Betty Duffy


Thursday, March 26, 2015

ABC: Always Be Confessing

Took the kids downtown today for Confession and Mass. I feel like I talk about Confession all the time, but I really do go just about every two or three weeks. I'm not trying to brag on that note. I was thinking today about how my confession problem might just be a Divinely inspired Cross for my children, and maybe even their blessing someday, that their mother was always dragging them to the confessional, not because she was especially pious---but because she was a big sinner. We are developing a habit, a family ritual even, around my need to always be confessing.

And really, the increase in frequency of late is even less about piety and more about just getting on with life, confessing and moving on without harboring feelings of duplicity and doubt and self-contempt. Time is too precious to linger in that dark place.

I am a happy penitent, if that's possible or right. Maybe I should beat my breast a little more. Actually, no. I shouldn't. I've beat my breast for many, many years, and thinking on my wretchedness does not draw me into God's presence with the same efficiency as thinking on His goodness and mercy. It is better to err in presuming on God's mercy, than it is to err in doubting it.

And the more I go, the less anxiety there is about it, the less of a big deal it is to make the effort, even though the grace received from it is always a very big deal.

One such grace is learning to discern what kind of a confessor you're encountering. The best confessors refuse to offer advice, because frankly, it always misses the mark. If you are only confessing your sin, as opposed to telling your life story, they don't have enough information to offer helpful guidance. And if you are telling your life story, I can guarantee you're telling it slant. They still don't have enough information.

Why am I talking about this right now? Because my confessor today told me everything I wanted to hear, and I felt kind of pissed off about it. He was offering me advice that missed the mark, even though it was advice that would make my life easier by alleviating many trips to the confessional. It was a real discipline not to say, "Look, I know you want me to feel better, but just let my sin be a sin because you don't know how this plays out in my life. I barely know myself. All I know is that it fits the rubric, and we'd all do better not to obsess about it. Quit splitting hairs (because I've beat you through that process already), confess it, and move on."

But he wanted to be therapeutic. And I know it's hard to believe, but that's not why I'm there.

And soon, my sister will call and tell me again that if I am going to keep talking about confession, at least don't leave people to theorize about what I confessed. Trust me, it's very wicked and salacious, but speculating on other people's sins is a sin. You should go to confession too.

Anyhoo, I wrote something at patheos earlier in the week, and it's actually not about confession:

Overcoming the Agoraphobic Spiritual Life

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

20 Degrees

Indiana is always one step forward, two steps back. And so much depends upon the white barometer. glazed in brass. beside the beige doorway.

Just kidding. So much depends upon the weather app on my Iphone. There's an (almost) nine year old who wakes me up every morning asking, "Mom. Mom. MOM! What's the high today?"

And I think, what difference does it make whether you learn the high now or later? Just wear a jacket, and take it off when you get warm. But these choleric kids equate your timely, accurate relay of information with your love for them.

He's going to take his knowledge of the daily high with him back upstairs and plan an outfit which will accommodate him from the sun's rising to its setting. And he'll do so with the assurance that his mother opened her eyes and looked at her phone...Just For Him. I'm such a good mother.

Of course it used to drive me crazy when the other kids would try to wear shorts in the winter, or they'd be running around barefoot when it was fifty degrees. I'm as fickle as Indiana.

My daughter's name is Jane. And sometimes I like to ask her, "Do you know, Jane Eyre, where the wicked go?" It must be asked in a menacing tone with a British accent, like Brocklehurst.

She usually comes up with an exotic destination like Vegas, but last night she asked, "Where do they go?"

I thought I'd be tricky so I said, "Perdition," instead of "Hell."

She said, "Audition?! I'd love to go to an audition! What's it for?"

That's probably not as funny as I thought it was.

And neither is this next anecdote:

Joe and I went to a fundraiser Friday night and left the two older boys home alone. The oldest is fourteen. I started babysitting when I was eleven. But here I am just barely leaving my teenagers home alone, and I even sent the younger kids to my mom's because the boys forget they're watching children sometimes. Joe still forgets too, and he's in his forties.

Anyhoo, they did a good job. They cleaned up the rooms we asked them to tidy, and they were in bed, sound asleep when we got home.

In the morning, Joe and I sat up with our coffee, and called the younger of the two in to ask how their night went.

