Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

The Power

Scandal. Crime and corruption at the highest levels of church and government. Wars and rumors of wars. Incivility everywhere you look. The talking heads hone in on it all and shout with glee: “Look at it! Look at it and despair! How awful! LOOOOOOOOK AT IT!!!”

“More news after the break.”

Father Z, a prominent Catholic priest and blogger, relayed how one recent morning he received the following message from a friend:

Motus in fine velocior.* Our faith in the indefectibility of the Church is soon going to be tested and good people will legitimately choose different sides. I am neither an alarmist nor a conspiracy theory cook, but these people are evil.  …  It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better. Brace yourselves and cling to your beads, catechism, Breviary and Mass.

His friend was not talking about the public scandals of our day that surround our celebrities or elected officials. That is all bad enough by themselves. Instead he was talking about those within the Catholic Church who are purposely sowing confusion and ambiguity.

But that’s not the subject I’m writing about today. Today I turn to Fr. Longenecker writing on his Suburban Hermit blog:

I was on retreat at Quarr Abbey once many years ago, and when I came out of the church after Vespers a teenaged kid was slouching on a bench outside smoking.

Denims, punk haircut, nose ring.

So I asked him what he was doing there.

“I’m just hanging out here.”

“Do you come here often?”

“Yeh.”

“Do you ever come into church to hear the monks sing?”

“Yeh.”

“Why do you come here?”

He grinned. “This is where the power is man.”

Then he got up and walked down the lane to the road beyond and the outside world.

This is where the power is man.

The English teenager gets it. Fr. Longenecker and Fr. Z get it. And so do I.

In describing these Benedictine monks Fr. Longenecker writes:

The monks are ordinary men who have realized that their lives are sacrifices which oil the wheels and cogs of the cosmos. They keep the furnace stoked. They man the engine room of the great ship.

Hidden from the world, they are the beating heart of the church. Why does the Catholic Church keep going on its everlasting roller coaster ride? Because the Benedictines don’t give up. They’re like weeds. They come back.

Their vow of stability is one of the most important vows they can offer the world. We think times are tumultuous. They have always been tumultuous. We think the world is on a knife edge about to tumble into the pit. It has always been so. We think there is corruption and strife in the church. Read church history. It has always been a battle. Isn’t that what you signed up for when you decided to follow Christ the King?

Motus in fine velocior.

It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better.

This is where the power is man.

Fr. Longenecker writes that he returns to the monastery because “there is stability in the turmoil and peace in the midst of battle.”

It strengthens his resolve. It refills his spiritual tank. It gives him hope.

St. Augustine wrote:

“Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”

It is because I am so familiar with the two daughters that I know their parent Hope. Hope is what keeps me going in these times. It would be far too easy to join the world and be angry all the time. To become so consumed in rage that I lash out on social media, while driving, in public or in the home. But anger is only one half of the equation. People who give in to their anger do not have hope because they do not know courage. Courage is what we have when we turn off the talking heads, disengage from our mobile screens blinding us with the anger and vitriol on social media, roll up our sleeves and go to work righting the ship.

For some, it’s through direct action. They get off the couch and get involved.

For others, like me, it’s through prayer. As I’ve observed the descent into madness on all sides of the political aisle consume family, friends and acquaintances, my prayer life is the thing most keeping me sane. While I do get angry, I have courage.

I’ve never been particularly good at being the hands of the Church. It’s true that I’ve taught a little. I serve by doing various things during the liturgy or with the Knights of Columbus. As it is I’m much better, or at least more at home, in helping be the heart of the Church, keeping it beating regularly each day in prayer. In turn I receive the courage to deal with my anger and perhaps it is because of this the hope I receive not only helps me but helps others as it continues to inspire me to write bits and pieces on this blog, or on my social media. Things that I hope both teach and inspire others.

The word “courage” actually derives its meaning from a Latin root word “cor” which means “heart.” (Remember what the Cowardly Lion needed to gain his courage in The Wizard of Oz?) It means we are never more courageous than when we “have the courage of our convictions,” that is, when we live from the heart, remaining true to who we really are.

Choosing this path is to some, I’m sure, quite boring. The heart is hidden. Some of us have buried it and cut off all feeling to it, perhaps telling ourselves we do so as a means of survival.

Thump-thump

As it’s not visible it’s not relevant.

Thump-thump

It’s not obvious.

Thump-thump

It’s not sexy.

Thump-thump

We don’t take selfies of ourselves praying, but doing things.

Thump-thump

Things like eating a meal…hanging with friends…meeting celebrities…attending a concert. You know. Stuff.

Thump-thump

It’s not something we can show off to those who follow us on Twitter or Instagram for the almighty “like”.

Thump-thump

A heartbeat is regular. It maintains a rhythm.

Thump-thump

The rhythm and timing of praying with the Church though the daily Lauds and Vespers of the Divine Office. Through the Mass. The Angelus. The rosary.

Thump-thump

It is because of that heartbeat that I have hope.

Hope strengthens my resolve. Hope refills my spiritual tank.

I know you’re angry out there. I understand. Allow me to help give you a little hope. Allow me to introduce you, or re-introduce you, to courage.

It’s where the power is.

Thump-thump


*[Motion accelerates when the end is near] The latin motus in fine velocior is commonly used to indicate the faster passing of the time at the end of an historical period. The multiplication of events, in fact, shortens the course of time, which in itself does not exist outside of the things that flow. Time, says Aristotle, is the measure of movement (Physics, IV, 219 b). More precisely we define it as the duration of changeable things. God is eternal precisely because He is immutable: every moment has its cause in Him, but nothing in Him changes. The more one distances himself from God the more chaos, produced by the change, increases.