SAINT OLGA

SAINT OLGA
MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER, SAINT OLGA, PATRON SAINT OF CONVERTS

Sunday, August 31, 2014

THE POLITICS OF OPTIONS IN AN INDIVIDUALISTIC CULTURE

If you look very carefully, you can see a rainbow
amid the trees.


Yesterday I finally decided that I would no longer attend the parish I had been attending for the last year or so.  The reason I had tried that parish at all was because of the efforts of an extremely devoted Catholic woman who belonged to that parish and has spent the last year (or more) carting me back and forth so that I could sit through mass without excruciating pain.  God bless her.

Finally, however,  I had reached the point where the mental pain of sitting through a happy clappy liturgy; a condescending nationalistic homily that rarely gave God a mention; hand holding (ugh); and loud, gimmicky announcements given before the mass had ended (among other irregular practices) was greater than my physical pain.  I am quick to add that those people had been nice to me.  They gave me a comfortable chair in which to sit during the liturgy, dragging it right into the church and positioning it at the end of the handicapped row.  They gave me a sense of belonging by giving me a little responsibility at the welcome table.  The question is this: to what did I belong?

I am not going to spray all the defects all over my blog.  My point is not to bash the priest or saddle a struggling congregation with public excoriation, but to illustrate a problem common to many disabled persons, and that is the question of OPTIONS.  Our disabilities force us to make choices we would never otherwise make, were it not for the limitations of our condition(s).

Obviously, everyone's disabilities are not the same, and some disabled persons do quite well, with the help of mechanical aids, but mostly because of family, spouse or other supportive community that facilitates their access.  Unfortunately, there are an awful lot of us who are alone, and this is where the lack of community is most keenly felt.

The rarest sight in a church parking lot:
an empty handicapped parking space


I have a lovely Facebook friend who lives off the grid here in New Mexico, and just yesterday she posted a plaintiff wish for community of the faithful.  Now, she is Orthodox, but the situation for the Orthodox church in America with regard to community is the same, because we are all dealing with an individualistic American culture.  We can barely stand our own families, what to speak of the larger community of faith.

Yesterday, I posted about my experiences with the Vedanta Society in Southern California.  Something we could learn from them is their community focus.  Granted, it has been truncated somewhat due to a dwindling devotee base and changes in the economy, but I have to admit that I really miss that little community on the hill.  In the early days, we're talking 1930's, the Vedanta Society was given a bit of property in the Hollywood Hills - long before the Hollywood Freeway was even considered.  Some of the land may also have been purchased, but in any case, they had about two city blocks of property, some of it given over to a massive garden from which they got the flowers that were used in the daily worship.  There were also little houses stuffed together in a charming rabbit warren of residences, as well as an apartment complex.  The main property housed the temple, the monastery, the book store and the catalog buildings.  It was really charming.




I lived in the neighborhood for about 8 years, 3 of it in the convent, and I used to love to attend morning, noon and evening meditation hours.  There were many elderly ladies that lived in the smaller houses and apartments who were likewise able to attend.  They just had to walk across the small street and into the temple, which was a hushed and holy place.  No chatter allowed!




In this way, all people got to partake of a monastic style of contemplative life, without having to meet the criteria that is customarily required of a religious.  Good physical and mental health is the first hurdle to being accepted into a religious order.  This quasi 'ashram' style of living accommodated people of all types.

To be fair, we were dealing with individualistic Americans and there were many instances in which community members were not supported or helped during times of crisis.  I remember asking the cook at the convent for a plate of food for an elderly, long-time devotee who was flattened with a dangerous flu, only to be told there was not enough food, which was not true.  I said that was fine and that I would give her my portion of lunch.  Begrudgingly, this nun allowed me to take a plate to the sick old lady.  Now, that old lady had been very active in her youth.  She was a founding member of the group that originally moved onto the property, or she came very soon thereafter.  She had spent many years devoting a great deal of time to the maintenance of the place and the massive cooking projects that were required during the East Indian celebrations.  (There was always lots of great Indian food, and everyone in the world was invited.)  She had to gradually cease her efforts as she became too old to do them.  All of that support was forgotten, discounted, and taken for granted by some of the members, such as that one nun.


Lunch at the Hollywood Convent in the 1980's
(Swami visiting)

Another non-Christian group that does a much better job of forming supportive communities is the Mormons.  (Ignore, for the moment, their insistence that they are Christian.  Their theology and cosmology is completely different than accepted Christian doctrine from the earliest Christian age until the present.  That is a topic for another day.)  If you are a disabled Mormon, you are likely getting visits from eager young Mormons, with offers of help of all kinds.  If you want to attend a Mormon function, someone WILL take you.  If you are elderly, likewise.  If you've just had a baby, a score of young women will be helping with house-cleaning, baby clothes, baby this, baby that.  You won't go hungry or homeless or lonely if you are a Mormon in good standing.  I could never make myself believe in their theology, no matter how hard I might try, no matter how much I admire their community cohesiveness.  It's too bad, really.  I have several family members who are Mormon.

