Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vengeance versus Mercy

What would you do if God came to you and said, "I need you to do something for me.  Pack up, hop on a plane to X, walk through the city, declare that I, the Lord God, have seen their wickedness, and I'm going to destroy them in 40 days."?

This is what happened to the prophet Jonah and he was sent to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. first he ran away, there was a big storm, he was purposefully thrown into the sea, then swallowed by a great fish (often depicted as a whale), spit out on dry land, God said a second time, "Get your rear to Nineveh!"  God can be rather compelling.  

Today's first reading is from Jonah 3:1-10 and it is all about second chances.  Jonah gets a second chance to obey God's call and Nineveh gets a second chance.  The Lord tells Jonah to walk across the city and declare that in 40 days they will be destroyed because of the evil they have done (they haven't been very nice to the Israelites).  Nineveh is a huge city and it should take Jonah three days to spread the news, but before the end of the first day the news has spread.  Do they think Jonah is a nut-job?  Not a bit!  We are told that a fast was declared that very day - even the king and the nobles put on sackcloth and sat in ashes.  The king tells the people, perhaps the Lord will forgive them and relent.  After seeing the response from Nineveh, God did not carry out the destruction.  

Continuing on in the story, Jonah gets angry that God relented because Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed and since God wouldn't destroy the city Jonah wanted to die.  Ahhh...the difference between God and us.

There are two interesting points in the book of Jonah.  First, the people of Nineveh didn't proclaim a fast in the hopes of manipulating God into changing his mind because that wouldn't have worked.  They fasted because they believed what Jonah said.  They had remorse.  Second, Jonah was given a second chance to obey God and yet did not want Nineveh to receive a second chance.  

Is there someone in your life who has shown remorse?  How have you responded: are you like Jonah or have you shown mercy?

p.s. If you've never read the Book of Jonah, then I recommend it.  It's very short and there is a lot packed into four short chapters.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I'm a little parched

What is your favorite thing to drink when you're really thirsty?  

It's fairly easy to determine when I'm thirsty and it's normally an easy fix.  Grab a glass, fill it up with milk or water or lemonade (or margarita), and drink.  Viola!  Thirst subsides.

How do you know when your soul is thirsty?  What are the symptoms?  What is the cure?

Perhaps it's best to begin with why the soul thirsts.  The most obvious reason we thirst for God is because of sin.  Mortal sin, especially, places a lock on the spiritual fridge where the ice-cold water for the soul is stored.  All sin separates us from God, but mortal sin severs our ties with God.  Think of it way: a venial sin makes us like a 2 year old who can open the fridge door, but we're not tall enough to reach the shelves.  Mortal sin means we've been banished from the kitchen entirely because we reached up and grabbed a knife off the countertop; we think we don't need to listen to Daddy's rules, therefore we are kicked out so that we won't do further damage.  

The only way I can get access to God's Kitchen after I have sinned mortally is to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confess my sins with genuine remorse, and strive to never sin again.  If I confess a mortal sin thinking, "Yeah, I know I'm gonna' go do this again next week", then I'm really not looking to change my life and my relationship with God is not going to be restored.

The second reason we experience spiritual thirst is because it's part of our DNA.  God made me so that I would thirst for Him.  As St. Augustine said, "Our souls are restless until they rest in you."  God always wants a deeper relationship with us so sometimes He will withdrawn from me - just a bit - so that I will go deeper into my prayer, take my relationship more seriously.

Symptoms of a thirsty soul: The restlessness that St. Augustine refers to, asking questions about the faith, wanting to "do" something to be closer to God, thinking about going to Confession.  These are just a few of the signs.

The cure: prayer.  One word answer, but not an easy answer.  A good way to start is with the Lord's Prayer - and really pray it, think about the words Jesus gave us.  Why did he want us to pray in this way? 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hangin' with Jesus

As you walk up to your car you notice a guy in the passenger seat.  No one was in the car with you on the way to work or the grocery store or the mall, but now there is someone in your car!  You keep an eye on your car, staying several lengths away, and walk around to the front of the car while reaching for your phone.  You're ready to give a detailed description of the person in your car to the police.  As you start to dial 9-1-1, you hear someone call your name.  