"It was pretty good. We watched a movie, played legos and Pokemon, then I did some origami and went to bed."

"Origami? Who said you could do origami?" Joe asked. "Is that something you would do if we were home?"

See, you probably had to be there. Joe's pretty deadpan, and I think the kids sometimes really don't know when he's joking. And I remember when I was little and my mom said, "You know when your dad is kidding don't you?" Because Dad was so subtle, and Mom was so obvious and it made me feel smart to discern the subtleties, and something about Mom's constant reassurances stole the delight from dad's jokes.

But I do the same thing: "You know your Dad's joking, don't you? You know he loves you. That little puzzle you've been working over in your mind--I just solved it for you!" Of course there is little pleasure in hearing your mother say that your dad loves you. But there's incredible satisfaction in discerning that little smile in his voice that gives it away, like a secret confidence entrusted only to you.

As expected, everything I did yesterday has been undone, and needs doing again today. is not productive as evidenced by the drop in temperature and my slowness getting up this morning.

(You know I'm joking don't you? You know I won't let the weather rule my emotions. One must always qualify and explain one's sense of humor.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sunny, 60 degrees

I am having a very productive day. I have changed the bedsheets, done the dishes, folded laundry, been to two different stores.

And so I will also finally apply links here to a couple posts I wrote at Patheos last week.

Here are:

Disarming My Accuser With the Sacrament of Confession


The Pleasure of Watching a Camel Pass Through the Eye of a Needle

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Looks like I wrote something

...which has drawn a friendly comparison to For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey, a poem written while Christopher Smart was in confinement for insanity. I didn't know Smart's poem existed until it was pointed out to me today, but I relate to the circumstances under which it was written. Lent has fallen at a bad time this year. I'd thought things were pared quite well already. I really don't know how to suffer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Others with more to say..

I think it's better for me to read right now than it is for me to try and write anything. Too many false starts all saying the same thing. Instead, found quotes, from all over the damn place, because one book is just too simple and clarifying. Might as well gum up your mind trying to read ten books at once. Make the deep winter even more of a fuzz.

Saul Bellow from "There is Simply Too Much to Think About: Collected Nonfiction"

"We have for hundreds of years had an idolatry of the human image, in the lesser form of the self and in the greater form of the state. So when we think we are tired of Man, it is that image we are tired of. Man is forced to lead a secret life, and it is into that life that the writer must go to find him. He must bring value, restore proportion; he must also give pleasure. If he does not do these things, he remains sterile himself."

Thomas Merton, Seven Story Mountain, p. 295

"There is a certain kind of humility in hell which is one of the worst things in hell, and which is infinitely far from the humility of the saints, which is peace. The false humility of hell is an unending, burning shame at the inescapable stigma of our sins…

The anguish of this self-knowledge is inescapable even on earth, as long as there is any self-love left in us: because it is pride that feels the burning of that shame. Only when all pride, all self-love has been consumed in our souls by the love of God, are we delivered from the thing which is the subject of those torments. It is only when we have lost all the love of our selves for our own sakes that our past sins cease to give us any cause for suffering or for the anguish of shame.

For the saints, when they remember their sins, do not remember the sins but the mercy of God, and therefore even past evil is turned by them into a present cause of joy and serves to glorify God."

Merton, SSM

"The logic of worldly success rests on a worldly fallacy, the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men.  A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else's imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!"

Run to the Mountain: the Journals of Thomas Merton, Vol.1 1939-1941

"Many so called virtuous people are 'virtuous' from sloth, out of inertia….Virtue without charity is not virtue. Charity and sloth incompatible. N.B. The opposite of sloth is not 'Activity' or industriousness in a business sense. It is fortitude--including patience and long-suffering."


Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov

"First of all. I must explain that this young man Alexey, of Alyosha as we fondly called him, was not a fanatic and in my opinion, at least, was not even a mystic….He was simply a lover of humanity, and that he adopted the monastic life was because at that time it struck him as the ideal escape for his soul struggling from the darkness of worldly wickedness to the light of love….

