Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling...

As I was listening to one of my favorite artists, Audrey Assad's newest soundtrack, a collection of hymns yesterday, I put one song on repeat. I let it cycle through, four or five times, until I was able to sing and focus on the words.

"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for sinners to come home."

And the words started to sink in a little bit. And they began to resonate with some other things I've been thinking about, well, all summer.

The call of every Christian to evangelize. And how, well, I don't think we're being very successful right now.

Last spring, I read one of the most challenging, and page turning books I've ever read. It made waves a few years ago, but I finally got around to reading it during the Easter season last year. I finished the last page, and turned back to the first. This time with a pen ready.

Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples made me think through a lot of things. Most of it had me nodding my head in agreement. But there was part of it throughout that left me unsure. And that part was the most important part.

I knew it was the most important part, even without the author having mentioned that repeatedly. She called that the kerygma.

Most of us would know it as the Good News.

So, here I am, cradle Catholic who always "did all the stuff' and desperately wanted to "do everything right" at church all through high school. The girl who had people comment when after a particularly intense week at a Catholic summer camp was so lit up and on fire that it was noticeable to pretty much everyone that something had changed.

Then college happened, and I let my faith life die so far down that I wasn't even sure I had one. But here's the kicker. I still "did all the stuff". I happily said I was Catholic, went to mass a couple times each week, sang in the choir, participated in Bible studies, went on retreats, taught religious ed for a year, and served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion nearly every week.

In th midst of that, my dad passed away suddenly. It was like the bottom piece of a Jenga tower had been pulled out, but somehow, everything was still standing. So I kept on, pretending everything was completely fine.

I began my first year of teaching, confident that I would be able to do everything independently and stubbornly, just like I'd always done. Confident that I would be able to balance everything, and to continue to hold that breath that was keeping the Jenga tower from crashing down.

Well... I didn't quite succeed in that.

Through none of those four years of college or my first year back in Ottumwa would I have ever said I wasn't seeking God. I would have said that I was. I was going to church, and I was still "doing all the things". Well... except for that one thing. The praying thing. It had been a good long while since I had done that in any way more than saying words. My last entry in the prayer journal I had started for college was written a couple weeks before my dad passed away. I started a couple different journals, each time writing one entry and then casting it to the side. I wanted God. But I didn't really think he wanted me. After all, I was doing all the things. Why wasn't He answering that cry?

All of a sudden, I was unable to hold my breath. Well, maybe it wasn't so sudden. Maybe I'd been holding my breath for over two years. But I finally had to let out that breath. I finally had to feel again. I finally had to stop the doing, and let God.

In a simple moment on a cool spring night, I felt God's grace wash over me. And for the first time in years, it wasn't me, doing. It was me, receiving.

Ready for the kicker? A year or so later my best friend asks me what the most important part of my faith is. And I turn around in the middle of the street, and I stare at her. Because even after that year of healing, even after a year of learning about my faith and throwing myself back in, and actually starting to pray, I still didn't get it. I was on fire for God. But I still couldn't answer that most important question. "Jesus," I mumbled. But inside my heart, I didn't know how to answer. Why? Why was Jesus so important? He changed my life, yes, but how? How did I encounter Him? How did He continue to work in my life?

I didn't have the answers.

All I knew was that I was supposed to know.

When I read Weddlel's comments on sharing the kerygma, I was back in that street again. Looking down at the shadows of the streetlight, not quite sure how to answer. The kerygma? The mystery? The Good News? What Good News? My life has changed. But how?

So... fast forward to yesterday and today. And the last few months as I've been studying how to evangelize. Pope Francis' trip to the US, the upcoming Year of Mercy. How does this all fit in?

This morning when I listened to my daily reflection, it focused on the Gospel of today- Luke 11:37-41.

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

The reflection talked about the importance of doing things with our hearts, and not just on the external. Yikes.

When I got to Mass after school, the first reading from Romans 1:16-25 was even harder to ignore.

Brothers and sisters:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
for Jew first, and then Greek.
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven
against every impiety and wickedness
of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them,
because God made it evident to them.
Ever since the creation of the world,
his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity
have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.
As a result, they have no excuse;
for although they knew God
they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.
Instead, they became vain in their reasoning,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
While claiming to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for the likeness of an image of mortal man
or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity
through the lusts of their hearts
for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator,
who is blessed forever. Amen.

Wow. Leave it to St Paul to hammer it in even deeper.

The love part has to come first, because God has to come first. When we do it on our own, we will never be able to do more than the motions, because our heart isn't Christ's heart unless we give Him our heart.

We need to change the way we evangelize. We need to stop looking at people and judgementally saying, "you sinner- we can fix you. Follow this plan." We need to humbly start looking at ourselves first. Our first words should give praise and glory to the goodness of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, that we have experienced. We need to tell the story of how we are being sanctified. Isn't that how one of the most popular hymns of all time tells the tale?

Amazing Grace... how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Putting God first in our story doesn't mean that we change the actions. Rather, it gives meaning to the actions, a purpose to the reverence, and reminds us that we are only strong in Him. that we are weak. It is humbling, and in so being humbled, we are made whole and uplifted. Because our God, seeing His child ready to receive His grace wastes not a second of pouring it into to our open hearts, our open ears, our open mouths, our open hands.

