Monday, December 28, 2009

Hitchiker

It was a Saturday morning last Christmastime, about 10:30, when I was driving home from a local music store when I came upon a hitchiker. This was a pretty crappy side of town--you know, that side of every town that looks like a bomb was dropped on it and left to bleed to death. She was skinny, stumbling, and underdressed for the chilly weather.

When she got in my car, I thought for a second that I was looking at a ghost. She told me she was 35, but appeared much older--about 50. She had an open can of Miller in her hand. She began babbling on, thanking me for picking her up and expressing her shock that a woman picked her up rather than a man.

I said, "I couldn't let a sister walk through a horrible neighborhood without a winter coat--how far are you going?"

"To the west side," she replied.

"Oh, that's too far for you to walk. You would be walking all morning."

"I know it! But it's not that cold out." She continued to talk, slurring a little. I tried not to let the smell of her breath bother me as she unloaded. She talked about the boyfriend on whom she just that morning walked out, how she thanked him for giving her kids a Christmas. She has 4 kids, one a 16-month old. The baby doesn't know any better, she told herself, but then again, the baby will grow up and know. She did, she said. Santa didn't come visit her as a child much, either.

I said very little during the entire ride, asking the occasional question to keep her talking.

"I can't take the kids, anyway. Always wanting me, always calling for me. 'Mom! Mom!' They piss me off. Did I tell you I have four? One's just a baby."

"Where's the baby?" I asked.

"With my mom. She stole her from me. Stole, hmph. Actually, I don't blame her. I can't deal with kids. She was right to take her from me." She paused for a second and looked around my car at the rosary beads, cross and pictures of the Good Shephard and Our Lady of Guadalupe hanging from my rear view mirror. "Hey, are you some kind of a Christian or something?"

"Yes."

"Oh." She paused for a few seconds. "Jesus hasn't done much for me. But then again, I can't kick this shit," she said, referring to the beer in her hand. "I can't stop smoking pot, either. Or other things..." she trailed off and looked out the window for a second. "They say you can quit if you really want to quit."

"Yes, and if you work on one thing at a time," I replied, "you're much more successful."

"And there's always rehab," we both said together with a knowing laugh.

I replied, "Yeah, but if you don't have a group of people around you to love you and help you through it, it's even hard to quit through rehab."

"My family thinks I'm a loser," she said to me. "They call me a drunk, a lost cause, they tell me that I'm a waste. They don't love me." She went on to talk about a rehab facility in the area that will allow people to bring their children. As I pulled into the driveway, she looked in my backseat. "Oh, man. Look at all this Christian stuff in this car. Wow. I gotta get outta here." I didn't preach at her. She didn't need to hear it. She already knows. But before she bolted into the house, I took her hand and held it for a minute. I caught her eyes and squeezed her hand before I let go.

I wrote down her address before I left the driveway. I never did catch her name.

I still pray for her.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Venerable John Paul II

If you ever wondered what it takes for the Church to officially declare a person a saint, watch the following video.



From Rome Reports: "John Paul II road to sainthood, is perhaps one of the shortest on record. It started just one month after he died."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Walking the Talk

Today's reflection from The Magnificat Advent Companion, titled Talk Is Cheap, touched on a topic that truly separates the cultural Christian from the true believer:

"Big talkers are everywhere. We run into them all the time. They make bold promises, grandiose statements, and elaborate plans, often with no intention whatsoever of following through on their empty words. For some, it's merely the sound of those words—not the action, the reaction, or even the betrayal that follows—that is important."

I can think of several instances just in the last year when I've been disappointed by a few big talkers in my life. Now, everyone drops the ball periodically; but there's a world of difference between dropping the ball and dodging the ball after saying, "Hey, throw the ball here!" The irritation, disappointment, and often extra work really get old fast. My big talkers are probably reading this right now, reciting right now a litany of excuses and issues ranging from allegedly lost emails to hectic schedules, forgetting that I, too, have a juggling act of my own.

Granted, I'm guilty of having done this myself; the damage to my reputation, and the hurt feelings experienced by those affected by my lack of action, were a real life lesson for me.

It brings to mind the Parable of the two sons:

"A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, 'Son, go out and work in the vineyard today. He said in reply, 'I will not,' but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, 'Yes, sir,' but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" Mt. 21:28-32

May we always strive to be the one who does the will of The Father.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

And a great sign appeared in the sky...

...After seeing the big massive circus made over stains that look like the Virgin Mary...


...why wouldn't this 'painting' of Our Lady be front page news?


... In any case, we give praise to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas,

PRAY FOR US

Friday, December 11, 2009

Behind the Screen or Face to Face?

It's a question I have considered for years. I always thought that face-to-face was an opportunity to get personal spiritual direction from a priest who knows that it's me in the room with him. Today, though, I confessed at a church with no option for face-to-face confession, and I gotta admit, the screen picked up a few votes today.

First, Father was able to give me extraordinary spiritual direction that was far more relevant than I expected. It was right on, actually-exactly what I needed for my spiritual growth at this point in my life. At first I was totally surprised at this; but as I thought about it, it dawned on me that sin is sin: one act isn't any different committed by me than by someone else. A priest doesn't have to know who I am to know that sin is damaging my soul.

Second, I didn't feel the need to "clean it up" for Father. The screen completely took away any desire to hang onto vanity or pride by withholding things from a man who might think less of me after I've confessed. Granted, I've been told by several priests that they instantly forget what they hear in the confessional; but that doesn't exactly make the process of telling a holy man to his face that I've done something sinful.

Fr. Ed (a priest I know fairly well) has said that we've done our children a great disservice with face-to-face confession. When children are small, their sins are small; but as they get older, it's harder for them to admit the harder sins. Encouraging a face-to-face confession as the better option can further burden us and keep us from the sacrament. Remember, deliberately withholding sins while confessing is far worse for our souls.

One more thing: if you were taught that your face-to-face confession is "more valid" or "better" than from behind the screen, forget all about that. There is absolutely no difference in the end result. What matters is that you've admitted your sin, and resolve to not do it again, and you don't have to do it sitting in a chair staring at the priest.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming Soon...

Realization

Music stormed loudly
through the narrow hallway
of my mind,
and when I tried to block it out
with a racket of my own
the clamor
ricocheted off the walls,
gaining speed,
pushing the limits
and I held my walls firm,
and still the noise blasted through,
cracking the sheet rock,
shattering the windows,
and I held my walls firm,
and still the noise blasted through,
tearing out casings,
sheet rock crumbling
piece by piece,
and I held my walls firm,
and still the noise blasted through,
frame after frame
tumbling into
a grotto of waste

And as the walls fell
I lost my strength,
for my voice was weak
against the music
I heard for the first time,
and gawking at what's
left behind from
my shattered wall,
I wonder how I was
content inside such a
weak structure.

And the sunlight burned my skin
pocked with disease,
my eyes weak from darkness.
The personal living hell club:
everyone's already a member.

