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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

LENT AGAIN: Fast from Your Easy Chair. Put on Christ!

by Susan Fox

Mardi Gras, 2014 -- Last night I sat in my easy chair and mourned.
Imagine your husband came home and asked you to move to a distant land to serve Christ -- in three years time. And you were really excited about it, and then suddenly you realized, “I can’t take it with me…” I can’t take the easy chair. I can’t take the Catholic books we collected over a lifetime. I can’t take mother’s dishes, my father’s photographs. Not only can’t I take it, but also I have no place to store it either!

I was even disturbed to think of losing my income tax records in case I was audited while I was in the distant land. What about those dusty folders I keep of research for future articles, the poems I wrote over a lifetime? 

Suddenly, I understood a thousand tiny silver threads tied me down. I was trussed up just like Lemuel Gulliver when he was captured by the Lilliputians.

At Mass this morning, Father said for Lent we should ask ourselves, “Who or what is holding you back?” And I thought with dismay, “My furniture! My new furniture. You know if I went home now, and my house was completely empty, I’d be much happier.” 

Ironically, I have always despised people who are attached to their easy chairs. I have said derogatorily that they will be still sitting there after they are dead. I didn’t even own an easy chair until 2010. We got one after my heart surgery because before my heart surgery I couldn’t sleep lying down. That’s common for people with heart problems. So without an easy chair where did I sleep? In my car, parked in my garage.

I got the second easy chair when we moved to Colorado in 2012 because Larry kept stealing mine. It’s lovely. It has red and gold leaves all over it, and that was the one I was sitting in last night when I realized I was attached to a chair. “Get up, Susan, and don’t sit down again! At least never sit down in that chair in your heart. Live in the world, but do not be of it.”

I remember a story of a nun who was dying, and she wasn’t happy. She had given up everything, marriage, children, and career to live the life of a Bride of Christ. But on the day she was dying, she wasn’t happy. A priest came to visit her, and realized she still had one silver thread holding her to the earth... He said to her, do you own a pen that was given to your mother by Pope So and So? Why yes, she did own such a pen. The priest told her to smash it.

She was quite angry at first, but she did as she was instructed. She was an obedient nun. And on the day she died she was laughing with joy! “That crazy priest knew what he was talking about!” she chortled.

Think of the enthusiasm of the man who went up to Jesus, and asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus reminded him of the 10 commandments. “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”

So Jesus looked at him with love, and said, “You are lacking in one thing. Go sell what you have, and give to the poor...then come follow me.”

But the Gospels report that the man’s face fell, and he went away sad “for he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:22) Ho ho. I was there last night.

Jesus explains, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6:24) Mammon is an idol. It means riches or possessions, but Psalm 37:3 hints the word means more than that -- "riches in which men trust.”

That is the whole issue, isn’t it? Who do we trust? Do we trust Our Lord Jesus Christ, or do we trust in keeping that easy chair? It should be an easy choice to make, but we quibble over it, don’t we? We are afraid to let go.

But Jesus Christ even responds to that fear in today's gospel. Peter said to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.”  Jesus interrupted him and said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”  (Mark 10:28-31)

Luckily I had a Bible scholar sitting next to me at breakfast this morning. His wife was saying, “She’ll get the 100 easy chairs back in heaven, right?” She was concerned for my loss. And he said, “No, the promise is for this life,” meaning give up an easy chair and you get it back one hundred fold.  What will I ever do with 100 easy chairs? Share them with my friends, obviously.

But this biblical logic works. I have been reflecting lately about a sacrifice I made in 1991. I abandoned a successful 12-year career as an investigative newspaper reporter in order to stay home with my young son. I had been supporting the family until then, but Larry graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and was ready to go to work. My last temptation was the Wall Street Journal. They told me they were going to put me into their next opening in San Francisco. I didn’t tell them I was about to slink out of town and become a housewife. But I did -- slink out of town, that is. And I never looked back, which is why I am not a pillar of salt today.

And now, look at me. God has returned my writing job back to me a hundred fold. I am sitting here now and writing to you. And I don’t have an editor except Jesus Christ, and His servants.  I can literally write about anything I want.

But possessions aren’t the only trap that ties us to the earth. Those apostles who told Jesus, they had given up everything for Him? They were arguing about who was to be first in the kingdom right up to the Last Supper! Jesus even had to put a little child in front of them to remind them that unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Position, power and competition have their own unbreakable silver threads.

Jonathan Swift, who created the story of the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, was a bitter satirist. The Lilliputians who captured Gulliver quarreled over the practice of cracking eggs open. Their practice had been to break boiled eggs on the larger end, but a few generations before a Lilliputian Emperor decreed that all eggs be broken on the smaller end. (He had cut himself breaking the egg on the larger end). Well, not everyone agreed, and the differences between Big-Endians and Little-Endians gave rise to six rebellions in which one Emperor was killed and another lost his crown. Swift is making a parody of English history. King Henry VIII broke with Rome (Big Endians) so he could divorce his wife. Then he introduced Protestantism to England (Little Endians)

Could the quarrel with Rome been avoided had King Henry simply tried to live the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek” -- as in docile and obedient? Absolutely. If he had, the Church in England would be one with Rome today and England would be a more prosperous, happier nation. Use your imagination.

But don’t worry. I’m no better than King Henry. God likes to teach me things in my dreams. So one day I had a dream about a priest who had just given a retreat in Seattle. In the dream, the priest walked in on me and the other women who were in his formation program. We were all lying around asleep on a very large bed. Father entered and exclaimed, “You are asleep.” Yep. We were.

But he woke me up and took me outside to the front of the house we were sleeping in. “Susan, you like dessert (I do like dessert),” he said, adding, “Go to the back of the house, and I will meet you there and give you this dessert.” (He held a cake on a plate.) And I looked and there was a huge, vast tract of empty land behind the house, which was now a mansion. So yes, I was motivated. My aggressive news reporting instincts were on full alert.

There was a grown woman next to me sitting on top of an adult-sized tricycle, probably one of my fellow servants of Christ. So I pushed her off the tricycle and got on it and starting peddling to the back of the house where that big land waited. But I never got there because I woke up, and thought, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” Oh, oh. I failed that one.

Notice the childish behavior of pushing someone off a tricycle. This symbolized the way we try to get things done – even when striving to do something good -- through our own power and authority, not docilely dependent on God.  The end doesn’t justify the means.

Five years later, the same priest ate half his dessert, walked past 70 other people in our group and handed me his half dessert. My tablemates were a little shocked, but I was joyful. “Lord, does that mean I’ve made progress on that beatitude?”

The key to letting go of attachments is not to detach. No, the movement is in the opposite direction.  Anchor your heart in Christ Jesus and hold on for all you are worth. You will drop the easy chair without even noticing it.

It’s mysterious, but the message of today’s gospel reading is whatever you give up for the sake of the kingdom of God, you will receive back a hundredfold. And remember this: Jesus concludes the gospel with the words, “But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31)

So leave your fellow servants on their tricycle.

Humbly walk with Christ.

And for Lent, imagine your husband or other family member comes home and invites you to move to a distant land to serve God.

Good News. We cut the strings and moved to Austria where both of us are studying theology at the International Theological Institute in Trumau Austria.   There's no easy chair, but life here has its compensations. My tax records arrived safely. A young newlywed took my mother's dishes. My father's photos went to a cousin, who will cherish them. My furniture went to the new homeowner. Read all about it here: Why It's Still Planet Earth: Catholic Education in Austria

Remember Man, You are Dust!

1 comment:

  1. God is very pleased with your writings ! Your stories remind us God's goodness to the forgetful humanities as a constant reminder! May God bless you!