I published my previous post at the suggestion of my good Bible study friends. One has started an awesome website for busy Catholic moms at BusyCatholicMoms.com. Check it out!
I’ve heard many people ask the question before, if God is so all-powerful, then why would He not just wipe out the balance against us in our sins? He’s the banker, He can forgive the debt. And it’s true. But then where would we be? Shopaholics with no balance on our credit cards standing the in the middle of the mall, that’s where.
In our fallen natures, we are slaves to sin. Again and again, “I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do.” (Rom 7:15). God not only forgives us for all our departures from perfection, but He wants to save us from ourselves, and break that repeated and bad habit of sinning. So He sent His son, Jesus to die on a cross. Paul, in his wordy wisdom, tell us “For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4)
Jesus died so that we could die with Him. If any death is a good death, then it’s death in Christ. If we die with Him, He then drags us beyond the grave and into life after death. Then we walk “in the newness of life”. Once the shopaholic has been slayed, a new being stands in the mall, one with the ability to resist the hypnotic and compulsive suggestion of the four letter word: SALE. The possibility is then before us to stop racking up the debt of sin.
I’m going to switch to a different metaphor now, and consider God’s motivation behind this death and new life he offers to take us through. Pretend you are engaged to the most wonderful potential spouse. You cheat on him. There are two ways this wrongdoing can be forgiven. Your fiance might say, “Look, I don’t hold this against you. I forgive you and wish you well, but you are no longer a good person to marry.” Or your fiance may say, “I forgive you. I love you and still want to marry you, but you need to change.” What is change but a death of an old way and birth of a new way? The death we die in Christ through baptism changes us so that we can have a relationship with God. We can’t continue to live in our old cheating way, or the relationship will fall apart. But true forgiveness, earnest change, and new life can bring about an amazing love – something that’s worth dying and rising for.
It’s been a couple years since my last post on this blog, and we’ve been busy. We’ve had another baby boy: Maximilian Joseph, who is now a year and a half old. Isabel is in the first grade at the local Catholic school, much to the chagrin of my mother. The days keep ticking by with little time for reflection or writing, but plenty of time to practice selfless service to others. If only practice actually made perfect.
After years now of actually being Catholic, of compulsively crossing myself before and after prayers, of being surrounded by people who believe the same as I do, of being shocked by the occasional Protestant references I come across (such as calling James the other son of Mary), I’m very glad I started this blog. I’ve settled rather comfortably into Catholic life and am finding it difficult to remember what I was like pre-conversion. When a friend of mine in our Bible study asked what made me change my mind about Catholicism, I struggled for a concise reply. Maybe I’ll dig through this blog and send some of it on to her.
Thinking about where I am now and where I was definitely not before, I can say from experiencing the process of conversion…
You know you’re Catholic when:
- You have crucifixes in every room of the house (including the playroom), and move on to collecting statues of Mary at special occasions.
- Catholics you meet at the playground recognize your children’s names as saints names.
- Your daughter’s favorite night time lullaby is “Hail Mary”.
- Your three year old son asks to have a “Jesus” (crucifix around his neck) too, and ends up looking like an archbishop.
- You wonder not if your children will be doctors or astronauts when they grow up, but whether they will be called to a religious vocation or married life.
- Your kids throw fits at church because they want the special bread too.
- The question is not whether to buy a rosary or pray with it. The question is where you put it and how to fix the one that’s now in pieces.
- You feel weird when the doctor asks if you’re interested in a prescription for birth control at your 6 week post-partum checkup.
- You go for a visit back home in Northern Ireland, and the Craigavon boys think you’ve join Sinn Fein.
- You have exorcized salt sitting on the stove to cook with.
On the 12th of July, Isabel turned four years old. Isn’t she cute covered in ketchup?
Isabel got a birthday phone call from “Grandma Liz”, Chris’s mom, that struck me as incredibly ironic. She had just returned from “The Twelfth” parades. It’s the Protestant Northern Irish national holiday, celebrating the victory of Protestant King William of Orange over Catholic King James II. The Protestants in Chris’s hometown celebrate by burning an effigy of Robert Lundy, who aided the Catholics in the war, in giant bonfires.
