Monday, July 29, 2013

Maybe There's a Bigger Lesson Here

I admit it, I spent a good portion of the morning sucked in by the internet response to the answers Pope Francis gave to journalists during his plane flight to Rome. And if you know me in the slightest, you know I am eager to defend Francis from those who begin to attack him and his statements without having any firsthand knowledge of what he actually said.

Most of the reasonable responses I read today admitted that there had not been a full English translation of the interview released. That sent me hunting for the Spanish version, the direct notes of one of the journalists who did the interview. This is the one I read in full. First of all, I was struck by the fact that she said even what she had published there was a small part of the 80 minute conversation and that it would take hours of work for her to get the entirety of her notes published.

Then, reading the entire published text in Spanish, I was stunned with how little the tone of the interview came through in the snippets I was reading in English. And then at how much of the sentiment behind what he was saying was lost in the translation to English even when it was a quality translation. And there were plenty that were not that great. You can see my comments on the topic here at Elizabeth Scalia's very good post. Then I felt compelled to post this on Facebook:

Friends, just so you know, you are getting terribly done half-translations of much of what Pope Francis says. I would urge you to wait to respond to things until you have the chance to read a few variations of the translation and see the full text. I just read the full Spanish version of the Pope's interview in route to Rome, it doesn't say what people are saying it says. Also, let's try to remember, Francis allowed the journalists to ask him questions, no-holds-barred, and he responded sincerely. He did not choose the topic of conversation.

I had to extricate myself from the online conversations to go about my daily business, and as I did, I began thinking about this whole language issue we have with Francis as Pope. It is one we have not really ever faced as the English-speaking church. John Paul II was really the first pope of the media generation, when we began to have access to his words and thoughts right away. And he was extremely effective at communicating in English. Benedict followed and was equally adept at expressing himself in our language.

We no longer have that luxury with Francis. And that leaves us with a little bit of a difficulty I think we are all beginning to see clearly. We are not going to have first access to his thoughts and words. If we are going to be people of integrity, we will have to wait for quality translations of the full text of his interviews and conversations appear. Or we're going to have to learn to speak Spanish. (Well you are. I already do. Don't be jealous. The Holy Spirit is responsible.) And then, even in that, we will be lacking because it is hard to for a direct translation, no matter how well done, to capture the nuances of another language. So we run into a quandary that we really can't solve. We can read a direct translation and possibly lose a lot in the sentiment department (which seems to be key in understanding Francis) or we can look for faithful native Spanish speakers to paraphrase the meaning behind the words for us, which seems a little risky when it comes to the Pope.

It is easy for your brain to start to wonder why the college of cardinals didn't consider this glitch when they elected Cardinal Bergoglio pope. I mean, given the battle the Church in the U.S. is facing, didn't they think about how important it would be for us to understand this new pope and what he was saying? And did they even think about our blogs? I mean, we are going to end up a full three or four hours behind the Spanish speakers (if we use sense and wait to read what he truly said) in being able to analyze, form opinions and react to what the pope said! And then, we won even be able to trust that we really got what he said.

And then it occurred to me that perhaps there is a lesson even bigger in this whole conundrum Pope Francis creates for the only-English speaking U.S. Church that just integrity in our reactions to him. Maybe the college of cardinals and the rest of the Church are smiling a bit smugly as we begin to realize that the Church does not consider our responses, reactions, thoughts, opinions and blogs a top priority. Maybe they are all hoping we'll begin to realize that we do not have first rights to the daily goings-on in the Church and that our perspective isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things.

That might make you think: "But, wait, doesn't the Vatican know what we're up against? Don't they see the battles the Church in the U.S. is fighting? Don't they know how much we need to be connected and have access to information? We want to stay faithful! And we are under attack." I thought that, really I did. For minute, I could even see it as valid. I mean, we have a pervasive culture of death threatening to beat down our collective front door, round up our kids for brainwashing and throw us subversive Christian types into the dungeon. 

But then I began to think about some other things I know a little bit about too. And I realized something. You know what guys? We are not the only ones facing a battle. And it might be time that we begin to recognize that and respect our brothers and sisters all over the world who are battling too. And I think Pope Francis is trying to help us open our eyes. I mean, I don't think he's sitting at home fervently practicing English on Rosetta Stone, worried about our angst over not being to understand him. Instead, he's smiling and hugging and kissing and embracing and loving and talking. Off the cuff and in his native language. And he's letting us wait. And maybe learn something about how much bigger the Church is than our narrow perspective allows us to see. 

Yes it is very hard and even dangerous to be a pro-life, anti-contraception, pro-marriage faithful Catholic in the U.S. today. Yes, our legal system is becoming increasingly hostile to our beliefs and even our rights. Yes, that means all the rest of our institutional systems are following suit. And, yes, as Catholics, we rely heavily on the fact that we have the support of a magisterium composed of 2000 years of collective wisdom to guide us, so it is important for us to understand its current spokesman.

But do you think we are the only ones? Do you think our battles are in any way more significant than those being fought all over the world by faithful Catholics? Have you read on any U.S. Catholic publication that in the last few weeks, Costa Rica's governing body ACCIDENTALLY passed a law legalizing same sex marriages and now the president refuses to veto it even at their request (don't ask me how that happens, just know it's not that surprising really when you live here)? That the only government in the world that declares that it is based on the Catholic faith is being sued by an international human rights court to reimburse families who were not allowed to use in vitro fertilization to conceive? That there is an abortion rights group scouring up young girls off the streets who get pregnant before twelve and pushing for the government to make it not only legal but mandatory that they get an abortion? Did you know that the Costa Rican educational system is mounting a new sex education campaign in its schools that is completely contradictory to the Catholic beliefs that more than 90% of its residents profess? And that Costa Rican parents do not have the legal right to opt out and educate their children at home?

And Costa Rica is hardly alone in its battle. All over Central and South America similar battles are taking place. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay all recently passes legislation on these issues contrary to our beliefs. In all these places, Catholics are battling an increasingly invasive culture of death. Not to mention that many of them are battling just to survive the day, to put a roof over their families' heads and food in their bellies. So a lot of times they don't even realize what is happening until it is too late. And that doesn't even take into consideration that they are daily bombarded by the influence of world humanitarian organizations preaching to them that the answer to all their problems is to stop conceiving children, to sterilize themselves, and to turn their kids over to the state to educate them on sexuality and relationships.

My fellow U.S. Catholics, think for just a moment what it might be like to try to protect a culture of life on the continent of Africa, where poverty and starvation and AIDS and orphaned children and infant mortality rates sky high make contraception and abortion seem logical solutions. And where refusing the agenda of international aid organizations means turning away help that literally keeps people alive daily. Try explaining that stance over and over again to hostile agencies and to the people you are charged to shepherd and to love.

What about Asia? A culture sharing the many of the same issues as Africa as well as the openly hostile cultural influence of Islam and living in the shadow of China's population control policies. Think about what it would be like to earnestly desire to live your Church's teachings in that climate.

And all those eyes, not just our American ones, are on Pope Francis. Waiting for his leadership. Waiting for the word of tender mercy that will give them strength to keep battling on in the face of tremendous adversity. Looking for the light of hope and the love of Christ to say, "You are not alone. Your Church walks with you. And we will fight at your side."

And while I can't be certain because I only speak English and Spanish, I can say that I that I have not yet found an explosive reaction to Pope Francis' words (or dancing cardinals for that matter) in any other language. Sure, there are some overly enthusiastic news reports making it look like he's totally changing the Church's position on things. I mean, we're talking about places were there never really were any standards of ethical journalism to violate. We can't be too surprised about that.

So, here's what I'm getting at. I think there is definitely a lesson here about having the integrity to wait until you are sure about what the Pope said before you say he said it and offer an opinion (a lesson I humbly admit I learned this week when I re-posted the whole saints in tennis shoes thing on Facebook without verifying it). But I think there might be a bigger lesson for U.S. Catholics in Francis' pontificate. And that is that he's not talking to you.

I mean, not only you. And he really doesn't care all that much how quickly you get access to a good translation of his words. Nor does he care that much what you then do with them when it comes to forming opinions and analyzing them. It really only matters if in the end you are faithful. And that's not between you and Him. That's Jesus'job. Because Francis' flock, my friends, is so much bigger than just us. And it is so, so needy. So step back a minute, slow down, in the wise words of Ms. Scalia, exhale. And stop talking about the Church as if the U.S. version of it were the be all and end all. Because it's not. 

And I think Pope Francis is going to keep reminding us of that over and over again. In Spanish. Without apology. Let's hope we figure out how to understand what he really means. I think it so ironic that this all came about on the feast of St. Martha, if only to drive home the point that maybe it's time for us U.S. Catholics to stop rushing around busying ourselves with our own opinions and just sit at our shepherd's feet for a while and learn to listen.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Letter to Emma (and Her Mama)

Dearest Emma,

Your mama, she saw Ann  hugging Katie today, and she got scared again. Scared of you, dear. Do you know why she's scared of you? She's scared because she sees a girl so ready to let God wreck the young life she's living and by default, wreck her mama's. She sees a girl with a fire in her heart and the flames dancing in her eyes, big dreams, big hopes of faraway places and blessed feet bringing the Good News. And she wonders how to help you live where you are now, how to pour everything into you she wants you to have, how to connect you to home enough that you'll always long for it. So that when the time comes for you to run away with Jesus and wreck your life, and by consequence hers, you'll know who you are and where you come from. And you'll take it all with you and come back to it all when you need it.

And this is what I want to say you, darling. Let her. Let her your mama love you and teach you and lead you and guide you. Do the dishes when she asks. Camp out in the backyard with your brothers and laugh at their goofy jokes. Go on dates with your Dad. Share confidences with your sister. Plant a vegetable garden for you mom. Serve the poor in your own neighborhood until you know them by name. Do algebra and geometry problems with vigor. Read about history. Learn the lives of the saints and some solid theology. Make the waiting worth the while.

Because in all these things, the real lesson is this: Submit. Be obedient. Be faithful. And find joy in the ordinary. And do you know what, beloved girl? You're going to need to those lessons. If there is anything I wish, it is that I had allowed myself to learn them better than I did. We, the girls with the fiery spirits and drifting dreams and the wide eyes full of distant shores, we sometimes lose the forest for the trees. We sometimes forget that if we save the whole world and lose ourselves, it is all for naught. We drop the ball on our own sanctity in pursuit of the will of God. We worry so much about God's plan for our lives we forget to live it, to enjoy it. We strive so much for the extraordinary that we lose the grace of the ordinary. We forget that we serve a God who makes himself present to us in simple bread and wine. The greatest miracle in the most ordinary of things. And that we must live equally. We are hounded by the feeling of "not enough".

But, sweet Emma, whether God calls you to the married life, the religious life or the single life, living it will be all about those three lessons: submission, obedience and faithfulness. You will always be stuffing down the desire to do what you feel like doing in order to do His will. You will always be fighting the desire to rebuff wise counsel you know is right for the doing in the now. You will always be tempted to look for more, to want to be somewhere further doing something bigger, than to love what and who there is to love where you are in the moment. And the only thing that will keep you where you need to be is the daily discipline you have practiced over and over and over again of obeying the will of another.

Because you know what I want you to know, Emma? The mission field is more often like the drudgery of daily life at home than not. Only on steroids, Emma. The bathrooms stink more and more quickly. The dishes get dirtier and there is no dish washer. The clothes have to be washed earlier and put on the line and brought back in before it rains and if you forget to pay attention, you have to start all over again. And if you do that twice in a row, you find yourself at Mass in someone else's fuschia velveteen sweat pants and your husband's polo shirt. Ask me how I know, Em. Ask me.

You know what, sweet girl? Most days saving the world is a lot more like solving an endless string of algebra problems that it is like being Wonder Woman. Most days it looks a lot more like sore feet and itchy legs and toilet paper than needs to burned and someone at the door right when you were about to take a shower. And you have to have practiced a lot to know the order to put things in. To know whether to add inside the parentheses of your home first or multiply your giving first. To know whether to subtract time from chores or prayer before you divide yourself to serve. Know how many chapters to read and how many chapters to write and how many chapters to live in one day before you implode into emotional mush. You have to see the comprehension questions in the Word of God and know how to answer them, for the love. And you have to know when life demands a comma, a period, an exclamation mark or a question mark. You can't just live in all caps and never take a break.

And, Emma, your mama, she knows a thing or two about that. And she wants to teach you. Let her, sweet one. And don't regret a moment of it. Soak it all up. Because if God is doing in you what we all think He might be doing, one day you might be far away and full of the the world's pain and the love of Christ to the point of bursting, and you will want nothing more than a warm bath to soak it all out and someone to talk to. All you'll use the newest to gadget to send an S.O.S. to the world out there for a little love, a little encouragement to keep going and you'll hope and hope that your mentors and your friends will show up to cheer you on. And they won't, Emma, they won't. And your eyes will sting with the tears of loneliness and your whole body will hurt from the desire to just be held. And you'll have practiced. You'll have done your homework.

So you'll run to Jesus and you'll read His word and you'll sing His praise and you'll see Him in the simple bread and wine. And your faithfulness will be what gets you to other side. And your obedience will be what keeps you in the place He has you when you want to run. And your submission will be what lets you sit in that place and wait until He moves you rather than going your own way and screwing it all up.

And then, your little gadget will light up with a ray of encouragement to cheer you on. Someone will reach across the miles to be the balm your lonely heart needs. And do you know, what, Emma? 9 times out 10, it'll be your mama.

See this girl right here in this video? She is me at my core. She is who I always dreamed I would be. I'm forty, Em. Do you know how many of my days have actually looked like this? Only a fraction, my friend, only a fraction. But do you know what? Every time I get to live one, it makes the dishes and the mopping and the walking dusty roads and getting blank stares in return and the pain of loneliness and the suffering and the struggling so worth it. Do you know why? Because those things make me look like more like Jesus and less like me. They force me to give me up until He can shine through. And how awful would it be if I finally got to a day like this and brought them me instead of Jesus? I've done it enough to to know, Emma. It sucks. The pain of repentance is so much harder to bear than the waiting and the learning. Ask me how I know, Em. Ask me how I know.

Oh, and Emma, one more thing. Get ready, girl. Because after all that waiting, when He does finally move? Girl, it's like you don't what the heck hit you. You're all, "Wait, wait, wait a minute, Lord. I just need to get a few things together and catch my breath. I didn't finish Algebra yet!" And He's all, "Oh no, honey, we're going. Now." And all I can say is, hold on for the ride, Emma. Cling tight. Because it will be wilder and more glorious than you have ever imagined. And it will good, Emma. So, so good. And I hope I am  there to see it.

And, Em, if you're reading, will you let me make letters to Emma a regular part of my writing? I like talking to you. You help me think. You help get my thoughts together and get them out of my head where they're driving me crazy. And you know, Emma, I've got enough crazy to last me a lifetime.

With the greatest of Love, the peace that surpasses understanding and the highest Hope of all,
Mrs. Mitchell