ReGift - An Easter People

April 23, 2014

**A post from several years ago, the sentiments are still fresh as Easter Celebrations roll onwards.

Easter is a collection of contradictions, isn't it? We get to Good Friday after 6 weeks of plain, undecorated liturgy only to have an even more sparse liturgy, chock full of the bottom-line basics. Sights and sounds are harsh - there is nothing pleasant about 3pm on Good Friday in any Catholic church. Statues are covered, music is subdued, the congregation's standing time seems to go on forever making legs stiff and children impatient. There is the adoration of the cross, petitions for all of everything, then Communion and we file out. Done. Dead.

Fast forward 24 hours and the church is transformed, almost unrecognizable in it's relation to the previous space. There are flowers and candles everywhere, hours seems like minutes, there's greenery, incense (at least in our parish), bells, music, reds, yellows, whites - the senses are overwhelmed in the contradiction. And we process joyfully down the aisle of salvation history, re-learning and celebrating the miraculous marvels of our loving and living God-Man.

I sense that so much more is going on in my soul than I allow myself, or even have the capacity to consciously comprehend. And I move through my daily routine now, as if nothing happened. But the world is changed, different in a way only those living in Christ can sense. If we have allowed it, we have been moved and changed, just as Isaiah exhorted us to "...enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back, lenthen your cords, strengthen your stakes...". Morning has broken upon us after a particularly long and arduous night, and I am glad, content.

We were made for this. We are not a Calvary People, but an Easter People. We cannot have one without the other, but we are not to be frozen, stuck in death and despair. We were made for the fullness of glory and life. Sufferings are not always relieved after Easter Sunday - but there is a lightness in my heart that I pray is in yours as well. And that right there, friends, is the contradiction of following Christ. Light in the midst of the darkness of pain. Joy in suffering. Good Friday's cross with Easter Sunday's empty tomb.

"And the angel answering, said to the women: Fear not; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen, as he said. Come, and see the place where the Lord was laid. And going quickly, tell ye his disciples that he is risen: and behold he will go before you into Galilee; there you shall see him. Lo, I have foretold it to you. And they went out quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, running to tell his disciples..." Matthew 28:5-8

Have Mercy On Me, Oh God

April 17, 2014

It's Holy Week. Do you know what that means?  You've made it through almost 40 days of sacrifice and penitence!  Whew.  Easter is right around the corner!  But before we bust out the red wine and mini eggs, we must once again experience the passion and death of Christ, beginning with Holy Thursday.  So much could be said about the next few days, but they are primarily a time for harmonious silence and introspection.  A time for each of us to reflect deeply on the great significance of the actions of a carpenter's son from Nazareth 2000 years ago.

So I will leave you with this rendition of Psalm 51.
It's hauntingly beautiful.  

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;

so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Watch and wait

April 15, 2014

Daughters of Jerusalem, women of God, let us watch and wait with our Lord this Holy Week, so that we may be the first to know and share the Good News of Easter Sunday.

 Triptych Hans Memling

[Jesus dies on the Cross] There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  (Matt. 27: 55:56)

[Our Lord is placed in the tomb] But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb. (Matt. 27:61)

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. […] then the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell the disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead.’ […] And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.  (Matt. 28: 1-10)

Resurrection of Christ
Fra Angelico

ReGift : Trusting your instincts

April 10, 2014

In ‘A Landscape with dragons’, Michael O’Brien writes about children knowing whether something (or someone) is good or bad.  Their little souls are still sensitive, whereas we adults have taught ourselves to disregard that awareness.  Perhaps the world or our busyness drowns out the voice of our guardian angel who is prompting us to steer clear of a certain person, to turn off a particular movie, or to not try to drive home in a heavy snow storm. 

O`Brien advises parents to not scoff when children talk about monsters under the bed, because doing so teaches them to distrust their own discernment.  Good discernment is so important in living a Godly life.  Just as our conscience must be formed, our morality developed, our code of ethics established, so our ability to discern needs to grow in strength and maturity.

That discernment is a gift we all have, men and women both. There is a lot of emphasis on `women`s intuition` but men have it, too.  The inherent differences between men and women means the gift is expressed in different ways, but the common purpose of instinct is preservation – safety from spiritual and physical harm. 