In his childhood and youth he was by no means forthcoming and he talked very little, but not from shyness or sullenness; quite the contrary…from a sort of inner preoccupation entirely personal and unconcerned with other people. …still he was fond of people. He seemed throughout his life to put implicit trust in people; yet no one ever looked on him as a simple or naive person. There was something about him which made one feel at once…that he did not care to be a judge of others--that he would never take it upon himself to criticize and would never condemn anyone for anything…

Everyone, indeed, loved Alyosha wherever he went, and it was so from his earliest childhood. ….the quality of making himself loved directly and unconsciously was inherent in him, in his very nature so to speak. It was the same at school, one might have thought that he was the  kind of child who would be distrusted, sometimes ridiculed, and even disliked by his school fellows. He was dreamy, for instance, and rather solitary….fond of creeping into a corner to read, and yet he was a general favorite all the while he was at school. He was rarely playful or gay, but anyone could see at the first glance that this was not from sullenness. 

Of Father Zossima: "He is holy. He carries in his heart the secret of renewal for all: that power which will, at last, establish truth on the earth. All men will then be holy and love one another. And there will be no more rich nor poor, no exalted nor humbled, but all will be as children of God, and the true Kingdom of Christ will come." That was the dream in Alyosha's heart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I Will Lead You Into Solitude

Found Quote, transcribed in an old journal, from Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain, which is the book I felt very guilty reading in the chapel for "spiritual reading" at Mater Ecclesiae when, as my spiritual director informed me, I was supposed to be reading something less like a novel and more like a meditation:

"I will give you what you desire. I will lead you into solitude. I will lead you by the way that you cannot possibly understand because I want it to be the quickest way.

Therefore all the things around you will be armed against you, to deny you, to hurt you, to give you pain, and therefore to reduce you to solitude. 

Because of their enmity, you will soon be left alone. They will cast you out and forsake you and reject you and you will be alone. 

Everything that touches you shall burn you, and you will draw your hand away in pain, until you have withdrawn yourself from all things. Then you will be all alone.

Everything that can be desired will sear you, and brand you with a cautery, and you will fly from it in pain, to be alone. Every created joy will only come to you as pain, and you will die to all joy and be left alone. All the good things that other people love and desire and seek will come to you, but only as murderers to cut you off from the world and its occupations.

You will be praised and it will be like burning at the stake. You will be loved, and it will murder your heart and drive you into the desert. 

You will have gifts, and they will break you with their burden. You will have pleasures of prayer, and they will sicken you and you will fly from them.

And when you have been praised a little and loved a little I will take away all your gifts and all your love and all your praise and you will be utterly forgotten and abandoned and you will be nothing, a dead thing, a rejection. And in that day you shall begin to possess the solitude you have so long desired. And your solitude will bear immense fruit in the souls of men you will never see on earth.

Do not ask when it will be or where it will be or how it will be: on a mountain or in a prison, in a desert or in a concentration camp or in a hospital or at Gethsemane. It does not matter. So do not ask me, because I am not going to tell you. You will not know until you are in it.

But you shall taste the true solitude of my anguish and my poverty and I shall lead you into the high places of my joy and you shall die in me and find all things in my mercy which has created you for this end and brought you from Prados to Bermuda to St. Antonin to Oakham to London to Cambridge to Rome to New York to Columbia to Corpus Christi to St. Bonaventure to the Cistercian Abbey of the poor men who labor at Gethsemani.

That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men."

It was prophetic, really--that I sort of wanted a religious vocation, even though nearly everything I did at Mater Ecclesiae was either with reluctance or in direct disobedience. I was talking to Agnes about having considered religious life, and finding it small, I decided to get married--only to find the home cloister even smaller, even more isolating. The Lord answered my prayer.

Was remembering today how J.L. used to come pounding flat-footed down the hallway at Mater Ecclesiae; I could always discern her footsteps, from even two floors below. Then she'd tap on the door of our office and say, "Can I ask you a favor?" 

Usually, the favor was a run to the post office, or to make a ton of copies, or to do something really irritating and clerical rather than the writing and editing I'd been assigned for my apostolate. The most irritating part of her request was that we both knew I was obliged to say yes. I wasn't doing her a favor; I was responding in obedience, because to obey was why I was there--to live under someone else's flag. Gosh, I hated doing "favors" for people to whom I was obliged in obedience.

It's different somehow when you are serving your own family and children, and you know that serving them is not a favor or even a request. It's a command with the authority of blood.

