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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Last Temptation of the Mystical Body of Christ

In these final hours before we begin the Sacred Triduum, it is obvious to see the temptations being put to the Bride, the Mystical Body of Christ. As we get closer and closer to the Most Sacred of days, the voices become louder and angrier, more frenzied and it becomes hard and harder for us to remain calm in the face of this storm of rabid hostility.

This morning as I prayed the Divine Office, I went through the depths of the temptation to lash back at Pope Benedict XVI's (and therefore OUR) persecutors. I read these words with gritted teeth:

Psalm 52
Against a calumniator

Why do you boast of your wickedness
you champion of evil
planning ruin all day long,
your tongue like a sharpened razor,
you master of deceit?

You love evil more than good;
lies more than truth.
You love the destructive word,
you tongue of deceit.

For this God will destroy you
and remove you for ever.
He will snatch you from your tent and uproot you
from the land of the living.

The just shall see and fear.
They shall laugh and say: 
"So this is the man who refused to take God as his stronghold,
but trusted in the greatness of his wealth
and grew powerful by his crimes."

When I reached the end of that passage, I was ready to pray the imprecatory psalms - those psalms that are NOT in the psalter or used at Mass. I was ready to, in anger, call down fire and brimstone upon those who so hate us and so hate Christ.

Then I read on:

But I am like a growing olive tree
in the house of God.
I trust in the goodness of God
for ever and ever.

I will thank you for evermore;
for this is your doing.
I will proclaim that your name is good,
in the presence of your friends.

Father, you cut down the unfruitful branch for burning and prune the fertile to make it bear more fruit. Make us grow like the laden olive trees in your domain, firmly rooted in the power and mercy of your Son, so that you may gather from us fruit worthy of eternal life.

Ant.  I have put all my trust in God's never-failing mercy.

Having finished that section, I was amazed at how quickly I had passed from near-rage into calm thoughtfulness, and That's when it hit me.

We faithful Catholics are angry. We are angry about the abuse of children, yes, but also angry at the continuing abuse of these victims at the hands of money-grubbing, vile souls who are victimizing them again, all  for personal gain. We are angry at the bigoted media vipers and their henchmen who ignore the facts and instead perpetuate lies against the Holy Father.  Oh, yes, we are angry, and many bloggers, Catholic journalists, and Catholics on the street are fighting back.  Some honorably, and with use of intellect and  reason. Others, though, are lashing back with the same kind of anger and hatred as our attackers.

I realized in that moment, that this is the last temptation of the Bride. THIS is what is separating the proverbial goats from the sheep. THIS is a true test of the entire Mystical Body of Christ. Who will be ripped from the Head that is Christ, by their own choosing and behavior, and who will remain and follow the example of Jesus Himself?

Jesus was ridiculed, and false charges heaped upon him. He was beaten, he was scourged, even having been judged as innocent by the AUTHORITIES who had juris diction of this type of proceeding!  Jesus was dragged into dungeons and a crown of thorns placed on His head. He dragged His heavy cross up the hill and outside the gate to the Place of the Skull where he was nailed to that terrible tree in utter humiliation and made to face the whole world in His nakedness.


And He uttered not a word.

Jesus did not respond to His persecutors. He did not "correct" them. He did not come to His own defense, but took the assault as though what was happening to Him actually meant something else.

Oh, yes, it did. It meant eternal life for His Beloved.

When Jesus DID speak, He prayed for mercy for those who crucified Him.  He told the repentant thief who was crucified next to him that he would join Him in Paradise.  He PRAYED for MERCY for His Persecutors!

How we react in these terrible days, as faithful Catholics, will forever speak of us as a Church, as the Bride of Christ, as the Mystical Body.  How we respond, personally or professionally or both, will speak to the world of our Faith....or lack thereof.

Do we give into the temptation to lash out?  Or instead, do we turn into the Church Militant and do what we are called to do?

We are called to fall down on our knees and beg for mercy for the Holy Father's, and our persecutors!  THAT'S the battle! THAT'S the frontline! THAT is what will turn the tide and send the enemies scattering in terror!  BEG for mercy for them for indeed, they know NOT what they do! We want to pray for ourselves, that we will have the same zeal for the salvation of souls as did Christ himself!

Do not fall into the temptations that come from the Prince of this world, but rather, look to the Cross of Our Lord and the Salvation that is found in Christ alone. Look to His vicar, Pope Benedict XVI who guides us by his own example, which clearly is patterned after Christ.

Do you want to know why so many are attacking so strongly? Because they can see the image of Jesus in Pope Benedict XVI's actions, and it sends the demons that possess this world into a frenzy of hatred and terror.

So be it.

We must be as gentle as lambs but more cunning than the wolves that seek to destroy us. Our weapon:  prayer for those who persecute us. Love in the face of hatred. Life in the face that calls for death. NOTHING can withstand that kind of power.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Embrace the Passion of Christ

This Lent has been a hard one for the Church as a whole, but it has hit Europe especially. They are facing the purging now that began in America in 2002, but it seems the media and the world in general has become even more vicious and visceral in their reactions. A light is being shown on the sins of the Church, and even as we all collectively shudder, we, the disfigured Bride of Christ, must recognize that even the innocent must be scourged along with the guilty.

We live in a world today that hates us as Christians, but most especially as Catholics. It is launching a vile and backhanded assault against "the Vatican" and against our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. In so doing, they are assaulting us all for we as Catholics are in solidarity with all who suffer injustice.  In our innocence, we partake in the sufferings of those who were abused. In our own guilt, we partake in the divine justice that is owed to the men (and women) in the Church who have abused others.  In the mystical reality of our identity as the Bride of Christ, the Mystical Body with Christ as our head, we must enter into and suffer His own Passion. We are one with Christ, and cannot be separated from Him.

I have heard and seen others, in America and abroad, who have expressed that they are "shaken" by these revelations of sin and debauchery in Ireland and Germany (especially given what has happened here). Sadly, I am not shaken at all. I am saddened. I am angry. I am beyond emotion. But I am not shocked, and I am not shaken.

We have to recall that God does not reveal sin without revealing His mercy. In this season of Lent, as we enter Holy week, it is fitting that the Church as a whole suffer to her very soul for the sins committed in her name, and perhaps with her seeming acquiescence.  It is fitting that such horrifying sin has been revealed, for now it can be purged. We enter Holy Week in humiliation, even we who are innocent. We hear once again the banshee cries directed toward all priests, most especially our Holy Father, screaming, "CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM!"  We shudder deep within ourselves, perhaps wanting to look away, but knowing we cannot.

We look into the eyes of the guilty and innocent alike and find ourselves reflected there, part and parcel of both the bad and the good of our human nature.

We walk the road to Calvary with our Savior, knowing why He became Incarnate and went to the Cross to save us from our sins. We offer ourselves in union with Him, to be ridiculed, to be scourged, and ultimately, to be crucified.  Unless we accompany Christ along the via dolorosa, we cannot rise with Him in the Resurrection, knowing the full revelation of His Mercy.

Mk 4:35-40 35 On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, "Let us cross to the other side." 36 Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him.37 A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. 38 Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!"  The wind ceased and there was great calm. 40 Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?"

This parable has relevance to our time. If you recall from scriptures, Jesus was always getting into a boat with the disciples and going somewhere, so we recognize this image as a reflection of the Church buffeted about in the world.

We are now those disciples in the boat with Christ as the "violent squall" of an insanely violent media attacks relentlessly, as money-grubbing attorneys with no interest in anyone's soul, much less his own, seeks to bring down the Annointed of Christ himself, seeking hard to find guilt where there is only innocence. In response, we, the faithful, are filling the chapels and churches, we are praying in our homes and in all places, at all times. If we are "shaken" it means that we think Jesus is sleeping and cannot hear our cries. For some, the scandals may well rattle their faith, yet they are in good company, for did not the Apostles (but for John) flee also when confronted by the violence and accusations of the crowd? 

Sounds a lot like the Passion of Our Lord, doesn't it?

We should not be shaken in these times. We should recognize that Christ does not sleep among us, but has sent the Holy Spirit to guide the Church through every storm of every century, and will not fail us now. Christ himself has not abandoned us; He is with us and calls US to be even more united with Him in His suffering for the salvation of sinners. We must pray, we must do penance, and we must, in absolute faith, embrace the Passion of Christ and in so doing, come to understand the full revelation of His saving power through the exercise of Divine Justice, Divine Mercy, and Divine Love in the folly and the glory of the Cross.

In the Office of Readings last Saturday we read an exhortation from St. Gregory Nazianzen:   "We must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do, accepting all that happens to us for the sake of the Word, imitating his passion by our sufferings, and honoring his blood by shedding our own. We must be ready to be crucified."

