Sunday, December 30, 2012

They're Coming...


After nearly a month with the 1 volume Christian Prayer & the wonderful assistance of Divine Office.org's podcasts, I've decided to take the plunge & purchase the 4 volume bonded leather set of the Liturgy of the Hours. This wasn't an easy decision to make as its kind of pricey, but after scouring the web, I was able to land a brand new set for the lowest price around.

While the volumes of the "leather" edition are never sold individually, I could have gotten 1 volume at a time over the liturgical year (if I was willing to settle for vinyl). Not only does each volume typically sell for an average of $35 or more (used)- but you have to hunt & peck to find the right one for the season. Its kind of a crap shoot. As a last ditch effort to justify an impending purchase, I made a point to check out one of these vinyl editions in a Catholic bookstore last week. I tried to imagine myself holding this book every day...

The way I see it, I'm not investing in a set of books- I'm investing in a relationship. I've found that a well loved book has a tendency to become a part of you... there seems to be a strange intimacy that comes from nestling it's broken spine in your hand. As you balance it's weight & turn each page, it opens up to you, speaks to you, cries out to you. Books like these seem to have a distinct "presence", sometimes even a particular scent, like that of a person you love. They're comforting to have around & can enrich your daily life on countless levels.  But vinyl, while less expensive & durable, just seems... stiff & sterile. Its almost as bad as an e-reader in my opinion... 

A good book needs no batteries, no screen cover, no wi-fi capability... I don't have to worry about it losing functionality if I spill coffee on it or leave it in my car on a hot or cold day... While its appealing to think I could carry every physical book I own (& then some) with me wherever I go in one slim little tablet, its just not the same. Though I'm reading the same words, I'm not able to connect like I do when I read them on paper. That said, I'm very much looking forward to receiving the Liturgy of the Hours this new year.
Deo Gratias...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Stephen's Reality

Yesterday was the 2nd day of Christmas, the feast of St. Stephen. I happened to be listening to Mass on the radio on my way to work. The priest made a point to contrast how we had celebrated Christmas (new life) & the very next day, we were commemorating the death of the first martyr. He said that "Christ was born to die" & that "martyrdom was the highest prize" in Christianity.

In that moment, I realized Christ had called me to die on the very day He gave me new life, but I've been putting it off. Dying a natural death is one thing. But becoming a spiritual martyr, dying "to self" with full knowledge & consent of will is another. In a way, dying in this manner requires a severing of perceived reality, much like the experience Stephen had as the crowd was gearing up to stone him. He looked up, saw the heavens opened & there was Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. I think it was this reality which enabled him to die so valiantly.

And what is my reality?! When I look up, I see only darkness & begin plotting my survival. But the life I've been given is not my own to "save"... I was not made for my own gain or pleasure. Christ has asked me to "lose my life", to give up my rights for His sake. He's asked me to die to my self & what I want in order that He may be glorified. It strikes me as a frightening thought, even though I've been aware of it for years. Stephen's reality was Christ. What's mine?


"It is much less difficult to conquer others than to conquer oneself."  Imitation of Mary


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love Conquers All

If I speak with the eloquence of men and of angels, but have no love, I become no more than blaring brass or crashing cymbal. 

If I have the gift of foretelling the future and hold in my mind not only all human knowledge but the very secrets of God, and if I also have that absolute faith which can move mountains, but have no love, I amount to nothing at all. 

If I dispose of all that I possess, yes, even if I give my own body to be burned, but have no love, I achieve precisely nothing.  

This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience—it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance.  Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. 

On the contrary, it is glad with all good men when truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8a (PHILLIPS)

Love conquers all...  my hurt, my selfishness, my anger... my infidelity to God & neighbor... but there is a deeper problem. In order for love to conquer all these things, love must first conquer me! Only when I'm conquered by love can I love also. Only then will I be transformed. Only then will life have meaning. Until then, I am a " blaring brass or crashing cymbal". I am out of sync, out of tune & out of touch with God & this world. My faith is hopelessly irrelevant without love.

In Ephesians 5:21, we're told to submit to one other out of reverence for Christ... But only when Christ has conquered me can I truly submit to another out of reverence for Him. Only when He has conquered me can I truly love. The act of  "conquering" anything often requires a battle. It requires loss by force or concession, which consequently results in transformation. Sometimes the battle is swift & other times, its drawn out over weeks, months or years.  Yet "Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything.", even me...

If I don't let love conquer my life, I can't conquer anything in life. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas?

I have to admit, I'm not much into the Christmas spirit. I see the neighbor's lights & wreathes & Christmas trees all lit up in the darkness... I hear Christmas carols from every era playing incessantly on the radio, in the grocery store, even at work. I see the bell ringers with their kettles & the homeless standing out on the corners looking extra cold & pitiful... I've driven by a few plastic creches, though they seem woefully outnumbered by mechanical Santas, Frostys & Rudolphs.

It just doesn't feel like Christmas this year. Many people in my circle of acquaintances have expressed this same sentiment. "We're not celebrating Christmas" they say.  By "not celebrating", they mean minimal or no decorations, no tree, no gift exchanges & no big family dinner. Afterall, Christmas is really just another day. Christmas is commercialism. Christmas is family dysfunction. Its busy, its expensive, its exhausting. At least, this is what it seems to have become. People are tired of it. I know I sure am.

Has anyone ever wondered why we celebrate these things faithfully, yet somehow we forget the source that started it all?  What is "the Reason" for Christmas the world over these days? And when someone says they're not celebrating Christmas, what do they really mean? Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of Christ's birth, of  humanity's salvation, of Emmanuel: God With Us. But we seem to have forgotten. Christmas used to call us to peace (if only for a moment) within ourselves & toward each other. It used to call us to the quiet... to a "silent, holy night". It invited us to wonder. Imagine: God stooped to save us by sending us His Son! Joy to the world, indeed.

But then, no one really believes that drivel anymore... Its just "tradition". We don't need "saving" from a mythological place of torment... We experience the real thing day in & day out right here on this earth.  No ethereal superhero is going to swoop out of the sky to help us. We have to save ourselves. Its easier to lay aside the fairy tales in the wake of reality (the national disappointments, the senseless murders, the blood thirsty media)... Where is God now? And where is His Son? We're on our own. Its time to wake up & join the real world, isn't it. But it seems we need saving now more than ever & in trying to save our selves, we've actually lost our selves... We've lost our hope, our peace, our joy. We've lost our sense of wonder. Its time to wake up, yes... to the reality of a real God Who really loves us & really sent His Son to save us. Its time to wake up to the reality of Christmas.

I, however, am still struggling...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Relocating

For the last 6 years, I've existed on my own, hauling off to work in the city, running my errands & returning to an empty apt. every night. But last month, I finally left the metro area & moved to more rural environs. Now I live in a much smaller "city" & dwell in an actual house on a residential street. Thankfully, for the most part, things here are familiar to me. My housemate (who I've known for 12 years), grew up in this area, so I've spent quite a bit of time in these parts. Relocating seemed like the obvious choice once the opportunity presented itself.

But I've been in transition since November... and I'm tired!

Needless to say, my faith has suffered some. Part of me, at times, just doesn't care about obligations like Mass or confession. And honestly, sometimes I feel like I've slipped back into my Protestant ways, asking "Why" I have to do this or go there or leave that other thing behind. I've realized my problem isn't so much  how busy or tired I am... Its with my willingness to submit to God. When I stay away from the sacraments I would otherwise receive by fulfilling my obligations, I know I am only wounding myself. I don't think God needs me to be at Mass, but the requirement is there for my own well being. If the Church is my mother, it stands to reason that clinging to her & submitting to her can only bring me good... She leads me to her Son, Jesus Christ, in the Body of Christ gathered & in the Eucharist. She magnifies God & sends me off filled with the Holy Spirit. And yet I stay away & try to foster faith on my own. But Catholicism is community... *Throws fit*

I've visited 2 of the 3 Catholic churches in this area over the past year... And I'm going to have to choose one of them to be my new home. It feels a little discouraging. I'm going to have to meet new people & put out extra energy to get involved. Its not exactly my strong suit...


