Betty Duffy

Sunday, September 2, 2012


Once upon a time on the internet, someone posted portions of my chapter from "Style Sex and Substance" on their blog.

This quote (among others) was used:

Any time two adults proceed in a game of Twister, they’re going to need a sense of humor.

As a result, the following comment showed up on that blog:

(comment edited for length)

" for the game Twister, which was mentioned–is that really a game that should be played by anyone other than little kids? Am I the only one who sees in that game a near occasion of serious sin, at least for young men? I mean, come on, if we saw people acting like that away from the Twister board we would put an immediate stop to it.

So I wonder–have people just gone insane? Have we, as Catholics, just become blind? Do we really want to be like Our Lady, or St. Joseph, or any other Saint? Or…purest of the pure–Jesus? Read about what St. Gemma Galgani was told by Jesus, Mary, and her Guardian Angel. It was the opposite of ‘listen to rock music, play twister, read books about sexuality, wear clothing that shows off your legs,""

What I love about this comment is, as my sister-in-law pointed out, how he sums up my worldview as "listen to rock music, play twister, read books about sexuality, wear clothing that shows off your legs."

He nailed it. No day for me is complete without a book about sex and a game of Twister.

The charge against me is worldliness, and over the course of a long, hot summer, pregnant with my sixth child, I've realized that he's right. My last blog post was about rock music. The post before that was about swimsuits. All I think about is stuff stuff stuff and Twister.

I read recently that St Theresa of Avila once had a similar preoccupation with romance novels--she thought they might be the one thing that put her under a staircase in hell. Supposedly, she toiled away as a mediocre nun until she was 38 years old, and then realized that these THINGS, were not obstacles to Heaven. They were not some kind of litmus test that marks you out as a bad or good person, whether you wear short skirts or spend too much time chastising people on the internet.

They were distractions.

Maybe, just maybe, I haven't been corrupted by my preoccupation with worldly things, but rather, I've been blinded by Twister and rock music to some of the potential rewards holiness might have to offer.

We had a visiting priest a couple weeks ago at our Parish, a monk from the local seminary, and in his plea for support for his seminarians, he noted that one of the many important roles priests perform for the Church, is to keep agitating for the Kingdom of Heaven, to provide a certain amount of torment among the flock that prevents us from becoming too preoccupied with the things of this world.

And the things of this world are legion. Yes, they include sex, bad books, stupid games, our clothes, the internet, and the rude behavior of other people. Also the summer's heat, depression, fatigue, fear, anxiety about the future, misery over the past, interpersonal conflict, and obsession with performance in our Christian vocations. You cannot be a human being without bumping into the things of this world, because we're soul and body, living for a term in a material world.

The thing I just realized this evening, after watching a segment from Father Barron's Catholicism series, in which he noted that Christ took all the darkness of the world onto himself, is that the particular things of this world that really take hold of me are not actually Twister and short skirts, but maybe too much comfort with the darkness that I'm really not supposed to carry.

I've spent the summer feeling terrible and thinking about the Cross. I've imagined naming this baby St. John, whether it's a boy or a girl because it is the fruit of my own little dark night of the soul.

Well, sometimes you're really blue, and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes you're in the dark, however, because that's just where you like to be.

I've always favored Crucifixion art to Resurrection art.  The latter is too often cheesy and unbelievable, whereas blood and death are real--they are of this world. It's comforting to realize that God suffered them too, but it's worldly to imagine that suffering is where the story of God's action in our lives ends.

My current worldly distraction may actually be the Cross itself. I don't go far enough in my faith. Preoccupation with death and suffering is a preoccupation with worldly things, and I have embraced them with gusto.

But I have failed to see the end of the story--how Christ takes our suffering onto himself, and then transforms it in ways I cannot imagine.

Sanctity always has two parts--the part we perform, which includes offering, and attempting to ascend to Christ's example, and the part that Christ performs, where he descends to earth and changes us in unfathomable ways.

I don't get to ascend to Heaven like Christ did. He has to take me there, and I suspect that whole surrender-process will be very challenging and confusing.

“Mary’s confusion at the Annunciation reflects her spiritual poverty. We always experience confusion and perplexity when God descends into our lives. These purifications are passive—God is causing the growth by bringing about some crisis in our lives, in the Church, etc. We use these experiences as a trampoline to bounce off of and land in the arms of Jesus.”

“Sanctity is not moral perfection, or success (a heresy of Americanism, he said), or psychic maturity, all of which are focused on the self. Instead, it is the meeting of our weakness with God, who loves us.”

--Father Giertych, theologian of the papal household

The big surprise about Christianity is that we don't gain Heaven by gritting our teeth through hell on earth. We are loved into it. And when we love back, Heaven becomes present on earth. Faith and pious works to the exclusion of worldly things, becomes less difficult. The Resurrection begins to feel real.


Lizzie said...

