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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Theology of the Rant

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”
 ~ St. Francis de Sales

I've really been praying about this, and in examining my conscience, my occasions of sin, etc., I've really had to hold a mirror up to myself and accept responsibility for my own contribution to the problem.

We all seem to love a good rant. It gets us fired up, it sets off a domino-effect in the echo-chamber that is the world of blogging and social networking, and the next thing you know we're all fired up and ready for a good fight.

Oh, wait...what does THAT have to do with holiness?

One of the things I noticed is that either in writing or reading a rant, I can FEEL my blood pressure rising, and at times, it sets my blood to the boiling point.  In the past I've tried to justify my own feelings or behavior by saying, "Well, there IS such a thing as righteous anger!"  And yes, well, SURE there is! But the difference between "righteous anger" and "ranting anger" is that, well, I'm in control of the former, and the latter controls ME.

Now, I'm not saying that all "rants" involve anger. Often they do not. Sometimes they are simply humorous outtakes on situations, sometimes they are simply a passionate statement on some topic, and written for the point of positively getting people "fired up" to take some kind of action.  The fact is that as we are humans prone to all sorts of things like laziness and apathy, at times we NEED to have a fire lit under us to get us up off our rear ends. In light of this, please understand that I am not condemning anyone in particular or any posts in particular. Nor am I saying that people should not write with passion!  What I am trying to point out is that there is a difference between "writing with passion" and "ranting".  Sometimes the lines are blurred, and we have to learn to recognize those lines.

I can't always.

A few weeks ago as I began to ponder my own Lenten sacrifices, and the point of them, which is conversion, I took a look at my own blog and noted a few things in the blogs of others. For awhile now I've been avoiding the ranting-tone writings of many bloggers, for I noticed that they do to me, physiologically-speaking, what the sudden use of curse words would do when I worked in adolescent psych:   it upset my balance, it sent me into stress mode, and it caused me to want to make an immediate response.  Adrenaline.

I shouldn't need an adrenaline dump if I'm sitting at my computer. It's a waste of perfectly good neurochemicals and quite honestly, it distracts me from God. It distracts me from prayer. It disturbs the peace which should remain with me as I struggle constantly to keep focused on the Lord.

In all honesty, I'm sick of reading about complaints about the Church, and I'm sick of writing them, too.  We as human beings are so given to criticism, to focusing on the negatives in the Church, to carrying on the rants of others and making them our own.  But do we ever stop to consider whether or not our rants are BUILDING UP the Kingdom of God?  Do we ever stop to consider whether our rants truly Glorify GOD, or are they just self-seeking pleas for personal glory from a rant-happy crowd of unhappy Catholics, feeding further into their (and our) own unhappiness?

Is there true goodness in that, or do you, like me, smell the acidic scent of sulpher?

As I've been discerning the Visitation Nuns, I've pondered more the words of St. Francis de Sales, their Founder, and his gentle approach.  Time and time again I've come across writings of Saints, and statements about them, referencing their continual kindness towards others, their constant peace and gentle responses even in the face of outright hostility, dissent, etc. I am further convicted by the book I'm reading for Pastoral Theology:  Jean-Baptiste Chautard's "The Soul of the Apostolate."  He references this reality of holiness, and how souls are won not through harsh correction, but by a gentle, consistent response and patient teaching.  Even those that seem "lost" come around when they recognize the need to drop their own hostility, for it is not being returned in kind...ever.  They recognize, in a gentle response:   God.

True holiness cannot be attacked, cannot be undermined, cannot be destroyed. It needs no defense. The most an attacker can do is destroy the body, when truly they are trying to destroy God in the soul of that holy person.  This is the reason for all the martyrs throughout the history of the Church.  God can't be killed.

Why, then, do we become so defensive and angry when our faith is attacked?  Why are we so ready to respond with condemnation and judgement and vile, mean-spirited humor?  When, in the history of the world, has THAT tactic EVER won souls?

Although St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony were known for their impassioned preaching, they did not descend into sin by allowing anger or frustration to control them. What shone forth in their words was the very passionate love of Christ and zeal for souls that hadn't a bit of anger in it.  They had no need to be angry: the Truth speaks for itself, and is sufficient in and of itself to win souls.

St. Francis de Sales, another great preacher, suffered a great deal in bringing souls back into the Church, and many are not aware he had a problem with his temper. Do you know that after he died, they discovered GROOVES worn under his desk from him scraping his hands in frustration underneath, as he struggled to keep his anger and frustration at bay?  Yet, none ever saw anything but an enduring patience and expressions of true charity for those who he sought to help.

In light of all of this, and in light of all I am continuing to read, I've decided to take it all to heart. Although I am fond of passionate writing, I will do my best to keep it from being a "rant" so that none will read anger, especially where there isn't any! I will try to avoid any use of sarcasm (for which I have a special, but clearly disordered "love"), and as I have been, I will continue deleting old ranting posts. I may even clean up those posts that seem angry in tone, albeit only as I have time.  (School takes precedent over all of this.)

For Lent, I'm going to work on focusing on what is GOOD about the Church, even as I also continue my focus on the Passion and Death of Our Lord. Yet, I hope my "rants" are over, and maybe for good. Lent is a time for conversion, a time to re-focus on God and grow in holiness.

If we are not growing in holiness, then what ARE we growing?

St. Francis de Sales... pray for us!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Fridays in Lent?

I don't know about you, but I'm weary of hearing both Catholics and non-Catholics trot out the "saving-the-fish-industry" tripe in explanation as to why Catholics may eat fish on Fridays.

I did a quick google search today and saw all kinds of weird questions, such as:  "Where does it say that in the Bible that we have to eat fish on Friday", and "Why do Catholics have to eat fish?"

Those are the wrong questions!

Let me address this:

Catholics DON'T have to eat fish on Fridays in Lent!

This is why the "fish industry" myth is so ridiculous, and I'm flummoxed as to why it is so popular and remains so unquestioned!  When it comes to Catholics and public opinion about us, what happens to critical thinking?  Why is it that myth reigns and weird outta-left-field-ancient-ignorant anti-Catholic attitudes become such a part of our lenten practices?

And really, I also wonder why ANYONE cares whether or not Catholics eat fish on Fridays? Why is something so inane even a topic of discussion? Who had the pettiness to invent this myth, and who is so petty as to pass it on especially in this day and age?  If this myth were true, wouldn't it actually be a GOOD thing, for it would have been an exercise of the Church's teaching on social justice and charity for the poor?

My dear friends, if you run into someone who lodges this accusation, please point out to them that at NO point in the history of the Church were Catholics EVER ordered to eat fish on Fridays.  If they continue to press the point, ask in turn that they locate the Church document that ordered the practice of EATING FISH.

It isn't there. It doesn't exist. If you think it does, please find it and send it to me. I would be very interested in reading it.


What we are asked to do is to offer a universal penance in honor of the death of Our Lord on the Cross, by abstaining from meat.  That is a FAR CRY from the claim that we "have to eat fish on Friday."

But as Fr. V. at Adam's Ale said in a perfect summary of fallen human nature:

 "When we feast we feast. When we fast, we cheat."

THAT (read the whole post to understand "that") is why the Church asks us to practice a common discipline, a common penance, during lent. NOT because the fish union went to a pope and said that they needed help getting people to eat their slimy offerings. “Please make Catholics not eat meat on Fridays so that we can improve our bottom line!” If that were the case the pope would have said, “Eat fish on Fridays!”
We do not eat fish on Fridays. We abstain from meat. The reason so many Catholics eat fish on Fridays is that when we feast we feast, and when we fast we cheat. “They didn’t say we couldn’t eat fish so let’s eat that!” And Holy Mother Church rolls her eyes and says, “Fine, eat fish instead.”

