All posts by Dena Hunt

Love and Tolerance

Recently our young Polish priest gave a homily about love. I have to say that whenever someone wants to talk authoritatively about love, I tune out. Too often, it seems that it’s the people who talk most about love who know least about it.

 Love is like dancing or swimming.  It’s learned only by doing. You can read all you want to about swimming, but you’ll never learn to swim without getting in the water. You can study dance steps, but you won’t learn to dance by sitting in your chair. No matter what you read, religious or secular, philosophy, theology, psychology—or even such experts as Hallmark or Nora Roberts—you learn nothing about love by reading.

 So I was not inclined to listen to our young priest’s homily at first. But then he started by saying he would talk about what love is not. And that’s a pretty good start. When he said, “Love is not tolerance,” I decided to listen.

 “My sheep know my voice.” Yes, we do. His is the voice that does not tell us he “respects” our choices. He doesn’t talk about “tolerating” our wishes when we wander wherever we want, into thickets and brambles from which we cannot extricate ourselves. The shepherd loves the sheep. He is not swayed by complaints, by bleating protests. He is not worried about getting his sheep to love him. His concern is for them, not for himself.

 Sheep are not as stupid as hirelings think. They know that “tolerance” is another word for apathy. They know that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.   The hireling talks about “forgiveness” when what he means is “permission.” There’s a universe of difference between the two words. Christ’s forgiveness is endless, but not a “jot or a tittle” of permission is granted. Because he loves us.

  The hireling’s love is the kind that does not try to stop me when I blindly fall into the pit of addiction, that respects my right to pursue relationships that debase me, that permits me to commit the sin that will give me eternal sorrow and remorse, that wants to let me do my own thing (instead of my Father’s). I know that love. It’s toxic.

 And I know the hireling’s voice. I know it very well. It was Peter’s voice when Christ told him to get behind him, it was the voice speaking to Eve in the garden, and it is the political pablum of our time, poured in our ears constantly, like velvet damnation.

It is not the voice of my shepherd.

Pentecost and Babel

As Christ Incarnated restores to human dignity the first man Adam, so Pentecost restores human unity to the disruption of Babel. Language, that means and measure of human communion, was the undoing of humanity at Babel. Again, just as in Eden, the motive was the aspiration of humankind to its own deification. The response from Heaven is to destroy the attempt. For, as God knows, as Satan knows well, and as man himself knows in times of truthfulness, in sobriety and humility, nothing is so calamitous for man as the loss of God. But in pride, drunk on self-worship, we forget what is most basic to our existence: We cannot both have God and be God. We must choose.

At Pentecost, miraculously, every man understood the word of God in his own language, for at Pentecost, the Apostles were endowed with that power to speak to men’s hearts in the language of Heaven. And those who had ears to hear did indeed hear.

And what does this mean on this plane where we live now? Locally, we have a young Polish priest in our parish, who took on the difficult task of learning our language. He speaks English fluently. He also speaks Spanish fluently—because we have a large Spanish-speaking population in our parish as well. He intends to be our shepherd and knows that he must speak the language of the sheep if they are to hear and know his voice.

On a broader plane, our popes have learned many languages and have spoken them fluently, albeit with the accent of their native tongue. They want to be our shepherd. Benedict XVI is multi-lingual, and I read somewhere that Pope St John Paul II spoke 14 languages! They never spoke to their sheep in a tongue foreign to them. The exception is Pope Francis, who refuses to speak English even to audiences composed entirely of English-speakers.

But those who want to deny Pentecost and embrace Babel have more than one means at their disposal. There is also the homicide called “stone-walling.” As everyone now knows, the real horror of the priest scandals, apart from the abuse of minors by priests, was the stone-walling by the bishops. Concerned entirely with self-protection and the maintenance of public image, they refused even to hear the cries of the victims; they denied them their very reality in order to deny the truth. What is that but to consign them to non-existence? And is that not murder? Strong word—but not to those who are victimized by this evil.

That works on a local level too. So many parish priests run from their parishioners, refusing to hear them, to talk to them, to engage with them. They deliver homilies from their safe distance, and they consent to hear confessions when they’re forced into spending the time for it. Otherwise, they keep to themselves, they socialize with each other, or with a small group of parishioners who, for one reason or another—it doesn’t finally matter—manage to be in the priest’s circle of friends. Few parishioners actually know their priests at all. They are stone-walled by their priests—whose habit is to pretend they’re not there so they’ll go away, they’ll disappear, they’ll cease to be. Buffered by deacons, sundry assistants, they claim overwork and intimidate those who seek them out and make them feel small.

