Monday, November 10, 2014

Jesus Has Our back

This post is not simply about confession, but I must bring it up in light of my unique experience as part of my witness. As to the purpose and necessity of confession, contested among Christians, I can only say that sin does not occur in a vacuum. It very rarely affects only ourselves. When we sin we sin against not just our God but against the whole body of Christ, causing discord and scandal and laying stumbling blocks in the path of those who do not know our hope. It's a good, humble thing to confess our sins to each other as St. James (Letter of St. James 5:13-16) pointed out, and sometimes it is very necessary for healing relationships and for gaining new strength in the fight. If you want to know why Catholics practice confession, especially in light of the Eucharist, go HERE. As for my own personal experiences, sometimes after confession I have felt so joyous that I have wanted to eat a fat slice of chocolate cake; sometimes I have felt immense relief, unburdened; one time I felt deep dissatisfaction - and it was my fault for avoiding confessing the thing that was most necessary; and then there was this time when, despite the pain of the experience, I realized that Jesus had my back. 

This is a vulnerable post; even if you disagree with the need for the Sacrament of Confession as reconciliation after Baptism, please respect that.

I used to think I was one of the righteous ones, and it made me a little pouty.

(Whoa! How's that for a beginning? Be patient, and I will abase myself presently.)

Jesus said this in the parable about the lost sheep:

What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. Luke 15:4-7 (NAB)

I used to think, What about me, Lord? I'm trying. I love you. I'm on the right path! Don't I bring you joy?

Goodness, how self-centered and silly that sounds to me now, because I have grown up spiritually a great deal in the past few years, and I have realized that without a doubt I am not righteous. I am a lost sheep. Not always. Not every moment. But I am often. And even when I am not lost, I am always a sinner. We are all lost sheep at one time or another, and Jesus, our Shepherd, continually calls us back. If we belong to Him, we hear his voice. We may return with our eyes downcast and our hands dirty, but when we again stand at the foot of His cross, He lifts us high on his shoulders and proclaims that we are found!

And people wonder why we love Jesus so much! He always has our back. He died on the cross for our sins, the Lamb of God.

There have been several times in the last few months when I realized that Jesus had my back, and so my love for Him has grown, like that of the woman who washed His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50).

One Sunday evening at Mass as I prepared to take communion, I was weighed down by a very particular and serious sin, though I didn't fully realize its seriousness, or I would not have taken communion. As I reflected before getting up to receive Eucharist, I felt Jesus eliciting the promise from me that I would go to confession that next Saturday. It was a subtle but clear thought, and I responded, Okay, if you want me to, I will go to confession next week, Lord.

And so I went. Wow. That was a hard confession. For those who have no reference point for it, I could hardly explain it. Suffice it to say that in that confessional I realized the graveness of what I had done. I understood that I gave in to evil during a battle with temporary depression - I listened to its vile whisperings - and I saw clearly how my behavior could have affected my children had they been privy to it, and I was appalled. That was the hardest confession of my life, but then I knew; I knew why Christ had elicited that promise from me: He had my back. He knew, even if I did not, that I should not be receiving Him without the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What that priest said - kindly but firmly, concerned - was something I needed to hear, something I believe wholeheartedly that Jesus wanted me to hear, so that I would NEVER go down that dark alleyway again.

I came out of that confessional sobbing, and I went into the little chapel and sobbed more as I prayed. I was still crying as I went to leave the church, and just at that moment a middle-aged lady came out of the bathroom and asked, "Do you need a hug?"

I did, and I hugged this kind stranger long and hard, weeping on her shoulder. When I drew back, she kept a hand on my arm and said in compassion, "Don't worry. I've got this. I prayed for you, and I will pray for you again during Mass."

With all my heart I thanked her. In her words I felt Jesus holding out his hand to me, saying, Peace be with you, Hillary. I will not leave you an orphan. You have returned to me, and I will lift you high on my shoulders again, rejoicing.

For I was a lost sheep. I was lost, but now I'm found.

