Tag Archives: Vocation

“Wonder”, Baby Boys, and the Finding of Jesus at the Temple

Standard

This is Reesa. The last post I wrote (or even attempted to write) was July 3, 2013. I’m proud of myself for making it with this post before July 3 of this year. Woohoo!

I made a Lenten promise (resolution?) that I would read the daily readings every day and write a short (really short) reflection on those readings. It’s only been two weeks, but I’ve already failed a pretty significant percent of that time. It was looking like today was going to be one of those days–and I was kind of okay with that. By 3:30 I hadn’t even looked at the readings. But maybe St. Joseph interceded for me or something, because I picked up my phone (I use the Laudate app to look up and/or listen to the readings) this afternoon and had one of the most fruitful experiences with the readings I’ve had in months. I wanted to share it with you here, in case you’re interested!

The reading I focused on was Lk 2:41-51a–the Finding of Jesus at the Temple. Specifically, this line caught my attention: When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”

Here’s what I wrote about it:

This Gospel reading really surprises me, because it shows Mary reproaching Jesus and telling him that she suffered from real anxiety because of his choice. I’ve also always thought it was weird that the Gospels pick up on this story as somehow significant. One of the best homilies I ever heard was about this strange, strange incident. The priest talked about how it revealed Jesus’ psychological adolescence.’ According to this priest, when Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he’s actually coming to grips with his (very complex!) identity, grappling with it… and hurting a few people (particularly those people most wrapped up in that identity–his parents) in the process. In short, he’s going through adolescence. The priest pointed out that Jesus took on our humanity even to the point of mental and psychological humanity. He underwent the (horrible) experience of psychological maturation, just like we do.

The priests point, I think, was that this incident is significant because Christ begins to consciously accept his role as the Son of God. I thought it was significant because that even had to happen. Somehow, I had always thought baby Jesus was born knowing He was the Son of God. And this priest didn’t say he wasn’t. He just implied that Jesus came to know it more fully around this point in his life.

* * *

Last night I started reading this book “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. I absolutely love it. It’s multiple-perspective, first-person middle school literature, which might be my absolute favorite. Long story short: the narrators (so far) are a 10 year old boy who’s severely deformed and his 14-year old sister. The boy has been home schooled his whole life because of his various medical needs, but he’s starting to go to school for the first time in 5th grade (yikes…). Middle school is always hard, but it’s that much worse for this boy because of how he looks. Auggie (the boy) is in a lot of pain… and you see, through his eyes and his sister’s, how much pain he causes his mother specifically–both by her experience of his humiliation and alienation at school and just by the way he treats her sometimes as he’s trying to figure out who he is and how to live.

As I was reading, I kept thinking about my baby boy (due early June) and how hard it will be to ever see him in pain or (as is bound to happen) watch him semi-purposely inflict pain on me. It’s hard to think about.

But I came to a couple of realizations after reading the Gospel today. First, Christ has conquered adolescence. He’s been through even this cross.  Second, Auggie causes his mother a lot of pain–but it’s not because he’s evil or because he hates her or because he’s never going to be kind to her again. He’s causing her pain because he’s… well, trying to figure out who he is. And your parents inevitably have a lot to do with that. They get caught in the line of fire, and that’s okay. Or, if it’s not okay, it’s something that Mary, the Mother of God, has, in some way, gone through through too. I didn’t think I would be able to have recourse to Mary in motherhood because, well, Michael Patrick is not going to be Jesus. But after today, maybe I will.

Advertisements

Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Work/Life Balance

Standard
Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Work/Life Balance

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but perfectionism and “no that’s stupid, who needs to read that? no one” has gotten in the way.  So here I am. Moira, my nanny-baby, is asleep for maybe another forty five minutes if I’m lucky.

Several months ago, Dan suggested we watch this movie:

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

I’m not a huge documentary watcher (Dan is), so I was hesitant. But it ended up being one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen. Watch the trailer here and rent it on Netflix if you can. I’ve never seen sushi look so good.