And indeed, how many of us do that to each other? Ignore someone who’s a problem, who presents a difficulty we don’t want to deal with, or someone who has something to say that we don’t want to hear. And then, if they’re persistent, we can always find self-righteous reasons to condemn them for speaking…. accuse them of gossiping…or, down where I live, of not being “nice”…accuse them of anything that will allow us to shame them into silence.

Babel continues.

Jigsaw Puzzles

I don’t know how old these puzzles are, but I’d guess that jigsaw puzzle metaphors are nearly as old as the puzzles themselves. People are always “putting the pieces together” or saying something like “all the pieces fit,” etc. The picture appears, enlightenment occurs, or an epiphany is experienced.

A jigsaw puzzle a good time-killer, patience-builder, and perseverance exercise. I see them in nursing homes a lot. They sharpen cognitive skills and improve manual dexterity. Plus, they can be completed alone; one doesn’t need companions or fellow gamers. They’re popular with old people. And that’s probably why I’ve taken to them now. The only difference is that I complete them on an iPad. Every morning, right after morning prayer, I turn to the daily jigsaw puzzle. And I noticed a few things:

You complete the border first. Whether your puzzle is small or large, what you’re doing when you complete a puzzle is bringing order to chaos. And the first step in that process is to set boundaries, limits, laws, rules, edges. You may also call these conventions or traditions. What you may not do is disregard them, consider them irrelevant, or attempt to complete the puzzle without them. Eventually, they will rule whether you like it or not.

Every single piece has its place. Regardless of how un-matching it appears or how misshapen, it has its place. And it’s absolutely necessary. Its place may be beyond your view at the moment but it will appear, sooner or later. Don’t get obsessed with finding its place; work on what you have and at the right time, the piece will fit perfectly in the place designed for it.

If a piece doesn’t fit, set it aside. You may notice that those pieces which surprisingly don’t fit are usually those you were so sure of. The more often that happens, the more quickly you learn that certainty about your judgment may need to be modified. You make fewer mistakes then.

There are no missing pieces. A piece may indeed be lost, but it doesn’t not exist. You just haven’t found it yet. Keep looking, especially at those pieces that appear unlikely. There are no mistakes in the puzzle. You must have faith in the designer of the puzzle.

And that’s the most important thing: No one assembles a puzzle of a blank, empty page. When the puzzle is completed, it will actually be something. It will not be nothing.

Sit down, armed with patience, with faith in the designer, and a willingness to submit to the design. Then assemble the pre-cut border and begin. Take your time. Don’t force anything. Real order arises from chaos; it is never imposed on it: Your purpose is not to create the design but to discover it.

I have come to see my daily jigsaw puzzle as a continuation of my morning prayer.

One of those Moments

Yesterday as I was returning from walking the dogs, I encountered a young woman walking alone and crying. She was heading in the opposite direction and we met at the foot of my driveway.  This was one of those moments when one might nod, say hello, or nothing at all, avoiding eye contact to alleviate embarrassment, or the embarrassment the girl might have felt about being seen in tears by a stranger. I stopped before heading up my driveway.

            “Honey, are you all right?”

            A feeble attempt to smile that failed. “Yes … I don’t know ….”

            “Wait here. Let me put my dogs in the house. Don’t go.”

            She nodded, started to speak but couldn’t. And she waited. I slipped the dogs into the kitchen and returned. I resisted the strong impulse to put my arms around her.

            “Come and sit down on the steps.”

            She did, and tried to speak but she couldn’t.

            “Where do you live?”

            She pointed up the street.

            “In that apartment complex up there?”

            “Yes. With my sister.”

            “Is this about a guy?”

            Nods. Fresh tears.

            “Did he break up with you?”

            “Yes … I don’t know.”

            “Is he there now?”

            “Yes. No. I don’t know.”

            “Are you a student?” (There’s a college nearby.)

            “Yes.”

            “How old are you?”

            “Twenty.”

            I did not ask what happened, or why she was crying. I just sat there on the steps with her.

            Presently, she said, “I want to go home now.”

            “Where’s home?”

            She pointed back up the street toward the complex.

            “That’s your home?”

            “Yes.” Her voice was normal now. No suppressed sobs. No tears.

            I walked with her back to the driveway where she turned to go back up the street and I turned to go into my house.

            As she turned, she called out, “Thank you.”

            “Goodbye,” I said and smiled.

            I started cooking dinner and forgot about the little incident, which lasted only a few minutes, maybe ten or fifteen. But I remembered it later, with a little nudge of recognition. I’ve been her. I have no idea what happened between her and the boyfriend. But she felt driven to leave, empty-handed, walking down a neighboring residential side street, in tears.

