You Know You’re Catholic When…

November 28, 2012

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:

  1. You have crucifixes in every room of the house (including the playroom), and move on to collecting statues of Mary at special occasions.
  2. Catholics you meet at the playground recognize your children’s names as saints names.
  3. Your daughter’s favorite night time lullaby is “Hail Mary”.
  4. Your three year old son asks to have a “Jesus” (crucifix around his neck) too, and ends up looking like an archbishop.
  5. 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.
  6. Your kids throw fits at church because they want the special bread too.
  7. 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.
  8. You feel weird when the doctor asks if you’re interested in a prescription for birth control at your 6 week post-partum checkup.
  9. You go for a visit back home in Northern Ireland, and the Craigavon boys think you’ve join Sinn Fein.
  10. You have exorcized salt sitting on the stove to cook with.

 


Mortification is the key to happiness

July 3, 2010

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.”


The Catholic Life

June 9, 2010

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 🙂


I’m Catholic

April 5, 2010

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.”

“Everything?”

Me: “Yes.”

“So do you think people who aren’t Catholic are going to hell?”

Me: “No.”

“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.


Easter Gift – Book Give Away

March 29, 2010

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 soimarriedacatholic@gmail.com with your name, book choice, and address and I’ll send it off as soon as I have a moment!


The First Lashes

March 10, 2010

And so it begins. I had a feeling that the reason my parents took my joining the Catholic Church so well is that they didn’t realize how Catholic I am. Today, I was telling my mom that we will most likely put our kids in the Catholic school of our parish. It’s a good school that even Catholic-shy Protestants send their kids to. It doesn’t cost much more than public school and I’ve been really unimpressed with public schools lately. She wavered and stalled, then confessed she doesn’t like the idea of Catholic schools because they teach the kids things she disagrees with, like “praying to the saints and doing rosary beads for forgiveness.” I told her there are things she disagrees with that they teach, but Chris and I agree with them. It’s like I slapped her and called her ugly.

She stuttered, “You believe in things like praying to the saints????”

“Yes, mom. Why do you think I’m joining the Catholic Church this Easter?”

“But Jesus is our only intercessor!”

“He is our only intercessor in one way, but even you ask others to pray for us.”

“People who are alive and in the body of Christ!”

“Those who have died are still in the body of Christ.”

“There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to pray to the saints.”

“There is the cloud of witnesses. If they can see and hear us, and they’re with God, there’s no reason to believe they can’t pray for us. They’re not spiritually paralyzed!”

“We’re supposed to pray directly to God.”

“I do pray directly to God. And I ask you to pray for me, and Chris to pray for me, and the saints to pray for me.”

“You are such a chameleon. You change your beliefs according to who you’re with.”

The last several weeks, since Fat Tuesday actually, I’ve had this tension headache/neck pain from stress. It gets worse when I’m more stressed. Right about this point in the conversation, my neck hurt. There’s really no reason for my mom to suggest that I just conform to those around me. There is never an instance in my past when I have changed my faith, let alone changed it to agree with the multitude of strange ideas from people I’ve come across. I’ve dated atheists (one who was “Catholic”), Catholics who believe everyone goes to heaven, a multiple personality ridden Protestant, and one guy who actually thought he was God, but I never changed the beliefs that I was raised with. I’ve been surrounded by nihilistic attitudes, scientism, “spirituality” rather than “religion”, and other religions. The most I had in common spiritually with any of my friends in college was with a Muslim friend of mine who agreed that science and religion are not at odds! And yet my own mother now thinks that despite all this resistance and adversity to my beliefs that I’ve gone through, my faith is week enough that I’ve just passively absorbed that of my husband. I’ve never changed my faith for anyone, and I still haven’t. I’m not becoming Catholic for Chris. Neither am I just becoming Catholic in the same way that my parents join different churches. I am Catholic.

She changed the subject a bit, “You believe in praying rosary beads for forgiveness?”

“That’s not why people pray the rosary, mom.”

My faculties failed me while I attempted to explain the power of forgiveness in confession. I recounted Christ breathing the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and telling them what sins they forgive are forgiven and the sins they retain are retained. She answered, “I’m not sure where you’re going with that.” I considered going through the whole Apostolic succession through the laying on of hands thing. The words that Father Andrew said last week at the RCIA class on confession ran through my head, “Well, how can they forgive sins if they don’t hear them?” The look on her face stopped me. Instead I ended it with “Oh look, Isabel wants to watch Star Wars.”

