Saturday, June 30, 2012

Therese of Lisieux, Part the Third

I realized I hadn't followed up on my journey with Therese, so I'll tie up this loose end & be on my way.  I finished Story of a Soul & remained confounded at why this woman was named a saint. I went on to read commentaries that promoted the appeal of her spirituality to the common man, but something about her still eluded me. I was frustrated. I found myself ending my journal entries with a prayer to St. Therese to show me her little way. I wasn't really expecting anything...

And then it happened.

No, I'm not going to tell you she talked back, but quite suddenly, my thoughts were noticeably more fluid. The words in my head were still in my voice, but it was like they were being dictated rather than thought by me. I went with it. I wrote what I "heard" until I heard no more. Maybe it was just me, maybe it wasn't. But after I went back & reread the entries, I had the impression that perhaps Therese had been listening. 

"The Lord knows how to keep you, but He may not still the storm... 
Rest assured... it won't be dark forever."

"Selflessness is a transition as quick as a twinkle or as slow as molasses... 
How fast you move depends on how you trust."

"Selflessness is the beginning, but selfishness will be your end."

"You are actually completely powerless... submit to the Lord... 
this is the little way." 

This week, I decided to dig out my copy of  the "Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a' Kempis. Therese seemed to adore & draw sustenance from this book over a century ago.  I've cracked it open a few times over the years, but ended up burying it in the graveyard that is my bookshelf. Its a work that needs time to ferment in the soul. As I open it with fresh eyes once again, its taken on a new identity as companion & mentor, much like the Little Flower of Lisieux seems to have become for me. I understand now one of the reasons she's a saint: she endured the mundane with grace. On the surface, there was nothing really extraordinary about her. But when you think about how much suffering there's to be had in everyday life- the getting up & facing each hour, the going to work & dealing with yourself & difficult people all day long... Anyone who can not only endure but find purpose in these things is far more valiant in my eyes than the hero who is martyred for a noble cause or goes off to war & slays a thousand. In a way, it seems Therese has indeed suffered like me... perhaps even more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Seeing Is Believing


Lastnight I was able to go to our monthly meeting for veterans of RCIA... I was happy to see familiar faces, but I lied outright when folks asked how I'd been. I felt bad for not expressing the whole truth, but I wasn't there to hijack anybody's ear. I sat quietly, listened to others talk & stumbled through a few interjections of my own...

When all was said & done, I made my way back to the car alone. The sun had just set & the storm clouds on the horizon still gave off faint hues of red & orange. I walked past the darkened church, slowing to look inside. I could see the outline of a few pews, but the altar stood in full view. Even from the outside looking in, it was clear that this was no ordinary table. The altar is where it all happens, where Christ comes to us. The altar is a portal where we go to be transported,  even transformed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

I could not see the tabernacle, but noted that the sanctuary light was burning, steadily illuminating the red glass suspended in mid-air. A strange sense of excitement & anticipation washed over me. The Presence was there! I had a split second inkling to show some sign of reverence, but refrained for fear that someone might see. Such is my life, lived in fear that someone might see. If seeing is believing, why would anyone believe my faith is of greater consequence than my fear? Ugh.

I'm reminded of the old saying about "leaving the light on" for a person late in coming home... and in some strange way, that's what the sanctuary light was for me this evening. I saw it & didn't have to think twice about it... Light = Presence. He was there... and I was home. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

St. Therese of Lisieux, Part Deux

Alright. Well I'm up to chapter 9 in Story Of A Soul. Our dear "Little Flower" has finally entered Carmel & here's where she & I seem to part ways. After her audience with the Pope, she writes about her devotion to the child Jesus. She so wants to be a plaything for His amusement. She describes herself as a ball to be thrown, kicked, pierced & left lying in a corner, all for the love of the child Jesus. Hmm. Sounds more like she's setting herself up to be a battered wife. I don't know much about this particular devotion, but I think it's kind of creepy since Jesus left this earth a grown man, not a child. To each his own, I guess.

