February 26, 2012

You gave up what?

In recent days, since Ash Wednesday, the subject of giving up something for Lent has come up a few times in conversations at work and at home. It has also been the subject of a number of blogs and homilies that I have read or heard. Since it was discovered that one of the things I have given up for Lent is the television quite a number of people have made comments to me about it. My daughter even jokingly commented at my son's birthday celebration last night as to why I was in the room with the rest of the family when the TV was on.  When you live in a small house there are not too many places one can go to avoid the rest of the people. Besides, being with family is more important. We should not be so legalistic as to neglect the important people in our lives. But, we also need to know that fasting is important.

Deacon Greg Kandra at the Deacon's Bench wrote:
Part of what we do during Lent is we do without: we fast, we give up meat on Fridays, we offer up something as a sacrifice.  In our way, in doing that we venture into the desert, like Jesus did in the gospel.  We strip ourselves of what we like, what we find enjoyable or comfortable.  We don’t do it really to build character.  We do it to discover our character – to see anew – or HEAR as if for the first time – just who we really are.
Stripping away some of the distractions of life, we are forced to confront ourselves.
My giving up the television has certainly caused me to confront myself. I am a TV addict, although I am a lot better than when I was younger. Back in the day I could watch sitcoms all night. Now I find myself watching HGTV, old movies, and some reality shows. No I'm not a Jersey Shore or Real Housewives type of person, but I do find Hoarders fascinating, perhaps because it makes me feel so much better about my own housekeeping efforts, or lack of them.  These past few days without the television have been difficult and I find myself sitting in the living room staring at that big black rectangle hanging on the wall.  Isn't there something better in life?

Ahh, there is the key to fasting, to giving up things.  We fast to discover what is really important in our lives. We deny ourselves to find out what we really hunger for, who we really hunger for.

But fasting alone does nothing. We must accompany our fasting with prayer and acts of charity.  But I have heard it said, what good is giving up things or doing things for Lent only to go back to our old ways come Easter. The purpose of our Lenten discipline is to change who we are. To bring us closer to being the person God calls us to be. 

Not watching TV is allowing me to focus on my new writing project, to spend more time in prayer, and in real conversation with people.  It allows me to "turn off" all the background noise that I found was really serving no purpose in my life.  Will I watching TV at all during Lent?  Sure, in fact I did watch mid-morning prayer with Cardinal Dolan yesterday, but I took the opportunity to pray along with those assembled at St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Will I watch the Academy Awards tonight?  I don't know.  If I want to be legalistic and minimalistic about it, Sunday technically isn't a fast day. But,  I haven't been to the movies all year so don't know the films, and do I really need to see what everyone is wearing on the red carpet? Perhaps if an important news event happens I'll watch it.

One of the purposes of fasting is to make a change in our lives. To redirect our focus. Perhaps I won't find the television so important anymore or stop using it as a means to just pass the time.  Who knows, it's a long Lent and it's just begun.

February 15, 2012

Didn't your mother teach you not to do that?

Last Friday, and again today, we heard in the Gospel how Jesus healed, not just by speaking and touching the sick person but by using his spit.  Sounds kind of gross at first. After all spitting is disgusting and in some cities it illegal to spit on the ground or to spit at people. All good mothers teach their children not to spit. But then I thought of something my mother used to do, that is to use her spit to clean our faces.  It usually happened when we were on our way somewhere and our faces got dirty just before we arrived. Not wanting us to been seen with smudged faces, Mom would spit into a tissue or on her thumb and rub the smudge until it came clean.  I carried on the habit with my own kids, and I am sure many moms have done it throughout the ages and continue to do it.  It's an act of tenderness and of love. As kids we never thought of it as gross, although we might have winced a bit.  If you think about it, the mother is using something produced in her body to clean her child, and not worrying one bit about germs.

