Betty Duffy

Friday, September 16, 2011

Combing out the Cobwebs

My friend Pedge groans through each pregnancy threatening to have her tubes tied after delivery, but she never does, and after each baby's born she says, "What would our family ever have done without this baby?"

Still, pregnancies are challenging, and the other day she said, "If I am going to make peace with God's plan for me not to mutilate my body, it's going to be with the help of the Blessed Mother." So she invited me to join her in the forty days' discernment for Total Consecration to Jesus through the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I felt a little pang of dread at her invitation. No, no, no. I know some of those Totally Consecrated people, and they don't own a hairbrush. The last thing I need is a big smug dose of Marian piety just as I'm getting ready to step out of the house.

Four of my five kids are in school this year, so I've been devoting a bit more time to writing, writing for hire, writing music, fun writing projects I've looked forward to doing for a long time. I didn't want to study up on remaining hidden and silent--it's what I've been for the last ten years.

But I wanted to support Pedge, so I agreed to read the meditations along with her. The first twelve days of discernment concern the "Spirit of the World." The opening prayer goes, "Come Holy Spirit, please awaken us to all you have in mind during these days of renewal and help us to let go of all sin, of the "spirit of the world," and of all else that leads to sin so that we can truly live this Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary in union with St. Joseph."

I kept waiting for the book to throw down the gauntlet on reading fashion magazines, or listening to my ipod. But what the meditations did was sharpen my awareness of what the "spirit of the world" actually consists.

My daughter has a knack for putting me in the hot seat--pushing my boundaries, in public, in order to accomplish social connections that I'm never quite ready for her to make. I don't let my kids go on overnights. I like to know the parents of their friends really well. I like to approve my children's plans before they make them. But there she is inviting herself to a girlfriend's house in the pick up line after school, making plans and then putting me on the spot once I catch up to the conversation. All of my precautions are to protect her from the spirit of the world, but she keeps chiseling them away.

It does no good to build a wall around my family, however, if the spirit of the world is right here at home, somehow, deeply entrenched in me. And it is not necessarily my reading material or my music.

It's a coldness, a lack of empathy. "Better keep up kid, or you're getting left behind." The spirit of the world doesn't tolerate kids much at all, especially when they're needy or errant. It would rather the children go to sleep so that the adults can get on with their own childish pursuits--laziness, chicanery, sniping.

The spirit of the world prefers self-mutilation to self control.

It looks for new ways to feel full without effort--new clothes, better food, more satisfying relationships with people who demand nothing but witticism and cuteness. The spirit of the world wants there to be something where there is nothing--in the inbox, on TV, at the store. It is the hungry ghost, arms outstretched, hands grasping, unreceptive to the hunger and thirst of others, because its own need always speaks louder.

In the Litany of Divine Mercy, we pray, "Divine mercy, in the conversion of hardened sinners, I trust in you." I have always imagined that the hardened sinner is the criminal, or the drug addict--the spiritual lost cause. But last night, it struck me that, no, it's me. I am the hardened sinner.

There are sins I can say with some confidence that I will never commit again because of the fundamental option I made for Christ years ago, but that doesn't mean I won't penny-pinch and hustle my way past thousands of offered graces. Just as a woman can say "I do" to her husband with her whole heart and soul and then spend the next fifty years turning away from him in barely noticeable increments. I am a hardened sinner.

As blind as I've been to the hungry ghost in me, as needy as it is, fighting it will require the conversion frequency of a rapid fire machine gun--convert! convert again! convert convert convert! And I will need the Blessed Mother to keep showing me where it's hiding. So far she's proven worthy of the task.

I don't know yet, and I'll probably keep it to myself, whether or not I go through with the act of Consecration at the end of this forty days. I still struggle with the idea of making such a commitment to someone I hardly know.

Who is Mary? St Louis de Montfort writes, "Mary lived in obscurity during most of her life. Her humility was so great that she desired to hide, not only from all other creatures, but even from herself, so that only God should know her…Her own parents did not know her. And the angels asked, "Who is she?""

During the time that I have taken up this meditation, I have felt myself wrapped in some sort of mystery, a maternal wisdom that guides my reflections and reveals to me my deepest strongholds, nurturing me to grow. No one but a mother could do this, in all charity and gentleness, turn her child towards the mirror and say, "Sweetie, you might want to take a look at yourself before you step out of the house."


bearing said...

Wow. It is really pretty remarkable, isn't it?

I am on day 13.

Trish Bailey de Arceo said...

