My friend Joe Grabowski sends along another example in my Anonymous Saints series.
This is the story of a 99-year old woman who makes a new dress every day and donates it to a needy child in Africa.
Now, I can't help but think that my son, Colin O'Brien, who is an exact clone of me, will react to this post the way he reacted to my sharing this on Facebook ...
When asked to elaborate on his comment, "This is some middle aged woman nonsense" (which is exactly what I would say in one of my typically foul tempers), Colin explains (sarcastically) ...
God is about odd fonts without serif. God is about christianity.com. God is about red borders. God is about old parchment backgrounds. God is about ellipses. God is about using the "tab" key to its full potential."Like" this and God will "like" you. "Share" this to get your "share" in paradise.
Likewise, I'm sure he'd say (regarding the Old Lady who Makes Dresses for Kids in Africa) ...
Great! An "anonymous saint" being used to promote a local credit union on a cheesy Iowa news show. I can smell the odor of incense hovering about Grandma, right along with a whiff of Gold Bond Medicated Powder.
(That's me putting words into Colin's mouth, but he'd probably "like" it or "share" it, even though he didn't exactly say it.)
And of course this is the danger you face if you try to do a series on Anonymous Saints. Tonita Helton's piece on her mother, who grew in sanctity while suffering the ravages of cancer, is far from "middle aged woman nonsense".
And why is that? Why is Tonita's piece more powerful, more real, and this piece (and that Facebook meme) a little contrived, a little Unreal?
Because the cross is present in Tonita's piece, and absent from the Sewing Grandma piece and the Facebook meme.
An Anonymous Saint without the Cross is just daytime TV "happy news" or a commercial for a local credit union.
But I'm including this piece because there's also the flip side of the coin.
Yesterday Colin had us all watch The Gangs of New York, a Martin Scorsese film about mid-19th century New York City, the climax of which is not unlike what happened a few weeks ago up the road from us in Ferguson. Colin usually has very good taste in movies, and he's introduced me to some excellent films. But though I'm hardly a prude, I found The Gangs of New York to be pretty much Violence Porn on steroids, with a lame screenplay, a poorly structured plot, and a ton of cheesy Hollywood stereotypes obscured by the gritty hyper-realism of the style. It's not clear what the theme of the movie was, or if it even had a theme, other than, Everybody's violent and faith makes no difference and that's just life. There are thematic elements of Identity and the Search for the Missing Father (which are both very common in movies of today), but the themes aren't really taken seriously or developed with any courage or integrity.
If Sewing Grandma and Cheesy Facebook meme are one side of the story, hyper-realistic violent nihilism is the other.
So we Catholics try to keep the balance of sanity. We try to pick up our cross daily and follow Christ. This means we balance between two false choices: that life is sentimentally sweet and sappy if we're only nice to one another (on the one hand), and that life is a jungle in which beasts disguised as men simply tear into one another with a lot more relish than beasts in the real jungle every would (on the other). Neither vision of the world is entirely true. A sweet little old lady serving God by making dresses at age 99 is partially true; street gangs denying God by destroying one another in an orgy of violence is partially true - but both of them miss the central truth of the horrible contradiction between sanctity and sin: the awesome love of God and the terrifying reality of the sacrifice that love demands in order to be real - a sacrifice that rings out across all time and history from that place called Golgotha. Golgotha showed us something that included the Sewing Grandma and that included The Gangs of New York but that transcended and transformed them both.
And it showed us that through Our Lord on the Cross and through the next day's Empty Tomb.