“She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” – Rev. 12:2

“I’m working a lot more,” says Don LeBlanc, who cleans everything from operating theaters to patient wards during his usual 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift. “Now, it’s sometimes 10 hours or 12 hours [per day].” https://www.marketwatch.com/

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Charles Dickens in a Tale of Two Cities

One cannot extol enough the many people in diverse professions, circumstances and states of life who are presently living lives of great sacrifice and hardship now. People who, faced with fear and enormous obstacles, maintain a firm will to sustain hope, to defend life and to maintain good order in the face of the great forces of chaos that threaten us.

Though I never wish to idealize or romanticize people, these days of crisis have called us all to a new greatness — a greatness that for some involves risky work and exhausting hours, for others means dealing with job loss, illness or death, while others are challenged with suffering feelings of helplessness, isolation, loneliness or anxiety, even as they muster acts of courage and trust in God’s mysterious providence.

So many people’s lives of prayer — certainly my own — have turned away from more self-absorbed musings on their own spiritual lives, needs or personal fulfillment, and outward toward the needs and welfare of others. This reminds me of what a priest said several years ago in a retreat I was on:

The saints are quite unanimous: a premier sign of holiness is when your thoughts are populated more by considerations of the welfare of others than of your own, and in that you find your greatest freedom and joy. Certainly if we examine the prayer life of Jesus, as in John 17 or on the cross, this was His whole prayer’s concern: us and our salvation. And what preoccupies His mind now that He’s in heaven? Hebrews 7:25 gives a stunning answer, “He lives forever to make intercession for us.”

In the ancient pattern of God’s redeeming providence, these days of dark travail are ripe for transforming our wailing world into a labor and delivery room, from which a new era of saints can now be born. So it might be good for leaders within the churches, amid the scurrying, to heed the words of St. John Paul II, watch carefully and take note(s)…

…The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history.

Particular Churches especially should be attentive to recognizing among their members men and women of those Churches who have given witness to holiness, in everyday secular conditions and the conjugal state, and who can be an example for others, so that, if the case calls for it, the Churches might propose them to be beatified and canonized.

Esteem them very highly in love because of their work

[I wrote this in my journal after going on Facebook the other day…]

Therefore encourage [parakaleite] one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. — 1 Thess. 5:11-13

So much is happening so fast. We are swimming in an ever-rising sea of new data, new experiences, new crises, new analyses, new opportunities which require a rapidly evolving assessment, analysis, judgment and response. Many wonderful breakthroughs have and will come, and many more mistakes are being and will be made. I already myself have a lengthy running tally of the latter!

This all calls for the very things panic can obscure — even-handedness, patient consideration, balanced judgment, humility, courage, charity, conciliatory forgiveness, constructive criticism that offers alternatives or helping hands instead of attacks, and a willingness to pray and offer sacrifices for those who bear the great burden of leadership. It’s an easy time to kick men or institutions or societies when they’re down, but it’s much harder to lower them down to Jesus on a mat, or to pick them up and carry them on your beast, at your own expense, to nearest Field Hospital.

I remember when Fr. Anthony said to me, after I completed a lenten penance, “From now on, for every charitable criticism you offer of another, ten brief acts of prayer for them. For every uncharitable one, ten brief acts of reparation.”

Who needs a parakaleite — an “advocate” and “encourager” — these days? Too many to name! All those who are suffering from job loss, illness, exhaustion, anxiety, et alia. Countless medical professionals. Men and women who ensure our safety and keep order. Those in public and private sector institutions providing our “essential services.” Our civic and religious leaders. Those tending to the homeless and vulnerable. Parents caring for children, children caring for their parents. Teachers who continue to educate us. Entertainers who try by creative means to lift our spirits. In a word, all those who are laboring long and hard on behalf of all, for the good of all.

Just thinking of all this humbles me to the dust, calls me out of my many comfort zones out into a greater gratitude.

All those out there who are the “humble yet great builders of the Kingdom of God in history” (JP2) we are to “esteem very highly in love because of their work.” And if we see the need to point out or confront any of the errors, failures or sins in others, we Christians do this not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting a candle — first always repenting ourselves, then offering correction “with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:16) while encouraging, when possible, each other’s better angels. And for back-up, people of faith’s first go-to is always imploring from the merciful Father, “with loud cries and tears” (Heb. 5:7), every good gift from above needed by each person who comes into our field of vision every day. Yes Cain, we are our brother’s keeper.

