On Giants' Shoulders

Monday, March 26, 2007

Annunciation and Celebration

This is one of my very favorite solemnities. First of all, since I was born on March 25 (the day on which the Annunciation ordinarily falls), it sort of has to be my favorite. Secondly, the saint I chose as my patron at confirmation (St. Margaret Clitheroe) was martyred on March 25. Thirdly, well how could you fail to love a solemnity that reminds you that our response to God needs to be "fiat"?

Yesterday at Mass I pondered the fact that it was 11 years ago on March 25 that I made up my mind to join the RCIA program that fall. My 10th anniversary of being a Catholic will be March 29th. However, the first Mass I attended with the firm amendment to join the Church was on (you got it!) March 25. I went to Mass that day with my friend Ellen and her children after our afternoon lit class. So actually I just finished my 10th year of attending Mass at Christ the King.

I had an interesting discussion with my daughter on Saturday about the difference that becoming Catholic has made. The Church has contributed so much to my spiritual life that it's really difficult to even begin to list all the things that I've been given. The Eucharist is certainly at the top of the list, but there is so very much more. However, the example of the Blessed Mother and her role as a prayer warrior in my life is certainly one of the big ones.

We''ll have waffles for dinner tonight because those are traditional for this Lady Day. A solemnity, even in Lent, calls for a celebration. This is a truly important celebration because not only do we celebrate the fact that Mary said yes, we celebrate the fact that Jesus became man in His mother's womb.

So even if you aren't Catholic, even if you don't understand all that "Mary stuff," you can heartily join us in celebrating the Incarnation of the Lord. If you aren't up to waffles you could always buy an angel food cake at the supermarket to remind you that the angel announced the Incarnation to Mary. Have a grand celebration any which way. Ponder the wonder that God became man.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Watching the Airplane Fly

Well, not really, actually I was watching a computer generated airplane move down a map, refreshing its position every two minutes. My lovely daughter and her cousin flew from NYC to Fort Meyers, Florida early this morning. Since I am a Nervous Nellie about airplanes, it somehow made me feel somewhat better to be able to track their flight and even know what altitude they were at. I must admit to breathing a big sigh of relief when the screen announced that the flight had landed.

Now the girls can spend a few days with Amanda's grandparents and have some fun in the son. Then on Saturday evening you will be able to find me parked in front of the computer screen again tracking a little picture of a plane all the way back up the east coast.

Now if they could just do the same thing for my daughter's car as she returns back to Vermont on Sunday...

Ah, it was so much easier when they never went further away than Grammy's back yard.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A New Friend in the Church Triumphant

Yesterday was the feast day of a saint I had never before heard of, Frances of Rome. Obviously, I don't do enough reading about the saints because this lady was one whom I wouldn't have missed if I'd chanced upon her story before. She lived in the 15th century during the Western Schism of the Church and actually had visions assuring her of its end. What was most significant to me, however, was not the visions or the ecstasies, or even her loving care of the poor and sick. It was her attitude about her primary vocation. It is best summed up in this quotation: "Sometimes, a wife must leave God at the altar to find him in her household management."

There is a story told of a day when Frances was attempting to read morning prayer. She was interrupted four times by members of the household with needs or concerns. Each time she dutifully responded to them and attempted to return to morning prayer. After the fourth return the print of the antiphon in her breviary had turned to gold and remained so for the rest of her life.

I have often been interrupted in the same way, but I haven't seen any gold print as yet. I suspect that my attitude upon being interrupted may have something to do with that. I love about St. Frances that she could see her duty to God being fulfilled in the tasks of her household. She dressed according to her station in life, she loved the people around her even when they were unkind to her, she came to understand that her sister-in-law was not merely frivolous, but simply had a different temperament while still desiring to live a holy life. All in all she is a lovely role model not only for the housewives of Rome, whose patron she is, but for housewives everywhere.

St. Frances organized the Oblates of Mary who lived in their homes under the Rule of St. Benedict without vows. Later she acquired an old building and called the widowed and unmarried in the Oblates to live in community. After hr husband died Frances joined the Oblates and became their superior. It is said that for twenty-three years her guardian angel was visible to her and aided her in her service. Bert Ghezzi says: "Frances of Rome should be named patron of wishes that don't come true. By submitting faithfully to God, she receivd even more than she wanted -- the blessings of both married and religious life." She is also for some strange reason (strange in that she only left Rome once in her life) the patron of motorists. So if you are about to take an automobile trip, you might want to ask for her intercession.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Those Sad Movie Characters

Recently I've seen two different movies with lead characters that simply made me feel sad. The first movie, Breach, was about FBI agent turned spy, Robert Hanssen. Hannsen not only was an FBI agent, he was an apparently very devout Roman Catholic who attended Latin Mass, was a member of Opus Dei, sent his kids to Catholic school, and actively tried to bring others to the Church. He was also guilty of giving secrets to the Soviets that betrayed men who were cooperating with U.S. intelligence, that undermined U.S. security, and that may eventually have been sold to nations like Iraq. How could he have been both things at the same time? The movie doesn't attempt to show Hannsen as simply a hypocrite. It leaves the conclusions to the viewer.

