Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Giving to the Homeless, Face to Face

(This post has been updated and reposted here)

The first time I ever saw a beggar was in Paris, 18 years ago. She was across the street and Tom said, "Don't look at her." Of course, I did and she began screaming invective and shaking her fist at me. It's a good thing my French wasn't very fluent or I'm sure my ears would have burned. Everywhere we went there were beggars. It was deeply troubling for someone like me who had never seen such a thing before. Tom, whose family lived in London for several years, was more blasé. He taught me to ignore them and that they were making plenty of money off of the population at large. I did make him give to a couple of WWII veterans who were playing music for their coins but at least they had sacrificed something for their country ... they had done something to deserve our charity.

I wasn't Christian then; I wasn't even sure if God existed. Nothing other than popular thought occurred to me in those situations. That was saved for 15 years later in 2001 when we went back to Paris and London with the girls. I had converted by then, we attended Mass weekly, and they went to Catholic school with religion lessons every day. It was fairly common to see the homeless on street corners but we were insulated by the car and traffic flow. These up close encounters with beggars in Europe were different. Tom and I gave the standard "making money off the crowd" explanation but it didn't sit very well, especially with the Christian precepts that had taken hold by then.

Then, one evening, I read this quote.
There are those who say to the poor that they seem to look to be in such good health: "You are so lazy! You could work. You are young. You have strong arms."

You don't know that it is God's pleasure for this poor person to go to you and ask for a handout. You show yourself as speaking against the will of God.

There are some who say: "Oh, how badly he uses it!" May he do whatever he wants with it! The poor will be judged on the use they have made of their alms, and you will be judged on the very alms that you could have given but haven't.
St. John Vianney
You certainly couldn't get much clearer than those words. St. John Vianney covered pretty much every objection I ever thought of for giving to the poor. That was my wake-up call and the end of ignoring beggars. We were supplied with handfuls of coins that were distributed at large as we went through the subway stations. When I got home I stocked the car with granola bars and bottles of water. I passed them out at every street corner we stopped at. I never have any cash on me and they almost always had signs saying "Will work for food" so it seemed a good match.

Then Dallas passed a law against any panhandling on street corners and, for the most part, the homeless disappeared from sight. I had gotten used to being on the lookout for people to give my granola bars to and now the corners seemed very empty.

About that time, I was the leader of a Catholic women's group that met weekly. One evening our discussion became a debate over two strategies of giving to the homeless. One group believed in giving to people as they were encountered. The other countered with stories of scam artists and believed in giving to organizations who would distribute goods and cash in the most beneficial way to the needy. Two things stuck with me after that meeting though. The first was that my friend, Rita, said she was troubled by those who didn't want to give face to face because "they don't know what blessings they may be depriving themselves of." Once again I remembered St. John Vianney's quote.

The second thing occurred to me as I listened to the debate. Jesus never said anything about helping the poor by giving to the local temple or soup kitchen. He said:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

Then the righteous will answer him and say, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?"

And the king will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25: 35-40

Tom and I do support organized charities and I know they reach farther than I ever could personally. This is not an argument against those organizations. However, I think that we cannot rest with those contributions. I believe that if we have a personal encounter with the needy it is because they have been sent to us for their good and our own. If we turn them away, then we are turning Christ Himself away and what blessings are we sending away with Him?

This was reinforced for me during a retreat I attended a few weeks ago. Somehow the debate over how to give to the homeless came up along those old familiar lines, not just once but twice. Each time I trotted out my St. John Vianney quote. Then my friend, Mauri, said that when she looked at those unfortunates she saw people she knew. For instance, she has a schizophrenic nephew who doesn't want to take his meds so he has been found wandering only in his boxers in a Chicago suburb. A confused old lady at the bank reminded her of her mother and Mauri found a discreet way to help her while preserving her dignity. She reminded me of the worth and dignity of each of these people. She later sent me this story which is the perfect example of looking past the surface to the real person that is there in front of us.
Today at the post office I saw this man going through the garbage -- I think looking for food as he was going through a discarded fast food bag and picked out left over bun from the bag, emptied the bag of the other garbage, and then used the bag to neatly wrap up the left over bun and then placed it in his satchel. You could tell that he still had his pride as he looked well kept, although worn and a bit "dusty". He was not begging in any way. Just walking through the strip center where the post office was.

I wanted to help as I sensed that he was hungry, but he was not asking for help and he did not approach me in anyway. I was so worried to bruise his pride, but could not stand the thought of him only having the leftover bun for food. I got out of my car with $5 and asked him if he was hungry. He said he was fine but hesitantly. I gave him the money and told him that I had many of times when I was hungry but didn't have the cash on me to go through McDonalds or grab a sandwich. I told him to take it for when he might need it. I don't think I hurt his pride. His eyes were so kind.

I only wish I had asked his name ... He looked like he might have been mid 60s. I should have given him more money. I can't get him out of my mind. He could have been someone's grandfather, father, etc.

I am so grateful to Mauri for bringing me to this phase in my awareness of the homeless. Each of them was some mother's baby, a tiny toddler learning to walk, a laughing boy or girl at school. We must remember that when we are looking at these people who can seem so frightening or strange or manipulative. I pray that someday I can look at these people and find my vision is perfect ... I hope that someday I can look at a homeless person and see Jesus Himself. In this quest I think we can not do better than to take the advice of someone who achieved perfect vision and sought out her beloved Jesus in the homeless.
Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, November 29, 2004

Equal Representation

My sister got this from a friend who is a Democrat. A nice touch and hilarious to boot!
Healing Poetry

The election is over,
the talking is done.
My side has lost,
and your side has won.
Now, let's all pull together,
and let bitterness pass.
I'll hug your elephant,
and you can kiss my ass.

