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...