Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Son's Struggle and My Battle to Lead Him

My nine-year-old is struggling. It's hard to watch, and it breaks my heart. But I try to remain steady, not pushy, and I have known for some time that this struggle existed in my son. So I keep the conversation open, but never do I say, It is this or else.

He is very young to be reflecting that things in the Bible may not be true. He is young to be trying to say that he has struggled with the idea that Jesus' life is a hoax. It seems easier for him to believe in the Supreme Being than the Savior of humanity. I listen to all of it, unraveling his thoughts with gentle tugs, all the while anxious but passionate about this subject.

At nine I did not doubt Jesus. I doubted my ability to make it into the kingdom of God. That is not to say I have never doubted anything about spiritual faith, but I feel, listening to some of my fellow human beings, that I have not doubted in the way many have, in the way my son is. I do not know why. Certainly, I have never given up seeking God, and there is nothing I love more to talk about. But this is also because I know, and as I explained to my son, I know the truth in a way that I cannot give to others. I know the truth through my own experiences on my journey to the One Who made me, and it can always be assumed that I made up my experiences. I know in the way anyone can only ever know and understand - through the Holy Spirit.

To my son I keep repeating what I know, but he does not know what I know yet and cannot until he seeks God on his own. It is my word and my experience that I lay bare before him. In example, I cannot prove to him one of the most profound experiences I have had with my Creator, that while I was pregnant with his sister and struggling with my torturous obsessive thoughts while trying to ask God for something specific for him, my eldest child, I gave up praying one night and went to lay down in misery. I cannot show him how as I wallowed in self-pity that I heard God tell me to stop, get up and go pray over my son. I cannot prove how I obeyed even though my thoughts still speared me. I am powerless to explain my astonishment and joy that God had spoken to me for the first time ever in my life, if only in rebuke.

In fact, the only way I can explain such a direct, electrifying communication from Him is through the fact that at that time I was praying to God continually, seeking Him several times a day in my urgent desire to have Him meet my request. To my son I brought up Christ's story of the unjust judge (Luke 18: 1-8) and of the Stone and the Serpent (Luke 11: 11 - 13) as examples of the power of persistent prayer. I quoted what Jesus said at the end of the parable of the Judge, "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"

There is no proof except proof through the Spirit. "You will not have proof," I told my boy. "Not physical, scientific proof. Even of Christ's existence. A Jewish historian named Josephus mentioned Jesus and another historian from that time who I can't remember, but Jesus is actually mentioned very little outside the Gospel and the letters of the apostles."

Again, the proof is through the Spirit. I tell my son, and I tell him and tell him and tell him, Do not ever stop seeking God. You stop seeking and you have lost. It's okay to struggle and to question. There is nothing wrong with that. But do not stop seeking. Do not give up.

To end our very long but mostly calm conversation I said, "Son, I'm going to tell you what your Paca (my dad) told me as a kid - read the New Testament and ask God to be filled with His Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit will teach you the truth and help you to understand."

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask of Him? Luke 11:13

To read of one of my more personal experiences with my Father, click Here

Monday, June 18, 2012


I am very nervous to become a lector at my parish. I am not technically one yet; I just went to the training yesterday - on the day of my wedding anniversary. My husband trained the same day to be a Eucharistic Minister. We felt it was completely appropriate to give a portion of our day to God, especially since we made our commitment before our Heavenly Father in the Catholic Church 11 years ago.

The lector reads the Word of God from the ambo in a Catholic Church. Usually there are two lectors for each mass, one to read a passage from the Old Testament and the other to read the New Testament. The first lector carries the Gospel Book up to the altar ahead of the priest. After the lectors return to their seats, the priest or deacon reads the gospel while everyone stands.

The idea of standing before my church to read God's Word is both an exhilarating and terrifying prospect. What if I make a mistake? What if I trip on the way up? Heaven forbid, what if I mispronounce those strange Old Testament names? Yet, haven't I been familiar with the Word since childhood, particularly the Gospel? Didn't my dad teach his children to read the Bible, memorize the Word, and ask for understanding? I am honored to have the opportunity to proclaim God's Word in His presence, and I hope He will free me from vain consideration for my own image while doing so.

My reasons for becoming a lector are many. I love to read, and I read well. I was just confirmed this Easter. Our parochial administrator had a training class to introduce the newly confirmed to their many service opportunities in our parish. Our parish ministries are suffering from a lack of participation, too. The deciding motivation, though, may just be my sister Vinca.

Our family met in San Antonio - a very pretty city with its lush, undulating landscape - this past March. Vinca and I were unable to go to Mass on Sunday, but fortunately she had brought a missal with her. She recited the readings for that week, and together we did the responsorial hymns. Afterward, we got to talking about her small parish in Virginia and her role there as parish secretary.

I knew Vinca was parish secretary, but what I had not known until our conversation was that the deacon at her church asked her repeatedly to consider taking the position for a few months before she accepted. He is a no nonsense, ex-military man, and he must have recognized my sister's superior organizing skills.

As parish secretary my sister does not simply answer calls, deliver messages and monitor mail. She pays the bills, reads at daily mass, does the responses and prayers of the faithful, helps to make sure the church is in good order, and just about anything else necessary. I was astounded by her commitment, because while I have been attending mass for over ten years, my sister only began attending three years ago, confirmed that first Easter. Already she is hugely more involved in her parish life than I am in mine, and as I already mentioned, attends daily mass.

