Want to wake up the sheeple? Fill in the blanks.

These are [adjective] times. Everyone is suffering, but no one more so than [name of your specific cultural and socio-economic group]. 

Look around you, and you’ll see all the signs of an [adjective] chastisement. The economy is floundering. [Name of favorite sport] may never recover. It’s been [number] weeks since we’ve been able to purchase [name of snack you have argued should be excluded from food stamp purchases].

The last time people endured trials like this, christians were in the arena with [name of wild animal], and [name of democrat] looked on and laughed. 

Worst of all, people are watching Mass on [streaming platform you can’t figure out how to work]. As [name of internet priest who claims to be based on a houseboat in the Bosphorus and therefore doesn’t have to obey his bishop] has clearly stated, this practice is extremely spiritually dangerous, because so many pre-[name of favorite ecumenical council]-type Catholics are already so easily led astray by outrageous offenses like the wearing of [clothing in 99% of modern closets], [a practice that even Pius XIII specifically said is fine, gosh], and nail polish in the perfidious color of [name of perfidious color]. 

Those who aren’t already deeply mired in the [name of heresy]-rooted sin of [name of sin that occurs below the belt] will readily realize that this is no normal crisis. It’s an [adjective] crisis! According to the elocutions of [name of woman recently arrested for mail fraud], our Lady of [European town that could use an influx of tourism cash] clearly warned us that if we didn’t immediately stop [name of sin that holds no appeal to you], she would be in danger of losing the arm-wrestling match with [name of person of the Holy Trinity] and we would be chastised with terrible [name of disease].

And now look. NOW LOOK, you [name of invertebrate]. You brought this about with your [perversion you recently looked up on Urban Dictionary for purely academic research] and your [frightening ethnic food people are now selling on the street corner where you used to play stickball as a lad].

I hope you’re [emotion].

You should be ashamed. Yes, you, you [name of liquid]-spined [name of unimpressive animal]. We’re onto you. I can tell by your [description of basic courtesy] that you probably read [creative spelling of “Simcha Fisher”]. Maybe you don’t know that [name of Catholic celebrity who acts like complete jackass on social media] came back from the brink of death specifically to warn us about people like [you].

[onomatopoeia for spitting]. 

Enough. If you’re an American with blood that is [color], ask yourself, “Who could possibly be profiting from this?” And the answer is, as always, [euphemism for Jews]. Of course, [euphemism for black people] are also suffering, but they brought it on themselves by [verb describing action necessary for existence].

But because of them, we’ll all be subject to mandatory [name of routine medical treatment] which has been conclusively proven on YouTube by [name of person who is not a doctor] to cause permanent flaccidity of the [name of favorite body part].

Friends, there is only one solution. If you love [name of religious devotion] and the [document you once paid the EIB network six easy installments of $43 to purchase an authentic reproduction of], let’s cast off the shackles of [name of basic medical hygiene] and say no to this [name of crime against humanity that you read about in American Girls].

Let’s Make America [adjective] Again, one [name of pathogen-spreading behavior] at a time.

.

.

Image: from Agricultural Research activities book (via Flickr) (no known copyright restriction)

 

 

Do women need ascesis?

I recently interviewed the developer of Exodus90, a spiritual exercise aimed at Catholic men who want to find spiritual freedom through prayer, ascesis, and fraternity. One thing lots of people wanted to know: Why is this only for men? Why was there no companion program for women?

Although I have mixed feelings about the program in general, I was impressed by his answer to this question. He said that, while “there’s nothing exclusive about prayer or asceticism or community,” the program had been written with men and fatherhood in mind, so he didn’t want to just — boop! — shift it over to women. But people kept pressing him to write up and market a version for women. He said:

“We’re a bunch of men. You don’t want us writing a program for women. So we got a religious order we respected. Their whole mission revolves around feminine identity. We asked them, ‘Would you study Exodus, and if you think this is a model of healing for women, would you write a program, if you feel called to?’

“Six months later, they said they didn’t believe this structure is a model of healing for women.”

I have my own theories for why this may be. Warning: I’ll be painting with a broad brush here, so please keep in mind that my words won’t apply to every last individual human. (I know you’re going to complain anyway, but at least you can’t say I didn’t warn you!)

In general, women are introduced at an early age to the inescapability of suffering, and to the ultimate helplessness of humans in the face of nature and before the will of God.