It's my job to joyfully witness to other lost sheep, to tell them the good news that Jesus takes us with all our faults, all our sins and all our baggage, and His truth frees us and makes us new. While doing so I will have to pray continually for the strength not to stray from my Shepherd again, especially when depressed. But I will not fear. I will put on the armor of Christ. Jesus has my back.



Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil.  Ephesians 6:11

In all circumstances hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:16-17

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and the come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10 (NAB)



Friday, November 7, 2014

Sunlight on the Forest Floor: Marriage

I found it a little ridiculous that the media made such a huge deal about the couples Pope Francis married more than a month ago. They pointed out that some of the couples had been cohabitating; one already had a child. They declared that Pope Francis is so much more open, and this is an additional sign of change (for the better, they would argue). They hinted that similar couples might have been booted out before, shunned, and denied the power and fulfillment of marriage.

Marriage to them is merely a choice, I suspect, to enter into a visible contract. What they don't understand about marriage makes all the difference in their interpretation.

The Catholic Church has a very definitive idea of marriage. It is, like rebirth in baptism, one of the Sacraments instituted by Christ:

Some Pharisees approached him, and tested him, saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatsoever? He said in reply, "Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate." Matthew 19:3-6

Therefore we don't just say it is a great institution. We don't simply point out that it creates the most beneficial situation in which to raise children. We assert that it is a Sacrament, a visible sign of inward grace, that this man and woman are now entwined in their journey towards God and will receive blessing and strength from Him as long as they seek Him together. The couple confer the marriage Sacrament on each other as they stand before God and profess their commitment to the good of each other and of any children with whom they may be blessed. It is a beautiful thing infused with the love of the Almighty God and representative of it. Therefore, it is far more than an expensive ceremony that trumpets to the world, We're finally getting hitched!

It is far more than common law. (People who live together and have sexual relations are not married in the eyes of God. That is not their intention in entering into a sexual relationship.) It is a much deeper understanding than the simple legal agreement before the state that offers a break in taxes, a sharing in health benefits and the shared custody of children. It is more even than the wonderful celebration of marriage in some Christian churches.

My understanding of marriage in this extraordinarily elevated way came as I studied the Catholic Church, and then I realized why they held it in such high esteem. Marriage is vital in the plan of salvation, since a family is the first church - the domestic church - and has the power to grow God's kingdom through love, and I began to reflect more on the fact that Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding feast in Cana and that he referenced marriage celebrations often in his parables about the Kingdom of God.

A simple wedding Mass without flowers, ribbons, or bells holds more power and meaning than the most lavish civil ceremony in the most exotic location, because Christ is truly present and blesses it. The couple commits to far more than a shared life. They commit to a shared life in Christ for not only their mutual benefit but for the good of their children and of the community.

For a world that cannot accept Jesus, it is no wonder that marriage has lost its luster, its meaning. After all, in the words of Pontius Pilate, what is truth? Or in the perspective of this modern, brave world, what is sin anyway? What is grace? And who needs it? (Everyone!)

As for us poor, traditionalist Catholics? None of us come to marriage as saints! If that were a requirement, to be pure, none could get married in the Church. However, and I will talk about this Sacrament another time through the lens of my own experience, I have no doubt those couples were encouraged to go to Confession before the Mass. The marrying of those 20 couples was a removal of obstacles to grace. It was not an approval of disorder, confusion and selfishness. It was good. It was merciful.

It was a Sacrament, an efficacious sign of grace instituted by Christ Himself.
 
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament."

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Peace That Passes Understanding (I need it)

I reached the tipping point of temporary insanity on Thursday. I was so miserable and so completely at the mercy of my own intense self-dislike. And I spread the misery around. I couldn't contain myself.

In general my emotions rule me, even my petty ones. I am not a bottler, not a successful one, because when I try to restrain my emotions, they usually end up popping the cork and fizzing out everywhere - over others. And it's true I have always held it was better to be open than to be reserved. It was always best to debate and converse with conviction - to share your opinions - than to talk little, be the really quiet sort who seems to have no opinion at all.

In short, being passionate was always preferable to showing restraint.

