Thursday, August 26, 2010

Memento mori




I have been thinking of death constantly. My own death. The death of friends and family. I can't get it off my mind. And it's scary.

I've suffered a series of disappointments lately, and their net effect has been to pull the rug out from under my notion of my own apostolic calling. If I cannot dare great things for the kingdom of God, if I cannot be the Pauline of work, study and action that Blessed Alberione lays out for me as a path in life, then who am I? The answer is obvious, and lay before me all the time: I am a mortal being, and death is my lot.

I've always known this, and Death has been my secret shadow forever. In 8th grade, we had to do an English project on a theme in literature, and I chose death. I once sat at a meeting of a parish women's group discussing a theme for an upcoming retreat we were sponsoring. Let's make the theme "death", I suggested. That flag got no salutes at all.

Then there is my own experience with death, in the form of seeing people I love dearly depart from this life. Lately, more and more. Three friends died this year. One, I was able to be with the evening that she passed. One, I was exchanging email with to see about getting together for lunch, when I heard her name called at Mass in the prayer for the dead. My loud gasp made heads turn.

What preys on me, oddly enough, is my material possessions. My books, my papers, all the chaos of my life. I don't want to leave behind objects that will cause my loved ones pain. As far as I'm concerned, God should have made it so that when we die, all of our material objects just crumble into dust and disappear. So that nobody has to sift through them and make decisions about disposition.

My mother cleared out all but the most essential accoutrements of her life a couple of years before she died. She told us all to come look through the attic and the basement and get anything we wanted, because she was getting rid of everything. She did us a service.

Memento mori.
Why why should I the World be minding, Therein a World of Evils Finding. Then Farwell World: Farwell thy jarres, thy Joies thy Toies thy Wiles thy Warrs. Truth Sounds Retreat: I am not sorye. The Eternall Drawes to him my heart, By Faith (which can thy Force Subvert) To Crowne me (after Grace) with Glory.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Late afternoon movie viewing with Bill

Uncle Wally is on the road, heading back to Chicago. Good visit. Leslie G. mistook him for Bill. "I didn't know your hair was all white now." :-)

Bill and I are kicking back and watching a strange movie on Showtime Beyond called Pontypool. Here's a Western DJ (cowboy hat and boots, check!) on the air in Ontario with two leather jacket clad women, reporting on a riot taking place a few kilometres away. Now he is quoting French linguist Roland Barthes... "Trauma is a news photo without a caption."

Something apocalyptic has happened -- a mob of savage, slow-moving people babbling in bizarre ways. No word yet on whether the eating of brains is involved.

"I am told that these people are imitating windshield wipers -- making the sound of windshield wipers."

The plot thickens. Hanging up now.

... Later. It's a zombie virus! It is spread by LANGUAGE! Words are infected. It enters the victim when he/she hears the word and UNDERSTANDS it!

A zombie movie where language is the host for the zombie virus. Wow! Fascinating film! Very meta!

Pontypool. See it!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Jealousy: or, Coming up for air as a busy spring and summer wind down


For a retired person, I work like a dog. This spring and summer -- busiest ever!

May through July, I worked with Pat Radell and Nancy Frick on the 40 Days for Life Fall campaign. I wrote business plans and budgets for Serendipity, our wished-for next-to-Planned Parenthood Art Center/Life Center/Book and Media Center/ Coffee Bar in Wilmington. I logged 4000+ miles over three months on various road trips with kids, grandkids and Bill. We welcomed granddaughter Rosalyn into the world in May, and 5 weeks later grandson Ish. I visited sister Sue, sister-in-law Gerry (and Chicago kinfolk), and was visited by daughter Gabe, grandkids Zeke and Amelia, and brother-in-law Wally. Lastly and just recently, I roomed with writer/photographer Marie Socorso and writer Kathy Barr while attending the Catholic Writers Guild conference in Valley Forge on site at at the Catholic Marketing Network trade show.

I have had so many irons in so many fires that I am knocking them over them & branding myself with them by accident. Ouch! My spiritual equilibrium has taken a searing hit. I have neglected my daily Pauline Hour of adoration, and can feel its loss keenly. (Not, however, keenly enough to break the inertia and take it up again, eh Rae??)