When women hit puberty . . . Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

***
Image: Portrait of a Young Woman As a Sibyl by Orazio Gentileschi (Wikimedia) / Public domain

Light that builds

Several times a year, I hear about promising new treatments to halt or even reverse the effects of Alzheimer’s. I’m grateful when people send me links to these stories, knowing I have a personal stake in them; but to be honest, I rarely read them. It was too late for my grandmother and it’s too late for my mother. If this hellish disease comes for me, it won’t make any difference if I’m personally informed about the latest research or not. Either it will help or it won’t. 

For several years, as my mother’s excellent mind became more and more smothered by confusion, I was angry. At her, which makes no sense. She hated and feared what was happening to her, and did everything she could to fight it off, which was nothing. There really isn’t anything you can do. I knew very well that none of it was her fault, and I knew very well that my anger was a shield put up around my heart. Anger often is. 

Lately, the wall of anger is being pulled down to reveal what sits behind it, which is of course a bottomless sorrow and terror. From that well of grief comes up memories, and lamentations. The good conversations I had with my mother were so few and far between; the misunderstandings and missed connections were so many. I’m 45 years old — almost half a century! — and I’ve sorted through enough nonsense that I think my mother and I could finally really understand each other. I’m passing through from the years of childbearing to whatever it is that comes next, and I want to talk to someone who made it to the other side. I want to talk to my mother, and see what she knows. I want to stop evading her and reveal my heart to her in a way that I never did as a young woman.

But it’s too late. I missed her, and now the best I can do is drive an hour, sign in to her dim nursing home, and watch her slump in a wheelchair. Her arms are shielded so she won’t scratch herself to pieces. She tilts, and a crust forms in the corner of her mouth. A few words make their way out, and some of them seem to mean something. She doesn’t open her eyes. 

“I like your shirt,” I can say. “You look nice in pink.” And in honesty, that is something I never would have gotten around to saying when she was present and able to hear it; and if she had said something so simple to me, I probably would have taken it as a veiled criticism of some kind. We didn’t connect well. We didn’t understand each other, at all. Now I have no idea how much she understands of anything. Something, surely. When my father unloads his medical woes to her on his daily visits, she sometimes mumbles, “Oh, you poor thing.” The same thing my grandmother said when someone unpeeled a helpless banana in her sight. 

Poor thing, poor thing. 

One of the articles I did read was about some promising therapy for dementia patients. Guess what it is? Light. 

We think of light as the thing that reveals things for what they truly are. The thing that strips away pretense, that pierces through shields. And this is true, sometimes. The light of honesty is what we need, even when it’s painful. I remember one time I was so seized up with depression, it was as if I lived outside my body, observing. I saw myself talking to my mother about my children, and I watched with detached interest as my face unexpectedly and randomly curdled up into the grimace of a tragedy mask and I started to cry, because things were just so hard, too hard.

“What’s the matter? What’s wrong?” she flew to ask, because she is my mother.

“Nothing,” I said, and composed my face again, sealing off the tears. It felt too risky to show to her what a failure I was, and how much I was suffering when I shouldn’t, I thought, be suffering. Maybe if I had told her how wretched I was, and how guilty I felt to be sad when I was so very blessed, she might have helped.

Or she might not have known what to do. Sometimes there just isn’t anything you can do. I suppose I could go and tell her now. She is still my mother, even though she has passed through the years of childrearing and into . . . whatever it is that she’s in now. It feels like it would be cruel to go and cry to her now. Maybe she’d be just aware enough to sense my sorrow and her own helplessness one more time. That’s not what I want to share with her.

But, I suppose there are different kinds of light. Light that reveals, and strips away pretense, pierces protective shields, and leaves you naked and helpless, poor thing. And then there is the light that builds, stimulates. The light that gives, rather than taking away. 

The light therapy they are experimenting with boosts gamma oscillations in the brains of mice, and this apparently makes better connections between nerve cells. More connection is good, apparently. This light therapy “preserves against cell death in mouse models,” they say. 

I don’t know how to end this essay. I don’t know how this ends. I suppose I could make the drive to see my mother before the end of the year, and see if I can make a connection one more time. Either it will help or it won’t. 

Let it be done to me

Several years ago, I gave a presentation that I had no business giving. It was a speech about forgiveness, what it really means, and how to do it. Maybe it wasn’t as useless as I remember. I don’t think I said anything that wasn’t true. But I said it glibly, drawing on what I had learned in the shallow end of the pool of suffering. 

There was a Q and A session after the speech, and one man had a hard question. He said that he was willing to suffer, himself, and he was willing to forgive the perpetrator who had hurt him. But what about forgiving people who hurt someone he loves? What is the mechanism there? 

