Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Trinity of Reasons to Love Catholic Exchange

Need three reasons to embrace Catholic Exchange?

Here's the first: Mark Shea offers penetrating insight into how to live lives of holiness--and it's not based on his, or anyone else's, personal experience!
To be honest, I am not particularly holy. That is to say, I don't usually act holy, understand holiness much, think holy thoughts, or say holy things. I moan and groan, yell at my kids, live half my life by the motto "Me First," mistrust God and generally schlep along the Road to Zion when I could be enjoying a brisk walk. I am, in short, a poor specimen of the new creation.

Why then, should you bother reading any further? There's only one reason: You are in pretty much the same boat, too. So was St. Peter — the one Jesus called "Satan" once. So was St. Thomas — the one who snorted at Lazarus's resurrection and then, after seeing that with his own eyes, went on to snort at the Resurrection of Christ. So was St. Augustine — whose prayer for years was "O Lord, make me chaste, but please don't do it just yet." And so, if we dare to look, were all the folks Jesus has called down the ages. To paraphrase our Lord, the Son of Man came to seek the washouts, oddballs, dweebs, wimps and factory rejects. No one knew this better than St. Paul who, after a lifetime of apostolic service could still say, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the worst" (1 Tm 1:15).

So the plain truth is that none of us is holy. By and large, while the high and heroic calling of Jesus is nothing less than the Supper of the Lamb, the might of the Holy Spirit and the Beatific Vision, our lives often consist of Big Macs, flab and television. What then, can we do?

By ourselves, nothing. So it's no use trying to fake holiness to impress God. The Great Physician has already examined us and the diagnosis is as follows: Due to a dominant family trait known as Original Sin, we are suffering from acute holiness deprivation. The prescription calls for intensive remedial holiness therapy. We need to see what holiness looks like. We need to breathe, eat and wash in holiness. We need a program of holiness exercises to build up our holiness muscles and hone our holiness skills. We need a way to get holiness into our bones, not a doctored X-ray and a phony bill of health.

Jesus is what holiness looks like. And it is surprising what we see when we look. Holiness is not piously ethereal and gooey. It is not necessarily nice and safe and polite, though it is always good. Holiness can pop up among the cow flops of Bethlehem. It can do a good day's work hauling lumber around the hillsides of Nazareth or refrain from work on the Sabbath. It can yuk it up at a good joke or grieve over Lazarus; chow down at supper time or fast in the wilderness; drink a hearty health to the bride and groom at Cana or drink the cup of death at Calvary. Is holiness then a mass of contradictions? No, it is one huge affirmation. For holiness undergirds all its works with a fundamental "yes" to God and His Creation. Such a fundamental "yes" to God is the very essence of holiness.
Next, Eric Scheske explains why he's blessed to be poor.
God bless me, I'm a poor guy with money. Maybe I should explain. I'm an attorney in a small Midwestern town with a regional corporate and estate-planning practice. I work hard and make what most would consider good money, especially since the cost of living in southwest Michigan is redneck low.

I also don't have many debts. My father's ample salary paid for college and law school, so my earnings have always been available for savings and my mortgage.

Monetarily blessed, I am.

But I don't seem to be able to afford a lot of things that other people enjoy.

It struck me last year when I attended a conference on Mackinac Island, a fairly pricey tourist spot in Lake Huron that is accessible only by ferry, just five miles from the Mackinac Bridge. As the ferry moved from the mainland, I saw my 2000 Venture Van sandwiched between SUVs and Lincolns. When I got to the island, I saw lots of people with expensive bicycles and remembered that my well-worn Schwinn is over five years old. I saw people nonchalantly drop serious dollars on over-priced memorabilia and "artsy" stuff, or pay $5.00 for a hot dog, or pay $500 for one night at the Grand Hotel, possibly the most luxurious hotel in Michigan.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn’t dwelling on these things. They just kinda quietly lumbered in the bowels of my mind, like the way my crawling baldness does.

