Nothing but everything will ever be enough

As I consider the events that I have been witness to during the last few years, it dawns on me that I suffer from a stubborn determinism of sorts. Though I have all kinds of evidence before my eyes that my life has been a constant moving toward someone, I find myself working very hard at trying to avoid the very someone whom I most need in order to be able to live.

As I type on my laptop, I sit at my work table in my home “office.”  My law degree came via messenger a couple of weeks ago and has been sitting there, inanimate, since its arrival.  I looked at it and felt a sense of accomplishment for about 27 seconds the day that it arrived.  And now the most I can muster when I look at it, is a mild (if not, sardonic) shrug.  Of course, waiting to find out if I passed the Bar exam is not helping matters.  Why is this the case?  Why so much emphasis on what I have done or accomplished?  The truth is that nothing that I do or accomplish will ever satisfy my deepest needs nor make me fully human (not to mention, happy).

I have spent the last decade or so of my life travelling to (and living in) many so-called “exotic” parts of the world.  I recall thinking one evening several years ago, as I was walking around the Old City in Jerusalem (one of the many places that I have “escaped to” so that I could busy myself and avoid these questions): I am just as dissatisfied here as I am anywhere in the world.  What will fill this need? And then I remembered that Christianity asks that question using “who” and not “what.” I certainly don’t think this a minor point—in fact, I’d say it is “the” point. At least this has been my experience over the years and even right now.  So thank goodness for this want.

I sit at my work table, pausing between words and phrases and look up at my window, where my blinds are presently closed.  It occurs to me that I should get up and open them so that I can look outside.  But I prefer to sit here and type and stare at my words hoping that somehow meaning will miraculously emerge from these, my words, and I will arrive at some “eureka” moment that will change everything.  And yet, the moment never does arrive…why is that? Nothing changes because, like my window blinds, I am not open.

For some, this existential angst is tiresome (not to mention just plain boring).  But I would be less than honest if I did not admit that for me everything (and I do mean everything) rides on not letting go of this desire for more.  But I must learn to distinguish the content and substance of this more from the mere thoughts in my head uselessly striving for that self-serving nirvana that will never arrive (and thank goodness for that) if left to my own devices.

Who I am looking for is outside myself and longs to be embraced. But recognizing this fact is not enough. And that’s when all I have left to say is “have mercy” on me and begin (again).


The opera isn’t over ’til the fat lady sings…

Where do I begin? The summer is not quite over but here I am, out of breath, and relieved that the Florida Bar exam is now a thing of my past (and let’s hope it remains there). The wait is in full swing. The Florida Supreme Court will release the results of the July 2015 General Bar examination on September 21, 2015. What do I do now? How about try finding a job? Oh, but wait, I can’t practice law until I am admitted to the Bar, so what to do? Good question.

The last few months have not been easy; hell, the last few years have not been easy. Law school was no picnic but preparing for the Bar exam was a nightmare. And now, it’s over. When I walked out of the Tampa Convention Center up “Tampa Street” (so I had no doubts about where I was) back to my hotel I felt relieved (like the other 3300+ people taking the exam with me).

But something else happened…I realized that I had been building to this moment for quite a number of years (most intensely during the last few months) and now, it was over. That’s it. She’s done. Each moment arrives after the one before it. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But as I walked toward my hotel I felt a sense of not only relief, but of absolute certainty. The certainty that some day the moment of my death will surely arrive. Years are quickly passing. My next birthday I will have to change the blog subtitle to a “fifty something lover of all good things.”

No one knows how or when her life will end. But I have the certainty that it is being moved forward by someone good. Someone who wants me now. Until that day, I keep moving forward, hopeful and curious. Or not. The choice is always mine.

May I be forever curious and forever hopeful. I have many reasons to be.

Almost but not yet

Nietzsche and his friends back in the day (F. Nietzsche is far right, with the mustache). They look to the horizon....

A friend of mine recently responded to an S-O-S type email I sent him.  In his response, he wrote something that made me pause and think for more than just a few seconds…. This friend wrote that another friend of his, who happens to be a Roman Catholic priest, reminded him on more than one occasion, that human beings “are (not have) pure desire.”  This priest told my friend that what finally drove Friedrich Nietzsche insane was the recognition that man is, at the heart of his very being, a creature that desires what he can never have because, as Nietzsche erroneously (and sadly) concluded, what man needs to quench his infinite desire does not exist.  No wonder Nietzsche went mad—to live with the notion that what (or who) one truly wants, can never be had, is utterly unbearable.  But what if Nietzsche had discovered he was wrong?  What if what ( or who) satisfied him completely and totally came to him and made its Presence Known?