Depp-alicious

FINDING NEVERLAND
Rose really was determined to see Finding Neverland, being a Johnny Depp fan. And who am I to deny her that? For one thing I was so grateful that two of her other picks were rated R ("Troy" and "Alexander") so I was happy that this was something I might enjoy. For another, I am not immune to Johnny Depp's charms and he was in practically every scene. It was really good but totally an art house film. I love going to The Angelica, one of our three art house theaters nearby and was happy to see it was playing there.

Finding Neverland is the story of J.M. Barrie (Depp), the famous playwright, who becomes great friends with a widow and her four irascible sons. The only holdout to Barrie's imagination and charm is Peter who is mourning the untimely death of his father and resents silliness. Barrie's friendship with the widow leads to trouble with his wife and scoldings from the widow's formidable mother, played by Julie Christie with great assurance. I loved seeing Christie look every inch the dowager but yet still beautiful without botox and dyed hair. Also really well done were the scenes that flipped back and forth between Barrie's imagination and the games he played with the boys. Another favorite moment was watching the audience as they watched the premiere of Peter Pan. Seeing Barrie's ploy to gain society's acceptance of a play that was essentially a children's tale was really enjoyable. Every performance was right on the money. The film overall was magical.

We all agreed that it was just as well that Tom didn't go (not really a guy's movie) although he probably would enjoy seeing it at home when the DVD comes out.

Eve's Resume

We don't know many details about Eve but she was a key player in the beginning of Genesis as Adam's wife and the person who had to deal with Satan's temptation face to face. As with Adam, I like the way that the Life Application Study Bible's profile on Eve makes the key lessons from her life stand out.
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • First wife and mother
  • First female. As such she shared a special relationship with God, had co-responsibility with Adam over creation, and displayed certain characteristics of God
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Allowed her contentment to be undermined by Satan
  • Acted impulsively without talking either to God or to her mate
  • Not only sinned but shared her sin with Adam
  • When confronted, blamed others
Lessons from her life:
  • The female shares in the image of God
  • The necessary ingredients for a strong marriage are commitment to each other, companionship with each other, complete oneness, absence of shame (2:24, 25)
  • The basic human tendency to sin goes back to the beginning of the human race
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Garden of Eden
  • Occupation: Wife, helper, companion, co-manager of Eden
  • Relatives: Husband - Adam, Sons - Cain, Abel, Seth, numerous other children.
Key verse:
The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18)

Eve's story is told in Genesis 2:19-4:26. Her death is not mentioned in Scripture.

See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Sin That is Different

"Each one of us, if we examine our conscience well, will realize that apart from all the sins we commit, there is one that is different because we are more ready to commit it. It is that sin to which we are secretly attached and which we confess but without a real will to give it up. It is that sin we think we can never free ourselves of because, in fact, we do not want to free ourselves of it or, at least, not right now... Sin enslaves us until we truly say "enough!" Then it loses almost all its power over us ...

But what must we do exactly? In a moment of recollection let us kneel down in God's presence and say to him: "Lord, you know my weakness and I know it too. Trusting therefore only in your grace and faithfulness I declare that from now on I no longer want that particular satisfaction, that particular freedom, friendship, resentment, that particular sin ...; I want to accept the idea of having to live without it from now on. I have finished with sin and with that particular sin. I repeat, enough of that! Help me with your Spirit. Renew in me a firm spirit, keep my heart generous. I consider myself dead to sin." After this, sin no longer reigns simply because you no longer want it to reign; it was, in fact, in your will that it reigned. There may be no apparent change, those around us may still notice the same faults in us, but where God is concerned something has changed because our freedom is now on God's side.

However, we must insist on one thing: this decision must be put into practice right away, otherwise it can easily get lost."
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap., preacher to the papal household

Adam's Resume

GENESIS STUDY
The Life Application Study Bible has a great feature for major Biblical characters. They do a profile on each one including a summary of their lives, a resume style listing of information, and key verses. It really helps bring the lessons learned from each into focus. I won't reproduce the entire thing here but liked this summary for Adam.
Strengths and accomplishments:
  • The first zoologist -- namer of animals
  • The first landscape architect, placed in the garden to care for it
  • Father of the human race
  • The first person made in the image of God, and the first human to share an intimate personal relationship with God
Weaknesses and mistakes:
  • Avoided responsibility and blamed others; chose to hide rather than to confront; made excuses rather than admitting the truth
  • Greatest mistake: teamed up with Eve to bring sin into the world
Lessons from his life:
  • As Adam's descendants, we all reflect to some degree the image of God.
  • God wants people who, though free to do wrong, choose instead to love him
  • We should not blame others for our faults
  • We cannot hide from God
Vital statistics:
  • Where: Garden of Eden
  • Occupation: Caretaker, gardener, farmer
  • Relatives: Wife - Eve, Sons - Cain, Abel, Seth, numerous other children. The only man who never had an earthly mother or father
Key verses:
The man said, "The woman you put here with me -- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it. (Genesis 3:12)

Adam's story is told in Genesis 1:26-5:5. He is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 1:1; Luke 3:38; Romans 5:14; Corinthians 15:22, 45; 1 Timothy 2:13, 14.