She also starts talking about suffering- how she wants to suffer for souls... I'm sitting there thinking "Really?" How naive. I mean, this girl comes from money & enjoyed a fairly large, very close knit & devout Catholic  family. What does she know of suffering, aside from her mother's death? She did not know the pain of "absent" parents. Her father doted on her til his dying day. She didn't know the worry of wondering if she would have a place to live when the lease was up. They had a nice estate with plenty of room. She didn't experience the sting of being the only child or of trying to fit in. She always had her sisters to play with. She went straight into the convent at 15- what did she know of anything, being so young? I'm sure that's what the Sisters of Carmel & her elders must've thought too. Her "suffering" so far, seems little compared to mine. "Little Flower", indeed. I suppose I'm a bit perturbed.

I'm noticing a trend with the saints- so many come from money or large families. I suppose its commendable that they should abandon all to follow Christ. But I want to know if there are any saints out there who break this mold? Where are the poor, the disadvantaged, the ugly, the ones who need not seek suffering because they were born into it? Where are those who despite the burdens they bore, still devoted themselves to Christ & loving others, even if they weren't loved back? Where are the ones who did not foolishly pray for suffering, but still patiently endured it when it came? In my opinion, these are the true saints. Why do we hold people like St. Therese of Lisieux in esteem? I aim to find out.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Prison Blues

Sometimes this life feels like a prison. I've never been in prison, or even in jail, but I've read books & seen my share of movies.

Even before we come of age, it seems we're assigned a cell & some companions. These are the people in your cell block- you see them every day, eat with them, play with them. These are the people you grow up with. You learn how to "do life" together as a society, under the watchful eye of the guards... teachers, parents, authority figures.

As life goes on, you're moved to a maximum security prison. You're a little more dangerous now- you're bigger & you know too much because you've been educated. You're stronger & able to think more independently. You know how the "world" works. You have a choice to mind your p's & q's & exist in society as is expected of you, or you can collect all manner of implements & begin to plot your escape. Will you tunnel under the walls with spoons? Crawl through the ventilation shafts? Kidnap a guard & grab his keys? Will you start a riot, or will you keep things private & find some way to slip out under cover of darkness?

Keep in mind, escape would invite a manhunt. Lights, whistles, dogs & guns might be joined by helicopters in the sky. It wouldn't stop. Ever. You would always be looking over your shoulder, wondering who you could trust. But what if you actually made it as a fugitive?  What if you were successful to the point that you no longer had to hide? What would that be like?

This is something I face daily in my "cell'... I've been collecting implements all my life & have even started digging a few times,  but I don't know what waits for me on the other side & I'm nervous. All I know is what I've read in books or seen in movies. What would it mean to "be out"? There's no parole in this prison system, only life & death. The rules of this society tell me when to wake, what to eat, where to work & what I can own. They tell me what I can do for fun & when to go to sleep. And if I want to be acceptable to my cell block & the guards around me, I do as I'm told. I'm nothing more than a cookie from the cutter. But I know I can't abide by the rules of society & be true to myself & to God.  I know I can't be content to live under the safe restrictions of this prison system the rest of my life. So I'm sitting here with my table spoons... Will I play a jig or will I dig?




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

2280-2281 or, Why I Love The Catechism

Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. 
It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. 
We are obliged to accept life gratefully 
and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. 
We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. 
It is not ours to dispose of.
Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being
to preserve and perpetuate his life. 
It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. 
It likewise offends love of neighbor because 
it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, 
and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations.
Suicide is contrary to love for the living God. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2280-2281


Tell a suicidal person they have obligations to God & society & see how well that goes over. No pressure there. Tell that same person everything they feel is contrary to what God actually desires for them... Ah, insert faith over feelings spiel here. Who says the "natural inclinations" of a human being are always preservation & perpetuation? What about fear or despair, aren't they just as natural? Indeed, but they're the easy ways out. They allow me run for cover, close my door & exist in darkness. They're nothing more than passive preservation that leaves little room for God.

