|CHRISTMAS DINNER 2011|
NOT ONE OF US PASSED OUT IN THE HAM...
“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
It amazes me that Mary is able to say those words. No, that is not accurate. What amazes me is not that she can say them, but mean them. I can easily say them, but I do not mean them, not even a little. Why? The answer is easy: I am much too self-absorbed to rejoice in God, or rejoice in being saved by God. Rejoice in God my Savior? No. I don’t like the fact that I need to be saved, neither by God, nor by anyone has He chosen to use as his instrument.
What does my spirit rejoice in? It rejoices in me: in my mental prowess, my intelligence, my wit, my ability to crack jokes; in my perceptions, my feelings, my judgment, my intuitions. I rejoice in the little world I inhabit. Everything is only and always about me.
Maybe a good way to sum up this up is to say that I limit myself to finding joy in my Comfort Zone. The CZ is like a cocoon that encloses me, a plastic bubble that keeps me cosseted and complacent. I do my best never to step outside of it, and never to let anything unpleasant inside it. The littlest things take on a great importance in the CZ. Sitting in my lounge chair, sipping a cup of coffee, reading (maybe even praying) the Breviary, thinking about the Gospel from the mass of the day, waddling/ambling/walking to the bathroom to use the toilet, shower and shave, listening to NPR radio while I get dressed, making a mental list of things to be done during the day….. Those things are all easily done within my CZ.
Then comes the moment that upsets the applecart: the morning Mass at 8:00am. So much happens to pull me out of myself. The other priests are there at mass, concelebrating from their seats, in a small semi-circle. Some are deafer than others (once in a while a hearing aid battery squeals or whistles). Some are more asleep than awake. Each one of us is an incarnation of idiosyncrasies that age has frozen into place. Almost of us are on automatic pilot, mumbling responses and words by rote memory. There are five or six seminarians in the house since it is vacation time and these men cannot travel to Poland, Vietnam, or Ghana for Christmas. Several of them will be at Mass too. I wonder what kind of example we are to them, what they get out of going to Mass with us who are retired, at the end of the ministry road that they are just starting to walk on. We cannot be very inspiring to them. Do they see their future when they look at us? Probably not: the Comfort Zones of youth are too filled with dreams and fantasy to admit the reality of old age.
I make my bow and pray to the Blessed Sacrament. It doesn’t matter too much if I am the principal celebrant or one of the concelebrants. In any case, I run the risk of getting pulled out of myself into God’s world. All I have to do is listen to the Gospel, listen to the prayers of the Mass, and experience my oneness with everyone there, my solidarity with them. I am one more man, one more priest around the altar, eating the Meal that turns our individual worlds inside out and upside down. If, of course, I let the Mass do that to me. I can block the word out, the prayers, the meaning of the eating and drinking. I can ignore what I am taking into me, what I am taken into. I can do it all on automatic pilot, within my CZ. But it gets more and more difficult to do that. The Word keeps sneaking in, into my consciousness, calling me to get beyond myself, to see more than me and my petty concerns. The new English wording of the Mass also rattles me. It makes me focus, it makes me concentrate on the meaning of what I am saying and doing, it calls me to be attentive and reverent. I suppose it is a blessing I don’t know the new English translation well enough yet to go through the whole Mass half asleep.
Everything conspires to make me center myself on Christ, make Him my center, realize He is The Center, mine and everyone else’s. I enter a new dimension at Mass, the world of Grace, of relationship with the Divine, not the Divine that transcends us and is way above us, but the Divine that breaks into my little world, the Divine-human, the Divine that makes all our little worlds part of Him. The Incarnate Word, the Word-made-flesh-made- Bread, the Bread that consecrates us, cracks our Comfort Zones, pulls us out of them and transforms us into his Body, his people. Of course, He does it gently, patiently, continually, gradually, mercifully, because we all resist His efforts. We easily forget what He calls us to remember, we easily get back into our CZs once Mass is over, and step out of the world He has made us a part of. We return to the small world we came from.
Within a few minute of the Mass, I am back to rejoicing in myself. But sometimes not. Sometimes while the moment lasts, I see myself and everyone else as part of Christ’s Body. This perspective comes out in the way I talk, joke, try to be helpful and so forth, but more often than not, I slip back into my Comfort Zone. I rejoice in the food I eat, the scotch I drink, the nuts I munch on, the conversations I have, the battle of wits I win, the superiority I display. In the books I read, the TV programs I watch, the movies I see, the music I listen to, I rejoice in whatever will keep me amused and entertained so that I do not have to face how much I need saving, how much I need God to break through my self-absorption and save me.
I rejoice in hiding my awareness of my self-absorption from myself. I do not rejoice in acknowledging my neediness. I rejoice in everything that enables me to block out my weakness, my limitations, my co-dependence, my sins, my very real poverty... I work very hard to hide from myself how much I need saving.
I rejoice in good a good night’s sleep, the hours I pass in the Internet, the relationships I have with so many good people. I rejoice in my power to control and manipulate them, and in the illusion that I am in control of them and of myself. In the way I can get people to like me, to do what I want, to thank me and praise me, I rejoice in the recognition I receive, the applause.
I rejoice in feeling needed by them, in their need of me and dependence on me. I rejoice in my pension and savings, in having enough money to feel secure and safe for the foreseeable future.
I rejoice that I am able to block out whatever would pull me out of myself and make me feel uncomfortable or insecure. I rejoice in the lies I tell myself so I don’t have to face how needy I am. I rejoice in my ability to keep myself so hectic and distracted that I do not have to face the fact that I am headed towards death. I rejoice that I don’t have to face the ultimate things that are staring me in the face, that I am able to ignore them even though they just won’t go away.
I rejoice in anything and everything that will help me to hold on to the status quo even though it slips through my fingers as I grasp at it.
Mary, help me not to be so self-absorbed. Help me to get beyond myself. Give me the grace to embrace your Son, to trust Him, love Him, entrust myself to Him. Help me see that He cannot save me if I do not let Him break through my Ego Bubble and accept Him as Lord even of my self-centered life. Make me see that only He can save me from my self-absorption. Help me to give him more than lip service. In your trust you opened every part of you to the God who humbly brings his life into our flesh. He made you part of Him by making Himself part of you. Make me aware of His presence. Move me out of my Comfort Zone and into his world. Bless me with your trust in your Son so He can become the center of my life. Enable me to rejoice in Him.
Mary, this Christmas please give me the one gift I so need but in no way deserve: grant me an awareness of His Presence, His Presence in you, in the Eucharist, in me, in everyone else. Help me to see that His Birth contains and embraces His Death and explodes into His Resurrection. Help me to realize that He is part of all humanity and my humanity, present in all I am and do, in all we are and do. All I go through is caught up in who He is, from my birth to death, my rebirth in glory. Bless me at every moment with an awareness of the Mystery Present so that at any moment I might let His new life come forth from me in a smile, a gesture, a prayer, a word, responding to his Presence in those around me. Make the new me He is shaping at every moment bubble forth with the joy of His Presence. Amen.
|CASBAH CAFE, SILVER LAKE, CALIFORNIA|
SCENE OF FREQUENT "VISITATIONS"
BETWEEN ME AND MY FRIEND JULIA