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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hell, Happiness and His Sorrowful Passion

Introspection does not become me.

I do not refer to rational thought or critical thinking, using both discernment, discretion, and yes, discrimination in my everyday decisions, but rather that common self-induced coma that folks dwell within when they wish to "find" themselves, to figure out what makes them tick, and how to make this more important to others.

I have never felt this need to soul search, to figure out what perfections or flaws lie within.  I get out of bed, shower, brush my teeth, make sure my hair isn't embarrassing my mother, and go to work.  On my days off, I center my world around some obscure time and place that has as little to do with my real world as possible, and there I stay until it's time to sally forth into a general populace that really could care less if I rejoin it or not.

In a nutshell, I'm a realist.  I have bills to pay, therefore a job is necessary.  I believe in God, Heaven and Hell, therefore a Faith is necessary.  I believe there is One Absolute Truth, therefore I am Roman Catholic.  I believe in right and wrong, sin and redemption, just reward and just punishment...and lately, more than of old, Divine Mercy.

It has been a difficult year.  My personal losses have forced me to face a mortality that I've never denied, but never dwelt upon.  The rapidity with which the world is changing finally seems to be leaving me behind a little, which does not grieve me so much as surprise me. My responsibilities are the same as they have always been, but I've had the sudden realization that they are not at all what I expected them to be at this stage of my life.

To quote a heretic, Here I Stand, and the question arose, is this where I wish to be?

My life is not simply a good one, it is nearly perfect.  I have a lovely home, a wonderful marriage, an incredible priest and parish, a comfortable job, and no physical complaints beyond that of every Rubenesque woman of a certain age.  Yet, something was needling me, making me look at things with a jaundiced eye, viewing both my actions and inactions through a more potent lens.

I began to wonder if too much happiness can send one to hell.

A strange statement, but ours is a culture based upon the pursuit of happiness.  It is one of the three unalienable rights espoused by our governing forefathers, one of the few bits of our political history that permeates the cultures of both the elite and the oppressed in our society.  It is an expectation, if not an outright demand from the highest to the lowest, from Beacon Hill to Hell's Kitchen, and it could be a noble one.  But happiness in the modern sense is a subjective thing, and what makes one set of folks happy destroys that of another, for we no longer have a common ground upon which to build our House of Fun.

So, Lent began and I found myself acting out the part of Lady Slane, (All Passion Spent, by Vita Sackville-West) questioning my happy life and wondering about those things I'd left undone, wondering if I should now try to go back and do them, or if it is best to let them remain a part of my intellectual solitude.  These weren't necessarily things that would add to my earthly pleasure.  I would go so far as to say some of them would seriously impede it, but it seemed that my spiritual well-being was somehow trapped behind these unopened doors, and I wondered if I should open them.

I decided to talk to my favorite bartender about it, and made an appointment with Father Reid...and over wine, whiskey, and two weeks' worth of Italian Cappuccino, Pandora's Box came open with all its miseries and woes.  We talked both in his office and while on Pilgrimage in Italy.  His advice, echoing that of other spiritual advisers over the years, was to pray.  He suggested the Divine Mercy Chaplet, in particular.

I wanted no part of such a simple solution.  My prayers are of a more spontaneous and flippant variety.  Rote prayers, beyond the Mass, can rarely hold my attention. I have no doubt God expects some focus from the supplicant, and my thoughts are too often elsewhere for such litanies and novenas to be effective.  Besides, I have a touch of snobbery about visual images.  I dislike color on statues, velvet in art, and cherubs in particular.

Rays of light arcing from an exposed heart on the garden variety Jesus did not move me.  It was not even an image that I could consider quaint.  I didn't say these things to Father Reid, merely making some vague suggestion as to what else I might do, and he smiled in that annoyingly knowing way of his, and reiterated that I pray about it and let God lead my decision.

Roger Waters released an album some years ago that had a single entitled "What God Wants, God Gets."

What I got in return was understanding.  Our pilgrimage to Italy was intended as a vacation with holiness attached.  It became one of the most moving experiences of my life, and every step seemed to be directing me toward this image that I found so unappealing, toward this door that was before me rather than behind me, not  one of the doors from my past, but a gate toward eternity that I had never given much thought before.

Every conversation, even that with total strangers, seemed to hone in on some aspect of this devotion, this focus on the Mercy of God through the intercession of His Son, that here, in the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, was all that I had missed through my own fault, my own most grievous fault, in the past.  All that I had left undone could be corrected by this gift of Mercy.  All that I had done in error could be washed away.  All the harm I had done with deliberation could be forgiven...and none of it was through my own action, but through that which I found distasteful and abhorrent, through the grotesque Sacrifice that is displayed on the cross, from Whose Side the Blood and Water flow, and Whose Mercy is everlasting, and in Whom happiness can be found in abundance, and Whose Beauty, even in watercolor, is everlasting.

Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy on us and on the whole world.  Amen.

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