Now, that's ONE explanation, but there is another that gives us some insight into the actual DISCIPLINE of this particular penance.  The fact that there is a tradition (small "t") of SOME Catholics eating fish during Lent goes back to the allowance of fish in place of meat. And I can tell you, growing up, while I LOVED to go fishing, I HATED eating the catch. I hated everything ABOUT fish:  the smell, the taste, the texture, the fact I had to eat it anyway if I wanted dessert, etc.  For me, eating fish on Fridays was a very real penance.  (I don't mind fish now...I've grown up. But I still don't eat it on Fridays especially during Lent. I tend to go vegetarian instead.)

But I digress, as usual. So let me offer you another explanation that comes from St. Thomas Aquinas himself:  (Thanks to Taylor Marshall at Canturbury Tales  for the tip to look to this part of the Summa: check out his post and comments as well.)

From the Summa Theologia, IIa-IIae Q.147.8:

Whether it is fitting that those who fast should be bidden to abstain from flesh meat, eggs, and
milk foods?

I answer that, As stated above (a. 6), fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the  concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products, such as milk from those that walk on the earth, and eggs from birds. For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods.

Reply to Objection 3. Eggs and milk foods are forbidden to those who fast, for as much as they originate from animals that provide us with flesh: wherefore the prohibition of flesh meat takes precedence of the prohibition of eggs and milk foods. Again the Lenten fast is the most solemn of all, both because it is kept in imitation of Christ, and because it disposes us to celebrate devoutly the mysteries of our redemption. For this reason the eating of flesh meat is forbidden in every fast, while the Lenten fast lays a general prohibition even on eggs and milk foods. As to the use of the latter things in other fasts the custom varies among different people, and each person is bound to conform to that custom which is in vogue with those among whom he is dwelling. Hence Jerome says†: “Let each province keep to its own practice, and look upon the commands of the elders as though they were the laws of the apostles.”

* Cf. P. I., Q. 118, a. 1, ad 3. † Augustine, De Lib. Arb. iii, 18; cf. De Nat. et Grat. lxvii.
e “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas. Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Second and Revised Edition, 1920.

Well! That's interesting, isn't it?   Keep in mind, before you start arguing about what science tells us about nutrition, that the questions regarding the discipline of Lent really don't have anything to do with nutrition at all. They have to do with SACRIFICE and controlling our passions in order to be better conformed to Christ.   You can read the entire question of fasting here.  Note how the Angelic Doctor uses the term "flesh" and its relation to humanity and thus to Christ.

We don't eat fish on Fridays by any decree from Rome. In fact, I'd argue that Lenten Fish Fries go against the spirit of Lent, except for the fact that they are usually held for the purpose of giving alms, another Lenten requirement.  (Yes, we are called to fast and offer our savings from the food we AREN'T eating to the poor, or offer alms in some other form.)

I loved fishing and have written of my memories of fishing with my Dad as a little girl. But I hated the smell, the taste, the processing of the fish, and found the seeming obligation during Lent to eat fish to be truly penitential, but for a few exceptions.  I don't mind it now, but tend to make it a point to deny even the fish that I like in order to experience the deprivations and penance required by the true spirit of Lent which point to the sacrifice of Christ and our obligation as Christians to become more like Him.

The fact is this: 

As Catholics, EVERY Friday throughout the year is a commemoration of Good Friday, thus it is a penitential day. EVERY FRIDAY requires us to do some kind of penance. In America, in most dioceses, we can decide what we want to do as penance. Most observant Catholics continue to give up meat on Fridays as it is easy to remember and consistent...and when there are social plans that may involve meat, say, at a friend's home, it reminds one to recall Christ's own sacrifice and maybe give us a chance to proclaim our faith even if in social discomfort.

I don't know why, but the Jews and the Muslims don't seem to have a problem proclaiming their faith through observance of their dietary laws and observances. Why is it such an issue for Catholics?  When did WE turn into such complete wusses?

News for most Catholics:  it's a sin to NOT do some sort of penitential observance on Fridays throughout the year! It's not a "Lenten" thing, but a WEEKLY thing!  

During Lent, though, we are required to abstain from meat in union with all Catholics throughout the world, and if you want to focus on the Social Justice end of it, in union with all the starving peoples everywhere, to whom you can give the money saved so that THEY can have meat for once.

What's so hard about that, and why is it such a cause for controversy?

If you're one to attack the practice, Stop it! Turn your heart and soul to Christ in place of bitterness.  He did not die for any of us so that we could be free to be jerks.  He died so that we might follow Him, take an example from His own Holiness, and rise above our fallen nature in cooperation with Grace. Lent and the imposed disciplines of Lent help us to do that.

It really is that simple.

Urgent Prayer Request for Christians in Mosul

I found this at Padre Steve's blog, Da Mihi Animas, and post the letter from Dominican Sister Donna Markham, OP:

From: Angelo H Camacho To: Sent: Thu, Feb 25, 2010 12:33 pm Subject: URGENT PRAYER REQUEST
Just got this tragic news from our Dominican sisters in Iraq... prayers, please
Fr. Camacho

Dear Brothers,

Please read the following e-mail sent by Sr Donna Markham, O.P., the Prioress of the Adrian Dominicans, about our Dominican Sisters in Iraq and the entire Christian community in Mosul:

Dear Sisters, This evening I have received very tragic news about the situation in Iraq. I have just returned from being with the 5 Iraqi sisters who are with us in Adrian. Today, all the Christians have fled from Mosul.

There have been murders and rapes of Christians there and for now they are fleeing to the Christian villages. Sister Maria is very frightened about the safety of the sisters and the Christian people. As of now,the five elderly sisters who have been holding down the Motherhouse are choosing to remain there because they do not want to lose their Motherhouse to the terrorists. She said most Christians are making plans to evacuate from Iraq and, as a consequence, she does not know what will happen with her Congregation. She said they will follow the Christian people where they go, but where that will be is uncertain. The sisters' families remain in grave danger and, as you can imagine,the young ones with us and with Springfield are terrified. As of now, nothing is being reported in the US press. She asks if any of us know people in Washington whom we could contact and tell the story, to please do so. Most importantly, she asks for our prayers. Love, Sr. Donna

Please keep this situation in your prayers, and, as Sr. Donna asks, if anyone has any contacts in DC who could bring this to the press or to Congress, please consider doing so.

Fraternally, Fr Brian Mulcahy, O.P.

Jesus, Take Me With You!

A few months ago, while praying during Mass, as I gazed upon the crucifix after Communion, I found myself asking Jesus to take me with Him.  This is a variation of an old prayer from a few years ago, one of those things that spontaneously comes upon us, and we pray it even if we really don't understand what we are really asking in that moment.

This morning while meditating on the mysteries of the rosary, I suddenly understood, at least to some degree, of what I was asking that day, and as I continued to pray, it all began to make sense.  As always, God's timing is impeccable.

Jesus answered my prayer long before I ever prayed it.

When Jesus went down into the Jordan river, He took on His mission, giving his formal fiat, taking us and the sins of the whole world upon His shoulders. His baptism is symbolic of his acceptance of death, through which we must all descend, and his rising from the waters points to the resurrection.  As He took us with Him into the river, so, too must we die so that we can rise again with Jesus in the resurrection. 

That means that when Jesus went into the Jordan to be Baptized....He took me with Him.

When Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, He was speaking directly to me and telling me not to live only according to the minimum requirements, but to go deeper, sacrifice more, and become more and more human. 

When Jesus healed the lepers, restored the sight of the blind man, and exorcised demons, he tooke me with him in tow to show me that it's not actually about physical healing, but spiritual, and that's what He REALLY wants to offer. And so I went with Him into the Confessional so that I, too, could become a sign to the world of His mercy and forgiveness. 

When Jesus broke bread and gave thanks, when He washed the feet of the Apostles, He brought me with Him there, too, to reveal the beginning of the Mass and the origins of the ordained Priesthood, so that not only would I recognize the fulfillment of the Covenant when he died on the Cross the next day, but I would recognize God's own authority in His ministers, and the ongoing presence of Christ in the Mass and in all the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.

