cared for the mentally ill and suffered dementia himself at the end of his life. I’ve taken him as a special patron for my mother.
      4. It’s gentle but timely. I’m sure there is a lot of grace involved in the editors’ selection of excerpts for daily reflection, because they speak directly to me so often. They’re usually very practical, relevant to modern life, and encouraging. There’s also a wide variety of authors quoted, from saints, Church fathers, and popes to contemporaries like Dorothy Day, Caryll Houselander, Fulton Sheen, Fr. Walter Ciszek, even Ann Voskamp. I’ve discovered so many new authors to look into. I’ve especially loved everything I’ve read by Fr. Alfred Delp, and I want to read more.
      5. Hymns! A hymn for each morning and evening, usually ones I’ve never heard of that are directly connected to the readings or the saint of the day. Again, another place to make great discoveries, if your parish sings the same few hymns over and over again
      6. Each issue is carefully themed to the liturgical seasons, as well as devotions like the year of mercy, month of Mary, and so on. It feels so good to stay in tune with the Church around the world, even if you can’t get out of the house.
      7. I have some cheap trial subscriptions if you want them! For $5, (which I’d be glad to cover for you), you get three free months to try it out. If you’re comfortable sending me your address (you can send it privately to sunsetblog@aol.com), I’ll sign you up–I’d love to share the blessings this magazine has brought me. I’ve done this trial offer before and it works great, my friends didn’t report any difficulty with discontinuing after the 3 months.

Head on over to Kelly’s for the rest of the 7 Quick Takes!

 

Only Heaven

I like to sing hymns to my babies at night: they make nice lullabies, and they’re a good shot in the arm for an exhausted mama.  Tonight I was singing “…and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day,” and I thought sure–on the very last possible day.  I’m not trying to be funny here.  Sometimes it feels like God waits until the last minute.

My mother’s Alzheimer’s is progressing terrifyingly fast, and every morning she suffers through an attack of spiritual doubt and misery.  This morning she told me “everyone keeps talking about mercy…all about mercy….”  She couldn’t finish her sentence, but I thought I caught the implication: where’s the mercy for me?  I didn’t know what to tell her.  I believe in God’s mercy on the last day, but I don’t know why, for some people, He doesn’t send it earlier.  Where is the mercy in my brilliant, wise, eloquent mother spending the last ten years of her life in confusion and humiliation?

I know I’m missing something here.  I know–I believe–that a life of hardship can have more joy and peace than just the promise of heaven.  But I don’t see it right now.

Sometimes a crumb falls
from the tables of joy,
sometimes a bone
is flung.

To some people
love is given,
to others
only heaven

–“Luck” by Langston Hughes

Memory and Marriage

This morning I was praying the Canticle of Zechariah and I misread the line “promised…to remember his holy covenant” as applying to us–instead of God “remembering” his covenant with us, we need to remember it.  It struck me that it works both ways.  I’m not sure exactly what it means for God to metaphorically “remember” us, but it’s urgent for us to remember Him.  The image of God and me remembering the covenant between us reminds me of marriage.  Whenever something goes wrong between spouses, the only way to restart is to recall your vows, the covenant between you.

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Just a quick thought for today!  I have several things I’d like to write about, but we’re in the middle of a move and I haven’t had time.

LALALALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU, GOD!

Not my house.

 

In an effort to keep my 4 year old son from freaking out when one of his toys breaks, we’ve started saying things like “that’s too bad, honey, but good thing you have lots of other toys!” or “that’s too bad, but it’s just a toy.”  He learned his lesson so well that now, when he breaks something of mine, he will cheerfully say, “That’s okay, Mama!  Good thing you have plenty of other stuff” or “remember, Mama, flowers don’t last forever.”  Aargh.

