Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Bread

When I think of Christmas, I think of trees, lights & having to endure family dinners. I think of nativity scenes, sheep & camels, Joseph & Mary. And Jesus? He's just a pale little baby lying in the straw... the "reason for the season" & all that. He's not much to look at...  give Him 30 years or so to make something of Himself.

We all know a choir of angels announced to some shepherds that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem (the House of Bread) that fateful night. Jesus was placed in a feeding trough & the shepherds who feasted their eyes upon Him immediately took Him into their hearts. Though they numbered but a few, the shepherds went & shared their "bread" with the townsfolk the only way they knew how. Imagine what it would have been like to be awakened in the middle of the night by a dirty, wide eyed shepherd gasping for breath on your doorstep? How many people ignored or cursed their presence? How many invited them in & bothered to listen? Would you or I have responded to the call to "come & see"? I think I might have gone for the novelty, nothing more.

I'm reminded of a very non-Christmasy verse just now... its that first one from Ecclesiastes 11- "Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days, you will get it back." The Living Bread has come to us also, swirling about on the waters of humanity. It has been carried to us by the currents of time via the prophets, the shepherds, the disciples & saints of old... Will we abandon It like Joseph & Mary had been abandoned that night? Or will we be like the owner of the cave where Jesus was born, who offered all he had so the family could be safe & warm?

God cast His one Son upon the amniotic waters of Mary's womb... That "loaf", the Bread of Life was was placed in a food trough for a reason. He embodied everything we needed in that very moment- hope. And "Hope", Paul says, "does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Romans 5:5.  Its easy to get discouraged in the world these days... Maybe we can find some small way to cast our hope upon the waters this Christmas season &  "...not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up". Galatians 6:9. We may have but one loaf left, but then, remember what Jesus did for the 4,000, the 5,000.

Adeste fideles, venite adoramus, Dominum!
(Come all ye faithful, let us adore Christ the Lord!)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Holding My Breath

Today, life has found me perched at the edge of a continent. I've crossed in increments that seem to get smaller each time I use them. These vast oceanic waters touch not only my continent, but every other one in this world. Some people sail it all- circle the globe- while others, like me, only know a portion. Within these waters live unfathomable creatures, big & small. Some we consume, others we throw away & still others we never "see", yet we know they're out there... somewhere.

Its quiet here. The tide is out & misty clouds conceal the sun. My coffee is wearing off & I'm starting to feel the effects of my early morning drive. No soul on earth knows I'm here. And where is "here"? In one sense, I know I'm lost. On the other hand, I know exactly where I am. I can name the road that brought me here, the town I'm in & how to get to 3 different coffee shops, thrift stores & gas stations. This place is familiar to me. And yet, I am nameless, though I have a name; a stranger, though I've been here often.  At times, I wish to dwell in the aimless anonymity I've carried with me here. Today however, I wish to be known, thought of, remembered.

There are whales out in the bay. I can see them from here. Two boats honed in on their presence & motored out to surround them. I am surrounded by dogs & gulls, seniors, parents & children... tramping past me to get a better view. But the whales will disappear, hold their breath & dive deep to escape detection. I've seen it before. Its just their way. Meanwhile, the blue sky is emerging, pushing the morning clouds back. I'm trying to connect with this moment- the sun, the ocean breeze, the waves crashing below... isn't it joy that's supposed to meet me in the morning? I take a deep breath, slip the key into the ignition & pull out onto the road... on my way to God knows where.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

An Even Shorter History of the Mass

I just got done reading a book called A Short History of the Mass by Alfred McBride, O. PRAEM (O. PRAEMs are also known as Norbertines).

The author launches right into the celebration of the Last Supper & its components. The celebration of the Eucharist began as a Passover meal & continued as a meal in the "Breaking of the Bread" which was celebrated on the Lord's day (Sunday). Eventually the practice of the meal was done away with in favor of a more structured setting because cliques had formed, folks were getting drunk & the poor were being left out (1 Co. 11:20-21, 34).

A kind of liturgy was adopted in the 1st & 2nd centuries based on the model they had from the Jewish synagogues. The apostles ordained bishops as their successors & these ordained priests & deacons to see to the Mass. Blessings, prayers, scripture & praise began to surround the Eucharist as Christians met in various homes / house churches (& even the catacombs) to avoid detection & persecution by the Roman government. I found it interesting to note that the bread & wine were brought by the people as gifts. The priests faced the people, they gathered around common wooden tables & used common baskets & goblets. There was no altar guild. Everyone had a part to play.

When Constantine came along in the third century, the persecutions ceased. He began building large churches called basilicas. House churches fell by the wayside, but the structure of the Mass had been established. Christians met to hear the great church fathers' homilies, incense came into use & folks started bowing & genuflecting to God as they would to an Emperor. Bishops began standardization of Eucharistic Prayers at this time. Gold & silver receptacles replaced the common fare. Tables were now made of stone or marble. Hymns & chants were introduced & the Nicene Creed was established thanks to the Council of Nicea (325). To maintain a sense of unity between congregations, the Bishop would break consecrated hosts & send pieces abroad to the other parishes, kind of like what we do today with the 3 holy oils (the Oil of Catechumens, the Oil of the Infirm, and the Oil of Holy Chrism).

In the middle ages, the people began to become separated from the Mass. The priest began Mass facing the people as usual, but turned East to celebrate "with the people" for the Eucharistic prayer. The universal language of the Mass eventually became Latin, which sent some packing. Others engaged in private devotions (such as the Rosary or other prayers) during Mass in an attempt to remain participants of the proceedings. The communion rail was introduced & people could no longer receive in the hand. They were now required to kneel & receive on the tongue. Eventually, they could only receive the Eucharist at certain times of the year.

By the time Luther had come onto the scene, major abuses were in play & the Council of Trent convened to combat them. The Tridentine Mass was introduced & the priest now celebrated with his back to the people the entire time. Eventually, church architecture became infused with dramatic baroque elements. Pulpits were elevated & garish. The stations of the cross began to line the walls & statues of Jesus & Mary, saints & angels appeared around the sanctuary. Concert worthy hymns & choral Masses were sung. The church was now seen as a throne room for the presence of God.

When Vatican 2 came along some 400 years later, the churches were essentially stripped. Statues & communion rails disappeared, tables replaced altars, the priest faced the people & they could now partake on the tongue or in the hand. Worship bands replaced choirs & Latin was reserved as an option for select prayers. The Novus Ordo was born.

So what?  As a new Catholic, I've heard countless people talk about how the Tridentine (Latin) Mass is superior to the Novus Ordo (Vatican 2). But after reading this book, I can see that V2 was a valid attempt to return to the Mass of our fathers. The Tridentine Mass is beautiful in its own right, but it can't be denied that certain aspects of it were divisive. Novus ordo- while also far from perfect- seems a fair medium... considering.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Thirteenth Station

The Way of the Cross, also known as the Stations of the Cross, is a devotion rumoured to have been started by the Virgin Mary herself to commemorate her Son's suffering. 

