Yearning for perfection, longing for home

Note: This month’s column for the Catholic Free Press.

A couple of weeks ago our family and friends gathered to give our daughter Meredith a bridal shower. We had the entire first floor of the Asa Waters mansion in Millbury for the event. Tables were set up in the gracious hall, food was served in the elegant dining room, and drinks were offered in an adjoining room. Gifts were displayed on the winding staircase.

The theme of the shower was Harry Potter, brilliantly executed by Meredith’s matron of honor, Roxanne, and her bridesmaids. For our entertainment there were games and a photo booth with a glittery gold backdrop; masks were provided to don for comical photos, many of which were posted on Facebook pages.

Meredith and her finance Jimmy opened the many gifts and were overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of their family and friends.

The whole affair was perfection. All I wanted to do when it was over was to relive the day again and again.

Yet I had an odd reaction of sadness after the shower. It felt very similar to the days when both the children moved out of the house for good leaving a void that would never again be filled. As on those days, I went to Meredith’s room and had a good cry.

In reflecting upon those emotions I thought about other momentous occasions in my children’s lives. The day they were born. Their first day in kindergarten. School plays. Graduation from high school, and then college. Meredith’s engagement. Important days to be sure. And yet, none of those days conjured up the sadness and yearning I felt after the bridal shower. Why was that?

Perfection in life is rare, one might even say impossible. You recognize it when you are living in a perfect moment and you know it is something that will never happen again. It is fleeting; it cannot be held onto or possessed. It is to be lived only to slip away out of our grasp. We are left with the shadow of a fading memory.

And it occurred to me that I was mourning the loss of perfection. For three hours I was able to experience it only to have it end. Things of this world are temporary; everything decays and dies.

I began to wonder how Adam and Eve felt after leaving the Garden of Eden—did they mourn their loss of perfection? During His time on earth, did Jesus long for home? Did He too experience times of melancholy and yearning, remembering his existence of perfection?

We were meant for perfection; created in the Garden of Eden we were destined to live in sublime harmony with our Heavenly Father. Somewhere along the way we were misled into thinking perfection meant being God rather than being with God.

And now we are left with the shadow of the memory of perfection. And once in a great while, we taste it, reminding us perhaps of we had lost in our arrogance. We mourn the loss, we hunger for home, we yearn for what we were meant to be.

The words of St. Augustine are true: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Meredith’s bridal shower was a gift of grace, a moment to remind me of what perfection can be like. And why it is worth enduring life’s trials in faith to reach that final goal of perfection—the reunion with God which will last for all eternity. Only then will our restless hearts be satisfied.

 

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The Gift of Pain – guest post by The Holy Rover, Lori Erikson

Lori Erikson is an Episcopalian minister who writes a beautiful blog which I have featured here previously known as The Holy Rover. I would like to highlight her homily from Sunday, October 13, based upon the Gospel of St. Luke depicting the ten lepers begging Jesus for healing and the one who returns in gratitude.

This, however, is not a homily about gratitude but the story of a remarkable doctor, his discovery about leprosy and most importantly, what that discovery has to say about the value of pain.

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jesus as healerIn the Gospel reading this morning, we encounter the most feared, isolated, and vulnerable people in the Bible: lepers. Ten of them have been healed by Jesus, but only one comes back to give him thanks. We are meant to notice the fact that this man is a Samaritan, a member of a group considered to be social and religious outcasts by most Jews of the day. While the other nine rush off to begin their new lives, only one returns to express his gratitude to Jesus for the miraculous transformation he has undergone.

There are nearly 70 references to leprosy in the Bible, which is not surprising given the fact that it was the most dreaded disease in the ancient world. Biblical scholars say the term likely included a wide range of skin conditions, of which the most devastating was the illness that is now termed Hansen’s Disease. In Jesus’ day, this virulent bacterial infection not only crippled people’s bodies: it also robbed them of their home, family, community, livelihood, and dignity. Because of the contagious nature of the disease, a leper was cast out from society, reduced to begging for food and prohibited from participating in religious rituals. It is no wonder that lepers dogged Jesus’ steps, for once it became known that he was someone who could heal this deadly affliction, they must have flocked to him at every opportunity.

While leprosy has not been completely eradicated in the world, its terrors are greatly lessened because of advances in medical treatments. The story of how these breakthroughs were made is recounted in a fascinating book by physician Paul Brand. Published in 1993, it bears the seemingly contradictory title The Gift of Pain. I’d like to tell you about it today as kind modern-day parable of healing, one with surprising implications for our own lives.

Click here to read this post in full.

