Sunday, November 29, 2009

A son of God

I received the sacrament of confirmation as a 6th grader. Sometime in the 4 years between when I was in 6th grade and when my brother Paul was, the parish shifted to 11th grade for confirmation. However, Paul spent much of his junior year of high school away from home (a state juvenile detention center resulting from his drug and/or alcohol choices). So, he was never confirmed. And occasionally, he expresses a very strong desire to remedy that situation. To date, that desire has never turned out to be a sustained desire.

In the last year or so, however, he mentioned it persistently enough that I mentioned it to the friars at our parish, and they are ready to create a program that attends to his special needs whenever he is ready.

So this morning at coffee and donuts, Paul and Fr. A and I ended up talking a bit, and the question of Paul's readiness to pursue confirmation came up. Paul said (oddly enough) that he is of two minds on the question, because sometimes he feels like really pursuing his relationship with Jesus and the church is very important. On the other hand, he feels like when he is closest to God, his psychosis is at its worst. And he just isn't sure how he feels about God these days.

I pointed out to him that the sacrament of confirmation is not about Paul's confirming God, but about God's confirming him. He asked, "Confirming me as what?" I gave what is absolutely the theologically right answer: "As a son of God." And Paul said, with just the exquisitely right amount of sarcasm in his voice, "Yeah, that's really going to help my psychosis."

Friday, November 27, 2009


Okay, I admit it. I've seen this movie a thousand times. It was filmed my senior year at Notre Dame, and when it came out the fall following my graduation, it was like coming home again to walk into a theater somewhere in Seattle and watch this. The soundtrack seems so well to capture the movie's spirit of you-can-do-anything-if-you-work-hard-enough-and-believe-in-yourself that it became my near-constant companion in the 6-week desperate dash to finish my dissertation by the deadline.

Tonight, for the first time that I remember since going with friends to see the film in 1993, I watched it with a crowd of people. Sometimes in the right kind of mood, I pop in the DVD. Or sometimes I catch it on cable. But I'm almost always alone when I watch it. Alone with the memories and the sense of what my time at ND means to me, alone with the thrill that haunts me (despite my two advanced degrees) when Fortune says to him that he's getting out of here with a degree that says he doesn't have to prove nothin' to nobody except himself, and the chill that I get every time Dan Devine tells Roland to act like the All-American and the captain that he is and Roland replies, "I believe I am."

It was a little strange, because, although I was watching with friends who know me pretty well (and their children), it is odd to share a movie that is so much a part of you with people who have seen it once, or not at all. And it's so impossible to convey to people who don't understand it that football really is everything at Notre Dame, and still nothing at all. And this movie is about football, and achieving impossible dreams through perseverance, and, yes, it's about Notre Dame. And somehow, those are all rolled together for me. Not inextricably, but still.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Our students' other side

As I was walking back towards my house for lunch after class today, I passed, as I often do, this statue of St. Martin de Porres on campus.

Still quite far away, I noticed a young man sitting on the bench, clearly pretty deep in prayer. As I approached, I watched him as he sat, head bowed and in his hands, and then stood up. He approached the statue and tenderly stroked St. Martin's left foot.

It was such a sweet moment of devotion. It was also so good for my soul to see this moment. So often I find myself in conversations about our students' drinking or their apathy. It was very nice to see something so different. I really do believe that this side is present in so many of our students, but it is hard for them to show it, so we so rarely get to see it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Glenn Close is my hero

I know, the star of Fatal Attraction is an unlikely subject for my adulation. But are you paying attention to what she's been up to in the recent past? She's become quite the advocate for the mentally ill. Check her out in this incredibly touching stigma-fighting PSA on mental illness (directed by Ron Howard).

Obviously (if you've watched the video), her sister Jess suffers from bipolar disease, and that has inspired Close to "dig deep," to be more than just a celebrity endorser of a cause, but someone who really gets involved. She volunteers at Fountainhouse, a clubhouse for the mentally ill in New York City. She was part of NAMIWalks in her home state of Maine. And for all that, tonight's NBC News singled her out as one of five people this week who are making a difference.

I say the following as someone who is also making a difference, as someone who is also the sister of someone with a severe mental illness, as someone who is an advocate for the mentally ill, and as someone who I know inspires others (because they've told me I do). To see folks like Glenn Close and her sister Jess stand up and "out" themselves as folks affected by mental illness makes it that much easier for me to do the same. To see Glenn Close get on national television and talk about her love for her sister, about the fact that her sister is her hero, makes me feel a little less strange for my own sense that Paul, despite evidence to the contrary, is an incredible success.

Thanks to Glenn Close for her advocacy and to the folks at NBC for paying attention to those making a difference for the mentally ill. And just in case anyone reads this who has Glenn Close's ear, or the ear of anyone else who would like to help, we're trying to build a clubhouse for the mentally ill (like Fountainhouse) here in Providence, RI. Check out just a bit about us at Harbor House.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boys, pirates, and mint chocolate chip

This weekend, some young friends of mine were starring in a community theater production of Treasure Island. And, the really delightful thing was that my friends James and Ben, who love pirates, wanted to come with me. Their parents and sister were otherwise occupied, so we ended up on this special little adventure together, which was a lot of fun.

There is something about these two little boys, the rawness of James' delight next to the the quiet, measured joy of his brother. It really was a wonder to share this with them.

Two favorite moments. First, I asked what their favorite moment of the play was. Ben gets a little evil look in his eye and says (speaking of our friend, who played Long John Silver), "When Joel shot that guy." Second, as I was sending them off to the bathroom to wash the evidence of our ice cream stop from their hands and faces, Ben said, "If we get in trouble for stopping for ice cream, you'll tell them it was James' idea, right?"

James did say that he was hungry, but the ice cream stop was someone else's idea entirely. :)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Cute theological moment

I ran into a friend of mine at All Souls' Day Mass yesterday. She had her daughter with her, who is about 2 and a half. The little one was a constant refrain "Mom, Mom, Mom, can we go home? Can we go home PLEASE? Can we go home NOW? Can we go home yet?" The mom was pretty frustrated, so I turned to her and said, "You know, that was a pretty good All Souls' Day antiphon, as though she was crying out for the poor souls in purgatory who are yearning for home/heaven." She replied, "That's so cute!" And I said, "That's not cute, that's theological reflection!"