Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Three Homilies: Stand Still, Pray Always, and Carry Your Cross

Three different priests have given three impactful but simple homilies at my parish in the past few months. They all dealt with prayer in their unique way, and the messages have stuck with me.

BE STILL


There is a retired Italian-American priest who occasionally presides at Mass in our parish. He is a good confessor and has helped me personally in the past few years. I hug him if I can each time I see him, because I am grateful for his pastoral care in my life. I know he prays for my family.

During a summer homily Father Dennis recalled fun trips his dad took the family on during weekends of his childhood in Pennsylvania. They drove to a lovely little creek that flowed near town, and the children jumped out to play around in the water.

Father Dennis pointed out that as the kids ran around and splashed each other, the little stream quickly became so cloudy that you couldn't see the creek bed beneath its surface.

However, if they simply stood still in the water for a few moments, the serene creek returned to a pristine state, all the sand and dust settled in its proper place, the water became crystal clear again and the objects beneath its surface clearly visible.

Father Dennis proposed that the creek scene was like life. The busier we get - so easy nowadays - the more our lives are unsettled, preventing us from seeing clearly through the dust of our own activity. But if we could just stand still in God's presence every now and then, as often as possible, our lives would become a lot clearer and more peaceful.

PRAY, WHEREVER YOU ARE


Father Thomas, who taught me a great deal as I went through and then volunteered with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and also in personal conversation on everything from the Old Testament to Sacraments, gave a fascinating homily on prayer not long ago.

Our Gospel reading that Sunday began with this passage from Luke:

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples." He said to them, "When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test."

Luke:11:1-4

Father decided to concentrate on these words especially: Jesus was praying in a certain place.

He then made the point that perhaps Luke omitted the place purposefully. Jesus was praying wherever he happened to be.

We, too, can pray wherever we happen to be throughout our day - while driving, putting on makeup, taking a walk, doing work. We can pray in our "certain place" throughout our lives. Our prayer can be constant even though our places continually change.

I found this homily consoling. Honestly, there's always some awkwardness when I try to say a formal prayer in a more formal setting. I am far more comfortable sending my thoughts up to God as if I'm letting go of little balloons with notes attached at the strings. And I can let go of those little balloons as soon as I think of the note to attach - a thank you, an invitation, a request for intervention - wherever I am. 

HUG YOUR CROSS


"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." 

Luke 9:23

Father Bill is short of stature but big in personality, and he serves often at our parish even though he's technically retired. He is also another man of God to whom I am grateful, because he has comforted me and counseled me on various occasions in the confessional and out of it.

It's hard to be human, and its hard to live with one's own weaknesses, but Father Bill put this all in perspective for me when he gave a homily on carrying your cross.

He pointed out that often people will come to him in confession and say, "I feel like I am always confessing the same thing over and over again..."

His response is, essentially, of course you are! You will always be you, and your weaknesses will always be part of the unique person you are. That is, of course, no excuse for throwing our hands up in the air and crying, "I give up! I am what I am, nothing I can do about it!" But your pitfalls will almost always be predictable. (So maybe we can recognize and avoid them?)

The question he poised in his homily was, in essence, this:

Do we carry our cross, or do we balk at it? Do we do our best to haul it forward or do we rebel against the fact that we are carrying the same old cross that has been chaffing our shoulders for ages?

This struck home, and I listened intently. Many times I think I'm that Christian by the side of the road pouting, railing against the unfair burden, or kicking my cross and complaining. I know sometimes I wonder why it's still there, why I couldn't have dumped it successfully by the road somewhere.

Father made me wonder, is there a way to carry my cross more gracefully? Can I see it, feel it, and not despise it? Can I allow it to bring me closer to God by acknowledging it humbly and relying more on His grace to help me carry it? Man once helped God carry His cross, so I have full faith Jesus will help us.

I was reminded during Father Bill's homily of a scene from The Passion of the Christ in which Jesus, terribly injured and incredibly weary, embraces the wooden cross to which he will soon be nailed as if it is the most precious thing he has.

We can't ditch our own personal cross or crosses. We know that. They're ours, and we must carry them to get to Heaven. 

