More Than Meets the Eye

I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible. — the Nicene Creed, emphasis mine

Each time we pray the Creed at Mass, we acknowledge—in fact, we profess our sincere belief—that there is more to this world than meets the eye. We believe in saints and angels, heaven and hell, the devil and his minions. We believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Holy Eucharist. We believe in the power of prayer and redemptive suffering.

Practicing Catholics proclaim this belief in the invisible world and spiritual realities at least once a week. But do we live daily as if we believe heaven is for real? Continue reading

The Virgin and the Tempest

The Virgin and the Tempest

Blogger’s Note: A close friend’s home was struck hard by the storm last Sunday morning—in all the wreck and ruin, Mary stood untouched, unfazed. Regina pacis, ora pro nobis!

At dawn she stood upon the hill and pondered things unseen;

The lake agleam with silver sun, the grass a rippling green.

A girl, she seemed, of field and fen, of flock and fish and sheaves;

Her crown, the dappled sunlight filtered through the flutt’ring leaves.

Her simple shift immaculate as she, herself unstained,

Enjoyed Creation’s morning-song—but in the west it rained.

 

Such peaceful virgin beauty could the Tempest not abide:

He spied her from afar and surged, at a league to every stride.

He stormed and splashed and shivered homes; his thund’ring voice was heard—

With roar and flash and flood he sought to drown God’s holy Word.

In that unearthly twilight knelt the faithful ’round the stone,

And she, exposed and downcast, stood upon the hill alone.

 

He strode ashore in bloody rage, devouring as he came,

But naught would slake his appetite except the Virgin’s shame.

He cursed her with his forkéd tongue and lashed her with his tail;

He frothed and foamed and spewed his bile, he struck with tooth and nail.

The trees he snapped like kindling with the fury of his wings;

They came down crashing roundabout—but she began to sing.

 

Her hands were open to receive, her eyes closed in repose,

And all his filth and flotsam could not even foul her clothes.

She sang a canticle of joy, of gratitude and grace,

And deadfalls burst asunder at the radiance of her face.

A lullaby she sang to soothe the Child within her womb,

And at His Name, the Tempest turned and fled into the gloom.

 

The wood lays wasted at her feet; the grass, strewn with debris;

A splintered path of ruin marks the path on which he flees.

So stands she still upon the hill, our shelter from the storm—

Our Lady, Queen of Peace, protecting all she loves from harm.

Not David’s solitary stone nor Sparta’s gory stand

Struck such a blow as she, although she never raised a hand!

The Great Improviser, or One Blesséd Thing After Another…

I remember watching an improv comedy group with friends in college. Each member of the troupe was a whirlwind of wit and creativity, responding instantly to audience suggestions, random props, and fellow comics’ off-the-cuff reactions.

After more than an hour of nonstop hilarity and laughter, the group took its bows, then the members spoke briefly to the audience about how they do what they do: How they keep the laughs coming at such a breakneck pace when even they aren’t sure what will happen next?

The basic answer was so simple: Say yes, and

Whatever the situation, the idea, the inane detail added by the last castmate as he passes the scene to you, say yes, and build on it. Anything else — a no, a but, a hesitation, a rejection — derails everything. The joy of improv (for both performers and audience, I’ll wager) is in the way that it embraces the unknown and absurd and builds on them, laugh upon laugh, until the entire humorous edifice is revealed and the leader says, “Aaaaand scene!”

Say yes, and build on it. Embrace the situation and move forward. Such a simple trick — but it requires practice. (If you don’t believe me, get two friends and try Three-Headed Broadway Singer.)

It strikes me today that this is good advice for life, as well. This world is tilted, spinning, ridiculous in so many ways, and at times life appears to be, as an old saying goes, “one damned thing after another.” But it’s not. The sequence of events is not damned, but blessed.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. — Romans 8:28

God, in fact, must be the Great Improviser, to work out  His plan among so many free-willing, fallen creatures who are constantly doing the dead-wrong thing. God’s providence, it seems to me, must be a resounding, eternal, “Yes, and…”

Fr. Mike Schmitz shares great perspective on discerning God’s will for us, in which he reminds us that, even in scripture, when God’s appears to be taking His people by the hands and leading them, still less is known than unknown. In particular, he reminds us that, after being told by the angel Gabriel that she will bear the Son of God, Mary says “Be it done unto me according to your word,” and the very next line in scripture is, “Then the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:28).

Mary is left to improvise: to build upon that yes and each yes after, until the entire astounding edifice is revealed and the Master calls out, “Scene!”

Like Mary, we don’t know what’s coming: what incredible, impossible, unwieldy, absurd situation we may encounter, this moment or the next. But our response matters. In fact — since the universe is beyond our control — our response is all that counts.

It’s so simple, though it takes practice: Step with joy into the unknown. Say yes, and build upon it.

Memento Mori, or Don’t Get Comfortable!