And from the depths of the rubble,
the pains of my despair
I cried out into the darkness,
HEAR ME!
And the parasite
gagged me with
words of the damned
and I writhed to get free,
and the parasite
gripped my heart
with users and usurpers
and I writhed to get free,
and the parasite
tied down my limbs
with poverty and hatred
and I writhed to get free,
and the parasite
raped me with his
lies disguised as love,
and I writhed to get free,
and the parasite
laughed in my face,
"Who will save you now?"

And I remembered blue eyes
looking over me long ago,
the one that dawn showed me
when my eyes were open,
but my spirit so diseased
I couldn't reach for him.

After all my castles built with
cracked stone and rotted lumber
crumbled around me,
he was there,
waiting for me
to see.

And he wrapped me in his wings,
and with the lightning of his song he
stabbed the parasite with a mortal blow,
and rescued me from death.

"Angel of God, My guardian, dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side,
To light, to guard, to rule, to guide."


(Just for you, CB. A shout out to CG too. That's right, I still got it. PG)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advice From the Queen of Heaven

"...one of Our Lady's greatest sorrows during her many visits to Kibeho was that not enough people truly listened to the loving advice and counsel she offered through her visionaries.  Too many individuals came to the village simply to witness a miracle, and while their eyes and ears searched the heavens for a supernatural event, their hearts failed to hear the messages Mary repeated again and again:  love God, love and be kind to each other, read the Bible, follow God's commandments, accept the love of Christ, repent for sins, be humble, seek and offer forgiveness, and live the gift of your life how God wants you to--with a clean and open heart and a clear conscience."  Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa by Immaculee Ilibagiza, pg. 62.

If humanity would only do what she asks. That would be a supernatural event worth witnessing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Small Screen Gem For Every Catholic's DVD Library

Kappler:  "I own Rome; not you, not the Pope.  Just because you wear a frock--it won't protect you. Remember your gunrunner priest?"


O'Flaherty:  "I do remember him.  And so does every person in Italy who understands the meaning of freedom."


I literally just finished watching The Scarlet and the Black, the 1983 television movie based on a true story starring Gregory Peck as Msgr. Hugh O'Flaherty, a golfer, a boxer, a vatican diplomat and social butterfly, who managed to save thousands of escaped P.O.W.s during the Nazi occupation of Italy. The movie also stars Christopher Plummer as SS Colonel Herbert Kappler who became obsessed with capturing Msgr. O'Flaherty, but could never seem to catch him.

This is the only WWII film I've ever seen that really depicts the war from the point of view of the Church.  I came away from this film with a much clearer understanding of the kind of pressure that Pope Pius XII was under from all sides.  Hitler didn't just want to destroy the Church; he wanted to capture her, so he could install his own people and use her to further propagate heresy and advance his own agenda.  At the same time, the people were crying out to the Church to do something, and were openly critical of the Holy Father for not being as aggressive with the Nazis as they'd have liked him to be.  The Scarlet and the Black attempts (and in my opinion succeeds )to show the kinds of complex problems the Catholic Church faced during a time of great horror, particularly why she didn't race into action with guns blazing like so many think should have happened.

All in all, this is a film that all Catholics need to see.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Here I Am, Lord; Send Me

I almost never get the chance to read all of the forwards that my many friends send me, generally because I don't have much time to go through them all. Occasionally, though, I take a break from my busy mornings and open one or two intriguing subjects that I've never seen before, and more often than not it was totally worth the few minutes of my time. Today I opened one of those emails which contained the following story, said to have been written by a Metro Denver Hospice Physician:

I was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die - I barely managed to coast into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn't even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the quickie mart building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay.

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel.

At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying 'I don't want my kids to see me crying,' so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, 'And you were praying?' That made her back away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, 'He heard you, and He sent me.'

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fueling, walked to the next door McDonald's and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City. Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn't have money to pay rent Jan. 1, and in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there.

So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there. I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, 'So, are you like an angel or something?'

This definitely made me cry. I said, 'Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people.'

I've been reflecting on this story for the last hour. The first thought that occured to me was that when you are working for the Lord, He always puts you right where He wants you to be.

My second thought was, "How many times have I been so self-absorbed that I missed an opportunity like this?"

It's not that we are mean-spirited egoists, constantly wrapped up in our own lives; it's just that sometimes, when something bad happens to us, some of us might dwell on our own situation. While this is understandable, the fact is, the more we dwell on our own lives, the less we are able to love others. This man knew his situation was under control. What would have been the sense in dwelling on it?  Had he been doing anything but simply waiting, he might not have been able to see this woman's situation for what it was, and completely missed the opportunity to literally save her life. 

We may not be able to whip out a credit card, but if we're paying attention (getting back to my first thought), we have many opportunities every day to love one another as Christ intends.  We can't be anything for someone else when we're only thinking of ourselves.

At the end of this story as it was sent to me, the physician's car starts right up and he drives home without incident; but where does his gratitude lie? "It was so incredible to be a part of someone else's miracle." This is true humility--the ability to not think of yourself at all. Something tells me he would have said the same thing if he rode home in the front seat of a towtruck.

As we enter into the holiday season, may we all have the kind of faith that makes us forget all about us, so we can be ready for our Lord when He decides to send us.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teacher of Faith and Science

Today's feast day takes me back.  I still remember the Masses, balloon launches, parades, assemblies and blessings in which we participated back when I was a gradeschooler at St. Albert the Great in North Royalton, OH.  November 15 was a big deal at my grade school.

I don't think I realized until much later, though, just what a big deal St. Albert the Great was.  Here was the son of a nobleman who fell in love with his Lord early in life, and dispite his family's discouragement, sought out a religious life.  He didn't just dedicate himself to learning--he saw learning as a means to knowing God, and the better we know someone, the more deeply we can love that someone.

It's thanks to St. Albert that we have St. Thomas Aquinas.  No wonder he was declared a Doctor of the Church.

I found the following thought at EWTN's website that says it better than I ever could:   "St. Albert the Great was convinced that all creation spoke of God and that the tiniest piece of scientific knowledge told us something about Him. Besides the Bible, God has given us the book of creation revealing something of His wisdom and power. In creation, Albert saw the hand of God."  (read more about Albert the Great here.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peace Must Be Our Daily Prayer

…was the message of St. Catherine of Siena as portrayed by Sr. Nancy Murray, O.P., Monday evening at St. Nicholas Parish in Struthers, Ohio.

I’ve been a moderate devotee of St. Catherine of Siena for some time now, having read several of her letters and working (slowly) through her “Dialogue”. There’s a lot of material there, and I’m taking my time digesting it. Through Sr. Nancy Murray’s portrayal, though, everything I’ve already read about her came to life.

I’ve spent the last day and a half digesting what I experienced. Catherine of Siena, like all of the saints, is truly timeless. Here is a woman, the youngest of 25 children (and she’s a twin), who learned through her desire for solitude in this enormous family what it meant to really love her neighbor. By becoming the servant to her enormous family in exchange for a tiny cell to which she could retreat and pray, she learned how to achieve solitude even in her crowded home, within the "cell" within her.

If you have an opportunity to see this one-woman show, You will not be disappointed.

http://nancymurray.adriandominicans.org/Performances.aspx

Friday, October 30, 2009

Especially For My Brothers

A girl approached Fr. Pablo Straub for spritual direction, and when he opened one of her school textbooks he read the following:  "The ideal personality of the future is neither a man's personality nor a woman's personality. The ideal personality of the future is androgenous." 

This half-hour homily, preached during last year's Fall Encampment for the Squires and Knights of Lepanto (click here to learn more about this group), is his response.

(Ladies, I know many of you will not like this, but he's right.)



(source:  Google Videos)

Why do I think he's right?  READ THIS BOOK.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Empty Heads, Empty Hearts?

Almost 13 years ago now I had the incredible privilege of working in a Catholic book store. It was there that my intense curiosity of all things spiritual was first nurtured. Over the years I've done a whole lot of reading on a wide variety of spiritual thought--not because I was looking for answers per se, but because (aside from one major backslide which I'll tell you about some other time) I've always been very much a Catholic. It's just that every time I read something new, or discover something different, my curiosity gets the best of me and I go digging around the topic until my curiosity is satisfied--for the time being.

My curiosity has had me reading not just Catholic books--the predominant category in my personal library--but books & documents about all kinds of religions, practices and disciplines. Some are very similar to Catholicism, some are very different, but all have a few things in common. One of these commonalities that I've never really questioned until very recently was this notion of "clearing the mind", or trying not to "think", but to instead focus our attention on a single thought or sensation, like our hearts beating, our breathing, the wind rustling outside, and to tune everything else out.

In some religions this practice is said to allow the person to enter another state of consciousness. As Christians we do not seek an altered state, but a number of Christians also suggest this practice as a good preparation for prayer. Clearing our minds and focusing intently on a single thought is supposed to bring about a mental state that facilitates clear, unobstructed meditation, as well as the posture to engage in contemplation. The idea is that we'll be able to hear the voice of God better without the noise of our own thoughts getting in the way.  It's by no means a new idea.

I thought until very recently that this was how it worked, but I couldn't ever attain it. I have one of those minds that just won't turn off. I start off not thinking and lets say listening to my heartbeat, then after two, maybe three beats I'm wondering whether or not my compost has the right ratio of brown and green matter and whether the local convenience store restocked their nightcrawlers (for the compost...yes, my mind is a scary place). It's a headache waiting to happen. I even have trouble praying rosaries because my mind wanders too much, particularly when I intently zero in on the mystery. Then about two weeks ago I read something in St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle:

"Some books," she wrote, "advise that as a preparation for hearing what our Lord may say to us we should keep our minds at rest, waiting to see what He will work in our souls. But unless His Majesty has begun to suspend our faculties, I cannot understand how we are to stop thinking, without doing ourselves more harm than good. (4th Mansion, Chapter III #4)" Talk about a relief. She continued on, comparing the suspension of thought with "forcible restraint", and discussing how thought and imagination are a sign of our creation in His image and likeness:

When His Majesty wishes the mind to rest from working He employs it in another manner, giving it a light and knowledge far above any obtainable by its own efforts and absorbing it entirely into Himself. Then, though it knows not how, it is filled with wisdom such as it could never gain for itself by striving to suspend the thoughts. God gave us faculties for our use; each of them will receive its proper reward. Then do not let us try to charm them to sleep, but permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher.  (4th Mansion, Ch III #4)

Charm them to sleep. How good is a dialogue with one person constantly asleep?

As I continued reading, I began to think of an element of my Christian life called Formation: the progressive use of our intellect to better know God and grow in love for Him. Our formation should roll into prayer, allowing us to dialogue with God on ever increasing levels. Metanoia is a change of the mind to know and to live God's will for us.  How can our minds change at all when they're forced into a state of inaction?  The more we allow our minds to stretch (so long as we avoid sin), the better equipped we are to develop our understanding of God, who is infinitely beyond anything we can comprehend.

Maybe the reason to not empty the head is as simple as this:  When God is ready to "employ" my mind according to His will, I want Him to have plenty of material to work with.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An 8-Minute Answer That Speaks Volumes

It's the most commonly asked question regarding the subject, and one of the primary reasons for unbelief in all eras:  "How could a God of Love condemn people to hell?"   Fr. Barron handles it masterfully.



http://www.wordonfire.org/ ... I'm a fan.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Into The Mystic

I'm not talking about the Van Morrison tune, either (though it is a fabulous song).

For the last few weeks I've been working my way through Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila's treatise on prayer.  It's a book written conversationally and is to a great degree accessible; yet there does not exist an adjective available to express the depth of this work.


She describes the soul as a gemstone castle within us. The Lord Himself dwells in the very center of this castle, and through prayer we travel toward the center through the many rooms, or mansions as she calls them.  At the same time, the Lord reaches through the mansions toward us, calling to us and giving us the grace to continue on, until we are finally able to reach Him.  Sometimes we are aware of what's happening, sometimes we're not; but closer to the Lord we draw, the more extraordinary and intense our prayer becomes.  Like my other mystical friend St. Catherine of Siena had written, knowing yourself is vital to our spiritual life.

St. Teresa writes, "our thoughts, or it is clearer to call it our imagination, are not the same thing as the understanding. (4th Mansion, Ch. 1, #8)"

It's true.

About 12 years ago, I took on this book, and got only to the halfway mark, and couldn't understand any of it.  I could imagine much of what she described, but I couldn't even begin to grasp what she was talking about. I didn't know myself at all.  It wasn't until six years later, when I was really examining my life for my annulment, that I began to really understand what St. Teresa was talking about, even in the first mansion, and it was a far cry from what I imagined.  I'm learning--sometimes by leaps and bounds, other times in itty bitty baby steps--that prayer is far more than a "conversation with God".

To explain it would take volumes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes...

“I bought one for everyone,” our team leader said as she approached the first member of our renewal team with her paper bag filled with polished stones. “Each one has a different word etched in it.” Everyone took a turn. A few didn’t like the first words they got, so they exchanged their choices for another, or switched off amongst themselves.


I kept mine. Six years later I still have it. It’s a polished jade stone etched with the word “CHANGE”. At the time I saw it as a reminder to expect change every once in a while. As my life continued on from that renewal, I experienced a wave of life-altering changes, and my stone became my warning. The more I continued to evaluate and re-evaluate my life, it occured to me that, since change was going to happen whether I liked it or not, initiating change is far easier than reacting to it. Suddenly my stone became a directive.

Change is hard…for even me, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. Some of the changes I've experienced were good, some not so good. The way we are created, though, we are not meant to stagnate. Change is necessary to our lives. Human life is in a state of constant change from birth through death. Perhaps that’s why we don’t like to initiate change-- the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. If we aren’t seeking out opportunities for growth, a different kind of change will come find us, and the results can be devastating. This is true whether we're looking at a specific detail of our individual lives, or those grand issues affecting human development as a whole, or any point in between: friendships, jobs, our health, etc. This includes ministries, too.