But we can find a way to carry them better, more humbly, as we follow Jesus.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Every time you smile st someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. 

Mother Teresa


That's my current favorite quote from St. Teresa of Calcutta. I have always believed that, and she said it well and from a place of authority. Her smile was captured by many and nourished many, because it matched her actions.

This is one of those lessons I would really wish for my children to take to heart. Not everything is about great deeds, life-altering gifts. Often, the difference between hope and dread or discouragement is found in the little things we do for each other each moment of every day: the small, sincere gestures of respect, appreciation and love. 

Hugs.

A greeting: "Good morning!", "How are you?"

That powerful smile.

These can never become cliche as long as they are sincere and meant to engage each other. In fact, plenty of research has validated the importance of human touch to both infants, children and adults alike, and I think our words and expressions are gifts we give to one another, too. 

I am a strong proponent of the smile. Like many others I don't know how to make a big change in this world. I'm not sure I can with my resources. But I do know I can perform little acts with great love, as St Therese of Lisieux proposed. And if we all had such an aim day in and day out to impact as many people as possible in a positive way? I think we could change the world indeed. Together.

So smile, my friends. Smile at the child who seems lonely or shy, the stranger at the store, the morose teenager, the stressed commuter and the disgruntled coworker. That many little acts of love dispensed throughout the day can only make us and our world happier.



Friday, August 26, 2016

Suffering


Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...
Colossians 1:24

I have never really understood what Paul was saying there. How can anything be lacking in the death of God, Son of Man, on the cross?

Notations on that Scripture verse point out that Paul was not saying that Christ's death was insufficient. Certainly, I agree that was not St. Paul's intent, but it's quite a strange statement to make...

However, Paul was suffering, had suffered, and expected future suffering as a man who was abused and imprisoned many times for the sake of the Gospel, and as he experienced those trials, I have no doubt that he was thinking of all the new Christians for whom he felt his suffering had meaning, precisely because he had united it with Christ's.

Have you ever heard a Catholic say, "Offer it up!"? Catholics have a unique perspective. All Christians feel that Christ gave suffering incredible meaning in his passion, crucifixion and resurrection, suffering born of love that saved humankind and raised our humanity to heaven. But Catholics also believe that we can unite our own continual suffering here on earth to Christ, in fact that we can participate in our Savior's suffering for the Church, our family, for all of humanity.

Some may argue that God doesn't suffer; Christ no longer suffers. Christ's suffering ended with the resurrection. I don't know. Does he suffer in the same way as us? No. But I would argue that if there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine who had no need of repentance, God's love is intense beyond imagining. And is humanity still suffering? Absolutely. Are we still harming others through acts of selfishness, pride, greed and cowardice? We're still sinning, yes. Do I think God suffers with us? That is an interesting question, and I think Elie Wiesel said it very well in a scene from Night. In it a young boy is hanged and dies a slow, agonizing death in front of assembled prisoners at a Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel wrote:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: 
"Where is God now?" 
And I heard a voice within me answer him: 
"Where is He? Here He is. He is hanging here on this gallows."

Few of us our likely to witness or experience such terrible, intense suffering. But I believe in a very personal God, so I think God is there. If we are truly His creatures, made in His image, how could he not be?

When I converted to Catholicism, the idea of giving suffering great meaning in Christ impressed me. If Christ took suffering and made it the tool of redemption, then we as Christians can make our suffering more than just a cause for complaint and pity. I believe wholeheartedly that every act of love and sacrifice becomes infinitely more powerful when united to Him. So even if we are having a bad day at work, the boss is blaming us for something beyond our control, we can offer it up for someone. If our children receive detention, instead of wasting energy on resentment, they can offer it up for the kid with whom they got in the fight that landed them there. If we have been in a car accident and are feeling physical and emotional pain, we can offer it up for any others involved and for those who aid us afterward.

I find this even applies to fasting. I am no good at fasting, frankly, but if I know I am fasting for the needs of another or in solidarity with another, it becomes much easier to keep that commitment, to make sacrifices and to pray more frequently. Why? I am offering it up.

