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Monday, June 28, 2010

Faith, Reason, and Happiness

I recently read Dennis Prager's book, Happiness is a Serious Problem.  While I enjoyed the book, I admit that I read it with a critical eye informed by my last three years of study, and in good conscience, I cannot recommend it as good reading material for the average Catholic.

Please, allow me to explain.

I like Dennis Prager and have read many of his articles. There is much that he says with which I agree and which coincides with Catholic Tradition and belief. Within his book on happiness there are many points that DID fully agree with Catholic teaching, and from THAT standpoint, I do recommend this book to knowledgeable Catholics.

Are you confused yet? I recommend it and yet I don't? 

In our present age, the vast majority of self-proclaimed Catholics are very uninformed. In fact, they haven't been formed at all, but only raised to engage in a particular behavior, that of "doing Catholic things".  To them, that means going to Mass on Sunday, getting Baptized as an infant, getting Confirmed, and this latter to enable one to eventually "get married in the Church."  To the vast majority of self-identifying Catholics, the rosary is a nice prayer but something old ladies carry and young gangsters wear in certain parts of the country.  Catholic homes have the trappings of Saint statues and pictures, especially those of Mary. Holy Communion has a vague connotation of a mere meal we call  "Eucharist" and, many think that after reception of this "blessed thing" one is free to leave church for the bumper-car ritual in the parking lot to see who can beat a retreat faster.  Many of those within this group show up only a few times per year, primarily of which are Christmas and Easter.

Yes. This is the vast majority of self-proclaimed Catholics. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true.This is also the same group that loves to "study" World Religions, pick and choose what beliefs to follow, and still call themselves "Catholic" out of a fundamental misunderstanding of what it IS to be Catholic, for, sadly, they have both never been taught, and as adults, have chosen never to actually study their own faith before either dismissing it entirely or calling it their own while actually embracing tenants and philosophies of other belief systems. 

It is not that I am against learning about other religions; rather, I am an advocate of it.  

I only offer this caveat;  before one goes rushing off to become "informed" in other religions, one must first know ones own, for without a foundation in ones own beliefs, one cannot accept or reject ANY tenants of ANY belief system with any kind of integrity.  This lesson has, at the hands of Dennis Prager, been brought home to me, and it is for this reason that I do not recommend his book, "Happiness is a Serious Problem" for the average Catholic.

A Little Relevant History

Several years ago, a friend gave me this book and although I paged through it, it didn't interest me much so I put it on my shelf, intending to read it "later". A week or so ago, someone on Twitter asked me if I knew of a particular book on "Happiness" written by some other popular author I had never heard of.  Upon reviewing the official web page of that obscure and overly-marketed segment of pop-culture, I knew it was neither something I would recommend or something I wanted to delve into myself; but the query DID remind me of Prager's book which was quite busy gathering dust on one of my many bookshelves. Clearly, it was time to read it.

I began it with great interest and found that although he didn't use the same terminology, he was speaking, initially, by grounding his book in the virtues. He was careful to write his book for the secular set; his definitions excluding, officially, those arising from the purely religious. However, as it went on, more and more it was clear that he wrote from his own religious understanding.  This, above all, was what made the book interesting to me, for, by knowing Prager's  general religious philosophy, I could better accept his position and therefore, better evaluate it critically in light of my own.

While reading I realized, quite deeply, why one must learn one's own religion before trying to delve into another. It is quite popular in our culture, even in the Catholic world, to study "world religions" even by bringing some "expert" claiming expertise in such into a Catholic parish even to teach children!  I have always been against this practice, not out of "intolerance", but rather, out of concern for academic and scientific integrity.  Those who know little about their own position are unlikely to be able to fully grasp the position of another, and the logic that should make up ones foundation, if absent, leads only to chaotic but ultimately meaningless "connections" when presented with a plethora of options.

In other words, it's like an intellectual religious stroke that actually paralyzes any real thought or growth.

New Age, anyone?

Faith and Reason, Together, are related to Happiness. 

In reading Prager's book, I received an insight into his own position, arising from his own Jewish Faith and found that it is at utter odds with what we believe as Catholics.

I'm grateful that he brought his interpretation of  the words of Genesis, "Let us make Man in our image" into a discussion of the "lower parts" of human nature, for it was here that I finally began to obtain an understanding of a fundamental difference between the philosophy of Jews and Christians.  When one follow's Prager's definition of human nature to a logical conclusion, that arising from his own faith,  that God meant "us" to be He and the animals he created, it stands to reason that Man's "animal nature" is by instinct. Therefore, following that, things such as men's desires for  multiple partners, use of pornography, and the moral neutrality of masturbation  stand to reason. They follow a logical flow arising from what he believes both about God's nature and Man's nature.

Understanding this kept me from being outright offended by Prager's assertion that my Christian perspective that pornography and masturbation are deadly sins are a "fringe" belief belonging to a person who is both maladjusted and has taken religion to an extreme.

I wanted to be offended, but when considering Prager's fundamental belief about human nature, I could not be; he is very consistent and logical in what he presents, and although he wrote the book with the secular set in mind, he was still  very clear in that he is informed by his Faith and finds a position of atheism and secularism to be completely illogical, and in fact, a position that inhibits happiness.

I am thrilled to agree with him here, and God bless him for pointing it out! This is one of those parallels with what we believe as Catholics. Gaudiem et spes, the Vatican II document on the Church in the Modern World comments on the causes of atheism and in reading Happiness is a Serious Problem, I was almost surprised that it wasn't a footnote in his own commentary on the subject. One would think that Prager and Pope John Paul II met and discussed this, for they both come to the same conclusion:  that nominal religion (nominal Christianity) has more to do with the growth of atheism than anything else. Prager asserts that the lack of religion in our society is also a detriment to the pursuit and attainment of happiness. His logic, and the logic of the Church, both coincide in this regard.

Christian Anthropology and the impact of Trinitarian philosophy on human nature.

Now, after this brief discussion about what Prager, and therefore, what the Jewish believe about human nature, how does that conflict with what we as Catholics believe?

Prager believes that we are both animal and divine; that when God said "Us" He meant He and the animals.

As Christians, we recognize God's use of the word "Us" to mean the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit:  the Trinity.

While Prager believes Man is created in the image of God and animal, we, as Christians believe we are created in the image of God Himself. We look to Him, and we look to Christ as our example as to how to live, how to sacrifice, how to walk the bloody road to Calvary. We look to Jesus to learn how to unite our sufferings to Him. We look to the Holy Spirit to give us the gifts we need to meet our final end; eternal beatitude in the Divine Processions.

We believe that pornography is a mortal sin because it undermines marriage as well as the dignity inherent in every human being. We recognize that because of that dignity, that any naked, airbrushed woman or man on a magazine page is being exploited and abused, for he or she is not being seen as who she is as a child of God, but by his or her physical attributes which objectify him/her and harm the one who looks upon him/her.  We recognize masturbation as a mortal sin for it takes that which is owed to God in a sacred act, with another person in an act of self-sacrificing love, and spends it in an act of self-love which cannot bear fruit of any kind.  We as Catholics understand that by cooperating with God to elevate what is lowest within us Glorifies Him, thus our quest for holiness by working to overcome the lowest points of our fallen nature is not "neurotic" but rather, a path to Heaven.

Why I Don't Recommend This Book

I don't recommend it (to the average Catholic) because Prager advances positions commonly held by unformed and un-informed "Catholics" who find the teachings of the Church regarding Mortal Sin to be inconvenient to the way they want to live their lives. Already we are inundated by people who at all levels of "expertise" in society who try to say that the moral teachings of the Catholic Church are "outdated" or "extreme" or the like. Those who agree with the popular flow would find even more here to weaken their faith and undermine their own moral fragility.

However...those Catholics who ARE informed and know the moral teachings of the Church as well as the Catholic/Christian belief of Human Nature might well benefit from Prager's book on happiness. There is much Truth within it, when one can recognize and dismiss the parts of his commentary that conflict with our beliefs. Further, it is of use to all of us to read and understand the differing moral positions of others, for it is there that we are able to confront our own doubts and strengthen our own positions.

Tolerance and Intolerance

Ah, the words of our age; they mean so much that they have been rendered to mean nothing at all.

