Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vocation story

Among volunteers with the Missionaries of Charity, there's a running joke that once you come to help, even to run a one-time errand, you're theirs for life. The last six years of my life, starting with a chance encounter with two MC sisters, are a grand example of the truth behind the joke.

In early 2003, I was studying at the Franciscan University campus in Gaming, Austria. I'd gone to Vienna a few days before the semester began, just to experience the city. And experience it I did – experience severe jet lag, and experience the bitter cold of an Austrian winter. I didn't do much sightseeing, but I did happen to attend the same Mass as two MC sisters. I'm not sure now of why, but I found myself volunteering in their soup kitchen that afternoon. I was in Europe, I was on my own, I was free to explore – and I spent the day ladling mugs of tea.

Come spring break, I had no money left for travel, so I arranged to spend the time as a live-in volunteer with the sisters. I got up when they did (that part took a few days); I shared their prayer and their work. I don't know if my enthusiasm was a help or a hindrance, but it did give me a look at the order. One afternoon, a very drunk man tried to demand entrance to the soup kitchen by kicking the door in. One of the sisters went to open the door and speak to him as if nothing had happened, but told him he could not come in. He slammed his fist down on the counter. She stood her ground. He left. He was over six feet tall, and violently drunk. She was 4' 10”, and never turned a hair. That moment stuck with me through the visit; but what really drew me towards the order was the perfect rhythm of prayer and work, the way one flowed into and enlivened the other, and the joy the sisters derived from it.

Back in the States, I checked out another order or two, was not nearly so attracted, and largely set the question of a vocation on the back burner. It was always there - I always intended to apply to the MCs someday – but it was not foremost in my mind. I had no more contact with the order until 2006, when I returned to the Washington DC area and began volunteering at their women's hospice near Catholic University. Once a week, I would join them for Mass, then help to sweep and mop the women's rooms. It was a privilege then, and it still is that now. I never told the sisters there that I was thinking of entering; I was not certain enough of it or myself.

Volunteering there eventually fell prey to a new job and difficult hours, all of which coincided with my drift away from the Sacraments. I never left the Church, I still attended Mass most Sundays, but I no longer went to confession and consequently did not receive Communion. Personally, it was a very bitter period in my life. It ended, by God's grace, around Easter of 2008; and it is then that I date my adult faith from. It marked the difference between passively having the Faith and actively living it; similarly my sometime desire to join the Missionaries of Charity became a perceived call.

In April of 2008, I began volunteering at the MC AIDS hospice in Baltimore – I'd moved, and had an evening job that easily allowed for morning visits. I eventually told the sister superior there that I wanted to enter, and she encouraged me to make a visit to their postulant house. That finally happened in November '08, and I was accepted to the order.

Currently, I have again had to leave off volunteering with the sisters in favor of working two jobs. One is waitressing, another is working a register; both are very humble jobs but provide many opportunities for the service that is the charism of the Missionaries of Charity. I remain in contact with the sisters, attending special events at the Baltimore house and attending meetings of the Lay Missionaries of Charity. There's a saying of Blessed Teresa's that what the sisters do, we laity cannot; what we do, they cannot – but together we can do something beautiful for God. For now, as I work towards being able to enter, I am doing what I can to meet my half of that.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Padre Pio's idea. Had to be.

Another typical morning, working a cashiering shift. Smile, chat, wish I had coffee. Scan items. Offer store credit card, get refused, take money, say goodbye. Greet next customer, smile, chat. Wish I had coffee, scan items, offer store credit card...

"Oh, that other woman dropped something." I glance up - that's not part of the routine. Maybe she dropped chocolate espresso beans, that would be nice.

My customer picks the something and hands it to me - it's a soft vinyl pouch; the contents have a familiar feel. "A Rosary?" I hesitate, between the customer in front of me and the one already out the door. I take the lazy route out. "Well - I hope she comes back for it." I probably wouldn't recognize her anyway, not with my memory for faces. And anyways, rosaries get lost. It happens. I'll drop it off at lost-and-found on my break.

During a slow period later on, I take a closer look at the rosary case. It's double-sided: one side holds a chaplet of some kind, from Kibeho in Rwanda - a Marian apparition that warned of the coming genocide. It's not just any rosary. Also there's a 3rd-class relic of Padre Pio. As for the other side of the pouch...I choke, and check quickly for any name or phone number. There's none; just the three reliquaries with 1st-class relics of Elizabeth Seton, John Neumann, and Pius X. From then on, until I am able to go back to customer service, that pouch does not go out of my sight. No way.

The lady was elderly, so probably a local; there are three parishes in town and odds are she is a parishioner at one. A few calls later, all of them will (hopefully) be running notices in the bulletin. If she doesn't come back, there's a note with the relics saying not to throw them out.
What to do with them then, considering my laziness at the start, I'm not certain.

Update: She did come back for them.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thought for the night

"Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God." -Revelation 3:2

"Right now three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." -1 Corinthians 13:13

New Year, New Beginnings

Somebody encouraged me to post this, so here goes. Please pardon any clumsiness on my part, this is written off-the-cuff before I lose nerve and hit Delete.