Should He actually come knocking on my door, I wouldn't open it. I can't because I'm standing in the way. Its not that He's been 86'd. No, He watches over me, especially when my judgement is impaired. Whether I turn to the right or to the left (or hide behind a door), His is the Voice saying "This is the way, walk in it!". He could force His way in, but He's not like that. Since He knows it'd be dangerous to leave me to my own devices & that I tend to rage even more if provoked, He chooses a better way. He'll smoke me out. There's no shouting, not battering rams... Just silence.

Eventually, my body would slip from bracing the door as I gagged & gasped for breath. This is a glimpse at what depression feels like. Once my senses were overtaken, God would not wildly throw open the door in some heroic display of victory. Fresh air & light would come in increments instead. He would carefully push me aside, just far enough to get in the door & stoop down next to my frame. 

"It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life."

CCC 2280-2281 were fresh air & light to me this evening. "...Your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great."* In my case, He stooped down to make me "ok"...  Here's to tomorrow...


* Psalm 18:35 NIV 1984



Saturday, June 16, 2012

St. Therese of Lisieux

The "Little Flower"
Upon the advice of friends, I've decided to start digging into the lives of saints for some encouragement. I've begun with St. Therese of Lisieux, whose "Story of A Soul" has been collecting dust on my bookshelf the last 6 months or so. Honestly, I didn't want to like her. The "Little Flower"? Just the name is off-putting. But she's right up there with St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, Padre Pio, etc.. They're the "cool kids" on the block. They have their own medals, rosaries, movies, books, statues & icons. Walk into any Catholic bookstore & they're everywhere.

Lesser known saints might get a medal, a nod & maybe a feast day if they're lucky. Who ever heard of St. Hartwick, St. Hilarion or St. Peter of Blachernae? Exactly. 

Anyway, I purchased "Story of A Soul" because it was only a buck & I knew Therese was one of the "big ones". I cracked it open, only to quietly slip it back onto my bookshelf... Eh, maybe some other time. This week, I began again. I mean, I own it, I may as well read it, right? After I got past the realization that she wrote like she lived in 19th century Europe (because she did), that faith & family were still pillars of society & that kids seemed to mature much, much earlier back then, I found in St. Therese of Lisieux a kindred spirit. Nowadays we might call such a story pretentious. I was tempted to make the same judgement at first, but she's becoming more familiar to me with each passing day. She seemed to have the kind of faith I feel inside, but only fear to live. I've found that my thoughts echo hers on many points & that she even had a stubborn streak (as do I). Her recollections about the devotions & practices the Catholic church still maintains to this day are encouraging. These are things we truly share in common...

At this point, I'm only up to chapter 6. She's barely 15 & just had her audience with Pope Leo XIII.  Everyone practically peed their pants because she spoke to him. Protocol, schmotocol. She knew what she wanted & this was her chance. Nothing like going straight to the top. I like this girl. She's got spunk...