See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Feeling the Power of Prayer

I have had people tell me that they knew my prayers helped them or that they could feel people were praying for them. I have had many times when I experienced answers to the prayers of me and others but never anything immediate ... until Thursday. That was when I wrote a quick note about needing to get back the joy of Christmas.

My dear CRHP sister, Deb, wrote that she was praying for me. She knew what I needed when I didn't myself. For some reason I was feeling desperate about this problem. Why? I don't know but I just was. I read Deb's warm response and thought, "Jesus, give me the joy." Then I thought I'd just look at one more blog before going back to work and wound up at M'Lynn's where I read a passage that refocused my thoughts and eased my heart ... instantly. (I have to note here that every time I get a quick response to something I'm always ordering Him around ... no "please" or "if it's in Your will." It is never deliberate but just something I realize when looking back.)

Not only was I not dreading Christmas preparations but I was filled with an active, joyful anticipation of cookie making, shopping, decorating ... everything. M'Lynn is insightful and a great writer but that would be a lot to ask from any one inspirational paragraph ... unless it was direct, immediate answer to Deb's prayer. Wow! What a powerful lesson and how thankful I am for it!

Turning this over in my mind throughout the day, I then followed a statcounter link back to a new blog, Martha2. Not only do I feel that "Martha" connection (she ain't my patron saint for nothin'), but I admired what I read about the resolution to a chance meeting with a girl who broke her son's heart, and then there was her most recent post from today.
can you feel it now? some, somehow.
there are always times in my life when i am asking someone to remember me in prayer, or mostly to remember my family if we are going through a hard time.

for whatever reason, i just thought i'd report for those of you who are praying for me (us?) that for today, it feels like they are working. i feel almost "normal" today, and for that, i am thankful.
Martha2

I think there's a fair chance we may be on the same wavelength.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Quick Book Reviews

MURDER ON THE IDITAROD TRAIL by Sue Henry
Only the toughest and the most able come to compete in this annual torturous test of endurance, skill, and courage. Now, suddenly and inexplicably, the top Iditarod contestants are dying one by one in bizarre and gruesome ways.
I found this more interesting for the explanation of what it is like to run the Iditarod race. The details of taking care of the dogs, what the mushers endure, and how the race is set up are the thread that takes us through the story. The mystery and writing were average. I won't be checking out another by this author for that reason.

FRIED CHICKEN: An American Story by John T. Edge
John T. Edge weaves a beguiling tapestry of food and culture as he takes us from a Jersey Shore hotel to a Kansas City roadhouse, from the original Buffalo wings to KFC, from Nashville Hot Chicken to haute fried chicken at a genteel Southern inn.
You have to be interested in both food history and reading about fried chicken to like this book. I fit this description and found this little book very enjoyable. Edge has a comfortable, conversational style and provides 15 recipes to go alone with his voyage of discovery. I liked this enough to request the next in this series, "Apple Pie," from the library.

Pride and Suffering

GENESIS 3:16-19
The punishment meted out to Adam and Eve seems severe. What about another chance? It turns out that human suffering is that second chance. All Adam would have had to do was to cry out to God for help from the serpent. Yet he didn't. Catholic Scripture Study looks at this using the example of a good parent who must punish their child to get them to save them from a greater ill.
That singular act in the Garden-crying out for God's help-would have altered the course of human history. Why? Because it would have given expression to the life God's grace intended man to live. Man's faith would have prized the unseen God as his greatest good, no matter how intimidating the serpent or how appealing the fruit. His cry for help would have meant humility and obedience. Instead of love for God, man chose self-love. In his pride, there was silence.

Is it any wonder, then, that God allows a measure of suffering to overtake the human creatures? When they lost God's grace, and spiritual blindness set in, they would need some strong incentive to choose to do what they were originally designed to do-put themselves into God's hands, no matter what. Suffering, then, means that God has not given up on His human creatures. He wants them to run into His arms, as every good father delights in the love and trust of his children. He will do whatever it takes, even if it means playing the ogre, to provoke His children to cry out to Him. If Adam and Eve have lost the grace of God in their lives, a loss they will pass on to their progeny, then this kind of suffering and misery, still with us in the world today, is the greatest act of love God could bestow on them and us. Anyone who suffers has an opportunity to experience his own frailty, powerlessness, and desperate need for God's help. One cry will change everything.

The Complete Bible Handbook points out that the Jewish understanding of The Fall is about as opposite as you can get from the Christian view.
Judaism does not see in the Genesis story the "Fall of Man." It may be that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, but God stayed in conversation with them. Seeking wisdom and distinguishing between good and evil become essential human attributes. Toiling for food and suffering pain in childbirth are the prices paid for knowledge. For Judaism, if there is a "fall" in Genesis, it is a fall upward into new opportunities of responsibility and achievement. Christians see a radical fault that affects all subsequent humans. The fault of the first Adam has been dealt with by Jesus, who as the second Adam, brings redemption to the world.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

HEIFER INTERNATIONAL
Since they received goats from Heifer, the members of Zambia's Evergreen Women's Club have been able to provide life-saving milk for their children, grow valuable crops to support their families and help their neighbors support themselves.