When Jesus prayed and wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took me with Him for He was not just weeping over my sin and those of the whole world, but He was fully entering into and taking on our own suffering so that He could weep WITH us and not just FOR us. 

When Jesus went before Pilate, He took me with him so that I, too, could choose to either wash my hands and walk away, or instead, become docile to His love and become the Cross that He carried for my salvation.

When Jesus was scourged at the pillar, He took me with him so that I would know the selflessness of love and the sacrifice that restores true dignity.

When Jesus was crowned with thorns, He took me with Him so that in his degradation, I would be brought to my knees, desiring to offer mercy to Mercy Himself, reaching out to remove the thorns He wore to fulfill the punishment for sin, only to find them piercing my own hands, drawing my own blood, helping me to enter into the suffering of my Savior.

When Jesus walked the road to Calvary, He took me with Him upon His own back, and only fell because I did and the weight of my sin was so heavy he condescended to fall even lower than I so that I would not be lost forever. 

When Jesus was nailed to the Cross, He took me with Him so that I would recognize the impact of sin not just on myself, but upon the world, for which He was willingly being sent to His innocent death.

When Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, He brought me with Him for He drew me into His embrace and gave me rest under the shadow of His wings, where I begged to remain, for I recognized the Cross as my only defense.

Yes, Jesus HAS taken me with Him, every bloody, painful, wretched, agonizing step of the way.  In spite of my obstinance, in spite of my rebellion, in spite of my willful disobedience.  He has taken me with Him and has not let me out of His sight, even when I tried to hide from Him. 

The price He paid for my redemption was so great that He would not, could not, let me go.  He chose instead to suffer in patience, knowing that my hardened and fickle heart could be softened, that His love could overcome my rebellion, and that one day, I might still have a chance to return to Him with all my heart, all my soul, and give Him my whole life.

He asks for nothing less. And I ask for nothing more.

Take me with you, Jesus.  Always.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How Long, O Lord?

Suffering is important and we can't escape it.  I know that I have often written of the need, and the call, to unite our sufferings to those of Christ, but the truth is that I seek to escape just as much as everyone else.

One of the things I have prayed for this Lent is to really SEE how many times I have caused Our Lord to weep over me as He did for Jerusalem.  I know I am in need of a very deep conversion, as I have allowed sin to rule my life in place of Jesus.

Truly, in order to grow in virtue, to eradicate sin, we have to recognize it, we have to renounce it, and we have to keep our eyes on Jesus. It is here that we suffer the most, for we recognize the damage done to our souls, maybe even our bodies, and our relationships because of our sin. Perhaps our suffering is at first self-centered, but in keeping our eyes on Jesus and on the Cross, that suffering is transformed to a recognition of something far greater, something that transcends even the most horrific temptations.  When we realize how far we can fall, and look upon the Cross to see Our Lord, who condescended to become one of us, to become one WITH us, what we find is that our love for Him begins to grow far stronger than the love for our favorite sins.

More and more, we desire to embrace Christ and live only for Him.  It is folly, then to try to run away from suffering, to be "positive" and deny the need to suffer during Lent, for it is only through embracing the Cross that we can EVER embrace Jesus.

How long, O Lord, have you wept over me as you wept over Jerusalem?  How long have I fled from you, how long have I denied you, how long have I been the cause of your suffering? 

Help me, Jesus, to embrace the Cross and die to myself so that I may one day become the cause of your joy.  


Harsh Reality

I have been pondering Faith in the last several days, and the reality of why I continue to choose sin in the face of what I know of Divine Revelation.  I've considered my moments of disbelief, and those moments where the reality of God brought me to the dirt.

I can boil it down to this:

1.  When we want to sin, when we want to engage in what we know to be contrary to our dignity of human beings, we choose not to believe in God, and we get really militant about our disbelief.

2.  When we become dissatisfied, and when our own behavior is so offensive to our sensibilities that we are brought to the realization that we have a dignity that transcends our animal appetites, and we are so brought to repentance...then we choose to believe in God.

There is no in between. We either love God or we don't.  

And that's why we have, as our center, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Because we cannot remain indifferent. We are brought, through  the Cross, to face God and face ourselves...and we must make a choice.

And every day  I wake up and realize that Faith is a decision and life is a gift, and I immediately come face to face with the above-defined fork in the road.

And every day may involve a different decision.

I can't express to you how grateful I am for the trails between the fork in the road on those days which I choose the wrong road.

God is merciful.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Redux for Lent: Hanging by a Fingertip

When I was hired by the Fire Department. and went to training, I knew that I'd have to overcome my irrational fear of falling, because this kryptonite translated very easily into a fear of climbing ladders. I had to climb with gloves on my hands, in boots, wearing equipment that weighed me BACKWARDS, and of course, what if there wasn't someone there to butt the ladder? The ladder could fall. With me on it. And others.


This particular post isn't about ladders; in fact, it's about something that didn't scare me at first. Until I was literally holding on to my life by my very fingertips.

My first rappel was off of the 4th floor of the concrete training tower. While my friends observed that it appeared that this evolution scared me more than my nemesis, the roof ladder, I was actually fairly comfortable. However, I was shaking with effort...the rope we were using was very heavy, and I wasn't clearly understanding the laws of physics that went against my nature: such as:

Rule # 1  "Open your hand and let go of the rope so it will slide!"

Overall, my first rappel was a good experience. I was slow as I tried to get the hang of it (no pun intended), but fear wasn't really a part of the picture because I felt very in control. I'd tied the knot we are all depending upon (and tied it well!), and although there was no safety officer on belay (contrary to SOP's), all was under control.

My second rappel was different. This time, while our Deputy Chief of Training actually decided we did not "need" someone on belay because "nothing had ever happened before", the FD Safety Officer happened on scene and took up his post....just in time. Apparently he saw this situation as being a very bad thing and realized that if he didn't take over, well....

Aside:   (Thank God he arrived when he did...two cadets fell that day and would have been seriously injured or killed if the Safety Officer had not been on hand, on belay with the rope in his own hands!)  

And the Deputy Chief heard about it, believe me. (No one outranks the Safety Officer when it comes to safety issues!)

I remember standing at the foot of the tower that warm, cloudy afternoon, waiting for my turn at the evolution, to carry the pump can (85 unweildy lbs) up the 6 floors + to the roof of the tower, to rappel down wearing an SCBA face piece with the ambient air valve open, tanks on our backs, but not turned on, an axe dangling from the spanner belt on one side, the spanner wrench on the other. While I watched those who went before me, I saw two of them fall. The first fell a story and a half (about 15 feet) before her descent was slowed, then stopped. ALL of us reacted in horror to this event.

Soon it was my turn. I labored the pump can up to the roof and tied my knot to the anchor. My facepiece was fogging over, I was already tired and winded, and the ambient air valve is not made for this kind of labored respiration. If the tank was on and the facepiece operating as it was designed to do, there would have been no problem, although admittedly my tank would have been dry in very short order. As it was, every single one of us was hyperventilating not so much from exertion (although that was a factor) but from a lack of being able to draw a decent breath!  It was absolute Hell, and every firefighter ever in this kind of training can verify this.

So I tied my knot and went to the parapet, took up the rope, ran it through my D-ring and stepped over it - straight into thin air.

I started out decently, holding my right hand high, palm up.

But I hadn't calculated the weight of the rope, and I wasn't adept at dropping my upper body perpendicular to the wall; and so the rope seemed that much heavier. For those who are not familiar with what we called "life-safety rope", this is not some piece of twine. This was heavy-duty rope, and I was holding 6 stories' worth of it. It probably weighed as much or more than I did at that height. (Seemed like it, anyway!)

It was a combination of errors that got me into a precarious position. The first was my body position. I could not seem to get myself to follow the directions to get my head lower. Instead, I was trying to "muscle" it. Mind you, at that time, in training I was doing 20-25 lb bicep curls...but that was nothing in the face of trying to muscle a rappel. The rope should have been sliding through my hand, but I had a death-grip on it.

