Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Favorite Mysteries

On Tuesday & Fridays, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are recited. These have become my favorite, hands down. It's not because I'm dark & find some sick kind of satisfaction in the remembrance of Christ's suffering. On the contrary, His suffering brings me peace. The five Mysteries are: Agony in the garden, Scourging at the pillar, Crowning with thorns, Carrying of the cross, Crucifixion. I find myself thinking more about the mental brutality He endured during these acts rather than the more obvious physical effects. When He was betrayed in the garden, He had already been on an emotional roller coaster with the last supper, the sweating drops of blood as He cried out to God, the frustration with His disciples sleeping... If that wasn't enough, Judas showed up with a crowd of soldiers who came to arrest Him. Jesus is led away to stand before Pilate. Its the middle of the night... He is accused, scourged, mocked, weighted with a crown of thorns & led out to Golgatha with His cross come morning. By this time, He had been up all night. His flesh was torn, bloody, aching. Maybe He was hungry. Think about how you feel when you're up all night... and then couple that with physical pain, hunger & an active thought life. What was He thinking as He listened to people condemn Him, whip Him, beat Him, strip & mock Him? Was He thinking He was so tired, that He just wanted to get it over with? Was He angry inside? Was He sad? Scared? Was he thinking about you & me & the souls He would save by His obedience to death on a cross? Did He feel confident that His God, the Father Almighty, would swoop down & save the day? Was He at all nervous or unsure that everything would go according to plan? He didn't sound too convinced on the cross for a while there... Considering Jesus' thoughts as He was suffering brings me peace. He must've gone through the gammut of emotions if He was fully human. He must know what I go through in my own daily trials... when I feel alone, imprisoned, betrayed, mocked, beaten down, exposed, tired, hungry, sad. I have trouble connecting with the physical brutality of these mysteries because I've never experienced nor witnessed such things first hand. But the internal sense of brutality is very real, very raw. I know the sting, as most of us do... And that's what makes these mysteries my favorite.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rite of Acceptance/ Welcome (After)

A little over 12 hours ago now, we entered the church in precession behind the priest. The Rite began with our RCIA director calling out the names of the catechumens first. Each lined up facing the congregation & their sponsors stood behind them. Then it was time for the candidates. Mine was the last name called. My sponsor, like all the others, walked up with me, stood behind me & put her hands on my shoulders for support. Distinct rays of sunlight streamed through the windows & spotlighted the group. It felt surreal, like a dream. The priest explained who we were & why we were standing there & then asked us what we asked of the church. We responded in unison, first the catechumens & then candidates. We sought "the fullness of faith in the Church". The priest then turned to the congregation & asked them if they were willing to pray for us & help us on our journey. Of course the answer was "Yes". I looked out on a sea of smiling faces. I knew I was not alone. The priest invited them to stretch out their hands to pray for us. Following prayer, he took the anointing oil & went first to the catechumens, anointing each one on the forehead & hands. He proceeded to the candidates, anointing each one in kind. After a prayer of blessing, he dismissed us back to our seats. I was very nervous & honestly, the day was mostly a blur to me. I was so focused on what I had just done that I had a difficult time following the remainder of the Mass... I felt like just behing silent, like crying, like I was in shock. I had been so ready to bail, to make some excuse, to sleep in accidentally... I really struggled with my faith & intentions in the hours leading up to the Rite. But I knew I had to do this despite the fear I felt. I'm so glad I did.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Rite of Acceptance/Welcome (Before)

In less than 12 hours, I will have gone through the Rite of Welcome at the Catholic Church I've been attending. This signals the end of the inquiry phase for both Catechumens & Candidates. Catechumens (unbaptised) are "accepted" to pursue faith in the Catholic Church. Candidates (those previously baptised) are "welcomed" to pursue the fullness of existing faith. Both groups will enter into a new phase of the RICA journey- the teaching phase. This is where the nitty gritty begins.

I'm terrified. I'm not sure why. Perhaps the gravity of what I'm about to do is starting to sink in. Perhaps its the fact that I will have to enter the church in precession with the others & stand in front, on display for all to see. My name will be read for all to hear. All my life as a Christian, its hard to believe I've never made such a public declaration of faith (aside from my baptism). Truth be told, I've not had much occasion to. Even my baptism was witnessed by just a small group of people. Symbolic traditions don't seem to have much merit where I come from, but the Catholic Church is full of them. This is an aspect I both love & shy away from. I love the idea of rites & rituals, traditions & symbolism because these things help bring faith to life for me. Yet I am scared to be seen, to be known, to be held accountable- perhaps for the fact that I've been able to remain otherwise up to now.