Thus, by fostering solidarity among all, we Christians are to become “as a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium #1). As “sign,” we must visibly embody unity, and as “instrument” we must allow God to accomplish this unity through us. Vatican II said it this way:

The promotion of unity belongs to the innermost nature of the Church … Thus she shows the world that an authentic union, social and external, results from a union of minds and hearts, namely from that faith and charity by which her own unity is unbreakably rooted in the Holy Spirit. For the force which the Church can inject into the modern society of man consists in that faith and charity put into vital practice, not in any external dominion exercised by merely human means (Gaudium et spes #42).

Seeing in us a sacrament, non-Christians should be able to look into the Christian community, whether online or in person, and say with stunned awe:

My God! See how they love one another and all! Even their enemies they treat as if friends. Now we see what it looks like to bring harmony into division…

…See! Where there is hatred, they sow love; Where there is injury, they offer pardon; Where there is doubt, they sow faith; Where there is despair, they bring hope; Where there is darkness, they shine light; And where there is sadness, they bear joy; Where there is suffering, they bring relief…

…“Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel!” (2 Kings 5:15)…

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May God give superabundant wisdom, creativity, strength, protection, peace, courage, joy, patience, endurance and perseverance to all those who labor among us or are in authority over us.

May God, in this time of lenten purification, turn us back to Him, reconcile us to one another and open our eyes to Truth to see among us, as St. Augustine said it, “one Christ loving Himself.”

May we never abort His will to gestate love in the world through us…

[in case below video does not play in this post click here]

 

Missing the Mockingbird’s dive

A journal entry from a month ago:

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About five years ago I saw a mockingbird make a straight vertical descent from the roof gutter of a four-story building. It was an act as careless and spontaneous as the curl of a stem or the kindling of a star. — Annie Dillard

I have to say that, for me, one of the bitterest curses of the smartphone is its power to distract from the beauty, surprises and annoyances of the real world. As we look down at our glowing screens, mediating a self-selected (or ad driven) reality, will miss the unruly, unpredictable epiphanies of earth, sea, sky or faces around us. And as we are repeatedly immersed in streaming Xfinity megabits per second, our minds dull, become impatient to the unhurried and un-swiped pace of life.

I try hard not to hate on smartphones. They offer immense advantages, obviously, and they are a staple of life now. My problems with them are my problems, and I know some virtuous users. But it becomes harder and harder for me to not grieve their negative effects. It’s been almost two years since I re-adopted a flip phone, after I realized in the smartphone I had met my match. I had been seduced by the allure of voice-to-text, seized by that low buzz itch to check news alerts, social media updates, search articles, look something up, listen to YouTube or Spotify — oh, and back to more voice-to-text.

I disliked who I had become. But there I was. Though I’d won the rationalization battle, I’d lost too much of my inner freedom.

That is, until the day my 92 year old God-inhabited mom, who had been trying to tell me something while I was screen-gazing, accosted me in a rare moment of impatience: “I’m glad I was born when I was. We didn’t have those things. We talked.”

I looked up and woke up.

A few flip-phone beneficial side-effects: My five senses reawakened to the world around me. My geographical imagination (without a phone GPS) rekindled and I rediscovered the wonder of getting lost and asking for directions. My attention span refocused and expanded. I’ve been reminded of the arduousness of meaningful communication. I’ve gloried more readily in fleeting moments that escape recording, and labor to have them inhabit my soul.

I really believe a new “Christian distinctive” should look something like this: We are the new radicals noted for strolling on a beach, sitting on a porch, walking in a mall, swinging in a park, waiting at a bus stop, standing in line at a checkout, exercising on a treadmill, eating in a restaurant, sitting alone at home, or (gasp!) driving a car … without once looking at our phone.

Yes, we are the Masters, and these are our phone-servants.

Tertullian wrote in the third century, “See, [the pagans say of Christians], how they love one another…” Maybe a new Tertullian will write in 20 years of Christians:

The pagans marvel about us, saying, “See how they love one another! At extreme length they dwell together without a device in hand or in ear. They live in the world with such serenity and attentiveness, even in silence and boredom. Have they gone mad?”

And among our number, maybe a new St. Francis can again arise, per Pope Francis’ vision:

Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever St. Francis would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.

His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.

Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.

By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

Stop, and try to see a Mockingbird dive…

Happy!

Happy New Year! Happy Feast of the Mother of God! Happy World Day of Prayer for Peace! Happy 8th day Circumcision of Jesus!

I am taken up this week with out of town guests, work and such, so likely will not post for a time. I have been grateful for the time I have had this last week to write, and most grateful for the comments left here.