In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice. 
-Viktor Frankl

And I have strong faith in its effectiveness. Christ can do more with our big and little trials than we can. He can, quite miraculously, work them for the good of another - of many others, I believe, if we cultivate this habit of giving it fully and humbly to our Redeemer.




Monday, August 15, 2016

The Water (story of a creek hike continued)



My family went hiking by beautiful Clear Creek in west central Arizona this summer. You can read of our adventure in the post "A Creek Runs Through It" at my other blog. I'll share this excerpt here:

It was at this swimming hole that I shed frustration and felt joy while watching my children revel in the water, enjoying nature giddily. They splashed around and fought the current and scrambled up slippery rocks and waded through deep narrow places in the stream, laughing, and I was right behind them, reliving my childhood and drinking from the fountain of youth in the only and best way.

In that post I tried my best, as writers always do, to show just how that creek water made me feel as I watched my children play in it and pushed my own legs against its current joyfully, all of us fully engaged.

I'm attempting to do so again, because I didn't succeed the first time.

In talking about it with my husband Matthew one evening over port, I expressed the opinion that writers are not free to say that they don't have the words for an experience or feeling. We're supposed to find the words.

He disagreed.

In our conversation I rambled off adjectives, tired ones, insufficient ones, and still could not express fully how that fresh water made me feel. He told me to admit my wordlessness, use my weary adjectives, and let my readers imagine for themselves how astonishingly cool creek water pulsing against their legs on a dry, hot summer's day might make them feel.

For me it was a spiritual experience...

Perhaps it reminded me of the love that filled my youth, of the company of my siblings, parents and family pets, of a childhood ensconced in nature...

But there was also the mystical temperature of the water.

I tried so hard to find words fit to describe it. Unlike every other creek I have ever known in my life that makes you shrink from its stark chill, momentarily shocked even on a scorching day, this creek's water was stunningly cool in a way that drew you in deeper, made the cold and the damp a vital, invigorating part of that moment, and made you feel wholly revitalized as you walked on the slippery surface beneath its powerful current.

Instead of making me recoil at first entry, it made me feel reborn, super-humanly alert, in harmony. I wanted to wade in it all day with my four happy children.

My little guy waits
Later, after hiking up the creek to some lovely spots, I sat for several long minutes atop a red rock at that original swimming hole, staring into the deep, eddying green below and trying to find the courage to push my body off into that inscrutable water.

My son Berto and daughter Ana had already done it easily and encouraged me to go ahead.

When I finally dove in as we were supposed to leave, my brave plunge reminded me of baptism. For a few seconds I was thrust into darkness as if into death. Then I pushed out of that beautiful pristine water, more fully alive.

And I thanked God for the memories of that creek explored and that day enjoyed in the company of my family.




Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sin and Forgiveness

People talk about feelings of "not being enough". So many pieces have been written and shared on that nagging feeling concerning parenthood and many other vocations.

Well, my greatest fear has always been not being good enough for God.

I told my husband this morning that I had that feeling even as a child. My chances of getting to heaven and being with God, seeing the face I longed to see, felt like 50/50 at best sometimes. Yet even as a child I remember telling my dad that all I could do was try, because without God, without seeking and loving and drawing closer to Him, life had no meaning for me - not even all the gifts and blessings it contained. For all those were drawn from Him, I believed.

And so I still struggle with this. I struggled anew with it throughout yesterday and this morning, picking at my many sins like pesky threads hanging lose from my soul.

That is why I cried when a timely reminder in a song I had never heard before, MercyMe's  "Greater", came on the radio while I was on my way to church. It addressed "not being good enough" and the voices that assert it, and then:

"I hear a voice, and He calls me redeemed 
When others say I'll never be enough"

and

"There'll be days I lose the battle. 
Grace says it doesn't matter, 
'Cause the cross already won the war. 
I am learning to run freely, 
Understanding just how He sees me, 
And it makes me love Him more and more."

My amazement at God's way of communicating His love to us when we're discouraged continued when I got to church, and all the readings pertained to God's incredible mercy, a compassion defying and overpowering human beings' capacity to sin.