I'm told there's nothing to fear... Countless others have done it... but all day today, I've had thoughts of dropping out or making excuses not to be there. It surprised me because I've been looking forward to this day since I started RCIA. To me, the Rite of Welcome is a pivotal point in my journey. How can I possibly abandon the pursuit now just because I'm afraid to be known?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holy Things

I sometimes listen to Catholic Answers on my way home. Its one of those call in radio shows where people across the country can have their questions about Catholicism answered. Some of those calls are doozies- people seem to freak about about stuff that would never cross my mind. Someone called in the other night to talk about the rosary & brown scapular which were supposedly given by Mary. The caller wanted to know why the Protestants hadn't seen Mary or been given these things too.

For those who don't know, the rosary is essentially a string of beads with a crucifix. The story goes that it was given to St. Dominic by Mary herself. One meditates on various scenes of Christ's life in prayer & keeps track on the beads. There are "promises" associated with the rosary- 15 of them in fact- and one even has to do with the assurance of salvation. The same is true of the Brown Scapular, given to St. Simon Stock. If I were ignorant, I would be so excited that I wouldn't have to do much more than pray on a string of beads & wear a little brown piece of cloth in order to get to heaven.

So I got to thinking about the origin of the rosary & scapular. The promises associated with these things are not especially Biblical... Firstly, when did God ever hand people a thing uncreated by human hands & tell them how to use it? In the Old Testament, we often see Him instructing people to build something (an ark, an ephod, stone tablets, a tabernacle, utensils, etc.) & then He gave them ceremonies to consecrate these things to His service. The holy things were designed by God, but man made. The way things became holy was designed by God, but man had to enact the rituals.

So where did Mary get a rosary or a scapular? How could these things have such weighty assurances attached? Perhaps its just the stuff of legends- in reality, someone was inspired by Mary to fashion these things but in the retelling of origin, we see Mary holding out a rosary or a scapular. That is, perhaps its not a literal understanding, but figurative. Perhaps the "promises" imply that the saving power actually comes from Christ, though I've yet to see that little disclaimer anywhere.

So why don't Protestants "see" Mary? I've heard that maybe they don't want to... Or they lack faith b/c they don't believe she lives & is in heaven. But I'm wondering why I haven't seen her either. I have faith too...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Puzzled In the Crosshairs

A few years ago, my mom came to visit. We see each other maybe once a year, so it was kind of a big deal. She enjoys doing crossword puzzles & brought her book with her to help pass the time. At some point, I sat down & filled in a few squares, thinking it might be fun to do a puzzle together. My mother did not share this sentiment. When she sat down to her book & noticed the puzzle had been molested by some foreign pencil, she actually got angry. She lamented how the puzzle was ruined & couldn't be finished. I watched her turn the page & start anew.

Believe it or not, I kind of get this behaviour. I'm a hard core perfectionist deep down. As a child, I remember having a difficult time with failure & making mistakes of any kind. If I couldn't do it right the first time, I wouldn't dare risk defeat. As an adult, I've come to grips with the fact that trial & error are the primary means by which we learn. Still, this behaviour from my mother surprised me. What was she really saying about my involvement? Was she saying my interjection was a mistake? My words were correct... but perhaps my presence in her puzzled world was not. It didn't fit with her idea of how things should have been completed.

How many times in the world of denominations have we turned the page in a huff, convinced our efforts were ruined beyond redemption? That's precisely what we do when we bite & bludgeon each other with arguments of faith. Aren't we working on the same puzzle? My mother & I share the same blood. Can't we say the same of our supposed brothers & sisters across denominations? And if not, why? Is Christ at the center or not? And if not, who or what has edged Him out?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FrankenFaith

Are we "creating" Christians or growing denominations? Shouldn't a person who becomes a Christian be made aware of their options? As in, if a Catholic evangelizes, does the convert have to enter the Catholic church? Why? Because salvation is only found in the Church? If a Protestant evangelizes, do they have to be Protestant? Why? Because the Christian can only experience the freedom & assurance of salvation as a Protestant? Why can't we just present the good news that Christ saves & let converts be "Christian" so long as they walk out their faith- in faith- by God's grace? All sorts of theological arguments come to mind... what about the authority of the Bible or tradition, what about faith v.s. works, etc.? We go round & round in our discussions only to end up retreating to our own sides at the end of the day. God is not the Author of confusion. Yet there's so much of it these days in Christendom.