This is the core of the Christian event—its very scandal.  Christianity is to believe the truly unbelievable was actually made flesh.   Being itself  became one of us—became a human that lived in a particular place and time, and even beyond it.  How different Nietzsche’s life might have been had he allowed himself even to consider this possibility.  I don’t know why Nietzsche never allowed himself to be open to this possibility.  I don’t know if his friends tried, at some point, to open his mind to the potentially mind-bending nature of this reality.  Maybe his friends weren’t able to because because they’d never had the experience of Being made flesh…because once you have hungered and satisfied that hunger with real food, you know what satiety means and the memory is never erased (though the hunger will inevitably return).  You can’t help but want more (and thank Being for that).

I don’t know anything about Nietzsche and his friends.  But I know a lot about my own experiences and circumstances.  I know that I spent many years trying to fill the void with stuff: clothes, other miscellaneous expensive things, handsome men, alcohol, whatever….  I even spent years (and might even continue doing so) trying to fill my life with ideas, books, knowledge, skills, languages, travelling, the next degree.  None of the things I’ve mentioned (in either list) are bad.  In fact, they are all wonderful—they all breathe life and living and I’ll never give them up.  It is the turning of these things (and people) into an end in and of themselves that is problematic—problematic because none of these things (or people) has ever brought me one iota of perpetual happiness.  In fact, like a toy that a child becomes tired of at Christmas, I have always moved on to something (or someone) new.  That new object (or person) then became the center of my affection.  And thus begins the never ending cycle of unrequited and unrelenting desire for more…beyond what I have in front of me.  Greener pastures are always in sight.  Or are they?

My gracious friend reminded that I am made for so much more.  The truth is that I am made for Christ—the master of the universe—because only He can fulfill all of my desires.  And how do I know this much is true? How can I be so certain?  I’ve met the God-Man and He’s called me by name.  I, too, looked to the horizon and the horizon came to me.  I might want to pretend this never happened, I might want to deny it a billion times over, I might even want to curse the heavens when circumstances become unbearable (or worse, inexplicable).  I might want to believe that He was a hallucination.  But you and I both know that the maps changed after those “damn” Europeans finally set foot on terra incognita.


Nothing has ever been the same since.

By reflectionsoncarnality Tagged

“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”–Edward Albee

 There are moments in life that are full of providential hopefulness.  I believe that I lived one of those moments today.

I had a difficult time getting to sleep last night.  As a result of my nightly toss and turn, I was quite tired this morning but got up and decided to put some order to my home.  When all my cleanliness-next-to-Godliness-obsessive-straightening-up was accomplished, I headed out to return an item that I purchased on a whim and decided that I didn’t need…so off to the store I went.

I tend to make lists on Post-It Notes© of what I am going to do.  My list earlier this afternoon read:  return useless item, pick-up package at leasing office, go to confession, walk on treadmill, and read for property class (the last two being accomplished simultaneously).  Somewhere between “pick-up package and confession,” I realized I was heading south instead of north.  Heading south was taking me quite a way off from where I wanted to be, so I did the all-American U-turn and headed in the right direction—a roadside metanoia-of-sorts.

As I did a 180º turn, I realized that while headed south, for about three miles, I was convinced that I was headed north—the direction that I needed to be going in order to arrive at my desired destination.    In fact, when it dawned on me that I was not headed north, I was blown away at my own credulity.  What is the matter with me?!?!  Then it hit me:  I am given freedom to head in whatever direction I choose to head in, but that does not mean that I am headed in the right direction.  In fact, more often than not, my own measure is in error.  I need an objective reality outside myself to guide me.

Following Christ is not about being good, following the rules, doing this and not doing that.  Following Christ is about heading in the right direction—towards Him—because He is the fulfillment of my happiness.  But I can only head in the right direction if I am headed in the right direction.  There is north and there is south.  North is not south—no matter how much I really believe that it is.  You get the idea.

Come and see.