As I descended towards the 4th floor balcony, where I'd have to "invert" and swing inward, my hand was being pulled further and further toward my hip. I was losing the rope. Desperately, I tried to abduct my hand outward. I tried thrusting my body hard to my left, trying to scoot "up" the rope, while pulling hard with my right arm to get the rope into my hand and get my hand back up. It backfired. I still remember my face crashing against the cement wall, helmet clunking, the rope sliding through my hand, losing grip.

I was shaking. I couldn't see because my facepiece was fogged over. I'll never forget the sound of my breath wheezing in desperate hitches through the ambient air valve, which sounded like it was about to give out. I couldn't get air. I couldn't think. My Captain was screaming at me: "YOU'RE FINE!"

 That was the most useless thing he'd ever screamed.. And he liked to scream. He was a useless Captain. All we cadets suspected as much but this particular suspicion was confirmed when he yelled at me, "LET GO OF THE ROPE!"

That was the first and last time I ever yelled back at him. "NO!"

I was NOT going to let go of the rope. 

He ordered me to let go. I was NOT going to let go. Period.

All I could think about as my breath rasped in and out, as sweat ran into my eyes, as my fingers tried to curl bone around the rope,  was the hard cold pavement 4+ stories below me. I thought about my friend falling more than a story before being stopped. I wasn't sure who was on belay, if anyone. I couldn't trust that ANYONE was there.   And I thought about my fear. Here I was, dangling high above the ground, facing my most terrifying fear become reality.

 I was going to fall.

You may think I'm exaggerating the situation. I'm not. This is NOT hyperbole; it's EXACTLY what happened that day.

I was flat against the cement wall. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't see, and all I could hear was my Captain screaming at me to give up and let go.

 Don't use the argument that he was using "reverse psychology"; he wasn't. This guy was not fit to be a Captain, and only did it for the power trip. He was NOT well respected even among his own ranks...not as a firefighter, and certainly not as a Captain. (This is a fact).  And he'd already written me off, even before that day.

It does NOT help, when facing your worst nightmare, that the one guy who's supposed to be in your corner shouting helpful advice is instead leading the cheer for your destruction.

I still had the rope in a deathgrip. It was a fist-length away from my butt. (Not to be gross; it's just to convey where the rope was, and it's NOT the same thing as "hip". Ask a climber.)

Somehow, I managed to ignore my Captain's screaming....he was at that point screaming from the 4th floor balcony, just below me. I would have given him "The Finger" if I had one to spare. I'm thankful now that I did not, it being occupied with keeping me from splattering to the ground.

All I really knew was this: Very simply stated, I resolved only ONE thing: I was NOT. GOING. TO. FALL

There, in the cacaphony of the moment, was a snapshot of clarity; I had to make a decision. I envisioned falling, all that could happen, "good" or bad. None of the options was acceptable. I considered; "What if this is for real? What if there is no one on belay?"   (Remember in reality...I WASN'T sure there was someone on belay.)

This was about survival, and even if my dimwit Captain didn't see it, I did. I couldn't give up. In Law Enforcement training, they taught us that no matter how severe the injury, how intense the pain, how futile the situation....SURVIVE. I'd lived through thier courses, the raids, the tear gas, CS gas, and pepper spray straight to the eyes...twice. I was NOT going to let go of the rope. It was a very conscious decision in a time of panic.

Slowly, I managed to place my feet back against the wall and "walked" upwards, trying to take the weight off the rope. As I did this, the rope slid ever further, until it was only the pressure of the two first fingers of my  thickly-gloved right hand, pressed against the lower portion of my thigh. that kept me suspended.

It was agony. Every single muscle was shaking. I was crying, both from fear and the agony of trying to survive. From the punishment of the words of my Captain who clearly wanted me dead.  From the pain of my breath rasping harshly in my throat. From the frustration of not being able to see.

From the fear I was about to fall to my death to the great rejoicing of the one guy who was supposed to be on my side..but obviously wasn't.

I was not much of a Catholic at the time, but I was trying, and I had always believed in Guardian Angels. In that moment, I said a prayer to my Guardian Angel for help, but nothing happened. I asked God for mercy, and begged for help. I just wanted the rope back in my hand. That was all.

Carefully, I began to wiggle the tip of my finger, trying to work the rope back towards my palm. My Captain was still screaming at me to let go and give it up. I ignored him. He was an ass.

I slid again...and the rope was back where it had been. So I rocked to my left again and worked my fingers against the rope. My entire weight was suspended on one finger. Just one finger.  One leather-gloved finger.

Not giving up.

Slowly, the rope worked into my palm as I fought my fear to try to follow useful directions now being given by one of the other Captains, who had taken over my direction in that crisis as he was not interested in seeing me crash. My own Captain was pouting silently at this point. (I have a cartoon image in my mind of this Captain being bound and gagged by my Guardian Angel).

Somehow, the rope was back in my palm, and as I had descended, the rope had gotten lighter. It was time to invert at the 4th floor balcony. I inverted, swung inward...and found the rope sliding exactly where I wanted it. I was still shaking and panting with effort, the rope was heavy, but the remainder of the rappel went smoothly until I finally stepped off the wall and onto the cement apron.

Life in Defiance of Willed Destruction 

When I think about that day, I can still feel the rope in my hand, I can still see the pavement below me, and I can still hear my Captain shouting at me. But none of it matters; because on that day, I made a very conscious decision NOT to give up. I made a decision for survival and for life, even though the loudest voice was crying for destruction. Somewhere, in that maelstrom, I found God, I found trust, and I found a spine I didn't know I had.

Oddly enough, I look back on that moment of time with immense affection. Although it was a time of great suffering, it was, ultimately, a great triumph. Even though it might not seem very noteworthy to most people, it meant a great deal to me, and I pray I will never forget what it was like to know that all was lost...and then find the rope back in my palm again, refusing to give up - no matter what.

I just wish I had that kind of spine and discipline in my spiritual life.

Lent, 2010:  I'm still looking for the same kind of survival instinct in my spiritual life. But because I know I had it then, it encourages me now, I hope it is there for you, too, even if that proverbial rope is teasing the last bit of skin of your fingertips......

Don't give up. Don't ever give up, no matter WHO is screaming at you to let go...hold fast and keep trying!  

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Glory of God and Olympic Gold

I have always dreamed of winning an Olympic medal, and I even remember the moment I made the decision. And yes, it was a "decision."  From day one, it wasn't a mere "dream", but something I set my mind on doing and never actually questioned whether or not it was possible. With typical childhood enthusiasm, I "knew" that I was going, AND I was going to win a medal!

Even though I was young, you see, I understood something very important about the Olympic Games:  just to go was an incredible accomplishment.  To win:   the GREATEST.

But there was an element of charity in my thought process, for I wasn't going to do this for myself, but for my cousin. I recall hearing that she was training for the Olympics, and every so often we'd get updates.  The time for the Olympic trials was coming:  would she make the cut?  As I recall, she was one everyone EXPECTED to make the team. Then, the day before Trials, she was practicing some of her dives on the trampoline...and fell.  Her broken arm resulted in broken Olympic dreams and she decided to move on with her life instead of training for another four years.

I of course didn't understand why she didn't continue to train, but did, in a way, grasp her disappointment.  I couldn't do anything to help, so I decided right then that I would, someday, go to the Olympics in her honor. I never told her this, thinking to save it for the right moment. (To this day she doesn't know about this!)

That summer as we watched the Games, the first I really remember, my family asked me which sport I wanted. I liked the horses (of course!) but otherwise wasn't too sure.  Then, the following winter I happened to be flipping channels and discovered SKIING!  After watching, entranced, I decided that THAT was my sport!  After all, I knew how to jump on a sled and fly quickly down a hill. All I had to do was, well, do it standing up!

