Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thanksgiving, Advent... and making room to notice God

I've been feeling overwhelmed this school year in so many ways. I added one new prep, which shouldn't have been that much more work, but I also revamped how I was teaching my classes this year. So much that now I'm scarcely doing what I started and trying to bridge back with the old and meld the two together. The kids are learning... but I'm struggling because it's not how I wanted class to go this year. 

I'm also struggling with my schedule to get to church as often as I was able to in the past. Oddly enough, I knew that would be the case one of these days. Everyday for the last few years when I didn't feel like rolling out of bed early enough to make it to mass, or wanted to head home after school instead of to the church to pray and stay for mass, I heard a quiet voice in my head saying "what's your excuse? You have an opportunity now you might not always have... make the most of it." And so I did, 99% of the time. I'd go an spend my quiet time in God's presence... sometimes talking to Him but usually just sitting in the silence. And I would leave feeling recharged. Or I would battle the entire time to stay awake, but would keep battling.

That's the real problem right now. I don't feel like I'm "staying awake" in my spiritual life. Over the last year, I went from being able to go to adoration once a week and Mass 5 or 6 days a week to no adoration and usually just Sunday Mass. And I've been struggling with that. 

But the struggle has made me realize several things. Firstly, I've realized I was relying way too much on my "actions" and these special gifts, and not focusing on the hard work of really focusing on learning to converse and spend time with God. 

It's hard to focus on Him when I'm feeling tired and not receiving the spiritual consolations I had apparently growing on. But that's the thing. They weren't meant to supplant my faith, but to strengthen it and give it the firm foundation from which to grow.

I've felt a few times this year like at work I'm as stressed as I was my first year. I also feel like I'm battling with very routine, basic and small spiritual issues.  Like that super basic thing of putting my heart in God's hands and giving myself to Him each day.

I've been blessed the last couple weeks with sermons calling me out of this lukewarmness I'm finding myself trapped in. So Advent this year is a time for me to do just that. Which is why I'm trying to fast from a variety of distractions... to make space for me to notice God's presence more deeply.

Hopefully then this Christmas I can greet Him with a heart more full of love. More eager to please Him. And most importantly this year, one that better recognizes Him in my daily life, outside the walls of the church.

Advent is a time of preparation. So, for me that means eliminating those things I've been using to distract myself from God. So I'll be giving up my favorite foods... so that I can thank Him better for the gift of life and honor the gift of my health. And I'll be giving up staying late.. so I can rise each morning to thank Him for a night of rest and the start of another blessed day, and be well rested to greet my students each day and do my best to serve Him through my work. And I'll be giving up Facebook... so that I can thank Him for the gifts of so many dear ones in my life, and so that I can focus on them more deeply. 

Come, Emmanuel. Help me ready my heart to receive You.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


I came past this title of a blog post in my saved drafts when I logged on to Blogger today. I don't recall what the topic I had in mind was at the time I saved the title, but this one, more than the others seemed most eager to be reflected upon this evening.

Clutter. Things. Ideas. Emotions. Clutter is what distracts from the bigger picture, worming its way to be the focus, when it only every consists of too many accent pieces.

There's a famous piece of advice from Coco Chanel about the accessorizing. "Remove the last piece". In other words, we should keep it simple. A little glitter, a little glam, but we should avoid going overboard. I think that advice is useful in life too. So often when I find myself feeling overwhelmed, it's because I've let the clutter take over. Instead of accenting my life and giving me joy, the little things have become the focus. Things instead of people, activities instead of experiences. Chores and tasks instead of vocation. It's not that any of those things are in and of themselves bad- but when they distract form my purpose and mission, they have ceased to fulfill the purpose for which they were meant.

It's a lesson I'm trying to better live this year- both at work and at home and in my spiritual life.

Decluttering means saying no to being a perfectionist. It means being okay with those columns not being perfectly formatted on a quiz I'm writing, okay with the fact that I cannot rewrite every activity and every lesson I plan to teach this year. It means admitting to myself that it's more important to spend time with the people I love than to check every box on my to-do list. It means stepping back and allowing myself tie for prayer and reflection on my busiest days of the week- instead of just trying to fit that in to the periphery (St Francis de Sales wrote "We all need one hour of prayer a day, except when busy. Then we need two."). And, too, it can mean saying no to specific favorite devotions to just sit quietly in the presence of God.

Decluttering means saying yes to the greater and no to the lesser. It means living my life with focus and intentionality, and making sure my heart is behind the work of my mind and hands. It means learning, once again, that silence can be more powerful than many words. That resting in God is a deep breath, a calmness, a focusing of mind, heart and will.