How often do you hear "I/we've always done it that way"? If it's simply to see where we've been, that's one thing; but when it becomes conventional wisdom, it is suddenly an excuse to avoid change. We ignore truth and facts, leaving that which we've worked so hard for vulnerable to changes we never saw coming. We should learn our history, but not become history.

If we are to avoid the stench of stagnation in our ministries--or anywhere else for that matter--the continual building of relationships is also vital. If we don't know one another, how can we serve one another? Well-formed relationships with others based on not just our sharing our thoughts, but openly and attentively listening to others and observing them carefully with a heart open to service will increase our capacity to love.

There's that commandment again: "Love one another as I have loved you." It's no coincidence that Jesus' commandment has taken on similar voices as did my CHANGE stone: a reminder, a warning, a directive. Love, after all, requires change of the self. The more we change, the better we love.

Perhaps my CHANGE stone should serve me in the same way as Jesus' commandment now does...as a goal.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Welcome to the most disturbing hour on television . . .

"Hello there," announces host Michael Voris, "you're tuned to The One True Faith - the show we say is the most disturbing hour on television, because we talk about where you are going to spend eternity..."

If you've not tuned in to http://www.realcatholictv.com/ yet, go there today.  It's the home of The Vortex, Shepherd's Voice, St. Michael's Basic Training, The Catholic Critic, and the hour-long program billed as "the most disturbing hour on television":  The One True Faith.  Since October is Mary's month, I decided to link an episode from Season 1 titled, "Mary, Mother of the Church."  (Seriously, wouldn't you rather learn about Our Lady than watch yet another lame episode of Rock of Love 263?)



This year The One True Faith is taping it's 7th season.  Their theme: the Occult.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

No, It's Not A Dirty Word!

"Terrible are the wiles and stratagems the devil uses to hinder people from realizing their weakness and detecting his snares."

-St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle

It's been ripped from wedding vows. It's been side-stepped by Christian leaders. It's been subjected to creative interpretation by Christians everywhere. It’s a concept deemed so offensive or harmful by modern thinkers that parents no longer demand it of their children. It's a word that clashes with 21st century relativistic sensibilities. It has been disparaged, disregarded, denounced, dodged, denied and discarded as archaic, irrelevant to our temporal existence and unimportant to our spiritual health.

This is a concept over which the Church has never stuttered, and is discussed extensively in Sacred Scripture; yet still, even some of the most apparently devout Christians will find themselves sidestepping it. What on earth could this contemptible concept be?

It's ... It's ...

…OBEDIENCE.



AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!


Ever since Adam and Eve were duped into eating the forbidden fruit, obedience has been our greatest obstruction. I know it's mine, and Christians who are honest with themselves admit that it's theirs as well.  Disobedience is what causes our separation from God.  Isn't sin quite simply disobedience to the divine law?  It will keep us from achieving union with God in this life, and could jeopardize our salvation in the next.

We read the following in Lumen Gentium: “The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church." (#37)

Obedience, after all, is a choice—it’s a choice based in love of God and love of neighbor over the love of the self. What is love of God and love of neighbor again? Christ tells us in the Gospel of John: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jn 15:13.

We can only truly obey when we die to the self.  Obedience isn’t subject to our scrutiny, interpretation, rationalization or personal preference. We aren't given an option to determine for ourselves any part of what we will or won't obey. We are given an instruction, and we follow it in its entirety, laying down our lives for our friends as commanded by Christ with a humble, loving heart.

Let's take a look at an example. A person who considers himself to be deeply Christian is given a task by his superior, who reviews the project, offers critique and asks for specific corrections.  If he were to be obedient, he would take the critique to heart and, out of love for his superior inspired by his love of Christ, would make the corrections as asked. Rather than submitting to the authority over him, however, he instead questions his superior and determines for himself those elements of the task which he desires to correct.

Through this one act of disobedience, this person has placed his own love of self over his love of neighbor, and in turn over his love of Christ. Additionally, what is the reaction of the superior?  Anger, aggrivation, frustration, all which will further deteriorate the relationship. It's a chain reaction that has been discussed by the doctors of the Church for centuries. St. Catherine of Siena's Dialogue says it best:  "self-love, which destroys charity and affection towards the neighbor, is the principle and foundation of every evil."  It's why obedience to our spiritual shepherds is unconditional (note the lack of any qualification in the quote from Lumen Gentium).

Obedience doesn’t just refer to the clergy or religious, either. Parents, teachers and those appointed leaders of various ministries and apostolates also deserve our full, loving obedience, as they serve in the role of "spiritual shepherd" for many of us as well.  Love of Christ, and his command to love our neighbor, demands it. “Let them follow the example of Christ,” continues Lumen Gentium, “who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God. Nor should they omit to pray for those placed over them, for they keep watch as having to render an account of their souls, so that they may do this with joy and not with grief.”

May we all selflessly, humbly live in obedience to the Lord AND to His Church. 


Act of Love
O Lord God, I love you above all things
and I love my neighbor for your sake
because you are the highest, infinite and perfect
good, worthy of all my love.
In this love I intend to live and die.
Amen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Crossing the Border

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I went to a little jazz club in Canton, OH, to hear one of our favorite artists, Phil Keaggy. I keep going back again and again, and it's not just for his talent, which, by the way, would be enough. He's on a very short list of extraordinary guitar virtuosos.

What keeps me coming back is his profound courage. In a secular world, where God is rejected as a rule, Phil Keaggy puts his faith right out there front and center, and sings to the Lord with love, no matter where he may be.

We should all have such courage.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Successful Christian Leadership

“From childhood, she seeks out in her father’s house, the most menial occupations and joyfully takes the lowest place. Later, when the brilliance of her works would seem to expose her to attacks of pride, we find her constantly penetrated with the sense of her littleness and unworthiness. All her words indicate the most profound knowledge of herself. Never does contempt wound her, nor praise dazzle her.”

From “Devotion to St. Catherine of Siena, The Five Wednesdays”

A Church organization dependent upon volunteers selects two leaders to co-chair a very large project, which requires coordinating dozens of people and a complicated schedule. Each individual has a unique leadership style, and both methods result in what appears to be a successfully completed task.  Under closer examination, though, each method had a very different overall result.

Leader number one, let’s call her Sally, is very capable in the task. She has considerable experience, and in fact professionally provides the service required. Her attitude, however, is not one of charity. She shows little gratitude for the efforts of her volunteers, and treats them badly enough that they walk out, sometimes permanently. She somewhat meets the demands of the schedule, but not without excessive criticism of every deadline. She provides plans for several elements of the task, but vocally expresses her doubt in others ability to execute the plans as well as she can. She lists for anyone listening how much she does and why, and seems to expect recognition and praise. She even openly admits that she’s “praying” that the project fails. In the end Sally gets the job done, but at at what cost?