You look up and drop your phone.  It's Jesus!  Jesus was the guy sitting in your car, now standing by the passenger door waving at you.  "Come here.  I need to talk to you."  You don't move and begin to think that your lunch has caused the worst case of indigestion you've ever experienced because you're hallucinating!  "You're not hallucinating!"  Jesus yells.  "Com'on, I need to talk to you."  

You slowly walk to your car, wondering if bumping your head on the kitchen cabinet this morning unhinged something in your head.  "This is not because of the kitchen cabinet."  You're looking at Jesus over the top of your car.  

"Am I dying?"  You ask.

"No, St. Michael the Archangel has that job."

"Oh...okay."  You slide into your car and fumble with the keys.

"I'm just here to talk."  Jesus says.  

"About what?  If I'm not dying, I'm not crazy, I'm not hallucinating, what do you want to talk to me about?"  

"Lent."  Jesus says.

"Lent?  I got my ashes on Wednesday.  I gave up chocolate.  I haven't eaten meat today...well, I nearly did, but then remembered it was Friday so I took the meat off my sandwich."

"I know.  First, you need to stop being defensive.  I only want to talk."

"Okay.  So, Jesus...Lent...uh, what about it?"

"I know you really like chocolate, but how is giving it up going to help you grow spiritually?"

"I don't know.  I always give up chocolate.  That's what I was told to do as a kid."

"That's why I'm here.  Maybe you could try something a little harder."  Jesus says with a smile.

"Harder?  Like what?"

"That's for you to decide."

"I decided on chocolate..."

"And that's going to help you grow how?"

As you pull out of the parking lot you say, "Fine, it's not.  I thought I might help me lose a couple pounds. You want me to do something harder."

"Yeah, something that is going to make you need me more, talk to me more, pray to me more.  You have been very successful giving up chocolate for the last 15 years, but you don't need me for that."  

"No...I guess I don't.  Okay...I've got something in mind."

"Oh...I like that.  Good idea.  It's going to be hard."

"Yeah, it will be." you say.  "You'll be sick of hearing from me before the end of Lent."  

"No, I won't."  Jesus says.  "Remember, you can't be crabby about it."

"What?  You just said it was going to be hard..."

"Yes, but Lent is not a time for Catholics to be cranky.  It is a time to grow spiritually, being a crank is not a going to get you there."

"Okay...anything else?"

"Not today.  I'll drop in on you later in Lent."

"Uh, could you not show up in my car?"

"Absolutely.  We'll talk later.  Until next time."  Jesus smiles and is gone.  

"I've never talked to Jesus on my drive home before..."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

George Michael was so dreamy...

Whenever I hear the today's first reading from the Deuteronomy 30:15-20 extolling us to "Choose Life" images of George Michael (and that other guy in Wham!) dancing around singing "Wake me up before you go-go" come to mind.  I can't help it...the music and videos of the 80's were formative for me.  I haven't even started the point of today's blog and I'm already off on a tangent!   

Choose life...bold words with many meanings.  In our culture today it could mean choosing Natural Family Planning, Pro-Life (from conception to natural death), Anti-war, etc.  In light of today's reading, however, it is about choosing God, following God's law, loving God which encompasses more than just the above list.  God is quite clear: before you is a blessing or curse, the choice is yours.  Choose God and you'll be blessed; say no to God and you'll be cursed (a.k.a Hell).

Step 1:  God should be first in your life.  

Nothing in life comes before God.  If something comes before God, then you've got idolatry.  Even if a "good" thing, like family or volunteering, comes before God, then it becomes a "bad" thing.  It all comes down to ordering life correctly.  If I place anything before God, then that thing or person becomes a god; a created thing should never come before the Uncreated Creator.  When God is first, then everything else falls into place.  

