Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Extracurricular Reading

Hello friends,

I want to point you to two posts that I have made on other sites recently.

1. The first is on the Patheos page celebrating the Year of Faith. In this post, I reflect on the latest Pew Research Survey which finds that more and more people in the US are claiming no affiliation with a religion. I am honored to be a guest blogger for this page on Patheos. Please check it out and share with friends:

A Positive Look at the Nones

2. The second post is on Ignitum Today, a forum for the JPII and B16 generation. Here I reposted a slightly revised blog post on Question 2 the referendum on assisted suicide that is on the MA ballot. Please read and share with friends. The Boston archdiocese has been working non-stop on this initiative. Please help them spread the word. Even if you are not in MA, initiatives like this one will be coming to a state near you so it is important to be armed with information:

Death with Dignity and Other Euphemisms

All affected by the storms are in my prayers. Please feel free to send me prayer requests via the comment boxes at any time. I will happily pray for them and put them in our sisters' intention book in our chapel.

Happy Reading!

Sr. Theresa

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Consumerism & Politics the Gospel Way

I love the many layers of meaning in Scripture. Skeptics may think I am just a creative thinker who could find multiple layers of meaning in a rock. But let me give you an example.

Take the parable in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus tells about the rich man who does not have enough room to store all of the grain from his farm's harvest. The man decides to build storage for the grain so that he can "rest, eat, drink, be merry!" But in the parable God tells this man he is a fool for hoarding earthly possessions, rather than focusing on becoming rich in what matters to God.

Of course we could simplify this story and say that Jesus is chastising the rich, but if we look closely at his words before he begins the parable, it is clear that Jesus is not upset that the man has many possessions: Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions  (Lk 12:15). Jesus is not a communist, (although I would venture to call him an anti-consumerist). In the parable, the problem is not so much what the man has as much as his attachment to it. His passion is for his possessions, rather than for God.

But again with the layers - Maybe Jesus is not only talking about objects, or things that we can buy. Maybe Jesus is also speaking of our preferences, our thoughts, and our dearly held opinions. Jesus is not saying that we cannot feel passionately about anything. But perhaps he is asking us to hold our perspectives lightly, even on issues of faith, just in case he wants to show us something new about the limited way that we see and understand things.

As humans, we are often very convinced that we see things correctly, and that if others disagree with us, they are wrong. Although our conclusion may very well be right, we can count on the fact that we are never seeing the entire picture. We always have something to learn from others, even if their conclusions are indeed wrong. Perhaps this is something to think about as we get closer to election day.

It is true that very important issues are at stake in this election like abortion, the death penalty, religious liberty, lack of health care, same sex marriage, and unjust immigration policies. But ultimately, the fate of our country lies in the hands of someone who has a perfect platform - God. Trusting that things are in his hands, we can refrain from unnecessarily divisive rhetoric and instead share our faith in the public square in a Christian way.

May we strive to share our opinions such that:

Love and truth will meet;
justice and peace will kiss. 
                       -Psalm 85:10

Monday, October 8, 2012

When Fish Fall Down a Waterfall, Do They Die?

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. - Mt 18:3

Jesus urges us over and over again in the Gospels to become like children. But to be honest, I have always been turned off by the idea. To me, becoming like a child suggests some sort of drastic change in personality and way of life. It makes me feel like I need to start dragging a blanket around and sucking my thumb. And honestly, I don't think the other sisters in the convent would appreciate this.

However, recently I had a change of mind about this whole idea. 

I was a 3rd grade teacher and one of the things that continually amazed me was a child's humble capacity to ask questions. Children know they know very little and they are ok with that. They are not afraid of looking stupid. And most of the time they ask amazing questions that I have no idea how to answer like, "Ms. Noble, when fish fall down a waterfall do they die?"

The thing about us adults is that we feel like we should know the answers so we are afraid to ask questions. We don't want to look uninformed or ignorant in front of others. But the thing is, this is really a fearful and faulty way to look at the world. What we do not know is always going to outweigh what we know. We are never going to cease being children in the big scheme of things. If we set ourselves up to look like we know everything all the time, we are setting ourselves up for constant failure. 

Think about it:

First, think of the greatest minds in the world - Einstein, Aquinas, Newton, etc. What a normal person knows, and is capable of knowing, is nothing compared to the greatest minds in human history.