So, rather than complain of the problems of the world, that have always been there, will always be there, and are there to draw us out of the world and into our Creator's arms, we should speak the life that is in us, and share the love that fills us. Not from pride, but from humility and joy. Not from our strength, but to share the news that God has come! That He is Risen!

It is only when we realize that the problems of the world are a reflection of the sin in our hearts, that we can begin to root out the evil. As long as we are pointing fingers, as long as we are viewing ourselves as having all the answers, we will never be able to love. We need to give charity freely to all, in our words and actions, and focus our judgement on our own hearts. Do justice, love freely, speak the truth. Live as Christians. Acknowledge our own faults and work to fix them.

And that's the story that needs the telling. The story of how Christ wants to save us each as He sacrificed for all, if only we will let Him in. The story of a sinner, once lost, now daily lifted up by God, a God who calls out each day so that each can respond again. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. To you... and to me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rejoicing when I don't want to

It seems there's so much wrong in the world right now, and in our state, and country, and town, streets, neighborhoods, and classrooms, that is frustrating. So much injustice. So much hurt. So much blame to go around.

So much bothering me right now- babies being slaughtered, people being killed, people being hurt, people hurting in so many ways, that I was finding it really hard to pray today.

I just wanted to shout at God that it wasn't fair.

And that's when I was reminded that He knew that. That He knew it wasn't fair. That His Heart was broken, too, and that He didn't understand why any of His children could act the way they did. He knew, and He came into the world anyway. He came down and suffered beside us, instead of fretting and worrying and shouting from afar. He came not only to conquer death, but He came to give us hope. He walked this path in this world we live, but He walked it with no sin. He suffered beside us and along us, and so much more than us, while He was himself blameless.

He willingly choose to enter this world, knowing the hurt, the pain, the brokenness that existed. And He choose to come anyway. He chose to love anyway.

Sometimes the not being able to do anything when a loved when is hurting is just so incredibly hard to watch. Not being able to take away the pain of losing a spouse. Not being able to "do" anything when it seems that someone you love so very much is spinning a world of hurt, and has been for so long, that the person doesn't seem to notice the hurt anymore. And it's really tough when you want to shout out the help, to instead help them to learn to laugh again. It's really, really hard, to go down into the hurt. At least for me. It's so much easier to stay out of the pain and try to pretend like everything is all fine and dandy. It's so easy to be selfish.

Because in the middle of my trying-really-hard-not-to-be-angry-but-still-being-angry attitude, I heard the Psalm at mass tonight. "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord." Rejoicing? When people are hurting?

Well... the Gospel had something more to say about that:

LK 8:19-21
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him
but were unable to join him because of the crowd.
He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside
and they wish to see you.”
He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Yes. Rejoicing. Rejoicing that God loved us enough to come and suffer beside us. Rejoicing that He told us that when we act on His word, we are His family. When we act. When we do what he did. When we go into the sad parts, and the hurting parts, and offer ourselves. And that we should rejoice because Our God does understand how hard this is.
So my prayer today ended up changing from whining to asking for the strength to push in. Even if it is just hugging someone. I need to do more. I need to step outside the selfishness of "me" and find ways to help.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The sum of the little things can outweigh something larger

Sometimes strangers can leave quite an impression.

I'm at a debate tournament this week... which means staying in a hotel, and going back and forth between other hotels with several thousand debate students, coaches and judges.

On the first day, I was cheerfully greeted by a custodian who was cracking jokes and succeeding in getting most of the people around him to smile. His joy was contagious. That was the most noticeable thing about him. The second most noticeable thing was the crucifix around his neck.

And then... seeing him again yesterday, again cheerful, again spreading joy. Again wearing the cross of Christ.

That's not the type of witness you see everyday. But that's the type of witness that makes a difference.

You see, this man's day had been made so much more difficult by the swarm of 500 people waiting to use the elevator that he also needed to use. But instead of complaining... instead of being angry, he chose to use the time as an opportunity to spread joy.

He was carrying a cross... and that's what made the crucifix around his neck stand out all the more powerfully.

He wasn't doing a mighty deed of courage, or performing some large sacrifice that would be noticed by those around him. He was offering a small sacrifice with joy... maybe so routinely that he no longer saw it as a burden. And that's what made it so powerful.

I read a powerful quote yesterday about the importance of the little things.

"A drop of rain is also a small matter; yet every rain, the heaviest as well as the lightest, is made up of drops."

Those "small drops" can sometimes be the most difficult things to do... not because of the difficulty they pose. In fact, the ease of fulfilling some of these is part of what can make it difficult. Difficult to see the importance. But without that, without the little things, the bigger things grow impossibly hard.

The little things, frequently done, add up to a lot. The great things look grand... they're things we aspire to, and see as praiseworthy. They're things we see as worthwhile. The little things are hard in their littleness. In the humility required to embrace them. The little things betray a lifetime, not a mere moment, of virtue when we see them.

