Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Seven Sorrows of Mary

This devotion appears to have originated with the Servites, an order of religious which came into being in the 1200's. The Seven Sorrows are usually depicted by a rendering of Mary with Seven swords sticking out of her heart. Quite gruesome for any day and age, but effective, I suppose, in communicating an image of suffering. The devotion has its own feast day- September 15- but can be prayed at anytime. At first glance, one might think this is strictly a Marian prayer because all the focus is on her sorrow. But in reality, and much like the Rosary, it is very Christ centered. I believe every true Marian devotion points us back to Christ. It can be prayed with or without beads & is typically known as a "chaplet".

The Seven Sorrows are thus:

1) Simeon's prophecy- Luke 2:34-35
2) The flight into Egypt- Matthew 2:13-15
3) Losing Jesus in the Temple- Luke 2:46, 48-49
4) The way of the cross- Luke 23:27-28, 31
5) Mary at the foot of the cross- John 19:25-27
6) Removal of Jesus from the cross- John 19:31-37
7) Burial of Jesus- Luke 23:52-56

There are many ways to pray it, but I found it useful to say the Sign of the Cross & an Our Father before each set of sorrows. A short meditation follows & the Hail Mary is said 7 times. The Glory Be leads us into the next set of sorrows. At the end, 3 final Hail Marys are prayed along with the Glory Be & the Sign of the Cross.

Technicalities aside, I wanted to share W.G. Storey's prayer for the second sorrow as an example of a meditation (from A Book of Marian Prayers- Loyola Press):

"Lady of Compassion, Mother of God, 
by the second sword of sorrow that pierced your heart 
when you & Joseph were forced to flee Egypt to save your son from cruel Herod's slaughter,
let me stand by your side, the close companion of your sorrow.
By the blood of the Holy Innocents & the tears of their despairing mothers, 
look with compassion on the refugees who flee before the Herods of our time. 
Lady of Mercy, Mother of the persecuted & exiled, 
by your loving prayers may God pull tyrants from their thrones 
& lift up the poor & lowly to praise His holy name, now & forever. Amen."

As we are invited to walk with Mary through these Seven Sorrows, we consider what it must have been like for her in those moments as a mother, as a human being, as a part God's plan of redemption. If we dig a little, we might even begin to find parallels in our own lives & discover that Mary can actually comfort us in our anxieties, losses & sorrow as well... While some believe that Mary is dead & gone, I'm of the mind that it whether she is truly alive in Heaven or if she's "asleep" somewhere, we can still gain insight & comfort from the life she lived here on earth.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jesus and the Leper

Luke 17:11-19 

This story came up in one of the Mass readings for last week. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, traveling by way of the border between Samaria & Galilee. It seems He was still quite a ways off from anywhere when some lepers spotted Him & called out for mercy. What did "mercy" mean to them? What did they expect from Jesus?

To Jesus, "mercy" apparently meant healing. And healing meant not only being restored physically, but being restored to society, family & community. He told the lepers to go show themselves to the priests, so off they went & were cleansed... all ten of them. Just one turned back to Jesus, shouting praise & thanksgiving to God at the top of His lungs. That must have been quite the scene. Luke also makes a point to tell us he was a Samaritan (despised among the Jews). He's the one you'd least expect to find mercy from God... But there he was, at Jesus' feet, overwhelmed with joy. Did he return because as a Samaritan, he actually wasn't allowed to go to the Jewish priests? Or did he return out of genuine thanksgiving because that's the first thing that crossed his mind?

The others went & left him, maybe thinking they were being obedient to Jesus by going straightaway to the priests. Imagine how happy they were to be rid of the Samaritan's company as well. I think I would have been one of these 9, holding fast to something along the lines of : "Jesus said I'm supposed to do this, this & this & any deviation shall henceforth nullify my healing..."

In receiving the one who returned, Jesus seems to be implying that the life of faith isn't always about following the rules. It isn't always about who you are (or aren't). In our day, we might equate someone with an alternative physical, religious or sexual orientation as a "Samaritan". We may exclude them from our personal esteem & our fellowships because of who they are... despite the fact that they may have "faith" like us.  Jesus may have cleansed all 10 lepers, but to this one lowly Samaritan, He also said "Your faith has saved you". The other 9 went away merely cleansed, but this one was also saved."? A Samaritan?