Lilly Daka, a group member and mother of 10, says her children were thrilled to get their goats, "After the goats, there was such an excitement in the house and enthusiasm to look after them. The offspring have given us milk and improved the appearance and health of our children."

The women are also using their Heifer skills and training to raise healthy animals. Justina Nawa, a group member, says, "HPI has educated us on how to keep the goats. I now assist my neighbors. I have passed on the gift of knowledge and advised them about ... medicine to care for their diseases."

In addition to caring for their families, the women are caring for the environment. They're using goat manure to grow crops so they don't damage the soil with chemical fertilizer. According to Justina, "We have been taught that when we use chemicals we destroy the soil and with manure it is healthy."

Through their hard work and commitment, the women have gained a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. They're passing on their gifts to help other families in the community become self-reliant.

Lilly is moved by the opportunity to give to her neighbors, "We are so excited to Pass on the Gift to another family. I still follow up and visit them as we have become friends. ... They are now part of my family."

This is one of my favorite charities. Heifer International donates livestock like pigs, ducks, chickens, water buffalo or ... heifers, of course. The communities learn to care for the animals, make money from the eggs, milk, etc., and then pass on offspring to other needy families and communities to help them in turn. It is a self-sustaining process that improves lives and gives new hope. If I don't know what to give someone, they often get a card telling that a gift of honeybees has been given in their name. Check out this very worthwhile cause.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The Bible, Is There Anything It Can't Do?

The second divinely authored meditation book is Sacred Scripture. Splendid as are the marvels of our universe all the way from the incredibly tiny to the vastly enormous, and all that lies in between, far more awesome and enrighing are the truths of divine revelation. The Author of these two books has made nothing boring or prosaic [the first book being nature, as mentioned in yesterday's post]. Boredom comes not from reality but from people who are only half alive. The truths of this second source can be read from Scripture itself, from any solid theology book or biblical commentary, from the lives of the saints, and from the best spiritual reading, mainly from the classics. For example, you have noticed in this primer references to "CCC", the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for further developments of what we are describing in these pages. This single volume has literally thousands of mediation subjects full of grace, truth,and beauty. Rich mines are available for the asking. It is up to you to take advantage of them. (Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, S.M.)

It is impossible to say how very deeply I feel that Scripture is indeed God's living word. As mentioned in previous posts, my "Bible flip" experiences went a long way toward proving that very thing. Even without that frame of reference I think that Dubay is correct in pointing out what a rich resource Scripture is for meditative prayer. Someone last weekend said that a friend of theirs claimed the Bible as her favorite book. "It's got everything," she said, "Humor, drama, sex, romantic love, nobility ... " I hadn't thought of it that way but it is so true. It qualifies as the perfect "desert island" book.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

God's Everyday Cathedral

...we said a few words about input for reflection. A bit more needs to be added. God is the author of two books that bountifully provide numberless topics for pondering: the book of created reality, our awesome universe, and the inspired book of the Scriptures. First, creation. If one delves deeply enough into it, every reality in our cosmos is seen to be splendid beyond our wildest expectations: a grain of sand, an atom, a living cell, a leaf, a bird, a star, a galaxy. It is no exaggeration to say that each of these things is astonishing. Always we find that the more we discover, the more we find endless vistas of what we did not expect and more of what we do not know. Scientists constantly experience this phenomenon. If we are vibrantly alive to reality, we learn that there is no end to what can and should trigger awe, wonder, praise, thanksgiving, and love. (Prayer Primer: Igniting a Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, S.M.)
I always have been drawn to nature and this is just a natural extension of what I experienced in the country this weekend. I really can't improve on what Dubay says here. It's a perfect expression of my feelings.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Back from Retreat

The retreat was wonderful. There wound up being 13 of us and I knew only 3 really well. It was such a pleasure to get to a deeper level of friendship with the others who I already admired from monthly Prayer Meeting attendance and CRHP weekend support. There also was a group of kids and youth ministers there from a Garland parish (near Dallas) for a confirmation retreat. These kids were really nice and it was truly inspirational to see their level of involvement in worship when they graciously invited us to share their evening Mass.

We had a lot of time to be in solitude with nature, which I think I remember Steve Bogner at Catholicism, spirituality and holiness mentioning from a week or two ago. I haven't been to the country for a long time and it was luxurious to be able to wander through paths in the woods looking at God's creation. When we did the Stations of the Cross outside as a group it was a totally different experience than I had ever had when doing them in the usual Friday setting in a church. Nature really is God's everyday cathedral and I am so glad that I went if only to be reminded of that fact, even if it DID take a two hour drive to get there!

I felt I had been called to this retreat for some reason and that was dramatically revealed in three parts. I won't mention any specifics here other than to say I am at this point pondering just how to pass on the message I was given for someone else. Weird sounding I know but very clearly this is what I am to do.

The other pleasure came when I returned home. I was ready to gladly serve my family by grocery shopping, washing clothes, cooking dinner, etc. When I came home it was done. The house was clean, all chores were done, Rose cooked dinner (chicken in mustard sauce, mmm mmm good!), and one of the dogs had been pining away until I returned. What else could I ask? It was a very generous and kind gift given to me by my loving family

Then to top it off, my blogging "gang" of Julie M., Alexa, Rebecca, and Kalanna had been doing some round robin impressions about blogs they read regularly. It was like a little gift in itself to read what Julie M. had written about this blog (ok, ME!). Thanks gang!