And this person was able to point that out through his actions. I wish I'd thanked him for that witness, for teaching me a lesson without preaching, without thinking about it. Because in those two short encounters, I was blessed to see that little acts can be so much more powerful than great ones.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trying to listen

This morning I was getting ready to leave for work, and opened the door to the porch only to notice a bird flying frantically around. I quickly stepped back and shut the door, not wanting to let the bird come into the house! I went out the other door, and opened the door to the porch from the outside, hoping that it would notice and fly out the door. The bird noticed the change. But he didn't fly for the open door. No, this bird flew directly... into the window. This process repeated itself several times, as I heard three or four thumps, only to look each time and see the little bird perched safely on the windowsill.

I had to leave for work, which meant shutting the door, and leaving the little bird to fend for itself.

Ok... so... entertaining story. But, then this afternoon happened.

I walked into the church after work, and, noticing that a gentleman was praying near the tabernacle, went to a pew and began to pray. A few minutes later, the gentleman left the area, beginning his usual walk around the church to pray.

A few moments later, I noticed he was standing beside me. I glanced up. "Well?" He started, then paused, looking at me. "You can have Him."

I smiled, and a moment later, got up... because yes... I did want to spend some quiet time with Jesus. But this man's act... well... that struck me profoundly.

So I went over to pray, but I had a really hard time focusing, as this encounter kept popping into my mind. When's the last time that I "let someone have Jesus"? Or do I tend to treat this relationship as one that I don't want to let others into? That I don't want to share?

As much as I SAY that I want others to have that encounter with Him, do my actions really show it?

And then the morning came flooding back to me. At first, my thoughts were just on how a bird is a beautiful symbol for the Christian people. This is particularly evident in painting from the middle ages. The tie-in to the Eucharist... especially with pelicans. A parish near me, St Mary's in Oskaloosa actually has a pelican carved into the altar. The thought used to be that a pelican would, when it couldn't offer its babies the nourishment they needed, tear into its own flesh and feed them its blood to sustain them. What appears more helpless, and is thus a better image than the way we so desperately come to our Saviour than that image of a baby bird, mouth wide open so that He can feed us from His very self? (Pelicans have always been my favourite bird... learning this legend just made them more fascinating to me!)

Pelican feeding young window

But the image of the bird crashing into the window kept popping into my mind. So I reflected on that a bit more. And as the image grew clearer, so to did the message. This bird was desperately trying to get back outside. To get out of the trap. And he was trying oh so very hard to do so. But he was only willing to fly back and forth from window to window, and not to fly out the door wide open that he didn't know anything about.

But it's so shiny and pretty! Ouch! I just want to go outside!

Yep. That sounds familiar. And that thought shook me. Because in trying to find God on my own, and not looking at the door He has opened, well, I'm bound to keep crashing into the glass. Seeing the outside, but never able to get there.

So... that door is there. And unlike me to the bird this morning, God's not going to shut the door on me and leave me alone to find my own way through it. The door will be open... I just need to find a way to stop stubbornly aiming for the window.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Set the world on fire

I wasn't intentionally pondering St Catherine's famous quote this morning because it was her feast day.

It's well known, and with good cause. This single quote seems to sum up the life and message of this mystic saint, and doctor of the Church.

St Catherine challenges all Christians to live a life of discipleship. Of radical trust and encounter. Of mission and service.

Frankly, her words should shake us. They are very bit as radical and terrifying today as they were in the 14th century. The world is different, but her battle cry to all the baptized is not.

By virtue of our baptism, we are all called to "set the world ablaze".

And we are called to do that each day. In each opportunity given to us.

Sometimes, that means speaking out.

And sharing the truth.

It always means cultivating our own interior life of prayer. It always means deepening our relationship with Christ. Sometimes, I think it's easy to get wrapped up in the things that need to be done... and it's so very easy to move the box "God" down further on the list. Maybe that's just like any other checklist I write, where the most important thing is always the thing I put off the longest. But in this case, it never postpones something, it actually slows me down with all the other things! Because the God part of life isn't separate from the rest of life.

He's there, beside us always. Even when we don't sense Him. Even when we are simply so unaware of what the lack of His presence would mean that we just continue on, blithely ignoring Who surrounds us.

Set the world ablaze. You. Me. That guy you see buying the same thing at the supermarket each Tuesday. The girl who walks with her eyes cast at the ground. The little boy playing in the pool. You. Me.

We are charged with setting the world on fire. We are charged with spreading the Gospel. Today. Each day. We can't do that without a fire in our hearts, burning with love for God. We can't do that when we choose to live lives of lukewarm complacency. We can only do that if we commit. If each day we ask God to make the fire in our hearts stronger, so that it cannot be contained.

St Catherine of Sienna, pray for us.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Beauty of God's Creation

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my thoughts that I forget to look around and see the sheer beauty God gives us in nature.

As I was driving home tonight, three deer ran out in front of my car. Gorgeous animals. Strong. Sleek. Graceful. Beautifully built.

I braked. And mentally paused a bit.

A few minutes later, I had to pull over to take this shot.

The artistry of God's handwork is only complimented by the simple beauty of the country church.

Simplicity is a beautiful thing. It's clean. And pure. And innocent. And such a great symbol for how our hearts should be in the light of our Lord.

