Monday, June 29, 2009


Every joint in my body stiffened as I crawled out of bed this morning. Especially my shoulders. I never realized how much I take my shoulders for granted. Not today, though. They intensely punished me as I raised my arms to tie my hair up, to dress, to open and close the doors, to drive, and now, even after taking a couple of Advil, to type. The pain was so bad I nearly called off work today; but I knew that if I stayed home I would be in pain AND feel sorry for myself. So here I am, sitting at my desk, getting work done and not letting my body defeat me.

My terrible pain and stiffness is the repercussion of an embarrassing fall I took off the back steps Saturday afternoon. The pain gets worse after a couple of days before it gets better. I fortunately didn’t break any bones or suffer a more serious injury. I was still agile enough to turn a little bit to my left so I wouldn’t fall on my face. I’m not exactly sure how I lost my balance and fell, but I suspect it was a combination of the heat, the paint fumes (we were painting our garage) my general klutziness, and, most importantly, my being in a big hurry to get back outside after wasting about 20 minutes on a couple of Facebook applications.

Considering how much damage I could have done to myself, I decided that I need to not race down steps anywhere from now on. I've been thinking about how I landed--on my left hand, arm and side. As a guitarist, I depend on my arms and hands. Had I broken any bone in either one of my hands or arms, what would that have done to my music? My hands and arms are far to valuable to be lost to my carelessness.

As I look more deeply into my graceless swan dive into concrete, I realize that at the time, I could have just blamed something else. My back steps don’t have a hand rail; the steps have a slight lean; plus the back door sticks a little. And my husband hasn't put up a hand rail, leveled the back steps or fixed the back door. These thoughts never once crossed my mind, though, because I would have been laying the blame for my fall right on my husband. It's not his fault I'm a terrible klutz. Plus, making him my fall-fallguy doesn't change what happened, and would only hurt his feelings, or possibly tick him off.

I did, however, consider blaming the dog (don’t laugh, she was tied up right there in the back yard and lying beside the back steps). Would my husband have thought twice about the fact that Roxy, my rambunctious pit bull/lab mix, got underfoot and took me out? It was a definite probability, as she's up our butts every second of the day, and Roxy has clotheslined me several times with her runner leash. She loves to race across the yard to keep up with me wherever I happen to be walking. But as fast as the thought jumped into my mind, that’s how fast I dismissed it.

Blaming someone or something else doesn't erase the fact that I fell; it only causes more pain, more grief, more injury. Plus I would feel worse about myself, because I've now done something to hurt someone else (even the dog).

Isn’t this how it is with sin? We’re doing something that we shouldn’t be doing, and we fall. At first the damage is either not visible at all, or appears to be minor. It’s only when time passes that we really experience the damage caused by our sins. It's why when we go to confession, we pray an "act of contrition", where we resolve to make a conscious effort to avoid sin in the future.

But more importantly, I think, is how we react when we realize we have sinned. We have two choices. We can claim full responsibility, or we can find someone or something else to share the blame. Sure, we can try to convince ourselves that we aren't entirely at fault, if at all, and that by finding this other person/thing to blame, we're really acting out of a sense of justice. Ultimately, we're just rationalizing--saving face and feeding our pride at the expense of someone else. As time goes on, what would the constant shirking of responsibility do to our sense of self? Not to mention the fact that through unrepentent sinning we're killing our souls.

I suggest instead a complete examination of conscience. Periodical examinations of our attitudes and our behavior help us to pinpoint where we are most in danger of committing sin, thereby causing serious injury to our souls, which puts our souls at the risk of an eternity apart from God. That's what sin ultimately is, after all, an injury to our soul. There are several examinations available online (here is one to get you started). I know, it seems like a lot of work, almost as horrifying as that long put-off trip to the dentist; but I think union with God is worth the effort.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Joy Stealers

Have you ever known a person who, no matter what you say or do, works tirelessly to pigeonhole you into a category based on their own limited perception of you?

Have you ever known someone who never sees the error in their own thinking, and will resort to either circular reasoning or insult hurling before admitting that they were totally off base?

Someone who repeatedly pushes your buttons to make you react, then accuses you of being a hothead?

Someone who easily ridicules others, but never faces their own inadequacies?

One-uppers? Copycats? Relentless gossips?

"Misery loves company" has become cliché for a reason.