I'm not sure why, but I've never given much thought to Jesus being taken down from the cross. In the Creed, we say "I believe in Jesus Christ... who was crucified, died & was buried...". It all seems so quick & neat, but when you stop to think about it, it really wasn't.

The act of removing Jesus from the cross is the 13th "Station". This scene has been depicted in many artistic  mediums over the centuries. Some scenes show us that someone climbed a ladder and lowered Jesus down by hand or with ropes. Other scenes show He was lowered by a sheet. He is almost always surrounded by a few men & His mother, Mary & He is almost always shown virtually bloodless, except for the centurion's lance wound.

But today, I got to thinking about what taking Jesus down from the cross must've been like. Jesus was covered in bloody, gaping wounds. He probably didn't smell too fresh & there were probably flies buzzing around, eager to have a taste. Someone had to ascend to His level & figure out how to detach His hands & feet from the cross. Did they remove the nails? Did they grab hold of His hands & feet & tug His flesh over the nail heads? Did the man who removed Jesus hand Him down via ropes or a sheet? Or did he perhaps allow Jesus' lifeless body to drape over His shoulder as he descended the cross? He must've been a mess when all was said & done. Perhaps there was now blood caked in his hair, his beard, under his nails, in the crevices of his hands & on his clothing.What must Jesus' lifeless flesh have felt like against the body of that man? Was it still warm? Was it eerily cold? Was He heavy?

And what of the people on the ground? Most of us are familiar with the scene of Mary weeping & holding Jesus across her knees. Imagine Mary, who kissed her lifeless Son. Perhaps her face & her garments were stained with His blood as well. Surely John was standing nearby... Who is to say he didn't lay his head on Jesus' breast as he had before?

We're told from the Gospel narratives that it was Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus, who actually took Him down from the cross. He laid Him down on the rocky ground, positioned Him & wrapped Him up in a new linen cloth he had just purchased. John probably helped carry Jesus across the rocky terrain to a garden nearby. Joseph had a tomb there, freshly hewn. He seemed adequately prepared. Had he anticipated this moment? We may never know. Jesus was laid down inside & Joseph rolled a great stone over the entrance while the women watched from across the way. That was it. End of story. Those who had seen & touched Jesus that day walked back toward the city, weeping & perhaps even covered in His blood. The next day was a Sabbath. They would have plenty of time to ruminate on the day's events.

Friday, November 8, 2013

All Billy's Crosses

I couldn't sleep, so I got online to check out the news of the day. I came across a story about Billy Graham who, at 95, has given what he's calling his most important message to America- a message of hope. Expecting something profound, I went to his website & watched the 30 minute video called "My Hope America" .

A grandfatherly Billy Graham, nestled in his chair, recounted the story of Jesus & the cross with a kind, gristly voice. The camera panned over old photographs of Billy's crusades & zoomed in slow on various rustic renderings of the cross hanging on his walls. The comfort of the country was then contrasted by the harsh reality of a guy & a gal from the city relating to us the horrors of their wayward lives & of course, how they found Jesus.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Basin & Purgatory

As a Christian, If I'm washed, sanctified & justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, can that ever be changed? If I'm once clean, can I become dirty again? If I'm once sanctified, can I become desecrated? If I'm once justified, can I incur punishment for some new crime? If I have abundant riches, can't I become poor in a moment? How can I logically believe otherwise? Jesus spoke often about such things. 

One such place was at the last supper, where He was washing the disciple's feet. Peter insisted Jesus should instead wash the whole body but Jesus replied that "those who have bathed only need to wash & he is clean all over" (Jn 13:10). Evidently, He saw bathing & washing as 2 different things. To bathe means to immerse oneself in water, while washing is more like taking water to one part or another to refresh the overall purity of the body. If bathing is likened to baptism, what is washing likened to? Jesus told the disciples to wash one another's feet as He had done for them. Why? Was it an an act of hospitality? Did it have physical / cultural applications only or was it more of a symbolic, spiritual gesture? 

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Good News of... Purgatory?

I've always been amazed to think that people would give up their lives for the faith. Why would anyone risk death for righteousness' sake if one already knew their salvation was secure? Is it about honour? Allegiance to the greater good? Could it be a sense of personal pride in that we've accomplished something for Christ, that we've successfully denied ourselves in one way or another or that we'll be richly rewarded in the end? Why would anyone want to press forward to win the race of this earthly life? What are we competing for & who are we competing against? Are we motivated only by the hope that we can somehow "out do" our brothers & sisters in the faith? Is it that the more we do, the more souls we save, the bigger our mansion & status in heaven will be? Isn't that a secular mindset opposed to the very humility God calls us to? "Well done, good & faithful servant" is what everyone wants to hear. But if our salvation is really so secure & there's no such thing as purgatory, what drives any of us forward, even unto death if need be?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Introduction to Purgatory

So I found this book at a thrift store last weekend. Its called "Purgatory" by Fr. F.X. Schouppe, S.J. 

I decided to pick it up because even though I've been a Catholic for a year & a half now, I still don't know much about the doctrine of purgatory. It doesn't seem all that important in the grand scheme of things & very little, if any, time is spent on the subject. Any priest I've had the fortune to talk to says purgatory is not a  "real" place- rather, like indulgences or austere penances, its just one of the many traditions carried over from the superstitious middle ages. So, when, I wonder, did people stop believing in purgatory? And what were the reasons for such a departure? 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

This Is My Son...

The other day, I came across this picture of the virgin Mary gazing down upon a host & chalice. Catholics understand these implements (once they are consecrated by the priest at Mass) to be the body & blood of Christ. The bread & the wine both conceal & reveal His "real" presence. That is to say, the bread & wine still appear to be bread & wine to our senses, but they are no longer merely representations of Christ's body & blood... They become, somehow, Christ Himself.