Friday, December 7, 2012

Learning the Liturgy of the Hours

A few years ago, I was poking around a thrift shop & found a copy of Christian Prayer, which is a condensed version of the Liturgy of the Hours. I wasn't even a Catholic yet, but I thought for $4.99, I couldn't go wrong. It's a thick little book, packed full of readings, illustrations, hymns & various writings from Church fathers. I had no idea what the Liturgy of the Hours was, but I kept this book on my shelf in hopes that I would be able to use it some day.

Its admittedly daunting, but I've found a couple resources to help teach me & wanted to share:

http://divineoffice.org/
http://www.universalis.com/

Saturday, November 17, 2012

St. Francis De Sales On Anger

Depend upon it, it is better to learn how to live without being angry than to imagine one can moderate and control anger lawfully; and if through weakness and frailty one is overtaken by it, it is far better to put it away forcibly than to parley with it; for give anger ever so little way, and it will become master, like the serpent, who easily works in its body wherever it can once introduce its head. You will ask how to put away anger. My child, when you feel its first movements, collect yourself gently and seriously, not hastily or with impetuosity. Sometimes in a law court the officials who enforce quiet make more noise than those they affect to hush; and so, if you are impetuous in restraining your temper, you will throw your heart into worse confusion than before, and, amid the excitement, it will lose all self control.

...when we feel stirred with anger, we ought to call upon God for help, like the Apostles, when they were tossed about with wind and storm, and He is sure to say, “Peace, be still.” But even here I would again warn you, that your very prayers against the angry feelings which urge you should be gentle, calm, and without vehemence. Remember this rule in whatever remedies against anger you may seek. Further, directly you are conscious of an angry act, atone for the fault by some speedy act of meekness towards the person who
excited your anger. It is a sovereign cure for untruthfulness to unsay what you have falsely said at once on detecting yourself in falsehood; and so, too, it is a good remedy for anger to make immediate amends by some opposite act of meekness. There is an old saying, that fresh wounds are soonest closed.

St. Francis De Sales, Introduction To The Devout Life

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Becoming Catholic, Becoming Christian

Technically, I've been a Christian for 30 years now, according to my Evangelical Protestant roots. I was received into the Catholic Church this year on April 7th, so I'm now a Catholic on top of being a Christian... Wait... how can this be? To some of my own family members, this sounds like heresy. I am either Catholic or Christian. I can't possibly be both. Or can I? Aren't Catholicism & Christianity two distinct movements that should be separated, or are they in fact, one in the same? How can I become more "Christian" by becoming more Catholic?!

If I were to say something like "Protestantism didn't really change me", the onus would be on me. I probably didn't work hard enough to pray or read my Bible or evangelize. It certainly wouldn't be Protestantism's fault, because so many other Protestants experience powerfully changed lives... why not me?! And if Protestantism didn't make me a better Christian, certainly Catholicism is akin to driving the wrong way on a one way street. But honestly, I always wondered what the "Good News" was- what exactly was I supposed to be sharing? I was always so miserable. The Gospel didn't seem like anything profound to me & I couldn't figure out how to "know" Jesus from the Five Solas. I was literally believing on sheer faith that I was really saved... really forgiven... but I don't think I could never bring myself to actually believe it. "Jesus loves you" was kind of just a catch phrase- more of a profound, uncertain hope I held in my heart than something I was able to grasp... until I became a Catholic.

How did becoming a Catholic reveal God's love to me?
As a Protestant, I was told we are sinners & when we repent, we are instantly forgiven, without consequence. Since no one has to know what we're repenting of, we can do it in secret, where there's no guilt, no shame, no trace left behind (& therefore, no punishment necessary). If I were a parent who attempted to raise my child this way, its a fair bet he or she would have some issues later on in life. Why? because I did not teach the child to a) respect authority, b) that there are consequences for mistakes, c) that mistakes need to be amended if possible & d) that something constructive can always come from the experience. Protestant belief did not teach me these things, but Catholicism did...

As a Protestant, I was taught to pity the Catholics because they were deceived, living by works & law & constantly burdened by guilt... As a Catholic, I now understand that the liturgy, sacraments & disciplines of the Church aren't in place to oppress people & bind them to some archaic standard. These things are meant to teach us, correct us, & guide us in the way we should go. It does that through scripture & tradition both, much like a parent does when  raising a child. Think about it- the parent brings their own history alongside a kind of universal morality in order to groom their offspring for life... But if one or the other are lacking, look out! In my limited experience, I believe becoming a Catholic somehow brings balance to my faith, enabling me to "become"  more  Christian in practice, heart, mind & soul, than ever before.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Flavor of Daily mass

At daily Mass this week, I realized I am not just a warehouse worker... I am a bus driver, a nurse, a retiree. I am a single mother, happily married, tragically divorced, a widower. I am a business man, a priest, a child, a nun, a grandparent. I am a veteran, a student, I have fallen on hard times, I am content & well off in life. I am Asian, African American, Hispanic, Latino, White... I am red & gold... I am violet & green. I am a successor in a long line of martyrs, virgins, apostles & other Saints highlighted in the priest's homily nearly every day as prescribed by the liturgical calendar.

I am the fidgety middle aged woman digging through my purse for papers, keys & beads... I am the portly black lady in a leopard print shawl who prostrates & gesticulates at the threshold of the chapel. I am the white haired lady in the long, puffy white coat who shuffles up to the Tabernacle to say a quick prayer. I am the tiny old couple who sits & reads together in the pew after Mass. And then, I am of course, “me”, gazing quietly at Mary, the Tabernacle & the crucifix, never quite knowing what to say.

Though significantly shorter, there is a flavor to the daily Mass that seems lacking in Sunday Mass. People come just as they "are" & in some ways, it feels more honest. Everyone is there because they want to be, because something- or Someone- has drawn them, not because they are required to be there. I like that...




Daily Mass

I'm not exactly sure why, but I've been going to daily Mass this past week. I guess I wanted to see if it would make a difference. I've been working long hours & am contemplating big changes in my life... My extended family is also going through transition, which directly affects me in various ways. I know when I get worn out, I get stressed out. Its been my custom to use my precious downtime to sleep or engage in mindless activities, but daily Mass, I've found, seems equally, if not more restorative.

I've been attending a noon Mass on the grounds of the Grotto. Its conveniently located between home & work, so I spend 30 minutes at Mass, another 30 in silence before the Tabernacle & then I jaunt off for a quick stroll through the Stations of the Cross, which are situated on a path in a small wooded area. Its the most blessed hour & 15 minutes of my day. I go straight to work & can definitely tell the difference in how I think & interact with my coworkers.

I've begun to recognize the “regulars”- while there are anywhere from 20 to 50 people in attendance, only a handful stay daily. Instead of racing out of the church after the priest, they flip down their kneelers to pray their rosaries or make their way to the front to kneel before the Tabernacle. Others sit & read quietly or ask the intercession of the various saints stationed throughout the chapel. I watch the nuns scurry across the altar area, putting out candles & tidying up... and then the music comes softly over speakers stationed somewhere- monks chanting or church bells chiming. The main lights are dimmed & we are left to our own devices.

Yesterday after Mass, there was an Asian couple behind me a few rows back. I could hear them whispering back & forth & at first, I wondered what they were carrying on about. As I continued listening, I realized they were praying the Rosary together in their native tongue. I only knew this because I adopt the same rhythm when I pray it. I was able to pick out the words “Hail Mary, full of grace”... and “Holy Mary, Mother of God”... And I felt the strangest thing- I felt full inside, full of joy & something else that nearly brought me to tears. It was a sense of connection... Even though we didn't speak the same language, there was something about knowing they were praying the same prayers I pray...

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wounding the Body of Christ

I was recently reading the 1st couple chapters of Lumen Gentium, a document the Vatican put out in the 1960's. There's a part that talks about how sin wounds the Body of Christ. I began to wonder how does an individual's “secret” sin wound the public body? As Christians, we understand the "Body" to be the Church. But instead of a congregation, I got a picture of Christ's own body on the cross. He was not lifted higher than a couple feet off the ground & each of my willful sins was a blow to His side, a fist, a connection, a giving way of His already bruised & bleeding flesh. I observed that my presence hindered others from coming close. What they saw was a distorted view- more my backside than Him. There were others with me... And our “secret” sins exposed us as sinners & usurped Him, wounding His physical body & hindering the body of believers who wished to draw near to Him. 

