Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I am in Week 4 of Weight Watchers. Actually, I'm not a paying customer; I'm just along for the ride with Laura (though she hardly needs it, and I desperately do). Last week wasn't a good week - Noah's godparents sent home pasta twice (pasta with spaghetti sauce - she puts Italian sausages in her spaghetti sauce, mind you - and another night shrimp fettuccine Alfredo). But in spite of it, I've still lost 13 pounds in the first three weeks. I hope to do better this week, but I find I'm running headlong into my appetite.
Appetite is a bad thought. I don't have to eat as I do because I'm hungry. The reasons I eat as I do have nothing to do with my physical need or even the comfort of a spoiled stomach. Gluttony is a spiritual problem: It's finding solace in a means for communion with God, rather than in communion with God. And even the skinnies among us share in it. You don't have to look like me to struggle with gluttony. Saint John Climacus says,
"In our self-criticism we must refer particularly to the stomach, and indeed I wonder if anyone breaks free of this mistress before he dies.
Gluttony is hypocrisy of the stomach. Filled, it moans about scarcity; stuffed, and crammed, it wails about its hunger. ... Gluttony has a deceptive appearance: it eats moderately but wants to gobble everything at the same time. A stuffed belly produces fornication, while a mortified stomach leads to purity. The man who pets a lion may tame it, but the man who coddles the body makes it ravenous.
- The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 14, On Gluttony (my emphases)
And Saint Isaac of Syria says, "It is just as shameful for lovers of the flesh and the belly to search out spiritual things as it is for a harlot to discourse on chastity." This is what I love about the Church Fathers. When you need a good punch in the gut, they're happy to oblige. And most of us need the breath knocked out of us, every now and then, for our salvation. The added blessing of the Church Fathers is that it feels less personal when the guy's been dead for a thousand years. But back to the quote. Here I am, I write on spiritual disciplines, on ascesis, and I am a catechist at my parish and then Saint Isaac of Syria comes along and says that I'm no better than a harlot giving discourses on chastity. So where does that leave me? It makes me feel like saying, I can't do this - I'm a hypocrite. But that's not the answer - I don't think. The better answer, perhaps, is to recognize my hypocrisy, the reality of my situation - I am unqualified, but in my weakness, perhaps the Holy Spirit can reach someone.
Meanwhile I'm going forward with this business of taming my stomach and trying to squeeze more life out of my lifetime. I want to be an old man, surrounded by my grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I don't want to swing to the other extreme, into a cult of the body, but I do want to take my appetite by the horns and find peace through the struggle.
Pray for me.
Friday, August 06, 2010
If you haven't heard, Anne Rice has left Christianity ... but not Christ, she says. I'm a little upset about her announcement. Not so much because of her decision, but because of the reasons she gives for her decision. She has been wounded by us. (Lord, have mercy.) But I am rooting for her, and for others like her. I am rooting for people like Christopher Hitchens who is suffering with esophageal cancer. I feel kinship with them; I have an affection for them. I see Christ in them.
Anne Rice's story is important not because she's a bestselling novelist. Her story is important because it's been told before, and it's been told by Christ. But we clap our hands over our ears and heap our disregard onto a wounded sister's shoulders. Anne Rice left the Church because you and I fail to love our neighbor. It's that simple. You and I make the faith about issues and politics and a world of things other than Christ. She left because you and I fail to be quiet and humble. When someone doesn't share our views - whether it's about sexuality, abortion, politics, or liturgy - we bristle and spit, "You aren't Catholic if you ..." or "You cannot follow Christ and ..." This is not love, but judgment. There is a place for those who are spiritual to come along and exhort, encourage, and correct. But it is not my place. It is not yours.
Nothing animates the pious like issues: not God, not Church, not loving the poor and marginalized - nothing. A fight invigorates us. But all our "righteousness" will never change the desires of someone who is homosexual. We cannot raise one hand to protect the unborn and choke our brown neighbor with the other. We will never convince anyone of the love of Christ with our anger and judgment. We are called to be martyrs for Christ. To die. And by our love to be the sacrament of God to our world.
If anyone will kill the Church, the pious will.
God is love. He is full of mercy. We must love others because God loves them. (If we are in communion with God, then we will love whom he loves.) We must be quiet and, like a child, humble. We must pray always. As for Anne Rice, let me close with a quote I recently read: "We believe ... that Christ is present in any seeker after truth. Simone Weil has said that though a person may run as fast as he can away from Christ, if it is toward what he considers true, he runs in fact straight into the arms of Christ" (from For the Life of the World, by Alexander Schmemann).
Thursday, August 05, 2010
- Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov