Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 was fine.

In the grand tradition of Jen from Conversion Diary, here are my lessons from 2009 and their relevant resolutions for 2010.

1. Lesson: Some things just ain't gonna happen, folks. You have to pick and choose what kind of resolutions you're going to make. My 2008 resolutions sure looked great. In fact, the ones I listed here were great, because they were focused on the interior and little things. But I also had some other resolutions tucked away, such as... I'm going to teach an awesome Ancient History course in the fall; I'm going to run a half-marathon and lose 15 pounds; I'm going to clean out my entire house in the fall and start a small tutoring business. Then I was pregnant and in bed for three months. None of those things happened, and it was a little bit of a shocker. The point is: it's okay to have great plans for the Things I Want To Do. But they need to be ruled over by one resolution and one resolution only: Be it done unto me according to your Word. The things I wanted to do--running, teaching, making money--didn't happen; but it was not a failure. It was a victory. Resolution: Put hopes and trials into an eternal perspective. The only point of anything is to become closer to the Father.

2. Lesson: Give the guy a break and let him do his job. About February or March, I picked up a terrifically bad habit of rolling my eyes behind Todd's back when I was frustrated. I justified it by thinking, "Well, at least I'm not yelling at him!" The problem with this juvenile coping mechanism? Instead of helping me love him more for his quirks, it actually reinforced all the resentful feelings in my heart. It's a dividing habit, not a bonding habit. The grace of the sacrament of marriage is not about finding clandestine ways to express my spousal angst; it is about really learning to love how my husband goes about being a husband and a father. If I ask God to give me joy in the Scientist's methodical re-ordering of the medicine cabinet, then His promise in that sacrament is that He will give me that joy. Resolution: Seek joy in what was irritating, so that I may be a less irritable wife.

3. Lesson: The hidden life is a beautiful life. This year was full of opportunities to become more hidden in our little home. The girls are growing and need more undivided attention. Sickness kept me quiet. A beautiful book on the spiritual life deepened my love for quiet prayer. I see fewer fruits--but also realize that seeing the fruit of the hidden life is not necessary. Edith Stein wrote in The Hidden Life: "The deeper a soul is bound to God, the more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in sin and estrangement from God, the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night... Certainly the decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.... We may live in confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly effects in us bears fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity." Resolution: Embrace the vocation to a hidden life. Be bound to God and all afire for him.

4. Lesson: Children belong only to God. I've been struck repeatedly over the years with the radical difference between our culture's view of children and the Judeo-Christian view of children. One side says, "I have a right to have my child/ren when and how I want in order to have those maternal experiences as I choose." The other side says, "Behold, children are a gift from the Lord. Blessed the mother of many." Multiple friends and relatives suffered multiple miscarriages this year; and many of you in the blogosphere have watched women lose infants to SIDS or Trisomy-18. Behold, children are a gift from the Lord. They are not mine; my experience of motherhood is not something I earned or even chose (except in the choice to be open to it). I won't even attempt to give explanations of the loss of children or the pains of motherhood: that would be stupid at best. But I do know that viewing children as a right or "MINE" only causes a more distressing suffering to countless bereaved mothers--more distressing because the suffering seems punitive or pointless. The only truth I can grasp--and that gives some meaning to the loss of a baby--is that each one of us is His alone, and we are given to one another according to His ways, which are not ours. Resolution: Hold the children tightly today, give thanks in all circumstances, and offer their little lives to their Father in heaven.

5. Lesson: We are never alone, even though given my druthers I'd be a hermit. This year, the communion of the saints became home for me. What a cloud of witnesses surrounds us and urges us on to the finish line. Therese, John Paul II, Padre Pio, Benedict and Scholastica, Gianna, Clare, Augustine, John Henry Newman... they all have been simply present along with their countless companions, even when I'm not directly addressing them. They are given to us, not created by us. And how I need them. Resolution: Cultivate these friendships as I would any other dear and cherished friendship.

6. Lesson: Only One can stir my heart, and He's not an academic treatise (although sometimes he speaks through such things). I discovered some great songs this year from Sara Groves. "Jeremiah" and "What I Thought I Wanted" were favorites. But this one expresses my whole prayer for this year and all the years to come. Resolution: Lord God, always draw me closer to you. Let me know your unbounded and incomparable love. Expand my heart to hold in all eternity, all joy, all peace, all your creation, all you are. Give us everything you have for us, only let us give you thanks for it all. And let us trust that in all things you are working your beautiful will and bringing us home to your heaven. Amen.

And, of course, I will be renewing my yearly resolution since 2000: "Don't be stupid." Have a blessed 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Faith of the Little Things

Although Christmas has been largely (no pun intended) about surviving sleepless nights and bronchial lungs this year, I was blessed with a few moments to read the central chapters of GK Chesterton's Everlasting Man. Ostensibly, I was preparing to lead a seminar on the Roman Empire. God had additional ends in mind.