Granted, Vinca's parish is smaller, because she lives in the Bible Belt where Protestant churches far outnumber Catholic. But because it is smaller, those who garner spiritual nourishment from it must invest a greater portion of their time to keeping their spiritual home healthy and active. Did I mention that Vinca also instated and headed a proper children's Christmas pageant last year?

So if my big sis can be parish secretary, lector, sometime cantor, and events coordinator for her parish, what should I be doing for my larger spiritual community? A heck of a lot more than I'm doing now. I thank God for those people in our lives who can help point us on the path we should go, and I thank God for the beautiful opportunity to read His Word with joy for all who'll listen.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Parables in Music

On the way home this morning, we listened to Keith Green in the car. I'll admit I'm not one for Christian music, which is odd considering I'm a christian. There are of course hymns in Church that move me unexpectedly, bringing tears to my eyes for no reason I can grasp. One I heard recently was called The Lord of the Dance, a joyous and equally haunting view of Christ, and Amazing Grace is one of the greatest songs inspired by the Holy Spirit. Generally, though, I am a good deal indifferent and unmoved.

Green is different. I was raised on Keith Green,, but my continuing appreciation for his music comes because he is an ultra-talented pianist and because, more inspiring, he has a unique talent for taking the parables told by Christ and transforming them into richly textured songs. The tale of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son were both retold through his music; his Prodigal Son Suite is my favorite popular composition built on the word of God. When the father falls at his son's feet at the end, welcoming him home with love, joy, and gratitude to God, well...if you have never heard it and want to be inspired by that incredible image of redemption, I think you can listen to it for free on the Internet. Green perhaps covered that song in such an awesome way, because he was at one point in his life that prodigal son - a talented, touring musician doing drugs, believing in "free love" and exploring mysticism before coming to God after a soul-scarring experience.

This morning I heard another of Green's songs based on Christ's parables - The Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). That parable and Green's song used to frighten me when I was a child, because the Goats are not condemned for the evil they do; they're condemned for their apathy. Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto you? Then he shall answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25: 44- 46).

I struggle to care sometimes. That's a terrible thing to admit as a disciple of the Most High, the One who administered hope to the indigent, criminals and prostitutes. Still, I have my own sweet little family, four children to raise, and it is very easy indeed to get wrapped up in my own family's concerns. It worries me how selfish I feel at times.

Plus, the evil and despair of the world is well broadcast. It makes for such excellent stories, and by the hundred such telling of a deed it begins to feel like nothing more than a story, at the expense of the participants. I was well sheltered as a child and extraordinarily grateful for it. There are certain acts I could never have then believed would have been committed against a fellow human being. I have since been disillusioned time and time again in my adulthood. At first I would cry and ache in the knowledge of these horrible sins, especially those committed against children, and often I would cry for days every time the memory disturbed me. Now these terrible things humans do to one another trouble me less than I feel they should. I am becoming jaded, God help me.

The need in the world is always present, too, and my family and I are by no means wealthy, but we are comfortable. We contribute to help others, in food drives especially, but I know it is not nearly energetic enough. And to be honest with you, I fear strangers - oh, I'm more than willing to smile at someone I don't know or to give them friendly words or a few dollar bills, but invite them into my home? Not likely. For those in prison I don't feel a great deal of sympathy, either, nor do I feel that their conversion is very likely. I sound like one of the goats, now...don't I?

Nevertheless, not by my own strength and works do I go, but by the Grace of God. As Keith Green says through his music...Nothing lasts...except the Grace of God, by which I stand in Jesus. I know that I would surely fall away...except the which I'm saved...

A few weeks ago I was disturbed during prayer by the face of a woman who lived down my street. Not once, but every time I prayed. This woman had told me some time earlier, when we stopped by her house while taking my daughter around to sell Girl Scout cookies, that she had recently had breast cancer. Her arm was bandaged, because her lymphnoids had been removed and fluid tended to build up, The woman was elderly, moved slowly. We stayed and talked to her for some time.

After we left her, I felt that we should visit her again. As a child, my family had visited two elderly and lonely neighbors often. One could not read, so he, Mr. Hayes, loved it when my dad came and read from the Bible as his wife used to do for him before she passed away. The other person was a lady named Mrs. Mays. She lived in a dusty old relic of a house at the bend in the road. She was more than a little ornery, and it was really boring for us kids to go there - nothing to play with, nothing interesting we should touch, only the trees and grass of her yard were welcoming - but we went as a family, and I remember the lesson my parents were teaching. I'm trying not to depart from it now I'm grown.

So I wasn't surprised as I forgot and forgot again about my duty to visit my sick neighbor, that my prayer included a reminder every time I sat in silence with God. God is very persistent, and I do not ever want to be denied His persistent instructions. So at last! I took my children on a convenient day, and we went to see her and spend some time with her. She seemed glad to see us, but told me that she did not need anything; her son lived with her and a friend, too.

As we walked away from her house, my children having gotten a little too rambunctious, I felt relieved that I had finally done what I knew I should do. If my Savior had been walking by my side, I may have said, "There! Are you happy? I did what you told me to do."

But my God knows that in my heart I add, please, Lord, never let me be deaf to your instruction, and through Your Grace, by which I stand, help me to respond and obey...