Quick Summary: Jiro Ono is an 85 year old sushi chef who is supposed to be the most talented sushi chef in the world.  His restaurant seats only ten people.  One plate costs around $100. You have to train for fifteen years just to be an apprentice.  People travel to Japan just to eat his sushi.

You get the picture.  The film focuses on Jiro’s fame but also on his philosophy of work:

Once you decide on your occupation, you have to immerse yourself in your work.  You have to fall in love with your work.  You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret to success.

The reviews in the poster above call Jiro’s “breathtaking, inspirational, and humbling,” and that’s true.  Listening to this man’s advice on work was very humbling. For me, it really put into perspective some of the complaints I had at my first two jobs out of college –that the expectations were too high, the hours too long. In some ways, that’s just what you have to do to succeed in your occupation, in your skill.

But another word I would use to describe the movie is “horrifying.” A sub-theme in the documentary is Jiro’s relationship with his two sons.  Both are in their forties or fifties and both are sushi chefs.  The first son is filmed saying (with a smile, so he must have gotten over it) “I wanted to go to college.  my father talked me out of it.  For the first eight years, I hated working here.”

In another scene, the two sons sit together discussing their childhood with the interviewer. They recall (again, laughing, so maybe this is just a cultural thing I’m not getting) waking up on Sunday mornings to find their father in the house. They would be so unused to seeing him that they would run to their mother (this is the only time she is mentioned in the film) saying, “Mom, there’s a stranger in the house!”

In this way, the documentary reminded me of another film I absolutely LOVE, which also features a highly successful… individual.

941158_494505903965114_107295997_n

Why is no one readyyyyyyy?

“The Devil Wears Prada” follows Anne Hathaway’s character as she works the major fashion magazine Runway for the magazine’s Executive Director Miranda (played by Meryl Streep).  Though Hathaway really wants to work as a serious (non-fashion) journalist, she takes the job as Streep’s assistant because editors tell her it will be a major stepping stone.  “A million girls would kill for that job.”

Hathaway starts out frumpy and skeptical, but (through many twists, turns, and awesome makeover scenes) she comes to respect Miranda and the work that she does.  The movie ends, however, with Hathaway making the decision to leave the position because she repeatedly sees Miranda putting her work before the people in her life, and Andy (Hathaway’s character) sees herself beginning to follow in Miranda’s footsteps.

It’s a great movie.  But there’s one scene I never really got. Andy jump starts her big Transformation after a devastating (but oh so fun to watch) dress-down from Miranda for her attitude towards fashion.  Exhausted and humiliated, Andy goes crying to a coworker (played by Stanely Tucci) and tells him, “I don’t know what to do.  I’m really trying–” to which Tucci replies, “Oh please. Honey. You’re not trying.”

When I first saw this scene, I sat there staring at the screen, thinking I’d missed a line. “What do you mean? Of course she’s trying. She puts up with Miranda. She does everything Miranda says…”

But that’s not the point.  Hathaway has not “fallen in love with her work.” She hasn’t entered deeply into the craft.  She hasn’t even entertained the possibility that the fashion world could have some importance she doesn’t grasp.  There is no passion there. She’s not trying.

On the other hand, both Jiro’s and Miranda’s stories show the downfall of working with that kind of passion.  As I said, Jiro literally looked like a stranger to his own sons.  Miranda goes through her third divorce before the movie’s end.  Neither are really able to sustain healthy relationships in or outside of the office.

This whole meditation had an interesting tie-in with yesterday’s Gospel and homily.

St. Martha

Is this not the craziest depiction of St. Martha (or any saint) you have ever seen??

Our priest’s homily was actually about how it’s NOT bad to work hard! (Seems like a tough pitch with that whole “Martha Martha” thing in the background, right?) He encouraged us to look at the Gospel in light of the Old Testament reading, which sows Abraham and Sarah working very hard to welcome the Three Visitors to their home (making bread, killing the fatted calf, etc. etc.).