That's been my biggest battle these last few months. Resting in God. Resting, instead of forcing. Resting instead of overworking. Seeking Him, directing my gaze to Him and returning His gaze with love. That can be really hard. But it becomes impossible when my constant words to myself are that I'm not enough. That I'm not worthy. That I'm not gaining or growing or living the relationship I'm seeking with Him. Decluttering means to take a step back and redirect my gaze to the One who only ever looks on with love. It means resting in that love.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An open letter to all those who were forced to endure Catholicism Pre-Vatican II from a "conservative young person"

I smile and nod politely when you talk about how we need to appreciate priests, all priests, even if we don't agree with everything they say or do. We should be grateful to have a priest.

I nod and murmur my agreement because I do, in fact, agree. A priest is a gift to a congregation. A man who has given his life to Christ to serve Christ's flock. To give us the sacraments. To provide us opportunity for confession, to celebrate the Mass.

I am grateful for priests. I am grateful for their sacrifices. I am grateful for their fiat.

But then you start complaining about the "young conservative priests" who just don't understand what it was like for those who had to live through the time before Vatican II... all that Latin and stuff. 

And I get very confused why you don't seem grateful for them, why you instead insult their orthodoxy.

I'm not a priest. So I can't speak for the young priests who I pray for, who I am so very grateful for, who are rediscovering and upholding the traditions of the Church.

I can tell you that as a millennial Catholic, I was raised in the hey-day of "Vatican II" Catholicism.

I was raised with experimental liturgies outside in the woods. With changing the words for the distribution of communion... at the whim of the liturgical committee for that particular mass. With a sign of peace that took longer than the entire Eucharistic Prayer. 

I was raised to see that as the epitome of Catholicism.

And, I have to tell you, it left me feeling empty. It left me searching. It left my heart restless. And then slowly, I began to discover the riches of the Faith, the traditions of our Church. The hidden treasures that seem to have been cast aside years ago.

I was raised with no incense at Mass, no "smells and bells". My parish was "modernized" when I was a small child, the crucifix replaced with an organ. The tabernacle at some point moved off the altar.

I don't remember the time before those changes. I do remember people leaving our parish in frustration with the changes. I remember years afterwards of my dad coming home stressed after another contentious parish council meeting. I remember him and my mom talking about how another family had left our church to go to the other parish, or a different church entirely.

Yet, even though I prefer more traditional style churches, I include the driver of this change in my prayers. I thank God for his service. I remember the joyful look in his eyes during Mass, and I never question his devotion.

I similarly never question the joy and clear love of my fellow parishioners who like guitar mass, who like the folksy music. If that allows them to worship and draw closer to God, then I will sing with joy beside them. I will be glad that their faith is enriched. I will sing loudly to support a quiet cantor. I will do my very best to help you grow in your faith in any way I can. Because we're a parish family, and while we may have differences in preference, our goal is the same- to worship God and grow in our love of Him that we might better know, love and serve Him in this life that we may be with Him in the next.

Here's the thing though. That last sentence I typed was one I was never taught. I loved church for my entire childhood. I went to every religious ed class, and just generally liked all things church related. When I got my Bible in 7th grade, I read it cover to cover, because that seemed like the right thing to do. I could answer all the questions posed at religious ed. And so, somehow, I managed to think I was supposed to be able to find all the answers. But I couldn't. I couldn't even figure out that basic "know, love and serve God." If anything, I would have said that our purpose was to love our neighbor, and to radiate Christ to them. Well... yes... that's a part of it. But the first part of the Great Commandment? 

I didn't understand that, and nothing in the people centered liturgy pointed that out to me. 

Over the last few years, I've finally started learning. And I've gotten past most of my initial feelings of hurt that none of this was ever taught to me. Most. Because for the most part, I can see it as a wonderful blessing that the young, orthodox- seeking, Catholic-nerd people of my generation have to desire and want these things. We have to go out of our way to experience what your generation had the opportunity to pray daily. But your generation, for whatever reason, must not have understood the reasons that my generation can give for the older traditions.

I can understand your desire to have a close encounter with God. I desire that too. 

I can understand your desire to improve the world around you. I desire that too.

I can understand your desire to ease the suffering of the poor, the sick, the outcast. I desire that too.

I also desire a liturgy that will lift my heart, mind and soul above the present moment. Above this earth. I desire a liturgy that will be deafening loud in the quiet of my heart. I desire a liturgy that will challenge me not to stay as I am, but to push me to become a saint.

