Tuesday, January 24, 2012

THIS, YOUR SERVANT


Late last week I found myself engaging in a bit of a rant on the phone with my friend, Rita. “For heaven’s sake, do they not realize I do this for free! For fun, yes, but also for free! Do they not realize I have a life? I have errands, I have to try to make some kind of rudimentary living, I have a family and friends, I have no companion, no helpmeet, no time to myself…I cherish my readers but I am not in their employ for heaven’s sake!”

“Actually,” Rita interjected as I stopped to catch my breath, "you are in their employ.Your life is not your life; it’s God’s. You never get to not be 'on duty'”…

I had to put down my coffee cup I burst into such peals of laughter. For the second she said it, I knew she was absolutely right, and that a vicious strain of Phariseeism (a subject on which I posted, no less, Monday) had crept into and taken hold of my thinking.

What prompted my outburst was that Last week Word on Fire re-posted a piece called “A Bomb Exploding Our Hypocrisy” (which, if you want to follow the somewhat scattered meanderings below, you might want to read if you haven't already). The good Fr. Barron and his crew often ask permission to re-post a piece of mine, and though I always joyfully grant it, I seldom even look at the piece to see how it’s been presented or received. Responding (or not) to comments is a whole other, extra bloc of energy/discernment/work that I’ve already gone through on my own blog at that point, in addition to the eight or ten hours it's taken to reflect upon and write a piece like that in the first place. (I don't get paid by Word on Fire, in case you're wondering).

Now to be a servant, let's establish, does not mean to be an amoeba, or an automaton, or a puppet. I really can’t engage in every discussion, and because I do take this so seriously, every single comment, e-mail, remark etc. means a process of discernment, however short. Do I engage, or do I let it go? And if I do engage, at what length and what depth and what’s my motive? (Side issue: I’ve also had a few experiences where people, married men in particular, want to make me their soul-mate. We’re dealing with the internet where we don’t know and can’t see the person with whom we’re interacting. So I also have to be somewhat mindful of my status as a single (however ancient) woman with no advocate, no protector).


It also takes a huge amount of psychic energy to absorb attack without attacking back. I feel it in my body, which aches; I feel it in my spirit, which grows weary. I have found that there are many, many people (I always picture them, perhaps unfairly, at their desk at work where they are earning a nice salary and benefits) who want to argue for the sake of arguing. I’ll write, “Oh the trees were so beautiful this morning with the sun glinting through gold and russet!” and a certain kind of person will say “Unh, excuse me, sun doesn’t ‘glint,’ it shines,” or “The proper term, according to the encyclical Color in Terrorem by Pope Sylvester XXVIII is maroon, not russet.” I’ve learned that if I can’t respond without anger to such people, which I often can’t, it’s better not to respond at all, or to wait.

Anyway, re the WOF re-posting, a couple of people wrote to say, “Oh have you seen what they’re saying about you over at Word on Fire? A puritanical streak seems to have crept into the discussion”…Now last week my mother, who has Alzheimer’s and is an a home back in New Hampshire had taken a fall and a turn for the worse and was in the process of being moved downstairs to another room so I was concerned, and upset, and on the phone quite a bit with my brother Geordie. I’ve had some physical problems (albeit minor) myself. I was still absorbing the negative energy of having even attended the Mass in question and having been exposed to the what to me was as dark a kind of energy as if a priest had from the pulpit started advocating birth control and promiscuity, and all the dark energy that grows up around that. Someone had written me privately on FB, for example, saying, "I know you think the parishioners are hypocritical but what will people think about the people who advocate the Theology of the Body and educate their children at home?" And I was like "Hunh? I wasn’t saying the parishioners were hypocritical, I was saying they were already the most well-behaved, most modestly-dressed people ever, which made it extra sadder that the priest was haranguing them."

Part of the beauty of being a convert, or the kind of convert I am, the point being, is that I literally have no idea who or what the Theology of the Body people (for example) even are or are about. I had no idea, though have gathered since, that people who attend Latin Mass (it was a Latin Mass, btw) attend for the very reason that they more or less subscribe to the approach of this priest. I just thought Latin Mass was for people who had a warm affection and reverence for the old liturgy. I went to that Mass the same way I go to every Mass, which is basically, Oh how lovely, I will get to be close to Christ.