The second movie, The Devil Wears Prada, stars Merrill Streep as the boss no one would ever want. She is not only demanding in a good sense, she is demanding in a spoiled two year old fashion. For example, she demands her assistant get her a steak within fifteen minutes and then when it arrives, lovely, hot, and on an artfully arranged plate, she simply announces she is lunching elsewhere. We see only brief glimpses of her home life, but it's clear things are not well. Ultimately, when everything is in disaster on that front, but she's managed a major coup at work she turns to her assistant who is questioning whether she wants this lifestyle, "Don't be ridiculous, Andrea, everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us." You'll have to watch the movie to see Andrea's response, but mine was emphatic. I never wanted 'this,' I never wanted to be her or anything close to what she is. However, I felt incredibly sorry for the character and people like her because they have built their lives on sand. I wondered which circle of Dante's Hell someone like this would be placed in.

In both these movies the character was someone who seemed very in charge of their own lives, who had contempt for people of less ability, intelligence, or drive. Yet they left disaster in their wake. They shattered lives around them without seemingly a second thought. Hannsen, ultimately was caught and convicted and now spends his days alone in a prison cell. People whom the character of Miranda were modeled on continue to spend their days running fashion magazines or other corporate entities receiving the acclaim of the world to their face and the contempt of their subordinates behind their backs. I sincerely believe that both Robert Hannsen and those corporate dragons really desperately need our prayers because they are missing the point on so many levels. Intelligence, ability, power, money are not the ultimate point despite the fact that we are so often seduced into believing that they are.

These are both incredibly well done movies. Just don't expect to leave them laughing. While there are comic moments in The Devil Wears Prada ultimately it was tremendously sad on several levels and while there are action scenes in Breach ultimately that movie is also sad on many levels, even sadder than The Devil Wears Prada. Watch the movies and think about the lies that the lead characters were seduced by. Then go back and re-read The Inferno.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Talk is Cheap

Have you ever had friends or family members who told you that they loved you, and wanted to spend time with you, but whenever the opportunity became available were for whatever reason unwilling to do so. Maybe they decided that someone else's company was more attractive that night, or they just wanted to be alone. Did they ask favors of you, but when you called to ask a favor did they always have an excuse for why they couldn't do it.? Then when the next holiday came around, you received a card with its traditional lovely sentiment. Did you really still whole heartedly believe it? Even if they told other people what a nice person you were and how fond they were of you and the word got back to you, did you really feel they truly meant it?

Talk is cheap. A relationship takes not just words, it takes actions, it takes spending time with someone, it means caring about what they care about, it means responding when they make a request of you. A relationship which becomes one-sided with one person doing nearly all the giving and the other person doing nearly all the taking is a relationship with problems.

Yet how often does our relationship with God fall into the same pattern? How often do we kneel on Sunday morning and tell God how much we love Him, yet fail to make time for Him in our daily lives. How often do we talk to other people about God, but not talk to Him. How often do we fail to do the things He has asked us to do? How much of the time are we doing the taking and refusing to do the giving? Are we giving God the occasional Hallmark greeting card, but not growing in our relationship because we'd rather spend time doing other things? How much of the time do we shrug off the things that He has requested of His children? Sometimes we think that unless we are asked to do the big things like become a priest, or become a missionary to darkest Africa that God isn't really asking much of us. So often the things that he does ask of us in Scripture we simply ignore. Some of those things are simply stated flat out, some in the Proverbs, some in the Ten Commandments, some in the Gospels, some in the Epistles, but some of them, simple though they may be, seem to be beyond our willingness to obey. We put exception clauses around our willingness to be obedient. "I'll go to Africa, Lord, but don't expect me to worship with those people over there." "I'll become a priest if you want, but don't ask me to forgive that person." "I'll give up meat for Lent, but don't expect me to respect that person's authority." "I'll give up chocolates, but I really can't submit to Him." "I'll put money in the offering plate, but don't expect me to love her the way you love the Church." In the process we do what the Israelites did, we offer God less than what he really wants of us, even while we are thinking that we are offering more.

Lent is a good time to think about what God is really asking us to give. Quite often it's far different than what we are willing to give. It's so much easier to give up desserts or to simply talk about our love for God. The problem is that what He's really asking of us requires something more than giving up sweet things. It may mean that we simply really love some of the unlovely people God has placed in our lives and make more time to spend with God daily. The challenge is that giving up desserts takes so little effort and giving up our time for someone else or for God means giving up a piece of ourselves. In the long run it's easier to talk about our love for God, and not eat chocolate for Lent. Easy sacrifice and cheap talk and we can convince ourselves of the quality of our love. We can pull out the Hallmark greeting card of Lent for God, or we can spend our Lent improving the quality of our relationship with Him. I'll admit I've had greeting cards that made me sad when I received them because what the words said didn't reflect the way the person had acted. I'm sure that in picking out the cards the person had the same warm fuzzy feelings that we often have towards God on a Sunday morning. I don't think they even reflected on the quality of their actions between card giving occasions. I don't want my Lent to become that sort of Hallmark greeting card to God and I hope you don't either.