Here is Chesterton on what Christmas meant to that ancient and founding world:

"It might be suggested, in a somewhat violent image, that nothing had happened in that fold or crack in the great gray hills [of Bethlehem] except that the whole universe had been turned inside out. I mean that all the eyes of wonder and worship which had been turned outwards to the largest thing were now. turned inward to the smallest. The very image will suggest all that multitudinous marvel of converging eyes that makes so much of the colored Catholic imagery like a peacock's tail., But it is true in a sense that God who bad been only a circumference was seen as a centre; and a centre is infinitely small. It is true that the spiritual spiral henceforward works inwards instead of outwards, and in that sense is centripetal and not centrifugal. The faith becomes, in more ways than one, a religion of little things."

Hans Urs von Balthasar mentioned last week that a world that forgets the incarnation will be a world without women and children (not literally, of course, but rather a world that refuses value to the womanly and childlike things). This is close to what Chesterton claims for Christianity: the faith is a faith of the "little things"--infants, manure (human and animal), night-time feedings, a mother's wordless adoration and service, a father's irreplaceable protection of the helpless.

It was a great comfort to be reminded in all the illness and frustration: our God is a God who was little. Mary wasn't sleeping much during the Christmas octave either--she was attending to the little things, the everlasting things.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.... We have seen his glory.

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts this blessed octave. All's quiet here--the bronchitis and various viruses are lifting slowly but surely. All is most well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent

And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

The Philosophical Household is still slain by a virus, so depth of thought escapes me. Fortunately, the Anchoress has a beautiful reflection on Mary and Elizabeth's joy for today (along with her usual wealth of links).

Be still these past few days... find that cloister in your heart. (I speak mostly to myself!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "education of man."

I've been dipping into Hans Urs von Balthasar over and over again this Advent. Love Alone is Credible is surely, as I've exuded before on this page, one of the best spiritual readings for the penitential seasons.

This week, it's been "Love as Form," which sounds awfully technical but is in fact not. Rather, as he nears the end of his little work, von Balthasar seems to be moving away from the philosophical and theological categories and analyses and into Scriptural and mystical themes (informed always, of course, by the truths of the faith). In this chapter in particular, he embarks on a long meditation on the form, or character, of Christ's own love: "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you forgive. And above all these put on love..." (Col 3:12-14)

This passage particularly strikes home in Advent, as he moves into a brief discussion of the Old Testament and the preparation for Jesus's coming: "This love is first of all the goal of the entire Old Testament education of man, which sought to conform man inwardly to God... [The Jewish people] thus knew only that [they] must continue to transcend toward some goal, but without having any vision of the final form itself."

Who could have guessed that this "final form" of love would be God taking on human nature in order to sacrifice that nature on behalf of all the world?

As we keep adding those ornaments to our Jesse Tree and reading the words of Isaiah and the prophets, we must give thanks that we have seen that "final form" of love. That little infant, born to die, is the absolute, final, and only necessary Word.

Giving order to the complexities and distress of our lives, our families, our nations.

Giving peace the world cannot give.

The form of love, for which the world was long prepared and for which our prophets longed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

St. John of the Cross

Today the Church remembers St. John of the Cross, one of the great reformers (along with awesome lady Teresa of Avila) of the Carmelite order. A house full of sleepless children and husbands prevents anything too eloquent, so here are some excerpts and quotes instead...

from New

"St. John has often been represented as a grim character; nothing could be more untrue. He was indeed austere in the extreme with himself, and, to some extent, also with others, but both from his writings and from the depositions of those who knew him, we see in him a man overflowing with charity and kindness, a poetical mind deeply influenced by all that is beautiful and attractive."

from the Dark Night of the Soul:

Upon a darkened night the flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright I fled my house while all in quiet rest.
Shrouded by the night and by the secret stair I quickly fled.
The veil concealed my eyes while all within lay quiet as the dead

and here, Loreena McKennitt sets him to music:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Homechooling in crisis?

Dear friend Aaron Martin of To Dust You Shall Return has posted a couple of links to his law school paper Homeschooling in Germany and the United States. From the abstract:

"In March 2009, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Resolution 850, urging the German Federal Government to legalize homeschooling. The resolution was one illustration of how advocacy groups throughout the United States have put pressure on Germany to change its draconian laws regarding homeschooling, laws that were enacted in 1938 during the Nazi regime. But while legislators are calling for Germany to change its laws, battles rage within the United States over the same issues.

This Note evaluates the state of homeschooling in the United States and Germany, both by considering the historical development in each country and through analysis of current cases. Although Germany and the United States have very different approaches to homeschooling and parental rights over the education of children, similar pressures threaten the status quo in each country. For Germany to concede rights to parents would undermine its strong nationalistic education system; individual judges in the United States feel that our relatively liberal homeschooling laws threaten the fabric of our pluralistic society and concede too much to individual - and often religious - beliefs."

This is a legal/academic paper, but it helps tremendously in understanding the debate over a parent's right to educate his/her child. This is a freedom we enjoy in the United States, but it is by no means a sure thing. Be wise, be informed! This note is a great place to start...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A moment...

