Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ripley's Believe It Or Else!

I have a friend who thinks the Church says I have to believe "such & such"... But what if I already believed it, only to discover the Church agreed with me? This was my experience coming to Catholicism. I was raised an Evangelical just like she was, but somewhere along the line, my thinking began to change. Honestly, I think it came from reading the Bible on my own. A lot. I'm not trying to toot my own horn- by no means- but I really think getting into the scripture provided the foundation for my present renovation.

So often we can be content to be spoon fed a chunk of scripture along with a sermon to wash it down... We can be handed a nice packaged Bible Study with the answers in the back or "suggested" in the leader's guide. We can even read scripture & miss the meaning because our chosen faith expression hems us in to our own pasture. I left my pasture & wandered for years. I threw out all I knew, started from scratch & eventually ended up on Catholicism's doorstep. Along with reading the Bible for myself, I explored the culture of the Jews living in Jesus' time, the history of the Church following & the lives & writings of the Church Fathers. I looked at the fruit of Protestantism & the fruit of Catholicism. There's a lot of bad fruit on both trees, but a lot of good fruit as well. Then I looked to see what kind of fruit Catholicism would bear in my life.... And I'll never be the same.

How can I believe in transubstantiation, the need for confession & absolution or even the Pope? I could try & explain things bit by bit, but I think it really all comes down to the issue of authority. I believe priests have been called & ordained by God. The priest is key in consecrating the elements, hearing confession & giving absolution, among other things. He is the one who baptises & confirms, who blesses & joins in marriage... His authority comes from the Bishop, and on & on, up to the ultimate authority Himself, which is God. Where in the NT did Jesus say He was doing away with the priesthood? He is the Great High Priest, but that doesn't negate the need for priests below Him. Why do we read about Jesus giving authority to Peter & the others (to bind & loose, to forgive sin or not)? Why did the Apostle Paul write about order, rank & authority in the church? I can believe certain things within the church because I believe in the authority given to it. As for the Pope, He is really just the top Bishop, much like Moses was over the Israelites. I DO think that people make too much of a fuss over the man, treating him like a king. Jesus is our King & the Pope is in His stead, not the other way around. It seems to be a tradition many are unwilling to part with however.

Anyway. The tenants of the Catholic Church (in my mind) provide the best match for all the foreshadowing that goes on in the Bible as well as what followed in Church history & tradition... Even the belief in the Real Presence. Even the teachings about Mary & the communion of saints. The Catholic Church says Protestants are bretheren too... Why they can't partake of the Eucharist is one I still struggle with. But again, it comes down to authority. The Apostle Paul said "no" & the Church Fathers said "no", with the understanding that to eat & drink without discerning the Body of the Lord would be damning to the one partaking. Non-Catholics don't see it this way however & feel jilted. I'm sorry for that...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Presence

I went to adoration again yesterday. No sooner had I pulled down the kneeler to pray & I began trembling & crying... I felt very vulnerable for some reason. Maybe it was because I hadn't been to adoration in so long or that my 1st confession was in an hour or that I had been having such doubts about my journey lately. I wasn't sure what to do or what to pray. I felt like a lost little kid. I looked up at the monstrance. All I saw was a wafer. I closed my eyes & told Jesus that I didn't care if I could see Him or not. I wished to squeeze myself into the space beneath the altar & stay there because I just wanted to be where He was. Almost immediately I "heard" in my head "Blessed are you who has not seen & yet believes!". A picture flashed through my mind of Jesus with a big grin on His face. Later on, I realized this image was very close to the Jesus that Bruce Marchiano portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew or that a young artist named Akiane painted. He bent down to my eye level as if I were a child, grabbed my shoulders excitedly & kept saying "Blessed are you! Blessed are you!" He was giddy. Later on, I "heard" that last scripture in Matthew where Jesus says "Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age".

I've never had an experience like this in adoration. Who can say that my mind didn't conjure up this image or these scripture verses from memory? I've seen the movie & the painting before. I've read the scriptures. The voice was not ethereal or strangely British... it was my own. Was it just me, or was He there with me? There was something distinctly different about this time in adoration. Its always been "just a wafer" up there in the monstrance... until now.

Absolved

I wrote out my "stuff" a few days ago & brought it to the Lord in prayer... I felt as though I had made a good examination of conscience. I spent an hour before the Blessed Sacrament prior to confession & my heart was tender.

