Saturday, July 16, 2016

Turning the Other Cheek

The older I get, the more appalled I become at the state of humanity. It makes me angry when people are unkind. It frustrates me when people are selfish. It's disheartening to discover how greedy & arrogant people can be. It's annoying to watch them spend their money & time to pursue frivolous things. I feel vindictive when someone breaks the law. I'm tempted to despair when people flaunt a lack of common sense & morality & expect authorities to regulate it. People are like little lemmings, hurdling toward the edge of... what? All is darkness anyway, so eat, drink & be merry. Has it always been like this, or do things just become more clear with age?

As a Christian, I'm not supposed to be unkind, selfish, greedy, arrogant, lawless or immoral... like them. But then, I'm not supposed to be angry, frustrated, disheartened, annoyed, vindictive or despairing either. When my internal responses only serve to fan the flame of darkness, I become nothing more than the devil's pawn.

What to do? Do I "turn the other cheek" as Jesus said? It's just an invitation to get hit again... and how will passivity change anything? In reality, turning the other cheek gives me the power in the situation. How? No matter what the offender does to me, I at least get to choose whether I align myself with darkness or light. If I align myself with darkness by responding in kind, I become a prisoner, a pawn (& surrender is easy). Darkness perpetuates darkness. If I turn the other cheek, I align myself with light. Something changes in me. I become... a Christian...  in service to God & to my neighbor (My what?!). Much to my dismay, I have to keep reminding myself that "humanity" isn't the enemy. When I align myself with light, its fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control) are anything but passive responses to the offender... er, my neighbor... because light perpetuates light.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

So It's Saturday Again... Thoughts On Confession & Mass

After 4 years as a Catholic, I still take issue with confession & the obligation to attend Mass. Going to confession at 3pm on a Saturday is kind of obnoxious. I mean, who chose that time? If it happened 1st thing on a Saturday morning or even around noon, great. I think I would be there more often. But 3pm cuts right into the middle of everything. That said, I tend to put it off... and then sin tends to build. I get into that mentality of "Well, I'm already in mortal sin, so why not just stay home from Mass?". So I start missing Mass & on it goes. I wonder how many others can relate? Of course, one can make an appt. with a priest at any time, but then there goes anonymity. There always seems to be an excuse.

I was having this conversation about confession & Mass in prayer one day, asking Jesus to show me WHY I had to go. What's the big deal? If I can confess to Him in private anyway, why go to a priest? I have access to the readings for every day of the year so I can read the Word for myself. Why do I need to sit in a crowd of people & hear it at Mass? And, if He already lives in my heart, why do I need to physically receive the sacraments? I began to realize my argument sounded very "Protestant-y".

Here's what the reply was: Confession is important because the very act involves stepping out of life as I know it. I must go somewhere specific. Others will see me waiting. When its my turn, I'm "seen & heard" by another & I'm seen again when I exit. On one hand, confession is a declaration of repentance ratified by the presence of witnesses, but its also my witness to others. How many times have I been waiting in line when someone else arrived behind me? Phew! I'm no longer alone. Sometimes catching a glimpse of someone leaving with a look of relief on their face reminds me that God is merciful. They are a witness to my conversion and I am a witness to theirs.

In short, confession is an act of community.

As for Mass, the same is true. My presence there is not only a witness to others, but an act of giving. I'm saying "I've come out from my life to share in yours".  And isn't that the essence of what Jesus did when He was born of Mary? He left His Father's side in Heaven to stand by ours on earth... When I go to Mass, I stand by others & share a Creed, a Word & a Sacrifice in common. I'm as much a witness & potential encouragement to their faith as they are to mine. This doesn't make the obligation to go any easier, but seeing it in a different light definitely challenges me.

Attending Mass is an act of giving- of my self- to God & to those around me.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thoughts On Personal Relationship With Jesus

Years ago, an Evangelical friend of mine was talking about a friend of hers who was a Catholic. She said this gal seemed to have more of a relationship with the Church than with Jesus. I didn't think anything of it. Of course Catholics didn't have a personal relationship with Jesus. Everyone knows they're usually well meaning, but woefully deceived. Everything was about Mary or the Mass or the Pope.

As a Protestant, we clung to our Bibles & prayed to the Father, Son & Holy Spirit. The angels- Gabriel & Michael- were the only ones we ever heard about & we never talked about Mary except at Christmas. She was just some peasant girl who became a surrogate mom. The Apostles were inspiring role models & historic preachers & teachers were considered “saints”, but once they died, that was it. They went to sleep & nobody's "waking up" til Christ comes back. Suffice it to say, I remember feeling very alone... 

Since I've been a Catholic, I think I'm the one who was woefully deceived. I can't help but be astounded by the blessing of “family” in the Catholic Church: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Mary, the apostles, the saints... even the Old Testament prophets like Moses & Elijah... they're all alive, right now. I am, at this moment, in communion with all of the Church, both past & present. Time is no barrier. We're all connected because God is a God of the living, not the dead (Mt 22:32, Mk 12:27, Lk 20:38). Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Chapter 11 tells us who those witnesses are and guess what? They're all "dead". How can that be? 

The Catholic Church believes there are 3 different regiments of Christians- the church triumphant, the church militant and the church suffering. We who are alive on this earth are the church militant because we are still fighting evil in our midst. The dead in Christ, who have gone onto their rest in Heaven, are the church triumphant & those who have died in Christ but remain in purgatory are the church suffering because they're still being purified from the effects of their temporal sin. Since Jesus' death & resurrection, death no longer separates us from one another. Those who have shuffled off their mortal coil are still very much alive. The church triumphant can intercede for me & I, in turn, can intercede for those in purgatory. 

For instance, when I'm struggling with something (say... anger or purity), I pray to God and suddenly a saint I've never "met" before comes into my life. Their names start appearing in books I'm reading, talks I'm listening to, online searches and other places. When I dig for more info, I discover the help I need in the form of a word of advice, an encouraging story or a prayer they prayed. This is exactly how I "met" people like Dymphna, Germaine, Gemma Galgani, Angela Foligno & my own patron saint, Francis De Sales. I know it sounds ridiculous to think this means they're alive or that their "presence" in my life is equivalent to intercession, but I can't help but wonder... Sometimes you just have to take things on faith. Even if God is the One Who determines which attributes of a particular "dead" saint in history would assist me most, that person is, in a sense, made alive to me once again... 

If someone were to ask me if I have a personal relationship with Jesus, I don't know if I would answer the same way I did years ago. The old "Jesus & me" mentality seems... limiting and kind of selfish. It actually serves to isolate me from the Church because it rejects those who have gone before me. Only when I'm in relationship with the entire communion of saints can I have a "personal" relationship with Jesus. Its His Body, the Church, that makes His presence real in my life.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Borrowing the Faith of Old Men

A friend and I were talking this evening, touching on the belief that Mary intercedes for us, that Christ's Body & Blood are truly present in the Eucharist & whether or not Purgatory exists. She has the same faith background as me (Assemblies of God), claims no denominational affiliation these days and has always challenged my decision to become Catholic. Why DO I believe Catholicism? I find myself asking that question almost as frequently as she does.

I believe because the early church fathers, those disciples of the disciples (Ignatius, Clement, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, etc.) believed. My friend made the comment that I was "borrowing the faith of old men". It was an interesting observation because, well, it was true & I'd never quite thought of it that way before. She seemed to imply "borrowing" was disingenuous... but I'm reminded of Jesus' words to Thomas in John 20:29: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”. Its true that I can't prove Mary is alive & interceding for me. I can't prove Christ's Real Presence in the bread & wine. I can't even google Purgatory & get directions. And yet, I still believe. Why? 

Sometimes my prayers get answered. Sometimes I feel Christ's love in the Eucharist. Purgatory seems intellectually reasonable most of the time. But belief is like love... I don't always feel it. It doesn't just happen. The certainty doesn't magically & indelibly appear one day. Belief, like love, is a deliberate action. Sometimes its easy & sometimes I just have to stand my ground despite the absurdity of it all. And if I'm honest, it feels absurd more often than not. So why believe? Why not call a spade a spade & move on? Because I can't. When I make the choice to believe, something changes within me. Choice ignites faith.