I have a sense that if Dennis Prager was prowling blogs, he'd welcome my own particular post. Part of his book deals with growth in knowledge, the use of intellect as it relates to happiness, and I have to admit that he's right; I have been very happy as I've put my own education to use in recognizing fundamental philosophical conflicts between he and I.

There are those who would read this post and condemn me as "Intolerant" simply because I disagree with Prager. Do you see the irony in such a position, and how one who holds it is probably inhibiting their own pursuit of happiness?

True Tolerance recognizes differences, but doesn't necessarily agree with them or accept them. I accept SOME of Prager's premises, but others I utterly reject because I have a different understanding of God's nature and Man's nature.

I have to admit that although I don't recommend the book to the average "Catholic", I DO recommend it for those who know their Faith, understand their foundations, and can therefore engage fruitfully with the premises Prager establishes.  The more you know about what you DO believe and the more you are able to hold to it, the more you will understand and accept or refute what he (or anyone with an opposing position) has to say.

I must thank Dennis Prager for this book, for he has opened my eyes to some fundamental differences between Christians and Jews; philosophical differences I had not previously understood. Quite honestly, had I read this book when it was given to me, I would not have gotten out of it, both the good and the bad, what I have now that I have completed my most recent three years of formal doctrinal studies.

Actually, although this would never happen, I'd LOVE to sit down with him and discuss our differing beliefs in God and how that leads to respectively differing moral conclusions.

It would be a fascinating conversation.

Ahhh...that would be fun enough to make me happy. At least in that moment.  ;-)
*(Dennis Prager would understand)*

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Feast Day of Our Mother of Perpetual Help

Originally published June 27, 2007

I'm not sure when I first saw the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (or Our Lady of Perpetual Help). I do know that the first time I saw it, I didn't "get it". I was more into "realism" and I didn't like the "art", I considered it to be bad although I recognized it as a certain genre. It was just as off my radar screen as was impressionist, modernist and abstract.

Then I read a little about icons, on a blog or some other formal publication, and it made me consider the style of icons differently; they are not "realistic" for a reason, for they are asking us to go beyond what is seen and into the unseen. Icons are a window to Heaven, in a sense, asking us to overcome our own earth-bound perceptions and see things more from God's point of view. Icons are an invitation to enter into the Divine, to see beyond what is tactile, and to experience, in prayer, what cannot be described in words. Icons are meant to be meditative, and can actually cause one to enter into the contemplative, should God choose to call such a soul through a given image.

After that small lesson, Our Mother of Perpetual Help continued to appear, first here, then there, and then, while I was working on the lesson I was preparing for RCIA with regard to Sacramentals, I couldn't help but stop and read about OLPH. The description of the symbolism in the icon opened my eyes. Although I skipped forward to find what I needed, I marked the page, and realized that, in a way, I was being called. Our Lady was reaching out to me...for it is clear to me now that I did not choose this icon, this manifestation, if you will, of Our Lady...she chose me.

It is no mistake that this icon came into my own personal sphere as I was learning very deeply about the mystery of the Redemption...for this is what the icon is all about.

Non-Catholics do not understand our reverence for Our Lady, but they DO understand the Redemption, for they, like us, believe they have been saved by the Blood of the Lamb. In this icon, the lamb, the Child Jesus, is being held in his mother's arms. Stop for a moment, and consider this image, note the lines, note the expressions, note the eyes...especially the eyes - of each person.

The Archangel Gabriel (who first appeared to Mary with the invitation from God) holds the Cross and the nails which signified the death of Christ, which were, of course, the instruments leading to the Redemption. The Archangel Michael holds the sword that pierced his side, and the spear holding the sponge that wet his lips as he hung experiencing deep, physical and spiritual thirst those hours upon the cross in abject misery. Jesus as a child in this image, was so stricken by the view of these instruments of torture, these tools of his death, that he ran immediately to his Mother, so quickly that he nearly lost one of his sandals.

Note how the sandal dangles near the bottom of the icon, while the other remains attached. Note how he leans into his mother, against her heart, looking over his shoulder at the cross, seeking protection from the shadow of the cross that falls over him...seeking protection from his Mother.

Mary always points to Jesus

Do you see how the lines in the icon all point to Jesus in Mary's arms? The folds in her own mantle point to him both directly and through a diagonal line. The folds in the gold pants Jesus wears (gold signifying God and the Holy Spirit) point to him. Note that he wears a green tunic with a red to symbolize healing, red to symbolize martyrdom, the blood to be shed which brought about the healing of the Redemption.

Look at what Our Lady is wearing: blue, for the royalty of her position, chosen by God, the Queen of Heaven, the Queen of the Angels, herself a creation of God, the most perfect creation (for Jesus IS God, human and divine intermixed), but Mary was chosen from eternity, and wears the color of eternity to signify her role all to God's glory. She also wears red beneath her mantle, for, as Simon predicted at the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, she would be pierced by a sword, and indeed she was...the very sword held by the Archangel Michael who gazes at her sympathetically from her right (our left).

The Secret is in the Eyes

No icon can be really understood, however, without understanding the eyes. We have all heard the term that "the eyes are windows to the soul", and it is the eyes in this icon that indeed penetrate our very souls, inviting us to, in turn, penetrate this icon, penetrating the Paschal Mystery. Both of the Angels gaze at Our Lady as she, in turn, although her head is inclined towards her beloved Child, she gazes at US! Within her eyes, within her expression, she invites us inward. She looks at us with the wisdom that comes with understanding, the resignation to the suffering of her Son and herself in accordance with the Father's will, the deep, deep sorrow only a Mother could know, for she, too is tormented by the vision of the Angels, the instruments of her Son's torture and death as she holds Him close to her, knowing what must be, what must happen, in order for humanity to be restored and saved from our sin.

She, in her gaze, asks us all at once to come also into her arms, for we are her children as well, given to her at the foot of the Cross by Jesus himself. "There is your Mother." We are invited, with John, to take her into our homes just as she welcomes us into her arms, all so she can bring us to her Son, bring us to Jesus.

See how her hands point to him, how the fingers of her right hand point towards his face, the fingers of her left hand, cradling him, also point to his face. Her head is inclined towards Jesus, just as are the angels', and the lines from her shoulder for a direct arrow to him.

But look at the center of the picture...look at how Jesus' hands are turned downward into his Mother's upturned palm. God entrusted Himself in his human vulnerability into the hands of this human woman. When Jesus was frightened, he ran to his Mother, just as all of us have done. He ran to her, and as we see his hands turned downward, it is conveying grace...Grace into the hands of Our Lady, Our Mother of Perpetual Help, to dispense the grace according to her motherly wisdom. Jesus could trust her with such a gift...can not we, her children, not follow the example of Jesus and turn to His Mother for our needs?

Through the window that is this Icon, we see the theological truth: even as we give our own concerns and our own fears into her hands, she passes them on to Jesus. She brings us to her Son, she points, always, to the Redemption. She points to her beloved Son, never denying Him or taking attention away, but rather seeking to bring us closer, drawing us in with her motherly instinct all for the purpose of our our salvation through the blood of her beloved Child.

There is so much to this icon...there is so much to this image, such that books can be written. I have only barely touched on the imagery of this icon, and there is so much more to be said, but one of the things that strikes so many people, other than the eyes, is the sandal...the dangling sandal.

Remember how Jesus ran to his mother when overshadowed by the cross, seeking the comfort and protection of her embrace?

Look at the dangling sandal, held only by a single golden thread. Contemplate the sandal...what does it mean? What does it represent? That sandal is not an accident - it has significance. Consider how the eyes of Our Mother look at us directly, inviting us into the icon, inviting us to penetrate further. Asking us to become a part of the icon.

That sandal....

I am the are you. Sometimes we are affixed to Jesus, but we, too, become frightened by the shadow of the cross, the same shadow that Jesus asks us to brave, so that we may eventually carry his same cross. It is an invitation into his suffering. The sandal is us, falling away in fright, falling away because the road is too difficult, and we can't hang on anymore.

But that thread holds us to Jesus, to that foot that was crucified, in a position for the blood to fall upon us, drop by drop. Sometimes we hold tightly to Jesus...sometimes we fall away, but he never lets go of us.

