Tuesday, January 31, 2012

This Grace is for You

The last two lines of yesterday’s blog got me thinking about the Miraculous Medal (MM).    There are several lessons to be learned from the MM, one of those lessons is that God offers graces of which we forget to ask.  
My two year old is fighting the idea of taking a nap right now and I need some grace - I’m not sure which grace, though.  Is there such a grace as “For the mother of a 2 year old”?  Let’s see if I have the grace to write a blog and get him to go to sleep without my head spinning around a’la “The Exorcist”.
The story of the MM is pretty amazing.  Mary, the Blessed Mother, appeared to St. Catherine LabourĂ©, a Daughter of Charity, several times between 1830-1.  Here’s the short version of the story: Mary told Catherine that she wanted a medal made.  Mary gave Catherine permission to tell her Confessor and in the course of her life only told three people about the apparitions.  The development of the medal was slow so Mary appeared a final time to tell Catherine she wasn’t happy.  Catherine told her Confessor and then the production of the medals got into high gear.  During her lifetime, Catherine always denied being the one to whom Mary appeared.  And finally, after Catherine’s death she did not decompose!  She is an incorruptible because during the first apparition she touched Mary.
I don’t know about you, but if Mary appeared to me I’d be asking everyone if I’d gone crazy and hadn’t noticed.  Secondly, the whole incorruptible “thing” seems inconceivable until I saw St. Catherine with my own eyes.  She looks like she’s sleeping and she died 135 years ago!  
The front of the MM shows Mary standing on the globe with her hands outstretched.  From her hands are beams, some are radiant and some are in shadow.  Mary told Catherine that God is waiting to pour out his graces on the world, but people need to ask for them.  
Some people might read this and think it’s superstitious Catholic stuff and others might think it’s plain, old crazy.  But, why not?  If God can “overshadow” a young girl so that she can give birth to the Son of God, then why can’t God allow Mary to appear to us today?  If God can resurrect and utterly change Jesus’ physical nature, then why can’t a saint not be touched by death?  God wants to be in relationship with us and apparently France in the 1830’s needed a big demonstration of how much God wanted that relationship.  However, what was true in 1830 in France is still true today.  
What grace do you need that you haven’t ask for?
***2 year old update*** still not sleeping, banging on the door, screaming “Mama”.  I’m gonna’ go pray for some grace right now.  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunshine in January

It’s a beautiful day in the Mid-South.  The temperature is close to 60° F and it’s sunny. There is a pretty stiff breeze to remind you that it is still the season of Winter.  Winter is different in the Mid-South.  Freezing temperatures are not uncommon, but it normally warms up during the day.  The problem is the humidity and cold combine to make the kind of cold that gets into your bones.  Warm sunshine in the middle of Winter is a beautiful thing.
Today’s first reading from 2 Samuel (15:13-14, 30, 16:5-13) offers a small stream of sunlight for David in the midst of a harsh winter.  Even though David was a man after God’s own heart, he was still a sinner; to be precise an adulterer and murderer.  Absalom, David’s son, wanted to kill him; the family of Saul, the former king, wanted to kill David; and, Shimei, a member of Saul’s family comes out hurling stones and curses at David.  Not a good day for the king.  
King David’s response is astounding, though.  He tells his men to let Shimei to curse him and maybe God will look with favor on David another day.  Wow!  In the midst of struggle David puts God first.  And, in the midst of clouds, David can see a silver lining.  This is why he was a man after God’s own heart.  David was far from perfect, but he always returned to the Lord after he messed up.  The goal of Satan is to get me to sin and then turn even further away from God.  
Faith allows me to trust that God will shine upon me even if I can’t see or feel Him.  Faith gives me strength to turn again and again to the Lord after I have screwed up.   Where in your life do you need to feel the shining warmth of God?  Ask God for the grace of His sunshine. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Disease & Tyranny

