On Giants' Shoulders

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Little Way

I'm going to ask St. Therese to be my "guest blogger" today. Here are some snippets of her thoughts that I've come across in the last couple of days. I hope you find them as helpful as I do.

"We must do everything that is within us, give without counting the cost, practice the virtues at every opportunity, conquer ourselves all the time and prove our love by every sort of tenderness and loving attention. In a word we must carry out all the good works that lie within our powers -- out of love for God. But it is truly essential to put our whole trust in him who alone can sanctify our works, since he may even bring forth children of Abraham from the very stones. It is necessary for us, when we have done all we can to confess that we are unprofitable servants, while hoping that God in his grace will give us all that we need. That is the way of childhood."

"Being little means not attributing the virtues we practice to ourselves in the belief that we are capable of them, but recognising that the good God places this treasure in the hands of his little child for him to use when necessary, but the treasure remains God's always."

"You must never believe, when you don't practice virtue, that it is due to some natural cause like illness, time, or grief. You must draw a great lesson in humility from it, and take your place among the little souls, since you are able to practice virtue only in such a feeble manner. What is necessary for you now is not to practice heroic virtues but to acquire humility. For that, your victories must of necessity always be mixed with failures, so that you cannot take any pleasure in thinking about them."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Holy Week

So it's Holy Week again. I'm past the "I hate Lent" phase that I was in briefly a couple of weeks ago (what I really hate is planning Lenten meals because there are so few meatless things that everyone likes). I'm finding some really valuable stuff in St. Francis De Sales Lenten sermons, and Father Lavalley's sermons and am reading The Hidden Face (a book about St. Therese of Liseux). At some point I want to take John Henry Newman's book of poems and sermons and do the stations of the cross using his meditations. Holy Week is making its way into my heart.

What I'm not doing (ok, so I'm really procrastinating here...) is planning Easter dinner, and Easter baskets, etc. One of the difficulties for wives and mothers is that in the midst of a somber week we have to begin preparing for the joys of Easter. Instead of Holy Saturday being a day of reflection, it ends up being a day of shopping. Of course I perhaps could transfer most of the shopping to Wednesday (all except the things that need to be very fresh), but I still will almost certainly end up baking some sort of bread and doing some sort of shopping on Saturday . For the bread I'm thinking about making the recipe that was in Canticle this past month. I've never tried baking eggs in the shell, but the recipe looks like it would be a good one to serve on Easter morning. Of course there are still cross buns to be made for Good Friday as well.

I think part of my frustration is not so much the preparation but the sense that, once again, the world is rushing the season. I drove past a sign last Friday that advertised an Easter Egg hunt last Saturday. It simply feels like everyone is rushing to get past Holy Week and jump into Easter. I'm sure I've felt that way in the past myself. However, I'm beginning to realize the gift that Lent is to us, the gift that Holy Week is to us, if we allow it to be. So while I know that I can't put off planning a menu (which has to have something other than or in addition to a leg of lamb) and I know that part of my vocation does entail planning for the feasting, I still intend to spend as much time as I can this week appreciating Lent. After all there are 50 days of Easter coming. It seems like we could spend just one more week in preparation not just preparation of our houses, or preparation of the meal, but preparation of our hearts. After all isn't that what the spring cleaning and the feast preparation is supposed to symbolize anyway? Lets be careful that in the midst of the outward preparations we don't forget the "best part?"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Picking Up Pins

I read a quote from St. Therese last week on someone's blog about the infinite value of picking up a pin for the love of God. It got me thinking about small things and also encouraged me to re-read St. Therese. I realized that often the things I do are "hidden" and that I am not always recognized for doing them. I also realized that I was beginning to resent that. I didn't really like "picking up pins. " I particularly resented it when the "pins" got dumped again, or when someone accused me of never picking them up. So "pins" were becoming a problem. But Fr. Mattison helped, and reading St. Therese helped.

What I realized thanks to Fr. M. is that if I do something for the love of God, that it really doesn't matter whether the people I also do it for appreciate it, or even recognize it, because I didn't really do it for them. What I realized after reading St. Therese is that a. there is true value in doing the hidden thing, and b. that being criticized unjustly is actually good for me because it can help me become more humble.

I also realized where St. Therese probably got the idea of the hidden thing from. It's the scripture about not giving alms so that you might be seen for doing it. If you give your alms publicly you have your reward, if you give them secretly God will reward you instead of you receiving human acclaim. We're so used to giving and receiving human acclaim that the principle gets lost in the shuffle. I think that perhaps one of the things that drives some women in our society to leave their homes to do paid work is that very lack of affirmation for the things they are doing. However, I like being at home, I don't have any burning desire to get affirmation in someone's office or store and St. Therese says that that desire for affirmation is tied up with self love. My problem was I needed to figure out a way to do the hidden thing without resentment. I needed to find the value in the hidden thing.