When I initially saw this picture, I felt like Mary was doubting & maybe even a bit confounded by the concept of the Eucharist. But then, I'm probably just transferring my own feelings.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Friends in High Places

So I've been having some issues lately believing all the Catholic church has to say about Mary. She's supposedly my mother, my intercessor, my friend... but she's seemed strangely absent lately. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed or I don't know what else to pray, I'll whip out my Rosary. Sometimes I'll feel peaceful afterwards & other times I'll trail off into silence, feeling kind of dumb for seeking friendship from some lady I've never seen before. Not that I've seen Jesus either, but that's kind of beside the point. Who is Mary & why is she important to my faith? I spent 30 years without her. What difference could she make in my life now? These are questions I don't have the answers to. I mean, I suppose I  have the typical catechetical answers at my fingertips, but they're not exactly real for me... I don't have a sense that I've "experienced" the truth about Mary just yet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ship of Fools

Well, I have to admit, I can't help but be slightly discouraged lately. I'm sick & tired of hearing about homosexual rights, the gay agenda, same sex marriage & equality for every other kind of sexual dysfunction a person can dream up. Its everywhere, even in the Church.
Just the other day, another story came out that a number of priests & high ranking Vatican officials have been involved in a homosexual pedophile ring operating in the city of Rome. Rumours of this nature were actually revealed years ago amid the widespread  flurry of reports concerning decades of sexual abuse. However, a few days later, the priest who "blew the whistle" said he made up the story out of revenge. ...Really?
Elsewhere in the news, a Vatican Monsignor was arrested for being involved in some kind of international banking scheme.
And not to be outdone, the archbishop of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin diocese is set to release a menagerie of records detailing the complaints of sexual abuse & what the local bishops did (or failed to do) about it. He said to "prepare to be shocked".
 Honestly, I don't think I can be shocked much more by all the corruption & crime in the Church. Am I part of the Body of Christ or a circus? These days, I'm not quite sure. Is any of it true? Are the retractions some kind of cover up? Is the media just blowing smoke in an attempt to discredit the Church? Who knows anymore.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Hidden Lives of Nuns?

I'd seen this book on the shelf at St.Vinny's for weeks & finally decided to buy it for one cool dollar. I'm thankful that's all I paid for it! I have to admit, it kept me riveted till I got to the halfway point & then I just started feeling discouraged. No doubt, the author, Cheryl Reed, is a wonderful writer. However, I couldn't help but feel like she had a hidden agenda. Can a Protestant author's 5 year journey & 300+ interviews really paint an accurate picture of the "hidden lives of nuns"?  She uses headings like "community", "obedience", "chastity", "poverty" & "spirituality", but almost always seeks to blow the traditional meaning of such words common to religious life out of the water. All throughout the book, she strives to portray nuns as typical women who do extraordinary things. I couldn't help but notice that she focused most on those who were unhappy with (or didn't give a damn about) the Pope or the Magesterium of the Catholic Church.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Meeting St. Germaine

The Little Shepherdess 1885
This picture has been in my home for a decade or so. It's a print of a painting done by one of my favorite artists, W.A. Bouguereau.  I've always been mesmerized by her haunting gaze.

Lastnight, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I found this picture attached to an article about St. Germaine (she was "Saint of the Day" for June 15th). I don't know why, but I always thought St. Germaine was a valiant man who fought in the Crusades. Apparently not. There WAS, however, a St. Germain (no "e") who lived in the 3-400's, had a military career & ended up becoming a monk.

St. Germaine was a french girl who was born in 1579. She only lived to be 22. Besides the fact that her mother died, Germaine was born with a gimpy hand & a disease called scrofula, which is a type of tuberculosis. Her father remarried a vicious woman who succeeded in torturing & banishing Germaine from the house because she couldn't stand to look at her. Germaine was forced to live in the barn, eat table scraps & was sent off to spin wool & tend sheep in a particularly dangerous area of the countryside.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I'm about 1/4 of the way through St. Faustina Kowalska's diary, "Divine Mercy In My Soul". I noticed she was writing "+JMJ+" at the end of some of her entries. Then I started seeing it in other places too... mostly in older, Pre-Vatican II material. I finally typed it into a search engine & discovered it stands for Jesus, Mary & Joseph, who, collectively, are known as the Holy Family. Things like this, along with devotions to the "infant" or "child" Jesus & his many wounds during His passion decades later, have always intrigued me. I mean, what's the point? Joseph was only a foster father (who was barely mentioned in the scriptures), Mary eventually got her own cult following & Jesus didn't stay an infant or a child... He grew up, died an adult & rose again as an adult... & though he still bears the scars of His torture to this day, his wounds were only temporary... why venerate a shoulder wound or the 27th random lash of the whip?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Meeting Padre Pio

While browsing a local thrift store, I found a book called "A Padre Pio Profile" by John A. Schug, OFM, Cap. It was tucked away on the top shelf of a world history section. Intrigued that I had the fortune to spot this little book (obviously out of place), I pulled it down & began thumbing through it. 24 hours later, I've all but devoured it & feel as though my faith has begun to burst at the seams.

Who was this Padre Pio? I had never heard of him til I began my journey to the Catholic Church. He seemed like just another old guy & I never understood what made him a saint, or why countless people chose him to be their patron... What was so special about him? What set him apart? I noticed that he always seemed to wear fingerless gloves & at first, I thought maybe he was just cold, having to live in a drafty old monastery & all... but then I read that he had received the stigmata- that is, the wounds of Christ- and he kept the gloves on because his hands bled constantly. Apparently, his feet & side also bled with regularity & his bedsheets would be routinely soaked with blood. The idea of stigmata is kind of creepy to this former Evangelical Protestant whatchamacallit. Pio's wounds remained for over 50 years & were well documented. Why would God allow anyone to be afflicted in such a way? What purpose could such suffering possibly serve? I suppose we could ask this question of a great many things in life.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

St. Gregory Speaks

"...We are in a sense our own parents, and we give birth to ourselves by our own free choice of what is good..."

"...Such a choice becomes possible for us when we have received God into ourselves and have become children of God, children of the Most High. On the other hand, if what the Apostle calls the form of Christ has not been produced in us, we abort ourselves..."

"...For Saint Paul every moment was a time to die, as he proclaims in his letters: I swear by the pride I take in you that I face death every day. Elsewhere he says: For your sake we are put to death daily and we felt like men condemned to death. How Paul died daily is perfectly obvious. He never gave himself up to a sinful life but kept his body under constant control. He carried death with him, Christ’s death, wherever he went. He was always being crucified with Christ. It was not his own life he lived; it was Christ who lived in him. This surely was a timely death – a death whose end was true life..."

Excerpts from a homily on Ecclesiastes by: 
Saint Gregory of Nyssa, bishop

Friday, May 17, 2013


Well, life is about to change for me soon. After nearly 6 & a half years with the same employer, I'm finally moving on. After close to a decade of working the swing shift, I'll get to see the day's parting sunshine & can crawl into bed before midnight every night. After 6 months of living in a new town & commuting back to the old one 5 days a week, I actually get to stay put. My drive time will be 15 minutes as opposed to an hour & a half, which will afford me more time to do the stuff I actually enjoy.  I'll have more resources, both financially & physically & more access to a greater variety of people & activities because I won't have to try & cram everything into the weekend. All these things are "good". 

But giving my 2 week notice isn't as easy as I thought it would be. I've spent the majority of my waking hours with these people. They've become my weird little family over the years. When I clock in, I don't have to think about what I'm doing or what happens when. I know my job like the back of my hand & move about on auto pilot most days. Unlike a few of my co-workers, my supervisors know they can leave me be & I'll have my duties done, plus some. I barely blink & the day is gone. I rumble down I-5 home in the dark, tired & aching like any other day, knowing I earned my paycheck & can look forward to sleeping in the next morning. Realistically, I could be a "lifer" at this job. My employment & benefits are stable & my seniority would just keep growing. While all these things are "good" too, there's something to be said for change.