Let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. Leader number two, let’s call him Joe, is also capable in the task. He doesn’t have the professional experience, but he still understands very clearly what he needs to accomplish. Joe’s attitude is very different from Sally’s. He commands a prayerful, loving attitude among his volunteers, recognizing their effort with smiles and thanks. He encourages laughter, sharing and friendship. Prayer is essential to his leadership style, and pulls everyone together periodically to pray--this is, after all, a Christian project.

Joe doesn't draw any attention to himself, his opinions, his feelings, or his needs.  He relies solely on true Christian charity to get the job done, and he’s able to accomplish so much more.  The Second Vatican Council addressed how each of us, as disciples of Christ, proclaim our faith not just in words or acts of worship, but by our very lives. From Lumen Gentium: “the faithful, in virtue of their royal priesthood, join in the offering of the Eucharist. They likewise exercise that priesthood in receiving the sacraments, in prayer and thanksgiving, in the witness of a holy life, and by self-denial and active charity.” (Lumen Gentium #10, emphasis mine)

Joe, unlike Sally, never loses sight of the reason he’s taken on this project in the first place. It’s never about him, or about the project really, but about witnessing Christ to everyone and anyone around him. The project is a catalyst for Christian Unity, and inspiring his volunteers to meet the needs of the project supercede everything to Joe, including any of his own needs. He sets a holy example, and his example inspires his volunteers to joyfully complete this task and consider volunteering for the next task.

While Sally inspires negativity and alienation, Joe inspires unity and a spirit of Charity. That makes Joe the real Christian success story.

Isn't Joe the kind of leader we should always seek?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Distractions

Even the most devoted Catholics will find themselves off the path suddenly without even realizing it.  It happens to me all the time, especially being involved in ministry. I start out on the right track, the greater goal in my sights and my feet firm on the path ahead.  I think this is true of many of us.

Eventually I find that if I'm not careful, I start fixating on certain details.  Don't get me wrong, details are all very important, and of course require attention.  Not ALL of my attention, though; not even most of my attention.

No matter who you are or in what you are involved, details can completely derail us. Like when you're walking through a park or on a trail, and suddenly you're walking through a swarm of gnats?  It's like that, but instead of just closing our eyes, shewing them out of our way and continuing onward like we should, we start running around in circles and furiously waving our arms at them, and for a spell, our destination slips out of view.

What is our destination, anyway?  For all of us involved in one ministry or another, I thought it was bringing Christ into the world.

Isn't it?

For the last couple of weeks, I've been in a Papal Encyclical discussion group.  We started with Pope Benedict XVI's most recent Encyclical letter, Caritas in Varitate, and have been really diving into it quite extensively.  In it he writes:

Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion. Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things. Truth opens and unites our minds in the lógos of love: this is the Christian proclamation and testimony of charity. (Introduction, #4)

Subjective opinions and impressions.  Cultural and historical limitations.  Aren't these these very details that most often distract us from what we're here on this earth to do?

Of course in this Encyclical, Benedict XVI is directly addressing global and multi-national issues, but Truth applies universally, whether we're talking on a national or global scale about issues like the environment or health care, or evangelizing in our own communities or parishes.  How often have we seen organizations or programs struggle to maintain participation, when new ideas and thoughts are squashed over the narrow-minded opinions and impressions of its members about a myriad of issues from proper pen color to personality types? or by an unhealthy attachment to unimportant cultural practices, or to those "glory days" of how we did things before? 

When we allow ourselves to get caught up in all the wrong things, we fight Truth--we fight Christ Himself.  If you are involved in ministry, spend some time in reflection, but not on the organization itself.  Focus instead on Truth, which is Christ and His Church, and how that Truth can enlighten and enliven your ministry before even entering into a dialogue with others.  This way, when we begin to act, we can be assured that we're acting in Christian love, not in some human agenda.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Morality Takes Guts

"You have to be better than your parents and grandparents, because the culture is no longer on your side." Dr. Ray Guarendi, clinical psychologist and father of ten, urged parents at St. Dominic Church in Youngstown, OH last night to have the guts to teach morality when it comes to their children, because "the moral way requires guts."

He's not kidding there. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult life is for some of these kids. Their paths are a minefield of temptation with an establishment relentlessly urging them to trip every single mine along the way, and many are giving in far too easily. This isn't because they're any different than the children of previous generations.

It's because, as Dr. Ray said last night, parents lack confidence. They don't know how to establish themselves as authority figures in their children's lives. Parents have bought into the idea that what he calls "psychological correctness", the idea that something a kid does at a certain age is normal, has replaced morality as the standard of behavior. The great dilemma has become whether or not parents should discipline their children for "normal" behavior. Compound this with nearly every American's need for instant gratification, and parenting--a vocation that requires time, dedication and vigilance--is reduced to a few minutes late in the evening with the TV blaring in the background (or foreground, which is worse).

Just by randomly observing in places such as stores, restaurants, live shows, even at Church, I've witnessed an overall lack of authority among children for their parents, and it's appalling. Mom or dad shouldn't have to discuss, bargain, argue and fight with their pre-school childen to curb their behavior in public. If a parent can't establish authority with a two-year-old, what is going to happen as they grow? A parent's will to guide and direct their child with calm, consistent authority must be the stronger will in the relationship, says Dr. Ray. "If you have authority, you rarely need to use it, but if you don't have it, you're constantly chasing it."

To learn more about Dr. Ray Guarendi, visit his website at www.drray.com.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Contraception Conundrum (cont'd)

What continues to gnaw at me regarding this issue is not just that a clear inconsistency in views of secular environmentalists regarding contraception's effect on the environment seems to exist.

My Dad always told me, "if you think you know what you're looking at, take a step back and look at the bigger picture."

The goal of population control advocates is to reduce the number of human beings on the planet, for the sake of the earth. Essentially, they are little by little removing human beings from the environmental equation.

The more fact sheets I read from Population Connection's website, the more my head spins.  I have read paper after paper discussing human activity. Growth rates, resource depletion, deforestation, highway congestion, water shortages...the hopeless list and scope of potential disasters humans will either cause or face is alarming--alarming enough to reclassify humans as destructive parasites upon the earth to be controlled, if not eradicated.

Self-loathing and self-destruction isn't limited to the individual human, I guess.  When a society lacks hope, it will turn on itelf, just like an individual will.  Does a suicide victim care about contaminating the floor with their blood?  After all, someone else will clean up the mess.  Neither does a self-destructive society care that they're contaminating water with their tools of self-destruction.  Once we're gone, nature will clean up the mess.

It's more important than ever that we cling to our Lord and His Church if we are going to turn any of this around.  As Catholics, we should be spending some time every day in formation activities that expand our understanding of our Lord and His Church. 

This is as good a place to start as any:
COMPENDIUM OF THE SOCIAL DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Contraception Conundrum

I found this quotation on American Papist:

Contraception is almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change than conventional green technologies, according to research by the London School of Economics.