Back in 2003, I stayed for a week with the Missionaries of Charity sisters in Vienna, Austria, sharing in their prayer and work. Since then I've been involved with them off-and-on, always with the thought in my mind of someday, maybe, possibly, joining. In November of last year, I made a formal visit to their postulant house in NYC, and have since been accepted to the order.

A few details on the Missionaries of Charity, for those of you who may not know much about them: they are a Catholic religious order, founded in India by Mother Teresa, in the 1950s; they have since spread throughout the world. Their convents are located in the slums, among the poor they serve. In America, they run soup kitchens, food and clothing banks, homes for battered women, emergency shelters, AIDS hospices, after-school programs. At Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, they prepare meals and take them to shut-ins. There is no glory to the life, and they ask for none. There is no hidden agenda. It is simply and purely a life of service to the poor and to Christ.

As a sister, my day would begin at 4:40. I would get up, dress in the dark and straighten my pallet, then go to the chapel for an hour of prayer. From there I would go to do in-house chores (rag and bucket, no mops), then return to the chapel for Mass, beginning a day-long rhythm of prayer and work that is essential to the life of the Missionaries of Charity. My only "day off" would be Thursday, and even that is a day set aside for deeper prayer, confession, and spiritual direction. I would own nothing - even my two habits (one for washing, one for wearing) would be mine to use, but not mine to own. I would be transferred to a new convent every couple of years to avoid attachments to places or people - even that comfort of "belonging" in a place would not be mine to claim. What matters is the work, done the same for all; what matters is the Lord in whose name it is done. It may sound harsh or extreme; but it is what I feel called to. To that complete freedom to serve God and neighbor, nothing held back for myself.

Of course, the saying is that nothing easily had is worth having. That is true here as well. During college I borrowed a considerable amount in student loans, and while I have made good progress in paying them off, I have a large debt remaining. I cannot enter the order until it is paid in full. Until two months ago, I was certain that I could pay off my debt by myself. Maybe it would take a few years, but I could do it by age 35 (the oldest I can be to enter the order). It turns out that my debt is twice what I thought it was; I can't pay it off in time. I wanted to - I did not want to turn and ask for help. But it seems that now I have to. Anything - advice, prayers, whatever - any of you can give will be much appreciated! I know I am not the first in this situation, if any of you have experience with this or know of places I can turn to, please let me know.

(Permit me to add here that in the normal course of things, I am doing well. I volunteer, as I can, at the Baltimore convent and am involved with the Lay Missionaries of Charity. I have two jobs and a good place to live; I am not rich but neither am I desperate for money. I simply do not make enough to pay off my loans in time.)

What I can offer in exchange is my prayers, and also my participation in the work of the Missionaries of Charity. During their daily hour of Adoration, the sisters keep a number of candles lit on the altar; one of them is lit as a prayer for all of their benefactors throughout the world. To that general prayer, I would add my specific prayer for you. It is not much - but it is what I can give in return.

My thanks to all of you who have read through this - God bless you and your families in this Advent season.

In Christ,
Margaret Hagen

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Revelation 4:11

A young girl, tugged along by Mother
Drags her umbrella to catch the rain
Skips over a mosaic of sodden leaves.
A cyclist coasts past, looking ahead
Where a couple strolls through the mist.

The story unfolds around them,
In the trees lining this woodspath -
Now straight, now bent in homage,
Casting down crowns of copper and gold.
Stripped of glory, yet still stretching high.
Their rustle, caught up on the wind,
Sounds a groaning past all words.
Here is what Francis loved:
Not nature, but Creation.
Here a world dying to self
Here a world set afire.

-Margaret Catherine

Sunday, June 28, 2009

To change the light bulb, how many Missionaries of Charity?

A: Three. One to change the bulb, one to pray Memorares that the light will turn on, and one to find a use for the burnt-out bulb. Also a volunteer, in case any of the sisters need help.

Also from the MC front:

-I will always treasure the memory of two sisters standing shoulder to shoulder, in puzzled conference over a photo series of the many faces of Michael Jackson.

-One resident has a virtual library of Jack Chick tracts. Ouch. But, if he finds some benefit in them, insofar as they attempt to tackle inner-city life...? The men are in various spiritual places, from Muslim to Protestant to Catholic, and the sisters aren't in the business of herding any of them anywhere. Showing a way, yes - but not shoving the men toward it.

-Please pray for the soul of Jare Alejandra Ramos, the 10 year old daughter of one of the residents. A week or two back, she was found not breathing and with no heartbeat; they were actually readying her for an autopsy when she began breathing again. This past Wednesday, she had (so far as I know) another attack, but did not recover. She was his only child - and back home in Guatemala, not here in the States.

-It's wonderful to sit outside on a cool night and type away. I could probably add a couple more things. But now that I've brushed away the spider that was dangling from my hair, I think I'll go inside, thank you - and good night.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Usual night at work. Last customers are gone, conversations normally confined to the back room have moved out front as we finish up. The assistant manager's boyfriend - evidently - is hanging out, and the two of them are showing off for each other a bit. A bit of razzing on the part of the AM, about how I'm not going to go drink and I'm no fun; then the boyfriend joins in.

"I'm going to go drink Jesus' blood. I already ate a whole loaf of His body."

...Oh, if only he would.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Talking turkey

"I need to find a new place to live."
"Hey, check Craigslist. It's how I found my place." [You know who you are.]
"Sure, thanks!"

Craigslist ad:
Seeking vegetarian housemate. Great house in a quiet neighborhood

Hmm. Well, for $390 a month, I can keep the meat out of the house. I work at a restaurant, after all. They have good veal.

No meat or tobacco use permitted in the house. Smoke outside all you like...

Can I smoke meat outside?

I'm not asking for veganism, though I'm vegan myself. I'll even let an occasional tuna sandwich slide.)

You've never heard of the "slippery slope", have you? No? Oh, good.

What you eat when you go home for Thanksgiving is your affair. However, fair warning: my veganism comes from an animal rights philosophy, so if your job is based on being unkind to animals we probably wouldn't be harmonious housemates.

Nope. We probably wouldn't be. So, that'll be 30 seconds per side on that filet?

I'm a 30-something professional (part-time software, part-time shiatsu "acupressure massage") as well as an amateur poet and musician. You'd have to be ok living with someone of bohemian leanings and a sort of "Zen Pagan Atheist" spirituality, though I don't care how you personally cultivate your relationship with the universe, that's your business.

Oh, no problem. I keep my "personal cultivation" in this box over here, I take it out every month or so - at night, with all the lights out, when there's no moon - just to make sure it's still there. Then it goes back in my closet. You'll never know it exists, don't worry...since, I mean, the minute I take it out of that little dusty box, it has a way of influencing my behavior. How I earn my living, what I keep on the refrigerator shelf...

...Nah, think I'll pass on this one. Thanks, though.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Between, Now and Then

From my journal, Sept. 9 2006:
"Up at 4:30 am, hour walk to catch a bus to DC, volunteer the morning away, catch bus back, rest very briefly, catch bus to work, get home at 2:00 am. My knee was screaming for mercy by the end, and again - along with the rest of my body - when I woke up at 8:00 this morning. So, I'm fairly exhausted. And I'm probably going ramble. And possibly write a journal entry that I will wince at later.

"And yet, I wouldn't have it any other way. What I do at the Missionaries' (Mother Teresa's order), mostly, is sweep and mop floors and do dishes; last time was a break in the routine since they needed me to accompany a woman at the hospice to a doctor's appointment. But mostly it's cleancleansweatcleanclean, and somehow, in that, it's the highlight of my week. What the MCs are doing there, and elsewhere, is work that so very desperately needs doing, and they have such joy in it; it's a true privilege to be part of it even if I'm the one with the mop in her hand. Pray God I can be part of it, as a sister or as a volunteer, for the rest of my life - oh, I wander here and there and poke at this job route or that career. Medical billing, sign language interpreting, others. But it's the idea of life as an MC that holds me and draws me back again and again; something that's been true since my weeklong stay with them over three years back..."


It's been another three years. I left off the volunteering and in general drifted from the Church, caught in a cycle of shame and hiding and more shame. I still attended Mass most Sundays, but I did not receive Communion, I did not go to Confession; there wasn't much to me except bitterness and anger. That I've been called back, that anything in that journal entry is again true, is by the sheer grace and mercy of God. Not from anything I did or deserve - it's very easy to forget that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Musical Direction

On the way to spiritual direction this morning, I was ready to discuss any of a number of topics of Great Spiritual Import. The scandal that the Church in Ireland has visited on itself and on the Church as a whole; my recent lessons - those learned and those ignored - in humility and obedience; the upcoming departure of the Sister Superior, who has been something of a mentor to me; even the financial obstacles that lie between me and any attempt to enter an order, any order, which Monsignor had said we would discuss. It's been a long and rough week, there was plenty to hash out.

But none of that would amount to spiritual direction, necessarily. And Monsignor knows me by now; he didn't give me the chance to drag any of that up. Instead he started talking about music. Not what passes for music in the inner city, where the parish is located. Not that excretion of seething hatred. But music that is a blend of words and melody, the two coming together to calm us and draw us towards God. Monsignor is an organist, and classical/hymnal music is a particular love of his; for him it is a form of prayer. His point was simple: what role does music play for me? What one hymn, or song, holds the most spiritual meaning for me, and why? He wasn't referring to hymns as sung in church, communally, but rather to their private use.

I don't listen to music that often. Oh, I have plenty of songs, and a music player. It's called my old, broken-down laptop. It takes 10 minutes to start up and another five to load iTunes. So I don't bother, and anyway I don't have the time or inclination. I'm at work, or I'm volunteering, or I'm sacked out (read: being lazy). But - back when I did take the time, every night? What were the songs then? And what was it about them?

It's a good thing to slow down, stop, and ponder. What in the music, or the words, or both, affects us? What does it produce in us, and does it turn us towards God or away from Him?