Having read a few stories of various saints, however, it seems to be a common theme with these peace-seeking folks that they try very hard to restrain their emotions, to avoid stating their case when they feel they are wronged or misunderstood. They aim to be placid, unflappable. They understand that God knows and sees everything, and they have confidence in His mercy. Being at the sway of their passions is contrary to their hope.

I meditated recently on the crowning with thorns. When the Roman soldiers shoved that crown of on Jesus' head, hailed him irreverently as King of the Jews, and then mocked him, spitting on him, Jesus said nothing. He took it all.

It suddenly hit me as I reflected on this, how extreme Jesus' humility was. He said nothing, not a You're going to get yours! or a simple, authoritarian Do you know to whom you are speaking?

Some could argue that he would have been in too much pain to care. No. He pronounced, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," while hanging on the cross. He was able to speak those words of love and mercy during the climax of his torture. He chose not to curse his tormentors even then.

So we are back at humility, and humility takes a strange - alien to many of us - kind of confidence, as my blogger acquaintance Jennie points out in this post on injustice.

Jesus Himself, the Word of God, spoke of himself like this:

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-burdened. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I need that lighter burden in a very specific way. Emotional fortification is what I need. I am sick of trying to labor on my own against my own petty, overly-zealous feelings and selfishness. I am tired of always "needing to get my feelings out" in fruitless complaints, even when I know it will cause others distress, especially those dearest to me. Often I am just a big baby, but I can't seem to conquer this on my own.

In the words of gospel singer Keith Green: I want to, I need to be more like Jesus.

That begins with asking for his help.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Thanksgiving

This week I have been reflecting on the cleansing of the 10 lepers in Luke 17:11-18. Of the 10 who were healed, only one returned to thank Jesus. You might say the others had a sense of entitlement.

How like us! Soaking up our good fortune, we forget to be thankful for it. But I think there can be no real joy in having love, health, security, and nourishment if we do not have gratitude. When that one leper returned to Christ, he did so "glorifying God in a loud voice." Then he fell at Jesus' feet and thanked Him.

Lately, I have tried to start my day with a very simple morning offering prayer that I learned from a booklet given to me in a hospital. During it I thank God for keeping my family safe through the night. I thank him for my husband and four children, for our health and safety, for the house we live in, and for the abundance of food we have. I offer up my day to Him in union with His Son.

My friend shared with me recently some advice she had received from her dad. She confided in him as a teenager that she felt all she did in prayer was ask, ask, ask God for help with this, that and the other. He told her compassionately that she needed also to regularly offer up thanksgiving to God for all those things with which He had blessed her.

That made an impression on my friend, and now it has stayed with me.

It is a far better way to approach the day to reflect on blessings bestowed than to fret over desires not met.

And what if we spread that joy and thanksgiving around? A close friend and a recent acquaintance of mine both sent me handwritten notes of thanks lately. I didn't do much to deserve them, but I was impressed by their dedication, in this age of technological shortcuts, to sit down and print a note in their own handwriting telling me of their gratitude. Of course, it also made me feel guilty. Why don't I do that more often? I should. It shows so much more care and appreciation, I think, than to send off a hasty missive via text or email.

It reminded me of a news story I saw some time ago about a man who decided he would fight his discouragement by sending thank you notes to people - friends, bosses, relatives, and almost strangers - for even the smallest acts of generosity. He spread love around him nearly every day, far and wide, with those expressions of appreciation; he spread a wonderful example of gratitude. Funny thing is, he said the joy he felt in regularly thanking others for the blessings they brought into his life was the greatest gift. He was joyful, because he acknowledged what he had been given.

And now I come back to our Heavenly Father and offering him our love, joy, and thanksgiving. There have been many times when out in a public place with friends that I tried to give grace for a meal surreptitiously - not wanting to embarrass anyone or halt the conversation, not wanting to particularly draw attention to myself. I told my husband and his brother of this recently at dinner, of my self-conscious head bowing, and they pointed out that it's not as if I were blowing a trumpet in front of me to say, Hey, look you all! I'm about to pray, so be quiet! And that I should bravely bow my head anyway, anywhere in grace. They both shared stories of coworkers hushing respectfully and some even inquiring about their faith or professing their own in Christ.

That is an example of unabashed gratitude, and one I intend to imitate.