The priest & I talked briefly about what was expected. My "list" was suddenly irrelevant. He led me through the order of things & before I knew it, it was over. I admit, I spent most of the day wondering if I had really said enough or if I was really absolved from my sins... It all seemed too easy. Certainly I would at least have some kind of penance? I was encouraged to forgive others their faults. I prayed an Act of Contrition with genuine tears. But that was it. What was it I was expecting? A reprimand? A gasp of horror? A sentence of shame? Well, kind of. But instead, I received kindness & dignity. Sin is a human condition after all... There's nothing really extraordinary about it, whatever name it happens to go by. My identity isn't found in my sins, its found in Christ.

When I left, I wasn't ecstatic like I thought I'd be. I actually walked out a little dazed, like "What just happened here?". But as I drove home & began my work day, I felt vigilant- like I was wearing white- I was suddenly mindful of everything. One smudge, one drop could make all the difference. Had I REALLY been forgiven? Absolved? REALLY? I wrestled til lunch time & finally realized... Yeah. Really. Wow.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bondage In A Box

I spent a little time this morning packing up a box to send to my mother. She agreed to look over some Catholic materials I have- books & such- but she continues to disagree with my decision to join the Catholic church. I don't expect to win her over, but my hopes are that she will be able to gain a better understanding of what it is I'm doing & why.

A few years ago at my former church, our women's Bible study each wrote a letter to God & sealed it. We then handed them over to the leader for safe keeping to be read a year later. The letter said something about what we wanted our walk with God to look like in a year. I recall something in mine about wanting to be a slave to God- to have a spiritual awl put through my ear like that which was done to slaves of old. Today I was strangely reminded of that letter as I packed my mother's box... as I contemplated my coming into the Catholic church in just 10 short days.

To my mother, the materials I'm sending may as well be labeled "Bondage In A Box". Rituals, rules, belief in the Real Presence, Sacraments & sacramentals are just links in a set of old, rusty shackles. Why put myself in bondage to a religion conjured up by a bunch of men? Yet its not the "men" of the Catholic church that I submit to, its God. I am not a slave to the House of Catholicism, but of Faith & I willingly remain so long as God dwells there.

There is one thing I ask of the Lord & this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. Psalm 27:4 I would rather live under His roof & try to abide by His rules than those of the world. I know my mother would say the Catholic church is not God's... but she's never stood where I have. She's been listening to the neighborhood kids who spread stories about the creepy house across town. Meanwhile, inside dwells some old person with a rich history & a treasure trove of artifacts waiting to be discovered. The Catholic church may admittedly seem creepy & even rundown on the outside, but inside... Inside there is a community of saints from the beginning of faith to the present. There is a treasure trove of scripture & tradition waiting to be found. And most of all, God is there. Who can say He's not?! He dwells in our broken down hearts afterall & we could have plenty to say about that. I'm not sending my mother Bondage In A Box, but seeds of a living faith.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No Names, No Shame, No Penance Required

The "hurdle" of confession is not so much something to be gotten over like an obstacle, but more of a challenge to take a leap of faith. My first confession is scheduled for tomorrow. At first I was nervous, but now I'm strangely looking forward to it. I think it has something to do with the meeting I had with my RCIA director today. I'm not going "just to get it over with", but to acknowledge to God that I really want to receive His love & forgiveness.

My protestant friends might bristle at that statement & counter with "You don't need to go to confession for that!" In my former Protestant tradition, confession isn't a big deal. One walking around with an enormous burden only has to leave it "at the foot of the cross". Your sin is just between you & God. You never need to expose the shame of your sin to someone else. Why? Because Jesus loves you & you were already forgiven at Calvary! Once you confess it to God & repent, its done. End of story. No penance required. Jesus said "It is finished", so it is right?

In Catholicism, the traditional understanding is one must go to confession (prior to receiving the Eucharist) to be forgiven of any mortal sins. Neglecting a thorough examination & partaking of the elements with mortal sin "on your soul" is eating & drinking judgement upon yourself. Through the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), you still bring your burdens to the foot of the cross, but the priest is there with you. He is, in effect, a witness to your interaction with God. He is there as an intercessor- not as a mediator between opposing parties. The priest has the authority to hear your confession & proclaim absolution in Jesus' name because Jesus gave him that authority. Acting in that authority, the priest acts as both a witness & a tangible Christ. Think of a government official. He's just an agent, but he carries the authority of the government with him. He IS the government, with the full authority OF the government to whomever he meets, even though technically, he's still just an agent. Confessing one's sins then, is really exposing one's own darkness to Jesus (our Mediator) in the presence of a witness. And doesn't scripture say something about when two or more are gathered in Jesus' name, there He is in their midst?