Friday, May 1, 2009


In Italian, that means either 'hello' or 'goodbye' - here, it means both. Been gone on retreat to Rome, with a 2-day extension in Venice...various thoughts and musings and odd experiences (did you know it hails in Venice?) will be posted here over the next few days, as I have time in my too-soon resumed workaday life.

A Passenger Manifesto

Man is the sum of his appetites: what has conventionally been termed “free will” is but the expression of those. He should – nay, must – be permitted to do as he likes, when he likes, where he likes. Any other state of affairs is in direct contradiction to observed human nature, and is psychologically unhealthy.* It is, therefore, the role of society and government to enable the fulfillment of fundamental appetites in a manner as comfortable and safe as possible. While European governments are demonstrably ahead of America in this regard, there remains work to be done. There must be removed that lingering inequality by which a mere portion of the populace enjoys full privileges to the envy and resentment of the rest.

In light of this, Rome-Fiumicino airport must remove and replace all benches that have armrests, not only half, so that everyone who wishes to may stretch out and sleep. The proffered recourse to a 24-hour cafe is appreciated, but ultimately is as weak and inadequate a substitute as the caffe latte on hand there.

The true desire of all those remaining overnight in Fiumicino is to sleep. A disheartening proportion enjoy no success. Until this is rectified, there can be no true justice.

Penned by Margaret Catherine
The 30th day of April, 2009
3:30 am

*Symptoms of psychological imbalance resulting from enforced insomnia include auditory hallucinations of 'Funkytown' at 3:00 am. The Italian love of American 80's music, however, is a subject for another time.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Feast of Divine Mercy - QOTD

"Mercy is as old as the first words of Scripture - 'And God said, 'Let there be light.' Mercy is as old as God creating something out of nothing." - from today's homily

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival. If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord. If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!

"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.

To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2009


This traitor's last reward
This executioner's fee
These bloodied pieces of silver
This Iscariot, never free.

This Garden of Olives
This scene of desolation
These branches bent to hear
This cry of supplication.

This Simon renamed Rock
This bold strength crumbled
These tears of sorrow
This rashness humbled.

This place of the Skull
This tree good for food
These words of salvation
This Garden now renewed.

This Christ, Son of God
This man pierced by a spear
These waters to cleanse us
This love casting out fear.

This Friday we call Good
This time of heaven on earth
These hours of dark
This day of man's rebirth.

Margaret Catherine

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Living the Gospel - the outtake reel

Not so much an outtake; I just didn't expect to be cast for the role. During the reading of the Gospel, at Mass at the MC hospice:

"...Jesus said to him, "What you are going to do, do quickly."
Now none of those reclining at table realized why he said this to him.
Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him,
"Buy what we need for the feast," or to give something to the poor.
So ---"

--- the hospice doorbell rang. So Peggy put her sandals on and left at once. When she had left,

"Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified..."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Meet the New Law, same as the Old Law.

Yeah, we're under the 'law of freedom'. No, neither those 613 commandments of Jewish law, nor the 'fence' built around them, apply to us. It's wonderful and liberating and this Gentile can but marvel at it. Except on a Friday in Lent, with rain coming down by the metric ton.

I could start a car, operation of machinery and all, and go somewhere - but, no car. Sopping up water as it leaches up through one's own basement floor doesn't count for work: no way out of that one. Same goes for feeding the cats (cats; livestock - doesn't make a difference unless you try shearing them). My lunch of codfish cakes might or might not be kosher, but it's meatless. No dessert. Etc. Chocolate! Now! In round donut form!

Still, it's not irredeemable. The weather has a wild feel to it that Chesterton would love, and I just so happen to be curled up on the couch with a novel of his. The coffee is fresh, my housemates are out, it is a Day Without Work. I haven't had one of those in over a month, and since tomorrow I'm at the sisters' before heading straight to my job...

The sisters. The ones on the other end of the phone. Since I'm "resting" (Oops. Just oops.), I can come early - please - to make breakfast for the residents! Yes?

Yes. 'No' has never been a word in the Missionary of Charity vocabulary. They don't call expecting to hear it. It is 'yes'; it is obedience; it is always being ready to go - or come - in haste. It is getting up before dawn. Again. For now, though, I'm still enjoying my semi-Sabbath.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Go forth, Christian soul, from this world.

Edward Aull, Feb. 26 1947 - March 30 2009.

A resident in an AIDS hospice, but not infected with that disease - there was a miscommunication when he first came to the home. A member of the Knights of Columbus, but not active - his parish had no council. A Third Order Franciscan, but associated also with the Lay Missionaries of Charity. A 'sick and suffering' co-worker of the MCs, offering up his illness for the sisters, but no saint. A cancer patient who survived three rounds of cancer and remission, but had no strength left for a fourth go-round.

A resource on all the goings-on around the home, even during his hospital stays. A companion for other, sicker residents needing to get to appointments. An errand-runner who would go clear to the outskirts of Baltimore just to get new fish for the lounge tank. A lector at the church around the corner. A military history buff and Scripture student. A shadow in the kitchen doorway every Monday and Tuesday.

