Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp

When I started this blog, I had every intention of occasionally choosing a saint by his or her liturgical feast day and writing about them. I felt this important because, one, I find the saints fascinating. Their lives were often one trial after another, yet they persisted in their faith. And two, my own upswing in faith was only encouraged by reading Fr. James Martin's My Life With the Saints about a year ago.

(I think perhaps we should make a drinking game out of the number of times I mention Fr. Martin's name on this blog, because it's out of control.

See? I just did it again. Take a shot! Wait, don't take a shot. Say a prayer. That is most definitely way more appropriate.)

I have kind of squandered that opportunity, seeing as I haven't written about a single saint here. Even a few feast days for virgin martyrs have gone by, with not a peep out of me.

But as I was examining the calendar pre-Ash Wednesday, and counting down the remaining days I could prepare myself nachos as a late night snack, I noticed that Saint Polycarp's feast day was approaching (and is actually today, February 23).

My parents got me Robert Ellsberg's book All Saints for Christmas, and I read ahead a bit a few weeks ago about St. Polycarp. He was in his mid-eighties when martyred. He was widely considered a holy man and as the bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. When taken into captivity, he asked only for an hour to pray. St. Polycarp also had a fairly witty exchange with the Roman proconsol. The proconsol, knowing both Polycarp's age and reputation, tried to encourage him to relent. But it was to no avail. And like St. Catherine of Alexandra and St. Cecilia and probably a host of other saints, the initial method his executioners chose to kill him didn't work.

Which I ALWAYS appreciate.

Because it's really cool. I mean, imagine it. Here you have some kind of authority figure attempting to put someone to death for not denouncing his or her beliefs. Trying to wield the ultimate power, they fail. It takes repeated attempts, despite the relative frailty of the human body, to kill that believer.

And even more so in the case of St. Polycarp, again, in his mid-eighties. He was entirely an old man.

Roman proconsol: Worship Caesar. Denounce Jesus.

St. Polycarp: Jesus saved me. Why would I turn my back on him?

Roman proconsol: Do you know I can have you burned? Fire is...hot.

St. Polycarp: Yeah, but how long will my fire burn? Maybe an hour or so. You'll be burning for eternity.

Ooooh, snap!

So the Roman proconsol had St. Polycarp burned. Or, he tried to. A written account of St. Polycarp's martyrdom by a witness describes how the fire surrounded his body but didn't engulf it. He remained alive, not burning, as if enclosed within a protective shell. Ultimately, he was killed when his heart was stabbed with a sword, and the witness describes such a torrent of blood that all the flames were extinguished.

I know the saints weren't perfect. Far from it. Some even felt abandoned by God, feeling darkness where they once felt the gift of faith.

But for someone like myself, whose faith can sometimes seem to waver with the blowing of the wind, reading accounts like this strengthen my belief that this life is merely our starting point.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is This Not the Fast That I Choose

I want so bad to put up some eloquent and lovely post on the Lenten season. We celebrate the mystery of the death of Christ and his resurrection, with a special call for repentance, and if anything deserves thought and elucidation, it's that.

As I type, my children are fighting downstairs, and I really should log-off and address this, but they've been home for like a week now, and my patience has just about dried up, like a once-flowing stream that has turned into a trail of cracked dirt. That's where I am, folks.

I keep telling myself that I don't need to be more than what I am, but I do need to be better. Or instead of 'better,' perhaps more aware. Or open.

I was looking forward to Ash Wednesday services tomorrow, at 9:15am, but I have realized that my youngest might be home with me. Funny thing. Her preschool has scheduled a 'pajama day' party, and my children thoroughly dislike such events, with all the school kids gathered in the basement yelling and running and just being kids. They like order and relative quiet and calm behavior, except when I leave them alone at the breakfast table for the purpose of trying to compose a post on Lent.

So I was thinking of just keeping her home, or going with her. Which would mean I'd miss Ash Wednesday services, which also makes me want to cry. Because how can I be better if the one thing that helps to ground me stays elusive? That thing, of course, is time. I know my call right now isn't towards contemplation, for this very reason, but I desire it. At least a bit of it.

I suppose I could keep her home and take her with me, but I'm still working on that selfish part of me that wants to leave everyone else at home and take Mass all for myself. Because I'm still and silent and listening and not worrying that someone is scooting around too much on the bench or bending the hymnals or playing with/tripping over the kneelers or asking for a snack. It's a process.

I've been reading about other options for Lent, other than your typical sacrifices. Since I'm such a novice at my faith (even being a cradle Catholic), last year was my first foray back into Lenten sacrifice, and I gave up gossip sites. I confess to having read them daily, and knew what my clicks were contributing to, so I figured it was something worthy to do. And I haven't been back. So I consider that sacrifice worthwhile. It's one nasty thing I'm free of.

But I do understand the writings about vowing to be more loving, kinder, more generous this Lent, instead of opting for a requisite 'giving up.' Sacrifice, when you think about it, can be pretty meaningless. What's the point of giving something up for spiritual reasons, really, if you don't follow through on the need to give out? The reading for Ash Wednesday, from Isaiah 58: 1-12, which I quote from below, highlights just that.

"Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wicked-
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with
the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into
your house;
when you see the naked, to cover
and not to hide yourself from
your own flesh?"

Yeah. Sometimes you just need to let someone else say it.

I'm pretty new, though, to this resurge in faith, so I am still going old school and will give something up. This year, I am abstaining from eating after dinner, which, if you know me, you also know this isn't something that will be easy. I do appreciate some nachos at 10:00pm. And I pretty much have some kind of snack (sometimes two) after dinner, and tend to see this late night food as a reward, so this will certainly be a nightly struggle.

Perhaps I can take this move away from gluttony and run with it. I'm hoping I can feed myself -- because, Lord knows, my cup, plate and everything else runneth over -- with something else.

Isaiah's encouragement is sound. We do not fast solely for our own benefit. Because I know I can feed others too, for these 40 days, and beyond.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I'm taking a cue from Fran, and posting a video. I feel fairly absent of words right now.

I heard this song in the car the day after a rather epic fight with my husband, and like any good weep-prone woman would do, I cried in the garage while it wrapped up. (Look, I don't get that melodramatic that often, okay?)

Still, while I read Becoming Who You Are again (I know, enough about that book already, right?), it struck me last night as I was jogging that this song ties in a bit.

I'm not sure how Incubus would feel about me making a link between a book by a Jesuit priest and them, but really it's the lyrics that sing about the true and false self, which is the central theme of the book I'm so obsessed with.

"We all have a weakness; some of ours are easy to identify..."

"When weakness turns my ego up, I know you'll count on the me from yesterday..."

"If I turn into another, dig me out from under what is covering, the better part of me..."

Yeah, pretty much.

Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Rut

I can't seem to get out of this mud.

I can't contemplate. It's a task rooted in poor soil. Nothing comes out of it. Nothing grows.

I can't seem to remember my charge, that the ordinary can contain vast amounts of grace.

I live in my daydreams: escapism for the ungrounded soul. I am someone else, elsewhere, unknown.

I am the Patron Saint of the Eyeroll, Our Lady of Annoyance.

I am both melodramatic and understated. I am aiming for the middle.

I am all good intentions. And I know what road to where is paved with them.

And I know this is temporary. It always is. Something always comes to jolt me from my stupor and my slumber. Still, I can't help but worry that I am missing something. I think it's all elusive when it's not. It's the opposite of elusive. It's everywhere, waiting for me to grasp it and hold it and I see my palm waving around, fingers outstretched and unable to curl, unable to latch on.