It definitely gives me pause for people of faith who are kept outside the Church for the sake of the "rules"... simply because they are... "Samaritans", whether by birth, choice or public opinion.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Holy Mother Church

Some might think it odd that I still consider myself a Catholic when I seem to have such a difficult time practicing it. There's a reason why this blog isn't called "Catholic At A Glance." I must admit, that after 3 years, I'm able to wholeheartedly embrace many facets of Catholicism but there are still some that make me uncomfortable. For instance, missing Mass is an instant ticket to hell. Dying without the sacrament of confession equals all you can eat at the Eternal Burn & Churn. Birth control in marriage or divorce & re-marriage without Holy Mother Church's approval? Why, you're dancing with the devil. A Traditionalist will live in fear of violating the rules while the cafeteria Catholic will acknowledge the rules & choose for themselves what they practice & how they practice- based on logic & personal experience. I know I'm not a Traditionalist, so that must make me one of those dreaded cafeteria Catholics... the veritable scourge of Catholicism. Wouldn't it be better to just stay put in the arms of  Holy Mother Church?

Holy mother church. I kind of feel goofy just saying it. Is the Church really my mother? Am I not part of one body with Christ as the head? 1 Timothy 3:15 says the church is the pillar & support of the truth. A good mother is that to her family. So I suppose the church can be a "mother" in that sense.  But realistically, the "church" is us, in Christ, under Christ. To suspend one's individual ability to think logically in favor of deferring to a governing body called "Holy Mother Church" (overseen by a lineage of males, oddly) seems kind of foolish. Just because someone is a "mother" doesn't mean they possess the wisdom or ability to function as such. Not only that, the church has changed exponentially since Paul penned those words to Timothy. Who is to say Holy Mother church is fit to be my mother now? That's a question I can ask, but unfortunately cannot answer.

Part of me wonders if it even really matters in the grand scheme of things. Will Jesus look me in the eye on judgement day & ask me if I was faithful to the teaching of Holy Mother Church? Or might He instead care more whether I put God first above all things & loved my neighbor as myself? A devout Catholic might argue that doing those things IS being faithful to the teaching of Holy Mother Church. Maybe. But I've heard too much of  "I don't have to worry about what to believe because Holy Mother Church has spelled it out for me". I don't think we're just supposed to turn off our brains & crash into the fray like happy little puppies in the sunshine.

I find myself drawing comparisons to the religious structure of Jesus' day. He was constantly blasting the priests & scribes for hypocrisy. He scolded them for making up ridiculous law the people couldn't keep... Jesus Himself  "violated" the rules many times to connect with the poor, the sick, the scoundrels. I think Holy Mother Church has a tendency to split hairs over trivial things Jesus might overlook in favor of celebrating the humanity of a person... I'm inclined to think He might prefer logic over law... love in the moment over knee jerk condemnation. It seems to me He enjoyed presenting different perspectives on how to live life, perspectives that were sometimes deemed "scandalous" by the masses. He talked to women, touched lepers, ate with tax collectors, even called a selfish, thieving traitor like Judas a disciple. What does Holy Mother Church have to say about that?! We glorify Jesus for breaking the mold, but God help us if we dare deviate from the collective mind! It gets under my skin because there really is so much good in the Catholic faith... but there are also a lot of seemingly unnecessary expectations that tend to suck the life & validity right out of it.

On one final note, I'd like to remind readers (who might be tempted to pass judgement) that unlike judgement, "conversion" is never static. Belief, like salvation, is a process. I'm on a journey... Are you?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Not How, But Why

So I've been praying about how to "carry my Cross" in the real world... Jesus carried real lumber through the streets of Jerusalem that fateful Friday morning. He had endured an emotional evening, a night without sleep, hours of interrogation, scourging, mocking & beating. Both scripture & Tradition tell us He even needed help to complete the short trek to Calvary.

While I was considering these events, for some reason, the story of Jacob's wrestling match came to mind. The account can be found in Genesis 32:22-32. Jacob wrestled with "a man" throughout the night & wouldn't let him go until he blessed him. He wanted to know who this guy was. The man instead countered with a question: "Why do you want to know My Name?". In the end, He blessed Jacob & left him limping into the sunrise. We later find out the mysterious opponent was none other than God Himself.

I'm under the impression that carrying the Cross in the real world has something to do with the struggle to hold on- to believe & to live out that faith in the midst of everything going on around us. Apparently, we're supposed to be doing this every day... this dying "daily" as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 15:31... this being "crucified with Christ" as he says in Galatians 2:19-20.  But if Jesus already went before us, why are we still called to take up our cross & follow Him to a kind of perpetual Calvary? Christ died for the world, but who is my "death" for?