Now if only that tacky looking sign weren't there ruining the beauty ;) I jest... but that too, speaks of our tendency to overcomplicate the beautiful and the simple. Sometimes the sunset alone is enough.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mercy and trustful surrender

Sometimes I think one of the most difficult things about being a Christian is not just the laying down of my desires on the altar and the picking up of my cross, but in getting outside of myself enough to even see which things are my desires and which are God's.

For the last year, I've been one of those people who walks in a church and almost immediately the tears start. They might not be constant... but I've learned to bring some kleenex! The words in prayer don't come very often. And sometimes as I am there, trying not to draw attention to myself, not to cry, and to focus, I'm just so taken in by the awesomeness of God... that the tears just won't stop. I've learned that its a different sort of prayer, and while it might not be the rosary, or the words I think I want to say to God, it's what I need at the moment. To just be in the presence of my Lord.

So today was one of those days. I was blessed to be able to attend the last hour of a Divine Mercy Celebration including confession, adoration, benediction and the singing of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. I've never been to an event quite like this and it was a truly beautiful thing to see so many Catholics gathered in prayer. The church was packed! Such a great sight!

I've found the message of St Faustina and Divine Mercy to be compelling since I first picked up a pamphlet on it at my parish during high school. It was the first novena I ever prayed, and I recall at the time, finding the words of the prayer to be profoundly beautiful and packed with meaning. Fast forward 6 years from then, when I rediscovered it with a greater Eucharistic devotion. The very idea of the prayer- that we are offering Christ to God. That we, lowly, sinful, fallen people, can offer Him to God.

Wow. Talk about Mercy. He doesn't just forgive us our sin, He raises us up. He invites us to put our hands into His. To put our fingers into His side. To look in His eyes. He isn't a God lords His greatness over us. Instead, He calls us toward Him. He came down from heaven, not just to save us from our sin, but to open the gates of heaven to us as well. O happy fault of Adam, indeed!

For the rest of my story to make sense, some backstory from this week is involved.

The other night, I introduced my seventh graders to this devotion. We've talked about sin, and confession, and mercy, and the Eucharist before. But with the celebration of Easter last Sunday and the octave this week, it seemed the perfect time to bring it up again. The kids, as usual, had some fantastic comments and questions (I'm a fan of the socratic method... which means the kids also know that they can ask any question and I'll try to answer it or find out by the next week. Questions are encouraged!) So towards the end of this conversation, I played the song "Love Was Stronger" by Audio Adrenaline. It wasn't my original plan (I'd been intending to play Matt Maher's "Christ Is Risen") so I didn't have the lyrics printed for them, but as I was driving to run errands before class, the song came on the radio and fit the theme for the evening so perfectly, that I had to incorporate it in. (Sadly, we never did get around to the second song... guess we'll use it this week!)

Audio Adrenaline - Love Was Stronger Lyrics
From the album Love Was Stronger (Single)

I was a child of wrath
An enemy of the King of Peace
But love was stronger
Love was stronger

I tried resisting grace
The son of God still took my place
Cause love was stronger
Love was stronger

You are stronger than my sins, You carried
To the cross with resurrecting love

Love was stronger
Love was stronger

When You had called me in
My flesh was weak, my heart was dead
But love was stronger
Love was stronger

I was in a foreign land
You made me a citizen in You
Cause love was stronger
Love was stronger

I am the one who pierced Your side
I put every thorn on Your head
Through the feet and through the hands
I placed all of my sins
But love was stronger
But love was stronger

From the cover of
Fr Michael Gaitley's Consoling the Heart of Jesus

That last verse was were most of our focus went. And then I showed them several images of Divine Mercy, including my favorite, to the side. We talked about the image, read the Gospel account of blood and water gushing forth from the side of Jesus.

And then, I talked a little bit about Divine Mercy Sunday, the indulgence offered. They were more with me for the entire class period than they have been the rest of the year. I threw the lesson together somewhat quickly. It wasn't very well prepared and I didn't plan exactly where the discussion would lead. Three hours before class started, I decided we should talk about the Divine Mercy chaplet. And 2 and a half hours before class started I drove 45 minutes away to get the prayer card... and some glow-in-the-dark rosaries (they are kind of cool!)... and Holy Water bottles.

And it was the best lesson all year. Not because of my preparation, or planning, by any means. I'd been considering this lesson for over a week, but hadn't figured out any of the details. Two of the kids hugged me and thanked me. Seventh grade boys thanked me for talking about confession, and giving them a rosary and prayer card. Not exactly the typical response (though we do have super awesome wonderful students who generally are very eager to study the Faith).

And that brings me back to today. I was holding the crucifix from my rosary and reached up to hold the one around my neck as well. And then I looked down, and realized that I was holding two crosses. And it was then that I realized that I've been trying to carry two crosses. And that since I don't know which one God wants me to carry, I've been stumbling along, dragging them both, sometimes trying to drop one of them, but never, ever, offering God the other. So today I laid that cross on the altar. I asked God to take that cross away from me if it wasn't the one He wanted me to carry. Because if I can trust Him to make a single lesson work when I didn't know what to do, I can certainly trust Him with this much larger thing. Divine Mercy, indeed, to so willingly accept what I was so reluctant to offer!