What is the point of all this?  I have a dream that one day Catholics will become more like the original Christian community that held all things in common and no one's needs went unanswered.  I have a dream that our "community" will be more cohesive, less individualistic and more helpful to one another.  I dream that the contemplative life will become more available to Catholic communities.  I suppose I dream of Catholic "ashrams," though I wouldn't want to use that term.  I long for loving communities.

"All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed
that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared
everything they had."
~ Acts 4:32

If I ever won the lottery, the money would be gone in a minute because I would build a community with plenty of room for the elderly and disabled, complete with little cottages outfitted for the handicapped, smooth walkways that lead to the kitchen and the chapel, and meditation gardens.  I imagine a library stocked with all the Catholic classics, as well as religious DVDs.  Big dreams for a little person of no resources!

In the meantime, while praying for the big picture, I have to find a way to get my own needs met with regard to getting to a church on Sunday.  Mind you, I am a sick, elderly lady and I am actually not required to go to mass any more.  I want to go to mass, though, and I would like to be able to attend mass at a parish of my choosing and not be forced to attend a place that violates all my sensibilities.

Wish me luck, and help me in my prayers, won't you?

God bless you all

Silver Rose Parnell

Friday, August 29, 2014

I HAVE TO STOP READING MARK SHEA



Mark Shea, a well-informed and prolific Catholic writer, is one of my Facebook friends.  He has a wide circle of Facebook "friends," some of whom don't seem to like him much.  That's what happens on Facebook when you open up your friend list to people you don't actually know.  Some people want to "friend" you when, in actuality, they just want to fight with you and/or bash your religion or your politics.

I find the whole thing fascinating.  He posts "hot" news items, makes a one-sentence comment, and then the fur flies.  So far, I always agree with his take on these news items.  He has compassion, intelligence, knowledge and good sense, which is a lot more than I can say for some of his "friends" that respond to his posts.

I spend WAY too much time trying to elucidate a logical, sane, fact-driven point because some of them haven't even a passing understanding of classical logic and its fallacies, and it just frustrates me.  Most of them do not bother to actually read the articles that Mark posts, what to speak of any independent, original source material from which to form a cohesive, rational  and fact-based point of view.  I waste my time posting source material that bolsters my comments, only to have them ignored or discounted by people for whom opinion is king.  Today, one guy even told me that he wasn't going to read the articles I provided, but that I should critique them and tell him which of my proffered articles was the least convincing!  He was so lazy, he could not be bothered to counter my arguments himself.  I was supposed to do it for him!

In one sense, it is invigorating.  Crafting a good argument, making a good case, can be fun.  In the end, however, it is a waste of time.  Once I craft my case, no one will actually respond to it.  Irrelevant comments abound.  Eventually, I feel that I do not exist for these solipsistic Facebookers.  There is no give-and-take.  No conversation.  No debate.  They just repeat the same ridiculous, nonsensical arguments over and over again, and if I challenge them in a way that makes them look bad, they turn their ire on me and start to attack me as a person.  Then it is a free-for-all.

When the dust clears, I feel terrible that I have wasted my valuable time pretending that I can enlighten anyone in a culture that is, for the most part, entirely closed off from incoming information that disagrees with the all-holy opinion that comes out of the imaginations of people whose rigidity of opinion is caused by mental laziness, lack of curiosity and disinterest in ultimate Truth.  It feels as if many of these people "pick a side" that is already well-established, for instance, liberal or conservative, and then they argue from that position, with little, if any, independent thought.  In their world, there are only two sets of beliefs....and that is it!  They just swallow whole whatever side they've chosen.  Today the gun lovers were attacking Mark for saying that some innocent people getting killed in a drive-by shooting was a "pro-life issue."  That's all he said...and the crowd went wild.

Ultimately, my distress is my own fault.  I already know that my main function, my "work," if you will, is prayer and contemplation.  I accomplish a lot more doing THAT than I could ever hope to do by thinking up intelligent comments for Facebook.  I am responsible for wasting my own time.

Despite being terribly interested in the topics on which Mark posts, I have got to stop reading him.  But he is so INTERESTING, I whine to myself.  Maybe I could still read him but avoid commenting on his posts.    Okay, so I will let myself read him, but I have to exhibit some restraint and avoid commenting.  He is just so darn INTERESTING, though.  It will be hard.  But I will try.

