What is this “Personal Relationship with Jesus” Business?

Twice in the past month men I know, good solid Catholic men who run circles around me in the holiness business, have mentioned in passing that they’re not so sure about this “Personal Relationship with Jesus” stuff.  Larry Peterson did it here, and Tom McDonald did it here.  Both articles are worth reading on their own merits.  These are not wishy-washy lukewarm Catholics.  These are men who have counted the cost of discipleship and have stepped up to pay it.

Both articles ran on Aleteia (which site I recommend — loads of good stuff), where Judy Landrieu Klein answered the question back in April with an unequivocal Yes: A “Personal Relationship with Jesus” is indeed an authentically Catholic concept.

Because the question is still being asked, I’d like to answer it as well.

File:Christ the Pantocrator by Jovan Zograf (1384).jpg
By Metropolitan Jovan Zograf [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What kind of relationship do you have with a person?

To be human is to have a relationship of some nature with three divine Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  One God, three Persons in God.

You might have an antagonistic relationship, a numb relationship, or a sorely neglected relationship, but you’ve got something.  To be Catholic is to acknowledge, even if you don’t realize you’re doing so, that God isn’t some vague cosmic force or a misty feeling or a set of good thoughts.  God is Personal, period.  You literally cannot be baptized without acknowledging the Personhood of God.

Persons, even when it’s a Divine Person and a human person, are made to have relationships with one another.  The question I think many Catholics struggle with is partly linguistic and partly practical: What should we call our relationship with God, and what should it be like?

Do Protestants own all the words?

Catholics used to be people who borrowed words shamelessly.  Need a word to describe what a “Church” is?  Hey, look, there’s a Greek word that we could use to get us started, grab it and run!  Large swathes of the Catechism are littered with words that Catholics picked up off the sidewalk and put to work in ways those words weren’t previously used.

Like the Greeks and Romans and even those pagans who lent us the word “Lent,” American Protestants have a few useful expressions of their own. The concept of a Meat-and-Three restaurant, not to mention Macaroni is a vegetable! come to mind, but we’ll stick to theology for today.  A “Personal Relationship with Jesus” is a phrase used heavily by American Evangelicals, sometimes beautifully and sometimes in ways that make you suddenly remember there was another county you needed to be in right now.

But they are words that, when used rightly, do in fact sum up Catholic spirituality.  They are words that we now find helpful, in this era when many Catholics do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. They are words that counteract the pseudo-spirituality that infects the Catholic Church and reduces the reality of the Incarnation to supposedly-edifying legend.

Where do I find this in Catholicism?

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

May I recommend you purchase a copy of the old four-volume edition of Butler’s Lives of Saints?  The writings and lives of the martyrs and mystics are soaked through with the intensely personal nature of a well-formed relationship with God.

When we speak of knowing, loving, and serving God, we aren’t speaking of rendering obeisance to some distant overlord who wants us to pay tribute.  We are speaking of Someone who knows us entirely inside and out, and who wants to be known by us.  Someone who chose to suffer grievously that we might again be able to walk in the garden together.

The concept of a “Personal Relationship with Jesus” is specifically about owning the Incarnation.  Our Lord didn’t appear in the Heavens on His Throne and zap the world clean from a dignified distance.  He took on human flesh that we might eat with Him, and care for Him, and lay His body in a grave.  God seeks intimacy with us.

This is Catholicism.

Can poetic prayer be personal prayer?

It can be hard to say out loud the things we feel most deeply.

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic liturgy is that the Church gives us the words to express what we would say to God if only we knew how.

When we purchase a greeting card at the grocery store, we don’t have too much trouble with this concept.  We look through the racks until we find the right words for the occasion, the words that best fit the relationship between ourselves and the recipient and the event at hand.  Yes! That one says what I’d like to say!  When we receive a card, we are moved by the sentiments if we know they come from a loved one who is genuine in sharing the humor or well-wishes or tenderness of the ideas in the card.

(And likewise: Nothing is more off-putting than receiving a card from someone who most certainly does not share the sentiment printed on the cardstock.)

But we live in an age with very little poetry, and which often mocks the beauty of previous generations’ rhyme and meter and melody.  We can accept the idea that we might be truly expressing ourselves in the greeting card or when we sing along to a pop song on the radio, but somehow many of us have been deceived into believing that we our unworthy of higher art. We’ve been persuaded that too-beautiful words aren’t capable of being our words.

