Friday, February 11, 2011

Take Up Your Cross. No, Mine.

Too often, we elevate the importance of the work God has called us to. So we are called to do this or that work and we believe it the apex of Christian life, of incarnational or iconic living. Our apostolate always seems greater than another's, our spiritual emphases and works of mercy a clearer path to God. This, of course, is untrue generally, though it may be true specifically. That you are called to have a dozen children may be necessary for your salvation. Or that you become a monk. Or that you work as a missionary or a priest or a homemaker. Now all these are good, and we may, to a greater or lesser extent, be expected to be involved in a variety of these callings - though in different functions. But my service is different than your service. It ought to be. If I push hard enough, my calling becomes bent from its original shape and no longer remains in service to Christ and his Church. To borrow St Paul's metaphor, the Body becomes grossly disfigured as the hand becomes everything. And then my life leans fully into egoism and autonomy, and, sometimes, potentially, heresy. Of course, this does not mean we cease to take up our cross, but rather that we do not demand our neighbor take it up as well - or think that if he doesn't, he does not serve God as he ought or as well as we do. Do not judge him, he has his own cross to bear.

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was asked in an interview, "How many paths are there to God?" And Cardinal Ratzinger answered, "As many as there are people."

(Image taken from

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Are We Poor?

"Are we poor?" says my son, says my daughter, says my heart.

And I think of the man on the street and the ladies who live across from us in the duplexes. I think of so many whose first chore of the day is to walk to a well or a river for water. And for water that isn't even clean. I think of them after taking a hot shower in the middle of winter. I think of them while sipping at my coffee. "No," I say. "We are not poor." And the car breaks again and the floor rots under us. The bath tub is useless and our water pipes hold together only stubbornly. This house is at odds with itself.

"Are we poor?" they say.

I say, "It depends what you mean by 'poor.' " It seems obvious to them what they mean: They cannot have the new pair of shoes they want, or that video game, or clothes that they do not have to share. It seems obvious when they go to bed, stacked like cordwood. Or when the weather constrains them to indoors, and their parents grow impatient at their play (it is so loud). It seems obvious. But still they ask.

"Look around you," I say. "You have a big family that loves you, that is and always will be together. Who, when I take just half of you out to the store, people ask whether you are all mine. You are rich where richness counts."

"Are we poor?" they say. And I think of my anger and my covetousness. I think of my despondency and impatience. I think of how I hoard what I do have, failing to give to those who do not. And I say, "I am poor."

Outside, overnight, it has snowed. It is a Carolina snow. And the ground, pizzelle-like, reminds me of holidays and weddings. We are not poor, children. We are not.