Pardon

Therefore once for all this short command is given to you: “Love and do what you will.” If you keep silent, keep silent by love: if you speak, speak by love; if you correct, correct by love; if you pardon, pardon by love; let love be rooted in you, and from the root nothing but good can grow.

-St. Augustine of Hippo

Pardon

Obedience

Another hard post to write, which is why it’s taken an extra couple of days to get to it.  Trying to sort out why the word obedience has a negative connotation as well as a positive one.

The people I’ve spoken to have given me very similar responses when I ask, “What do you think of when you consider the word ‘obedience’?”  Rebellion from unfair or unjust ideas, especially those of us in the Gender and Sexually Diverse community, crashes up against the idea of obedience like a wave.  It can be mistaken for oppression very easily, and it can also be blind; many are obedient to a way of life they have never questioned, who’s values they have never tested, and who’s benefits either come at high costs to health or family or both.

When I think of obedience, what comes to mind is the will.  That part of ourselves that guides how we make directions and choices, how it weighs between what we want, what we need, and what we don’t want.  Many of us, including myself, have asked how obedience plays a part in my life in terms of taking direction or following instruction.  But there’s a deeper, more significant aspect to obedience that I think is important to examine.

Obedience, especially from the point of view of someone in religious life, is a vow one takes that links their life and choices to the immediate will of God, even and especially when that will isn’t clearly understood, or the direction may seem frightening or challenging.  It’s described in fluffy speak in phrases like “When God closes a door, They open a window.”  And when you hear these sayings, you don’t necessarily consider what that fully means.

As a Franciscan, I’ve had to make some very challenging choices, choices which at one end seem to take me away from what has been safe.  And I don’t feel safe 100% of the time having made those choices.  Many times, people in my life rail up against me for making those choices because they don’t understand, or those choices I make somehow directly challenge their own ideals and values.  Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience were the three vows I took two years ago in Toronto.  To a great extent, these three vows run contrary to what we in Western society hold as worthy, especially as worth in men who are supposed to be providers, protectors, and rescuers.

As a person, a human being, I often resist what the manifestation of obedience looks like because it hurts, it’s painful, it forces me to face fears and confront anxieties that I’d rather not deal with.  I won’t lie!  I’ve often run from facing those fears, only to have to come up against them again later and make the choice again to either face it head on, or run from it and pretend that it’s not real, or that it’s not effecting me.

I am almost fifty years old.  I’ve spent a great deal of my life struggling to learn who I am.  I can say with some certainty that the choices I’ve made in the last two years have been in obedience to the truth of who I am as a person, where I want to be as a person, and the kind of person that I want to continue evolving into.  The virtue of Obedience in it’s purest sense is to know my truth, to live that truth, even in the face and challenge of those who see no value in that truth, or who’s own lives are challenged by the presence of that truth.  It means listening for the quiet voice of God in every moment, in every situation, and hearing what God is saying–taking the time to truly discern what God is saying rather than making assumptions based upon needs and desires.

 

Obedience

Minority

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“The followers of most holy Poverty, having nothing, loved nothing, and therefore had no fear of losing anything.  They were content with a tunic only, patched sometimes within and without; no elegance was seen in it, but great abjectness and vileness, to the end they might wholly appear therein as crucified to the world.  They were girt with a cord, and wore drawers of common stuff, and they were piously intent upon remaining in that state, and to have nothing more.  Everywhere, therefore, they were secure, nor kept in suspense by any fear, distracted by no care, they awaited the morrow without solicitude, nor, though oftentimes in great straits in their journeys, were they ever in anxiety about a night’s lodging.  For when, as often happened, they lacked a lodging in the coldest weather, an oven sheltered them, or, at least, they lay hid by night humbly in underground places or in caves.  And by day those who knew how to, worked with their hands, and they stayed in lepers’ houses, or in other decent places, serving all with humility and devotion.

                                              –The Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano, Chapter XV

 

 

Minority

Marian Devotion

Sometimes, the virtues cross into areas that make some people feel uncomfortable.  One of the things that I’ve encountered from a lot of my Protestant friends is the idea that Marian devotion isn’t something that’s scripturally sanctioned, and so, it’s a kind of heresy.

I get it.  I was walking my dog today and thinking about it, and yes!  I understand why a lot of people who aren’t Catholics find Marian devotion sort of odd, lumped in with a lot of other things that some people find odd about Catholicism.

BUT!