I really liked this post... so much to reflect on here. It's interesting... I identify, but in a different way. After 10 years of consecrated life in RC, I also feel a bit tired of being hidden, and I guard my right to fashion magazines and my iPod with a certain kind of jealousy. And I'm cautious now (and this is probably kind of sad) about making religious commitments. It's a kind of weariness that has set in... or a jadedness. I don't know. It's all very confusing sometimes and I find myself wanting to keep my distance from very religious people... I know I'm wrong, but I don't have it all figured out yet. In the midst of all that, your posts show me a kind of faith that rings authentic, that I can really identify with, and that doesn't annoy me. I don't know if that makes sense, but thank you.

thelicensedfool said...

Great post, it really made me think.

Kimberlie said...

"It's a coldness, a lack of empathy. 'Better keep up kid, or you're getting left behind.'The spirit of the world doesn't tolerate kids much at all, especially when they're needy or errant. It would rather the children go to sleep so that the adults can get on with their own childish pursuits--laziness, chicanery, sniping."

I just said to my husband, "I really NEED these kids to go to bed. I can't hear one more complaint, one more fight, one more anything..." Then I read your post. I realize I have one in particular that makes me crazy and I end up in the confessional often because of the way I interact with this child. I really need to see this particular one's personality as a challenge to me to grow in Christ, but instead, fail.

I will ponder your words tonight and ponder doing something that draws me into deeper relationship with Christ and puts me further away from the spirit of the world.

BettyDuffy said...

Kimberlie, you probably really do need your kids to go to bed. Sleep is a very good thing for everybody. I always screw up in thinking they OWE ME sleep or free time or something.

Lizzie said...

Thank you thank you thank you. Forget 'I don't have much to say'- you're on fire with your writing at the moment. This morning, I have just frightened a poor priest by sobbing in confession after reflecting on this post.

That 'spirit of the world' attitude has been creeping in way too much in my parenting and working. Thank God for the Sacraments, grace, healing and new beginnings...

I was also aware of what a precious gift it is to be able to jump on the Tube, arrive at the stunningly beautiful Westminster Cathedral and wait for confession- they are heard pretty much all day, every day. Even waiting your turn isn't bad there- you can listen to the choir practising, admire the stunning mosaics. All while examining your conscience. What a privilege...

Misha Leigh. said...

Thank you for this - it hurts, but thank you.

Lady.Rosary said...

Really great post. It made me think and reflect on so many things about my life. It's going to be a challenging journey but the end makes it all worth it. Keep on going!

Sheryl (papernapkin) said...

Betty, I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your blog. I'm a Christian in RCIA and, God willing, will be coming into the church at Easter. Reading your blog and others like it are like getting letters from a Homeland that I have never been to, but I hope to live there soon. Love, Sheryl

Paul said...

"Mary lived in obscurity during most of her life. Her humility was so great that she desired to hide, not only from all other creatures, but even from herself, so that only God should know her…Her own parents did not know her. And the angels asked, "Who is she?""

I appreciate your writing - and am too tired to say much more than that. Perhaps that's contributing to my question here. I know Louis is a saint. But how the heck does he know that Mary had a desire to hide, from other creatures let alone from herself. I'm all for pursuing humility - although generally I find that humility pursues me - through the demands and vagaries of life with children it is hard to ever feel too proud for long. But, I'm not a fan of sentimental imaginings - even of very devout and holy people. This seems more in a stream of devotional thought that proposes self -eradication as a path to holiness. That stream does not appeal or convince me.

kate said...

oops, just used my son's google id for that last comment! I'm Kate - not Paul. And one more thought - this one in response to Trish. You sound as if you were deeply wounded in your religious life - and yes, that is sad but real and it is not wrong to be cautious after such an experience. IF you can find a group connected with Communion and Liberation (Pope Benedict participates in weekly CL reflections - his household is run by consecrated women from CL) you may find some joyous and zany "religious people". Much of JPII's language is gleaned from their founder - "Fear not", his favorite exhortation is straight from Fr. Giussani!. And seems appropriate here. Follow your desire for life - and let it lead you to Christ in all the splendor of the gifts of creation. And stay away from the too pious.

BettyDuffy said...

I appreciate your question--and actually, I've had similar thoughts reading St Louis de Montfort. A couple things come to mind--one is, de Montfort is pretty straightforward that his spirituality is not for everyone. It's a gift he says. And while I like this idea, I don't like the implication that it's only granted to a few elect or chosen souls whom God supposedly most wants to save. Bearing (blog linked on my sidebar) is also doing the Total Consecration, and she gets at some of de Montfort's quirks more aptly than I can--As you note, a certain sentimentalism that doesn't appeal to the quantitative mind.

As per the assumption that Mary wanted to remain hidden--I should have quoted the entire paragraph from which that part came--because it noted the vagueness of Scriptural references to Mary, how few words we actually retain on her life, and how those words point always to The Word.