I wondered that if I could begin to do as St. Therese recommends and do these things strictly for the love of God, I might begin to find the infinite value in that exercise. So I decided to try an experiment. Jen over at Et Tu is doing a radical experiment in prayer. I'm going to do a radical experiment in "picking up pins." Each day I'm doing a job which I hope no one will notice. I'm going out of my way to find little things that haven't been done for awhile, that no one really notices haven't been done, but that if they actually were done would make things just a bit nicer around here. However, I'm not going to count any big things as part of this project. If it's big enough to actually get noticed, then it won't count, it will still have to get done, because big jobs do have to get done, but it won't be part of the experiment. As a matter of fact if people notice the small thing, I'll find another small thing to do to make up for the fact that they noticed. I'm hoping that this exercise will help wean me of being resentful when people fail to notice the things I do. It's not that I won't appreciate affirmation, I'm just hoping I'll be less annoyed when I don't get it. I'm also hoping that perhaps lessons in doing the hidden thing will have value in some other ways, as I offer up those hidden things for particular prayer needs. So far, I've had 4 days of "picking up pins" and it does seem to be helping, even when it comes to bigger jobs.

So I'll recommend that my readers look for pins as well. It won't get you fame, or acclaim, but the Church has recommended Theresian spirituality with good reason. And Lent is a good time to begin to practice "the little way."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

So Who Will Be the Leader?

For the past few months the primary season has been upon us. Starting the January candidates began to be weeded out. There weren't all that many whom I really liked to begin with and by the time that our primary finally happened in Vermont the only ones left that I really liked also had no realistic chance of winning a nomination. At this point I can't honestly say that I like any candidate, I have issues with all of them, and I honestly am not sure whom I will vote for in November.

However, the last few days it has seemed like the psalmist got there ahead of me. The psalms have been pointing out that we shouldn't put our trust in men anyway. "Put no trust in princes, in mortal men in whom there is no help. Take their breath, they return to clay and their plans that day come to nothing. He is happy who is helped by Jacob's God, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who alone made heaven and earth, the seas and all they contain. It is he who keeps faith for ever, who is just to those who are oppressed."

So I've been thinking a lot about believers in other times, believers who didn't have access to a ballot box anyway and for whom a change in who the Roman emperor was could make even bigger changes than those we've seen over the past 50 years. They had no way to make any changes at the political level, and yet somehow over the course of a few hundred years they managed to change everything. It's not that it's wrong to get involved in politics, or seek to have policies change. It's that sometimes we forget that the place where we can actually be most effective is not in the public arena, but in the small choices we make in our own daily lives.

For example, my friend Karen's kids are involved in packaging nutritional kits to be sent to starving children. Other friends have been involved to a crisis pregnancy center that actually provides assistance to mothers after their babies are born. As a family we spent hours over the past few years fighting for elderly people in our family, making sure that they got appropriate medical care to the end of natural life (not as easy as you might think). In each of these cases it is people having an impact on only a few people, sometimes only one person. Yet in a sense the impact goes beyond that to the other people in their lives, to the medical workers who see a different example than what they often see, to the friends and families of mothers who are having a baby "out of season" so to speak. The Church makes a very strong case for Lent being not just a time of giving things up, but a time of almsgiving as well. If we can take the money we don't spend on meat, have a more frugal meal and give the extra to the poor and needy we will be speaking in a language that the poor can perhaps understand. It may be a way to have an impact far greater than our vote at the ballot box.

So as we look at no good choices at all at the ballot box, we need to remember that God is still in control. Of course, sometimes he leads his people through a wilderness and we do need to be reminded that Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. We are not promised ease we are instead asked to be salt in the world. Our voices are often not welcomed in some places, orthodox Christianity is ridiculed by many in the media and in other circles of importance. However, we follow one who stood with a crown of thorns on his head being mocked. We follow one who was ridiculed all the way to the cross, and then ridiculed some more while He hung there. But that was not the end of the story, and any election of any presidential candidate is not the end of the story either.

"Our Lord is great and almighty;
his wisdom can never be measured.
The Lord raises the lowly;
he humbles the wicked to the dust.
O sing to the Lord, giving thanks'
sing psalms to our God with the harp.

He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares the rain for the arth,
making mountains sprout with grass
and with plants to serve men's needs.
He provides the beasts with their food
and young ravens that call upon him.

His delight is not in horses
nor his pleasure in warrior's strength.
The Lord delights in those who revere him,
in those who wait for his love."

So let's revere the Lord, wait for his love, trust in his care, and put no trust in princes (or presidents).