Now I'm renewed so it's time for me to remember the message I was given before I left to give, give, give. I got a call tonight that gave me that very opportunity. Just as I was turning over in my mind the idea that answering this request was not going to be very convenient for me, "give, give, give" echoed through my mind. I remembered that it was the things that weren't convenient that were the occasions for such giving. So I quit looking for excuses, did what I was asked and did it GLADLY by the way, and was blessed in the process. When will I learn that is so often the case? Guess I just have to keep on getting these reminders.

Once again, my kind and loving family also gave ... cheerfully letting me go out into the night for a couple of hours for this task. How I am blessed. God is good.

The Consequences

GENESIS 3:7-15
This is the scene when God comes calling and Adam and Eve hide from Him. I almost could laugh at the whole "blame game" they play, pointing fingers at everyone but refusing to take any personal responsibility. No one even says they are sorry at all. However, it is too serious to laugh at because this doesn't just affect them but all of us, which is still how it is when we sin today. Also, just as today, is the fact that God already knows what they have done. He is giving them a chance to redeem themselves by confessing their sins. He doesn't need their confession. It is for their benefit. What a shame that they didn't take advantage of that chance. Even today we fall into the same trap. I think that is why Reconciliation is such a wonderful sacrament. There is nothing so wonderful as being able to face up to your sins, confession and being forgiven, as well as being strengthened for future struggles against temptation.

The surprise for me in this segment of study was realizing that when God tells how the devil will be defeated, He is deliberately choosing the most ignominious way to do it. What could be worse than knowing you will be put in the power of those you despise as the devil does humans? This is when we see what is a major theme of Genesis: God does His work through reversals. As before, Catholic Scripture Study has more information.
... a battle already existed in the rebellion of Satan against God. The difference now is that God is gong to extend the battle to include the human beings. Initially, the humans had been targets of the devil's wrath against God. But now God is going to enlist the humans on His side. Could the serpent have possibly imagined this incredible twist? It is the first great reversal in the story of man. From this point on, reversal will be the underlying theme of our human history. Pause now to think carefully about this. However we come to understand ourselves and our world, we must get this one truth firmly in place--God does His work through reversals.

Remember the contempt for the humans that filled the serpent, infusing that deadly conversation he began with Eve? The devil despised Adam and Eve. They must have looked like such dupes to him. He decided he would strike out at God by striking out at them. He made patsies of them in short order. They appeared to be weak links in the chain. So, when God announces that the serpent, as his punishment, will face a battle with human creatures, the woman and her seed, in which he will be defeated, it is a crushing, mortal blow to his pride and arrogance. We need to linger long enough to let it really sink in. Whatever the devil attempted to rob from humanity-our life, our dignity, our exalted position in God's family-is more than made up for in the punishment meted out to him. God will vanquish His enemy through human beings!

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Tracking Down Mary

There was once a fourth famous Virgin of Chartres; a silver image crafted in the thirteenth century. She no longer exists, though a depiction ofher may still be seen in one of the windows, where a pilgrim is shown praying to her. Her story proves that vandalism is not exclusively the province of revolutionaries.

This Virgin was greatly venerated in the Middle Ages; indeed, she held the place of honor above that altar. Yet at some point her popularity went into decline ...

For the next two centuries she forged on, doing her best despite reduced conditions. But then came the debt crunch of the 1760s. The canons of the cathedral went casting about for any little scrap of gold or silver. In a note signed April 6, 1769, Germain Blonnie, a goldsmith of Chartres, acknowledged receipt of twenty-four livres for "melting down the Christ and the Virgin of the old altar." The little silver Virgin had been turned into ingots to pay for Carrara marble ...

It is horrifying to think that an image that had received so many prayers over the centuries could be so blithely destroyed. Then again, the Church could reply that works of religious art are intended to be not receptacles for prayer, but windows to a higher reality; that one prays through, not to, an image. A statue of Mary is not Mary, and maybe it's better to melt down the images from time to time before they turn into idols.
An avowed atheist, Ward indulged his long held desire to walk on pilgrimage in going to various Marian shrines throughout Europe. In doing so he presents one of the clearest and most even handed views of pilgrimage and these shrines that I have ever read. He gives the history for each place, which includes Lourdes, Chartres, and Fatima. We then share his experiences in current day surroundings and see the many types of pilgrims that also are at these shrines. Atheist or not, Ward has an excellent understanding of the Catholic Church's view and is more open minded in many cases than some Catholics I know. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Cultural Differences

Talking with CF about colleges. She's a client and a friend with daughters who are slightly older than Hannah and Rose.

CF: So what is Hannah interested in studying?

Me: She's interested in zoology; maybe thinking of being an environmental scientist.

CF, eyes lighting up, instantly enthusiastic: Oh, that would be wonderful! Wouldn't you be PROUD for her to do something so worthwhile? That would really be a career to be PROUD of!

Me: *silent while trying to think of what to say, thinking, "What is she talking about?"*

CF: I mean THAT is something you could be so proud of! She would be doing something that makes a difference!

Me: *feebly doing my best* Well, she'd be very practical. It would be good to have someone in that field who is down to earth."

CF then goes on to talk about her daughter's possible career choice that would make her so proud.