Today, the antiphon of Morning Prayer reminds us:  "Jesus said: my heart is nearly broken with sorrow; stay here and keep watch with me." 

The Office of Readings today is from Hebrews 10:39 exhorting us: "We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and live."

Today, Monday of Holy Week, we are called to courage, called to "set our faces like flint" and remember that we, too, must be crucified with Christ. We are waiting and we are watching. We are called to have faith....and live.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week Begins

Today is the first day of the holiest week of the year, and already it's off to an interesting and brutal start.

Yesterday I was able to go to Confession, hopefully for the last time before Easter, and the priest said to me, "It's going to get even a little more intense this week."

Indeed. It already has, in ways I did not expect and ways that are not meant to be revealed.

Forgive me for my silence; it is the best I have to offer in the face of the great mystery of our salvation and redemption.

1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

2. King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

3. Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

4. At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fall in Love Again

Last night I was ready to delete my blog.

I was ready to just walk away from the whole mess. Every so often I get fed up with the snark and vitriol of the internet world, and truth be told, I get fed up with myself as well.

But I can't delete myself, so I don't really see how deleting my blog will help anything.

It's been a tough Lent, maybe my personal worst EVER. I fall...I get up. I fall again. I get up. I fall again. It's like my legs are made of rubber. I can't get out of the dirt, but then again, all I'm looking at is dirt. Even when I get to the point that I'm ready to lift my eyes, something else happens and I am thrust once again into the throes of disaster. I quite literally haven't been able to lift my head for weeks!

I've realized some of the problem is in my prayer life;  I had intended to spend MORE time in prayer each day, but I haven't been faithful to that. In fact, I don't think I've even really tried! It seems, actually, that the closer we get to Holy Week, the less focused I am, and the worse I'm doing.

This morning though, while walking my dog, taking in the fresh air and sunshine, I addressed these problems to Our Lord. I gave him my misery and asked Him about a particular insight that came to me last night. I gave Him my lack of Hope and my absolute weariness, asking Him, "When will this end?  How can I be ready for Holy Week? How can I be ready for YOU?"

Jesus has been silent of late, letting me wallow, and for good reason. I prayed for conversion, for I realize that I am in desperate need of conversion. That is the goal of this Lenten season for us all, but I did have a special request and a special focus. Until today, I thought that I had lost focus. As it turns out, my prayer has been answered.

God is faithful.

As I see now, He was allowing me to really wrestle with my own sin, ask those deep dark questions, and finally fall, exhausted, into the mud. It is only here in this weariness that I could finally see what has been lacking. It is only by experiencing this utter blindness that I finally can recognize my spiritual desolation and from that point, be brought to conversion.

This morning, while walking, I finally heard Jesus speak, and His words were simple. "Look at Me."


Again, the words came to me; not in a locution, but in that still, small voice from within:  "Look at Me. I'm right HERE. LOOK at Me!"

And I looked...and that's when I understood.

I've been all over the place this Lent. I've been looking elsewhere, but He was within. He called, he shouted, but I couldn't hear because I had taken my eyes away from Him.

Conversion isn't some difficult theological construct. It doesn't require knowledge or philosophical understanding or complicated definitions.

Conversion is, simply put, falling in love. It is the state of turning toward God, toward the Author of Life, and allowing oneself to be inflamed by the fire of Divine Charity.

All Jesus asks us to do in Lent is to fall in love with Him again.

All He is saying is, "Look at Me."

When we do, when we really look at Him, we can't help but fall in love.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. 

~ St. Augustine, Confessions

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Prende La Bomba!"

Sometimes, we choose our fast. Sometimes it is chosen for us.

Back when I lived in Mexico, the shower in the home where I lived was on an upper floor, and directly over it was a broken skylight.  As October moved into November, the night temperatures would fall into the low 50's so some mornings when I got up to get ready to go to class or elsewhere, I'd be shivering in that cold. Still, knowing what REAL cold was like, it was only a minor inconvenience.

Of course, most mornings we had hot water, but some days...not so much. I became adept at very quick, economical showers in freezing-cold water.  In one of our classes, as I recall our teacher told us that we could yell "Prende la bomba!" to tell people to turn the hot water pump on, but I never once used the phrase. (Admittedly I was a little afraid I'd get the phrase wrong and be yelling something ridiculous or obscene, which unfortunately did happen at other occasions much to my great mortification.)  Most mornings, actually, by the time I was in the shower the host family was gone anyway, running the kids to school or perhaps already at work...or just leaving.

I was reminded of those cold-shower mornings in a very real way this morning, but somehow, I think the water is colder in Minnesota.

Over the years, that being most of my life before and after Mexico, I've become quite accustomed, especially in these winter/early spring days, to enjoy a nice warm shower in at least a fairly warm house.

Until Saturday- that is...yesterday.

I turned on the water to the shower...not warming up. I turned the dial further over...a little improvement but not much. Realizing something was very wrong with the heater, I jumped into the shower to use what warmth was left, it was quite bearable but nothing near what I'd call "warm enough", and when I was done and ready to go, I made sure the pilot light wasn't out. No smell of gas. No leak.

I replaced this stupid thing only a few years ago.

When I called to see when they could service the heater, I learned that they would need an 8 hour block of time. Being that this is a class weekend and I'm not here, this weekend is not an option. I made an appointment for Monday afternoon.

You realize, of course, that that means...two days of cold showers. Not just cold, but FREEZING cold!

I hope I didn't wake my neighbors up as I gasped for air in shock this morning and screeched while trying to wash my hair.

Oh, and by the way....I'm quite awake today, thank you very much!

Also....I really hope those words I posted mean what I think they mean.

Have a blessed Sunday, everyone.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Vocation is a Gift

Last night I learned that a friend of mine is entering a prominent religious community in August. It came as a complete surprise to me for a few reasons, but I'm THRILLED for her! Of course, she is quite joyful and looks forward to going, and I hope to hear more about her discernment in how this happened for her.

When she told me, though, I admit that I felt a twinge of jealousy.  Here I've been discerning my tail off for a few years, had several months of quite intense stuff (including the visits from last summer and the agony from last fall), am STILL looking to possibly visit a community or two this summer, God willing, but more and more unsure of any of this. I think I've considered every possible Vocation in existence and have come to nothing so far.

Then she traipses in, sits down next to me and says, "Oh, by the way..."


I'm happy for her and happy to share in her joy. I absolutely revel at the mystery of God and how He reveals His gifts to us when we are ready to receive them, and what He requires of us to prepare us for whatever He has to give us.

The one thing I always have to work so hard to consider is that a Vocation isn't an entitlement;  it is purely a GIFT from God. I always forget this, yet it's such an important part of discernment for anyone. A Vocation is a Gift.

I have written before, several times, in fact, that everyone has a vocation, and that is true. We are all called into being, prepared for something, and our vocation is a foundational part of living to fulfillment. It is the path by which we might enter Heaven, and it can be accepted or rejected.

That said, there's another part to all of that; if we aren't ready to receive the gift of vocation, then it is not yet ours

Consider for a moment that perhaps a son or daughter is slated to receive an inheritance. A wise parent or perhaps guardian will know that just because it will rightfully belong to that particular person, it cannot be given indiscriminately.  Remember the story of the Prodigal son? Remember what he did with HIS inheritance?  Sometimes when I hear or read that particular parable I consider that it is much like a Vocation, in that he demanded what had not yet been offered, asserting his own will and desires over that of his Father who knew him better than he knew himself.  He wasn't yet ready to receive his Vocation, and in grabbing it out of turn, he turned what should have been something beautiful into pig slop.

There are many dimensions to the story of the Prodigal Son, and I'll stop my analogy there, at least for now.

The point I'm trying to make is this:  Vocation is a Heavenly inheritance that cannot be given until a soul is prepared to receive it. If it is "asserted" or taken out of turn, it can be dangerous, not just for the soul, but for others as well, for none of us exists in a vacuum. What we do matters to others, too.

For my part, I have realized that I am not ready to receive the gift of a Vocation, and so I am on a path that will hopefully prepare me for whatever God has to offer. To anyone discerning, what is important is to surrender to God, trusting not just in His perfect will, but His perfect timing as well. 

Please pray for my friend and all those who have received the gift of their Vocation.

**Comments are closed as this is too personal to open for comments.***

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

If it's not one thing...then it's another.

No...wait.  It's not one thing and then another. It really is the same dang thing over and over again!

So it goes.

