Monday, June 8, 2009

Everyday Theology: Finding Joy in an Unlikely Place

My three year old asked me to take her to the bathroom for the third time during Mass today. (Any coincidence it was Trinity Sunday? I wonder.) If there is a patron saint of weak bladders, my daughter needs to do a novena to that saint. While I hated climbing over all my children to get out, it was a relief to exit the church The last few weeks in Ireland have been a test of faith for me. Everything I thought I knew about the Catholic Church has been turned upside down and the people I thought were entrusted to preserve the faith have turned into her biggest enemy. The depression has become a dark cloud in my life. St. Teresa of Avila called it the dark night of the soul.

I decided to listen to the advice of my patron saint, Teresa of Avila. She advised her nuns to go outside when they were depressed so they could gaze into the sky. I wondered why she did that. Rather than question it though, I simply looked up in the sky and admired the clouds, listened to the singing of the birds, the gurgle of a stream and the peaceful quiet, occasionally interupted with the passing of gas by a small child. I couldn't help but giggle, and it was then that I understood why Teresa said this.

Life has plenty of things to make us depressed. St. Teresa used to say, "May God protect me from gloomy saints," meaning the morose, downcast version of piety was not what God wanted. Instead, St. Teresa was renown for a good sense of humor. She never took herself too seriously, and despite her holiness, she was lighthearted. She was often criticised for enjoying her own form of prayer, which bordered on fantasy conversations with God. While during life she was chastised for taking such a familiar approach to conversing with God, she was later declared a Doctor of the Church for her writings on prayer.

St. Teresa, like me, didn't much enjoy the long, drawn out, rote version of prayer. Carmelites are known for meditation and contemplation, but Teresa, a Carmelite, saw this as a chore. In fact, she used to dread the hour of prayer and would have gladly traded it for some form of heavy penance instead. Her mind was constantly going, and making her mind stop was akin to stopping a train moving at 65 miles an hour. So, she let her mind imagine speaking to angels, saints or Jesus himself. In a sense, she wrote about the development of a personal relationship with Christ. And for this, the bishops and many other religious criticised her.

Often times, she was not welcomed in a region because the bishop didn't want to hear it. They were too busy doing the "business" of the Church, and acting as God by condemning the people. This was the time of the Great Inquisition and the Church was taking an active role in the condemnation of souls, as they still walked the earth. It was a dark time in Church history, but it produced some incredible saints too.

As I thought abouth this, I realized this was the case again. The greatest good often exists where there is also the greatest evil. I'll leave it to the theologians to figure out why. Suffice to say, the things that are depressing me now are simply due to my inability to see the great saints that are in the making. But if I stop and listen, I can spot them around me, and thus find the joy that St. Teresa knew was out there somewhere.

So, I turned on the television and saw Father Jonathon Morris exchanging witty banter with the other Red Eye guests. It made me laugh at myself, and, for a little while, forget the depressing events of the past week. I went on the Internet and read some of the funny stuff written in the Activity Pit and on MySpace (Tammy Bruce has a wonderfully witty quote.) Only then did I realize, here is where God really lives and breathes. He resides in the hearts of those who do good. God doesn't need us to carry a label. We need that. He exists and acts through each of us. This is how the greatest good can exists in the same place as some of the most horrific evil. God works through us all, in our uniqueness and our ability to see joy in everyday life.

As the sound of a flushing toilet reminded me it was time to return to my pew, I was grateful for the few minutes of relief, both for my daughter and myself. I vowed to write it down, and thank those who allowed God's joy to spread through them, despite the great efforts of the evil in this world. Even though we disagree on some issues, God still speaks through each, and it is wonderful.

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