See how Jesus ran to his mother, and his sandal almost fell off...but didn't. He brings both his fears and his falling sandal to his mother to fix. Who retied the sandal when he was a child? His mother. She did...she rewound it and re-affixed it, just as she brings us all back to Jesus if we entrust ourselves to her hands, just like Jesus did.

Jesus entrusted the salvation of the world into the "yes" of a human woman, a woman with free will, a woman free to reject the very notion. But Mary said "yes", and she suffered the burden with Christ....a burden only a Mother can truly understand.

Jesus, before death, entrusted his mother into the care of the Apostle John, declaring, "There is your Mother. There is your son." Had he had siblings, this would have been a terrible insult to them, but Jesus provided for his Mother, the woman who had always provided for him. He entrusted us all, while on earth, into her hands as well. Accept her own personal invitation. Look into her eyes, place your hands in hers, and leap into her arms when you are in need of comfort. Just as she held Jesus, so she holds us all, and offers us all to her Son, all to lead us to the salvation He provides for us through his very blood.

Our Mother of Perpetual Help... pray for us!

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I've been deep in the midst of writer's block, having nothing to say, wondering if maybe this was the end of the blog entirely. I haven't felt like writing, and even when I have had the time, haven't felt like working on my book.

Some of it is the "crash" that inevitably happens when one finishes school. I have graduated...I have persisted and for once in my life, I have actually finished the race. A miracle if there ever was one!

There has been a sense of "emptiness" that grew over our last semester and has continued to grow through our final class weekend, and got worse after our actual graduation ceremony.  

Once again, I have a sense that I am only a child playing "dress-up". I look around at my house, my car, my debt, my impending graduate loans and my undecided but probable Vocation and wonder, "How did this HAPPEN!?"

I want to run to someone in authority and explain that I am not old enough for all this responsibility, someone should contact some sort of guardian on my behalf, and save me from this mess in the midst of which I reside. 

It doesn't matter that I have been responsible for myself since I was 15 or so, probably even prior to that. It doesn't matter that I have survived for this long. What matters is that, well...I don't actually remember "growing up."  All I know is that it happened and I still wonder if perhaps somewhere along the line there was a miscalculation.  

Today I realized that it's been awhile since I have contacted my chosen "Theological experts" for assistance.  Certainly I have been involved in deep theological discussions, and at times, was answering a question or two posited to me. Yet only a few years ago, I was the one posing the questions to my own personal experts, people I still look up to and will always look to for guidance. Yet somehow, I can't look to them as often, nor do I need to. 

Instead, now, when I have a question, I go to my own shelf, I go to my own resources, and I look up the answer. This isn't always easy, and I recognize now that these questions I'm asking and answering now, especially those that require work, are the same types of questions answered by my friends and "experts" when I was too green to even know which current to follow. 

I've begun to see how much love was involved in answering my own questions, and the knowledge on the part of the people I pestered that, hopefully, that charity would grow within me as well. 

I can only hope that it has. 

I miss asking questions. Sometimes I wish I could still just email my friends so that they could answer the questions for me, but, no; now they would tell me to use my own resources. Some of them have begun to turn their own questions to me, not as a superior, not as a teacher as to a student, but as a friend to a colleague.  

I am intimidated as I know that as a "Master" I don't know nearly enough, but, apparently, I know just enough to go out on my own, to recognize the questions that NEED to be asked, knowing there are answers, but now...the weight upon me is to find them for myself out of the treasury I have been given. Yet there is still  a greater obligation; that of other souls. I have not been educated for myself, but on behalf of the entire Church, maybe the entire world.

But I am only one person. 

A person who can't possibly be grown-up enough to handle such a responsibility. 

Dear God,  have mercy on us all...I'm just a baby! 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Catholicism and the Single Life

It's hard to be a Catholic single.

Not because we Catholic singles are pining away, swooning in a Disney-like desire to be swept off our feet by some holographic or digital airbrushed-perfective image of Prince Charming, to go galloping off romantically into the sunset, but rather....because we're NOT! 

I don't know why, but lately, everyone around me has begun inquiring into my marital status

Most of them, oddly enough, aren't asking about my marriage status first: instead, they are asking me how many children I have! [!!!!!!!!!!!!]

For some odd reason, many people think I have children. Some know I am not married, but still, their first question put to me is about my alleged children. In our culture, children come first, apparently...even within the Catholic Church.

That's called "SCANDAL" y'all, within the proper definition of the term! Most Catholics are so scandalized that they have reversed the "standard" questions put to single women:  no longer does marriage come first, but it is ASSUMED that single women in their 30's or above are also single mothers.

I am not making this up.

This is a serious anthropological observation of our culture, and I'm not the only one to make this observation. Unfortunately, for the moment all I have to provide is colloquial evidence from other single friends as well as my own experience, so really, you'll just have to take my word for it.  However, if you look around at our culture, the line of questioning makes sense: even in my parish work I no longer assume a mother is or was married when she had her child.  All too many "families" consist of a single woman with an absent father who is either single, divorced, or now married to someone else. (And before you judge their conditions, know that many of them never foresaw this outcome, and I thank God every day that they are involved with the Church!).

I don't really want this post to be about divorce and the new mis-definition of "family", though; my interest here is on the struggles of single Catholics, and single women everywhere.

Today I read an article at MSN about the "19 Things You Should Never Say to a Single Person".

I enjoyed the article but as a caveat, I must say I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed. Most of them were commenting from a perspective of "I don't want to be Single". I come from a polar opposite angle:  I don't want to be Married and know that I am NOT SUPPOSED to be married.Therefore I approach the article from a perspective that is deeply and inherently contrary to the most radically average and typical  elements in our society: I am a freely single woman who supports the marriage of a man and woman in all its fullness, and yet believe I am not called to that particular Vocation. My belief is not detrimental or contrary to marriage, for at the very core of my own vocation, I am called from my soul to support it, and to live it out in a very different way, in a different type of formal consecration.

Therefore, without further ado, here is my take on the article:

I took this article from MSN, who reposted it from a Glamour magazine dating blogger. In bold you will find the "things not to be said", followed by my own commentary as a single Catholic woman.  Go to the article itself to see their commentary and responses to the following common comments made to Singles.
 *snark warning* 

1. It happens when you're not looking. It doesn't happen when you're looking and not looking, too. Because it's not supposed to for some of us.

2. There are plenty of fish in the sea. I like dolphins just fine and would like to swim with them, and with sharks, but I'm not sure how our marriage would work out.  Besides, fish smell worse than a locker room in the hockey area in the middle of tournament season....guess I'm not much of a sea-goer.

3. So, why are you single? Because I realized I'm not a piece of meat to be "had" by any butcher who comes along.

4. You're too picky. Yes, I am. I demand respect, I demand the ability to maintain both my chosen celibacy and chastity, and if I do go on a date, I prefer to do so with a man who is thinking with the brain in his cranium and not the one in his Levis.

5. You'll find the right person for you. Yes, I already did. His name is Jesus and He is enough for me.

6. He's out there. No, he's right HERE and I don't need some jock slobbering all over me in order to understand that I exist.

7. It was just bad timing. No, he was a jerk. That''s the kindest think I can say about him.

8. Just have fun with it! Have fun with WHAT exactly?  What are you implying? I'm NOT that kind of girl! Oh, right, that's why he broke up with me; he "wanted some" and couldn't understand why I valued marriage and thought that to be an important step in the process of active procreation.

9. Have you tried online dating? Have YOU?  FYI: if the guy is a jerk in real life, he's even worse online. "Nuff said.

10. He just wasn't the right guy for you. No, he wasn't. Thanks for pointing out the obvious. Please twist the knife he left in my back a little more, and when you're done, please store it in your foot.

11. Well, when my boyfriend and I first got together… I'm happy for you....what's your point? The fact that YOU are married doesn't indicate anything about my future or vocation.

12. When the time is right, you will meet someone.  I totally agree, and some of us met Him when we were Baptized, but it's taking us a very long time to accept His proposal...if He's actually making one. (That's the hard part.)