It is similar, perhaps, to athletes crossing themselves on the field or pointing their finger to the sky after a winning play. I used to think that was very silly. Does God care who wins in an arena? What has He to do with sports? Now I see that I was the silly one, for these athletes are simply acknowledging in some humility where their gifts come from. We should all do that.

We should all fall at Jesus' feet in thanksgiving every chance we get.

Friday, August 29, 2014

God Days


I am a little tired, but I wanted to share today, because this is one of my "God days."

Shouldn't all of them be "God days"? Yes, certainly, but it is hard on just any busy day to take big blocks of time for prayer or Scripture or study. I want to get there, but I am not. Some time ago, inspired, I began to take a couple days a week to devote a good deal more time to God.

I read Scripture chapters from which friends have recently quoted, or I study the chapters from which come the readings for the following Sunday's Mass. I pray much more on these days, not in big blocks of time - I still have not learned to discipline myself in that way - but I offer prayers throughout the day on behalf of someone who may need them, on behalf of their intentions or my own. Lately, I have prayed the Rosary - a prayer which I struggle still to grasp in faith but one which I respect in many ways, for the meditation on Christ's mysteries for instance.

I have even begun to have regular fast days. I only share this, because fasting is a hard thing to do, and I do not do it well! Nevertheless, I both sometimes dread and anticipate the coming fast days. I dread them, because I love food far too much and have an unhealthy attachment to chocolate and sweets. I anticipate them, because on these days of regimen I feel a unique sense of liberation. I bowl over my obsessions with food, and, thus, I concentrate more on my spiritual desires - the desire to have more courage, to increase in faith, to gain a listening heart as Solomon requested of God, and to grow far more selfless bit by little tiny bit. I conquer some of my disordered physical desires on these days by the grace of God.

Also, learning to fast, I have learned to pray more urgently and more often for others. When I feel hungry, I kneel and pray for whomever I am thinking of that day, someone who is struggling spiritually, emotionally or physically. I offer up my little hunger pangs for others. It is the only way I have found thus far to reject my aversion to fasting. I was never able to do it successfully simply as a spiritual exercise. I can only give it up, give in, for others. (Though, yes, I do occasionally pray for my own intentions on these days.) There is always someone - a great many someones - who need our prayers, who are on our thoughts. There seems to be a growing number of people to love and pray for, and a fast day is a good way to really concentrate on that part of our spiritual journey.

My spend more time with God days have been a big blessing for me thus far. I do not know where I go from here, but I am positive God will direct my path. He often lets me know when he wishes me to do or NOT to do something, and I am, I think, getting better at listening to Him.

Here is a sweet, short prayer for discernment that I try to pray often and with a listening heart:

Father, help us to discern your will for us, and give us the courage to follow it.

Always in Jesus name, Amen.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Thank God, a family! (and some personal regrets)

My husband Matthew and I had been married for a few months when I asked myself, Why am I taking birth control pills? I'm married to the man I want to be with for the rest of my life, the one I want to father my children.

It had been nettling me for a while, the prevention of our love from building a family. I talked to my husband about this, and he agreed. I abandoned my birth control, and on New Year's Eve my sister handed me a pregnancy test when she dropped by to borrow our roasting pan, because she had an inkling that my weird nausea meant I was pregnant. She was right; I was pregnant with our oldest boy, a gift from God.

Only now do I see how completely idiotic it was that my husband and I bought into the worldly lie that we needed to get on birth control before getting married, that we needed to avoid getting pregnant, so that we could, as people told us, "have time to get to know each other and enjoy ourselves."

The best way to grow with your spouse, if you are truly committed and understand your marriage vows, is to completely give yourselves to each other and to raise a family together, to nurture children.

I would like to tell you that we never took birth control again, but, sadly, no sooner did I show up for my postnatal Ob-gyn appointment than the registered nurse asked what kind of birth control method we would be using. We didn't want to become pregnant again too soon, after all, and we couldn't trust breastfeeding as a prevention of another human being, she asserted.