The Incarnation is Everything

The law of prayer is the law of belief, and if we pray the Our Father or the Glory Be convinced that somehow these are words too high for us, too mighty for us, we’ll come to disbelieve the Incarnation.

We’ll persuade ourselves that Bless us O Lord is the herald’s shout to Jesus on His Celestial Throne Who Can’t Be Bothered To Get Any Closer, not the simple few lines of people wishing to pause before eating to say a word of personal thanks to a Person who literally dwelt within our very bodies the last time we received Holy Communion.

This heresy is at the heart of our liturgical wars: It is it only “authentic” prayer if it’s folksy? Or is God so august that we must never approach the throne of grace with anything but fear and trembling?  It’s a false dichotomy.  In the liturgy I’m a child learning to say grown-up words.  God the Father wants to rear me for His Heavenly Kingdom; God the Holy Spirit breathes supernatural life into my feeble attempts at prayer; and the God the Son is both there at table for me to lay my head upon His breast and raised to the great high throne in majesty.

My relationship with Jesus is personal because Jesus is a Person.  I grow in that relationship the more completely I embrace the entirety of what Christ is. God humbled, God crucified, God glorified.  All of it.

 

File:Coter Pruszcz Polyptych.jpg
Colijn de Coter (fl. 1493-1506) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Related: Don’t miss Judy Landrieu Klein’s recent post: “Is God good all the time? Or only when we feel blessed?”

 

Today’s topic is important enough that I’ll be cross-posting it at Patheos as well.  Share from whichever venue you prefer.  Per my standard policy on blog posts, parish and diocesan publications have permission to reprint at no charge, please provide a link back to the original in your attribution.

God’s One Weird Trick

File:Bagues.jpg

I learned three things from lectoring yesterday at my niece’s wedding, and a fourth I don’t want to forget.

The first is that the same old readings are never the same and never old.  First and second readings were the two most popular Catholic wedding choices going, Genesis and Corinthians.  You’ve heard them so many times you think you know them by heart (though you probably don’t).

But this time, standing before this couple, certain words pop out and resound and suddenly make sense in a way that almost feels like they were waiting all these millennia for the right two people to come along and make you say, “Aha! So that’s what this reading is about!”

It’s always like this when you pray the Scriptures, because you aren’t reading some old story, you are stepping into an interaction between the eternal and the pressing present.

Second: If you can only pray one prayer, try the Litany of Humility.  I’m not convinced it’s even necessary to pray the thing all that often, because it’s that powerful of a prayer.  Something that struck me as I was reading through the “Love is . .  .” series in Corinthians 13 is that all the different aspects of love are fruits of humility.  Thus the litany is a two-fer: You can quash your miserable ego and accidentally find yourself becoming a loving person into the bargain.

Try it.  You’ll hate it.  Until you don’t.

Thirdly, about that liturgy!  The Catholic liturgy is extraordinarily dense, and thus exquisitely suited for use by we the extraordinarily dense.  I could not help but notice how little anything at all depended on we the people present doing the work, other than that we show up and do it.  I don’t mean that it’s anything-goes for the humans: When we cooperate with God, making the effort to know what we’re doing and do it as well as we’re able, the liturgy is better.  It’s always better when you work with God rather than against or apart from Him.

I think because I was up there reading (which I only really do at family weddings and funerals), I was more conscious than usual of the part we humans bring to the Mass, and this allowed me to see how much we humans aren’t the ones bringing it.  God does the work, we cooperate.  The Catholic liturgy is in this way completely opposite of anything else.

And the fourth thing that’s so hard to get through thick human skulls:

Love never fails.

(1 Corinthians 13:8, for your  memory-verse purposes.)

That’s the one weird trick.

We try all the other things.  We go on and on and on about how we have to do all the other things, because the one thing needed just won’t cut it, quit being so pie-in-the-sky.

But of course, there is pie in the sky, which changes everything.  The Persons putting on that party know their business.  We dense ones have all these other methods for chasing after human happiness, and it turns out there’s just that one thing that always works.  Never fails.

So my feast of St. Lawrence* resolution is to try the one thing.

 

*Why yes, in keeping with the feast day, it was in fact a barbecue reception.

 

Popular Wedding Readings

Infographic courtesy of Together for Life

Wedding ring photo courtesy S.Mitch at French Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

 

On Meeting the Rich Young Man

This past Monday the Gospel was from the story of the Rich Young Man. We read it this year in Mark chapter 10, but you can find the account in Matthew 19 and Luke 18.

A week in, I still want to write about it, so I will.