13. Wow, I wish I were single and in your shoes!  Maybe you should take your shoe obsession to therapy and spend more time with your husband and less time shopping for shoes that will cause you back problems in old age.  Believe me; if they don't fit me, they won't fit you.

14. Your turn next [at weddings]. Stop patronizing me. The fact that I attend a wedding should not be taken as commentary on my alleged desire to be wearing frosting in a liturgical celebration.

15. It will happen when you least expect it. Um...I'm so totally over this it's not even funny. I'm not expecting or looking for it. I've already made a vocational decision, and marriage is not on the list.

16. Some guy is going to come along and ruin your career/life plans. Yeah. I used to hear this one when I was a teen, and actually, it led me astray. Yeah, guys came and they went, and yes, they did ruin my life plans. But I can't blame them: I blame myself for being an idiot and leaving logic at the door. This is perhaps the single most murderous philosophy of the modern age.

17. But you're so pretty! Why don't you have a boyfriend? Seriously? Do I need to dignify that with an answer? REALLY?

18. It just wasn't meant to be.  No, it wasn't. I totally agree.

19. Sure, my guy rescues kids from abusive homes, donated my sister a kidney, and picks up fresh flowers for me daily on his way home from work, but will he QUIT IT with the sports on TV already?  Um...this is just stupid. Stop pretending to be feeling guilty around your single friends. We are not offended by the fact that you are called to the beautiful Vocation of Marriage. Petty complaints only make you look pathetic...they do nothing other than make we singles roll our eyes at your own rejection of the happiness you should be embracing!

All of the above is tongue-in-cheek, both on part of the article and in my own purposefully-snarky responses

I admit I'm writing out of a bit of frustration.

I'm sick of people randomly telling me that "the right guy will come along", and they all seem to have a tone of pity in their voices. To them I say that, no, the "right guy" ISN'T going to "come along", and I don't need any pity because, well...I'm not looking for him or expecting him. I haven't for years.
So many people, to include actual practicing Catholics, assume that I'm suffering as a result of my unmarried status. Many of them don't even realize that there are other options out there.

The constant challenges to my marital status have become so prolific that instead of remaining silent and rolling my eyes while smiling at people's "suggestions" that I be set up with this or that guy, I have begun to hit the questions head-on. I have decided that it's much better to be honest and just state that I'm not interested, not looking, and in fact, God has not called me to Marriage.

Often I wish I had a camera set up to capture the reactions. Yes, it does appeal to my sense of mischief, but I am not the only single woman to do and experience this admittedly unholy conundrum.

So, in answer to all the above questions and those implied by them: 

 Yes, I am Single. No, I am not languishing. No, I am not going to get married. Ever. Yes, I'm fine with that. Yes, I love men and am attracted to men, I have simply chosen to be celibate. Yes, I am offended by the implication that my celibacy implies mental and physiological disorder and wonder how you would feel if I inquired about your alleged vaginisimus or erectile dysfunction?

Oh, I'm sorry. Have I crossed a line by inquiring into your married sex life?  How is that different from questioning my striving to be chaste?

I have to say that I am tired of experiencing the pity of people who think that I suffer because I don't wear a ring on my finger. Quite honestly, I'm sick of being the object of pity and sadly clucking tongues belonging to people who would do better to learn about what's really going on the Church as a whole as opposed to spreading and commenting on the latest inaccurate gossip in their limited social circle

My friends, we need to do more to promote Vocations within the Church. Many of the faithful, far TOO MANY aren't aware that Vocations are exploding, that there ARE options beyond marriage, and good Catholic women are being called!

I may not yet know my place on this pilgrimage, but I am happy with the knowledge that at least I have begun to own it. I know what I am NOT called to be, and this frees me to embrace the other open options. I don't have to look over my shoulder wondering about "what could have been." I've been down that road; I know it has nothing for me.

My sights, and my sails, are pointed to Christ. Perhaps I knew a few years ago where I was headed as I held up every eligible man I met to the image of Christ...and saw that none of them would ever hold a candle to Him. None of them would ever die for me. None of them would remember me once I was out of their sight and actually...I wouldn't remember them, either.

But I couldn't forget Jesus. I couldn't forget Our Lord.

I couldn't let go of Him.

Yes, I am single. I have not yet found the form of Consecration to which I have been Called, but I know that it's there...and that is enough for me.

The pilgrimage goes on...

*This Snark has been brought to you by Adoro te Devote. Any resemblance to real persons or events is purely coincidental or entirely purposeful. May be too intense for some readers. Not responsible for direct, indirect, consequential or or incidental damages resulting from misunderstanding of original intention. Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear. May contain nuts.* 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

What Firefighting Taught Me About Evangelization

I always become a little more reflective when I approach my next birthday, and given the movie I watched a few days ago, (Smokejumpers) I've been thinking a lot about the stuff I did in my 20's, the aspirations I had, and, well, the actual results of my efforts.

Although in many ways I often look back on those efforts and judge them as "failures", when I see them in light of the Cross, I can see something more, something that isn't about me, but tells a story that simply turns my experiences into a living parable.

To be honest, it is only in viewing my past through this lens that both gives me clarity and helps me come to terms with what happened, ensuring that I cannot possibly ever view my life as a "waste of God's time."

EVERYTHING is a part of God's time, and part of His timing. In cooperation with Him, I can look back and find the lessons He intended for me to learn, and hopefully, to pass on to others. What follows is only one of those lessons.

**       **       **

Back in my employment with the big city, during the Tower portion of Firefighter training our days consisted of roll call, review of the SOP's (Standard Operating Procedures), practice of certain foundational skills, and the training evolutions scheduled to build upon the previous day's training. It started out in the same way one learns to shoot a gun: with basic safety (i.e. "dry firing") care and cleaning, etc,....and then we began to get into the real meat of it, slowly building the skills at the appropriate time.

The six weeks at "The Tower" were the final culmination of our training, where we put all the academics and practical skills to use in a systematic application of the SOP's. In other words, it was where our real mettle was tested, where we confronted our fears and failings and had to make the choice to push beyond...or fall back.

There were lessons learned, however, that applied to other things. Much of the process was reminiscent of my law enforcement training and work, and for others in my class, of their military experience.  Yet, what we learned wasn't limited to the practical realm.

While I was there, I was also experiencing my return to God. That adage about there being no atheists in foxholes?  Yeah, well, we weren't in foxholes, but when you realize your mortality in exercises that might well actually cost you your life in mere training, well, that tends to introduce you more often to your knees. (Given that I was at the Training Tower on 9/11/2001, that lesson came even more completely home.)

Truly, God was a part of my training even when religion wasn't a formal part of my life.

The Evolution

We were sent into the Residence, where natural gas-inspired fires would burn according to the control of the Training Captains (read: Drill Sergeants).

Each trainee was assigned a position, and we were expected to know the details of each role within that evolution. I happened to draw what was perhaps one of the physically easier roles, but one requiring the most courage with regard to being center stage:  I was on the nozzle for our first "fire".

We went into the building in full gear, airtanks engaged as if the smoke was real, and with a "charged" hoseline running from the Engine at the closest hydrant.  I had the nozzle in hand, felt the door with the back of my gloved hand, opened it, and crawled in under the smoke, my secondary (in real life would be my Captain pushing/yelling)  behind me, "rolling" the tankline just as he was supposed to do.

It was pitch black, so I relied on my training thus far to follow the wall, find the doorknob, find the fire. Finally I opened the door to the proper room and from the midst of the smoke came the hot glow of flames arising from the gas pilot lights, mimicking a real fire. I entered the room slightly, pointed the nozzle, and opened the line. The Drill Sergeant Training Captain yelled at me to get closer, so, holding the fully open hoseline I struggled against the force of the water to crawl in further, surprised by the blast of heat that hit me so quickly. (No textbook explanation can describe this experience.)

I knew about not "steaming us out". I knew I had to nail this thing and had to do it right. My backup person (cadet like me) came up behind me to provide physical support, and just as he was supposed to, pressed his forearm and elbow against my back to brace me. With this initially-helpful counterbalance, I directed the nozzle according to our shared will to make the fire go away.


The Captain began yelling at me to advance. I tried, with all my might!

 But my partner,expecting me to move on that command,  immediately put more pressure on me.

