A reflection upon Lough Derg, extremism, and thrown gauntlets.

Tonight, despite the Orioles playoff game against the Yankees being scheduled to start at 6:10pm, I headed to St. D’s (the affectionate abbreviation for my church, St. Daniel) for what I’ve taken to calling “Catholicism DVD night”. I like brevity. We’ve been working through the 10 episodes of Fr. Robert Barron’s “Catholicism” dvd series since last spring. Since it’s freezing  appropriately cool fall weather here in town, I embraced the need for long sleeves and wore my Shamrock Marathon 2012 shirt. Woo!

We were supposed to watch episode 9 tonight, which was on prayer and the spiritual life. However, the DVD player was possessed, er, refused to allow us that opportunity. So we watched episode 10, on heaven, hell, and purgatory, instead.
note for readers: whether or not your faith tradition ascribes to the afore-mentioned doctrine, I remain convinced that there will be something of value in the text to follow. You could stop reading here, but… why bother? It’s just more words on a page. Continuing on..

While discussing the greater context of purgatory and the concept and doctrine thereof, Fr. Barron took us on a journey across the ocean to Lough Derg in Ireland. I have had the pleasure to be blessed to travel to Ireland twice now in this life, but I had never heard of “Lough Derg” before this eve. What is it? It’s a small island in the middle of a lake in the middle of Co. Donegal. It is a place of spiritual pilgrimage.
In modern days, pilgrimages have begun to take on new appearances… but the original tradition is thus:

Three days spent on the island. Shoeless throughout the entirety of the time. Fasting. Prayer and contemplation at several stations on the island, spent walking the rocky ground barefoot or traversing on one’s knees. Mass the first day. Benediction in the evening, followed by an all-night vigil spent in prayer. Mass in the morning, having never gone to sleep, followed by the sacrament of Reconciliation, walking and praying the way of the Cross. Ending the second day with evening Mass, night prayer and Benediction, at which point pilgrims are permitted to take their rest. The bell rings the morning of the third day and call pilgrims to Mass, to a final contemplation at one of the stations, and then the boats which take them away from the mainland and back to “real life”. (And real food, and the wearing of shoes, and sleeping at night.)

Sounds crazy, right? Perhaps a bit extreme? After all, who would willingly do such a thing but an extremist?
The pilgrims (alternatively, we can consider them penitents) have a professed purpose in such an undertaking. Some may see it as an exercise of focus and rededication… others, an experience of reflection and repentance… still others, a way to leave the Earthly world (and its demands) behind in exchange for a simplistic way that seeks only to be in greater communion with Him.

Now, and here’s where Fr. Barron unknowingly reached out of the HD Blueray screen and jabbed me in the heart with his index finger,
what else have you done in your life that is equally extreme?

Perhaps you’re thinking, ummmm, Marie, I’m no extremist. Fair point! May I ask a question? Have you ever done one of the following?

  • stayed up all night and some of the next day studying for an exam or writing a school paper?
  • spent hours each day doing physical exercise in pursuit of some goal, whether it be elite status, completion of a marathon, two-a-day workouts in the August heat to prep for the start of football season?
  • dedicated time each day of the wet spring and hot summer to cultivating a garden that flourishes, and then requires daily maintenance so that it continues to bear fruit?

So maybe you are an extremist. Just maybe. And the gauntlet that Fr. Barron is throwing down, with guidance of the Holy Spirit, is thus: if you can be an extremist for those goals which are tied, obviously, to the Earthly life…whatever they may be… can you not be an extremist for God?
What would it take to inculcate in the mind, the will, and the soul such an extremist position so as to doggedly pursue the life-long aim that is seeking the Kingdom of Heaven?

There are impediments. It’s much easier to aim for concrete Earthly goals, which we’ve already seen people obtain. Then again – we have the communion of saints to follow in the way of life, do we not? Sometimes it’s easy to push ourselves physically or mentally because we know that when it’s over, we can relax and fall back to less-demanding habits. Not exactly the greatest decision in the spiritual life, to slack off — but then again, we know not the day that this life ends, so really how we can claim that running “the race so as to win” is too big of a demand?

Just something to contemplate this week as we encounter challenges, undertake tasks, and prioritize our time and efforts…

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One thought on “A reflection upon Lough Derg, extremism, and thrown gauntlets.

  1. (Extremely readable post. This English teacher finds no fault whatsoever in your writing. Mechanics: 100%.)

    The Catholic I am, more importantly, rejoices at a young person so firmly grounded in the Faith. Although I’ll never meet you in this life, I would guess that your soul is already a treasure. And yet I am also certain you would recoil from this assessment out of humility. So it should be!

    We all know our weaknesses. Among God, our hearts, our confessors (bless them!), we know where we falter. Yet we struggle on, perhaps on our knees or barefoot, as it were, on our life’s retreat, in our pilgrim Church, towards eternity.

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