Everyone who knows me knows that I lean green. We recycle, use reusable grocery bags, garden, use alternate heat sources during the winter, utilize natural remedies, and are setting up a means of capturing rain water for use in and around our home. I've even written here about Church teaching regarding the environment. So my first thought after reading this quotation was this: "at the expense of the environment" I guess isn't an issue?

Let me back up.  A couple of weeks ago, I read this article titled Protecting environment must involve morals, Archbishop Chaput insists.  Read the relevant excerpt here. (If you're not reading American Papist, you really should be).

So this afternoon I decided to take a look out there to see what the environmentalists really do have to say.  After all, the article about Archbishop Chaput states that only one environmentalist reacted passively to the discovery that artificial contraception in the Denver water supply was the cause of bizarre mutations in trout.

Low and behold, I found the Earth Island Institute's website (Earth Island was founded by David Brower, FYI) containing an article discussing the downright frightening effects of BPAs (found in plastics and epoxy resins), livestock hormones and pesticides on our water supplies, along with another form of pollution:

...another major source of water contamination is all the pills we pop. The proportion of healthcare spending in North America devoted to prescription drugs, including estrogen-laced birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, has risen dramatically in recent decades. In the last five years, prescriptions grew by 12 percent. The human body can absorb only some of the medication, and the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. Discarded medicines often find their way there too.

...it’s not looking like the “answer to pollution is dilution” theory works. After being ingested, excreted, and flushed down the drain, these drugs are not being filtered out by water treatment facilities. What that means is that people could be getting a small dose of thousands of different drugs with every glass of drinking water. The resulting health implications are just beginning to be realized.

(from Pink Water: Plastics, Pesticides, and Pills Are Contaminating Our Drinking Supply By Holly Pyhtila, August 2008; emphasis mine.  To read the article in its entirety, go to www.earthisland.org, scroll to the bottom of the page and in the search field type "Pink Water".)

As it turns out, birth control pills aren't just affecting some trout in a Denver stream. This problem is affecting all life on earth.

HMM.

So back to that first quotation from APP.  You know, the one about contraception being cheaper than human carbon emissions?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ave Maria

On this feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, why destract ourselves?  The issues will still be there tomorrow.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Division

"The division in the church boils down to two different camps that see the world in entirely different ways:

"One recognizes the world as a battlefield where evil must be called out and defeated.

"The other strides through the world believing it to be a place that only needs to be engaged with, and it will see the light of truth and accept it. It is the easier and less confrontational path, and perhaps a little too naive. It is the view that has ruled the day for the past 40 years in the west, and the Church in the west is in massive retreat because of it."  Mike Voris, THE VORTEX, realcatholicTV.com

Friday, September 4, 2009

21st Century Breakdown? Yeah, no kidding.

“They all walk with their heads down, never make eye contact, have an expression of stone on their faces,” lamented a friend of mine last night regarding his fellow students at the local University. “Everyone seems so hopeless.”

I share his concern.

His concern triggered my memory. A few months ago I remember watching an episode of Saturday Night Live. The musical guest was Green Day, performing a song that disturbed me to my core:

Violence is an energy
Against the enemy
Well, violence is an energy

Bringing on the fury
The choir infantry
Revolt against the honor to obey

Overthrow the effigy
The vast majority
Well, burning down the foreman of control

Silence is the enemy
Against your urgency
So rally up the demons of your soul

Do you know the enemy?
Do you know the enemy?
Well, gotta know the enemy

Anyone who owns a copy of Green Day’s album titled 21st Century Breakdown is listening to song lyrics such as this...chaotic, dark, angry, violent, bitter, befuddled, insolent. 

This is not a call to censor artists, because that has no effect other than increasing sales. Bands that peddle despair have a pretty large fan base among teens and young adults for a reason, though. They’re offering empathy and an answer—a wrong answer that can be easily discarded by a person who has been properly formed, but to a teen or young adult with next to nothing by way of real formation? How do parents explain to teens or young adults what this message is really all about, when they have done little or nothing to form them all along?

I have numerous friends that are CCD teachers, and I was involved in Teen Ministry at my parish for several years. Our biggest complaint is lack of parental participation. More than a few parents do not take an interest in the curriculum offered, don’t show up to special functions or retreats, don’t bring their children to Mass regularly or even attend themselves, and other than nominally don’t truly live out their Catholic faith. They literally drop their kid off on the church steps and speed away. It’s no wonder that our parish programs for the youth have limited success in keeping our kids Catholic.

Parents who have not actively participated in the forming of their children’s faith, for whatever reason, have done their children a grave disservice. One or two hours in a CCD class or youth program can’t combat 24/7 constant bombardment from television, radio, the internet and video games.

What scares me the most is how many kids have this very song in their CD player right now on repeat? Because that's what's forming them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I dig Pope Leo XIII...

...he really "got it". His encyclical titled Rerum Novarum is a thorough reminder that society exists for humanity's betterment, not the other way around.

"...if human society is to be healed now, in no other way can it be healed save by a return to Christian life and Christian institutions. When a society is perishing, the wholesome advice to give to those who would restore it is to call it to the principles from which it sprang; for the purspose and perfection of an association is to aim at and to attain that for which it is formed, and its efforts should be put in motion and inspired by the end and object which originally gave it being. Hence, to fall away from its primal constitution implies disease; to go back to it, recovery." (Rerum Novarum, #27)

Hmm.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Glimpse Into the Inner Workings Of My Mind (not for the faint of heart)

This is what happens.  Something strikes me while I'm in morning prayer that makes me go "hmm".  I think about it for a little while--a few minutes, an hour, a day, sometimes a week or more, sometimes even longer than that.  Before I know it, I'm in the middle of some article, encyclical, book, film or other media that I can't put down.

Take today.  I opened my September Magnificat (a day late, forgot it was in my purse so yesterday I used Universalis) and read the following:

Work is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy, that is to say, something that corresponds to man's dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it... Work is a good thing for man--a good thing for his humanity--because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed in a sense becomes "more a human being."  (Laborem Exercens, #9) 
from the section titled, Blessing for the Workplace, Magnificat pg. 12

It only took me about 15 minutes (the time it took to finish the prayer, reread the passage and ask myself the question, "What's "Laborem Exercens"?) to google Laborem Exercens, John Paul II's 1981 Encyclical on Human Work, which I skimmed briefly, until it led me to Rerum Novarum, Leo XIII's 1891 Encyclical on Capital and Labor (commonly titled On the Condition of the Working Classes), which in turn led me to this quotation:

"Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason; and thus it is manifest that it flows from the eternal law. And in so far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; in such case it is no law at all, but rather a species of violence."

This quote from Summa Theologiae by Thomas Aquinas is nestled in its entirety in Leo XIII's footnotes. The Holy Father cited Summa quite a lot for this work.  As I consider some of the legislation coming out of Washington, and the rationale behind it, I can't help but see just how timeless Aquinan thought is.