Be weary of these joy stealers. They are everywhere, often disguised as intelligent, free-thinking folks with what they call "good intentions" (and I'm pretty sure I don't have to remind you what the road to hell is paved with, right?). Joy stealers don't want to open your eyes or free your mind. They suddenly appear in your life, always on their terms. Sometimes it's a stealth operation, but other times they leech on, sucking the life right outta you. They always use you for whatever happens to be on their agenda at that moment, and then they drop you like you're hot as they skulk back into their little safety zone.

"What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them." Galatians 4:15-17

There is only one joy stealer repellent out there that truly works:


Friday, June 26, 2009

Hope In Loss

When the death of someone famous floods the media for any length of time, I think it gets people thinking about their own mortality. Death certainly is not my favorite subject, and I'm pretty sure none of us likes to be reminded that one day we're going to pass from this life, leaving our loved ones behind. We have all experienced the loss of a loved one. We've all suffered the pain of our loved one's absence, and even as time passes we still feel that absence in the here and now.

No scientific explanation or psychological rationalization can take away death's sting. Little can.

From my own experience, my faith has been a great source of strength and comfort in the face of the losses I've endured. In the here and now, I keep my loved ones alive within my heart for as long as I remember them. I continue to love them in my act of remembering and carrying on their legacy; and loving one another is the single most important aspect of my faith. Of course their abscence brings me pain, but I find great joy when I think about that day when I will once again see my loved ones who have passed into the realm of all that is unseen.

Our beliefs give us great comfort in times of loss and difficulty--the knowledge of life after we leave this world gives us hope when all else feels utterly hopeless.

"...while they were thus drawing towards the gate, behold a company of the heavenly host came out to meet them: to whom it was said by the other two shining ones, These are the men that have loved our Lord when they were in the world, and that have left all for his holy name; and he hath sent us to fetch them, and we have brought them thus far on their desired journey, that they may go in and look their Redeemer in the face with joy.

"...Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor. Then I heard in my dream, that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and that it was said unto them, “enter ye into the joy of your Lord."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clinging To Faith

"Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said. “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, "Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:1-6

Some of the most profound ideas regarding spirituality and humanness I have ever read came from Henri J. M. Nouwen. His teachings, which stem from his intensely personal faith, begin with our Lord as "The Beloved", the one who is constantly, relentlessly calling us to Him. Nouwen taught that faith doesn't end with the individual's personal relationship with Christ. A real living faith is expressed outwardly in the life of a living community, the sharing of life's journey to the heart of their God; and in the manifestation of that community in outward expressions of love in ministry, either public or private. He taught that it's not in our strengths, but in our weaknesses that we can truly discover our unity, and that through loving of one another in these weaknesses we are able to know God.
A short book of “spiritual imperatives” to himself titled The Inner Voice Of Love: A Journey Through Anguish To Freedom (Doubleday, 1996), written during a six-month period of intense spiritual darkness, was never intended for publication. In this work, Nouwen explores his own weaknesses, the recesses of his fears, his struggles with faith, and presents them as "a source of consolation to see that light and darkness, hope and despair, love and fear are never very far from each other, and that spiritual freedom often requires a fierce spiritual battle." (from the Introduction, xviii) Sometimes the battle isn't with a demon, but with ourself.
The following excerpt is called Cling To The Promise:

Do not tell everyone your story. You will only end up feeling more rejected. People cannot give you what you long for in your heart. The more you expect from people’s response to your experience of abandonment, the more you will feel exposed to ridicule.

You have to close yourself to the outside world so you can enter your own heart and the heart of God through your pain. God will send to you the people with whom you can share your anguish, who can lead you closer to the true source of love.

God is faithful to God’s promises. Before you die, you will find the acceptance and the love you crave. It will not come in the way you expect. It will not follow your needs and wishes. But it will fill your heart and satisfy your deepest desire. There is nothing to hold on to but this promise. Everything else has been taken away from you. Cling to that naked promise in faith. Your faith will heal you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

O Lord, It's Hard To Be Humble...

"I'll take a water with lemon, but wait, can you wash the lemon?"

"Ok, I know exactly what I want. It's between a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut butter cookie."

"Wait. Come back to me. I still don't know what I want."

"Can you bring my salad with my dinner instead of before?"

"I'll take my salad before. And can you add some shredded chicken on top of it? Your chicken salad has too much stuff in it for me."

The eight of us were quite a handful for our young waitress (she did great, by the way). Between our crazy requests and two of us doing our best impersonation of Munchkinland's Lollipop Guild representatives from the Wizard of Oz, I'm surprised she didn't lose her mind.

"Who has more fun than us?"

