Thursday, May 31, 2007

Holy Longing

I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." Therese of Lisieux

A few weeks ago a friend posted this> link about a book written about a former priest, who (brace yourself) “left the Catholic clergy in 1971 to marry Jackie, a former nun.”

My thoughts went immediately to two men of my own acquaintance …

One of them left seminary in the 70s, halfway through, and married a dear friend of mine. The two of them have since been actively involved in parish work, leading group after group of “lost lambs” (myself included) into the fold of the Good Shepherd and His Church. Both of them are eager to see a time when the Church does away with the “celibacy requirement” for her priests. However, whenever they voice this opinion (it seems to crop up when I’m around), my mind immediately returns to an encounter with a certain Jesuit priest I know.

I met this man for the first time as he was about to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination. He had spent much of that time as a seminary professor, raising spiritual sons who would follow after him. During the interview, I asked him if he had always wanted to be a priest.

“No, not at first,” he replied softly. “There was a young woman, you see, who I loved very much…” His eyes grew soft, remembering.

Fiona was a very good girl. But I was resigned to be a priest, and I never doubted that this was God’s will for me. Before Fiona entered the convent, I wanted to marry her. I knew this wasn’t what God wanted for me. Still, I bargained with God, “Now let me marry Fiona, we can have ten children who can be nuns and priests.” But He didn’t take me up on it, and I understood what God wanted me to do. I would be a priest.

God said to me, “Do you love this girl, you want to be with her? You love her, and always want to be with her? I want you to give her back to me, and I will be your love. I am infinitely more loving, I love you more than she could ever love you, I know you through and through. If you will accept me as your love, I will give myself – all that I am – to you.”

What I had for Fiona was a selfish love, a self-indulgent kind of love. I enjoyed being with her because it made me feel good. But it would not be that way for me. There would be no emotional, no physical consolation. “You will serve me – I will teach you to serve me – with a true love, without those sensible pleasures.” And so I said yes, and I received such grace. I was accepting in the dark, a life without any particular joy – that was how it was going to be.

When God let me know I was going to be a priest, I immediately wrote to Fiona and to my parish priest, telling them – I burned all my bridges, there was no opportunity to back out.

Fiona entered the convent the following September. Later, I had an opportunity to talk with her older sister, who told me about this Carmelite nun, Teresa of the Child Jesus, and urged me to read her biography. When I went to the library, I couldn’t find Teresa (of Avila) but I did find Therese (of Lisieux). I opened up “A Story of a Soul” and I began to read.

A shower, an indescribable shower of love and tenderness rained down upon me. I was just overwhelmed with feelings of tenderness and love. I had never felt this love of God in my heart before. In the book Therese said she felt a shower of graces coming down, and I knew that this is what I was experiencing.

When Father finished, we both had tears in our eyes. I did not doubt that he had suffered greatly – there is no pain greater, I think, inflicting pain on someone who loves you. But oh, what a prize he had won!

I think about Father L. often, when I hear of this one or that one who has retraced his or her steps along a pathway of intention. Sometimes it involves a broken promise, other times a broken heart … a shattered dream, or weak resolve. We human beings are frail creatures, and there are times when the moment comes and (God help us) like Peter we falter.

And then the cock crows.

In His mercy, God often redeems even the poorest of our choices in unexpected ways. He blesses us far beyond anything we have reason to expect. That’s just His way.

And part of that mercy includes never knowing the many blessings that might have been ours, that could have been others’, had we simply stayed the course.

Jesus once said to a would-be disciple, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Just as a plow horse wears blinders (only God, the Great Sower, sees infinitely ahead), we must orient ourselves always toward the present. What is God asking of you now?

In this moment, there is grace enough for the next step. But if you break your focus, if you set your sights either backward or too far forward, disordered longings can grip you and keep you from embracing all God wants you to have and do, right now. Have you ever experienced this?

I have. I remember a time about three years ago, when it looked as though our foster children (who had been with us over two years) were going to be returned to their birth family. I spent three days in bed, unable to cope with the prospect of losing them. I let myself get too far ahead … and it paralyzed me. For those three days I stopped plowing, straining vainly to see (and yet fearful of what I might find).

We do it all the time, don’t we?

“If only I could be with _________, then I would be truly happy.”
“If only I could have ________ (a child, a spouse, a better job, a healing), I’ll never ask God for anything else.”
“If only I didn’t have (or had) __________, I could serve God freely.”

Enough. We must place these longings into the hands of our Heavenly Father, that we might be free for the work at hand. One day, one step, one furrow at a time, trusting that when the time is right, each of these longings will be fulfilled in infinitely better ways than ever we could have imagined.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Francis Beckwith, Cont'd

For those who have not yet read it, here is Tim Drake's excellent interview with the former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, whose reversion I recently wrote about on CE.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Courage to Be Catholic

Several years and another lifetime ago (when I was single), I used to attend CBA (Christian Booksellers Association Convention) each summer, to meet with authors. At the first convention I attended, shortly after I joined Servant, I was particularly nervous about one meeting -- breakfast with Elisabeth Elliot and her husband Lars. Elisabeth is a veteran missionary and evangelical radio personality, a revered spiritual icon in evangelical circles (My mother nearly fainted when she found out I had met Elisabeth. "Oh, dear ... you didn't tell her where you go to church now, did you Heidi?")