St. Therese of Lisieux


Friday, June 15, 2012

Commuting

I drive 21 miles to work Monday through Friday, which means a 45 minute trip through the city (if I'm lucky). I'm usually on auto pilot, focused on staying ahead of tailgaters & stopped traffic. I barely remember much about the journey from day to day.
Today however, as I was drawing near to a stoplight, a great blue heron flew overhead. It was so close that I could see the feathers of it's underbelly rippling as the wind rushed over them. Time seemed to stop for a moment. My heart swelled.
To the left was the river, sparkling beneath the afternoon sun. I could see people milling about on the docks in the distance. Too bad I wasn't one of them! It was a perfect day to be out on the water.
To my right a couple cars back was some guy gunning to be first in line. I kept my cool & watched for the cop that usually perches nearby. Nothing. Speed racer nearly clipped me & the guy in the other lane as he pulled out ahead. I didn't feel very charitable in the moment, nor did I see the need to show it. I turned on some music (the same CD I'd been listening to for the past week) in an effort to drown out my thoughts.
I continued without incident over the bridge & all through downtown. It was nothing but a blur of lights & cyclists & other slow moving vehicles as we navigated beneath the shadows of office buildings & railway overpasses. We shared common roads, but remained separated by lines on the pavement. Little painted lines were all that hemmed us in.
As I wound my way out to the industrial area, the land opened up. I could see Mt. Hood & Mt. St. Helens standing guard & colours seemed to explode with the passion of a Painter: fresh bold strokes of oil on canvas. The grass was the most vivid green you could imagine & the flowers which bordered the roadside were absolutely indescribable in the breezy sunlight. I however, felt like a dry, grey  mote of dust... a vestige of something else completely, detached & carried along against my will. I didn't feel much like a part of this masterpiece today, nor do I any other day. But as the weekend approaches, I aim to cling & sink into the paint... no longer hemmed in like a prisoner or kept out like a trespasser... at least for a little while.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Still Hungry

When I began my journey last summer, I decided it would be best to start going to Mass exclusively so as to reduce any potential conflict. In that time, I really didn't communicate with folks from my old church. I simply told them I was pursuing Catholicism & disappeared. Nine months later, I'm starting to reconnect. My friends tell me about the wonderful things God is doing... 

And what do I have to say for myself as a Catholic? I want to say the Eucharist is the highlight of my faith & that I feel like the Catholic Church is where I belong. But if that's really true, what does the Real Presence do for me & through me? I'm still hungry, Jesus! How is my hunger relevant to the real world? Doesn't He mean for me to reach out & help those in need? Doesn't He mean for me to "go & do"?

My Protestant friends, with their once a quarter symbolic communion, seem to produce praiseworthy results. If the Eucharist is the source & summit of MY faith... the "Lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age"  that I believe, then why isn't It producing results in me? Maybe the problem isn't with the efficacy of the source... Maybe its my journey to the summit that needs help. 

The first question everyone seems to ask me is "Are you connected?". Protestant or Catholic, the journey to the "summit" is never meant to be trudged alone. I know this & it drives me crazy. I prefer solitude to social functions, writing to speaking, quiet to cacophony. I prefer the mystical, spiritual stuff to the physicality of getting out there in the trenches to help the poor or evangelize on the street. Does that make me less of a Christian? Does that render the reality of Eucharist powerless? I don't think so. It just means there's a place for everyone in the church (yes, even me) & I have to keep looking till I find it.

The second question everyone asks: "Are you going to be a nun?". This one always makes me laugh. It seems my friends logically assume this is the next step for me. Perhaps they know something I don't! While I'm definitely drawn to the religious life, I don't think I could "go all the way". I'm much too stubborn & independent for that. Or am I? Seriously, only God knows.

So what do I have to say for myself as a Catholic? Why am I still hungry? Is the Eucharist supposed to spark me for external deeds of mercy? Is It supposed to satisfy my hunger or intensify it? How can hunger possibly be relevant in a world that measures *valid* faith by external, tangible results? Your guess is as good as mine.






Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shadow & Light

I've been thinking about what new hope I have as a Catholic that I didn't have as a Protestant.  What new strength or insight do I gain for depression or anxiety? Some foolish thing in me had hoped I would be less prone... but Catholicism isn't a magic force field. Its not a flashy spandex suit that conceals my weaknesses & gives me super powers.

The obvious differences about being a Catholic are the Mass, the Eucharist, the Traditions & the communion of saints. Its an old growth forest compared to the grove of newly planted trees I come from. Old growth owes part of its beauty & vitality to the sun & rain, but also to the rot below. Dead limbs, leaves & animals fall to the ground, feed the soil & make it dark, rich & loamy. At the moment, I feel like some animal who's wandered in to die...

Honestly, its not that bad. I'm speaking figuratively. I guess what I'm trying to convey is the realization that my weaknesses are worthwhile & necessary not only for my survival, but for others as well.