My ability to believe is most certainly based on the belief of others. The faith of old men (the testimony of the Fathers) and the saints who came after them has been documented and transmitted down through the ages. I borrow their faith because I seem to have so little of my own. In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever have my "own" faith... Haven't we all borrowed it from someone, somewhere? How else could we have come to believe?


Friday, April 15, 2016

Pope On A Rope

Francis became the Bishop of Rome... the Holy Father... the Pope... a little less than a year after I was received into the Catholic Church. He shocked us when he refused the pomp and asked for our prayers. He refused the traditional red shoes & the Papal apartment. People fawned over him, secular & religious alike, for his humility & accessibility as a person. Who was this man? In some ways, it was encouraging to see the positive coverage. In other ways, the red flags began flying. A charismatic leader doesn't always lead to good things & I was wary.

I suppose I still don't understand the relationship Catholics have with the Pope. Whenever I watch televised events from wherever he tends to be, I see hordes of people screaming, laughing, crying... they bring their flags & signs & hold out their rosary beads like lighters at a rock concert. This has always troubled me. In my eyes, Pope Francis is just a man. He's a guy with a title- Bishop of Rome. The Bishop of Rome also happens to be the overseer of every other Bishop who oversee the rest of us Catholics throughout the world. I get that he has authority. I respect that. He's the Vicar of Christ, but he's still just a man. I'm amazed at how so many uninformed people tend to think he is (or believes he is) God in the flesh or that every word that falls out of his mouth is infallible.

If he says something that seems off the (expected) mark whether deliberately or by mistake, everyone writhes & flails in a frenzy because now we know he's the anti-Christ & he's going to destroy the Holy Catholic Church. What would it mean to actually "destroy" the Church? We're always told the gates of Hell won't prevail over it... and I believe that's true. But what if God deliberately means to allow some destruction, a renovation of sorts? Maybe some walls will be taken down. Perhaps the streets will get cleaned up & community gardens will go in. No doubt this may drive some people away. But maybe God means for Francis to lift Christ up above the rubble of expected perceptions in order to draw even more people to Himself. Could He be asking the same of us? At this point, I think the most shocking thing about Francis is that he faithfully challenges what we know of Catholicism... and that may not be such a bad thing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Stations of Light (Via Lucis)

I made a pleasant discovery the other day while perusing my parish's website. Father listed a handful of activities that can be done during the Easter season to heighten one's awareness of the risen Lord. One of those activities is to pray through the Stations of Light. I had never heard of these before, but apparently they've been around for a while... maybe 30 years or so. I'm only presenting a basic snapshot here as meditations & additional resources can easily be found online.

The Way of Light has 14 stations, just like the Stations of the Cross.
Even the opening prayer is somewhat the same.

We adore You O Christ, and we praise you! 
Because by the wood of the cross & the light of the resurrection, you have redeemed the world!
First Station: Jesus rises from the dead
Second Station: The disciples discover the empty tomb
Third Station: The risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalen
Fourth Station: The risen Lord appears on the road to Emmaus
Fifth Station: The risen Lord is recognized in the breaking of bread
Sixth Station: The risen Lord appears to the community of the disciples 
Seventh Station: The risen Lord breathes peace & give the power to forgive
Eighth Station: The risen Lord strengthens the faith of Thomas
Ninth Station: The risen Lord eats with the disciples on the shore
Tenth Station: The risen Lord forgives Peter & entrusts him to feed His sheep
Eleventh Station: The risen Lord sends His disciples into the world
Twelfth Station: The risen Lord ascends into heaven
Thirteenth Station: Mary & the disciples keep vigil in the upper room
Fourteenth Station: The risen Lord sends His Holy Spirit

I personally find the Stations of anything (the Cross, of Light) daunting because of the amount of focus & time they can require when praying alone. In light of this, I try to take them in bite sizes... Maybe I'll spread the 14 stations over one week, doing one station in the morning & the second at night. Maybe I'll dole them out over 2 weeks & concentrate on just one throughout the day.

Its interesting to note that while the Stations of the Cross come from a more traditional understanding of the Passion narratives, the Stations of Light exactly mirror the readings for the Easter season. Whether you know it or not, if you've been tuning into the Gospel readings of the Mass, you've already been exposed to the Stations of Light.