The first reading was about David killing Uriah in order to gain for himself Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. And what happened? Nathan, a prophet of God, showed up and told David - after David acknowledged that he had sinned against the Lord - that God had forgiven him.

Really? Yes, really.

In the second reading, St. Paul pointed out that we can never make it through our own works, and then he firmly stated that "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me." There is our hope for righteousness, our hope for victory. We cannot do it through our own work, but through Christ Jesus.

I resigned myself to crying silently, overwhelmed with gratitude and love, when I heard the Gospel:

A Pharisee invited him to dine with him and he entered the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flag of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner." Jesus said to him in reply, "Simon, I have something to say to you. "Tell me, teacher," he said. "Two people were in debt to a certain creditor, one owed five hundred days' wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?" Simon said in reply, "The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven." He said to him, "You have judged rightly." Luke 7:36-43 (NAB)

Her said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." The others at table said to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" But he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Luke 7:48-50 (NAB)

I can imagine myself kissing Jesus' feet and washing them with my hair. That was not always so, but I have matured and found greater meaning in Scripture since I began to realize just what a sinner I am.

Our priest in his homily this morning referenced the song "Love and Marriage". It was stuck in his head and driving him crazy this weekend, but he realized that just as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, so does sin and forgiveness.

My good friend Geraldine said that the Prodigal Son parable made her realize that God's capacity to judge justly and forgive is greater than ours to sin - so great, in fact, that we cannot comprehend it.

And so I ask, can our sins bring us closer to God? Can my sins bring me closer to the One I love and seek? Absolutely. This is what I mean:

When we realize and acknowledge our sins and then realize the capacity of our Heavenly Father to forgive those many sins - and that He does indeed forgive them - we become like the woman who washed, kissed and anointed Jesus' feet.

We love our Lord so very much, and our faith in Him is our salvation.


Friday, April 15, 2016

Going to Church


A week ago I was telling an acquaintance that I would need to miss my daughters' soccer games on Saturday, because my sons and I had a friend's confirmation Mass to attend at which my eldest son would altar serve. I told her a lot of children were being confirmed, so there was little chance we could catch any part of the games. (Our parish has a Vietnamese and Spanish Mass, so there were a great many children from our diverse community being confirmed and receiving Holy Communion.)

This acquaintance responded in typical fashion and tone about how long the Mass would be.

Indeed, it was a long Mass. My mind wandered several times, and I had to call it home repeatedly. I swallowed a yawn very clumsily a couple times, because I had gone to bed too late the night before.

But I was happy to be there. Children were fully entering our Christian community, receiving Jesus for the first time in the Eucharist.

That was a special Mass, but I have heard people complain that even Sunday Mass is too long, and I wonder if they have ever been to a worship service where our Protestant brothers and sisters spend at least two, sometimes three or more hours at church.

Catholics believe - I believe - that it is a grave sin as a Christian not to go to church on Sunday just because you don't feel like it. It is breaking one of the 10 commandments: remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Yet, going to church just to take role call - I'm here, God! I showed up, punch my card and let me get out of here as soon as possible! - is not being present in the right spirit, open to grace and revelation and mercy. As the gospel singer Keith Green pointed out: "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than going to MacDonald's makes you a hamburger!"

Keith Green defined a Christian in childlike, simple terms: someone who is bananas for Jesus!

Yes.

I'm bananas for Jesus. I don't think I show it half the time, but I am bananas for Him. Why?

_I recognize that there is such a thing as sin. It wreaks havoc in our world, because we wish to remain blind to it.

_I believe and profess with my whole heart that Jesus died for our sins.

_I recognize that I am, in fact, a big and habitual sinner. Just like the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her hair, I have been forgiven much and so I love much. And more every day.

Why am I happy to be at church, to go to Mass?

Because it's really very little for God to ask of us after all He has offered to us through His Son. Yes, we give Him thanks for His great glory - of which our lives are a crucial part. If we believe that the very stars pull their strength from him, that he is above, beneath, behind and ahead of every living thing, I want to show up on the day assigned for our rest, for family, friends and leisure - Sabbath being made for man, and not man for Sabbath - and thank Him profusely for it all. I want to be as close to Him as I can get, at the very least once a week.

