Reflections on loving God, being Catholic, being a woman, being ill, loving life and anything else that comes to mind.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam* - Part I

I have had many reasons to ask God why. For long, my top three “why” questions were: Why did You allow my parents to be killed? Why didn’t You let me be killed? Why did You put me with a horrible, hateful foster-father?

Eventually my questions began to be answered with a bluntness that surprised me. Before, I had always experienced God as nice and cozy. Then, when He began answering Why?, not so much:

Why did You allow my parents to be killed? If the bullets had not been real and capable of actually killing, there would have been no freedom – only a pretence. I do not deal in pretence.

Why didn’t You let me be killed? You are not an appendage of your parents: I have other work for you to do.

Why did You put me with a horrible, hateful foster-father? To save your life.

Today many of us ask Why? The United States is the greatest nation in the world. We play an important part in worldwide stability and sanity – at least we should. So then why would God allow this country to elect the most pro-abortion president ever? Why would He allow us to give the keys of the F16s to a man who knows neither obedience nor how to command? Why didn’t Our Lord and Our Lady grant the miracle for which so many of us prayed and fasted?

Every few years, I read the Bible as one book, from Genesis through Revelations. This is the first time I’m doing so since my return to the Church and I’m finding the story so much more exciting than I did the last time. I love action movies and keep thinking, with the right people, the Bible would make a series of the best action movies ever. There’s romance and drama and comedy – it’s the most amazing book. And the most awesome action. It’s so much more than battles. In fact, the battles are minor in proportion to the action that occurs as a result of God’s relationship with His people.

In 1 Samuel: 4, the Israelites go out to fight the Philistines and are routed. They go out again but carry the ark of the Lord as if it’s a magic talisman, as if it’s presence is all that is needed for them to be victorious. They are routed again and the Philistines capture the ark. The Israelites are astounded, the glory of the Lord has left them. Finally, Samuel tells them: "If you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ash'taroth from among you, and direct your heart to the LORD, and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." (1Sam 7:3) And so the people of Israel put away their foreign gods and idols and serve the Lord only and the ark of the covenant is returned. God delivers them from the Philistines. Ultimately, He gives them a king – David (and we all know how important David is).

A few month ago, before my health flare-up, I was working on a series of articles under the general category: “Unmarried, Not Single.” While conducting research, I spoke with several priests who insisted that the besetting sin of our age is selfishness. Selfishness is when I become my own God. This past election is proof of that. In the weeks before the election many of us came out of the woodwork, commented on a variety of threads and prayed and even fasted but what were we doing before then? Two years ago? One year? Six months ago? What were we doing well before the election was imminent and we became scared? For many of us, the answer is Huh???

Is being Catholic something we are 24/7 – 365 – on the outside? How do we present ourselves to the world? Do we keep our faith and the rest of our lives separate? Do we try to keep ourselves untouched by the world? Is being Catholic limited to Mass and when we’re alone? Mass and when we’re with like-minded friends and family? Do we limit our contacts to a Catholic sub-culture? To those who are like us? Do we even know our neighbours at home and at work? Say hello to them whether or not they speak to us? Reach out to them whenever the opportunity presents itself? Involve ourselves in community events and organizations? Are we involved in local politics? Do we consider running for office or working on a pro-life candidate’s campaign? Do we give money to support pro-life candidates and pro-life work? Do we even vote in primaries and other local elections? Do we write and/or call our elected officials to weigh in on proposed legislative actions? Are we still asking, Huh???

Do we proclaim the good news even in situations when we can’t mention Christ’s name? Do we even know how? Have we tried to learn? Are we learning to respond from the Church’s teaching to comments such as abortion is only one issue among many? Are we importunately asking our priests and bishops to teach us how to do so? Do we take the light and love of Christ out into the communities in which we live and perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with eagerness and joy so that we attract those who are so hungry they accept anyone or anything rather than Christ?

So many of us cannot give a positive answer to any of those questions. (And for some of them, neither can I – this is not an I’m doing it right pontification.) For so many of us, they’re not even on the radar. We really have no reason to wonder why God in His wisdom and mercy and love, has answered our last-minute fervent prayers and fasting for victory with: NFW?

And while we are still shocked and wondering why and before we lull ourselves back to sleep with too many platitudes and consoling phrases, we need to accept that God gave the election to Barack Obama. We watched it happen. In amazement, we asked how can people be so blind? We commented about it on a variety of threads. The blindness prevailed. Not so much in the popular vote** but in swing states many of which are more than 30% Catholic: once again, Catholics determined the election.