This Blog began, eight or so years ago, as a venue for sharing my thoughts with an amazing and small group of Catholics in Des Moines who met with me bi-weekly as a “Dead Theologians Society” to talk about God and churchy stuff. Those were special days in my life. Then, I just kept writing at the encouragement of some friends.

Obstat is totally random in content, free form in style, untidy and often rambling in structure, and affords me an uncontrolled space to think-aloud about whatever comes to mind in a way I cannot do anywhere else. But more, it allows me to think with and through my readers, which is a privilege I never take for granted. And what gives me the greatest sense of gratitude and awe for God’s stupendous providence is when readers tell me a post was timed well in their life. THAT is often what keeps me writing when I want to quit now and again.

May 2019 be filled with every good for you, and may you resolve to pray with such fidelity that God’s dream can shape your life:

We are the dream of God who, truly in love, wants to change our life through love. He only asks us to have the faith to let Him do so. We can only cry for joy before a God who re-creates us. God thinks about each one of us, loves us, dreams of us, dreams of the joy that He will rejoice with us. Have you ever thought, “The Lord dreams about me, he thinks about me, I am in the mind, in the heart of the Lord”? Have you ever thought, “The Lord is capable of changing my life”?

The Lord is capable of changing us, through love: He is in love with us. What do I have to do? The answer is simple: “Believe. Believe that the Lord can change me.”

Faith is giving space to this love of God; it is making room for the power of God, for the power of One who loves me, who is in love with me and who wants this joy with me. This is faith. This is believing: it is making room for the Lord to come and change me. — Pope Francis

Pause

Well, the week upcoming is daunting, so I will predict a full week respite from my daily Inbox invasions.

Let me leave you with a new TØP song, rejecting suicide as a choice-worthy option for dealing with life’s pain. And even more, rejecting the culture of glorifying (“neon gravestones”) suicide. As Tyler sings,

our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win … no

I love TØP.

Marriage, Children and Humility

Love, on the other hand, is marked by humility; if we are to understand, forgive and serve others from the heart, our pride has to be healed and our humility must increase. — Pope Francis

Today’s Gospel about marriage and the humility of children made me think. So I will subject you to a few of those meandering thoughts.

A seminarian in a class I am teaching asked me the other day, “What virtue is most important in your marriage?” Without hesitation, I said, “Humility.” He said, “Why?”  I said, “Because marriage has to be grounded in radical honesty, in a willingness to speak the truth and a willingness to hear truth as the other sees it. Humility is truth, and no one, if you’re doing it right, makes you face the truth more than your spouse.”

He seemed surprised, and followed up by asking, “But what about love?” I said, “Yes, yes. Of course. Without love, humility becomes shaming and degrading. But love has nowhere to grow if there’s no tilled earth for it to grow in. Humility is all about cultivated ground, dealing with messy dirt, being down to earth. And because you know your spouse isn’t going anywhere, the definition of love, you never fear the truth of who you really are will drive them away.”

Fairly regularly, my wife and I ask each other for an honest appraisal — Is there anything I need to hear from you? She will usually preface her honesty with, “Do you really want to hear what I think?” I often will say back, “Well, it really depends on how bad it is.” The beauty of that gift is that it keeps both of us grounded in reality, provided we each are willing to hear what is said and make changes when needed. It also keeps me from believing that the more superficial masks I put on during the day are really me. Prayer and marriage function very similarly in that respect.

Patti is a polished mirror by which I see in exquisite detail the good, bad and ugly. And I strive to be the same for her. Once when a young couple preparing for marriage met with us to talk, the guy asked me what I thought Patti’s greatest gift to me was. I said, “Two gifts. Being mother to our children and keeping me real. She makes me feel a hundred feet tall and very tiny, all at once.”

My first spiritual director back in the late 1980’s, an old monk, said to me once, “Remember, when people flatter you, think of me. I know the real you. That’s where you need to stay anchored.” He also said, “In spiritual direction, if you ever feel you have to please or impress your director, it’s over. Find someone else right away. It only works when you can bear your soul as it is, face yourself as you are.”

When my children turn 18, I ask them each for an honest reflection on my parenting. On how they viewed me as a father. And I say, “Be brutally honest. Don’t spare my feelings.” Each has been so different in their perspective. It’s a bit terrifying asking them, and it’s humbling to hear what they say. But it has opened our relationships out into adulthood and toward friendship … and that for me is the sweetest fruit of being a parent.