Not many. We'd just come from a Cursillo planning meeting (email me if you want to know more about Cursillo), and we were pretty pumped up. Working for the Lord has that effect on me--on all of us. We are business when we have to be business, but once the meeting is over, we spend the next hour or so telling stories, regurgitating movie lines, poking fun at each other's strange ordering habits (wash the lemon???), and laughing, laughing, laughing.

We felt many eyes on us as we carried on, especially when we stopped to join hands and pray as our food came. Silently in our hearts we prayed for each of them--that in their hearts they get to know the joy of the Lord the way we do.

That's not to say that we don't but heads once in a while. When people are passionate about their beliefs, they will defend them--loudly, and sometimes mercilessly. And in an organization that is as tightly knit as ours, feelings get trampled. It happens because we are human, and susceptible to the effects sin. The human factor is both the greatest strength and the greatest liability of ministry.

Letting go of these hurts, especially at the hands of people we consider family, is much more than necessary. It's what Christ commands us: "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." (Jn 13:34) Notice Jesus didn't say, "but wait until you've gotten over your feelings." Pulling our loved ones close to us once again, AFTER we are hurt, is a requirement of discipleship...and "requirement" doesn't quite cover it. It takes something that every one of us at that table the other night work very hard to maintain in our lives: Humility.

Just last night, my good friend Laurie said to a group of us something very profound. She said that being humble doesn't mean "thinking less of yourself"; it means "being freed from thinking of yourself at all". Christ's perfect humility is what enabled Him to carry that cross. Christ's perfect humility is what enabled Him to say, "Father, forgive them." Its why God Himself bent down and did the most menial of things-washed His Apostles' feet. It's why He returned to the ones who ran, hid, even deined knowing him, in order to continue what He started in them.

Sadly, humility isn't really recognized in this culture as a virtue. It's the reason that I believe the concept of Love has been so grossly distorted. We have been conditioned to believe that "Love" is a feeling we get, and something of which we are a worthy object. If a person is giving me what I want and making me feel a certain way, then I love them.

This phrase is etched in our society's vocabulary, and it doesn't even make sense! We love. We are a lover. We are loved. Do we even recognize that LOVE is a VERB? Verbs are actions WE do. I love someone when I am the one giving; when I am the one doing. Since we have no idea as a society what love really is, "loving one another" is a concept slipping into obscurity.

But not among that group around the dinner table the other night. We have been through a lot together, and have seen from bad to the worst in each other. We have even been hurt at one point or another by each other, whether directly or indirectly; intentionally or unintentionally. Don't get me wrong, we feel the pain, and as sinning human beings sometimes just can't get past ourselves right away. But as we continue to practice humility, we are able to let all of that go. That was the source of our joy--knowing that it's in the act of forgiving that we get past our feelings and truly love one another as the Lord intends.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


"Whenever you think you understand what you're looking at, take a giant step back and look at the bigger picture. It sure don't look the same on a larger scale, does it?" -My Dad

In our family we never stand on ceremony. Father's Day is "just another day in my life, kid." Of course that will never stop me from picking up the phone and enjoying a nice conversation with Dad.

If Dad is anything, he's consistent. Aside from his white hair he even looks the same as he did when I was just a baby. Most of the time, the conversation is pretty much the same. We talk a little home maintenance, a little finance, a touch of politics and he always brings it home with "love you much" in his unmistakably resonant baritone.

Our visits are also pretty much the same. We sit around, shoot the breeze, reminisce a little, perhaps tell a couple of stupid jokes, take a nap and then head back home.

Years ago it drove me nuts, but the older I get, the more I rely on that consistency. I like knowing that no matter how much things might change in my life, Dad will always be the same.

Just like our Father in Heaven.

As we spend today celebrating our dads and the great gift of Fatherhood, may we all remember to celebrate the great love of our Heavenly Father as well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Year Of The Priesthood

...You must never forget that priests are, and that they remain, men. God does not perform a miracle to wrest them from the human state.

The priesthood does not of itself give a person the power to do everything or to excel in everything. It is important to remember this lest you fall into a very old error...that of dehumanizing the priesthood and consequently of setting the priest outside of ordinary life.

That does great harm for by thus isolating him, as unbelievers do, to the exclusive realm of ceremonies...he is deprived in good part of his reason for being. If men refuse to pass through him, he no longer can be, at least fully, their mediator.
--Cardinal Suhard

You Can't Always Follow Your Heart

"You can't always follow your heart, because your heart can be deceived. You have to lead your heart." When Michael shared this very simple, yet very powerful statement with Caleb in the Providence Films production titled Fireproof starring Kirk Cameron, it marked a pivotal moment for Caleb as he began a journey of faith in God and a heartfelt attempt to save his failing marriage.