I don’t know what his story was. Maybe someone insulted his child. Maybe someone killed his child. Maybe someone killed his child in the name of God, and that was what he wanted to know how to forgive. Not knowing, and not knowing what else to say, I made the only answer I could think of — and again, it wasn’t the wrong answer; only glib. I said that our model here is Mary, who had to stand by, powerless, watching her innocent son tortured and murdered because he chose to take on our sins and our punishment. We can have faith that she forgave the ones who crucified Jesus, and so she is our model of forgiveness in these cases. The answer is, be like Mary.

It wasn’t the wrong answer. But I didn’t know what I was talking about when I gave it. Now I’m writing on the feast of the presentation of Mary, and I still don’t know what to say. But I have felt much more keenly the sensation of standing helplessly by when someone else suffers, and I can tell you that being powerless is not as simple as it sounds. Standing up under a burden you’re not allowed to carry is not as simple as it sounds.

One morning, I had been up all night, I forget why. I suppose I had a lot of work to do, and I ended up writing about and thinking about Mary. I am too old to be up all night, and I could barely stay upright in my chair. But I was still awake, and I saw something that was not entirely a dream.

You have heard of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet. What I saw was a woman in motion, and within the folds of her robe were galaxies. She had nothing to stand on, because nothing could be solid enough to hold firm beneath her transcosmic immensity. The sight of her hit me so hard, I fell on my face inwardly, and I still breathe shallowly when I remember what I saw. She was so immense. She was willing to shelter, to take into herself . . . everything. 

When we make promises, we grow into them. When you make a wedding vow, you do it sincerely, opening the door of your heart to whatever the marriage will bring; and then later, you find out what it is you have agreed to. A real promise holds, even if you didn’t know what it contained. Mary, aged perhaps fourteen, made her marriage vow to God at the annunciation, when she said “Let it be done to me,” not knowing, as humans don’t, what that might entail, but accepting, as humans may, whatever God will send.

At the presentation in the temple, which comes 40 days after Christmas, she begins to find out what was to come when Simeon told her her child would be a sign that would be spoken against. Maybe she thought that her child would be insulted, and maybe she found that notion hard to bear. I remember the rage surging up in my heart when I saw a mosquito alight on the face of my newborn. That blood was not for him! How dare he breech that skin and take what was not his. I brushed the mosquito away, but he had already bitten the baby’s face. 

Of course there was no real injury. It was just a bite. Worse things have since happened to my child, to all my children. There were times when I prayed in anguish to God to let what they are suffering be done to me, instead. “Let it be done to me!” A mother’s cry, as well as a lover’s consent. But that was not the plan. The child has to suffer, and I have to watch, and be helpless. That was what was done to me. That was what I agreed to, when I entered into a marriage that produced a child.

Once you become a mother, you become everyone’s mother. So many people are my children, besides the ones I have given birth to (much good may it do them). I see them suffering, and I don’t know what to do. If standing by and watching helplessly is nothing, then why does it hurt so much? It must be something. It is something. It is what Mary did, and you see how that worked out. When she found out what her promise contained, she held. She did not fall.

Mary is so immense. In her robe are galaxies, but in her womb is all mankind. Jesus’ suffering brought about reconciliation with the Father, but Mary’s suffering brought about — what? Motherhood. Suffering-with. The openness to helplessness. The foot with nowhere firm enough to stand, that stands nonetheless. 

I see you suffering, and I don’t know what to do, other than stand here and be helpless. It can’t be nothing. How could it hurt this much, if it were nothing?

I am here to make a presentation: Here I am, Lord. Here they are; here we are. Look at us. We don’t know what else to do. 

 

***

Image via free images 

When mankind has a tantrum

Good and loving and patient God, difficult me. 

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: Creative Commons (license)
 

Prolife spotlight: St. Joseph’s House and Isaiah’s Promise offer support, respite, and joy to families of the disabled

Cubby LaHood used the term “D-day” for the day parents first hear their unborn child has a severe or fatal birth defect.  

“The baby is the same baby they conceived and were joyful about, but … the baby can become a stranger,” she said in a 2013 40 Days for Life address.

LaHood, who died in 2015, suffered the same crushing shock herself, when her baby Francis got a likely fatal prenatal diagnosis. Everyone offered the couple abortion — doctors, clergy, family, and friends. But she and her husband Dan decided that they would love and carry their son Francis as long as he lived.

 
The LaHoods firmly believed unborn children with severe or fatal diagnoses deserve to live. But they also came to understand that carrying such children to term, rather than resorting to abortion, can bring healing, strength, and even joy to the parents and family, and even to the rest of the community, whether the child dies before he is born, or if he goes on to live for several years. 
 