How luxurious is it for priests and nuns to live on grounds with the Blessed Sacrament?? I was in a book group awhile back that read Brideshead Revisited. There's a part in the book where the youngest Marchmain daughter, Cordelia, is explaining to (or maybe showing) Charles Ryder their own private chapel, with the Blessed Sacrament reserved. One of the women in the book group (an ex-Catholic, of course) was disgusted by Cordelia's delight at having an adoration chapel on the estate grounds. She cited this as an example of the snobbery and high-handed braggadocio of Catholicism in general and the Marchmain family in particular. I said I would be as overjoyed as Cordelia if I had a chapel in my own home. How much more faithful might I be if I didn't have to drive to a church whose open hours I knew whenever I wanted to make a Visit? (Yeah, yeah, yeah... would you REALLY, Rae? You've got plenty of opportunity now to eschew inertia and form the habit. Just do it!)

I am jealous. That's my theme for the summer. Jealousy and greed. I have a wonderful life, all the leisure I need, 7 down-below kids, 2 saints in heaven, 9 stellar grandkids, a husband to die for, and I want more... More what? At the Catholic Writers Guild conference, it all came tumbling back. What I want. What I don't want to want. Fame. Admiration. Riches. Worldly success. The diamond-back reptiles hissing seductively in the pits of the damned-- didn't I foreswear them years ago? I thought so, but meeting all the fresh, young writers at CWG and the steadily publishing big fry of the Catholic publishing world has got me all riled up with ambition. I want to be young again. I want to be just starting out, with Catholic enthusiasts, intellectuals, imagists and idealists bursting the seams of contemporary culture like I see all around me in the 21st century Church, instead of Catholics with their tails between their legs, ashamed of their intellectual heritage and confused into juvenility like when I was young. I want my imaginary apartment in NYC with my sister Marguerite and our white long-haired cat-- me a working writer, Marguerite in the world of fashion design.

These kids are reclaiming their heritage, and are unapologetically forging forward into an ever more complex understanding of Catholic life and culture. Twenty-somethings are talking Aquinas, Chesterton, Justin Martyr, Augustine, with no apologies and no shame. They are arguing over the Theology of the Body. They openly pray the rosary. The rosary! I remember the years that holding a rosary in one's hands in a Catholic church was to invite open scorn! Do these kids know how lucky they are, to have this vibrant, new millenial Church? They have a freedom and a camaraderie that my generation missed out on completely. Yes, yes, yes -- as Barbara Nicolosi Harrington so eloquently states, in "Turn, Turn, Turn" it was all our fault. Mea culpa, mea culpa -- we were all too busy being snotty and rejecting the prayers, liturgies, theology, art and literature of our Catholic heritage and embracing relevance (not to mention drugs and rock'n'roll-- fortunately my marriage, ridiculed by my freak friends in the Sixties, kept me from the "free sex" part of the triad) to hold on to what we had.

I guess I'm doing penance now for the theological and intellectual vacuity of my lazy, pleasure-seeking baby boomer generation. Yeah, I'm jealous of the youngsters. We are superfluous to them. We who came back to the Church in the last half of the 20th century are pokey and still half-ashamed of Christ and His Body. We still can't believe that Benediction is back in vogue. I cried the first time we said the Divine Praises in my parish in the late 80's -- I never thought I'd hear them again in my lifetime. Do these kids know how blessed they are? Do they know the bullet they dodged by dint of chronology?

The picture above shows a t-shirt from the Catholic to the Max line of apparel that is popular with the teenagers and twenty-somethings. I almost bought one, but decided if I started buying t-shirts I might not be able to stop... The front says "Get Holy or Die Tryin'", and the back lists a bunch of martyrs. Gotta love the catalog description:
Get holy or die tryin' Holiness is not a spectator sport! This shirt is meant to encourage us to holiness and honor those that have died living the Gospel. The list on the back gives us a look at men and women who have died “giving it all”.

Get holy. Sigh. From your t-shirt to the ear of the Triune God Whom I love beyond reason! But not beyond laziness. 'Twas ever thus.

Oh - and I saw David Tennant's Hamlet last night. With Patrick Stewart as Claudius. First time I ever "got" Hamlet's lonely lunacy. Like the Fool in King Lear, but torn apart by the exigencies of the Fourth Commandment.