I begged and begged for skis, I begged to be taken somewhere to learn, and every weekend I waited for sports tv to come on so that I could look for skiing.  Unfortunately, Illinois is NOT a good place for aspiring ski racers and Mom deemed our sledding hill to be insufficient for my dreams. She did happen to provide a couple of red Fischer-Price "skis" for me, but after only one attempt, I realized they weren't even CLOSE to what I needed, and I refused to use them.  (The Diva in me emerged that early!).

I didn't actually get an opportunity to learn to ski until I was 17, and that day, after realizing the bunny hill was boring and useless, and I couldn't stand up, I hit the lift and went to a big hill, hoping survival mode would kick in.  It did.  As I was headed for a huge cliff and a flimsy orange snow fence, having watched other skiers for a half hour or so from the bunny hill, I knew my skis needed to go sideways TOGETHER....and I began doing parallel turns. About 5  In my 20's, my 4th time ever skiing downhill, I volunteered for the Ski Patrol....and the following fall/winter finally had the opportunity for formal instruction.  I began racing that same year, went to State Individuals that spring, and took 4th place.

Um...I should mention that there were only 4 racers in my age group.

I raced for a few years, enjoyed my time on the Ski Patrol, but my life was moving on and I had to make some hard decisions.  I realized by then (long before, actually!) that I'd never win an Olympic medal, that skiing was all I hoped it would be and more, and...very real surprise...I had a very natural ability in it!   But skiing had to go, and so the last few years haven't involved much of it for me.

I've always wondered, though, what might have happened had we grown up near a ski area of any sort, if I had REAL racing talent and whether I'd ever have the real drive and fearlessness of the greats.  The world will just have to suffer as it ponders that incredible question.

 God's Glory Revealed in Humanity

One of the things I love about the Olympics, and love even more thanks to my theological education, is the way God's Glory shines in these events.

In the Papal Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, paragraph 10, John Paul II wrote about "Man's amazement at himself" and how God is glorified in His creation: in humanity.  As anyone familiar with his works will know, John Paul II frequently quoted the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, 22, in how our Redeemer, Jesus, "fully reveals man to himself, making his supreme calling clear."   Over the last few years, we've frequently read this passage, regarding the human dimension of our redemption in Christ, the amazement at our very humanity, the very GIFT of our humanity. It's often been the subject of meditation, if not only mere study.

When I watch these Olympic Games, I wonder if I am experiencing perhaps one of the things John Paull II himself may have experienced when watching and participating in winter sports over the years of his life (he was an avid skier.)  I am taking note of the human ingenuity that invented so many of these sports and, in the incredible abilities of the athletes to constantly go further and faster.  I am more and more amazed at the ability of the human body not just to adapt, but to continue to push onward, to new and greater things, aided by technology, physics, all things that have, as their ultimate beginning.....God.

I even find humor in these sports we love to watch, and of course, participate in if we are able. While I tend to only watch a few of the summer games, it's the Winter Sports that have my undivided attention, and, to my way of thinking, show the greatest human ingenuity.  What do humans do in the cold, harsh conditions that cover the northern hemisphere for half the year, and the southern for the other half?


And then we compete!

We humans looked at the mountains and once we climbed them, said, "There must be a better way to get down."  Thus we have the advent of skis:  2 waxed boards can get one from summit to valley in a very short period of time!  It's not a huge jump to see how one can get from sledding to luge and skeleton and bobsleigh.   It's not hard to see how one can go from saying, "Speed isn't enough;  I wanna learn to fly!" and thus we have aerials and nordic ski jumping,  then snowboarding and skier/boarder cross...etc.

The Winter sports in general point, in some sense, to how the Glory of God is revealed in Man, and it brings me to my knees in amazement and gratitude. How BEAUTIFUL humanity is!  How incredible! What ingenuity!  What Glory of God is His creation!  As fallen as we are, as terrible and sinful, we HAVE to also take note of our beauty in the intellect and will God gave to us to be able to do such amazing things.  After all, we were created out of love, for love, to love God, and we have to see not just the sin that brought our redemption, but those things, our inherent dignity and even BEAUTY that makes us worthy of Redemption in God's own eyes!


The other day, having watched her for years now, I saw hometown girl Lindsey Vonn finally take her first Gold medal, on what was maybe one of, if not THE most dangerous, icy and bumpy downhill courses in the history of the Olympic Games. And she did it with an incredibly painful injury to her shin.  I watched her interview at the end, and cried with her, unable to help myself as it was such an emotional moment. I confess I often used to imagine what such a moment would be like! Seeing her live was a moment of joy so many of us could share with her.  I remember when she was an up-and-coming racer, and I remember her crash in Torino four years ago.  In my estimation she has really worked for this and deserves this medal!

I can't forget her tearful, joyful interview after the race.   "This is my dream! This means EVERYTHING to me! I  have sacrificed EVERYTHING for this. It means EVERYTHING to me!"

I understood her sentiment, and rejoiced, but was surprised in that I was also a little taken aback.

"Everything?"   No, I thought to myself, "...a Gold Medal isn't worth "everything."  I was further surprised to catch myself thinking, "You sacrificed EVERYTHING...for something so...finite?"

I do not mean here to denigrate ANYTHING Lindsey Vonn has accomplished. I'm THRILLED for her and remain so, and also realize that power of the moment she was in. I realize her sacrifice and that yes, she truly has sacrificed so much of herself, of everything, for so many years!  I have nothing but the greatest respect for ALL of the Olympic aspirants and athletes out there and I will forever love the Games.

Rather, I am trying to explain something going on within me that signals a change in my own values, for at one time, I would have been willing to give EVERYTHING for the chance to obtain such an award as an Olympic medal.

But...well...although Olympic Gold would mean a great deal to me, and undeniably it is supremely cool, and one of the greatest accomplishments available to mankind,'s not everything. And it's not worth everything. And I'm not willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it.

I realized in that moment that while our humanity and pinnacles of accomplishment reveal God's Glory, and in revealing His Glory to us, causes us to be amazed at our very humanity, in what we can accomplish, through Him, through sacrifice and suffering...I saw none other than...Jesus.  I saw the Cross, I saw our Redemption and came to a greater understanding of the love God has for us...and for Lindsey, whom He brought through her years of suffering and sacrifice to win the Gold in her moment of triumph.

"God fully reveals Man to himself, making his supreme calling clear."  (GS, 22)

Yes...He does.  And He uses everyday people to do it, and people often become His unwitting agents.

If I was going to sacrifice EVERYTHING, if I was going to give EVERYTHING, in order to possess something, I would no longer desire that that "something" be a Medal.

I want Christ Himself, and nothing else.

There is nothing else worth living for, and nothing else worth dying for...but for Him, and love of Him.

Let the world keep its medals. I don't want them anymore. I can do more and BE more with God alone.


***  Papal Encyclical Letter, John Paull II,  Redemmptor Hominis, 10:    "" why Christ the Redeemer 'fully reveals man to himself.' If we may use the expression, this is the human dimension of the mystery of the redemption. In this dimension man finds again the greatness, dignity, and value that belong to his humanity."

* ** Vatican II Document, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,  Gaudium et spes, 22. "The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.

He Who is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15),  is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled,  by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice  and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.

As an innocent lamb He merited for us life by the free shedding of His own blood. In Him God reconciled us  to Himself and among ourselves; from bondage to the devil and sin He delivered us, so that each one of us can say with the Apostle: The Son of God "loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Living the Paradox of the Cross

We can't get away from it. Even people who profess to be Catholic deny the glory of the Cross in favor of the gospel of "positive thinking".

There are some who still cannot, or simply refuse, to accept the paradox of folly and glory that belongs to our Redemption through the Cross of Christ.

Today at work, a co-worker popped into our office to indulge, as he always does, in a salty snack we keep in a cookie jar for visitors such as himself.  I was headed down the hallway at the same time as he, and commented that I can't have those fun snacks anymore. I wasn't lamenting, but rather recognizing the joy in choosing something greater than a pleasure of the flesh. (And believe me, I LOVE those salty snacks, which is why I'm giving them up for lent, and yes, it IS already a struggle!).  I thought nothing of my comments for, we are all Catholics and we are all quite familiar and often joke about our chosen lenten penances.