A week or so ago, Magnificat featured a saint who received mystical visions of the wounded Christ. And so, naturally, other members of her religious order became skeptical and sent her away from the monastery to live as an anchoress, walled off from civilization contemplating the wounds of Christ.

"Why does the Church always treat its saints so badly?" I'd said to Pedge.

"She was happy!" Pedge said, "In seclusion, contemplating the wounds of Christ--that is exactly where she wanted to be. That IS the banquet!"

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Solitary Banquet

"The crazy sex ladies are coming to school today," said my oldest. "We're missing it."
"Good," I said. I was driving the kids to the Middle School an hour into their first period class. A glitch in the family routine over the last 24 hours prevented any of the three alarm clocks in the house from going off. We all overslept this morning. Must have been a mercy of God, because I'd been wondering what to do about the crazy sex ladies for a long time.
I went through training over the summer to become a crazy sex lady, to teach abstinence in public school. It seemed at first like a good fit for me. But something that became clear to me after going through the training (though I couldn't quite pinpoint the problem at the time), is that attempting to instill an elevated concept of sexual purity without a corresponding concept of grace, is just as dangerous as teaching that anything goes.
This particular program used all the dumb techniques that Calah outlined in her Sloppy Seconds post a year ago, where people pass around a bottle of water putting their germs on it, and then try to sell it for a dollar, but no one will buy it. Why? Because purity matters.

But even this video, which suggests that a person who's had sex before marriage is a disposable object that cannot be bought, sold, nor given away, is not the totality of the problem.
The title of the program used empowering language like, "I decide" and "doing what's right for me"--language intended to give kids the vocabulary to say no to sexual pressures from the media and their peers.
And I realized that one thing that bothered me, is this idea that you are an island, strong and strident, keeping yourself pure and unsullied like the masses.
You are your brother's keeper. It's not that you love yourself too much to allow such an indignity on your person as sexual impurity, though that's a part of it. It's that you love humanity, all of your sisters and brothers in Christ too much to inflict injury or injustice on them, to treat them as an object either by making them the outlet for your sexual desires, or by discarding them in friendship when they've made poor sexual decisions.
Impurity is to will a good only for oneself.
The sex ladies in the school program advocate taking a "secondary virginity," if you've made sexual mistakes in the past, but I think kids inherently understand that in a secular context, a secondary virginity doesn't really mean anything.
It is charity that draws people towards the Grace of God, not a perfect moral performance in life. And so, I become more and more convinced that sex education is the sole responsibility of the family in which one lives, and also that sex education has almost nothing to do with sex. Or maybe, rather, chastity has to do with everything.
When I reentered my house after all my rounds in the morning, I felt an immediate sense of dread. In our rush, we'd left the place a disaster. In addition to the morning's provision of dirty dishes and discarded night clothes, there was several days' worth of mess that needed addressing--the dog hair embedded in the carpet, the dingy bathrooms, the unfolded laundry piles on the couch.
I discovered strong evidence that someone had been eating cupcakes in the bathroom, possibly even on the toilet, which is…unchaste. Aside from the usual prohibitions against shitting where you eat, someone had taken for themselves what they did not trust would be given to them, and had devoured it alone, in secret.
This is one of the reasons I really don't like cleaning my house; you uncover what people have really been doing in its darkest corners. Inevitably cleaning brings into the light other problems that you're probably going to have to address.
I've been watching with interest various conversations on the internet about GenX and Millennial homemaking, how some of us perhaps lack certain domestic skills in life because of the era into which we were born. Our mothers worked. We were latch-key kids. No one taught us to sew. And anyway, we like writing better.
Some have been discussing the book, "A Mother's Rule of Life" as a means of creating order in the home, or maybe subscribing to Flylady. And many have rejected these books and methods, because they don't appeal to our personality somehow, or they inspire guilt and feelings of inadequacy.
To me the books are irrelevant to the discussion. They offer good tips if you want them, but how do you become the kind of person who wants them? Who can do that? What can transform me into someone who values order and delight in my home over doing the things I prefer to do?
My friend Pedge was telling me about Christopher West's new book, Fill These Hearts, in which he discusses the starvation diet, the fast food diet, and the banquet in relation to our faith. We can deprive our children of joy in faith, leading them to believe that Christianity is all about self-deprivation. We can give them quick doses of faith in punchy packaging when it is convenient for us. Or we can recognize that God has prepared for us a banquet, something that requires a bit of work from us, no doubt, but also allows for communion with Him in every area of our lives.
Over the years, I would guess our family has wavered somewhere between the starvation and fast food diet. Or maybe something along the lines of fast, fast, fast, fast, GORGE! Not the reasonable, measured fasting and feasting prescribed by the Church, but like a starvation diet that goes haywire every now and then, like discalced carmelites beer bonging religion on the weekends and holidays.
In the past year or so, I have begun craving the banquet--without having even read the book. Pedge told me about it, and I thought, yes, that's what I'm looking for--an all encompassing theology, a life of prayer, not just set aside times of it, deeply held virtues of kindness, gentleness, meekness, charity and chastity, that are the overflow of accepting God's love for us, the nourishment of feasting at the Divine table. I'm not talking about behaving well in order to prove ourselves worthy of the banquet, but becoming the effulgence of grace and mercy of which we have so long been beneficiaries.
How do I get it? How do I share it with my children? And at the very least, can we just stop using these disdainful voices with each other?
It starts with me of course, with being unwilling to satisfy myself temporarily with junk food. When one person is starving, usually another is getting fat. Or as my sister-in-law summed it up once: "If your life is easy, you're probably making life difficult for someone else." Shopping is easier than investing in my home life, so is getting online, or having a glass of wine.
Yelling is easier than looking for rational solutions to conflict. Bossing people around and then getting angry when they don't follow my directives is easier than demonstrating with charity how to do something. And sometimes, yes, hurting someone is easier than holding them.
In choosing what is right, rather than what is easy or preferable, I lay out a fine table for my family. Home becomes a places of wealth and comfort, not because I have a lot of money or a particular interest in pretty household images, but because it has been bought with the price of my own blood, chasing the blood of the Lamb.
Home is a place of peace, safety, and a refuge from chaos for the people with whom I have the possibility of doing the greatest good. In this place is where my children will be well-fed, well-loved-- where their own hunger, I pray, will be satisfied.