I think women are inclined to trust the promptings of their instinct.  For example, a mother is fierce in the protection of her children and ensuring the integrity of the home. What keeps us back from being fierce all the time, is the need to also be nice, to not upset other people, we want to offer help when
we can see it is needed. It is the struggle between being kind and being safe that sometimes leads women into danger. We`ve all heard stories of assaults and abductions and think that could never happen to us, in this country, in our neighbourhood.  And yet it does.  It happens not because women are smaller, slower, weaker, or dumber, but because we sometimes ignore that little voice that tells us to look after ourselves first.  If we are reacting on behalf of our children – or anyone else who is relying on us – we will respond appropriately.  But we hesitate when it is comes to ourselves.

I have an illustration.  Years ago I shared an apartment.  It was in a well-maintained, respectable building so we had no concerns about safety.  One afternoon while home alone, I was wakened from a nap by strange sounds coming from the door to our apartment.  Then I heard voices, and I realized someone had been fumbling with the lock and was now in our hallway.  Totally confused by the situation and having just been in a deep sleep, I stumbled into the living room, unsure of what to do or say to the two men now standing in my home with a case of beer tucked under an arm of each of them.  I said something along the lines of, ``Umm... what?” I didn’t want to offend them, but I was also afraid to go near them.  Though I knew I had every right to insist they leave, I was almost afraid to offend them - if I were British I might have offered them tea.  With as much polite insistence and I could muster, I asked them to leave.  Turns out they were visiting a buddy in the building who was getting married the next day, and they simply went to the wrong apartment.

Contrast that with the time I was looking after my five nephews in their home.  We were going through their bedtime routine, when I heard a knock at the door.  I ignored it as we weren’t expecting anyone, it was late, and I don’t like to answer the door when I’m home alone.  The next thing I heard was the door opening and heavy boots stepping into the front hall!  A voice called out, “Hello” but I was already half way up the stairs, yelling, “Get out!  Get out!  Get out!”  I charged into the hallway, hands out in front of me, and pushed the man out the door and down the porch steps while shrieking at him to get out of the house. I didn’t give a thought to how he was feeling or what he thought of me. Poor man... he turned out to be the landlord come to repair something.  Once I realized who he was I stopped yelling at him, but I took him to task for not phoning ahead, and for just walking into our house. I must have got through to him because he always kept a safe distance from me after that. 

Icon of St. Michael the Archangel
by Michael O'Brien
Before that incident, and based on what had happened earlier in my apartment, I used to wonder how I would protect the boys if something like that ever happened.  Instinct kicked in and I didn’t question it for a second.  When it came to protecting myself, though, I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I was justified in reacting the way I wanted to.

It is so important we listen to that voice, whether it is our guardian angel, or our God-given instinct. Scripture tells us to get rid of our eye if it causes us to sin.  We must choose our friends wisely, avoid scandalous activities, not partake of blasphemous entertainment etc.  How can we do all of that if we no longer trust our own discernment?

Women in the Military

April 9, 2014

Have you noticed that there are an alarming number of combative females on television these days?  I’m not necessarily talking about women who are angry at everything besides baby kittens and goldfish, but rather women who play “tough-guy” characters.  The men are the calm writers or the slackers who need protection, while it’s the women who are getting their butts kicked by the bad guys, running headfirst into burning buildings and calling their female supervisors, “sir”.  The trend has been growing since before Uma Thurman “Killed Bill”, but it’s alarming to me that our society is normalizing (and glorifying) women in physically dangerous roles.  Doesn’t it bother you, I asked my husband once, to watch a female get walloped by a male?  Or to watch two women swinging punches at each other?  He thought for a minute and said, “yes, but I tell myself they’re fighting the bad guy and that makes me feel better about it.” 

Not me.  I wince.  Every.  Single. Time.  There’s something about watching a woman in a violent fist fight that just grates against everything I hold as good, true and beautiful.  Something in it just isn’t right and I’m not exactly sure what it is. 

There is hot debate that’s been raging for some years now – whether or not women should be accepted into physically dangerous, violent careers – like military combat forces - and it’s increasingly being won by the “pro” side.  Women have been battling, in the name of equality, to be treated as men and our society is responding.  If we women, in fact, are the same as men then what excuse do we have but to actually start doing what men have always traditionally done?  So now that we open doors for ourselves and have ceased ascribing to the “evil patriarchy” for our self-worth, we de facto must take on careers like wrestling, boxing, firefighting, and hard-core military combat careers.  Now that we’re “equal” we are obligated to fight hard, just like men.  Right?   

