My contacts with church people are mostly in a far corner of the U. S., in a college town in the bumpy Palouse farm country. Are Catholics here much different from others these days? Sometimes I look around at the people sitting in church and wonder what they’re thinking. I’m like my nephew, who once as a pre-schooler got away from my sister and went crawling from pew to pew. He would stop and gaze up at someone’s face a moment, then crawl on to someone else and do the same. Finally as my sister was about to chase him down no matter what the ruckus, he scuttled back and popped up on the pew. He put his hand to her ear and said in a stage whisper, “Mom, I checked out all the people around here, not a one of ‘em is having any fun. Let’s go home.”
My nephew was studying the sensus fidelium—the state of belief of the faithful. The pope is supposed to do that too while developing his teachings, so that they’ll represent the whole sense of the faithful, and be “received.” Our faith experience, in our corner of the people of God, does have its stories worth hearing.
The meditations here reflect on tales from Scripture, linking them with events of life around me. Most religious people would find it hard to say how they can believe things that common sense and their five senses seem to rule out. But their lives can show who they are in risking these beliefs. They may be like my youngest daughter at age nine when I told her bedtime Bible stories, whimsically. Like, the swine at Gadara got spooked when some mentally disturbed guys on the road by their pen started pushing Jesus and yelling. So they stampeded into the lake and drowned. Back then, people expressed that by saying that devils rushed from the insane men into the pigs, and drove them to drown themselves. And besides, pigs always have a bad press in Jewish stories. “Face it, Mom,” she would say, “it was a miracle. Tell the story right, now.”
The first seven meditations here are based on stories in the canonical Bible books recognized by Protestants and Catholics alike. The last meditation is more imaginative. While it uses details about Mary Magdalene from the New Testament gospels, it also draws inspiration from a book of the gnostic (non-canonical) scriptures called “The Gospel of Mary,” where Mary Magdalene addresses the other disciples and inspires them. So the meditation wonders, what if she preached to the spirits of the patriarchs in purgatory, as by one of our church traditions Jesus is said to have done, in between his crucifixion and resurrection? What would she have said?
November 9, 1999