Thursday, January 1, 2009

For God So Loved the World

Trying to be God-centered in this world is very difficult; I also find that some people talk about it, but don't really mean it - it is almost like a badge they like to wear without having earned it. One of the things that C. S. Lewis stresses is the sternness of Christianity, the manliness of it - it is not a religion for wimps, even though modern man has made it seem that way, including much of the Catholic Church. I am lucky enough to attend the old Mass, but even at the new mass I find it all about how wonderful we are and how much God loves us - but loves us in a gooey, sweetie-pie way. And I think... wait a second! This is a God who humbled himself by assuming our form, and then dying a horrible, humiliating death, because we were so wretched in our behavior, and doomed otherwise. If a dad ran into a burning house and pulled out his child and died of horrible burns himself, we would not think, awww, how sweet! We would think, what a brave and loving father! What a wonderful man! (The new mass doesn't even refer to it being a "sacrifice" but stresses the "meal" aspect of it, as if this were not a great and terrible thing we were witnessing, but just having a Happy Meal!)

For that reason, I loved Lewis' Narnia books - Aslan (the Christ figure) was strong, and noble, a true teacher. He loved his friends, and they loved him desperately, but it was always with respect and the knowledge that he could destroy them in a moment...

And he demands them to be strong and bold, not wishy-washy and soft. I just finished reading Goodbye, Good Men, about the crisis in vocations in the Church, and while the thought is not new (to me, or to many), it was re-inforced in reading it: the Church has been feminized out of all proportion.

The Faith as I knew it as a child was not a Faith for the faint of heart. It required discipline, self-sacrifice, self-awareness, difficult challenges (you really were expected to be celibate until marriage, for example, or for life if you chose a religious life), and plenty of time devoted to God, services, prayer, and practicing your religion. (Today, for example, our sermon was an hour - an hour - long! I mentioned to someone recently how long our sermons are - usually 30-40 minutes, and he said, "I wouldn't like that." Awww.) Fasting, abstaining, penance, financial deprivation, personal sacrifice - these things were expected of a Catholic.

Now, it's all about me, how I feel, my "community," sharing a meal of love and brotherhood, standing rather than kneeling (it is both uncomfortable and beneath my "dignity" to kneel - come on, guys, this is GOD we're talking about!), my personal fulfillment (I'm a woman and I want to be a priest, and I don't care what Jesus did, or about 2000 years of tradition... I want to be a priest, so I can wear vestments and stand up on the altar, rather than be "second best!").

I remember reading The Nun's Story when I was a child. It was one of my favorite books, because I wanted to be a nun, and it described in great detail what the life of a sister was all about. I read this book probably 40 times, all told.

In one particular episode, Sister Luke (our heroine), who is a very good medical student (she is studying to be a nurse), is asked to fail her examinations. She is asked to do this because another sister has become jealous of her skill and intelligence. The Mother Superior feels that Sister Luke's act of self-mortification will be good both for Sister Luke's pride, and for the other sister's spiritual crisis.

Sister Luke feels that this is a waste, and that she is more valuable to the Church if she passes her exams and goes to the missions as a nurse. She compromises by doing less well than she is capable of doing so that the other nun outscores her, but not so badly that she fails.

I struggled with that request. Could I have so humiliated myself? I doubt it. But the old Church, and God, would not hesitate to ask us for these kinds of sacrifices. We were expected to "man up" and do it.

Today, in our long, long sermon, Father said, we should be joyful when God sends us trouble. He sends it to us for our good - he is the author of troubles. We should say thank you, and see these as opportunities to grow, and to have something we can offer God to demonstrate our friendship and willingness to bow to his will.

How many times have I said in recent months, "I submit to your will, just show me what it is." And perhaps He is showing me what it is, I just don't like what I see... so I keep waiting for it to be something else. Something not so painful for me.

Yes, God is about love - and there is a tender quality to God's love. But it is also very much the love of a father - and while mothers nurture and love unconditionally, father's love was, at least in the old view of things, based upon conditions. Dad expected us to perform: he set standards, and we tried to live up to them.

He was the one who, no matter how many times we fell off our bike, would pick us up, set us back up on the seat, and say, "Try again."

And most of the time, we did. And sooner or later, we learned to ride the bike.

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