And we can’t say it’s the fault of those who are not real Catholics either because blindness prevailed amongst us serious, devout, Sunday Mass-going Catholics too. We thought we could be lazy and then dutifully fervent for a bit and then lazy once again. We can’t. But in doing so, we failed this country and the world. Most of all, we failed to serve God. We didn’t fail to save the world. That’s not our job. We didn’t fail to defeat Obama. That wasn’t our job either. For years many, many of us have been complacently inactive. We have failed to participate in the lives God has given us. We have failed to proclaim the good news in our words and actions where we.

We complained about those running for office when we were not running ourselves. We expected candidates who follow Church teaching to spring up but we neither instructed them nor supported them. We excused ourselves by saying, the non-negotiables are natural law and available to everyone, while knowing that our knowledge of natural law has been so badly fractured even devout Catholics often don’t know the difference between right and wrong. We live in a time of insanity and we too are insane: to do nothing for years, to be complacent and inactive and yet to expect victory because we have been smart and witty on a few threads and prayed and fasted hard at the last minute is our personal form of madness. We know prayer and fasting are not charms that will give us the winning number in the great lottery of American politics. We know God will not let us use Him or His Mother as good luck charms, as idols. And He didn’t. We were routed.

The day after the election a friend sent round an email that told us "[t]hings will be bad for us for a while by the world's standards." She then went on to assure us that she hadn’t given up hope and knew all would be well. Though I’ve commiserated with messages of that sort in the past, even made such remarks myself, this time I objected because I’ve been thinking so much about hope recently and have come to realize that deciding the way things will be in advance, be it persecution or all will be well, is not hope. It’s hard to accept but hope is being workers in the vineyards who, having been hired earlier in the day, roll up our sleeves and get busy from the first moment because we’re so happy to be hired, so happy to be working with Him. It is joyfully enduring with Christ because He is giving us the gift of hanging in there with God Himself. Hope energizes us. It does not leave us sitting about waiting until the last hour to make certain we needn’t do more than our fair share of work since we’re only getting the same pay as the last hirees. That’s selfishness. And hope is certainly not treating God like a machine that fails to start but only needs a bit of perseverance and perhaps a swift kick. That is as if God is a genie awaiting our personal commands – again, selfishness.

The night after the election a friend who works in a pro-life/pro-family ministry told me he had been hoping McCain might win so that he needn’t work so hard but now he must work very hard and in ways he hadn’t imagined. His face showed amazement as he thought of it. His words are prophetic: we must work very hard and in ways we have never imagined. We don't know how things will be. We only know that it is our job to go out into the world and in our words and deeds, through the lives God gives us proclaim the good news every day. Without advance decisions. Or advance intel. With only the commitment to live our baptismal vows and the knowledge that we work alongside God.

We cannot participate with God when we treat prayer and fasting as talismans. Neither can we do so if we are waiting for others to do the job for us. Nor if we decide all will be well because we are fervently and faithfully devout. Nor if we spend our lives flitting from shadowy doorway to shadowy doorway, cringing from the blow we expect to fall. Nor if we use any other lame excuse to avoid the work of proclaiming the good news with our own lips, using our own bodies. Lame excuses only leave us thinking we are doing our best when we are just being selfish and lazy. They infect our hearts and lives and ministries with defensiveness and fear, convince us to stay hidden. We think we are serving Christ when we are actually using Him as a false god and if He is false, then we have nothing at all.

I am convinced that Our Lord and Our Lady have many surprises in store for us. We ain't seen nothing yet. But then too many of us really haven’t done anything yet either. And others could do more. We’ve been made so much stronger than we know, so much more than we realize. If we all get busy, we’d soon be amazed at how much God would use us: On the day after the election, 40 Days For Life reported that during their campaign on “more than 540 [occasions,] women arriving for abortions changed their minds and decided to keep their babies,” that abortion mills (I can’t call them clinics) shortened their hours or closed down during the prayer vigils and some of the employees have had changes of heart. On the day after the election a friend decided not to vote for Obama because of a long conversation she had had with two other friends that had convinced her a vote for Obama was a vote for abortion. On the day after the election, I learned that a co-worker had decided not to divorce her husband of 22 years after long conversations with me and another Christian friend who struggles to be devout.

After my parents died, after I was left alone in a strange country with strange people, I begged God to let me die. God gave me a horrible, hateful foster-father to fight and in fighting him I learned to fight for and love my own life, to turn away from seeking death. If we ask God, Why Obama? I think He will tell us that He is saving our lives. We must get this: corpses are inactive. Life requires activity. And if we’re alive in the Church, we must be alive in our communities, we must be proclaiming the good news to those who haven’t heard it – and that’s a lot of people. We must put aside our lame excuses to be selfish and lazy because they are killing us: failing to proclaim the good news is deadly. It makes us weak. And then we die.