O blood and water which gushed forth from the side of Jesus as a fountain of mercy, I trust in You! Jesus, help me to trust You more.

Friday, April 10, 2015

On Trusting God

I titled this blog "I'm Diving In" three years ago. It's funny, because, today,  I'm still struggling to dive and not just stand on the edge and test the waters out some more. To keep staring at the murky waters and hope that they suddenly become more clear. I like the temperature of the water. It feels safe. It feels comforting. It's even really pretty when I look out at it from safely on the beach. But climbing up the ladder... taking that dive. That's terrifying.

Diving in is scary. Especially when you can't see the bottom. It involves trust. It involves faith. It involves courage to trust that there really is a plan and that it will really work out.

Over the last two weeks, I've had the realization more and more that at some point, I'm actually going to have to jump. And I've slowly taken all these baby steps. It doesn't look nearly as terrifying anymore, because I've taken a few more steps each time before backing down again and starting back upward.

The thing is, standing on the beach looking out at the water doesn't have nearly the same effect as being in the water, swimming. One doesn't stand on a diving board without wanting to swim.

Over the last week, I've seen this story, or similar quotes from it at least a half dozen times. I shared one quote on Facebook, and immediately after scrolled down through my newsfeed only to see it again. It's an account from Brennan Manning on an encounter with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

Wow. Yes. That really is the goal. To trust.

Something Father said tonight at Mass struck me. He was speaking specifically about the conversion of 5000 after Peter spoke in Acts 4:1-12. He reminded us that it's not our job to convert people. It's our task to speak the truth. For some reason, I guess that really hadn't sunk in before tonight. Jesus didn't commission us to save anyone. We are completely incapable of that. But he did ask us to spread the Good News. Not all those present who heard Peter speak converted. But the Spirit was at work. And Peter had faith. He didn't stand around and convene a meeting with the apostles to discuss strategy. He preached the truth. He shared his knowledge of the resurrected Lord, the One who can save.

So lots of trusting to work on I guess. And a few more steps up the ladder.

Step one, ironically, is to hit publish. After writing this post, it occurred to me that I had another post from 10/30/2014 with the same title, yet blank. So a baby step up the ladder. Step by little step.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I don't think I'm cut out for twitter...

But I do like to connect my experiences to my observations... so here goes :)

I have one of those anonymous-ish profiles... because all I really wanted to do was have a place to share all the things I read and liked without harassing all my friends by flooding their inbox.

And I like the chance to connect with Catholics all over the world. And it's all fine and good, these digital relationships. Until there's conflict.

Like today... as I spent an hour debating an atheist on one thread and a traditionalist on another. Yeah... strange combination, go figure. Both exchanges, though mostly respectful, just left me saddened.

It started a couple days ago when the traditionalist (i.e. the chair of Peter is empty- sedevacantist sort) messaged me on twitter. For some reason, that's one group that I really don't understand. I understand that they are frustrated by some of the abuses they see in certain parishes, or the ignorance and opposition they see among Catholics to Church teachings. But I don't understand their reaction... to withdraw from the Church in anger and bitterness. Everything I read from their sites is so austere and terrifying, that I don't see how God is present in it. I suppose my biggest problem is that they claim to know so much that I don't understand how they miss what I see as the big picture.

It might be overdone and nearly trite in the saying, that God is Love. But the message doesn't get any easier to follow the more often we hear it. Loving is really, really hard. And loving in the online world is starting to seem to me to be nearly impossible.

But as I pondered that a bit, it led me to some interesting thoughts. Firstly, we're not made to just communicate with each other, so much as to have relationship with each other. When conversation and talk occurs with no relationship, when conflict arises, it's really easy not to see what we are reading on a screen as having come from the mouth of a person, who we are called to love. So we see angry comments and tirades that 15 years ago, few people would have ever said to anyone, let alone a perfect stranger! And worse, still, we are starting to see this sort of reaction slip into everyday life as well. It's not as common yet, but it's there. The selfishness of wanting only our own opinion to be heard. Of not caring for the person so much as our point.

The other thought I had is that this type of online interaction very much resembles our interactions with God when we check out for the relationship part. When we only turn to God in times of need- when we want to talk to Him, then the relationship isn't strong enough to withstand the conflict. When we start to think that reading about God, or talking about God, or even thinking about God somehow is a worthy substitute for having a relationship with Him, then the times we do border on that relationship are awkward and forced. It's not that reading and talking and thinking about God are in any way bad- they're very, very good. And if we are investing in a relationship with Him then those things will help that relationship to deepen and strengthen. But we have to get past the surface.

I'm starting to think I should add a disclaimer to my blog on its level of randomness. These are just my thoughts... unconnected and unedited as they may be. Read at your own risk :)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Laying my expectations on the altar-February 6, 2015... An older post and some random thoughts

I listened to a talk last weekend about surrendering expectations. Because holding on to an expectation really isn't putting faith in God. So I've been pondering that over the last week.

