Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 01, 2013


It turned out to be disarmingly easy to give up Facebook for Lent -- entirely too easy. I did miss, very much, the friendships I nurture through that medium, but not once was I tempted to just log on for a second to see what people were saying about XYZ. I did not miss, for a moment, the insta-dramas and controversies of the second, the snark, the memes propagated by George Takai, the political opinions, everyone's two cents on the Pope or gay marriage or gun control or grumpy cat or Downton Abbey or (spare us) Doctor Who.

In fact, it seems that my time-wasting problems run deeper than clicking around Facebook. Strangely enough, I do not get to solve my whole selfish nature with one theatrical, toothless gesture. I'm still just as capable of self-absorption even when I'm not documenting it. Not a novel or comforting revelation, perhaps, but it was helpful for me in combatting the "grand gesture" school of spirituality, or anything: If only I could do this one big thing, all else besides would fall neatly into place!

On the positive side, I worked (exceptionally slowly) through Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection over the course of the past seven weeks. Pope Benedict's writing is so richly dense that I can only read small portions at a time. By Good Friday, I was still only halfway through the book, in the chapter devoted to the Last Supper. On that day, I encountered this passage:
Now there is one further expression in Jesus' words of institution that needs to be explained, one that has been extensively debated in recent times. According to Mark and Matthew, Jesus said that his blood would be shed "for many", echoing Isaiah 53, whereas in Paul and Luke we read of the blood being given or poured out "for you". 
Recent theology has rightly underlined the use of the word "for" in all four accounts, a word that may be considered the key not only to the Last Supper accounts, but to the figure of Jesus overall. His entire being is expressed by the word "pro-existence" -- he is there, not for himself, but for others. This is not merely a dimension of his existence, but its innermost essence and its entirety. His very being is a "being-for". If we are able to grasp this, then we have truly come close to the mystery of Jesus, and we have understood what discipleship is. 
And this cuts to the heart of my spiritual malaise. My being is not, practically, a "being-for". I hoard my being, parcelling it out in tight rations. I consider myself to be my own, so that the demands of others on my time and my peace feel like intrusions or disruptions of the norm. Now, it happens that the needs or desires of others may coincide with "my" priorities -- I rarely feel it an imposition to be with Darwin, for example -- but when I find myself praying in exasperation, "Lord, deliver me from these children you've given me!" (as I did on the day Pope Francis was elected, when I just wanted to read up on his background and people were hanging on me and whining, "Mom! Mom! Mama! Moooo-mmmmeee!"), then it becomes clear that I consider my being to be not "being-for", but "being-free-from".

The other thing that is clear is that becoming a "being-for" is not a transformation I can make by my own power. By myself, I don't even want to change. I like hoarding my precious time. I like feeling self-sufficient and complete. Only the scandal and grace of Christ hanging on the cross is effective enough to peel back my veneer of competence: Christ died in agony for me not because I was kind of selfish and demanding, but because I needed his death. Not only do I have the necessity of calling on his sacrifice to help me change, but I have a right to do so. Unlike me, he welcomes importuning -- he actually likes it.

And I'm not alone in my struggle for transformation. We pray three Hail Marys every night with the children at bedtime, and as we pray I ponder the repetition. Doesn't Mary ever get tired of us asking her to pray for us sinners? Isn't it rather rude to make the same demand over and over again?

Well, no, actually. Hers is a true maternal "being-for". When I ask Mary to pray for me, I'm not imposing on her. I'm only asking of her what she's supposed to do. Jesus has charged her to intercede for us: it's her job to pray for me, for everyone! He knows that I need Mary's prayers more than my own children need my physical help, though I make of her the same demands they make of me. Feed me, mother. Change me. Pray for me.


Jenny said...

"My being is not, practically, a "being-for". I hoard my being, parcelling it out in tight rations. I consider myself to be my own, so that the demands of others on my time and my peace feel like intrusions or disruptions of the norm."

I have been nailed. Especially now when my being essentially *is* a "being-for" during pregnancy. How I rail against it! My back hurts; I have heartburn again; Baby quit poking me; Can someone take this belly for the nightshift tonight? Whine. Whine. Whine. Pregnancy always strips away my veneer so I can glimpse how broken I really am.

bearing said...

I consider my being to be not "being-for", but "being-free-from."

I think Pope Benedict was saying that only the being of Jesus is a "being-for."

Maybe you could combine the two ideas and become a "being-free-FOR."

The other thing that is clear is that becoming a "being-for" is not a transformation I can make by my own power.

But you can make choices that move you closer to "being-free," in order to become "being-free-FOR."

Ana Maria said...

I'm still on the part about the cleansing of the temple. At this speed I might finish the book by Lent next year at least now I can read it while eating candy ;-) Praying for you my friend.

nancyo said...

This is so good; I love your meditations on "being-for" and "being-free-from," especially our/your relation to Mary.

My father's favorite Lenten reading was Guardini's The Lord which is possibly my favorite spiritual book. I was kicking myself that I didn't pick up Benedict's book for Lent, but as it was I chose an oldie, The Pain of Christ by Gerald Vann - only 75 pages - but by Holy Saturday I'd barely made a dent. The Vigil didn't start until 11pm, so I actually finished the book on Saturday, and will return to it again (and again).

Julia said...

I like this.

I've been coming at it from a different direction, namely having no choice but to be-for others, because successive disasters have hammered me into submission. The odd thing is that I feel so much stronger than I did when I tried to balance the needs of others with my own needs.