Michael is right. The heart CAN be deceived. Wasn't Eve's heart deceived by the serpent? Wasn't Adam's as well? When we spend too much time analyzing how we feel about everything, how can we really make the best decisions for ourselves? When we "follow our hearts", aren't we really only serving ourselves, living to satisfy our own feelings and emotions?

That's the lesson Michael had to learn before he could really find out whether or not his marriage could be saved. If you haven't seen it yet, Fireproof is a well-spent two hours--even if your marriage is fireproof already.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Voice From Within

“…he who knows not himself cannot truly know me and my justice. Would you have me show you how much the world is in error concerning my mysteries? Then open the eye of your understanding and look at me.”

When Pope John Paul II took his final journey to his own death, he meditated upon the Stations of the Cross. In recalling Christ’s courageous act of dying, perhaps he found strength to face his own act of dying. As he took his last breath, his soul reached out from within him to our Lord Jesus Christ, who was forced to walk a miserable road to his death on a cross.

The Christian walk is a hard one. We ignore the fact that the world is temporary, and that the soul is eternal. With our backs to the Lord, we waste an awful lot of time on the fruits of this world. Our sinful state keeps us occupied on our humanness, rather than on the Lord dwelling within us, who made us and loves us. Some people go through their entire lives and never listen to that outcry from within them. Quite a few go to great lengths to block it out, and some even project onto others so they don’t have to face it. That outcry is their soul longing for The Lord, but trapped by a will which lacks true knowledge of itself. Our souls are inconsolable, except for the Lord.

A few months ago I provided music for a day of reflection. I love being a part of these events, because I learn so much. Fr. John discussed with us the saving power of our Lord as he walked his way of the Cross. He reminded us that it wasn’t just Christ’s death that saved us. It was how he lived his dying. We know the story—leaders saturated with pride sent Christ to his death, deaf to the voice within them, and refusing to see themselves for what they really were. All of that pain, hurt, betrayal, humiliation, the horror that is a crucifixion, went to the cross with Him, and he let it all die with Him. “Forgive them,” He said, “for they know not what they do.”

If our God is a just God, then His justice must be mercy.

Lord Almighty, Father of justice and mercy, help us overcome whatever obstacles that prevent us from wanting to know our true selves. Let us hear that voice within that longs for the Love and Peace that is You. In your great mercy, fill us with a desire to know ourselves as we truly are--as your creation, here to love and serve You, to love and serve each other. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ. AMEN.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Singing To The Lord

Mass itself is perfect worship without music, because we receive the Lord in His word, and then we receive his Body in the Eucharist. I fully appreciate daily Masses without music, because I realize that music is not the substance of worship, and therefore not really a necessity. Music is, however, a wonderful enrichment to worship. As the USCCB document titled Sing To The Lord: Music In Divine Worship states, "singing together in church expresses so well the sacramental presence of God to his people." Even though we don't attend Mass to be entertained, Mass is far more meaningful and enjoyable with well-chosen music woven through it. As Father Ed always says, "Music is at the service of Liturgy."

This is why I take planning music seriously. I spend some time in prayer before selecting music for any Mass or prayer service I might be planning. I take into consideration the Church calendar, the time of year, the purpose of the paritcular Liturgy (I will plan a Sunday Mass differently than I plan a retreat prayer service) and the day's Scripture readings. I rarely rely on any publisher's canned Liturgy planning guides to help me, and I NEVER just pick songs based solely on their aesthetic merit. I am also quite careful to obey as best I can Church teaching on music in Liturgy. After all, if you are living and moving in the Holy Spirit, you will have no problem falling in line with Church teaching, because the Church, founded by Jesus Christ, is also living and moving in the Holy Spirit.


With each Mass, prayer service or function I plan, I grow more and more certain that the Holy Spirit guides me completely in the process. As I planned the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, for example, I kept getting this "vibe" to include a song about social justice. At first, "Go Make A Difference" popped into my head. Then as I leafed through our parish hymnal, it seemed to open by itself to a song titled "Go, Be Justice". If I had a hymnal in front of me, I'd type up a couple of lyrics for you; instead I can only tell you it's message: as we leave Mass, we take Christ's Body into the world, and it's our responsibility to represent Him here, even to the point of challenging the powers that be when they defy the laws of God.