A man given only six months to live, who survived for over two years. A husband and father, now with the wife and son he lost years ago. A man released from our care, and into God's.


"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, even though he die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yes, I've been gone a month.

And yes, that (below) is the best I can do for a post. I'm working nearly every night this month, and I'm more convinced than ever of the non-existence of time. Or at least, of free time. This remains a time of formation for me - of discovering the beauty and wealth of this faith I profess, of the God in whom I profess it, and of the liturgy in and through which I profess it. (And of attempting, fumblingly, to live it all out.) There'll be time for this blog again later, next month maybe, but not now.

Words to never, ever hear again.

Man at hostess stand, telling the hostess at length about a loss he suffered. He's moved on and found love again, but the sorrow is still there, it seems:

"My dog was so sick at the end - I even went to the priest."

I print out the receipt I came for and walk away with a sudden coughing fit.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Slow day at work

In the restaurant office, after hours. Somehow or other the conversation's veered back to religion, at least as seen through the eyes of the modern American college student. Being the only known Catholic in existence in the restaurant, I'm a natural target for queries both serious and un-.

Server #1:
"What would you say if I told you I was Episcopalian?"
Me: "I'd be sorry...you're part of a church that's falling apart."

There follows a brief interlude as I explain that by 'church', I meant the Episcopal Church. Which, no, is not falling apart because it doesn't recognize "Pope Joan" - contra Server #1's favorite claim - but rather because it is only too likely to do so. That's set aside as a story for another time, and we resume the original topic...but these are state university students, remember.

Server #2: "Yeah, and the Catholic Church has been falling apart for 2,000 years."
Me: [laughs] "That should be our motto! The Catholic Church - falling apart for 2,000 years and counting!"

The scary thing is, it's true - as so clearly evidenced, yet again, this past week. Always falling apart, never quite fallen apart. Never mind asking if God can create a rock so heavy He cannot lift it...the real question is whether He can create a bottle of Advil so large He can never empty it. He surely needs it for the headache we give Him.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

In Domino confido

Back in 1996, the accusations against Fr. Maciel were my first hint that there was something very rotten at work in the Church. I denied them then; how dare anyone suggest such a thing of a priest? Of that good and holy priest, no less, when he'd done so much for the Church? He was nothing like good or holy, of course. And much of the work he did for the Church now appears to have been incidental to setting up a comfortable environment for his own pastimes. Looking at him, you see the entire Scandal in minature - the institutionalized enabling, the head-in-sand denials, the deception of innocent people. The twisted and destroyed trust. American Papist is doing an excellent job of monitoring the fallout, and has links to letters written by American LC priests that are very well worth the read. (There has yet to be any substantive response by the actual leadership of the Legion.)

Maybe there's some good in this. Maybe the implicit trust in priests that once characterized Catholic culture, that I can still see present in my father, needed to be shattered. Maybe we needed to stop looking to priests to be everything we aren't, so that we would start trying to be it ourselves. I don't know. I don't have any words of my own to throw at this - only the knowledge that we need to pray. We need to help the victims (metaphorical and grimly literal) instead of gawking at the train wreck. We need to look again to Christ and not to men.

Psalm 11
1 In the Lord I have taken my refuge.
How can you say to my soul:
"Fly like a bird to its mountain.

2 See the wicked bracing their bow;
they are fixing their arrows on the string
to shoot upright men in the dark.
3 Foundations once destroyed, what can the just do?"

4 The Lord is in his holy temple,
the Lord, whose throne is in heaven.
His eyes look down on the world;
his gaze tests mortal men.

5 The Lord tests the just and the wicked;
the lover of violence he hates.
6 He sends fire and brimstone on the wicked;
he sends a scorching wind as their lot.

7 The Lord is just and loves justice;
the upright shall see his face.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"For destruction ice is also great and would suffice."

Hardy, Arkansas. A year ago.

Hardy, Arkansas. Today.

I spent my teenage years there. It is not easy to see it in this shape, and to know that it is time for my father to move away. It is not easy to cut that last link to the town where my mother spent the last years of her life, and where I made my first real friends. It is really possible to mourn a town as you would mourn a person. Just less explicable.

The Beauty of Words

Throw words at the surface of the problem
Send shallow answers skipping across
To lose their purpose and sink into the muck
Trite solutions swallowed by the question.
Fish them out again - sullied, betraying
Stained and worthless – still, scrub them off.
Pocket the lot, polished for another time.
Wipe your hands clean of the contact.
Never bend to taste those waters yourself,
Nor seek to fathom their bitter depths.

Stroll 'round the edge, chatting easily
-Every word spoken but One-
Admire your reflected perfection.
Wander away, picking comforting phrases
Inhale your bouquet of soothing cliches
Scatter bright petals, delicate and obscuring.
Thank your friend for suggesting the walk
Meander on, retracing long-trod paths.

Come back in winter, when ice has sealed all
And you can figure-skate across life's worries.
But promise to come back. It'll all be there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Prayer request.

