Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Being a Good Person

When I was involved in full-time youth ministry one of the most difficult discussions was the "good person debate".  I often heard, "No, I don't go to Church, but I'm a good person." or "He doesn't believe in Christ, but he's a good person."

Will being a good person get you into heaven? Let's see what Jesus has to say on that in today's Gospel reading from Matthew (13:36-43).

To get the full answer, which is a "no" from the big J.C, you need to go back a few verses to Matthew 13:18-30.  Today's Gospel, which is often referred to as the Explanation of the Parable of the Weeds, also explains the Parable of the Sower.  The only people who make it to heaven are those who act like good seed: "But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold." (verse 23).  But, there's a bigger challenge than understanding the Word as the Parable of the Weeds explains.  I have to be able to still produce fruit without being chocked off by weeds (a.k.a. sin).  

Peter Kreeft puts it this way, "...we have reduced all the virtues to one, being kind; and we measure Jesus by our standards instead of measuring our standards by him" (Back to Virtue, p. 32).  For as much as society clamors about being a good or kind or nice person, in the long run, it won't get me far.  The young people I talked to thought it was enough be to a good person and they usually weren't happy when I suggested otherwise.  I emphasized that a life rooted deeply in Christ sustains me though crises and struggles and temptations.  Being a good person is a good thing, but will be really keep me together when life gets hard?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Planting Mustard Seeds

My son has been reminding me that it's okay to be really happy and really thankful about normal, everyday things.  The other day he had a spice drop gummy candy for the first time.  From the back seat of the car I heard him say, "Thank you God for this."  That was his first response...interestingly, it wasn't mine.  I wanted more candy.

Yesterday, on a family trip to Target, my son started to sing the Celtic Alleluia because he was so happy we were going in the store.  I do love Target, but I have never sung Alleluia in the parking lot.

I worry that I set the right example for my son and that I teach him about the faith.  Looks like I might be getting a few things right, but he is teaching me at the same time.  While I'm busy planting little mustard seeds in his soul, he is doing the same thing for me.  His thankfulness over a piece of candy makes me wonder how much happier I would be if I said, "Thank you, God" for every little thing in my day.

The Kingdom of heaven starts here and now.  What mustard seed act could you start to make present the Kingdom of heaven?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

On Urging

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:1-6

"I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received..."  When's the last time someone urged you?  It's not a word that is used much.  I feel the urge to eat chocolate, often, but I can't say I'm frequently urged by someone to do something.  Here are some of the other words that could replace urge: implore, entreat, pressure, spur, prompt.  St. Paul isn't trying to sweet talk me into living up to my call; there is passionate force behind his words.  

And what exactly does he want?  St. Paul wanted the Church to remain whole and not be split apart because of disagreements or personality conflicts.  I am to endure with humility, gentleness, patience, and love - even when things get ugly or annoying - because God intended us to be one.  

This passage from Ephesians can be interpreted to fit many situations: difficulties within a parish, a diocese, or even an entire denomination.  Earlier in the week I read that Pope Benedict XVI said that the Catholic Church will become small and need to start over.  This is a paraphrase from his book Faith and the Future (which I just bought).  It's rather obvious that the Catholic Church is in the midst of struggle on many levels, but especially the "political" struggle between progressive and conservative.  

It's not clear what the future will look like.  This is what I hope it looks like: Catholic.  I am Catholic because I love this crazy Church with all it's traditions, smells, bells, and especially because she is the voice for Life in world gone mad.  

In the U.S. we are so used to the idea of a democratic republic that we think everything should be run that way.  The Church is not a democratic republic; it is a theocracy.  The whole purpose of the Church is to lead us to holiness and the Holy Spirit has promised to not abandon us.

An important question that every Catholic needs to ask him/herself is: Will I, as St. Paul urges, live up to the call to be a member of this Church with love and humility or will I insist on my way?  Will I remain faithful to the teachings of the Church?  Will I leave room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to educate me to the laws of God?  If I'm not willing to do this, then am I willing to walk away?