Jesus is doing the same thing. The saliva of the God/Man, a product of His Body, is used to make a sick person clean, to heal him of his blindness or inability to speak. Some scientists believe saliva has a natural disinfectant. We often lick a cut, and many in the animal kingdom (as anyone with cats knows), use their saliva to keep clean. Jesus uses it to allow the sick to see and hear their Savior.  It's an act of Love and tenderness.  I remember hearing that Jesus using His spit was the opposite of  Jesus being spit upon after His arrest.  He takes a negative insulting action and turns it into a positive healing action.  Jesus was good at doing exactly the opposite of what was expected. He healed on the Sabbath, He spoke to women, He touched and raised the dead, and He spit.

I was wondering if our Blessed Mother ever  used her spit to clean dirt of Jesus' face before they went rushing into the Temple or to visit relatives after a long donkey ride or walk.  I would bet she did. Maybe Jesus learned it from her.

February 14, 2012

What would happen if we told the truth?

Sunday night I didn't watch the Grammy awards. I didn't care what women were wearing on the red carpet, I was already tired of hearing about the tragic death of Whitney Huston, and I was unfamiliar with all the nominees anyway. Instead I caught the movie City Island. I had seen it once before and I thought it was kind of quirky and a bit weird.  But I like Andy Garcia, so I made a cup of tea and settled in to watch this film which is about the totally dysfunctional Rizzo family who live in the Bronx on City Island.  Garcia's character, Vince, is a prison guard who discovers Tony, the son he abandoned as a baby before he met his wife, is now an inmate.  Vince arranges for Tony's release under his protection  and he takes him home keeping Tony's true identity a secret, even from Tony.  But that is not the only deception occurring in this family. Vince is secretly taking acting lessons but telling his wife he goes out to play poker, the daughter is hiding the fact that she got suspended from college and is now working as a stripper, Vince's younger son has an inordinate attraction to extremely obese women and all the Rizzo's are sneaking cigarettes. Vince's wife Joyce seems to be the only one not hiding a deep secret, but thinking that Vince is cheating on her she sets out to seduce Tony. Even Vince's acting partner has a big secret she's hiding. The only one who recognises these deceptions is Tony and although he doesn't know Vince is his father, he does know that there is more to their relationship than is being told him. What stood out in the film for me is the power of lies. Because all in this family were afraid of the truth, one lie built upon another and nearly tore the family apart. 

I think lying is probably one of the most frequently committed sins. Why? Because it is an easy one to rationalize away.  Think about this, how many husbands, when his wife asks if she looks fat in a dress, is going to say "Sure honey, you do"?  In one of my favorite TV shows, House, Dr. House is fond of letting people know "everybody lies," and I believe it.  It is sometimes so much easier to tell a lie than to have to deal with telling someone the truth. And we often don't even realise we are doing it.  I'm not talking about big lies here.  For example, one of my favorite lies is when a telemarketer calls and asks for me.  I tell them "she's not home right now."  Pretty innocent wouldn't you say?  I don't like confrontation and instead of dealing with somone trying to get me to donate to the Police retirement fund (my husband is a retired cop and his retirement comes from the state not some fund) I just pretend I am not home.  Or if  a friend calls and asks me to go out and not really wanting to I'll say that I am busy.  What's a little lie?  No one gets hurt.

The Rizzo family lied thinking they were protecting the others in their family because the truth might hurt them. But they also lied because they were afraid of the truth.  What would have happened if they told the truth from the beginning?  Without spoiling the film for those who didn't see it, the end answers that question. It's a question I need to ask myself whenever I am tempted to tell a lie, or to withold the truth.  What would happen? Yes, perhaps someone will get hurt but maybe people would respect me for telling the truth. I think I lie because of fear, fear of what people might say, or do, or think, fear that someone will be angry with me.  I have discovered that lies really get me nowhere and the one they hurt most is me.