Lent is a great time to re-order life.  It's a time to take stock and evaluate where I am with God.  Am I choosing God first above all things and people?  Does my job crowd out God?  Is money more on my mind than God?  Putting God first doesn't mean that everything in life will suddenly be rosy, but I will have the tools to deal with the struggles of life better.  

p.s. I wasn't a Wham! fan.  I thought a-ha were far dreamier.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Invitation to Welcome

In a few hours Lent 2012 will be upon us.  Today's reading from the Gospel of Mark (9:30-37)  is the perfect reminder of what Lent is supposed to be about; the key is right at the end.  Jesus tells the disciples that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, then Jesus sets a child in their midst.  The New American Bible (official translation of the American Catholic Church) states, "Whoever receives one such child..."  I prefer the New Jerusalem Bible translation; 'Anyone who welcomes a little child such as this in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'

That's it, that is what Lent is about...welcoming God deeper into our lives.  As a kid I remember thinking that Lent was about giving something up (mainly sweets) and that was about it.  It wasn't explained to me why giving up sweets should bring me closer to God.  I often heard that giving up sweets wasn't a "good enough" penance.  People who say things like that clearly do not understand how much I love sugar.  No sweets for all of Lent was (and still is) a big deal for me.  Only if someone could have broken it down simply like this: "Deirdre, when you really want to have dessert or some candy, say a prayer to God for the strength to say no.  Or, you can say prayers for souls in Purgatory for your "suffering" for sweets.  This is why we give something up during Lent, so that we can fill up that space with God."  Man, that would've made so much sense to me as a kid!

So, here I am on the eve of Lent and trying to figure out how to welcome more of God into my life.  This year I've decided to take fasting seriously by doing it more frequently than required.  I'm horrible at fasting and I hate it!  So, I figure that is a good sign that it's something that I should work on.  I pray that it will help me to decrease so that God may increase.

Also, I'm reading Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales.  It was written 1608 and you'd think it was written today.  It's a timeless classic on spirituality and very accessible; you don't need a theology degree for this.  St. Francis de Sales wrote simply and clearly about how to welcome God into your life.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Contemplative Prayer and the 2 year old's been a rough afternoon with my little guy.  In fact, it's been a rough couple of weeks.  Apparently, my 2 year old does not believe he needs to get sleep.  Most days he's up before 6 am, barely naps in the afternoon, falls asleep after 8 pm, and then wakes multiple times in the night.  This makes for a cranky toddler (whom I call Crankasaurus Rex - feel free to steal this for the cranky person in your life) and it makes for a cranky Mommy (the Queen of Crankdom).  

I'm sad to say that I've lost my patience with him quite a bit the last few weeks.  I never wanted to be that mom.  It's a vicious cycle: I promise myself to be calm, I'm still sleep deprived, my son hits or spits or beats on the door, and then I lose it again and again.  It's an ugly cycle where Mommy beats herself up for not being a good Mommy.   

Then our friend, Fr. Simon the Dominican, becomes a member of the family for a week - and we all got a vacation from "normal" life.  We talked about prayer and theology and philosophy; all the things that a Divinity Diva loves!  We talked quite a bit about contemplative prayer and then Fr. Simon flat out told me for the second time in as many months that I had to find time for listening to God.  Actually, he said something along the lines, "You need to find time for you to shut up."  Only a friend can say something like that.  

So, I've made the time the last couple days for contemplative prayer.  I pop in my earbuds and listen to white noise so that I can drown out the sounds of the house.  Then, I sit for 10 minutes - not moving, not speaking, letting thoughts come and escorting them out the door.  On the surface it seems like nothing is happening, but today proved differently.

Life was back to "normal" today.  Our friend is back home, my husband was at work, and I had a cranky toddler.  Today it dawned on me what was missing from the cycle I described above: God.  This is my perpetual problem: I can do it myself.  Over and over again reality has shown me: I stink by myself.  Those few minutes of sitting in quiet have helped me immensely.  I can't say I have Angelic Sweetness at this point, but I'm working on it.  

Contemplative prayer has come and gone in my life.  Since my son was born, it's mostly been gone.  Today I see I need it like oxygen.  

Have I told you about those sisters?

My visit to the Nashville Dominican Sisters filled my heart with J-O-Y!

It is clear the Holy Spirit is running blessedly amongst the sisters because you can't fake the fruits of the Spirit; either you've got 'em or you don't!  

The first thing I noticed from all the sisters that we met is how they smiled!  I'm not talking about the kind of smile you put on your face when you meet someone.  These were big, genuine, happy smiles.  They were filled with joy...and it is a joy to be around joy-filled people.