I think my mom accused me of being a chameleon because she was rather shocked, and couldn’t think of another way to explain the fact that I believe in praying to the saints. Unfortunately, all this came after a bad day in which I was rather frustrated and annoyed with the kids, perfectly demonstrating how Catholics shouldn’t act. I’m holding my breath, waiting for the phone call from my dad. And bracing myself for the next barrage of challenges to Catholic beliefs.


Lent and the Impending Rites

February 20, 2010

I know most bloggers did their Ash Wednesday/Lent posts on Ash Wednesday. Or the day after. I’m a couple days late, but that’s par for the course around here.

Because of Lent, I’ve been thinking about the nature of fasting. In RCIA, they said the main purpose of fasting is to break our attachment to created things so we can put our focus back where it should be, on the Creator. So for me, a very appropriate fast is food. I’m going to stop eating snacks during the day. I’m still allowing myself to snack at night. It may sound kind of lame to people who don’t know me, but I usually eat at least six times a day. For me, eating only four times a day is a difficult fast! I even stocked up on veggie and fruit juices to keep my calorie count (and my stamina) up. Chris has told me since I’m still technically nursing, I’m not required to fast. But I’m hardly nursing now, and I think this is a really good way to keep the purpose of my fast at the forefront of my mind all day long. If I can do it.

After all, I already screwed up fasting on Ash Wednesday. It was kinda funny, and a little embarrassing, when I was looking down at my plate of fish and rice at dinner time and realized I ate meat for lunch. I was all focused on how much I was eating, and didn’t even realize that my “just a light sandwich” (a gyro) had gyro… meat… in it. I did this last year, too, although I wasn’t the one fasting. I was trying so hard to make Chris a nice meal, and fixed up meatloaf, cornbread, and mashed potatoes. On a Lenten Friday. He refused to eat and I refused to speak to him, just for a little while until I had a chance to get over my mistake.

It’s strange that after a year of “inquiry” into the Catholic Church, there is still so much I’m not used to and haven’t experienced. Even the Ash Wednesday mass had me confused and hunting through the missal. I imagine I might feel that way a lot this Lent and Easter. There is a lot of new, uncomfortable experiences coming up. Easter is approaching. The Rite of Election is this Sunday. My first confession is soon. That definitely looming on my horizon. I think I’m more afraid of getting all the technicalities right than the confession part. I lived a long time with certain sins that are no secret to anyone, and telling a priest comes with the benefit of absolution. The hard part will be my nervousness. I want to write down my list (and bring a lighter to burn it afterward), so I don’t forget anything. I know different priests do different things, and some expect you to say the act of contrition there while others don’t. Getting all that right frightens me, but I’ll probably stumble through it like I do with everything else.

Overall, I’m eager to have the strangeness and newness behind me, when I’ll be “one of you”. I generally avoid leaving my comfort zone, and this is one big leap outside it. All done for the sake of the truth, and in effort to obey God’s will. If there’s any good reason, that’s it.


Change of Focus

February 11, 2010

New converts to anything are notorious for zealously spreading whatever they’ve recently converted to. I, like all the rest, have done my fair share of trying to convince people that Catholicism is the most reasonable choice available to mankind that ever existed. But a recent conversation with my wonderful RCIA director struck me. We noticed, people don’t convert because they’re argued into it. Although some convert because they married a Catholic and they just want to unify the family or raise the kids a certain way, other people convert because they witness someone’s faith and they recognize something authentic about it. I’m not even an exception, despite all the arguments Chris and I have had about religion. It was his faith, learning the truth about the Church, and experiencing it for myself that converted me.

On top of this revelation, I also find that I’ve reached a place where I’m tired of wasting my breath and debating with people who stubbornly insist on seeing things through their own myopic lenses, despite all evidence given to contradict their baseless attacks on the Church. I’m happy to answer questions and feel a duty to correct outright lies when I come across them, but overall I feel rather done with persistent debates. At least, that’s how I feel today 😉

What I’d rather do is figure out how to live my life as a Catholic. Right now, the biggest mystery for me is this whole suffering thing. Catholics are like no one else when it comes to suffering. They’re not masochists, no matter what anyone thinks about mortification. They don’t believe the flesh is evil like Puritans, instead they believe that everything is inherently good. Catholics see suffering as redemptive, because Christ redeemed death at the cross and with His resurrection, and redeemed suffering with His passion and successive glory. He even redeemed boring manual labor through His many anonymous years as a carpenter.

