Monday, August 30, 2010

Gets Me To The Church On Time

Yesterday I subbed for one of the cantors at my old parish where I was a regular cantor a few years ago. It's a large, suburban parish with a newer building, built within the last 25 years. It's a "church in the round" with the organ and choir risers right up front beside the altar, exposed for the entire congregation to see. (it's one of the reasons I hate not having a choir loft.)

Also, from both the cantor podium and the Ambo I have a perfect view of the doors to the Church. (This is the other reason I hate not having a choir loft.) I get to see the parade of latecomers--some coming in as late as the homily. Before I go on, I am well aware that everyone, including me, has been late one time or another to Mass; we don't make a habit of it, but sometimes it just can't be helped. I'm not talking about those few people rushing in clearly out of their usual character.

I'm talking about those several dozen individuals and families sauntering on in like they were at a casual lunch buffet. The worst was the one in flip flops, fwap-fwap-fwapping in as Father began his homily. From right up front there, for as long as I can remember, it was the same faces over and over again. Similarly it's the same issue after Communion with the dine-and-dashers.

I notice this when I'm in the pews, too. My husband and I occasionally attend the 5:30 pm Sunday Mass, and are just beside ourselves at how many people--all the same ones, by the way--trot in late then. You mean you can't get to Mass on time at 5:30 PM??  Mass times don't change. Church buildings don't randomly move every week. What in this world is so much more important than worshiping your Lord? 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why Catholics Should Never Do Yoga

Springtime in my Diocese is what I like to call Mission Season. It’s when the larger parishes put on missions, retreat weekends and single days of reflection in the hopes of igniting the faith of the many lukewarm. At one of the parishes, the team planning their women’s retreat decided that, rather than having Evening Prayer, they wanted to do a session of yoga. Yes, you read that right. Yoga rather than Evening Prayer. Their Spiritual Director, a very devout Deacon and one of my dearest friends in this world, said, “Absolutely NOT.” Disturbing as this was to my friend the Deacon, many Catholics don’t seem to share his grave concern. Maybe not for a retreat weekend, some may say, but yoga’s a great form of exercise. This would have been my response only a few years ago. I realize now just how incorrect this is, but yoga has been sold to the West as such, and we are paying a terrible spiritual price for it.

My checkered history with yoga is one of the reasons I’m excited about the seventh season of’s The One True Faith, hosted by Michael Voris, which promises to focus on the occult. The season's first episode, “Black and White Magick” (embedded below if you're interested) is mostly about the practice of divination, casting spells and witchcraft, but there was an audience question about the practice of yoga. Voris’ typically direct response was right on the money: “The point is to free the mind from the body…the spirit is all that matters, and matter doesn’t matter.”

Once upon a time back around 1995 or 1996, before I started working at a Catholic bookstore (I have a lot of great books in my private library from that wonderful little place), I was hearing a lot about meditation, and several people told me that I should try it. I had no idea how to meditate, so I went down to the  Diocesan library. They had fewer materials than I thought a Diocesan library should have, but I managed to find a set of tapes (the title completely escapes me) by a Catholic priest and checked it out.

Having been born into the Post-Concillar Church, my parents spent a small fortune on Catholic grade-school with a faith formation program consisting of little more than the infamous "Hi God!" programs. My mother did save her old Maryknoll Crusades magazines from her childhood, and I read those back in grade school, but proper faith formation requires much more than a couple dozen issues of an old Bible study magazine from the 1950s meant to supplement what should be thorough Catechetical training. I was utterly unprepared for what I now know is New Age, progressive thinking. I was also stupid, so I popped the tape in my stereo and went through the meditations.

I had a hard time with this priest's meditations because he kept saying to empty the mind, focus on the sound of his voice, place the self into the scene he was describing. He spent a lot of time talking about breathing and did a few breathing exercises. I really couldn't get into the tapes. I couldn't concentrate. My thoughts kept churning in circles. I gave up on the tapes themselves pretty quickly, but there was this insert with the tapes that talked about the similarities between the world's religions; how God knows our hearts and our intentions; how being open-minded to new and different ideas helps us to understand God; how Eastern philosophies use meditation techniques from which Catholics could benefit. What I now recognize as New-Age philosophy from that insert is what planted some serious errors in my mind and opened the door to my ten-year affair with the practice of yoga.