Anyway, this, my friends, is how I get myself into some of the real formation treasures of our faith.  After I spend the next two days reading these two encyclicals, you can bet that I'll be digging around the Summa for a while.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seeing With New Eyes

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a huge advocate for the sacrament of Confession. I've written about it here, where I included an examination of conscience link that I find very useful. I go to confession every 6-8 weeks.  Do you sin that much, you ask? Well, yes. The more I grow in my faith, the more easily I can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the more I realize exactly how much I sin on a minute-to-minute basis, and need to reconcile, especially if I'm going to be united in Christ through the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

In his book Fundamentals of Christianity (A Cursillo Publication), Fr. Frank Salmani discusses how the Holy Spirit drives our Christian faith. "When we open our hearts to the Spirit," he writes, "we begin to see the world and reality not in our limited terms and ideas, but in the way that God sees them. (p. 50)" This isn't just seeing how God sees the good stuff about us, either.

 "When the Spirit of Truth searches our hearts and we are honest with ourselves, we will know that we need to be recreated and transformed to Christ. (p. 50)"  If we're going to live as disciples of Christ, we have to find the cracks--those little areas where evil continues to take root. The confessional is where I weed out the evil and expose the cracks. Christ in the Eucharist repairs the cracks, and my practice of holiness maintains the repair.

I found this handy list on Fr. Larry Richards' website.  This list is alphabetical--a weed's a weed, right?  There are two copies of the list on one sheet of paper, so cut it in half, keep a list for yourself and give the other list to someone you love. I'm not guilty of all of them, but I am guilty of quite a few.

I'm definitely taking this list with me to my next confession.

30 Seconds Well-Spent

Monday, August 31, 2009

Flattery: Red Flag?

Last Wednesday I forgot to bring my Magnificat to work with me, so I instead went to my backup daily prayer site, Universalis.

Morning prayer began with Psalm 35 (36 depending on your translation):

"O God, in your light we shall see true light.
Evil whispers to the sinner in the depths of his heart:
     the fear of God does not stand before his eyes.

Evil’s flattering light disguises his wickedness,
     so that he does not hate it."

Evil's flattering light disguises his wickedness.

As Christians, how often do we see ourselves against the backdrop of the world, thinking our souls are in far better shape than they really are?

*     *     *

Speaking of flattery...

Over the years, I've been acquainted with countless "friends" who use flattery as a means to gain something--a sense of belonging, career advancement, social acceptance, or a boost to the self-image (as compared with the world, of course). I still have a few of these kinds of people in my life, and boy do they lay it on thick. I feel sorry for them, because they truly don't understand giving of the self. Every favor has a condition. Every promise is forgotten. Every gift is nominal and often accompanied by saccharin. Their friendships don't last through the years, and wonder why they never seem to get anywhere in life.

Sign after sign is erected before them, and they deliberately shut their eyes, telling themselves that it's never them, never their inability to see themselves in the light of God. They prefer the flattering light of evil, because then they don't have to change.

Of course I would be guilty of lying if I said that I never did anything like this in my life. Sure, I've done things to ingratiate myself to others, especially when I looked at myself against that backdrop of the world, where nothing I do is nearly as bad as what others do.  I even have told my friends to not beat themselves up over things, because what they've done isn't nearly as bad as what others have done, and to not worry about it. 

The more I try to understand myself, though, and the true nature of sin as it works within me, I realize that this is a terrible attitude, and is just as bad as that overt flattery I described.  Lately I'm realizing that when my friends say to me, "compared to others...", I know they're trying to make me feel better, but it's not the response I need from them. Others aren't going to be judging me the day I die. God will, and He doesn't measure according to what others do. If I stop examining my conscience objectively against GOD's rule, I might easily turn into one of those poor souls blinded by evil's flattering light. 

What we all need during these times is not flattery, but prayer:

"Let us not be crushed under the heels of the proud,
     nor dispossessed by the hands of sinners.
The doers of evil have fallen where they stood,
     they are cast down and cannot rise. "

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Breaking the Cycle of Poverty




"Almost half of all high school boys have experimented with drugs before the age of thirteen. Many will leave school before the 9th grade, become fathers or become homeless. Some will resort to anything-- begging, crime, prostitution-- just to feed or clothe themselves, just to survive." (from The St. Francis House website)

Cities need more places like this. Is there one in yours? I wonder if there's one in ours.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Define Personal

I came across this very thought-provoking post at DarwinCatholic as I perused the internet this morning (yes, 2:00 am is very early in the morning--it's my attempt to find peace amid the bike-revving, door-slamming, bottle-crashing, drunk-screaming racket at the end of my street, thanks to the sooo very fabulous drinking establishment on the corner of my street. Pray for me.)

"Jesus Is Not My Pal talks about a misconception I think many Christians hold regarding what personal relationship with Christ really means, and Darwin is right: BFF ain't it. Part of the reason for this, I believe, is a grave misunderstanding about who and what Jesus is, and who and what we as believers are. I've actually heard someone say to me that when she dies, she believes that she's going right to heaven so she can run up and give Jesus a great big hug and hold his hand and have a nice long chit-chat with him.

Um, no.

Why people are so misguided in this regard is a topic for another sleepless night. It's sufficient to say here that John 1 states: "(v1)In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word WAS God...(v8) and the Word became flesh." Jesus is the Word made flesh consubstantial with The Father. He is our God, and we are His people. Psalm 95 call us to "come, worship the Lord, for we are His people, the flock that He shepherds". Jesus even calls Himself "The Good Shepherd".

As Darwin's title says so perfectly, Jesus isn't our "pal", and I really doubt He wants to be our "pal". The Last Supper comes to mind. Christ washes each of His disciples' feet--a very personal, very humble act done by only the most lowly of servants--and then tells them:
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. Jn 13:14-16
He gets down on His knees to teach us how to serve, and then expects us to get on our knees and serve one another, too. He's a humble, gentle Master who serves and deeply loves his people, but He's the Master nonetheless, and doing as he commands out of love for Him and love for one another is the evidence of our personal relationship with Jesus.

Aren't we commanded in the Gospel to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves? No relationship is more personal than one that truly gives the entire self to God and to one another. This kind of relationship is far more intimate than just being pals.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Bishop Shares His Thoughts With America

The Church isn't subject to human opinion. Many Catholics, even those with often deep and heartfelt faith, forget this.

From America Magazine - The Church and the University:


"What is the relationship of the Catholic university to the local bishop? No relationship? Someone who occasionally offers Mass on campus? Someone who sits on the platform at graduation? Or is the bishop the teacher in the diocese, responsible for souls, including the souls of students—in this case, the students at Notre Dame? Does the responsibility of the bishop to teach, to govern and to sanctify end at the gate of the university?"

Something I read not too long ago--in an introduction by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to a book about the Charismatic Renewal (can't remember the title, as I've only so far read the introduction)--went something like this: If you are living in union with the Holy Spirit, then you are also living in union with the Church, who is also living in union with the Holy Spirit. We must, therefore, continually turn to the Church in order to determine whether or not we are, in fact, following the Holy Spirit or something else.

I urge you to read this entire article, and really take in what Bishop D'Arcy is saying here.

