Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Day I Realized I Was Old

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t mention my age to someone. Thirty-one is significant enough that it seems to warrant a great many mentions. And yet, with my lucky genes that make me look about ten years younger, I JOKE about old age, but quite comfortably feel young, dress young, and assume most people think I’m young.

But the moment of truth unhappily arrived two days ago. I was on my annual family vacation in the hills, and the mango tree of my childhood called temptingly to both my very energetic nieces.  With a loop of rope attached to a branch, a hoist up by a ten year old second cousin, and they very smoothly swung themselves on to it. They were regularly spotted perched up in the tree.

“Ah, tree-climbing is the best! I think I might try it again.” I’ve been a tree-climber from the age of five, and have spent many happy hours up a tree. I had climbed trees as an adult too, and was quite pleased with myself when other people oohed and aahed at my skill. I had climbed the selfsame mango tree not long before, I thought. Maybe a couple of years ago? Or perhaps five or six years ago? I don’t really remember, I’ve been an adult so long, the years roll into each other.

I approached the tree confidently as the children welcomed me. But something seemed wrong. I feel like the tree seemed larger than it did a few years ago. Wasn’t it supposed to work the other way round? “I’ve done this heaps of times. Piece o’ cake.” But where do I put my foot? There seemed to be no foothold anywhere close by.

My ten-year-old second cousin, a solid little boy, offered me a foothold of his looped hands. Eh, that should work. I’m pretty light. Just hold still, Mikey.

Crash! I brought him down with my tiny frame. Okay, maybe not. Now what? I gazed at the tree, not wanting to give up that easily. Perhaps I could grab the rope and swing my legs up like my niece had?
There are some things in life one just KNOWS. And I KNEW that I did not have the arm strength, body strength, or general flexibility to pull that off. I have never regularly exercised in my life, never lifted weights, and yet have managed most physical exertion fairly easily. I knew I wasn’t fit, but I never felt really UNFIT until that day. (Apart from being winded the other day after just two dances at a wedding.)

My younger brother decided to cheer me on and tell me I could do it. He just couldn’t understand my SURENESS about what I could not do. Probably because he is a mere 25 years of age. He finally gave me a hoist up. I grabbed the branch, and clung for dear life to it. “Aah! I can’t do it! I can’t do this! I’m stuck!” “Are you joking? You’re joking, right?” asked my brother. That’s the problem with regularly being over-dramatic about everything.  I assured him about my seriousness about my dilemma by continuing to scream. He finally pushed me up. Not the most graceful moment for someone who tries to avoid awkward situations.

Somehow I got my legs up. Is the same body I’ve owned my entire life? Why won’t it do what I want it to do? I enjoyed my brief moment of glory up in the tree, but couldn’t get any higher than the first fork in the branches. “Angle the camera so I look like I’m higher up!” And then of course, I had to face the descent. How bad could that be? I’m 5’4” and it was probably only a foot more than that. But once again, I was immobilized by fear. I just knew that hanging from the branch by my arms and then dropping was going to be useless because of the aforesaid lack of arm strength. But I had no option. After playing it all out in my head several times, I finally did it, scratched my hands and landed on the ground safely.

I suppose now is when I should seriously start thinking of Couch to 5k, or Zumba, or not sitting on my butt all the time. Or I could just blog about my deteriorating strength. I guess you know which option I’ve chosen today. Welcome, old age. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

What Not To Say in Confession: An Open Letter to Priests

Dear Father,

Thank you! Thank you for saying yes to Jesus, and to His call. We live in a world hungry for grace, and we receive that in the sacraments, that YOU give us.

We know that there are many Catholics who don't make it to Confession very often. Confession is one of those things that people either think is super cool, or super weird. For many of us, we understand that Jesus is giving us the great gift of speaking our sins out loud, physically and spiritually dumping them into His hands, and then receiving the free gift of forgiveness- through YOU. How cool is it that as you say the words "I absolve you of your sins...", it is really Jesus speaking through you.

I have been blessed by the grace of Confession many, many times in my life. I have often been in a pit, feeling low, lost, negative and dispirited, but after going to Confession... SOMETHING changes. There is a lightness, a new hope. Grace touches my soul. And I begin again.

However, as someone who has been to many, many Confessions over the 31 years of my existence, I've noticed some trends that I thought I would point out. I've heard the Church call for dialogue, and priests and bishops who want to hear back from the laity. So this is me responding.

So, Father, can I ask you, please, not to say or do these things?