My new job affords elements of the old one & those past, but it will also be a challenge for me on many fronts. I'll be meeting new people & existing in a new space. I'll be handling different product in different  situations. I'll have to learn this company's "map" by scratch- what happens when, what goes where & why. It'll take time to figure out who does what & who can I count on & who just doesn't give a damn.  There are so many elements of uncertainty. I'll  have to wait for some benefits to kick in, but at least I'm not starting out on the bottom rung... I'll soon be making more than I do at my current job & am poised to move up when the need presents itself. All these changes are good. They're also kind of scary. Its going to take a lot of extra energy be "present" at work. But until now, I never realized just how absent I've been at my current job, how bored, how comfortable, how mindless my days have become because everything typically stays the same...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Grateful Gardener

This spring, I've discovered a new hobby: gardening. Now I haven't gone & picked out a pair of lime green Crocs & a giant sun hat yet, but I do very much enjoy slipping on my gardening gloves (which ARE lime green) & working up a sweat.

I'm just a beginner. This is the first time in my life I've ever had a share in the responsibilities of taking care of a yard & garden. My housemate & I weeded & planted herbs & veggies in the back (I have to admit, I was slightly disheartened to realize that weeds are actually quite sanguine), then she outfitted the perimeter with whimsey (lanterns, rocks, stakes & chimes) while I contributed the practicality of a patio table & chairs, a bird feeder (is a bird feeder really practical?) & a thermometer. We begged & borrowed (but did not steal) motorized implements from various sources & a merciful friend of ours even came over to help us attack the overgrown front yard. At the moment, we have some semblance of a respectable residence & I can't put into words my joy at seeing that manicured lawn sparkling in the Oregon sunshine. It brings me great pleasure to gaze out over our deck & garden... to appreciate all the life (that we will later kill & masticate) sprouting in the back yard... Finches & sparrows & juncos routinely feed in our rafters, along with the red winged blackbirds & starlings that happen by on occasion to clean up their mess... I'm sure they could find sustenance elsewhere, but they keep coming back to us. Its kind of a nice feeling.

Some days, life just "is" & its so easy to go through it without really feeling much of anything.  But when I slip on my lime green gloves & step out in to the dirt to manage life, plant life or invite life, everything else seems to take on a different meaning. I feel like a super hero out there, full of purpose & resolve (sans boots, tights & cape). Yes, I am a vessel of charity toward plants & animals... a scourge to weeds & other invasive critters! When I spend time out in the garden, life becomes less about me & more about that patch of dirt & the living thing stuck in it. It becomes less about how I feel toward the world & more about what I can do to affect it... even if my swatch is only miniscule in the grand scheme of things.  Its a start...

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rosary As Story

"The purpose of the Rosary is to help keep in memory certain principal events or mysteries in the history of our salvation, and to thank and praise God for them." From The Rosary-Center.Org

This is a quote from one of the sites that first helped me learn how to pray the Rosary (back when I was still a Protestant). As I have since been praying the Rosary on & off  for nearly 2 years now, I can agree that the prayer makes it easier to remember key events of salvation history & also provides ample opportunity for thanksgiving & praise. However, its much more than this.

The Rosary isn't some dusty, old, stagnant prayer our grandmothers prayed.  Its not just a rote prayer you pray in part on certain days of the week. Its not reserved for a horrible penance (as a monotonous, droning heap of  "Our Fathers, Hail Marys & Glory Bes"). Its a full on story. But its not just about something that happened over 2,000 years ago. Its about what's happening now, in my life & those around me. Its global. Current. Cutting edge. How so? The "mysteries" as they're called, have already been written. Sure, Pope John Paul II wrote some new ones in the 90's (the Luminous Mysteries), but the story remains the same...

My point is this: the Lord God said He "was & is & is to come" (Rev. 1:8). What would happen if we were able to see the Rosary the same way? What if we were able to see it as we see the word of God,  "living & active"? When you think about it, the Rosary is actually His word, His story, told to us through the heart of Mary. The majority of the mysteries (save 2) come directly from scripture and while the mysteries are written in a past tense, if we pray the Rosary, we will find them to be surprisingly applicable to our present tension & beyond.

The key is to insert ourselves into the story. For instance, how might the 1st Joyful mystery (the Annunciation) apply to me today? I may look at this mystery & marvel at how God stepped into Mary's ordinary world out of the blue & changed her life forever. I might pray to be on the lookout for His presence & for the faith & obedience to say "Yes" like Mary did. Or I might be confused or afraid about something, but I can choose to seize the opportunity to trust that God will be faithful to protect me & help me work out the details, just as He did for Mary. The Annunciation (& all of the mysteries) are just as much mine as they were Mary's or Jesus'. And just as life typically doesn't remain stagnant from day to day, so it goes with the story of the Rosary.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sorrowful Mysteries For the Severely Depressed

1. Agony in the garden
In the agony of the garden, Jesus cried out to be delivered from death. I often cry out to be delivered to it! Though its impossible to pray with the fervor He did on that night, my heart still feels like its being torn in two. My agony comes from the thought that I may have to face another day (& another & another...) & there's no angel consoling me (Lk 22:43).  But I discovered I can unite my heart with His in saying I don't want to go through with this. Isn't there some other way? I can also unite my heart to His resolve: "not My will but Yours be done".

2. Scourging at the pillar
At the scourging of the pillar, Jesus received the lashes as an innocent man. I wish I could have taken those lashes because I feel like I'm so much more deserving. Each lash is a thing done to me... a mean word, a rejection, a misunderstanding... Each lash opens up the anger & fear & sadness I've experienced & the wounds I've inflicted on others as a result. As I picture Jesus's hands tied to the pillar, as I picture Him on His knees being struck & bleeding, I picture me & realize He must know how I hurt too.

3. Crowning with thorns
In the course of the third "mystery", the guards clothed Jesus' bleeding body with a scarlet robe & wove a crown of thorns which they beat into His head. They hit Him & spat on Him... They mocked Him with snide words & blasphemy. They made Him a laughing stock, a punching bag, a plaything. The guards in my life also mocked me. I was given a "mental" crown of thorns which was beat into my head. I was given a "mental" robe which stank & stuck to my open wounds. I was made a laughing stock, a punching bag, a plaything. Yet Jesus stayed silent through it all because He knew Who He really was. As I think of this, I find it difficult to stifle my pain or my desire to retaliate in some way even now, so many years later... and then I realize He & I shared this experience too. I see in His suffering a reflection of my own.

4. Carrying the cross
In the fourth mystery, we find Jesus carrying His cross through the city streets, past people shouting profanities & women weeping & wailing... The soldiers surround Him & whip Him like cattle, trying to get Him moving faster. Tradition tells us He fell three times on the way, while scripture tells us that Simon of Cyrene, a passer-by, was eventually made to carry Jesus' cross. When I find I am too weak to walk, let alone hold on to my cross, when I find myself continuing to fall, its ok to acknowledge this isn't working for me. I need help. Even Jesus couldn't make it on His own.