Did you hear the news?  Apparently, pregnancy is a disease that needs to be treated.  There is a pill you can take so that you won’t get this horrible disease and there is an invasive surgical procedure that will rid you of the “diseased cells.”
The disease of pregnancy is so horrible that the U.S. Government is forcing the Catholic Church to not only abandon it’s teaching on birth control and abortion, but the Catholic Church is to fund it through insurance.  
You’d think there would be some kind of loophole for an institution as large as the Church and outspoken on the sanctity of life.  Sure there is.  Only Catholics can be employed, only Catholics can receive the services, and the services can only be religious instruction .  I’m not sure the Pope could qualify for the exemption.  The Catholic Church has one year to comply with the new law.
I find this terribly disturbing for two reasons.  First, I’ve been pregnant twice and I didn’t realize I was diseased.  In fact, my husband, family, friends, and doctor were thrilled!  The only time I felt even remotely diseased was toward the end of the pregnancies when I thought the baby was eating my brain; turns out it was sleep deprivation. 
Second, I thought my religious practices were protected in the Bill of Rights.  I’d like to put in a snide description here about groups that are protected, but I decided against it.  
I am a Catholic.  I am pro-life.  I am an American.  I’m fine if other people disagree with the Catholic faith or my pro-life stance.  Let’s talk about it.  
But, there is no room for discussion with Kathleen Sebelius and the Obama Administration.  The message that has been sent is: me and my Catholic faith can piss off.  Well, I’m pissed off, but not the way I think they want me to be.  No government can force me to disobey my conscience - that’s TYRANNY!  
Please contact your Senators, Representatives, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the President.  Tell them that America was not made for tyranny.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where's the chocolate?

It’s been a long day at the Darr household.  My son is driving me to eat chocolate...or drink wine, I haven’t decided yet.  There are few things more trying on one’s patience than a whiny toddler trapped inside on a grey and rainy day.  Mommy thought it might be a great day to try potty training...yeah, not so much.  If whining and throwing temper tantrums were Olympic sports, then I’m pretty sure my little guy could place for a medal.  
(Nearly) Everything I said today sent him into whining or a temper tantrum on the floor.  “Please pick up your blanket.”  Whhhhaaaaaaaaa!  “No, don’t color in mommy’s book.”  Thrashing and gnashing of teeth and a little spitting.  “Ask without whining.”  Up pleeeeeeeeeeeeease.  Holy mother of pearl, I am ready to lose my mind! 
Like most days of being a theology nerd and a mommy, I started to think about the correlation between parenting, me, and God.  Today is the feast of Sts. Timothy and Titus.  I read the opening of 2 Timothy this morning, before all the whining started.  2 Tim 1:7 states “...for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  Self-discipline isn’t exactly self-taught; you need someone to teach you to control yourself at a young age.  I am not to be a coward and give up in the “stop whining” department or training up my little guy to control himself.  I’m the one with the power in this relationship (at least that’s what I tell myself) and I love my little boy more than I can express.  I’ve got a job to do.  I am a Mom.
The whining continues with bursts of shrieking, but my most blessed and excellent husband has taken the reins so that I can go eat chocolate...and drink a glass of wine.  

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Does Rt. 30 go to Damascus?

You got to love St. Paul.  He went from being the number one persecutor of the first Christians to being their biggest apologist.  That is a major conversion!  One minute killing Christians and the next minute building up the Church all because he met the Risen Lord.  Paul’s first brush with Christ was very dramatic: bright light, voice from heaven, knocked off a horse, blinded.  It’s so Hollywood.  I started thinking about my own brushes with God; none of them have been that dramatic, but one stands out as being pivotal.  God will use whatever means necessary to reach us, even the radio.  
Two weeks after my daughter was stillborn I was very upset and angry.  I went to pray at church very  early, about 6 am.   The parish had Adoration most of the day and I needed to talk to Jesus, actually I needed to yell at Jesus.  There were several people in church praying as the day began.  I knelt in a back pew and hoped no one would hear my crying; I was in no mood to talk to anyone but God. 