So you get the drift. Tom was there too and we both were having real trouble wrapping our minds around why CF was so crazy about this particular career. It took a while for me to figure out the missing piece, why I didn't connect with CF, and then it hit: CF is Jewish. I guess sometimes those stereotypes ring true. When I remembered that I thought, "Oh right, my son the doctor..."

I thought it was interesting that CF actually DID care what particular career her daughter would choose and equally interesting that it never occurred to us to care about one career more than another. For Tom and me the ideal career is the one Hannah was meant for and the whole idea is for her to discover what that is. Admittedly I take this idea further than Tom but we both agree on the basics. It really never occurred to either of us to "steer" her toward one thing or another because it is a voyage of self discovery. If she's happy, fullfilled, and earning a living that's enough for us. Not to say that I wouldn't brag shamelessly if she was a brilliant scientist ... any regular HC readers know I already do that for much, much less.

I truly feel, however, that each person has their place in the plan. This was brought home to us when Tom and I had a date on Saturday and, after getting all "likkered up" on margaritas and Mexican food, went to Dillard's to buy ourselves some shoes. (Woohoo! Do we know how to have fun or what?) Not only does our Dillard's have the largest shoe selection in several states but they also understand that skilled salespeople make a difference. We left that store and Tom said, "That is like the Stepford department store ... it's the perfect store. All those sales people were so good!" Part of the secret was that I ignored the young sales people who were standing around chatting with each other, glancing at my scuffed loafers and rolling their eyes. I honed in on the experienced ones who were chasing down customers to make the sale ... which included great service, knowing the stock, and thinking about the customers' needs. If Hannah or Rose wound up selling shoes and were as good at it as those people I'd be PROUD ... just as proud as if one becomes an environmental scientist.

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Monsieur Incroyable!

THE INCREDIBLES
I loved this movie. It is about a family of super heroes in a time when they have to hide all their talents because collateral damage lawsuits have made it prohibitively expensive for the government to allow them to be heroic. Not only is it in the best tradition of James Bond and super heroes but writer and director Brad Bird obviously knows and loves family life. Where else would you see Mr. Incredible and his wife, Elasti-Girl, racing to the rescue while simultaneously continuing an argument about domestic issues?

My favorite point was made several times and, indeed, was one of the main thrusts of the movie's message. In a world where everyone gets an award, where "graduations" are held in 4th grade so the kids feel special, where everyone must be acknowledged as "super," ultimately there is nothing left for everybody but the same level of mediocrity.

I can't remember which critic said this but this really is a movie for the parents where the kids can tag along. That doesn't mean the kids won't thoroughly enjoy it though. We saw it in a theater predominantly filled with tiny kids and they loved it. In fact, one of the things we all enjoyed most was a little boy who was so into the move that he would shout out comments to his mother, "Oh no, Mommy, what will they do now?"

This movie deserves every penny of the $70 million it made last weekend. That also makes me happy for Brad Bird whose excellent "Iron Giant" was abandoned by the studio practically before it got to theaters. He and Pixar deserve acclaim for combining originality, humor, suspense, spy spoofing, family values and "heart" in a movie that I liked better than anything else I have seen all year.

(Why the French headline? A tribute to my favorite villain of the movie, Bomb Voyage, who only spoke French and had mime face paint.)

Temptation and Response

GENESIS 3:4-5
We also are shown how Satan cleverly twists the truth, putting a "spin" on it to serve his own purposes. He makes his offer in such a way that Adam and Eve must have total trust in God to prevail. This makes it a little easier for me to understand Adam and Eve's behavior. I always wondered how anyone who got to walk with God every day could make such a choice. Well, we've all got weak spots, right? Once again, Catholic Scripture Study points me in the right direction to have a little more compassion for Adam and Eve who are looking the devil right in the eye and having to think on their feet.
They know what God has revealed to them to be good and evil, although they have not yet experienced it. The serpent suggests not that they shall experience evil (for where is the attraction in that?) but that they will be able to determine for themselves what is good or evil. This temptation strikes at the heart of their relationship with God. Can they trust God to be the only reliable authority about what is good and evil? Don't they want to figure it out for themselves?

John tells us that Satan "is a liar and the father of lies." Satan is adept at lying under the cover of partial or twisted truth. When he says "You will not die," there is a grain of truth in it. Adam and Eve do not die physically the moment they eat the fruit. Their death was a spiritual one, and, as we will see, it happened immediately. This characteristic of Satan-mixing a little truth with a lie-is what makes him so cunning and dangerous.

This is probably one of the most surprising things I read about Genesis ... that Eve wasn't alone when she was tempted. The use of second person plural in Hebrew makes it clear that Adam was there too. Holy Moly! That changes my view of the whole thing. It also is interesting because it shows the two ways we tend to respond to temptation ... taking action as Eve did or passive acceptance as Adam showed.
Because Eve turns and gives fruit to her husband, it appears Adam is right there with her in the garden. Some Bible translations are more specific: the NIV says she "gave some to her husband, who was with her." That is perhaps the only way to get across in English what is abundantly clear in the Hebrew. All the verbs the serpent uses are in the second person plural, indicating that he is speaking to more than one person. We are not told why Adam is silent. Given that he is in charge and sees it all happening, he should do something. Quite possibly the snake was intimidating, if not physically, then by the fact that he appears to have superior knowledge and contradicts God. Adam may be wondering where he came from -- why God didn’t warn him -- where God was at the moment -- whether the serpent was right, and whether he should do what it says because right now it looks pretty dangerous. Perhaps Adam perceives a veiled threat from the serpent when he assures Eve that they wouldn’t die if they eat the fruit. "No, eating it won’t make you die, but not eating it might." At the most basic level, the serpent’s challenge causes Adam to wonder whether he can trust God. And-like uncertainty does to us so often-he’s rendered speechless and unwilling to act ...