5. Crucifixion
Jesus is crucified in the fifth mystery. Finally, His agony gets to end. I wish that I were there with Him... not to console Him as much as to die with Him... But the reality is He has actually chosen to die with me. He endured His suffering not necessarily to take mine away, but to experience it with me. He took the wounds in His physical body like I've taken wounds in my "emotional body"... and once I'm able to grab hold of this, I can begin to unite His death to my desire for it. In a sense, I crucify my flesh with His (Gal. 5:24).

So what comes after that? 3 days in a tomb & a glorious resurrection unto a new life? If only it were that easy. For now, I'm content just to know that someone "gets it"...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Dulled by Division

Well, its the day after Easter & brand new Catholics are filling the online forums with thanksgiving. I remember that feeling... but I haven't been able to retain the force of it. I'm happy for them, I really am. These days, I'm still thankful that I'm a Catholic, but I'm also troubled & weary from all the things I've seen (or haven't seen). Church is supposed to be the place we join our relationship with Him to one another's in order to strengthen one another, as iron sharpening iron. But it seems like many are just clanking chunks of metal, bustling for elbow room or brushing past with nothing more than an acknowledgement of common faith, sans practice. Have we forgotten that its the practice that makes us sharp & able to sharpen others?

We were told in RCIA that the Church is one body, unified under Christ in heaven & the Pope is His vicar on earth. But there's so much division in the ranks. I'm not just talking about the 20 or so different rites within the Catholic church alone.  Within your average parish, it seems many people have chosen to pick & choose what they want to adhere to & simply discard what they don't agree with. I consistently hear the excuse that we are American Catholics & we don't believe the superstitious mumbo jumbo those "foreign Catholics" believe in. Among these so-called superstitions include teachings regarding Mary, purgatory, communion of the saints, the necessity & validity of reconciliation & even the reality of the Eucharist. Throw in the disdain of the various devotions such as the Rosary, the LOH & the myriad of Novenas out there & you might have yourself an average American Catholic.

Some people don't consider Mary anything significant, nor do they consider the saints viable prayer partners. Some don't believe in purgatory, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or a priest's authority to consecrate, forgive or absolve... Some are known to receive communion in a state of sin (even mortal sin) & don't bat an eye because they have their own opinions about what actually constitutes sin and / or they believe everyone is welcome at the Lord's table regardless. Perhaps they were told the Confetior or Kyrie absolves them at the beginning of Mass. Perhaps they believe the Eucharist will cleanse them or that they don't need to go to confession because God knows their hearts. My favorite has to be that God is love & there's no condemnation because a loving God can't possibly send people to hell. Whatever the reason, it seems apparent that what happens at the Mass isn't "real" for a lot of folks... its just church, just an obligation, its what we've always done... Maybe I'm way off base here, but I was under the impression that these more traditional, even superstitious things (now often rejected or overlooked) are the very things that set Catholicism apart from Protestantism... for centuries. Until now. We are a Church increasingly dulled by the division of popular opinion.

May God bless the neophytes & protect them from the rest of us.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Vigil: One Year Later

Lastnight was Easter Vigil. Liturgically speaking, it was also my Catholic birthday. I'm one year old today. I decided to make a pilgrimage to the church where it all happened... I admit, I kind of wanted to re-live the moment, but I was also curious as to how it would feel being an observer. I saw some familiar faces, got big smiles & hugs & knew I might never see some of these people again. It left me with a twinge of sadness & regret for ever leaving...

When we entered the brightly lit sanctuary after all those readings in the dark, it was not quite as dramatic as I remember. The bells weren't as loud or as joyful... The Gloria was familiar, but seemed... lackluster. The lights actually felt a little too bright & I wanted to slink back into the bosom of the night. There was absolutely no incense this time around (which was something I was really looking forward to). Maybe they abstained for the pregnant catechumen. Maybe someone complained they used too much last year. Who knows. I remember how it stayed in my clothes for days, like the scent of someone loved.

I think my greatest moment of joy came from gathering around the baptismal font to watch people be dunked thrice & smothered with anointing oil. After each one, we would clap & sing "Alleluia!" as they padded out to change. But overall, something was missing from the evening... I just couldn't put my finger on it. By the end of the night, I was more than happy to get in the car & drive the hour or so back home.

Easter Vigil 2012 Part 1
Easter Vigil 2012 Part 2

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Passion of the Wholly Weak: A Rant, A Revelation & A Prayer

Warning: This post may be graphic.

God, if You were a man standing before me right now (forgive me), I would rip at Your clothes & beat You & try to kill You. What do You want with me? I want to swear, kick & scream at You... and then what? Would You send me to hell for my irreverence? Or would You find compassion in Your heart to stay? Would You still want to save me? Would You walk away & tell me I was just being childish? Would You smite me? Would You say anything? Or would You wait till I was spent? God, if You were a man here with me now, I would cling to You... in rage.

I'm tired of responses like  “Remember Job", Give it to God" or "Lay your burdens at the foot of the cross”. What does that even mean? I'm not content to stand there & gaze up at Christ. No, I want to climb His bloody body & beat Him all the more, even as He hangs there in agony. I want to tear at His flesh limb from limb & sink my fingers into His deep & seeping wounds. I want to scream in triumphant rage as He screams out in pain & gasps for breath... and I wouldn't stop till His last. 

Surely these aren't the words of a Spirit filled Christian... Would I not always treat Father, Son & Spirit with the utmost respect?  Would I not always feel compassion at the abuse & crucifixion of Jesus? I always thought I should...

The “passion” of this Holy week is often told from a sort of watered down, doe eyed perspective- the women wept & mourned kind, quiet Jesus, the victim of a wrongful death at the hands of murderous Jews. Of course my response should also be one of horror, infinite sadness & ultimately, profound thankfulness. But on the contrary, the crucifixion reveals to me precisely the lack of compassion I have within... It reveals my lack of interest in being a disciple, even my disbelief in what Christ has actually done for me. For the 1st time in my life,  I want Him to feel all of my hurt & loneliness & pain on that cross. I want Him to suffer because of what I've suffered. And whats crazy is He was willing to do just that before I ever came along. He knew I would need this- and He submitted himself to my rage because no one else could take it. Each wound inflicted on His body may as well have been from my hand... and if by His stripes I am healed, His utter brokenness was necessary for my wholeness. I can't deny the sense of satisfaction I get from knowing this. 

In the same way, my own utter brokenness is also necessary for my wholeness. Could it be that the suffering of Jesus, of God in the flesh, actually reveals the depth (& potential for redemption) of the suffering I've experienced in life? Could the force of my rage at His supposed “good pleasure” (that brought me into existence) actually serve to uncover His profoundly unfailing love for me? If He hadn't suffered & died such a horrible death as a human being, where would I be? I think I would still be raging... beating at the air... unable to connect... unable to find resolution. 