Here is a quick Catholic lesson:  We believe that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist (it looks like a communion wafer).  Yes, Jesus is fully present in the Eucharist.  Adoration is when the Eucharist is on display for veneration in a Monstrance, which is a a beautiful cross that often looks like a sunburst.  This is how I think of Adoration, Jesus is there looking at me and listening.  I get to look at Jesus and, ideally, my internal monologue will shut up long enough to listen to Jesus.  
I had it out with God in my head.  I was screaming my prayer at God and if no one was in church that morning I would have been screaming out loud.  The question on my mind that morning was “What am I supposed to do now?”  After about 20 minutes without any kind of indication that God was even listening to me, I got up to leave and as I was bowing in reverence, thinking about chucking my car keys at the Monstrance, I remember yelling in my head, If you actually want to talk to me, you know where to find me!  And then I stormed out of church.  
A few hours later I had my first post-stillbirth checkup.  It was supposed to be my 39 week checkup and instead it became my is-she-still-brushing-her-teeth-and-taking-a-shower mental health checkup.  I had a Christian radio station on and as I sat at a red light the answer to my prayer was being sung through the speakers by the group Tree 63.  The song Blessed Be Your Name was playing.  I owned the CD, I had heard the song many times, but it was as if I was hearing it for the first time.  The line that stood out was, “You give and take away, you give and take away.  My heart will choose to say, blessed be your name.”  The word ‘choose’ knock the breath out of me and if I was riding a horse like St. Paul I probably would have fallen off!  And then I heard that still, small voice say, “You can choose God or not choose God.  You can choose to believe or choose to turn away.  The choice is yours.”  I don’t know if it was the same still, small voice that Moses heard, but it certainly was an answer.  Will my heart choose to say blessed be your name now that my daughter was dead?  
I don’t know if I would ever have fully turned my back on God, but the thought did cross my mind a couple of times in the early weeks of grief.  As far as “conversion moments” go in the course of history, this particular one probably won’t be remember as a Damascus Road event, but it was a huge moment in my life when I knew God would really take everything I was ready to dish out.  
Everyday there is a question to be asked and a choice to be made.  Will I or won’t I choose Christ?  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Horrendous Evil

Yesterday was the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and today is the March for Life in Washington, D.C.  For some reason the statistics on abortion vary; I read one report that said 30 million babies have been aborted in the U.S since Roe v. Wade and then another said over 50 million.  Either way, those are horrifying statistics.  
A few weeks ago I read a news story about babies that had been aborted late term - some very late term.  The little bodies had been shoved into freezers.  This story make me sick for two reasons: First, I had a funeral for my little baby when she died of natural causes at 37 weeks.  I can’t imagine someone “disposing” of her in a freezer!  Second, whoever did these late-term abortions clearly knew they were doing something wrong.  Why else would they try to hide the bodies of babies?  It is a sign of guilt that they tried to cover it up.
A country that allows the destruction of innocent life is deeply sick in it’s psyche and soul.
Pray for the end to this modern slaughter of innocents.  Pray for the fathers and grandparents of aborted children.  Pray for the mothers of aborted babies.  And, do something to stand up to this horrendous evil.  I’ve taken part in praying at abortion clinics but every time it has been at night or on a Sunday when a time-slot needed to be filled.  However, as the 40 Days for Life prayer campaign approaches, I feel God is calling me to go and pray during operating hours.  Please pray that I have the courage to answer God’s call.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus and the Hoi Polloi

Today’s reading from Mark 3:7-12 painted quite a scene for my imagination.  People come from far and wide to see and hear Jesus.  He performed many miracles and as a result the crowd grows larger and larger to the point that Jesus is going to be crushed.  He tells the disciples to get a boat so that he can speak to the people and not be trampled.  This scene was the springboard for further pondering...
Imagine you’re one of the people in the crowd.  The crowd is enormous.  People behind you are carrying a crippled friend and they are ready to knock you to the ground to get to Jesus.  Personal space doesn’t matter.  There is jostling for position.  You’re on the verge of either a panic attack or decking the guy who keeps elbowing your kidney when Jesus speaks and a hush falls over the crowd.  The jostling stops and calm descends.
Jesus speaks with authority and talks about a God who loves the lost and the broken.  You’re lost, you’re broken, you could use some love from a God who knows you better than you know yourself.  The people around you are mesmerized.  
Then Jesus begins to speak about forgiveness.  He says you are to forgive always.  You hear someone behind you mumble, “You don’t know my brother-in-law.”  You hear someone else say, “This guy hasn’t met my wife.”  Jesus continues to speak about forgiveness and you see people trying to push their way out of the crowd.
Jesus continues to talk about those who will be with him in God’s Kingdom.  Jesus says that he is the Bread of Life and that you must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  “What?” cries the person in front of you, “That’s cannibalism!”  Many, many more people leave.  
These were the people who followed Jesus 2000 years ago and still follow him today.  Are you with the people who want the miracles and nothing else?  Are you with the people who don’t want to forgive?  Are you with the people who can not accept Jesus’ teaching about the Real Presence in the Eucharist?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are you a closet polytheist?