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A recovering political junkie eyes a new direction

I am a recovering political junkie.

Having my own office I am can listen to whatever I wish. I’ve always enjoyed talk radio because it keeps my mind engaged (whereas music unplugs me). My husband introduced it to me back in the days when I was home with small children; it became the adult conversation during the day.

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Legendary talk show host Gene Burns

In these early days talk radio was intellectually stimulating (especially with hosts like Gene Burns). Mostly I listened to conservative talk but would also sample the other side.

I did the same with my news reading: mostly conservative with a dose of the other side.

Talk radio taught me the political process both nationally and locally while at the same time, keeping me entertained. I agreed with most of what was being said and on occasion I would even call in and talk to the host.

After the election of 2008, my husband and I began to watch the talk shows on cable, mostly Fox but MSNBC and CNN too. The presidential debates were like sporting events to us; it’s what addicted me to Twitter. As the debate would progress, I could count on immediate feedback with tweets from the various professional commentators and average citizens like myself. And I could “talk back” if I wished.

election 2012We looked forward to election night believing our candidate would win. It became clear as the evening wore on that we were wrong. Very wrong. Twitter became painful to follow.

A lot of so-called “experts” had egg on their faces that night.

I was a political junkie. It used to be fun. It is not anymore.

I stopped being a political junkie on November 7, 2012 after the crushing defeat of my candidate. It became clear, like an epiphany, that everybody whose opinion I trusted had been wrong. They were all in their own delusional bubbles and while they believed they were proclaiming the truth, it was in realty smoke and mirrors.

I felt utterly duped. I’d been sucker-punched. Nobody on my side saw it coming. I sure didn’t.

The next morning, I started fasting from politics. I don’t normally listen to Christmas music so early in the season but a wonderful channel on Pandora called “Classic Christmas” got me through the next several weeks as I recovered from being a political junkie.

Talk radio is no longer fun. The content is shrill and vitriolic, polluting my mind with negativity. It is not unlike what is going on in Washington with our leaders, made impotent due to their focus on their own position rather than the urgent needs of this country.

My core conservative beliefs have not changed, nor has my desire to stay informed. But I no longer believe in politics.

It all feels like junk. And nothing made that plainer than the last couple of weeks with the election and installation of Pope Francis.

News junkie and Catholic that I am I downloaded the Pope App on my phone so I could stay informed with the news of the conclave. I was able to watch, on my phone, the announcement of Habemus Papum – we have a pope!

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Pope Francis

When I found out he was from Argentina, I whooped and hollered and pranced around in my basement office. I had dearly hoped for a pope from either South America or Africa where the Church is vibrant with growth. A new face, a new perspective, a breath of fresh air.

I got my wish. And now I can’t get enough of “Papa Francisco.”

Politicians failed to lead through their empty words. Pope Francis succeeds in leading through his example.

Whereas our political leaders blather endlessly, blaming and destroying each other while the serious problems of our country go unaddressed, Pope Francis seeks to uplift all of God’s Creation as the means for creating a better world.

Whereas our leaders are motivated by their own quest for power, the pontiff seeks to empower all people, especially the least among us: the poor, the handicapped, the disenfranchised. As one of the most powerful leaders in the world, he is doing his best to take the spotlight off of himself and shine it onto his flock.

The image of him stepping out of the pope mobile during the procession to his inaugural mass to kiss, caress and comfort a severely disabled man is unforgettable. He is a pastor, a shepherd. He seeks sincerely to emulate Jesus.

pope with disabled man

Holy Week will soon be upon us. Typically the Holy Thursday mass is celebrated in grandeur at either St. Peter’s Basilica or the Basilica of St. John Lateran. During the mass there is the ceremonial foot washing after the reading of John’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 1-15: Jesus washes the feet of his disciples to demonstrate how they are to serve one another; the participants are priests and prominent lay people.

Pope Francis, in keeping with his own longstanding tradition,  has opted to celebrate Holy Thursday mass at the Casal del Marmo prison for minors, a Rome juvenile detention facility where he will wash the feet of some of the young detainees.

Our political leaders, for the most part, appear take advantage of their powerful positions to better their own lives and to advance their celebrity status.

Pope Francis appears to be using his to advance the positions of the forgotten in our society.

i love papa francescoNo wonder I can’t get enough of “Papa Francisco!” His name, his actions truly spell hope. I pray I am not being led into a new delusional bubble but if the pontiff continues pointing to Christ, I can be free from delusion.

I am a recovering political junkie. My gaze is now turned towards the Vicar of Christ whose example fixes my eyes squarely on Jesus, the true solution to the desperate problems of our world.

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