Could it be we who call ourselves Christians are a little less Christian than we thought? Is the thought of relaxing the dividing lines of denominational security just the subtle 'evil' of ecumenicism, spreading error & heresy like yeast among lumps of dough? Or could this possibly be closer to the original intent & purpose of Christianity? Do we follow Christ or not? Have we forgotten that the Body of Christ has many parts?

Lets Get Slothy

I'd like to be able to say I'm a patient person, but more often than not, I tend to be a few degrees off the boiling point. I've trained myself to be tolerant & to roll with the punches over the years, but I'm still not great at it. I know how to compartmentalize & downgrade situations from red to yellow... But if I don't ultimately deal with stuff, it comes back to bite me in the end. Literally. It may take hours, days or years, but neglected grievances build up. To release pressure, I either have to blow my top or find a way to let things out gradually. Since the first option never seems to turn out well for me, I've decided to go with the alternative. I've begun practicing slowness.

Some things that tend to exacerbate the feeling of anger in me are being busy, existing among lots of noise & activity & racing around from place to place trying to multitask to the nth degree. Even though things may seem well organized & "flow" at such a fast pace, there is a gradual breakdown happening, much like a machine. Every machine needs maintenance at some point, and most break down for lack of it. So when I find I'm close to or have already reached my breaking point, I can conclude that I was not properly maintaining myself. Maybe I cut a corner, skipped a step, excused something that bothered me in favor of keeping peace... But it all builds up to breakdown.

Practicing slowness looks like this: I don't have to race with the other drivers on the road. I don't have to try & accomplish ridiculous amounts of work every day. All I'm required to do is what's actually required of me. Obey the speed limit. Make my numbers. Finish out the night & go home. In communication, I can tell the truth the first time. That is, I have permission to say what I think & feel without sugar coating or editing. This one is gonna take some more practice, I can tell you that. I'm so used to trying to make situations comfortable for the other guy, trying not to offend... but that plan eventually backfires. I'm not saying I get to be rude if I speak my mind. I get to be honest. And really, that's far better than being a two faced liar. Honesty benefits everyone. Practicing slowness is being aware of what I'm doing, how I'm feeling, remembering what's actually required of me (& doing only that). Its called being mindful, its called maintaining. Its downtime, its sanity, & it feels downright slothy...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Doctrine v.s. Faith

I got to thinking today about how I'm able to forge ahead with my pursuit of Catholicism. Its very difficult to stand by what you sense by faith when others are trying to tell you what you should believe based on their doctrine. As I've mentioned in prior posts, my family doesn't approve of Catholicism & they certainly don't approve of my personal journey. As soon as I mentioned interest, I had evangelical apologetic cds in my mailbox explaining the errors of Catholicism. I've found that the Protestant view is often not correct in it's assumption of what the Catholic Church teaches. In fact, since I was fresh from reading the first half of the Catechism, I noticed Protestants seem to have a nasty habit of pulling both text & scripture out of context to prove their point. As with anything, in order to fully appreciate or even gain a fair understanding of something, one must invest the time to learn about it. It wasn't until I started reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking to practicing Catholics & attending Mass that I realized I had been taught to dismiss Catholicism. And honestly, I have to wonder why.
I've been told that one can't possibly find God in Catholicism because He's not there... He can't possibly be there because Catholicism is an unholy marriage of paganism & Christianity. But who has the right to tell me I can't find God in one thing or another? The fact is, I do find God in Catholicism, so much more so than in any Protestant denomination I've been a part of. I may not agree with some of the doctrine... I may think some of it archaic or unnecessary, but these things won't keep me from faith in Christ.
I've been looking for ways to use the things I may still be uncomfortable with to point me toward God. Can I find God by praying to Mary or believing in the communion of saints? If so, how? Can I find God by minding my so called mortal & venial sins & (eventually) attending reconciliation (confession) on a regular basis? Can I find Him in Eucharistic Adoration? Perhaps the teachings & expectations of the church are burdensome & serve to magnify its weakness... or perhaps they're its genius & strength. The Church leads me to Christ by reminding me how much I need Him. By honouring Who He is, I am reminded of Who it is I truly live for. Its this mindset that keeps me going: Faith first. Doctrine will follow...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Adoration

