Dare I Approach?

(Everyday Bravery, Day 8)

Note: this post was meant to go up Sunday evening. But then I – you know – got completely wrapped up in the presidential debate and let the finishing touches on this slip. So the post will be better read if you pretend it’s Sunday. Yesterday. There you go.

 

For the past few years, my parish has been hosting this thing they call “Church Chat.” When they instituted it, they changed the times of the Sunday Masses so that one is kind of early and the other is pretty much late, and in between they scheduled faith formation classes for the kids and Church Chat for the adults. (This year they’ve even opened the nursery to Church Chat participants, so parents can drop their older kids at faith formation classes and their toddlers and babies in the nursery.)

There’s a little “café” where you can purchase coffee and bagels, etc. You can sit and visit with your fellow parishioners. And then you can partake in the Church Chat.

(This is where my Protestant friends are heaving a sigh of unimpressed, because nurseries and adult Sunday School are everyday, everywhere things to them. But my Catholic friends might well be shocked. “You mean your parish is making a real push for adult faith formation? With BABYSITTING?”)

I know. It’s crazy.

(People who make decisions at parishes: This is a good idea. You should see if you can pull it off too.)

Anyway, before this year I never even considered attending, because: (1) How was I going to get away from all my little kids in order to be there? (2) “Church Chat” is a dorky name. (3) I’m a brat who thinks she has no need for adult faith formation. And (4) How was I going to get away from all my little kids in order to be there?

Fortunately, this year my (1/4) concern was easily dispensed with because my oldest started faith formation classes himself. So my husband and I rearranged our own Sunday schedule. Now we get up early, go to the 8am Mass, and I stay at church for alloftheabove while Brennan and the younger three go home. By the time our oldest and I get back, Daddy has made pancakes. (WIN all around!)

Even more fortunately, my (2/3) concerns were also addressed. This year we’re viewing and discussing Bishop Robert Barron’s “Pivotal Players” in Church Chat – and have you ever seen Bishop Barron’s work? (The people at Word on Fire do an incredible job.) It’s beautiful! So beautiful I got over my snobbery in a flash. I now look forward to Church Chat every week.

Okay – my apologies. That was a very roundabout way of getting to the point of this post. Today is Sunday, and as I said at the beginning of this Everyday Bravery Write 31 Days challenge, each Sunday this month I’ll be posting on the parts of the day’s Mass readings that feel to me like calls to bravery.

This week, the Gospel reading stands out to me:

LK 17:11-19

As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem,
he traveled through Samaria and Galilee.
As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him.
They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying,
“Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!”
And when he saw them, he said,
“Go show yourselves to the priests.”
As they were going they were cleansed.
And one of them, realizing he had been healed,
returned, glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.
He was a Samaritan.
Jesus said in reply,
“Ten were cleansed, were they not?
Where are the other nine?
Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”
Then he said to him, “Stand up and go;
your faith has saved you.”

The thing that jumps out to me from this reading is the nerve of the ten lepers. Have you ever been in the presence of someone who is holy? I was once about 15 feet away from Pope Saint John Paul II and the feeling was just incredible. I swear he radiated holiness. In the years since, the only things I’ve experienced that have felt like that are Eucharistic processions. (That is, a group of people proceeding through a physical space with the Eucharist – the very Body of Christ – held aloft.)

When you are in the presence of someone holy, you feel it. I can hardly imagine what it must have felt like to see Jesus Himself.

And yet, these men approached Him. They called to him from a distance, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” This is no small thing. First, it must have taken great nerve to speak to Jesus at all. And second, to have had the wherewithal to ask Him for his help.

I don’t know about you, but I hate to ask for help. I hate to humble myself to that point. I hate, too, to acknowledge myself as weak and flawed. Yet what else can one do in the very presence of God?

This week and last in Church Chat, we’ve been learning about St. Thomas Aquinas. Last week we saw the portion of the film that told of Christ speaking to the saint from the Cross, telling Thomas he had written well and asking what he would like in return. This week we had a discussion question that asked us how we would answer if Christ asked us that question.

To be honest, I can’t imagine having the nerve to answer at all.

I have a hard time confronting the idea of God, knowledgeable as I am of my weaknesses and wrapped up as I am in the things of this world. It’s so hard for me to make that mental and spiritual leap – away from the mundane, the known – to the divine. I don’t know how I could handle an exchange with God Himself.

St. Thomas Aquinas answered Christ’s question with, “Nothing but you, Lord.” The one leper, the Samaritan, did something similar in returning to thank Jesus for healing him. I’m afraid I might be more like the remaining nine, who moved on without that up-close exchange.

In these few weeks of Church Chat, I have felt an opening – a window into a personal rawness in the presence of God that I haven’t felt for a long time. I want to approach God; I want to seek Truth. As one of my fellow participants put it today, “I’m thirsty.”

I think that approaching/seeking can require great bravery. It’s much more comfortable to sit in our everyday lives, on a level that we’re used to, grappling with the things we’re confronted with day in and day out. It’s hard – frightening, even – to try to move out of our everyday, to grapple instead with personal weaknesses and universal truths.

