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?