So after Berto, our oldest, I took birth control until I forgot to bring it to a hotel in San Antonio. At first my husband was quite irritated with me, and then, as the following months passed, he wondered why it was taking so long to become pregnant again off the contraceptive. He was thrilled when we learned we were expecting for the second time. After Ana, our first girl, was born in late spring, I opted to go on the three-monthly shot, and I went through such terrible post-weaning depression and hormonal havoc that I suspect those shots were doing me more harm than I could have guessed. I finally abandoned their schedule after returning home from one summer's trips to family members' weddings. Matthew wanted more children but left the decision up to me. I was just so depressed that I had trouble knowing whether or not we should. Everyone told us we had the perfect family: one boy and one girl.

Then nearly three years after Ana, we became pregnant in late February right after I had discussed the size of our "perfect family" with my parents on one of their visits.

When my youngest girl, Ella, arrived in November of that next year, I knew immediately that I wanted more children, and that didn't change despite the fact that she was a child who ate, slept, and lived on me for the first five months of her life. Miraculously, this time when I went in for my postnatal appointment, the nurse suggested that I not jump into the contraceptive pool but that I rely on nursing to regulate my hormones - that it was actually great natural birth control if a mother solely breast-fed her child.

I was surprised and grateful to hear her say that, to be granted permission to turn my back on the artificial, tyrannical manipulation of my body. She was right, too. Because I nursed on demand and did not supplement with formula for nearly two years, my youngest baby, my son Danny, was born more than two-and-a-half years after his big sister.

I never used birth control again. I was through with it. But my husband and I decided that he would be sterilized to ease our anxious minds.

Truly, I regret very much that now. In the car in front of the urologist's office, I had some serious qualms and brought them up in a last ditch effort to make sure we were doing the right thing, but Matthew had already taken valium and gave me a look like, Seriously?

Now I wish we had never done it. I almost wish we could undo the damage - except for the fact that I have lingering fear and an ever-present selfishness that I battle.

I knew the Catholic Church condemned sterilization, abortion and contraception, but I did not bother to discover why all those uncertain years. As soon as I felt my oldest son move in my womb, my view on abortion changed dramatically and permanently, but prevention of pregnancy? It just seemed so unreasonable in today's age to ask people to be open to new, demanding, overflowing life.

Finally, after attending Mass for 10 years, I got confirmed in the church, and then I began, by the grace of God, to really study doctrine and search out answers to my question of Why does the Church push so steadily against the prevailing highly-sexualized social wind?

For most people it's simply enough to know that they do push against the social norm, and they accuse the Catholic Church of waging a war on women. I find this ridiculous. Actually, women and men are waging war on their natural selves, on the concept and stability of family life, and on life in general. It springs from utter selfishness and condemns our unique biology as a nuisance. Women want to become "free" like men - despising the ability of their own bodies to harbor life - and men want to ditch all responsibility in indulging their appetite.

And I believe all of this has led to a culture where children are seen as expensive party-poopers; women are viewed as cheap, easy commodities for pleasure only, and men, also viewed as no-strings-attached instruments of a good time, are led more and more into vice when seeking utterly selfish satisfaction.

So what to do if you believe the intimate relationship between a man and woman still has profound mystery and deeper meaning?

Just yesterday I came across two interesting, very intelligent posts by other bloggers, both who, like me, converted to Catholicism as adults, that explain the Catholic Church's perspective far better than I am able to do. Today I found another one from a fellow convert. If you have ever honestly wondered why the Church believes what it does about marriage and life - that they are sacred and more meaningful than your buddies will tell you - then I highly suggest these websites. 

Reclaiming The Womb

A Faith-Full Life

Conversion Diary


Monday, February 17, 2014

Prayers

The day after I began this post, I became discouraged, and that delayed the completion of this post on prayer for obvious reasons.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

In the upper world hell once rebelled against heaven. But in this world heaven is rebelling against hell.

The devil's currency is fear and discouragement. What is one of our greatest tools of rebellion against these?

Prayer.