MK 10:17-27
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

A lot of people are recorded in the Gospels asking our Lord questions, or asking Him for other stuff. The first thing I notice here is what the question is: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Now it’s possible that the man is just trying trip Jesus up or start an argument. But there’s evidence to follow that this is the thing he wants to know. Asking this is commendable, because I think a lot of us just don’t even care about the question or the answer. We assume we already know the answer – whether eternal life is possible, and if so, what it’s like and how we obtain it. But here’s someone who isn’t presuming.

Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

This initial answer has obvious rhetorical bearing on the fact that Jesus is God. But for we mere humans, the question of goodness comes around at the end, back to the question of eternal life.

Our Lord proceeds to lay out what goodness looks like:

You know the commandments:

You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”

Now here’s this shocking answer that I don’t think shocks enough:

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

How many people can you say this about? Some, I’m sure. But most of us? I don’t think so.

Jesus, looking at him, loved him

Catch that? I infer from this exchange a series things:

  1. The man was telling the truth. He really had been keeping the commandments.
  2. He knew that it wasn’t enough. That’s why he approached Jesus and asked the question: He’d been keeping the commandments, and was stirred by a sense that there was something greater for him. That being satisfied with his (impressive) observance of the law was not the way to eternal happiness.
  3. Jesus isn’t about to go all table-flipping. What follows isn’t a rebuke. It’s the next thing. Here’s someone who wants the next thing!

and [Jesus] said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

So this is the next thing. The man’s reaction isn’t all zip-a-dee-doo-dah:

At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

This is the moment when people love to hate the rich young man. But really? Have you done this? Have you done something close to this? Because if you’ve freely given up everything you owned and all your security and all your safety, you’re in rare company. You probably don’t read this blog, and you probably do know that it’s a big thing.

I don’t mean it was taken from you. I mean you gave it up freely.

Everything?

Even the women who followed Jesus and supported the disciples from their wealth didn’t give up everything – hence that wealth. The Apostles still had their livelihood to turn back to. After Jesus died, they went back to fishing.

I would hazard that most serious Christians disciples whom I know personally are already feeling the pinch just by taking a bit of risk, or choosing to live a little more simply, or choosing to give a little more generously.

Now think about the man’s reaction from another angle: Why did his face fall?

Because the man took Jesus at his word.

He didn’t convert the command in his head to something less – something easier to live with. Nor did he take it to mean, “Here’s a suggestion, but you might have other ideas and those could work too.”

The Gospels tell us the man went away sad, but we don’t know what decision he made. What we do know is that when he left, he was actually wrestling with the decision. He was taking it seriously. He was counting the cost.

It’s really easy to follow Jesus when you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s a lot harder to convert when it means necessarily giving up things you’re not sure you can live without, or not sure you want to.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”

This comment should scare you. You probably have things left to lose.

The disciples were amazed at his words.

So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?”

Even the disciples had things left to lose, at that point. Eventually they’d get down to nothing, but that was later.

Meanwhile, back to that question of goodness:

Jesus looked at them and said, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

Sooner or later, we reach the limits of our human perfection. Some of us are sufficiently bad that we hit the wall early and hard. Some, like the rich young man, have to be squeezed to find out where the faults lie.

Christianity isn’t the worship of our human goodness. It’s the worship of the Goodness that comes to rescue us when ours is fresh out.

File:ChineseJesus.jpg

Artwork: Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) – 1879, Beijing, China [Public Domain] via Wikimedia.

Pinterest Parenting: Behind the Scenes of Raising a DIY Pro

I want to show you my daughter’s handiwork and explain how it got this way, because it’s a story about what parenting really is.  When you are comparing your crazy life to some glossy home magazine spread, but it’s a real home inhabited by real people, I want you to understand that it didn’t come from nowhere.

So this is my backyard:

Isn’t it gorgeous!  That’s the little grilling area off the kitchen.  My daughter (age 14) completely overhauled this space a few weeks ago, with the help of her sisters.  It was her response to the three of them being kicked outside until they’d cleaned the place up, on account of their not being able to be quiet inside for even one hour while I took a nap.

No really, that’s the story.

Here’s a before picture. Just kidding, but yes, the place was pretty much trashed.

To the left, behind the grape vines growing up around the mailbox, is the famous green castle.  When it was first built the castle looked like this:

That’s the top two stories, and in the photo above you’re looking at a portion of the bottom floor.  It’s a bit worn down now, and we’ve replaced boards and added shade over the years.  We built it because we only had this teeny-tiny strip of private, fenced backyard area when our kids were little, so we had to build up-not-out for the play structure.