It's been a crazy few days. On Saturday I saw Bear off to his new home with his new family, content that they have the perfect place for him.  Yes, I miss him and will continue to miss him for awhile. But it was worth it, and I learned a few lessons in the process, too; things I've taken to prayer and continue to ponder.

I've been scrambling to get my papers written for class, and as of this moment....none of them are finished. I still need to edit and clean up a few things, but hopefully I can stick a fork in them tomorrow evening and email them off to my professors.  Three months left until graduation!

More Dog Stuff

And just when I thought everything was under control....well...let's just say it wasn't.

Last night when I took my dog out for a brief walk, the neighbor had his dog out as well, but off-leash. His dog ran over, he yelled to warn us, but I wasn't worried; the dogs had met before and seemed fine. Before he arrived to grab her, though, the other dog snarled and snapped, both dogs rose on their hind legs in some kind of skirmish, and we pulled them apart. My neighbor was very apologetic, I told him not worry and we continued on our walk. Truly, I wasn't a bit worried as I've been present in many little dog battles and saw nothing out of the ordinary here.

I returned home shortly thereafter, took my dog's pinch collar and leash off and she ran upstairs to engage in her favorite hobby of bunny-watching through the window.  Sometime later I called her downstairs and as she ran up to me, I saw that her left cheek was bloody!

At first I thought, "What did you DO to yourself up there?" and began to mentally catalogue any possible cause of this injury. Then it dawned on me....the dog skirmish!  Inspecting the injury I saw that it was indeed a puncture wound, which became even scarier-looking as I wiped the blood away.  She let me keep some pressure on it for awhile, and let me  take some Bactine to a cotton swab to disinfect it.

This morning when we got up I noted some swelling and decided to take her to the vet. It wasn't that it looked that awful, but in looking at my impossible schedule for the next few days, well, if this thing was going to get infected, this would be the worst possible time!  It was better, I thought, to head things off at the pass! Besides, she was due for her yearly shots and it made sense to just take care of business.

The vet clinic had an opening for me in about an hour, so I quickly got ready and also knocked on the neighbor's door to inform them of the dog bite. I told them not to worry, and wanted to make sure their dog was ok and hadn't been bitten by mine!  They verified all shots were in order and apologized profusely.

The vet decided that because it is a puncture wound it's best to give antibiotics - it is quite likely to get infected if not treated, given the location and type of injury. I agreed, so $200.00 later (including office visit and annual shots plus antibiotics) I went home.

The neighbors came out immediately to see how things had gone, I showed them the bite wound, they felt terrible and offered to pay for the visit.  I explained what I'd done and that the entire bill was not theirs, but did agree to accept the $40.00 for the antibiotic itself.  If the roles were reversed, I'd offer to pay for that, too.

So...what irony. I bring a traumatized dog into my home and all goes very well. Not a problem. I walk my dog in my own complex and she's injured by a neighbor's pet.  *shrug*   Whaddaya gonna do?

That's life. In any case it's worked out just fine, I have even more respect for my neighbors than I did before, and I'm grateful it has turned out this way. No, it's not fun to have to deal with dog bites, but it sure is nice that when the dogs decide to be dogs, both we owners can assess the situation with reason and resolve it!

I made sure they realized I'm not angry or upset, I still think their dog is sweet and I still consider them to be good neighbors! Probably even MORE so now!

It's been a tough Lent, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better, but thank God for the little things in life that make the tragedies bearable!

Well...the world belongs to God. I'm going to bed to hopefully get a good night's sleep so I can get up and do this all over again tomorrow (although hopefully not in exactly the same way....)

What Why How

Last spring, or summer or fall...whatever it was...I had to attend a training through work. I didn't want to go but to my surprise, something I learned that day was actually useful, and didn't involve the motivational speaker telling me that I'd be living in a van down by the RIVER! (As I had feared, even though I MIGHT end up living in a VAN down by the RIVER eventually.)

So often, (please forgive me) I have been frustrated by the commenters who take my posts out of context, pulling out this or that sentence or point and trying, it seems to make my post about something it is not.  Much of this failure is mine;  often I am not clear, often it is a difficult thing, and sometimes it is something that can only be understood by someone who is going through the same thing I am while I write about it.

Sometimes I try to address within the post what I know will become a stumbling block for this or that type of reader, but it seems, always, that my most introspective posts manage to invite comments by those who simply cannot grasp where I am coming from or where I am going. It's impossible and unwieldy to even TRY to make ever commenter happy in catering to their needs. Thus, in the end, the frustration is with myself, in my inability to be all things to all people.

Truly, I don't expect people to understand me,and yet, idiotically, I somehow expect people to understand me. 
(Do you see me rolling my eyes at myself yet?)  

Some time ago, while trying to keep my frustration under wraps, I found a way to express it by writing a humorous post about what would happen if St. Augustine had blogged "Confessions."  I didn't pick on any commenters in particular, but admittedly went for reality to include the rational and annoying both.  You can find that post here. Any blogger could relate and add to the commentary.

This is where I circle around to bring in my actual subject matter for this post:  I have come to realize the speaker I was forced to listen to that day had a point, and truly, there are three types of people in the world, and all of them have commented at my blog at one time or another.

Understanding the types of people (therefore readers/commenters) can go a very long way towards responding to them according to who they are, and this leads to blog success.  More specifically, it leads to success in evangelization THROUGH the blog - or any other medium, for that matter.

(Yes, I'm shameless. Why are you shocked?)

Without further ado, I introduce you to the three types of people found everywhere in the world through every single medium, including blog com boxes:

The "What" People:

These are the people who just want to know WHAT the problem is if there is one, or if not, WHAT the subject is about and therefore, WHAT they should do.  These are the same people who want short blog posts and who are looking for the fine points in any given published article or online post.  They favor bullet points over paragraphs and wouldn't be able to survive without printers and highlighters

In some sense, I think that they might be the most likely to take longer posts out of context, just because of their inherent nature to ask "What the hell are you talking about so I can respond and get it over with?"  These are the people who look to the Passion of Christ as a necessary business, but would prefer not to emote too much over it.

The "What" people are pragmatic, practical, to-the-point, realistic, logical, and want to prioritize. They don't have time for trivialities and quickly tap their feet when confronted by both the "Why" people and the "How" people, whom they see as being extremists and polar opposites.

To evangelize them one must focus mainly on who Jesus is and the fittingness arguments as to the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection.  The challenge in formation for the "What" people is often to bring in both doctrinal and mystical theology to make sure they do not focus only on outcome, i.e., "getting the job done."

Many "What" people are most probably Thomists or Scholastics.

The "Why" People:

These are the people who are the most empathetic among us. They tend to be the most optimistic, the ones who most desperately flee any semblance of suffering in favor of "looking to the good things", often to the degree of outright denial of the necessity of obstacles.  In their empathy they are looking for the same empathy they offer out of their own inherent virtue, and are often bitterly disappointed, but to be fair, are honestly confused when others aren't as "Resurrection-oriented" as they are. They suffer greatly in this area and struggle to maintain their optimism.

The "Why" people tend to be the ones who are most offended and have the thinnest skin when it comes to the reality of sin in the world, wanting both to deny it in general and for themselves, focusing so desperately on the "positive" that they willfully deny the very important positive point of redemptive suffering.

This group is the most difficult to evangelize; they are emotionally driven to the deprivation of the intellectual. It is therefore important, when evangelizing a "Why" person, to find points of identification, such as that provided  by the Saints.  Find a Saint that most resembles the individual, build the points while you build the relationship of friendship and support with that individual.

Keep in mind that with a "Why" it isn't about facts or history or is all about whether they like you or not, and whether you can transfer their affection for you to affection for Christ so that He reigns.  It's a long-term project, and it means that you're going to become family members and best friends long before the "Why" finally accepts the teaching of Christ.  Why?  Because it's all about emotion and trust. It's entirely possible for a Why to adapt to a more realistic approach, but it takes time and patience. When it happens, though, get out of the way for the Why can easily become a How when they recognize the importance of their mission, and NOTHING stops them!

You'll find a lot of "Why" people focusing on Catholic Social Teaching, but the challenge in forming them tends towards the emphasis of  the doctrinal teachings and why they are important. They are excellent in the field of encouragement and intercessory prayer (you'll never find someone more dedicated to intercession!), make great motivational speakers, and are often found peddling politics and special causes.

These are the "doers" of society who keep things running.

The "Why" people are the ones most likely to find a philosophical basis in conceptualism and/or relativism. They can be guided towards Scholasticism and may adopt other philosophies according to their formation and emotional approach to spirituality.

The "How" People:

Oh, this is probably the most complicated of all.  They are perhaps the bane of my existence.