Even our beloved God-man Jesus Christ told his mother and foster father when he was twelve years old, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And how often in the Gospels does it describe Him preaching in the temple area?

So I guess that's it, really. For me, a common sinner, a church is like a lighthouse, pulling me across the tumultuous sea of every day strife and the noise of my own mind toward God. And though I feel very near Him sometimes even in my own front yard or comfy recliner, church is His house, and I want to be in my Father's house.




Friday, March 25, 2016

Humble God



Yesterday while watching our parish priest kneel and kneel again on the hard sanctuary steps to wash the feet of twelve people who volunteer in our parish, I was struck by the outrageous fact that God Himself washed the dirty feet of rough and humble men.

In the Gospel it tells us that Jesus removed his outer garment, wrapped a towel about his waist, and washed the disciples' feet. Of course, Peter didn't want his Messiah to wash his feet:

"Master, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered him, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me."

After he had performed this act of service for the apostles, Jesus said:

"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."


And there I encounter in my Savior's words again a crazy truth about this God-man that we Christians love so madly. Sometimes more than God's majesty and power, I am astounded by His humility. Born in a stable where animals lived and ate, raised as a carpenter's son, lived as an itinerant preacher in the last few years before his Crucifixion, followed by fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes. Humble. He even chooses to describe Himself so:

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light." Matthew 11:28-30


And he tells us that we must be so:

At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven, Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:1-4


"You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:25-28


The Son of Man, the firstborn among many brethren through whom we become the adopted sons and daughters of God, came not to be served but to serve.

Holy Thursday Mass reminds us of that every year as we watch our priests wash feet and then we participate in the Eucharistic prayer from the Last Supper - that Christ came to serve and be our perfect paschal sacrifice, so that death would pass over us. 

This is the Son of God who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey's back. At the Last Supper he took the wine and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you." (Luke 22:20) When he had endured torture, a crown of thorns was shoved upon his head, and soldiers spat on, hit and mocked him, Jesus said nothing. 

That is unbelievable humility. 

We must try to be like him. As our parish deacon reflected in his Holy Thursday homily, we must remove our outer garments of privilege, pride, selfishness and fear, and put on the apron of service for those who need us to be Christ to them.  

As St. Paul said:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
and found human in appearance, 
he humbled himself
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
(Phillipians 2:5-8)




Friday, March 11, 2016

Power made perfect in weakness

My response to God often entails weeping. I weep sometimes in my awareness of His Presence. I weep in gratitude. I weep sometimes because I feel I have offended Him. I weep for joy.

I guess I have never really been the dance about and laugh girl in God's Presence. Of course, I feel joyful and smile when I glimpse Him in a sunset, hear Him in the words of a neighbor, or gaze into my children's faces, amazed at what He has done for me in making me their mother, what He has created and given me a part in.

But I cry more easily. I sob when I hear stories of conversion. The tears roll quietly down my cheeks during hymns at Mass. I start to cry while telling others of guidance He gave to me quickly after I requested it, or how He turned an uncontrollably bad situation or my own big mistake into something good - that never ceases to amaze me.

This past Saturday was a terrible day. It didn't start out that way - which made it all the more surprising when an old vexation came back to haunt me, and I ended the day resentful, hurt and confused - feeling for all the world as if I had been set up by the promise of clear, hopeful skies only to be greeted with another thunderstorm. (The thunderstorm was really quite a small episode, but it discombobulated me anyway.)

I was chagrined that my Saturday ended poorly, because on Sunday I had Children's Liturgy to lead. It has begun to seem inevitable that when I need to be in a proper emotional and spiritual state for the kids that I - usually - engage in some kind of strife in the days preceding.

But Sunday morning dawned, and I felt partly refreshed and subdued. When I got to Mass I said a version of the prayer I say every week before Children's Liturgy.