Tonight I get to do one of my very favorite things - teach about the Trinity.  I had jewelry shows the last two nights, so I thought I’d bust out the theology tonight!  The Trinity is the foundational theology of Christianity and yet so few Christians have a grasp on the Trinity.  
I was catechized during the “Rainbow and Sunshine Jesus” era (late 70s-80s) and didn’t have a very strong grasp on doctrine.  Even in grad school there were times I would learn some astounding theological point and I usually exclaimed, “I was raised Catholic why did I have to come to grad school to learn this?  This is important.”  One day I met with the professor of the Trinity class and I was reduced to tears at the awesomeness of the Trinity and the ignorance (I mean in that in the original meaning of the word) most people have of the teaching.  I remember saying, “If people only got the Trinity, then the world would be a much different place.”  
Christians throw around the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit very freely.  Some people pray to the Father, some to the Son, and some to the Holy Spirit.  I’ve met people who tell me I must address my prayers to Jesus and not God.  Really?  Isn’t the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit the same God?
I think a lot of Christians are actually polytheists but they don’t know it.  When I teach kids I ask for three people to stand in front of the class.  I emphasize that each one is a person and then I try to squeeze the three of them together.  Thus far, I have never made three persons into one.  The Persons of the Trinity are not separate gods; we believe in only one God.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Do you have a heart three sizes too small?

Everyone is called to conversion - even cradle Catholics.  Our lives should be filled with conversion moments where we are called into a deeper relationship with Christ.  If you respond yes to that call, then life has to change.  Today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark (2:18-22) bares that out with it’s images of feasting with the bridegroom, a tear of a cloak growing larger, and wine skins bursting.
One evening, during the first year of grad school, I was lying on the floor of what was supposed to be the dining room.  I didn’t own a table or chairs because I was a poor Divinity student so that area was my “pondering” space.  As I laid there, pondering, staring at the ceiling, it hit me that I could not go back to my old life.  “Well,” said my internal dialogue, “you could go back to your old life, but would you want to?”  And the answer was no.  Not only did I not want to go back to my old life as a pastry chef, I didn’t want to go back to the old me.  Christ had called me to a deeper relationship; he’d asked me to take a big chance by going into ministry.  Amazingly, my life had not imploded as I feared it would.  Life was better.  I was happier.  Sure, I still had struggles and I didn’t own a table or chairs, but it was a better path than the one I had been on.
The point of today’s Gospel passage is that a new life can not fit into your old one.  You are not the same person when Christ comes calling and Christ doesn’t want you to live your old, sinful life.  It’s like the Grinch after he realizes what Christmas is all about.  His withered heart could not contain his new found knowledge and love.  His heart had to grow.  
Where in your life are you like the Grinch with a heart 3 sizes too small?  Christ will give you the grace you need to grow your heart.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Oh what a tangle web we weave...

Yesterday I discovered that I was a victim of an elaborate lie.  
Last week I briefly blogged about the stillbirth of my daughter (Been there) after I got a phone call from a friend telling me about another woman’s stillbirth.  I know the pain my husband and I went through after our daughter died and my heart went out to her.  I offered my help and I asked people to pray for her. The truth came out a few days later - this woman faked her pregnancy after an early miscarriage.  
I was walking through Atlanta airport when I found out the truth and had to bite my lip hard to keep from screaming.  I can not put into words the shock and pain I felt.  That was my reaction and I don’t even know this person!  I can’t imagine what her husband, family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, etc. are going through.  I also can’t imagine the desperation that could justify such an elaborate deception.  
It got me thinking about two things: lies and forgiveness.
First, lying is a sin.  I don’t know about you, but I often come up with “good” reasons for my lies.  A lie is a lie no matter how you dress it up to make it look like it’s the truth.  Also, I can usually convince myself that a lie won’t hurt, but this situation is proof that lies can do far-reaching, unintended damage. 
Second, forgiveness is necessary.  The more I thought about this woman and her deception, my heart went out to her for a different reason.  My head was spinning with questions: what would make her concoct such a story?  Did she really think that she could get away with it?  What will happen to her marriage?  Clearly, this woman needs prayer.  The hurt she caused me was insignificant compared to the horrible damage she has done to those closest to her.  I needed to forgive this woman and pray for her because she is going to need it.  She is tangled in a web of lies and only prayer and forgiveness is going to get her out.  
“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”  Sir Walter Scott