Just under a year ago, my father's Arkansas town was hit by a tornado. No loss of life, praise God, but a number of businesses were destroyed. This year - today - it is an ice storm that has already caused significant damage in the form of downed branches and trees; killed thirteen; and left my father and many others without power. It is too dangerous for him to go outside to see what damage has been done to his property, but he can hear branches snapping and falling on the house. The storm is not going to end until tomorrow afternoon. It is very difficult to get specifics as Highland is such a small town; even with last year's tornado, details were very scant. It is not a wealthy town and it has already had one severe blow.

I ask for your prayers for his safety and that of everyone else affected by this storm, and that there be no serious damage to homes or businesses. Thank you!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Marching on

A year ago yesterday, Presidential candidate Obama issued a statement priding himself on his 100% approval rating from NARAL and Planned Parenthood; reaffirming his commitment to Roe v. Wade; and stating his intention to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. Yesterday, President Obama issued a reprise of that statement, couching the same sentiments in less definite terms and asserting our essential unity despite divisions.

Mr. President, no. We are not united. And we, the pro-life movement, do not accept your goals. There is no need for abortion: even an action taken from desperation is not a need. We will never find common ground on "access to...contraception", "affordable" or otherwise. On the other hand, we do agree with you on providing accurate health information, and we look forward to your Surgeon General investigating the very real link between abortion and breast cancer.

Many of us were "unintended pregnancies" - unless I miss my guess, you were one. My siblings were, by definition; so was I. More, my mother never wanted to be pregnant yet again. By every point on the pro-abortion scale she ought to have aborted me. On welfare; eighth child; second Caesarian; detriment to health; uterus worn too thin to carry another child after me - she would have to have a hysterectomy. She did not want to go through it all again, especially the hysterectomy to top it off. She could have aborted me. And by law, my father would never have had to know that I, his daughter as much as hers, even existed.

That is why I joined the March for Life yesterday, and in many past years. It is not a religious question for me. I am not pro-life because I am Catholic, although that gives shape to my conviction. For me it goes deeper even than that. It is a question of the very right to exist, a right so very easily taken away - taken away in complete legality, and in secrecy. That is why I marched. That is why many of us born after 1973 marched. We survived.

We are pro-life; we are also pro-choice. We simply understand what the choice is, and that it takes concrete, flesh-and-blood form. That it is between life or death; blessing or curse. We've lived to make our own choices, and we will speak up for those who are not permitted to.

Perhaps we are a voice in the wilderness, easy to ignore. Certainly we were only a fraction of the size of the crowd who came to see you inaugurated, and certainly we only received a fraction of the media coverage. But we have come together to form that one voice for 36 years; we will continue to do so; and leaving from the March we will be individual voices across this land. And one day again, we will be heard.

Monday, January 19, 2009

As charged.

I was angry. I said what I should not have. Even if I could take it back now, unseen, I don't get to. That's not how it works. I will have to stand and account for what I said.

What I can do, is go on break; take a few deep breaths of my own and concentrate on my real-world work. What this has become is no good to anyone, least of all it's author. I've been dragged/let myself be dragged down the path towards real hate before - which is why I reacted to you the way I did at the start, Nina. I've been there and done that. I have no desire to step back on that road.

Nina, you have my apologies, excuse-free. And you have silence from me.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sometimes when you look into the abyss...

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time - too much - over at Raving Theist. Interesting site; good atheist/theist discussions, with personalities and viewpoints spanning the range and a refreshing lack of preaching to the choir. For the most part, it's civil, even when that's involved gritted teeth.

The truly uncivil (which has already paid a visit here) started her own blog in response; and one hopes she did not begin as she intends to continue. All of this is built, as regards me, on three statements of mine in a discussion at Raving Theist's on homosexual marriage. First, my generalized statement that homosexual behavior is wrong. Second, that homosexual activity, by its physical nature, is a common cause of AIDS (somehow this became a "condemnation" of "gayness" rather than simple medical fact). Third, that a homosexual who is not Christian cannot be expected to live according to Christian ideals.

That was it. That was all I had to say on the subject. I could not do to a dog what Nina suggests I am ready and willing, eager even, to do to a person. She's even able to describe it in loving detail that in itself disgusts me. No Catholic who has any right to call themselves that could do it; and yet because we are Catholics, we must all be salivating as we await our chance. She knows us better than we know ourselves; a privilege I'd thought reserved to God.

Nina's made her decision to hate the Church and all Catholics, however she came to it. The choice and the consequences are both hers to live with. But hatred like hers is not rational. It is not sane. It can never be justified. It is not even human.

It is what it claims to detest. It is demonic. And there is no point in glossing it over.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Wacco for Flacco?

Probably our restaurant's only claim to fame, of recent origin, is that every week or two Joe Flacco, of the Baltimore Ravens, comes in to eat. Until recently it was an interesting sidenote; he's a rookie on the team, and Super Bowl fever hadn't yet set in. As the football season's progressed, though, so has the adulation. Customers coming over to shake his hand. Our expo manager chasing him outside to get his autograph - our GM gave her a "don't make me fire you" glare when he heard about that one. Still, nothing out of hand; he's a rookie who's having a great first season, but he's not a celebrity. Or wasn't.