"...to prevent my becoming absurdly conceited, I was given a physical handicap—one of Satan’s angels—to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. Three times I begged the Lord for it to leave me, but his reply has been, “My grace is enough for you: for where there is weakness, my power is shown the more completely.” Therefore, I have cheerfully made up my mind to be proud of my weaknesses, because they mean a deeper experience of the power of Christ. I can even enjoy weaknesses, suffering, privations, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake. For my very weakness makes me strong in him." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (Phillips)


Its my weakness that drives me to the refuge of the Church, but the not so obvious difference about being a Catholic is that I'm actually encouraged to die... One of the ways to do this comes from participating in the Mass. Everything points away from me & straight to God, speeding "death" if I heed it. The Sacraments of Reconciliation & Eucharist serve to accelerate the process. My weaknesses may be rank, but maybe God considers 'what is not as though it already were'; that is, because His power is shown more completely in my weakness, the stench actually becomes the sweet, rich scent of dark, loamy soil. Its the perfect place for growth.

To die is to gain... life.
For the moment, I can only say "It stinks, God!" 
He says, "My grace is sufficient". 
Like the frond of a new green fern emerging below this great canopy, 
I am being born of shadow & light...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corpus Christi

So I've been a little discouraged with life lately. Today I walked into church feeling sad, detached & lonely. I almost didn't make it because I couldn't find anything to wear. Nothing I had seemed good enough. Heck, I didn't seem good enough.  I threw on some casual pants, a  plain hoodie sweatshirt & hightailed it down the freeway. My hemming & hawing had made me late. Much to my surprise, I arrived before the precession & made a beeline for a seat in a far off corner. I sat among strangers. The little girl sitting next to me looked at me like I was an alien as our former deacon (now a newly ordained priest) began his first Mass with the sign of the cross. I went through the motions, trying to concentrate on the solemnity of the day- this was the feast of Corpus Christi- the Body & Blood of Christ. What does that even mean to me? Everything was a blur.

There were 3 other priests in attendance at the altar, along with a new deacon. When the new priest prayed the prayers, the other priests prayed the words also. When he raised his hands to consecrate the elements, so did they behind him. He was supported the whole way through. These were his mentors who had ferried him through his training & there they were, standing with him at his first Mass. What a blessing to have people surrounding you, supporting you. 

When it came time for the Eucharist, I got in line & approached the altar with complete peace. For the first time ever, my heart didn't race, my hands didn't shake & my motions were sure. I walked back to my seat & knelt, still trying to get the wafer to go down. It had stuck with me for some reason. When I finally swallowed it, I suddenly "heard" the words of the communion song: "We are one Body, the Body of Christ & we do not stand alone. We are one body, one body in Christ & He came that we might have life...." I seem to recall that song from Easter Vigil or some other significant Rite. It had been playing all through communion, but when I finally got the wafer to go down, it was like a hammer that smashed through the glass bottom boat of my heart. The momentum came from deep within. As the tears began welling up through my cracks, I realized Corpus Christi had become real in me.

I'd like to say that I walked out of church leaping & praising God, but I confess that my spirits were only slightly lifted above the water line. I guess sometimes that's all one needs to stay alive...

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Saint Agatha

St. Agatha
Agatha lived somewhere around the 2nd quarter of the 2nd century. She died in 253. Like St. Lucy, Agatha hailed from wealthy stock in Sicily & wanted to dedicate herself to God at an early age. A Roman Senator took note of her great beauty & proposed many times, only to be shot down.

The Senator decided to commit Agatha "to the charge of an evil woman" (NewAdvent.org).  No one seems to know what that meant exactly- but everyone agrees that Agatha wasn't compliant.

She was thrown in prison, where she was tortured. The most gruesome ordeal was the cutting off of her breasts. Some pictures depict them being pulled off  simultaneously with pliers. Some versions of the story say this is what killed her. Others say a vision of St. Peter comforted & healed her so she could live to die another day... She endured unspeakable tortures, all for her dedication to Christ. Her feast day is February 5th. She is the patron saint of breast cancer & other diseases of the breast.