And I've realized a couple things. Saying I believe isn't enough. Because faith doesn't manifest from the desire to accumulate. It's manifest in how we give, and receive. It's manifest in how we love.

And there's where I've been struggling. I've been struggling to love. Not just how to love those around me, but even more basic than that, how to love God.

Because the expectance of getting what we want, of Him fulfilling all of our expectations, that isn't really love. Faith should be our response to His love. Faith is born of trust, of realizing that He only wants the things which are truly good for us and trusting, without expectations and conditions, that He will provide those things for us.

But it can be really tough. It can be really tough to pray "thy will be done" and not put expectations on it. It's tough to accept that He knows better than I do what I actually need.

But it's also comforting. I look back on the last ten years, and I can see those footprints where He carried me. Even more- I can see that He used that journey to shape me into the woman I've become. To shape me, and strengthen me, and let me see more clearly.

I realized tonight that I'd fallen in love with God. It sounds weird to say, but that's the only way I can describe it.

Being in love with God means choosing to love Him- and choosing to let Him love me. That means choosing to trust. Choosing to have faith. It means realizing that I am weak and that I can only do anything through Him. That I should seek always to be with Him.

I realized today, on the Feast of St Dorothy, that God is mine. And I am God's. And... stranger still... I realized tonight that His proposal, hearing in my heart "Will you be my bride?", was another push toward the vocation of marriage, and still not a denial of a vocation to religious life. Lord, I am yours. I trust in You.

Finishing up this post six weeks later...

And through strange turns of events, He let me realize that when I most needed to know it. When I wanted to stay in the church and pray, and left to get to a family dinner, only to discover my car blocked in by no less than eight other cars! In that moment, He gave me what I most needed. time with Him. Time in the quiet. Time to contemplate. And then I was able to get my car out, and in the drive back,  realized I didn't need to be in the church, so much as to trust in His providence.

It's now March 23. And last week, I had the opportunity to hear a Mass celebrated by an older priest in the diocese, one who looks at Christ with so much love and devotion, who is so careful with His Body, that it is impossible to watch and not know Who he is holding. In his homily, he referred to a movie about St Thomas Moore, and a particular exchange from it:

Sir Thomas More: I forgive you right readily.

[he gives him a coin]

Sir Thomas More: Be not afraid of your office; you send me to God.

Archbishop Cranmer: You're very sure of that, Sir Thomas?

Sir Thomas More: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him.

--A Man For All Seasons

This exchange is fictional... but I think it is also a good reminder that God is always pulling us toward Him. When we seek Him, He does not refuse us. When we seek Him, He does not allow us to remain separated from Him-- even when we have built up so many roadblocks, He helps us to tear them down, and runs out to greet us. 

There are so many quotes that one who prays the rosary daily cannot remain in a state of mortal sin- either he will give up the sin, or give up the rosary. And it is so very true. It's impossible to meditate on the mysteries of Christ's life and not be changed by Him. 

I'm getting closer to renewing my consecration, though I'm actually waiting until this weekend to do so. Palm Sunday may not be a Marian feast... and I would have liked to do it on the 25th, but I'm not quite ready. Contemplating Mary's experience of Palm Sunday isn't something I've done before... but it is something I'm starting to wonder about. When I realized that I would have to wait until Saturday to renew my consecration, Palm Sunday seemed so fitting. 

When Simeon told her of the sword that would pierce her heart, how much did she know? In those 33 years that followed, of holding things in her heart, what did she gather. Where was she on the day of Christ's triumphant procession. Surely, she was there, watching. Did she, too, see what it was foreshadowing? What were Mary's expectations of her life?

Before the Archangel Gabriel appeared to her, she surely had expectations. Yet she laid them aside immediately in her Fiat. She took on faith that God's will was higher than hers. That His thought's were higher than her thoughts. Oh, to have that faith! And to act upon it!

To lay down my expectations on the altar.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How a speeding ticket was the answer to a prayer

Let me start by saying that this Lent has been really, really hard. Not in specific penances I picked. Not in physical circumstances. But this Lent for me, more than any others has been a constant battle to surrender my will.

It started on Ash Wednesday. I normally really enjoy attending Mass. I look forward to it all day when I'm going in the evening, or surrender some morning sleep time if that opportunity affords itself. And Ash Wednesday has always been one of my favorite days of the year. The mark of a fresh start. I was excited for Lent this year, and had chosen over several weeks what things to put in place for this particular Lenten season- what spiritual growth I was going to work on, what small sacrifices I could make, and what type of almsgiving would be my focus for this season.

Ash Wednesday this year though found me in a sour mood... internally struggling all day even to convince myself to go to Mass. Fasting... but doing so without a cheerful heart. Not a good way to start the season. And it continued this way... I would catch myself mourning the loss of some small thing, a soda or coffee, or that 4th tab on my internet browser, or some such thing and rather than offer up that sacrifice, dwell upon it.

I went on a retreat that first weekend of Lent and I renewed my resolve a bit. But I still failed. On a daily basis, I was realizing over and over again that my heart wasn't in the right place at all.