Rather than get into why we practice these devotions, I want to take the time in the blog post this week to explain what I’ve gotten out of these devotions, what these practices do to help strengthen my faith, and why I want to continue to do them.  More importantly, why Marian devotion is even more important for those of us who are members of the gender and sexually diverse community.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, although not officially sanctioned, is the manifestation of Our Lady whom I believe to be the most empathic to our community, and here’s why.  As an advocate, She appeared in a way that millions of people could relate to culturally in ways that people who were not members of the culture couldn’t see.  For one, the image was produced in a way that was culturally interpreted as a codex:  namely, the entire image is presented so that images on the cloak, positions of Our Lady’s feet in dancing posture, even the reflections in the eyes which under examination show reflections as in a room, as in how human eyes would appear if photographed, all are presented in such a way that individuals and elders familiar with reading indigenous texts.

A manifestation of the divine presented itself in a way that, up until then, had always manifested itself in a western style.

In other words:  Divinity presented through the lens of diversity.

The rosary is something that I try and pray every day; the focus of verbal prayer combined with the movement of beads through my hand, the focus of the mind on images from the life of Christ, and intentions of the people I’m praying for.  During the day, I recite the “Ave Maria” repeatedly in my mind over and over.  When I was in the midst of the hardest depression, I would reach out in prayer to try and find solace.  As I grew stronger and overcame a lot of my depression, I’ve found that from time to time my brain tries to get back into that imbalanced way of thinking.  The Ave Maria has been a strong way of focusing my mind away from those kinds of thoughts that bring me into depression and anxiety.  It doesn’t always stop the depression or the anxious feelings, but it does help to keep my head above water.

But more importantly, from a Franciscan perspective, Marian devotion helps us to connect with a kind of love that, on earth, I believe is the closest love to Divine Love;  namely, the love of a mother for her children.

As Queer people, we have often encountered that love through a lens that is human, limited, a lens that encourages rigidness and conformity.  Rather than recognize the beauty, the gift of diversity that is present in each of us, many through fear have attempted to force conformity, rigidity.  Our society has forced this kind of conformity in ways that have supressed and injured people and cultures in ways that we can’t begin to fathom.

The love of the Blessed Mother is a model for us to work towards–the love that looks past the dirt, the muck, the poop and pee, the tears, the anger, the temper tantrums, and just loves us for who we are, for what we are, regardless of how others might see us.  Its a call to emulate that love, as hard as that is, viewing each person as someone who at once could be a mother, or a child.

The Marian Devotion, the true devotion, is practicing the teaching of Love in all our lives, even when we are angry, even when we are frustrated, even and especially when we are confronted by truths that may seem hurtful, may seem directed towards us, but may also be challenges to see individuals in ways that deepen not only our love for others, but for self, for Mary, for Jesus, and for God.

Hail Holy Queen, mother of mercy,

Hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;

To thee do we lift up our sighs, mournful and sorrowful in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us.

And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb,

Jesus.

O clement, o loving, o sweet virgin Mary:

Pray for us, oh holy mother of God, that we may become

worthy of the promises of Christ.

14

 

Marian Devotion

Loyalty

 

It happens more frequently than I’d like to admit that the virtue of the week somehow has incredible relevance to where I’m at.  This week is just an underline of that reality.

“Franciscan Virtues Throughout the Year” labels it “Loyalty to the Church”, but I wanted to expand this to  be loyalty in general, to talk abut what loyalty means to me, how I’ve experienced loyalty and being loyal in the past, and how my concept of loyalty may have changed as I’ve aged.

In my family of origin, loyalty was best described as maintaining the status-quo, keeping the secret, behaving in ways that I was taught were purposed to keep a secret outside of the four walls of the house.  But what I found later in life was that these were more about keeping the secret isolated within those four walls.  Loyalty began in my life as a compromise to my authentic identity as a person because to say or do anything contrary threatened the identity of another person who had greater power and control.  I suspect this is pretty common in families that have instances of addiction or abuse.  But I wonder just how much this kind of loyalty exists outside of dysfunctionality of addiction.  Has our society created loyalty without reason, or without sense?


In my past relationships, loyalty was driven by the fear of loss, the fear of judgment.  It was more an instrument of confinement than a sense, a reason to exist in a kind of symbiosis where each party benefited.  The hardest challenge I face now is to recognize when that fear is motivating the loyalty, motivating the reactions to the challenges that occur.  So when something happens that pushes me towards a direction of possible loss, and I might be inclined to react (or do react) out of a sense of trying to prevent that loss, I’m acting in a state of loyalty to the dark part of myself, the frightened child.