Exactly how is suffering redemptive? Well, I can easily see a few things. If our own God Incarnate is not above suffering, then neither are we. He gave a perfect example of submitting to suffering in humility through the events leading up to His crucifixion. We should imitate Christ in all things, and His suffering is not an exception. We share in His suffering so that we may also share in His glory (Rom 8:17).

Also relatively easy to grasp is that our resistance to suffering comes from the same source as our sins — our pride. Acceptance of suffering goes an awfully long way toward uprooting our selfishness, our pride, and the “right” we think we have for a “good life”. When we forget about ourselves, we don’t care about our own suffering. Christ defined love as giving our lives for each other (John 15:13), and this perfect love comes with perfect trust and no fear (1 John 4:18), and no harm can touch us (Luke 10:19). It’s not that we won’t encounter problems and pain. It’s just that when we reach this point of perfectly selflessly loving God and others, none of this temporary hardship matters. If we have no pride, suffering can’t harm us.

There’s a third, more mysterious aspect to the redemptive nature of our suffering as Catholics see it. This one is hard for me to accept, because it’s one of those hard to define issues that make Protestants gasp and accuse us of trying to earn our way to heaven and not giving Christ his proper glory. In our sufferings, offered up to the Lord, we share in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in a very real way. We die with Him in His death (Romans 6:4), paying for and redeeming the sins of the world. I try to tell myself that it’s our mission as Christians to unite ourselves with Christ, it’s only natural. All good things we do are by God’s grace (1 Cor 15:10). All of our merit is through Christ’s merit. It is Christ who now lives in us (Gal 2:20), and we are a pencil in God’s hand. It makes sense… but I can’t see it.

I especially have a hard time seeing it when our entire household is sick for over two weeks straight. The flu, colds, ear infections — moaning and groaning ensues, not any thoughts of the redeeming the sins of the world. It all seems like a pointless hardship with no outward profit that we just have to survive. But I can see Christ in others who suffer graciously. It’s noble and good and makes us all admire them, because it’s praiseworthy. It’s good because God is in it. And that’s all that I can grasp.

If it is Christ living in me, how should I respond to suffering? He wouldn’t be whining about how hard His life is. He never thought about Himself enough to whine, merely to ask that His cup of suffering be taken from Him if possible, but surrendered to it anyway as the will of the Father. If it is Christ living in me, then nothing I go through is worthless, because Christ is God incarnate. Nothing that Christ does is worthless, even if I don’t quite understand how that applies to the mundane in my life. I do know that if everyone everywhere took this attitude, it would be beautiful.

So I think all I can do right now is just change my attitude. I may not understand it, but I can see that it is good. I can see that it is better to accept our sufferings and give them to God as a work done for Him, since all we do is done in service to Him (Col 3:17, 23-24). No less, then, is our suffering to be done for God. That would be funny, wouldn’t it? If we did everything for God, but nursed our suffering as some private endeavor, an injustice of the universe or Satan pitted against us alone? In which we think, what? That God is helpless or unwilling to rescue us?

Look at Saint Paul, as Rob has recently brought to my attention:

For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand… At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge. But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me, that by me the preaching may be accomplished, and that all the Gentiles may hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work: and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever. (2 Tim 4:6,16-18)

Paul had hardships and physical evils. He was about to be sacrificed and everyone had deserted him, but he still said “The Lord hath delivered me from every evil work.” How can he have said that? Because he was Catholic is all I can figure. We all may suffer much in this world. The only way it cannot harm us is if we are in Christ, and He in us. Then, no physical evils can touch us. Mysterious. I’ll first work on doing it, then maybe I’ll understand it better.


RCIA Class on the Eucharist

February 9, 2010

I’ve been looking forward to the RCIA class on the Eucharist for some time, and was not disappointed. It was good stuff all around and I found my faith being built up. It’s easy to let your eyes shape your idea of things, like the Eucharist, rather than your faith, and I confess I fall into that.