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Did you hear that?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vocations lately.  I live in northern Mississippi (this Chicago girl never thought she’d be living in the South) and we are in mission territory.  Two weeks ago our pastor announced that he was being transferred to work in the provincial office and the parish isn’t getting a new priest.  Our parish will join a cluster of parishes that is served by four priests.  It’s been a shock to the system, but it is further evidence of the shrinking priesthood in the Catholic Church.  
Yesterday’s first reading was the Call of Samuel (1Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20).  God calls to Samuel repeatedly in the night, but Samuel thinks it is Eli the priest calling him.  After Eli is awoken by the precocious Samuel three times it is then that Eli realizes that it is God calling to Samuel.  Eli tells the young boy to respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  Once again God calls to the young boy and he responds as Eli instructed.
I call my son all day long and most of the time he doesn’t listen to me because it’s his job to ignore me; he’s two.  There are times when he has to listen, especially in dangerous situations, and I’m able to get his attention.  Most of the time he’s very good about listening to other people, but will he know when God calls to him?

My vocation is the same thing as God’s call.  I’ve been called to be a Divinity Diva, a wife, and a mother.  Part of my vocation as a mom is to be like Eli.  I am to listen with my son for God’s call.  Eli was a “vocations director” and that is an important job for every Catholic parent.  The future of the Church depends upon it.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Been there...

Earlier today I started today’s blog on 1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20 and then I got a phone call that knocked the wind out of me because something horrible happened - and that same thing happened to me a few years ago.
Three and a half years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child, a little girl.  We were so delighted and excited to be parents, but it was short lived.  At 37 weeks our baby girl was stillborn.
Life is so fragile and precious.
Please take a moment to pray for families who are grieving the loss of a baby.  And, then appreciate life: play with your child(ren), laugh with a friend, thank God for your blessings.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Bad Theology is Like Cheap Diapers

My son is 27 months old and I have been trying to introduce potty training for several months to no avail.  I want to get him on the potty and out of diapers as soon as possible.  For nearly the first year of his life I used cloth diapers, extra work on my part, but we saved a lot of money.  However, I haven’t been able to make the cloth diapers “work” since my son has increased his...uh...output, shall we say.  We have been dropping a lot of money into diapers and the only ones that have worked are an expensive name brand.  Thankfully, we can get them at a discount at a warehouse store, but I thought I’d save some money and try a generic brand again.  What a mistake!  In less than 48 hours he has peed through 4 times during the nighttime hours and then just before naptime today, total disaster!  I’ll spare you the details, suffice it to say that he had poop down is legs and all over the inside of his pants.  Diapers are supposed to prevent these sorts of things from happening, but it’s my own fault, I went the cheap and easy route.
And that’s when it hit me...bad theology is like cheap diapers.  Cheap diapers cost less money and you think you’re going to get the same results.  Bad theology is much the same; it sounds so much like the good theology, but sooner or later you wind up wearing poop!
What exactly is bad theology?  There are several things that can fall into this category: ancient heresies recycled for the 3rd millennium, New Age teachings, and anything that is Christianity-Lite (picks and chooses beliefs, but ignores the scandalous parts - like the Cross), and prosperity teaching.  Any of these cause me to go apoplectic (see my details in the side bar) because it willfully distorts the Truth.  Oh yeah, I just used a capital T in the word Truth!  I get a bit snarky when I start getting apoplectic.
Let’s take a prominent New Age teaching that we can “evolve” to a higher consciousness.  First, I don’t even know what the heck that means and that is the first sign of bad theology!  Anything that suggests that you have to be open to receive “secret” wisdom in order to be saved or evolve or whatever is not true.  Jesus told us everything we need to know in order to get to Heaven.  Now, there is a difference between not understanding and “secret” wisdom.  I can gain understanding, but secret wisdom suggests not everyone is going to let in on the secret; Jesus was very clear that His teaching is for the whole world, no exceptions.  Second, any theology or philosophy that says humanity can save itself is wrong!  If we could save ourselves, then why the heck haven’t we done so already and why would be it reserved for only a few people.  
Bad theology doesn’t start off by looking bad, actually it looks very attractive, just like cheap diapers.  However, once you start to delve into the teachings, you’ll discover that it can’t hold water, just like cheap diapers!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Spiraling Into Eternity

