Thursday, December 28, 2006


Just before Christmas I was talking with an LDS friend at work. I had shared with him part of a letter I had written and he remarked on my use of the phrase, "I find great peace in the constraints of the Church."

To be completely honest, when I wrote the letter I used that phrase without really thinking about it much. Not thoughtlessly, exactly, but maybe casually. Since that conversation, I've spent some time mulling it over.

The truth of the matter is that the Church does have constraints -- on my behavior, my beliefs, even on the kinds of thoughts I'm to entertain and avoid. As a convert I've willingly submitted myself to these rules. And it is true that I find peace in m Faith. The time I spend at Mass is the most peaceful time of the week; time away from the world and its concerns, time spent with the God who made and loves me. (Aside: I know that God is with me always, but there's a special connection during the Mass.)

There's a paradox in finding peace through restraints. My oldest is reading Orwell's 1984 and the notion of "peace through submission" sounds as if it might have been dreamed up by Big Brother. However, I think that may be the wrong lens to use in viewing this.

Let me take a strange detour and I'll see if I can put this in a proper context.

I have a book called Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon. I picked it up on a few years back when we were traveling in Southern Utah. It documents death and disaster in the canyon and the thing which stands out most clearly in my memory is that so many of the deaths were preventable. People died by climbing over guard rails for a "better view", or jumping down onto ledges as a joke, or by disregarding the warning signs and advice of seasoned rangers and hikers.

The obvious metaphor here is that the rules of the Church serve much the same purpose. It's not that those charged with my spiritual care think they know more than I do (although they might, indeed, think that), it is that the rules have been tested over time and shown to work. Stay on this side of the fence and you'll be safe.

In the larger context, I think this explains the reluctance of the Church to make swift changes ... even when potential changes have great popular appeal. The rules which have been in place for years (decades and centuries in many cases) will be held to because they have been shown to be safe. Change isn't impossible, but it is carefully considered.

When my wife and I talked about this, she used a much homier and more motherly analogy. She likened the constraints of the Church to the swaddling of a babe; soft but firm and warm and comforting. An image that I find entirely satisfactory and eminently comforting.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Third Week of Advent

When Cathy and I went to Mass last night the line outside of Fr. Francis Reconciliation room was short, so we decided to take the opportunity for Confession. (It saved us a trip back for today's reconciliation service.)

I'd not been to Fr. Francis before, but Ian had reported that he is a good confessor. Different priests have different gifts and I think Ian was right about Fr. Francis.

He listened quietly and then drew out the two themes from what I'd said -- impatience and jealousy -- and knitted them together. He suggested that I remember my Christian duty to serve people quietly. Words don't really capture exactly what happened, but suffice it to say that what he said was exactly what I needed to hear.

This is what Reconciliation is about (at least in the very best instances). An opportunity to unburden in contrition, to receive counsel and comfort and to start fresh with a new insight. I've sometimes thought about how hard a sacrament this must be for priests to administer. I'm grateful for their willingness to do it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Second Week of Advent

It's the Second Week of Advent already and I'm not feeling as connected to the season as I'd like.

For some reason this year we seem to be ultra busy -- more so than usual -- and it's making it hard to find any peace. Although my village is up (I did that Thanksgiving weekend) Cathy's Bethlehem set remains packed away. We usually have it up by now.

We've set up the Advent wreath, but with both boys in the Holiday Follies at St. Joe's, they've been at late practices every night this week. On the upside, we have a new book of daily readings for Advent. It's called "O Come, Emmanuel" and it draws from hymns (ancient and modern) for each of the daily devotions. The readings are longer than we've used in the past, but the boys are old enough now to connect with them.

Tonight we're off to "Journey to Bethlehem" at Mountainview Baptist Church (my parent's church). It's a live, walk-through nativity. You begin in Nazareth in the company of a Jewish family which is traveling to Bethlehem in accordance with the law of Caesar. Along the way you are beset by robbers, harassed by Romans, meet up with the Magi, rejected at the inn, and (eventually) you see both the Manger and the Cross. My parents have taken the roles of the Mayor and the Mayor's wife and we're looking forward to seeing them.

Perhaps that will help connect me to the season.If not, there's always the communal Penance service at St. Rose next week.

I am looking forward to Christmas. As with last year, all four of us are serving at the vigil Mass. That's always a treat...and one that we won't have after Ian moves out to college.

Statement of Purpose

I've decided to use the blog as a place to post my thoughts about my Faith.

I have another blog in another place that is more private and used to keep in touch with close friends and family. It's more of a journal than a blog.

Over the past couple of years I have posted a few thoughts about my Faith in that space and I've brought them over here.

From here forward, when I post to that journal on matters of Faith, I'll cross-post here as well.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Book Review ... A Life Review

I've just finished reading Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and wanted to capture my thoughts whilst they were still fresh.

For those who missed the news, Anne has found her way back to God. She was (as she explains in the afterward) raised as an Irish Catholic, but abandoned her Faith and embraced Atheism as a world view. She married, raised a family, became a a very successful author and found it all empty. In time she returned to the Church in which she had been raised.

But I've wandered off track...except it's important that you understand a little of this so I can tell you what I found in the book.

At its simplest level, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is a novel told from the perspective of the young Jesus as His family leaves Egypt and returns to live in Nazareth. He is seven at the beginning of the novel and Joseph announces that he and Jesus and Mary (and their extended family) can leave Egypt. Herod is dead. The news will come by Roman post in two days' time...Joseph has been given advance knowledge.

The family returns to Jerusalem, hoping to make it for Passover in the temple. Along the way the young Jesus starts to hear hints of stories about His birth in Bethlehem, but no one will tell Him anything definite. His parents are tight-lipped, and their reticence is shared by the entire family. Jesus is obedient, but driven by the curiosity.

Their visit to the Temple is cut short by an armed rebellion which is brutally quashed by Herod's troops. The family flees to Nazareth.

The story covers a period of one year, ending when they return to Jerusalem for the next Passover.

It's not a compelling narrative in the usual sense of the phrase. After all, we already know what it is that Jesus is trying to learn. We know that He is the Son of God and that His birth was heralded by angels and He was visited by the Magi. There's also the fact that the young Jesus is sinless, so there's no question of him disobeying.

Yet the book works beautifully on two levels.

On one level, it is a marvelous excursion into New Testament times. I've come to understand the bloody brutality of it, the bondedness of families, the complex rituals of Jewish life, and I've gained a sense of what it must have been like to live then. Anne Rice has always been good at research, drawing a scene and taking the reader there.

At a deeper level, the book is really about Anne working out her Faith. In one memorable passage the family is discussing an argument between the Rabbis from the local Synagogue. One of them says that it is good that the rains have come because that means the mikvah (ritual bath) has living water. Another points out that the water which filled the mikvah before was from the cistern which had been filled with rain water. And, besides, the small hole at the bottom of the mikvah meant that the water drained constantly and so counted as "living water".

Jesus' older male relatives kick around the various arguments, but in the end it is Joseph who settles it by saying, "See two paths on a mountain ridge. One is close to the edge, the other is farther away. The one farther away is safer. That is the path of the Pharisee -- to be farther from the edge of the cliff, farther from falling off the cliff and into sin, and so Rabbi Jacimus believes in his customs."

Moving behind that text I see Anne, struggling with the rules of the Church and the priests who favor a strict interpretation of the Catechism. In Joseph's words she at once supports that Faith and acknowledges the human differences in all of us.

In another passage Jesus brother James (Joseph's son from a previous wife) reconciles with his brother. In James' words I hear echoes of Anne's own confession and her brokenhearted determination to return to a savior whom she has rejected. There is such love and peace suffusing the scene that I wept when I read it.

And therein lies the wonder of the book. It presents a real, believable, human, Divine, and complete Jesus. I daresay the book even has some sense of Presence.