If He be lifted up, He will draw all men indeed, but our sins can hinder those who want to come to Him. "Let the little children come to Me" He said... Let us also humble ourselves & become as children at His feet, that we may reflect His face & not get in the way of our brothers & sisters.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Branches Remain

I took this picture on a recent camping trip. I suppose there's nothing extraordinary about a hollowed out tree rotting on the forest floor. But something about this one caught my eye. If you look closely, you can see there are branches protruding not from the outside of the tree as you might expect, but from the inside. I drew closer. The branches on the outside were broken off years ago. The tree had mended itself & continued its growth unhindered. But I found it interesting that the branches on the inside corresponded with the wounds on the outside. Something on the inside had remained & continues to rot with the tree, even though the extremities were sawed off & the heart of it was ripped out.

I began to liken that tree to my humanity... How often have I had branches lopped off & thought all was lost... Little did I know there was indeed something left inside... those branches came from within. I would not have known such a thing could be unless I saw that tree rotting on the forest floor. When the external branches were taken by whatever means for whatever reason, I covered my wounds & kept growing. Those branches could represent anything, positive or negative... They could represent hurt or happiness... Trials or talents... anything. But whatever they were, they were extensions of me, are extensions of me...The branches remain.


Six Months Catholic

Easter Vigil feels like forever ago, but this weekend, I celebrate six months as a Catholic. I neglected Mass attendance for an entire month, “threw off fetters” & avoided reconciliation up til yesterday. It had become easy to stay away in some respect, but it took its toll on me emotionally. I felt like a failure & grew darker by the day.

I was recently gifted a book about the sorted lives of saints before they were saints. I devoured it & realized I was no better or worse off than they... If God could make something of them, whose to say He couldn't do the same with me? I decided I couldn't let another weekend slip by without reconciliation. Its not that I feared being caught off guard & dying in mortal sin... I feared the thought of having to exist alone in my pain even more. Don't get me wrong- I repented to God plenty of times over the course of the month, but it wasn't enough to keep me strong. I needed community.

I'm away from my home church this weekend, so I found myself at my “surrogate parish” preparing for confession. My heart raced as I waited in line. I'd never spoken to this priest before. Would he berate me? Would he listen politely, have me recite something & send me off with a quick absolution? Would I leave feeling any better? Would I leave feeling anything? When my time came, I laid it all out & was kind of surprised that he engaged in an actual conversation with me. He sent me off with an Our Father for my penance & a heartfelt reassurance that I am loved by God & am an important part of the Body of Christ. He commended me for coming to confession & encouraged me to come to Mass no matter what... to hold on to the feeling I have when I partake of the Eucharist & to not let anything keep me from It.

I definitely felt different, but my soul didn't soar 0 to 65 as soon as I left the confessional... I was more like an old beater car that needed extra time to warm up. I sputtered through Mass & approached the Eucharist tentatively. I returned to my kneeler kind of numb, but thankful. I'm a six month old Catholic & I think I'm finally beginning to realize that I can't do this on my own. I need the Body of Christ in community & in the sacraments, like a car needs gas & maintenance. It doesn't run of its own volition, neither can I take care of it just because I have a key & some cash. Others need access to it to help keep it going, but they don't come to me... I have to go to them. Daily devotions & prayers aren't enough to sustain me... I need the Mass, the priest, the community. I need reconciliation & the Eucharist and I need not be alone in this...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Is Self Worth Worth My Self?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:1-4 ESV

We think so much of ourselves but forget God... If I thought nothing of myself & everything of God & held His glorification as my highest aim, how would I change? And how would I view others? And how would the Gospel message be transformed in me & subsequently transform me? James says the reason we quarrel is because of desires that don't get met within us. We hate people for what we don't have or can't have or must strive to have. We want this right or that distinction or some credit for our troubles & when we aren't allowed to have it, we puff ourselves up in protest because we are taught our interests are worth fighting for. If we wanted to justify it, we could say something like "we are made in God's image, we are children of the King, we deserve the best because God only wants the best for us". In reality, we only want these things to make ourselves feel better, to make ourselves look good, not necessarily to glorify God. When we do approach God for these things & we think we're being all pious & contrite, are we really planning to put it to good use or will we squander it for our own means?

Is self worth worth my self? That is, do I extract worth from this world? Do I attain worth from my reputation, social or economic status? Do I receive worth from my chosen professed faith? Or do I find my worth in becoming small, in seeking to discipline my self to magnify God's worth first? Giving myself to glorify God glorifies me also... Like the moon to the Sun, its God I reflect when I turn my face toward Him...

The Secret Curmudgeon Part I

Yesterday on the way to work, I felt annoyed by people. This is nothing new. Driving through downtown at lunchtime is always an interesting experience. As I was secretly loathing the lady with the big hair who I had been trailing well below the speed limit for the last 2 miles, God decided to strike up a conversation with me. I suppose it was as good a time as any... I certainly wasn't going anywhere fast. 

He brought up the habit I have of racking up the offenses of my life. When will I ever have “enough” recompense to satisfy all the wrongs done to me? He followed up by reminding me that vengeance is His, it's His to repay. I was suddenly overtaken with a solemn feeling... I've heard this whole line of reasoning before, but this time, it had teeth. I felt the sting as the words sank deep. Am I one of those people... all bitter & curmudgeony? Could this be why I often feel so angry with the world around me?  And what of all my sins? Are they canceled because of all the wrongs done to me? Are they rendered null & void b/c someone owes me? No... But I often live as if that's the case. What justification do I have to hold onto hurt & offense or to believe that my sin can be overlooked because I must live with deficits inflicted by others? My offendedness has always been the card up my sleeve, the leverage point... the thing that makes my badness “ok”. But I'm starting to see things differently.

As a Protestant, I heard the forgiveness message more times than I can count. I know the “forgive & you will be forgiven” scriptures. I know the parables about what happened to people who didn't forgive... I thought I'd forgiven quite thoroughly. But my gut is rank & what I've been doing is the equivalent of shoving antacid down my gullet to stave off the truth. I need to change the way I “eat”. I may eat lots of good things, but it only takes one serving of offense to sour the whole “stomach”.

I've begun to wonder if being a Catholic has somehow changed my understanding of forgiveness. We of course didn't have the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Assemblies... we simply said our prayers to God in private. Sometimes a preacher would call people up to the stage & he/she would encourage those gathered to speak out the name of the offender(s) or offense(s) to be forgiven. But no one was really listening... that is, it was nothing like sitting down with a priest. Specially trained lay ministers would work the crowd, make their way to those weeping, hand out tissues & pray soothing words, read scripture, rub backs & hold trembling hands... Of course, we were told forgiveness isn't a feeling... but the emotional folks always seemed to “score more points” with the ministers. I was one of those frustratingly un-emotional folks when it came to those kinds of altar calls. I said the right words & always assumed I had done what I could, but I never felt much different. I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation has played a significant role in opening my eyes to what forgiveness actually means...

The Secret Curmudgeon Part II

Forgiveness is the very same Gospel Christ preached to us.  It should have been obvious, but it wasn't. When I was a Protestant, I understood the Good News was for other people- a one time thing for me- once forgiven, always forgiven, no matter what. But the Gospel wasn't for me anymore, it was for the "unsaved". No wonder it never changed my life. Merely being forgiven isn't quite the same as being saved. To borrow Luther's example, I was nothing more than “snow covered dung”.  I suppose to certain kinds of Protestants, the Gospel can never actually change the reality of the dung... It can only mask it. We were always told that when God looks at us, He sees Christ because Christ covers us. But we are still worthless scum underneath... 

In Catholicism, the Gospel of forgiveness seems to assign worth to my depravity & I suddenly become transformed from a rotting eyesore or a pedestrian hazard to fertilizer or fuel... “Behold the old has passed away”, I'm a “new creation in Christ” & all of that. The Gospel is supposed to transform us so we can help others grow & move forward, not merely cover us so as to hide us with whitewash. That was me, a white washed tomb, a snow covered turd. I wore forgiveness like a fresh coat of paint, like I just got a free gift. It was free, wasn't it? That's what we were told when we prayed the prayer... I was told we ought to forgive because Christ forgave us, but it wasn't a requirement to get into heaven. All we had to do was receive His forgiveness, confess His name, believe we're saved in our hearts & it was a done deal. I was heaven bound no matter what. I never truly believed this in my heart (which is why I became a Catholic), but I sure lived with this mindset for many years.

