Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sign Me Up!

“Youths or young men who feel a strong desire to toil for the souls of heathen people and who are willing to go afar with no hope of earthly recompense and with no guarantee of a return to their native land are encouraged to write, making their letter personal, to the Editor of Field Afar.”

This 'call to vocations' was printed in 1911 by James A. Walsh, M.M., editor of the Field Afar. It was a call to join the Maryknoll congregation for foreign missions. The complete story can be found at America here.

Two things struck me when reading this.

The first was that joining the Army has always seemed to have parallels to entering religious life: it is a life of work and discipline, of hierarchy, of living by a code of conduct, in community, sacrificing for a common (and higher) purpose, etc.

The second thing that I thought about was how much the 'marketing' has changed for the Army since the World Wars. I run into a lot of Armed Forces recruiters at college fairs, and it seems there has been a shift from serving (and dying for) your country because its patriotic, to, "you can earn money for college!" They are catering to a self-serving generation less familiar with the idealism of serving for a common, collective purpose. (One of my favorite papers in graduate school was by William Cavanaugh, titled "Dying for the Telephone Company." kind of relates here.)

Just reading the above quote about "toiling for heathen souls...with no earthly recompense and no guarantee of return," I couldn't help thinking, "who in this generation would take up that offer?" It's no wonder why people living in a "what's in it for me?" age are not joining religious communities.

This applies to marriage as well. If marriage and the family truly is the building block of society, that suggests there is an irrefutable 'social' component of marriage--that is, a healthy society is built on healthy families. The majority of our families in the West are not healthy, and as a result, our society suffers. That means marriage is not just about 'you and me,' but about the good of society, as well.

Now, few people get married 'for the sake of society.' They get married for themselves or for their families--sometimes out of love, sometimes out of obligation (as in arranged marriages). But the residual effect of this marriage bleeds out into the social fabric inadvertently. Marriages that break up are not just rifts between two people, but they tear at the fabric of society as a whole.

Think of a National Forest that has signs posted everywhere "DO NOT LIGHT FIRES." For the collective good of all, somebody (the U.S. Forest Service) takes precautions so the forest doesn't burn down because of the carelessness of one person. Does this mean that starting a campfire for one's own pleasure is going to burn down the whole forest? Not necessarily. One might be responsible, watching it carefully, building a fire ring, dousing it with water to make sure its out. But the more people who disobey the rules--ie, if the signs are taken down, or generally ignored-- the greater the chance of the destruction of the forest as a whole.

I honestly don't get a good feeling about the direction our post-modern society is headed as it gets more individualistic and relativistic. Less people willing to join "God's Army," and live by an established set of moral guidelines spells disaster for future generations. "Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rosary Reflections as an Expecting Parent

While praying the rosary this afternoon and meditating on the Joyful mysteries, each one held a special meaning for me now as an expecting parent. I thought I would share some of the things that came to me in prayer:

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

Mary said yes--"let it be done to me according to your word." What if she would have aborted? Always an option. Yet Mother Teresa said, "it is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish." Mary did not ask to be the Mother of God. She was chosen. She forfeited her idea of her life for a greater purpose. Lord, help me to do the same.

The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation

I don't know how many months pregnant Mary was when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, but the journey was at least eighty miles and would have taken multiple days. How easy would it have been for Mary, bearing such 'precious cargo' in her womb, to say, "I shouldn't go anywhere...what if something bad happens along the way? Best to just stay put." Mary was not fearful. She "hurried" to see Elizabeth, as much to be among one who believed in God's plan for her, as to pay visitation. Lord, don't let me live in fear, and help us to be surrounded by spiritual mentors who are strong in faith and courage, who will help us raise a child in the right ways.

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity

Jesus was born without a nursery, a proper crib, or disposable diapers. And yet he grew up healthy and strong. When we get lambasted by the baby marketing, Lord, help me keep your lowly birth in mind.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation in the Temple

In accordance with the Law, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple to be consecrated to the Lord. This 'offering up' in obedience to the Law reminds me how I must offer up my idea of using artificial contraception in our marriage, based on the teaching of the Church. I am still divided, yet the more I pray, the more I feel my desire to trust God, and not my own will, growing. It's like trusting a parent--sometimes you don't know why they tell you to do the things they do, but you trust that it is in your best interest. I am still nervous about it, but Lord, help me to consecrate my will to You.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple

I still remember when we thought my brother was lost, when he was little. Turns out he was asleep in the top bunk, while our family scoured the neighborhood in a panic. When I came back to the house and found him, the relief was profound. Since then I have had a fear of 'losing' my own child, and do not like crowded places for this reason (that scene in Crazy Heart when Jeff Bridges loses the little boy in the mall was hard for me to watch). Jesus, twelve years old, wandered off in Jerusalem away from his parents. I feel the panic, the feeling of loss of control, Mary and Joseph must have had. And yet, in the end, they found him. Lord, watch over our child when he wanders from us, and from you.