So why the need for penance? Didn't Jesus take the punishment for our sin? He took the ultimate punishment which is death, but the temporal punishment- that is, the immediate consequence of sin- remains. Doesn't scripture say the Lord disciplines those He loves? If there is no need for penance, why is this verse even in the Bible? We don't get disciplined unless we do wrong... And that discipline is there to correct & train us in the way we should go. Discipline, or penance, is God reaching out to us in love because He wants us to learn from our mistakes & grow closer to Him. At least this is how it seems to me...

Monday, March 26, 2012

Annunciation

When I think of this word, I'm reminded of my teachers in school telling me to speak up & annunciate my words. I'm reminded of the Catholic church in my hometown that was called "The Church of the Annunciation". But very rarely do I ever associate this word with the announcement of Jesus' birth. That's a Christmas thing. But here we are at the end of March, celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Its the day Gabriel came to Mary & informed her that God had a plan for her life. She, a virgin, would have a baby. His name would be Jesus & He would be the Savior of the world. There's debate as to when Jesus was actually born, but Christmas is 9 months from today, so I guess the timing works for traditional purposes.

More so than just an announcement from a heavenly messenger or Mary's "Yes" to God, this day commemorates the conception. This new life was given by the decree of the Giver of life Himself, not only to Mary, but to us all. On this feast of the Annunciation, perhaps I would do well to recall when Christ was first conceived in me. He didn't come in the form of flesh, but in spirit. How has His life grown in me, changed me & those around me?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Out of Darkness

I'm out of town this weekend & attended Mass at a local parish. I was able to follow along just fine til they broke out in Latin. I knew the gist of what they were saying, but I haven't learned the Latin responses as we don't use them in my parish. For music, there was an organ, a piano & a 20 head choir. Very simple. Very profound. The deacon read the gospel, which had to do with the resurrection of Lazarus.

It's no secret that I've been struggling with my decision to pursue Catholicism for reasons I've visited in other posts. But struggle does not mean surrender. As I listened to the gospel today, my own tomb was opened. My own stone was rolled away & light flooded my darkness. I heard the voice of Jesus speaking to my own heart. He was not calling Lazarus this morning, but me. I've long feared exposure- not necessarily of who I am, but of who I'm not. I am bound in the darkness, stewing alone in my own putrid juices. I am disintegrating from without & within. I am not alive, but dead.

One of Lazarus' sisters objected to the opening of the tomb. He'd been in there for 4 days already & the stench would be horrible. But this didn't deter Jesus. Scripture says He was perturbed & wept when He got there. But He didn't walk away. He had the tomb opened & called out to Lazarus. Imagine the mixture of joy & terror at the rustling that began to emerge from the darkness. And then suddenly, there he was. I bet jaws were on the ground. Those nearby attended to Lazarus, helping him take off his grave clothes. He was received into the community as one of the living.

Now I didn't say I came out of my tomb- only that the stone was rolled away & I heard the voice of Jesus calling. You'll find me lingering in the shadows of the archway, looking out at the people gathered 'round. My grave clothes still cling, hardened with the stench of death... but beneath them, there is a transformation taking place. I am undergoing conversion- from death to life. I am called outside this tomb... to join the community of faith as one of the living. What will they find when they peel off my grave clothes? They found Lazarus whole. So may I also be as I respond to the voice of Jesus...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Diversity

I have access to cable this weekend & happened upon a Catholic station. I watched a fairly dismal Daily Mass filmed in the American south. Readings & prayers were monotone & I didn't see a lick of joy on anyone. The only ones who seemed remotely engaged were the cantor & the main priest (who gave a very good homily). Otherwise, it seemed like a chapel full of nervous zombies ready to crawl back into bed. Still, this is the Church, these are my brothers & sisters and... it just made me sad. This is not the Catholicism I know. I feel very blessed to be able to attend my parish & sit under the leadership there.

