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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Funny thing happened on the way to Heaven

At the first meeting of the year the Fra Angelico Chapter of Lay Dominicans members choose the focus of our prayer for the year.  We are given the name of someone in our chapter, the name of a deceased Dominican and the name of a Dominican who is a member of Church Militant and we commit to praying for them every day of the year.

I love this custom.  I always get a great prayer warrior praying for me and I accept a challenge to my own spiritual development; that is, to be someone else's prayer warrior.  It gives me a sense of purpose and it allows me to never forget that I matter.  I am a small part of a greater whole and what I do, how I do it and what I say matters.

This year I will be praying or a member of our order who is a father of young children.  That is a real responsibility because the role of a father is paramount in a child's development.  At the risk of upsetting a lot of women, I believe a child needs a father and a mother.  If circumstances prevent this, a child needs a strong, loving and purposeful male role model in their life.  I believe a child deserves two sane parents but, if circumstances prevent this they need at least one.  In my case that sanity was provided by my mother.  My father, bless his heart, was not a good father and not a good role model for my brother.  We both suffered as a result of his verbal, emotional and, in the case of my brother, physical abuse.  Any success we have obtained in our lives is the result of two things:  our mother and the guidance of Holy Mother Church.  I resisted this idea for years, especially the Holy Mother Church part, but now that I am firmly planted in middle age, I have no problem giving credit where credit it due.  Both of them gave my my moral structure, my love of learning and my longing for structure and discipline that today gives me a life that is second to none.  The fact that I had to return to that type of life by hiking through, and occasionally camping in for long periods of time, the world of alcoholism is pretty funny.  I am grateful I made it through that territory relatively unscathed.  I am sorry it cost me the lives of my children and my ability to entertain people on stage or screen or both. I do not regret the past and I damn sure will never shut the door on it because my dark past is, today, my greatest asset.

We were given something else at our chapter meeting on Saturday.   One of our members handed us a prayer for the new year credited to St Thomas Becket.  St. Thomas Becket, an English saint, had stood firm in the face of an aggressive state government.  As Archbishop of Canterbury, he did not believe the secular government could push The Church around and tell it what to do in matters of Faith and Morals.  He was murdered in a church and when the king heard of the murder he withdrew from public and fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in repentance.

That's wonderful - but let me share the prayer credited to this brave man:

May God make your year a happy one!  
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine;
But by keeping your face bright, even in shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need 
You most, and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God's love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

See, I read this and I am struck by two things;
  1.  Being Catholic means giving your entire heart, soul, being and body to Jesus Christ.  
  2.  Being Catholic does not mean your life is going to be joyful and easy according to that which is held most valuable in the world.

I am also struck by the idea that I am not a living saint.  

In fact, I would pretty much bet on that if I were you.  Leslie K. is not a living saint.  She does not suffer well.  She does not put up with a lot of discomfort.  She does not bear up well under close scrutiny.  She sins, she gets discouraged, she wishes people would calm down and stop being idiotic.  She gets impatient waiting for God to do the deal the way she thinks it should be done and has to be constantly reminded that God's time is perfect and God's solution is perfect.

In other words, Leslie K. is not a living saint and is very well aware that she is blessed to be a member of The Catholic Church where such a state is not the requirement for membership.

I understand the need for assurance and now wonderful it can be to think we know the ending but I am often struck by the Faith that is required to practice Christianity the way the Apostles meant for us to practice it.  I know, for instance, that I cannot earn my salvation.  Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross, the Paschal Mystery, is what opened the gates of heaven to me.  What I also know is I can lose that gift by turning away from His Teachings, by rejecting His Church.  I know that it would be perfectly possible to cry, "Lord Lord" when standing in front of Him.  It is perfectly possible to have Jesus look me straight in the eye and say, "I do not know you".  

It is that knowledge that keeps me close to His Church.  It is that understanding that focuses me on the entire package.  I never want to become the kind of person who thinks that I can do whatever I want to whomever I want and still stroll arrogantly into heaven.  

Recently, I was called a liar by someone who holds to a theology that states, "Once saved, always saved".  That behavior ended the friendship.  I accepted her apology, of course, and I forgive her for that transgression.  She is in my daily prayers, along with my Dominican brothers and sisters (living and dead).  However, I will no longer interact with her in the way I was willing to do so in the past.  I have been verbally punched and abused for the past year and a half by people who later say, "Oh.  Sorry" and then continue the behavior.  As Dr Phil says, you teach people how to treat you and I made that mistake during those relationships.  No more.  You may not call me names.  It is no longer allowed.  

Instead, you can disagree with me and you can ask me questions.  You can offer me your take on situations and you can share your ideas and knowledge with me. 

You may not verbally, emotionally or physically abuse me.  Those days are done.

And this is why I know I don't have it in me to be a saint.  I can only hope that, at the moment of my death, God provides me with people to pray for me as I journey through the necessary fire on my way to heaven.

And I really hope to one day hear, "Well done, girl...welcome home".

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