We’re free to enter our churches and worship during these so very holy days preceding the Incarnation of Our Lord.
We can receive Him: real food and real drink.
And we can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as often we feel the need to do so.
The ubiquitous fear has abated; we see one another’s faces now. Mostly.
I hope never to take these facts for granted. Because remembering: was it really two years ago, in that strange perception of time, feels both like just yesterday and decades ago.
And so I’m remembering when the churches were locked down.
Priests weren’t allowed to meet with their parishioners.
We couldn’t enter stores without a mask.
And I recall the many folks who looked askance at my friend and me as we walked the windy California beach with the dogs, unmasked.
Portions of the piece below were written just after we’d sold our Nevada home and moved to live fulltime in our small vacation home on the central coast of California.
Just two years later, we’ve moved again. To our surprise, we left California and, for me, a third move back to Texas. This time though, not to Houston but the lovely Texas Hill Country just outside of San Antonio, the most Catholic city in the country.
Texas, where the Governor refused to keep the Texas churches shut down.
Texas, where the word sanctuary’s meaning—sacred place— isn’t perverted by blind “progressive” mantras.
In my new home of California, the churches are closed again. Therefore, we are not able to see the simple beauty of the Advent wreath, purple vestments and candles on the altar. But no mind, I found the box containing my Advent wreath and candles and they are now displayed- for these weeks before Christmas have become cherished ones.
During my pre-conversion life, these weeks before Christmas were jam packed with parties, mostly work-related and therefore obligatory, along with shopping excursions to unearth novel gifts for people who did not need them. And planning vacation when the week of Christmas and New Year’s finally arrived.
The holiday held no religious significance to me. So when friends tell me they don’t want to attend church because they have no need for it, church is irrelevant to them. I understand. There was a time I felt the same way, occasionally quoted Nietzsche’s acerbic comment, “God is dead. He choked to death on theology.” Wholly oblivious to the wonder of the incarnation: …
The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good. to purify like by like. He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin.
He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first…
when attempting to explain to cradle Catholics-or to those who don’t yet know Him-what it feels like to belong…after years of searching for a faith that reeks of truth. One with rules. Not suggestions.
Even after all these years, I need to reign in the passion to speak and write coherently about before…and after.
In a conversation with a good friend the other day, I paraphrased CS Lewis while explaining why I thought we need church, religion, an association with a religious institution. I explained the sense I’ve had for most of my life that life is a series of battles. Only upon my conversion did I realize why: The Spiritual combat for which the gains or losses mean no less than everything.
Lewis learned what each of us does when we reject the faith of our fathers-and our mothers. We lose our way, get distracted, make stupid, silly-eventually, evil, choices. And spent the rest of his life explaining why Christianity is the only truth to be found. Like this wonderful anecdote from his book, Mere Christianity:
“In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, “I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”
Theology is like a map. (Italics are mine.)
Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused…
In other words, Theology is practical: especially now.
In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.”
but not executed practices like prayer. Not just our routinized prayers but actually talking to Jesus.
Isn’t that what prayer is?
A conversation with God?
Believing that He loves his creatures, all of them, even the weak, flawed and most pitiful of sinners. Which is all of us. All seven and a half billions souls whether in or out of church. Even you and me. Trusting Him enough to bring him our greatest fear, the one we tell no one.
Elizabeth Mitchell’s two-year-old article is worth a reread. She begins by discussing a young priest’s homily:
In clear and unequivocal tones, the young priest stated, “God wants to meet you at the point of your greatest fear.” Go, he explained, to the point of your greatest fear, in your mind and heart, and God will meet you there. When He meets you there, tell Him about the fear, and He will help you there.
Those words struck me in my core. I had to admit that although I had consecrated my life to Jesus through His Blessed Mother, and was on intimate terms with a number of saints, St. Thérèse of Lisieux in particular, I tended to avoid meeting God directly. I kept Him at arms’ length, in the safe and superficial distance.
What was it that I was avoiding?
And our best teacher? Mary: The teenager who was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. She who instructs how to follow her gift of never going astray.
Hope, author Mitchell declares, is the antidote to fear. My friend Meg, whose Mom died this past week told me, “Mom no longer needs to hope. She knows, she’s there—with Him!”
It’s when it’s the darkest when we need our mother Mary so deeply. Because she knows that darkness. Escaping in the middle of the night to Egypt holding on to her Divine Child. Not so long aftwerward, searching for the child Jesus, thought to be with their caravan. Three days, she and St. Joseph had lost Jesus. And then meeting her son on the way to Cavalry.
“St. Maximilian Kolbe, the great saint devoted to the Immaculate Conception whose Solemnity we celebrate on December 8th, declares, “Through holy obedience we actually become instruments in the hands of the Immaculate. . . . Our will is united to her will, as her will is perfectly united with God’s will.
And along with holy obedience, fierce hope in God is an attribute of the heart of Our Lady. In his spiritual diary, In God’s Hands, Pope St. John Paul II writes of Mary’s virtue of hope: “Virgin Mary, no human connections, no human support. And therefore, Her hope is the greatest. At all stages of Her life. Under the cross, and especially later: She supported the early Church with this hope of Hers. And Her hope is kept within the early Church. To what extent do we participate in Mary’s hope?”
Hope and obedience. Meeting Christ at the point of our greatest fear. Radical courage.
In these days where there is so much, presumably, to fear, so many dangers, and so much doubt, we can turn to Our Lady and She will lead us to the Cross. Our Lord will meet us there, at the point of our greatest fear. He will listen. And He will hold our heart.”
The Catholic Thing