It was around 1997 when I caught this fitness bug, and was introduced to yoga through workout programs on cable fitness stations. I actually started with the programs that mixed yoga with dance, and thanks to my High School and College dance training, I picked it all up very quickly. There were full yoga programs as well, with the instructors talking about balance and muscle control. Every once in a while they'd throw in key phrases like, “find your center”, “focus your breath”, “clear the mind”, “feel your inner warmth”. Today I would clearly recognize these phrases as being in the danger zone; but to me "the center" was a dance term, and the rest, well, I knew what I believed, and it was pretty clear that this was all exercise. I deftly rationalized that the terminology wasn't important, and I started to believe that the meditating priest might not have been wrong. What I was failing to grasp, as I believe do many people, is that ultimately yoga isn't at all about health and fitness, but more on that later.

For nine years I was an on again-off again yoga student. I wasn’t faithful to it by any means early on, but I always came back to it, because the physical results were unmatched. I could maintain my figure with a no-impact workout program that in a very unique way relieved my stress, which was a real bonus when I took a new, demanding job in 2006. I decided then that it was time to get more serious about my yoga practice. I found Yoga Journal online which contained some very compelling articles about the physical benefits of yoga, along with tutorials on the poses. I felt great about my decision, and bought myself two books at the beginning of 2007: Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar and Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: A 28-Day Exercise Plan. I also started looking for an instructor, but (luckily) they all overcharge and I’m cheap.

I flipped through Hittleman’s book, which was for beginners, and decided that I should save the easy book to loan out to someone that might be interested, and just dive right into Iyengar's more challenging Asana sequences instead. I casually read the Introduction titled, “What Is Yoga?”, perused the photographs of the poses and found the section containing the sequences. It took quite a bit of study, and within 5 months I was advancing quite quickly. I couldn’t get my foot behind my head, but I was able to complete a solid 40-minute “workout”, was getting stronger and more flexible, and was even starting to pick up the Sanskrit terminology.

As I progressed, though, I was still having trouble with the whole "empty your mind" thing. I tried to pray my traditional Catholic prayers, but they actually interfered with my ability to hold a pose. Then there was the breathing. Getting the breathing down is very important. There is this term, Pranayama, which in its simplest definition means breath. To practice Pranayama, as I understood it, you lie on the floor on your back in what is called “corpse pose” and breathe very deeply and deliberately. From what I’d gathered from Iyengar's directions, I should have been able to complete ten minutes of this breathing every session, but I could barely get through two. My mind just continued to wander, just like with those meditation tapes over a decade before. It was then that I went back into the introduction of the book to maybe gain some insight into what I might have been doing wrong, and read the following:
‘The emptying of the mind of the whole of its illusion is the true rechaka (exhalation). The realization that “I am Atma (spirit)” is the true puraka (inhalation). And the steady sustenance of the mind on this conviction is the true kumbhaka (retention). This is true pranayama,’ says Sankaracharya. (Iyengar, p 44)
I gulped rather loudly as it suddenly dawned on me why Light on Yoga is subtitled “The Bible of Modern Yoga”. Iyengar went on to claim something that I immediately knew was wrong: that every living creature inhales the statement God is Me and each exhale I am God. I continued reading the introduction much more intently, which is how I discovered the true purpose of yoga, which is, simply put, to help the yogi properly die.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, from which Iyengar quotes and calls “the most important authority on Yoga philosophy”, the whole purpose of yoga is to “escape pain and sorrow” (p. 19). There are eight “limbs” to yoga. Pranayama, the breath, is actually the fourth limb. The goal is to reach the eighth called Samadhi, which is when the yogi relinquishes the body for a state of transcendental perfection in union with the universe, or essentially an altered mental state. One of the beliefs behind the practice is that each person is granted a fixed number of breaths, and yoga will lengthen each breath for the purpose of extending the amount of time a soul can exist in the altered state before the body dies, thus the higher state when it reenters this world upon reincarnation.

What we think is exercise is actually Asana, the third limb of yoga that is supposed to purify the body to be a proper vessel for the soul, to help the yogi gain mastery over the body for the sake of deep, sustained inhales and exhales, which we now know are prayers to the self as God. Here in the West, because we think Asana is exercise we skip over the first two limbs, which promote indifference toward the world and others. Indifference would certainly help quiet the mind loaded with worries and cares, but it should set off serious alarms in any properly formed Catholic. Isn't Christ's great commandment to love one another? Also, the deep breathing of Asana poses allows the yogi to achieve such a deeply relaxed physical state. Recall that the purpose of yoga is to escape pain and sorrow. I believe that the intense relaxation is the primary reason why so many people find themselves seeking out a more disciplined yoga practice, as I did. The racing mind disturbs relaxation, and if determined, the yogi will break his or her mind,  move on through the remaining limbs, deepen the rift between the body and soul, and turn the mind in on itself.