1. "Don't be so hard on yourself." Actually I'm not being hard on myself, I just have a pretty good awareness of how I'm messing up. I'm honest. Don't mistake that for scrupulosity. Or even humility. Believe me when I say I've sinned. That's why I'm at Confession. I actually said that to a priest once. "No Father I'm not being too hard on myself. I don't even try very hard to do things differently." "Oh," he said and thought for a moment. "Well then, try harder." "Thank you!" I said, relieved. Thank you for believing me, and saying what I needed to hear.

2. "That's not really a sin." Well, the Church says it is. Or if God has asked me to do something, and I've refused him (whether it's praying for an hour every day or going for daily Mass), then that's a sin. Don't minimize or dismiss my sins because they are not the same as other people's sins. I've started preparing a little speech about why my sins are really sins because this happens so often. "Yes I knew what God was asking of me, and I chose to do something else. I had an option, it was not impossible, but I ignored the grace that Jesus offered."

3. "If you really loved Jesus, you wouldn't sin." Well, Father, I guess I don't love Jesus enough, but I'm trying. And I want to. Please don't make me feel bad about the fact that my love is imperfect and weak. Or that my sin means I don't have a relationship with Jesus, or have never had a real encounter with Him. I once quoted Saint Paul to a priest who said this- "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." (Romans 7: 18-19)

4. "Don't focus on your sins. Focus on God's love." The REASON I'm at Confession right now is BECAUSE of my sins. Yes, it is unhealthy to be constantly focussing on my own sins. However, I NEED to acknowledge the weight and ugliness of my sins in order to fully receive the mercy of God. And Confession is exactly the place to do it. I need to say them out loud, and I need to say how many times. It is so much easier just to gloss over them, or be vague about them, or rush through them. But that may not be what I need. If I don't accept how bad the bad news is, I'll never believe how good the good news is.

5. "Didn't you come for Confession just two days ago?" Yes, Father, and I messed up after that, which is why I'm back here. Similarly, "You take us priests for granted by coming so often for Confession." Jesus said seventy times seven, so I'm taking Him at His word. You get to be Jesus. That's what "in persona Christi" means. Pope Francis said "God never tires of forgiving us, it is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness." Father, we need to know that it's okay for us to come back EVERY time we fall. If we were not trying to change, we wouldn't be coming back to Confession.

6. "You're coming to Confession after 30 years?? How dare you?" Father, the correct response when someone comes back to Confession after years of being away is "Praise God!" If the angels are rejoicing in heaven, perhaps we humans can allow ourselves to as well. Pope Francis said, "I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best."

7. "We don't hear Confessions at this time/place." You are holding in your priestly hands a valuable treasure- the gift of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. How can you refuse to give that to those who need it? Of course, there are some times when it's just not possible. But if it IS, thank God, and make yourself available. I once made my Confession in a car at an airport parking area just before an international flight. A friend in the States who was about to get on a flight, realized she needed to go to Confession, and just happened to see a priest at a pharmacy. She approached him, and he agreed to hear her Confession. Who knows what courage it took the penitent to finally approach you? How could you risk turning this soul away from God? There is NOTHING more important, except perhaps Mass. No administration work, meeting, or meal can be more important. (IMHO :-D)

Instead, could you do/say these things?

1. Welcome the penitent with eye contact and a smile. Sinners are returning to God! Rejoice! Make them feel welcome, and at home with you. How would Jesus receive a penitent sinner? Perhaps not impersonally or in a clinical manner.

2. Tell them "Thank you for that beautiful confession." Let them truly feel like they encountered mercy.

3. Tell your parishioners "I'm available whenever you need me for Confession. Just text or call me, and we can set it up." What a beautiful gift! I know priests who do that. What a gift and witness they are!

4. Have a regular weekly time when Confession is available at the parish, and make announcements again and again so people know. Come early to daily Mass, and tell parishioners you are available for Confession. Make it easily accessible.

4. Don't rush them. Let them say everything they need to say. Ask "Anything else?" and wait. One of my friends experienced a profound conversion because a priest asked her, "Is there ANYTHING else you need to confess or talk about?" and she shared a heavy load with him... which she would never have done if he hadn't asked.

5. Um, and also allow them to say the Act of Contrition aloud. Most priests I know don't, and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to.

Also, did I say thank you? Many, many souls have experienced their deepest moments of grace and conversion in this beautiful sacrament. "With great power comes great responsibility."

I'm praying for you!