During this time, I'm also renewing my consecration to Jesus through the Heart of Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation. This will be my two year anniversary of consecrating myself to Mary. This year, I'm using a daily devotional book published by Montfort Publications. It has broken each day down quite nicely with the reading, a reflection from St Louis de Montfort and then a question or two to ponder and the prayers for the day.

This morning, the topic concerned obedience. Particularly, St. Louis De Montfort pointed out that Christ was obedient to His mother for thirty years. For thirty years, He obeyed His earthly parents and lived a quiet life with them in the family when He could have been performing miracles and converting the world through sermons and works! Clearly, His ways are not our ways. He spent the bulk of His time here on earth as the simple son of a carpenter, dwelling with his family in a home full of love. Being obedient to Mary, Joseph and to His Heavenly Father.

The question for today that got me? "Are you obedient? Or rebellious?" Oooooh. Yikes. I have never found obedience easy. Especially obedience rooted in faith, without the answer to my incessant "why". So, I asked God to grant me the desire to be obedient, and for the Blessed Mother to pray that I may have the strength to follow her example of obedience to God. That was at 7:00 in the morning.

Fast forward to 9:00 am, and I'm on the side of the road, with flashing lights behind me. The sign said one number, I chose to ignore it because "clearly I know better than the sign, right?" Not so much.

What had really taken place though didn't hit me until I was meditating on the rosary this afternoon. The Joyful mysteries. Which I realized today, all deal with obedience. The 4th mystery, when Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple, has always struck me as a beautiful sign of their obedience to the Law. Even as they are holding God Himself in their arms- an excuse if ever there was one to ignore the ritual, they follow it. And in doing so, allow for the Law to later be fulfilled. But the other mysteries, too, I realized today all centered on obedience- Mary's yes to God, her immediately leaving to visit Elizabeth- becoming the first evangelist, her then bring Christ to the world through the nativity, and lastly, the obedience of Christ when, after as a 12 year old, adult male, He is found in the Temple, He returns to be obedient to His parents.

Not once, do any of these examples ask the "why"? Nor do they question the importance of obedience.

So how does a speeding ticket fit in? Because that ticket, in a small way is teaching me obedience. Following the speed limit on an empty road might seem arbitrary to me. But that doesn't mean it is. There are, chiefly, good reasons for that limit to be in place. Safety reasons. Respect of Life reasons. And while for some reason, it's easy to convince myself that a speed limit isn't really much of a law... it is still just that. A law. And a just law. Christ said to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" and that certainly pertains to far more than taxes. So... I may not know the why. And I may not like the rule. But I will be obedient to it. Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it! Help me to be obedient in these small things.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Are there really shades of Grey?

Our minds are just as susceptible to what we put into them as our bodies are. No, that's not quite right. Over time, I can improve my health after a week of unhealthy eating. It's very difficult to do the same for your mind.

You see, when you watch something, or read something, or surround yourself with certain types of messages, they do more than momentarily entertain you. You can't unread a book, or unwatch a movie, or unhear a word. Over time, we become desensitized to the message of the media we are consuming, so that what we may have once shied away from reading or watching, or been more discerning about becomes something that's just "not a big deal". 

Now, I want to be clear here. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom to print or publish, read and engage are wonderful freedoms. But they are heavy freedoms. They don't let you sit idly by and blame someone else for what you have chosen to consume. Freedom means just that. You. Have. To. Choose. 

You have to take responsibility for what movies you watch, books you read and jokes you laugh at just as much as you have to take responsibility for your actions towards others and the way you spend your time, or money.

I read the books. It's not something I'm proud of, and if I could unread them, I would. I would happily go back to that time when I didn't see that bit of the darkness of humanity. Not so I could live in a bubble, but so that I wouldn't be encountered by images from the books from seemingly innocuous, everyday things. It's been two years since I read them, and it's something I don't think about very often any more. But that doesn't mean it doesn't pop into my head sometimes. And I wish it wouldn't.

You see, for the longest time, it didn't occur to me that what I read could be harmful. So I read pretty much everything I encountered, under the guise that no reading material was better than any other. But that's not exactly true, is it? Certainly some material is better than others, or we wouldn't have "classical literature". We wouldn't have "Great Books". If what we read didn't matter, then, why bother to read at all? Certainly we can read for entertainment. But therein lies the dilemma. Is all entertainment justified? Is some entertainment better than other forms of entertainment?

So... before you head out to watch "Fifty Shades" next weekend, just consider the message it's sending. Really, truly consider it. Consider whether that message is one you really want to have in the back of your mind. Because it is your choice. And, as with all choices we have to consider the consequences. Is it worth it? 

I could point out that the premise supports domestic violence, promotes a rape culture and promotes an unhealthy relationship style. But I don't think that's even the biggest thing at stake here. Because if that were the only problem with this series, then it wouldn't have as much of a draw to it. No... instead, I'm asking you to consider its worth. What do you actually get from watching the movie? Talking points? The status of having seen the "in" movie? To escape into a different world with different troubles even if in doing so you open up your mind to that very world? To a different view of yourself and others than as a beloved sons and daughters of God? Is that what you really want?

Given all the other things you could spend your time and money on, is that really a choice you want to justify to yourself later? To God?

It's your choice. But consider it.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Goal for 2015... and well, the goal, I guess

I want to be a saint.