Part of parenting is using the talents you have (my husband did the carpentry) and the resources you have to give your kids some space to grow. This is what we had to give.

Even after this month’s clean-up, there’s still some trashy-looking stuff behind those red doors, but at least it’s down to all purposeful trash.  An example is an upside-down plastic flower pot that serves as a table during “City,” the kids’ economics game that is the successor to the even trashier (literally) “Medieval Game.”  They make up all kinds of sociological experiments when I kick them outside.

More history . . . See this cute wooden bridge leading to the seating area?

We went to Las Vegas to visit my parents some years ago, and in the early morning while it was still cool out, we’d walk around the neighborhood.  The front yard landscaping in suburban Las Vegas is incredible – just gorgeous.  The kids took photos of yard ideas, because they wanted a pretty yard.  One thing they all liked was a wooden bridge over a rock riverbed formation.  Superhusband built them this bridge for the play yard, and it connects to a second patio where we have a laundry sink.  That area is not very pretty, though it’s now 90% less trashy than it was a month ago.

Lesson in parenting: We’ve had all these moments where the kids recognize and appreciate beauty, and we build on that . . . and our yard is still mostly trashed.  They’re still kids.  Their aspirations exceed their self-discipline.  We’re still tired parents who don’t make them clean up enough.   But slowly the beauty-to-trash ratio improves, year by year.

 

Here’s some lemon balm my daughter totally stole out of my part of the yard, and put into a terra cotta pot she also stole.  I’m good with that, she didn’t mess anything up.

I love to garden, but I basically stink at it.  My kids have variable amounts of love of gardening, but it’s not like we’re this amazing family out singing hymns while we hoe all afternoon in the pumpkin patch or something.  We buy plants or seeds, stick them in the ground, and most of what we plant dies of drought or flood or some horrible fungus you don’t want me to describe.  But a few things survive, and we learn more about what will grow in our actual yard (the garden books are wrong and the internet is wronger), and slowly it fills with things that aren’t entirely dead or pestilent.

Every living plant you see in these photos was a gamble.  Life is a gamble.  You just keep trying things.

 

Aren’t these hanging cacti adorable?  They are a little freaky if you look closely, because they are leftovers from a life science lab on grafting plants.  She has to have franken-cacti because non-school plants are expensive.  She took kimchi jars (I know! We buy it! We don’t make our own!) and sawed off the tops, then made the hanging knotwork out of string that came from who-knows-where.

If you want a kid who does DIY’s, you have to let that kid just raid the supplies and try stuff.  This is how my home gets trashed. Yes, my home is mostly-trashed in the pursuit of either beauty or laziness, one or the other.

We fought bitterly over where she was allowed to hang her hanging candles.  All supplies totally stolen from other parts of the house or yard.  Hobby Lobby made zero money on this one.

Look at this pretty sitting area!  I got those curtains cheap when the girls were little, and they get used when you want to hang pretty curtains someplace — like if you’re having a princess-themed birthday party or something.  They are hanging over the clothes rods and clothes lines that were our attempt to make a place to store all our whitewater gear, but it didn’t work out and was a fetid mess.  Blech.

I still don’t know what to do with the whitewater gear.  It’s piled in my laundry room waiting for a new home.

All furnishings and accessories in this photo were raided from another part of the house or yard.  In some cases there was a weak attempt at either covering up the gaping hole or putting an almost-as-good item in place (like: a bathmat set down by the front door where that rug used to be).

Also, I got yelled at because that rustic wooden box had yucky insects in it.  It was super disgusting, I agree with her there — but she totally wanted me to drop everything and decontaminate just so she could have her coffee table.  Darling, part of growing up is learning to battle insects all on your own, thanks.

Final thing: The monogrammed pillow.  That was made by the 14-year-old express for this project.

Let me explain to you about this.

My kids have had virtually unfettered access to sewing supplies, including a varying number of rescued sewing machines, over the years.  Prior to the massive clean-out, this porch was heaped with a crazy-mountain of every kind of craft thing.  I don’t even have any sewing things, at all, any more, because my children have stolen them so diligently that now it’s easier to just make them do the sewing, done.  (I was never any good at it anyway).

If you want kids who craft — who really get good at developing their own style (I never, ever, monogram anything, no child picked up that habit from me), and thinking up a project and giving it a try, and eventually get to where they’re producing good adult-quality work — you have to let them make a mess.