Monday, 10 April 2017

Rad-Trads, Liberals, and Finding Balance in the Catholic Church

I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog post about Catholic Camps, people who identify themselves as liberals or traditionalists. My views haven't changed, but once again I've been thinking more about this topic. It seems like most Catholics fall into one or other extreme, and lose track of the holy balance God is calling us to. Why does it worry me? Because both sides can lead others astray, and both have loud voices and influence on the faith of simple uncatechized Catholics, and people joining the Church, who don't know what to think. And it seems like leaders of both extremes are leading their flocks astray.

Why I'm Concerned About RadTrads/Catholic Fundamentalists*:

Many traditionalists seem to live a life of fear and suspicion. They see the devil hiding behind everything that isn't explicitly Catholic. It seems like nothing is morally neutral to them. If it isn't explicitly for God, it is for the devil. If the Church has left something to the prudential judgment of the faithful, leaders in this movement will come up with a more black and white ruling.

Life seems to be one big death trap. They are very concerned about the truth, but often at the expense of love. Some live in the past, seeing danger in modernity. Many see the salvation of the world as inextricably tied up with beautiful liturgy, as if Jesus came to this world solely to give us a beautiful Mass. So often it seems like they are legalistic, concerned more with winning an argument than winning a soul. One of the worst trends I've seen is of Francis-bashers- so called faithful Catholics who literally consider themselves more Catholic than the Pope. There are entire websites and blogs devoted to bashing Pope Francis. Often people with this extreme worldview spend a lot of time writing and blogging and nitpicking about everything. They often see apologetics as their mission, their sole way of evangelizing. Also, they seem to be very contemptuous of liberal/progressive Christians. I've seen a LOT of name-calling, and uncharitable behaviour.

Radtrads are very suspicious of anything that sounds or looks Protestant, as if there is nothing good that can come from a non-Catholic Christian church. (We can't sing that hymn in church, a Protestant wrote it! Praise and worship? No thank you, Adoration seems more Catholic. Accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? That sounds too Protestant to me.)

Strangely enough, overlapping with the radtrads are the Catholic fundamentalists, very influenced by their Protestant counterparts. Many of them are stridently pro-Trump. Like Christian fundamentalists, they are overly focussed on outward appearances, very specific rules about modesty are often found here. They send a lot of Whatsapp forwards quoting exorcists about the devil's latest way to get you (Halloween and Harry Potter), don't believe anything that the mainstream media reports, and believe everything that the conservative media or conservative commentators on FB do (even WHEN IT'S ALL IN CAPS). They also love conspiracy theories.

You often know radtrads more for what they disapprove of than what they love, and they can be hard to identify with or talk to.

Why I'm Concerned About Liberal or 'Progressive' Catholics*:

Liberals swing far far to the other extreme of radtrads. Practically everything goes (except authentic Christian doctrine). In India, we have many very liberal priests, religious, theologians, and seminaries. These are the guys teaching seminarians that the Church's perspective is just one of many perspectives to be considered. And when that foundation goes, so does everything else. Many liberal Catholics seem very angry with the Church. Down with the patriarchy, they cry! God is Father and Mother! Never mind what Jesus said. Women priests! It's only a matter of time. Yoga? Great idea! Let's build retreat houses and spiritual formation based on yoga. What are you worried about?

Liberals will rarely seriously consider that Satan is not just a concept, but a person. The only evil is ignorance, they say. And down that slippery slope they fall, some seminarians studying other religions, and joining them. The fact of new age practices leading to spiritual oppression or possession is ignored or disbelieved. The spiritual aspect of the Church's mission is all but dismissed. Our mission is to build a society of justice and peace, bring the Kingdom of God through eradication of poverty, and empowerment of women. Evangelization is a dirty word. The world needs a Kingdom of love, but we don't think they need a King. Anyway, Jesus is hidden in every religion, so really what's the point in evangelizing.

Liberals are very 'liturgically innovative' as I like to phrase it. The Mass as it is is just not good enough for them. "For the Sign of Peace, let us turn to our neighbour, take their hand, trace a cross on it and say 'Jesus loves you'." "I can't just make a sign of peace, Father?" "For the Communion Rite, we will pass the Communion bowl around, and everyone just pick up your own Communion." "Aargh, Father, liturgical abuse!!" "For the first reading, we will take a passage of St. Ignatius' writings as it is his feast." "That is NOT okay, Father!" Liberals see the half-asleep state of many Catholics, and their solution is to make the Mass 'creative', 'lively', and 'interactive'.

Liberals are a little bit obsessed with the environment. A friend of mine went on a Lenten retreat a few years ago during Holy Week. I asked her what the theme was, and she said it was all about the environment. Not sin and salvation? Not repentance? Not dying with Christ, so that we can live with Him? Nope. The environment. The culminating activity was going out and planting trees.