I've read that Satan will do much to keep our prayer life idling and fruitless, and I believe it. The Catholic Catechism states (CCC 2752) that prayer presupposes effort, a fight against ourselves and the wiles of the Tempter. Many holy people have described it as a battle. Yes, in part the battle is against our own selfishness, lack of faith, and downright laziness, but it is also a battle of wills. Will we persist despite the many distractions the devil sets in our path to turn us from God? He will try to convince us that God does not love us, is indifferent and deaf, if he can.

Lately I have come across many short verses that can become, and often already are, prayers: prayers that can be said daily while we do chores, run errands, sit in our offices scanning emails, during our interactions with our spouse and children. Let me share a couple of these inspirations with you.

 

When we are feeling frustrated, disappointed, judgmental; have lost our temper; or have lost faith in humanity:


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

This prayer has scriptural roots, echoing the words of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, who cries out persistently to Jesus, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-52). It is also very similar to what the tax collector utters in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. It is called the Jesus Prayer, and, as I understand, is part of the faith tradition of Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

I know a gentleman who said that when he finds himself getting too frustrated at work, he pushes his chair back from his desk and utters this prayer. I think that's a wonderful idea. Imagine what good might come if I paused just a moment and silently prayed this every time I was frustrated with my children.

When we are struggling against our own fears, feeling burdened or hopeless, lacking in faith:


Jesus, I do believe, help my unbelief!

These simple words come from the story of the man whose son was possessed by a demon. Jesus' disciples could not help the boy, so the man says to Christ, "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us." Christ replies, "If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith." The boy's dad cries out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:14-24)

Oh, I understand! I know exactly what that distressed father meant. I often feel that way. As a child it seemed so easy to have faith. Now as adults we talk about cultivating faith, but we often feel that if you've got it, you've got it. If you don't, well...you don't, and there's not much you can do about it. But, indeed, there is something. We can say to Jesus exactly what the apostles said to him, "Increase our faith."

I prayed this prayer quite recently a few days ago before beginning this post. Later I found myself reading several passages from the middle part of the Gospel of Mark for my morning scripture reflection. I was reading backwards through the chapters, and it was just as I began to read about the calming of the storm at sea that I had an Aha! moment. I thought, God, I know what you're doing. I see what you're doing. I had asked him to increase my faith, and nearly everything I had read detailed Jesus' miracles - the feeding of the five thousand, walking on the water, the healings at Gennesaret, the healing of the deaf man, the feeding of the four thousand, the blind man of Bethsaida, and even how he could not perform many miracles in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Mark 4-8).

How many times did Christ say, "Have faith." To which we can reply when we are struggling, "I do believe, Lord, help me!"

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Christian Reads

Right now I'm reading Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. I just finished Heaven is For Real, by Todd Burpo, about his three-year-old boy visiting heaven while under anesthesia for an emergency appendectomy. Before that I was reading Forever Erma. Her piece about mothers of handicapped children made me cry, but I laughed more than anything and was inspired by her talent. Earlier on I read Scott Hahn's Rome Sweet Home about his conversion from being an anti-Catholic Protestant to a Catholic who currently writes scholarly and elucidating works on the Eucharist and many other aspects of the Catholic faith.

I related to Hahn very well, having once been very anti-Catholic myself. However, there is an important difference. As a doctor of theology who had studied extensively, he knew why he supported Luther and denounced Catholicism. I, on the other hand - like many Protestants, I suspect - simply inherited prejudice from my Protestant culture without knowing or comprehending what exactly Luther believed that was at war with Catholic doctrines (for instance, the Lutheran concept that we are justified by faith alone and that man is inherently bad or the Catholic view that, no, we are justified by faith and works and man, though broken, was created in God's image and therefore is inherently good).

I am fixing my lack of knowledge now through intense study of Scripture and the works of various Christian writers, and I am absolutely loving it. I find things in the Bible that support Protestants and Catholics - imagine that! We are all one body.

Speaking of Scripture, for years I was not reading anything but a children's Bible to my kids occasionally. During my childhood my dad encouraged his children to read Scripture, especially the Gospel, daily. During my teenage years I tackled the Old Testament and found some of it quite disturbing, actually. Then, just barely in my twenties, I married a Catholic, walked into Mass and was astounded by everything I found in the liturgy - The Creed, The Lord's Prayer, the Eucharistic Prayer - that sprang directly from Scripture. But, doubt not, I held onto my Protestant pride for years. I wish I hadn't. I wish I had read about what Catholics believe and why instead of simply enjoying the liturgy and ignoring my own obligation not to stand in a pile of ignorance.

