Monday, March 29, 2010

Stay With Me

(In which Michael goes on a theological wandering which may or may not be accurate in the eyes of those who are far wiser than he happens to be. Thus take it with a grain of salt.)

I now have two songs with that particular title in my ITunes Library. One is by Clint Mansell and appears in Darren Aronofsky's film "The Fountain" and is heartbreaking to hear. The other is a Taizé chant that I first heard at Catholic U on Holy Thursday when we moved the Blessed Sacrament from the Tabernacle in St. Vincent's over to the Altar of Repose in St. Paul's Chapel in Caldwell Hall. If the first song, without words, accurately captures a feeling of desperation an individual feels as the already almost impossible chance of saving his or her loved one becomes more and more eclipsed by the hard and terrifying reality of the situation at hand, the second one in 10 words nearly perfectly depicts what I can imagine Jesus feeling during the Agony in the Garden. This simple chant has been and remains part of what I associate with a fruitful Holy Week and Triduum.

Stay with me, remain here with and pray. It seems a very simple request. The Apostles come across as being pretty stupid, insensitive, and unobservant a whole lot of the time. And, you know, perhaps rightly so. It's hard to be attentive to the needs of somebody, even a loved one, when you don't understand what they are experiencing or why. Of course, in this case, the what is taken care of because Jesus reveals at least thrice that He's gonna be turned over and killed. Oh, silly Apostles.

I have at least three tangents here. The first is probably the one that I've thought about the most. There's a phrase we use in Catholicism: "Mystical Body of Christ." That'd be the Church (well, Augustine would call it the actual Body, actually, and Berengar changed everything, but let's ignore this history of the terminology for now). Paul talks about the Church being a body. Even in secular areas, we have Volunteer Corps, the Corps of Discover (that was a while ago, granted), corporations, and all of these have "Corp" as their root. "Body." There's a connectedness that goes beyond just amity, enmity, or general knowledge. Each component is a part of the whole, not quite a full thing on its own, though it has its own name. In the case of the Church, we have Christ as the head and we are a body IN Him. Pope Benedict made the assertion that Christ not only broke through the confines of death in His Resurrection, but He broke the barrier of "Other". Thus it was that the Holy Spirit came after He ascended and the Apostles shared in One Spirit. Thus it was that when the devout and fervent Jew Saul was knocked off his horse, the voice in the blinding light asked not, "Why do you persecute my followers?" but "Why do you persecute ME?" Thus it was that Jesus said in Matthew 25 "Whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me." Thus Blessed Theresa of Calcutta talks about seeing Christ's face in the poorest of the poor, Bonaventure blurs the distinction between Francis, Jesus, and each of us. It's thusly that in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick we look at those with injury and illness as sharing and being with Christ in His own suffering and that we, the rest of the Church, strive to be Christ the healer and supporter. It's because of this that taking Communion is both accepting Christ's sacrifice and agreeing, "Yes, I am a part of the Body of Christ." It's a cornerstone (at least in my mind) of sacramental theology, and beyond that, of what it means to be a Christian.

In that mindset, I have joked about how here in the Ciudad I have the opportunity to see the face of Christ every day in at least 35 different people. And every day I have the opportunity to tell Jesus that if he doesn't stop trying to pull my arm hair that for some reason fascinates him more than pretty much anything and do his homework, bad, bad things will happen to him. Joking aside, the opportunity is there for each of us in every day to be with somebody in their dark hours. People don't always let on, and you might not ever know that you've been there for somebody, but you'd be amazed what taking the split-second longer and mustering the emotional effort required to give somebody an authentic smile and greeting as you pass by can do. In my mind, the reality of life is that we are IN Gethsemane daily, both trying to cope with our own burdens and trying to remain with Him in remaining with others, even if it's just staying awake, or watching, or praying. Would that we had the awareness and the disposition to remain awake and to see who remains awake with us! Because in both ways, Jesus is there. Daily, though especially in the threshold of the holiest hours in the Liturgical Year, one can hear the heart-shattering plea of Christ in both His human self and in the members of His Mystical Body (everybody): "Stay with me, Remain here with me. Watch and pray."

The second tangent has a bridge in the first. Time is a funny thing. I find it interesting that people use the threat of Hell or a Final Judgment to get people to act in a better manner, that at the end of all things, some jacked Arian Jesus (to see the Upper Church of the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception tell it, that is) with an angry face will judge us. I mean, I am of the conviction that there will be end-times, that He will come and be Judge. But as incentive, I am not sure how I feel. The more I experience of time, the more I feel that time itself is incentive. The more it slips through my fingers, the more I see that the life of man on earth is no more than a passing breath, how it never goes as quickly or as slowly as I want it to, how 7.5 months have already passed here, how even though I want time to move quickly so that the weekend comes I don't want my time here to come to such a quick end, etc., the more I realize that the only passivity I can afford is that of making myself disposed to listen to the Spirit that speaks insistently to my even-more stubborn and insistent and willfully deaf soul. Of course, that makes me question why I'm sitting on my butt for such a long time writing a blog post, but I'll ignore that for the moment and you can call me out on hypocrisy later, dear reader.

Regardless, I feel like what Jesus says about the Kingdom of God is right on (I mean, I guess it would be, believing that Jesus is, you know, the 2nd person in the Trinity): The Kindgom of God is AT HAND. The question is taking the time to live in the now, realize that the present is the canvas for painting the future, refining the past, and a picture in and of itself, and whether we choose to listen to the Spirit (this also involves learning how to listen) and the voice crying out "Stay with me!" It is now, and whether we take the time to have our eyes open to what the now entails (as far as we are able) in large part determines whether we live in joy and hope or despair.