Liberals seem to be as contemptuous of traditionalists, as traditionalists are of them. Sometimes I think of liberals and traditionalists as opposing personality types- the type who love rules and structure and black and white, and the rebels who love pushing boundaries, and struggle with authority. Interestingly enough, I've met both liberals and traditionalists who are equally skeptical of the Charismatic renewal. Then again, I've found Charismatics who have fallen into errors of both extremes.

So how do we find balance between these two extremes?

There is just one answer: Faithfulness. Be faithful to what Jesus has already given us! Read the Catechism and the documents if you're not sure. Don't add, and don't take away. Pray, study, and be humble. Jesus loves you, and has promised to keep His Church free from error (in teaching, not in the individual morality of each of Her members). If you trust Him, trust His Church. This practically means:

1. Don't condemn practices that the Church has not condemned. However, study what the Church DOES say on the topic, and share that with others.

2. Don't support or advocate or excuse practices which the Church has specifically rejected or condemned. The Church is usually very careful about what it rejects, and has a ton of reasoning for why it does so.

3. Follow ALL of the Church's teachings and disciplines- including the ones on contraception, care for the environment, avoidance of New Age practices, care for the poor, Lenten fasts, etc. Why is THAT particular teaching important? Look it up. Don't just dismiss it because you don't think it's important.

4. Listen to what the Pope is saying, even if it's not about your pet topics, or the topics you think he SHOULD be speaking about. Ask God for the heart of one willing to be taught.

5. Be charitable with those you disagree with whether online or off. Assume the best motives, even while you patiently correct, rebuke and encourage. And stop reading blogs or watching videos that are overly negative, uncharitable or reactionary.

6. Love and treasure the truths and sacraments of the Church, but don't be scared to learn from non-Catholic Christians. Ecumenism is not a bad word.

7. Please, please don't mess with the Mass! 'The priest must remember that he is the servant of the sacred Liturgy and that he himself is not permitted, on his own initiative, to add, to remove, or to change anything in the celebration of Mass.' General Instruction on the Roman Missal. Fix these words in your heart! The Mass is already awesome, we need to enter into that, not change it to make it something else.

8. On matters that are not clearly defined by the Church, pray and make a prudential decision for you and your family. And don't judge or condemn Catholics who made a different decision.

9. Be known as much as for your love as for your willingness to stand up for the truth.

In other words, if God has called you to be Catholic, BE CATHOLIC!

*This is not specifically about YOU. I've met many people who fit into these categories. If the cap fits, wear it. If it doesn't, pray for those whom it does.

Further Reading

The Two Most Revolutionary Verses in the Bible - Peter Kreeft

Excerpt: The strong point of conservatives is that they conserve. They are faithful. They keep the faith. They are anchored in the faith. Their weak point is that they tend to be pugnacious and angry and graceless and merciless and loveless.

The strong point of liberals is their soft heart, their compassion. Their weak point is their soft head, their lack of principles, faith, fidelity, and anchors. They are strong on mercy, but weak on justice and on objective and unchanging moral principles—strong on love but weak on truth.

The Trouble with Yoga- Catholic Answers

Excerpt: Should you take up yoga? As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality. But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health. If you’re at all unsure of your ability to do so, you may well be advised to find another form of exercise.

I Used to Be Anti-Harry Potter

Excerpt: As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.

The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)

Nitpicky Church Rules

Excerpt: There is grace in humility and obedience. That doesn't mean blind faith or blind obedience-just doing stuff because anyone says so. But it means taking seriously the faith I profess- I am no longer my own, I belong to Jesus. Trusting God has to mean something.

When I Get Tired of Being Catholic

Excerpt: I dream of a day when I can go to Mass and hear solid, challenging, truth-filled homilies, where our pastors are visibly 'other Christs', in their humility, wisdom and love, treating parishioners as coworkers in the Kingdom, not inferiors, where the hymns radiate beauty and lift our hearts to heaven, where parishioners are DISCIPLES first, whose love for one another is visible, who welcome the outsider with open arms, whose priority is service to the poor and mission.

Friday, 10 February 2017

What PMS is Really Like

Ugh I'm hungry. I desperately need chips. Right. Now. Why am I so hungry? And why are there no chips in the house? There is NOTHING in this house to eat!!!!! DOES EVERYBODY HATE ME? Oh let me check the date. Yes indeed, PMS it is. Or is it? Maybe this is normal me. Let's keep track through this day. Hunger? Out of proportion irritability? Unexpected tears? Check, check, check. 

(Buy stash of chips. And chocolate.)