I'm staggered by the way the Holy Spirit works Betty... Thank you for this beautiful article which articulates much of the journey I've been on too this summer.

I always used to think that when I was given a cross, I could ask for God's help to deal with it 'myself'...I've realised that my crosses are to be shared with Christ - that he carries them and transforms them. As you say, the crucifixion isn't the end of the story and our crosses aren't a test of how far I am along the road to holiness. A small difference between the two attitudes but a vital one which, just yesterday, a priest clarified and challenged me on in confession.

I'm just finishing 'I Believe in Love' by Fr d'Elbee which has been really challenging and enlightening about surrendering all to Christ in confidence and humility - a phrase which I've heard for years and yet never quite understood.Getting there by God's grace...

Thank you!

Joanne said...

My biggest and most constant sin is never rock music or Twister (?) but a severe lack of faith. I feel ridiculous sometimes because it's almost all I ever consistently confess. I wish I could just trust God, just lean into it, but it's my biggest challenge. It seems like it would be the easiest - definitely the simplest, but for me it feels impossible.

Dorian Speed said...

I go back and forth between feeling like:
1. We all agree that there's a line past which we shouldn't go, as far as the media we consume (music, board games, shoe heel length) - we just don't agree where that line is, and it's a matter of prudential judgment for each individual.

2. Some things are just right out, and maybe that includes some things that I myself enjoy but rationalize.

Lizzie said...

My recent comments are a good check of my pride and vanity levels as I come back to read other comments later,read mine again and think I sound consistently sanctimonious and quite annoying. I have a conversation in my head about whether to delete said comments but decide that is much too vain... ha ha ha.

BettyDuffy said...

Lizzie, I have absolutely NEVER thought of your comments as sanctimonious or annoying. Quite the opposite.

Joanne, I think lack of faith is the core of most sins, so recognizing it as such, you're probably right where you need to be. Lack of faith definitely falls under the worldly concerns conversation--because it's a lack of faith that makes us believe that our salvation is entirely up to us, that we can will it or earn it--when in fact the better part of God's action in our lives is a mystery that we may never understand.

Dorian, I think you're right that some things are just unacceptable, especially if it's listed in the catechism as something gravely disordered. Rock music isn't in there, though sometimes I come across a lyric that's gravely disordered. And reading books isn't in there, though there are disordered books. Everything of this world can become an occasion of sin I guess.

nancyo said...

Lizzie, I am thankful for your comment. First of all, you underline Betty's point about sharing our crosses, not bearing them ourselves - I'm not sure I've ever quite realized that, deep down (although I have no doubt I've heard it, and maybe even repeated it to others) and it will help me immensely. And second, the book you mention! My brother gave me a copy of I Believe in Love years and years ago. It changed his life, and he has distributed dozens of copies of it. I finally decided that this is the year for me to read it, and my plan is to book myself into a retreat house for a few days this fall to attend to the book without my usual diet of distraction. (which leads back to the amazing insights of Betty's post)

amanda said...

That last paragraph says it all.

And St. John is a beautiful name.

TheReluctantWidow said...

First, am I the only one that read your chapter in the book and thought you weren't really talking about the game of Twister actually but it was a euphemism for sex. I guess if I was truly holy I'd say "the marital act." Phaw! I am not truly holy. I think that commenter must have completely misunderstood you. Some people are just always looking for something to criticize. I, personally, loved your chapter as did my husband.

I am in my own dark night of the soul. I purchased the book I Believe in Love several weeks ago as a means to pull myself out of this spiritual pit I am in, but I haven't even cracked the binding yet.

BettyDuffy said...

RW, I most certainly WAS using Twister as a euphemism for sex. I think that's why I thought the comment was so funny. Does anyone really play Twister--the game--anymore?

BettyDuffy said...

PS--I've been praying for you.

TheReluctantWidow said...

I don't think anyone really plays Twister anymore, and THANK YOU for your prayers. They are greatly appreciated and I know they are being answered even if I am having a bit of a bad attitude about my situation.

kate said...

First of all Betty, from a sometime lurker, I appreciate your brutal self analysis - you don't hide or dodge the human condition. And you always provide food for thought - not necessarily comforting thought but challenging and that's a good thing. But I'll raise a question - not an assertion but something to consider - what is the positive method in which God works holiness in us? I will suggest that the human person requires an honest consciousness of the darkness within - but also an awareness of a call to joy and a passion for life. I'm not sure this brief space allows for an unpacking of my thought but there is a melancholy here that may provide an inadequate lens.
The movement Communion and Liberation (which Pope Benedict LOVES) has a method which includes considering what we are attracted to, interested in and fascinated by and sees in these positive elements the call of God to an interest and to a pursuit. Short shrift here, but it is what I have in mind as reaction when I read your thoughts.
"It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work. Smitting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should."
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Anonymous said...

"Preoccupation with death and suffering is a preoccupation with worldly things." I love that.