Now I'm watching the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Mexico because it just happens to be on. He's in his Popemobile heading to a public square & the Mexican announcers are exuberant. It sounds like they're calling a soccer game or something. People are crowding the streets waving "papal flags" & shouting... It LOOKS like a soccer game. I'm scanning the crowds for vendors selling hot dogs & popcorn. Nothing. What a difference from the Mass I just witnessed! This man, the Pope, is the figurehead of Catholicism. He is the Holy Father. I wonder how I would respond if I ever got to see him live? I don't think I would be screaming or weeping or throwing my arms open wide in mock embrace... He's just a man. I wonder if Peter or Clement or any of the first Popes got such a reception when they traveled? Might they have seen such a gathering as misappropriated worship? Might they have spoken out against such pomp & circumstance? Or can it be that as the Pope represents Christ- the Head of the Church on earth- that this hub bub is in fact meant for Christ instead? I wonder if the people on the streets are there for the Pope or for Who he represents? Is there a difference in their minds? Or is it merely cultural? Its interesting to note that Catholicism is not inherently American... its diverse, global. I need to remember that... I respect the Pope. He's a great writer & seems to be alright at leading the church, considering the circumstances... but he ain't God. I think he knows it. Does everyone else?! Outpourings like this often make me wonder... But this is Catholicism too, just like the zombie Mass, just like my own parish. So diverse.

Conversion

It's not the doctrines, dogmas or culture of Catholic Christianity that strike fear in me. Its not gestures, confession or being paraded in front of the congregation every other week.... Its the call to conversion that scares the crap out of me. It isn't limited to a group of candidates & catechumens during the RCIA process. Conversion is for everyone, like the air we breathe. Like the blood in our veins, we need conversion to live. Without it, we die. Or at least, we're supposed to. Nowadays, we have all sorts of spiritual "treatments" & "drugs" to keep us going. I'm convinced that's the only reason I'm still alive today. Spiritually speaking, of course.

I don't know that I actually expected to hear the call of conversion... even though that's technically what this process is all about. Conversion to me meant something more like exchanging currency than exchanging one way of life for another. And when I say "way of life", I'm not talking about going to Mass, praying the Rosary & being up in everyone's business about social justice from now on. I'm not talking so much about the functions of expression, but rather, the source of expression.

As a Protestant, I thought my source was God. And I'm not saying it wasn't... but it was definitely tainted... diluted with other things that allowed me to sustain my lifestyle. Bible studies, emotional worship nights, popular devotionals & rousing evangelical sermons kept me occupied for many years until I realized much of it was just hype. It didn't change me. Of course, it wasn't anyone else's fault but my own right? At least, this is what I was told. But why is it when I stepped foot into the Catholic church, my heart stopped (figuratively)? This was no ordinary place & my gut knew it. Why is it when I attended my first Mass, I was struck by the palpable solemnity of the occasion? It was just another church service, wasn't it? The priest was just some ordinary guy, right? How is it that the scripture readings came to life & cut to the heart of me? Why did a simple 10 minute homily stay with me for an entire week when an hour long sermon was quickly forgotten?

For all its ritual & perceived ornateness, the Catholic expression is actually a very simple one. There's no hype, no tugging on heart strings, no filler. Everything we do has a specific purpose which echoes the voice of Jesus to "Come & follow". We're not called to be members of a denomination. We're called to be disciples. We are called to conversion. I. Me. I am called to conversion. God doesn't want to give me a new pacemaker... He wants to give me a new heart. He wants to be the source of my salvation. Is that what I want too?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Confession

Confession, a.k.a., the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is my next hurdle. I attended a Reconciliation service lastnight at my church. This kind of thing happens once or twice a year I guess. Otherwise, confession is only available an hour before vigil Mass on Saturdays or by appointment. So this was kind of an extraordinary night when you think about it.
We sang a little, prayed a little, had a couple scripture readings & were encouraged to confess our sins. We had the opportunity to choose between our priest & 4 others from the area. They stuck people in alcoves, up behind the altar, in the cry room & what I call the confession closet. It looks like a closet, but its just a room with a partition & a couple chairs. You can confess anonymously or face to face. I only know what the confessional looks like because I took a tour of my church last summer. Lastnight, I stayed in my seat while people got up & waited in various lines. The church bells rang some time later- it was 8pm & I had been sitting there stewing for nearly an hour. I couldn't get up the guts to go in. I watched people instead. Even the kids went to confession. When folks were done, they came back out & threw down a kneeler to pray. It was the strangest thing, but I felt like I "saw" people differently... like I could see their hearts as they knelt alone, with eyes fixed on the crucifix or weeping. I wondered what people would see in me as I sat there heavy & fidgeting.
Sometimes I find myself marveling that people actually believe this stuff & then I think wait! Don't I? What is it about this sacrament- any sacrament- that transforms people? It seems to be an exchange... the old for the new. Do I really want to make that transaction?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sand Bar

Winter term has finally ended & spring break is here. I still have to work, attend to daily pursuits & prepare for the new term, which begins on April 2nd. I will be confirmed just 6 days later. Today, it all feels so far away & part of me honestly never wants any of it to come to pass.