The problem was this: he thought he was helping me to move forward, but in actuality, his main pressure point was against my upper back and shoulders. Instead of aiding a tactical advance, he was, in fact driving my entire upper body, and therefore the nozzle (our lifeline) into the ground.

I tried to yell back at him to back off, but instead he only pushed harder, even while the Captain screamed even more loudly at me to get the nozzle up and to get closer to the fire.

I knew the Captains could see what was going on and wondered why they kept yelling for my advance when they could see that my face was nearly driven to the cement, such that the water stream had gone even lower than the base of the training fire!  I could see it splashing against the brown vents of the "fire source", far below the flames I was supposed to be hitting. With all my strength I was pushing the nozzle hard upward with my hand and biceps, painfully handicapped by the muscles I was not able to use as a result of my co-worker's own battle to get us into the mouth of the dragon. I was desperately attempting to relieve the pressure, desperately trying to crawl forward, completely unable to move because of the force against my upper back, continuing to drive me DOWN, not FORWARD.


The screams of the other firefighters yelling at me to "PUT IT OUT!!" "ADVANCE!" "YOU'RE STEAMING US OUT!" still ring through my memory. I can't forget the struggle to push back against my backup, trying to raise the nozzle and put us all out of our misery.

To me, it felt like we were approaching the sun. To them, it felt like they were vegetables being steamed in a convection oven. We were all suffering. We were all miserable, and it seemed that perhaps no one, not even the Captains, realized that I was so totally, embarrassingly helpless.

I was helpless because my backup was oblivious to what he was actually doing, and our Captains, ALL three of them,  continued to scream at me to advance, in spite of the fact it was quite literally impossible to do anything other than lay down and die to get any other message across to them.

Instead, I struggled in utter physical and emotional agony, and finally, at long last, I made my way to the fire, close enough to satisfy the Captains, aiming the nozzle properly enough to satisfy my fellow "firefighters".

The fire went out and, well, I barely remember my exit. The only thing I wanted to do was to breathe fresh air. I exited that fire to an entirely new verbal blast from the other trainees. The Captains didn't even allow me to defend myself...they cut us all off immediately with a command to stand down.

As it turned out, they had a point and knew fully what was going on.

One of their points, from a "personnel" (note: not "personal") standpoint was to see how I would handle being pushed both physically and verbally, especially when the two factors made obedience to either impossible. They wanted to witness the struggle and final outcome.

I didn't know any of this when I stood with my immediate "team" from our first evolution. I only recall standing up wearily, drenched in sweat, listening to the complaints of my coworkers and friends, all of whom had no idea what had just happened and why. I left the training building feeling like a total failure, knowing that I had lost respect, certain that in the future, NONE of them would ever want to work with me, certain I would kill them and anyone we were sent in to save.

Then the Captains surprised us all

Yes, they were critical of me; as this was a first-time attempt, certainly I made errors, and serious ones at that!  Those errors were expected and normal. Our superiors went through a litany of errors that didn't leave a single classmate within that evolution untouched. I was certain I would be crucified in this one, and waited, expecting the worst, but, well, that was the capstone:  the harshest criticism was reserved for my #2 person: the guy who was supposed to be backing me up!

The Captains pointed out that it wasn't my fault that they and my coworkers were getting steamed out; it was HIS fault. They actually noted how hard I struggled against him in my attempts to advance, the effect of his force, and spoke of the physics of leverage.

I am not a tall person, but this guy was. All his strength, although intended otherwise, was put into pushing my upper back and shoulders DOWNWARD. It was HE who drove the nozzle into the ground, and me with it. The Captains could see that I wasn't hesitating, but was quite literally trapped by "friendly fire".

They preached awareness, not just of ourselves, but of those we are backing up. As a shorter person, they emphasized where I would need to place support on a taller person, and actually reversed our physical positions to demonstrate this for the entire group, with an open hoseline. For the tall firefighters working with a shorter person, they emphasized the importance of proper position, for the force from behind in any case will quite literally redirect the nozzle, usually to detrimental effect.

They spoke of communication, of the need for both people to be close enough to know each other well, to speak freely and  to be aware of the other and what they needed. It had to be a team effort. They had seen me trying, my partner not listening. It had to be a two-way street or, well...people would die. Those were the stakes.

Oh, yes, I learned that day how important the #2 person is, and it's a lesson I've never forgotten. Even though I was personally vindicated in that particular scenario, I have come to realize that there's more to that lesson, and where it matters, well...I'm the #2 person and I've more than pushed others down: I've steamrolled right over them in a misguided effort to get them to where I thought they should go.

That brings me to the main point:

That lesson makes sense in Evangelization, too.

In Evangelization, we are trying to advance a soul towards the light of Christ, towards salvation. In effect, they are "on the nozzle".

If the backup person is too harsh, too overbearing, instead of helping that soul towards the Divine Fire, they are driving them into stagnancy, or perhaps even worse.

Coming on too strong is as bad as being too lax; in both cases, the soul in question is left in limbo and might actually be destroyed.

There is a balance to maintain, it relies upon teamwork, and God is the Source, the Catalyst, and the Captain.  Every effort comes FROM Him and is directed TOWARDS Him. Any effort that places pressure so as to direct the focus away from Him is, well...deadly. (Yes, there is a place for backfires, for containment, for "surround and drown" spiritual terms we call those techniques the Sacraments, Sacred Tradition, and the Intercession of the Saints, among other spiritual realities.)

Every so often, when I think of evangelization and the mistakes I've witnessed or those I have made myself, I recall that scene, there in the training house, and I recall the sense of panic, the steam, the heat, and the pressure that wouldn't allow me to either advance or flee...and I am brought to empathy.

We are called to lay down our lives in service to Christ. We are NOT called to sacrifice the lives and souls of others. If we deny others the free will given to them by God, we both deny Christ and become culpable for all those we cause to flee from Him.

Evangelization isn't about us; it's about Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls, and the second we lose that focus, we drive others away, and may, in fact, spiritually murder them.

Evangelization must be bound and driven by Divine Charity, directed towards Hope, underscored by Faith. We need to be able to step aside, recalling that conversion and salvation do not depend on us. Many souls need a gentle approach, and hard sales tactics do nothing other than scare them away, or in the terms I experienced, drive them into the ground, paralyzing them.

It is a great temptation for believers to pressure others we love to go where we want them to go, however we must remain cognizant that our pushiness may not be the will of God, no matter what we may think. Perhaps some souls need to suffer in order to be brought to conversion. Perhaps they need to fall away in order to understand what they have lost.(I fell into both categories, and then some).

We have to recall that God is the only one who can bring good out of evil, and He allows evil and suffering for just such a purpose. Look at Our Lord Jesus Christ for this example! Who are any of us to complain of suffering in the face of the One who suffered on our behalf and invites us to partake, to unite our own sufferings to His?

Everyone We Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle

We must act with mercy, in light of what we know of divine justice. For our part, we must temper all we do with true charity, which is not a "warm and fuzzy" type of "total acceptance of all things".  What I experienced that day in the tower was real charity:  I suffered what I perceived as injustice, but were it not for that experience, neither I nor my fellow cadets would have gotten that lesson from any side.

True charity can be harsh, for it has in its sight the ultimate good of every soul. It meets the soul where it is and directs it to something greater. It allows the soul to suffer for what it thinks it loves in order that it might become purified enough to experience what it truly loves.

We must take care of the souls who come across our paths, and be willing to be gentle where a gentle touch is needed. It is easy to be forceful in evangelization;  most of those called to this work in a serious way have strong personalities; it is hard to stand down when the love of Our Lord drives one onward. Yet that very love must be the cause of awareness, for when only one soul is lost, if only one soul flees....we are all deprived.

We all suffer. We are all steamed out.

We become less if only one is compromised.

We lose souls if, out of our pride we forget to take a backseat to those we love.

We lose our own souls if we forget to take a backseat to God.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Losing Our Way

Have you ever gotten lost before?

I have.

Yesterday while driving through the unfamiliar hills and valleys of Wisconsin en route to a destination with which I was unfamiliar, I was seized both by a sense of adventure and a memory of being lost in another time and place.