Until last Saturday's play-off game.

Joe Flacco-themed t-shirts are now almost as common as Obama shirts at Baltimore street kiosks. And quiet meals at one of his favorite restaurants are a thing of the past.

He came in again on Sunday, and it was embarrassing to watch. Not least as the entree specials board gained a new entry: "Wacco for Flacco!" I hope, I pray, that that was not added until after he left.

I wasn't his server, but I ran his meal (okay, yes, it didn't happen quite by accident) - and the man hovering at his booth to get an autograph would not move. "Excuse me, I hate to interrupt ritual, but I have your food." Flacco grinned a bit; the man shifted position to let me set the plates down - and he still would not leave. Not for a good two minutes more; and then it took his wife to drag him away so that Flacco could eat before his food got cold. He can't have had too much complaint, though: another table paid for his meal, and a little girl asked if she could buy him an ice cream and "put it on her tab." (The server who took the ice cream over started stumbling over his words. "Girl...buy...ice cream..." Not his smoothest moment.)

Honestly, let the guy alone. Yes, the Ravens are doing well; yes, he's a large part of the reason why...but he is not an animal in a zoo, or an autograph machine. He's not at a public event. He just wants to eat dinner, and if you really want the Ravens to continue doing well, you'll let him!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


This morning, I worked the graveyard shift. Never, ever ask me what I mean by that.


It's a good thing that there's a God who loves me, because the universe clearly hates me today. (But it loves the Ravens.)


It's nice to have time to sit and think. But not when it's a Saturday evening, and I'm at work.


That is all.


There's a lot of anger, a lot of bitterness, and quite frankly a lot of cruelty in Nina's comments on this thread over at Raving Theist. She starts angry, and proud of it, and goes from there. But there's an uncomfortable amount of truth, too, in what she has to say about the blogosphere. (Yes, Nina, I'll even grant that you hit rather close to home with me - it's an annoying part of Catholicism, having to own up to ourselves... ;) ) The entire discussion is worth the read, for that matter; it goes a-ranging. And then on his main page, there are the puns. Always, there are the puns, stuck everywhere a pun can be stuck...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hey, it's been done!

It's not in having power or not having power. It's not in getting that better job or paying off that bill or buying the best of everything. It's not in knowing the right people or having the right friends. It's not in being a priest or a nun or father or mother. It's in being who and what God calls you to be. It is, in short, in being a saint. In that category, there is no partiality: what St Paul wrote 2000 years ago, history has amply borne out. People of every walk of life, of every race, of every age, both male and female, are revered as great saints. King St. Louis of France; Bd. Jacinta and Francesco, who did not live to be 10; St. Faustina, who spent her years scrubbing pots in the convent kitchen. Nothing in common, those, save their love for God and their search for him in the circumstances that were about them - not their search for new circumstances.

Instead of viewing God through the world's eyes, instead of expecting from Him what you expect from the world, why not view the world through His eyes? Instead of seeking to be what you are not, why not seek, first, to become what you already are: a child of God?

Public Service Announcements

First, to my housemate:
Yes. I am single. Yes, I am celibate and happy to be so. Yes, I do want to enter the convent.

No. The next "cute boy" to turn the corner will not lay waste to my plans. No, I do not need you to "watch out for me" so I don't get into "mischief". No, I do not want to get involved with, or want you hinting that I might want to get involved with, your 18 year old son. I am 27 years old, not 17, and I do not categorize life as either "boring" or "fun".

And lastly, no. I do not need to hear about your marital problems, severe as they certainly are. You have a daughter my age, there's no advice I can give you, and you detailing said problems is not going to "prepare" me for what I'll hear as a nun. What it is going to do, is make me extremely uncomfortable and desirous of being anywhere but in the same room as you. It is merely going to test my patience and charity, and probably my posting this represents a failure of those.

To my co-workers:
Yes. I am single. Yes, I am celibate and happy to be so. Yes, I do want to enter the convent.

No. I am not blind, that is not why I am entering. That time I had the weightllifter, in a tank top, at my table? Or yesterday, when I ran food to Joe Flacco's table? Shocking as it may be, I looked. I even lingered a moment or two more than strictly necessary. Admiring a good-looking man is not tantamount to taking him home. And not taking him home is not the end of the world or of any chance to ever enjoy life.

No. Short as I am, I do not want you putting me on a pedestal. When you start up your conversations and your cursing, please do not abruptly stop because "Peggy's a nun-in-training." (I'm not. That would be after I enter, not before.) Trust me, I've become very adept at walking away when certain topics come up. I'm developing quite the radar for them. Stop, by all means - but stop because you want to. Because it's right to. Not because some paragon of holiness is nearby - none is!

And no. Being Catholic does not mean thinking alcohol is evil. I've yet to find that in the Ten Commandments. It is quite possible to have a drink without getting drunk, and this I do and enjoy doing. In any case, evil or not, waking up with a massive headache the next morning simply holds no appeal for me. I already get migraines and attendant nausea; they're quite enough.