Apparently I was wrong to be so comfortable, for condemnation came quickly. 

The co-worker surprised me.  He accused me (yes, that's the right word), ACCUSED me of "taking a negative attitude."  I disagreed and explained that deprivation is a very important part of the theology of Lent. He insisted that it was "negative" and asked why I don't take up another practice (and here he surprised me) such as praying the Rosary every day, making it "positive"?

I explained that first of all, I ALREADY pray the Rosary every day, and secondly, that depriving ourselves of something is positive, for it enables a place for Christ to enter into our own deprivation and fulfill it in a new way.

And he walked away saying that he deprives himself of leisure time by praying the Rosary...yet somehow didn't seem to understand that my deprivation of salty foods is the same thing.  While he condemned my choice of phrase and focus, that of deprivation, he eventually admitted to doing the same thing in another way!

I understand that he's trying to be "positive" as a lot of modern "Catholic" theology exhorts one to be, and yes, I agree with the need to be positive, but with a caveat:  we can't forget the price of our ability to be positive!

Why do we deprive ourselves for Lent?

This gets to the heart of Lent, and the heart of misunderstanding that is often perpetuated during this very holy season.  While I agree it is important to maintain a joyful focus, we cannot forget the price in blood that paid for our salvation, and I advance that it is IMPORTANT to recall the suffering and death of our Lord, to enter into it as fully as possible so that we can more fully live out His life here on earth!

There are many ways to explain why we choose to give up something during Lent, so perhaps it's best to point out the historicity of the season as a starting point.

We begin Lent with a Gospel reading from Luke 4: 1-13, about the baptism of Jesus and His venture into the desert/wilderness to face temptation.  We enter this Gospel having already begun this season, having already taken stock of our own need to join Our Lord in this time of prayer and penance and sacrifice in preparation for what God has to offer us in 40 days.

During Lent, we are invited into the same deprivation faced by Jesus. Because we can't all flee our lives and populate the desert as hermits, we are instead called to fast, pray, and give alms.  In our fasting, we must fast from some legitimate good that is in our lives (or if it has become sinful, we are called to recognize that and seek to eradicate it). We are called to allow that deprivation to create a "hollow" place within us where Our Lord can enter the rot of our souls and purify it, becoming united to us through out weaknesses.  We are called to in turn, take that deprivation and turn it into a benefit for someone else, through time, through money saved, or through our own God-given abilities, to benefit and build the Kingdom of God.

If we truly love God, we will fruitfully love others and enable the ongoing live of the Church and the spread of Christianity.  None of this can be done without giving fully of ourselves in true charity, which at its heart requires us to be deprived of our worldly attachments in some way.

To say we are "giving something up" may seem in the parlance of the "Positive Thinker" cult to be "negative", but in reality, it is only a way to make room for something far greater!

Lent helps us to get rid of the clutter that serves only as a barrier to Christ in order to let Him in to order our lives more perfectly. It helps us, each year, to come closer and closer to Him, purifying ourselves to better receive Him, to conform to Him...and to better take Him into the world that so desperately needs Jesus and the message of the Gospel!

Oh, the Folly!

In my co-worker today, in our brief conversation, I recognized a ghost of the heresy of the early days that denied the triumph of the Cross, that sought to turn Jesus into a mere apparition, the Cross into a Broadway play even before Broadway was known.  In some of the early heresies, Christ was made into anything other than what He really was, for when we look upon the reality of God become Man, the God we killed and abandoned upon the Gibbet, the blood-stained Gibbet that both condemns and elevates us,'s not an easy reality.  It's much easier to deny Truth than to approach and embrace it.

It's much easier to seek any explanation OTHER than the real one, especially if the reality is folly to the comfortable beliefs of the majority of the world around us that refuses to believe.

And there, again, is the folly and the Glory of the Cross. 

We enter into Lent to become abandoned ourselves in the face of the world that ridicules our ashes, our practices, and our deprivations, exhorting us to "be positive!" even as we seek to enter into and become united not just with the shadow, but with the reality of the Cross itself!  We seek to abandon ourselves to God in a world that seeks to control us by demanding we "take control!" only in accordance with their arbitrary preferences.  We seek abandonment in a world that becomes more and more totalitarian, and less and less tolerant to any religion that professes the Cross of Christ.

We should not expect the world to understand, but rather to offer our sufferings and encounters for the salvation of souls...including our own.  When we are harshly judged, we must recall those times that we have harshly judged others, and seek absolution for ourselves while we in turn remember that we must live heroic forgiveness.

That's what I said:  Heroic Forgiveness.

What I find hardest to bear in this season isn't the denial and the ridicule of secularists and non-Catholics, but the outright denial and in-your-face hostility of those who claim the Catholic Faith.  I expect hostility from the world, and solidarity in my closest brothers and sisters.  Rather, I tend to experience the opposite, for the Catholic world has been so infected with the heresies of the ages that those who seek to embrace the Cross are denounced, called out as "antiquated" and directed to let go of "irrelevance".

I do not want to live in a world where the Cross is irrelevant. I do not want to embrace a world that denies the necessity of salvation while claiming the more attractive trappings for the purpose of personal self-seeking comfort.

And is just such a world that we are all called to embrace, for it is the same world into which God was born and redeemed through His Cross and Resurrection.

As I recall, Our Lord did not suffer mere comfort in serving to pay the Divine Justice through His Mercy for the sake of our eternal Redemption.

As I recall, the deprivations of Christ far surpassed any deprivations we might suffer as mere humans.

As I recall, there was nothing "fun" or "entertaining" but for the most bloodthirsty and evil in the Passion and Crucifixion of Our Lord.

As I recall, Jesus began the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the Last Supper where He instituted the Priesthood in the formal Ordination of the Apostles, and offered the first Homily in union with His Eternal Sacrifice as He died on the Cross.

In light of the holiness and solemnity of the Passion of Christ, the price paid for our Redemption, I don't see how my giving up salty foods or a few other things can be seen as a "negative" approach to Lent. Rather, I see it as being quite insufficient and am quite embarrassed at my own meager offering. What I give up, I give up with a sense of deprivation, but also in joy at the freedom to do so, looking towards the Joy of the Resurrection, for I do not see these present sufferings as anything other than the grace of God which allows me to participate more deeply into to the most important moment of human history.

If that is folly, then condemn me for my folly, for I'd rather be a Fool in the eyes of the world than Irrelevant in the eyes of God. Give me my deprivations, for they are greater gifts than the emptiness of the false happiness of the world.  And give me this ungrateful and hostile world to embrace, for if that is what Christ must we all who profess to follow Him.

Please, Lord, give us the grace to LIVE the Paradox of the Cross! 

Thank You, Jesus

O Happy Fault

I think I fully realized this morning one of my biggest struggles in the spiritual life:   it's backwards. I have it COMPLETELY backwards.

Every morning I wake up with a sense of regret that I cannot shake. I'm repentent of my sin and as I rise, I know I need to do better and resolve, that day, to overcome this or that sin (or at least make SOME kind of effort to avoid it!). 

But then I slip again, maybe several times, and by the time I reach the end of the day, I've actually come to the point of "giving up."  I maybe give in to the sin completely, maybe even set myself up for failure. I quite literally go from "I'm not doing that again!" to a sense of apathy toward it.  Maybe even if it was not deliberately done earlier in the day, but the end I may be actually CHOOSING deliberate sin!

Then I remember the grace of the Sacrament of Confession and wonder...should I even go? I must not be truly repentent! And I feel guilty for my presumption upon God's mercy.  Thankfully, that's when I recall the words of St. Catherine of Siena, in the revelation of God to her; that while presumption is a grave sin, it keeps the door open to His mercy! 

