Today’s homily focused a lot on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the concept of “Cheap Grace” and the Cost of Discipleship. It makes sense as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent that this might be a topic for a homily. After all, it seems that the focus of Lent is so often “Doing Stuff” like we think we can earn God’s love. As Jesus observes, the sun and the rain fall on both the just and the unjust. That light shining through the water hits the whales, the fish, the sharks and the algae — and even a human diver. Nothing earns the light, but the enjoy it you must be present.
Grace is not cheap or expensive. It’s free. It can’t be earned, it can’t be bought. To experience the benefits of this free gift takes an open heart and some “doing” or a change of heart, change of point of view — Metanoia or repentance. But the grace itself: free.
Approaching Lent is always problematic for me. I must identify the attachments before I can let go of them. My eyes were opened last night during an episode of Candice Renoir. While looking at a nun’s cell in a monastery containing nothing personal, I thought “maybe I’m too attached to things. I would be hard pressed to give up everything and walk away like that.” But, I’m of two minds on that. Twenty three years ago our house burned. The cats got out, and somehow the photo albums survived without too much damage.. But, almost everything else was a lost cause. Months later, after rebuilding we moved back in. What we had in storage could be moved back in 2 loads in a small Nissan pickup truck. That would be a table, 7 chairs, a hutch, some dishes (they survive these things pretty well), photo albums and some music CDs. Not much else. Oh — a china cabinet and barrister bookshelves survived. Most of this had to be completely refinished. Later that year, my stepbrother would ask how we survived this. He had lost a couple of friends in accidents that same year. My response was immediate: It was just stuff. Not people, not pets, just stuff. So, perhaps the total lack of anything personal such as a family photograph or some other small momento was the disturbing part of the scene.
What other attachments keep me from benefiting from this free grace? My pride? My ego? I do have to remember that “It’s not all about me.” That hit home the other morning when I said something and got jumped all over. It was jarring because the response seemed so out of range for the comment. After stepping back and pondering a bit instead of snapping back, it seems that I was the nearest object of someone’s frustration. I’m not sure what the real problem was, but I’m pretty sure it was more than the suggestion that someone move their underwear to the laundry hamper.
Maybe I forgo sugar for Lent. Yeah, trite, I know. But, if it’s done in the spirit of interrupting a dependence on the rush one can get from sugar, and focusing on being more attuned to my mental and physical state when I’m sugar free, that could work. I did it in January and I have to admit that there were emotional and physical benefits. I think I sleep better. I don’t have to waste energy fighting cravings because they pretty much disappear. That leaves more energy for other things.
Grace can’t be bought and it can’t be earned. But, it does take a bit of work to recognize and reap the benefits I think.
Last week I celebrated Epiphany on January 6. On the 7th, I took Christmas down. But my Wise Men and their camels and gifts made it to my manger scene in good time. They arrived on the 4th! Must have been great travelling this year.
Epiphany — our young priest tried to explain it Sunday. That’s the day we officially celebrated the feast at church. He [Baby Priest] took the “Tell all the World” approach to Epiphany. Me? I’m more of the “Aha!” as the definition of epiphany type person. But, I can see clearly that the story of the Wise Men clearly tells us that God’s love not only extends to all, but you just can’t control who will pay attention and recognise it. These Wise Men came across the desert because they saw the light and followed it. They weren’t God Chosen Jews — not when they started the journey and not when they returned home. They didn’t take on the trappings of the Jewish religion as far as I can tell.
Our current pastor is a very young priest. He wears a cassock. I do feel for him being thrown into this job. I tell myself he’s young. My epiphany when listening to him this week was that he longs for a magical perfect past that never existed. In many ways, I think that’s what so many “traditionalists” long for. They wish for a time of innocence when there were rules, and they felt quite safe. They wish to go back to a time before their personal age of reason (not before The Age of Reason).
When they speak of this magic past, everything is peaceful and good. Like so many in my generation, that would mean perhaps the 1950s. Ozzy and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, Andy Griffith. Those TV shows represent an idealized past sold to use by Mad Men and their advertising.
But let’s look closer. Yes, for Catholics this was pre-Vatican II. Everybody (ok, maybe every Catholic) was told what to think, what movies and books were acceptable and the clergy was on a pedestal. It was quite safe and predictable. Except it wasn’t. It was the McCarthy era. Any sex abuse by clergy (Catholic or Protestant) was covered up and/or dismissed. There was the growing threat of nuclear war. It was illegal to be homosexual – or to act on those inclinations. There was redlining that kept a part of our population down and out. And what about overt discrimination based on color or sex or religion that kept children from getting equal education. It was perfect in the US and many other countries if you happened to be white and male (oh, and cisgendered).
