Pastoral Ponderings . . .
My sister, Patti, just sent me a great article from the New York Times entitled, “God is a Question, Not an Answer”, written by William Erwin. The title is a bit misleading, so bear with me.
My little sister’s never sent me anything like this before, and since she doesn’t identify as a Christian or any other religious faith I was intrigued with her e-mail. She’s too peace filled to ever send me anything hostile to my faith or Christianity so I really wondered where the article might lead.
What the article spoke of was the reality that we can’t point to you or touch you with the words and say, “There he is!” I can look out at the shrubs and stone fence from my office window and know they are physically “real.” but both belief or non-belief are simply a matter of faith since (as the article said) we can’t “prove” either way. With that in mind, the article questioned, why do people argue over God? They say “there are no atheists in the foxholes”, but it’s also safe to say “nobody in a foxhole doesn’t wonder where you are or why bombs are dropping around them!”
I’ve had many times when I’m sitting in the “foxholes” of life with people and feel the chaos and confusion of their lives, but I’m not one to give “canned” statements of faith when life is full of suffering. I have to admit that at times I feel like a fraud when my role tells me to speak confidently while my own soul is screaming in confusion and anger, and you know I’ve had many times when I’ve considered leaving the ministry when my own confusion overwhelms me.
Interestingly, at those times I have fallen back to the experiences and strength of my mother and her faith as I again find the foundation of hope which she stood on. I listed some of these things for my sister when I wrote her the following:
Dear Patti, I loved the article. It got me wondering what foundation I stand on for my own faith in God, and I realized much of it came from Mom’s examples in her faith, some of which include:
- Groaning because we had to go to catechism classes on Saturday morning rather than getting to stay home and watch cartoons;
- Polished shoes laid out every Saturday night…no tennis shoes then;
- Davey & Goliath every Sunday morning with the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”;
- Mom leaving work early to pick us up from three different schools for Holy Day Mass;
- Our priest, Fr. Whelan: his reassuring and gentle smile, warm voice, and his example of faith;
- Being an altar boy in the Latin Mass, and Fr. Whelan slipping us a Five at Christmas; Incense in church and kneeling at the communion rail; genuflecting before God;
- The Crucifix, not just an empty cross, above Mom & Dad’s headboard and the Guardian Angel picture above our own beds;
- Our childhood church, St. Catherine’s, with the elaborate altar and frescos on the ceiling;
- All of us kids kneeling on either side of Mom…separated by who was fighting with whom;
- Kneeling in the front room as a family to pray the Rosary.
But the most significant thing was my early understanding that in the midst of what may have looked like simply habit and tradition Mom found strength in the midst of chaos…and there was plenty of chaos. I know that at times she felt the dark pull of hopelessness with Dad’s sickness, yet she radiated joy and didn’t pass that hopelessness off to us kids. Somehow, in the foxholes of life Mom’s joy and strength from her faith: the foundation of which she offered to us kids.
Those are the things I wrote my sister, Lord. What I realized is that I have a gift which I don’t have to push on to others. I can share it with people, but there’s no need to force them to comply with my understanding of you in my life.
I’m grateful for the gifts my mother shared with us…but especially the gift of seeing you everywhere, even when you are not “seen” with my eyes.
As always, thanks for listening. I love you.