We had an excellent speaker, who walked us through John chapter 6 in a humorous (yes, it’s possible) story-telling way and went through the Eucharistic prayers, emphasizing all the right points and bunny-trailing on essentials only. Like when he segued to explain that the only time Peter got anything right, Christ responded by saying it was from the Father (Matt 16:15-17). This showed that when Christ then gave the keys of heaven to Peter, it was based on the fact that God is able to reveal wisdom and work through Peter, who was by himself powerless. Which of course is an essential point when people ask, “How do you know for sure that the words written by the Apostles in the gospels were the ones Christ actually said and so base your idea that it’s literal on what he said?” The answer of course is that the Church, headed by the Pope in the seat of Peter, gave us the gospels and ensures that they were inspired, written to convey a truth they were already preaching and describing the Eucharist they were already celebrating. Christ’s authority in the Church is our guaranteer through the Holy Spirit which preserves her from error.

My favorite part was about the mystical aspect of the Eucharist. Two RCIA speakers have quoted Saint Augustine when he said “Be what you see; receive what you are.” (I think this is from sermon 272, but can’t verify it.) This saying is the disputed origin of the phrase “you are what you eat.” How fantastic is that? We are the Body of Christ. Be what you see. We consume the Body of Christ. Receive what you are. It’s beautiful and so strange. It is Christ abiding in us, and we in Him.

The Protestant world I came from had the bare bones of this when we used the phrase “the body of Christ” to refer to the church. I was taught we were supposed to imitate Christ. Although admittedly it was a great epiphany for me in college when I realized my goal in life was to be like Christ. How sad that it came so late. I was also taught that we were to be adopted sons and daughters of God. But this was all so vague and disconnected. Christ’s sacrifice was applied to forgive us our sins, we were “saved”, and that was it — straight to heaven, do not pass go. Being like Christ didn’t mean much except that it was a nice goal. Once we died, God would zap us and make us good like Him. I know there may be Protestants who have a much better understanding of unity with Christ than I did, but this is the non-descript non-denominational vagueness I lived with.

Oh boy, the Catholics take it deeper. When we are baptized, we are brought into the Body of Christ. It is then no longer us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. Then the good work we do is Christ working in us. The people we love and serve are Christ to us. The pain we suffer in perfect surrender to God’s will is the same redeemed pain that Christ suffered in His passion to save the world. Our daily death is Christ’s death on the cross. And our hope is His Resurrection and Life. Since “catholic” means “universal”, I really shouldn’t be so surprised when the Catholic Faith keeps making all these connections so that everything makes sense and fits together, but it still gets me.

Gosh, I never even used to understand why it was so important that Christ was raised from the dead, because I thought we only needed the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins! Now, I see it. Without the Firstborn, there would be no other children. We live because we live in Christ and He lives! It’s beautiful. It’s poetic. It’s the work of the master, and I am in awe of it.

Christ offers us a deeper dimension to this unity with Him in the Eucharist. He has chosen to give me His life in the most intimate manner physically possible. He has given me His very Body and Blood to consume, to nourish me, to be spread throughout my own body giving me life. Be what you see. Receive what you are. This is the mystery of the Eucharist and I’m so very looking forward to it!

The class even brought to my attention a facet of the mass I never really thought about before — the mass as a sacrifice. In answer to the Protestant objection that Christ’s one sacrifice is enough, Catholics will agree, and explain that at mass we do not sacrifice Christ again and again, we make His sacrifice present again outside of time. But the Protestant in me was still demanding justification for this belief. “Well, where did that come from anyway?” Why do we believe the mass was a sacrifice? Why do we offer the mass up to the Lord instead of just eating and drinking in remembrance, even if it is the real Body and Blood? Why do we see the Body of Christ on the cross and not just the Body of Christ? I found some rather interesting links on the subject and one good one from Catholic Answers.

Why is the mass a sacrifice? First of all, it always has been. This isn’t some strange doctrinal development coming from philosophical obscurities. The Catholic Answers post gives a good rundown of the earliest testimonies that it was indeed always a sacrifice. This would almost be good enough for me, but I still had to press the question of why. The words of Christ, “Do this is remembrance of me”, do not seem to imply a sacrifice to me. But, it seems these exact words did imply that rather strongly to the Apostles and the Early Fathers as the post explains. It says the phrase is better translated as “Offer this as my memorial offering”, because that’s how the early Christians understood it. When Christ said “This is my Body”, he followed up with “which will be offered up for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins”. He was talking about a sacrifice. Furthermore, the Eucharist was seen as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi 1:10-11, that the Gentiles will everywhere would make a pure offering to the Lord. That satisfied me a little more than just knowing that the mass is fitting as a sacrifice.