St. Agatha, St. Lucy & St. Rita had many things in common. They all came from relatively wealthy families. They all had men who wanted to marry them. But these women had one desire- it wasn't in wealth or the status & security marriage would bring.  All they wanted was to remain faithful to Christ. In this present age where purity is scorned & women are seduced by the media into thinking they must be rich & sexy, I find these three saints to be inspiring. They didn't command armies like Joan of Arc. They weren't clever like the Old Testament ladies who seduced their enemies so they could kill them. No, these gals got caught & spent the majority of their lives in prison. They endured for the name of Christ when they could have remained safe & comfortable in their respective lives. They were unwilling to budge because Christ meant all, to the very death.

Do I have a devotion like that? If faced with torture, would I recant or endure? Would I agree to keep my mouth shut or would I shout all the louder? Do the things that mean most to me in this life reflect the reality of the next?

St. Lucy

St. Lucy
St. Lucy was a Sicilian who lived from 283 to 304. She met her demise during the Diocletian Persecution- one of many that kept the lions & other beasts in the Coliseum well fed in that time.

The story goes that at a young age,  Lucy wanted to consecrate herself to God. She didn't tell anyone until she found out her mother had hatched plans to marry her off to some pagan guy. Her family apparently had some money & when Lucy requested that her dowry be put to better uses, her mother would not relent.

On Lucy's advice, a pilgrimage was made to pray at the tomb of St. Agatha (who had died about 50 years prior). Mom, who had been suffering from years of hemorrhaging, was miraculously healed & thereafter released Lucy to do as she wished.

Needless to say, the man Lucy was betrothed to was pissed. He accused her of being a Christian & turned her in to the governor of Sicily. In light of the times, this was a certain death sentence. While in captivity, the guards tried to rape her, but to no avail. They couldn't even move her. They tried to burn her, but the fires kept going out. As for the story with her eyes, this is where it gets a little sketchy. One version says her fiance' liked them so much that Lucy herself ripped them out & handed them to him, saying something to the effect of "Fine! Take them already & let me serve God!" Another version says the guards gouged them out with forks. Some renditions even tell how her eyes miraculously grew back. Whatever the truth, we know Lucy was a martyr for her faith. She was all of 21 years old when she died. She is the patron saint of the blind & folks with eye troubles. Her feast day is December 13.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Saint Rita of Cascia

St. Rita of Cascia
Rita was an Italian woman who lived between 1381 & 1457. She wanted to be a nun, but her parents arranged a marriage for her instead. She married young (some sources say 12 years old) & was trapped in an abusive relationship for 18 years. She & her husband had two sons together. Rita prayed for her husband's conversion all those years, but it wasn't until he was on his death bed that he finally surrendered to God. He had been stabbed by an enemy, which left Rita widowed & pleading with her sons not to exact revenge. It is said they relented & turned their hearts to God. Oddly, they both died a year later, leaving Rita free to enter an Augustinian convent.  Here, she's portrayed contemplating the Passion of Christ & exhibiting a form of stigmata on her forehead. The wound was said to be made by a thorn from Jesus' crown. It never healed.

Rita died at the ripe old age of 76 & was beatified (the first stage of becoming a saint) 170 years later. For whatever reason, another 273 years passed before she was officially  canonized in 1900. She is the patron of hopeless causes, abused wives & women in mourning because her perseverance & intercession eventually bore the fruit of salvation. Her feast day is celebrated on May 22nd.

