I have been blessed in my life with wise women. Last week, one of my dear friends, who I'll call Adrian, read my Wednesday post and sent me a long, thoughtful private e-mail in which she conveyed her own thinking about these subjects over the years. On Friday evening, a couple of friends and I took Hubby Dearest out for his birthday. One of those friends is a Dominican sister, who I'll call Cathy. As we got caught up on our various weeks, I made a mention of some of the issues I've been working through. This was not a surprise to Cathy as she talked me down from a particular limb about five years ago when I said, "If Cardinal Rat gets elected Pope, I'm leaving the Church." At that time, Cathy had said, "At that point, aren't you just conceding the field?" Hmmm..... (Of course, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, and I'm still here.) Similarly, a couple of years ago when our new bishop came to our parish and told us, in the middle of the liturgy, to change a distinctive feature of our parish's liturgy, and I nearly roared out of my seat to tell him off, it was Cathy who quietly said, "Sit down, Liz." (I did, and ended up writing him a letter talking about diversity of cultures meeting in a campus ministry parish.) On Friday evening, she said, "Liz, I'm not letting them drive me off."
Then, on Saturday, I checked in on the blog of an old friend. The story of Sister Rose working with women in the Caribbean got into my head. That afternoon, I sent a long answer to my friend, Adrian, in which I listed some of the issues I'm having. I realized that it sounded whiny and adolescent. As Adrian pointed out, every organization is made up of imperfect people, and there are always things we aren't going to like. As I reflected to my friend on Saturday, I started talking about how very Catholic I am in so many disparate areas of my life.
Some years ago, I read a piece by Andrew Greeley, who talked about the "Catholic imagination," the peculiar way in which Catholics see and experience the world. I'm sorry I can't point you to a specific piece, but so much of his writing is infused with this idea that one could start anywhere. Basically, there is a sense that the world is a glittering place full of mystery and wonder and hidden joy. All around us is evidence of the birth-death-resurrection cycle, and our job in life is to discover this evidence. At dark moments such as the one I'm going through, I find myself stepping back and saying, "Ah. I see where I am at the moment. I wonder what old thing is dying inside me and what fresh thing is waiting to be born."
About 20 years ago, I had the great good privilege of hearing Chaim Potok speak at the Jewish student center in Ann Arbor. He talked about culture as being like one of those large balls used in cooperative games. Many people interact only with the surface of the culture, still others live partway in, and others live at greater and greater depths in the ball. He told a story about being in a park and seeing a young Hasidic girl (a girl living very deeply in a larger-society-shunning culture) encounter a collie dog. "Lassie!" she exclaimed. This, he said, was a sign of the pervasiveness of some aspects of the larger culture. When it was time for questions and comments, I stood up and said, "Mr. Potok, I want to thank you for making me a better Catholic." There were gasps, and people visibly drew back from me. I went on, "Because of your books about people digging deeply into their Jewish culture, I've had to turn and look deeply at my own culture and see what treasures I can find. I have asked hard questions and deliberately moved more deeply because I've had the examples of your characters." By the time I finished, he was rocking back and forth, with a huge grin on his face. "Thank you. I have hoped that people would react like this to my books. Thank you for telling me this!"
On Sunday morning, I talked to another wise woman I know before Mass. We talked about my mother, now dead almost seven years, another wise woman. At Communion time, when I was standing behind the altar, preparing to help distribute Communion, I was standing next to my friend's husband, a wise and good man. I looked out at the assembly (I go to the old fogies' 8:30 Mass) and saw so many people who have lived through so much and come in on Sunday morning for community and refreshment and a little wisdom. (The homily was about focusing on the simple things and finding wisdom there - how very appropriate to my state of mind.)
On the way home from Mass, I said to Hubby dearest, "I don't think I can walk away from all of this. I'm still angry and upset, but I'm Catholic to the very depth of my being." He reached over, took my hand, and said, "You don't have to go through this alone. You have people around you who care." I spent a couple of hours on Sunday afternoon cutting down a thorny quince bush in my yard and planning the brick patio that will go in that spot next spring. As I worked, I listened to a new podcast, The Knit Wits, and got to the point where I was doubled over with laughter, almost choking, tears running down my face. Life is good. As Rory Cooney's song says, "This journey is our destiny."