Silver Rose Parnell

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

JANE DE CHANTAL

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal


If you are like me, and you are disabled, poor and trying to lead a holy life in the midst of your sufferings and pains in a world that discounts you because you do not appear to be productive, you need some inspiring words to keep you going on the contemplative path.  In the case of today's saint, Jane de Chantal, you may find a lot to bolster your prayer life and your resolve.  The letters between her and her spiritual director, Saint Francis de Sales, would be helpful to you, and there are several other books, as I remember, about these two saints.  It has been a while since I read them.  I was in a Hindu convent at the time, but I recall feeling strengthened by this saint's attitude toward spiritual life.

Here is a great quote about her:

“She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself...But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth” ~ St. Vincent de Paul.

Just google her name or look her up on Amazon.com, and you will find many books about her and St. Francis de Sales.  The library may also have some things.

It seems to me that most saints suffered greatly, in one fashion or another.  A few were sickly or disabled, like Blessed Margaret of Castello, and some were depressed, like Mother Teresa of Calcutta who had a dark night of the soul for 30 years.  Others were tormented by demons.  Most were afflicted with doubts and other temptations.  If anyone can relate to them in their sufferings, it is the disabled and frail elderly, many of whom endure chronic pain that does not leave them for a minute.  Depression and mental illnesses like post traumatic stress disorder are very common these days because the world has become a mean and violent place.  All of these things can interfere in a person's spiritual life if we let it get to us or if we imagine for a moment that we cannot possibly become saints if we are so messed up.

It is precisely BECAUSE we are messed up that we have a chance of becoming saints if we use our sufferings and humiliations to our advantage, offering it all up to God while maintaining a joyous visage.  We needn't pretend the suffering doesn't exist.  We aren't stoics or automatons!  We wrestle with our struggles, whatever they are, and we will notice them and occasionally give voice to the frustration, and we will certainly feel the pain, but our primary focus is on God and the beauty and joy of Him.  But never let anyone tell you that you "shouldn't feel" this or that emotion.  The saints feel plenty.  That is how they have a heart for the poor and suffering, and a heart for Jesus, Mary and the other saints.

Don't forget that God is great and has no problem using broken instruments such as ourselves.  Ignore what the worldly have to say about you and, whatever you do, don't let it get you down.  God will use us in the way he wishes to use us in the time in which he wishes to use us, and all we have to do is be open to him in our hearts.

I have been getting down on myself because of my inability to keep a strict schedule.  That was stupid.  One of the reasons I am disabled is because my illnesses prevent me from maintaining a schedule.  Somehow I had internalized the criticisms of the world.  I am learning to ignore the critical lady who frequently tells me, "I don't understand why you're not working.  You should be working.  Surely there is SOMETHING you can do.  You're so INTELLIGENT."  (As if one can only be disabled if one is a moron!)  Then there is the nosy neighbor who quizzes my apartment manager and asks her for a list of my disabilities because I do not "look" disabled. (Most illnesses, no matter how grave, cannot be detected by simply looking at someone.)

Quite a few people ask me how much money I get in Social Security.  I have made the mistake, in the past, of actually telling them the amount, only to be told that I am not really poor because some other able-bodied person with a temporary financial problem has a lower income than I do.  People do not understand that being disabled is MUCH more expensive than being able-bodied and, while an able-bodied person can actually do something to alleviate their situation, like taking a second job, a disabled person is pretty much stuck.  Occasionally, some of us can find a little something we can do to increase our income, but it is very difficult.  The solution for any financial privation is usually tightening our belts and doing without.  I will write a blog about that one day.

None of these people have the right to the information they ask about income or health conditions, and, these days, when pressed, I simply say that I have a collection of illness which, put together, make it impossible for me to work.  It does not satisfy them, but if I say it enough times, they stop asking.  Hostility and criticism toward the disabled and the poor are rampant in our society today, and we can fall into the trap of trying to defend ourselves at every turn.  Don't do it!  If someone is quizzing you about your disabilities or your income, it is not out of concern for you.  They want to judge for themselves whether you are poor or sick and your word is not good enough.  If you give in to this type of interrogation, you will lose your dignity like I did, and no amount of explanation will change a person's mind about you and all the other "lowlife" poor people who are faking disability (supposedly.)

Don't make the mistake I made and internalize the world's garbage until you are so down on yourself your spiritual life goes down the tubes.  There are plenty of people in the world for whom all the explanations and information in the world would not be enough to gift them with a sense of compassion and understanding for your trials or appreciation for your contemplative strivings.  In fact, most people won't "get you" in any real way.  If you're lucky, like me, there are a few dear friends who respect you and trust you.  Ignore the rest of the nattering world and hold onto the Lord.  Think of the rest of us who are in your same position (and there are quite a lot of us!)  We are your community.  We get you.  We support you.  We pray for you.  Don't give up.

Silver Rose Parnell