St. Rita was in the running to be my patron saint because of how she hung in there despite everything that happened to her. She didn't abandon her faith- she cultivated it. She didn't abandon her husband- she prayed fervently for him. After all she had been through, the Lord's passion was her passion. She desired to somehow share in His suffering. As if she hadn't suffered enough. St. Rita was one tough lady & I bet she's one heckuva intercessor in heaven today. This is one gal I want on my side when all seems lost...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Country Bumpkin

When I saw certain depictions of the saints for the first time, I just had to laugh out of ignorance. The crucifix in St. Rita's hands looked like a kabob to me. No wonder she gazed so lovingly at it. Were those eyeballs on St. Lucy's plate? Indeed. Were those breasts on St. Agatha's platter? Yup. Remind me not to eat at their restaurant. Did you know Mary has super powers & can shoot laser beams from her hands? Meanwhile, Jesus has the ability to dive into a chalice of wine unharmed. He also seems to favor hovering over the altar "Matrix style" while sporting His crown of thorns & a loin cloth. Statements like this might seem offensive to some, but unless I understand the reality of these images, this is all I see... just a bunch of circus freaks.

Until I got into RCIA, Mary was more akin to some mythological creature than Mother of my Lord. She was just another Bible character along with everyone else. Even Jesus was somewhat one dimensional, trapped between the pages of the New Testament... Though I identified myself as a Christian, I struggled with the reality of His presence in my life for years. In the backwoods of my Christianity, I learned to acknowledge the Bible as the only reliable source of Christian history. Precious few exemplary Catholic saints & mystics were mentioned & anyone else I heard of was either a Reformation martyr, a modern day missionary or some high & mighty preacher who packed in the crowds night after night. The rest of Christianity was essentially gutted. Something about that never seemed right to me... made me feel sick inside. There had to be something missing.

Becoming Catholic has been like leaving home to live with distant relatives in the city. I'm getting to know another side of my family, becoming educated, meeting new people, trying new "recipes", doing new things. My faith has come alive since my conversion... Bible characters & saints are no longer mere characters or circus freaks - they are my brothers & sisters, just as alive with Christ in Heaven as I am here on this earth. Now I have a richer history, a bigger family, a deeper hope.Those saint pictures & depictions of Mary & Jesus are part of an album that got tucked away. They were an embarrassment to my side of the family... but now I know who they are. They're all a part of me.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Novus Ordo In Latin


As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended my very first Novus Ordo Latin Mass yesterday. Novus Ordo is a fancy way of denoting the "ordinary" form of Mass from the "extraordinary" traditional Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine. The Tridentine is the one where the priest faces away from the congregation. Novus Ordo is the one more commonly celebrated today. 

The first thing that struck me was the incense- I could smell it from the street it was so potent. I only saw 2 mantillas (a.k.a. head coverings for the women), both worn by 20 somethings. They aren't actually required for the Novus Ordo. There was one guy in a suit who looked like he walked straight out of the 1930's, but everyone else was dressed in casual attire.

The Mass was not well attended. There were maybe 30 of us there & its too bad, because it really is a beautiful way to celebrate. There were some older folks there, but the majority seemed to be people between the ages of 20-40.  

It seemed everyone was content to listen to the choir do it all. Everything is sung in- you guessed it- Latin. I was lost at first because of this, but actually started picking up on it halfway through the Gloria. I would stick with it for a while, lose my way when the priest prayed & recovered briefly when we got to the Creed. Even then, I only figured out where we were because I saw people bowing at the appropriate place. Eventually I just gave up & resolved to sit back & observe.

We had a few precious bits in English- the Confeitor, the “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands...” & the prayer just before communion ("Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof..."). We seemed to kneel more than usual (which is fine with me) and people had the option to receive the Body of Christ on the tongue or in the hand. Only the priest got to partake of the wine. Overall, Novus Ordo in Latin was awe inspiring (& I'll definitely go back), but I found I still prefer the Mass in English, simply because I can participate more fully.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Feeling Faith

This afternoon I went to my second confession. The whole thing is still a little scary for me. I went to a church I had never been to before. They had the stained glass, the Holy Family & various saints in every nook & cranny. The Stations of the Cross loomed larger than life- they were full on sculptures that lined the walls. The ceiling was high & the acoustics were so phenomenal, you could probably hear a pin drop in there. It was one of the most traditional looking Catholic churches I've been to yet (which didn't exactly help with the nervousness)!...