Father, you know I'm here to serve you, that I want to serve you. Forgive me my sins. And bless me, so that I may serve your little ones by serving you and that through your blessing I may glorify your name and do your will. In Jesus' name, Amen

And so it was that though my Saturday had been filled with strife I largely created because of my sensitivity, I stood at the ambo in the side chapel and read to the children the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son. I was so immersed in the parable, that when I got to the part, "So the young man started home...", I got choked up very suddenly.

I paused and tried to collect myself.

What should I do? It was obvious that I wasn't going to get through it without many tears. Should I ask my oldest daughter Ana to take over? Should I call for my husband, Matthew, who looked concerned, to step in? The children were looking at me in surprise but with great attention. Both actions would seem to make the situation more awkward, and I might then break down completely, so I continued to choke out the words:

But while he was still a long way off,
hie father saw him coming and ran out to meet him.
He took his son into his arms and kissed him.
The young man said,
"Father, I have sinned against God and against you. 
I am no longer good enough to be called your son." *

After making it through the emotion of those lines, I was given a reprieve; I regained some of my composure as Jesus tells us of the father's loving, merciful and joyous reaction to his errant son's return.

There are times when I feel that God wants me to allow others to see my weaknesses and my struggles, so that He can thereby reach others. I think He wanted the children to see me sob during such a story of forgiveness.

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 more gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me." 2 Corinthians 12:8-9 (NAB)

God's power was present this last Sunday at Children's Liturgy. Jesus took my hand and turned the day around. None of my usual obstacles confronted me. I didn't struggle with a consistent theme. I didn't get lost in the bushes. There wasn't abundant unnecessary repetition. The children were uncommonly helpful, calm, and attentive and very insightful.

It was probably the best Children's Church I have ever led.

And so it was that I came away astounded at God's power being made perfect in weakness this last Sunday. After such a Saturday could derail my best intentions, such a glorious Sunday dawned all the brighter still.


*Translation from Children's Liturgy preparation materials


Saturday, March 5, 2016

What I mean when I say "women's rights"

I told a gentleman recently that I feel very strongly about women's rights.

He responded that women's rights here in America are different from other places in the world.

He was absolutely right, and that was in large part what I meant. I referenced places like the Middle East, Central America and even India.

But I had misgivings that I did not clarify my original strong statement on "women's rights". It occurred to me that in the western world, that so often means supporting abortion and contraceptive rights. It also sometimes means one is a feminist.

I am not a feminist. I believe very definitely in the equality of the sexes, in their complementary characteristics, but I do not believe women should want to be like men. 

Abortion I find to be an unequivocal evil. I am not dim-sighted. I know there are myriad reasons in our culture why women choose or are pressured into such a terrible decision, but it does not change the basic nature of the procedure - to destroy life. Nevertheless, I thank God for groups like Tears Speak, but Spirits Soar in which women who have experienced the soul-deadening aftermath of abortion can find solace and support from fellow women who know just what they have gone through and why they did it.

Contraceptive rights are very complicated, but though I can understand the impulse to rely blindly on them, I firmly believe our reliance on artificial methods of family planning do far more harm than good for society and for women particularly. My church says they are in fact wrong, and I must agree.

So what do I mean when I speak so fervently about women's rights?

Primarily, I mean the right for women in every nation to decide their own destiny. I mean the right for a young girl to choose not to be married to an older man at far too young of an age. I mean the right for women to be freely involved in society - in its governmental bodies and business and every place in it that they can attain by exercising their intellect, will, and acumen. I mean the absolute right of women to equal education and opportunity. I mean the right of women not to be treated as property or as sexual objects. I mean, most devoutly, the right of women and girls not to be molested or raped by their classmates at college, their superiors in the military, occupying troops or any male - ever.

If a woman wants to be a mother above all else, staying home and dedicating all her knowledge and heart to her family, may God bless her endeavors. If a woman wants to charge the corporate ladder or start her own business and gradually outrank the competition, may God bless her efforts. If a woman wants to never marry and dedicate her life to the poor, the physically or mentally challenged, or to the cause of rescuing other women from hell, may God guide her.

Women's rights are about basic human rights: the right to life, liberty, and the beautiful and challenging pursuit of happiness. 

We deserve and should always demand love, respect and opportunity.




Friday, February 19, 2016

Accidents

Earlier this week I saw a terrible accident when getting off the freeway.

Of course, I was impatient as the traffic inched forward, wondering about the delay, but as soon as I saw the mangled, empty vehicles and the fire truck, my heart changed. I prayed the Hail Mary, asking our Mother to pray for those involved, as I cried.

Later that afternoon while waiting for my oldest to get out of school, my daughter told me about a death penalty case the teacher and students had discussed in school while on the topic of legalism. A teenage girl had swerved in her car one night and hit a mother and her child in another vehicle, killing both.

I was confused as to how this related to the death penalty until Ana explained that the police were able to prove by a text the girl had sent before the crash and by the swerve marks from her vehicle that she had fully intended to hit another car that night. In the text to a boyfriend with whom she had just broken up, she stated that intent.

Then I understood. While speaking to my daughter about this crime, I expressed my firm belief that it was indeed murder. Whether murder was the girl's intention, only God knows. In explaining my feelings to Ana, I told her that I have very low tolerance for anyone who deliberately endangers others while driving a vehicle, particularly in deciding to drive drunk or under the influence of any substance that impairs judgment.

When my son got in the car, he saw that I was upset and asked what we had been discussing.

"The death penalty."

"I'm against the death penalty."

Then began a guessing game. I guessed he felt so, because death penalty appeals cost the state millions. No. I then suggested it was because people were wrongly convicted. No, though that was acknowledged to be a very good reason.

"I'm against the death penalty, because if people spend the rest of their lives in prison, they have more time to come to God."

I heartily agreed with that.

I used to feel that every person in prison who cried, "I've found Jesus!" was scamming. I used to believe the death penalty should be speedily administered.

Now I find that I do believe conversion is possible in a jail cell and that I hope people have enough time to convert.

I was in prison, and you visited me. Matthew 25:37


It was then that my emotions overtook me again as I spoke about the motorcyclist who died after he hit our minivan more than three years ago. It was bound to come up after the wreck I had seen and the discussion with my daughter about a deadly, devastating crash.

As I sobbed, I explained that that was why I was so upset about the motorcyclist's death. Based on what authorities said he allegedly had on his vehicle and in his bloodstream, I don't know where he was in life when he died. I know it isn't my business, but it caused me much grief in the months afterward. If he had only stopped at an earlier intersection when he rear-ended a woman's car and tipped his bike, accepting any consequences for whatever substances could be found on his person. She had asked if he was okay and offered to call the police, but he sped away.

He then hit our van and later died. He wasn't wearing a helmet.

It's a little strange that I still cry sometimes about this stranger's death these few years later. My family doesn't understand it.

My husband reminded me that evening when my eyes were mostly dry, though red and puffy, that I know nothing about that man's life. Perhaps he was a decent person or a troubled soul or someone who treated others very poorly. I cannot know.

It's similar to what a friend told me soon after: perhaps he might have done more harm to someone else if he had not hit our van that day.

I cannot speak on the subject. For months after that accident I prayed for the motorcyclist's soul, and I prayed for his family. That was all I could do with what I felt, offer it up for someone's good.

Because God brought good out of that experience for me. As I explained to my kids during our emotional discussion, I never was angry with God that I got hurt that day. If anything, I was too profoundly grateful that my children were safe to be angry. I felt strongly then, and I feel passionately now, that God's angels wrapped my children up in His protection. And I thank God. I thank God.

And my injuries were meant for my good. God taught me compassion, gratitude and empathy through that painful experience. In my life I have always felt guilty. Why am I so blessed when others suffer so terribly? I was given a little suffering that day - though not comparable to what so many in this world experience - and God turned it into good, into charity.

This is the meaning of suffering in part for me, that we use it for another's good if we can. This is why women who have had abortions lead support groups for others who have experienced its spiritual, emotional and mental agony. This is why former prostitutes hit the streets to rescue other girls; only they can truly understand and evangelize. This is why parents who have lost children to terminal illness set up foundations in their honor to research and fight disease.