And that is also how and why I write this blog. As I’ve said many times, I am not a theologian. I’m not affiliated with any movement, faction, ideology, group within the Church and I’m not against any movement, faction, ideology, group within the Church (though there are some things I respond to with way more ardor than others). I love the Church and I love Christ and I am trying to grope my way through to me the deepest questions of existence and to share the joy, struggles, suffering, discoveries, adventures, experience, strength, beauty, and hope I find along the way. If others are also trying to grope their way, that’s the conversation I’m most interested and equipped to engage in. 

I was certainly in no shape at that point to get involved in a discussion about "puritanism," however, so my response to the news of a discussion at WOF was basically, “Well, that is sad, I’m not even going to go there. I can’t even read that stuff.”  And of course some anonymous commenter immediately asked, "If you can't be bothered to read the comments on WOF, why are you bothering to post on the site in the first place? I think the 'puritanical' element you're dismissing would welcome a dialogue with you."

Feeling quite proud that I managed to refrain from saying "That may well be but I would not remotely welcome a dialogue with them," I instead replied, “Actually I don’t post on Word on Fire: they ask permission from time to time and I happily, gratefully grant it,” and left it at that.

Which was an entirely legitimate response EXCEPT—don’t worry, I haven’t completely lost the thread or my mind—as Rita reminded me, it has to come from the place of total humility. It has to come from a place not of “I’m not your employee,” but from the place of “I appreciate and am in sympathy with your concern, but I simply do not have the wherewithal, time, energy or capacity to engage in any further discussion on the subject at the moment.”


I do have the wherewithal now, and I can say that I pondered long and deeply before writing anything that is remotely critical of a priest. But just as we would be called to take note of a priest who, as I hypothesized, were advocating promiscuity, I think we are also allowed, if not bound, to call attention to a priest who is advocating a hatred of and fear of the body. As Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, “[P]erhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining it]. But I know it when I see it.” And there was something so wrong, so far in error, so not Catholic (which I can’t define, but know when I see) about this homily that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

That is why I mentioned it. And the only reason, as I made abundantly clear, that I also mentioned the priest’s weight (for which I was also criticized, even though I also said I said "Let’s pray for him"; even though I also  said, "That priest is all of us"—including, obviously, me; even though I also said "that priest is everyone," meaning we all tend to stuff our longing for sex and love somehow) was because he did another thing that is not Catholic. He preached what he clearly did not practice. We don’t lay heavy burdens upon people without lifting a finger to lighten them. We don’t purport to take the mote out of our neighbor’s eye before we take the mote out of our own eye. That we so seldom hear priests doing any such thing, just as we seldom hear priest advocating a hatred of the body--in fact, in my fifteen years as a Catholic, I had never heard a homily with the thrust and tone of this one--makes the exception stand out all the more.

Still and all, when I was examining my conscience last Saturday before going to Confession, I went through a checklist and one of the things was speaking irreverently of a priest. So just in case I could have made my point without mentioning his weight, and just in case my whole orientation of heart toward this precious child of God/man of the cloth was any less respectful, compassionate, loving and desirous of his spiritual well-being than it should have been, I confessed speaking irreverently of a priest.

All of which might seem much ado about nothing, and the Lord knows I'm sure you're not interested in my Confession, but I bring it up at all to underscore that to me this is all a matter of life and death. As G.K. Chesterton noted in The Everlasting Man"[W]hile [Catholicism] is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven."

Walking home, I thought about a line from Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis: “Agapē is the love that, in Mother Teresa’s words, enable a person to let herself be 'eaten up by others' as a living Eucharistic sacrifice—Christ’s in me and mine in his.”  I realized part of what I wanted to do when I started this blog was to show people that you can be a vital, questing, interested, funny person of the world and still be a devout Catholic; that that is what it means to be a devout Catholic. I wanted to share my joy of Christ. I also wanted, I see now, something for myself: a foothold, a like-minded circle of "friends." To a certain extent, that has happened, but what has also happened is that I get to be attacked. I get to have a lot of readers who don’t get my taste in books, music, or art, who don’t laugh at my jokes, and who no matter how much I give, are poised like jackals to nitpick and attack for not giving them more. I get to put myself on the line and have anonymous snipers take potshots. And what I see more and more is that is always what we get. It is what Christ got. I don’t get to have a soulmate. Mother Teresa did not get to have a soulmate. She got  Christopher Hitchens.

What I can never forget is that no-one ends up on a more or less Catholic blog by accident. The people who truly aren’t interested wouldn’t bother even to leave a hate comment. The people whose hearts aren’t hemorrhaging--with loneliness, with fear, with the desire to do better, with a sense of mission--wouldn't bother to argue any point, no matter how tangential.

