Months ago Father K. offered a homily that included anecdotes from his childhood spent in Savannah, Georgia. He grew up as the youngest -- he called himself a "surprise" -- in a large Catholic family whose home reflected their Catholic identity. He shared about his Jewish neighbors with whom he shared a close relationship and the fact that their home reflected their Jewish heritage.
Father K.'s homily focused on the place that symbols -- physical, tangible items -- have on the life of the faithful, be they Catholic, Jewish, or that of another religion. He stressed the importance of inward disposition over external piety. As always he was articulate and to the point. Weeks later I was the Atrium chatting with children ages five to ten. Two of them distinctly remembered Father K.'s homily and quoted it almost verbatim. They got it. We can wear a cross or scapular, decorate our walls with holy water fonts and blessed palms, fill our bookshelves with Bibles and catechisms. In the end, it is the heart that matters so much more than outward conformity. The life of faith is not to be worn like so many spiritual merit badges sewn on a sash.
If wearing a cross reminds me to take all thoughts captive for Christ, great. If leaving a Bible out prompts me to actually crack the thing open, good. If answering the phone "Hello, God bless you," restrains me from cussing out telephone solicitors, well, victory!
A growing number of women in my home parish have begun wearing veils at Mass. Let me issue one enormous disclaimer: I have never read more than about a hundred words about veiling. I have few opinions on the matter and almost zero in the way of education on the topic. I do have clear memories of my mother wearing a veil to Mass when I was very young. In a similar vein, I recall the elaborate ritual the altar servers (or was it the priest?) would go through to veil the paten and chalice left on the altar at the end of Mass. Both my mother's veil and the veiling of the articles of the Mass really, really intrigued me as a young child.
In the Atrium we dwell on (and draw on) a child's innate and natural sense of wonder. You don't have to prod a child to be interested in a bird's nest, a wiggling worm, the story of a miracle, a lit candle. Wonder is in-born and hard-wired.
Veiling drew on my sense of wonder. What's under that veil, I thought, and why is it worth covering?
As I have looked around my church and seen the growing number of veiled women, I have briefly considered doing so myself. And I conclude -- without judging others in the least -- that at this season, my life of faith would be better served by considering the words of Joel 2:13:
Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents from sending disaster.On this passage, Spurgeon comments:
Garment rending and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common ... True religion is too humbling, too hear-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly; Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up; but they are ultimately delusive for in the time of death, and at the end of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon ...
Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer.
The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally as hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary.The walk of faith is often more of an amble than a steady trek. As a pseudo-type A accustomed to setting and meeting goals, I grow frustrated at the lack of progress I make in moving further into that interior castle that is a life of deep prayer. But at this juncture, it is this inward transformation I need so much more than a new and different external sign of piety.
Let's be real -- it's so much easier to blog about faith than to live it out, to preach it to my children than to practice it with sincerity and humility, to reach for the externals than to rend my heart.
(During July Small Steps for Catholic Moms focuses on the virtue of humility. Read Elizabeth Foss' thoughts here.)