Fulton Sheen had a different idea.  First of all, men and women are equal – but proportionally so, not mathematically.  In his book entitle “Love, Marriage and Children” he said,

“The catchword became “equality,” which meant roughly: “Anything you can do I can do better.” Equality meant uniformity, or exactly the same amount of everything for everybody.  It was forgotten that there are two kinds of equality: mathematical and proportional equality.  For example, a mother does not give the same clothes, same food, same spending money to a son of two that she gives to a sixteen year old girl; but as a good mother, she gives proportional equality, according to age, needs, and physical and spiritual differences.”

Men and women are equal in dignity and value as human persons, yet about as different as a two-year-old son is from a sixteen year old daughter.  We not only don’t do the same jobs in exactly the same way, we shouldn’t.   Why would we? Men have one set of gifts.  Women have another set – which I don’t believe (generally) include really big muscles.  Although I am certain that some women enjoy bodybuilding and strength training and could best a good number of opponents, man or woman, anytime they felt like it, but they’re the exceptions.  I’m not convinced that generally speaking women are the best candidates for hard-core, physically demanding careers – especially where the military is concerned. 

A local radio station often plays a commercial where the announcer states: “At  -- FM we believe that you are only limited by your imagination.  And your time.  And your ability.  And your money.”  He goes off to list a few more things by which we’re all limited and I laugh every time I hear it.  We (both men and women) like to think that we are limitless in our abilities; that we can do anything of which we can conceive the moment we think of it.  It’s even what we like to tell our kids, but I think the concept is just stupid.  If I’m 4 foot 1 and clumsy I will find it extremely difficult to be a ballet dancer.  Sure I could do everything in my power to achieve the goal of being a ballet dancer but it’s very likely I will never be as good as those who’ve been given the ballet dancer’s tall, willowy genes.  Even if I achieve an acceptable level of ability by working triple-hard, it’s still very likely that I won’t ever come close to obtaining the ability of those who have an in-born talent.  That’s life.

This is how I see women in combat positions.  Our bodies and spirits weren’t made for that type of thing and no matter how much we’d like to, we cannot force our genetic makeup to change.  While women generally have better endurance than men, men generally have more skeletal muscle mass than women, which typically makes them physically stronger.  On a good day, could the strongest woman in any given group best the strongest man?  Maybe.  But highly doubtful.  No matter how much weight and strength training they undergo, women cannot make themselves grow more muscle mass to equal men’s.  In addition, many women experience extreme muscle weakness in the days leading up to menstruation – some say they lose up to half their physical strength.  Women cannot force their bodies to be as consistently strong as men, which is decidedly not an asset when innocent human lives are on the line. 

But even beyond certain physical differences between men and women, combative careers require women to expunge from themselves that which many would consider their greatest asset: their emotions and relational sensibilities.  Military women must cut ties with their children for months on end while deployed.  And it’s not hard to see why those in combat must keep all emotions in check.  Horrible things are done and experienced in times of war – and men are able to compartmentalize the horrors a little bit better than women.  Of course I’m generalizing.  There will likely be an exceptional person to disprove every rule, but generally speaking, this is true.

So what now?  Should all women be pigeonholed into a small list of “feminine” occupations like they have been in the past; careers like nanny, tea-pourer or dressmaker? I don’t think so.  Rather I think all women must identify their gifts and strengths, and give what they’ve got, not what they haven’t got.  Most women aren’t suited to military combat and wrestling in the same way that most men aren’t suited to synchronized swimming or feminine hygiene product tester.  Does that make either any less of a person – because they have talents in one area over another?  No.  Emphatically no.  Yet I think the current thought is that because women generally aren’t suited to combat, that they are somehow “less than”, “inferior” or “weak”. 

What a silly notion - but I understand why it’s a pervading thought.  In her book The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand said:

“The hierarchy of values being upset [at the Fall], male accomplishments became overvalued.  Physical strength became glorified and weakness was looked down upon as proof of inferiority.  ..Hand in hand with the overestimation of strength and virility goes an overestimation of accomplishments, feats, performances, success.  In our society to be a “self-made man” calls for awe.  A Bill Gates, an Oprah Winfrey, or even a Bill Clinton inspires people with a totally illegitimate feeling of admiration.”