There are no crowds shouting at me, no soldiers whipping me to get moving... I'm not hauling literal wood on my back. I'm on my own recognizance here. Why did Jacob wrestle with God that night? To get a blessing? Or was it something else? What's going to motivate me to hold on, to carry my cross? Perhaps Jesus would counter that question with His own: "Why do you want to know My Name?".

Sunday, October 18, 2015

So... This is Faith?

Last week before I left for work, I knelt down, made the sign of the Cross, had a few seconds of silence & opened up my prayer book. I gave a quick glance to Jesus, Mary & the crucifix, rambled through an Act of Contrition, a Morning Offering & a few other short "canned" prayers. I made sure to finish with some reverential silence & the sign of the Cross before going on with my day. I thought "So this is faith?". I felt like I was just reading the words out of the book...which felt kind of stupid. I didn't have the words to say either for or against the "defense" of my spirit that day and I hoped God would at least acknowledge my heart for trying.

Growing up, I was told that God won't acknowledge our prayers if we're not sincere. I was told I could even drive the Holy Spirit away if I harboured sin in my heart- He will flee because He can't stand the filth of my wickedness. But didn't Jesus say He wouldn't leave me orphaned or forsake me? Or was He just speaking to His disciples before His ascension?

Jesus ate & drank with "sinners" routinely. Am I any better or worse than them? The Bible says my body is a temple & I'm not to grieve the Holy Spirit, but I don't recall it saying anywhere that the Holy Spirit will abandon someone just for grieving Him. Didn't Jesus say its the sick who need a doctor? He never shied away from those who came to Him. Didn't the prodigal son demand His inheritance, squander it & come crawling back? And didn't the Father run to meet him when he returned? Is the Holy Spirit really any different?

I began to think about these things in relation to my faith now & realized its silly to believe that the Holy Spirit would just up & leave because of my sin. The Holy Spirit is a Comforter, a Counselor. What comforter or counselor who experiences crisis (big or small) would choose to abandon the situation? If the Holy Spirit truly "flew" away from us every time we sinned... what kind of help would that be? I'm inclined to believe He remains with us through thick & thin because that's precisely when we need Him most.

So yes, "this" is faith... for me, anyway. Its a moment by moment, struggling, doubting, hoping, doing-it-anyway kind of  faith. It routinely finds new ways to soil itself & ends up falling helpless into unseen arms... over & over again. It may mean praying words out of a book, or kneeling silently pondering why I'm kneeling silently... But ultimately, it always means turning back toward the One Who never leaves.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

X Marks the Spot

There is a popular image of a Cross shown stuck between 2 ledges, signifying a bridge for all people to be saved from death to life by "crossing" over a gap. I've never been fond of this image because the cross is always empty. I guess Christ on the Cross could be something of a hindrance to us, a type of stumbling block... and we can't have that, now can we? Its true that Christ died, was buried & rose again (thus leaving an empty Cross behind) but I believe the power of the Cross comes from Christ's presence on it, from the how & why & what He endured on it, not merely from the symbolism of the timbers He died upon. The Cross wasn't wedged into an crevice like a magical bridge. It was meant to be carried, not crossed. 

Many of us who "survived" the Christian culture of the late 20th /early 21st century have left the Cross behind. We believed we made it to the other side & our only goal was to heap up all sorts of spiritual gifts & blessings to spread to the world. Many of us were told to speak our desires & all would be done for us. That's what the Bible said afterall: "Ask & it will be given to you, seek & you will find, etc...". I don't remember hearing anything about suffering or sacrifice, but we used to memorize scripture & spout it at will at any & all of life's events... we thought we were shaking heaven, taking hold of the horns of the altar, sending thousands to flight & allowing God to "break us & make us" His beloved bride. We had our own lingo, our own understanding of things. Bible study, all night prayer meetings & professional worship musicians took to the stage to lead us into ecstasy... all these were designed to set us on fire for God so we could change the world! Looking back, quite honestly, it all seems like an emotional crock of bull.