Yeah, Christmas is over, the Wise Men were here and gone, and we’re back to Ordinary Time.  I imagine it as a Hollywood director managing the liturgical calendar and shouting out orders for the next scene, “Thank you Magi, great job prostrating!  Gold, frankincense and myrrh - check, check, check.  Magi, if you could make a quick exit stage left, we need to move on.  Mary, darling, you were wonderful, as usual.  Could someone get this baby out of here?  Okay, bring in John the Baptist and where’s our adult Jesus?”
Not much time to contemplate the Epiphany this year, in fact, the Christmas Season is cut short since Christmas was on a Sunday.  I love the Christmas Season after Christmas Day.  I find it hard to find the time to contemplate the Incarnation of God as the infant Jesus on Christmas Day between breakfast, rushing off to Mass to get seats, unwrapping presents, preparing a feast, and finally feasting.  The whole day is a blur.  Thanks to the wisdom of the Catholic Church we get some extra time to contemplate Christmas.  
This year, I got cheated.  I was sad to see Christmas go, again.  I wanted some more time to wonder and that’s when I reminded myself how good it is to be Catholic.  Every year we mark the same Seasons and Feast days.  Each year we celebrate the same events, but each year it should be different.  And Ordinary Time isn’t ordinary.  It refers to ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc) and how we count the weeks of the liturgical year.
In “normal” life we think of time as a line with a start and end point.  In the Catholic Church, time is more like a spiral in a shell.  When we are young in the faith the spiral is small and tight; we take in the essentials of God.  As we grow up the spiral should become larger and wider; we gain deeper understanding with each year.  Our wider scope should take in more people and concerns as well.  It’s not just me and God.
So, Happy Ordinary Time!  Hope you enjoy your spiraling into Eternity!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cleaning Up Life's Messes

I clean up a lot of messes: messy face covered in food, messy floor covered in toys, and  a messy bottom covered in...well, you know what it’s covered in.  Everyday it’s the same thing, over and over and over again...oh hey! my son just dumped out all the toys I cleaned up.  Ugh!  
I could leave the toys sitting on the floor, walk around them all day long, and then clean them up after he goes to bed.  Or, I could just go on strike and refuse to clean up the toys.  The poem “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out” by Shel Silverstein comes to mind.  I had to recite this poem when I was in speech therapy as a kid because I had a lisp.  Every time I said s, c, or z wrong the therapist would click a lap counter.  To this day I hate lap counters, but I’m not scarred...much.  I digress.
Where was I?  Not picking up toys...The house would get messier and messier, then the regular cleaning wouldn’t get done because who would clean around lots of tiny toys.  And then we are left with nastiness!  
What if God stopped cleaning up our messes?  What if God stopped forgiving our sins?  Our souls would become as nasty as Sarah Cynthia Syliva Stout’s house!  Thankfully, God won’t stop doing that because it’s not who God is.  God is always there to forgive the sinner, but that does not mean that we should live our lives in souls that are mucky and nasty, filled with discarded banana peels and coffee grinds!  
I know many Catholics who are uncomfortable with “going to Confession” and the statistics suggests that 75% of Catholics don’t go to Confession or go less than once a year.  YIKES!  If a soul is like Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout’s house, then how can goodness, like the Eucharist, get in there and take effect?  If the Eucharist is food for the soul, then Reconciliation is cleansing crew for the soul.  When the soul doesn’t get a good cleaning, then the rottenness can spread and infect the healthy areas of the soul.  
One of the most important ministries for a Catholic priest to preform is the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Sarah was able to escape her house, but each of us has only one soul and you can’t go buy a new one.  Don’t be like Sarah, go take your soul garbage out!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spitting in the Face of God