I don't want anyone to walk away from the Church, but I also don't want a fractured Church.  Come Holy Spirit and renew Your Church.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Back to what?

Be amazed at this, O heavens,
and shudder with sheer horror, says the LORD.
Two evils have my people done:
they have forsaken me, the source of living waters;
They have dug themselves cisterns,
broken cisterns, that hold no water.
        Jeremiah 2:12-13

In today's Old Testament reading we hear Jeremiah proclaiming the LORD's judgment: 1.) you have turned again me.  2.) and, you have put your energy/faith/time into ways that will not save you.  Sadly, Jeremiah's words to the people of Judah can be used again modern Christians.  

I'm starting a book study with a couple of geeky moms on Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft.  His premise is that American culture is falling apart because we no longer have a moral compass.

"We have lost objective moral law for the first time in history.  The philosophies of moral positivism (that morality is posited or made by man), moral relativism, and subjectivism have become for the first time not a heresy for rebels but the reigning orthodoxy of the intellectual establishment." (pg 25)

Kreeft wrote this in 1986 and his message is the same as Jeremiah's.  The culture has taken God out of the equation and made humanity the summit of existence.  We have removed "the source of living waters" from our lives.  On top of that, we put energy into useless activities or pursuits that won't save us.  

Thankfully, Jeremiah's answer and Kreeft's are the same.  Turn back to God!  Kreeft's specific answer is through habitual virtue: justice, wisdom, courage, moderation, faith, hope, and love (charity).  

***I'm a big fan of Peter Kreeft.  If you haven't read him before, then I highly recommend his books.  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Different Day, Different Plan

Last week I posted that my parents sold their house and that we would be moving...yeah, that's not happening. The deal fell through and it looks like we're staying put...at least at this minute. The last couple weeks have been a little crazy with all kinds of changes and uncertainty.  Literally, each day of the last week has presented some new twist.  That's life, right?!

Today's Psalm response, "Lord, show us your mercy and love." (Psalm 85) reminded me of a conversation I had with my cousin a few weeks ago. I told her about all the unknowns in our life right now. At one point she asked me a great question, a really insightful question, "What do you want?"

I surprised myself by saying, "I don't know."

I've been thinking about that response ever since.  Sometimes life lays out too many options, so many that I can't really see what will be best for me and my family.  It's wonderful to have choices, but too many options can muddle my brain.  After the house sale fell through, I started praying, "God, you know what's best for me."  I promise that is not a cop-out prayer.  When life is so confusing it might be better to pray for God to show his love and mercy, rather than praying for life to go a certain way.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Thoughts on Aurora

I've been trying to formulate my thoughts regarding the massacre in Aurora, CO. My prayers go out to the victims and their families. I pray for all those who survived the horrifying scene because I can't begin to understand what they experienced. I also pray for the gunman and his family. He is obviously a disturbed individual and this must be a nightmare for his family and friends; I imagine many of them are feeling guilty that they missed the warning signs.

In the wake of such wickedness I have been left with the question: what can I do?  How can I make it so that this sort of thing doesn't happen again?  The only answer I have gotten is: look in the mirror.  The Aurora, CO gunman is responsible for the deaths of 12 people, injuring 58 others, and terrorizing a town. For as much as I would like to change that, I simply can't.  But, I am responsible for the things that I say and do. If I want to make the world a better place, then I had better start with myself.

"For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (ESV Romans 7:7) How often I have thought about this line?! I'm sure I'm not alone in this. There have been so many times when I open my mouth and say something that I shouldn't say and, worse yet, I know I shouldn't say it.