The third tangent...deserves its own post, perhaps to be posted during Triduum. It's to much its own thing and this post is far longer than I intended, anyway. Happy Semana Santa, I hope it is a fruitful time for all of you.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Intimacy of the Spiritual Variety

Please note that the following is not directed at any individual, nor is it the aim to condemn those who think differently or disagree with opinions expressed during this musing, nor am I seeking to be an apologist. It is honestly just the result of reflecting these last couple of days.

So in community the other night, we started talking about reconciliation, which, being Lent, is appropriate to discuss. Canon Law says that the Catholic individual is obligated to confess serious/mortal sins once a year, preferably during Lent, due to the appropriateness of confessing sins during the season of pruning. It recommends that the faithful also confess venial sins once a year at least, but it's not a requirement.

I remember in high school how I was scared to death of going to confession, and it didn't matter which priest was hearing it. My parents had me go, and I'm thankful for that now, but I remember that at the time I really didn't like it. If it was a priest from Jesuit (my high school) hearing my confession, he knew me and I didn't want to be spilling my guts in front of somebody who, though they're supposed to have everything under the seal of confession and not talk about it, I couldn't help but think would think of me differently and let what I let slip affect the way that they treat me. If they were a stranger, I was awkward and self-conscious and didn't want to be confessing to a total stranger. Why should I tell them stuff, from my actions to my failings to my thought processes, let alone become vulnerable to them? Thus it was a very guarded individual who entered the confessional once a year to talk about some things that bothered him but couldn't bear to actually share what was such a burden to his soul, who dared not daring to ask the questions about the faith and about life that were plaguing his insecure teenage mind.

When I got to college, I went on the Freshman Retreat. There was somebody there who said that they really, really, really didn't like confession and didn't feel guilty for what others considered sins. This didn't make me judge them, but it did make me do some self-reflection. The retreat was beautifully done, the leaders so earnest in their belief and their praise. A whole score of priests had come from over an hour away for a paltry 3 hours to hear the confessions of the mass of freshman that had assembled. In a rare moment of clarity, I decided that I didn't want the secrets I had kept for years weighing on me for any longer. I didn't want to consider past actions or thoughts wrong, because that would be so much easier, but the fact of the matter was that my conscience wasn't willing for me to ignore it without torturing me. As much as I was loathe to talk to another person about my sins, I was more loathe to feel like I was living a life that wasn't mine (I didn't kill anybody or anything dramatic like that). So I stood up from my kneeling and marched over to confession. And I confessed to Fr. Bob, the university chaplain, whom I'd certainly see again and with whom I'd definitely interact in the future, but he was the one to talk to, I knew without question. I'm glad I did. He assured me that if not for the grace of a priest hearing confession, he was bound to forget my confession due to the large number of people who were confessing. My fears were allayed....for a while.

I started going to confession more regularly. I started being more open. I would consider this my period of coming to take the faith as my own, I suppose, so it was new to me. After a while, when I kept on confessing the same things over and over again, I began to become worried about having the same priest. I usually confessed behind the curtain, and there wasn't really any chance of them recognizing my voice, but even so.

There's another struggle I have, which comes from confessing face-to-face, and that comes from the fear I mentioned earlier: I don't want somebody with whom I have a relationship of some sort hearing my greatest shortcomings. Sometimes the fear is that this person will put two and two together and ask me to change something in my life, because I'm stubborn, proud, and cowardly, which means that I'm okay confessing my sins as long as I'm not inconvenienced or needing to grow. Sometimes it's just shame at being so gosh-darn human and having to admit it, really admit it. As such, I'll sometimes opt to go to a priest I don't know and I probably won't ever see again.

But I guess that this is where intimacy comes in. I won't pretend to be an expert on the sacrament, but I do know that Christ is present in a special way in the priest hearing the confession. I think that this discomfort I have of sharing my secrets, my incredible weakness, and just how human I am...well, that's natural. Trust is scary. Trust is tough. Trust sometimes leaves a bitter taste in our mouths, and that's in mild cases of trust being broken or manipulated or ridiculed; it can be destroying when people let us down and hurt us. It's a special thing when one can find somebody whom they totally trust. Sharing the good things is easy (not to say it's not beautiful), but sharing what is bad in our lives, whether it be what we've suffered at the hands of somebody else or what we've done to ourselves or to other's so incredibly frightening but so incredibly beautiful to take that which we find almost more essential to our self-ness or who we are (I feel there's a reason we use "personal" to describe these experiences) and place it in the hands of another, and for the other to take it and accept the sharer. It's transforming. It can help the sharer see that there's something else to their person (if they had that problem).

Like I've said, I'm not a Reconciliation buff, so I should add in my disclaimer that this might not be in line with the Church (though hopefully not heretical). But when I pray, even if I'm telling God some personal stuff, I make God abstract on purpose. It's easier to talk with a source of and sustainer of all life or a bodiless being or something that's so far beyond my understanding that I can't hope to comprehend the smallest portion of its infinitude than it is to converse with a living, breathing, tangible human being. It's a lot less...personal. It's not intimate. But then I have to remember the lovely event known as the Incarnation. And then I have to say, "Aw, shoot, God's been wanting that personal relationship." I can't really think of any other reason for it, you know? Well, I can, but it's one of the huge reasons, I think. So I've been running away from God's call for a personal relationship.

Should I confess to the same priest every time? Not saying I should, but I need to look into my reasons for choosing the same priest or not. Because Christ is present in all of them, but I can choose to acknowledge Him there or not.

I guess, in a nutshell, intimacy is tough for me, but worth it, both on the social and the spiritual planes.