For the last month or so I’ve been thinking a lot about detachment–detachment from unrealistic ideals, from expectations for the future, from the way I want things to be.  As petty as it sounds, my problem with detachment from worldly things probably surfaces the most when it comes to the kids breaking my possessions.  I’ve always considered myself fairly detached from material things already; it’s not like I cry when they chip my special china or something, and most of our stuff is from thrift stores anyway.  But when the very few things I do care about get broken too–my only nice artwork, a gift from my father, that the kids poked holes in with a pen, and my special icon triptych from my mother, which they ripped off its hinges–I lose it.  I discovered both these precious gifts while I was cleaning last week, and started ranting about how I was just fine at being detached from MOST things, but couldn’t I just have one thing that was clean and new and stylish and unbroken and modern and the right size and in the right place?  Just ONE?  Just how detached does God expect me to be?

File:Willard Leroy Metcalf - The White Veil (1909).jpg

The White Veil, by Willard Metcalf.

 

As soon as I said that, of course, God responded by sending me lots and lots of readings about detachment.  Every book I picked up, every meditation or quote in my daily Magnificat reading, was telling me how I would never get closer to God unless I learned detachment.  And I really, really didn’t want to hear this.  I have no idea what this means in my own state of life.  I think part of my problem is that I think detachment means not caring about anything but God, but that’s not true.  I’m starting to realize that what we’re really called to do (I think) is to love and enjoy the things of this world, without getting too attached.  It’s more of a balancing act than I realized.  After all, I need to appreciate the things that God has given me–material things, gifts, relationships, talents, and so on–and not despise them.  It’s not a black-and-white choice between (a) giving everything away and sitting in a cell praying all day and (b) caring about the things I have.  Instead, I think it’s a choice between appreciating the things I have as they are, broken or unbroken, and being attached to the things I have as I want them to be.  If I appreciate my house only when everything’s clean and unbroken, and lose my peace when things get messed up, I’m too attached to my house.  If I appreciate only the parts of my body that are to my liking, rather than appreciating the marvel that my body is right now, I’m too attached to my body.  God doesn’t want me to obsess over how awful my stretch marks are, but I don’t think he wants me to say “who cares about bodies?” either.  To have the proper distance from the gift that is my body, I can’t be too close (either by loving its perfections or loving its imaginary ideal) or too far (“a body is just a tool for living; who cares how it’s made or how it works or how it looks?”).  (I actually did know someone like that once; he thought it was unfortunate that we had to eat.  All this time we spend shoveling food into our bodies, we could be devoting to higher things, like philosophy!  He was a not a healthy person.)

Thanks for listening to me think out loud.  I’m obviously not sure about any of this; what do you think?  All I know is that God seems to be telling me to do something that I’m terribly uncomfortable with.  For the most part, I’m at peace with my stretch marks; but I’ve always been annoyed when people tell me to “embrace” them.  Why can’t I just tolerate them, or ignore them?  But I’m starting to get the feeling that God wants me to embrace quite a bit more.


 

image of monk’s cell
 

Sometimes it’s an Easy Fix

So about a month ago I was in a pretty dark hole–depressed, overwhelmed, couldn’t sleep.  This kind of state comes and goes with me, but I couldn’t figure out why it was suddenly attacking me so strongly.  Then I realized: for the last week or so, I had been:

  • not praying as much as usual
  • reading the newspaper every day at work
  • following and researching stories about child abuse and homelessness
  • watching JAG right before bedtime, including episodes about gangs, suicides, and PTSD
  • and reading a memoir about the Vietnam War.

Duh!  I quit reading the paper, tried to quit clicking the “trending” news stories on Facebook, and brought the Vietnam book back to the library.  I gave myself permission to veg on the couch at night, instead of reading something “serious” and “worthwhile,” and I picked up a couple of fun pulp fiction mysteries.  I started saying evening or night prayer more often.  Voila!  Instant peace.

Sometimes depression comes on for no reason, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  But sometimes it’s your own darn fault.  Speaking of which, I started this blog with the intention of devoting most of my time to passing on beautiful things, didn’t I.  Sorry about that.  I don’t regret any of the posts I’ve written about disturbing topics, but I’m going to try to make the majority of them positive from now on!