After I had graduated from college, I was given a conditional offer for a job in the Twin Cities which required a few appointments in different places which they conveniently planned for me for the same day. Part I took place in downtown Minneapolis,  Part II took place in one of the western suburbs. None of that meant anything to me; I wasn't a "city girl" and had no idea where I was going. Were it not for a dear friend who was familiar with the geography and parking garages downtown, I would not have made it even to my first appointment! Having experienced the discombobulation herself, she gave me a "map" to get myself both into and out of downtown, explaining the one-way streets and directions, and where they intersected with major highways.

In the end, it didn't matter. I exited the parking garage after my first appointment, already going the wrong way. I had a bad feeling I was doing the wrong thing, but I continued, hoping to find my way out of the maze of tall buildings that made me feel almost claustrophobic. Seriously; the city wasn't THAT big. I knew if I followed a major roadway, I'd find my way to the right highway and to my destination. There was time; I didn't need to rush.

But the road I was on kept going and going and going, and didn't contain any of the landmarks I was told to look for. I saw that "Hennepin Ave." had at some point become "Larpenteur Ave." It didn't become what it was supposed to become. I knew I was lost, and with that sign, I could no longer be in denial.

There I was, in the inner city...lost. I didn't have a cell phone, I didn't know where to go for directions because, well...I couldn't identify my own location! How could I ask how to get from here to there if I didn't even know where here was?  

Finally I saw a business with an open door, a large parking lot, and an easy way in and out without getting lost even more so than I already was! I walked into that very convenient store and simply asked for directions. I asked where I was and told them where I was SUPPOSED to be going. The clerk and his customer conferred for a moment, and managed not even to laugh at me. I was so far lost that my lost-ness was completely nonsensical!

The worst part about it for me, though, was that I could not even fathom this particular state of being; I had always had a very good sense of direction, and with little information I was always able to create a "map" in my head. But in this situation, there just wasn't enough to go on...and I got lost. In humiliation I accepted the directions, and the very kind customer explained he was headed in the same general direction, invited me to follow him back to the freeway and he'd point to me where to exit to get to my location, although he'd be continuing on.

Gratefully, gripping my steering wheel with white knuckles, staying on his "heels", I followed him as we wound through traffic, and I saw him signal my turn, pointing to the sign he said would be there. Gratefully I exited to the next freeway and found my destination with no problem...and from there, after that appointment, I knew my way home.

Yesterday as I watched for my exit, this time in the middle of nowhere as opposed a city crawling with traffic, I remembered that very kind stranger from so many years ago. As I drove the country roads, remembering the lessons from that day, I wondered if I'd missed my exit again or if perhaps I had not gone far enough. I knew to trust the directions I had been given, so simply decided to believe that the signs I needed to change course would be there, just as I'd been instructed.

As it was...they were. I left the highway, turned down a road, until finally, in the middle of Wisconsin farmland there arise a glorious church steeple: my destination.

Being Lost

I had time yesterday during my long travels to ponder the many things involved in getting lost. We've all done it. We've all lost our way at one time or another.

Being lost at any point implies one very important thing: that we have a specific destination.  Not a random point to get to eventually if we feel like it "sometime maybe", but a very specific destination, and often a specific time of arrival at that destination.

Think about it: when we go somewhere important, we plot our course, we plan (even the detours if necessary), and our goal is to arrive at point X at the specified time, if not a bit earlier.

Sometimes, though, those plans go awry.

There can be obstacles; maybe construction sends us on a detour, or perhaps we try to go straight through it, realize that was a bad idea and take a detour that was NOT on the map. Sometimes the planned detour is wrong and leads us off course.

Sometimes we just feel like being creative and randomly try to take a little jaunt off to the side, thinking nothing of it.

In any case, somewhere in the middle of all those options, we lose our way.

Then something happens: seems that the first reaction to being lost is, insist that we are not lost!

First we think that our chosen course will bring us back to where we intend in due time, and we sit back to enjoy the scenery. Or perhaps we're not loving the scenery, but we sure do love the calm assurance that our current course is going to meet up with the road that will take us to our intended destination.

Sometimes we get so busy enjoying our detour, intended or not, that we completely forget that we even HAVE a final destination. In that case, it takes much longer to realize that, well...we're lost.

There is one common thread involved in getting lost:  Arrogance. Pride.

Oh, no, it doesn't begin that way, but it sure does head in that direction in a big darned hurry!

You can see where I'm going with this....

Our spiritual lives are the same way.

We HAVE a destination:  eternal union with God.

We HAVE a map to get us there:  the Sacraments, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Liturgy, etc.

Yet sometimes, we get lost. Maybe we're just confused and go left when we mean to go straight. Sometimes we hit a pothole, fall over, hit our heads, get confused and shuffle off looking for help where there is none to be found.

Sometimes we just decide we know better and try to break our own trails.

Often we don't realize we've lost our way, for we haven't INTENDED to get lost. We fully desire that final destination in the Lord, but...oh, that shiny bauble off to the side is so....pretty! We stop thinking, we take our focus off of our goal, and in so doing, we become disoriented.

It's a world full of shiny objects and we're all a bunch of crazy kittens. Or maybe we're puppies in a butcher shop, finding the falling scraps irresistible.

Yup. Lost. And when we get lost, we lose a bit of our dignity.

That's the final sign of being lost:  we first decide we must rely on OURSELVES to get ourselves out of our mess. We try to backtrack, we try to push on, and in so doing, we become more and more....lost.

The only way, contrary to what we want to believe, to get our dignity back, is to ask for assistance. To ask for directions. To admit we've lost our way and desire to once again to be set right.

That's why we have the Sacraments, especially of Confession. When we go to Confession, we are simply coming to the feet of Our Lord and admitting to Him, "I got lost."  He understands, and He even knows HOW we got lost, even more than we do!  If we KNOW how we lost our way, we tell Him, through His Ministers who can listen, understand...and draw us a map back to the highway.

I remember that day so long ago, when I was so lost, and so alone that I realized I had to find someone to point me in the right direction. Not only did he set me on my way, but he led me almost all the way!

That's what Jesus for us, although instead of ever leaving us to go it alone, He gives us direction, lights the way, and leads us along the path we must follow.

Our pilgrimage here on earth lasts a lifetime, and we often lose our way. We have only to remember that we are never alone, and if we but go to the throne of Mercy and ask for forgiveness, we will be set back on our way.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


One week ago today, I graduated with my Master's degree.

I arrived at the Church thinking that it would be as anti-climactic as that day, 15 years ago, when I mounted the stage to accept my Bachelor of Arts degree. This was, of course different as our class was significantly smaller, "we'd" [meaning a few people on the graduation committee who worked their tails off, God bless them!]  had to plan the event "ourselves" (with guidance from the University), and, as I was to find out...the Mass and Ceremony were a LOT more intense than I'd expected. And a lot more solemn. 

We processed into the Church to the awesome tones of Gregorian Chant. The Schola Choir was beautiful, and, as the organist we'd hired did not show up for some unexplained reason, the purity of the voices rising in praise to God were unsullied, reminding us not just of the dignity of the occasion, but of the eternal holiness of the Mass.

"The Church Needs You!"

I couldn't stop looking at the Crucifix during the Bishop's homily, as he spoke of God's call to us all to serve His Church, his exhortation to serve with a deep love for sinners, and to go out to evangelize. "As one Apostle to another...."  I looked at the Bishop, startled. His homily sounded more like a COMMISSION than anything else, and of course that was no mistake. God had called us to study. We had responded, and now it was time to go out into the world, bringing to souls all that we had learned....and in so doing, bring them back Home.  "The Church needs you!" the Bishop reiterated again and again throughout his homily.

I knew it was no mistake, but all in God's timing, that we had attended our last class on the (transferred) Feast of the Ascension. That alone pointed to the great commission of Our Lord to the Apostles, to go forth and baptize all nations. It was no mistake, but all in God's Providence that we graduated on a First Saturday, a day traditionally set aside to especially honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and it was no mistake that we were there just before the close of the Year for Priests, in the Month of the Sacred Heart.  