The Gospel is still as much for me now as it is for an "unsaved" person. I wouldn't have realized this except for the constant reference to it in the Catholic Church. The Good News is that Christ has saved us, is saving us & will save us ultimately unto the next life- if we persevere. And we persevere not by resting in His forgiveness for ourselves, but extending that same forgiveness to others. The extension of forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel that Christ preached. What point is there if it ends with me? In the Lord's Prayer, we always say "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..." and for the first time, I'm beginning to understand what that means & just how difficult (but necessary) it is. No wonder we follow by saying "& lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.". Its so easy to be tempted by offense...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Letter

“You already know my feelings... I can only pray that you find your way back to the truth...”

“You may be intelligent in some things, but you still have a lot to learn. Have you forgotten that the ROMANS persecuted the Christians? They sent lions in to eat them alive & burned them.”

These are a couple quotes from a letter a family member sent recently. I wonder which of the many persecutions she could have been referring to- and if she was aware that the “Romans” who persecuted the Christians in the Coliseum (to which I'm assuming she's making her reference to) were part of the political pagan Roman empire, not the Roman Catholic Church.

After my conversion, I sent her some books containing the basics of the Catholic expression of faith. I asked her to take a look at them because I wanted to know what she thought. I was hoping she would at least concede that Catholics are Christians. She told me how she had friends who grew up Catholic or converted- when she was a kid. She said she'd been to a Mass (pre-Vatican II) & was raised Episcopal, which, she asserted, is similar to Catholic. Then she told me about her own supernatural conversion experience in the Assemblies of God & how she began to see many things wrong with so many other churches after that. Of course she did. That's what I grew up learning too. Only the Assemblies & the other Charismatic / Pentecostal denominations had the fullness of truth. Baptists came in a close second & all the rest of em' were woefully deceived. As for the Catholic Church, we always considered it a cult of idol worshipers & the seat of the coming Anti-Christ. It was certainly NOT Christian. At least that's what I thought till I undertook my own study of the faith.

I was sad to find that the majority of her letter was very bitter, very combative, demanding respect & demeaning my limited experiential knowledge of life & the Catholic faith. There wasn't a lick of compassion nor a smidgeon of humility on her part. She's not interested in knowing why I converted & I am clearly some kind of idiot as far as she's concerned. Contrary to her perceptions, I wasn't trying to assert my beliefs as truth. I just wanted her to know what I've come to believe because its an important part of my life. She wanted to know why I didn't come to my family with my questions. Little did she know that my family inadvertently helped steer me toward the Catholic Church... But she sees my conversion as an assault, a betrayal. I've crossed over enemy lines. She said she still loves me & always will, but she views this whole experience as a personal failure on her part. I don't intend to try & convince her otherwise. Its just not worth the time & effort. All I can do is try & live my life as well as I can.




Sunday, September 23, 2012

Purchasing Worth

I was a little sad this morning when I went to my school's website & checked the box confirming that I wanted to drop the class... Fall term starts tomorrow, but hours at work have increased to the point where I'm typically coming home well after midnight, winding down & sleeping 8 hours till noon. I wake & am back on the road to work by 2. School is unthinkable at the moment. I was able to carry all my credits working as many as 30 hours, but I struggled & felt like the walking dead. So I'm going to focus on one thing at a time: pay down my loans, get debt free & then go back to school on my own dime, at my own pace. It will be slow, but in the times we find ourselves in, I think its unwise to a) incur further debt & b) run my health into the ground.

Some part of me feels like this is the equivalent of giving up, of admitting that I can't measure up to those I know with Masters degrees & beyond. Quitting school, even if momentarily, makes me feel like a failure, an ignoramus, an underachiever. There are plenty of single adults raising kids, working multiple jobs & going to school... some are fighting addiction or dealing with divorce or some other tragedy... and they show up to class every morning. They're going to be nurses, teachers, community leaders. And what about me? What's wrong with me? Am I a nothing because I don't have a degree? I work in a warehouse, where I've been nearly 6 years now. I'm called "unskilled" in the professional world, but I'm there Monday through Friday, do my job well & am praised & paid accordingly. I do alright. But some part of me still feels like if I don't have a paper, I'm nothing. In reality, this is pure crap. Every human life, whatever the poverty or prosperity, whatever the education or lack thereof, is at its core, worth something. At least that's how the spiel goes. I guess tonight I'm not really buying it...

I hate how the world today assigns value to money & privilege. If you go to school, you're typically more respectable in society. If you get a Master's, you have a little more leverage. If you become a Ph.D, you've shown you can be a leader who is willing to sacrifice your life for the cause of educating others in some way. But if you are an unskilled worker, you're a dime a dozen. You don't have the same worth an "educated" person does. You get paid less, work more & are subject to the occasional idiocy of the corporate mind. You keep your head down & do as you're told because you know you are expendable. So how is it Jesus & His 12 "unskilled" disciples impacted the world?

I have a feeling we've got this whole thing backwards... Where did Jesus ever inspire us to get ahead, to sacrifice all for personal success & knowledge? Knowledge is not the same as experiential wisdom... Its not the same as relationship. And wasn't He always talking about turning the other cheek, preferring others above ourselves & loving one another as God loves us? Yeah, we need educated people in the world.  But I don't think it should be the definitive mold for worth as it seems to have become.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Spiritual Jenga

Ok. So I'm just going to say it- I occasionally have a problem with purity (& I don't think I'm alone!). In the Church, I notice this is an issue most associated with teenage boys or sex addicts, but what about ordinary single adults? I know the Catechism has definitive things to say about it, but I don't often hear the wisdom of the Catechism acknowledged with favor.

When I was a Protestant, things stayed between me & God. I “repented” & called it good. As a Catholic, I'm immediately aware that I'm forfeiting unity with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Still, I try to reason: God knows my heart; I try my best 99 ¼ % of the time... One cookie won't hurt... I can always go to confession...

A Perspective On Persecution

I've been thinking about how the saints of old seemed to welcome persecution. It was an honour to suffer for the Name of the Lord, to be counted as a martyr. These days, the idea of a martyr is more synonymous with the religious, fanatical suicide bombers or a few high minded political protestors than with the advance of the Gospel. Persecution is a problem in other countries, not here! Here in America, we try hard to practice tolerance for all. Those who fail are labeled small-minded bigots & the so called persecuted get their own charitable foundation(s) & a voice in government to speak out against the suppression of their civil rights. Here, we wage war with money, words & technology, but things usually don't end with torture or death anymore. Everyone has a right to their opinion. Of course it would be ignorant to say that pockets of actual persecution don't occur within our borders, but those rogue acts aren't sanctioned or supported by the law. The persecution the saints endured WAS. It was national, it was international. If you were found to be a Christian, you were maimed & /or killed, by law. And it still happens today, all over the world in various places.

As a Catholic, I hear a lot more slurs regarding my faith than when I was just an evangelical protestant. I'm part of a cult, I condone abuse, I worship Mary, wafers & saints. I talk to dead people, I think the Pope is God & I believe only what I'm told because I'm not allowed to think for myself. Of course these things are misconceptions. While they're not torture or life threatening, they are, in fact, a subtle form of persecution that almost every Catholic will hear in their lifetime. But persecution knows no bounds as "PTL!", the tables are easily turned on those self righteous Bible thumpers who see demons under ever rock (There. See how easy that was?)...

Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my Name.” We're told in Acts that Saul was a young man at the time of Stephen's stoning... He was also a Pharisee & would have known of Jesus... Maybe he saw Him in the temple or the synagogue. He may have heard Him preach. Maybe he was in the vicinity of Jesus' sentencing & crucifixion. I get the impression that Saul & Jesus weren't exactly strangers. So when Jesus asked him why he was persecuting Him, I think in today's language it might sound like: “What the... what're you thinking, Saul?! We're on the same side!” If Saul were on a basketball team, he would have dunked in his own net & scored for the other guys. Saul knew the Law & he knew the words & works of both Jesus & His followers. But somehow he still didn't recognize Jesus' voice on the road to Damascus. Saul thought he knew Jesus & His followers, but we see here that he didn't. He thought he knew God's heart, but clearly, he was mistaken.