Adam’s status as child of God, husband of Eve, and keeper of the garden requires him to stand up in some way to the serpent, and he does not. He should have stepped in to defend his bride, the garden, and God’s name in whatever way that battle had to be fought. If the thought of that was frightening to him, he could have cried out for help from God: "Oh, Father! What do I do now?" Was he silent because he was calculating the cost of opposing the serpent? Did he think it might cost him his life, or, if not his life, at least some pain? Did he find no encouragement in the presence of the Tree of Life? God had said the only way he would die would be to eat of the forbidden fruit. Does he not trust God?

No, he does not. His trust in God dies when he encounters the serpent. He does not trust God enough to face down the challenger, whatever it might cost. Adam’s unwillingness to act, even if it meant suffering, left Eve vulnerable to the serpent. She is left to manage all on her own. She valiantly tries to make the best of it, but what effect does Adam’s silence and inaction have on her? Adam’s self-donation would have confirmed her in what she knew to be true about God. His living example of putting complete trust in God’s Word would have led her to do the same.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Friday, November 5, 2004

On Being the "Older Woman"

Elena at My Domestic Church talks about when she realized that she had become the "older woman" from Titus 2.
3: Similarly, older women should be reverent in their behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to drink, teaching what is good,
4: so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children,
5: to be self-controlled, chaste, good homemakers, under the control of their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
This made realize that I first felt like the "older woman" a year ago last May when I was in our CRHP team of about 30 people. It had a large proportion of unmarried, 20-something women. I was one of the oldest, which is pretty amazing since I was only 46 at the time. I was by no means the wisest of these wonderful women. However, because of the subjects that came up, I realized that I had some life experiences to share that many of them had not yet come across. Even though that team time is over I still find myself doling out advice in the same way (and every so often that advice was even solicited!). This is not a role I ever would have predicted for myself. It is not a role I have among mothers of college age or older kids but I now know so many young women that it comes up frequently. Elena's reflections are much deeper than mine especially I never really thought about it until reading her insightful post. I'm glad she was thinking about this and got it all on "paper."

Intimidation

GENESIS 3:1-3
To me a serpent is a serpent is a snake. But that is not the case in Genesis. I knew the serpent had a way with words but I never considered that part of his power of persuasion might have been a fearsome appearance or the fact that he directly bypassed the chain of command to strike at a weak link. Catholic Scripture Study tells us more.
The serpent is "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world." He is described as a great red dragon, with seven crowned heads and ten horns. In the heavenly vision from Revelation, the crowns and horns represent his tremendous power-he is a creature that strikes fear and dread into the souls of mere men. There are several treacherous or intimidating elements in this scene. To begin with, the serpent’s appearance is frightening. Even if he did not appear as the dragon of Revelation, it was certainly not as a common snake. In Hebrew the same word is used for serpent and dragon. It was a frightening figure in Hebrew thought. If you can’t imagine a dragon, picture a coiled rattlesnake, ready to strike.

Apart from his appearance, the serpent’s presence is intimidating: where did this creature come from? He also is treacherous in his words: he contradicts the only source of knowledge Adam and Eve have, the Creator they know as Father who has been nothing but good to them. And he is intimidating in his method: the snake, as one of the beasts, is presumably under Adam’s dominion. Yet here he is presenting himself as a creature with superior knowledge and information. Not only that, he completely by-passes Adam, who was in charge of the garden, speaking instead to Eve. He appears to be no respecter of authority-a usurper, in fact. Suddenly, things are not as they had seemed.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Apostleship

Both of the faces of apostolicity, what we are "sent" from and what we are sent to, are the face of Christ. An apostle is one sent by Christ to proclaim Christ, to complete his work. The church is the continuation of the Incarnation. What would Christ do in India? Look at Mother Teresa. What would Christ do in the Middle Ages? Look at Saint Francis. How would Christ theologize? Look at Saint Thomas. What would Christ be as a woman? Look at Saint Catherine, Saint Teresa.

What the Church is sent apostolically to do is to make saints, i.e., to make humans completely human. This phrase, completely human, is often misused today to mean its exact opposite, to reduce the Church's supernatural task to a merely natural one. But the Church betrays her mission and her Lord if she lets psychologists and sociologists who do not know Christ as her source dictate her end. We are sent to be completely human as Christ was, to love as he loved, not to be nice, not to "have a nice day", not to pitch in a little bit to help build what everyone else is building. No, we are sent with a distinctive task: to build an eternal kingdom, a different building. We live in two worlds, and we rightly cooperate in building this one too, but the Church's raison d'etre is not to be one more social service agency but to be the one and only ark of eternal salvation, to be Christ to the world. This includes social service and liberation of the poor. Christ healed some bodies, but as a sign of his essential mission to heal all souls. Christ loved and liberated the poor, but as a sign of his love and liberation of our spiritual poverty. His work in time was a sign of his work for eternity. Even Lazarus had to die again, but "he who believes in me will never die."