His story is my story. He wanted to love & be loved in return & what did he get? He was falsely accused, despised, beaten & killed by the objects of His affection. But He had a power I don't- its a power I can only receive by clinging to Him, even if I cling in rage. Its the power to forgive, to love, to remain. As I tear into Him, I somehow begin to see myself more clearly... His Blood is my blood... so many wounds... so much blood. My suffering not only becomes His & dies with Him; but His resurrection will become my own.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pope Francis

I was on my way to work when I first heard "Habeamus Papem!" on the radio. Yes, chills ran through me & I couldn't help but feel caught up in the excitement the people at St. Peter's & around the world were no doubt experiencing. While I remember Pope JP2 & converted under Benedict XVI, Francis feels like "my pope" specifically. I can't explain why... 

Today I got to watch his first Mass & was surprised by a few things: many of the cardinals didn't sing or respond, though there were definitely some who did. When the camera panned through the rows, many seemed genuinely bored, some looked mildly annoyed & too few others had a look of reverent repose on their faces. These are the men who lead us... these are the men who picked our Pope... and I feel torn. I could envision mountains of scandal passing before some of their eyes unchecked or ignored. Many of them seemed woefully indifferent. One of the men who accompanies Pope Francis reminds me of a young Mr. Burns (of Simpson's fame)... From the time he stepped out on the balcony, he appeared  frustrated, watching the Pope's every move like a man (unsuccessfully) trying to potty train a puppy. He was present again at the Mass & I'm not growing any more fond of him each time I see him... Though I've been a Catholic almost a year now, I must admit, I'm still suspicious of many who represent the Church on the world stage... Maybe they were all just exhausted. The lot of them are senior citizens afterall... I imagine all that travel & ceremony would be taxing.

That aside, I like what I know of Pope Francis thus far. While he may be visibly humble, simple & dedicated to the Gospel of Christ crucified, he's also got quite a streak in him. He's not timid about letting people know what he stands for. In 24 short hours, he's forged his own path, boldly moving beyond "traditional" expectations of pomp & circumstance. As long as you haven't been living under a rock this week, you know he took the name "Francis" after that great saint, Francis of Assisi. He declined the red papal cape & gold pectoral cross most popes don when they're 1st introduced to the world. Instead, he appeared in a simple white cassock & wore the cross he had always worn.  His movements were not boisterous like other popes before him. He was very still when he came out & when I watched the video later, I tried to imagine what was going on in his head... was his heart beating out of his chest? Was he thinking "Oh crap?" Ok, probably not.  "Good evening", is what he finally said after a long awkward pause & a smile. He invited the crowd to pray an Our Father, Hail Mary & Glory Be for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Later, before extending his blessing to the people, he asked them to pray for him first. The crowd fell silent as he bowed his head... He spurned the papal car & rode the bus with the cardinals afterwards. He postponed his 1st Mass the next day because he wanted to go to a basilica & ask for Mary's intercession instead. He doesn't strike me as the superstar the media & even the Church wants to make him out to be. He is one of us, a face in the crowd. Even at his first Mass, he didn't draw attention to himself.  It was almost as if he wished to melt into the wallpaper. Clearly, he wasn't interested in being singled out or adored.

What will become of his pontificate? Will the Church, Her clerics & the rest of the body pay attention? Or will we just yawn & go on about our business as usual? After all, isn't our "royalty" the equivalent of say, British royalty anymore? The way some Catholics treat the sacraments & live their lives, you would think so.

May God bless Pope Francis.
Viva il Papa.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Its the End of the World As We Know It...

And I feel fine...

So the Pope is quitting & everyone thinks its the end of the world. I have to admit, I was a little shocked when I woke to the news, but I also have to respect his decision. Indeed, as its been said by so many others, it must have taken tremendous courage & humility on his part to know when to say when.

But a lot of folks still think its the end of the world- literally. Hours after Pope Benedict XVI's announcement, a lightening bolt hit the Vatican & a meteor streaked across the Russian sky. The supposed prophecy of St. Malachy is the hot topic in the news & all over various faith forums.  Protestants are crying "rapture!" & multitudes are waiting on pins & needles to see "Peter the Roman" appear. Perhaps the new Pope will be the long foretold anti-christ who comes to power before our eyes. This is it. We are living it. Or are we? What if nothing happens when the new Pope comes to power? What if life just stays normal? Or better yet, what if the new Pope succeeds in reforming the Church & even somehow unifies Christians of all stripes? Well, that would suck, wouldn't it?

I think some people will genuinely be disappointed if the world doesn't end.  The uncertainty many of us feel now (Catholics & Protestants alike) seems to give us a strange sense of hope- hope that maybe we really will see the end of days, hope that our suffering really will end, hope that we really will see God & be done with all the striving. But we can't know the hour or the day- even Jesus doesn't know. But what He did say was that these kinds of things must happen... and then the end will come. Whether current events are portents of Christ's coming or not, we are called to stand firm & pray.

How fitting that we should find ourselves in the season of Lent- a time of reflection, repentance & reconciliation to God... perhaps its no coincidence. Perhaps its no small mercy...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Meaning of Life- Becoming Oriented


I heard something on EWTN recently- an old program of Mother Angelica's, called "Mornings With Mother" (which my Catholic radio station plays in the evening for some reason)...  :)

Anyway, I had gotten off work & tuned in just as she was telling someone that "practicing virtue isn't hypocritical". That is, when I feel angry inside but put on a happy face because I am mindful of my need for God & truly desire to change how I feel, that's ok. That's practicing virtue. If I feel angry inside & put on a happy face without acknowledging my need for God or the desire to change, that's hypocritical. It was a small relief to hear, as I had been regularly fighting to be kind in a situation that usually sends me reeling... 

I was reminded that life is primarily about becoming oriented to the realization of what really lurks inside of me. I desire to be kind at times, but I also desire to rage & have my own way. I desire to love at times, but I also desire to hate. This is what really lies inside of me, and I am learning to acknowledge that truth without parading out the negatives for all to see. 

Part of becoming oriented to who I am is also discovering who God wants me to be... Indeed, He desires "truth in my inmost parts". It sometimes means acknowledging that lost feeling inside- I am nowhere near where I should be spiritually. Other times, I simply need to pause to make sure I'm on the right track. Becoming oriented most certainly means acknowledging my need for assistance. It  involves being still to not only contemplate my options, but to observe both my surroundings & internal disposition before moving forward. 
"Lord, I am angry. Help me to be kind & to honour You in spite of that anger. Lord, I feel like I want to hate this person. Please forgive me & help me to love them as You love them." This is what I believe Mother Angelica meant when she spoke of "practicing virtue". As I learn to walk with God, despite the instincts that rage within, I become oriented to be able to discover to who I am & who I am meant to be in light of Who He is.