There, well within the Heart of the Church, the Bishop emphasized our responsibility. Oddly enough, I was taken back to the day I was sworn in as a Police Officer. The weight of my Oath, the badge, the gun, and later, the vest, symbolized the weight of my responsibility for lives. As a Police Officer, if I screwed up, lives would be lost. I realized that what the Bishop was saying pointed to something far greater, something that called me to the foot of the Cross, to lay the burden there too heavy for me to carry:  as a theologian, if I screw up....souls will be lost. Not just lives, but....souls!

Interiorly, I shuddered, then clung to the bloodied wood upon which my Savior hung.  I still don't know exactly what He is calling me to do, but there is no doubt; if I have come this far, it is God's intent that I spend myself in union with Christ for the salvation of souls. 


We processed out at the end of the Mass, and I couldn't help but notice all the flashbulbs going off as we passed. It was from that point on that I began to commence with the squirming. I don't like having my picture taken; I never have, but on that day, there was no way to escape it. I had to quite literally grin and bear it. 

We processed in, yet again, this time for the actual Commencement ceremony. The Commencement Address was given by one of our beloved professors, and he gave what we recognize as his final lecture ("No extra charge!" cracked the Program Director later on.), and while we knew it would go over the heads of many of the attendees, we understood it perfectly and appreciated all he had to say.  Our Class Speaker had something to say about (and therefore, to) each and every one of us about "...what we learned in our 75 half hour and 10 minute breaks over the last 3 years...", and I gotta say, he nailed each and every one of us, bringing many of us to tears.  (I actually managed to rein myself in...if I got going, I knew I wouldn't be able to stop!).  I admit that as I write this now, I'm tearing up a bit, thinking about all my fellow students and friends, all we have gone through since we have begun, both the greatest of tragedies and some incredible triumphs.

We received the blessing of the Bishop and processed out, this time with the flash-bulb popping ever closer to us, even as we exited the hall. We gathered in a group for a large group photo with the present Professors and the Bishop. I'm pretty sure all of us were squirming from all the attention. After all, we're bookworms, not celebrities!

As the photo session seemed to go on endlessly, still holding what was probably by that point a clay grin, through our smiling teeth some of us asked, "Are we done yet? Can we go now?"  And still the cameras continued to point in click. 

One of my classmates commented, "This must be what celebrities feel like!"

Someone else queried, "Are we celebrities?"

And yet another cracked, "Hey! They're paparazzi!  We have our own paparazzi!"   Which, of course, caused many of us to burst into laughter, turning our "Danceline smiles" into real ones once again.    

It was a little while before I finally made it into the Hall again to find my fans friends and family. We'd all been limited in the numbers of people we could invite, and suddenly I was grateful for that, for I quickly realized that I didn't have time to be "hostess" to them all. I'm not a socialite by nature, but realized I did have to find a way to greet all of my guests, even while saying goodbye to my classmates, some of whom I am quite certain I will never see again this side of the veil.

Finally, finally I had the opportunity to open the the leather-bound, gold-embossed degree the Bishop had handed me. I stared at it a moment, noting it was all in Latin.  "Oh my gosh, I have a Master's Degree and I can't even READ it!"

It's good to have a reminder to remain humble, that although we have learned a great deal, we've only scratched the surface. It is an invitation to be grateful, and yet, to go deeper, to continue seeking the Truth. 

Our Graduation was a bittersweet event, almost painful in its intensity. I do have a sense of accomplishment, though, of having completed something I set out to do, finally. I know it is a gateway to something, a simple stone on the path I am following to Calvary, and now my foot hovers in mid-air as I try to see the next step.

*                 *               *

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

In the Shadow of Your Wings

Reposted from March 12, 2009:
Have mercy on me, God, have mercy
for in you my soul has taken refuge.
In the shadow of your wings I take refuge
till the storms of destruction pass by.
~ Psalm 57

This morning I could not take my eyes off of these words from Psalm 57. Even when I tried, I was drawn back, especially to the phrase, "shadow of your wings". What did that really MEAN?

It wasn't long before the connection was made, for as I knelt in adoration of our Lord, my eyes were also drawn to the cross, where Christ was stretched upon it, His hands and feet nailed to the wood. His arms stretched out like...wings.

And there it was; under the shadow of His wings, I will take refuge. The only refuge in the storms of destruction that wail around us all is the folly of the Cross, in which we find the Glory of God in the redeeming sacrifice of His Son.

The shadow of the Cross and the shadow of His wings are one and the same. If we are truly seeking God, we would do well not to flee from the Cross, but rather to run towards it and embrace it with all our might, seeking to remain in its shadow for life.

You have kept an account of my wanderings;
you have kept a record of my tears;
are they not written in your book?
Then my foes will be put to flight
on the day that I call to you.
~ Psalm 56

The children of this world look upon the Cross now just as they did then, pointing and jeering, still seeing only folly. Even as they reject the suffering of Our Lord as "violent", they turn to their own infants and inflict the most terrible violence as they rend them to bits in the womb, or determine the aged or infirm no longer have a need or right to live. The children of this world cry out against the sacrificial violence that bears sin away, as they themselves gnash their teeth and riot in demonic anger at the Christians who have fled to the Cross and live peacefully beneath it, embracing life, bearing the storms that MUST come to anyone who truly seeks to be united to Christ.

In taking refuge at the foot of the Cross, we do not flee the world, but see it as it truly is, and see, in Christ who was lifted up and drawn us to Him, the glory of eternal life. The folly of the Cross is the redemption of sinners, and the Glory of God through the obedience of His Son.

My heart is ready, O God,
my heart is ready.
~Psalm 57

When the temptations encroach upon us, let us take refuge, then, in the shadow of the Cross and allow Jesus to fight the battles we cannot face on our own. Let us flee into the shadow of His wings and allow the Precious Blood of our Redeemer to cascade upon us in a flood of salvific love.

Lord, send your mercy and your truth to rescue us from the snares of the devil, and we will praise you among the peoples and proclaim you to the nations, happy to be known as companions of your Son.

(all Psalms and prayer taken from March 12 2009 Liturgy of the Hours, Daytime prayer)

Monday, June 07, 2010


I know I haven't posted much lately, and most of what I have of late has consisted of re-posts.

At this time of transition, my energy is going into prayer and pondering and I haven't felt like writing.

I have already begun working on a serious study of scripture, finally acting on a deep question I have carried with me for three years. I have the skills, I have the resources...all but one:  I still need a 1966 New Jerusalem Bible, the one with the Patristic footnotes. I couldn't even FIND one of these when I first took Old Testament, and of those that have come available, well...I couldn't afford it then and can't afford it now.

If it is meant to fall into my hands, it will. In the meantime, I'll use the tools I have and delve into the Church Fathers and their commentaries that relate to my topic as the time comes.

For now, it is sufficient to read Sacred Scripture with an eye to my topic, mark the relevant passages as I go, and complete the synthesis/analysis/exegesis as time goes on.

Please forgive me if I continue to re-post old things. For now I don't feel like blogging and don't have any idea when I will. It simply isn't that important.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Call me "Bones"

Tomorrow I graduate with my Master's degree: a day I actually thought would never come.

It's been a long 3 years. I've read a lot of books and in the meantime, I've built up a stack of "wanna-read" titles.  Right now I'm in the middle of 4 of them. Being sick of being in the middle of a stack of books once again, in the interim between our last class weekend and now, I've been immersing myself in catching up with my new favorite TV show, "BONES".

Shameful confession:  I actually fell in love with this show when I caught it sometime during my last semester of class.

Watching improbable investigations about crimes that were far more fascinating than any I ever completed has excited my good memories about law enforcement and investigation of fraud, and the other day I found myself giggling over an old memory.

I admit it: I'm still giggling a bit, especially at the similarities!

In my last couple years in Investigation, I was becoming very burned out as a result of several factors. Some of it was the fact that so many people were lying to me for very idiotic reasons. Some of it was the fact that people who were obvious criminals were lying just out of habit and their lies were so obvious it didn't even warrant an investigation. When I had legitimate fraud investigations I was just as happy as when I had legitimate customers.

As a result, I was becoming very jaded and crabby, and as a further consequence, at times I was beginning to lose my patience even while in the field.