The only time, in fact, that I am tempted to become drunk is after repeating, yet again, any of the above conversations...they're on the level of daily ritual, almost. My co-workers see that I'm different, but they never see why I'm different. They have parties and drugs and sex and all manner of "fun". One day they'll grow up and leave off all of that, as one said, but for now it's all there is to their lives. Fun - but no joy. Nothing interior. Nothing lasting.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Real poverty...

...is lying in your nursing home bed, in a room as ugly and barren as a jail cell, with no roommate, no one to talk to. With no evident possessions, not so much as a Christmas card to show someone outside cares for and thinks of you. You can't even make it down for the Mass and (belated) Christmas party, just wait for Father to bring you Communion and a small gift. Just wait, and let the thought that God is punishing you gnaw at you until it is all that you can talk about.

I wandered away at that point. The man couldn't unwrap the gift, his hands were too gnarled, so I did so very noisily and out of sight. Father listened to the man, and tried to convince him that no, this was not God's punishment for something he'd done. (I neither heard nor sought to hear what.) "It doesn't work that way." I tried too, when I brought the gift back, but...it's the overriding thought in his mind. His situation must be his fault, he must have brought this on himself. He's Catholic; he'd just received the incomparable gift of his Lord in Communion...and yet that same Lord is, must be, punishing him.

I don't know why that place is called a "nursing home". It is absolutely not a home, and nursing - as in caring for the ill, for the whole person and not merely the diseased or crippled body - is simply absent. What it is, is an institution; a holding pen for people until they finally die. When Mother talked about the spiritual poverty of the West, that is what she meant - people who have all their physical needs met, but are utterly ignored as persons.

It's nothing new. And yet it is always new, with as many different forms as there are people affected by it. Something old is something we become used to, and something we are used to is something we lose the energy to fight against.

...just enough of you.

So the sisters want to see more of me. One sister, of the five of them, is off on retreat; another is about to leave for their General Chapter; both of Wednesday's volunteers are out with the flu. Okay. No problem; I have the time.

I just wish they would stop trying to see more of me. They sent me home today with nearly an entire chocolate sheet cake, leftover from their nursing home Christmas/Epiphany party. Okay. Slight problem - but a tasty one!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Where two or three are gathered

"Are there any announcements?"
"After Mass, there'll be brunch-"
"-and Father will be present."

This past week, a friend of mine called me to extend an unusual invitation. Her brother, who was ordained a Jesuit priest over the summer, would be visiting; pending his agreement, would I want to join them for Mass at her house on the Solemnity of Mary? I was going to be by that day anyway, to say goodbye to Juli – she's leaving for Peru for a month, to work with the Missionaries of Charity down there. So, given that, could I make it for the Mass?

I wasn't entirely certain about the idea - a home Mass? Celebrated by, well, a Jesuit? Except that that Jesuit's first Mass was one of the most orthodox, beautiful, and all-around-reverent I have ever attended; and I know Juli too well to do other than wonder how, not if, she will convert her home into a chapel. And look forward to seeing – so, I had to go see! And attend! It turned out to be just we three; her other brother was sick. In that, it turned out to be the most intimate Mass I have ever been at – and, again, one of the most beautiful (even though I, and not Fr. Christobal Fones, was singing). Fr. Phil is intent on setting a high bar for himself – he is, after all, a Jesuit.

The set-up was fairly simple: the table covered with a white faux-damask tablecloth and set with candles and a crucifix; the chair and ottoman moved back to allow space for the congregation. There wasn't anything really suited to serve as a pew, so Juli and I sat on the floor, Missionary of Charity-fashion. Fr. Phil commented that it made him feel too formal, but it's a posture I'm used to, and that Juli had better become used to!

The hymns were both Marian: 'Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly' and 'Holy is His Name'. Fr. Phil wanted that first one when he saw us looking at it, since he referenced it in his sermon (recycled from his Vigil Mass). I did the first reading and psalm, going up to stand beside the altar out of sheer conditioned reflex; Juli looked amused, but did the same for the second reading. Doing that put us directly beneath a small picture of Mary – and there was something utterly right in that, as Juli read. Standing below she who brought the Word into the world, to proclaim that Word anew.

Fr. Phil said the Mass at the same deliberate pace as his first Mass: no prayer hurried, silence given as much weight as the spoken word. Even Eucharistic Prayer II, in his hands, seemed unrushed and even beautiful. He said Mass for Juli and I, but after the Consecration, it became just he and God. The pure intensity on his face – absolutely private, absolutely focused on his Lord in the Eucharist - left no room for anyone else. Whatever it is to be a priest, and I'll never understand it, it was contained in that look.

I've been in that dining/living room any number of times, just to relax: to laugh, chat, go over times old and new. After Mass, we did all of that again – but for that Mass, for that one hour, the room was set aside for another purpose. The table I gave to Juli a year back became an altar of sacrifice. The bas-relief Last Supper hung above it ceased to be simply sacred art and became instead an icon, a window onto the heavenly reality being enacted beneath.

Ever ancient, ever new. Jesus Christ; the same yesterday, today, and forever.