Last week I shared a humorous post about my general lack of physical fitness, in which I declaimed, “I am weary from too much rest—so comfortable it hurts.” At the time, I meant this merely in the physical sense, but this morning the spiritual meaning resonates.

We are creatures of will and intellect, but inertia is mindless. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, and so, too, a man who behaves like an object. When we rest, we often “veg,” which is to say we give up our human and even our animal nature in exchange for potting ourselves, mindlessly, in the sun. Bloom where you’re planted is a mantra today, but we are not flowers or fruit trees. It feels good to soak the golden rays, but, lacking chlorophyll, we are not fed in this way—not for long! We are planted only at the end, and then under a stone.

Also last week, I mentioned that our family is pursuing Marian consecration. Thus far Fr. Gaitley’s book has focused on three saints who, in their separate but similar ways, gave themselves completely​ to Christ through Mary: St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Mother Teresa. What struck me this morning was the sense of urgency each of these saints has:

  • St. Louis de Montfort advocated Marian consecration as “the surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect means” to become a saint.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe formed his Marian “army,” the Militia Immaculata, with the express goal of bringing the entire world to God through Christ under the generalship of Mary, and to do so as quickly as possible.
  • St. Teresa of Calcutta sought to satisfy the thirst of Jesus for souls and love, and to do this in the best possible way.
Notice that none of these three were satisfied with merely doing a job, or even doing it well.They sought to hear God’s call, to answer it daily, and to act with urgency, in the best way possible to bring about His will. They were not sedentary, physically or spiritually. They did not bloom where they were planted, because they never permitted themselves to be planted. They acted, each moment, as Mary would—as Christ would!—with great love, and with their eyes fixed upon eternity and the fate of the souls they encountered.
Too long have I acted as though good enough is good enough, as though I have time to spend (or not) as I please. If sainthood is the goal, let us pursue it with vigor. God willing, we’ll have eternity to rest!

Who Is This Mary?

When Brendan came home from college for Easter, one of the first things I noticed was a coarse metal chain around his wrist. It is a sign and reminder of Marian consecration, a total gift of self to God through Mary—a symbol of slavery, but of a good and holy kind—which says he is devoted to doing God’s will in the most perfect way he can, and that he is following his Blessed Mother’s lead in this.

Our local church has undertaken a parish-wide push for Marian consecration this month, using a 33-day self-guided mini-retreat published by Fr. Michael Gaitley as the book 33 Days to Morning Glory. Jodi, Gabe, Emma, Trevor, and I have undertaken this journey together, in hopes that we, too, will be chained to our Lady in mid-May.

The daily readings in this book are short, but thought-provoking, helping us to better understand why Catholics so venerate and so often turn to the Virgin Mary. What struck me this morning is this question: If Mary was sinless, married to a saintly carpenter, and raising a sinless Son, how is it that she was not known better in her day? I know how drawn I am to certain families in our community—families that strive for holiness even as they struggle with all the typical family dysfunction. How is it that Mary and the Holy Family didn’t have a constant throng of people at the door?

Several answers come to mind. First of all, perhaps people did flock to the house in Nazareth, but in the same way we do today. Perhaps they were exactly the sort of family that neighbors were drawn to: mothers confiding with Mary during play dates and nap time, men seeking Joseph’s advice as he worked in his wood shop, parents nudging their children to get to know Jesus because He seemed like a nice boy. Perhaps people realized they were an exceptional family, just not the Holy Family.

But how could they not have seen it?

Well, Mary’s perfect humility comes to mind. I tend to want recognition when I do good work or suffer in some way. Mary, I imagine, would have drawn no attention to herself, and even moreso than our other saints (who were, in fact, sinners), she would have downplayed any recognition she received as due to God and not herself.

And finally, we sinners have a tendency to project our weaknesses onto those around us. No doubt there were those around the Holy Family and Mary who thought they couldn’t possibly be as good as they appeared. The movie The Nativity Story does a great job of illustrating the effect of Mary’s unplanned pregnancy on people’s perception of her, culminating in people scowling from their doorways as Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem. (They can feel the eyes upon them, and Joseph jokes to Mary: “They’re going to miss us!”)

Then it occurred to me that these three thoughts might characterize our response to Mary today, as well. We may turn to her as a friend and confidant, or even as a mother, without truly considering her virtue, her proximity to God, her influence as Queen of heaven and earth—without regard for her role as the model and mold of discipleship and humanity. We might not recognize her as powerful, the new Eve and the saint closest to her Son in all respects, because all of this results from a simple, humble yes: complete obedience and submission to God. And we may simply not think she’s “all that”—however good she may be, she’s not God, so why should we let her stand in between us and the Source of life, holiness, and joy?

My answer to this last question is simple: I know how often I’ve lost God, sought Him alone, and failed to find or reach Him. I know I need help. Who better to turn to than the creature like me who loved God best and followed Him perfectly?