On one occasion, we had an especially creepy (read: potentially physically dangerous) customer so my boss came out with me on a vehicle inspection that needed to take place at the suspected fraudmonger's home. As part of my boss's job was to do file reviews, he took this one as an opportunity, and part of that opportunity was to observe my customer interactions. Never mind the fact he was my "backup" in case this guy decided to act in the way his violent history portended.

This particular customer couldn't keep his own story, or his own alleged "damages" straight. He claimed he'd reported a theft, but there was no police record of his alleged report. He reported this and that damage, but when I was there, he gave me completely opposite "symptomatology" of his vehicle.

Tired of the game, I did what any good cop would have done:  I confronted him on the conflicts he was reporting in a very direct way:

 Me, being confrontational:  "That doesn't make any sense. In your statement you said X, but now you are telling me Y. Which is it?"

And then the customer stared at me and tried to hedge around the conflict. I was unrelenting and pressed him on the point.

I wanted to know what I was looking at and what I was assessing his vehicle for. What was he claiming? I did NOT have the time to come out to evaluate the next wishy-washy crappy thing he was claiming with regard to his obvious fraudulent claim.

When the customer went back inside, (tripping up his front steps in the process, only to stand up and state with great dignity, there, at 9:30 am on a weekday, "I'm drunk!") my supervisor quite literally PULLED me aside and said with gritted teeth, "QUESTION HIM ON THE PHONE, NOT IN PERSON!"

He was obviously holding in his OWN temper. (Imagine Booth and Brennan at this point.)

I feigned innocence even knowing I was totally busted in this file review.

Me, feigning innocence to my boss:  "What?  I need to know what he's claiming so I can document it. I'm just giving him a chance to explain his contradictions!"

The criminal customer was coming back down the steps, and this time managed to maintain his footing with the heavy assistance of the railing.  My supervisor stared at me balefully as I came from behind the man's  vehicle to accept some paperwork he was handing over.

I smiled sweetly and asked for clarification on certain points (i.e. I continued to drill him on his inconsistencies albeit in a bit of a softened manner.)

The customer moved into the garage to point something out, maybe some fluid drippings, and my supervisor said to me, again, with gritted teeth, "You are NOT carrying a .9mm anymore!"

Quietly and in a matter-of-fact tone I responded, "I didn't carry a .9mm, I carried a .45!"

Before my boss could brain me with his clipboard I stepped away to join the criminal customer in the garage to stare at the ancient oil stain he was claiming was a fresh transmission fluid leak.

This time I just rolled my eyes instead of responding, pretended to make serious note of the incident, and told the guy we'd be in touch, reminded him to get his forms in and that we were still waiting on the *snicker* police report (*that didn't exist*)

Once in the vehicle, my supervisor said to me again, "You need to remember that you are NOT carrying a .9mm anymore!"

And I corrected him AGAIN, "I didn't carry a .9mm! I carried a .45 !"

Boss:  "Whatever! Either way you're not carrying a gun!"

Me:  "He was lying to me! His story was drastically different in person than it was in his initial statement!"

Boss: "I know, I agree with you! I'm just saying that you aren't carrying a .9mm--"

"--.45!" (me, interrupting..)

Boss: "--anymore! This guy MIGHT have one and might blow you away!"

Me: "He's too drunk to walk up his own familiar steps, I doubt he'd have good aim."

Boss: "Then at least have the decency to protect company property from his bad aim." (half-joking out of exasperation at this point)

Me: "OK, fine."  (pause) "Why can't I have a gun on this job, considering all the customers who want me dead?"

*baleful sidewise stare from scowling supervisor*

Me: *sigh* 


Yeah, call me "Bones". (Only, don't call me Bones. Call me Dr. Brennan).

Friday, June 04, 2010

What do you seek when you dream of happiness?

This is a repost from October 2007, something always fitting for Friday, for throughout the year, on every Friday, we especially recall the Passion of Our Lord.

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness, he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

~ John Paul II, World Youth Day, 2000 (Rome)

I have said before that I realized my life makes no sense apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; as time goes on, this realization is coming to be ever more meaningful. When I look at a crucifix and see the sacrifice of my Savior, it is clear that there is nothing more important than that, anywhere. If I never read another word, if I never sleep another night, if I never see another day, it doesn't matter; because Jesus' death on the cross reveals everything. That very moment in time is the meaning of life and the answer to death. All I have to do, for the rest of my life, is to look upon that cross...and become so enamored and unified that I become a living reflection, and let no other worldly concern pull me away from that goal of the perfection of charity. To love as God loves, that completely self-giving and wholly-self-sacrificing love.

God has willed us into being, out of his perfect love, and he holds us in existance. His grace is everything yet he requires but one thing from us: our willingness to cooperate with His plan for our lives. God calls us, each and every one, by our names, quietly guiding us, revealing his plan step by step. Each moment, we have a choice; accept or reject God's plan? Every moment of every day, we live out our choices and consequences of those choices, and each one either leads us toward the cross and self-sacrificing love, or causes us to flee into the selfishness of our own desires. There is always an option; do we act out of love? Or do we flee from the shadow of the cross?

Ultimately we must make that choice; are we willing to be crucified alongside our Lord, our happiness aligned with the deepest gift of self in accordance with God's own plan for us? Are we willing to offer ourselves to God every moment of every day?

Our own greatness resides in our humble acquiescence to walk in accordance with God's holy designs upon our lives. We are called to be holy; we are created for love, and we are formed to love as God loves.

When we look upon the cross, we should understand that this suffering is in fact the perfection of charity to which we should all aspire. And there is no greater glory to offer to God than to abandon ourselves and our entire lives into His loving hands.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sacred Heart of Jesus

June is the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Therefore, in honor of His Most Sacred Heart, I am posting a prayer of consecration and the litany to the Sacred Heart.

Sacred Heart Act of Consecration Prayer
~ by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque

I, ( your name. . .), give myself and consecrate to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ my person and my life, my actions, pains, and sufferings, so that I may be unwilling to make use of any part of my being save to honor, love, and glorify the Sacred Heart.

This is my unchanging purpose, namely, to be all His, and to do all things for the love of Him, at the same time renouncing with all my heart whatever is displeasing to Him.

I therefore take Thee, O Sacred Heart, to be the only object of my love, the guardian of my life, my assurance of salvation, the remedy of my weakness and inconstancy, the atonement for all the faults of my life and my sure refuge at the hour of death.

Be then, O Heart of goodness, my justification before God Thy Father, and turn away from me the strokes of His righteous anger. O Heart of love, I put all my confidence in Thee, for I fear everything from my own wickedness and frailty; but I hope for all things from Thy goodness and bounty.

Do Thou consume in me all that can displease Thee or resist Thy holy will. Let Thy pure love imprint Thee so deeply upon my heart that I shall nevermore be able to forget Thee or to be separated from Thee. May I obtain from all Thy loving kindness the grace of having my name written in Thee, for in Thee I desire to place all my happiness and all my glory, living and dying in true bondage to Thee

The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the World, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, Son of the Eternal Father, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, formed in the womb of the Virgin Mother by the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, united substantially with the word of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of infinite majesty, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, holy temple of God, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, tabernacle of the Most High, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, house of God and gate of heaven, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, glowing furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, vessel of justice and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, abyss of all virtues, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, most worthy of all praise, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, king and center of all hearts, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Divinity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, in whom the Father is well pleased, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, of whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, desire of the everlasting hills, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, patient and rich in mercy, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, rich to all who invoke Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, fount of life and holiness, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, propitiation for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, saturated with revilings, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, crushed for our iniquities, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, made obedient unto death, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, pierced with a lance, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our life and resurrection, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, victim for our sins, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, salvation of those who hope in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, hope of those who die in Thee, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, delight of all saints, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord,
Lamb of God who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
V. Jesus, meek and humble of Heart.
R. Make our hearts like unto Thine.

Let us pray

Almighty and everlasting God, look upon the Heart of Thy well-beloved Son and upon the acts of praise and satisfaction which He renders unto Thee in the name of sinners; and do Thou, in Thy great goodness, grant pardon to them who seek Thy mercy, in the name of the same Thy Son, Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, world without end.



O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus...have mercy on us!
O Most Sacred Heart of Jesus...have mercy on us!
O Most Sacred Heart of our salvation!

Immaculate Heart of Mary....pray for us!