Chris’s family was thrilled that Isabel was born on this day. Our little Catholic girl. She’s been baptized Catholic. She crosses herself when she prays. She hardly mentions Jesus, but she wants to include Mary. She picks out prayer cards and crucifixes for herself at Catholic bookstores, and already believes and takes great comfort in the communion of saints. It’s as if God, in His infinite humor, looked at this day celebrated in Protestants in Northern Ireland and said in response, “This day is what I make it.” He took a Protestant from Northern Ireland, made him Catholic, made his family Catholic, and brought a little Catholic girl into the world on this day. Coincidence? Or Divine Irony?
I’ve always had trouble understanding mortification. In becoming Catholic, there were subjects that I sidelined, preferring to focus on the meat and potatoes of Catholic life, instead of the weird fringe. For instance, I always steered clear of the saints section of the bookstore, especially the book entitled The Incorruptibles. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps. Then there’s mortification. What sane person would subject themselves to pointless misery? But when you look at those who have practiced mortification according to the faith, like Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa, they weren’t miserable. They were gloriously, happily, unshakably at peace. Maybe those crazy Catholics (ha! us crazy Catholics) are on to something.
Let’s consider the nature of mortification for a minute. It is technically, “the subjection and denial of bodily passions and appetites by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort”. It’s not just self-inflicted pain or discomfort. It is pain in a very specific context, with the goal of subjugating our desires. Why should our desires be subjugated? We could just chase our every whim, letting our desires rule us. But then we’d look a heck of a lot like Chris Jr. (He’s 2 now! And good at it.) when he’s protesting the denial of his third DanAnimals drink for the day, no matter what it might do to his digestive system. If we decide we must have the light-up bouncy ball, when it is taken away from us, we suffer great emotional angst. Of course, this is nothing more than our own ridiculous desires turned against us. If we could wield our self-control such that our very desire for the light-up bouncy ball doesn’t sway our emotions, we could be happy no matter what come along. If.
So then, mortification is a forced detachment from the things that matter more to us than they should. I’m sure that Pope John Paul II liked a comfortable bed, but when he slept on the floor, he made himself rely on the bed less and rely on Christ more. He detached himself from the bed, so that he didn’t need it to be happy. When we’ve achieved that detachment, we can be happy in whatever circumstances we are in. Then like the men of the New Testament who suffered great persecution, we can rejoice in the great things that God has done for us even when the world seems to be ending.
Unfortunately, we are creatures made of flesh. Our desires are difficult to ignore just by concentrated effort. They can only be subjugated by making a habit out of mastering them. It is with practice that we can hone our desires and attitudes and emotionally suffer less though our physical sufferings remain. That is the goal of mortification – our happiness based firmly on the foundation of what really matters instead of on something as changeable as the weather. Truly, what matters most is our relationship with God, to remain in Him and He in us. If we have that, nothing else should bother us. It’s not that our sufferings aren’t real. We really feel the physical pain, and pain is a real evil that we sometimes must endure. It’s just that our happiness lies in God alone, not in our creature comforts.
Where am I with all this? I’m taking baby steps to mortify my creaturely desires. Right now, I’m having a difficult time controlling the urge to buy. Specifically the urge to buy yarn. That’s right. Yarn. It’s something that non-knitters/crocheters might have a hard time understanding, but it’s a well known addictive side effect of knitting. I see a skein of 40% alpaca, 35% merino wool, 25% silk, in a pearl gray hand dyed colorway and I start to drool. I imagine the lovely things that could be done with such a yarn. My world would be a better place, I’d be a happier person, a more patient mother, if I only had this yarn. But I am making an effort to control this seemingly ridiculous urge. I’m waiting to buy. I’m saving up spending money. I’m resisting the desire to load up the credit cards and hide the mail from Chris.
It’s maybe only half a baby step that I’m working on here, and I’m not doing all that well. I think the reason I fall so short so often is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the best way to do things, the right thing to do, and I try very hard to work it all out. In the end, it’s me trying to work it all out. All too often, I’ve sidelined Christ as my guide instead of my strength. I’ve tried to get to know the person of Christ, to serve Him, to emulate Him. But it’s just me trying, and I’m not letting Him do the work. I confess I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should just with Christ. I haven’t made Him the light of my life, I’ve made Him the book light. I turn Him on when I want to look something up and figure something out.
Mortification teaches me that practice at denying my lesser desires will allow Christ to blossom as the center of my life. So then – small steps, little habits, repeated attempts. All on my to do list.
These lyrics are from Paul Inwood’s Center of my Life, and seem applicable:
“O Lord, you are the center of my life: I will always praise you, I will always serve you, I will always keep you in my sight. Keep me safe, O God, I will take refuge in you. I say to the Lord, “You are my God. My happiness lies in you alone; my happiness lies in you alone.”
Last Sunday, Father Andrew gave a homily comparing our approach to the Eucharist with barbecue ribs, since he had just recently judged a contest at a local parish. The three categories in which the ribs were judged on were presentation, taste, and tenderness. We too, he said, should examine how we present ourselves before Christ, whether we have the flavour of Christ in our daily actions, and if we have tenderness of heart before Him. I’m painfully aware of how much I fall short on all these counts.
I know that the Real Presence of Christ is in the Eucharist, but I seem to have a disconnect with that knowledge. It’s not that I don’t believe it. I do. But the thing itself is so far beyond me. As I prepare myself in mass to receive Our Lord, the only thing I can grasp is how little of the awesome reality I actually am grasping. My favorite prayer in mass is “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed.” Thank God for that, because if it was up to me, even on my best and most focused days, I’m more like a kid who’s spilled all the milk trying to bring his mommy a drink, creating a bigger mess by trying to please her, than a composed and righteous worthy child of God. But in this I realize that the important thing, the thing that God values in me, is that I tried and I came to Him. When my children try to please me but screw up, I’m happy that their hearts are in the right place, even though there are occasions when the mess frustrates me to the point of reacting badly. Thankfully, God doesn’t have that same weakness. He’s never “had enough” cleaning up after us. It’s our hearts He’s after, and as long as I keep coming to Him, He won’t give up on shaping my heart.
That persistence has become the central focus of my life as a Catholic, now that the time I spent discerning whether the Catholic Church is the true church is over. I’ve made the commitment, and like with all commitments the hard part is follow through. Now I have to live the Catholic life, not just for the past two months, not just for the next wee while until I get tired of it. I have to live out the Catholic life until I go to my reward. And so far, in the whole two months I’ve spent as a Catholic, that persistence has been demonstrated on a deeper level by the Catholics around me.
As many of you know, we belong to a large parish. There are six weekend masses, and for several there’s standing room only. Even with all those parishioners, it’s difficult to find people to serve. Some days there aren’t enough extraordinary ministers. Some days a lector gets grabbed from those in attendance. Until a friend of mine decided to put together a noon choir, there wasn’t even music at all the weekend masses. Currently our noon choir includes, me, her, a third woman (most of the time), and whoever we can harangue into being there any given weekend. We can’t always find an accompanist. This was a little shocking for me at first, that out of the thousands of people who belong to this church, hardly anybody was willing to step forward and “Catholic up”.
Then instead of gawking at the situation, I took notice of those who were serving with me. To an observer, these people may not always bow at the right time. They may wear jeans instead of dress clothes. They may stutter or pronounce Melchizedek wrongly. They might sound tone deaf and you’re wondering what possessed them, making them think they could stand up and sing in front of the whole church. The truth is, they are offering themselves, mistakes and all, because we are in need of servants and they’re the only volunteers.
I’ve found a surprising number of ministers are doubled up. They might be RCIA “red shirts” (the volunteers that organize RCIA all wear red shirts at our church), but they also sing in the choir. I recognize the extraordinary ministers and lectors from my mom’s group. The list goes on. But unlike the social sorority/fraternity popularity contest of the Protestant churches I’ve been in, those that are involved at our parish are motivated by faith. You don’t become a lector because it enables you to sit around and gab about who did what with who. The job isn’t well suited to such a goal. Instead you do it because it’s needed and you have a desire to serve God.
Since becoming Catholic, a few of these people have quietly let me in on their spiritual life. I have several mom friends who invited me to daily mass on Wednesday and Thursday (the only masses where it’s practical to bring young children at our church), but only after I became Catholic. They never flaunted it before. I never knew they went. I never knew another mom spends enormous amounts of time learning, taking classes on theology, Catholic life, and the Bible. I never knew until they invited me to become involved in their devotions, and witnessing the sincerity of it has moved me to persist in my own imperfect devotions.
Though by no means do I have a performance quality voice, and stage fright begins days before Sunday, there are several weeks this summer when you’ll find me cantering at noon mass because no one else can or will do it. I may forget a rule or two of decorum. I never knew to bow when I crossed in front of the tabernacle to change the hymnal numbers on both sides of the church until it occurred to me to ask if that “counted”. Sometimes I fumble the bow, “Amen”, eat/drink, cross self routine and get things out of order. But I keep coming back to Christ and offering all my imperfections in exchange for His perfect Self given to me every Sunday. I keep acknowledging “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you”, and I keep being received and accepted as I am now. All that remains is to keep on living the Catholic life.
P.S. – It’s been ages since I last posted because we moved our laptop into the basement. Since the spring, most of my free time (i.e. time away from the sink, dishwasher, stove, and washer and dryer) has been spent out in the sunshine instead of a dark hole in the ground! We’re all still alive and well 🙂
… temporarily, at least until I figure out a better name, or decide to start a different blog for a different stage in my journey. Feel free to offer suggestions.
The deed is done. They let me in 🙂
My brother ended up coming to Easter vigil. It was nice to have family there, but of course it caused a few odd conversations and unfortunately I’m not one who quickly thinks of good responses, unless you include sarcastic comments in the category of good responses. I don’t quite understand why my family feels the need to “evaluate” our church after mass, but my parents did it when they came and my brother did it this past Saturday. I get the phrase “Well, the only things I didn’t agree with was x, y, and z.” I wonder if they would do the same going to church with my Baptist aunt.
The list of complaints from my brother were odd to say the least. He wanted things to be in Latin. Strange for someone who’s used to rock bands on Sunday mornings. He thought those who got baptized shouldn’t have wiped the holy water off themselves. Very strange for someone who doesn’t actually believe in the power of the priesthood to bless things in the first place. When my parents came, they had complained that people didn’t take both the bread and the wine. I don’t understand why they would have that problem when they don’t even believe Christ is present! They only believe it is symbolic. They protested that it is the Blood of Christ that offers us forgiveness. I think that it’s taking the literal reading of the Bible too far to believe the Body of Christ doesn’t offer us forgiveness. I tried to explain that we believe the Blood and Body are present under both species, but it only got blank stares.
And my brother, of course, didn’t like the litany of the saints. I think the issue of prayer to the saints deserves a post, because it seems like that will be the first thing on everyone’s list against the Catholic Church that I will have to defend. Most Christians don’t know much about the issues of justification or fine lines between grace and free will. It’s the practices that stand out as strange to them. As a Biblical “proof” against praying to saints, he quoted when Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) So I asked why he thought asking the saints to pray for us was an attempt to get to the Father without Christ when we ask each other for prayer already. In his usual acerbic manner, he said he didn’t ask people to pray for him and instead focused on the saints being dead. I said he believes the dead can see and hear (he didn’t contest “hear”) and they’re in the presence of God, why would they not be able to pray for us? No good answer, but obviously Catholics are wrong and weird.
Later he settled in to just asking questions. He asked why I became Catholic and I told him:
Me: “Because I believe what the Catholic Church teaches.”
“So do you think people who aren’t Catholic are going to hell?”
“Do you agree with other churches?”
Me: “What do you mean? Not everything of course. Mom and dad don’t even agree with everything their church teaches.”
Surprisingly, he told me this is why he stopped going to church over ten years ago. He got tired of pastors saying things like, “The Bible says such and such, but…” Apparently the untrustworthiness of pastoral teachings was too much for him.
I told him Catholics believe Jesus is really present in the bread and wine, which he called weird and left it at that. It is weird, really, but unchallengeable by any reasonable person either by logic or the Bible.
On the whole it was a nice night. We got a sitter for Chris Jr. and Isabel was on her best behavior. She loved the candle lighting and watching everyone get their “special baths”. She kept asking when mommy was getting the “special oil”. We forgot the camera, but a friend standing next to me had her camera person take pictures for us. Afterward, Chris and Isabel gave me my special surprise – a beautiful large crucifix for the prayer table I’m trying to set up. My favorite parts: praying after communion with the knowledge of the gift that Christ had just given me, and the smell of the chrism still on my forehead the next morning.
The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
First Decade: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
Second Decade: Our Lord is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
Third Decade: Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
Fourth Decade: Our Lord Carries the Cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32)
Fifth Decade: The Crucifixion of Our Lord (Matthew 27:33-56)
My favorite mysteries of the Rosary are the joyful mysteries. I’ve always liked happy stories. Chris’s favorite mysteries are the sorrowful mysteries. When he first told me this, I didn’t quite understand. They are hard for me to pray and think about. It’s uncomfortable to dwell on this deepest of all tragedies. Then a couple things happened to change my perspective and draw me into the depths of the sorrowful mysteries.
Chris sent me a link to a blog post written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the difference between Protestant and Catholic understanding of the life of Christ. In essence, he describes the liberal Protestant approach as focusing on Jesus as a good person and nearly ignoring his death. The conservative evangelicals, he says, focus on the redeeming sacrifice of Christ’s death and nearly ignore his ministry beforehand. All this rang true to me, consistent with my experience. Then Fr. Longenecker says:
“The Catholic approach to the Life of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery–the Cross and Resurrection, then looks back to the life of Christ and sees every aspect of the human life of Jesus as mystery that reveals the Son of God… In other words, every aspect of Christ’s life from the Annunciation through the Ascension was redemptive and charged with the grandeur and mystery of God’s work of salvation.”
This view of the life of Christ was strange to me. I was used to looking on His ministry as “proof” that He is the Son of God. His death paid for my sins, and that was that. I was grateful, but didn’t like to think of it much. It’s such a gruesome and sad story after all. There was little more to it than that for me, but when you think about it that doesn’t much make sense. Christ didn’t just die for our sins. The sorrowful mysteries refuse to let you retain that perspective. Christ was humiliated and suffered the worst physical abuse before He died. Thinking about that apparently senseless tragedy was just plain depressing. It only left me with a “people are so mean” impression.
Another thing that happened to aid my understanding of Christ’s suffering is that I saw Chris willingly humiliate himself, suck his pride up in one of the hardest ways, in order to have the charity he thinks God wants of him, and only by saying “If Christ can suffer the humiliation of the cross, I can do this.”
Christ did suffer the humiliation of the cross, and I had never paid any attention to it. If every event in Christ’s life meant something, then certainly this humiliation and suffering means something. I prayed the sorrowful mysteries looking for how these seemingly senseless events reveal Christ to me.
In the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ surrenders His will to that of God the Father, saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He doesn’t just align his will with the Father’s, he surrenders his will. He does not want to suffer the horrible death that he knows is coming, but He humbly and obediently does so out of love for the Father and for us all. The depth of this action is properly understood when Christ says, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He doesn’t have to go through this. Most of us are powerless pawns, and although we may not accept the things that happen to us, we cannot stop them. Christ can stop His own suffering, and still accepts it. “A death He freely accepted.”
The second sorrowful mystery is Our Lord scourged at the pillar. This is the only event in Christ’s death that I ever heard commented on by Protestants, and that was to say “by His stripes we are healed.” This, to those I heard comment, meant not a spiritual healing, but a physical one. This, to them, meant that if we have enough faith to claim this healing, we should never suffer sickness or injury. That idea stands in stark contrast to the Catholic view of all suffering being a part of our unity with Christ. Though I find it hard to understand, this mystery tells me that in imitation of Christ, we too must take our lashes. It is not us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. His suffering has redeemed the world, and His life in us does the same when we suffer.
Then Our Lord is crowned with thorns. He is the king of kings, and he is mocked. The mockers do not see the truth, they do not give Him the respect, awe, praise, and glory that He deserves. Instead, they throw it back in His face. Christ doesn’t loose His bonds and heal His wounds, revealing His glory. He doesn’t argue with them, telling them how wrong they are and that they’ll be sorry when He shows them. He takes the humiliation. The one man on Earth who most ought to have been listened to was not. The one man on Earth who didn’t have to take it, and he did. Makes it seem a little insignificant when we are mocked and ignored.
Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on to carry the cross to Calvary. It’s the long trek in which Christ not only accepts His own death, but makes it happen. He carries it out His own death sentence, a terrible humiliation for a man even deserving of that fate, but this is God Himself. It is only in the gospel of John where Christ is portrayed as carrying the cross Himself, I’ve heard John wrote this to convey Christ’s absolute control over the event. In the other three gospels, Simon of Cyrene shares in Christ’s journey. Earlier, before all these events, Christ has told us “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) His listeners didn’t know that He would die on a cross. They didn’t know that it is the cross of Christ’s death that we must bear, like Simon. Christ has told us it is necessary to suffer humiliation and pain, to give up our own desires and stop demanding that everyone else treat us like royalty. Instead, He shows us Himself how we are supposed to live by dying, by obeying the Father’s Will, by giving Himself for others, and not just accepting but bringing about this fate himself.
In the final act, Christ is crucified on a cross. Many Christians focus on our sins redeemed by Christ’s death, but forget about the cross itself. It’s not a noble death, fit for a king. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. Yet God Himself was held high for the world to see in a slow, painful, humiliating death. Christ redeemed us, and not only paid for our sins, but gave us the way of reconciliation in Him. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21)
Through these mysteries, Jesus is revealed as loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. We are supposed to be like Christ, and the sorrowful mysteries tell us this means being loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. Though that seems like a grim prospect at times, there is an up side. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:3,4) His death is our death, His life is our life, and “[we] have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us].” (Gal 2:20) Because we are made one with Christ in His death, we are given His life. We share His suffering so that we can share in His glory, and that glory is worth all the suffering and humiliation along the way. (Rom 8:17, 18) In fact, this suffering and death teaches us the point of life in Christ. It is imperative that we love others and live for them, selflessly as a servant. Otherwise, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates so eloquently in The Great Divorce, we will get what we want, and it will all be about us to the effect that we are utterly and hellishly alone with our desires.
Fr. Longenecker says about this unity with Christ:
“We enter into [mystery of Christ who is God revealed through his humanity] not through theological speculation alone, but through a sacramental fusion with the mystery. It enters into us and we enter into it. Christ in me and me in Christ…. The result of this sacramental transaction is ‘theosis’ the transformation of ourselves, our souls and our bodies into living icons of Christ.”
It is absolutely beautiful that our God has lovingly led us by the hand and shown us the way, has become the way, for our reconciliation with Him. Our God was not exempt from these sorrows, but instead was held to the cross by His love for us. I was familiar with the idea of “imitation of Christ”, but generally thought this meant be good and nice to people. Catholicism has taught me that the Christian way is one of suffering and submission, sacrificing our pride in humility. It’s an awesome mystery that I hope to someday not only understand better but live out in my daily death to self. I’ve already had a taste of the grace in the sacraments through Reconciliation. Tomorrow I’ll be confirmed and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, entering deeper in to this sacramental fusion and, I pray, becoming more like Christ.
Easter is only six days away now, and it serendipitously falls on my birthday this year. My first birthday as a Catholic will be my first day as a Catholic. My journey to enter the Catholic Church has seemed so laborious and fraught with indecision. Although I think that anyone looking back, even at my very first post, will see that I’ve spent the last year and a half only coming to terms with what I already knew I was supposed to do – become Catholic. And now my first Communion is imminent. I have a lot to look forward to this week in the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. (And I just realized that I forgot the last Stations of the Cross this past Friday, which I meant to attend. Oops.)
I’m beginning to absolutely love Catholic liturgy. Passion Sunday was fantastic. How better to remember what Christ did than to hold blessed palm branches to lay down for our King and to read our part in His death He died for us? They’ve thought of everything to remind us of all the important Christian truths, events, and their meaning, if we only listen as we go through the motions. Honestly, much of the time it’s fairly difficult for me to focus, and I’m disappointed that I feel rather distracted and ill-prepared for my entry into the Church. So I’m extra thankful for all the liturgical aids that keep re-directing my mind and heart to focus on uniting myself with Christ in His death on the cross giving me hope in the resurrection.
On the subject of preparing for Easter, three weeks ago I had my first confession. I brought my list on which I wrote nice and small to get it all on one side of the paper. I cried. I burned it afterward. Chris and I celebrated with queso and chips. It wasn’t particularly difficult for me to say my sins out loud. As Chris had told me it would be beforehand, it was the least judgmental conversation of my life. Telling a priest your sins isn’t hard at all. It’s calling them to mind, realizing what you have done and being sorry for them that is difficult. Then there’s the beautiful prayer of absolution at the end. I’m not sure if this is the one my priest used, but it’s lovely:
God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son
has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us
for the forgiveness of sins;
Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
I was surprised to actually feel better after my confession. I honestly wanted to do better, to behave as Christ would in my life, and was more patient with the kids. It has slipped away over the weeks, but gives me a hint of the grace available through the sacraments.
I’m a little concerned about the logistics of Easter Vigil. There’s a practice session early in the morning, during which I hope the RCIA class will provide babysitting, otherwise we’ll have a very loudly protesting, rampaging two year old boy destroying our ability to figure out what where we’re supposed to stand. Later that night, we plan on bringing Isabel with us, but getting a sitter for Chris Jr. We think she’s old enough to handle the late night and maybe even get something out of it. Hopefully. My family won’t be there to help, since they’ll be out of town, so we’ll have to haul her along with us the whole way. In a way, I’m glad I won’t have an entourage of opposition there. I’ll be more able to immerse myself in what I know is going on instead of explaining what I believe and why Catholics do what they do (and why that’s not un-Biblical or unreasonable). On the other hand, I very much want to share this with my family because it means so much to me, even if they have no idea that it does.
Another practical concern for Easter Vigil is they are not reserving seats for us candidates and the catechumen. I can’t think of good reason why they aren’t, since this mass is integral to our entrance to the Church. This wouldn’t be such a big deal except our church is massive. With six weekend masses, we still have a packed church with standing room only, and the traffic to get in and out of the church backs up for blocks in either direction all Sunday morning. It’s like that on normal Sundays, and we all know there are those know there are those who come out of the woodwork twice a year at Easter and Christmas. If we don’t get there at least an hour early, I may not have a seat for my Confirmation and I’m sure Isabel would handle that rather poorly. I’m sure we can work it out alright, but it’s an added stress.
So that’s where I stand, on the verge of becoming one of those reviled by the world at large, deemed un-Christian by some of our close Protestant brethren, and despised as a mind-controlled fool by non-Christians, but utterly resolved to give up my self as Christ has given Himself to me.
Book Give Away
In recognition of this great gift that I am about to receive this Easter, I want to offer a choice of gifts to those who would ask. For a while now, I’ve wanted to offer a free copy of Hilaire Belloc’s The Crisis of Civilization to up to 10 people (limited since I don’t have infinite resources). I chose this book because it puts the entire Christian civilization into a long term historical perspective in a readable manner, and it’s eye opening. I was ignorant of much of history, and this book does much to describe the organic nature of the Catholic Church and how Christianity shaped the world. It’s of vital importance to have this perspective, since those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.
I would like to offer alternatives, if you are interested in something else. I’m happy to substitute any of Hilaire Belloc’s books, particularly The Great Heresies, which is also a nice Catholic history of the Church in relation to those who have separated from her teachings. I’d also like to offer either of my chosen Confirmation saint’s works, The Catholic Controversy and Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales. I personally believe that The Catholic Controversy is the finest work of counter-Reformation apologetics ever written, and I can’t help but think St. Francis prayers for reconciliation in the Body of Christ were in part answered in my own conversion. Finally, you have the option of choosing Adoration: Eucharistic Texts and Prayers Through Out Church History if you are more inclined to strengthen your faith in the Eucharist through historical and contemplative reading.
If you want to take me up on this offer, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, book choice, and address and I’ll send it off as soon as I have a moment!