The first chapter of the Gospel of John records that when Andrew and John heard the Baptist say, “Behold, the lamb of God,” they set off in hot pursuit of Jesus.  In fact, the evangelist was so impacted by the events of the day that he records the exact moment (around 4 p.m.).  In my mind, this has to mean that the witness telling the story had a before and after moment so poignant, he remembered every detail about it.  The impact of hearing the words from the hoped for Messiah, “What are you looking for?” elicited from Andrew and John the question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Jesus quips back, “Come, and you will see.”  That was it—they followed Him home and something amazing happened—so incredibly exceptional, they were hooked.  They had finally found the Source of all Good.

This is exactly what happened to me.  And it is an objective fact that I am free to deny, but choose not to (at least on most days).  Christ happened in my life and I have never been the same since.  I remember all the details.  I’d intuited His presence, wondered at His acts, was challenged by His call, but refused to recognize Him—until I finally did, because nothing short of absolute stupidity and anti-reason would have justified turning away.  I can even tell you where I was (in Madrid in front of the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium—how cool is that?) and who I was with (my good friend Nacho), when I finally had to recognize His presence or deny my very existence.

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Spain

My desire for holiness is born of that encounter.  Yet, I know that no matter how hard I try, I will never be truly good.  I can be honest enough with myself to admit that, on most days, I just don’t cut it.  And what is more, I don’t cut it because I don’t even want to (@#?!).  This is not some radical departure from grace in desperation of my fallen nature—this is merely an acknowledgement that He condescends to me, not in spite of my fallen nature, but because of it.  Hallelujah for that.

My desire is that the people that I love (and even those that I don’t) could recognize that Christianity is not about being good.  Christianity is about being fully human and paying homage to all that is in light of all that I am not—but have the potential to be—because He extended that initial invitation to come and see.

By reflectionsoncarnality

Forty-Six Plus One and Twenty-Three Years of Real Life

I doubt it looked this polished and clean. Some party....

I turned 46 years old yesterday.  The last decade, or so, birthdays seem to have come and gone without much fanfare in my life.  In fact, I didn’t actually celebrate my first birthday until I was 25 years old.  I remember a good friend threw a big pool party for me on the rooftop pool of her condo on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Good times.

In case you might be wondering why my first birthday party wasn’t until I turned 25 (my parents were good to me, no worries), I didn’t celebrate birthdays growing up because we were Jehovah’s Witnesses.  For some reason, JWs make a big deal of not celebrating birthdays because, according to their “theology”, the only examples in scripture of birthdays are of two “pagans”:  the Pharaoh, where the baker was hung because he didn’t tell the Pharoah what he wanted to hear (Genesis 40:20f), and Herod Antipas’, where John the Baptist lost his head because some girl we call Salome listened to her crazy mother (Gospel of St. Mark 6:21f).  Since my birthday fell on a Friday in Lent this year, I told my younger brother (who wants to celebrate with me because he no longer goes to the “Kingdom Hall” either) we could celebrate in style on Sunday.  I hope no one loses her head….

So we celebrate on Sunday, March 11, 2012.  My forty-sixth birthday, plus two days and the twenty-third anniversary of my mother’s death.  She died on March 11, 1989, just two days after I had turned 23 years old.  I had been taking care of her at Cedars of Lebanon down in Miami.  The cancer ward in that hospital allows relatives to spend the night and I did.  Mom would try to get up and go to the bathroom during the middle of the night.  The chemo had her a bit delirious.  Just thinking about those final days brings forth a series of very strong emotions.  I can’t even really express these thoughts without feeling an enormous amount of emotion.  The moment that I begin to put the words and images together, I get a big lump in my throat and my eyes begin to cloud up.


Dante's Purgatorio

I spend time thinking about her and wonder where she is right now…what she is doing, is she aware…did she go to purgatory or straight to heaven?  Stuff like that….  The truth is that I know that God has the last word and that word is mercy.  One of my favorite parts of the Mass is during the prayer for the dead where the priest says, “Remember those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead whose faith is known to you alone.”  (emphasis added; Eucharistic prayer IV)  I’ve always liked Dante’s definition of sin as something that arises out of love, albeit a perverted sense of that love. That is why the notion that death is the beginning of a time of purification is not horrifying to me–to the contrary–it is something that fills me with hope.  In fact, I’d say that life truly begins at the end of the earthly journey.  What better place to be than in a place where I shall be helped to become more Christ-like, and hence, more God-like?  I think EWTN has a great synthesis of the Church’s teaching on the after-life.  I won’t get into the details of what the catechism actually says but instead, direct you here.  I understand purgatory not as a place but “as a condition of existence.”  To be in purgatory is to enter the process of purification.  Doesn’t get much holier than that, does it?

These last few months have been rough.  Law school is no picnic; but law school and working full-time is even less of a picnic!  What was I thinking?  I have about a month and half ahead of me of law school classes and then exams.  I will be leaving for an eight week sojourn to Europe on June 21st and will return to the U.S. on August 16th.  I am hoping to write a few more blogs about what it has been like being in law school and trying to live up to the Ideal.  I think I’ll leave that for another blog….

By reflectionsoncarnality

Mean Girls are Us

Balaam's Ass rebukes him

Just a few days ago one of my college professors said something that resonated with me but didn’t hit home until today:  “If the Lord can speak through an ass (Balaam’s; see, Numbers 22-24, Hebrew Bible) he can speak through anyone.”  That is certainly the case for me today and from a most unexpected source.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately with what it means to let bygones be bygones.  I’ve always sensed that I had a mistaken notion of what letting bygones be bygones actually means; today I learned that I was most certainly right about this—I was mistaken.  According to the dictionary this is “something that you say in order to tell someone to forget about unpleasant things that have happened in the past.”  Truth be told, that is a big fat lie.  Forgetting is nonsense (and quite frankly, impossible).  But letting go and forgiving is not.  Hear me out here, please.

I came home from spending New Year’s Eve at my younger brother’s house.  He is a favorite among my four brothers (in fact, I think that given our birthdates, he is the one that I feel the most affinity with—we were born 14 months and 11 days a part).  I was a bit disappointed (as I usually am) when I came home from spending time with him.  I have these notions about what our relationship “should” be like and reality and my “notions” always fall short of my expectations.  I’ll move on….  I have very few memories from my childhood that are as powerful as ones with him involved.  One of those memories is being at a shoe store in the Bronx where the salesman/owner wanted me to have a piece of candy and a balloon to take home with my new pair of black Mary Jane’s.  Well, I refused to leave without a balloon and a piece of candy for my younger brother….   In my mind, this is a pivotal moment for me in relation to my brother.

When I arrived at my apartment I decided to watch a movie that I could get ‘lost in” and try to avoid reality…well, as is always the case when I have great plans they are turned on their head by what I am convinced is the voice of God speaking through the greatest of asses.

I don’t know about you, but I love to make fun of Hollywood.  From my “lofty position of obviousness,” I like to think that Hollywood is decadent and useless. But then, I forget, Hollywood is made of souls that are on the same path that I am on:  the path to the perfection of humanity, the path to holiness.

Click here for the trailer of my Balaam’s ass for the day–the most unexpected place to learn a very Christian lesson of forgiveness (new-agers would call it “letting go”).  Without pretending to be a psychoanalytic specialist (which I am most certainly not), I have to say that this movie was cathartic.  No, I didn’t have this kind of high school experience….  What surprised me was my incredible desire to let one of the protagonists have her revenge…I didn’t want a happy ending.  Me, the one that always criticizes Hollywood for giving in to what I like to call, “French endings” (dramatic, dark, and anti-climactic), was rooting for revenge.   What is even more interesting is that in my mind, the revenge would have been justice (when, in fact, it would simply have been revenge).  It freaked me out how “involved” I became in this juvenile plot of the protagonist to get back at her high school nemesis.   There was a sub-plot in this movie, too.  Jamie Lee Curtis played the mother of the protagonist who had her own score to settle with an “arch-nemesis” from her own past.

Talk about bygones...

The movie ended with important discoveries being made and forgiveness being had.   This is not, by any stretch, an exceptional film—but it helped me understand something important.  To forgive is not to forget:  it is to withhold my right to judge and seek a mistaken sense of justice (righting of a wrong) with a gospel sense of fairness:  We are all “mean girls” in need of forgiveness so give the other gal a break.

Happy Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  A more compelling sense of forgiveness has never been known.  While she watched from the foot of the cross her son dying an agonizing death, she accepted maternity of the whole fallen world.  Mary said yes.  She didn’t say “yes but,” she merely said yes.

Here is to a 2012 of hopeful “yesses” and the embracing of so-called bygones.

By reflectionsoncarnality

Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages…

This has been quite the year for change.  After many years of putting it off, I finally decided to try to get into law school.  Mission accomplished.  Now the task becomes staying in law school and jumping through the hoops placed in front of me.  I don’t intend to be dismissive of what happens in a U.S. law school, but I will say that I have felt on more than one occasion as-a-ribbon-wearing poodle must feel in a circus.  The image of the poor poodle trying to walk on his hind legs (which he has not yet  evolved to do…) comes to mind.  This is how I feel just about every day, hour, and minute that I am in law school…. This is also the year that I learned I am really, truly not superwoman (collective gasp).  Though I worked all through my undergraduate years and through graduate school, law school is quite unlike anything I have ever tried to accomplish and I find it requires my utmost attention.  Working while attending has proven to be an immense distraction and probably not the greatest idea I’ve ever had.  Adjustments, however, will have to wait until next year.

Law Student getting it right...

However, I must admit that law school has managed to accomplish something that nothing to date has (and that I clearly needed)–it has provided me with a plethora of opportunities to engage in exercises of humility.  I’ve made some realizations about myself this year that lead me to conclude some very important changes need to made on this journey of life.  I won’t get into specifics because I don’t think these are as important as the big picture of knowing that in order to move forward, certain things must be left behind.  I think this might be the point of forgiveness (and forgiving oneself is included in this edict)—being able to move ahead without all the encumbrances that grudges so deeply embed in the soul.   I have my work cut out for me this year with regards to my desire for holiness…that much I know is true!

Everything coconut and lots of rum: Puerto Rican Coquito

On a lighter front, I have made an end of the year libation to bring with me to my brother’s house (where I’ll be ringing in this upcoming year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve):  coquito.  It was my first attempt and I think I did a really good job (so much for humility).  I have also decided to begin attending Holy Mass in Latin….  To quote the grandmother in Sleepless in Seattle: “I liked it better when it was in Latin and you couldn’t understand anything.”  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the Roman Ritual in English, it is all the editorializing (priestly and laity) I can do without.  Tridentine, Novus Ordo really doesn’t matter…as long as the parish doesn’t believe that the last legitimate Pontiff was Piux XII, I’m good to go.

Happy New Year and here’s toasting a healthy and holy 2012 to all my friends.  And for those of you that cringe at the word, holy, relax—to be holy is to be fully human.  So, by all means, let’s all try to make 2012 more holy.

Super Poodle can do it all!

Law Students, Circus Poodles, Puerto Rican Rum Drinks and the Latin Mass

By reflectionsoncarnality

Stalled Engines, Do-Overs, and the Space-Time Continuum

Gene Roddenberry's star ship Enterprise

I decided that it has been too long since I’ve posted a blog.  As is the case with most of us, we begin with all the best intentions and then the engine stalls.  I realize that a stalling engine is not a very creative metaphor (but I’ll use it anyway).

Today is August 1, 2011.  Where have the last seven months gone?  The passing of time is something that I really don’t spend a lot of time really thinking about (I’m too busy watching the days go racing by me).  However, every once in a while I stop and think about by-gone days.   This year has been particularly worthy of consideration.  Let me explain.

It is has been almost one year since I returned from being overseas (Jerusalem).  I have followed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in frustrated fascination (which is really the best way to look at most contentious situations).  My arrival was christened by not being able to find a good job until just recently (literally).  It took me almost one year to find a job in my own country.  But I won’t digress by discussing the economy, debt ceilings, or anything requiring thinking about money.

After many years of considering it, I am finally going to law school (after my day job is over, of course).  Things are about to get very interesting….  And I suppose that’s what I really want to blog about (not law school per se, but about “things getting interesting”).  At the urging of a priest friend, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about life and my response to it.  What does that mean?  Well, I’ve always been interested in the big questions (aren’t we all?) and this priest friend has been insisting on how properly to respond to my heart’s desire for happiness.  In fact, he said something really fascinating:

The more powerful one’s personality, the more one will be able to recover all of the past; and the more childish an individual, the more he or she forgets about what has gone before, and is unable to use it, even when reminded of it.

Of course, we all want to think that we have “powerful” personalities and not “childish” ones, but what does he mean when he speaks of “recovering the past”?  This is what I have spent time thinking about these last few weeks.  How can I live today with the memory of all that “has gone before” firmly embedded in me without giving in to the temptation of the categorization of memory? [By this last phrase I mean suppressing what I don’t like–or worse, reinventing it so that I have a version that is more fantasy than reality.]

There is an old Star Trek episode/movie where Kirk tells someone that he doesn’t want to erase his past because it makes him who he is.  It has taken me a number of years to be able to embrace that kind of thinking (in fact, I am not so certain that I’ve fully embraced it).  There is always the temptation to “do over”, “start again”, etc.  And new beginnings are not bad–in fact, that’s the miracle of time (and I’d say of the sacrament of confession)–we get to begin again.  But I am hoping that this next phase of my life will be an incorporation into the present of all that has passed in order to cruise into the future with the confidence that my life is in good hands.

Yesterday (July 31, 2011) was the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.  [If you are looking for an interesting read, I suggest Louis de Wohl’s The Golden Thread about the life of this Spanish sixteenth century man.  You won’t be sorry–de Wohl tells a great story.]  Saint Ignatius said that we ought to pray as if everything depended on God but act as if everything depends on us.

A saint after my own heart.

By reflectionsoncarnality

Where do I come from and the good life

A father and his son

I spent last week in San Juan, Puerto Rico visiting friends.  It was a relaxing time on the island and I had a lot of time to think about things I normally think about but never “dwell on”.  The details are really not important but the impact of my ruminations seem, at least to me, to be of utmost importance in this trek to understand what it means to live a good (holy) life.

Puerto Rico is tightly linked to my family’s past.  My parents were both born on the island and growing up, the names of towns were often mentioned in the retelling of some story or another.  As I drove on main highways, the names of places that I had heard about all my young adult life popped up (literally) to my left and to my right.  I couldn’t help but think about my parents especially my mother now deceased 22 years.  Speaking to my father throughout the week, I could hear the nostalgia in his voice as he remembered his homeland and, I imagine, his parents.  And then it hit me:  How incredibly important it is for a person to have a place to call home—to know from “whence I come”.  I’ve often wondered about popular clichés such as “home is where you hang your hat” or “home is where the heart is”. I really do believe home is a lot deeper than the forced triteness of these pithy sayings.

The last night of my vacation on la isla del encanto, I met a young lawyer who works for the Puerto Rican parliament.  She recently wrote an opinion about a bill that Puerto Rican politicians are trying to make the law of the land.  As I understood her, the law would guarantee that children born in vitro or by way of a “surrogate” mother could never know the sperm and egg donors names.  It would also make it impossible for a surrogate mother to change her mind during pregnancy once the contract for “rental” of her womb is signed.  From what I understand the way to accomplish keeping children from identifying a parent is by completely destroying records so that none could be traced—ever.  My new friend launched her arguments against both of these laws by highlighting the dignity of the person inherent in any concept of human rights (religious or secular).

I couldn’t help but think of the 90s Highlander episodes where immortal Duncan Macleod, after having been banished by his clan for sorcery (Macleod dies and comes back to life because he is “immortal” and can only be killed by having his head cut-off) learns that the man and woman who raised him were not his biological parents.  His adoptive father tells him in a fit of rage to “be gone” because “you are not my son”.  Macleod loses it and runs screaming after his horseback riding father, “Where do I come from?!?!”  As blithe as my example might seem (making an analogy with sword swinging immortals), the look on Macleod’s face as he realizes he will be plagued for eternity with the mystery of his paternity, demonstrates the deep anguish of not knowing something as basic as who your parents are.  Discovering “where he comes from” is a theme throughout the highlander series that I find fascinating.

Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about where I come from, where is my home, etc.  For lots of reasons (many which I do not understand), the years since being initiated into the Church have been fraught with painful circumstances that seem to want to make me give in to the temptation to look within instead of without.  But when I look up around me (at reality—good and bad) I am constantly surrounded by physical reminders of who I am and to whom I belong.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

By reflectionsoncarnality

Of Mass and Men

George and Lennie, Of Mice and Men (

The last few Sundays I have found myself feeling an “epic disproportion” between who I know myself to be in light of what truly occurs at a Roman Catholic Mass.  Please note that I didn’t say “I believe” that it truly occurs–no, I have the temerity to state it as objective fact.  Laying aside your possible prejudices about my position, I ask you to stick with me as I try to reason this out here and now.