I was not confident in the selection, as Sunday was really supposed to be a celebration of the Sacrament. A hymn like "O Sacrament Most Holy" seemed much more appropriate, so I decided right before Mass started that was the way I would go. Then I heard Father's homily. "The Catholic Church's Tradition of social justice," he said, "is a natural response to Christ's Body and Blood living within each of us." If that isn't a big DUH, GINA, I don't know what is. Now it's very clear to me that Father wove the readings from Exodus (24:3-8) and Hebrews (9:11-15) with the Psalm of the day (116), and reminded us exactly why Christ gave us His Most Holy Body and Blood at the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-16, 24-26).

In August for a few weeks, the Bread of Life discourse from the Gospel of John will be proclaimed:

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world." Jn 6:51

...for the life of the world.

Christ didn't give Himself to His Church so that we could go home and lay on the sofa watching TV. He gave us his Body to give us the strength to do His will. So, since it was quite perfectly at the service of Mass, we were sent forth in peace to love and serve the Lord singing "Go, Be Justice". Who am I to defy the Holy Spirit?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday, Monday

I let out a heavy Monday morning sigh as I sat down at my desk and turned on my computer. I stared at my to-do list for a moment before I began mentally breaking down my tasks and planning out my week. My job in Business Development for a local software company is nothing more than a never-ending process of proving my worth. A chain of successes are quickly forgotten. One failure, though, is permanently etched in the memories of my managers.

I work hard to avoid failures; but they are inevitable, especially when the economy is in decline and no one's buying. Still, as far as the world is concerned, I am considered fortunate to have a good paying job with full benefits. I therefore am obligated to work very hard in order to keep it.

A realization such as this makes the Communion Aniphon at morning Mass today all the more meaningful:

I can rely on the Lord; I can always turn to him for shelter. It was he who gave me my freedom. My God, you are always there to help me! Ps 17:3

For that half hour this morning in the presence of the Lord I was free. No to-do lists or tasks, no cold-calls to make, no trade shows, no special requests from my manager or from my VP. I didn't have to bring anthing that proves my worth. My simply being present was enough.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tick Tock

This song is nearly 20 years old. I first heard it while working at the Flat Iron Cafe in Cleveland, OH. It's an album called "Family Style", recorded by Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmie Vaughan of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash before the album's release.

Whenever I hear this song, I remember that the Lord doesn't just dwell in the churches, but in all of us.

True story.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Let It Shine

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. Mt 5:14-16

Fr. Stan Fortuna most definitely lives this scripture. Through his rap and jazz CD's, live concerts, books, the Web, or any other form of media that he can use, he's making a difference.

This 5-minute piece on the Mass makes me wish I had gotten my you-know-what out of bed to worship this morning.

CLICK HERE to visit Fr. Stan Fortuna on the Web.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Elevator Pitch

Jennifer F Asks the following question on her (fabulous) blog called "Conversion Diary":

OK, Christian readers. Here's a scenario for you:

You and a young man, perhaps in his early 20's, step into an elevator at the same time. You're both going to the tenth floor. He notices something that indicates that you're a Christian (maybe you're wearing a cross necklace, or he saw a bumper sticker for your church on your car outside, etc.)"

I don't believe in God or anything like that, but you seem like a reasonable enough person," he says as the doors close. "I'd be interested to know: why are you a Christian?"

You have about 40 seconds to answer. What do you say?

Over the years, I have been in various conversations with non-believers. Whether they identify themselves as atheist, agnostic, secular-humanist or some other category title, every conversation eventually comes to a screeching halt. No explanation I can offer to a person who doesn't believe in God will suffice, because their parameters of acceptance are simply too narrow. It's the irony of enlightenment: you're only enlightened if you accept a worldview that fits into very specific, very narrow parameters.

How do you explain to a person (who states outright that he doesn't believe in God) that not only do you believe in God, but that you believe He is a being beyond your comprehension who created all things in existence and that you have a relationship with this being in all three of His persons?

I don't think I would answer his question directly.

Instead, I would give him a little food for thought. I would hand him a little piece of paper--a receipt, a note, a business card, a voided check (tear off the routing numbers at the bottom. No sense in being careless.)--through which I've poked a hole with a pen or pencil. I'd ask him to close one eye and look through the hole with the other eye. I'd then stand behind him, and ask him the following question: "Without turning your head or using any other evidence besides what you can see with your eye through that little hole, why do you believe I'm standing behind you?"

