Thursday, February 21, 2008

Turning a corner

PJP said it perfectly at Recovering Our Catholic Patrimony (aka RCP): "I’ve been in La La Land lately, letting Lent take me by surprise and excusing myself by blaming a self-induced dark night." I have never been so utterly blasé, or at least not felt so, about Lent in my now nigh-eleven years of being a Catholic. Even in the years when I was busying myself with being a less-than-serious Catholic Lent meant something to me and I at least gave it a good college try.

This year? I've felt, since the beginning of Lent, like I'd been kicked in the teeth, left out to dry in the sun and shiver in the cold. Not the heart-wrenching, gut-twisting pain of rejection but the equally crushing emptiness of utter disinterest. I knew Lent was passing me by and if I kept at it I'd completely miss Easter too, but no matter what I tried I just couldn't get myself to get after it. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours I'd find myself at the end of a Psalm not even remembering what I'd just read; praying the Rosary I'd snap to and realize I had no idea even which mystery I was supposed to be contemplating. Being every inch the American that I am, I was sure that if I just stayed at it and did more, harder, longer I'd get back in it - or maybe I would Rambo myself into it, getting so peeved that I ripped down the walls with my bare hands and pulled everything out in the end. Maybe even with big explosions in the background just for giggles.


That's not how it works, now is it? Nope, not one single bit. Nobody gets to storm the walls of Heaven and climb over. The door is simply opened for you, if you'll but walk in.

This morning, I know not why, God decided - as I said in the comment at RCP - to apply some 2x4 theology squarely to my cranium. I think he got a good sliver lodged in my soul while he was at it too.

Why is it we have to learn the same lessons over and over again, even the ones that we ourselves teach others - sometimes even while we are teaching others that very lesson? I don't entirely know; perhaps it's because, as we so often jokingly say, God has a peculiar sense of humor (which, being God, it would have to be peculiar in the sense of "distinct from all others" since there is indeed only one God). More to the point, however, is the simple fact that even those of us who help educate others in the faith are still sinners with an incomplete grasp of what's good for us. It doesn't matter how many times you say that last point if you don't really internalize it. And internalizing things was really at the heart of the whole thing.

To some number of people out there I'm seen as a sort of "leader" in how things "should" be done. Not, likely, anyone who "counts" in the big scheme of things, but there are those who look to my example no matter how much I might wish they didn't. And you know what? That's a darned hard thing to deal with sometimes. You find yourself doing things you once enjoyed and got a great amount of spiritual benefit from so that you can be seen doing them that others might be strengthened in their own path.

Before you remind me of the passage telling us not to do things that we might be seen, be honest with yourself - there is someone out there to whom you look up and lean on in some way as a guidepost. That person, more than likely, has figured out on some level that there is someone who watches them and unless they're a saint (and perhaps even if so) that knowledge weighs on them from time to time - sometimes pulling them forward when they would like to slack off, sometimes pulling them down by distraction. I've been told by some out there that they see an example in what I occasionally do, so they're out there whether I like it or not (some days I do, some days I don't ... and some days I do a little too much). The Lord knows I have not been a model to follow in the past few weeks.

For a reason as yet unknown to me God chose this morning to lift that veil. Strangely, for one so accustomed to long flows of words (exhibit A being the long winding path to get this far in this post) I'm not quite sure how to put it. Suffice it to say the message was simple: don't just say the prayer, live the prayer - rediscover that joy of truly active participation of your entire self in the prayer. Perhaps that sounds a little New Age-ish, but that's more from a lack of sufficiency on the part of the author than anything else. We are reminded in a most eloquent way in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass that active participation in prayer consists most properly in far more than the reading and recitation of words - we must bring that prayer into our hearts and present both the prayer and ourselves to God as an offering together. Merely reading, merely saying the prayer is nothing as compared to truly making it an offering.

The funny thing is, I've told people exactly this before, but for whatever reason it never sank in quite as it did this morning. Every day during Morning Prayer I try to imagine Zechariah proclaiming the Benedictus - sometimes I get close, sometimes, well, not so much. This morning, I knew the joy which burst the bonds of his tongue as he proclaimed "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel". Blessed indeed!

I have to admit - this corner-turning makes me a little afraid. Afraid because I haven't been given this kind of clarity in a long, long time. The last time this happened, well, the issue of vocation was involved. And if I'm hearing what I think I'm hearing, frankly, it scares the life out of me. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe this is just a light shone in my darkness, I don't know. At least I like long sleeves, so there is that. It's funny, because when I was contemplating the priesthood it didn't scare me at all; perhaps it's the wisdom that comes with age, but ... Lord, Thy will be done. I am, without question, without doubt, without qualification, unworthy of whatever it is to which you call me.