I have heard people demanding gun control, clamping down on violence in movies, not allowing people to wear costumes into movie theaters.  I'm not sure any of these measures will work, because they haven't in the past.  When something horrible happens it's natural to want to make sweeping changes to "fix" the situation, but if my heart is still crooked, then nothing has really changed.  C.S. Lewis said, "When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him." I need to clear out the evil that dwells in my own heart.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Help Wanted

Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.  Jeremiah 23:1

Anytime you see the word 'woe' in Scripture, you know it can't be good.  Someone is about to get a whoopin'.  There is a recurrent theme in the Old Testament about shepherds who do not care for the flock.  God was rather clear about the character traits of the shepherd.  In fact, if God needed to post a job ad, it might look something like this:

Wanted: One good shepherd who will keep the flock together and care for its every need.  Must have: some veterinarian skills (i.e. tending wounds), knowledge of how to use a shepherd’s crook, and know the locations of good pastures and fresh water.  Do not apply if you intend to swindle the owner of the flock!  If this sounds like the job for you please send resume to: YHWH, Lord of all Creation… 

Yet, time and time again, those who were to guard the flock, the people of Israel, did just the opposite.  And, it's not as though the people of the ancient Near East didn't know what a shepherd was to do.  The Code of Hammurabi, dates back to 1772 B.C. and a significant portion of it deals with contracts between flock owners and shepherds.  A contract was to protect both the owner and the shepherd; the covenants between God and Israel worked in the same way.  Israel broke the covenants.  

 (The Code of Hammurabi, Louvre Museum, Paris)

Finally, God had to come and set things right.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the shepherd who cares so much for the flock that he laid down his life for the flock.  Today's passage from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians (2:13-18) highlights how Jesus made everything right between God and humanity.  It is through Christ that we are able to come near to God the Father.  The Good Shepherd, leads us to green pastures and restful waters, protects us in times of distress, and eventually to the House of the Lord (Psalm 23).  

The Good Shepherd is no longer with us physically which creates a need for shepherds who are willing to follow his example.  

Wanted: A loving, caring minister to guide and pasture the flock.  Must have: passion for all God’s people, dedicated to prayer, like hard work, and not afraid to embrace the Cross of Christ.  Do not apply if you think ministry is about you; it’s all about God.  If this sounds like the job for you, don’t worry, God will find you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Do you barter?

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  Matthew 12:7

Your vision of God can have a huge impact on your life.  Sofia Cavalletti (foundress of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd - CGS) discovered that the child who had some religious training, even informal lessons at home, before the age of 6 innately understood that the relationship was built entirely on love.  Children who started classes after the age six had a very different foundation.  The "age of reason" kicks in around 6 or 7 years old and these children tended to have a bartering relationship with God.  It is not easy to change that foundation, but it is possible.

My formal religious education didn't start until I entered school - about 6 years old.  I am a product of what I like to call "The Rainbow and Butterfly Jesus" era.  CCD lacked substance and essentially was mindless drivel.  Apparently, it was suppose to stand for "Confraternity of Catholic Doctrine".  I recall neither a fraternal connection nor being taught Catholic Doctrine.  When I think back on how I would pray at that time, it was very much a bartering sort of prayer: God, please do 'x' and I'll do 'y'.  

As I got older, I realized that bartering with God was pretty much useless, but when stressed I'd automatically snap back into that style of prayer.  As I've said before, if CGS became the norm for religious education there would be a beautiful revolution in the Church.  While I learned plenty of head knowledge while studying theology, my Sunday mornings with 3 year olds in CGS educated my heart.  The children's joy was contagious and it helped this theology nerd to remember that God is all about love.  Now that my son is nearing three, I'm trying to do our bedtime prayer the way I did it in CGS: songs and prayers of thanksgiving.  

So, what does all this have to do with the above quote from Matthew?  In today's Gospel, Jesus paraphrases from Hosea 6:6:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than brunt offerings.
God wants me to have the joy and love of the child.  If I do all the things I'm "supposed" to do for God, but lack joy and love, then that is nothing more than actions.  God doesn't want bartering.  God wants my whole heart, mind, affections, and soul.  