            And when she left, she said, “Thank you.”

            For what?  For providing the safe space of someone caring, the space needed for her to resume control of her young life. Not a family member or a friend, but a stranger. I’ve had moments like that. I remember 30 years ago flying back from Mexico City to New Orleans, distraught. A flight attendant looked at me:

            “Honey, are you all right?”

            “Yes.” But I wasn’t.

            “I’m going to sit here with you, okay?”

            “Okay.”

            She never asked a question; I don’t remember her saying a word. Meanwhile, I mastered the internal chaos I was experiencing.

            I would have been okay without that; so would this young girl. She wouldn’t have done anything rash, any more than I would I have done. We would both have been all right anyway.

But that’s not the point.

Who’s Your Daddy?

I read that the UK concerned itself recently about the possibility of loneliness among British citizens and conducted a poll to determine the relative loneliness of the people. The results inspired them to create a Ministry of Loneliness. Yes. Really. Sounds like something from an old Monty Python show, but there it is.  I’m not sure how it works, but presumably, there will be some sort of government-run programs to ameliorate loneliness among the population.

And meanwhile, Iceland revealed that there are no Down’s Syndrome children in that country. The reason is simple: the children are eliminated in the womb. The government really cares about the people, so much that now they have made circumcision illegal. Against their objections, Jewish parents are forbidden to have their male children circumcised.  How easily this most ancient form of Jewish identity is eliminated. Both anti-semitism and religious intolerance are accommodated and disclaimed with complete impunity.

Recently I watched one of the travel programs on NPR. I’ve forgotten the host’s name, but he was showing the viewers Norway. The old wooden churches are museums now. He said, with a shocking casualness, that modern Norwegians, taken care of by the socialist state, no longer have any need of worship spaces and spend their Sundays on recreational activities.

Northern Europe, in its modern wisdom, has found the answer to the question, Who’s Your Daddy?

There is a sad irony here about that modern wisdom. As the parents of any Down’s Syndrome child will readily tell you, their child is the light of their lives, a great blessing. And though it doesn’t match the raucous, hypersexual shows on the telly, loneliness is an almost universal forerunner to personal conversion and the beginning of the greatest love story of our lives, causing many to be forever grateful for the gift that loneliness really is. But these experiences are not a product of poll-driven state bureaucracy, and therefore, presumably, somehow not real, not valid. The Norwegian churches, open only for tourists, tell us what Norwegian faith really was about. A faith that is merely the product of charitable distributions was never really a faith at all. The Norwegians have lost nothing by closing churches for worship. You can’t lose what you never had.

There are, however, pockets here and there, mostly in the southern hemisphere and in eastern Europe, where the answer to that question of Who’s your Daddy, begins with “Our Father…,” and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

He Is Risen

He is Risen.

Small words. Nothing intellectually demanding here. No plea for pity, no guilt, no emotional indulgence of any kind.

He is risen. Not He loves you, which is lovely; not Peace I give you, which is nice. No philosophy, no theory, no cultural analyses, no political message, no revolution. None of that. Just

He is risen. And time is cloven in two. Like death, it is revealed as false, impotent. There is only eternity, there is only life. Because

He is risen.

Grendel Among Us

I taught Beowulf to my gifted high school seniors for many years. My students’ reaction to Grendel was immediate, predictable, revulsion. The first image to ponder is Grendel’s rage as he is excluded, night after night, from the singing and laughter in Hrothgar’s hall. Excluded. Night after night after night. As his rage grows, so do his atrocities.

It is not difficult to transit from that image to a more familiar one: someone seen in the halls and classrooms every day, someone who is the butt of cruel jokes and ridicule, someone who reacts to his peers’ rejection of him with adopted bravado, with feigned indifference, with boastful lies and posturing—all of which serve only to increase their contempt, their exclusion of him.

It’s also not difficult this morning to look at the face of the young man named Cruz and see Grendel—once again.

Last night, a newswoman with ashes on her forehead referred repeatedly in righteous anger to this young man as a “monster.” We create our own monsters.

I don’t do Christmas trees

I don’t do Christmas trees.

It’s not a bah humbug thing, and it’s not some kind of protest about the commercialization of Christmas or a supposed paganization of it. It really has to do with that happy sadness of memory.