... to breathe.

Fresh bread baking in the oven, a baby baking in the womb.

A little Pandora radio on so softly.

Some Hans Urs von Balthasar: "Love is an a priori Yes to whatever may come, whether it be the Cross, or being plunged into absolute abandonment, or being forgotten, or utter uselessness and meaninglessness. It is the Son's Yes to the Father, the Mother's Yes to the angel, because he carries God's Word..." (loving this book...)

An examination of conscience for tonight's Penance Service.

And the promise of a coming King.

O holy moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Why an Immaculate Conception.

This day a shoot came forth from the root of Jesse; this day Mary was conceived without any stain of sin; this day she crushed the head of the serpent.
(Traditional Antiphon, via Magnificat)

This antiphon really clarified today's solemnity for me. The amazing thing about the Immaculate Conception is that today we remember how a one-celled zygote--at the very moment Mary came into being--a tiny new person crushed the head of Satan. How audacious is that? (Only the Church would celebrate a one-celled person. This is one reason why I love being Catholic.)

Today, like the great feast of the Annunciation (when Christ became a one-celled zygote), we get a special glimpse into the mystery of God's will. The One who is Absolute Love--whose ways are beyond our ways--shows us it is his perfect will to defeat all evil and sin through the participation of a tiny person. Through Mary, who begins life today, He will take on flesh and make it possible for each one of us to take on divinity.

Celebrating a conception is truly odd. Celebrating the conception of God's mother is truly necessary. Necessary to knowing Him more.

But I was still having a hard time understanding why Mary was free of original sin. (Part of the answer is, of course, that she didn't have to be--Absolute Love does all sorts of unnecessary things.) Then Hans Urs von Balthasar gave me this:

"We [Christians] do not represent the proper measure of absolute love in human form to the world as isolated individuals. We do not have a monopoly on its spirit; we are merely failing members of a comprehensive whole who have been allowed to share in this spirit. Whatever is impure and fallible in us becomes immaculate and infallible in the innermost core of this whole.... As members [of the whole], we participate in the humility of the handmaid, in her perfect obedience to the Lord, to the extent that we are obedient as parts to her whole.... She is an essential step in the process of our integration on the way to the Parousia." ("Love as Deed," in Love Alone is Credible)

We don't do this alone. We can't become holy alone. God chose to place Mary, a singular woman preserved from original sin, on the way from what we are to what we must become. As we become more and more obedient to the Church--the whole of the Body of Christ--we become more and more one with Mary's own obedience to the whole of God's will. And that is the essential step in our salvation.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pain and the gift.

This is beautiful from A Holy Experience. Read the whole thing:

"I press my hand against the cold pane and feel December. I remember to breathe. I remember to smile. I prayed for a time such as this, with these children and this husband and this life, and I am tired and I am weary, but it comes and I can see its reflection in the window.

A smile.

Because there is no passing by this way again.

This labor and pain, it's part of receiving the gift."

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Augustine on Prayer.

Fr. Cliff Ermatinger has compiled a little Q & A book on the practice of prayer according to St. Augustine, one of my favorite people of all time. St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer is, not surprisingly, now on the bookshelf with my favorite basic prayer manuals. Fr. Ermatinger mostly acts as an editor, allowing the great saint to speak in his own words on the most fundamental questions about prayer: What is prayer? Why and when should I pray? How do we pray without ceasing?

Books on prayer usually turn me off. It always seems like we should stop talking about how to pray and just pray. But sometimes someone (usually a Doctor of the Church) writes something down that articulates perfectly what happens when we pray. It makes me want to pray more, pray more deeply.

Here are a few samples for your Advent stillness:

Where should I look for God? "It is difficult to find Christ in a crowd. Your mind needs a certain solitude, for it is only by this type of contemplative solitude that God is seen. A crowd has noise, yet this seeing requires secrecy ... Do not seek Christ in a crowd: He is not like one from among the crowd, for he excels every crowd."

What if I don't feel drawn to prayer? "No man comes unless he is drawn. There are those he draws and there are those he does not draw. Do not even consider why he draws one and why he does not draw another, if you do not want to err. Simply accept it and then understand ... There is no sea so deep as the thoughts of God, who makes evil men to flourish and the good to suffer -- nothing so profound, nothing so deep. And it is upon that deep, in that profundity that every unbelieving soul is wrecked. Do you want to cross over the deep? Then do not move away from the wood of Christ's cross. You shall not sink; just hold tight to Christ."

Is God merciful to all who call on him? "Consider well, bretheren, what good things God gives to sinners -- and then learn what he gives to his servants. To those sinners who blaspheme him every day, he gives sky and the earth, he gives springs, fruit, health, children, wealth, bounty. All these good things God alone can give. If he gives such as this to sinners, what must he have reserved for his faithful ones? No, not the earth, but heaven. But perhaps with 'heaven' I understate it; for he gives himself ... Heaven is beautiful, but even more beautiful is its Maker."

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer.