A View From The Pews

One of the coolest things about traveling is experiencing Liturgy in a Parish other than your own.  While there is the tiny discomfort of having things done differently, there is great comfort in knowing that wherever you go Mass will essentially be the same.

of course, there may be a style of music not to your liking, or an odd local tradition based upon the configuration or history of the specific church community where you are gathered for worship, but when it comes right down to it, in all things that really matter, the Mass does not change.

There is comfort in knowing that the parts of the Mass flow in the same way, no matter where you are.  It brings us a sense of belonging.

For the past two Sunday’s I have worshipped at my Sister and Brother in Love’s parish in Phoenix AZ.  Each of the two Sunday’s I had the pleasure of a different presider; the parish Priest this Sunday, and a retired priest in residence, last Sunday.  Both were really great in different ways.

Fr. Joe, the retired Priest is from Ireland. He has spent most of his Priesthood in the United States.  His homily was for Trinity Sunday. He began by saying that any Homily on the Trinity that lasted longer than five minutes had the chance of lapsing into heresy, so he would be brief.  He then proceeded to give the most eloquent lesson on Trinitarian Theology I have heard since my Class with Fr. Denis Robinson OSB at St. Meinrad.  Simple, elegant and in less than five minutes he explained the relational quality of our triune God in a way that even the youngest children could at least begin to touch the mystery.

We are limited persons. God does not see our limits or defects, God only sees the creative force of the Trinity within us. You are loved exactly as you are at this moment. Prodigal love is recklessly extravagant.  We need mercy, and God’s mercy is never exhausted. The Spiritual Life is about being invited to ask questions, and then being made comfortable enough to live into the answers (living in The Spirit as the answers are revealed.)

Oh God please help me to believe the truth about myself, not matter how beautiful that truth may be.

The next Sunday (Corpus Christi) Fr. Bob, the Pastor, a naturalized American Citizen who was born in Uganda Africa said a special blessing at the end of Mass for all those who gave their lives in service to our freedom in this country.  He also announced a special Mass for Memorial Day (the next morning) to again pray for special blessings of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  Someone at a previous Mass took exception to a Mass commemorating murderers (her words).  Fr. Bob would not back down.  We celebrate those who chose to stand in harm’s way so that we can enjoy the freedom to live in the greatest democracy in the world.

It never occurred to me that someone would object to a Mass for fallen heroes.

Next Sunday it will be Mass at a new Church in a new town.

If you are traveling, don’t forget to attend Mass. If you aren’t sure where the closes Catholic Church is, try  Mass Times.   They even have an app, for the constant traveler.

 

 

 

 

 

Now is the Time for Good Discernment

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The Synod on the Family continues to garner banner headlines in the media, especially the mainstream media.  Sadly, we are getting mixed messages about what the Bishops are discussing on a daily basis. It might be a good time to talk about how we as pew sitting Catholics should react to and how we can learn from and discern for ourselves what the church is teaching. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola came up with a simple five step process of rules for discernment that I have used over the years.  I will use these steps to show how to come to understanding with Church teaching. 

Just this week the Synod made a statement affirming that children deserve to grow up in a family which has both a mother and a father.   To some this seems to exclude single parents, and those in so-called same sex unions raising children.  How do we as pew sitting Catholics come to understand this statement?

Step 1). Assume that the Church Knows what It is Talking About

The Bishops aren’t just participating in  wild mass guessing at a Synod.  They have information and testimony from many experts such as psychologists, medical professionals, social workers, and child development/family systems experts.  They also have the tradition of over two thousand years of experience looking back on how changes in family systems have affected child development throughout history.  They might just know a little bit more than you or I do right out of the gate.  

It makes sense for us to start from a place of assuming that they know what they are talking about.  It might be a good idea for us to read the documents of the Synod as they are released, so we can see how they come to their opinions.  These documents are all available through the Vatican website, in English and easily readable, to say anything about what the Bishop’s say without having read their actual written statement makes no sense. 