The apostolic Church is sent to be Christ to the world. This is not a comfortable thought. Eleven of the first twelve apostles were martyred. That is the norm. Christ himself says so: "If they hated me, they will hate you also." We are called "not to be understood, but to understand, not to be loved, but to love". When we love as Christ loved, we will find a cross as he did. If the world prepared no crosses for us, then we are not loving enough, not loving as he loved, not fulfilling our apostolic vocation. "Woe unto you when all men speak well of you, for so they spoke of the false prophets." The Church is a prophet-making organization, not a profit-making organization.
Peter Kreeft, Foundamentals of the Faith

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Can You Be Perfect?

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
If you want to see a great, feel-good movie that just happens to be about football, rent Remember the Titans. If you want to see a great movie that is football go see Friday Night Lights. It shows the relentless pressure to be perfect that is put on the high school players and coach by everybody in Odessa, Texas in 1988 ... and no doubt to the present day. I don't know how this director captured both the essence of football from the inside and the essence of small town mentality but that is what you experience when watching. It is gritty and at times unpleasant but drives home basic truths that are delivered by fabulous acting and editing.

Billy Bob Thornton was great as usual, playing the coach in an understated fashion that was very effective. We were really impressed by Tim McGraw's performance as a distinctly unsympathetic character and, not being country music fans, didn't recognize him as anything but an actor until the end credits rolled. My friend, Angie Bolling, was recognizable (to us anyway) as a booster wife sitting at the end of the table next to the coach (Billy Bob Thornton). She only had a couple of lines but it was fun to see her on the big screen. Most interesting of all was the fact that when it came to the "big game" ... and every movie like this comes down to the big game, doesn't it ... I had no clue who was going to win. That was something we all had in common. None of us had a clue which way the game would go. We were on the edge of our seats during the last part of the movie and you don't expect that from the typical sports movie.

I'm not sure I'll watch this movie again. Gritty, edgy movies aren't my preferred fare and I have to be "tricked" into watching by something like having a friend in them. However, it was well worth watching, provided a lot of conversation between all of us, and even generated a couple of catch phrases that may wind up permanently in our family repetoire. I highly recommend it.

The Creation of the Garden

GENESIS 2:8-17
Again, reading the information imparted by details makes me understand that I have not slowed down or given enough thought in the past to exactly what was being communicated. Did I notice that Adam was to till the land? Yes. Did I ever think about the implications of that statement? Of course not but perhaps this is my wake-up call to do a little more thinking when reading the Bible. There is a connection between this ancient story and the details of our every day lives that is undeniable. Except where noted otherwise, all quotes come from Catholic Scripture Study.

SENSUOUS BEAUTY
The garden was full of trees pleasing to the sight and taste. In other words, not only was man provided with what he needed, but he was also surrounded by sensuous beauty. The presence of unutterable beauty in the place where God meets man continued in the worship of Israel. The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold and heavenly sculptures (see Ex. 25:10-22). The vestments of the High Priest were studded with gems so that when he went into the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people, he was arrayed in "beauty and glory" (see Ex. 28:40). The Church's tradition of exquisite beauty in her architecture and art continue what we see here in Genesis. God intends for man to experience beauty in His presence. As St. Thomas Aquinas taught, man's senses are ordered to beauty.

TREE OF LIFE
The "tree of life" grew fruit that imparted life. Something man ate would enable him to live forever (see Gen. 3:22). It is the first occasion of a natural element signifying and making present a grace from God, immortality. We call these "sacraments." Understanding this scene prepares us to understand what Jesus said to His disciples in John 6:51: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever."

The Complete Bible Handbook gives a fascinating overview of the symbolism of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life, or the Cosmic Tree, is a symbol common in many ancient religions. In Judaism it is associated with the almond tree; the almond was used as the pattern for the cups, capitals, and flowers of the menorah. In the Bible it appears not only in the Adam and Eve story, but in the New Testament. The cross is associated with the tree of Life, mentioned again in Revelation (22:2). The Tree of Life stood at the center of the world (the Garden of Eden), and Christ's Crucifixion is said to have happened at the center of the world. The two trees of Eden (Life and Knowledge) are also reflected in ancient Babylonian religion -- the Tree of Truth and the Tree of Life, which stood at the eastern entry to the Babylonian heaven.

WORK
Mankind was not created simply to enjoy creation but to take care of it and work it, to make it productive. In the Garden, work was not a curse before the Fall. Sharing in God's work is one way in which we live in His image. At this point in Genesis, according to the Catechism, "work is not yet a burden, but rather the collaboration [co-labor-ation] of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation." (378)

FORESHADOWING
The need to keep or "guard" the garden makes one ask, "against what?" After all, this is Paradise, is it not? And haven't we just seen that God called all creation "very good?" This is a detail that should leave us on alert.

LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCE
Adam's not finding a suitable helper among the animals is for his own benefit. He will know from his own experience that while he is like the beasts of the field in many ways, he is different and set apart from them. What he needs in his helper is one equal to himself. Notice here that this kind of knowledge is something Adam reaches through his own experience. It is different from the knowledge that is revealed to him by God. God told him what to eat and what not to eat in the garden. It wasn't left up to him. Man's knowledge in the Garden was of two types: one was revealed knowledge and the other was knowledge obtained through experience and reason.

I strongly encourage readers to check out the entire lesson in Catholic Scripture Study. See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to all references used.