According to our priest, the juxtaposition of these two stories is supposed to show us that Abraham’s attention (and Mary’s, in the Gospel) to God is what sanctifies his actions.  First, Abraham notices God passing by. Next, he invites Him to say. Finally, he sits down with the Lord and listens to him. All of his actions are ordered towards a relationship with God.

So, the answer to this whole Work/Life Balance thing, according to Father Bob? Well, it’s a… balance.  Only by maintaining this active relationship with the Trinity will we know when to stop serving the Lord and start listening.

Taking out the Trash: A Single Girl’s Meditation on the Salvific Vocation of Marriage

Standard

BY RACHEL

This is a tricky blog post because part of me feels like I don’t actually have the right to say these things. (Reesa, you will have to stand as arbiter, OK?)

I’ve posted a couple of times this year about my Junior class’ study of Pride and Prejudice. From some combination of Jane Austening for three months and the amazing insights shared by my recently married friends, I have come to (and/or shamelessly poached) some thoughts. Most of these revelations may be really obvious to people who are not me. If that is the case, I’m sorry!

1. Marriage is a vocation. (No. Duh.) Vocation is not about what makes you feel good, but about God calling you closer to Him. The point of marriage is for each spouse to help the other to get to heaven.

This much I kind of already knew. The new part came in when talking to my many recently married friends. Suddenly I was given a brand new picture about how one person can bring another to God. In P&P, Darcy brings Lizzy closer to heaven by correcting her vision of other people; Lizzy does the same by correcting Darcy’s behavior. (This much seemed to totally justify the Rom Com cliché of “fixing” another person.) Because of these corrections they fall in love and get married. The End! Right? The part that I, and I think possibly many others, have forgotten is that even in the book, Lizzy and Darcy are not done. The real correction happens within the marriage, and we as readers don’t get to see very much. Because it is kind of none of our business.

2. In marriage, man and woman become one flesh. I was thinking about that colossal statement…. and this is where my brain gets tangent-y, pseudoscientific, and hard to follow, so bear with me:

So far as I understand it, our habits actually shape our brain. By performing actions, we help our neurons to shape pathways that we will use as our basis of operating. We get used to actions by repeating them. Discomfort that exists the first few times we do anything new becomes less as we perform the action over and over. This much is true of both good habits and sins. In our habitual sins, we physically (because our brain is physical) get used to it. We get mental calluses.

However, if my future husband and I are becoming one flesh, then on my wedding day, I am handing him all the habits I have formed. Into that bargain come the gifts and wonderful things probably signed up for in the lovey dovey dating stage, but also ALL THE SINS. Now he gets to care for and carry them too.

Except that Future Spouse Man (That is, of course, his superhero name… I haven’t figured out his secret identity just yet) doesn’t have the right calluses. He has the calluses from his own sins, but at the wedding I am handing him a whole new basket full of sins that he may never have struggled with before. Happy Wedding Day, Darling!

3. I am pretty sure that this very cruel process is exactly how spouses get each other to heaven. Not just by chastising or preaching, but by loving, being loved, and suffering. (Not having yet experienced this, I can really only talk about it in theory and from observation, but I think I can see a little of this in how my students helped me this year.)

Because I loved them and I knew how much my anger and impatience could (and occasionally did) hurt them, I made greater efforts than I ever have in the realm of patience. It is not that my anger and impatience weren’t hurting my soul before. I had simply become used to it. My students were a blessing precisely because they were raw little nerve endings.

I think that marriage might work the same way on a much greater scale, because at the wedding, we hand over our every sin in one go to a person whom we love and cherish. Then we spend a lifetime watching our sins hurt them. I cannot think of a stronger motivator to STOP SINNING!

4. This idea has actually been the most helpful thing to my spiritual life in a really long time. I know that I will be handing over a Hefty bag of spiky, painful, heavy sins to my husband on my wedding day. 24-years of habits have pretty much guaranteed that.

However, I can start taking out the trash RIGHT NOW. I may not feel the burden of my sins anymore, but I can at least imagine what it would feel like to see him feel their weight for the first time.