There. I said it. It shouldn't be so terrifying to say. To become holy. To truly become. To live forever in the presence of God. To be perfected.

It's funny how this has been following me around for awhile before I could even write the words on December 31st. It sounds so... out of reach. Difficult. Impossible.

I'm just a normal person. A normal person, living a normal life, with nothing big or grand about it to speak of. But that's the thing. That's the thing about reading the writings of the Little Flower, and so many others. The path to holiness is the path I'm on. (Video on a similar idea from Jennifer Fulwiler )

It's not an easy path for anyone. It's difficult. And it's not usually the "big" things that are hard. It's the easy things. the things where you have to weigh two good things and pick the one that is better. Or where you have to push aside yourself to favor those around you. To put God first in all your actions.

It's impossible for me to be perfect. But it's not impossible for me to be perfected.

So while I've been mulling over this for the last few weeks (or months, or couple of years), the same idea has just kept cropping, to the point where now I am daily seeing how this truly plays out in all aspects of my life.

I'm reading a book on motivation for work and tonight this passage struck me:

"...A little kid's life bursts with autotelic experiences. Children careen from one flow moment to another, animated by a sense of joy, equipped with a mindset of probability, and working with the dedication of a West Point cadet. they use their brains and their bodies to probe and draw feedback from the environment in an endless pursuit of mastery. Then, at some point in their lives-- they don't. What happens? "You start to get ashamed that what you're doing is childish."" Drive, p 128.

Wow... reading that tonight hit like a weight of bricks. Children love freely, and without shame. They are motivated to become their best. To improve, not to compete, but have "an endless pursuit of mastery". That, too, should be our attitude toward the spiritual life, and toward our physical lives which are a means to the spiritual life as well.

It can be difficult to remember that there is a reason God gave me the gift of my family, of my town, of my job, of my friends. Each of these people are in my life for a reason. To help me to become holy, and for me to help them along the same path. Sometimes that is through a word of encouragement, but other times, it can be through a thorn in our side. Thorns, too, can sanctify us. St Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 12: 6-10.

"Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

The thing is, at least for me, it's really easy to follow the "big" things. It's easy to not murder, or steal, or lie, or break any of the "surfaces" of the commandments. But to truly die to myself? To truly put others first in my esteem? To put their needs and desires ahead of my own? 

To be at school by 7:30 because that's when a student wants extra help. To patiently, and calmly ask yet again for a student to get out their pencil, or to quit blurting out comments, or to come to class on time. To respond graciously when cut off in traffic. To have chicken for dinner when you want a steak. To make pizza instead of trying the new recipe with strange vegetables no else would want to eat. To watch the sports program when my favorite show is on the other channel. To smile at the stranger in the shopping line. To make small talk with the grouchy clerk. To hold back the criticism and uplift those around me instead. 

These are little things. Little, tiny, completely unimportant things. And these are the things I've been given, not as a punishment, but as a gift to offer cheerfully my obedience and to participate in the work of Love. 

To put my phone, and Facebook down and read a spiritual book, or pray the rosary, or simply sit silently in the presence of God. To choose to use less cream in my coffee on occasion to remind me to be more thankful.

Little, tiny, unimportant things? Not so much. Not when they can be so very difficult to do precisely because of how "little" they are.

I often think it would be "easier" to have been given a larger task. Something tangible, where I can see the end goal more clearly. Where I can see exactly what I should do in an instant that would be the right thing. 

Because that's the toughest thing right now. The toughest thing is to serve God here. In this moment. In this part of my life without looking for something bigger to do, when I haven't mastered the little things I've been given. These little gifts, these small tasks... they change me. They conform my will to the will of God. Through surrendering my will. Sin, I read recently, is when we do not give back to God our free will. It is any time we do not act in Love. Such a simple definition. So difficult a teaching.

He willed to let us choose. But we are to choose Love, if we are to truly choose Him. In each little, tiny moment, we are to choose Love. And if the word vocation means the way in which we live out that movement to choose Love, well, then, the decision is simple. Love wins. Love wins through sacrifices, through smiles, through patience and trust. God gave us free will, that we, too could will Love into being. How amazing is that?!?! That we can choose so great a thing! In every moment. Through every action. We can take the mundane, the ordinary and choose to use them to make us holy.

A year ago, I started a blog post on sacrifice. One line, really, and it's interesting to me now to read it again.

"It's easy to say I want to sacrifice... that I would give Jesus everything I have. But if that were really the case, I wouldn't struggle with the little things."

I disagree with that last part now. I think the little things may always be a struggle. Maybe there was more to that thought last year, maybe not, but I think the main point is that the strive for holiness is something I was seeking then, am seeking now, and pray I will be seeking a year from now. It's not something that happens in an instant. 

Saying I want to be a saint shouldn't be shocking. I once heard a priest at a baptism say that for us to be anything less than holy, to become anything less than saints is a scandal. This is what we were baptized into. This is our heritage. 

Saying it shouldn't be difficult. Choosing to become a saint? Well, that's the tough part.

So this year, I'm working on it. And I'm going to keep working on it. And keep working on it. Step by little step.