Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Holy, Blessed Communion

I was confirmed this last Easter. It took me quite some time to decide that I wanted to be confirmed, during which time I met my husband (confirmed the year we met), attended mass with him, married him in the Church, and baptized our four children in its beautiful tradition. Eventually, I realized that I had become Catholic in my heart. (I am not trying to convert you. I am Catholic now, because that is where God wants me to be. If you are seeking God and listening to His Spirit, you are where he wishes you to be...or you soon will be.)

That is quite a transformation, actually, because when I first found out the man my sister had set me up with was Catholic, I was pretty near horrified. I laugh now at my ignorance, but then I had many of the Protestant misconceptions and superstitions about Catholicism: They worship Mary and idols! They pray to saints as if they were God. They love ritual and leave no room for the movement of the Holy Spirit. They think the Pope is all powerful and all knowing.

I don't address those misconceptions except to say that they are false and based on prejudices that have survived for hundreds of years. Anyway, when I said to my dad in dismay, "Dad, he's Catholic", I was really taken aback by his wise response, "Hillary, that's the oldest Christian Church there is." 

What truly drew me into the Church was quite simply the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When I witnessed it in person, I was awed by it immediately and was deeply appreciative of its faithfulness to Christ's words and actions. In fact, in the Creed and the entire liturgy, I was surprised to find the Word of God so manifest. Ironically, though, the Blessed Sacrament that I love and revere so much would give me a great deal of trepidation before my confirmation into the Catholic family.

I had made a mistake in ignorance, perpetuated by pride concerning this Sacrament. For me it was not an option to conceal this mistake. I am a very open person, and I despise giving others a false impression of myself. I told one priest in person, who dismissed the mistake with his nonjudgmental gaze, and then another in an e-mail. I was left alone to contemplate my folly, because a slew of RCIA classes (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults - required before confirmation to learn the theology and traditions of the Church) were canceled; the first priest who led them experienced a serious injury due to a fall, and the second priest, taking over the classes, was out of the country when I sent my e-mail.

I spent days in uncertainty, and one day in my anxious solitude, I finally broke down and wept over my unfortunate mistake, completely abased. Yet, when I shed those tears, I felt that I had done what God expected of me in acknowledging my fault, and that He, most importantly, had already forgiven me for it.

The second priest, whose lecture on Christian morality had in part inspired my contrition, decided to reschedule a RCIA class that had been canceled - I think because of my desperate e-mail.  It was awkward when I came in a little later than I had hoped. I could tell that he had indeed reviewed my lengthy e-mail and disapproved of the decision-making I had revealed in it. Still, I was there, and I was determined to thrust forward through any obstacle. He recognized that in my demeanor, I think, and we both settled in with the rest of the class to discuss the history and significance of theTriduum - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday Night.

Soon after I attended Holy Thursday Mass for the first time in all my ten plus years of attending Catholic Church. I would do it a great injustice if I tried to describe its beauty and solemnity here for you, but it suffices to say that I hope never to miss participating in it again.

Then came Holy Saturday night, my confirmation night. Excited, nervous - flipping out at intervals - I showed up at church and waited with a small crowd for the Easter candle to be lit and passed on. When it was done and the light began to travel from candle to candle in the congregation, I was unable to follow the priest into the church with the rest of the candidates and catechumens as I was meant to. Instead I had to force myself to the front of the church later with my sponsor and try to claim remaining room in the seats reserved for us. The only room left was in the very front pew on the aisle. I am not sure whether others had refused that place, nervous about its prominence, but my sponsor and I took it gladly.

At first I felt the service did not live up to the one I had attended when engaged to my husband in San Antonio, but then the musical director began to sing the Litany of Saints for all the unbaptized (catechumens) standing before the gathered parishioners. It was beautiful and moving as she proceeded through apostles and archangels to saints who followed later. I was enthralled, and when it was my turn to stand at the front and be confirmed before all, I was joyous.

