Archives

The other sibling

That’s big bro on the right passing judgment
For years, I have pondered the apparent good fortune of people who engage in meanness and foolishness.  Earlier this week, I grumbled that my good friend died young while an individual who has recently faced discipline for their lack of professionalism is “hale and hearty.”  Another acquaintance, a woman of integrity and compassion, is facing a family tragedy.  As someone who strives to always take the high road, I struggle with feeling compassion for others, especially if I don’t feel they deserve it. 
Last Sunday’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites, the parable of the Prodigal Son. Each time I hear this parable, I hear something new or I relate to the story in a different way. At present, I hear the words of the indignant older brother.
“’Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes; you killed the fatted calf for him!’ “Luke 15: 29-30, Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version
How often do I cringe when someone I judge as unworthy goes unpunished or is even celebrated? I have no problem admitting one of my greatest flaws is my judgmental attitude. 
The loving father offers wisdom, “‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” Luke 15: 31-32, Holy Bible New Revised Standard Version
The father does appreciate his elder son; he does not love him less because he is less of a problem child.  The father wants to celebrate the willingness of his younger son to change. He wants to celebrate his younger son taking the first step to being a good person. 
Like the elder son, I have a self-righteous streak.  I focus on the other person’s flaws and wonder why they are reaping benefits I feel they haven’t earned.  Also, I struggle with those who have yet to choose change.  I find it challenging to have compassion for those who are in the throes of behavior I find problematic.  It is hard work to learn to forgive and accept. 
Once I was that prodigal child. I found forgiveness and joy in acceptance.   I pray that someday I may act more like that loving parent, one who waits with open arms and open heart to receive a lost soul.  I’m praying daily. 

A Lenten miracle

As happens every Lent, my daughter’s school hosts the Stations of the Cross every Friday. An upper grade combines with a lower grade and the children read from Scripture, act out the scene, and help us to reflect. They charm us with the cuteness of the little ones and move us with the depth of insight of the older children. I have had to miss the last few events due to my work schedule.  Now that my daughter is an avid reader, she was assigned three stations to read with a 7thgrade partner. I’m sure I could have requested personal time in advance.  However, given recent developments, my boss and I now have a standing meeting with an individual every Friday.  Te puedes imaginar how I looked when I realized that I would be spending time with said person, rather than experiencing a Lenten tradition with my child. 
This Chihuahua is my spirit animal; I give this look when #icant
It’s not very Lenten or Catholic of me, I know, but I’m also the writer who brought you You’re Ruining My Advent. To make matters worse, my boss was unavailable to join the meeting and asked if I could handle it on my own.
Though I admit I wanted to say no, I couldn’t possibly handle it, I took a few moments to gather my thoughts before agreeing to move forward. So while my daughter took the microphone and read Scripture, I fought the urge to read this person.  
“Shade comes from reading…reading is the real art form of insult” Paris is Burning
I did not give out a piece of my mind. I conducted the meeting calmly and professionally.
Was it a Lenten miracle?  Grace?  Personal will?  All of the above.  I have the ability to choose how I act.  I have the ability to choose whether or not my emotions will control me or I will control them.  I choose to treat people with respect. I choose to leave another’s dignity intact.  In doing so, I commemorate the Stations of the Cross.  So while I would have preferred to be at the Stations of the Cross in person, I was with my daughter in spirit.  In reflection, I see how the Stations she was assigned speak to the situation I experienced.
The 3rd Station: Jesus falls for the first time
My faith journey has been one of struggle and failure. I have never pretended to be someone for whom faith and religious practice come easily.  I fall all the time.  Though I don’t fall quite like I did before I got my mind right, I have moments of weakness.  My anger against the co-worker or any other person who may have slighted me is a feeling with which I wrestle. I know it is not right to hold grudges or pass judgment. I am praying for those who anger me.  I am praying for a heart of forgiveness and compassion. 
The 4th Station: Jesus meets his mother
My faith journey has been shaped by those I love. My own mother taught me to pray. While her methods in doing so were not always gentle, they gave me words that have sustained during my most challenging trials. I wrapped a rosary around my arm when I went into labor with my daughter. I pray before every appointment, test, and medical procedure. I prayed before the Friday work meeting. Now that I’m a mother, I walk with my daughter in her faith journey. Together, we pray the rosary, attend Mass, read the Gospels, and talk about our faith.  When she struggles, I struggle.  When she hurts, I hurt. Love and faith are intertwined. 
The 5th Station: Simon helps Jesus carry the cross
Despite my personal struggles, I accept the call to serve others. I do so in my career. I do so in my personal life. I may want to decline sometimes. I may be angry, indignant, fearful, exhausted.  But I take up the cross. In doing so, I remember who I truly am. I am a person of faith and compassion. 
This struggle is Lent.  Lent is a time to accept our humanity in all its facets and to accept the call to love others.  Lent is a journey toward peace. 

