Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I imagine some people think that Catholics are only in it for the passport. We blindly follow the Pope. We heed the rules like good little sheep, no matter how unpopular, incorrect, or inconvenient the rules are. And we do all this for a passport to eternal life, so that we can be with Jesus in heaven.

I want to be with Jesus in heaven, but first comes life on earth. Yesterday, that meant applying for passport renewals for Katie and me.

By three o’clock I was a mess. It had been a long, long holiday season, beginning with Thanksgiving in New York and ending only a few days ago, when we knew that Marian was safely settled in Mysore. In between, there were a few surprises—you know, f-a-m-i-l-y. So I have been desperate to get back to work, even though I realize that after such holidays what I really need is a vacation.

Getting to work is especially important this January because we have some long, expensive travel planned for 2012, which will involve my ticking off the first four items on my Catholic Bucket List. As that absurd statement implies, I consider myself methodical, and when I have a plan, I hate anything getting my way.

Let me list the things that got in my way yesterday: 

Two complex passport renewal forms, which I had to retrieve from the post office; the confusing fee structure for renewals (book? card? both? application? execution? hunh?); the color printer at my office, which was generating lurid images worthy of Peter Max (left); Katie’s two cameras, neither of which had sufficient juice to take our pictures; a drive to Staples for toner cartridges and batteries; waiting an interminable period for Katie to download the images from camera to computer, then e-mail them to me; completing the forms and writing the checks ($280?!); and expecting a long line at the post office, only to find three clerks sitting idly on their stools and discussing the Patriots, at taxpayer expense. Did I mention road rage?

I may be very good at long-term plans but my short-term living needs work. I want to be with Jesus in heaven as much as I want to walk the Camino this spring but after a day like yesterday, living my life well—especially navigating what Father Giussani calls its “absurdly shifting conditions”—seems a more challenging goal than either heaven or Santiago de Compostella.

In the concluding chapter of The Religious Sense, Giussani writes:

How does the Unknown reveal its will to the human being? How does it communicate its intelligent plan that guarantees the meaning of everything? It speaks through apparently fortuitous circumstances, the banal conditions that determine the human being’s every instant.

What a paradox! In order to follow the absolute light of meaning, one would have to be obedient, like someone navigating in dense fog, moment by moment, obeying the very thing that is most apparently irrational, that is to say, absurdly shifting circumstances, subject to the wind of time.

We may have our eyes on a distant lighthouse, but first the fog, its horns and bells. This is why I need Jesus—a vision for the future, but especially a guide for the present. Katie would have been glad of some more Jesus in me yesterday.

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