Maybe you’re good at having them clean up after, maybe you’re not.  (I’m not.)  But you have to give them space, and let them experiment, and not be horrible about insisting every project be perfect all the time.  As I write this, my nine-year-old is baking cupcakes.  I just stay out of the room, and she can come ask me questions, and I’ll help her with putting things in and out of the oven when the time comes.  If they don’t turn out — whatever.  It was only cupcakes.

I let my kids play with paint, and now when I needed a patio table re-painted, I could trust a child to paint it as well as anybody.  I let my kids play with food, and now my son cooks dinner as his primary household chore.  My kids aren’t perfect.  Everything they do doesn’t turn out golden every time.  When my daughter took these photos, she carefully framed them to not show the less-pretty parts of our life.

That’s real life: Part beauty, part mess.  Sometimes you really need to pay attention to the mess, and sometimes you need to sit back and enjoy the beautiful.

Photos by E. Fitz, used with permission, copyright 2016 all rights reserved.

Effort & Illness: The Confusing Habits of Sick People

Since I surround myself with people who know better, no one’s yet given me the dreaded words You don’t look sick. Even people who do look sick often don’t look as bad as they feel*.  As Jen Fulwiler explained it last year:

I feel self-conscious that I’ve been doing better, and have no visible symptoms of being ill. . . . I worry that the folks dropping off the food are starting to suspect this is some kind of scam. The other day a super sweet lady from the parish came by with a steaming gourmet dinner for our entire family, complete with appetizers and dessert. I had just gotten back from a doctor’s appointment so I was dressed up and wearing makeup; I’d been resting most of the day so I was unusually energetic. She seemed tired from having worked so hard to cook for our entire family in addition to her own, and I used my Neurotic ESP to determine that she was wondering why I wasn’t cooking for her.

I told Joe that I should get some crutches for when I answer the door for people delivering meals, as a symbolic gesture to assure them that their efforts were not wasted. He looked at me like I was insane, and pointed out the obvious fact that my problem is with my lungs and that I would have no use for crutches under any circumstances. I said that I know, but they sell them at the grocery store, and I didn’t know where to get my hands on a ventilator — and, again, it’s all for symbolism anyway. He backed away from me slowly and went to pour himself a large glass of wine.

Yes.  This. I put a short section in my catechist book on invisible disabilities, because it’s something that comes up in religious ed more often than you’d think.  Mostly among catechists, but among students as well.  That one chapter is the one I get the most thank you letters about.

You can be seriously ill without being 100% incapacitated.

It’s pretty rare for someone to be completely felled in a single blow.  This causes confusion, because you see people wandering WalMart who look like they’re going to collapse any second now.  So if your sick person still has good balance and coordination, and manages to answer the phone in a cheerful manner, you think, “Must not be that sick.  There are people at WalMart who look much, much worse.”

The people at WalMart might be worse.  But that doesn’t cause the sick person to be less sick.

Some people are good at putting on.

I knew a lady once who would answer the phone cheerfully even if you woke her up at 4AM.  It wasn’t that she wanted you to call then.  She just had excessively good phone manners.  And thus the Perceived Illness Paradox: Some people complain a lot, other people don’t.  Some people are good at masking their symptoms, other people aren’t.  Some people are good at coming up with clever work-arounds that keep them high-functioning, other people aren’t.  You really can’t judge how someone feels inside by how they’re acting outside.

Rest makes a difference.

Anyone who races knows you manage your training schedule so that you peak when it counts.  There are days when you can ride hard and fast, no problem, and days when you can’t.  Depends on how much sleep you got.  What you did the day before.  What you did the week before.

Illness doesn’t change that, it just changes the scale.

Figuring out an unpredictable body is exhausting.

Normal people spend most of their time operating well within the margins of their abilities.  If you knew you had to ride 100 miles on your bike sometime soon, you’d have to plan ahead to make sure you could do it.  You’d strategize how to make it happen with as little trouble as possible.  But you wouldn’t feel the least bit of guilt if you misjudged: “Wow, that was easier than I thought it would be, why did I make such a big deal out of it?”  Or conversely, “I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize how hard!”

Sick people have to figure out the 100-mile ride about everything they do . . . and then get in trouble if they misjudge.  “Why’d you spend half an hour answering e-mails? You should have rested up so you could talk to your mother on the phone!”  Or “Why’d you put off that phone call, look, you talked for twenty minutes, no problem!”