This is why I had such a hard time getting any further than I did with Pranayama. In a practice that is  thousands of years old, every single particle of it is meant to achieve a defined purpose. My mind, formed in Catholic theology far more intensely than in yoga, knew better and was outright rebelling against what I was trying to make my body do. I pulled the Hittleman book off the shelf which claimed to be about exercise in the title. Could I have been overthinking all of this? I read the following in the introduction on page 9: “Yoga is concerned with the health and beauty of the organism as a unified whole.” The organism? I continued to read through Hittleman and after finding references to union with the universe, decided to put both books in storage. My practice waned and eventually stopped altogether.

After doing some more reading and investigating over the past few years, it's quite clear to me now what yoga is all about, and why that priest’s meditation tape was so terribly misleading. What saddens me now the most is that in my ignorance I've turned a few people onto yoga, bought yoga sessions for a family member as a gift, and have supported a very dear friend in her becoming a yoga instructor. Sadly, she’s been pulling away from the Church, and I fear that it’s her yoga practice that’s responsible. Over the years I've also had a few crises of faith, and have wondered on more than one occasion if, in my utter ignorance, my yoga practice, haphazard as it was, had a hand in any of them.

This program is from

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Heaven and Earth Resound The Hymn

Having been in music ministry for many years, I've noticed that some people do like the catchy new hymns once in a while, but they rally around the old hymns like a battle cry.

Take last summer as a for-instance. I was musical director on a 3-day weekend retreat for women. The attendees ranged in age from their twenties to well into their seventies. Aside from Mass, there are several opportunities for singing built into the weekend. I used a variety of music ranging from traditional to contemporary. At one of these moments during the weekend, these women were absolutely singing their hearts out. They all sounded like giddy little girls. They were on their feet, clapping and singing their hearts out, not to one of the contemporary songs, but to HAIL, HOLY QUEEN.

One woman, one of the older women, approached me and said, "Gina, you've made me feel like a little girl again." I thought it was sweet of her to say, and thanked her for her kind words. The depth of what she told me next, though, I absolutely did not expect.

She went on to share with me that she was born in England, and that she was a child when the Nazis bombed London. While she was in a bomb shelter with her family and as many people as possible, they would keep themselves together by singing hymns. I don't mean just a little singing to keep them calm. Sure, that might have been how it started, but soon they were singing out as loud as they could at those planes flying overhead. It was the only way they knew how to fight, and they sang those bombers away.

What a gift God gave me through that woman.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tagged By A Messenger

Angela Messenger, that is.  So what am I against?

Former Catholics Who Fancy Themselves Experts On Catholicism.  Whenever I talk with a former Catholic, eventually they say to me something like this:  "I grew up Catholic, I know all about the Catholic Church." This statement usually follows either an anti-Catholic sentiment from which I must walk away or get angry, or by an explanation on something Catholic, varying in its level of incorrectness from slightly off to completely wrong.   

This Women Priests Thing.  Is it just me, or do these chicks pretending to be priests give you the creeps, too? It's like they're dressing up and playing Church, but Heaven and Hell are not a Chinese dice game (that's heaven and earth-nyuk). First off, the male priesthood is a matter of dogma. Second, it's a matter of dogma.  Third, IT'S A MATTER OF DOGMA. Christ already decided this one by picking 12 male Apostles. Leave it alone, folks, He's God.

People Who Ignore Approved Private Revelation, and use cinnamon rolls shaped like Mother Theresa's head to disprove all private revelation. There is nothing more irritating than a straw man argument.

...and now for the big one...
Women Haters.

No, not them.

And not things like glass ceilings & unequal salaries, or gender-specific language. Seriously, corporate opportunity? a measure of greed and an occasion of envy. Gender-neutral language? hinders communication and sidetracks people from the real issues. I'm talking about something far more damaging to women.

You know, on the surface, very few would accept a woman's being objectified. On the surface, very few would support making a woman feel terrible about herself simply because she is a woman. On the surface, very few would dream of telling a woman that being physically or emotionally harmed is something that is both necessary and good for her.