I was the only child of a single mother, and we were very poor. I remember one Christmas in Atlanta when I was ten. She was working two jobs as a waitress and we had a one-room apartment with a kitchenette. There was a bathroom downstairs that we shared with a basement apartment. I remember sleeping in my coat. Mama bought one of those little plastic gumdrop trees and set it on the dresser, filled it with colored gumdrops and wrapped my Christmas present – I think the landlady gave her some paper. It was two pairs of panties. They were so pretty; one was pink, and the other blue and they had a bit of lace trim. They were nylon. I’d never had anything but white cotton panties before. They were beautiful. I don’t remember being unhappy. It was Christmas and I was ten and I was loved.

Much later, not so poor and a lot older, we were still like children together at Christmas. She loved decorating and giving presents. I always had a lot of gifts; she’d even wrap a can of coffee she knew I liked and put it under the tree. This continued after her divorce and after my own. I always made it home for Christmas. It would have devastated her if I didn’t. It was Christmas and she was 70 and she was loved.

The last couple of years of her life, it was a struggle for her, especially that last Christmas, but she tried for my sake, and I tried for hers.

Mama made the most beautiful beaded ornaments and gave them to everyone she knew. I had a zillion of them, and in the first couple years after her death I decorated a Christmas tree with them. But it wouldn’t do. I gave them all away.

A few days ago, I met a friend in the parking lot at church. She lost her husband almost two years ago, and she was crying. “You said I’d get to a place where it wouldn’t hurt so much. Well, I’m still not there. It’s the memories. I hate them!”

“You will get there,” I said. “You’ll know you’re there when the memories don’t make you cry, but make you smile. And then you won’t hate the memories but cherish them.”

For the past several years I haven’t bothered with a tree; after all, I have no ornaments now. But this year, I think I’ll put up a small tabletop tree in the living room window with just some white lights. I’m pretty sure it will make me smile.

Hurricanes and Raptures

I am in the emergency room waiting for the second injection in the rabies vaccine series. (I tried to rescue a squirrel during the hurricane on Monday, and he bit me.)

A lady, who said she was 65, stopped me as I walked to my seat in the waiting area. She wanted conversation, but she often started to cry when she spoke. When I asked her if she was all right, she said, “Oh, yes, this is just tears of joy—because of my Savior.”

She interjected Scripture frequently into her conversation about the hurricane, her family, and her grandchildren—of whom she is very proud: “She got a full four-year scholarship to the University of Georgia. I thought my heart was going to burst when she walked across the stage for her diploma. Praised be Jesus Christ in whom we live and move and have our being.” She referred to the rapture a couple of times. This went on until I was called away, and as I left, she said, “We will see each other again. This world is not our home.”

She is what some people call a “fundamentalist.” The doctrine of “the rapture” is not universal among fundamentalist Christians, and judging by the small number of her references, it’s not of paramount importance to her. What was important were the passages she chose to interject, those that occurred to her as she spoke; they were all passages of praise, gratitude, and deep faith.

I noted that she did not ask me whether I was a Christian before she spoke. I was glad she was apparently unconcerned about whether I might be “comfortable” with her Jesus talk. For her, the reality of Christ was absolute; one’s comfort with that was not significant. Indeed. One’s relative degree of comfort does not alter Truth even a little bit.

I am a Catholic living among Protestant Christians. This is not the first time I’ve wished the Holy Spirit were as welcome in my local church as he is in some of theirs. I know there are pockets of anti-Catholicism here, but it’s like white racism, remembered only in the stories of generations ago. I hear about it mostly from my fellow Catholics, who, like some die-hard black racists, seem to have a vested interest in perpetuating victimization.

 

But hate is like love. Love comes from the lover, not the beloved. So does hate. And we choose. Just as surely as you can choose to love, you can choose to hate. Either way, your choice says nothing about your object—but it says a great deal about you. “By their fruits shall you know them.”

Why Doesn’t Pope Francis Speak English?

In the Catholic Herald this past Thursday, Matthew Schmitz explains the hostile attitude of the Vatican toward the United States:

 

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/issues/july-28th-2017/why-rome-doing-battle-with-american-culture/

 

Schmitz interprets the barely concealed disdain Pope Francis has for the United States in a broader, more historical context that’s much more illuminating than my mere reaction to the Pope’s refusal to speak English. It’s more than disingenuous to suggest that he simply never learned the language. English is the second language of all western countries and most Eastern countries as well. It would be difficult if not impossible to avoid learning English for any educated person, even for those who are minimally educated. No. He doesn’t speak English because he chooses not to.

From the smallest social setting to the largest media-covered event, it is never courteous to refuse to address someone in their own language. It is an insult that expresses an attitude of superiority and a contempt for one’s audience. From the moment Pope Francis first addressed an audience of English speakers in Italian, the content of Schmitz’s article was inevitable.