Song of the Three

Today I was praying through morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours & came across a portion of a canticle from Daniel. Since becoming Catholic, I've become familiar with this passage (It reminds me a lot of Psalm 136). In its entirety, the canticle is called "The Song of the Three" & is considered an Apocryphal work- an addition in the Greek. Because the Apocryphal writings were not found in Hebrew scriptures, they are often not included in Protestant Bibles (& if they are, they're separated out from other scripture like the bad kid in the corner). In a Catholic Bible, the Apocryphal works are not separated, but joined with the rest of scripture- a feature I've come to enjoy very much.

The Song of the Three picks up where Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego are thrown into the furnace, right about where verse 23 of the Protestant versions end. Verse 24 instantly has Nebuchadnezzar jumping up in amazement that the three had not been burned, but this corresponds with verse 91 in a Catholic version. That's 67 verses later. Check out what's missing:

Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, 
and blessed God in the furnace, saying:
Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: 
and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
And blessed is thy glorious and holy Name: 
and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
Blessed art thou in the Temple of thine holy glory: 
and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.
Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, 
and sittest upon the Cherubims, 
and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.
Blessed art thou on the glorious Throne of thy kingdom: 
and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.
Blessed art thou in the firmament of heaven: 
and above all to be praised and glorified for ever.
O all ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye heavens, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye Angels of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye waters that be above the heaven, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye powers of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye Sun and Moon, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye stars of heaven, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O every shower and dew, bless ye the Lord: 
 praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye winds, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye fire and heat, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye Winter and Summer, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye dews and storms of snow, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye nights and days, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye light and darkness, bless ye the Lord:
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye ice and cold, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye frost and snow, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye lightnings and clouds, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O let the earth bless the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye mountains and little hills, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye things that grow on the earth, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye fountains, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye seas and rivers, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye fowls of the air, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O all ye beasts and cattle, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O Israel bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye priests of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye spirits and souls of the righteous, bless ye the Lord, 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O ye holy and humble men of heart, bless ye the Lord: 
praise and exalt him above all for ever.
O Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, bless ye the Lord, 
praise and exalt him above all for ever: 
for he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death, 
and delivered us out of the midst of the furnace, and burning flame: 
even out of the midst of the fire hath he delivered us.
O give thanks unto the Lord, because he is gracious: 
for his mercy endureth for ever.
O all ye that worship the Lord, bless the God of gods, 
praise him, and give him thanks: 
for his mercy endureth for ever.
Daniel 3:51-90

Hmm. Redundant much? Yeah, but think about what its really saying: "Then the three, as out of one mouth, praised, glorified, and blessed God in the furnace..." We're reminded, in light of His mercy, to bless the Lord, to praise, exalt & glorify Him above all temporal, created things, even in the midst of trials & threat of death. This is what confounded Nebuchadnezzar that day & continues to confound the enemy of our soul...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

This Too Shall Pass

I went for a drive in the country today & was overcome by the beauty of a little tree lined bend. On either side of the narrow two lane road was a deep drainage ditch & no shoulder to speak of. It had been raining on & off & the sun was just beginning to break through a coal black sky. The scene was ridiculously picturesque & my senses were practically salivating at the thought of capturing it. I had my camera with me, but I couldn't stop. I had been following a truck that slowed significantly to make the turn, forcing me & the person behind me to brake...

Sometimes its dangerous to slow down or stop & take in life's breathtaking moments.  The only thing one can do is stay the course & drink it all in as you pass by... 

Friday, January 25, 2013

55 Million

55 million children have been aborted in the U.S. alone in the 40 years since Roe v.s. Wade. That number seems astronomical.

When I was younger, I didn't think there was anything wrong with abortion. Of course every woman has a right to decide what to do with her own body, especially in the case of rape, disease or potential risk to mother &/or child. To say otherwise would be "unconstitutional". But we throw that word around like its some kind of skeleton key to unlock any closed door.

The issue is not about what is constitutional or what is a woman's "right". The issue is far bigger than our grand old amendable document or our 5 year life plans. Its about the "un-amendable" foundations of basic morality.

But abortion isn't murder, they say. Its just a procedure. Its just like getting a mole removed. That thing growing inside you? Just a lump of tissue. Its not really alive, anymore than a mole or a tumor is really "alive", so its removal is justified. No one is held responsible for its "death" because it was never "alive" in the first place. Well, that makes everything alright, doesn't it?

So does life start at conception or at birth? Does life start when the "fetus" has all its faculties? When its human features are unmistakable? When it starts kicking & moving about inside? Anyone who has seen the pictures of that little creature curled up safely in the darkness of its mama's belly must have some inkling that this thing is in fact not a "thing", but a life. But it doesn't become real until its "out", until its outside of ourselves & able to be seen by all. Until then, we can tell ourselves the baby is more of a concept. Like any concept, it can be altered with little or no perceived consequence.

I recently heard someone compare abortion to the mindset that allowed slavery to flourish. In the 1800's, the Dred Scott Decision legally declared that people of African decent could not claim freedom or citizenship in the U.S. & therefore had no legal rights. They were considered nothing more than property & deemed inferior by the very same government that now rules in favor of abortion. The unborn have no legal rights. They're considered the property of the mother... hers to do with as she pleases. But life is not anyone's "property", it is a gift of God & we are merely stewards. My mother never had the right to abort me even if she'd wanted to. No mother does.

I can't help but consider why I was chosen to survive...  55 million human beings were snuffed out before they ever saw the light of day & I got to live. Its a humbling thought.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Rope & Anchor

Yesterday on my way to work, I was listening to EWTN's daily Mass. I was pleasantly surprised to recognize Fr. Mitch Pacwa as the celebrant. While I'm not exactly a big fan of his particular vocal stylings, I often find that if I listen long enough, he has something worthwhile to say. Yesterday was such a day.

The New Testament reading came from Hebrews 6:10-20.

Mitch noted how Jesus was not a priest in the order of Aaron, but Melchizedek. He talked about how the High Priest (and only the High Priest) was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies on one day a year (the Day of Atonement). He had to have a rope tied around his ankle, just in case he should happen to die in the presence of God & needed to be dragged out. What a lovely picture, eh? But it happened.

Jesus entered the Holy of Holies with a kind of rope attached to Himself as well, but not for the same reason as an earthly High Priest. Mitch painted a wonderful picture of Jesus being the "anchor for the soul". Christ, our High Priest, Christ, our anchor does not need to be dragged from the Holy of Holies... No, the rope is actually there to pull US in...

For more, check out the audio here:
1-22-13 EWTN Daily Mass

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Forest of Thieves

Jesus & many New Testament writers talked much about dying to one's self, laying aside the old man for the new or buffeting the body to bring it under submission to Christ. What a contrast to the picture of Christianity that was painted for me growing up. I heard those scriptures often enough, but the concept was lost on me. Death is an aspect of the faith that seemed eerily absent in my formation. Like many things, it was nothing more than a symbol. The cross was empty & death was swallowed up in victory. End of story.