We’ve come to believe, since the Fall, that only certain gifts and talents are highly valued: strength, virility, prowess, being “self-made” or powerful – the noticeably shining “virtues” of our modern world.  Those who cannot acquire those “virtues” – or have different or opposite abilities to those specified - are substandard, lesser human beings.  What about humility?  Charity?  Loyalty, compassion and obedience?  They’re real virtues that our world can’t stand. To the modern, untrained eye, humility and grace look shabby and dull next to novelty and dazzling pride. 

Yet choosing to do something that may be well beyond the limits of our physical, mental or psychological strength, merely because we believe that doing so is the only way to be valued, is a suicide of sorts.  We put to death an important part of our very selves (ie. our femininity) in order to meet the requirements of “the job” and in the process utterly discount our value and worth as a woman - as ourselves.  Perhaps this is why I find it so jarring to see women being physically violent on tv, because I instinctively feel that they are setting something truly authentic aside for something counterfeit.  Or perhaps it’s simply because I know that most women wouldn’t stand a chance in a fight against the average man.  It’s not a fair fight, no matter how much some would try to convince you otherwise. 

So why does it matter that women are accepted as “tough guys”, able to best any man, woman or child that walks through the door?   I honestly don’t know because women, within themselves, ARE tough.  They are fierce – just not in the way society thinks they should be, that is, in the way that men are fierce.   They may not break your neck with their bare hands, but threaten their loved ones and you’ll wish you’d never been born.  Women are highly intuitive – they will be able to ascertain important facts about situations that many wouldn’t figure out in a million years. Most women have the ability to multi-task: doing 18 things with one hand while pouring a glass of wine and sending 5 emails with the other.  They have a deep wellspring of strength and a supernatural ability to sacrifice themselves that puts many a man to shame.  And best of all, women are able to shelter, nourish and grow new life within themselves: a gift that is a privilege and an honour to possess.  All of this isn’t to brag, but to enlighten. 

And just as the physical strength of every man (and every one of their other abilities) is needed in the world, the gifts of all women are also needed wherever there are people - whether it be a courtroom, the military, a household or a kitchen. We might have been historically referred to as the weaker sex, but I think that men and women are both weak and strong, in their own unique ways.  So what if women are physically weaker than men.  Maybe men are spiritually weaker than women, but that’s not a bad thing.  Men and women not only need each other’s strengths, but they also need each other’s weaknesses.  Weaknesses help to spur us on to be better individuals - we realize we’re not “there yet”.  They can motivate us to support one another and help us to be humble and honest in admitting to our needs.  And they keep us vulnerable (in a good way) and can increase intimacy between two people (if we allow them) as long as both parties understand the importance of both strengths and weaknesses, and treat the other accordingly. 

Because in the end, what matters isn’t that I benched 200 pounds or was able to do 75 squats, but that I used my abilities to their fullest to help myself and others to gain heaven.  Is there anything more fulfilling than doing just that – using your expertise to change lives, or allowing others to share their expertise with you?  Like a doctor saving a life by clearing a windpipe or a violinist bringing her audience to tears, there’s nothing better than doing what we’re meant to do, when we’re meant to do it.  It’s thrilling and satisfying and an adventure from beginning to end. 

St. Marina humiliating (and hammering) the devil
“To fulfill [her] mission, a woman has to develop her own personality and not let herself be carried away by a naive desire to imitate, which, as a rule, would tend to put her in an inferior position and leave her unique qualities unfulfilled. If she is a mature person, with a character and mind of her own, she will indeed accomplish the mission to which she feels called, whatever it may be. Her life and work will be really constructive, fruitful and full of meaning, whether she spends the day dedicated to her husband and children or whether, having given up the idea of marriage for a noble reason, she has given herself fully to other tasks. Each woman in her own sphere of life, if she is faithful to her divine and human vocation can and, in fact, does achieve the fullness of her feminine personality. Let us remember that Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, is not only a model but also a proof of the transcendental value of an apparently unimportant life.”  ~St. Josemaria Escriva
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