How often are we Catholics or Protestants like Saul... hot on the road to Damascus, with our own agenda to police the truth as we understand it? And what do we do when God has other plans & stops us cold in our tracks? Blind as bats, do we rage & stumble down the road or are we humbled & led by the hand of a companion? Like Saul, are we willing to sit with things for a few days & wait for God to bring about understanding & consequent healing? Saul probably could have ordered some people to go in his stead & finish what He started. But his encounter with God must've shaken him up. I'd stay put too! Imagine what it must've felt like to realize he was offending the very God whose truth he sought to defend & emulate. Though it seemed like this was Saul's sole prospect & purpose in life, I wonder if he had ever had a real encounter with the living God like this one? Was Saul more like those who know scripture & theology, are in church every time the doors are open & still don't have a clue what being a Christian actually means? If he was, he would certainly never be the same again. Once those scales fell from his eyes, he was a changed man, joining forces with the very community he persecuted. 
 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Listening

I just spent roughly 5 days camping out at a lake 4,793 ft above sea level. Since I typically exist at a meager 300 ft, it was a bit of a stretch the first couple days for these asthmatic lungs. Eventually, I acclimated, as I do every year.



I'm always amazed by the rhythm of nature. Each living creature has a part to play & knows when to come on stage. In the evening, just after the sun collapsed behind the mountains, the wind would pick up & clouds of dragonfly nymphs would begin to fly in off the water. Fish seemed to sprout wings as they launched themselves into the air in hopes of nabbing a tasty treat. Large moths joined the flurry of activity & spiders began rappelling from the trees to catch whatever came their way. As the last glow of light faded, innumerable bats came out of nowhere, flitting about & dipping close to the water... One night they were so plentiful, it was harrowing to walk the few feet down to the outhouse. Once darkness had fallen, the harvestmen would come crawling like clockwork... over feet, up pant legs & onto the chess board in the glow of firelight...

In the morning, groups of loons & mergansers would begin their trips across the lake. They seemed to follow each other at a distance, zigging & zagging out from the shoreline into the center of the lake & then back again come evening. When one bird plunged into the depths, the others would follow & then bob back up, one by one. Little birds frequented the small foliage & underlying brush, joined by chipmunks, mice & other rodents. Stellar jays screamed through the trees like madmen & other larger birds stopped by to see what we had for lunch. A particular osprey favored a nearby dead tree to perch in throughout the day. It frequently made its presence known with loud, shrill chirps to its mate circling the lake. Bald eagles would compete for fish, drifting to & fro, waiting for the right moment to persuade the osprey to drop it's catch... Creepers & dippers came to visit our side of the lake as well. One morning, I spotted a dipper in the shallows (he's a small, grey bird with a strange tic-like bobbing movement)... I noted that he had an interesting song & found myself smiling as I listened & watched him bob & weave through the water. He reminded me of a vaudevillian performer, dancing & singing something akin to show toons... I half expected Uncle Remus & his friendly little bluebird to join in.

Living creatures communicated with one another, but no sound seemed wasted. Every sound was purposeful, unlike the noise we humans create in our everyday lives. As I encountered nature this week, I noticed I felt more grounded. There is a purpose, an order to existence & I began to feel as though I could find my own purpose & order therein. No human dictated to these creatures what to do & when... & yet there's a profound wisdom in the patterns they live out each day. I feel safe knowing that I'm part of these primitive cycles. Though I'm supposedly wiser than the "senseless beasts", God has given all living things a part to play & provides for their needs. They don't need money, degrees, prestige or even a command of the human language to do what they do. They simply "are" as God "is"... They communicate with a voice that translates into any culture & they are perhaps the greater teachers to those willing to listen...


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Divine Mercy

I don't have time to expound on the history of this devotion or how to specifically pray it, but I wanted to post the text because its become very close to my heart. My favorite line is toward the end: "...look kindly upon us & increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent...".

I began praying it after my last visit to reconciliation. The priest assigned me a light penance, but I felt the Spirit also encourage me to learn the Divine Mercy & be faithful to pray it every evening. As I read over the words, I wondered what good this could possibly do me. It wasn't until last week that I realized I wasn't doing it just for me. The Divine Mercy is actually an intercessory form of prayer & it went hand in hand with the penance I had been assigned.

The Divine Mercy

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls & the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O fount of life, unfathomable divine mercy, envelop the whole world & empty yourself out upon us. O blood & water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you!

Our Father...
Hail Mary... 
Apostle's Creed...

Eternal Father, I offer you the body & blood, soul & divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins & those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us & on the whole world. Holy God, Holy mighty One, Holy immortal One, have mercy on us & on the whole world. Eternal God, in Whom mercy is endless & the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us & increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love & mercy itself. Amen.


I used to wonder how I could offer God the body, blood, soul & divinity of His son for atonement of my sins & those of the whole world. Didn't Jesus already do that? Yes, but this offering is more of a memorial, a way of saying to God, "Remember that day your Son died & have mercy on us for His sake, as long as it is called today, for today is the day of salvation"... Its like when people in the Old Testament cried out to God saying, "Remember your covenant with your people, oh Lord!" And He did. Its like the sacrifice of the Mass- the very same Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity are re-presented, but in the Divine Mercy prayer, its symbolic. We offer God the memory of that defining act of salvation with thanksgiving & petition, that He would continue to remember us & forgive us our sins so we may be saved on the last day...

Monday, September 3, 2012

De-Staticizing

Sometimes I feel very strongly about things & want to give way to stage 4 emotional rapids via the written word. It feels more authentic when I'm full of feeling, full of vim & vigor. But I've learned through experience that this isn't often a wise way to communicate. Negative emotions in particular can take on physical effects. Like static electricity, they can cause a reaction that, while temporary, can spark emotional fires, stand emotional hairs on end & even take on emotional attachments. Negative emotions, when fully charged, can be dangerous, scary & an embarrassment to both the owner & whoever dares draw near.

The problem is, my thoughts don't seem quite as authentic if I let them sit for an hour or a day & then go back & edit. It feels like censorship. It feels like hiding. But that's a misconception. What I'm really doing is engaging in self-discipline. Its a kind of “de-staticizing” that diffuses the potency of my emotions for everyone's “safety”, mine included. But is that authentic? I think it can be, depending on my heart.

When I practice self-discipline, I'm actually taking care of myself as much as I'm watching out for whoever's on the receiving end. Getting things out on paper & then setting them aside is like boiling bad tap water & letting it cool. It was contaminated, but the boiling purifies it. And it has to boil for a while. Since I obviously can't drink it straight from the stove, I have to set it aside & let it cool. Once cooled, I can use it for anything... to drink, to bathe, to cook with. The same goes for those emotions. Time changes perspective & makes strong feelings a little safer, a little more palatable. I'm not here to be poisoned by my negative emotions or to poison other people. Sometimes self-discipline is an act of sheer "grit your teeth" selflessness & that's a really hard act to follow when anger, pain, grief or worry are involved. I want my vindication, I want my voice to be heard. I don't want to mince words. But if I don't let my emotions cool, I'll just end up getting burned in the end & burns leave scars...

Hidden In Christ

This weekend, I'm staying at a friend's house for a couple days. We're heading out of town for a week long camping trip to a mountain lake & most of my stuff is packed in the car. The rest is tucked into closets & drawers & under her bed. The house happens to be on the market & much to everyone's surprise, someone wanted to come see it today (of all days, Labor Day). The bar-b-q trimmings were all cleaned up & a flurry of activity ensued. Everything had to be ship shape when we left. If I were anywhere else, I would feel nervous about cramming my stuff into someone else's closets & crannies. I might never see it again. I might forget about it or “lose” it temporarily. But I feel ok about it here because I know my stuff is safe. How do I know that? Because this is like my second home.