On the surface, very few would argue that these things are anything other than hatred toward women. Deep down, however, a great many people fully support all of these things, because they support abortion and birth control. Birth control and abortion both accomplish all three of these terrible things, and the supporters of birth control and abortion will do anything they can to push the lie that they don't.

That so many supporters of abortion and birth control are women make this reality even more tragic.

Pray in reparation for the injuries to and deaths of women because of Abortion and Birth Control.

Find out what bugs the bejeebees out of Angela by clicking here.
Click here to read the original "I'm Against It!" Terry, great meme. You're a gentleman and a scholar.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Buy This Book!

No work of fiction on the shelves is more profoundly relevant to Catholics in America today than Fatherless by Brian J. Gail. In his absorbing, realistic novel about Catholic life in America, Gail tackles some of the toughest issues of our age using hard, sometimes alarming facts that challenge the reader to seriously rethink society's conventional wisdom.

Fatherless takes a hard, honest look at a typical Catholic parish in America over the course of about a decade, beginning in the 1980s. The story begins with Fr. John Sweeney, a young priest about a year out of the seminary, assigned to his hometown parish and giving spiritual direction to three families regarding some very contemporary, very difficult issues. Fr. Sweeney offers them all the kind of guidance and advice that he thinks is correct for each of these families according to the world in which they all live. As all of their lives unfold in jarring reality over the next decade, Fr. Sweeney comes face-to-face with his timorous advice, discovering a new understanding of the Eternal Truth and his priestly vocation.

Gail and his wife of 40 yrs.
A former Madison Avenue advertising executive, Gail brings to this novel business insight and real world experience that adds to the believability to his story. It's a real page turner in spite of its being a little unpolished, specifically in dictated exposition rather than described, and a few instances of kitchy, sometimes corny dialogue. Also, the first few chapters left me a bit disoriented regarding the timeframe. These issues, however, are absolutely no reason to pass on this novel. What Gail lacks in style he makes up for tenfold in an impeccably researched plot that absolutely grips the soul. Gail echoes some of the late 20th & early 21st Centuries' greatest and most evocative Catholic writers whom he credits in his Bibliography: Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Christopher West, George Weigel, David Carlin, and several others.

Fatherless leave you with a better understanding of Catholicism and will ignite your desire for Eternal Truth no matter where you might be in your walk with the Lord.  In this relativistic world, it's more important than ever that we Catholics seek out Eternal Truth and cling to it with our very lives. I recommend that every adult Catholic read this novel, and pick up a few copies to pass along to friends and family.

You can purchase this book here.

I wrote this review of Fatherless for the Tiber River Blogger Review program, created by Aquinas and More Catholic Goods, the largest Catholic store online. 
For more information and to purchase, please visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.

Tiber River is the first Catholic book review site, started in 2000 to help you make informed decisions about Catholic book purchases.

The Life of JOY

How do we truly live the life of JOY. We are told to live the life of Joy: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. I find that there is quite a struggle to put this into practice. Whatever our vocation may be, we must put other's first.

This idea of "offering it up" is so important to our Catholic faith. In our daily lives, be it single or married, we all come across a special type of offering up that we must do in relationships. Perhaps its grinning and going about our duty despite an unkind co worker who just seems to be getting positive recognition all the time while we get passed over. Perhaps its biting our tongue when our loved one seems to be overlooking what we want and focusing on him or herself. Perhaps its complying with a request from our spouse when they haven't been very gracious in meeting our requests. Perhaps its driving that trip to the grocery store for a needy family member who hasn't been particularly kind when we were really looking forward to watching a tv show. Or maybe its folding that last basket of laundry when we really just want to get on the computer or dive into a good book.

Its clear that we are supposed to put others before ourselves. We are to serve others and follow Jesus' example. One of the most beautiful images to think of is when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples. How do we do it? How do we live out JOY every day despite the trials in our vocation, whether that means cleaning up the house for the 50th time, listening to a co worker, trying to deal with yet another irritated customer, etc.

I think there is a certain attitude that interferes with the life of JOY. Its the "But I want" attitude. Our society has contributed to the attitude of but I want....But I want to watch this show and after all I deserve it. But I want to spend an hour reading and I am tired of always taking care of this place. But I want to have my desire fulfilled this time ....But I want him to say he's sorry this time...But I want to be recognized...Instead of but they want this....But I could do this for them.... But maybe she needs it more...A great trick of the enemy is to make offering your wants up for someone else harder by trickery. I think that this trickery comes in because while we are stuck saying "But I want", the lie is slipped in. We we give in to the fear (and lie) that if we say But I will do this instead of But I want, we will never be satisfied or complete. We are scared that if we give in here and swallow this retort or give this when I want to do that, how will I get my needs met? If I do this, how will my husband ever know what I want and how will this pattern change?