The "Hows" are the concrete-numbers-only-literalists among us.  They tend to be engineers and mathmeticians, or even worse, actuaries.  They might even be librarians (although most librarians are more flexible and personable.)  Most likely, they work for the IRS, the KGB, or the CIA.  Or maybe the DMV.

These are the people who, upon being notified of a meeting, demand to know the topic, the content, what they should bring, and then prepare spreadsheets with all sorts of complicated figures so that they will be certain to know each and every detail and be able to contribute to influencing it.

You'll never find a politician among this group. The "How" people are far too intelligent to ever condescend to mere politics. They make up the backbone of any organization, the unsung heroes in the dingy basement office of the highest skyscraper, spending their days with numbers, printouts and ever-changing computer code.

Evangelizing a "How" is quite difficult. If they are not already faithful, they tend towards the atheistic spectrum, although do have a special love of logic. The only people who can really evangelize a "How" have a deep grasp of philosophy, a love of concrete facts, and only bring in the mystical when it is absolutely necessary AND when the How is ready to go to the next level.  It's a very tricky task, but once a How has converted...get out of the way!

"Hows" make the best Scripture Scholars and Systematic Theologians.

The challenge in the formation of a How is in the realm of true pastoral relations and divine pedagogy;  making sure that the person receiving the message is actually prepared to receive it.

Philosophically speaking, the "How" people tend to cross the spectrum; but once converted, tend towards Thomism, Scholasticism, Moral Ethics, and Natural Law.


I have detailed above the three types of people, and having had a year or so to consider it, have come to the conclusion that the speaker was correct. I work with all three types of people and their combinations.

Most people belong to a combination of categories. For myself, I am a What-Why, only rarely tapping into How.

It is no surprise that I sometimes become frustrated when I am not understood through this medium, and probably, my readers likewise are not understood.

Although I've taken a (dry) humorous approach on this, I invite my readers to look at the categories (What, Why, How), suggest your own take on philosophy, evangelization, and characteristics, and post them in the com box.

Keep it light, keep it fun, and keep it real.


It might be Lent, but that doesn't mean we have to give up being geeks!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disfigured Bride

I'm completely at odds with myself, and even with God right now, and all evening I've been completely unsettled.

In hopes of finding SOMETHING to focus me, maybe in helping me to figure out some sort of "direction", I went to visit a particular blog, and to my surprise found that author had liked one of my comments and highlighted it in a post. I can't link to the post, as it's a "protected" blog, but here is what I said that day:

St. Catherine of Siena, in "Dialogue" wept about this very problem, and others, to God, and He responded, "It is by thy tears and thy sweat that the face of my Bride will be cleansed and restored."
I keep trying to remember that, and then from moment to moment, I don't know if I'm the Disfigured one or the one weeping and sweating and bleeding...and find that it is all the same thing.
If I stop to ponder this too long, like Hamlet, I lose the name of action.

As I looked at my own forgotten words, I was stricken to my very soul.  I often meditate on that image from St. Catherine of Siena, and in fact, am using that quote (although the ACTUAL words!)  in one of my papers.

As I've gotten closer and closer to the end of my studies, as I've considered the change in my own attitudes over the years, the people I've met online and and in real life, the internet assumptions of what's going on in the Church versus the lived reality in the trenches, the reality not witnessed by the vast majority of the blogosphere....I have quite literally wept for the Church.

No, I haven't wept out of holy charity like St. Catherine of Siena, but out of frustration at the growing chasm between Faith and secular "life" and the indifference of those who are the most educated and yet...still the least willing to put knowledge into practice.

I have felt overwhelmed not just by reality, but but the formal realization that if I am called to obtain this education, then I am required to place it into use...and I'm terrified.  In Jesus' own words, "To whom much is given, much is expected."

I've been given so much, and while the financial debt of my education over the years has grown to impossibility, it's the spiritual debt that terrifies me the most.   It's the spiritual debt I know I can never pay, and am not sure I can shoulder, that perhaps is part of this "wall" I'm hitting in my studies right now.

When I look at my paraphrase of St. Catherine of Siena's words, knowing the context of it, I realize that I am at an impasse;  critical juncture transcending both my spiritual life and my physical life and all the details that follow along.

Oh, the great and unending irony! The more I consider the very deep wounds of the Mystical Body of Christ, how they reflect upon the wounds suffered by Our Lord Jesus, the more my studies force me to step back and take in the vast expanse that is the Church...and the more I see, both in the "big picture" and in the individual members...the more I recognize how great is the need for workers in the vineyard...including me.

It's like trying to focus my eyes on a subject both near and far...and even as the observer, I am the subject.

I can't even mention the harvest, for sometimes there don't seem to be enough workers who want to bother with never mind the harvest.

The more I recognize regarding the state of the Mystical Body as a whole and the individual state of souls, the more I realize that I am one of them, too, in just as much, if not more, need of grace and forgiveness.

Truly, I am at odds.  I don't know how it's possible for me, as fallen and Disfigured as I am, to be able to offer any tears and sweat to cleanse the face of the Bride.

It is in this seeming dichotomy that I am lost, and so, like Hamlet, in my studies and in my spiritual life I hit a wall and default to inaction.

The Lessons of Lent: Survival and Dependence on God are the Same Thing

If we come to the end of Lent and don't realize that we need a Savior, we have missed the point.

I've known for many years that when I am overwhelmed, in a sense I "shut down."  It can be a good thing in survival in certain cases, but it can also be deadly.

Perhaps what God is trying to reveal to me is to lean on Him more, to recognize in a very real way that I CAN'T do any of it....but He can. I still don't know how to "let go."  I still don't know how to let Him take the load.  I can "pray things away" to Him all the time, but if I don't open my own deathgrip so that He can take the burden, it is as if I chain Him in the prison of His Passion, refusing to allow the Resurrection.

I can't figure out in my own actual practice, the line between the heresy of Quietism and the grace Contemplative Action.  It's not something that can be taught, but rather, a swamp we must all find our way through at some point in our lives. Maybe several times.  It is in this muck that we finally find our way, if only we can focus on the Cross and Resurrection.

I think that what I said that night in my comment is true, but I'm going to have to really stop and consider my own words, knowing  even though I once "spoke" them, I've never had the courage to face them.  Maybe now it's time.

"From moment to moment, I don't know if I'm the Disfigured One or the One weeping and sweating and bleeding...and find that it is all the same thing."

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I pray you are all having a blessed Lent. If you find that you are both the Bride and the Disfigured, you are not alone, but I leave it to you to decide whether you are in good company or not.

*** Theological Note: As human beings, we are ALL disfigured by sin. The word "disfigured" is used by God the Father in St. Catherine of Siena's "Dialogue" and speaks not just of the Mystical Body as a whole, but of individuals in need of conversion. That's all of us. We are ALL the "Disfigured Bride".  Only The Blessed Mother never matched that description. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On the Implication of the question, "Why?"

I've been pondering something for several days now, and because of the comments on my previous post, I've decided to tackle the issue. It's something I've noticed for a long time, and in fact, I finally understand an instruction received when I first began working in adolescent psych during my college years.

During the week of our new employee orientation, the trainer, who was the Patient Advocate, explained to us that every question beginning with the word "Why?" was a reasonable question and should be answered. At the time I didn't really understand why we needed to be offered this information. To my way of thinking, if someone was asking any question, it was a real question.  Why was it necessary?

Therein is the problem. Look at the last sentence of the above paragraph. It begins with the word "Why?" followed by a question mark. And in reading that sentence, it seems to presuppose a negative answer, and perhaps to the degree of the implication by the query that his direction to us WASN'T necessary!

Yet, I would argue, it was necessary, as I have come to learn. 

Over the years I've often asked the question "why?" which was an implication of my own presuppositions that, sadly, assumed either there wasn't a satisfactory answer, or none at all.  Of course, I have also asked many questions knowing that in order to further my knowledge of a subject, I had to ask for the reason, thus, necessarily used the very intelligent query, "Why?"

Still, it seems that overall, if that question is used, no matter what the interlocutor's intent, it is read as a negative, or even as a criticism.

I can give several examples of this:

"Why are you doing that?" ~ May imply that one is doing something wrong - tone or facial expression would give this question a positive connotation.

"Why doesn't the Church allow women to become priests?"   ~ Oh, just go to an apologetics forum with that question, stated just like that. Just WATCH the responses go crazy and descend into the assumption that the person making the query is attacking the Church!  It's worse than yelling "Fire" in a crowded theatre, or "Bomb!" in the security line at the airport on the day before Thanksgiving.