"They were like sheep without a shepherd"…Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Feed my lambs…Do you love me?....Feed my sheep…

Sunday I went to 8 o’clock Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A. Presiding was Fr. Angel Castro. And Fr. Castro gave the most beautiful homily: about growing up, about fear. He told about when he was a young priest he’d been sent to a convalescent home of some sort and the blood, the sickness didn’t bother him; but the smell did, terribly. “I don’t really belong here,” he went and told his superiors. “I could be of a lot more service somewhere else” (sound familiar?) But of course they had him stay, and of course the experience helped him to mature, and of course, as he said, he would be the first to acknowledge that more maturing lies ahead.

“Much needs to grow,” he wound up, pointing to his own heart, “starting with this, your servant.” It was exactly what I needed to hear, and how I needed to hear it, and I would have walked to the ends of the earth for him, for Christ. Now that’s Catholic.

So let’s continue our journey, realizing we see as yet, through a glass, darkly. And remembering that much needs to grow—starting with this, your servant.

39 comments:

  1. Feel better now? :) The words just tumbled off your chest.

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  2. "The capacity to give one's attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough."
    Our mutual "soul mate" Simone Weil came up with that one.

    Anyway, after seeing your fat priest post I was wondering how long it would be before you 'expanded' on it. Well done Heather.
    Cheers
    Steve Sparrow

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  3. Thank you for being so open and just laying it out there. Your posts are thought- (and soul-) provoking. Your writings have a freshness and rawness that draws me in and makes me look at myself and my world from a different perspective. Thanks for being a servant of Christ. God bless and keep you.

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  4. Thank you for your post this evening. You always add so much for me to ponder in my own prayer and meditation. That poor homilist you heard last week sounds as if he has many problems in his life that we can only pray for him for healing and pray for those who think as he thinks. Blessings - Diana

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  5. Your faith is like a shining jewel, Heather. I find that the people who attack me are always other Catholics. :-)

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  6. Warrior Heather: On Father Barron's CD, "Seven Deadly Sins" he describes Jesus' response to Peter upon Peter's confession to Jesus: "Yeah, yeah, Peter, I know you've sinned; now, listen, I've got a job for you to do!" (characterization by Fr. Barron paraphrased). You wrote, "...I realized part of what I wanted to do when I started this blog was to show people that you can be a vital, questing, interested, funny person of the world and still be a devout Catholic; that that is what it means to be a devout Catholic. I wanted to share my joy of Christ...". You also cited G.K. Chesterton after your confession: "[W]hile [Catholicism] is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven."

    God has a job for you to do, as Fr. Barron says, and as you described above. You're doing it, and well. Keep fighting!

    Blessings,

    John W. White
    Purcellville, VA

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  7. Thank you for not giving up on your blog.

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  8. A hard lesson the Lord teaches us, in showing us how to be servants. The only way is through the Cross, following Him -- the jeers, the nitpicking, the slams -- all the way to Calvary. Yet, these only heighten and illuminate the moments of grace all the more: the loving words, the hand of comfort of a friend, the listening ear, like Veronica wiping the Lord's face clean.

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  9. Ah, such is the way of blogging. One engages with one commenters at the beginning, and spoils them. The expectation becomes a conversation, and that becomes a part-time job.
    Perhaps it's time for a disclaimer of some sorts. It was rather a challenge for me to let some comments go without response, trusting my commenters to discuss things among themselves. I write far less comprehensively about life than before, and have far fewer readers, but a lot more time!

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  10. From a married man who, although he doesn't want to make you his soulmate, still thinks you're "really rad": all the things you set out to accomplish when you started this blog, you're achieving. Touching even one heart with a message of love overpowers all the hate that tries to overcome it. You're winning the war, Heather, so keep on keeping on.

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  11. Too busy and tired to write much. Read all your recent posts. Agreed/disagreed with you in about my usual proportion. Was offended by nothing. Liked the pics.

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  12. You are the best :)

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  13. Thank you all, blessed readers, and this is just it, Mark, a constant process of discernment. Much to let pass, let go of, refrain from engaging in, and what's interesting to me here is that the process itself continues to form me. My epiphany here is that even though my outward actions/words in saying no or refraining from engaging may be "appropriate," they have to come in my heart from a place of essential servanthood, never from a place of dismissal or disdain. Cause doncha know I am a major disdainer! And the FIRST to spot it in someone else...