It’ll make you bonkers.  You hear the mail truck go by, and you think to yourself, “Should I walk to the mailbox?  Or get a kid to do it for me?  What’s the best thing here? How will this decision impact my family life?”

What you like is easier than what you don’t like.

Sick people are confusing because their gifts don’t go away.  Okay, if your gift is watching football on TV, everyone will think, “Look he spends all day watching football games, he must be sick.”  But what is hard for you is effortless for someone else. What is easy — even fun — for you is difficult for someone else.  It’s not about the sheer physical energy required.  It’s the mental energy.

So my son might say to my daughter, “I see you have plenty of time for scrapbooking.  Why don’t you research computer components?  What’s wrong with you?  Just lazy, I see.”  And she’d point out to him that he received a photo album for Christmas, and he’s supposed to put his photos in it.  He had time to build a computer, and even more time for playing computer games . . . why so lazy with the photo album?

Everything costs.

There’s service to your fellow man, and then there’s letting your fellow man turn you into his servant. We live in a hyper-critical age.  What you wear, what you eat, what your hobbies are, how you spend your money — all of it is subject to the approval of seven billion self-appointed guardians.  That doesn’t change when you’re sick, it just becomes harder to please the seven billion, because you’ve got less to please them with.

Normal people might say, for example, “Is it worth it for me to give up an hour of my time to visit my crotchety uncle who invited me for dinner tonight?”  When you’re sick the question becomes, “Is it worth it for me to set aside an entire afternoon to rest, and give up getting any chores done, at all, the entire day, so that I can physically pull off the feat of visiting my uncle for an hour?”

In normal life, a dysfunctional friend is the one who makes inordinate demands on your time and energy.  In sick life, everything is an inordinate demand.  But some of those demands are very gratifying, so you organize your life to make them possible. The chief sin of sick people, I suspect, is in gratifying too many whims.

Order in all things.

Sick people are confusing because of the scale change.  With so little room for covering-over, it becomes obvious what the sick person values most.  It becomes obvious where the conflicts lie, because there’s no margin where you can quick slip in a nod towards other people’s priorities.  As in academia, the rivalries can be so bitter because the stakes are so small.  “Just a few minutes of your time” is now also, “all your time”.  How are you going to spend all that time? The way you want?  The way I want? Something in between?

The Darwins have a novena started on just this question.

*Sometimes things look so bad that you assume the other way, “It’s not as bad as it looks, I hope?”  To which I’ll observe: A badly scraped knee looks horrible.  But it feels even worse.

Jesus and the Laundry Fairy

Two weeks ago I was still ostensibly the person responsible for doing laundry, though I’ll allow that a party of alpinists had contacted us about permits for ascending Mt. Foldmore.  But let’s harken back to the days of old, when it sometimes happened that a person could toss his clothes into the laundry hamper, and a few days later find those clothes clean, and folded, and waiting in the drawer or closet for their next use.

There’s was something of cycle to it, though, and often the sock and underwear drawers would get perilously empty.  And then one day, just when things had gotten very grim, a certain SuperHusband would wake up and discover his drawers were restocked, and he would proclaim, “Behold! The Laundry Fairy has come!”

And I would remind him that there is no Laundry Fairy. That was your wife who did that for you, thank you very much.

***

This morning’s Gospel is one of those miraculous feedings of the crowds.  (Mark 8:1-10).  What caught my eye today wasn’t the Jesus part, it was the people part.  Our Lord observes, “They’ve been with me three days now, and have nothing to eat.  If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will collapse on the way, for they have come a great distance.”  The disciples up the stakes: “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them, here in this deserted place?”

Those are the miracle conditions.  You’ve stuck around with the Jesus Person until you’ve run out of food and have no way of getting more.  You didn’t bail even as you approached the point of no return.

You’ve let yourself get desperate.  Empty-handed.  No way to make it on your own.

–> There’s an aid to faith here, by the way, if you can stick through the tempting part, the getting-out-while-you-still-can.  Once your case is hopeless, there’s really not much point in trying to turn elsewhere.  Makes it easier to stick the final corners.

And that’s when the miracle shows up.  Not before.  If there’s something consistent in the Gospels, it’s that desperation.  Joyful, hopeful?  Sometimes, yes.  But unequivocal: Jesus isn’t one more tool in the portfolio. It’s got to come down to Him being the only way.

(And yeah: You’re left as your only hope with Someone who’s idea of goodness involves self-sacrifice and an eternal outside-of-time-frame.  If what you want is a patched-up Old Earth, you’re fresh out of luck.  That’s not what He does.  Not how He does it.)