"Why is this happening?"  On the surface, this seems to imply a negative. Is it? Or might it be reasonable to ask?

"Why do we need to learn this?"  I can think of a lot of positive answers to that question. Is the question itself negative, or is the person asking it seeking a real answer?

"Why is this important for us to know?"

"Why is there suffering in the world?"

"Why am I earning this degree?"

"Why do you wear your hair in that style?"

"Why are you wearing that outfit?"

"Why do we have to get up so early?"

In all of the above questions, it is very easy to read the negative into it and assume the person asking the question is asking it not out of a sincere desire for knowledge, but rather, out of argument. I've made the same mistake with people, and have often had to chide myself, remembering the instruction given to me by that trainer long ago.  Yet I can't seem to stop assuming that if that question is asked, it must be coming from a standpoint of negativity or even dissent! It's very easy even to fall into the trap of assuming that someone who asks, "Why?" is looking for an argument.

It's a curious thing, isn't it?  

I know someone who left the Church and became an Evangelical Pastor because of how his own "Why?" was not answered.  (Yes, there's more to his leaving than that, but that was where his journey out began.)

My friend told me several times, that he was raised Catholic. He remembers Vatican II, and the disciplines that changed.  He explained to me that one day, eating meat on a Friday was a mortal sin. The next day, it wasn't anymore. (This is how he reported it...I'm not making a judgment in this case as to whether or not this was true.)  Of course he was confused and asked the Priest who was teaching his class WHY this was the case.  He had an honest question, and honestly assumed there was an answer to it. He was not being snide or smart.  He was confused.

He said that the Priest snapped at him, told him to sit down, shut up, and stop asking questions.  (Again, this is how my friend reported it. Please don't go into "defense" mode in the combox...focus on the topic at hand.)

You see, my friend asked a reasonable question:   "Why?"

For some reason, the predominant opinion of the public, whenever they are hit with the question "Why?" they assume it implies a negative or arises out of argument.

It doesn't - well, not usually, anyway. Certainly the question may ARISE out of a negative situation, but in its essence, the question belongs to reason; it is asking for a REASON for something, and often assumes a positive answer.  In the questions I posed above, certainly non-verbal communication such as body language, facial expression, and vocal tone will help the person being asked understand the intent of the person asking the question, but not always. Some people have a very flat affect. Some just like to yank people's chains.  Others may go around with perpetual scowls and a dark cloud overhead, but it can't be assumed that they are being snide or contentious.

This being a human being stuff is complicated, isn't it?  And it's even harder when limited to the written medium.

My post from a couple days ago was misread by many people, and I agree that the overall tone was a bit melancholic. However, that tone doesn't define my overall interior attitude, and in fact, I was disappointed that my own "Why?" queries were taken out of context of the overall post and interpreted as self-condemning or even worse, condemning of God. Yet I understand why that was taken out of context, for I asked the question, "Why?".

What I was doing in that post was engaging my reason with rhetorical questions. which ultimately were an expression of my prayer to God.  Why am I getting this degree?  I don't know, I don't understand.  The path is not clear for me, nothing is obvious.  Thus....WHY? Would anyone seriously argue that I not offer these questions? After all, there are all sorts of people in my family and friends who have often asked me "Why" I'm getting a degree in Pastoral Theology. I have never had an answer for them for I don't know that answer. Nor have I assumed their questions posed to me to be in the negative;  rather, they expect a positive response.  Their attitudes only change when I express a LACK of an answer, but those who have faith just shrug and say, "God will reveal it."  (Those are also the people who would like to pursue the same degree or field!)  :-)

Making that "why" statement, contrary to seeming popular opinion, is not indicative of an attitude of negativity, but rather, actually touches on a very human principle:  when we are confronted with the deepest issues in life, we ask questions. God expects those questions and has answers for them. This is why it is REASONABLE to ask "Why?" and doesn't presume wastefulness of education, for example, or a lack of answers. Rather, it presumes that there ARE answers even though they may not be readily apparent.

Someone who is asking the question "Why?" is seeking to go deeper;  they are seeking Truth.

I understand now why the Patient Advocate had to point out the reasonableness of that question, and I understand many more things that I was not afraid to pursue simply because of the answers I received when I had the courage to ask the question, "Why?"  In some cases, I learned more because there WASN'T a satisfactory answer, which led me to dig deeper, go further, and amass more knowledge.

"Why?" opens doors. It doesn't slam them shut.

Challenge  yourself.  Consider all the "Why?'s" you've asked in your life and check your reaction when someone around you begins a question with that query. Think about your gut-reaction when that question is asked, and how it is tempered when you then take in the other cues surrounding it.  You may actually be surprised at your own assumptions and how wrong they may be.

In my personal experience, I'm one to assume the negative, too, and have often had to quell my response to people by remembering that instruction from years ago. It has caused me to respond with reason to a question asked in reason, and it has often been the very thing the caller or customer needed to know. Perhaps they did ask out of  a bad situation, but in responding to their need, the situation was resolved...through reason.

Think about it. "Why?" isn't a bad word. It's perhaps the BEST word in the English language! Use it liberally!

Why not?


Friday, March 12, 2010


It's been a long rough road, and the burden has been anything but light.

A year ago I had a "revelation" that I might be called to be a Passionist Nun. I went to my spiritual director, wrote to the Passionists in Kentucky for info. They responded via email, I responded in turn, then heard nothing more.Several weeks passed, and at the time I was having some technical problems with my email, so I re-sent my response and apologized if duplicate, explaining the email situation.Still nothing.

I realized it was a slammed door, and that slammed door was a bit devastating to me.Things worked out, though, and I went on other visits to other communities who invited me to visit even without my request.It was a good experience, if a hard one, and I returned home with much to ponder.

Then last fall, I entered a pretty deep "depression", so conflicted within myself, so confused as to what God was asking, certain He was calling me to religious life...but I didn't want to go. It was horrible; I wasn't certain of anything, but all I knew was that I was rejecting God, and I didn't know why. I was bitter, I was angry (bitter and angry are my default settings, as it seems), and couldn't seem to climb out of the pit from Hell I'd fallen into.

Slowly, though, the clouds cleared, I came back out by God's grace and went back into "I want to do God's will no matter how much I think it sucks" mode, which, in that case meant remaining single...or religious life. Whatever. Two sides of the same awful coin.  (And yes, I saw all my options as awful. I still do.)

Over Christmas break when I finally had time to read and pray for"fun", the contemplative life again tugged at my heart and soul. I couldn't ignore it. I've since written to a couple contemplative communities, one of them being the Passionists in St. Louis Missouri.

To my surprise, I received a wonderful, welcoming and joyful letter in return. Enthused by their response I wrote my own long letter...and couldn't seem to actually send it. I went back and edited, printed it, stuff  it in an envelope, addressed it...and it still sits on my kitchen table. Two months later.

I feel rude. Very rude. But...I can't pop a stamp on that thing and send it. I CAN'T.

Their reaction was so blessedly different than the canned response I got from Kentucky followed by a non-response, and here I am, NOW the one giving the non-response.

Eventually I need to respond and explain my delay, and I know they will understand. After all, they're in the business of discernment and don't want anyone there who doesn't belong there. And really...I don't belong there.

Today I was at a morning retreat and spent an hour praying a Passionist devotion; a Chaplet of the Wounds of Christ. Over and over again. It was in that repetition that I came to realize that, well...God wants me to embrace the Cross, but not in that particular way. It's time to close the door on my end and make it stop swinging this time.  I'm letting go of this particular idea. I am not called to be a Passionist Nun, so that particular romance is over.  That does not mean I don't love meditating on the Passion and the Cross. It means only that I am not called to reside in that terrible and joyful shadow.

Wounded Bride

In June, God willing, I'll be awarded my Master's degree, finally, if I can actually make it through or over this brutal wall of the last few months. As it is, every time I open one of my books I go cross-eyed and my brain goes into some kind of a coma. I am assured this is normal for last-semester graduate students at any level and in any degree field.

Still, the closer we get to our end date, the more I ponder why I am receiving this degree. I don't know what it's for. I don't know how I'm going to pay the loans, especially given that no one will hire me but the Church...and the Church isn't interested in paying my graduate school, or my undergrad loans, for that matter. In fact, the Church isn't interested in paying my mortgage or my electric bill or anything else.

So why have I spent three years elevating my debt?  Why? It sure doesn't help me enter religious life if that's what I'm called to.  I laugh to think of all the times people have queried either to me or to others, or just randomly about the idea in general, "Is this just an escape from real life?"