Some other Easter activities Father suggested:
1) Make an Easter resolution
2) Remove the crucifixes from the house & replace them with the risen Jesus
3) At the end of the day, seek the presence of the risen Christ in prayer
4) Seek to grow in the fruits of the resurrection (peace, joy & love)
5) Grow in Eucharistic devotion
6) Read the resurrection narratives
7) Pray the Prayer of Abandonment after communion

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Connecting With Easter

I've participated in the public recitation of the Stations of the Cross various times during Lent & have always been amazed at how quickly we can rattle through the images & corresponding prayers. The same can be said for the Rosary when prayed in community. How, I wonder, is anyone supposed to grasp anything they're saying or doing when the meditations come rapid fire? They're more bullet points than meditations. I tend to come away feeling like I've missed something. Of course, the Stations & the Rosary are all about Jesus...

This year, I attended my 4th of 5 Easter Vigils (I missed one year) & I had a really difficult time connecting for some reason. I  knew the order of the Vigil, the blessing of the fire & the paschal candle, the readings, the blessing of the baptismal water, the baptisms, confirmations, etc... but all these seemed to happen rapid fire as well. When the night ended almost 4 hours later, I left feeling kind of numb... and it wasn't from all that sitting! My heart was heavy & it really bothered me that Jesus seemed so... small, so condensed into the evening's ritual. Again, I felt like I'd missed something, even though Jesus is all over the Vigil Mass from the symbolism of light, water & incense, to the reading of the Word & the breaking of bread in the Eucharist.

So what was my problem? I began to consider how I could connect better. I began to pray & received a couple things to aid me.

The first is an invitation to contemplate the wounds of Christ ... there are traditionally 5 (the wound in His side, both hands & both feet), but one can also include the crown of thorns & the wounds of the scourging. How can contemplating His wounds help? Honestly, I'm still working though that one. It isn't doing a whole lot for me at the moment, but for some reason, the line "Within Your wounds, hide me" (from the Anima Christi) keeps coming to mind. What does it really mean to be hidden in the wounds of Christ? More on that later, I suppose.

The second aid I received was to imagine one person in my life who I know loves me the most & then imagine them undergoing the same passion as Jesus... They experience the agony in the garden, the betrayal, the trial, the scourging. They endure the mocking, the crown of thorns & that horrible walk to calvary under the burden of the beam... Imagine watching this person breathe their last tortured breath, being taken down from the cross & being laid in a tomb, never to see them again. How would it feel? Days later, imagine people start saying this person is alive....Would I believe it?

This 2nd way of envisioning Jesus (as a person I'm already connected to) has proven helpful, but I'm still tempted to "bulletize"...
-For me

Thankfully, Easter isn't just about 1 day or 50 days, its about every moment of my life, past, present & future. And like any relationship, really learning how to connect takes time...

Monday, March 21, 2016

On Conversation With Mary

Most of the Rosary meditations I've come across are kind of sappy. Sometimes this makes the Rosary feel impossible to connect with, especially when one attempts to pray it through the lens of "difficulties" such as depression or anxiety.

As I was sitting here with my own Rosary at my side, I got to thinking about how a more... "realistic"  meditation might sound. For instance, today is Monday and that means the Joyful Mysteries are on deck. The first Joyful mystery is the Annunciation. The Archangel Gabriel comes to Mary, tells her she's found favor with God & oh, by the way, she's going to have a baby. In your average meditation,  Mary simply says "O.K." (which is the modern day equivalent of  "Be it done unto me according your word"). Well alrighty then. End of story. However, if an angel came & delivered the same news to me, I'd probably scream some profanities & knock things over on my way out of the house. I definitely wouldn't be saying "Yes" in any shape or form. Fear would tumble down like an avalanche threatening to bury me & I'd probably just plop down somewhere & cry.

I know I would end up focusing on my temporal fear of the Annunciation & all it required of me rather than what eternal good came of it. And this would be an honest response, but not especially fruitful. The Rosary is not all about me or my anxiety, etc. (Shocker, I know). Its a prayer in which one "keeps Mary company" and its meant to be a conversation. So imagine, if you will, Mary & I chatting about the joyful mysteries... kind of like cracking open the family album.  She shows me the 1st yellowed Poloroid: The Annunciation. What does she say? "Look! There's Gabe. What a corker. Scared me half to death. I thought he was pulling my leg... telling me I was going to have a baby! I was all, what?"