Unexpected setbacks/interruptions occur during the day: THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING! (RAGE) Okay. Calm down. You're over reacting. But I'm MAD!!! Aaarghh!!

(Deep breaths. Send message to friends to ask them to pray for me to survive the day. Pray a dramatic psalm calling on heaven to aid me. God responds by sending unexpected chocolates.)

I can do this. It's just PMS. Just because it FEELS like everything is sad and depressing and overwhelming doesn't mean it really is. Get a grip.

(Sigh angrily/stalk past/morosely ignore anyone who has the misfortune to be in my sphere. Expletives rise to the surface of my brain again and again. Some escape.)

Okay, Sue, stop acting like a jackass. Fake it till you make it.

(Eat chips)

I'm tired. And mad. And everything feels vaguely depressing. I should sleep. But I'm depressed so I can't. I know, I'll look at Facebook. Again. People I may know.. Who the heck are these people? Why do they look so boring? Why do most Indians have such terrible profile pics? OHMYGOD why does this idiot have those dog ears and nose? What the heck is wrong with these people? Facebook is SO boring!!!

(Eat chocolate)

Friend texts to ask if I want to go for a walk. Ugh. I just can't. I can't do anything.

I hate my life. Only I don't. This is PMS speaking. Don't forget!!! I don't know what to do. Maybe I'll just lie in bed and check Facebook again. OHMYGOD WHY IS MY PHONE RINGING??!!

(Answer phone and pretend to act like a normal human being.)

(Eat more chocolate.)

Watching 'About Time' (time travel rom-com): This makes no sense! So many plot holes. But oh.. (tears) it's about valuing each day because each moment is precious especially when you have a sweet little family of your own.. Which I don't.. (INTJ brain intrudes) although you're probably so sleep-deprived when you have babies that it's hard to appreciate how precious each moment is, so I guess I'm not missing that much.. Plus I do have a family.. BUT DO I REALIZE HOW PRECIOUS EVERY MOMENT IS WITH MY PARENTS NO I DON'T WASTING THIS PRECIOUS LIFE. Ugh get some sleep, Sue.

(Go to sleep late because I'm mad and sad, and repeat the next day.)

Thank God this only happens once a month.

[Okay this is slightly exaggerated for dramatic effect. But not that much. Some people think this is a private topic. But I think this is an act of service to men everywhere (and women who don't get it like this.) We don't really hate you. It's just PMS.]

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Trump, Internet Wars, and Things Falling Apart

Years ago I had to read a book called 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe, which I actually don't remember at all except for the title, and a little bit of the poem that the title came from: The Second Coming by W.B. Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I feel a bit like that today. Is Trump really the president of the United States of America? Are there really people who think he's basically a good guy with bad press, and is going to make everything better? Are there really people who think all Muslims are potential terrorists, that the risk of terrorists or drug peddlers justifies turning away homeless and desperate refugees? Yes, I know some of those people.

But then can it still be possible that there are people who deny the personhood of an unborn baby, and think anyone who is anti-abortion must be anti-women? People who think the burden of nine months of pregnancy is too much to expect any woman to HAVE to pay in exchange for the life of a baby? People who think you can criminalize those who commit infanticide, but not those who perform abortions? Yes, I know some of those people.

And yet, when I go online and start reading people's feelings and thoughts and opinions and stories, and follow Internet wars on different issues, things can seem blurry. Sometimes it just makes me think everyone is crazy, especially when I read comments (the dregs of the Internet). But often it gives me empathy- I can understand why people believe those things. Often out of fear, insecurity, and from buying into strident angry memes, blogs and articles. Out of a particular belief so strong that everything else seems unimportant, or a distraction. Or out of an emotional reaction to a bad experience from their own past. Or often out of an unwillingness to judge, or fear of identifying with fringe elements. And very likely (maybe subconsciously) out of a need to seem politically-correct to your world, to 'your' people, the team you identify with. Our view of how people perceive us can influence so much.

So then is nothing true? Or is everything? When the people you identify with fail you, or seem to have blind spots, and the people on the other side have good points, even while stridently rejecting truths you believe in, whom can you trust? How can you live with this constant stream of argument, debate, invective, and varying perspectives on EVERY possible issue? What can you hold on to when everything and everyone seems to be going crazy?

1. You could dig in your heels, go with the dehumanizing of every perspective that is not your team's perspective, and mock or demonize the other side mercilessly. (I don't recommend this.)

2. You could read as much as you can, and make up your mind on every issue. But this is exhausting, and you could still be wrong. You're limited, and you could very likely be wrong- plenty of people must be.