I feel aimless in school- like I'm just spinning my wheels. Nothing I've experienced so far really "floats my boat". Community college doesn't offer the things I want to pursue in life. I'm not even sure its a valid means to an end at this point. I incur debt, stress, sleepless nights & a little bit of knowledge. For what? Will my light & momentary troubles reap me a reward if I don't grow weary?

As for confirmation, I know it doesn't mean my journey is over... but it does mean I'm fully accountable. It means I submit myself to the authority of the church which says I must attend Mass every Sunday. There are exceptions of course, for sickness & other inconveniences, but to "miss" Mass otherwise is mortal. The church says mortal sin- even just one- can send me to hell. It must be confessed before partaking of the Eucharist. That seems kind of harsh... it certainly doesn't sound like the personality of Jesus to be all judgmental like that. But then we ARE supposed to discern the Body & Blood of Christ before we partake. Even Protestants are told to examine their consciences & seek forgiveness before partaking, lest they exact judgement on themselves. But is that really my problem? Is it perhaps the idea that I'm making a profession of commitment to something greater than myself- even to a more "tangible" faith? In comparison, my Protestant faith never felt "tangible". I was like a ship stuck on a sand bar, waiting for a tide that never came. As I approach Catholicism, I feel as though that wave has come & continues to drive me out to sea. My journey has become tangible, real, exhilarating. Every time I begin to doubt, I remember how my life has changed since the beginning of this journey. I can't say the same about school necessarily, but Catholicism... there's just something about it I can't walk away from, even as I look out on a deceptively empty horizon.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Stripped

A random question came to me today. I was actually thinking more about sleep than faith, but the query nagged.

Can I be a Catholic without all the "stuff"? By "stuff" I mean the Crucifix, the Rosary, the physical Bible, the prayer books, the icons & candles... even the Physical church with the Eucharist & Mass. I countered with "Can Protestants be without their music, emotion, celebrity teachers & Bible versions?".

What would it take to be a Christian- Catholic or Protestant- without our "stuff"? What if one day, all that was stripped from us? What if there were no more meeting places, no more public liturgy or worship, no more Bibles allowed... What if having a Rosary or a Crucifix could get you shot or imprisoned? But the question remained mine alone to answer.

Could I be a Catholic without all the stuff?
I think I could, but preparation is key. Thankfully, I know many Psalms & other scriptures pertinent to everyday life. I know what the Catechism says on major subjects & I'm learning the prayers said during Mass as well as the Rosary & others. Beyond all that however, is my faith in God. Its not based on books or teaching, but on 30 years of personal experience. Hills & valleys line my hindsight & have made me stronger. I think if I were faced with persecution, I might be able to hold onto the foundation laid within me, simply because of the journey I've been on. At least I hope so.

What of you, reader?
Could you remain what you are now if your "stuff" was stripped away?

Inconvenience

I've been thinking of all the things I need to do in these next few weeks. Winter term has ended & I have a small window of opportunity to get things done that I've put off. Countless household, financial & personal pursuits wait in the queue. Somewhere in there, I also need to make my first confession, experience my first "Holy Week" & then, the big shabang- confirmation & first communion at Easter Vigil.

Much as I try, my head & heart are totally not into this Easter thing right now! How am I supposed to think about Christ & His sacrifice on the cross? How am I supposed to ruminate on what His resurrection means for me? I feel so distracted by all the other things on my plate right now. At the moment, it kind of feels like just another thing to do... another obligation on the calendar. But my "stuff" can never change God's grace or the timing of Easter. It is what it is, whether I'm fully present for it or not.

I imagine how inconvenient it must have been for Mary & the disciples to be thrust unwittingly into this drama. The most holy season of Passover was upon them & they had to prepare! And then this arrest happens. What was Jesus thinking? Why didn't He do something supernatural to confound His accusers? Surely He could have smoothed things over with His wit & wisdom. Couldn't He at least wait to do this after the holiday? It's unlikely that anyone actually understood what was about to happen that night in the garden. And in the morning, when the news broke, I wonder if people around town mocked Mary & John like the servant girls mocked Peter in the High Priest's courtyard? Scripture tells us the rest ran & holed up somewhere in the city. I probably would have been one of 'em. Jesus had been telling them for quite some time what was about to happen, but the events of the day still took them by surprise. It seems nothing could prepare them for this. That in mind, I guess we're kind of in the same boat...