In all seriousness though, I really do wonder how she would tell it. Scripture says she was perplexed & Gabriel told her not to fear. So maybe she had some... misgivings at first. Maybe she would take my hand in hers in an attempt to address my fear. And then maybe she'd remind me of what Paul said about Jesus in Philippians 2:5-8, 12-15... 

Let the same mind be in you that was  in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 
Therefore, my beloved... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.

Mary also emptied herself by taking the form of a slave. She humbled herself & became obedient to God, dying to her wants... She had her whole life ahead of her, but she chose to work out her salvation with fear & trembling. She realized that it was God Who was at work in her, enabling her to both will & work for His good pleasure. She was afraid too, but she said "Yes" without murmuring or arguing...

In a more realistic Rosary meditation, Mary becomes a companion who intercedes for me, faces the fear with me & reveals the mystery of God's wisdom & love both for me & for the world.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Second Thought...

Its no secret that my confirmation saint, Francis De Sales, had a short fuse. Apparently, he had to work long and hard at getting his anger under control. Now he is remembered as a gentle man, meek & wise. This gives me hope.

Some guy ran a red today & would have tagged me on my left turn if I hadn't been watching. My first honest thought was to follow & torment. It was Friday & I had been on the interstate for an hour and a half dodging accidents, speeders & other traffic vigilantes. My patience was thin.

I chose to follow the traffic rules & continued on my way to work. Five minutes later, as fate would have it, I ended up behind the guy who ran the red. I could see him hunched low in his seat. He was a young guy, kind of "gangsta" (for lack of a better word). He was talking on his cell phone and totally clued out to anything in the world but his own business.

I made the choice not to exact vengeance in my mind. I wasn't going to entertain thoughts of retribution. I forced myself to pray instead. As we parted ways, I realized just how difficult it is to actually follow the commandment to love my "enemy" & turn the other cheek! This lovely virtue is also known as meekness* and its something I've begun seeking God for lately. If ever you doubt, rest assured, He answers prayer.

Today I focused inward instead of outward. Instead of pointing the finger & blaming that guy for his wrong done to me, I honed in on my own offense toward him.

First thought: I was wronged & he must suffer.

Second thought: Jesus, forgive me for the vengeance I feel toward this person. Bless him and keep him as you do me.

May God always grant me the grace to make it to the second thought...


*Meekness: enduring injury with patience and without resentment.

Friday, March 18, 2016

You Can't Have One Without the Other

What keeps me away from people? Am I scared of them? No... I think I'm more scared of what they will or won't see in me. What will they expose & how will I answer for it? What will I discover that I have to change, discard or sacrifice for another? No. I'm not afraid of people. I'm afraid of me.
And yet, isn't authenticity the goal of the Christian life?

Spiritual transformation comes from Christ, yes, but it also comes from community & submission to God's authority within that community. Its not just about any one person, any one place or even God alone- everything works together. Paul's example in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 reminds us that Christ is the head but many members make up His Body. If I am "in Christ", I am part of His body, but I can't be whole without the other parts, without community.

But community is more than just being part of a church. Its more than potlucks, Mass & Bible studies. Its not always individualized & personal like when one is able to share things in common with friends... It doesn't even always mean being in agreement. And community is definitely not a ME focused thing. Its not inherently for my benefit alone, but for others. If I seek community for myself only, its truly a selfish endeavor. I think this is a key I've been missing for many years. It has kept me from Mass, reconciliation, etc. too many times. For instance, not attending Mass is a mortal sin not just because “the Church says so”... Its actually a sin against charity- the charity of God & the charity my presence can bring to others. In refraining, I am inadvertently exposing the true nature of my heart...