I was about to post this here, on a triumphant note, with my children all feasting, growing in chastity and all the virtues that I was able to administer to them from the outpouring of my sacrificial love. But another day caught up with us.
I began the second morning of the banquet on a cleaning jag, throwing away food that had been quarantined to the back of the refrigerator for months-- lumpy buttermilk, decades old sauerkraut, fermented beets, all tossed down the in-sink-er-ater only to come sputtering out in gallons of overflowing sour-milk-kraut-water below the cabinet. It was a leak. There was sauerkraut sizzling and sparking in the outlet, piles of kraut on every tube, wire, and mismatched ball jar beneath my sink. So satisfying, isn't it, to finally approach a long-dreaded duty, only to have it quadruple and magnify the work you'd set out to do?

I turned off the water and electricity in the kitchen, because my husband is out of town, and I don't know how to fix it. When the kids came home, I planned to take them out to dinner, and then to church for Sunday school, which our church holds on Wednesday nights. But I managed to get in a stand-off of wills with my oldest child that escalated and came to a disastrous end.  

I'm left wondering, was it my ultimatum, or his response to it that was wrong? Where was the mistake in the situation that gave us no good options but conflict and remorse? Or is the mistake buried deeper than that, in how we've chosen to live, or in our fallen nature?

All the children had to get out of the car, rather than going to Sunday school on Wednesday night, and I began to cook some bacon I'd set in the freezer awhile back, which I promptly burned. 

Everyone was disappointed that their night didn't go as expected. One of the kids began throwing books down the stairs, while another waged a campaign to watch movies for the rest of the night, a campaign I couldn't honor, because, well, just because--you don't get to drown your sorrows in media when things don't go your way.

What do you do when you've tried to set a banquet for your family and you are the only one who wants to attend? If you know the answer to that, I think, perhaps... maybe... you know the secrets of Heaven.

What I did, is sit down after the children had eaten, and made a plate with a strip of blackened bacon on it and a fried egg. I then poured a smooth, easy glass of wine, which I drank for all of my six children, and for my husband, who has been on the road for two days, and so could not attend this feast with me.