As I was replaying this scenario in my mind, I began to think about what it means to be hidden in Christ. What would it look like to hide “me” in Christ? My stuff, my person hood, everything I use to survive, all of “me”, crammed into His closets & crannies... Would I feel safe doing that? Is He “home” enough to me? Do I trust Him that much? There's a risk involved- I could forget something, lose something, even perceive something as being held hostage, stolen, used up or loaned out against my will... But I don't feel that way at my friend's house. Even if something inadvertently got left, whats mine is hers & whats hers is mine. I'm not worried about what she'd do with it. I wouldn't even think to accuse her of theft & I wouldn't demand anything back from her. I trust her & know she would make things right.
 
Do I feel the same way about Jesus? I wish I could offer a hearty “YES!” but if I'm honest with myself, even after 30 years, I still don't feel at home in His house yet. I'll hang out in the parlor, sip coffee & listen to stories, but I'm not quite ready to sack out in the guest room, rent out His basement or take His hand in marriage. I come & I go, afraid to overstay my welcome. What would it mean to be truly “hidden in Christ", to accept His invitation to stay, to say His home is my home, what's His is mine & what's mine is His? What would it be like to trust so deeply that I wouldn't fear losing my life, being held hostage or stolen from, used up or betrayed?

Colossians 3:1-3  Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God.  Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)


The Path of Christ

I attended my 2nd Novus Ordo Mass in Latin Saturday evening. I was able to follow along in the guide provided by picking out strategically repeated phrases like “Oremus” (Let us pray) or “Dominus vobiscum” (the Lord be with you), to which the we reply “Amen” or “Et cum spiritu tuo” (and with your spirit). I tried my hand at pronouncing most responses in time with everyone else (the Mass is sung), but I'm fairly certain I butchered the hades out of 'em. Try keeping up with the old timers during the Creed: “Et in Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.” (I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, Who proceeds from the Father & the Son). I finally gave up at the Our Father "Panem nostrum cotidianum da nobis hodie, et dimitte nobis debita nostra..." (Give us this day our daily bread & forgive us our trespasses) & decided to sit back & listen to the choir flood the sancturary with song.

I really want to start experiencing Latin more because its part of my history. My forefathers in the faith experienced Latin at every Mass. Though some things have changed since Vatican II in the 1970's, the heart of the Mass is still the same. Those who have gone before me were exposed to much of the same ritual & prayers. The same incense filled their sanctuaries & they partook of the same Body & Blood. I tried to imagine my own patron saint, Francis De Sales, taking part in the Mass 500 years ago as they recited the Creed together or prayed the Our Father.

As I drank in the "smells & bells" of the service, I found myself gazing ahead to Station 12, where Jesus dies. His skin was stretched so thinly over His ribs, I almost expected Him to gasp for breath & burst. While newer churches have small, 2 dimensional depictions made of metal or wood, its always particularly striking to enter an older church & see the Stations of the Cross come to life in sculpture. Statues of saints were also prominently displayed. This something I admire about Catholic churches- new & old- the Gospel is everywhere. The Stations of the Cross, in some form, are posted around the sanctuary. The saints aren't so prevalent in the newer parishes, but they're still noticeable in many of the older ones. There's usually a crucifix or a depiction of Jesus that greets your eye as you walk in, much like how a photo of a deceased loved one is prominently displayed at a funeral. But this is no funeral. This is a celebration of the grace & privilege of getting to partake in the death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Take up your cross & follow Me”, He says. Follow Him where? Where do you think? To the cross & to the grave, so we can be raised up to new life? Nonsense. He went to the cross for us, He died for us & was raised for us so we don't have to go through all that. We're gonna follow Him straight to heaven!

But when does He or any of the New Testament writers ever say that? The Church confronts each one of us who steps foot into a Catholic sanctuary with this sobering statement: This is Christ & this is His path. It begins with suffering & ends with death. I've always been peeved that the Stations end with Christ's burial. Obviously we know He rose from the dead & lives today. But its almost as if the Stations ask us to take this on faith because we are called to follow Him only this far- unto death. Its only when we die to ourselves, like the marriage vow (“til death do us part”), that we are free to be espoused to our Lord & Savior in Spirit & in Truth. Only then can we know & live the life He has for us. 

Giving All For the Giver

It's been over a year since I've recorded anything or led a group in song. Some think this is a crying shame, but I've quite enjoyed the freedom from creative pressure. Since my music has its roots in prayer & worship, I've never been interested in giving my all for entertainment purposes or to win an audience. I once had a friend who would have given her very soul to be able to make music. She pursued it with gusto, even though it never took her anywhere. I've often thought to myself that I will never "give all” to pursue any gift, great or small. It seems fool hearty to invest in one thing with all you've got without a guarantee for a return.

Lately, I've felt reprimanded, hearing my Still, Small Voice saying: “In giving your all for a gift, you're giving your all for the Giver.”. I'm reminded of the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:41-30). The one who kept his talent thought he was doing good because he was keeping it safe for the Master. But it was this one who gained the Master's anger. The other two received praise because they took what they had & invested. They were considered more faithful, even though they could have lost everything.

I'm also reminded of the parable of the treasure buried in a field (Matt. 13:44-50). Why did the man sell all he had to purchase the field when he could have just dug the stuff up & called it his? Did he think he would find more out there? Was it the thrill of potential that lured him? How long did it take to sell everything & why would he forsake all for this patch of land that could one day prove unfruitful? Was the parable really even about the treasure or was it more about the sacrifice the man made to acquire the place in which it lay hidden? Which was the true gift? The treasure or the field? And in giving all for the field, we see the man not only gained it, but also the treasure within.

“In giving your all for a gift, you're giving your all for the Giver.” What will I give for the gifts given me by God? When I stand before Him on the final day, I want to show Him more than a talent. I want to show Him a field full of treasure...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Tasty Morsel From Sirach 34:14-20

Living is the spirit of those who fear the Lord, for their hope is in their Savior. 
Those who fear the Lord are afraid of nothing and are never discouraged, 
for He is their hope. Happy the soul that fears the Lord! 
In Whom does he trust, and Who is his support?

The eyes of the Lord are upon those who love Him; 
He is their mighty shield and strong support,
A shelter from the heat, 
a shade from the noonday sun, 
a guard against stumbling, 
a help against falling.

He lifts up spirits, 
brings a sparkle to the eyes, 
gives health and life and blessing.

Sunday Morning Moment

Before
This weekend, I'm out of town. There are only 3 churches here over a 20 mile radius (compared to my 50+ choices in the metro area). I can only make 1 within 15 minutes & its my last chance to meet my "Sunday obligation". On days like this, it honestly just seems like a pain in the butt. I want to sleep in, hang out till noon in my pajamas & have my morning coffee. How could taking a break from Sunday Mass possibly send me to hell? My priest at home preaches grace & encourages me to get to Mass sometime during the week if I miss Sunday. Its no big deal, as long as I've not set my heart on turning from God. This kind of grace, I get. And still, because of a healthy guilt complex, I reluctantly showered. Mindful of the hour fasting requirement, I even abstained from coffee & breakfast. Sigh... what's an hour to the Lord? Just a moment really... just a nothing. What difference will  my presence in church make in the grand scheme of things?

After
So I did it. I endured. I've visited this parish many times & am used to its "down home, southern gospel-esque" responses...  I'm used to the banter of familiarity & how they ferret out visitors or those with birthdays & anniversaries. I keep quiet & try & blend in so no one finds me out... One thing I love about the Catholic Church is no matter where I am or what "style" a particular parish engages in, the Mass is still the same. I stifled yawns & fidgeted in my pew... said the correct responses & tried to focus in on Christ.

When it came time for communion, I shuffled out of the pew with everyone else & prayed "Help me discern the Body.". As I approached the priest & bowed, He said what all priests say as he held out the bread: "The Body of Christ". I replied "Amen" as I took it from my hand & ate. And I have to tell you, I felt a subtle current of joy bubbling up within me as I walked back to my pew. It was like someone toggled a dimmer & the light kept getting brighter. I suddenly felt more awake. I was overwhelmed with thankfulness and then Jesus' phrase from today's Gospel reading came back to mind: "Does this shock you?" What's an hour to the Lord? Just a moment really... but what a difference that moment can make.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Gideon's Strength

This past week, one of the daily readings came from Judges 6 where the Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon. Something stood out to me that I never saw before: The Angel told Gideon to “Go in the strength that you have”. The Angel didn't say “Go in the strength I will give you” or “Go in the strength of your forefathers.” He said to go in the strength that he had... right then, at that moment.