Jesus said "the truth will set you free."(Jn 8:32)  When I lie I am held bound by my lies and I often have to add to the lie to keep the deception going.  Each lie makes it easier to tell the next lie and pretty soon I even begin to believe my own lies.  Part of being a Christian is to believe in the Truth.  That means coming to terms with where I stand with regard to the Truth.  It may not win me friends, it may not be easy, but in the end, I think it will make me a better person.

February 11, 2012

Our Lady of Lourdes

The Grotto

I have never been to Lourdes, although I hope to be able to go there one day. However, one of my favorite places is the Lourdes Grotto at the University of Notre Dame.  During the three weeks each of the five summers that I spent there studying liturgy, I would spend time at the Grotto almost every day.  It is a man made facsimile of the Grotto at Lourdes and even has a rock from Lourdes imbedded in the wall just below the statue of Mary.  It is a peaceful place, especially in the summer, but there always someone there praying the rosary, lighting a candle, taking pictures or just sitting on a bench reflecting or reading.

I always made the Grotto the last stop after my evening walk around the lakes.  The glow of the candles helped me to reflect on the many prayers that were being offered on behalf of so many people in need, and my needs as well to get through the grueling course of study and writing of papers. The evening before my written comps, after Evening Prayer, I wandered over there and ran into one of my classmates there for the same reason, to ask our Blessed Mother to calm our fears and help us to focus during the four hour exam.  On the day of my oral comps I woke up extra early to stop by and say a prayer.

Being at Our Lady's university those summers was a special time for me. The fact that Mary watches over the campus from her vantage point on top of the Golden Dome was inspiring and reassured me  that she was watching over me as well.  I have to remind myself time after time that Our Lady watches over me all the time, even when I am not aware of her presence.  Mary's is a quiet peaceful presence. While I guess it would be amazing if like Bernadette, I was to come face to face with her, I feel that simply knowing by faith that she is there is amazing as well. As St. Peter said of faith in Jesus,
Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy...(1 Peter 1:8)
The same can be said about faith and veneration of our Blessed Lady. Mary appears so that she can lead us to Jesus. Like a loving mother, she guides us in the ways of righteousness and truth. So yes, I would like to go to Lourdes some day, hopefully before I get too old to make the trip.  But, in the meantime, I have my faith in her love and her presence and the knowledge that just like at Notre Dame, even without a dome, she is watching over me...and that brings me joy.

February 3, 2012

It Came Down to a Dance

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
 by Caravaggio
The story of the beheading of John the Baptist, the gospel reading for today, always bothers me. Mostly because it is gruesome, but also because of what it reveals about the character of Herod, character traits which I sometimes recognize in my own self.  Herod liked John, even though John's words were convicting. Yet, because of a dance, Herod bowed under pressure, not wanting to be embarassed in front of his guests or to be thought of poorly.  He could have stood up for what was right and perhpas, in time, John could have convinced him of his wrongs. But that didn't happen. He beheaded John and brought the head out on a platter.

Today we hear a similar story. Over the past few days, the Komen Foundation made the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.  A decision that did not go over well with many, but was applauded by those who are pro-life.  It seemed like a step in the right direction. Yet today, Komen bowed down to pressure.  They allowed Salome to perform her dance and they caved in to her wishes. They preferred not to be embarrassed by their decision or to risk the false accusations that they are forsaking the lives of women by not funding Planned Parenthood. But their decision ends the lives of millions of innocent children through abortion promoted by the very organization they say is saving lives. What would have happened if they didn't reverse their decision? Maybe other organizations would act out of their conscience instead of popular opinion.

How many times am I afraid to stand up for what I truly believe is right, even though it might cause me embarrassment, false accusations, or the favor of friendships? How many times to I just go with popular opinion because it's easier than fighting what sometimes seems like a loosing battle? I know this opinion is not going to be greeted well by some of my friends and acquaintances, but I have truth on my side, and Jesus who promised to be with me always.  He said, in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Would I rather cave into pressure to not follow the truth? Do I want to dance with the Devil or do I want to be gathered into the eternal dance of the Trinity?  There's a lot to think about there.