Friday, March 16, 2012

Leaving the Line

So I had an interesting dream last night. I was in some kind of crowd, waiting in line to eat. I recognized popular wrestlers from decades ago. Sporting wrinkles & marred by surgical scars, they seemed a little freakish to me. A couple movie stars drove by in a limo & a few old friends said hi to me. But then, something happened (I don't know what) & a guy began to shout out to the crowd like he was a Pentecostal preacher. He most definitely wasn't.

He encouraged people to "F" faith & religion, to "screw" the priests & the people of God. Where it is said to love God & your neighbor, this man said "F" that! Look out for yourself because there is no God! The crowd roared in agreement. He wasn't just some guy spouting his opinion- he was an up & coming voice of the culture & folks were drinking it in with gusto. This man took the scriptures & angrily twisted them so they were nothing but horrible words encouraging people to forget God & exact vengeance on the church. He was outrageously irreverent. I thought there was no way these people would buy into all that. But their excitement was very palpable as their voices grew louder. I realized they were in full agreement.

Needless to say, I was troubled & left the line. As I was walking away, I remembered the old wrestlers who had "wrestled" for the faith in front of millions. I remembered the movie stars- big names in Christianity who had aligned themselves with this crowd to be "relevant". I remembered my friends, who just thought they were going to a hip place to enjoy a meal & listen to some music... And what of me? What was I doing in that line? And then I remembered- I was the one who left.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Ten Dos & Don'ts

In my Lenten group, we engage in something called Lectio Divina, which means "divine reading". Its a four part process that is quickly becoming one of my favorite practices.

1) Lectio- listening to God's word.
2) Meditatio- reflecting on what was just heard. What stands out?
3) Oratio- praying in response to what God has revealed.
4) Contemplatio- resting in God's presence.

Its usually done 3 times with the same passage.
This evening, we looked at the Ten Commandments.
To some, these are just a list of "dos & don'ts". To me, they seem like common sense. But in reading the commandments via the Lectio Divina model, some new things came to light. After the first reading, the numerous "shall nots" stood out most prominently. I wondered if "shall not" was the same as "don't". Interestingly, no. In some other translations, "shall not" is rendered as you "will not"... but never in the major translations have I seen something like "don't take the name of the Lord in vain" or "don't kill or commit adultery". God says "You shall not... you will not". He doesn't come out & say "you can't do this or that", even though He's giving clear cut commandments. Why? Because we still have free will to choose obedience or not. In the second reading, I noticed that the things He says not to do are a sin both against Him & the community. Sin affects others just as much & perhaps even more than it affects us. Upon the third & final reading, I noticed that God was not merely addressing an assembly of people, but each individual within it, including me.

The Ten Commandments aren't some archaic rulebook of dos & don'ts. They are God's own heart for us, as a Father, that we might obey Him & be saved from the myriad of consequences that come from sin.

Eucharist v.s. Communion

Our parish is going through a Lenten-program called "Living the Eucharist". We've been given booklets for daily reflection as well as participant guides for weekly in-home gatherings. We're currently in week 3 & the group I attend meets tonight.
The topic for this week is "What Happens At Sunday Mass?". I found the few opening questions interesting. In the interest of time, I'll only touch on the second one, which is a three parter. It asks:

What is your favorite image of Jesus?
I think my most very favorite image is one of Him seated on a bluff. His head is covered & He's just looking out over a valley bathed in warm light... I imagine its early morning & He's out there praying & enjoying some time away from the hub bub of everyday life.

The second part of the question asks:
What does this image say about Who Jesus is for you?
When I see this image, I think of Jesus as a companion. He is faithful & because of this, He is also a refuge. He understands me, listens to me & challenges me to listen to Him. He is the place I go to "ground".

The third part of this question asks:
Is the image of Jesus that I associate with the Eucharist the same or different?
Honestly, this one took me by surprise because the image of Jesus I associate with the Eucharist is totally different. In the Eucharist, Jesus leaves. He's saying His goodbyes & preparing His disciples for life without Him. Kind of. He tells them He won't leave them as orphans & that they'll see Him again someday... In the meantime, He'll have the Father send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. But clearly it won't ever be the same as having Jesus physically with them. I discovered my image of Jesus in the Eucharist is actually one of abandonment. But how can I possibly say that?! Perhaps it has something to do with my understanding of the Eucharist & what I have always known as "Communion".