It would be helpful to remember that the Angel found Gideon beating out wheat in a wine press- that is, he was trying to hide what he was doing for fear of the oppressive Midianites. Gideon assured the angel he had the wrong guy. He was just a nobody... the low man on the totem pole of the lowest family in Israel. What would God want with him?

Relativism

I have a custom of listening to Catholic radio on my way home from work each night. I recently caught an episode of  "Life On the Rock", with guest Chris Stefanick. He's written a booklet called "Absolute Relativism, the New Dictatorship & What To Do About It" & gave a sobering statistic that 93% of teenagers don't believe in absolute truth. I'm not sure how accurate that number is, but the evidence is clear in our culture today among kids & adults alike.

I realized this evening that I have in fact done a great injustice by trying to embrace all under an umbrella of tolerance... If I believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth & the Life, I can't say that I don't approve of this or that but its ok for you because you aren't bound to the same beliefs I am. That's like I saying I really don't believe what I believe...  Do I believe Jesus is Who He said He was or not? And if so, He is the Way, the Truth & the Life not only for me, but for you & every soul on this earth! Whatever you think about it doesn't really matter. And here, I feel like I've stumbled into some sort of haughtiness. Are my beliefs really superior to yours? And if they're not, why do I cling to them? Why are my beliefs worth believing for me if they have no value to others?

I've often been told that Christians aren't supposed to hold the secular world to the same standards of God's truth because the world doesn't concern itself with God. To enforce conformity seems barbaric in this day and age. And yet the secular world asks (& sometimes demands) that everyone else embrace conformity to its own relativism- live & let live...  what's true for you may not be true for me, but we all deserve acceptance, civil rights, etc. 

When I neglect to stand firm on something, no matter who I'm talking to or what situation I find myself in, what I believe actually ceases to matter. I become like a wave of the sea, tossed about by every breeze. But if I stand firm, I'm like a rock... better yet, a lighthouse that distinguishes the shoreline in the darkness- yes, there is a definitive border here & yes, you will suffer consequences if you don't heed the warning. Is that haughty? Or is that a kindness, a grace, a more true representation of Jesus' gospel message of hope & truth?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Expanding Marriage Part 2

I realize in my last post, Expanding Marriage, I was coming from a somewhat impossible religious view. What about those who have no faith base or aren't interested in the Church's moral arguments? I'd almost think the Church is being brutish, standing up against issues like abortion or gay marriage... for allowing gays among their members as long as they aren't in an active relationship. What right does the Church have to regulate sexuality or life outside of it's boundaries? An abortion could save an unwed mother a lifetime of debt & hardship. A gay marriage could provide a couple with stability & love for the rest of their lives. A LGBT etc. relationship in a Christian context could be a good example to all because the partners love God as much as they love each other. Why be a wedge between happiness & stability? Condemning abortion, gay marriage & gay Christian relationships seems antithetical to unity within the Church & without.

Expanding Marriage

Today a couple who celebrated 50 years of marriage stood before the church (with their original witnesses!) & received a nuptial blessing from the priest. He blessed the wife & the husband separately & then as one, citing the mystery of Christ & the church as its reflected in the complementary marriage of man & woman. Just as the two become one flesh, so I am called to become one with Christ.

It suddenly became clear to me why the definition of marriage can't possibly be extended to include LGBT etc. The issue of “gay” marriage is not so much based on who deserves what because it's fair... In the secular, "civil" world, I agree that gay marriage seems good, feasible & even necessary. There's a growing, yet marginalized culture of people who identify with alternative sexual orientation(s) out there. Why can't 2 consenting adults live together with the same rights & privileges that a heterosexual couple enjoy? Why can't they raise children & receive assistance, credits & other benefits within a civilly recognized marriage like heterosexuals have? Why are the marginalized being punished for who they are?

Slaves of Mary, Quite Contrary

The day of consecration has come & gone... I had planned to do it on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (August 15th), but didn't feel quite ready. So I decided to do a review of the last 2 weeks & move the consecration date to the 22nd of August (which is a feast in honour of the queenship of Mary), but after speaking with my priest, I don't feel nearly as compelled as I was in the beginning. He didn't have much to say about the act of consecration to Jesus through Mary, only that there are some things in the Catholic church that are just as kooky as the people who came up with them. Even a few of the best known saints had “problems”, but many of them came up with valid devotional expressions we still use today. I was encouraged to be discerning & not feel compelled to accept everything as gospel just because it bears the name “Catholic”. If it resonates with me, great. If it seems “off”, I don't need to bother with it. His advice put me at ease- though I came this far, I'm not a failure or any less devout if I don't go through with "total consecration".

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Scandal

“Children should not be afraid of the follower of Jesus.” George Macdonald

In light of seemingly endless scandal, my instant thought was a that child should absolutely be afraid of a follower of Jesus these days as much as a stranger on the schoolyard. It seems that some have become strangers not only to Christ & His body, but unto themselves. Its unfortunate that priests & other ministers of the gospel are among them.

Act of Contrition

I finally memorized it, but do I really “fear the loss of heaven & pains of hell”? Am I really concerned with having offended God by my sins? Do I really detest them? And if so, just how firmly am I resolving to let God's grace help me “confess my sins, do penance & amend my life”?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I recently hung out with an old friend of mine from my previous church. She was telling me about a weekend thing she went to & how God revealed Himself to her in a greater way through a series of organized teaching events & hands on spiritual exercises. Instantly, my preconceived notions kicked in. The thought of tongues, dancing & weird manipulative moments jostled my memories as she described the general atmosphere. I was familiar with the church that sponsored the ministry & felt my insides cringe. For the sake of all, I won't name names.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Way IS the Highway

Today I headed to confession & was taken aback by all the vehicles in the church parking lot. I felt disturbed by this, not sure where I could expect to find all these people (certainly not standing in line for reconciliation!), so I kept going. Usually the lot is empty, save the few cars that belong to the ministers. I was expecting to spend some time alone in a quiet sanctuary, but it wasn't meant to be.


My church sits at the edge of a rural area & one turn off the main road can send you driving for what seems like forever. I took one of those turns & navigated the windy mountain roads for a good 20 minutes past ritzy houses, forest & farmland, only to pop back out where I had begun. I headed for the highway, reminded that confession would be heard at a church across town. I passed by that church & made another large loop through the residential streets. Again, I came out where I had begun. I wasn't lost, just avoiding. Somewhere along the way, I ended up talking myself out of it altogether & decided I would just make an appointment. 

As I was driving back toward home alongside a roaring freight train, I thought about my circuitous route that ultimately left me tired & in much the same state I had left in. I won't be able to partake of the Eucharist Sunday, so why bother even going to Mass? I may as well skip it & confess that too. But that's the wrong way to think about confession. I decided to stop by a coffee shop to grab an iced beverage & cool my jets. I sat outside & watched people, called a friend & shot the breeze.

When it comes down to it, I avoided reconciliation because I wanted things my way. But my way cost me the Eucharist. If anything, it'll remind me that seeking my own interests (via sin) & then avoiding God's grace (because its not convenient or comfortable) severs my ability to really be one with Christ... It keeps me going in circles. And that's the whole point of faith, isn't it, to be one with Christ? What's the point of mine? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bit By Bit

Well, here I am rounding the homestretch with consecration to Jesus through Mary. I've actually been at it for 40 days now, having done the 12 day preparation twice. Week 3 focuses on the knowledge of Jesus in light of what I learned about Mary in the 2nd week & myself in the 1st. You would think after a month of devotional reading, prayer & contemplation, I would be sporting a strong spirit... but I feel weaker than ever. Quite frankly, I feel powerless over my propensity to sin & it pisses me off! How can I possibly consecrate myself to Christ in this state?

As I was writing the gist of these things in my journal, that Still Small Voice responded “You're now in the perfect position to succeed... My strength is made perfect in weakness- not just any weakness, but profound weakness. When you can't do any more, there I Am...”

