Sunday, September 8, 2013

Contemplating a Protective Bubble

Father's homily today was a message I really needed to hear. Unfortunately, my ability to hear was hindered by unhappy young children behind me. But fortunately, Father is plugged in, and his normal speaking voice is very strong. It occurs to me just now that my experience at Mass this morning is a metaphor for being distracted from my spiritual path. There is dissonance all around us, and sometimes it is a strain to hear God's voice. We have to focus very hard, or we might miss something crucial.

In the Gospel reading today we find Jesus' enigmatic insistence that Christians must be willing to hate their families and relinquish worldly possessions to follow him. Is the word "hate" what he really meant, or is this a case of inadequate translation from Greek into English? Father's interpretation, as well as I could hear, was that we are not necessarily being called to give up everything we own or to forsake all of our relatives, but that we may be required to give up some of our possessions, or certain people in our lives.

Being a disciple of Jesus comes first, before anything or anyone else. That is the crux of the message. The question is, what are we willing to do, or to do without, in order to follow him? In a book I am reading by an American woman who has been living in Paris with her French husband for 30 years, the author says that the French have the ability to experience joie de vivre even in suffering. They live life fully and passionately, not shying away from controversy, pain, or uncomfortable events or feelings. I imagine that this has something to do with the fact that France is a traditionally Catholic country.

On my own journey to the Church, I learned that suffering is not an experience to be avoided. We don't go out and look for trouble, but if trouble comes into our lives, we are provided a way to work through it. We can offer our suffering up for a blessing on another who is in need, and we can unite our own suffering to Jesus' on the cross. My suffering can help someone else, and if I allow it to, it can purify me. But I must also welcome God's healing graces into my life and not wallow in grief. Jesus didn't stay on the cross forever, and neither should we.

All Christians are called to die to ourselves, but we aren't all called to be literal martyrs. I would also argue that figurative martyrdom isn't always necessary. In fact, if my ability to do the work God has called me, and only me, to do, is hindered by a person, an object, an institution, or an activity, then that "offending arm" needs to be cut off. Saying no to the invitation to walk on hot coals can be more difficult than walking barefoot across the fire. The devil does tempt us, every day. If we take our eyes off the ball even for a moment, the whole game could be lost.

It is my duty as a Christian parent to do everything in my power to get my child to heaven. The Church teaches that the education of a child is primarily the responsibility of his parents. Not his school teacher, Sunday school teacher, or religious education teacher, but his mother and father. Furthermore, a curriculum that is not permeated with the faith is not considered to be a valid education. At one point in history, public schooling did not separate children from their families for such long periods of time or conflict so acutely with Christian values as it does today. As it now stands, my husband pointed out, sending children to school is destabilizing to family life. Homeschooling is one remedy for these social and spiritual ills.

Being a homeschooling parent is a divine calling. It is something I am willing to defend with bared fangs if necessary. But mostly I wish to evangelize through my own example, with information for anyone who is genuinely interested in learning more about it, and by spreading positive messages to the community about this overwhelmingly successful educational option. In every area, I want to evangelize with passion and respect, not worrying over what anyone else thinks or says. Sometimes I fail to give myself permission to live in a Catholic bubble when that is what is necessary to keep my eyes on the prize.

Our children may not always understand when we have to say "no" in order to protect them. We have to teach them good and appropriate values, attitudes, and conduct. Each Christian parent is on his or her own leg of the journey. In order to protect our children, we may need to be vigilant in protecting ourselves from debilitating outside influences. One mom is tough as nails and criticism slides off her like water off a duck's back. Another is very sensitive, whether it be to words, images, negative energy, or loud noises. We have to know ourselves well, be very familiar with our strengths and weaknesses. One dad can invite a bear into his home, feed him honey, and send him on his way. Another will wrestle the bear and lose, or walk away alive but severely injured. Also, where we're at on the path changes over time. As I grow spiritually, I am hopeful that I will be able to detach with more finesse. Right now, however, it seems that I need to learn to pull that Catholic bubble around me and not allow anyone to pop it. Life is too short, and it's too exhausting to fight when it isn't absolutely necessary. As the saying goes, choose your battles wisely.

Prayer to Our Lady of Victory

O sweet and gentle Lady, Immaculate Mother of God, we beg you to be our Mother now and all the days of our life. Shield us Mother Mary with your holy mantle that nothing of the enemy could harm or molest us. Ask your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to spare us from any calamities that will cause our life misery. Pray for us that we may lead a life pleasing to Him, and when our end comes present us to Him, and may we live in His kingdom forever and ever, Amen. Our Lady of Victory, please pray for us.

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