I've never seen religious life as an "escape" as much as the secularists love to offer that idea. Having explored religious life, it is ANYTHING but an "escape"!  Rather, it is life lived with far more intensity and  purity than anyone can find in the so-called "real world."

Even as I sense an attraction to the contemplative life, I am surrounded by the open wounds of the Mystical Body of Christ, and I find myself doing "damage control" here and there. I recall my training as an EMT and remember the chapter on Triage. Some days, I think that's all I'm doing.

Being Catholic is like an eternal September 11 (which as you may recall, I remember quite poignantly due to my Job at the time.)  Or maybe it's like being an army medic on the battlefield of a war with no end, in every time in history, all at once. The only thing the Faithful can do is to respond to the horrific wounds resulting to people who are victims of society and culture, even as so-called "friendly fire" continues to shell the city, and buildings continue to fall, and looters continue to take what isn't theirs until a building finally lands on them...and we are called to address their crushed limbs as well.

A friend of mine (CK) once advanced the question of how we would react if the wounds of the souls around us were visible as physical wounds; how would that change our reaction to them?

I go a step would that change our understanding of the intent of Vatican II?

It's the difference between putting leeches on a man who is in hypovolemic shock and bleeding out (hello United Nations One World Government) or offering our own veins to be sapped of our blood to give to the wounded through IV's and personal treatment according to need...and Salvation.  And bringing them home to care for them ourselves. Bringing them into OUR Family...the Church.

There isn't anything in between.


The Church is nothing if she does not live up to our Mission to the world.  This is the responsibility of all of us.

So often, this Missionary focus of Vatican II is interpreted solely as a response to physical need, but in our culture, in our politics, in our health care, the real need isn't physical; it's spiritual.

America isn't imploding and falling apart at the seams because of poverty; we are imploding because of a spiritual need that is not being fulfilled.

We have to remember that the works of mercy are both physical and spiritual, and right now, we have an overabundance of people wreaking havoc trying address physical needs of the world while they themselves are impoverished in their own spiritual deprivation.  Even as they seek to help the poor, they are limited and they are failing because they cannot give what they do not have:  spiritual health.

While praying today, I begged God to tell me what He wants me to do. Why am I getting this degree? To go into a cloister?

As I read the letter from the Passionists again, one of the things that unsettled me the most, I think, was Sister's comment about my education; great fruit for contemplation, but maybe a source of frustration for those who do not actually care about theological education.

I can't see God educating me to send me to a dead end where it will not be used (as dear Sister seemed to hint;  they aren't interested in theological studies in that particular monastery.) God MUST want this degree to go to some use, to build up His kingdom. Otherwise I'm nothing more than a welfare kid holding an expensive piece of paper with no actual value to anyone but me...and if it's just for me, it's of no value whatsoever.

We never really possess anything, and nothing has any value if it is not shared with another.
We can't give what we don't have, and we don't have anything until we can give it away.

I no longer have any passion at all. Not for religious life, not for anything.

I am at an impasse; I know I am called to respond to the spiritual deprivation in our society. I know that the best and most noble response is the contemplative life. I know I am not called to the physical missionary fields, yet, I am missionary for as a Catholic my mission is to all who are lost...and the lost are EVERYWHERE. Not thousands of miles away.

More and more, I think that maybe I am called to visit another monastery, but only so it can be put aside; I think God calls me to maintain a presence in the world, using what I've learned in practical ways, for there is a lot to be done, and few hands willing to do it.

I stand this Lent, at the foot of the Cross, in my arrogance telling Jesus what I will and what I will not do and He bears me in patience while He bleeds and gasps for air.

Yet my own hands still hold rocks and sand and gravel as I say to Jesus, "I can't do any more than this. I have to hold on to this stuff."

Then Jesus Crucified opens His own hands with great effort, in excruciating pain, struggling against the muscle spasms, and tells me, "If I can do can drop what you hold...and embrace the same cross and the same nails I release right now."

No....I don't have any passion for anything at all.  Instead, Jesus has brought me into His own....and He will direct the outcome.

Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kindness and Conversion

"'Kindness is the overflow of self on others. To be kind is to put others in one's place. Kindness has convinced more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning, and these three things have never converted anybody without kindness having something to do with it. In a word, kindness make us as gods towards one another. It is the manifestation of this feeling in apostolic men which draws sinners to them and brings them thus to their conversion.'

And he adds: 'Everywhere kindness shows itself the best pioneer of the Precious Blood....Without doubt the fear of the Lord is frequently the beginning of that wisdom which we call conversion: but we must frighten men kindly, for otherwise fear will only make infidels.'

'Have the heart of a mother' says St. Vincent Ferrer, whether you have to encourage souls or scare them, show to them a heart full of tender charity, and let the sinner feel that your language is inspired by it. If you wan to be useful to souls, begin by appealing to God with all your heart, asking Him to fill you with charity which is the compendium of all the virtues, in order that by its means you may efficaciously attain the end you have in view.'" 

It is as far a call from natural kindness, which is nothing but the result of our temperament, to supernatural kindness, in the soul of an apostle, as it is respect, even sympathy for the minister of Christ, and sometimes it can even divert an affection that belongs to God alone and direct it to His creature. But it will never induce any soul to stir itself up, with a pure intention of pleasing God, to make the sacrifice that is necessary if it is to return to its Creator. Only the kindness that flows from a close friendship with Christ can achieve this result."

~ The Soul of the Apostolate, Jean Baptiste Chautard, OCSO, pp 134-135

Oh, I have so far to far...

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Our Last Days

"Bear" is going home. And I might as well tell you his real name now, since hopefully by mentioning it, the people who work for vulnerable adults won't send the cops to my door:   his name is Grandpa.  Grandpa because he was the stud dog of a very evil breeder and saw many of his progeny come and go.

I've called him "Bear" here for many reasons, and yes, in real life I often, affectionately, call him "Grandpa-Bear", because in comparison to my dog, his grizzled face reminds me of a bear.

Late last night I got the news via voicemail, too late to call back.  Grandpa is being adopted by a woman who loves German Shepherds and has a special heart for senior dogs. The people who did the home visit (to verify she is not a hoarder, can properly care for a dog, etc) say that her dogs are very lucky;  they have their own couches, they will go to work with her (she is a veterinarian), and they live quite high on the hog, for dogs.  Doggie heaven on earth.

We couldn't have hoped for a better placement! Thanks for all who prayed....this is your answer!

But it is bittersweet, as I knew it would be.

I decided to foster because I know I am good with animals that have been abused and neglected. When this one came to me, he was skinny, stinky, weak, and fearful.

As he leaves my home and my hands, he is healthy, has been fed well, spoiled, likes belly-rubs and hugs (even "hugs" back if only to burp!), and has a personality that can bring a smile to a marble statue!  As far as his stinkiness...well....he's had a wonderful bath thanks to a generous donor, but there is something about male dogs....oy....they must need bathing more than sweet delicate females!  I think he already needs another one, but a good brushing will have to do!


God gives us gifts. Sometimes those gifts are only for a time. Remember the Parable of the Talents?

That's a perfect description of fostering a pet.  Grandpa came into my hands as a traumatized, underfed animal. He leaves my hands as a noble German Shepherd ready for a new home and a new life. He is in better condition now than he was when he arrived...and that's my job. That's the parable.

And it applies to EVERYTHING in our lives!

Yes, I'm going to miss my buddy, and I'm enjoying my last few days with him.

It's ironic, though. I gave up this and that for Lent, and realized some of the financial hardship in fostering is part of my lenten alms, for I don't have much to offer.  Yet...God has called me to give up Grandpa, and I find that to be far more draining than giving up sweets or potato chips.

And still...I have the sense that in this lenten almsgiving, I have gained a great deal more than I could EVER give up on my own.

As of noon on Saturday, he won't be "my" dog anymore, but he's going to a great home, and all I can do is thank God for the entire experience.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Talking With God as a Child

Today I read a wonderful post by Msgr. Charles Pope, and found myself alternately nodding along, smiling, laughing, and tearing up with his observations, and in the video he posted.

Children have this incredible gift, that, in their innocence are are fully who they are, they are perfectly honest, and haven't learned the terrible adult habit of censorship. In children, tactlessness is endearing, can be painful to us if we are the target of their observations, and they are shocking in their familiarity with God.


Shouldn't we ALL be somewhat shocking in our familiarity with God?

After all, it is through Jesus Christ that we can call God our Father, and even beyond that, we can call Him ABBA! God invites our familiarity, for it is only in knowing Him that we can love him....and in loving Him that we can know Him.