I had the opportunity to meet several of the postulants.  I have never been in the company of so many young women religious (sisters or nuns).  It gave me great hope for the future of the Catholic Church.  The Church needs young men and women to answer the call to this radical kind of lifestyle.  In the same way, the Catholic Church needs couples to follow the radical path of dedicating their marriage to God and living by the teachings of the Church.  The Church also needs parents to tell their children that the priesthood and religious life is an option for their lives.

Together we can mutually support each other: people in religious life and married people.  We have much to learn from each other about prayer and sacrifice and holiness.  We need to pray for each other and to share the joy (and struggles) of our vocations.  

Let's spread our joy around...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

On being a teeny, tiny part

Another week of minimal blogging...we had a priest friend (my son's Godfather) visiting.

On Friday, my husband, Fr. Simon, and I took a trip over to Nashville, TN to meet the Nashville Dominican Sisters.  It was a fantastic day!  The joy and holiness of the sisters is contagious and I'm set for the next week (if not longer).  While we were there, I literally "bumped" into a young woman that I met while I was a retreat director.  She is now a postulant with the Nashville Dominicans and she looked so happy!  

The retreat center I worked at primarily catered to teens.  My staff and I worked retreats for Catholic high school students around the Chicago area.  I loved working retreats and believe it is a very important ministry to offer teens, but the downside of the ministry is that I rarely saw the students after retreat.  In a lot of ways it is like emergency ministry; you meet them, you share with them, you pray they come to know God better, and then they leave.  It's a ministry where you sow seeds, but someone else tends the seeds and reaps the harvest.  

I received such an incredible gift on Friday to see a seed planted six years ago has blossomed beautifully.  It is extremely humbling to realize that I was an instrument of the Holy Spirit.   I feel very small (in a good way) thinking of the sheer awesomeness of God.  God is always ready to use us to make a difference.  A smile, a kind word, listening, seemingly small acts can make a big difference in the lives of others. 

I'm sure I'll be blogging more about the Sisters in the coming days...they were truly joy-filled!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jesus founded a Church

I've been asked to address the Jesus>Religion YouTube video with the Religious Ed students at my parish.  Sorry, I'm not providing a hyperlink to the video because I don't think the creator needs any more hits.  In fact, perhaps it is a bad move on my part, but I haven't watched the video.  I've read some excellent responses from trustworthy sources and this is a great video response from Fr. Robert Barron.

If you haven't heard about the Jesus>Religion YouTube video, then here's a quick synopsis: Jesus came to abolish religion and all the stuff that comes along with it.  We are saved by faith and not by works.  If this sounds familiar, well, it is.  It is the Evangelical Protestant argument against institutional churches.  Martin Luther started it...and it continues today.

Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  He also established a Church and named Peter the leader and the Catholic Church which is the fruit of the apostles labor.  The history of the Church has it's amazing moments and it's not so amazing moments; when looking at the Church there is one thing that is undeniable: the Holy Spirit has been our guide and our protector.

I get a little crazy when I hear people complain about institutional religions like the Catholic Church because they whine about our faults, but they neglect our achievements.  Today's reading from James spells out what what true religion should be: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world. "(1:27, NAB)

Is the Catholic Church perfect?  No.  But we are guided by the Holy Spirit and, in our imperfect ways, seek to care for the weakest among us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why do you...?

I'll be teaching an apologetics class to the Religious Ed students of my parish tomorrow night.  Thankfully, I got a list of questions from the kids so that I can be somewhat prepared.  

Many of the questions start with the phrase 'why do you...?'  It's a weird way for Catholic kids to begin questions when it is for their religion class.  It would be natural for it begin with 'why do we...?'  And that's when it hit me, I live in Mississippi and Catholics are a small minority.  I've heard stories from parents about the abuse Catholic kids get from Protestant classmates in this part of the country.  Toto...I don't think we live in Catholic Chicago any more.  

I find it a shame that Catholic kids are harassed by classmates, but I think the bigger shame is that the Church has let these kids down with very poor religious ed programs.  Our kids don't know how to express what they believe and that is a shame.