    Truly, also, this whole thing is a huge gift that I feel sure the good Lord has given me to keep me off the streets and out of people's hair...though I seem to like to get in it sometimes anyway!...

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  14. Heather --

    Verily, thou rockest!

    dylan

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  15. Alack and alas doryphores we shall always have with us, especially on the 'net:

    Doryphore: One who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly."

    God loves doryphores too.

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  16. Not that you make any errors, minor or otherwise, at least not that I can see!

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  17. whow!

    i am guilty of wanting to be your soulmate Heather. I think its the passion you exude that makes all men (and women) want to communicate with you. Perhaps its the 'deep calling unto deep' which is then unearthed and I realise its the Divine passion I'm really after. and the photos are so dramatic! what is burning ? is it Fr Barron's church !

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  18. I don't generally make comments on these sites. I will say, however, that the piece in question alerted me to the existence of this blog, which resulted, by and by, in my purchasing all of your books.

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  19. I am with JMB. Your words challenge, bless, inspire and make me laugh.

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  21. All I can say Heather is that you are the business! What a blessing to have your voice - keep doing what you're doing...

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  22. Late to the party as usual.

    Heather, all that you mention is the nature of this media. When give to this thing and then we have a duty to parent it whether we like it or not. It requires love and time and cement thick skin. I've bailed before but I'm trying not to this time. I've blogged for all the wrong reasons;, affirmation is one of the worst reasons.

    I was reading a portion of Verbum Domini on Monday as I was writing my post about struggling with depression and while I didn't add my thoughts per that it fit with what I was saying about my many starts and stoppages and I note it here as it relates to our reason for being online which I might abbreviate to, 'to serve not be served.' I fully confess to failing a this many times in the past though kind people who follow my writing or art tell me not to be so hard on myself. Right, here's that quote:

    For this reason, together with the Synod Fathers, I express gratitude to those Catholics who are making serious efforts to promote a significant presence in the world of the media, and I ask for an ever wider and more qualified commitment in this regard.

    "Among the new forms of mass communication, nowadays we need to recognize the increased role of the internet, which represents a new forum for making the Gospel heard. Yet we also need to be aware that the virtual world will never be able to replace the real world, and that evangelization will be able to make use of the virtual world offered by the new media in order to create meaningful relationships only if it is able to offer the personal contact which remains indispensable. In the world of the internet, which enables billions of images to appear on millions of screens throughout the world, the face of Christ needs to be seen and his voice heard, for “if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man”. -Verbum Domini 113"

    Heather, thanks for the time you give & the love you extend.

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  23. “Actually,” Rita interjected as I stopped to catch my breath, "you are in their employ.Your life is not your life; it’s God’s. You never get to not be 'on duty'”…

    Isn't that the dilemma of the hermit's vocation, after all? An oxymoron, it is: one who is called to be alone and apart with God, but one who must always answer to the knock at the door.

    See, Heather, you might be whining on your way to answer the door, but you DO. And that connection you make to the humanity in all of us is what makes me keep coming back to read more.
    May God continue to bless your work, each and every day!

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  24. Heather, you feed souls with this blog.
    Some of us are still very hungry.
    More please...

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  25. Bird also says: Heather, I am sorry about your mom's trouble--it is big when Mom is off keel. Your art is beautiful. I have much more to say on this, as I am the one who told you about the little church in the first place and the priest is a cherished friend of mine...but my brain isn't coming up with the right words just now. I hope you accept this big-bear-word-hug now: I so admire your sincere vitality...and you are all those things you said and even funnier and fun to boot. I don't know how you do it all--it's all I can do to just follow your blog and chime in here and there. God bless you big time!

    BTW, that priest would be the first to emphatically agree with you; all day long he says that his parishioners are far better than he could ever even hope to be. And they love him like you wouldn't believe.

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  26. ALL day long? He must have to spend SOME time working up those homilies! No, seriously, lovely, and thanks so much for asking after my mother.

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  27. What can I say, folks--you people rock! It is bracing, I tell you, to grow up in public, the thin line between passion and pathology ever in evidence: my obsessive need to justify myself, e.g. (it really WAS no accident I became a lawyer, however briefly) versus the very real and constant need to examine my conscience, check my motives, etc.