Allow the message to sink in for a couple of seconds before saying, "It's hard to explain? You just know what you know?" I suppose I could hit the guy with some Justin Martyr, Augustine or Tertullian, or offer him a personal witness, but ultimately I think keeping it simple, non-defensive and sincere would be the way to go.

"You ask why am I a Christian? It's hard to explain. I just know what I know. Soooo, why do you ask, my friend?"

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Here At The Table

I snuck in through the side door, tiptoeing toward the makeshift chapel set up in St. Columba’s parish hall. It just figured. The one day I manage to escape work early enough to get to daily Mass on time is when the Cathedral would be closed during weekdays for repairs, and I have never been to St. Columba’s parish hall before. By the time I found it, we were already at the Psalm.

There were plenty of seats available. My usual M.O. is to find a pew all to myself. Even in this temporary venue I had every intention of passing by this tiny black woman who took up three chairs with her stuffed shopping bags. Her little denim hat and giant plastic-rimmed glasses covered her eyes. Her jet-black wig was combed neatly into a bob, and her mismatched outfit appeared clean. She flashed me a shimmering pink-lipsticked smile as I stopped and met her gaze. I smiled back as I slid into her row and took the 4th seat in next to her treasures.

As mass went on, my little homeless neighbor began making odd grunting noises. She even let out a few soft “yeah’s” and an occasional “mmmmm-hmmmmmm”, but not in response to anything Father said. She fidgeted a lot. I tried to concentrate on Mass, feeling her eyes on me, as if she was watching me to see what she was supposed to do when. Clearly she wasn’t Catholic. I knelt down on the hard floor during the consecration. My little neighbor sat at the edge of her chair instead. I stole a quick look at her during the Lord’s Prayer. She prayed with her head back, her eyes closed, and her hands up like high she was being arrested. I giggled to myself, watching my little homeless neighbor trying to blend in with the rest of us.

I knelt down again on the hard floor after the Lamb of God. I think my little neighbor got an inspiration to do the same. With no kneelers or bolted down pews for leverage, though, the poor thing got stuck on the ground. I saw her eyes then, wide with panic, and even though she tried to keep her voice down, we could all still hear her uh-oh's and ohhh my's as she knelt there, stuck. I immediately reached over and grabbed her under her arm. With the help of another attendee, we hoisted her to her feet. I caught her eyes and smiled at her as she straightened out her too-big denim skirt.

She followed me to communion.

“The Body of Christ.”

“Thank you,” she replied. I heard the snap as she broke her host in half. On the way back to my seat I saw her slip a piece into her pocket as she ate the rest. I took a peek inside the top of one of her bags, which contained a couple rolls of toilet paper and some crumpled newspaper, among some other things that I couldn’t get a look at in a quick glance. I dropped to my knees in a sudden wave of emotion as it occurred to me that The Body of Christ was most likely this poor homeless woman’s only food yesterday.

She gathered her bags into one hand just before Mass ended, and as Father sat, she stood up to leave. Instead of leaving, she stood right in front of me and put her empty hand out. I immediately took it in mine. “God bless you,” I said, meaning it like never before. I squeezed her hand with love and looked into her dark, withered face.

Jesus looked right back at me, holding my gaze for a moment before turning away, before limping out of the hall toward the University campus across the street from St. Columba’s Cathedral.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Days Of The Harvest

Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of our Church. In that upper room, Jesus’ disciples were anointed by the Holy Spirit, and from that day went out into the world harvesting souls. All but one (St. John, who survived being dropped into boiling oil) was martyred.

Martyrdom is what initially caught St. Justin’s attention. As you’ve probably read in a dozen other blogs, today is his feast day. Justin is the patron of philosophers (hence the pic of The Thinker). He was a voracious student of Philosophy: Plato, Socrates and the like. Ultimately it was watching Christians clinging to their faith in Christ as they were sent to their deaths that led him to begin serious Christian study, and what changed his mindset from paganism to faith in Jesus. As he later wrote in his first apology, “…though we say the same as do the Greeks, we only are hated, because of the name of Christ.” (click here to read The First Apology of Justin.)

I’ve thought about the martyrs quite a lot as I continue along my walk, particularly on their feast days. I admire those courageous men and women being sentenced to their deaths in the name of the Lord, so much so that I took one, Joan of Arc, as my confirmation name. Today as I ruminate the work of Justin Martyr, and his consequential death, I can’t help but wonder: would I be able to stay on the path if death for my faith were laid before me?

I like to think I would walk to my death with a hymn on my lips. Fortunately for me, I live in 21st Century America, where Catholics are not presented with such a difficult choice.

Or are we?
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