Second, if you think you are among one of these geniuses, then compare what you know to the conglomeration of human knowledge over all of human history. One person's personal knowledge really amounts to nothing, even if you are Einstein or Aquinas.

Third, compare your mind to the mind of God which encompasses all human knowledge and then much much more. Or, if you don't believe in God, compare what you know to all that there is to know, including what humans have not discovered. 

This little exercise helped me to realize that in the cosmic scheme of things, we are all children

We all really know very little. We may compare ourselves to others and think we are hot stuff but if we are real with ourselves we all fall short, we are all drastically limited in our knowledge, abilities and talents. 

It is hard to admit but we don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things. 

This reality of our smallness can seem to some depressing and overwhelming. 

But what is the Christian response to this reality? 

When Jesus tells us to be like children, he is not telling us to go back to wearing diapers. He is simply asking us to admit to what we already are. Turning and becoming like children does not mean that we need to change. It means that we turn and embrace our limited nature. Through this, we find freedom from constant pretense and delusions. And from this place of truth, we do change - because in truth, God is able to transform us. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Led Zepplin Meets St. Therese (in an Elevator)

I spent the summer after 7th grade lounging around my neighborhood pool listening to a cassette tape of Led Zepplin’s greatest hits, reveling in my teenage angst

My mother became rightly concerned about her daughter who just a couple years earlier would have chosen to serenely read Anne of Green Gables by the pool. Instead, I disdainfully discarded Anne and opted for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar while listening to Stairway to Heaven over and over again.

Recently, I thought about those days as I read the passage from Genesis about Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:10-19). In it, Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder and “God’s angels were going up and down on it.” 

Traditionally, the ladder in Jacob's dream has been said to symbolize many things. For Jews, it was often interpreted as symbolizing the prayers and sacrifices offered in Temple that served as a bridge between heaven and earth. Saint Irenaeus saw the ladder as a symbol of the Christian Church leading people to God. Many of the saints saw it as a symbol of the path of perfection. Others saw Jesus himself as the ladder; because Jesus is both fully God and fully man, his humanity serves as the connection between God and man.

However, I was surprised to see that my Bible translates “ladder” as “stairway.” I immediately consulted the footnote and discovered that the Hebrew word sulam, traditionally translated as “ladder,” is now thought to be more accurately translated as “stairway.” Many scholars believe that the staircase Jacob dreamed of was likely similar to the Babylonian ziggurats.

Whether the true translation is “staircase” or a “ladder,” the essential idea remains the same: It is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we are able to climb the stairway to heaven. 

In Led Zepplin's song Stairway to Heaven, he sings about a woman who lives a superficial life focused on material things. The woman even thinks she can buy the stairway to heaven. The thing she does not realize is that the stairway is already free. Jesus is the stairway and he gives himself to us free of charge. 

Unfortunately, neither the image of a stairway nor a ladder is appealing to me. I have a hard time climbing a few flights of stairs, let alone one that stretches to heaven. Even knowing that the stairway is Jesus, I still feel like the arduous journey is beyond my stair climbing skill set. Like a typical American, I find myself wondering if there are any more comfortable options – perhaps a heavenly escalator?

Then I remembered my dear patron saint who celebrates her feast day today. St. Therese, the delightful saint who, seeing the stairway of perfection, faints into the arms of Jesus and asks him to take her up in an elevator. She says:
In rich homes there are elevators that replace stairs to great advantage. I would also like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, because I’m too little to climb the rough staircase of perfection. The elevator that must lift me up to heaven is Your arms, Jesus! For that I don’t need to become big. On the contrary, I have to stay little.
It’s no wonder this woman is a Doctor of the Church. 

We spend our lives trying our hardest to puff ourselves up and pretend that we are bigger and better than we are. But the truth that we all know deep down inside is that we are little. There is always something in us that remains in touch with our smallness. 

Rejoicing in our smallness is the beauty of the Little Way. St. Therese did not espouse some kind of backwards worm theology. She did not see our smallness and feel disdain or fear. Instead, recognizing her wretchedness, she feels joy. After all, our weakness gives us an excuse to leap into the arms of God and leave it all up to Him. 

Don’t we all want this, deep down inside?

So, on this feast day of St. Therese, let’s ask for her intercession:

Forget stairways little T, we want the grace to accept a ticket on the heavenly elevator of God's love.