But what I will always remember most about that night is Communion. I have told you that I was seated in the very first pew. The catechumens and the candidates were to receive the Sacrament first. When the priest came down from the altar, I looked across the aisle to the catechumens, not wanting to jump before others. They hesitated, because many of them were young kids, and Father hastily motioned me forward. In that moment, my lovely sponsor stepped out of the way to let me proceed, and I realized I would be the first in my parish to receive the Eucharist at Easter Vigil. It didn't strike me fully until after I had received it and returned to the kneeler. Then moisture leaked from my eyes, and unfortunately my nose as well, in a flood. I offered up a spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving, God is merciful. His Mercy endures forever. Thank you, thank you for Your mercy. While doing so I glanced up to see my little children, who had behaved so well at such a late service, receive a blessing from the priest and watched my husband receive Communion, and my gratitude increased. (My eldest son would himself be confirmed in another month. I had for some time held the hope that we could be confirmed in the same year.)

Things got too moist and messy, and not knowing how else to battle my wet face without lifting up my skirt, I begged several tissues from my friend and sponsor. I felt embarrassed; I was the only one who seemed to be reacting in such a powerful and obvious way for others to see. Still, more than embarrassment at having my emotion exposed, I felt God had conferred on me a special blessing that night. In that holy gift of His Son, He was telling me my mistake no longer mattered, His love for me was boundless, and His mercy truly does endure forever.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Grace

It is important to point out that I feel I have a fair mix of Catholic, Protestant, and my dad's influences, and for all of them I am grateful. From every facet of my spiritual upbringing I have garnered truth and wisdom and help. And, in perfect honesty, the influence for which I am most grateful still is that of Dad. Without Dad's commitment to raise his children up to know God, I would have struggled much harder to find my Creator and very likely would have had a much greater allotment of heartache and trouble before I did.

When my dad read to his kids from the Bible on Sabbaths during my childhood, I felt that Jesus was present, as if he were actually sitting by my dad's side or standing in the room surveying our little gathering and giving his blessing to our understanding. And, after all, did he not say, Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them? After we read, we always discussed, and Dad listened to his children's thoughts and questions with respect. But, of course, spiritual food was not reserved for Sundays. Everyday events brought God into our minds and conversations as a family. Because of this, and despite many financial and physical disturbances, God was with us, and we felt it.

I am keenly aware of how blessed I am to have felt God's presence in my life from early childhood. There are times, though, and more so now that I am an adult, when it seems God has traveled several million light years away, and during such times I am lonely and restless. Perhaps that is my little glimpse into a world filled with creatures who do not know what to seek or how to seek it. As a perpetual state it would be destructive to me and to all my hopes.

But, thank God, the loneliness passes. After a few days or weeks, I am back walking with my Father again along peaceful paths, feeling the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit that never fails to inspire an incomprehensible joy. At such times I hear more clearly that indispensable guiding voice, and I am grateful for it.

In example, I was recently speaking with my husband about helping family members who were experiencing difficult times. One morning while driving my kids to school, I was debating how best to convince him to give more than we had originally agreed upon. If we gave less to this special person, could we then give more to help this loved one? While these arguments were going through my mind, this guiding thought came firmly, Let him be generous. I could have said a simple amen, because from that moment I was no longer troubled. I decided immediately to let my husband decide what to give, and in the end he truly astounded me; it was more than I would have dared to bargain for.

If I were not currently walking these gentle paths where I feel God is responding to me, I probably would not be writing here. A part of me always fears that loneliness that could come around that very next corner, part of me feels like saying a pleading prayer, Stay with me, but every spiritual person I have ever read about or spoken with has encountered fallow periods. The point is to plow through them, to continue to serve your fellow man, and to seek God in all things - however difficult and painfully solitary it may be.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

To Write or Not to Write

It was hard for me to decide to write a blog exclusively dedicated to my desire to more fully know God. I remember telling my friend Camille a while ago that I had no inclination to do such a thing. Oh, I didn't seek to avoid the subject. I mentioned my Father every now and then in my other writing, enough to give the hint that I was indeed Christian, but as I told Camille, I did not want to be limited. I didn't want to brand myself and my writing with a cooking blog, crafting blog, or faith blog. Sure, you have a clear audience, but I wanted to be free from constraints, from limited subject matter. However, Camille assured me that she would be interested in all those limited blogs I had just named. Perhaps I should have listened to that.