I've come to the realization that consecration is not a one time event or even a daily one. Its second by second, bit by bit. Each moment is an opportunity for success or failure, no matter how holy or profane one claims to be. As long as I am human, I will be facing this conundrum. The question then becomes not how can I possibly consecrate myself to Christ in this state, but when? And the answer is always. I can always turn to Him as long as I have my faculties.

When I'm in the midst of sin or despair, I've learned to keep praying for help. Even if I'm far from true sorrowful repentance, I still pray. I turn myself over to God even as my flesh drags me backward by the collar. There are some days I resolve not to fall (& actually succeed ) & others where I'm in awe of my blatant failure. Still, every moment is an opportunity for consecration to Christ. I don't have to be holy to turn myself in... I just have to be willing to concede that I am who I am: powerless & in need of a Savior... not just once in my life or even daily, but second by second, bit by bit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Luring God

In the beginning, I thought I understood what it meant to partake of the Bread & the Wine & the whole of Mass, but its so much more than I can comprehend. It truly is awe inspiring. I was surprised to realize I'm still not used to believing Jesus is actually present or that what actually happens at the altar is holy. The priest isn't just some guy in a frock... He is ordained by God to consecrate the bread & wine that we may be fed with the Body & Blood of Christ. He is given the right to shepherd the sheep & hopefully to deliver us to God no worse for wear.

To strip the spiritual reality from the outward expression makes the Mass nothing more than a gathering of inanimate objects & people. As a Protestant, I was heavily indoctrinated to believe the church was just a building & the pastor was just a guy who graduated from seminary. The presence of God was “out there” somewhere until 2 or 3 of us gathered. And even so, God only came at our bidding. So we prayed & sang till we laughed or cried in order to “lure” Him in. The bread & the wine (or in this case, the saltine fragment & grape juice) were the same whether they come from the foot of the altar or the grocery store. We only partook once a quarter for the sake of symbolism, nothing more.

In the Mass, we don't gather to try & attract God to us. We go to Him. He is present in the building before, during & after our activities there. We approach with this understanding by showing reverence toward the altar & signing ourselves with the cross & with water to remind us of our baptism. We come to God acknowledging our faults, thanking Him for His salvation, and committing to following Him after hearing the Word. He freely feeds us with Bread & Wine, Word & Spirit, Body & Blood, that we may be sustained on our journey. Sure, many times we leave like any other Christian with our car keys & bulletins in hand, but we also leave with Christ in us, “the Hope of Glory”. Lord, I am Catholic for a reason. Help me remember why.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Gift of Guilt

I used to think guilt was a bad thing. In my (Pentecostal, Charismatic, Evangelical) Protestant upbringing, guilt was unacceptable. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! He came to wash all my guilt away! Abiding such a thing was unthinkable... it was a flagrant slap in the face of God. Entertaining guilt was akin to entertaining the devil himself. Best not give him a foothold...

But as a Catholic, I'm actually starting to feel thankful for my guilt... Without guilt, there's no true contrition (*sincere repentance or remorse) & no true change occurs. If I sin & am instantly forgiven with no fear of consequences, what's to stop me from doing it again? Love for Jesus? Hah. “I don't know the man.”

Guilt seems like a kind of temporal punishment that interrupts relationship with God (& others) & sends me to the corner till I'm ready to 'fess up. Since one typically doesn't have instant access to the sacrament of reconciliation, the process usually involves waiting days between the offense & confession. In the meantime, I confess my sins to God & receive His forgiveness by faith, but that's not enough. It never seemed enough, even when I was a Protestant. Sometimes my relationship with Him seems imaginary- much like my sin. Its my perception of reality & morality or the sacred & profane that validates what “is” & disregards what “is not”. If it isn't accessible to the senses or subject to 2nd hand scrutiny, there's no consequence because there's no evidence. No one will ever know... its just between me & God... and doesn't He cast my offenses as far as the East is from the West? Doesn't He sink my sins in the deepest ocean & post a no fishing sign? These are the kinds of things I was told about sin & forgiveness.Confessing & resolving to change was supposed to be "enough", but its not. Resolve isn't the same as action. Why does a parent still discipline a repentant child? To make them suffer? Or to teach them the difference between right & wrong to to help the child learn to respect parental authority?

Outing myself & speaking my offenses to a priest makes my sin "real". My guilt becomes real. My weakness & the true state of my heart come to light. Consequently, my God, the Eternal Father & my identity as His child becomes real as the priest listens & gives counsel, as he extends forgiveness & absolution, along with "discipline" (penance). As an adult, penance is no burden, but a joy done with a thankful, hopeful heart because I understand its meant to teach me the way in which I should go. The gift of guilt moves me out from the shadows, into “His marvelous light...”

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sinning in Circles

Jealousy is a God quality. Dt. 4:24 “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.”
But when I embrace jealousy for myself rather than God's glory, I err & fall into sin.

God allows sin that His glory may be revealed. But sin is not an effective way to gain more of His grace. On the contrary: if I sin to gain more from God, I err precisely because I'm seeking my own fulfillment. Ro. 6:1 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

All the things that cause me to sin are such because they're directed inward, toward my own interests & my own glory. Passion is a Godly thing, but lust is not. Jealousy is a Godly thing, but envy is not. Humility is a Godly thing, but false humility for the sake of gaining one's own glory is selfish.

Satan wanted to be like God. But aren't we all called to be like God? Aren't we called to be “little Christs?”. Satan didn't just want to be like God, he wanted to be God. He wanted God's glory, power & authority for himself. He wanted to call the shots, he wanted to sit on the throne, he wanted to take for himself what God would never give him. And this got him kicked out of heaven along with 1/3 of the angels. Think about it. Angels who were created by God & dwelt in His presence actually thought Satan was onto something & followed him headlong.

Satan & his cohorts were cast to earth & given dominion outside the confines of heaven. Jesus came into the kingdom of this world- that is, Satan's kingdom- and was obedient unto death, not for His own sake, but for ours. Jesus didn't give His life to re-establish God's authority, nor did He die to satisfy some self-serving prophecy. Jesus died for the jealousy of God concerning us, the anger of God concerning sin & the excellence of God's image that still marks us, sinners though we are. For love of God & for us, Jesus, His own Son, surrendered Himself completely. He “...humbled Himself & became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” Philippians 2: 8. Consider why He became obedient to the one who opposed Him... “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:20-21. God gave the devil what He wanted, but there was a catch.

Jesus was never legally bound to Satan's authority, though He submitted to it for a time... God was & is and ever shall be the ultimate reigning authority. All authority that “is” has been given by God the Father (Ro. 13:1), including the authority He gave Satan over this earth. It was God Who established the laws by which Satan could rule. “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” & “The wages of sin is death” (Gal. 3:13, Ro. 6:23) were actually God's idea...

“You will not surely die... you will become like God...” Remember those words from Genesis? I can't help but wonder if Satan tempted Jesus' humanity with these words in the Garden of Gethsemane (just as he spoke these same words to Eve in the Garden of Eden)... Jesus didn't have to go through with any of this. He WAS God... but in the end, we know Jesus did indeed take the fruit of a tree- that is, the cross- and ate of it. But the result was different. Adam & Eve lived out their lives & died. But in Jesus' case, its as if time & consequence collapsed & came full circle in 3 short days. He took the curse of sin upon Himself & paid the penalty for it right then & there. The curse of death was vanquished by the death of the curse when the Beginning & the End signed the final word of the covenant with His own blood. “It is finished.” He said. The terms have been written & satisfied. The devil is doomed & we can be saved because Jesus subjected Himself to the jurisdiction of death but for a moment & reconciled us to life with God for eternity. Consider God's mercy: that even now we may become citizens of heaven & escape the kingdom of this world because of Christ's selflessness.

All the things that cause me to sin are such because they're directed inward, toward my own interests & my own glory. This is what got Satan kicked out of heaven & earned an him eternal wrath to come. But Jesus came to break the cycle of sinning in circles. All I have to do is look up to the cross. When I allow it's image to be reflected not only in my eyes but in my heart, I'll start walking straight (the cross ever before me) & people will start seeing Jesus in me...