I’ll leave you with a sermon from the Rev. Abernethy-Deppe with quotes from Saint Augustine about the beloved sign and reality, the Blessed Sacrament.


Thy Will Be Done

January 26, 2010

Because of the generous gift from “cyurkanin” to his readers, I have a copy of He Leadeth Me and am in the middle of reading it. Already, I can recommend the book for those who struggle to find God in suffering. It is written by an American priest Fr. Walter Ciszek who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, with (at least at this point in the book) very little outward profit to show for his sufferings. It was only by being broken in these experiences that he learned to totally rely on God.

When I was young, my parents would talk about people having to “hit rock bottom” before they would turn their lives over to God. They were right. And this is one reason why suffering is such an integral part of our redemption. It seems that all too often, we have to be lying in pieces and completely unable to control our lives before we finally give up trying and let God work. Our pride must be crushed, and our insufficiency revealed before we let go. Ah, if it only wasn’t so. But my new theory is that all saints goes to purgatory. It’s just that sometimes it’s here on Earth where we are scorched by purifying flames.

Fr. Ciszek says in his book, “We are afraid to abandon ourselves totally into God’s hands for fear he will not catch us as we fall.” This describes me perfectly. I’m a control freak, although less so now than I have been. In the past, I had a “plan” and an idea of how things should go, what the good life was, and what things were of value in this world that I would spend my time chasing after. It was remarkably similar to the plot of a romantic comedy. This wasn’t anywhere near an attitude of total abandonment to the will of God.

I chased and I grasped at an illusion and made a big mess for myself. Horrendous story short, I ended up in pieces, heartbroken. I was destroyed by my utter failure to find love and happiness and my inability to control or even trust others in my life. I was in the place that Fr. Ciszek describes:

For my part, I was brought to make this perfect act of faith, this act of complete self-abandonment to his will, of total trust in his love and concern for me and his desire to sustain and protect me, by the experience of a complete despair of my own powers and abilities and abilities that had preceded it. I knew I could no longer trust myself, and it seemed only sensible then to trust totally in God.

I had certainly made stupid decisions that led to my downfall. It was my fault, and through it I knew I could no longer trust myself. I had nowhere else to turn, but to God, and so I did. It’s not that I was perfectly surrendered to Him, or even that I could recognize His will for me at that point. I had so far to go. But I will forever remember my utter despair in my own abilities and my simple, earnest, even urgent prayer. Show me what you want God. Your will, your truth. I don’t want anything else, because everything else falls apart.

It was a beginning for me, in which I asked God to take over and lead me forcibly in His will. I actually asked for that, because I knew I’d kick and scream against it, but didn’t want to be allowed the power to resist. It was less than two months later I met Chris. I was nowhere near spiritually strong or even stable, but there was something about marrying Chris. I knew I should do it. It was natural, peaceful, a decision made without effort or anxiety. It was God’s will. Once the decision was made, I began the kicking and screaming process. I fought God’s truth in the Catholic Church. I fought motherhood and giving up a career. I fought the obscurity and tedium of staying at home. Despite all the fight I put up, God has answered my prayer perfectly because it was my only perfect prayer. A heartfelt “Thy will be done.”

Now it’s so easy to lose sight of. I was talking to Chris last night about how we don’t make many big decisions anymore. We’re in a place where we’re just living out our path, day after day. I don’t tend to seek God’s will so much now that I just climb onto the hamster wheel every morning, because there doesn’t seem much will to be sought. Yet, Fr. Ciszek says, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere “out there” in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were his will for me.”

God’s will comes to me now in the form of petty spats over the toy triceratops that roars, my 3 year old is screaming on the step, cleaning the mud off our spastic dog when she comes inside now that the snow’s melted, my 1 year old tackling my 3 year old to the floor like a linebacker, a constant barrage of “mom, mom, mom, I’m hungry, could you get me some crayons please? mom…” It’s frustrations and demands on my patience, done in obscurity. It’s the perfect opportunity to relinquish my own idea of how the day should go and eradicate the “self”, learning to see myself “in proper perspective before God and other men” as Christ himself showed me how on the cross. Hopefully, God will continue to answer my prayer and teach me humility, because “humility is truth, the full truth, the truth that encompasses our relation to God the creator and through him to the world he has created and to our fellowmen.” This is what all our struggles on this Earth, though they come in wide range and different forms, are leading us to. The ability to humiliate ourselves and pray, “Thy will be done.”