“You’re ruining my Advent” and other excuses

I began my Advent retreat faced with new challenges. Rambo had left for his own retreat out of the country. The situation at work went from bad to worse. Within one day of setting a goal of engaging deeply in spiritual reflection and gratitude, I was mentally cussing out this person and that person.  By day 2, I had coined “You’re ruining my Advent” as my rationale for the recurring anger and frustration. Even during prayer, I found myself praying for Jesus to take control not out of faith and acceptance but because my mind was going negative places. I had missed the point.
Saint John of the Cross wrote about the “dark night of the soul”, an experience of great suffering and confusion that tests one’s strength and faith. I have lived through many dark nights due to emotional struggles, physical illnesses, family crises, and work-related conflicts; I cannot say that my recent experiences are a “dark night” experience.  However, I gave in rapidamente to negative thinking, to resentment, judgment, self-righteousness, all those thought patterns and ways of talking about others that get in the way of my faith and my growth. I’m quick to throw ajos y cebollas all around. While I know that I cannot control others and that I can control my own reactions, I chose to lose control, if only behind people’s backs and in my mind.  Nobody was ruining my Advent without my permission and involvement.
Brett’s birthday fell on the second to last day before the winter break, during the 3rd week of Advent. I logged into Facebook to change my profile picture to commemorate this day. As often happens when I think of Brett, I was reassured. 
 My Advent has been filled with love, love from M, love from Rambo (via Skype), love from my samba family, love from my boss, and love from the speakers and writers at Dynamic Catholic.  Even that one person who gets on my last nerve on the regular showed me love;  this sometime nemesis turned out to be my secret Santa. I had sent a mean text about this individual minutes before when my colleague approached me.  When I heard the news, I laughed at the irony and the lesson. Despite our differences and occasional skirmishes, this person had spent two weeks giving me thoughtful gifts. As we shared a hug, I scolded myself for being close-minded and resentful, for not showing mercy. 
Advent is about waiting. It is the period of waiting in darkness for the light of dawn.  I struggle with my own darkness, whether it is the darkness of depression or the darkness of anger and anxiety.  I wrestle with that darkness; I may have to crawl towards the light.   I won’t be stopped.  
Morning at Machu Picchu, July 2014. Photo by me.

The scourging at the pillar

“Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him…”The Gospel of John

After Jesus is betrayed, he is judged and condemned to death. Before he is crucified, Pilate hands him over to the Roman soldiers to be scourged. While the Gospels tell us little about what might have occurred during his scourging, both history and imagination fill in the blanks. Scourging was a form of punishment in both the Hebrew and Roman communities during the time of Christ and it was no mere whipping. Scourging involved a flagellum, a whip consisting of several leather strands knotted with sheep bone or iron balls, so the injuries to skin, muscle, and bone were severe. In the emotional sense, scourging, I would imagine, would be demoralizing and debilitating. The intense physical pain, coupled with the public humiliation, would weaken the victim’s body and mind.

For me, the image of the scourging is one of deep rejection. Jesus has been reduced from being the beloved prophet entering Jerusalem on a pathway of strewn cloaks and palms to being a mass of flesh and blood. The great healer is unable, perhaps unwilling, to save himself from the indignity of torture. Though he did not deserve his punishment, perhaps he felt he did. Every lash probably struck his heart. Why me? How has my journey been worthwhile? Why do they hate me?

In this mystery, I also ponder my own moments of rejection, humiliation, and defeat. There have been many times when I have poured my heart into people and situations, out of love, only to be cast aside and even attacked. I have been fortunate to experience very few physical blows against me but, like most humans, have been subjected to insults and judgments. Labels and comments have the capacity to bruise and tear. It is natural to feel anger and the need for retaliation. But I think back to this moment and stand strong.