And though it is perhaps little by comparison, I prayed.



Friday, February 12, 2016

God speaks

This morning a talk show host named Patrick Madrid on Catholic Radio told of how he was at a conference, speaking to a group of men. Another gentleman spoke of appreciating and using our time wisely, and to illustrate his point he spoke of a certain situation that struck right at the heart of the talk host's current experience with his elderly grandmother who resided in a nursing home.

And Madrid said that he knew immediately that God was using that other gentleman to speak to him. The man had not looked at the host of one of Catholic radio's morning programs, had not seemed to be talking to him specifically at all. Nevertheless, Madrid was absolutely convinced, because of the on-point comment, that God had used the conversation to speak directly to him about his choices.

Alone in the car I nodded my head and said aloud, "Yes, He was."

Of course, because of his conviction about the message, Madrid began visiting his grandmother much more often as soon as he got home from the conference.

My husband and I had a similar situation. His grandmother used to live close to us. At the time we had babies and little ones, and the drive - thirty minutes or so - seemed often to be too long, especially with a baby possibly wailing in her car seat. Even when Grandma called sometimes, I did not give her the time I should have. I was in a rush to know what she wanted to tell me. My life seemed so full of people who needed me and a house that demanded my attention.

We were young and foolish.

Now? I regret that we didn't drive out more often to spend time with Grandma, that I didn't sit and listen to more of her family stories and look over the photo albums one more time or ask more about her own upbringing and youth. At her funeral I held my two-month-old youngest daughter and cried uncontrollably. Grandma had waited for the birth of that newest member of her family, we felt, before succumbing to her illness. We had taken Ella to see her in hospice.

A friend of Grandma's came up to me at the funeral and asked how far we lived away. I think I made it sound farther than I should have, for the woman said very pointedly, "It wasn't that far at all, was it?"

Perhaps Grandma had confided in her that her grandson's family didn't often come to visit. Perhaps God was telling me something about managing time wisely with those we love before the time is up (and exactly when we never can know). I don't know. At the time, the friend's words felt like a barb, and maybe they were supposed to be.

I do know there have been many times in my life when I felt wholeheartedly that God was using another of his children to speak to me. I talk about some of those times HERE and HERE. There was even a time when I felt He spoke directly to my heart.

Gratitude is the primary thing I feel when I recall how He used others to guide, uplift, energize or admonish me. He's talking to me. He cares. He speaks. I need only acknowledge that I hear and understand, so that I can go in the direction He is guiding me with great confidence.

As a priest called Father Davern once told our parish, a lot of what we learn about God, we learn from each other.

We never know from whom the message might come. Will we listen to, recognize and accept it?

By God's grace, may we always.




Friday, January 15, 2016

Come, Holy Spirit

Grace is not a lightning strike. It does not leave a moment after it has altered our lives and energized hope.

It was not merely there at our baptism or at the moment we acknowledged that Jesus is Lord, our Savior.

Accompanying us through this life in all its joy and tribulation once we become the adopted children of God through Jesus Christ, it is truly the gift that keeps on giving: keeps molding us to Christ, increasing that supernatural love within us otherwise known as charity, and continues to lift us up again and again whenever we have failed to act like the One who died for us.

By grace we are renewed each day, reawakened, called anew to follow Christ. Our spiritual life, just like our temporal life, is a journey. On it we have the company of the most extraordinary and faithful friend, the Holy Spirit.

To deny our Friend's presence would be to deny our renewal and our hope. For each time we trip or fall or face-plant on the road, it is the Holy Spirit that gives us the courage to get back up and try again. And again. And again. And forever, enduring to the end of the race.

Each fresh day is a fresh opportunity to live as a child of God, in hope, love and peace.

Each fresh day affords us the opportunity to ask for more grace, more love, more understanding, more courage and resilience.

Grace is always with us, and it always helps us to change for the better when we welcome it in earnest.





Come, Holy Spirit,

Fill the hearts of Your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Your love. 

Send forth Your spirit and they shall be created. 

And You shall renew the face of the earth.

A traditional Catholic prayer


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