Of course God sends us thousands of natural helps every day as well.  Our very existence — in this life or the next one — is only by virtue of Him keeping us here.  But either way, whether in the day-to-day miracle of ordinary life, or the big moments of divine intervention on this side of the grave or the other, there’s a consistent theme: No Laundry Fairy.  That was Me, thank you very much.

****

Back to practical stuff: SuperHusband’s taken over the mom-jobs like groceries and meals and laundry, but in a pared-back way that makes it not so overwhelming.  Our friends and family are totally showing up to do all the extras, like getting kids to activities, or whipping out dinner when we’re way late getting home from doctors appointments. I had three different people offer to step in and get the girls their valentine supplies. All that makes the load on Jon much, much lighter.

But something specifically laundry-related that we did was to give me a basket in the bedroom where my clean laundry lives. So no one ever has to put my laundry away in drawers and closets, only to have to pull it back out again. The nice thing about my particular state of decrepitude is that it isn’t fashion-intensive*. A pair of jeans to wear and one to wash.  Ditto on PJ’s.  Underwear, socks, a pile of t-shirts, a jacket.  That’s it.  You can store all that in a single laundry basket, no problem. None of it really needs to be ironed.  Works great.

*In contrast, in normal life on any given day I might have:

  • Work clothes for doing stuff in the yard
  • Normal less-grungy clothes
  • Church clothes
  • Possibly something business-y, or business-casual.
  • Usually not workout clothes, because normal stuff works for that, but maybe yes, depending.

Completely different game.

And as long as we’re playing the gratitude game, you know whom I really appreciate? The people who’ve picked up slack for me on stuff I could do, but they could do instead.  It is remarkable how much fortitude gets consumed on accomplishing very very little.  I’m massively thankful for the slack I’ve been cut in a few places.  Pure luxury.

Prayer, Fasting, Birthday Parties

Dear Pope Francis,

You have vastly simplified the menu for my birthday party.  Thanks!

Jennifer.

PS: I suppose you will not be amused if I get medieval, and suggest a beer fast? To combine both events into one?

PPS: Another possibility: Since I invited everyone I know, most of whom are not Catholic . . . Maybe I’ll put out food, and put a sign up that it’s for non-Catholics only?

PPPS: Or we could get canon-lawish, and excuse ourselves. But then what would that say about us?  Other than, “sent out invitations before day was announced”?

PPPPS: How about if I quick invite some people I *don’t* like, and thus convert it into a penitential event that way?

PPPPPS: Having a hard time thinking of many.  Plus, would they even come? Or would dread alone make it penitential enough?

PPPPPPS: Or what if I plan to host a children’s birthday party in the morning, prior to my party in the evening?  For two children?  Yes?  How would that be?  The parents coming are all Catholic, so we’d be set, then?  A morning of penance about the time you’re busy praying in Rome?  Yes?

PPPPPPPS: Yes, you caught me.  We’re cheating by hosting the kids’ party off-site, so someone else has to sweep after.  Plus, tiny event, just a few friends.   It would have been commendable to host both parties at my house on the same day, with the usual massive number of guests, instead of just a couple.  I’m not so commendable.  Hence my note.

PPPPPPPPS: It not necessary to call and chat about this.  I’ll figure it out.

NFP Misery Awareness Week

Check it out . . . even the Pope has doubts about those glowing reports of NFP Joy:

“Surely in no way do we wish here to be silent about the difficulties, sometimes serious, which the life of Christian husbands and wives encounters. For the, as for each of us, ‘the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.’…..Therefore let married couples freely take upon themselves the hardships destined for them, strengthened with faith and that hope which ‘does not disappoint: because the love of God has been poured forth in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ With persistent prayer let them beg for Divine help. And especially let them draw grace and charity from the unfailing font of the Eucharist. If, however, they are still held back by sins, let them not be discouraged, but as humble and resolute people take refuge in the mercy of God, which the sacrament of Penance dispenses abundantly.

Pope Paul VI,On Human Life (Humanae Vitae)

Stolen from my Family Honor course work, where I’m getting piles of good pope-quotes.  Of course now my instructors, if they are goofing off here, know exactly how far behind I am on my homework.  But I’m catching up! I am!

For those who want awareness of my thoughts on NFP, here’s “Should NFP be Easy” over at my friend Sarah Reinhard’s place, and here’s another post on NFP vs. Contraception, which look, Bearing says you should read (and she adds helpful comments that cause it to make more sense).