Worse, of course, is that I fell out of the habit of reading the Bible regularly when I became a wife and mother. There was so much else to occupy me, and at the end of the day, I preferred to plop my bum down in front of the TV or tilt my mind to a good mystery tale than exert myself mentally and spiritually. And in the mornings? Heavens, it was enough to try and believe myself awake and functioning!

But then I went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) to be confirmed in the church the same year as my son, my oldest boy, and 10+ years after first attending Mass. Shortly afterward I became a lector and now have the great pleasure of reading the Word of God a few Sundays. Then God nudged me through two fellow Catholics to volunteer in the RCIA program. This year I gave a presentation on prayer and almost drove myself to distraction preparing for it. Reading Scripture was my preparation, asking Dad for suggestions on passages I should read. Dad told me that every person should take 10 minutes each day, just that, to read the Bible.

So God has brought me to this place where I am trying to be faithful to letting the Word settle in my heart, where I read Bible chapters to prepare for Sunday readings and broaden my understanding, where I must expose myself to the light of truth regularly in order to help capably in RCIA.

So now I've told you where I've been. I prefer this blog not feel like a ghost town, but I'm sure it regularly does of late. But I will be honest. I feel like God is pulling me on a journey, and I wouldn't think the journey was a worthy one if He were not the one guiding it. Should I write about what I learn? Absolutely! But it's a daunting thing. I find I am better at learning than spreading the Good News right now. In the future I hope to do better.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Washing Feet: a New Year's Reflection

I've been thinking quite a bit about humility lately. This is probably because I have been diligently trying to read Scripture every day, and humility is mentioned in the Bible nearly every other chapter - sometimes sentence - it seems. So I know I must work on this humility thing, just as I must work constantly on growing more selfless, opening my heart.

A perfect example of humility was Christ himself kneeling at his disciples' feet to wash them. I don't think, before recently, that I have ever really thought about how great and astounding a thing that was. The Son of God washed the filthy feet of men...and then told them that they ought to do the same for each other.

We should ponder often the idea of God bending to wash our tired, confused, willful feet. Just that image, acknowledged humbly, would propel us to love others through greater service.

I was inspired this past Christmas, saw Jesus in my father-in-law. He reminded me of Christ, simply because he humbly assisted one of my children when I was too impatient to do so, and while he did it I was reminded of another wonderful example when someone stepped in to "wash feet" when I selfishly would not a few years earlier.

This past Christmas our family went with Grandpa, my husband's dad, to the park. Grandpa held the kids' gloves and played with them and took pictures of them and of our whole family, because my husband and I had forgotten the camera. When it was time to go, my littlest daughter wanted help with her gloves. They were tight, hard to squeeze into. I half-helped, but when she complained at my tugging, I gave it up and told her to come on, get them on herself and let's go.

That's when my father-in-law stepped in. He gently, slowly, calmly, quietly assisted our Ella with her troublesome gloves. I stopped in my retreat and watched, feeling guilty and rightly rebuked.

It made me think of that other time when the head of RE at our church, a lovely woman named Christine, practically did wash my daughter's foot.

We had gone to the park to play before RE. My daughter Ana's shoes were full of sand and sweat, and one of them slipped off her foot as I was hurrying her across the church courtyard. She hopped behind me as children will do and asked me to help her put it back on - "It's full of sand, Mama!"

"Well, just knock it out of there and let's go!" was my reply.

Christine went over to my daughter, knelt down on the ground, slowly brushed off the bottom of my daughter's sweaty, stinky foot, and then gently slid the shoe back on.

Wow. Words are priceless, but actions are powerful. I was humbled and amazed.

I wonder how I forgot her beautiful example so easily this Christmas. How I can repeatedly forget Christ's example so easily so often. If we all walked in Jesus' sandals, washing the feet of our fellow human beings with humility, how great the light in this world could be!


So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it." John 13:12-17

Pages