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...