Even my father, who was forward thinking enough to work out how my mother would have her own credit history, etc, tried to steer me toward being a legal secretary (maybe today a paralegal) instead of an attorney. Not that I was interested in either. But, I’m sure he would have thought it more appropriate for me to think nursing instead of being a doctor. (Again, not my path. I thought large animal Veterinarian was a good idea).
I never shared a classroom with a black student until I was in high school. I remember white and colored water fountains and separate entrances to movie theaters.
This mythical past just wasn’t.
Or go back further into this magic, traditional past with Latin masses and the altar turned so that the priest’s back was to the congregation, and the word from Rome was not questioned (out loud). If it was so perfect, why was there a Vatican II in the first place?
My guess is that the Church herself reached an “age of reason” where she had to look at herself and take responsibility. That She had to be open to the Epiphany and see/accept that there are many ways to God, and many ways to experience God, and many ways to share God’s love.
Sunday’s mass celebrated Mary, Mother of God. It is her feast day after all.
I’ve long had problems with Mary on a pedestal. No problem with Mary as a sister who could stand by me as a woman or a mother. What I find most fascinating is that in order for God to become human, it required a woman to cooperate. Jesus came as a baby. Jesus grew in a womb and had to pass through the trauma of being born. Yes, I think birth is probably our first trauma — pushed through a narrow gate like the proverbial camel, emerging usually into light from total darkness, leaving the warmth provided by mom’s body. Yup — exciting, but still traumatic! Even with a c-section a baby is suddenly taken from a safe, warm place into a lighted, open space that is likely chilly.
So, while the Word existed one with God (the Father/Mother/Creator), when it came time to take on being a human, a willing woman was required. And, that child was a boy, to boot!
I find it perplexing as well that since Jesus becoming a human required a mother, then why is it that women are not allowed to be ordained as Catholic priests? A woman did cooperate to bring God/the Word into the flesh. Jesus’ words at the Last Supper were “Take and eat, this is my body… do this in memory of me.” Only a human person who could bear children could actually have brought the original “Body of Christ” into the world. So, now, we are not considered valid to consecrate the Eucharist? Hmmmm.
And so, I will continue to ask Mary to pray for me and for many things. And I will continue to be certain that women are more than qualified to consecrate the Eucharist.
Some mornings I just have to give up and get up. Most times, I can let the thoughts roll on by after considering them. I always think I’ll remember the insights when I get up. Alas, it seems that this is one of those days to get up and make notes of all those deep down things that showed up.
A couple of Sundays ago, our young, wet behind the ears priest reflected on the parable of the mustard seed. He caught me short when he started with the idea of faith as all the information about what we [Catholic Christians] say we believe. I thinking “What?” The Catechism, the specifics, all the tenets of the Faith, etc… okay, I guess that is a definition of faith. I, however, think of those things as Religion.
So, I was relieved as he moved on to the idea of faith as trust. Now, we are getting somewhere. Faith is a belief, a trust in something or someone. All those rules, and statements, etc are maybe the result or the revelation of how faith has impacted our lives. Looking beyond the surface and accepting what is often hard to see and trust.
All of this led me to thinking about scrapbooking layouts revealing the image beyond surface. Yes, I know this seems a leap here. But stay with me. Just for a minute. Thanks.
Of late I have been digging into some digital scrapbooking layouts where there is a textured background, but another image is revealed in part. Hard to describe in words, but maybe an image would help:
All that pretty pinky base, and low and behold, sunrise at the beach is partially revealed, with birds laid on top, and a 3 frames to focus one’s attention. In many ways this is how faith works, especially if one practices contemplation. The details of the what lies beyond begin to be revealed.
What is my God? or yours?
Onward marched my random thoughts. All the way to remembering a meme (okay, a quote) I saw yesterday attributed to GK Chesterton.
Once [you] abolish God, the Government becomes God. Whenever the people do not believe in something beyond the world, they will worship the world.
OK. I find it difficult to accept words themselves without considering who is passing them on. In this case, I know the person posting is pretty much a right wing, don’t take away my gasoline/diesel vehicle or my guns type who is seems pretty sure that financial success or failure is due entirely to how hard you try. So, I have issues because of the source. I fully agree that we will believe in something, and that something becomes our God. I find it hard to take these sorts of things without a large grain of salt because I believe I understand that the words mean something quite different to me than they do to the poster. I see the poster’s God being Self, Self Reliance, Guns, Stability. I see the warning to check what/who is my God. Is it security? Is it being right? That’s on me — to take inventory and have a good long, honest look at myself.