In point of fact, I had mentioned it -- but only after Elisabeth peppered me with questions until I couldn't evade them any longer. I wasn't ashamed of being Catholic, but I was a bit nervous about the possibility that Elisabeth might lecture me (like so many others had) about turning my back on the "faith of my fathers." In the eyes of this great faith warrior, I did not want to look like a slacker. And so, I decided not to bring up the subject. Anyway, I told myself, it's not like someone as famous as Elisabeth Elliot would care two bits about my little story.

I was wrong. We had just settled down over our pancakes when Elisabeth opened the conversation with, "So ... you haven't always been Catholic, have you dear?"

That mouthful of pancake was thoroughly masticated before I responded, cautiously. "Why do you ask?"

"You mentioned that you used to work for Bethany House, and they are certainly not a Catholic publisher."

Still I hesitated... A little impatient, she continued. "Do you know my brother, Thomas Howard? He entered the Catholic Church some years ago. I only wish I had his courage."

I nearly choked. This comment from a woman who had courage enough to set up housekeeping for herself and her daughter among Aucas of Ecuador, the very Indian tribe who had martyred her husband and their associates in cold blood. Not only was this august personage not going to scold me, she admired the decision I had made to enter the Church, as her dear brother had! After she had sung the praises of the Catholic Church for several minutes, I worked up the nerve to ask Elisabeth why she did not follow in her brother's footsteps.

"Cowardice, I suppose. My listeners and readers simply would not understand."

That, I understood. I understand it even better now, in light of the recent hubbub surrounding the reversion of Dr. Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society. Despite the fact that it meant losing the respect and fellowship of his colleagues, not to mention his livelihood, Dr. Beckwith's courageous position was unequivocal: unless there is a serious theological reason not to, the default position of every believer must be to belong to the historical Church founded by Christ.

Why? In his book The Night is Far Spent, a collection of essays by Thomas Howard newly published by Ignatius Press, Dr. Howard offers five reasons for this "fallback position," which he outlines as the five "marks" of the church: her antiquity, authority, unity, liturgy, and sacraments. He writes:

What is at stake here is the rock-bottom question as to what worship is, and how you do it.... [W]orship is the thing we were created for -- to know God, and knowing him, to bless him and adore him forever....

To worship God is to ascribe worth to him. It is an activity distinct from teaching, and from fellowship, and from witnessing, and from sharing. It is an act, not an experience. ... Our task in worship is to offer the oblation of ourselves and our adoration at the Sapphire Throne.

Obviously this is a daunting and an august task. Fortunately we are not left to our own resources, nor to the whim of the moment, nor even to our own experience. The faithful have been worshipping God since the beginning, and there is help for us. All of us, even those of us who come from the so-called free churches ... are accustomed to borrowing secondhand, canned words to assist in worship. I am speaking of hymns. When we sing "Amazing Grace" or "O, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing," we are borrowing John Newton's or Charles Wesley's words. And we discover that, far from cramping or restricting our worship, these secondhand words bring us up to a level quite unattainable by our own spontaneous efforts. They take us away from ourselves. (p.254-255).

These reflections on worship contrast strangely with the protestations of many of those who leave the Church for what they perceive to be greener (certainly noisier) pastures. "I feel closer to God there ...," they say, or "the people are so much friendlier, and they have more to offer in the way of children's programs." Thinking they can choose a church the same way we can choose a new school or a new home, they rely on subjective factors of preference and comfort, rather than the single most important consideration of all: Which is the most authentic expression of the Body of Christ as He originally envisioned it? Not, "which is more entertaining?" but "Which leads me with surest steps along the pathway to holiness?" Not, "Which makes me feel good?" but "Which is most effective in treating my spiritual ills?" Not "which has the best music," but "which draws me closest to the sacramental presence of the Living Christ?"

Can you enter heaven without professing membership in the Catholic Church? Yes, the Church has always taught that there is hope for those outside her "visible boundaries" -- a hope that is based on the treasury of truth and faith that has been preserved by the Church for two thousand years. In the same way, a group of tourists who fall off a cruise ship hope that the lifeboat that has been tossed down will save them. The lifeboat (part of the equipment of the larger ship) may indeed save them; but how much better if they had never fallen overboard!

Holy Spirit, pour out your restorative presence among your people.
Unite us once more, we humbly pray,
with all our brothers and sisters in the faith,
for the glory of God and the benefit of all.

For the sake of His sorrowful Passion,
have mercy on us and on the whole world!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Gabriel is Home!

Received this message from Tom this afternoon.

"We Are Home!!!!!! Update to follow shortly....."

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Gabriel Update

This evening, a little boy 2 1/2 years old, Gabriel's room mate, was diagnosed with Leukemia, just like Gabriel. Only, unlike Gabriel, only his mother is here with him. The little boy can hardly talk at that age, but during the day while he was feeling bad and gloomy, he snuggled up with mommy and was fine all day. Then ... when the lights went out and midnight approached, the nurses came in to give him some meds following his chemo treatment and he cried out, "Daddy! Daddy!"
But no daddy was there. Only a scared little boy and his mother who could not provide the strength and security that only a father could in that situation, no matter how hard she tried.

What happens to a society when men are absent? What happens to the children? Where have all the warrior fathers gone? Where are those white knights God created men to be? Where are these Soldiers of Christ, these warriors for the Kingdom, these protectors of the innocent? To use a military term, in most cases, they are AWOL (Absent With Out Leave). This is a violation of article 86 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, punishable by death during wartime. But, I guess that is not politically correct, is it....?