Monday, March 11, 2013

Odds are...

A Treatise on Purgatory.
Saint Catherine of Genoa
(2010-06-27). Kindle Edition.
It’s hard to say what brings about any one fortuitous encounter, but I had the great pleasure of encountering this little book (published without any more credits than what is given above). At 99 cents, we’re talking about a “lark” which, simply by chance, has gifted me with a text I intend to read more than once. I had never read a life of St. Catherine of Genoa and I must say that this account of her own mystical experience of Purgatory has won me over. More on Catherine and more on Purgatory another time! For now I’ll just say that she tipped over “my apple-cart  by stating that for the soul in Purgatory there is neither regret nor remorse. The burning away of the rusty residue of forgiven sins in Purgatory has a whole other thrust and the Irish inclination to call them the Holy Souls, as opposed to the Poor Souls, has much to say to us.

Anyway, Catherine started me off on a little reflection about the closed angle from which many of us look at life and how we judge situations. Let me preface things by saying that in the next days or weeks (I could not tell you when precisely) I will be observing the 40th anniversary of my decision to give up golfing and sell my clubs to my brother. Over the years, I have variously explained that decision, but in a moment of brutal self-honesty I had to admit to myself, first of all, that the real reason was not external to me but rather internal. There is no getting around it: I gave it up, because I would not embrace fully one of the fundamental counsels of the game: "Head down! Eye on the ball! Mind on your game!"

Golf or no golf, mind on your game or not, whether I'm talking about me or about the way people around me approach life, what I want to say is that the overarching criterion for assessing life is performance. Performance in life, as in sports or in academics, seems to be everything. For years I have been protesting the pressure to perform that we place on infants and small children: they've got to walk, talk and do everything except be themselves and sooner in life, so as not to miss out, or so goes the "common wisdom". How often are we caught up in conversations about "how good so-and-so looks for 90" or "he seems to be losing it and at such a young age"... Perform? I guess that's what we are expected to do and I guess we are often frustrated because we are not in charge of the situation, whatever it might be.

St. Catherine's exclusion of remorse from the Purgatory experience is a powerful gut punch to the logic of performance as ultimate criterion for judging a person's life. Don't get me wrong! I'd be the last one to sign on for eliminating grading from schools or other such dampers on achievement and growth. That is not the point. The point is that at some point in life I shift from training to win and game stats to other human virtues as my predominant life compass or measure. I do so not because I can no longer compete, because I am no longer up to the task, but rather because my "last judgment" won't be a review of achievements or trophies, plaques and citations accumulated. Dad used to say, "With this trophy and a dime I can buy a cup of coffee." 

Personnel choices are most certainly guided by performance records but life is not. I guess that in honor of the 40th anniversary of my abandoning golf I should take a cue from St. Catherine of Genoa and make my experience of this life a little more purgatorial and a little less performance oriented. To believe her, I guess I'd be a lot happier. Projects will be and will continue to be, but not at the expense of knowing, loving and serving above all the One Who made me and saved me.

Odds are... based on what? Based well, maybe, on all the wrong things. I hope that with Laetare behind us and our Lenten carriage steaming toward Passiontide that Confession has been part of the game plan and that the spiritual struggle has been engaged. The prize is Divine Intimacy... and with no regrets.

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