So, Dear Future Spouse Man, a few things: (1) I am sorry in advance, but these suckers are gonna hurt. (2) I’m working on it! (3) Thank You.

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Romeo + Juliet

Standard

BY RACHEL

Guess Who’s Back… back again… Rachel’s back. Tell your friends!

From this you should be able to tell several things:

1 I have been listening to too much Eminem…
2. SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER!
3. I have started watching movies again.

Specifically Baz Luhrman-y things. My excuse is that my 9th and 10th graders finished out the year with two books (semi)recently adapted by Baz Luhrman into melodramatic and overblown, but (occasionally) well-acted misinterpretations: Romeo and Juliet and The Great Gatsby.

I suppose I should get several things out of the way. I do not hate either of these movies. I don’t mind updating Shakespeare with modern settings and cut lines, so long as the themes remain intact. I like anachronistic soundtracks. I think Luhrman’s interpretation of Mercutio’s “Queen Mab” speech as a statement that Romeo’s type of love is a drug (pre-Ke$ha) is interesting. I think that Gatsby is spectacularly well-acted. I adore the complete lack of the shaky camera that keeps invading movies that I otherwise enjoy. I even kindof like the fact that Luhrman’s movies tend follow this sequence:

1. Cool-filtered and melancholic opening scene foreshadowing the DEPRESSING end of the story by having an angsty narrator look back on the events of the movie.
2. 20 MINUTES OF JUMPY-CUT-BUT-SMOOTH-CAMERA, PSYCHODELIC, FRENETIC, OVERBLOWN, AND ULTIMATELY POINTLESS PARTY SCENES!
3. Sudden shift to the sentimental love-story, marked by slow motion eye-contact and suddenly gentle soundtrack (R and J: Kissing You; Gatsby: Young and Beautiful).
4. Hour and a half of escalating sentimentality, which can only mean Doomed Love (Note the capitalization!)
5. Sad ending, endeavoring to leave the audience somber but not requiring any alteration in their actions, behavior, or lives.

(By the by, just a reminder, I am writing for people who have seen the movies and/or read the books. If you haven’t, either stop reading or prepare to be thoroughly spoiled. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!) This brings me to my actual problems with the movies.

MOVIE THOUGHTS: Romeo + Juliet

At first I was going to write one monster post on both of these, after all: both movies are by Baz Luhrman, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, underscored by interesting/poppy soundtracks and guilty of parallel misinterpretations! However, I found I had too many thoughts. Sorry!

Let’s get the ball rolling: ROMEO AND JULIET IS A TRAGEDY! Not just because the main characters die. Tragedy is NOT EQUAL to sad. Tragedy is a single unified drama in which we are invited to consider the nature of human character and fate by witnessing the fall of a noble character because of a fundamental ignorance which leads to a transgression act. It is sad, but the goal of the story is not just to have all of the sad feels. We, as an audience, are to purge ourselves of the toxic emotions in order to better consider the moral implications of our choices.

The great danger, to which most modern interpretations of Romeo and Juliet have fallen prey, is taking this as Shakespeare prefiguring Nicholas Sparks.

 i.e. He wrote about “perfect” but depressing love between teenagers whose story ends in death but only because of the general badness of the world (be that badness cancer, mean people, Alzheimers, or feuding parents.)

i.e. He wrote about “perfect” but depressing love between teenagers whose story ends in death but only because of the general badness of the world (be that badness cancer, mean people, Alzheimers, or feuding parents.)

Pardon my french in advance: This is a load of horse shit. Let Shakespeare be the new Sophocles or Aeschylus. LET HIM NEVER BE BLASPHEMED AS THE OLD NICHOLAS SPARKS! Alright, I am calming down. But seriously folks, we must not think of Romeo and Juliet this way. Not to contradict Taylor Swift, but this is NOT a Love Story.

To explain this, I am going to start at the very end. A very weird place to start.