I recently came across a quote by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: “Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever.” 

The crucified Christ is more than a morbid symbol. Without the cross, I have nothing. But  my dying (that is, being crucified with Him) is the beginning of His life & mission in me. Without the cross, I have nothing. Without Jesus, I am merely a slave, burdened with the heavy yoke of sin & no one to help me. 

My sins roam free like medieval thieves in the King's forest. These "thieves" aren't just anyone. They're part of me. I have an affinity for them by virtue of my possession or rather, their possession of me. But I must take them captive & deliver them to the executioner out of love for the King. They must die so I can live to Christ... Rather, I must die to live in Him. It seems like a no brainer. Of course I can just choose not to be angry or envious or bitter. Why sure, I can sow peace & be kind & love all at the drop of a hat (scoffs). 

Like Jesus, I can't do my dying alone. Even He needed others to nail His hands & feet & to take His body from the cross when all was said & done. It was only the power of God that raised Him up from the dead days later. I must somehow find a way to present myself as a willing participant, to suffer as He suffered. I have to remember that my dying is the beginning of His life & mission in me. But its not that easy. Its never that easy. I'm the one who slips some of the captives spoons & files in their  layer cakes. I'm the one who leaves the doors open for others to escape. I make excuses for so many of my "sympathies", only to find myself spending time to round them all up again. This is all part of the process of dying. It's not always a once for all thing, like the gift of sudden trauma. Its slow & cellular. It happens gradually, subtly... one by one, like the days & hours that led up to Christ's own death.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

On The End For Which We Were Created

I was gifted a copy of St. Francis De Sales'  Introduction To The Devout Life  for Christmas. Its a book I've had "digitally" for some time now, but was never able to get into for that same reason. Having a physical copy definitely makes a difference & its been my companion nearly every day.

In the first part of the introduction, there is a collection of ten short meditations. Today I completed the 2nd entitled "On the end for which we were created". I admit, I've been experiencing some difficulty with that concept lately, feeling sorry for myself & wondering what my purpose is in this life. I've felt lost, messy, used up & weighed down. But what I read today threatened to change my mind.

"God has placed you in this world not because He needs you in any way- you are altogether useless to Him- but only to exercise His goodness in you by giving you His grace & glory. For this purpose He has given you intellect to know Him, memory to be mindful of Him, will to love Him, imagination to picture to yourself His benefits, eyes to see His wonderful works, tongue to praise Him..."

The meditation goes on, encouraging one to further contemplation:

"Humble yourself & rebuke your soul for its misery... say, what did I think about, O my God, when I did not think of You? What did I remember when I forgot You? What did I love when I did not love You?"

My answer? Me.

" ...I should have fed on the truth but I glutted myself with vanity..."

Gluttony & vanity are words we don't hear much of these days, but their concepts are more than glorified in society, now even justified. But me, why... I'm no glutton of... of  vanity! Or am I? My first thoughts turned to things like overindulgence or narcissism. I pictured a snobby rich person or an addict, a hoarder, a schemer. But then, I was still thinking according to modern day definitions. When I tried to think in terms of what a 16th century author might have meant by the word "vanity", I discovered the archaic definition is actually more akin to senselessness or foolishness... "something worthless, trivial or pointless" (according to Webster's). And that's actually a lot closer to how I've been feeling about myself lately.

"...The trifling, foolish things which I have hitherto devoted myself to, the vain uses to which I have put my days & the affections that have filled my heart shall from now on be looked on with horror..."

Sounds like St. Francis was a little over the top here. I can maybe work up to disappointment at my trifling & foolish affections, but horror? I believe He used this specific word for a reason. If I really believe God placed me in this world in order to exercise His goodness in me & through me... if I really believe He's given me His grace & His glory to know, remember, love, dream of & do for Him (because of His love for me & for all), then to dare be enticed by or even willfully embrace any other thing should naturally invoke the fear of the Lord in me. That is to say, if "something worthless, trivial or pointless" threatens what God has entrusted to me out of His love for me, horror at my potential for betrayal seems more than appropriate.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Altar-nate" Reality

In the course of constructing this simple home "altar", the crucifix fell to the floor & Christ's body popped off with a small, metallic clink. Thankfully, there was no real damage. Apparently, the craftsman (or woman) neglected to nail Jesus to the Cross. They simply glued His hands & feet & called it good. I began looking for tiny nails to do the job right, but it proved impossible without the right tools. I ended up resorting to super glue. It felt strange to hold His hollow body between my fingertips & press Him to the cross, as if I were a modern day centurion "crucifying Him all over again" (He. 6:4-6).

But there were no nails... I could easily pull Him off the Cross if I wanted to. I suddenly realized that without the nails, the whole premise of the Cross is actually weakened. While Christ crucified is foolishness to the world, Christ crucified is the very salvation & power of God for those of us who are continually being saved (1 Cor. 1:18). Jesus willingly gave Himself over to be nailed, hands & feet to the wood for a reason. I need those nails to live. I need His suffering to be able to endure my own.

The "altar" I fashioned is a simple wooden wine crate. In each corner are rocks I picked up during prayer walks on the coast. The fabric inside is actually one of those snazzy oriental rug mouse pads. I think it adds a little color to the mix. The framed picture is of a crucifix that hangs in a Church in Limpias, Spain. Its 6 feet tall & has been known to open & close it's eyes, sweat & even breathe. I have no idea if it's true & quite honestly, I don't really care. Its the look on Christ's face that gets me. He just looks so... real. You can almost hear Him saying "Father, forgive them..." To the left is a one decade rosary I bought well before I was a Catholic...it was my introduction to a more structured way of contemplating His life & sufferings outside of the Easter season. A tiny Mary (Our Lady of Grace is apparently the official name of this particular representation) stands at the foot of the cross with open arms, inviting a closer look. Finally, I have some incense & a candle for ambiance.

So whats the point of having an "altar"? Yeah, I admit it sounds kind of creepy. But there won't be any sacrificing of small rodents or ill-gotten body parts here. This is an altar dedicated to the salvation & power of God... Its a place to remember the suffering of Christ. Again, why? Truth is, I know my own suffering well enough.  I've seen those around me suffer & we all know the world languishes daily. But its not very often that the notion of Christ's suffering is mindfully & actively joined to my own (or another's) daily outside of a Sunday Mass or a random Rosary.

My "altar" is specifically meant to be a stopping point, a place to pray daily  & remember the Passion (that is, the sufferings) of Christ. Without His sufferings, my sufferings & those of the world mean nothing... But as I acknowledge His sacrifice, His horrible death, His glorious resurrection & eternal Lordship, I not only come to know the purpose & worth of His suffering & consequent triumph... I am able to gain hope for my own as well.