I'm beginning to think that Communion & Eucharist aren't interchangeable synonyms. In Communion, everything is merely symbolic, a remembrance of events that have long since passed. In Communion, Jesus offers the bread & the wine only once to a specialized band of followers who are now dead & gone. We remember THEIR friendship with Christ & what THEY must have felt. In the Eucharist, we're told the priest takes on the person of Christ. In some mystical way- as if time doesn't exist- we get to experience & partake of the Last Supper WITH the disciples. In the Eucharist, if I understand it as such and not merely as some other way to define "Communion", Jesus isn't really abandoning me afterall. He is in fact stepping into my world to offer me & those around me His own Body & Blood for my salvation- today. The Eucharist isn't merely a practice that was instituted 2,000 years ago. Its not just something done on Sundays. It is Jesus' own self made present to us each & every day of our lives. The question is, will we partake? The word itself- Eucharist- means thanksgiving. If we are able to experience Jesus through this thanksgiving, His life, death & resurrection are no longer past events, but present ones that still yield power. Jesus & His disciples are no longer historical figureheads, but companions for us on our own faith journey.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can't Sup With A Dirty Cup

Yesterday something happened at work that would usually make me angry. I remained calm on the outside. I smiled, continued doing my job & even talked to people. Inside, my thoughts weren't so cheery. I was offended & I wasn't sure why. When I realized my inside didn't match my outside, I started praying. I was reminded of Jesus' run in with the Pharisees where He talks about what defiles a man comes from his heart- from the inside of the cup. Outward appearances don't matter if the inside is dirty. I felt offended not because of what happened at work, but because of what was already stuck to the walls of my heart. My crud changed everything about the experience- the colour, the texture, the flavor.

At lunchtime, I sought refuge in the car & prayed. I couldn't carry this thing around with me any longer, even if I was the only one who knew about it. Truth is, I wasn't the only one. God looks at the inside, not the outside. Neither of us wanted to drink from a dirty cup... So I poured everything out & handed it over to be washed by the water of the Word. When I returned from lunch, I felt much better. The change within had affected the change without...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Made In the Image

Today I spotted a lady bug crawling around on my ceiling. I rescued it from certain death & placed it outside. I got to thinking about how it must've felt to be approached from below by a monstrous giant entity, shooed into a container & then coaxed out somewhere completely new.

I wondered if God sees us like little bugs who need salvation from certain demise. But in light of the relational aspect of God, this seems ridiculous. We are made in His image. In Genesis, each life created reproduced life like itself, according to its own kind. Spiritually speaking, in Jesus, we are re-created to reproduce life not like ourselves, but Him. In Him, we are re-created according to the Eternal Spirit, not the temporal flesh. Therefore, it stands to reason that in representing His life, we also represent the life & image of God the Father.

We are made in the image of God. And yet the scriptures tell us to remember that we are but dust... But where did this dust come from? In the beginning, God created the heavens & the earth. But these things didn't merely appear "out of thin air" or "nothingness". They were God's own thoughts, now possessing substance. The heavens, the earth & all of creation were given a corporeal place- of God, yet outside of God. It seems then, there is some part of God in us. Everything that was made was not made without Him. That is to say, we don't exist apart from Him. He is the reason we live. I believe that it's our sin than separates us from the image of Divinity that we were born to represent & re-create.

We aren't just little bugs to God. We are the product of His own thoughts & desires. We are made corporeal, of His own substance- yet outside of Him. No wonder He loves us like children, wants to save us & have us with Him for eternity.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Stepping Out to Step In

Yesterday was the second time I knelt before entering the pew. I don't know why its such a big deal for me, but it is. This time, I wasn't hiding in the back- instead, I was in the 2nd row center with people all around. It seemed easier to follow my fellow RCIAers as we filed in to sit. My sponsor happened to be standing right in front of me when my turn came to enter the pew. I knelt, crossed myself & then looked up to see her smiling face. I felt a quiet sense of validation. I had stepped out of my comfort zone in order to step in to the pew, but I knew I was also taking one step closer toward the Eucharist.