So, give me the grace to see unexpected good in unexpected people, and to be able to tell them so.
I sometimes reflect on those times I have known the presence of God in an almost tangible way.
I envy those who remember childhood as a time of safety, innocence and carefree fun. I seek to remember the times I felt that way. Then those feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, fear and just general discomfort arise and run amok over me. My mother once told me she thought me very shy, despite the fact I talked a lot (got teased about it) and I think I was rather outgoing. She once asked me why I always wanted to do things that I was not really good at (mostly athletic/physical pursuits) — implying, correctly, that I seemed disinterested in things where I could excel (intellectual/academic).
In high school I reached a point where I decided that I had to choose: to actually be a Christian or to admit I didn’t believe it and walk away. I had to get off of that fence. It was a pointed picket fence, painted white, in my mind. Coming from the South and good Calvinist roots, I feared blowing off the God of the churches I knew, I didn’t want to go to hell, etc. So, I chose the all-in route. I became some form of “Jesus freak” as it were. Of course, I missed the entire point of the Gospel. I took a rather judgmental approach to life and others. I am sorry for the pain I caused during this part of my journey.
This was an essential step it seems. To decide. To step out. To take a stand. Maybe right choice, wrong reasons. What is clear to me now is that it was more fear driven than anything else. Typical me. At least I was reaching out in some way.
On my religious/faith journey I came to the [Roman] Catholic Church by a crooked path. My first experiences of church were in the Southern Baptist Church (grandparents) and the Presbyterian Church. Both of Calvinist roots. From there I wandered into non-denominational groups as well as Pentecostal churches (I remember the Assembly of God and Church of God); I tried out Bible study with a local Church of Christ. Oh, and then the Methodist Student Center in college alongside the Catholic Student Center.
Ah! 1970s Catholics: people of community and faith who also enjoyed a party, some dancing, a few beers (especially green beer on St. Patrick’s Day) all while exhibiting a deep and abiding faith and dedication to the church (and mass). A new world.
Which leads me to a second moment of decision, under a fig tree. Yeah, I know — the story of Nathaniel is not lost on me.
Sitting under the fig tree that at one time graced the backyard of St. Michael’s church (founded as Sacred Heart Church), I heard the Lord say “You are going to be Catholic.” My response was similar to Moses when he tried to convince God that he wasn’t the right person to lead the Hebrews. In Moses’ words: “Not me, take Aaron!” As a lifelong protestant Christian, this was some serious stuff. (Thoughts here: I’m not becoming some damn Papist… you’re asking me to give up my identity! This is like leaving the church.) Nevermind that I was already starting to go to daily mass, did music for Sunday mass and generally hung out primarily Catholic college students.
God calls. And, in the end, I became a part of the Roman Catholic communion. It took 2 full rounds of Inquiry classes (now morphed into RCIA), and having to convince a priest (or 2) and a couple of nuns that this was the right move. I fully understand their concerns, but I also have learned that God draws straight with crooked lines (was that Vincent de Paul who said that?).
Fast forward past college graduation, grad school, marriage and becoming a mother. Fast forward through moving back to Auburn. Much frustration and probably some depression. A sense of inner deadness.
All I can say is be careful with what you ask for. In the confessional, trying to get past the dead feeling, my ask was to “widen the parameters” — I guess that was a cry to help be open up and look closely at where I was. Be brave. It was a time where I truly felt Jesus in the room. I felt I could reach out and touch Him. And, my world went upside down, inside out — a swiftly tilting planet as it were.
I wish I could say it was the beginning of a time of smiles and joy and more. Not so much. Confronting oneself is not an easy task. It was at times quite painful. I shut down many things that I couldn’t handle. But I found someone inside that I finally liked.
Not long after, I felt the wrath of an ultra-conservative group within the parish enabled by a new priest. Another call, another step. Another process.
One Saturday evening I took myself to a new and strange [to me] parish. Small space. The original Catholic church in the county. No music beyond the priest leading singing acapella. Music has always been an important part of liturgy to me. And yet, it was right. I went up to communion. When I returned to my seat, I promise you, it seemed to me that Jesus was waiting. I sat down and it felt like an arm was around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: “Welcome home.”
It took another 18 months to completely move into this new home. It took a long penance where the music I led at mass was a prayer for those who I felt persecuted me. This time it seems I lost my parish and found my church. That Church is much, much larger than a parish. But this move was one done in love, not fear.
Themes I notice: sitting (sitting on a fence, sitting under a fig tree, sitting in a confessional, sitting in a pew); loss; stepping out;