2) Do Your Own Research to Aide in Your Understanding of the Topic

Read the citations in the document if you have them available to you. Read other information on child development and family systems ( not what you see on Facebook, but from reputable sources).  Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the subject as you can.  This article is one example of what is available on the Internet. 

3) Talk to Someone Who Knows More Than You Do On The Subject

It might be a good idea to talk to someone within the Church, such as a priest, if you have questions about how a Synod works.  If you have questions about Church teachings your parish priest or another priest you know will be able to help you understand doctrine and dogma, and how to find resources to help you learn more. 

4) Take it to Prayer

Spend time in prayer asking God for guidance of you still have questions about the topic.  Allow God a chance to assist in your understanding. 

5) If You Still Have Disagreement with the Church, Hold it in Silent Tension to Your Faith

If after all of the above work you have done you still disagree with the Synod’s statement you should, for the sake of not leading any others into scandal, keep your disagreement in silent tension with your faith.  You have done everything you can do to understand the Church’s position. You have done what you can to  learn about the topic.  You have offered yourself to God in prayer for understanding.  You cannot make a statement saying the Church is wrong for anyone else.  

But, we  owe it to ourselves to continue the process of discernment using these steps repeatedly on a subject we hold in silent tension, because sometimes we are slow learners. I know that where I have had silent tension with the church on one topic or another in my youth, as I have grown in faith and wisdom, and used this process over and over, my understanding and opinion  has matured and come in line with the Church’s position.

“This is My Body”  Or Who’s Right is it Anyway

I saw a meme the other day that juxtaposed the words Christ used at the Institution of the Eucharist over a protest for safe, legal abortions, without apology:  “This is my body.”  To be honest as a lifelong Catholic it had never occurred to me that women in the pro-abortion camp have co-opted the words of our Savior when he gave us the ultimate self emptying sacrificial gift of Himself for our salvation as their rallying cry to justify the totally selfish act of sacrificing the life of their unborn child for their own needs.  I was floored.  

Right on the heels of that meme comes two videos from The Center for Medical Progress showing top Administrators in the largest purveyor of so called “safe, legal abortions in this country; Planned Parenthood at lunch haggling over the reimbursement, or fee, or whatever term they are using for the procurement of intact human organs from abortions performed after twelve weeks.  They even discussed in graphic detail the methods used to assure procurement of satisfactory specimens for the transaction. All of this was done while these women were eating lunch and sipping wine.  It was gruesome to watch, but I did, watching the unedited tapes, to assure myself that I wasn’t making a snap judgement.  In one case Dr. Nucatolla (in the first video released) does say that they don’t want to appear to be profiting from the transaction.  I listened to that part three times to make sure I heard her correctly.  

The other thing that is mentioned is that the women who come in to have abortions are asked if they wish to donate the “products of conception” to research.  Since I have no idea what this process looks like, and have never personally seen the form, or know anyone I can ask, I cannot comment on how thorough the paperwork is on the release of consent.  

There is one huge disconnect here though.  The baby growing inside the mother is not, in fact part of her body.  It may be attached to her in a symbiotic relationship for a time, but genetically it is a completely autonomous person.  For the mother to say, I can do what I want with my body is a lie, because an abortion includes someone else’s body as well. 

  Selling fetal organs procured from abortion for research is against the law.  Abortions in the last trimesters are against the law in most states now.  To obtain some organs and tissues the body must be alive within five minutes of the actual procurement, so how many of these abortions are done as partial birth or born alive both of which are illegal or just plain immoral, to get proper specimens?  Does the procedure really warrant between $30 and $150 compensation per specimen for the work they do when they are already being paid for the original abortion procedure?  It sounds to me like they are double dipping.  It is grotesque to even be debating this, but I want to try to flesh out their argument a bit.  

Planned Parenthood’s response to this has been to first not to deny any of it but to apologize for the tone that Dr. Nucatolla used when speaking about what they do.  Next they went after the people from The Center for Medical Progress in a big way saying that their people were entrapped into saying the things they said.  ( if you can stomach watching the entire three hours of unedited video in each case, no entrapment occurred.) Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Whip has even asked the Attorney General to investigate CMP, seriously, while at least 18 other Congresmen and three Governors  from both parties are asking for a full investigation of Planned Parenthood.

If there is grace that can come from this horrific situation, perhaps it will be that more people will view the unborn as human and autonomous persons in their own right.  After all, if someone can sell their organs, they must be human, right?

Pray for the babies who have been sacrificed at the altar of profit and research, and please continue to pray fir an end to abortion in our lifetime. 

Feelings Vs Reality

 It has become all the rage to self identify with how one feels.  In fact, our liberal leaning society is embracing this tendency more and more.  Someone who was born female feels more comfortable identifying with males so therefore she must be in fact a member of the male gender.  A man decides that he can only be happy if he is surrounded by multiple wives, and somehow he convinces four or five women to agree to share his marriage bed, and people watch the reality television show about their life.

Now we have a man who says he has always felt like a woman and has decided to begin to live as a woman and everyone calls him courageous for living the fiction of who he wants to be rather than who God made him to be.  And lastly a woman who chose to live the “creative nonfiction” of adopting a race into which she wasn’t born and has no genetic connection.  Liberals are falling all over themselves trying to find ways to allow for this type of fluidity of race which to some seems to be traitorous and self serving instead of anything like a courageous act. 

When did our feelings outpace reality as a measure of the morality of how we should choose to live our lives?  Feelings are not always the most reliable source of information upon which we should be basing our decisions.  For instance, you might decide that you felt like only ever eating ice cream, and only ice cream for the rest of your life.  It might make you very happy, but it wouldn’t make you very healthy, and in a short time you would be in ill health.  You would be “feeling” a different way about eating all that ice cream in the long run.    

I realize that example is very simplistic, but it doesn’t limp as much as one might think as examples go:  feelings aren’t always the best way to decide how to order our lives because there is a reality that cannot be denied no matter how strong our feelings are.  No matter how much someone feels like a woman,  if he was born male, then at a genetic level he will always be a man, and there will be a certain amount of pretense to his life as a woman. 

If a person chooses to live their life as a member of another group to which he or she has no link there will always be pretense, and “creative nonfiction” which can also be translated to mean lying involved in living that type of life.  The other issue is you begin to tell one story, and then you have to tell another story to help hold up that story, and it become a web of “creative non-fictions” to keep the entire thing from falling apart. 

The singer/songwriter, Glenn Frye wrote a song called “All Those Lies” about the problem with living a life that included daily lies to maintain the artifice of feelings.  In the liner notes of the album he has one of my favorite pieces of wisdom:  The greatest thing about the truth is it is the only story you have to remember.  

The ultimate morality of reality is you don’t have to participate in “creative nonfiction” in order to prop up the artifice of your feelings.  You can live in the truth and the truth will make you free. 

Happiness, Joy or Peace

the Priest at my Parrish is a good steward for those of us in his flock.  He leads us faithfully and cares about our spiritual lives.  He often preaches about following God I our every day lives, and how to discern that we are in fact on the path God has chosen for us.  He says that when we follow the path God has chosen we will know because we will feel joy and happiness.  I wonder if this is true, or perhaps because of my dealing with depression where happiness is not something I feel on a regular basis, even when I believe I am following God. 

I would contend that when you follow God you are not promised happiness, or even joy.  Those who follow God are not immune from sadness and suffering in their lives.  What people who follow God do have amid the sadness and suffering though is a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).   Even though there is darkness and pain and you feel no happiness, you feel a deep sense of peace that God is there with you in the darkness.   

There is a definition of faith that says it is having belief that things will work out when all evidence is to the contrary.  That kind of belief comes with a great sense of peace.  As the healing happens, the peace is enough.  The joy will come, perhaps, but I have learned not to depend on feelings of joy.  

Each day I do my best to do God’s will, and each day I do my best to live in this world as it is and not as I wish it were.  I can live with feeling a sense of peace in my life.  

And So The Dance Begins Again

I’m not sure if I have spoken openly about this topic, but now is the time.  

I, like millions of other Americans, suffer from a mental illness.  Mine is specifically Chronic Depression.  I won’t go into the long history of my mis-diagnoses and finally diagnosis over the years, but suffice it to say that for the last twenty-five years I have been in treatment of one form or another — some medically prescribed, some self administered, to try to keep the darkness from surrounding me and choking out what little joy, peace and safety I felt in my world.  

Previously, depression, really any mental illness was the quiet shame that we who live with it bore.  Fear of judgement, or misunderstanding kept us from letting even our closest friends, even some of our family members in on our diagnosis.  If you were one of the people we told, you were a very trusted ally.   

So, instead, we put on a false smile and went out into a world we  could barely cope with and did what needed to be done no matter how difficult or exhausting it was for us to do.  We held ourselves together, so tightly wound that when we finally reached the safe haven of our homes we would tearfully collapse, incapable of doing the simplest tasks because all of our energy had been spent presenting an outward camolage of normalcy.  

Some people look at the face we show the world and say things like: ” but you’re always so happy, or cheerful” or ” you are always looking out for the needs of other people,  you can’t possibly be dealing with depression.”   That person the world sees, is not the person we see when we look in the mirror.  Robin Williams is a great example of this phenomenon.  Blessed Mother Teresa is another.  She was so totally other centered, and yet she lived for years with crushing self doubt, and probably undiagnosed depression.  

There are treatments available to us, and thanks to research, more and better medications to help us cope, but even now, it is a dance. A regimen that worked for years will suddenly begin to lose its efficacy.  We have to be vigilant about taking medication, and getting enough sleep, avoiding undue stress, and getting proper nutrition, oh and lest I not forget, we have to remembers that exercise is the best antidepressant.  Tell that to someone who finds it difficult to get dressed. Finding the motivation to get exercise is the most difficult piece of the puzzle for some, and finding an exercise that you actually enjoy enough to do on a regular basis, that is another stumbling block.

I realize I am rambling a bit, but the reason I am writing about this today is that I am about to begin a new treatment protocol.  My previous medication, which served me well for over a year has not been as effective lately, so I have been weening off of it so that today I can begin taking a new medication. The new medication is one I have never tried.  I have read all the literature (possible side effects, drug interactions with other medications I am on, etc) and today I start my first dose.  

Today. I also am going to try a new exercise plan.  Instead of trying to do a bunch of exercise at one time, I am going to try to set aside ten minutes three times a day to do high energy bursts of exercise like dance or fast walking or yoga/Pilates.  If I can do 10 minutes three times a day every day, that will mean an accumulated total of 210 minutes of exercise a week.  Well above the standard for my age.

And while I am at it, today I am going to cut out refined sugar and unnecessary starch.  I am going to eat more fruits and vegetables and give my body the fuel it needs.  

Treating mental illness is a dance, and like all dances the steps change when the music changes.  Today the music is changing and my particular dance begins again. St Rita, St. Dymphna, and Blessed Mother Teresa pray with me as I learn these new steps.

When God Puts You Right Where You Need to Be

For the first time in my life I am attending a Conference where I know no one.  I, the extreme introvert am in a city I don’t know, with no one to help me navigate it.  While parts of the conference have been interesting, –(shamrock crisps from Ireland with real essence of Shamrock in them); inspiring, (hearing Colin Powell talk about how he went from a lackluster student at George Washington University to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then Secretary of State, and how he transitioned out of those jobs when they quickly ended);  to unexpected ( a lesson on Bourbon tasting and my first ever but not my last taste of bourbon).

I have learned quite a bit about the new work I will be doing with the Company that has taken me on and accepted me as a member of their team and part of their family.  I can’t wait to share what I have learned with them when I get back and to apply it to my work for them.  But for all of that, there is a loneliness to being here that I can’t shake.  I still have yet to actually meet anyone in a “Hi, my name is Maggie, blah blah blah.” Kind of way.

I was despairing of that tonight when I was walking back from eating dinner on my own at a local restaurant.  I was standing at a crosswalk.  Just before The light changed I decided not to cross the street but rather to continue down the sidewalk instead.  In the process, I bumped into a woman who was out getting her nightly exercise. (I am withholding her name because I failed to ask her permission to use identifying information in this post).

We apologized to each other for the jostling, and since we were headed in the same direction, struck up a conversation about the weather, and walking vs running for exercise.  She assumed I was from Lexington, but I told her I was just visiting. I then asked her for directions to the local branch of my bank where I was headed to deposit a check.  I thought I was heading in the right direction but wanted to be sure. 

Since she was out for exercise anyway she volunteered to walk with me. In the space of the nine or ten blocks we had a deeply spiritual conversation.  We, both of us, filled a need for the other.  God had ordered our steps so very carefully to place us on the exact corner at the exact moment so that we would meet, because we each had a spiritual need to be filled.  

For that nice bit of time, I didn’t feel so all alone in this city where I know no one at all, and she got some spiritual insight into a situation she had been dealing with that she hadn’t been able to talk with anyone about.  I am often amazed, but never surprised at how God’s plans for us all fit together so perfectly.

I may never see her again in the time I am here, or I may see her tomorrow night when I eat dinner at the restaurant where she works, but either way, I will never forget her.  

God is good, all the time.

Notes From A Too Short Retreat

So some of you may know that I spent the last 36 hours or so on a short, private, self directed retreat. I tried to keep as much silence as I could manage, although last night I did turn on the television to get the weather report and by luck caught the frontline documentary “Memory of the Camps” – made just after World War II. (It fits into my retreat story I promise). 

 Since I had so short a time and didn’t want to waste it jumping from subject to subject for my meditation, I chose to focus on The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris; he walks us through the Serenity Prayer step by step with spiritual insights at every turn. The Serenity Prayer is one of my favorites and this book well, if you do not already have this book on your spiritual reading list you should put it there, (I am re-reading it for the third time.)  Specifically, because my time was short I chose Part 2: The Courage to Change the Things I Can. 

Fr. Jonathan talks about the paralysis of inaction, and the fear that keeps us from acting. He also gives examples of saints and sinners ( and sinners who became saints) and how they gained the courage to change. It was a powerful time for me, and in this reading I caught onto something I had never read the same before.

In Chapter 28; Start with Baby Steps, he talks about the movie What About Bob, one of my very favorite movies, and one I have used as an example with directees of not having to have it all together all at once. 

God doesn’t demand perfection, he only demands that we move toward perfection (move toward God because only God is perfect anyway, right?)

In this chapter Fr. Jonathan talks about having the courage to keep moving forward. Make small attainable goals. If the “Big PIcture” is too scary then focus on the first little task that will lead you toward that big picture and make that your goal. Completing little tasks are the baby steps that help you gain the courage and momentum to keep moving toward perfection (God). 

I remember something my mom used to say: “Do what you can, and let God do the rest.” It was probably a quote from a saint. She loved the saints.

 Here is the part I got this time around that had never sunk in before: We need to be able to be satisfied with the baby steps progress, no matter how infinitesimal it gets us toward the big picture goal. I think I knew that already, but it became more concrete as gift this retreat. I pray, “It is what it is.” I pray, Or something like that.” But now I can pray:

“God, I moved toward you, no matter how halting my steps, and I am satisfied that my movement toward you is pleasing to you, and enough for today.” 

 It was a very good retreat. 

 I almost forgot to tell you how Memory of the Camps fit into this retreat reflection: 

 I watched as the Allied Forces moved into camp after camp and uncovered the inhumanity of the treatment of the prisoners by their captors. The sickness and starvation was beyond comprehension, and realistically beyond the capabilities of the food and hospital supplies they had on hand.

Yet, they treated the people in the camps with as much human compassion and love as they could muster. Soldiers were seen breaking into their own rations and canteens to help feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. They interviewed a few of the soldiers, and you could see how beaten down they were by the work they were doing, and to a man they all said, “this is why I am fighting.”

 There was a section of the documentary that focussed on the guards and workers in the camps. They were rounded up and made to listen to a speech by one of the Allied Commanders. The speech was in German but was translated. It essentially said, the devastation around you is not the fault of your leaders alone. You bear the fault for this as well. You could have stopped these atrocities, and yet you did nothing. You could have kept these people from suffering and dying and you did nothing to prevent it.

Inaction, is just as heinous a sin as doing something wrong. 

We Catholics say it at every mass when we recite the Confetior: In my thoughts, in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do. Missed chances to do good are as sinful as the bad things we do. I had just read that chapter before I saw the documentary.  

Lord please let me remember that failing to do the good I could do is just as much a sin as doing the bad that I do.

Good Friday: Behold The Wood of the Cross … Praying it Forward

Today is the one day in the Church year when we do not celebrate the Eucharist. My dad used to say it was because Jesus was in hiding today, the day of his death.  Instead we substitute the Solemn Liturgy of The Lord’s Passion.  It has three parts, a recitation of the Passion Narative, veneration of the Cross, and Solemn Intercessions.

I have included a YouTube link to a Celebration of the Solemn Liturgy above if you cannot get to one or have never seen one I encourage you to watch it. I realize it is long, but it is so worth it.

My favorite part of the liturgy is the Solemn Intercessions. during them we pray for everyone in the world; not by name obviously, but there is an intercession that covers every category of human beings on the earth.  Not a single group is left unpraid-for.

When I was little I asked my dad why we did that, I mean prayed for everybody. He said that because Jesus loved us enough to die for us then we should at least love everyone in the world enough to pray for them.

So it doesn’t matter if the people we are paying for know that we are paying for them. It doesn’t matter how they feel about us. It doesn’t matter if they don’t want our prayers. What matters is that because of God’s love for us, we have to pray it forward.

Is your heart big enough to accept the kind of love that dies to set you free from sin?

Is your heart big enoigh to pray that love forward?

Think about that today when you kiss the feet of the cross.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper Thursday of Holy Week: April 2,2015. Be Thou My Example

I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

in the story

I came from a large family. I am seventh of nine children (the Borg child, for Star Trek TNG Fans).  Growing up in a big family for good or ill you learn a lot by the example of your older siblings.

My sister Ann taught me how to read when I was barely three because she needed a student for her school house when she played school.  I would sit with her and she would help me figure out that the letters on the page made words that matched the pictures in the stories about Dick, Jane and Spot.

My brothers taught me to climb trees, and to be fearless.  We had a large ciy park just across the street fromour house that was essentially an untamed wilderness, and an extension of our yard.  My brothers built forts there and had rope swings hanging from trees that swung out across great gullies (probably not ll that huge, but I was small, so they seemed bigger).  They convinced me that I could ride the rope swing, and I did.  The first few times with my eyes glued shut, but eventually with my eyes open. What a thrill.

My parents taught me their faith by example.  They took me to church every Sunday and Holy day.  My Father let me come with him to Adoration, and Saturday morning confession (he went weekly, like clockwork).  My mom told me about novenas, like the First Friday novena: go to Mass on the First Friday of every month for nine consecutive months, recieve the sacrament of pennance durring that time, and you will die a happy death.  It must be true, because both of my parents, though they suffered debilitating illnesses, died peacefully, happily when they were ready to go.

I hope that I am being an example to my children, and to others around me.  I try to show people the way to Jesus in everything I do and say.  I struggle in life with chronic illness, and injuries, but then I remember, that my faithfulness in times of struggle can be as much of an encouragement to someone as the example of an elite athlete.  God has given me these things for a reason.

have you ever considered what kind of example you are being for those you influence? You may have more influence than you imagine on people you don’t even realize.

Be a good example, so that others will see the way to Jesus.

See you at Mass tonight.  This is the First night of my favorite Season of the Church Year: the Triduum:Three Holy Days.  I could live in church until Easter Sunday and be totally happy!