I entered the closet sized confessional & sat face to face with a priest I'd never met. He was very kind, very patient & led me through the parts I forgot. I was done in no time & walked out feeling relieved. I've decided to make a point not to wait until I commit a mortal sin to go to confession... In fact, it was suggested that I go at least once a month so I can become more familiar with it. This seems like a good idea to me. Why? Because the sacrament of reconciliation is accountability. Its my response to & reception of God's love for me. How? Well, by going to confession, I acknowledge I'm a sinner- not only to God, but to a "one another", the priest. He hears me with the ear of Christ, intercedes for me before the throne & proclaims to me the grace I need to "go & sin no more"... As the voice of Christ, the priest speaks that forgiveness which empowers me to live a better life & to (as the priest said) "go out & try again". How significant it is to hear those words with my own ears.

This evening I went back to that same church to attend my first Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. I was mostly lost, but the choir was amazing. I just closed my eyes & took it all in. The sound was alive... palpable, as if I were being embraced by the harmonies from the inside out. It made me feel very full inside. I think its interesting that I tend to "feel" a lot more within the Catholic expression of faith than I ever did as an evangelical protestant (& I come from the charismatic side of things!). I know faith has nothing to do with what I feel or don't feel, but things are noticeably different now that I'm a Catholic. In my former ways, faith was more about what I could get from God because of what I lacked. Now, its more about what I can bring to God because of Who He is. I don't go to receive from Jesus anymore. I go to receive Jesus Himself. I go with the understanding that I must lay down my life as He did for me.

It struck me this evening that this thing is real- faith is life & death. So often, its treated as nothing more than a symbol, a thing we do because that's how we were raised or it just seems right or (add your reason here)... but faith is not a thing we can take off like a jacket. Faith is the skin we're in... it holds us together. How wonderful it is to actually "feel" my faith, as opposed to the numb nothingness I experienced for years...

Friday, June 1, 2012

Salvific Superstition?

Over the past few days, I've been thinking about Catholicism's superstitions. They're often closely related to the various popular devotions out there. There are devotions to Mary (the Rosary, the brown scapular, the seven sorrows). There are devotions to Jesus (the Divine Mercy, the 5 wounds, the Sacred Heart). There are even devotions to various saints (St. Jude, St. Rita or St. Peregrine come to mind). Many of these devotions have "promises" attached for such things as answered prayers or even salvation.

Novenas, for instance, are prayers said over days or weeks a certain number of times (to Jesus, Mary or a Saint). If done while in a state of grace, these prayers are said to yield a certain measure of indulgence. If done correctly, this method supposedly NEVER FAILS & can help shave time off or even excuse an ever accruing sentence in purgatory. I don't know much about indulgences or purgatory because my particular parish doesn't consider them relevant. I happen to agree. All these things smack of superstition to me. Do this thing & you'll receive a reward: Turn the doorknob once to the right, once to the left, twirl in place & pray 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys & 3 Glory Be's at 6am, 12pm & 3pm for 9 days. Great! Now you're one step closer to heaven! I cringe at anything that offers a no-fail formula for prayers answered, let alone salvation. The rules of superstition are often too difficult to navigate & just too good to be true.

So how can I avoid becoming a superstitious Catholic? The answer is not in avoiding the devotions & novenas altogether. The answer is in the motivation. If my motivation is to get an answer to prayer or an all expense paid trip to heaven, then I'm missing the point. For instance, the point of a devotion like the Rosary is to meditate on the life of Christ. The point of a novena is not about what I seek to attain. Its more about how I seek to maintain my relationship with Christ by committing to set time aside for prayer each day. The power is not in the time of day or repetition of the prayer, its in the acknowledgement of & dependence on God for my needs. Its not so much about what I might end up getting, but what I end up surrendering of myself. Its my opinion that superstition is self-seeking... even the very antithesis of the salvation it pretends to offer.