Monday, June 24, 2013

"Who do you say that I am?"

Leaving Mass yesterday evening, I snagged a copy of my parish bulletin as I do every week. On the cover of this Sunday's edition was a somewhat pixelated representation of Jesus, and my very first thought was, "Wow, that looks like David Copperfield with a beard."

I tried not to laugh, especially since yesterday's gospel reading was the "Who do you say that I am?" passage from Luke, and that very question, along with a reflection on the gospel passage, was directly below the picture of David Copperfield Jesus.

David Copperfield, or is it just me?
Now, I don't follow the illusionist, so I don't know why my mind immediately went in that particular direction (for all I know, the artist might have used Mr. Copperfield as a's probably more accurate than artwork that depict Jesus as a blond). But I think it's a little like people watching in airports. You're sitting there, waiting for your flight, perhaps munching on a snack to pass the time, and you gaze at the people rushing by. I inevitably see people who look like someone I know. Or when people post photos of old school class pictures or yearbook pages to Facebook, especially from the early 90s, the look exactly like people I went to school with, although in that case, I'm pretty sure the clothes and hairstyles have more to do with it than actual recognition.We look for the familiar.

Ultimately, though, it's not what Jesus looked like that's important, but who He is because, until we get to Heaven (God willing!), we won't see His face. Who do you say Jesus is?

Today, we celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, someone who knew (even while he was in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth!) exactly who Jesus was:

"Next day, John saw Jesus coming towards him; and he said, Look, this is the Lamb of God; look, this is he who takes away the sin of the world. It is of him that I said, One is coming after me who takes rank before me; he was when I was not. I myself did not know who he was, although the very reason why I have come, with my baptism of water, is to make him known to Israel. John also bore witness thus, I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and resting upon him. Till then, I did not know him; but then I remembered what I had been told by the God who sent me to baptize with water. He told me, The man who will baptize with the Holy Spirit is the man on whom thou wilt see the Spirit come down and rest. Now I have seen him, and have borne my witness that this is the Son of God." John 1: 29-34

St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Custody of the eyes

Last week, a friend posted a link to a blog post by Simcha Fisher over at the National Catholic Register.

Fisher wrote about "custody of the eyes," but not just in the sense of thinking impure thoughts. Instead, she talked about the temptation of snap-judging others for what you see as their failures. Here's a few graphs of it, because it's just too good to try and paraphrase:

"Many of us, men and women, could use practice keeping custody of the eyes when we're looking at someone whom we are NOT attracted to, lustfully otherwise -- someone whose dress or behavior we don't approve of. Lust isn't the only passion that needs reining in.

Here's an example. When I was shopping yesterday, I saw an enormously fat woman wearing short shorts and a cherry red shirt that was cut so low, it was hardly a shirt at all.  I mean, gravity was being disrupted.  Light was going there to die. Whatever you're picturing right now, it was more outrageous than that.  I mean!

So, as someone who takes modesty seriously, what did I do? I thought bad things about her. I jeered at her in my head. I imagined how annoyed I would be if I had had one of my young sons with me. I compared my weight with her weight. And I concluded that she --  not people like her, but she herself -- was what was wrong with America today.

This was all in a matter of a split second, of course. I didn't stand there gawping at her; and pretty quick, I caught myself. I made a conscious effort to think about something else, and I moved along. But if I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have moved along much sooner, because I need to protect myself -- not against lust, but against the sins of nastiness, cattiness, and disdain. If I had been practicing custody of the eyes, I would have just moved along automatically when I realized my weaknesses were being exposed.

But that's not the best I can do. How much better would it have been if I focused on protecting not only myself, but this woman: if, by long, well-established habits of charity in my thoughts, words, and deeds, I had found it very easy to see this woman simply as another child of God. This should be our goal whether we're gazing at someone who is immodest, or sloppy, or whose style is too trendy, or too pricey, or too pretentious, or old fashioned, or bizarre, or too anything."

I don't know if it's because I'd read Fisher's post earlier in the week -- I don't always get a chance to read her posts, but I usually enjoy them when I do, because she is is both funny and honest about faith and life -- but I found myself thinking of it several times over the past weekend when confronted with similar situations. 

First, I was at a store when an adult man (in his 30s or 40s) yelled at his mother for interrupting his tally of the cost of movies he was planning to buy. Somewhat horrified, my first thought was, "how rude is this man?" But what if he had some sort of developmental disability and couldn't control his outbursts?

Or when I was leaving another store and saw a woman with her three children in the wet parking lot. She had shoes on, but none of them did. My first thought was "How lazy, that's so dangerous," not, "Maybe they can't afford shoes."

Finally, yesterday at mass, the cell phone of a man several pews away went off during the reading of the Gospel, and he answered it (what?!) and had a brief conversation before hanging up. As I sat there, trying to focus on the reading, all I could think of was "don't judge him, you don't know what's going on....but couldn't he at least have taken it out into the narthex?" Mentioning it to my best friend later, she said wisely, "I try to give someone the benefit of the doubt when that happens. Maybe there was an emergency, or someone's in the hospital?"

I think we've all been there. We see someone wearing or doing something really inappropriate, and our first thought isn't to pray for them, but to ridicule, to judge, to gloat that we're superior and would never, ever do the same thing. But would we? We don't know circumstances, and Fisher's post reminded me of that. It's something I plan to remember in the future, too.

Monday, June 03, 2013

An apology, and small moments

Again, I am very sorry for the posting gap. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy ones at work, with the school year ending and filled with promotion ceremonies. It's really my busiest season, work wise. I'm currently in the throes of finishing up a special high school graduation section for the paper that involves a lot of over time. I've managed to carve out a few hours a week to get to the gym (if only to burn off stress), but most of the time, when I haven't been working, I've been turning my brain off with TV.  I've had several one-day "weekends."

This, admittedly, hasn't helped me settling into the house. Things are still finding their place, although I've certainly made progress.

Anyway, I had a fun little exchange with a coworker last week. I will admit to not being the most vocal of evangelists when it comes to promoting the faith, and for the longest time, I thought that all promotion of the Church had to be BIG. I think I've mentioned before that I'm not very good at it. But I've gradually come to realize that small things make a difference, too.

For example, I didn't used to post much about saints or the Church on Facebook. But the more I thought about it, I realized that not doing so was tantamount to denying part of myself, a part I wasn't remotely ashamed of. Why should other people post about favorite TV shows, or political viewpoints, and me not post about the faith I love? So, although it isn't every day, I now frequently share quotes from saints or venerables, or note feast days, or like photos of Pope Francis. And last week, one of our sports writers asked me a question.

"So, are you doing a new thing, posting about saints every day now?" It wasn't asked in any sort of snide way, just curiously, as something he'd noticed.

I had to think for a second, and realized I'd posted a St. Francis De Sales quote and shared an image of another saint who'd had a feast day.

"Feast day?"

I went on to explain briefly that all saints are celebrated and honored either on the anniversary of their birth or their death.

"So, how many are there?" my coworker asked. "A few hundred?"

I almost laughed. "Actually, there are thousands. I don't even know how many, to be honest, and often there can be 10, or even 20 that have the same feast day."

"Oh," he said. "Ok." And then he went back to writing his sports story.

And in that moment, I realized that was evangelization. Something so tiny, a conversation of maybe two minutes, with no fireworks or grand gestures. A whisper in time, if you will. It made me think of Elijah, and the wind, and the rocks and the fire, none of which God was in, but the rather the smallest sound. Not that I'm remotely a prophet, but sometimes I think God's still, small voice can speak through us, too.