Since I became a parent I often marvel at the relationship between parent and child and how it mirrors God and me.  Usually the thought makes me feel all warm and happy inside.  I know how much I love my little boy and God loves me (and every other person) beyond comprehension.  It’s amazing to feel so secure and loved.  And then there’s days like today...when the comparison makes me feel...not so happy.
I love being a parent and I deeply enjoy my two year old son.  It blows my mind when I think about how much he learns each day: language, motor skills, imagination, etc.  And then there is the learning agenda of the child: how can I press Mama & Dada’s buttons?  The most common avenues are: whining, temper tantrums, and refusing to eat.  My beloved little boy found out that hitting really pressed my buttons.  However, he has discovered, through repeated time outs, hitting is not okay.  Therefore, he has developed a new way to express his displeasure when he hears the word “no”, he spits.  And, depending on my proximity to him (i.e. kneeling, bending over, or holding him), he will spit in my face.  He doesn’t purposefully take aim at my face and I know that he does not understand the cultural significance of spitting in someone’s face, but it drives me crazy!
Now let’s move on to spitting at God.  It makes me shudder to think of the times I’ve spit in God’s face.  There have been times in my life that I’ve thought, “I’m going to sin and I don’t care.”  That is deliberately spitting in the face of God.  Not at all a pleasant thing to admit to (praise God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation!).  
There are also times when I’ve spit in God’s face and I wasn’t aware of it.  How is that possible?  Allow me to explain.  I like to think I rely on God, but the truth is I rely on me.  I do things that I know I can do.  Yeah, sure, I’ll pray about it and ask for God’s blessing, but I’m the one at the helm, not God.  It might not be spitting in God’s eye, but it sure is spitting in God’s general direction.  It says, “Thanks very much, but I got this one.”  
If my son spitting me in the face drives me crazy, what is God thinking?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Seeing You

If Jesus were to pop in on you today, say driving home or while you’re getting dinner ready, what would he call you?  Obviously, Jesus knows your name, but what name would he give you?
Today’s Gospel reading is from John 1:35-42; it is the calling of Simon Peter.  Simon was minding his own business when his brother comes along and says, “We’ve found the Messiah!”  If one of my brothers came to me saying that he’d met the Messiah, I’d go along to see who it was.  Jesus tells Simon his name (which is a little crazy since Jesus and Simon had never actually met) and then tells him his father’s name.  If it were me, Jesus would have my undivided attention.  Then, Jesus does something extraordinary, he gives Simon a new name, Peter, which means ‘rock.’
Jesus clearly knew things and I always wonder did Jesus know what Peter was going to do?  Peter tried to silence Jesus and then denied Jesus three times.  Simon deserved to be named Weak or Denier or Turncoat, but Jesus named him Rock.
It got me thinking about what I deserved to be called: Doubter, Scaredy-cat, Mute When You Shouldn’t Be.  Yet what does Jesus call me: Sister, Daughter, Friend, Committed, Perseverer.  God looks into the heart of everyone, beyond flaws and failings, and sees the person He created.  God sees what we are capable of, even when we can’t see it ourselves.  
The world saw Simon, son of John, as a backwaters fisherman; Jesus saw the Rock on which he would build his Church.  What does Jesus see in you?  By what name does Jesus call you?
And then, this is the harder part, who do you need to see differently?  Who needs you to see not what they deserve, but what they could be?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Can I Have Some Basil?