Now back to homework catch-up time.

How I Fell Off The Internet

Mid-May update:

Latin Happiness.  At CatholicMom.com: In which I explain how I went over to the dark side and paid for flashcards, AND monkey-themed Latin-Lite videos. Also found some other digital person to teach grown-up Latin to the boy and I, and no surprise, all are happier for it.

Shiny happy feeling inside this author: The reprint is at Catholic Lane.  (Yay!)

A well-licked baby rat is a happy baby rat.  SuperHusband & I have been taking Family Honor’s summer course on Catholic Sex-Ed.  (It’s not called that.  “Cultural Implications” or something like that.)  Astute observers would have predicted: I’m really enjoying the class, whenever I set aside my natural dread of deadlines and obligations, and sit down to do the work.

Double-enjoying it once I realized I didn’t have to sit still and listen to the lectures, because hey, long stretchy headphone cords . . . I can workout while I listen.  Score one for online courses.

Right now I’m reading this, of which you can download the executive summary at no charge:

Hardwired to Connect

Encouragement for those of us who sometimes doubt whether all this parenting effort is going to have any effect in the long run.

Forming Intentional Questions. The other reason I’m hiding from the internet is to churn out a set of discussion questions for Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples.  Because I’m going to be part of a book club.  And so are you. Bwahahaha . . . more news soon.   Questions are written, and now need to be purged of typos.

Have a great week.

BADD 2013 + Theology of the Body for Every Body

Theology of the Body for Every BodyIt’s BADD time again, May 1.  Of course I forgot, again, even though I knew it was coming up.  But look, over at New Evangelizers, I reviewed Theology of the Body for Everybody. Which hits on exactly this topic. The whole living-in-a-body experience we human persons get to enjoy.  Go look.

***

Blogging Against Disablism Day And now you’re back, and here is my annual BADD comment, 2013 Edition:

People don’t want to be treated like dirt.

Profound, I know.  (Hence Leah Perrault’s whole book on the topic.  See “book review” above.)

When you read around at crotchety disability-rights sites, there’s a lot of conversation about how to think about disability.  Something that confuses bystanders is the insistence that it’s not about the medical condition.

Which puzzles, for several reasons.  The first is the happy-sad problem.  Given the choice between hearing and not-hearing, seeing and not-seeing, walking and not-walking, everything else equal, we go for the ability every time.

Now someone might say, “I’m so glad I had this stroke, because it caused me to learn so much about __{insert profound revelation here}__.”  And what they mean is typically not, “I always wanted to know what it was like to slur my speech!”

Rather, the “I’m so glad” is usually code for, “I discovered there was this whole part of my life I’d been ignoring, and now I’ve grown in ways that matter far more than any physical ability, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”  People say that, and they mean it.  For good reason.  But still, if they could have the spiritual growth and the ability to remember words on command, yeah, they’d take both.  Nothing wrong with being able to talk.  We know this, instinctively.

But here’s the other thing we know instinctively: Humans deserve to be treated with respect.  And the disrespect of disablism falls into two big lumps:

1. Can’t be bothered to have you around.  Too much work.  So terribly haaaaaarrrd to put in a ramp.  So coooooomplicated trying to have one Mass, anywhere in the diocese, ever, with an ASL interpreter.  So very, very overwhelming, having to change the seating arrangement, or modify the assignment, or find one more volunteer to assist the kid who needs assistance.

The message is pretty clear: It’s not that we don’t love you.  We just don’t love you enough to go through any inconvenience for you.

2. Your kind of suffering is not my kind of suffering. This is straight out of the eugenics playbook.  It’s no surprise that the recent fashion for killing off disabled children before they see light of day is always couched in terms of “avoiding suffering”.  Better to be dead than to be you.

The feeling may well be mutual, but that’s no solution.  The solution is to quit being such a wimp.  To quit dividing the Fates of Man into a two-part list, labeled Normal Problems and Pitiful Freaks.  This isn’t 1930.  Get over that nasty notion that you must be ranked among The Fit in order to deserve life and respect.

***

And since BADD is the annual day for airing our pet peeves, I’ll share one with you: If you never really appreciated your kid-job-marriage-finger-toe-brain until it was gone . . . could you keep it to yourself? Or just let everyone know you have a gratitude-deficiency-disorder. I guess I could cultivate some compassion for that.

See all the BADD entries, which are by no means Catholic nor genteel, here.