In Shakespeare’s version, we do not have the return of a chorus to tell us the social significance of the play or how we ought to feel. The final lines of the play are the Prince, the civil authority, saying:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head:
Go hence and have more talk of these things;
Some shall be pardoned, some punished:
For never was a tale of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

This closing is a command: Go. Think. Talk. Judge. We are asked not simply to say “Gee, that was really sad,” but rather to consider who deserves pity or scorn (pardon or punishment) for the horror at the end of this play. Moreover,  we are pushed to consider the degree to which they deserve pity or scorn. Sorrow is not the object of this lesson; it is the means by which we are pushed to judge – not only the choices of the characters but our own.

That’s Shakespeare.

You fabulous genius, you!

You fabulous genius, you!

Then there is Baz Luhrman.

Tragedy.... I do not think that means what you think it means...

Tragedy…. I do not think that means what you think it means…

Superficially,  we might say that the ending of the movie is the same. Except it isn’t. And if you have read the book, YOU SHOULD NOT STOP THINKING AT LUHRMAN’S INTERPRETATION. GO. TALK. THINK. JUDGE.

So. What is different?

1. Paris doesn’t die. Specifically Romeo does not commit that much less pardonable murder. We’ll come back to that.
2. The Prince has the penultimate, not the final, line. And it is changed. Instead, he screams into the camera:

“ALL ARE PUNISHED! ALL ARE PUNISHED!”

3. The actual last two lines are delivered by the televised talking head who serves as Luhrman’s chorus.

What effect is brought about by these TINY alterations? 

1. Romeo (and Juliet) are more pitiable. I will come back to that.
2. The civil authority does not judge each according to their actions, rather ALL are punished. Consequently, we as the audience have no homework. The characters have been weighed and EVERY single one of those still living has been found wanting. Case closed.
3. The chorus (who first gives us the idea of the “star crossed lovers” … I.e the poor but idealized teenagers whose “perfect love” was just RUINED by fate and their families) has the last words. And those words are…

“Be sad.”

BE SAD!

This is the problem with Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. He takes away the moral power of a tragedy by presuming the goal of a tragedy is simply sorrow, when in fact, the goal of a tragedy with all of it’s dramatic irony, emotion, transgression, failing, (and yes, even sadness) – is to MAKE US ABLE TO SEE RIGHTLY AND MORALLY.

So, because you are all super nice (if you have read this far) I am going to list (hopefully quickly) my observations as to the actual moral problem presented by Shakespeare.

The transgressions in Romeo and Juliet can be condensed into the failure of understanding the role and responsibilities of vocations.


Vocational Duties in R+J and how they are ABANDONED!

1. Civil/ Political Vocation

THE PRINCE

THE PRINCE

The Prince, as civil authority,  should have stopped and seriously punished this feuding long before this point. Failure to punish and protect is failure indeed. His vocation calls him to the care of his city and its citizens. Because he fails in his civil vocation, there is a vacuum. Someone must restore civil order, presenting an occasion of sin for Friar Laurence.

2. Religious Vocation

FRIAR LAURENCE

FRIAR LAURENCE

Friar Laurence is a priest, specifically he serves as confessor and pastor to the entire town of Verona. His vocation is the care of souls. Yet, because of the “civil strife making civil hands unclean” he abandons this responsibility, starting with his very first scene.

After meeting Juliet, in Act III, Romeo comes tearing into Friar Laurence’s cell gushing about this NEW perfect beloved – Juliet. (This entire act, by the way is Shakespeare calling attention to the fact that Romeo is falling so fast that everyone he meets spends the first have of the interaction assuming that he is gushing about his former infatuation, Rosaline.) Friar Laurence at first says EXACTLY what he ought to. He instructs Romeo in the correct ordering of affections, the fact that his love for both Rosaline and Juliet are mere idolatrous imitations of love. He counsels and counsels well.

Then, he says the following fateful lines:

But come, young waverer, come, go with me,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.

On the face of this, it is easy to see the good in this. Friar Laurence will use Romeo and Juliet’s loving infatuation to form an alliance between these two warring families and restore peace to Verona.

Did it bother anyone that I just said a priest is going to use (coughSTUPIDcough) teenage infatuation rather than reorder and heal it?