Today I realized what has been lacking my prayer life: childlike familiarity with my Father.  I regularly pray the Liturgy of the Hours and find it to be indispensable;  when I miss an Hour, I feel like a chunk has been taken out of my soul.  If I miss my Rosary, I feel like I'm cheating somehow, and recognize immediately the distinct absence of Our Lady and Jesus in my life, for it means I have chosen my own will above love for Our Lord.

There are times that I go to my Adoration Hour and pray the Liturgy of the Hours as "duty" as opposed to doing it because I love it, and love Our Lord, in whose presence and in whose very words I pray.

There are times that I miss NOT having those devotions, and that faithfulness to the official Prayer of the Church (the LOH).

I've come to a point that even though I know true prayer is an ongoing dialogue with God, and that the Rosary and the LOH are part of that, and facilitate it, it is somehow not...enough.  It almost causes a disconnect, and that disconnect is my fault. It is up to me to not limit myself to what I HAVE to do, but to spend time talking with Jesus, and listening with all my heart and soul.

So what if I've had a bad day?  Why NOT tell Jesus about it and complain to Him?  Perhaps He can help me put the situation in perspective and turn the complaint into a blessing!

And what if I get new running/walking shoes (which I desperately need)....shouldn't I bring both my old and my new ones to the One I profess to love so much?  Why wouldn't He care about such small needs?  Doesn't one who loves another care about the little things?

Children don't hesitate to bring anything to Jesus. They come to Him as they are, they are totally honest in what they are thinking and feeling and believing or not believing.  Isn't He the source and the end of all things? The Alpha and the Omega? Why can't we, as adults, be as honest and direct, for after all, Jesus knows us far more deeply than we know ourselves!

Our humanity is not offensive to Jesus. What is offensive is the denial of our humanity and in our denial, our tacit refusal to rise above the animal nature to cooperate with grace that seeks to elevate us.  How can we be elevated if we refuse to even enter into conversations that bare our souls, giving Our Lord a chance to enter into and elevate us beyond what we can see in our blindness?

I have decided that, during this great season of Lent, I need to focus on being a child again, and  speaking with Jesus with the same forthright honesty, whether or not it puts me in a bad light.  I need to put aside my terrible plague of self-love and be who I am, in all my moods, in my sin, in what is good. I need, in short, to be willing to be child-like in the face of God, a very Teresean Spirituality (St. Therese of Lisieux), knowing my littleness, knowing God's Fatherhood, and recognizing that, truly, spiritually, I am not beyond the level of infancy.

How better to approach God than as a tiny infant? How can He resist? To reach for Him with tiny hands, with little smiles, widened eyes, random giggles, engaged in everything as if for the very first time.  Growing into toddlerhood wanting to know more, to be with He who is loved, gazing upon Him with adoring eyes, focused on every gesture, speaking every word to Him from the heart.

I want to recover this form of child-like prayer, in all its boldness, in all its humility, in all its expression of true respect, honesty, devotion and above

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Byzantine Divine Liturgy - Ruthenian Rite

This morning, accompanied by friends and younger friends (their children) we descended upon St. John the Baptist Ruthenian Byzantine Church, in northeast Minneapolis which, for those who are not aware, is one of the 22 Rites of the Church united with Rome. So, yes, they are a fully Catholic Church!

This visit to the Byzantine Church was the first for all of us, and we knew some very basic differences and that the Divine Liturgy (their term for the Mass) is quite different than what one would find in a Roman Catholic Church, although it is the same thing; the re-presentation of the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary.

For those who may not know, the Eastern Churches make the Sign of the Cross from right to left, as opposed to the Roman version which is left to right.  As today, the 3rd Sunday of the Great Fast, they celebrate the Sunday of the Holy Cross, there is an explanation in their bulletin for the very reason for this tradition:

"Blessing oneself with two fingers brought to the thumb represents the Trinity. The last two fingers held to the palm represent the two natures of Jesus - God and man. For the first 1,200 years of the Church, in making the Sign of the Cross, the hand was typically brought from the right to the left shoulder even in the Western Church. In the East this is still the practice, to signify Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Father. According to tradition and in the words of Pope Innocent II (1198-1216), the Sign of the Cross is made with three fingers because it is impressed upon us in the name of the Holy Trinity. From the forehead we pass to the breast, then from the right to the left."

I admit I did not know this as the reason for the difference and I will have to look into why the tradition changed in the Western Church (that's us, Roman Catholics!). I surmise there must be a theological reason for our tradition of left to right, or we wouldn't be doing it.  Does anyone know?

We arrived early, and upon entering the Church was empty. I took the opportunity to take a couple photos of the very small church, which was built in the Western style, but inside, was clearly Eastern in worship. The Iconostasis was striking, as was the scent of incense that permeated our senses. We knew immediately that we were in for a real treat!  Nothing says "Heaven touches earth" than the smell of incense!

All of us are familiar with both expressions of the Roman Rite: the Ordinary Form (often pejoratively called the "Novus Ordo") and the Extraordinary Form (often pejoratively called the "Pre-Vatican II Mass"). Of course, what this means is that we all immediately were attracted by the holy scent of incense which does amazing things to prepare one, all by itself, for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or, in Byzantine Terms...the Sacred Mysteries.

When a few people arrived, we went out into the entry area with the children as their footsteps and toddler commentaries echoed throughout the space, and we wanted to be respectful of those who desired to pray and might better do so in silence. After all, as guests in a new place, we wanted to be polite!  Besides, not knowing the character of the Church, it is always best to stand back an observe as opposed to insinuating oneself into a situation!

As it was, we became the impromptu "welcoming committee" for the regular parishioners, most of whom seemed thrilled to run the short gauntlet of young families and children.  Several people commented on the dear children and how welcome was their presence. Even though I am not called to marriage and have no children, I have to admit it warmed my own heart to hear and see such expressions of love and welcoming for them.

Still, though, I have to admit; I now have a new appreciation for Protestants and other non-Catholics who visit a Catholic Mass for the first time, knowing only the most rudimentary things. I think I had the same misgivings and really, wanted to be sure not to offend. I was quite comfortable with the idea that we would stand out as visitors (well, not exactly "comfortable"...more....acquiescent to the terms of being a visitor to something new) and even more so when we saw the small size of the church itself.  While when I first attended my own parish I could "hide", but here,  it was impossible for any of us to simply "blend in."  We all knew it up front and just went with the flow.

A wonderful thing happened, though, as we waited for the Divine Liturgy to begin:  an old friend of mine from college walked up the steps and into the Church. I haven't seen him in years, but he looks just like he did back then. (I swear..some people NEVER age!). On the other hand, I've changed quite a bit (I got fat like the rest of my Irish farmer family), but simply didn't have it in me to pretend I didn't know my old friend.  Initially he didn't recognize me but all was well, he introduced us to his daughter and spent some time talking with us, helped us with some common things, emphasized that at Communion we should not stick our tongues out as Roman Catholics are wont to do, and, we found, he himself had prepared the leavened bread to be consecrated at that Mass!  (Yes, this is proper in the Byzantine Church and it's not something EVERYONE does.)

Initial Observations:

When people entered the church, they did not genuflect as we do in the Roman Church. It appeared that they reverenced (kissed) the icons upon entry, some wrote something in a book (forgot to ask about that), and bowed before entering their pew.  Instead of kneeling to pray in preparation as we do, they stood for a time, then sat.  This is of course quite alien to the Roman but given our surroundings, did not seem "out of place".

The parishioners were very helpful and directed us to the books and guides that would help us follow along, and I found that, in fact, the Liturgy was very easy to follow as it was in English. While (I think) there were a few songs and prayers in Slavic, overall most was in the vernacular with all the traditional chants.

Divine Liturgy

There are no musical instruments in a Byzantine Liturgy. As some explanations for this go, all come as they are, with what they have, and who they are. Instrumentation is not necessary, for God gave us voices to raise to Him in praise and supplication; nothing else glorifies God so much as that which He Himself created.

The melodies were very easy to follow, and believe me, there is a LOT of singing in the Byzantine Rites! But in those places where the choir sang, and although I am familiar with Byzantine Chant, it is an entirely different thing to hear that chant in the proper setting of the Liturgy.

Oh! I know now how angels sound when they sing their eternal praises to God

I'm sorry, but very little of the music I have EVER heard in the Roman Catholic Church can compare to the simple chants of the Byzantine Liturgy.(click the link to go to a Byzantine site where you can hear the chants and order the CD.)  And I put their music far over and above what we hear even in the holy ostentatiousness of the Baroque choirs of Mozart and his ilk at the infamous St. Agnes. (Which I admit, quite un-popularly, to be quite loud and too ostentatious at times. Sorry to those who love it, and yes, I do think it is far better than the Broadway faire of Haugen-Haas)

For those who have never experienced an Eastern Liturgy of any type, it is quite different. There are some similar elements, but it takes a LOOONG time to get to those things we recognize, such as the readings (which differ from ours) and the Consecration, which DOESN'T have bells to call our attention to it.  Incidentally, there ARE bells in the first half of the Divine Liturgy, although I forgot to inquire as to the significance.