What is your prayer like?  Do you barter?  Do you pray with joy?  And, on bad days, can you be honest with God?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Yolk of Love

Today's Gospel reading from Matthew 11:28-30 is some of the most comforting in Scripture:

Jesus said:
"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."

The retreat house I worked at had an oxen yoke that had been turned into a light fixture.  It sounds odd, but it worked with the space.  Being a city girl, I know next to nothing about farming, but I do know that an oxen yoke is not a light thing to carry around.  No wonder an ox is known as a beast of burden.

Today Jesus tells us to take his yoke because it is easy and light.  I know to many who don't know Christ or have issues with the Catholic Church this seems like an oxymoronic statement.  I've heard many people say that following God's Law robs you from living life - or something along those lines.  The Church's teachings on abortion, natural family planning, marriage, and natural death are archaic.  I heartily disagree.

The yoke that the world, the culture wants to put on me robs me of my dignity.  In movies and TV is it rare to see happily married couples.  In the few instances where a happily married couple is portrayed, it's all an act or they're as dumb as a box of rocks!  The examples for young people are appalling and I could go on and on, but how is that useful?

Here's the truth: God is love and this love does not bind me or control me.  Rather, it frees me to pursue  my truest self, not an culturally imposed definition of who I ought to be.  Love that frees, now that is one light yoke.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Making room

Today's Gospel reading is from Matthew 11:25-27.  I was able to go to Mass this morning and the line Father preached on was: "you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."

Father began by talking about two priests in his order who are pursuing doctorates and then talked about lay people obtaining advanced degrees in theology.  I wasn't sure where he was going with this line of thought and I was preparing to go apopletic if he said it was wrong to have an advanced degree.  Thankfully, he didn't say that.

Jesus was trying to make a point, though, about "the wise and the learned."  I goof around about going crazy over bad theology, but if I ever get to the point where I think I know it all and my way is the right way - then we have a problem.

My heart (and my brain) has to be childlike.  What the heck does that mean?  I think it's about being awed by Creation.  Everyday my son points out something new, some new discovery that he's made.  His little mind and heart are soaking up everything around him.  In-between the temper tantrums and time-outs, he is joy on wheels.  He has room for awe in his life, he has room for the Holy Spirit.

 When I am not overjoyed by a sunset or a flower or meeting another person, then I am not being childlike.  What filled you with awe today?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Divine Laughter

Know what happens when you make plans?  God laughs!

Yesterday I resigned myself to hunkering down to another school year in Mississippi.  My desk was nearly finished and I have projects to get to and writing to do.  My dad, a retired carpenter, had just made the last cut for the shelving, when the phone rang.  That one phone call has turn all my plans upside-down.  It looks like we're moving!  

For months I have struggled with the idea of staying here another year.  It's not that we don't like it it here, but we know it's not where we want to be long term.  But, there's something else as well.  Here's the short version: my husband and I have been married for 6 1/2 years.  Of that time we have only lived by ourselves for the first 5 months.  For 4 years we lived with my staff at a retreat house and for the last 2 years we have lived with my parents.  During our short married life the economy has tanked and effected everyone, including us.  We thought we would have been in a house years ago.  Finally, in the last few months it looked like it would be possible to have a place of our own.  And...it all fizzled out...but then the phone rang with an offer for my parents' house.  It's wonderful news for my parents!  

All the legal and financial hoops still need to be cleared for the sale of my parents' house, but it's looking good.  My husband and I have made a hard decision: our son and I will go to Austin and network like crazy and, hopefully, my husband will land a job in Austin very soon.  (Please keep this intention in your prayers.  Thanks!)

As I was staining the shelves for my desk this morning, I thought about a conversation I had with my spiritual director years ago.  In order to be free to say 'yes' to something, you have to be free to say 'no.'  This simple notion on freedom has played a big role in many of my life decisions.  For months I had said 'no' to staying here.  I didn't want to do it.  Once all our job options dried up I was left with a choice: stay here and be miserable or stay here and be happy.  Yesterday morning I decided to be happy with staying in Mississippi.  I would say 'yes' to living here.  