Consider this: yes, the Bible was indeed "God breathed" (that is, written by men who were inspired by God), but we forget those men were essentially spiritual masters. They had been close to God & "living it" for decades before anything got written down. Rejoicing in suffering, loving one another, showing deference to the outcast, being self sacrificing & such for the cause of Christ- all these things had become second nature to them because they had been doing it for years. This stuff was ingrained in them. But somehow we expected to find ourselves able to achieve their way of life simply by reading, meditating & practicing it over a few days, weeks or months. No wonder many of us felt like failures. No wonder many of us struggled to find the life the changing substance our faith promised. No wonder it seemed like all some of us got out of the deal was a bunch of head knowledge. I'm not bitter, just a little more world wise & weary now.

Catholics, by the way, aren't exempt. When I became a Catholic, I thought for sure things would be different. They seemed to "get it". They spoke of suffering. They had Christ on the Cross in their churches... Devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, liturgical seasons, they all point to Jesus' life, death & resurrection. But even as a Catholic, substance eludes me. I have a sneaking suspicion it might have something to do with the Cross... or lack thereof.

We are never to put the Cross behind us. It must be the focal point, not a happy memory or a background image on our screensaver. We must be aware of it at all times like a nagging pain. Its not our magical bridge to salvation, its our X marks the spot & we are to carry it with us wherever we go. Didn't Jesus say "Where your heart is, there your treasure will be also."? What have I been pursuing all this time? Spiritual gifts & blessings? What for? Without the Cross to stake the claim to the real treasure, I'm left spiritually destitute, grasping at air. I used to hear the saying: "Christ died on the Cross so you wouldn't have to". But when did Jesus ever imply that? I've come to the conclusion that its exactly what He wanted... and now comes the hard part... moving beyond the words. What does carrying the Cross mean for me?

Friday, October 16, 2015

Prie-Dieu Milieu

So I finally did it- I went & bought a prayer kneeler last month. If you've ever looked into such a thing, you know it can be a pricey venture. It has many different names: prayer kneeler, prayer desk, prayer bench, Prie Dieu, etc. Unless you find an old one that's beat to heck or have the know how to DIY, a realistic starting price can be anywhere from $75 to hundreds of dollars. It all depends on if it's old or new, if it's fixed or it folds, if you want cloth or upholstered padding, if you want a flat top or a slant top. It can come with a shelf or no shelf, be any kind of wood, varnish, or have a symbol (like a cross or a chi rho) carved into it. The more you want, the more you pay.

Now why on earth would anyone want to spend money on such a thing when you can just kneel at your bed or by a chair? Granted, I personally wouldn't be able to justify spending $100 or more for a new kneeler, let alone a used one. Unless it's going in a church for the use of many, it seems like an unnecessary cost for personal use. I happened to be looking online & spotted someone selling theirs for $40. The curse of someone else's illness became my blessing.

I know it doesn't make me any more holy than the guy who kneels by his bed or the gal who prays in her car on her lunch break. It's simply a tool to assist in prayer. Unfortunately, it tends to be an expensive one only precious few can afford. When you think about it, cost alone seems to pit the idea of the prayer kneeler against everything Jesus taught us about simplicity & a spirit of poverty.  Does that make it "right or wrong" to have one? I don't know. I've spent more to go on church retreats & conferences in the past... was that right or wrong? Sometimes I find the logic difficult to reconcile.

I do know that the palette of distraction I would normally encounter while praying in a chair or at my bedside is significantly diminished when my knees hit the pad. The kneeler lives directly behind my bedroom door & practically calls me to prayer before I leave in the morning & before I go to bed at night. C.B. Chamber's Jesus & Mary & a small resin crucifix provide limited focal points. I keep my Mass readings, a prayer book & Liturgy of the Hours on the shelf. A rosary rests in a tiny terra cotta planter dish on top. I don't read/pray with any one book every day & I'm never there for very long. Sometimes I just end up kneeling in silence, but I always walk away having had a sense of connection... kind of like when someone you know catches your eye & smiles at you from across a crowded room.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Angry Rosary

One night on my way home from work, I grabbed my rosary & started praying it... angrily. I was in a foul mood & just wanted to be done with the day. My CD player was on the fritz & there was nothing good on the radio, so I drove in silence for a bit.  I don't know what possessed me exactly... The idea of praying appealed to me about as much as cleaning out a septic tank with my bare hands.