3. You could ignore everything that makes you uncomfortable, say it doesn't affect you, and lose yourself in one of the many forms of escape our world provides- hours of  TV shows, or Dota, or food, or career goals, or making more money, or spending more money, or playing or watching sports. There's something for everyone.

4. You could pick ONE principle by which you measure all opinions, perspectives, beliefs, and actions, and not only choose where you stand on that issue based on the ONE principle, but live your life according to that ONE principle.

I choose the fourth way (even though imperfectly), and the ONE principle I choose is LOVE. But how do I guard against counterfeit versions of love? One could say all they live by is love, when they mean the warm but fleeting feeling they get that could lead them to pet a puppy, but condone infidelity, perform a random act of kindness, but go back to a selfish, materialistic lifestyle. How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to support gay marriage, or defend the truth that every child needs a mother and a father? How do you know whether authentic love should lead you to tell women with crisis pregnancies to consider abortion, or to warn them about how traumatic abortions can be for them, that they are already mothers, and that you will love and support them through pregnancy, and after the baby is born too?

There is an answer. Love is not just a principle, but a Person. He has a name and a face. He is both Love and Truth. Because those two things go together. Love without truth isn't love, and truth without love isn't truth. Jennifer Fulwiler wrote a great piece 'Good People, Bad People, Truth and Lies':

Without God — or, to phrase it another way, without objective truth — we are sailors without a compass, trying to rely on gut instinct to navigate troubled waters. It might work out some of the time, as is evidenced by the number of nonbelievers who are indeed “good people” most of the time. But it leaves us vulnerable to the legion forces that try to steer us off course, and it makes it almost impossible to weather a great storm. If we don’t know the truth about who we are, why we’re here, where we came from and where we’re going, we’re on shaky ground to begin with; and when we deny the existence of objective truth on matters of what is good and bad, what is right or wrong, we lose control of our own lives. [Read the rest here.]

He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17


Everything is falling apart- families, nations, morality, political systems, our sense of security, and peace of mind. Nobody can say that our world is doing well. But I believe that if we cling to Him, cling to love; hold on to Him, hold on to love; if we regularly evaluate and change our lives and our beliefs by holding them up to His standards, then in the midst of the craziness, we're going to be okay. Because only the things done for love and in Love will survive. Everything else WILL pass away. Trump will pass away. Everything we build our lives on, consider valuable, argue about, and fight for will pass away. Except love. It is only when we lose touch with God, that it's easy to lose touch with truth, and often with love.

So that means taking time off from the constant stream of news and opinions on the Internet and TV to BE with the One who is Love. When's the last time you were really quiet? No phone, no Facebook scrolling, no taking in of new information? Choosing to know Him means choosing the silence of prayer each morning. It means allowing Him to calm my mind, and to give me clarity and courage and love. It means choosing love in my daily interactions with the people around me. It means speaking the truth at the right time, even strongly and passionately, but ALWAYS lovingly and courteously.

Love does win in the end. In the meanwhile, let's keep fighting the good fight.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Dr. Beth on the Chronic Singleness Disorder

Dr. Beth, 8 (pad and pen in hand): Can you tell me your name and the sickness that you have?

Me: My name is Humility and I suffer from chronic singleness. What can you do for me, Dr. Beth?

Dr. Beth: Well.. I need to ask you. When you watch shows about couples, do you feel sad for yourself, or good for the other person?

Me: I feel good for them, but I also feel bad for myself.

Dr. Beth: Hmm, okay well, I see... I think that's a little... what do you feel more?

Me: Depends on the time of the month.

Dr. Beth (looks confused): Huh?

Me: Never mind. Moving on. What can you do to help me with this problem of chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: (places a finger on her lips thoughtfully) Well.. (succumbs to a fit of giggles)

Me: Keep going.

Dr. Beth: Okay. I have.. I have sent you, well, not sent you, I am going to put you into a volunteer school to teach kids.

Me: Okay... but what's this got to do with...

Dr. Beth: You'll be working with another teacher..

Me: Oh!

Dr. Beth stops and stares at me, smiling suspiciously.

Me: What's this got to do with my chronic singleness?

Dr. Beth: You'd have to be come friends with the teacher.

Me: Uh huh? Tell me more.

Dr. Beth: (Big smile) He's a male.

Me: Oh, is that a fact?

Dr. Beth: (nodding and smiling self-consciously) Yes.

Me: Is he a good Catholic?

Dr. Beth nods yes.

Me: Does he love the Lord?

Dr. Beth: He's a volunteer!

Me: Oh. Okay. Where do we go from here? Why is he still single? How come there's not a lot of girls already trying to marry him?

