Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.

Day unto day pours forth speech;

night unto night whispers knowledge.

There is no speech, no words;

their voice is not heard;

A report goes forth through all the earth,

their messages, to the ends of the world.

He has pitched in them a tent for the sun.

Psalm 19: 2-5

I’m a day late with this one. We always read this psalm on the feast of an apostle, and yesterday for the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude  I wound up hearing it twice. It doesn’t seem to fit, at first. The psalmist writes of the silent proof of God through the transition from day to night to day. This daylight pours forth “speech” which is “no speech”; night “whispers” “no words.” So why read this psalm on feasts celebrating verbal evangelization, the certain missioning of Christ’s apostles to the ends of the earth? Light touches all things, the psalmist writes. The message goes “to the ends of the world.” Why rely on words now?

At the arrival of the Word, rather, at His Incarnation, words changed significantly. The creating Word that spoke forth the light and the darkness, separated them simply by willing it, now speaks with a human tongue, and He sends forth other human beings to do the same. My friend Maria writes that “the Incarnation continues,” and at least one part of that puzzling phrase is the dignity God has bestowed on man in Christ, making us “little less than a God” (Psalm 8:6). “And nothing would again be casual and small,” writes Fr. John Duffy in his poem “Annunciation,” “But everything with light invested, overspilled.” God is continually reaffirming dignity, sending the Holy Spirit who will tell us “what [we] are to say” (Mt. 10:17), and so empowering our words, or, rather, gracing them.

The light moves quickly over the land as the sun rises. We can’t perceive its speed. Our efforts to evangelize, in contrast, seem slow and plodding. And so I don’t know that the light spilling over is our “success” or human efforts, but rather the sureness in the heart that something new has happened, that mankind is forever changed in a moment. This moment is also a sunrise, a sudden burst that illumines all.


A Pouring Out

“Now when Jesus was in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table” (Matthew 26:6-7).

The pastor of my parish gave a meditation on this passage last Palm Sunday. He asked us about the symbolism of this passage, why the physical act was so important. I remember that it was one of those uncomfortable times when the answer was so obvious that I was embarrassed I hadn’t been able to think of it. “It’s what’s going to happen to Him!” Fr. Walter exclaimed. “He is going to be poured out–everything He has.”

Sometimes we get to the end of the day only to find that it is far from over. Others continue to cast their need upon us, continue to draw out of us every bit of strength we have left. There is something wonderful about the sweet exhaustion that follows–the beauty of a day completely spent. I imagine this is what married life, or motherhood, or consecrated life must be like. You give everything so that you may decrease, that Christ “may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

How do we find joy but through gift? There is nothing more disheartening than a room full of falsely self-sufficient people. Bring me the needy. At least they’re honest.

Becoming a Happy Camper in the Tent of the Lord

I cannot take credit for that brilliant title– Amazing Grace had to give a lecture a few months ago and sent me a list of “rejected titles,” and this one was by far the best. Oddly, it’s a topic that’s come up in my spiritual life quite a bit over the past week. In the last few days I’ve had conversations that have included the following lines from a variety of Catholics:

“People will always disappoint you.”

“Life can be joyful.”

“I want to be able to start living eternity now.”

“Joy and self-love are not something you can simply decide to have; they must be begged for.”

“Life is hard.”

I tend to find that many Catholics have one of two opinions on joy: the first is that they are or feel that they should be joyful, and when they’re unhappy, they feel guilty, or pretend not to be unhappy. The other is that they don’t really believe in joy, or don’t believe it means much, or believe that it is so deeply hidden within the Christian that it has little impact on his or her daily life.

I become fed up with both positions easily. I am suspicious of happy people, or people whom I suspect aren’t really all that happy. At the same time, I grow tired of the Catholic who takes himself too seriously, who seems delighted by nothing. I suppose this has a lot to do with my own emotional composition (I’ve been told I’m choleric-melancholic, and indeed, depending on what kind of alcohol I’m drinking, I like to either argue or cry). Still, my own approach to joy is very much a work in progress. How does one reconcile the longing for God, which nothing on earth can satisfy, with the joy the Christian life is supposed to bring us?

To be continued…

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Catholic

I attended the second in the series of the Catholic Artists Society’s lectures on Saturday night. My favorite part was when Fr. Peter John Cameron, O.P. answered a question about “coming out of the closet as a Catholic artist” with: “What is a Catholic artist? I don’t even know what that means!”

The sweetest part of the night was when I ran into an older woman I had met at a CAS event this past summer. She’s an illustrator for children’s books about the pope and she even got to meet Benedict XVI and give him a copy of one of her books. She just sent him her latest book with a note in which she mentions meeting a young woman (yours truly) who shared the story of how moved she was by his visit to Yonkers in 2008.

Best day ever.

Telling It Like It Is

From New York‘s interview with Justice Scalia:

Q: Have you seen evidence of the Devil lately?
A: You know, it is curious. In the Gospels, the Devil is doing all sorts of things. He’s making pigs run off cliffs, he’s possessing people and whatnot. And that doesn’t happen very much anymore.

Q: No.
A: It’s because he’s smart.

Q: So what’s he doing now?
A: What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.

Nunc Dimittis

My roommates and I have been trying to pray Night Prayer together every night at 9:30– whoever’s home participates. So far I’ve been guilty of being home least often, but when I am home I find that it’s going more and more smoothly. Praying with others is a lot like living with them: learning about their needs, personality, and temperament will make the whole thing go a lot more smoothly. Any intentional prayer that a community begins is bound to be shaky at the start, and the more reasons I find not to stick to our routine the more essential it becomes.

Aleksander Gierymski, “The Angelus”

The first question we faced when committing to a routine of communal prayer was what to do. We chose to start with something simple and short. Night prayer contains one hymn, one or two psalms, one short reading, and the Canticle of Simeon, which is only a few lines long. They repeat week after week. And so one is forced to meditate, to let something come alive in each reading, to notice. Night prayer is beautiful in its simplicity.

In honor of the saint who did small things with great love, I’m taking a look at my own spiritual life and removing the clutter, the unrealistic time commitments, and anything that is blocking peace. Prayer is not achievement; the Church is not a gym. There is no log at the end of the day with boxes to check off. There is only your own heart, nourished in the truth, “more torturous than all else,” (Jer 17:10) and yet a faithful barometer of your relationship with the Lord.

On Watching Casablanca Again Last Night

 1) Don’t tell a man, “You’ll have to think for both of us,” unless that man is Humphrey Bogart and you are Ingrid Bergman, or  else I’ll throw a shoe at you. But Ingrid, girl, I get it.

2) After watching Casablanca, you must cry when listening to “As Time Goes By” even when you’re on a subway platform and the singer is accompanied by a portable keyboard. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re being overly sentimental. Scold them for their unfeeling tear ducts.

3) Don’t watch Casablanca if you are in love, were in love, or ever expect to be in love.

4) Humphrey Bogart, marry me.