And I experience that most in the Extraordinary Form. In the ageless chant. In the whispered Aves and gentle clicking of my rosary beads against the pew before Mass. In those moments, I start to get a glimpse of what it means to have a communion of saints, worshipping God in the same Mass here on Earth that John sees in heaven. In those moments, I am challenged to grow, to love God better. To learn more about Him. To be in awe in His presence. To go out and serve Him in the world.

I don't remember what it was like then. From what you've told me, it must not be anything like what I experience.  From the anger in your voice, I think it must have left you feeling empty, as the experimental woods liturgies left me. It must have left you seeking more. I hope you found it.

If your preferred liturgical methods of worshipping inspire you to love God and serve Him in love through your service to your through your neighbors then I'm truly glad you have that experience. Please be glad for me too and support my faith journey. We're in this together, after all, seeking that same common goal of heaven.

Friday, January 8, 2016

But... it's in Latin...

A funny thing has happened over the last few years. My heart is slowly being converted. I say it's funny, because in a single instant my life changed. But the process of becoming holy. Well... that's a road that winds onward, with the destination visible but the path twisting and winding through unseen bends.

It's also somewhat strange for me this year, because I have had a really hard time pinpointing any spiritual growth, persay. As if I've settled into a comfortable routine of prayer and Mass... and reading and writing. And I grow frustrated at my lack of progress. And complacent in my journey. And I teeter back and forth between those two thoughts, both full of pride and not faith. And then... well.. I see it. Small. Tiny baby steps. Tiny little steps where I'm teetering and falling and teetering and falling again. But somehow, I keep being pulled back up on my feet.

I'm learning to ask for help. To ask for mercy. To ask for forgiveness. I'm starting to see just how deep the sin runs into my heart. And, in turn, to see just how merciful and loving God is.

I've been hearing a lot, recently, about pondering things in our heart. About discerning God's purpose for us, with the gifts He's given us, and the crosses we carry.

And in the middle of this pondering through Advent, and then Christmas, I went to the "Old Mass" (as I once heard a kind and wonderful priest refer to the Extraordinary Form) ... again. I've been a few times, maybe twenty or so over since the first I attended in January 2013. And I've always found it beautiful, full of reverence. But I struggled to see where the love was in it. I struggled to enter into the beauty I saw. 

It was carefully and reverently done, with great love of God. The music was nice. The vestments had so much care taken with them. The ceremony was beautiful, but it seemed just that... foreign to the way I was used to worshipping.

Intellectually, I knew better. I studied the words of the Mass. I read the rubrics. I sought Scripture and found it there, present in front of me. Yet, still, I was confused.

I kept going, each time the opportunity presented itself, convinced in my head that this was right and true, and a gift. Yet still, I never left with the same sense of quiet peace I experienced after a usual daily Mass.

And then I went again. And each of my objections... the ones I hadn't been able to quiet in my head despite studying and reading and finding answers, they each feel away. 

I couldn't determine why. I couldn't figure out what had changed. The very parts I had found confusing, that I was discomforted by were now the ones I missed at the next Novus Ordo Mass I went to. The chanting of the Word. The inaudible whispers of the priest. The facing of priest and people towards God, together in prayer and worship.

A week before I would have said that it was strange to proclaim the Word twice. That the Mass would make more sense if we could hear the words of the priest, clearly. That the purpose of the Mass being in Latin was for it to be in a universal language.

Yet, at this Mass, I heard God's love proclaimed in the inaudible words of the priest. Not trying to entertain a congregation, he was allowed to focus on God, to speak quietly. To speak God's presence into mere bread. The priest was allowed to be in awe. And in so doing, he allowed us the same grace.

For what is the natural response to Love, to Beauty? What is the response to beholding our Lord?

If for moments where we glimpse mere mortal greatness our response is to draw quiet, how much more should we quiet ourselves before our Lord? If when we behold mortal love our response is to quiet ourselves and look in awe, how much more in the presence of Love itself?

The silence is shocking, deafening. And it's meant to be that way. The shock of quiet doesn't mean we need to be louder to try to drown out the awe. Perhaps instead it's the opportunity to draw close, to look, to ponder in our hearts something greater than what words can tell.

And yes, that quiet is reverential. It prevents us from getting too "comfortable" in the presence of our Lord and God. It prevents us from drawing into such a routine that we forget the awe. That we forget the mystery. That we forget to ponder as Mary did. That we forget the Mass isn't about us and what we get from it.

So... that's what I'm hoping to do more of this year. That's my one New Year's resolution for 2016. To make time for the quiet, and the pondering. To put my books, and reflections and rote prayers to the side and sit in the uncomfortable and comforting, disquieting silence of God. To humbly offer God my praise... with empty hands and no words to offer Him, no thing to offer Him but myself. To strive to say my yes to Him each day, to voice a fiat from my heart.