In following along, though, what impressed me was the ongoing praise to God alternated with the cries for His mercy, which is what the Liturgy throughout the Church, properly done is all about:  knowledge and praise of God, while coming to know oneself in the face of God.  So much of this is lost in the Roman Liturgy, not because of the liturgy itself, but through the music which, in the Roman Mass, tends to be more of a celebration of ourselves as opposed to great praise and supplication to God.  (This is the point of reform within the Roman Catholic Church, and for good reason!)

There was absolutely no doubt, in this Liturgy, to WHOM it was addressed, and WHY. Yet, for those who want to juxtapose the interior with the exterior practices of our Faith would find them quite united here.  I think that those who love to focus on the physical participation in the Mass in the Roman Catholic Church would find their home here in the Byzantine, for there are few pauses and it is dominated by the active singing and response of the congregation.  In fact, I know someone who has a very difficult time focusing unless she is doing something at Mass, and may really find that the Byzantine Divine Liturgy keeps her attention as it demands a constant response.

I have to wonder if the minds behind Sacrosanctum Concilium were looking at the Eastern Liturgies as they wrote that document, seeking to combine the focus that has always oriented the Liturgy in all Rites to God with both the interior participation as well as the "active" participation of the Faithful.

The Doors and the Icons 

While the Byzantine Church also has an Offertory (for which I was not prepared today, to my shame), it is followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which again, differs greatly but was still helpful in orienting me as to what was going on at the time. The book containing the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom was  very helpful, but still, I found that I needed to be focused on what was happening in the sanctuary through the opened Doors, to which our attention is called throughout.

To explain, briefly, the Iconostasis, which operates much like a Communion Rail in a Roman Catholic Church (in those few where it remains), separates the human world from the heavenly world. It contains 3 doors:  in the center are the Holy (or Royal) Doors, which open to the Sanctuary where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, and represent the Gates of Heaven.  Only the Priest may pass through these particular doors; any others are automatically excommunicated for the infringement. The Deacon's Door, to the right, is graced by the image of St. Stephen (at least at St. John the Baptist), the protomartyr  behind which we see the Deacon's Altar. The door to the congregation's left is the Server's door, and portrays most often, and clearly in this particular Byzantine Church, the icon of St. Michael the Archangel.

Of note in every Byzantine Church, you will find on one of the doors to your right, the icon of St. Nicholas of Myra, the Patron of the Byzantine Church.

Holy Communion

I admit I was nervous to receive Communion in the Byzantine Church, if only because it is a little different. I am accustomed to receive on the tongue, so opening my mouth to receive Our Lord isn't the problem. Rather, because this is such a Holy Moment, a Holy Action, I wanted to be certain that if I screw up at any point, it wouldn't be THAT point!  I even seriously considered not receiving at all!

Yet I knew I could...I went to Confession yesterday, am sure I had not committed any mortal since since my Confession, and really, the newness shouldn't detain me. Yet..that's just me. I'm a wimp and often want to hang back instead of trying new things, especially when making a mistake with new things can become sacrilege.

I had asked my friend, in the entryway about this, and this is where he emphasized to receive by tilting the head back, mouth open. For all the Roman Catholics out NOT stick out your tongue! He laughed about how they always know a Roman by the instruction, "Tongue in!"  and according to habit, we stick our tongues OUT to receive!

Not in the Eastern Church. I actually LOVED Holy Communion in this form, so I will explain it from a newbie perspective in anticipation of other newbies:

You will queue up like we always do. Like the English, we Roman Catholics in America are very serious about our queues, so you can expect here what you do at Communion time at Mass.

There is a small table (Tetrapod)  near the front containing an icon (Pictured) with two candles on either side. Today, as we venerated the Holy Cross, the Tetrapod contained an icon of the Crucifix.  At Holy Communion, consistent with the spirituality of each person coming to God as they are, each person went forward to the Priest to receive.  We formed two lines, waited at the Tetrapod. and when the person before us had moved aside, went forward.

I noticed that the server beckoned me...I don't know if he does that for each person or just for newbies. It could be that I waited too long to advance.

The servers on either side of the Priest hold up a red cloth (I know there is a name for this, please inform me) beneath the chin of the one receiving.  Many people bent their knees, and although I am short, I did a little, too, to make it easier for the Priest. Make a sign of reverence while standing in line (much like the Roman Rite), then approach, the Priest will offer Christ from a chalice where the leavened bread that has become the Body of Christ is mingled with the Precious Blood in the Chalice that he holds.  If needed, bend your knees, open your mouth (tongue in!), and the Priest will use a spoon to place the Sacrament in your mouth.

I have read this too, and know this is hard to envision. But I can tell you this:  today I KNEW I had received God Himself, the very BLOOD AND FLESH of Christ on my tongue. I can't describe it, but it is completely different from the physical "feeling" of Holy Communion in a Roman Catholic Church. I have received by valid intinction (consecrated hosts on a paten with a small chalice attached, where the Priest intincts the Host) in a Roman Catholic Church, but this was still a bit different.

I have a strong devotion to the Precious Blood of Christ, but don't often receive from the chalice, and found that Holy Communion today has brought me more deeply into that particular devotion in a way I will not soon forget.

After Holy Communion, the Faithful return to their pews and stand, for in the Eastern Church, THAT is the sign of reverence.  I knew this in advance and thought that I would miss kneeling, and indeed, I WANTED to kneel.  This Church had kneelers utilized by some, but I found that I wanted to remain standing given the practice and the ancient sign of respect in this Church.  After all...when in Byzantine, do as the Byzantines do.

Please note that this differs from the odd Roman Catholic Churches that stand at the consecration in disobedience and outside of the tradition of the Roman Rite; I attended some of those prior to my conversion and "knew" that standing was wrong...and had a sense of the kneeling that was missing during the consecration.

I did not have that sense of discomfort today. That speaks volumes.


During Holy Communion there are several Hymns, and following, prayers of Thanksgiving. There are more prayers to be merciful to we, the sinner, supplications to God, and an admonition from the Priest to be attentive to Our Lord and the Holy Spirit, as I recall. (I'm sorry I can't link to this part of the Liturgy)

There was no procession out to which we Romans are accustomed.

The people in front of us took this time to introduce themselves and welcome us to their church, invited us back, exclaimed over the children, and said that they had been raised as Roman Catholics.  Lovely people, and for some reason, reminded me of Texans. I don't know why and can't explain this. (no accent, they just..quirkily, made me think of Texans).

But because they were so homey and personable,and seemed so informal even though something was STILL going on in the Church, I was a  bit discomfited. I was watching the Faithful filing forward, as if for Holy Communion, instead of filing out.Clearly people were receiving a blessing from the Priest, who was holding a glass bowl containing what appeared to be oil.

To either side stood servers, the one to my left holding the Bulletin, the one to the right holding a basket and a bulletin.

The man I asked explained that because it was the Sunday to venerate the Holy Cross, they were going forward for the veneration of the Icon of the Cross, and then to the Priest for a blessing. He explained that the basket contained the bread that was not used in Communion.

 I went forward, kissed the Cross, and found that the person in front of me was engaged in a conversation with the priest. I'd started to move forward but saw that I should wait as their conversation continued...clearly this was more informal.  It reminded me of the Roman Rite of the Liturgy of the Priest Greeting after Mass.

The Priest used what looked like a fine-tipped paint brush to paint a cross on my forehead with the holy oil from the bowl. I had to hold back my bangs for this, as did other women. He spoke in Slavic, so I have no idea what he said.

I did not take any of the bread from the basket, but one of my friends asked the Server if it was the Eucharist. He said that it was.

No, it wasn't.  It was blessed bread, but as I understand, not consecrated, so not Christ Himself. This was a cause for concern for a time, but my friend explained it to us (thankfully!) and I can assure anyone who experiences this that no one is desecrating the Eucharist!

After this, we received a tour of the Church, I took photos of the icons while listening, and find that I will need to attend again both with more knowledge of the Ruthenian Divine Liturgy, and to get better photos of the icons.

I left feeling blessed, knowing that I had received Our Lord, and with a greater appreciation of the Universal Church.

Thank you, Jesus. 

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