The meditations for the day were the Joyful mysteries.... ugh! Those freaking Joyful mysteries. It was almost comical, the contrast between how dark I felt & what the Joyful mysteries are meant to deposit in one's heart.  I tried to pause & align myself with each decade. I knew I really didn't want to say yes to God... but I asked Mary to help me do so. I just wanted to be alone, but I prayed for the desire not to isolate... I didn't want to face the uncertainties I felt about life, but I prayed for help not be afraid. I didn't want to be bothered with fulfilling obligations to God or man, real or imagined. I just wanted to go home, crawl into bed & sleep. So I asked Mary to help me offer to God only what He requires of me & to help me find Jesus in the midst of it all when I feel like I've altogether lost Him... I had been quickly (& yes, begrudgingly) rambling through the seemingly endless Our Fathers & Hail Marys, but as I went along, I found myself holding my beads more tightly, like a tether that kept me from plunging to my death. It was then that I realized I'd actually started to feel calm...

The road grew dark as the city lights disappeared behind the hills. Construction signs flashed & herded everyone into one lane. We slowed to a sluggish 45mph & made our way together past utility vehicles & an endless line of orange barrels. What should have been 10 minutes home became 25 & I resolved myself to the fact that I didn't have to set the pace that night. I only had to keep moving past the obstacles. Such is faith...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Scandal in the Sanctuary

Its the weekend again, which means Mass. I find myself increasingly anxious about not having anything "nice" to wear. Things don't fit like they used to or they've been in my closet so long, they've gone out of style! People have told me to spend a few bucks to get an outfit at the thrift store, but I usually can't even find regular clothes there, let alone dressy digs (Its hard to be a tall girl). And even if I did find something, am I going to wear the same thing every Sunday? That's almost worse than showing up in jeans & a hoody... or "street clothes" as church people like to say. Its not that I don't have the funds to buy a new outfit, or several new outfits. Honestly, I just feel my money is better spent elsewhere.

I got to thinking... is it really me who has a problem with this? No. I would prefer going to church in my street clothes for a myriad of reasons. I'll be more comfortable. I won't have to go home & change. If I go anywhere before or after church, no one will give me the evil eye like I'm gonna start handing out tracts or something. "Nice clothes" inevitably create division. If I'm an average joe on the street, I would be less inclined to feel like I could stroll into a church service, plop down next to a suit & know I'm welcome. In fact, I'd steer clear of such a place because I know those people will look down on me.

I wonder how many others there are who WANT to go to church, to Mass, but avoid it because they don't want to put themselves through an emotional gauntlet? "Oh", I've been told, "you're just being selfish. Its not about you, its about God. Don't you want to give God the best you have? You're dishonoring Him by not appearing before Him like a child of the King that you are?!" Hmm. God sees all of me everyday, whether I'm wearing clothes or not. Am I really dishonoring God by not dressing up? Is it really the outward appearance He cares about or the heart? I think we know the answer. So when in Christianity did we begin to require dressing to the nines for church?

It seems that dressing up wasn't actually a common practice until the Victorian era- the mid 19th century. Before then, only the rich wore nice clothes because they were the only ones who could afford them. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution brought more prosperity, it also brought the poor "up" & they wanted to flaunt it. Dressing up started being equated with being a respectable person & if you didn't have the right clothes, well, poor you. Pun intended.

This was actually one of the sticking points for me when I became a Catholic. It still is. There are those who believe people like me are a disgrace to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Uh, hello? Jesus ate with sinners, tax collectors, even poor people... How is my showing up at Mass in street clothes going to offend Him? Perhaps by offending others, "causing scandal" as Catholics say, I'm in fact truly offending God? Then again, didn't Jesus seem to cause scandal every other moment when He walked this earth? Are street clothes really synonymous with irreverence? Why is it so shocking to see something so everyday, so commonplace enter the sanctuary? Isn't that what Jesus died & rose for?!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Sometimes By Moon

A friend of mine commented that I tend to write about the same things over & over. Perhaps. But I got to thinking about it... this blog, like both physical & spiritual life, is a journey of faith.

I've seen with my own eyes the sun, the moon, grass, trees & birds of various kinds... They're everywhere I've been. I think faith in particular can start to feel like this- things tend to look the same no matter where we go, what we do or how much time passes. Eventually, we detach, zone out & wander mindlessly. Faith just "is". We know what to expect & what not to count on. But that's not much of a journey, is it?