God is in control. He’s not a false god no matter how we treat Him. And Obama’s election is for His greater glory. We know that. We also know that His presence is all that is needed for victory but He will not let us use Him and He will do all things to save our lives (and Obama’s too for that matter). He will not be complicit in out attempts to hide out in shadowy corners. If necessary, He will allow circumstances to scare us into activity. But it’s only the activity we should have been involved in all along. He has insisted, all along, that we put away our false gods and “serve him only” by serving all those with whom He has put us.

* For the greater glory of God

** I do wonder how many felt their vote didn’t matter and so stayed away from the polls or voted third party mostly for that reason and not because they honestly could not vote in good conscience for McCain. That’s another question we need to ask ourselves: What can we do to swing certain states to a pro-life direction?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Children We Fight For

I have longed to be a mother but I’m unmarried and then there’s my health – giving birth to children just isn’t going to happen. Of course, there are miracles but once, when I was most distressed about being unable to have a child, I heard the familiar Voice say: I do not promise that you will have children of your own but I do promise you will have many spiritual children. At the moment, I was thrilled but that moment didn’t last very long. Were I as good as St. TherĂ©se of Lisieux or so many others, spiritual children would be enough for me. But I am not so good. I want babies. I love babies. When I was three I asked Marmar if we could have a baby (she told me she wasn’t able to have more children) and I haven’t stopped wanting them since. I did go through a short time in my late teens when I pretended otherwise but I baby sat a lot so there were babies anyway. And while others may read my work and God may use it and just use me in general in others lives and while I might mother all sorts of people giving to them what God has given to me, I still want babies.

A few months ago as I penance, my confessor suggested I pray one decade of the rosary for myself and in particular for those things I was having such difficulty changing in myself (read impatience). He told me it was important to pray for myself – something I have never really done. Other things, other people have always seemed more important; God has always cared for me anyway so I tend to forgot about praying for myself.

The rosary is not always one of my favourite prayers. I tend to drift off into meditation or distraction – often both within the same decade. I get lost and then spend a great deal of time trying to recall where I left off and, in the midst of remembering, drift off again. I begin at the Annunciation and half an hour later discover I’ve been praying for Obama’s daughters and thinking about Michelle Obama’s lack of fashion sense and how horrid it is that some women think she might be worth emulating and then drift off into musing on the way we women are having been raised with mothers whose minds have not really been on us even when they’ve been physically present and then drift off into something else … until finally, I remember I am supposed to be praying and ask God to tell me where I left off. Then there are the times when I don’t think at all, when my mind is blank and I’m just snuggling up but half an hour still passes and I still don’t remember which mystery I’m on or how many Hail Marys are left and sometimes I get the Chaplet of Divine Mercy tangled into the rosary and it’s just a big mess. Praying the rosary is a lot of work. It takes hours and I might not even finish it. But since I was given a penance and penance is important I decided I could handle one decade, if I forced myself to focus and if God helped me.

My confessor didn’t specify which mystery I should use neither did he give me a specific number of times to pray, neither say this once nor for the next week nor anything else that would encapsulate the penance into any sort quantity or time period. So I, as I am wont to do, just began praying a decade of the rosary as instructed nearly every day. Usually, I prayed the Annunciation. It is the first one I remember. But then I discovered one decade wasn’t enough. I kept thinking of Obama’s children growing up believing that babies are punishment and that that’s what they are. So I added a decade for the Obama family and asked Our Lady to protect the Obama children (and defeat their father too). And soon I discovered other personal petitions, other things connected to me for which I had never really prayed: a girlfriend going through a similar experience of discovering Mary as her Mother whose determination has encouraged me, my work and, most importantly, the intentions of my heart – those things that a Mother knows about. Very soon I was up to all five decades, oft times wandering off in my meditations but somehow making it through.

It turns out mothers know their children. Marmar knew me. Once in a while, even my foster-mother knew me: not long before her final illness she came to understand that I lived with deep, deep sadness and pain, that I could not just forget my family, that she couldn’t just fill-in for my mother. I have known that I longed for my mother. And perhaps that too is why I found the rosary so difficult – it is a long conversation with Our Mother about all the wonders and joys in Our Lord’s life. It’s chock full of: And then He did that! and Okay, I’ll go through the scary parts as long as you hold my hand. and Isn’t what happens next wonderful? The rosary is an exciting, cozy nursery experience. But that closeness can be excruciating for those of us who long, especially when we keep such longings from ourselves.