A few hours later the phone rang and God had a great big laugh...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Who wants lemonade?

The old adage goes: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I've been waiting for several months to apply for a particular job; it was my dream job.  I knew the position would soon be posted.  Last night I found out that there was serious restructuring and my dream job doesn't exist any more.  There is a position available, but it has nothing to do with ministry.  I was extremely upset, the kind of upset where you're not sure if you're going to cry or vomit.  Oddly, I did neither.  

It was rather late when I found out and I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep because I was so mad and disappointed.  So, I started planning!  I needed a plan of attack for today.  What was my plan?  Evil hate mail? Anonymous posts across the internet decrying the "restructuring"?  Eat ice cream and chocolate until I burst?  No, no, and no...even though the ice cream was really tempting.

My plan is to build myself a desk and create a writing area so that I can tackle some projects.  The current configuration of the computer is not conducive to creativity, but it's great if I want to hear what everyone in the house is doing and saying.  Originally I was going to march myself into a big box store and buy a desk, but I couldn't find anything I liked.  Well...Pottery Barn had a lovely table/desk, but I can't afford Pottery Barn.  I did the next best thing: I found the instructions of how to make the exact same table (table top & shelves).  Many thanks to Ana White! 

What has this whole process taught me?  First, God only knows what's coming next.  The slate is wiped clean for my husband and I.  We have NO idea what we are to do or where we are to do it.   
Second, God's timing is not my timing.  As if I wasn't already aware of that.  Ugh!  Some lessons are hard to learn.  
Third, redirecting emotions away from negative activities like ice cream snarfing to positive ones using power tools is far more satisfying.  
And, finally, I'm going to have a lovely and relatively quiet place to set up and write...or bust out the sewing or quilting or knitting.  

When life gets hard, break out the power tools!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


While studying theology in grad school I heard a great definition of vocation: where the world's greatest needs meet your greatest gifts.  Since grad school, I have often used that definition.  It's a great starting point when considering a career or a career change.  

Yesterday, my husband found this Venn diagram (haven't yet found the original source):

This diagram makes my simple definition look, well, lame.  Frankly, I'm looking for a job that would be blissful.  However, when the economy is slower than molasses in January, you might not be able to get your dream job.  As the diagram shows, there are many levels of happiness in a career path.  And, you don't have to study theology to find bliss - thank goodness!  Theology and ministry is my path and biology and technology is the path for my husband.  It would be agony if I'd have to study biology.  

The path to bliss, on a career level at least, is different for everyone.  Yet, it is the same Spirit that inspires us all to follow our bliss.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Long time no blog...

Hey there!  It's me, Divinity Diva.  Allow me to reintroduce myself.  I'm the mommy with the Master of Divinity degree and I've been a slacker as of late.

Here's the skinny...looks like we're not moving.  :(  However, my hubby's employer reinstated funding for his position.  That's very, very good news!  :)

The past few months have been really stressful.  The uncertainty of where we would live and how we would support ourselves took its toll.  I can only take so much stress and it impacts every part of my life: relationships, prayer, etc.  My husband's a teacher and once his summer vacation started, I went on vacation, too.  I needed to take a step back from all the craziness, all the worry, all the uncertainty and just chill out.

I've chilled out and made some decisions: no more home business, focus on writing, finish a few knitting/sewing/quilting projects that have been lying around, and get back to my terribly neglected blog.

While the chilling out help me to catch up on sleep, it didn't solve the questions looming over our heads.  We are still looking to move and we don't know where or when that will be.  Today's first reading from the Prophet Hosea (2:16) is like a balm to my sore soul.

Thus says the LORD:
I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.

Sometimes, it's hard to see God when life gets rough or I feel like I'm in the desert.  God is there, waiting, even in the desert.