Ever Been Too Peeved to Pray?

From The Three Ages of the Interior Life Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP Catholic Spiritual Teaching: "The interior life is precisely an elevation and a transformation of the intimate conversation that everyone has with himself as soon as it tends to become a conversation with God."

It really hit me last night just how much I struggle with this conversation. The ear-splitting wail of a motorcycle racing up and down my street at midnight completely interrupted my sleep. A couple fighting, accompanied by some guy yelling close the door, man, just close the door fifty times had me looking out the window. My favorite 2am noise now? Beer bottles smashing against dumpster walls echoing through the night.

About two months ago, a new bar--no, motorcycle hangout--opened at the end of our street. We and our neighbors have witnessed couples fighting in our front yards, motorcycles racing up and down our street after midnight, litter being thrown onto our property, and all those wonderful little perks you get to enjoy when you live close to a bar. I gripped my rosary, begging Our Lady to help me to focus, but I just couldn't at first. My peace had been completely disturbed, and now, tired and angry, all I could focus on was myself and how I felt. Eventually I got through the first few prayers of my rosary, and when I began to focus on the words of the Our Father, I finally drifted off to sleep.

Of course we're taking action. I called our councilwoman this morning, and we're documenting all incidents we witness. It might, however, take months for this problem to be solved. In the meantime, I have to find a way to live with it. Hence, my struggle in my conversation with God.

Garrigou-Lagrange writes:

"This progressive manifestation of God to the soul that seeks Him is not unaccompanied by a struggle; the soul must free itself from the bonds which are the results of sin, and gradually there disappears what St. Paul calls 'the old man' and there takes shape 'the new man.'"



Hm. Anger is a sin, isn't it? Last night I allowed my anger to distract me to the point that I couldn't pray. I also woke up late, which made me late for work, which rekindled my feelings of anger once again. It occurs to me as I write this post that I neglected prayer this morning.

I wonder...what other things, apart from last night's chaos, distract me from prayer?

Do you find yourself in this predicament as well?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dominion Over the Back Yard

We didn't plant melon this year, but we bought some from a local fruit stand that was quite delicious. So delicious that we didn't throw the guts away like usual. My first batch of honey rock melon seeds is fermenting away in a big mason jar on my countertop. Fermenting removes chaff from fleshy fruit seeds like melon, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., before they can be dried and stored for next year's garden.

Gardening is far more than sticking a plant in the ground and watching it grow. With a little effort in the right places, we won't have to spend another dime at a nursery. It's still a little too early to harvest seed pods from our annuals, and since we planted a little late our harvest is coming in late, so all we have are melon seeds. Still we spent the weekend in the yard weeding gardens & flowerbeds, spreading compost, re-staking tomatoes, moving a couple perennials from one bed to another, and tending our "new" mulberry bush.

The mulberry bush started out as a tree. Well, not exactly--this tree was just taking over our and our neighbor's back yards. Mulberries can grow up to 75 feet high, and this one was going for it. So earlier this year my husband and our neighbor cut the huge mulberry tree down to a stump. The mulberry isn't giving up. This stump shot out dozens of new branches, and suddenly we had a mulberry bush. Today we pulled it in with twine and pruned it into a nice hedge. It should retain the shape after about a year of being trained, but it will need careful tending so that it doesn't take over the backyards again.

God created man in his image...[He] blessed them, saying: "...have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

The more time I spend in my garden, the more I realize that less meddling with the plants is best. Dominion, after all, can be approached in two very distinct ways. I read something in one of my new gardening books titled Food Not Lawns that says it best: "...when you're asking the question Should I prune my grapes? try to see yourself as the willing servant to the garden, not the master."

The willing servant. Not the master.

My pink tea roses are a good example. Two years ago they were doing terribly. It's no surprise, though. "The master" was just torturing the poor things. I moved them three times and pruned off the new growth. They had three blooms. No kidding, three. Last year I had to prune them again just to get them into a normal shape. I also moved them, but only once, into a sunnier spot. They had more than three blooms, but it was still pretty sparse.

This year I tossed the master aside and instead approached my tea roses as the willing servant. I pruned off only three dead branches. I gave them a heaping shovel of compost. That was it, other than watering them. My tea roses doubled in size, producing dozens of beautiful pink blooms. Serving my roses gave me more results than trying to master them.

Back to the mulberry...just last night we were talking with our neighbor about what to do with that bush. Ultimately we were making a decision...do we act like the master and rip the sucker out, or be the willing servant and train it into a hedge? As you've already read, servant won out. The funniest part of this story is that we weren't even right about the kind of plant we had. We thought it was an elderberry bush gone completely insane. It was only just an hour before I started writing this post, when researching complimentary plants for the elderberry, did I discover our little mulberry bush's real identity. (nope, never saw an elderberry bush before, either.)

I also discovered that mulberries have no shelf life, so really the only way to ever enjoy fresh mulberries are picked right from the tree. What a shame if we'd have dug it up! Mulberries also make delicious juice, syrups, jams & preserves that you can't find in stores without paying out the nose. Every part of this plant is usable either as food or medicine, and mulberries produce a huge yield of berries, even from a relatively small bush.

Next spring I'll take a couple of clippings and start some new mulberry bushes. Maybe I'll plant a couple of rose bushes around them too, and in a few short years we'll have us a little mulberry hedge grove.

I think I'm going to like having dominion over my back yard as the willing servant.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blasted Back To Reality

After a deeply spiritual Cursillo weekend and a wonderful vacation in Portland, Oregon with my husband, his grown sons and their families, I thought I was settling back into the daily grind pretty well.

Then this morning I read an article that has literally reduced me to tears. Here is an excerpt of the CNS article by Doreen Abi Raad:


Two Catholic bishops in Baghdad, Iraq, expressed shock and concern for their people following a series of targeted blasts that killed 95 people and wounded more than 500.

"With these acts of violence, we are losing everything," Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni told Catholic News Service by phone Aug. 20, the day after the attacks.

"When there's no peace, we can't study, we can't pray, we can't work; we can't even walk," he said.


(CLICK HERE to read the rest of this story.)



What can I do, a virtual nobody from Northeastern Ohio, with no pull, no real voice, no influence? Is it enough to simply be thankful for what I do have and just continue on as I always have?

Last night at our weekly Cursillo Mass before Ultreya, Fr. Ed gave a powerful homily about why we shouldn't just be satisfied to do what's required or expected. He held up in example St. Bernard, a doctor of the Church who defended faith as "not as an opinion but as a certitude", whose feast day we celebrated yesterday.

As I continue to reflect upon the tragic bombing in Iraq that took 95 lives and injured 500 more, Fr. Ed's words continue to echo in my mind: When we face the Lord in judgement, as the scripture tells us we will over and over, the Lord will ask us what have we done, and just doing what's required isn't going to be enough. It's about going the extra mile, doing things out of love.

Is it enough to simply be thankful for what I do have and just continue on?

The knot in my stomach tells me no, it's not enough.


How do I--how do WE go the extra mile?

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