The great part of this deft, brisk movie is that you can totally ignore these existential themes of being lost and being found, having direction and having a reason to live, and just watch it because it’s tense and exciting and has a really scary bear in it.
Thousands of years after Jesus walked the earth, we need to understand that Jesus wants to put us on the spot, asking us the same question He asked His disciples: Who do you say that I am? If we’re catechized, we’ll know the right answer; but the hard part is putting those words into action.
Any normal person, when faced with a heap of excrement like this, would go get the shovel and clean it up. Maybe they wouldn’t be happy about it, but they would clean it up, because it is a pile of dog poop in the middle of the yard. Instead, I started listing all the things I had already gotten done that day, all the things I was still going to do, and I said, “No! It’s not my job! I had enough things that are my job. Not gonna do it. Not. My. Job.”
Not only do we set the parameters for what we give up (sugar in coffee? A second cup of coffee? All the coffee?), but we decide what kind of thing we want to give up (or take on) — and why. Here are a few broad categories of ways to observe the penitential season. One or the other may be more spiritually fruitful for you, but none of them is really wrong . . .
We are in denial about how vulnerable our hearts really are. Watching brutality makes us brutal. Torturing our emotions inevitably makes torture seem more normal, not less.
For a sociable or tender-hearted person, just saying, “None of your business. Buzz off!” isn’t a real option. So how do we handle busybodies with grace, tact, and peace of mind?
Once upon a time, there was a young woman who was hosting Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. She wanted—no, needed—everything to be perfect. She planned and prepped for days, chopping vegetables, rolling dough, scrubbing baseboards, and counting silverware. On the day of the feast, she was up with the sun, full of determination and manic good cheer.
As the day wore on, the good cheer waned and the manic levels rose. Pots boiled over and were turned down; ovens smoked and windows were opened. The clock ticked, and little by little, the meal started to come together. The guests would be there in a matter of hours. Could she pull off the perfect day? She really thought she could.
Then, suddenly: calamity. She ran out of butter! Real butter, creamy and fat, the fuel that makes the Thanksgiving engine run. She had to have some. She shrieked for her husband and sent him out to the store, with instructions to come back as quickly as he could with at least two pounds of butter.
Off he went. And he didn’t come back, and he didn’t come back. She grew more and more frantic and considered her options. She could cook without butter. No, impossible. She could just explain things to the guests. Unthinkable. She could burn the house down and move to Guadalajara. Now we’re getting somewhere.
Just as she began to search for her passport, her husband’s car screeched into the driveway. He was home, home with the butter! Hallelujah, the day was saved!
With trembling fingers, she snatched open the bag . . . and then fell back, the words of thanks dying in her throat. She croaked. She gabbled. She gaped.
There on the table was a three-pound tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!
“Boy, the stores were crowded!” her husband said. ”I guess everyone was shopping for Thanksgiving. But I knew you would like this, because you just wanted two pounds of butter, and this is three!”
What the young woman replied, I cannot record here. But she did point out to her husband, possibly dozens of times, that, “It says right on the package that IT’S NOT BUTTER.”
Well, Thanksgiving happened anyway. The food was hot and bountiful, the guests were jovial, and if anyone noticed that the butter was not butter, no one mentioned it. It was a good Thanksgiving.
You may think I’m going to wrap this story up with a moral about how we ought to be thankful for the best efforts of our loved ones, and that what really matters in the end is family, peace, joy, harmony, and good intentions.
But, no. What I’m thinking is, “Seriously, it said, ‘IT’S NOT BUTTER’ right on the package. Right on there! And he brought it home anyway!”
Know who that reminds me of? Me. Not on Thanksgiving, but every week, every day. Every time I go to Mass, the last thing I hear is, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” God is telling us, “Look, you have one job. One job. Go and serve me.”
And I say, “Amen, Boss!” and off I go.
And then what do I do? I come back with a giant tub of “I Can’t Believe I’m Not Serving God!” And I jog back into his temple, all hopeful and proud with my ridiculous little package clutched under my arm, and I say, “See? Look what I found for you! Good, huh? Just what you asked for, right?”
It’s not what he asked for. It’s a substitute. It says right on the package that it’s not what he wants. And God opens the package, and he says…
“Close enough. Come on in, thou good enough, faithful enough servant. Come on in to the feast I have prepared for you. Sit down with your family in the home of your Father, and let us have a meal together.”
And that, my friends, is why we celebrate Thanksgiving. Not because we have it all together, not because things turned out perfectly, not because we never disappoint each other, or because we always please God. We celebrate Thanksgiving because God loves us even when we fail—especially when we fail.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love is everlasting.
[This article originally ran in Catholic Digest in 2013.]
PIC Wallace on train
The train is whizzing out of control, and he can’t get off, slow down, or change course. In desperation, Gromit snatches a box of spare tracks and frantically lays them on the floor ahead, just split seconds before the train he’s on thunders over them.
This is more or less what it’s like to raise a child. Yes, you have to work frantically to stay ahead of that train; but no, you’re not exactly in control.
Read the rest at the Register.
I’ve had to remind myself, over and over again, that couples who really do love NFP aren’t just lying. The “Oh, how I love the monthly cycle of courtship and honeymoon!” crowd haven’t drunk any Kool-Aid. They’re not necessarily undersexed, brainwashed saps who have never encountered true suffering.
They’re just different from me, and if I expect them to respect my struggles, then I need to learn to respect their joy.
PIC wizard watching chicken
It does mean: The Holy Spirit works kind of like MSG, enhancing and heightening the “flavor” of the virtues that you’ve already worked to develop — virtues like self-control, prudence, mercy, and self-sacrifice. After you pray for guidance, you’re probably not going to find yourself doing something utterly foreign to your normal nature or inclinations; but you may find that you have deeper reserves of patience than you expected, for instance, or a temporary ability to work harder than you’re normally able to work.