Dr. Beth: (shrugs) They don't really care.

Me: Is he not really nice?

Dr. Beth: He's nice! Some girls just don't see it in him. Coz they treat him badly. He's been encountering lots of girls which have been mean to him. But (big smile) I don't think you'll be mean.

Me: Uh.. nooo.

Dr. Beth: So that's why I'm putting friends with him.. with you. So.. well.. um.. yeah..

Me: I thought you had a different plan which involved lots of possible guys.

Dr. Beth: No. Well.. there's a website. And you just told me you wanted to pick someone from a whole guy.. line of guys..

Me: No! What? I didn't say that!

Dr. Beth: Then?

Me: I want to meet them, not just pick them from a website!

Dr. Beth: Ok. So um I'm going to order some guys.. not order but ask them to come here.

Me: How do you find them? I still don't understand that part.

Dr. Beth: It's a website, dear.

Me: How come? There's so many nice girls out there. How come they haven't met any of those nice girls?

Dr. Beth: (Shrugs) I dunno. How am I supposed to know other persons' personalities?

Me: Tell me about that whole personality thing. You were telling me something about personalities. Like, that's how you found them?

Dr. Beth: What?

Me: You said something like you checked my personality and then you checked their personality...?

Dr. Beth: Yes. (Picks up Mother Teresa peg doll) Mother Teresa here, she put everything on my... (pause) something that you put into the computer, and it helps.

Me: Like a USB?

Dr. Beth: Huh?

Me: Like a flashdrive?

Dr. Beth: Yeah, a flashdrive. So, uh, it stores everything, and then I have a website, everyone has their website, of um, Look For Me. The website is called Look For Me. (Big smile, pleased with herself.)

Me: Really? Lookformedotcom?

Dr. Beth: Yes! Have you looked at it?

Me: I have not looked at it as yet.

Dr. Beth: I'll download it for you. So Mother Teresa here has downloaded all your information, just by kissing you on the cheek.

Me: Wow. Impressive.

Dr. Beth: I know. She's very cool. Thank you. Yes. So, as I was saying, you will need to... (long pause)

Me: That's it?

Dr. Beth: You'll have to come to me tomorrow at 2.

Me: Thank you.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

What To Do When Things Don't Go Your Way

Everyone assumes everyone else has got it together and they are the only ones suffering. But the more I live (not so subtle reference to my wisdom-laden thirty years), the more I find that we are not alone, that the human condition is really pretty similar.

The particular human situation I refer to is that of disappointment, or major setbacks in life, of dreams that come tumbling down, or life just not turning out the way you thought it was going to. Either this sounds like an overused homily to you, or you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you are going through it right now.

You did everything right, you worked hard, you got your degree, you applied for jobs, you even went for interviews. And yet here you are, unemployed, and waiting, waiting. This was not how life was supposed to turn out. This was not where you thought you would be at this stage of your life.

Or you were working on your dream project, the culmination of your hard work, brainstorming, focus, determination, blood, sweat and tears... It seems inspired by God, you followed His leading... and then CRASH! It all falls flat. It's sabotaged, destroyed. It's all gone down in flames and you can't understand why. Why?

Or you were in a relationship that seemed like IT, the one you were waiting for your whole life. Everything seemed right, all the signs seemed to point to this being The One. You looked ahead, and said "Yes. I think I'm ready to say forever." And then something changed. He didn't want the same thing. She wasn't the person you thought she was. Family interfered. And he accepted it. And now you're alone, all those dreams crashing and burning.

Or you found the person to marry, you went through all the things everyone does- you spent months planning a wedding, receiving the congratulations and well-meaning platitudes from all one hundred and sixty seven of your aunties and cousins and coworkers, you received the gifts, and moved into the new home, and you started this rosy life with so much anticipation... and now it's not what you thought it would be, because of the painful gut-wrenching experience of infertility. Or anxiety. Or depression. Or unfaithfulness. Or a spouse with deep unresolved anger issues.

Or you had it all,  the dream did come true, but then so did unexpected and crippling loss in the form of a miscarriage, or your spouse or a child dying.

Now what?

Where do you go from here? How can you go on when your chest is tight and your stomach hurts and you've forgotten what it feels like to be excited about the future?

Stop comparing. The burden of social expectation is too heavy to bear, and anyway God hasn't even asked you to carry it. Facebook makes it seem like everyone has the thing that you don't- the perfect job, the romantic spouse, the exotic getaways, the picture perfect children, the close, bonding family get-togethers. But you just don't know. Nobody has exactly the life they hoped they would have. So many have hidden sorrows. Each one has their own apportioned sorrows, and their own particular consolations. So you're not left behind. Everyone is at different places, but they have their own journey to make.