I hope I can be brave enough.

these-walls-dare-i-approach

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This post is the eighth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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On Authority

I have always known (or at least, my brother has always told me) that I’m a bit of a dork. Growing up, I never quite felt like I fit in with people my own age. With babies and old folks, I was golden. But from the ages of, say, 8 to 25 (dare I admit it lasted that long?), I felt a general sense of unease with my peers. It’s a good thing I’m not the least bit shy and I have a pretty healthy sense of my own worth, because if I’d been a timid, insecure little thing, I imagine that unease would have made for a miserable childhood.

As it was, I had a very happy childhood: I had a loving family and lots of close friends who were kind, funny, smart – all sorts of good things. When I did encounter classmates who saw through to my unease with the middle school sense of humor or the teenage sense of fun and gave me a hard time about it, I was usually able to stand up to them.

My adolescent social standing, though, was not helped by the fact that I was born with an innate distaste for anyone and anything “popular.” You know all those images of screaming, crazy-out-of-their-mind teenage girls waiting to greet the Beatles? And subsequent crowds of girls swooning over New Kids On The Block, Justin Bieber, etc? Umm… yeah… that wasn’t my thing. Not only did that obsessed-fan behavior kind of baffle me, but I had a knee-jerk reaction against anything that smacked of a fad. Torn jeans? Six-inch-high bangs? My response was almost desperate: “No! It’s a fad! Get awaaayyy from it!”

I also didn’t have the teenage rebellion thing going for me. When my classmates were sneaking out to go to parties or driving around with forbidden friends, I was… exactly where my parents thought I was. Behaving nicely.

I know – I probably sound very boring to you. (And yes, my brother would assure you that I was/am.) But I promise that I do indeed know how to have fun, if perhaps a tamer version of fun than you prefer. In high school my friends generally congregated at my house, playing volleyball in the summer, board games in the winter. In college my house was also the gathering place, full of friends and good food. It still is.

Reflecting on all of this afterward, in my late twenties or so, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Why did I have no rebellious impulse at all when it came to my parents, but a strong aversion to being influenced by my peers?

After a while, it came to me: It’s all down to authority.

Because really, I know how it feels to have that rebellious, “Don’t you tell me what to do!” attitude. I experience it frequently. I experience it when I feel like all the lovely ladies are obsessed over some new trend in fashion, when everybody’s talking up a new diet or exercise regimen, when all the mommies seem to be jumping on some new parenting method bandwagon, when my Facebook feed is alight with the latest “it” political cause. I get this stubborn urge to do just the opposite of whatever it is everybody is so excited about.

I know – it’s pretty ridiculous. You don’t have to tell me that it’s just as silly to dislike something because it’s popular as it is to like something because it’s popular. I know that. And I recognize that sometimes (many times?) I reject something that I might otherwise enjoy, just because everyone else seems to be enjoying it. Silly.

When it comes to rules handed down by institutions, however, I’m usually onboard. Parking signs, using your blinker every single time you turn, underage alcohol laws, college rules regarding who is allowed on which floor after which hour, Church precepts on sex or marriage or mass obligations… I’m fine. I have zero rebellious impulse when it comes to people/institutions I perceive as having authority over me. (That is not to say I never struggle with following their rules. I simply feel no urge to rebel against them.)

The lack of a rebellious impulse in that respect is part of my nature. It’s just how I’m built. But I also have a rationale for my obedience to authority.

Let me pause here and draw attention to that word for a moment: Obedience. We don’t seem to like it much these days, do we? I certainly don’t like its relatives – follow, conform, imitate – when they pertain to people in whom I do not recognize authority. We are each the protagonist of our own story, are we not? I am the central character in my own life. I determine how I view the stage; I decide the direction I take. So shouldn’t I also be the authority? Why should I be obedient to someone or something else?

Back to my rationale… As an example, let me sketch out my line of thinking insofar as it relates to the Church: Do I believe that God created the heavens and the earth and little ol’ me to boot? Yes. Do I believe that God’s son, Jesus Christ, came to earth to live among us and that he suffered a horrible, painful death to redeem humanity – including me – from sin? Yes. Do I believe that Christ established the Catholic Church and that it continues to hold the authority He gave it? Yes.

If I really believe those things, what choice do I have? What is more important to me – to view myself as the ultimate authority, or to submit to the authority of the Church? I choose the latter.

I recognize that to a lot of people – especially young people, and perhaps especially Americans – the idea of submitting oneself to the authority of a church is… shocking, maybe? Horrifying, even? Inconsistent with our society’s secular ideals and sense of personal independence?

Okay, then – call me a rebel. (If one can be both rebel and dork, that is.)

I would wager that very few people lead lives completely independent of outside influence. Few are genuinely self-determined, free spirits. Most people submit to something – perhaps to parental or institutional authority, perhaps to the advice given by experts in the sciences, perhaps to the trends handed down from celebrities. We may not think about it much, but we follow, we conform, we obey. It’s just a matter of to what.

Certainly, my personality (my “Don’t you tell me what to do, popular person!” personality) predisposes me to favor obedience to parents/church/state over peers/culture. But I still make choices. I think. I assess. I keep my eyes and mind open, aware that parents and institutions make mistakes. That sometimes they act unjustly. That evil exists and each one of us is vulnerable to it.

So I walk the line, I suppose. Perhaps it’s not a very neat philosophical ending. When I recognize authority in a person or an institution, I obey. I trust. I do not rebel, but I do watch. Trust and watch: I can do both.

When I do not recognize authority, however, I run. So if you ever want to get me to do something, for heaven’s sake, don’t tell me it’s popular.