“Hope led to grace, grace led to faith, and faith led to peace,” she said. 
 
Cubby and Dan LaHood went on to found two organizations based in Maryland, to offer encouragement, resources, and tangible support to people with disabilities and their families. Isaiah’s House, founded in 1995, offers personal support for families carrying to term after a severe or fatal prenatal diagnosis.
 
“In seemingly the most hopeless and difficult of circumstances surrounding the birth of a child, a simple ‘yes’ to life reveals the presence of God, and the presence of love,” she said in a video called “Destined to Live Forever.”  
 
They believe that even a very short life has meaning and power. “[These parents] conceived a miracle, and that miracle deserves all the support that you can give it. It’s about more than you,” LaHood said. 
 
Pro-lifers are frequently accused of being merely pro-birth, of counseling parents to reject abortion, but then abandoning them after the delivery. The LaHoods’ mission refutes this accusation. The other organization they founded, St. Joseph’s House, offers daycare, summer camp, and after-school programs, and respite programs for families of children with disabilities.
This effort, too, sprung out of a personal experience. When Cubby LaHood was pregnant with her first child, she wanted to stay at home, so she decided to open a daycare. The first client she found had a disability, and word quickly spread that LaHood was willing to care for disabled children. 
The family soon made it their mission to make a true home for these children, and to counter “the eugenic impulse” of the world that wants to reject anyone deemed imperfect or useless. St. Joseph’s House is now run by the LaHood’s daughter, Natalie. 
 
Cubby LaHood didn’t believe her family was special. “We all have the capacity to give love,” said LaHood. “It can be done without support — we did it without support — but there’s no reason for it to be done that way.”
 
 The LaHoods do not minimize or sentimentalize the difficulty of carrying and caring for a child with disabilities.
 

“Nobody wants to go through the Passion,” said Dan LaHood “No one wants to go through the Garden of Gethsemane. But once you go through it, you find there’s the spirit of God. There’s resurrection. Not only there’s life, but it’s eternal, and it’s more than you could ever imagine; and you can experience it now.”

None of the hundreds of couples they’ve walked with have regretted their choice, the LaHoods said. 

“Even in this worst, most darkened, most rejected place, God is. Love is.”

***

 

Image from this video:

Destined to Live Forever from Lumen Catechetical Consultants on Vimeo.

St. Joseph’s House

​Saintjosephshouse1983@gmail.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintjosephshouse/

Isaiah’s Promise

info@isaiahspromise.net

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IsaiahsPromise4915/

St. Joseph’s Place also runs Cafe St. Joe in , “part job skills training, part community builder, and part fundraiser.” The Cafe offers a specialty blend of coffee made by a roaster that employs adults with disabilities, and half the proceeds to go the cafe

***

Previous volumes of Pro-life Spotlight:

We Dignify

Gadbois mission trip to Bulgarian orphanage

Mary’s Shelter in VA

China Little Flower

Immigrant Families Together

Rio Grande Valley Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center

If you know or have worked with an organization that works to build a culture that cherishes human life, please drop me a line at simchafisher at gmail dot com with “pro-life spotlight” in the title.

Today I’m on The Catholic Podcast . . .

talking with Joe Heschmeyer and Chloe Langr about Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, for their series on the way of the cross. This episode, #57, is called “The Women of the Way,” and includes passages by the great Josef Ratzinger.

You can hear and download the episode here.

I talk about how I came to understand why and how Mary truly understands our suffering; and about the sensation of helplessness that so often comes along with motherhood and with love in general, and how that sensation can either tear us away from God or help us meet him more intimately. (This conversation was the impetus for my essay, Mary who stays.)

Their other guest is Deacon Brad Sloan who works with women who’ve been caught up in sex trafficking in the midwest. He says so many of them have never experienced what it means to be loved, by anyone else and certainly not by their maker.

The podcast isn’t just discussion; it’s intended to help you meditate on various themes in the stations of the cross. The goal is to help us understand that we’re not alone in our suffering, and to give us the courage to confront evil in our lives. 

The Catholic Podcast homepage is here and feed is here; and you can follow them on Facebook @TheCatholicPodcast.

Image: Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 4thstation : Jesus and his mother. Photo by Pethrus [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

Mary who stays

My daughter is drawing at church. She handily sketches in a crucifix: Top, bottom, one arm, then the other. She’s drawn it many times, over and over. Lately, she’s adding more detail, and at first I didn’t know what it was– some kind of ghost, a formless lump.

Then I saw it was Mary, swathed with robes and veils. Jesus on the cross is sharp and angular, and he turns his face up to the heavens in his agony; but Mary’s head is down, almost crushed into the ground as she bows under the great grief of his innocent suffering. She is utterly helpless. She can’t rescue the child she brought into the world.