Accept that it's okay to feel hurt and confused: I read a beautiful reflection from Bishop Robert Barron about Saint Joseph- 'Joseph had become betrothed to Mary and this union had been blessed by God. And then he finds that his betrothed is pregnant. This must have been an emotional maelstrom for him. And at a deeper level, it is a spiritual crisis. What does God want him to do?' Saint JOSEPH was confused? He must have gone through an EMOTIONAL MAELSTROM??!! If saints can have deep pain and questioning, then we can too. It doesn't mean you need to get your act together. Sometimes it's okay to just feel pain... just allow God to hold you as you pummel his chest and cry your eyes out.

Reject unnecessary guilt, blame and over-analyzing: Pain doesn't mean you messed up.  Pain doesn't have to be someone's fault. Sometimes it is. And if it is, come before God with a contrite heart, beg His (and anyone else's) forgiveness, and move forward. Make the changes you need to get your life back in order. But a LOT of the time, disappointment, suffering, and pain just happen because we live in a broken world, and that's part of the human condition. No matter how much you try, you can't avoid pain. So stop blaming yourself. And stop blaming everyone else.

Okay this one is the hardest:

Don't believe that just because you can't see the big picture. there isn't one: Continuing the Joseph story: 'Then the angel appears to him in a dream and tells him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” He realizes at that moment that these puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s. What appears to be a disaster from his perspective is meaningful from God’s perspective.' 

You heard that?

These puzzling events are part of a much greater plan of God’s.

Your particular puzzling and painful event is part of some greater plan of God's. What could it be? Like Tevye sang in Fiddler on the Roof, "Would it spoil some vast, eternal plan, if I were a wealthy man?" Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were to get what I want, for my life to play out the way I hoped it would?

Well, that's where you have to take the big leap of faith and say- I am not God. God is God. I don't get it. But I am weak, helpless, with a limited perspective. I've been wrong about many things before. So maybe it's possible I'm wrong in thinking THIS particular outcome was the perfect way my life should have gone. God draws beauty out of brokenness. Sometimes we get glimpses of it- "Oh, THAT'S why You allowed that. How perfect." But sometimes we have to wait a long time to see it.

Choose to hope: Not about the thing that has been left behind, but about the future. Bishop Robert Barron again: "Jesus wants to cast a consuming fire on the earth. Not because he delights in seeing us suffer; rather, he wants to burn away all that is opposed to God’s desire for us. He has to clear the ground before something new can be built." God is doing something in you (if you are allowing Him into your suffering). He is burning away old attachments, dependence on particular outcomes. He is shaking up comfortable notions about the stability of this world, because He wants to give us more than just this world. He has something more, something new! I know, it's hard to believe sometimes.

But if you are a Christian, we DO believe in happy endings. Just not necessarily in the exact way we thought it would be. Bishop Barron: "Christians are basically and irrevocably an optimistic people, believers in the divine comedy—in good times and bad, in success and failure. I always think of Thomas Merton in this context, telling one of his novices to get rid of his long face—and meaning it as a positive command. Christians have no business moping around...the overwhelmingly good news is that we have been saved through the mighty power of God, and that's the reason why we are an essentially joyful people."

Allow yourself to be led: Bishop Barron: 'Joseph was willing to cooperate with the divine plan, though he in no way knew its contours or deepest purpose. Like Mary at the annunciation, he trusted and let himself be led.' Now what? Now seek Him. Spend time in silent prayer, in an Adoration chapel. Lay it all before Him, and ask HIM the question: "Now what?" He will not only quiet your heart, and the loud voices shouting that this is a disaster, that this suffering is too much, that you can't handle it. But He will also guide. He promised to. Should you make a change, start something new, take a new direction? Should you get help? It may not be a voice from heaven, or dreams and visions like for Saint Joseph. It may even be just circumstances changing, doors closing, other ones opening. But He will show you. Let go of the resentment, the resistance, and go with the flow.

Build your life on the truth that God alone suffices: 'Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.'  -St. Teresa of Avila. Can it be true? That as good and beautiful as the many joys of this world are- successful projects, the intimacy of a happy marriage, the satisfaction of raising a family, of seeing the fruit of your hard work, a steady paycheck and a fulfilling job... all those things are passing away. And nothing will remain but love, and the God of Love. So don't hold on too tightly to the things that pass. One thing remains. And if He is all that we have for the rest of our earthly lives, He is more than enough.

I'm praying for all those of you who are going through a hard time this month.