We must realize that this worry is largely based on my getting my needs or wants met in a very human way. I am worried about if I give in, how will this fellow human being ever "learn" to do what I need? I forget that when I give to God through others, He will always repay me. He will take care of me, its not about how I will get what I want or how I will be happy in a relationship, its about trusting that if i learn to be humble, to smile with the struggle, and give in to what I can to put other's needs first, I have learned to put Jesus' needs first. I have just then learned to carry Jesus to a world so desperately in need. Instead of worrying about how this fellow human will recognize what I want and meet that desire or how I will get that thing I want or how this need will get met if I just don't do it this way, I realize that if I give even when it feels like it breaks me a couple of things happen;

#1 i become a little less attached to the temporal things of this world and realize what need is vs want
#2 i learn a little of Christ's way to give when it hurts to make someone else live better
#3 I learn that my faith must be in Christ alone and that I must not depend on how this will get met by this person or that, because those people can not meet my needs anyway, only through Christ can those gaps be filled.

There is no need to worry that if I give in here or there somehow a pattern will be set and I will never be satisfied because I didn't teach that person to give me what I want. A pattern must be set where I lift up whatever I have given, whatever daily annoyance I have offered to be filled in by God. I think that this pleases God because we come to Him as a child, learning to lean wholly on Him for our needs, emotional, physical, temporal, and eternal.

I think about how it pleases me when my child looks at his brother and says, you take the first turn, or I want you to have it. Then, I think about how it makes me so happy that I desire to take my child who was giving and far from depriving him of whatever gift he gave, repay him for his kindness. He has learned to put someone else in front of him. If I being as imperfect and broken as I am have these thoughts toward my children, isn't is possible that God would think the same? The scriptures tell us if we being evil know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more so does your Heavenly Father (paraphrasing). Do you think God may want us to put others first to be a part of the breaking? The breaking of self and egoism that permeates our culture?

When we sacrifice this prideful response, or put someone else first even though we are tired exausted,etc. perhaps we please God because we have somehow learned a little of Christ. We have somehow peered a little closer at the Christ who, exhausted from his beatings, completely innocent, struggled to carry a cross for us. A cross He didn't deserve, a cross that bore all of our sin and shame. He carried it for us. Yet, I struggle to keep my mouth quiet when it should be silent. Its tough! I try and fall and try and fall and try again. If we keep trying though, I think we will begin to learn that far from being left behind and out in the cold with our needs left unmet, he who is first will be last. We have learned that we have come to serve. And we will always be taken care of.

Perhaps God is whispering to us, "don't give into the lie that if you deny yourself here, I won't take care of you." Perhaps God wants us to give and offer it up as a beautiful gift to God, for we must remember as I tell my boys, when we are kind to each other we are kind to Jesus. In that other person, is the image of God. In the giving and offering up, we also learn to say Ok God, I with your help can do this, knowing that instead of setting up a pattern where my emotional needs may not be met, I set up a pattern where I trust that God will meet those emotional needs. Somehow in the giving, God will ensure that my emotional needs are met and that I will have grown closer to him. Closer to the Christ who carries that cross he didn't deserve.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Counter Culture In The Trenches

I wonder if the woman who filed the complaint against Joseph Holland, a 25-year-old grad student and Pro-Life activist, knew she was being filmed.  Mr. Holland was arrested for ellegedly violating Chicago's "Bubble Zone" ordinance which says you may not approach anyone if you're holding a sign in protest, handing out leaflets or flyers or orally "protesting, educating or counseling" individuals.

Do you see any Pro-Lifers making any kind of approach toward anyone while holding a sign, handing out leaflets or orally protesting?   The charges were dropped earlier this week. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Mass: How Extraordinary!

They're on a roll over at Soon we will be experiencing some changes within the Mass, and this episode of CIA, Fr. Paul Nicholson sits down with host Michael Voris about the roots of Divine Worship in the extraordinary form of Mass.

From the show: "The Church must be sacred. In a world that is awash with the secularism that drives God out of the world, we must in some way drive the spirit of the world out of the Church, and this, I think, is the Holy Father's great desire. He wants to cleanse the temple, so to speak, by bringing back that spirit of reverence, which is, indeed, a grace from God."

This program is from
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