Then on my last morning there, while trying to grab a quick breakfast at a deli, a young couple with their little son and best Tommy Hilfiger leisure look came in and mused over the offerings, including a dozen different types of coffee. After a few moments, the wife asked the worker, politely but with a small air of anxiety, "Do you have mild Starbucks?” (or some such thing).

The closest I've come to Starbucks is that "Glenn, Glenn, Glenn" commercial. I would have thought the twelve different types of coffee on the menu board pretty much exhausted the list (though on reflection I now realize that "Mocha Cow Urine" wasn't up there either).

I shook my inside head. It never would have occurred to me to inquire about a coffee not listed on that board. It reminded me of a friend who dined at a fine California restaurant and commented to the waiter that she didn't recognize any of wines on the list. "Those," the waiter snooted, "are the waters."

The possibility of such a wide assortment of waters wasn't part of her mental landscape, just as the blossoming variety of coffees isn't part of mine.

Since that overheard Starbucks exchange, I started thinking about all the other things that aren't part of my mental landscape: how to stock a 4,000-square-foot house with nice furniture; the hottest vacation spots; what designer clothes will make me look the most with-it; what SUV handles best on super-smooth freeways.

For the most part, I don't think about those things for the same reason my friend doesn't think about gourmet waters: It's simply something she can't afford. And even if a financial windfall made it affordable, she probably wouldn't buy it because she doesn't live in a world where such things have a place.

I think it's a blessed state.

Which isn't a stretch. Jesus, after all, blessed the poor.
Finally, Mary Biever illustrates the true meaning of Christmas.
Our greatest gifts to God may come in the dark, barren years when we seem to have so little. Perhaps a child at the Christmas table — a modern Tiny Tim — tells us, "God bless us, everyone." We give what we have — whatever we have. When we do so, God blesses us beyond measure, in ways we could never anticipate.

They may be material blessings, but are just as likely to be blessings of the heart. A single smile can ease the burden of a sorrow-laden holiday season.

The real table of plenty is the one God serves to our hearts and souls. We may discover it when we give what we have — whatever it is — to honor the newborn King.

If your Christmas stocking has more poignant sorrow than happiness this season, take heart. You are not alone, and the Christ Child is still there for you. He already gave you the most precious gift He had — Himself.
To live the Catholic life is to undertake the most exciting and dangerous journey anyone has ever known. We confront reconciling our grief, from the blows we've endured from the world, with the eternal love of God. We struggle to live in communion with our savior and one another while the seductions of mirages gnaw at our attention and resolve. We face our aging and ailing family, and our throat tighten in sorrow as we find ourselves unable to offer a meaningful word of comfort. We bit on mouthfuls of sand as we cross the desert of our prayer life. Living a Catholic life is not for the feint of heart.

We also laugh loudly and proudly with our friends and family over bottles of homemade San Giovese. We feel our hearts sore when we see the child we visited at a Juvenille cancer hospital smile at us. We taste the savior as we place his body on our tongue during Holy Communion. Friends we haven't seen in years arrive at the wake for our desceased with a Mass card. We join our voices in song with dozens, if not hundreds, to celebrate the birth of our Savior. Throughout the world, a billion join us, and countless more in Heaven. Living a Catholic Life soothes our heart as nothing else can.

But to live the life Jesus Christ calls each of us to through his Church, we need each other. We need the encouragement of our brothers and sisters to inspire us. We need the presence of each other to weather the storms of an enshadowed world. We need the companionship of fellow disciples.

Catholic Exchange offers us an opportunity to walk with such disciples. I can't tell you the number of times that the witness of a CE writer has made the difference in my life. I'm sure I'm not alone.

If you're feeling alone and lost, and aren't sure where to turn to find your way, look no further than Catholic Exchange. Find the strength you need in the testimony of these witnesses. You are never alone. None of us are.