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1822, charity is defined as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His sake, and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God”. Hmm. doesn't that sound familiar? (Mk. 12:28-21)

Remember the parable of the rich young ruler (Mt 19:16-22)? He had supposedly followed all of the commandments since his youth. What did he lack? Jesus told him to go sell all he had, give the money to the poor & follow Him. When one follows the commandments, is that not following Jesus as well? If he really loved God with all his heart, mind soul & strength, would he have any trouble leaving his possessions behind to follow? Perhaps Jesus was exposing the true nature of the ruler's heart. It appears he thought he was pious, but ended up walking away because he just couldn't part with his possessions.

On the other hand, Zacchaeus, the tax collector climbed a tree to see Jesus (Luke 19:1-10). When all was said & done, he pledged half his possessions to the poor & offered to make reparations if he had defrauded anyone. What did Jesus say to this? "Today salvation has come to this house."

Jesus exposed the hearts of two men with two very different outcomes...

What will He find in me? What will I discover that I have to change, discard or sacrifice for Him?

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Ol' Jesus and Me Routine

"...many persons clothe themselves with certain outward actions connected with holy devotion 
and the world believes that they are truly devout and spiritual 
whereas they are in fact nothing but copies and phantoms of devotion."  

St. Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life

In recent months, I've adopted a routine of making a stop at my designated prayer spot for a few moments each day. I look at the crucifix, make the sign of the cross & say a handful of short prayers- an Act of Contrition, a Morning Offering, a Consecration to Mary, a Prayer Before A Day's Work, and a Prayer to Keep God's Presence. In less than 5 minutes, I'm onto the rest of my day. Because it's Lent, I've also been reading a chapter in Bread and Wine- my chosen devotional for this liturgical season. On my lunch break, I listen to a podcast of the daily Mass readings & sometimes crack open Shorter Christian Prayer for an abbreviated taste of the Liturgy of the Hours. On my way home, I typically pray that day's mysteries of the Rosary & am still attempting to incorporate a nightly examen to cap off the night. Doesn't that sound pious of me?

One day, I realized my daily prayers, scripture readings & other devotions didn't seem to "work". I was still running headlong into sin as far as my thoughts & words were concerned. I eventually began avoiding Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Obviously, something was wrong. I tried lingering in prayer a little longer, but extending the routine wasn't able to offer the salvation I thought it would. When I realized I still wasn't being transformed for all my effort, I began to take a closer look. I thought having a daily routine would somehow help grow goodness in me. What a joke. It only proved to reveal the true tenacity of my sinful nature.

As I continued to nudge God for an answer, the Ten Commandments reappeared on the scene. Francis De Sales said, "A man who does not observe all God's commandments cannot be held to be either good or devout."  I remembered Jesus saying that if you secretly think this thing or look that way, you've already committed sin (Mt 5:21-48). Hmm. Yeah, that sounded like me. I began to recall how different people in the past had called me prideful & selfish. Was I really? Am I still? I admit, I find it very difficult to exist in this world... to say nothing of loving others. I tend to isolate outside of necessities like work & the occasional errands. When I do come out of hiding, it's usually not long till I say something dumb or something I don't mean... The concept of loving God with all my heart & my neighbor as myself gets thrown out the window because I will more often choose anger over meekness. Like James 1:14-15 says, my sin ends up giving birth to my own spiritual death (& no doubt contributes to spiritual death in others rather than the life of Christ). 

I choose to hide because all these negative things come tumbling out from a place in my heart that remains dark & steeped in sin. This really bothers me, and it should. But I know its not enough to be "bothered" or to cloak that discontent with routine. I keep thinking, I wish God would "hire" a couple people with an excavator & a dump truck to just haul this crap out of me... but then I get the sneaking suspicion that He'd be more apt to bring in a gaggle of people armed with sledgehammers & wheelbarrows instead... faster isn't always better & less isn't always more cost effective in His economy.

So what's the takeaway here? Can't I say that my routine HAS changed me- is changing me- simply because I recognized the need for change? Maybe. But I think the bigger point is the realization that try as I might, I just can't make this journey on my own. Change has to happen in communion with Christ as well as a community of people. There is no "either/or" option. The Commandments are entirely community oriented & can only be observed within community. What a horrifying thought. I can't continue to hide behind my routines, avoiding people & trying to pass it off as a relationship with God. It just doesn't work.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Ten Commandments

Whenever I encounter the Ten Commandments, my mind returns to all the negative responses I've heard throughout the years. Do you recognize any of these?