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Basil the Great.  I St. Basil!  I also St. Gregory of Nyssa (Basil’s brother) and St. Gregory of Nazianzus.  I love these theological giants who are known as the Cappidocian fathers because they helped to define and defend the theology of the Trinity.  
Together the Cappidocian fathers helped make great strides in defining the doctrine of the Trinity, most especially in combating the heresy of Arianism.  It might seem strange that the early Christians had to “figure out” the Trinity, but they did.  It wasn’t until the year 380 that the Trinity was defined in what is commonly known as the Nicene Creed.  That’s roughly 350 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!  It took the early Christians a long time to put words to their experience of God.  
St. Basil lived at a time when the nature of Christ was in question.  The controversy started with Arius (250-336 AD).  He taught that the God the Son, the second Person of the Trinity, did not always exist.  Rather, the God the Son was created by the eternal God the Father and, therefore, not equal to the Father.  This teaching became a huge threat to the unity of the early Church.  
Why would this matter?  You have to follow the theology all the way to the Cross.  If the Son of God is created, that means that while He might be similar to the Father, he is NOT the same as the Father.  Then the question becomes: how can a created being save us?  And, the answer is: a created being can not save us.  Only God can save us.  Only God taking on our fleshy, material nature can save us.  
In particular St. Basil is famous for clarifying the use of the words: Person and substance when referring to the Trinity and in helping to define the Holy Spirit (I’ll leave these for another day).
Why do we still honor St. Basil over 1600 years after his death?  Because how we understand and express the awesome Mystery of God matters.  Basil spent his life contemplating the Eternal; we are the heirs of his brilliance and dedication.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Wilderness of the Restless Heart

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
Confessions St. Augustine, Book 1, Chapter 1

The first time I read that quote I thought, "Oh my gosh!  That's it!  That is exactly what it feels like."  I am always comforted when I find out the saints were not always saints; it's nice to know that they struggled too.  

Today's Gospel is about the priests and Levities interrogating John the Baptist.  "Are you the Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?" No, no, and no.  John is the one who cries out in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord."  I started thinking about the exact definition of "wilderness" and one of the meanings is: inhospitable region. 
This reminded me of something I read last night in Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel:

      Through Mary's fiat, we glimpse one of the primary lessons of discipleship, a lesson it      
      takes a lifetime to learn: we are not in charge of our lives - God is in charge of our lives.  
      To know that is to be liberated in the truest sense of human freedom.  To know that is to 
      be set free from the restlessness that besets every human heart in every age. (Wiegel   

What an inhospitable place is a restless human heart!  Nothing can take root for very long - not happiness, not commitment, not fidelity, not peace.  If I am always looking around the corner for what might be the next thing (or person) that will finally make me happy, then I am never happy.  I will never be at peace.  I'm sure it's said of every generation, but it seems like our restlessness keeps increasing.  Hooking up and divorce rates are two examples of restlessness.

The only way to solve the restlessness is found in a moronic act (at least according to popular culture): turn your life over to God completely.  COMPLETELY - no holding little bits back here and there, or telling God how it's supposed to be, or thinking you know better than God.  Each time I resign a little more of myself, God moves in and the wilderness is replaced by an oasis of peace.   

Thank God I have a lifetime to figure this out!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking Mary in the Eye

Today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.  A solemnity is really special feast day. Think of it as a feast day on steroids!  Today the Catholic Church celebrates one of the oldest titles for Mary.   

Today's feast doesn't mean that Mary is literally the mother of God, as if she is eternal like the Trinity.  The title means that she carried within her womb the baby Jesus who was fully human and fully divine (the hypostatic union is for another day).  Mary was the earthly mother of Jesus.  Jesus needed to be cared for and loved and educated.  It is in this sense that she is honored as the Mother of God.  

I have to admit I didn't always "get" Mary.  I knew I needed to know more about this woman called the Mother of God so while in grad school I took a semester long class on Marian Tradition.  Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, O.P. started the first class by saying that she wanted to "kick the pedestal out from underneath Mary so that we can look her in the eye."  That is exactly what happened.

I saw the young girl who proclaimed her joy-filled yes to the angel.
I saw the young girl who completely resigned herself to God.
I saw the young girl who marveled at the mystery of her cousin's miraculous pregnancy.
I saw the young girl who pondered so many things in her heart.
I saw the worried mother looking for her child in the throngs of Jerusalem
I saw the supportive mother who was the first teacher of her son and his first disciple.
I saw the distraught mother who watched her son and her Lord be beaten and murdered.

When you look someone in the eye, you can see into her soul.  When I look into the eyes of Mary, I see someone who has far more faith than I do.  I see someone who is far holier than I am.  In the presence of such holiness, the natural response is to look down or look away because I am not holy.  Mary trusted in the Lord completely and never relied on her own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).  Mary deserves to be honored because of her faith and the example she sets for the rest of us.  

Perhaps this is why Mary (and other saints) wound up on pedestals so that we can literally look up to our spiritual superheroes.