Or maybe I should have listened to another friend who sent me a link to a blog called Befriending Faith. She wrote me a note saying I should check it out, because her friend, the author of Befriending Faith, wrote very beautifully, and she knew that I enjoyed writing too. I took immediate offense to my friend's message. I enjoyed writing? No, I needed to write. Her friend wrote beautifully? Well, what of my writing? Had she ever bothered to read my words, let alone pass them on to others with a recommendation?

Ah, you see, I'm being honest and exposing myself as a little person, but that is exactly the way I felt. Nevertheless, I stifled pride and read Befriending Faith (which coincidentally, Camille had already mentioned to me). Obviously, it is a blog about developing your relationship with God. When I read it, it was during one of those times when I was praying about my writing, and I briefly wondered aloud to my husband if this was some indication from God that he wanted me use my writing in such a way. We both shook it off, but in an attempt to bury my uncomely pride, I wrote a post in which I linked to Befriending Faith. (Humbly I admit that the author of it does indeed write very beautifully, and the blog itself is inspiring.)

As I have already mentioned in my first post, however, I realized during Lent that God did want me to use my writing to please Him. I wasn't surprised about my revelation. I was only surprised that the thought had never occurred to me before.

Lent ended quite a while ago, and I am just barely beginning to write this blog about my incessant but sometimes weak search for the Prince of Peace. It is not because I lack in love, because my love for that Prince has never abandoned me since childhood. I have often said to my Dad, "All I can do is seek Him, even if I fail, because if I don't, I have nothing." I at least have the invaluable awareness that the desert through which I sometimes falter is present because of my separation from Him.

Still, I delayed so long in beginning here, because I began to suspect and then to discover that alot of other Christians who could write were already marching through the blogosphere with a similar mission, and how then was I to be different or more helpful? I think the answer comes from Saint Therese of Lisieux who quoted her friend Father Pichon as saying, "There are really more differences among souls than there are among faces." God responds to those different souls differently, I think, so I will share how he has responded to mine. And in general, I feel that Satan has such a monopoly in media, that I should at least do my part in bringing the light of Christ where I may.

If you are a creative person, and even truly if you are not, you understand how intentions can be cut through by the blade of discouragement. It was only when I saw a movie called The Encounter that I felt brave enough to defy that sword. In that movie, and yes I do recommend it, Jesus points out that all sin is to some degree rooted in pride. I had no doubt that my reluctance to go where I was led and my premature discouragement about success sprang from my pride in my writing. I started this blog that same night, and I hope that it may always please my Father.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Home

I have been walking and stumbling toward God since I was a preschooler. I was fortunate to have my parents' true guidance there - and here I mean that they actually talked to their children about God at home instead of simply dragging them to church with an attitude of what happens in church stays in church - so there has been no period in my life when I remember not contemplating God and seeking Him. As a child, I felt an immense love for Jesus and honestly believed that he went everywhere with me. This does not mean that I have always been in a state of grace. When I was nine years old, I went through a terrible spiritual ordeal for someone so young, and I passed several months in my solitary valley of fear. Some of the things I will share in this blog will seem very strange to some people - outrageous even, but I will seek to be honest so that I may, at least imperfectly, direct people to Jesus. After all, that must be the underlying motivation for all that I ultimately accomplish in this world through my relationships with my fellow human beings.

My other blog, No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors, is lighthearted and very, very human, if you will; it explores my flaws and my joys in mostly a trivial way. I did occasionally speak about my relationship with God there, about the real landmark moments in my journey, but I never sought to make that blog anything noble or high. I just needed a place to write. Still, while praying about my writing during this recent Lent, I suddenly realized that in all my erratic prayers seeking guidance, I had never once asked that my writing would please my Father. I should have always asked for that. That is why I have started Seeking The Prince of Peace.

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