God's generosity is absolutely scandalous!

Already it is the day after Ash Wednesday and I have failed in one of my resolves. Yet, this new and interesting revelation of my backwards spiritual life maybe means I need to change or adapt my resolves a little bit. It's a new perspective, and maybe something I can actually change over these 40 days. 

As I pondered this morning, I realized that perhaps THIS is why we begin this season with a day of fasting. In the emptiness of our stomachs we are assailed by the temptations of the flesh, the very things we need to overcome. It is a spiritual battle, but also a battle with our own deformed wills that reveals the way we've trained our own intellects to choose things over the God who loves us so much.  In recognizing what we desire to fill our emptiness, we enter the season with more clarity, perhaps learning more about what GOD desires us to work on.

It is a time of suffering, something we have the freedom to choose, but not for the sake of suffering itself. Rather, it is a chance to recognize our own weaknesses so that we can invite Christ into them and allow Him to transform us.  Only HE can break the chains that bind us....and only if we give Him permission to do so. Our Lenten penances are in and of themselves acts of sacrifice love, a giving of ourselves to the Lord, seeking to be free from an earthly attachment that may keep us from growing closer to him.

I am grateful for the generosity of God, for without it, I would have been lost long ago. Although I'm starting this season of Lent with an early failure, there is hope, even if my hope comes at the cost of presumption, it is better than giving up and closing the door to the sacrificial love that begets mercy.

O happy fault....

Helpful advice to all from St. Francis de Sales as we begin Lent:

"Have patience with all things,
but chiefly have patience with yourself.
Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections,
but instantly set about remedying them
- every day begin the task anew."

An Observation

The "sidewalk" outside my door at my town home complex isn't so much a "sidewalk" as it is a luge course without all the cool slopes and turns.

The least they could do for what we're paying in Association fees every month is provide a luge sled so we can go from our doors to the driveway and down the block to the bus stop in record time.

It's not like anyone is actually using these areas for "walking".  A fast-running vehicle with waxed metal blades is much more appropriate to the circumstances and would get a great deal more use than the things we normally just put on our feet.

I'm just sayin'.

And for aspiring Luge Racers....come to my neighborhood...if you can't luge here, you can't luge anywhere!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lord Who Threw Out These 40 Days?

This post was originally published in March of 2008, and yes, it's Ash Wednesday so I figured now is as good a time as any to re-post it. Sing along and enjoy!


I wasn't going to do this, especially because it's Holy Week and we should all be solemn and sad and preparing our hearts for the Passion of Christ. And I won't in a thousand years suggest that you NOT do this. However, Fr. V. over at Adam's Ale has been a very bad influence on me and has triggered me to write one of my rare song parodies. He supplied the first two lines.

Q: Lord, who threw out these 40 days?
A: No one, they’re still here!
Q: But I thought Vatican II
Tossed all that we held dear!

Q: Father, the liturgist you hired
Put sand and rocks in fonts
And said that sacramentals
Are things that V2 lost.

She said that all the laity
Are all the priests we need!
She said that dancing in the aisles
Is required in the Creed!

Your Worship Director’s worse!
He covered up the Cross…
With a big ol' screen to praise the words
Of Haugen and Haas!

The travesties that we behold
Too much…I have a list!
Because I’ve read the Council’s words
And think that they’ve been dissed!

Can we restore these 40 days
And gaze upon the Cross?
We need to have a Triduum
To know that we’re so lost!

Where is the penitential rite?
Has that been sent away?
Can we be forgiven
Or is our church astray?

How can we know that Jesus died
For our souls to save
If we can’t see the crucifix
And sin has been denied.

Father restore these 40 days
To prepare us for these three:
We need the Holy Triduum
For our great salvation to see!


Ash Wednesday

So it begins. Another Lent has come.

Each year I make resolutions in seeking to purify my passions, to regain control and in so doing, to turn back to God again.  It always seems that Lent comes just when I am really struggling with something, so it's almost a relief.  I don't know what it is, perhaps the grace of the season, that helps me to let go and fall into God's mercy; a very welcome refuge.

This year, I will also be trying to incorporate what I learned in the silence of the monastery. It's not something I can explain, but only seek to reproduce; it's an interior attitude that I don't think can be cultivated but has to be first experienced in some kind of a purified manner.  (As I said...I can't explain it!)

This morning I awoke breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that we enter this desert of Lent, knowing that today is a day of fasting and penance and prayer, knowing that it will be a struggle.  Yet the terms of this struggle are somewhat defined and we do not go into it alone, but follow the footsteps of Our Lord who goes before us and leads us into the solitude that will ultimately take us through the dark days of His Passion and Death.  It is only through this journey that we can fully enter into the joy of the Resurrection.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vocation and Being the Enjoyment of the Beloved

Yesterday was the celebration of lust and materialism that this country calls "Valentine's Day."

For me, historically, it's one of the worst days of the calendar year and is quite antithetical to the true meaning of love and charity.  It's a day of personal tragedy for me and one I wish I could avoid...every year.

Yet, even in my avoidance of the day, God revealed His love for me, and did so again today, through a messenger I would not have expected.

Yesterday, I received an invitation to visit a cloistered community, free from pressure, all focused on what God wants of me, and with assurances of prayers from that community for my ongoing discernment.  It was a nice message and I replied, accepting the invitation albeit I won't be making the visit for months!

Today, though, revealed another facet.

This afternoon I went to a local restaurant to pick up my dinner. I am a fairly regular customer there, and go there because it is a Mom & Pop shop, the owners belong to a local Christian church and clearly run their business upon Christian values.  They get to know their customers and allow their customers to get to know them.  Last summer I learned of Mrs. Owner's pregnancy, I learned of the new addition to their family a couple months ago, complete with cute baby pictures, and today, I walked in and greeted the little darling and thanked him for "helping" his daddy at work!  

The owner and I chatted a little while he proudly cradled his very cute, smiling infant son, and the man asked me if I had children.

"No", I replied, wiggling my ring-free fingers.  "I'm not married.  I like children, but I don't believe God is calling me to marriage."

The man seemed to be a bit taken aback by such a statement. It's a reaction I expected;  I find that many non-Catholics have the same reaction to it, as they don't really have the same teaching or concept of "Vocation" as do we Catholics.  It's either Marriage or.....what?  Because of this, usually when a non-Catholic asks me about marriage and children, I just smile and change the subject.

Today, though, for some reason, maybe because the product of their love was present with us, I shared my own heart as well.  After all, my heart and soul are all I possess. 

But this man had something to say, and it bears repeating.  He understood the reference to God's call of course, and that God is the center of all that we do and believe. But he couldn't let it go.He clearly didn't understand my statement of not sensing a call, from God, to Marriage.  Looking me directly in the eye, he said, "Well, if you ever find that one person who just....ENJOYS YOU,  who just enjoys you for who you are, just...really ENJOYS YOU....he's probably the one."  

He didn't break eye contact.

In that moment, I heard the voice of God speaking through him.  It was John Paul II's Theology of the Body coming through a man who has probably never even heard of it.

I found the man's comment particularly compelling because, well, he wasn't telling me to focus on what I WANTED but rather to look beyond myself to the OTHER, and the reaction of the OTHER towards me as a woman, deserving of love.  This man looked at me through the eyes of one who saw my dignity as a woman worthy of being loved, and one who could not comprehend that anyone would ever NOT recognize that dignity inherent within themselves.

I realized also that he was speaking of his own experience of love for his wife, there, while holding their son, their third child.  But rather than telling me to focus on MY enjoyment of another, he was asking me to look beyond and to recognize the true enjoyment of ANOTHER...of....ME. didn't sound like selfishness.

It was a juxtaposition I didn't expect..He wasn't speaking of lust.  He is a decent man, and was speaking of something far deeper than the secular idea of lust in the place of love.  He was looking through the eyes of self-sacrifice and getting to the heart of marriage and what it is.  The "Enjoyment" of which he was speaking was a love that transcends, a love that looks to the other as something, someone, worth obtaining through great sacrifice.