That’s scary because the potential for loss exists, and every time I walk out on that plank, I’m putting myself at risk of being rejected at the cost of being loyal to my values, my principles, the essence of who I am as a person.  In this sense, loyalty to self (which is different from narcissistic selfishness), combined with a constant and consistent evaluation of self, of behavior, of where those behaviors being and why they play out the way they do supersedes any other choice of loyalty because without that loyalty to the authentic self, any other choice to ally will be false, empty, selfish, and destructive to everyone associated with the choice of where loyalty is invested.

Loyalty is linked with faith, with trust.  Faith and trust cannot exist without love of self, loyalty to self.

Sometimes that means saying “no” even, and especially, in the face/fear of potential loss.

Loyalty

Love of (self)

“In order to understand the virtue of Love of Self, we must first understand that without God we are nothing!”                                                                                                                                                                                             -Franciscan Virtues Throughout the Year, p.83

As challenging as it is, sometimes I have to look carefully and in (an attempt to be) detached view of who I am and what it is that I’m doing.

Sometimes it means recognizing that the behaviors we engage in to protect ourselves end up pushing the people we love further away from us, or keep us from being authentic.  In many ways, these are literally first world problems because other people are fighting desperately to just keep a roof over their heads.

Case in point is our mission in Cameroon.  Right now, the mission is recovering from a very bizarre twist of having the church, orphanage, and living quarters demolished to make way for a public road.  Now, Msgr. Joseph is literally scrambling to try and keep a roof over his head.

I’m hurt because while I’d like to be able to help financially, if I put out any more than what I currently am, my own home and family will suffer.  I can do prayerful things like ask that more Masses be read on Cameroon’s behalf, I can fast on behalf of the mission, but at some point love of self requires that preservation come over charity.

I struggle with this as a Franciscan.  The Franciscan philosophy is to give all until the point of nothing left to give that we might be able to better engage Christ in others, and in ourselves.  But even Francis had to allow himself some comforts, even if that comfort was a stone floor to sleep on, a cave to pray in, or a tunic to cover his body.

Love of self, in terms of vocation, comes down to realizing that limiting our exposure to comfort can to a degree bring us closer to understanding and knowing God, but excessiveness can bring about a kind of pride that is dangerous.

Self Love is being able to act from the place in our hearts that is closest to God, closest to the danger places that we fear.  It is being able to ask those questions that we are most afraid of asking, holding onto the ideas of the answers being painful, even heart breaking, but asking the questions none-the-less because not asking, not entering into those places, is to resist knowing the will of God.  Love of self must be grounded in faith, in God, because love of self that rests anywhere else is selfishness that ends in darkness.

 

Love of (self)

Love of (God)

Yhwh.

The Hebrew name.
Breath in through the mouth, quietly, and listen.
Breathe out through the mouth, quietly, and listen.

From your first breath until your last, God is there.

How do I begin to explain what is so vast, so beyond my comprehension, and small enough to fit into my mind?

How do I begin to describe that which is reflected in the faces of the people I love most dearly, the people I’m closest to?

How can I try to begin to help you understand what brought me to wearing the browns?

Where do I begin to explain how this love, this infinite and powerful expression, has worked in my heart, in my mind, changed my eyes to see the world and the beauty and the suffering and the binary and the diversity?

Anger has no place anymore, and yet it works to push into the cracks and make the spaces wider.

Fear has no place anymore, and yet it works to unbind the mortar.

I go into that still place, the place where I trip over Latin words thousands of years in the making, signs of the cross that bring stillness deeper to my heart, brings the gaps closer together.  Beads in my pocket, copper and heavy, ringing with each step, reminding me of that stillness.

Quiet, the process of a Cistercian, an Englishman, into the cloud.  The unknowning.  The knowing and the dispersing of self, the emptying of fear and anger and all that is just as it should be with dollars and coins and bills and telephones

and

the filling of light

the smell of incense

the sound of chant in my throat

the hardness of stone on my knees

the taste of wheat and wine in my mouth

How do I begin to explain these movements, these words, these signs, these outward symbols  that seem so royal, so capital-driven, are markers to the outside that cannot see, the voice inside which cries out:

Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

Breath in.

Breath out.

 

 

Love of (God)