Even though things like the sun, moon, grass, trees & birds are the same each time I encounter them, I'm always encountering them in a different moment or place along the journey. Each moment has the potential to make the "same old same old" new again. Each place has the power to alter the perception of those seemingly steadfast certainties (or uncertainties) in life. So yes, it may seem like I write about the same subjects, but I'm always encountering them in a different light... sometimes by sun, sometimes by moon...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reasoning Together

The other day, I lost my cool. I had some pretty unsavory thoughts about my fellow drivers & people in general... Its days like this that I feel like God can't possibly redeem me. I'm just a black spot on His sun, the stain that won't ever wash clean... Can He ever make of me a Christian? Sometimes my propensity to “hate” feels as natural to me as a pair of comfortable jeans, all broken in...

My other sins don't feel nearly as bad as when I treat someone poorly, think vengeful thoughts about them or ignore them altogether. I may as well be directing all that toward God, which seems even worse. I'm so guilty. These are the sins I seem to commit frequently- sometimes out of anger, other times out of fear... And other times, just because. How dare I call myself a disciple or the bride of Christ & still harbor the awful, negative things I think, say & do at times! I'm supposed to be dressed & ready to go, aren't I? At this rate, I'm as good as doomed.

Am I supposed to walk around in a wedding dress all the time? I certainly wouldn't hang out in it, run errands in it, go to work in it. I might put it on to get it fitted properly, but I wouldn't wear it out til the big day. No, I exist in stuff I'm comfortable in. In real life, I know the clothes I wear for daily existence will have to be washed because they'll get dirty, sticky, wrinkled. No big deal.
Turns out God sent His Son for people just like me, (as well as for those that I've hated, talked about or ignored). This is the Gospel in action: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."  Isaiah 1:18.

God knows I'm human & part of this journey is walking in my humanity...  the other part is staying in relationship with Him.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Prayer In Action

Today on my way to work, I was listening to the Divine Mercy prayer in song. As I neared a stoplight, the "Glory be" came on. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining & there wasn't a cloud in the sky. "Glory be to the Father & to the Son & to the Holy Spirit..." as it continued, I looked out my passenger window & watched a man struggle with his belongings. He was scruffy & dirty. He walked with a limp in his worn out boots & had some kind of bag slung over his back.

What if I were to roll down my window & yell out "Glory be to the Father..." as a gesture of greeting? It probably wouldn't go over well.  What about the Rosary? What if I were to walk up to him with a string of beads & tell him that praying even just one Hail Mary would be... "efficacious"?  He'd probably laugh in my face. That man doesn't need a doxology or a string of beads to show him God's love... he needs someone- some ONE to show him. I was not that one, as the light turned green & I drove off. But at least I said a prayer for him...

I got to thinking how religion can be like this for so many of us- me included... We think if we "do" our daily devotions, pray our Rosary or inundate ourselves with wholesome Christ centered media, we've connected with the Godhead. Somehow, we forget there's more to it than amassing scripture, history & teaching in order to "grow closer to God". We may as well roll down our windows & shout out the words to our prayers because that's all people will see if we stop there. I can imagine them thinking, "This is the real world. Pray your prayers, but leave me alone. I've got things to do".

This led me to another thought. In Catholicism, we are encouraged to pray prayers like the Rosary, the Divine Mercy, etc. They aren't requirements, but they're known to be tried & true ways to build up one's faith. I think the message comes across that when we say the prayers, they're somehow magical. Some people pray them for meditation. Others pray them for penance. Some people pray them because they believe the promises attached & think that saying the words will lessen their days in purgatory. But like scripture, they're just words unless they're taken to heart & practiced.

When the Rosary gives us 5 mysteries a day to meditate on, I wonder how I might flesh one or all of those out- What good news can I give to someone today? Whose suffering can I help ease with my presence? Who can I "break bread" with? Who can I share something awe inspiring with? How can I make my prayers into practical "scripts" of sorts to reach out & meet people where they're at in the real world?

And again, "For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us & on the whole world"... this is part of the Divine Mercy prayer, addressed, of course, to God. But what if I were to live my life "for the sake of His sorrowful passion", what if I were to show mercy to those around me? How would my life & those around me be any different?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The True Gospel

I'm reading a book a family member passed along to me. According to him & many others, its the cat's pajamas. Out of respect for the author, I'll refrain from sharing further details at this time except to say the book is distinctly Protestant...

The author says we who are Christians have been perfected once for all & are being perfected daily. She believes we are, as near as I can tell, unconditionally saved, no questions asked. This sounds like the tired, old "once saved, always saved" argument to me. No matter what you do or don't do, your efforts can't save you or condemn you because Jesus is the only one Who has the power to save or condemn. Therefore, if one has faith in Him, that person is saved by faith... by grace, and not by works of  "the law". That last line, I agree with. But somehow, the author believes that making an effort to refrain from sin translates to self-righteousness. And of course, we know self-righteousness is bad.