The Ten Commandments are Old Testament & no longer valid.
The Ten Commandments are old fashioned.
Jesus did away with the Law & there's only grace now.
The Ten Commandments were given only to the Jews.
Jesus said there are only 2 Commandments now: Love God & love your neighbor as your self.
I don't follow the myriad of other Commandments (mixing fabrics, stoning people for their differences and/or "sins", etc.), so why should I need to follow these TEN?

We learned about the Ten Commandments in Sunday school via songs and flannelgraph stories. For most of my life, I never saw them as anything I needed to be concerned with personally... not really. I mean, coveting my neighbor's ox was the furthest thing from my mind when I was 8. As I got older, I was taught that Jesus did away with the requirements of the Old Testament, so there's no condemnation even if I DO happen to break one of the Commandments. Everything is love & grace now and by golly, that seemed just fine with me. I don't remember hearing much about the Commandments as an adult... until I became a Catholic.

What's that supposed to mean? It's not a derogatory statement, I assure you. Its just that when I became a Catholic, I began to see the Ten Commandments more often, especially in relation to something called the Examination of Conscience (sort of a pre-confession checklist).

Anyway, lately the daily Mass readings have touched on the exodus and the promulgation of the Commandments. They've also reminded us of Jesus' encounters with potential disciples, the Pharisees' angst & the meaning of true observance of the law (See Exodus 20 & Matthew 5).

I'm neither interested nor qualified to try & instigate a discussion concerning law v.s. grace, old & new covenants or any of that. All I know is that Jesus said He came to FULFILL the law, not to abolish it. To me, that means the law wasn't negated & it didn't go away. Apparently, something was missing from the old law, so Jesus completed what was lacking. He balanced out the scales of God's righteous judgement with God's forgiveness & grace.

Can you see how Jesus' life, death, resurrection and the Ten Commandments are two halves that fit together to make a whole? Try having a relationship with Jesus when you've broken even just one commandment. Ever notice how things get a little strained? If I break any one or all of the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear that I'm acting contrary to the Law of God. When I act contrary to the Law of God, the love and grace of Christ can't really abide in or flow through me effectively. The Law of God searches my heart, tests me & knows me intimately. But now that the Law has found its fulfillment in Jesus, broken Commandments are no longer a death sentence. They become a litmus test for the state of my soul. When I truthfully consider how I consciously reflect or reject the Ten Commandments in everyday life, something in me has to change. While God's judgement still seeks to kill the sin within me, His forgiveness & grace  make new life available through the sacrifice of Christ

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

He is Not Here

Lately, I've been trying to get past the 1st Glorious mystery of the Rosary (the resurrection of Jesus), but something stops me in my tracks. I can see the woman in the garden, the angel on the stone... And as first light begins to bleed through the sky, he tells her, "He is not here." I can imagine the waves of shock washing over her. Was she beside herself, full of confusion, maybe even anger? And where were the guards? Weren't there supposed to be guards? Never mind that there was an angel sitting in front of her... Maybe she was hallucinating. When the flesh & blood "gardener" walked over to her to see what was the matter, she didn't recognize Him. She got kind of freaky, maybe falling to the ground, clawing at the hem of his cloak in grief. She asked where the body was, told him she wanted it, begged him to show her where he had put it. What was she going to do with a rotting corpse? This lady must have seemed certifiable. Her faith must have been all but destroyed. Reality told her He was dead. Resurrection was the last thing on her mind. It was only when the "gardener" said her name that she realized it was Jesus & everything was rainbows & unicorns.

I seem to be stuck in that moment of Mary's shock... that moment when her hope fell away, when a myriad of thoughts must have raced through her mind... What did she expect? Was Jesus a fraud? Had she been duped? Did someone steal the body? Did Jesus rise from the dead & just leave without saying goodbye? What now?

The tomb is empty.
"Where is He?!"
"He is not here."

What did Mary go to see? A rotting corpse or an empty tomb?
Apparently not the latter... And if she went to weep over a rotting corpse, what can be said for Jesus' credibility or her own faith that morning? It didn't matter. She wasn't leaving without Him. Jesus (dead or alive) was still worth something to her...