P.S.  I’ve finally created an email account for the blog, and I’d love to hear from you at SunsetBlog (at) aol (dot) com.  Thank you so much for reading.  You make my day.

 

“The Sweet Spot of the Faith”

 

Pope Francis with a Filipino girl who asked him why children suffer.

A few words of comfort from Pope Francis, both old and new, for people walking in the dark.  From an old interview, “A Big Heart Open to God,” on seeking God in blindness and doubt:

…in this quest to seek and find God in all things there is still an area of uncertainty. There must be. If a person says that he met God with total certainty and is not touched by a margin of uncertainty, then this is not good….The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties….Often we seek as if we were blind, as one often reads in the Bible. And this is the experience of the great fathers of the faith, who are our models. We have to re-read the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11. Abraham leaves his home without knowing where he was going, by faith. All of our ancestors in the faith died seeing the good that was promised, but from a distance….

I find this so consoling!  When you are in a state of doubt and walking blindly, it’s very easy to feel that you are far away from God.  I was surprised to see Pope Francis say that people in this situation are not only on the right track, but are actually closer to God for their uncertainty.  If I understand him correctly, he’s saying that the uncertainty is a positive thing because it acknowledges the mystery of God’s plan.  By seeking and following God even when we can’t see where he’s taking us, we are making that uncertainty a cause for trusting a providence that is far larger than our range of understanding, rather than a cause for mistrusting God.  I was reminded of this passage a few days ago when I read a very recent interview, where the Pope talks about what it means to have stability in faith, even when you don’t feel God’s presence:

In some moments we are conscious of the presence of God, other times we forget about that….How to be consistent in the faith? If you do not deny feeling it, you are going to feel it very close to you, you are going to find it in your heart. Another day, it is possible that you do not feel anything. And nevertheless faith is present, right? It is necessary for one to get accustomed to the faith not being a feeling. Sometimes the Lord gives us the grace to feel it, but faith is something more. Faith is my relationship with Jesus Christ, I believe that he saved me. That is the sweet spot of the faith. Go and seek the moments of your life in which you have felt bad, where you were lost, where you did not hit the mark, and look how Christ saved you. Embrace it, that is the source of your faith. When you forget, when you feel nothing, embrace that, because that is the basis of your faith….At the end, faith is a gift, it is not a psychological attitude….

This is a good thing to remember when you’re in the lost, wandering state of uncertainty that he talks about in the first quote.  Don’t let the feelings going through your head convince you that God is not there!  “Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I fear no evil, for you are at my side.”

Finally, here’s the Pope’s tender explanation of the gaze of Christ that consoles us in the face of incomprehensible suffering (from a 2013 interview):

One man who has been a life mentor for me is Dostoevskij and his explicit and implicit question “Why do children suffer?” has always gone round in my heart. There is no explanation. This image comes to mind: at a particular point of his or her life, a child “wakes up,” doesn’t understand much and feels threatened, he or she starts asking their mum or dad questions. This is the “why” age. But when the child asks a question, he or she doesn’t wait to hear the full answer, they immediately start bombarding you with more “whys.” What they are really looking for, more than an explanation, is a reassuring look on their parent’s face. When I come across a suffering child, the only prayer that comes to mind is the “why” prayer. Why Lord? He doesn’t explain anything to me. But I can feel Him looking at me. So I can say: You know why, I don’t and You won’t tell me, but You’re looking at me and I trust You, Lord, I trust your gaze.

I can imagine that a secular person might not find this consoling at all: even the POPE doesn’t understand suffering?!  But for me it’s a relief.  My peace of heart doesn’t have to depend on me figuring out everything by myself, because let’s face it, that’s never going to happen.  Instead, I have the gaze of Christ and his Church to return to when I feel lost.  My faith doesn’t have to be constantly defended against doubt or feelings of loneliness, because it all comes down to something unshakable.