I’ve tried to pretend not having babies was okay since that’s the way God wanted it. (I sort of told myself that longing for my mother was enough longing for one lifetime.) But I didn’t know that my desire for children cuts a deep channel through my heart that joins up with longing for my mother. Certainly, I’ve thought I could adopt or foster a child but as my health declines and as I get older I realize that adoption or even fostering a child might not be a great idea – unless I choose to be selfish.

And haunting me has been the experience of friends who have aborted their babies. Four times I have known women who have been pregnant and have gone from being pro-life to pro-abortion because of their special circumstances overnight. One changed her mind and I hope I had something to do with it – certainly I told her that aborting her child was not taking care of it as she said. That taking care of a child could never be killing him. Not long after deciding not to have the abortion, she miscarried. It hurt her badly. I mourned with her and also rejoiced that she had trusted God and had not murdered her child.

The other three each aborted their children. I understand their fear: once, when I was seventeen, I thought I was pregnant and the terror was amazingly huge – I was hysterical (I do not become hysterical). But I don’t understand their actions particularly since they were not alone. Particularly when they told me about their pregnancies and knew me well enough to realize that I would remind them that they were against abortion, that abortion was wrong. Particularly when I not only offered to help each of them but begged them to allow me to care for their children. Particularly when I was willing to change my life so that I could provide for a baby. Particularly when I offered open adoption or guardianship so that if they changed their minds, at some future point, I would return custody of their children. We were friends. We were close. We loved and trusted each other. And two of them loved God too. But they did not love their children. They did not love and trust me enough to allow me to care for their children. And even the two who loved God did not love Him enough to choose His will over murdering their children. They knew I would do whatever necessary to care for their children. They decided it would be better to kill their children instead.

I fought for those children. And I fought for those friendships. But the children were more important. I wanted to give life to those children, wanted them to become what God had created them to be. I cajoled them and reminded them of God’s love and begged them. I sent the two who believed in God to spiritual directors who also reminded them of God’s love and providence, reminded them that abortion was a mortal sin. I prayed many prays and asked other to pray. I fought hard and I failed.

I would do it again even though my friendships with the children’s mothers were casualties of those battles and I still miss them – our friendships could not withstand such evil. I would fight for any child though again I might fail, though I myself might not have the strength to raise them, would probably need to entrust them to someone else. And that is what I am doing when I insist that Our Lady protect the Obama children, when I ask others to pray for them: I am fighting for them. I have fought for a number of children in my life (and have taken on several terribly remiss parents). But I didn’t know that in fighting for them, in doing what I can, be it fervent prayer, fasting, providing substitute care, seeking to remind their parents that abortion is not an option but simply murdering their own children, in doing whatever I could do the children I have fought for have become my children. I have mothered them when their own mothers did not. I have cared for them, valued their lives when told to dismiss them. God has given them to me to be my children. And in praying for the deepest desires of my heart, in wandering off whilst lying my head on Madrinha’s* lap, I have come to realize both the deep, painful longing for those children murdered in their mothers’ wombs, children I might have raised, and I have come to see that God answered my prayers before I knew to ask. He has given me children that I didn’t know I had – there are babies waiting for me in heaven, caring for me as I tried to care for them. But they are don’t fail because my children are with mi Madrinha and She never fails.

In taking Our Lord into Herself, She was made the perfect vessel of love: She cannot but love us. And She fights for us, fights against the foolish convictions we use to close our hearts off to Her love. She is immensely patient and tenacious and simply wears us down with love. And, like Our Lord, is ready to take advantage of the tiniest chink in our protective plating. She knows we are worth fighting for, worth loving. She cannot but know our hearts, our longings, our prayers and asks Her divine Spouse and Her Son to give us more than we can let ourselves desire.

So I wander off as we rehearse the mysteries of Her Son’s life and have stopped being hard on myself for doing so. I am just a child resting her head on her mothers lap** so at home that my heart shares its entire contents even though the story line sometimes becomes incoherent. She will sort it out. And when I ask to become the woman God would have me be and I pray for the desires of my heart, the things She knows I long for better than I know myself, I can be confident that She is listening and that my prayers are being answered in surprising and wonderful ways. I’m a mother and the day will come when I hold my children in my arms and laugh with them and rejoice at what God has done with us. And my friends are safe with Her – I’ll trust Her to wear them down too. I am not bereft as my heart imagined (I’ve been laughing even more these past few days – and that’s probably getting insufferable). I’m filled with excitement: what lovely things has Madrinha prepared for me next?

* Madrinha is the Portuguese diminutive for Mother. I have called Our Mother that privately, when I needed to call her anything at all, for several years.

** My friend Dawn Eden told me about St. Catherine LabourĂ©’s vision for which I am most grateful. She and it have also been instrumental in helping me to accept Our Lady as mi Madrinha.

*** Please continue to pray for the Obama children.