Those of us in RCIA sat together for Mass because we were going to be brought up in front of the community, prayed for & dismissed before the Creed & consecration. Its the Lenten custom for those of us preparing to come into the Church. Father prayed & motioned toward the doors. All eyes were on us as we filed out of the sanctuary. It seems to get smaller every time... as if the church is no longer this wide open space full of strange people. I know these faces now, I've felt the walls "closing in" as if in some kind of embrace. I thought we should have gone out dancing or with some kind of dramatic fanfare, but I refrained... We headed over to the fellowship hall to discuss the homily over doughnuts, coffee & good conversation.

Why bother writing about this stuff? Simply because its all part of my journey...

Friday, March 2, 2012

Transfiguration Continuation

Lastnight in RCIA we read about the transfiguration account in Mark 9. Father prefaced the reading by explaining how our faith comes from the foreshadowing of the Old Testament. He talked about how Mt. Tabor was a very high place. I imagined Jesus & the three on a sort of day hike. This was no ordinary stroll. It would have been something to plan & pack lunch & water for. As we were discussing the significance of the appearance of Elijah & Moses with Jesus on Mt. Tabor, my mind kept going back to the concept of foreshadowing. I wondered if perhaps the transfiguration was a kind of foreshadowing for us. I looked at it from the perspective of representation, as in, how did Jesus, Elijah & Moses correspond to Peter, James & John? I took a sidetrack of thought & decided to look up the meaning of the three disciples' parents first. Bear with me for just a moment as I lay out a few details:

Only Peter's father is listed in the Bible- His name was Jonah, which means "dove". James & John were the sons of Zebedee & Salome, whose names mean "my gift" & "peace". Peter's name was Simon before Jesus changed it to Peter, or "the Rock". Simon means "to hear or be heard". James is a variation of Jacob, which means "supplanter" & John's name means "God is gracious".

Its my opinion that the transfiguration was more than an some isolated event. I believe it continues the story of redemption by foreshadowing new chapters. It begins with some history- Moses was a type of Jesus who led God's people out from captivity. Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming King. The fact that Peter, James & John were there to see them speaking with Jesus was no accident...

From the dove (whose representation we understand in many ways- the authority of the Holy Spirit, peace, etc.), came one who hears, that is, Peter. He was kind of wishy-washy at first, but eventually lived up to the name Jesus gave him. He became more solid in his faith, the rock upon which the church would be built. Jesus later gave Peter authority in heaven & on earth to be "heard" as a representative of Christ. From the gift of peace came a supplanting & grace from God. I think supplanting is an interesting word to have in the mix because it doesn't sound very spiritual... But wasn't Jesus about to supplant (displace, overthrow) the authority of death & the grave through His own death & resurrection? And don't we have peace with God because we're saved by His gift of grace?

Anybody have any thoughts on this?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Next Stop: Soup

Stations of the Cross

Tonight I attended a community Stations of the Cross. RCIA was invited to join in & we met in the day chapel with about 20 others from the parish. There were so many of us, people overflowed into the darkened sanctuary. We began with a prayer & the Penitential Act, a couple readings from scripture & then grabbed our booklets & headed for the sanctuary. We had to pass the tabernacle & the altar on the way out. I was nervous about being so close (its where the consecrated Host is kept)... The Sanctuary light was burning in the red glass & I watched to see if people knelt or bowed or crossed themselves as they passed by. Some did, some didn't. I didn't kneel, bow OR cross myself, but lowered my head & looked away, praying all the while for forgiveness. I passed by both the tabernacle & the altar in this way, feeling a strange mixture of fear, shame & longing.

Two little girls led the way with candles & I caught up with the group at the first station. Father took us through a brief meditation & we responded by kneeling briefly, repeating a prayer & singing a hymn together. The Our Father, Hail Mary & Glory Be were optional prayers we did not include. This went on for all 14 stations & then we returned to the chapel to continue Mass. When the time came to get in line, I thought about bolting out the door & going outside to cry... I felt overwhelmed, trying to assimilate it all. Instead, I remained in line, received my blessing & returned to my seat.

Doing the Stations in community was a little surreal. I felt like we were on a tour bus of sorts, leaning out the windows at each stop & then quickly moving on to our next destination. I wished we could have taken more time with each meditation... but I suppose that can be done well enough in private. The overall experience was admittedly kind of jarring. I wasn't really sure what to expect as folks rattled through their prayers like the alphabet... Clearly they had done this before. Me, I always felt a step behind. But no one gave me the stink eye or called me a heretic. After Mass, I walked over to the fellowship hall & slurped soup with friends.