He didn't say all of this, but it was right there in his expression, in what I know of him and his family, in the very obvious love he has for them, and in the sincere respect he has for everyone who walks through the doors to his business.

This man has given me something to consider, that being the true ENJOYMENT of the Other in the relationship.  We all know that in marriage, one enjoys the other and wills their good.

What is Vocation? 

Today's random conversation goes back to maybe one of my own personal hangups, for I always tend to approach Vocation from the perspective of sacrifice, yet knowing I should be delighting in God, which I do. Yet I always seem to forget that He delights in ME as well!  I tend to forget that in a true human relationship, the man delights in the woman and vice versa. It's not a one way street.

Yet I always seem to make it so, ESPECIALLY when the object of my love is God. I find it impossible that the Creator of the Universe the One who called me into being, would actually delight

As I focus on discernment of my Vocation, I constantly seek to be what God wants me to be. I am looking to holiness, to "measuring up", to being everything a Bride of Christ SHOULD be.  I focus on the objective standard of the Mother of God, and of Christ Himself. I focus on finding my joy in HIM, and as selfish as I am as a human being, I have never taken the time to really meditate on how, well....I am worthy of delight.

I don't think in all my years of dating that any man has ever "delighted in" me.  I know I have been the object of lust, and that's all I was, and I thought it was love. I don't know that I was EVER introduced to the idea of the chaste "delight" in the beloved, one for another.

I knew that sex was sacred, was to be ordered within the Sacrament of Marriage, and that love was a driving force. But the actual idea of "enjoyment" of one for another...that was an absent connection. It SHOULD be natural, yet in our culture, we miss that chaste enjoyment in favor of lust or focusing on the purpose of marriage.  In all the dichotomy of our current culture of extremes, we tend to miss out on the simplicity, the most basic and natural part of the love of man and woman; the simple delight in the very person of another, in their very humanity,  a delight that demands nothing, asks nothing...simply revels in mere existence.

Thanks to this simple encounter this afternoon, I have something more to consider. I may never forget the comment directed directly TO me, something I never even thought to ASK for or recognize, for it was never on my radar screen.  Yet, I agree, it's important and I suspect ever married couple, every religious sister, at some point recognized the same truth in their relationship:   The Bridegroom DELIGHTS IN the Beloved!  He ENJOYS her!

I confess...I don't know what that means. I've NEVER experienced it!  Ever!  This lack in my own life is what I recognized in friends years ago, and which drove me to break up with the man I thought I loved;  for I saw that he did not love me.

But I've never been the "target" of that loving gaze of pure enjoyment. Ever. I don't know what it looks like. I don't know what it's like to be the focus of such delight, and if I do experience it, I don't know how to recognize or respond to it.

I don't want anyone to feel "sorry" for me...I'm not writing this post for that purpose. Rather, I am trying to explain a part of discernment that may be absent for many of us, through experience or understanding, for even if it lacks on the natural end, we should be able to seek to understand it through the supernatural. Yet, if it has never been defined, or a part of what we know, how can we recognize it?

Perhaps this Lent, I should meditate on the pure enjoyment of Our Lord for His Beloved, such that He would sacrifice so much to ensure our Union with Him. Perhaps I should make it more personal and recognize my own personal involvement, that it's not about how much I love...but about how much HE loves...and enjoys, not just us...but me.

I pray for the courage not just to understand...but to accept...and respond.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Promised Dog Update

I promised an update after this morning's post.

"Bear" did very well at his debut.  Although he hung very close to me for the most part, as expected,  if someone happened to pat him, he'd try to follow them for more attention. I was surprised to see it. He seemed to honestly be seeking that good attention and willing to meet strangers.

Although he did show his shyness and his puppy-playfulness was absent, this was a good thing as of course, in a crowd it is NOT good to bound around and pounce on random dogs!

At one point he was starting to growl, shake his head, scratch at his ear, and recognizing these as signs of over-stimulation, I took him out of the action and let him hang out in a sheltered area between two fire trucks.

Actually, to be more accurate, Bear decided to hang out UNDER the fire truck. I understood.

A couple people happened by and petted him a bit, but it was calming, not too much for him, and before long he was back on his feet and ready to be social again.

Maybe that's why I understand Bear so well....I'm just like him:  perfectly willing and happy to be social, but if I can't have time in isolation I'll growl and snap and tweak out, too!

Overall, I'm very proud of him;  Bear is indeed a completely different dog than he was when he came to me at the end of December.  He's an ambassador for his breed and I'm still hoping and praying he'll find his forever home soon! Today's event was wonderful and had a good showing of several wonderful breeds and enthusiasts.

One of the things I love about people involved in dog rescues is the fact that we first love dogs; and the breed is secondary. If we can help out another breed, it's worth it, because it's a dog that deserves a good home.  Someone asked me today if the German Shepherd is my "breed of choice" and although they have always been a favorite of mine, I can't say it's the ultimate:  I love Greyhounds (remember my Fire?), and I grew up with a small Bichon-mix. I think I could fall in love with any breed. But outside of that, yes, Shepherds appeal to me for some reason. We butt heads like arch-rivals and match each other like best friends.  It's a recipe for understanding!

Bear's Debut

This morning I'm taking "Bear" and my own dog to an event to obtain some exposure both for the organization I'm with and of course, for him and German Shepherds.

He's as ready as he'll ever be, I guess, so I'm hoping it goes well!

We did have a little setback a couple weeks ago, all my fault:  I traumatized him completely by accident.

There was a "giggle ball" on the floor which I'd seen but had forgotten about, and as I walked towards the livingroom, my errant foot kicked the ball, which went flying into the hardest portion of the couch, made it's typical squeaky noise, right next to Bear who was standing there and not expecting a flying object.  He startled and fled upstairs in terror.

Feeling horrible, I went up after him with treats, hoping to entice him back down to what had suddenly become a chamber of horrors in his mind.

He at first refused, but finally came to me, got half of a treat, then laid down on his dog bed. Then he came to get the other half, took it away, and ate it...all while my other dog was happily crunching away at her own biscuit!

While he DID finally come downstairs that evening, he just wasn't himself.  In fact, that afternoon he'd fled out through my open garage door when I was putting something in the garbage and I had to run out and slowly  coax him back. I seriously thought he was going to run away from me!

At dinner time, the second he saw me with his food dish, he fled upstairs and wouldn't come down.

I kept an eye on him and although this had seemed to start with a behavioral problem (ie I scared him to death), in reality I was realizing he just seemed....sick.  He was behaving like a sick child, isolating in my room, coming down to "go outside" but otherwise wanting to be where he could see me but not where he could be petted.  He didn't want attention unless it was on his terms, which were very short.  It was the, "I don't feel good leave me alone but don't go away!" attitude common to sick children!

The next morning I called the coordinator to talk about taking him to the vet. Thankfully we were able to get in that afternoon, and found that, in fact, Bear wasn't so much traumatized but very ill:  he had an infection from his surgery. The incision had healed just fine, but still had somehow gotten infected. A shot of antibiotics and a 10 day supply to take home has fixed things right up and Bear has bounced back to his normal, everyday goofy happy self.

I'm so relieved!

Bear is as happy-go-lucky as they come, loves to spend time on walks pouncing on my dog and trying to entice her to play.  Unfortunately, my dog tends to be "all business" so the entire show seems like some kind of doggie romance comedy.  If I were using these dogs in a movie, my dog would be voiced over by Susan Sarandon or Glenn Close, and Bear would be Adam Sandler.  (Does that paint the picture for you?)

I expect that Bear will be a bit shy, but perhaps with a bit of encouragement and all the nice people who will want to pet him, he'll find someone who will also want to adopt him.  Such a sweet dog needs to go to his "forever home" so truly I'm hoping his "match" will come along!

So wish us luck this morning...and I'll be sure to provide an update later today.  :-)