For my readers that aren’t sure what I mean, I’ll simply say that Catholic dogma teaches that during the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”, the death and offering of Jesus’ very self is relived at the altar.  He becomes present through the actions of  the “alter Christus” (the Priest).  That is why the holiest moment of the mass is the consecration–Jesus Christ becomes truly present in the simple elements of bread and wine and he gives himself to his disciples.  [Interesting piece of historical trivia: Early Christians were rumored to be cannibals as  a result of partaking in a meal  claimed to be the body and blood of their so-called leader.]

When I decided to ask to be received into full communion with Rome–what is referred to as receiving the “sacraments of initiation”–I did it because I had an intuition that given what I’d seen through the testimony of John Paul II there was something real about the Catholic tradition.  Something real enough that I was willing to wager on it given what JPII showed me through  his life, writings, and witness.  I decided to take a Pascal’s-wager-of-sorts on Rome.  What if it’s true?

I think one of the greatest barriers to faith is what Christians refer to as the Doctrine of the Incarnation.  Simply put, the Master of the Universe–the Creator himself–becomes flesh through a baby purportedly born in a stable to a 16 year old Jewish girl from a Galilean town still known as Nazareth.  This is the Christian claim:  God became human.  When I say that it is a barrier to faith, I have to confess that it is most especially a barrier to people who claim Christian faith–people just like me.  The claim certainly gives more power to the word in-credible.

I’ve been attending Mass at least once per week for the last 10 years.  That means I’ve witnessed at least 520 masses.  At least five hundred and twenty times I have witnessed a priest following the Catholic ritual (be it Roman, Ambrosian or Maronite) replay the death of Christ on the altar.   The epic disproportion that I referred to in my opening statement is something that I have only recently begun to experience.  [By recently I mean last Sunday and today.]

I have to confess that the term disproportion applied to the incarnation is not original to me.  I first heard the term in Madrid, Spain, at a discussion among a group of people who follow the teachings of a now deceased Italian priest named Luigi Giussani.  Fr. Giussani is most famous for his ruminations on the Gospel scene where two guys named John and Andrew first come across another guy named Jesus.  They were listening to John the Baptist (Jesus’ first cousin) as he baptized people (among them his cousin Jesus) and were dumbfounded when John the Baptist points to Jesus and says “there goes the Lamb of God”.   As the story goes, John and Andrew follow Jesus on the shores of the Kineret (the Sea of Galilee) and Jesus stops in his tracks, turns around and asks them, “What do you want?”  The Gospel writer (believed to be an eye-witness given the detail) reports  that it was “about 4 p.m.”  [Although the English translation leaves a lot to be desired, you might be interested in reading Fr. Giussani’s reflection here.  If you read Spanish, the translation is better and you may read it here.  If you read Italian, the language of Fr. Giussani, you”ll find his reflection here.]

The American writer John Steinbeck wrote a short novel titled Of Mice and Men.  According to Wikipedia, Steinbeck took the the title “from Robert Burns’s poem ‘To a Mouse’, which read: “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry.” In his novel, Steinbeck explores the human condition in ways that many readers find quite uncomfortable (present company included).  The book is on the American Library Association’s list of “Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century” for its vulgarity (but that’s not why I find it uncomfortable).  I think it would be safe to say that the central theme of Steinbeck’s novel is loneliness.  That’s why it both moves me and makes me uncomfortable.    It is said that Steinbeck originally wanted to call the novel Something That Happened but came across Burns’ narration about the regret felt for having destroyed a mouse’s home while plowing a field.  Interesting choice of metaphors given the tragedy that ensues at the novel’s climax.

It occurred to me these last few Sundays that the “epic disproportion” I have recently begun to feel as I walk up to receive communion is tantamount to Steinbeck’s inspiration in titling his novel Of Mice and Men.  What would my life look like if I really and truly accepted the objective fact of the real presence?  That I truly accepted the fact that the Lord of all Creation gives himself to me so that I won’t experience the defeat of loneliness?  That this God-Man is so moved by my nothingness (as Fr. Giussani liked to say) that He comes to me by first making himself human and then perpetuating His presence through the Church in the miracle of the Eucharist? Truly in-credible.  Well, what if it’s true?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d like to turn Steinbeck’s metaphor on its head.  Man might experience mere regret at destroying a mouse’s home.  God not only decides to carefully avoid destroying the mouse’s home with his plow, but he comes to build a home in that mouse’s very field.  Maybe it is a stretch and I’m just writing nonsense on this Fourth Sunday evening in Ordinary Time.  But I thought I’d put it out there for whatever it is worth.

By reflectionsoncarnality