    As I wrote to a reader this morning: "We will be servants insofar as it gets us something, or things go our way, but to truly 'offer ourselves to Thee'...that is another matter entirely. The whole adventure fills me with joy and aren't we lucky beyond measure that God has a sense of humor? I was just reflecting on today's Gospel: 'The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.' Which I'm thinking means, in part, the measure with which we see that everything that is given to us, including suffering, trials, etc. is a gift--then we are simply showered with more gifts, more responsibilities, more people who maybe if we are extraordinarily graced and have had our ego smashed about a zillion times, see some little glimpse of Christ in us"...

    Next week, for instance, I'm going to "share" about the Ikea filing cabinet I put together myself! If that doesn't prove the existence of God, I don't know what does...

    Owen, fyi, tried to leave a comment on your great depression post, won't pick it up for some reason. Added luminousmiseries to my blogroll.

    Tomorrow--my Mom...

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  28. Dearest Heather, You. Do. Not. Have. To. Explain. Yourself.
    Engage or don't engage. Just be who you are. Imagine how often Christ must have felt chewed up and spit out and He was God. It makes me understand how often in scripture Christ's says Please Dont Tell Anyone I'm Here!!!!
    haha, I get that now. Because for as humble as He was people still wanted a piece of Him. And ultimately, He got that, because He gave us Himself as food.

    Mel

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  29. Heather, that's odd your comment wouldn't stick. If willing, please try again, perhaps refresh your browser cache? Other folks are able to comment and I would value your input there.

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  30. Sorry, Owen, tried every which way: here it is, you can put it up yourself if you want:

    Beautiful reflection, Owen, thank you so much. A reminder that we never know the cross another carries, and that we all take it one day at a time...this is wonderful you're up and running with your writing again. Keep writing from the heart and thanks for the art as well--yours and Chagall's!

    P.S. Denis, the top photo is of the Griffith Park Observatory in L.A., and the others are various views in and around the city...

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  31. I love Mary Beth's reference to answering the door. From what I've read about monasteries, the job of porter has always been the most taxing.

    Maybe you should make St Conrad of Parzham patron of your blog!

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  32. Heather, it came through on the blog and I approved it. Thanks. I hope whatever the issue was goes away because it's great to receive your comments along with the others.

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  33. Yes Mohavi' and Mary Beth and St Conrad: Porter Heather. I love that!
    There are these wonderful Carmelite nuns who offer silent retreats in Alhambra, Calif. I have taken in maybe 7 of them in the last 15 years, luxuriating in the sacred space of it all...except for this one time. There I was, suddenly wide awake at 5am and who knows why. I crept down the hall to the library, still in PJs, and found a good book to burrow into until a quiet nun passed through in full-dressed regalia. Not a word as she slid through the pre-dawn room; she didn't stick her tongue out at me for not being properly dressed but I could tell she wanted to for sure and I knew she knew I was a fake and was stinking the place up with my spiritual vagrancy and who was I to think I could be holy anyhow and the rest of the retreat was a complete nightmare of self-castigation and contempt of court; I couldn't stand the sight of all the statues and incense and I might just scream. They can sage the place when I leave.

    The proverbial cosmic turd can hit when we least expect.

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  34. Oh I have much in common with St. Conrad of Parzham!"His devotion was noticeable especially when he prayed in church, the distant location of which was no hindrance to his visiting it frequently even in inclement weather." This is so me, laboring under the occasional cloud in the Southern Cal. sky to drive the quarter mile to St. Francis of Assisi. "His spare moments during the day were spent in a nook near the door"--check. Where things break down is that he, unlike yours truly, was "sparing with words"...

    I do like the porter/slave aspect however, and am thinking of a Jacob Riis photo of a tiny young urchin, begrimed from her job cleaning rich people's houses, that I used to look at a lot during my drinking/waitressing days, thinking sadly, That's me. The caption read "I scrubs"...

    I might just make you patron saint of my blog, Bill. Either that or St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill...

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  35. great post. thank you for doing what you do and being who you are... :)

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  36. Many points for the phrase "A Process of Discernment." I might have file that in potential new blog titles.

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  37. Ranting is good Heather. I did quite a bit of it myself this week. Maybe it's the full moon coming?

    It's so hard to expose yourself to people. Trust is a big issue with me.
    BIG!

    Perhaps if we try to do a little kindness towards someone each day,we are being a servant of Christ.

    And, then, there are days, when we just have to rant and that's okay.
    Mere mortals. Just human. That's okay as well.

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  38. Heather, your blog is a blessing and I've learned so much from your truthful and raw thoughts. It's helped me to become real with mine and yes, it's helped me to STAY Catholic. :) Blessings!

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I WELCOME your comments!!!