In Catholicism, there is a practice called Eucharistic Adoration. During this time, a consecrated "Host" (a.k.a. communion wafer) is placed in something called a monstrance for the faithful to see. It is typically "guarded" by one or two people in attendance. Curious, I made a point to attend a time of adoration at the parish. The Host was indeed "guarded" by one person, but there was no distinction as to who it was. We were not watched or exposed to threat. This "guard" was merely a presence. In an extraordinary situation, this person might even give their very life to ensure the safety of the Host. Its believed that the Host needs to be guarded at all times for fear that someone will desecrate the body of the Lord. Firstly, if Jesus is really present, why would He need us for protection?! If you knew how much one of those monstrances cost... well, I can't help but wonder what's really being guarded!
This wasn't some kind of science project for me however. I didn't merely go to observe, but to pray & wrestle with this concept of the real presence. I stayed for some time & watched people come & go. Some got on their knees to pray, some sat. All were silent. The feeling of peace in that room was profound. On either side of the monstrance was a single lit candle. The monstrance itself looked kind of like an ornate golden lamp without a shade. It was about 2 feet high with sunbeams radiating from the center where the Host was fixed behind glass. At the top was a simple cross. The whole scene was very stark, very simple. Within the monstrance rested this cracker- believed to be the presence of Jesus Christ displayed for all to see. It was, in effect, Jesus behind glass, like some kind of prized museum piece. I absolutely don't mean to be disrespectful to the Catholic faith or to Christ Himself in describing the host as a "cracker". I'm simply stating what my intellect saw. And yet, despite what my eyes beheld, something stirred within me the entire time I was there. I had been compelled beyond reason to attend & once I got there, I didn't want to leave. I couldn't understand what it was that made me want to stay. I prayed, I cried. I felt very... exposed, yet profoundly safe. Was it merely a symbolic experience or was it the real Presence of Christ? I can't say. But I do know that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A New Hour

Yesterday I attended a "music showcase" at the parish & it was quite good. Toward the end of a beautiful piano/violin duet, the music got softer & I heard the parish bells ringing out. I have to say, I've still not gotten used to them. Those bells catch me by surprise each time & remind me I'm not in "Kansas" anymore.

I've been struggling with how to tell my family about my journey... They are staunch believers that Catholicism is a cult & a vehicle for the coming anti-christ. To my knowledge, none of them has ever stepped foot in a Catholic church or actually listened to a Catholic's perspective of faith. I've tried to warm up the waters by telling them that I'm merely "checking things out", which was indeed my intention at first. But as time goes by, I don't see how I can possibly go back to the emptiness of Protestantism. I hinted at this in a conversation with my mother the other day & she was perturbed that I would disregard her thoughts on the matter. I wish to honour my mother, but not at the cost of my faith. It was then that I realized its not the bells outside that catch me by surprise so much. Its the ones within my own heart that call out the beginning of a new hour...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Failure

"Your fortitude will determine whether you are truly a failure or not."

This came to me last week as I was tramping through the warehouse filling orders. I had received my current numbers for math earlier that day & realized there was no way I could pull out. I thought if I pushed through, spent more time with the material & got help, that I could do it, I could squeeze out a "C". But the reality was that I was going to fail this class, kill my GPA & my self confidence right along with it if I didn't do something. This of course, plunged me into a familiar darkness, so I prayed. I had no clue what to do. I wrote my teacher, who suggested I audit the class rather than drop it. The only catch was I had exactly 3 hours to do it b/c the deadline to drop or change status was fast approaching. Thank God I accepted defeat & chose to audit rather than trying to stubbornly forge ahead. I made the deadline & am set to try again come winter. I'm frustrated, but I can definitely feel the weight lifted from my shoulders. Sometimes its necessary to back off & take things a little slower in order to reach the higher goal...