In her grief, she is almost unrecognizable, and why not? Why should she be her same self, since the crucifixion is so outrageous? It never should have happened. How could it possibly have happened? This is God we’re talking about; actual God, that than which nothing greater can be thought, and here he hangs, bleeding dry.  Ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by some thugs wielding a hammer.

Never mind the veil in the temple, it should have been the entire planet, the whole fabric of the universe that was ripped in two when he died. I don’t know how the world was held together through the crucifixion. How did everything not come apart?

I do know. It was held together through Mary, who stayed.

Under the intolerable weight of the suffering of her son, she was helpless, almost crushed. But she didn’t leave. There was nothing she could do, but she stood by and let it happen to her with him. Sometimes this is the only action of love: To stand by and not leave.

The suffering of innocents is what tears people away from the Church, away from God: When we have to stand by and watch the innocent suffer, and no one will rescue them. It tears us apart. This is why the abuse crisis has been the breaking point for so many people: The Church was supposed to be where children were safe, but instead it was where there they were ripped into shreds. Extinguished. Thwarted by thugs wielding a crosier.

It is not tolerable.

But it is nothing new.

The split, the rift, the gap, the unravelling: This has been the story of man since we left Eden. God the Father made His children for wholeness and delight, and what did they do but leave, tear themselves away from him; tear each other apart. Even when there is no ill will, this is the duality of the human experience of love since the Fall: We always live through love and loss at the same time. Never love without loss. From the moment we give birth, we prepare our children to leave us. From the moment we marry, we take on the burden of preparing our spouses for death. This is nothing new.

But Mary is something new. She holds in her heart the making and the unmaking of her beloved, and she does not come apart. She is strong enough to make the son of God and strong enough to stand by and watch him unmade, and still she does not leave. She is steadfast like no other.

Our sorrows are the first part of the story. The long story, the whole story, is that the world is all knit back together again in the womb of Mary. If Penelope wove and then unravelled a shroud, over and over again while she waited for the king to return home, then Mary weaves . . . what should we call it? The swaddling clothes that somehow bind up eternal life itself. And every day, death tries to unravel it, and every night she knits life back up again, day after day, over and over again. She does not leave her island. She is waiting for the king to return.

There are times when we all flee from the foot of the cross. It is too crushing. It hurts too much to be so helpless. We are perhaps willing to suffer, ourselves. But how willing are we to stand by and watch the ones we love suffer? That is the thing that feels intolerable.

But leaving the foot of the cross leaves the world unravelled. Running away from injustice, and staying away, leaves injustice as the final word. If we want to meet Jesus, we must meet him in suffering, in injustice, on this island world at the foot of the intolerable. That’s where he is right now. That is where love is. There is nowhere else, no other place but this temporal island called suffering. We will not be here forever, but we need to be here ready to meet him. To try to escape is to leave the world unravelled.

I can hear that I sound like I’m saying, “Don’t leave the Church, or you will betray the world and betray God.” I am not. I know I have said things that sound like that, and I am sorry. I don’t know what I would do if it had been one of my children abused. I don’t know what I would do if I were a reporter or a district attorney who talked to hundreds and hundreds of victims. When I do write about how the Church has betrayed the innocent, there always comes a time when I close my computer and put my head down and cry. But this is not my life’s work. If it were, I don’t know what I would do.

I am only thinking of Mary, and how glad I am that she didn’t leave.

Jesus was crucified for our sins, and Mary stayed at the foot of the cross for our sorrows. She stayed there for us, waiting on that island called suffering and death. She stays with us still. With her son she will make the world whole again; and then there will be love without loss.

 

The Virgin In Sorrow by Simon Marmion. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons

 

Must we seek out suffering to please God?

Fairly often, Catholics will shove the suffering soul down the path of more pain, urging her to offer it up, be strong, seek holiness. They subtly chide her for even looking for rest and healing, as if holiness can’t be reached through simple obedience, but must be sought out through self-immolation — the more wretched, the better.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Gratitude is vital, but can’t be imposed from the outside

By the end of the day, I was almost singing. It was one of the happiest days of my life. It was so good that I return to the memory of it from time to time, and come away refreshed, because I saw so clearly the truth of how much goodness and mercy surrounded me on that day and every day. Maybe I’ll even try it again someday!

But I guarantee you that it would not have worked if it had been foisted upon me by someone who thought I was defective because I thought my hard life was hard. The holiest people I know are strict with themselves, but merciful and sympathetic to others.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash