Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Lenten Examination of Consciousness for Married People

I like this stained glass window of the Cana Wedding: Jesus and Mary are in a bit of a huddle about the wine problem and the newly weds are looking over, perhaps nervous, expectant, hopeful. Jesus and Mary are helping them to get off to a good start.

Marriage is in trouble, they say. Indeed, in some parts of the world it is predicted that in the not too distant future, marriage will cease to exist. Speaking with a class of about thirty high-schoolers I asked how many of you come from homes where the parents are divorced or separated. All but three or four hands went up. 

Listen in on some Christian conversations and you'd think the greatest threat to married life is gay people and their hopes and dreams or their  radical agenda. But a seasoned husband and father of eight told me, "Marriages fail when someone is selfish."  And the lack of psycho-spiritual support married people receive from their churches is at least sad, if not galling, considering the time, energy and resources the churches otherwise spend on all the Defense of Marriage talk. 

So I've written an Examination of Consciousness for married people. Not an Examination of Conscience (which is looking for sin) but Consciousness: an alert awake-ness, out of which I might know myself better and from that place grow.

"What do you know?" someone might say. I'm a priest nearly thirty seven years; I've seen and heard a lot.

  • Do I consciously pray each day for my spouse?
  • Am I taking care of myself so that I can rightly care for my family? Or am I running on empty?
  • Are we actively building and growing this relationship? Or have we resigned ourselves, even long ago, to living it out in a rut?
  • Have we abandoned the holy project (which is marriage) for other concerns, demands and projects?
  • When did I last say to my spouse, from a deeply felt place "I love you so much," or "I think the world of you."
  • Am I moody or nasty-mouthed with my spouse? Do I belittle her/her? Are we more roommates than spouses?
  • Am I self-pitying? A victim?
  • Do I make threats, "If you don't...I'll..."  "You better...or else..."
  • Do I think it's my job to change my spouse? Am I controlling?
  • Are we an argumentative couple? Do we fight dirty? Do we punish each other with the silent treatment?
  • Do the words, I'm sorry, stick in my throat?
  • Do I burden my spouse in any way?
  • Am I faithful to my spouse?  Is my heart faithful?
  • Do I use sex to manipulate my spouse?
  • Do I actively and stubbornly dis-like my in-laws?
  • Am I a meddler?
  • Do I carry around drama and complaint?
  • Do I shirk responsibility?
  • Do I take my spouse for granted? Do I use my spouse?
  • Am I a blamer?
  • Have I sided with my children over my spouse?
  • Do I use a dirty or cursing mouth against my spouse in anger?
  • Does this marriage need help? Are we in trouble? Do we procrastinate over working on problems?
  • Do I live with a troubling secret to which my spouse has a right to know?
  • Do I lie to and hide things from my spouse?
  • Does alcohol (drugs?) impact the quality of my marriage?
  • Can I say I'm really present to my spouse? Emotionally?
  • Am I cheating my spouse in some way?
  • Do I resent even the simplest requests my spouse makes?
  • Do I go around my spouse being put out?
  • Do I bring negative energy to my relationship?
  • "Pick, pick, pick - you're always picking on him, why don't you leave him alone!" (or HER. From a very funny dinner scene in the Laurel and Hardy short, Twice Two).
  • Is this marriage sacramental? Meaning: I am supposed to be my partner's first encounter with and experience of the love of Christ? 
  • Would I dare to ask my spouse, "What do I need to change about myself to grow this marriage?" And then be still and only listen.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Intercessions ~ Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ash Wednesday ~ February 10

Ashes are called the poor man's fertilizer./ We pray this Lent that goodness,/ mercy and compassion would grow in us./ That we would be fruitful in kindness./ We pray to the Lord.

Wars are conceived in wounded human hearts./ We pray to become adept at dialogue/ and the resolution of the problems which cause us to prepare for and enact wars./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis begins a week long journey to Mexico next Friday./ We pray for his safety as he will visit particularly dangerous places./ And that his presence will instill hope and transformation./ We pray to the Lord.

Give new strength to those who parent babies and sick children./ Bless those who never get a vacation or a break,/ whose money comes up short,/ whose work is tedious or dangerous./ We pray to the Lord.

Reassure those who are struggling with prayer,/ who are filled with doubts,/ who don't feel God's presence,/ who through great difficulty are trying to hold onto faith./ We pray to the Lord.

Guide and renew those who work in prisons,/ hospitals,/ nursing homes and hospices./ Take care of the sick/ especially those who are failed by injustice and are left untended./ We pray to the Lord.

And as we set out towards Easter,/ give to all the dead/ the gift of life won for us in Christ's bright rising./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Smiling Matters

Joseph smiling! Here is his statue found on  the facade of the 13th century gothic cathedral of Reims in France. We might imagine that Joseph has just seen Mary from a distance and is smiling to greet her. Or that he is delivering the good news of having found a shelter for his pregnant wife in Bethlehem. Or that the young Jesus has just spoken his first word.

A human face contains forty three muscles which makes us capable of tremendous unspoken expression. One could say that our ability to smile is among the very important aspects of being human. But our minds control our smiling, so like our thoughts, our smiles can be used for good or ill. Joseph is surely smiling for good in the Reims statue.

But smiles can also be used wrongly. A smile can trick or manipulate. A smile can be used to conceal hate or dishonesty. A smile can be a smirk: "I know something you don't know." 

I had a pastor years ago who smiled even when people were objecting angrily to some decision  he made. It left them feeling as if he wasn't hearing them or didn't take their concerns seriously. 

But a real smile communicates pleasure, friendship and affection. Remember the gospel scene where Jesus met the young man who asked about following as a disciple. And when Jesus realized the fellow wasn't up to it, that he couldn't give it up, he "looked at him with love."  (Mark 10:21) No doubt Jesus' look was accompanied by a kind smile.

There's an awful lot of scowling today, eye-rolling, scrunched brows, tysk-ing and frowning. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. wrote: "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry, except that so many of them resembled more the undertaker." We need more smiles: genuine, open and warm.

But of course, how we smile depends upon what's going on inside us: what we're thinking about, how much we are distracted or controlled by resentments. Complainers, grumblers and critics usually don't smile - warmly anyway. We don't have to suffer such discontent! 

And let's be honest - if we don't smile at people, we have no cause  or right to expect others will smile at us. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sexagesima ~ Transitioning To Lent

Violet: Transitioning to Lent ~ Easter

So last Sunday (Septuagesima on the old calendar) I proposed a Lenten fast from complaining, blaming and grumbling. Today is called Sexagesima Sunday which is roughly sixty days to Easter. Collectively these three old-fashioned Sundays, with the strange Latin names, is get-ready-time. Head's up - Lent is coming!

The Catholic way still attends to some kind of Lenten dietary observance - at least the abstinence from meat on the Lenten Fridays, and the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fasts. But my proposal might stand a better chance of impacting us for the long term. The check-list below might sound absurd, but really, (if we're paying attention), it's us who are absurd with all our complaining, blaming and grumbling. Like living in a room of bad air.

We complain about:
the traffic
the parking lot
the neighbors
the relatives

We grumble about:
the prices
the taxes
the weather
the food

We blame:
the waitress
the government
the electric company
the boss

We complain about:
the long lines
the technology
the temperature
the colleagues

We grumble about:
the mail delivery
the satellite reception
everything being made in China
the news anchor

We blame:
the president
the politicians*
maybe even the pope
the newcomers

We complain about:
the young people
our spouses
the addicts
the gays

We grumble about:
the railroad
the crowds
the teacher
the high school rival

We blame
the Muslims
the Jews
the Mexicans
the French

We complain about
the homeless
the new world order
the left - the right
the waiting room

We grumble about
the too long red light
the aches and pains
the person behind the counter
the ethnicity of law breakers

We blame
the police
the ineffective cold remedy
the people who should know better
and God himself

OK - we get it, we get it! Oh, one more: the priest, his sermons and his bishop!

It's pathetic really: so much air used up, so much energy and time. The suffering of our inner discontent! So for Lent - let's just cut it out. Read a happy book. Start some tomato seeds in the house. Get a garden ready. Turn off all the bad news/sad news. Practice silence - not moody silence though. Make our own book of counted blessings. Read the Gospels and  high-lite in bright yellow every verse that's happy news. Consciously inhale and exhale compassion and kindness on everyone you meet or even think about. Pope Francis' Mercy Jubilee will make sense then, because when all the pulpit words go silent, bottom line is: Mercy means kindness.

*Maybe we can allow some criticism of politicians - after all, Jesus called Herod a fox. Luke 13:32