Righteousness can't be earned & we know we aren't righteous because of anything we do or don't do. We are righteous simply because of what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Its a gift. Fair enough. The author also goes on to say that righteousness can't be measured by obedience, because that would be us doing works. And of course, we know works are bad too. So how can we know we are righteous if obedience does nothing for us? The author implies that we know because the New Covenant God instituted through Christ freed us from "the law". Under law, we worked to be righteous. Under grace, we are righteous just because. Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the old law by becoming the ultimate, final sacrifice required for the forgiveness of sins. So now, there's no need for the law, no need for sacrifice & no need for works. In Jesus, we are righteous & saved as long as we simply have faith in Him.This is supposed to be the Gospel... the "good news". And yeah, it would be good, if it were true. I'm not convinced. I've never been.

Should we conclude there's no need for baptism, confession, daily devotions or works of mercy? Look at the "good" thief who hung next to Jesus- He didn't do anything but ask to be remembered in the kingdom of God. And what did Jesus do? He told Him he would take him to Paradise that very day. Should we naturally assume the same as it pertains to our own lives? The author seems to support the idea that Christians shouldn't even call themselves sinners anymore because we ARE the righteousness of God! Heaven forbid we should identify as lowly sinners. To do so demeans & mocks the free gift of God. We're already righteous. We're already saved. Just because...

I can't help but wonder, what happens to Purgatory, Reconciliation and sin (mortal & venial) if the Gospel really is grace, grace, grace & nothing more? Does grace nullify the Catholic understanding of the Christian life? Does grace say there is no longer a need to repent or confess sins? I don't think the author of this book is going so far as to say that. The author does imply that the expectation of having to do anything in order to maintain righteousness involves both works & fear of suffering. And if one fears losing anything God has already given them, especially their salvation,  they're not living in faith, or under grace, or in love. Perfect love casts out all fear. If one fears, they are still under law. Purgatory then, is rendered void if we are truly & instantaneously righteous, holy & saved to the end. There's no need for cleansing if we're already clean, right? The author also says we shouldn't expect God to expose our sins on judgement day because Love covers over a multitude of sins...Yet doesn't it say elsewhere in the Bible that we will be called to account for every word? Do all those horrible, awkward moments in life suddenly disappear from the record simply because we are forgiven? Is this the true Gospel? Or is this the same old Protestant argument repackaged for a new generation?

In short order, we get to Romans 8 that proclaims there is "no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus". Are we to believe we will never be condemned for any sin we commit as Christians? The author uses 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 as an example & says Paul never intended to imply that the immorality of the Corinthian church would separate them from Christ. He simply wanted to remind them that what they were doing, they did so as if they were in the throne room of God. But God would never actually punish them for such a thing because He doesn't even keep track of sins anymore once a person is saved. This seems downright preposterous to me. Ever hear of Ananias & Sapphira?!

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Now In My Heart

I've gotten to the point where I can barely pray or read scripture. I'm not mad at God for what's happening to my mother now. I don't feel scared, but I don't really feel protected by God either. I'm alone, but I don't really feel alone. I just "am". People's prayers are welcome & kind, but none of them seem to pierce the reality of  the "now". And I think that's ok... I think. Perhaps God is so big in the "now" that it would be impossible to see Him anyway. Maybe this experience is like walking up to a giant pixelated screen, where all you see are little squares made of colour & light. They all interact & fit together somehow & as one moves away from the screen, the picture, the story, emerges. Right now, maybe God is too close to see.... but as I step back, I will see more. I feel neither comfort nor anxiety from the thought. The extemporaneous is being stripped away. Reality, it seems, is no longer comprised of the world around me, but the "now" within my heart... tiny pixels of colour & light.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Joyful Mysteries In Time of Sorrow

My mother recently spent some time in the hospital after a fall in her home. When she arrived, she wasn't able to speak or open her eyes. No one knew what had happened or how long she had been out on the floor. Was it a stroke? A heart attack? Did she simply lose her balance? Naturally, as the only child living 500 miles away, I was beside myself. Mom improved, got moved to rehab a few days ago & asked me to come & "fall proof" her home. Its estimated that she spent 2 days on the floor with her right arm pinned beneath her. As a result, she has limited control of her right hand. She also can't be mobile without the assistance of a walker. Her memory is spotty & we seem to have many of the same conversations over & over. The doctors believe high blood pressure was the main cause of her fall, but no one seems to know anything definitive yet. Its a bit frustrating.