It is a PROBLEM that a Friar is setting aside his vocation to the pastoral care of soul. This failure and abandonment is made more concrete in the last act when Friar Laurence (for fear of the fast approaching civil authorities) abandons a drugged, distraught Juliet in a tomb, pinned down by the corpse of her husband.  To some degree, the blood  and soul of this child is on his hands.

3. Parental Vocation

THE NURSE

THE NURSE

He is not alone in his act of abandonment. All of the parental figures of this play similarly abandon – morally and/or physically. Their vocation to the care and guidance of children, protecting and restraining when necessary.

First, Juliet’s Nurse, in her hurry to approve of everyone, encourages Juliet not only to imprudence, but even to bigamy. She calls everyone she meets “good and wise and virtuous.” Again, this is not in and of itself a problem. After all, isn’t it good to see the best in people?

Except that her want of right judgment deprives Juliet, a 13-year-old girl, of any guidance. Much as we may want all choices to be equal and equally good and wise and virtuous, they are not. In failing to guide Juliet, she essentially morally abandons her.

Second, Juliet’s parents do more than essentially abandon her. They actually do it. When she is reluctant to marry Paris (because she is already married.) Her father vows that he will give her to his friend or cast her out into what ever form of harlotry she wishes. Her mother then refuses to even speak to her.

While I am not saying that Juliet is purely innocent of her suicide, I will say that Shakeapre makes an awfully big deal about how young she is – even for “the olden days.” She is still clearly in need of love, protection, and judicious guidance. This is what parents and guardians are CALLED to provide. She receives none. 

4. Marital Vocation.

ROMEO AND JULIET

ROMEO AND JULIET

This brings me back to my initial point. Romeo and Juliet is not a Love Story. It is an Idolatry Story.  By idolizing one another, Romeo and Juliet fail in the vocation of marriage — the care of the soul of the beloved .

Marriage is not eternal. It has a finish line: Till death do us part. This should not be a sad statement. The point of marriage is not the forever fluffy feelings. Marriage is the vow (of man, wife, and God ) that you will push, pull, and carry your beloved to the perfection and completion of Love Himself in heaven. Marriage is not necessary in heaven.

In the romance of these two children, Shakespeare provides a reminder that our world needs more than ever, showing what this idolatrous erotic love looks like from origin to symptom to inevitable result.

How does it happen?
Juliet falls into idolatry (as teenager girls are wont to do) for the lack of protection. Romeo, on the other hand, arrives at idolatry by refusing wise counsel.

In short, the problem with idolatry is that it makes the universe too small. Instead of a universe created by and governed by an infinite and eternal Love, idolatry limits the world to whatever can be governed by something smaller.

Making an idol of another person begins with limiting our vision of reality and ignoring any signs or counsel that calls to and indicates a higher and wider world.

What does it look like?
Idolatry, because of the blinders it requires, looks like infatuation. It is the exact “us agains the world” mentality. Because of this, I would argue that the only thing that comes close to the religious wars our world has witnessed is the emotional war between a besotted teenager and his or her parent. This is because this love is not rightly ordered. It is not leading toward God and eventually family.

Where does it end?
In suicide. Heaven is abiding in the complete presence of and union with God. If Juliet is god, then Verona (specifically marriage to Juliet in Verona) is heaven. Hell is irrevocable separation from God. If Romeo is banished from the presence of his god, Juliet, then he is in hell.

In making a mortal person into God, suicide is the only logical conclusion. If you are already in hell, why should death and subsequent separation from a God in whom you do not actively believe make any difference?

Ok. That was really long. SORRY!

Basically, here is what I got. Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet is dangerous, not because he is willfully leading children astray into idolatrous and unhealthy loves. However, this movie is guilty of the very same transgression as the adults in Shakespeare’s play: a failure to care for the formation of the loves and souls of the young. Similarly, under the supposed guidance of this, more children are guilty of confusing idolatry with love. (TWILIGHT. TAYLOR SWIFT. ETC. ETC. ETC.)