Back in the day, my CCD classes were very poor with the exception of one incredible teacher in 8th grade.  I do not mean to offend any of the wonderful people who give of their time to teach our youth.  My complaint lies with the books that were given to us.  They were filled with the Rainbow and Sunshine Jesus, which offered very little substance.  Don't get me wrong, it is vitally important that each person knows that Jesus loves her, but not at the expense of also sharing the richness of the faith and the responsibility that accompanies the love of Christ. 

I am not suggesting that my teaching one class will change the future of the Church, but I pray there will come a day when Catholic kids will know what to say when their friends at school corner them and say, "Why do you worship Mary?'  "Why do you pray to statues?"  "Why do you go to a priest for Confession?"  Our kids should know the Truth and how to respond.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I adore Adoration.  

I'm an extravert so the best way for me to recharge is to be alone and be quiet.  Being with others constantly gives me energy, but doesn't recharge my soul.  

Adoration can be hard if you've never done it.  Especially if you've got a mind like mine that hops around and can't stop.  I had to read The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner in high school.  It's written in stream of consciousness style and this was an exercise in frustration for most of my classmates.  For me, it was awesome because it's the way my brain works! 

When I go to Adoration I bring my calendar, to do list, and my journal.  Usually in the first 5-10 minutes my brain starts kicking out all the things I've forgotten to do or ought to do.  Once that simmers down, I break out my journal and start writing.  I do a mind dump and the page; this can last anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes.  Then...there's's just me and Jesus hanging out together.  

It's the quiet time that is the most important.  Sometimes I get an answer to a prayer, other times I'm told what I need to do, and then there are times when I nod off.  I used to beat myself up if I fell asleep while praying until my spiritual director said, "Maybe Jesus knew you needed a nap."  

Spending quiet time with Jesus is an awe-some thing and I highly recommend it.  If an hour seems daunting, then go for a shorter period, perhaps 20 minutes and build up from there.  

p.s. This whole blogging thing is still very new to me and I am deeply humbled that there are people out there who read this every day.  Thank you for your support and it encourages me to keep writing.  I haven't blog much last week and don't expect to have many entries this week.  The winter crud hit the house this week and next week I'm out of town.  Hang in there - I'll try to get at least one entry completed while I'm away.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Battle of Wills

A short time ago I won, by default, a battle of wills.
My two year old has quite a temper and he’s very stubborn.  Hmmm...I wonder where he gets that from?  I get the answer every time I look in the mirror!
It all started when I my son refused to clean up the mess he made.  I told him he had two choices: clean up or time out.  He spat.  Yeah...that’s a time out.  Allow me to speed through to the actual battle of wills.  After several failed attempts at time out, my son just lost it.  I had to step in and hold him until he calmed down.  This was no easy feat; my son’s very strong and tall for his age, add an Irish temper and spitting to that and you’d think it was time to call two priests with SuperSoakers filled with holy water!  
For parents out there in cyberspace, you know it can be hard to keep your cool when your kid goes crazy.  Thankfully, that grace I prayed for yesterday must have kicked in.  I remained firm, but didn’t lose it.  After several minutes of my little cherub spitting and kicking, it dawned on me,  Deirdre, you better finish what you’ve started.  I knew that the only way our battle of wills would end would be if a.) he calmed down or b.) he fell asleep because there was no way I was going to back down.  If I backed down, then I would’ve failed him.  It would’ve taught him that it’s okay to lose it in order to get (or get out of) what you want.  Finally, after 45 minutes of screaming, spitting, kicking and hitting (at least trying to) he fell asleep.  When I laid him down in bed he woke up enough to spit again!  Sheesh!  
God is present - always.  It’s hard to see that when your child is red faced, sweaty, and angry.  But, I asked the question as my little boy started to calm down.  Where is God right now?  I told my little guy, “You are tenacious!  That’s a great thing, but you have to learn when to be tenacious and when to be obedient.”  Tenacity is a great gift; I have to help my son temper it.  
I learned that I am tenacious, too...or maybe it’s stubborn.  Being a parent is HARD!  You have to follow through on every little thing.  I pray that I do the right thing in discipline, behavior, and speech.  There are two little eyes watching me every moment of the day.  
Even though I won this battle of wills because of sleep, I know I did the right thing.  I have to shape my chubby cheeked cherub into a man.