Today I went for a walk in the park I used to traipse through 20 years ago. I tried to pray, but kept getting side tracked with thoughts of "what if"... It was then that I heard that still small voice encourage me to pray the Rosary. Today was the day to pray the Joyful Mysteries, of all things. I wondered what good it could possibly do. I faltered through the first few Hail Marys, distracted by people or dogs or birds. But as I finally got my train of thought connected to the prayers, I began to hear that still small voice even more clearly...

1st Mystery/Annunciation:
Mary said "Yes" to God & bore Jesus, Who bore our sins.
What fruit will my "yes" to this situation bring? Help me say "Yes" to Your will & trust that the fruit of saying "yes" will work for my good & the good of those around me.

2nd Mystery/Visitation:
The Saviour of the world was being formed in Mary's womb.
Elizabeth's babe leaped within her as Mary approached. There was such joy between them.
But there is no joy here. What's being formed in my mom & in me through these recent events? Its going to be a change... a new life for both of us. Can I rejoice in what that change will bring? Can I live out my "Yes" to God?

3rd Mystery/Nativity:
The birth of Jesus was announced by angels & shepherds came to see Joseph, Mary & the Child. Perhaps the shepherds offered food or a cloak to keep the little Babe warm.
Even when I feel alone, I'm not. God will provide "shepherds" to take care of me... Who might those "shepherds" be? Family? Friends? Perhaps even a quiet, warm walk in the park to regroup or a much needed nap?

4th Mystery/Presentation:
Mary & Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, offering sacrifice & receiving the blessing of the priest.
How can I present the fledgling fruit of my circumstance to God? What might I have to sacrifice? Will there be a blessing for me (or my mom or my family or some stranger years down the road) in all this?

5th Mystery/Finding in the Temple
When He was 12 years old, Jesus stayed behind in the temple (unbeknownst to Mary & Joseph). They searched frantically for 3 days before they finally found Him.
I must remember that God's timing isn't mine. Had Mary & Joseph been attentive to Jesus & waited, they would not have experienced such an acute sense of loss & anxiety. God, help me to be attentive to You & abide by Your timing.

When all was said & done, I "heard" God ask what would I do if I didn't have anything to worry about? Not that the situation will inevitably change for the better- there's no guarantee of that- but what if I chose to praise Him instead? It sounds kind of cheesy. But if there is no terror to foment, no worry to tie up me in knots... what would happen? If I sacrifice my worry for His goodness & creativity instead, what WOULD I have left to do? What COULD I do? Worry is fruitless... I know it. There's nothing left but to rejoice that He's in control. He's got this.

Easy to say, harder to live. I don't feel much like rejoicing...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Faith, Hope & Love

I walked into a Catholic bookstore & bought myself a rosary a few years ago. I remember the sales lady asking me which parish I attended. I was just about to begin RCIA & was still pretty terrified by all things Catholic, but she reassured me that I was on the right path. She gave me time to browse all manner of rosaries, and this is the one I chose. I didn't want anything flashy & I've always been drawn to the image from the Shroud of Turin (Only later did I find out I had picked a "manly" rosary!). No matter. I kept the beads in my pocket during the day & under my pillow at night. There was nothing magical about them, but somehow, they made me feel connected to something stronger than myself. About a month ago, it finally happened. On the 3 small beads between the crucifix & the centerpiece, one typically prays for an increase of faith, hope & love. But then I discovered something was missing.

Somehow, I had lost all three beads at once. They must have worn & cracked over time. Slowly, faith, hope & love had deteriorated & their loss rendered the entire rosary useless.  Everything hangs on these three virtues, just as the crucifix hangs from these three beads. From there, I'm connected to the Father & the greater communion of saints through the intercession of Jesus & Mary-  through faith, hope & love.  But take these away & there is a very real void... a disconnect... a brokenness.

I began to wonder- had faith, hope & love deteriorated within me & rendered my life ineffective? If I don't possess these things, or rather, if they don't possess me, honestly, what's the point... of anything? It was quite the wake up call. I can pray a million Our Fathers, a billion Hail Marys & a trillion Glory Be's, but without faith, hope & love, I have nothing.