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.