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 🙂


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!


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.


From the Mouths of Babes

January 4, 2010

At dinner last night, my three year old daughter asked her Daddy if Mommy was right, was he indeed only joking when he told her she couldn’t eat any more because she had to stay little and not grow anymore? Then finishing her dinner for once, she went over her plan for her life. She has already declared with great urgency and to the exclusion of all other possibilities that she must grow up and have babies. Lots of babies. Apparently, she won’t have any time for anything else in her life, like traveling or learning gymnastics. Then her poor little mind turns to, as she sees it, the immediately successive events of growing old and dying. It’s amazing how such a new little mind of her age grasps these ideas so well, with only a few oddities thrown in, like how she thinks when you grow old, you should get small again like a baby.

Then she says, “Daddy, I need the magic bread so I don’t die.”

Daddy: “What magic bread, sweetheart?”

Daughter: “The one at Church, silly! With Jesus in it. So I can live forever.”

Daddy: “Oh! Yes, you’re right.”

We’ve explained to her, as we did again, that we all have to die, but it’s alright. Jesus brings us back again.

Daughter: “But there’s not enough room in our house! Can Jesus stay with us?”

Daddy: “Of course, honey! there will be plenty of room for everyone. In fact, Jesus staying with us is the reason we can come back.”

When it gets too complicated, she usually heavy sighs, head in hands and finalizes it with, “But, I just don’t want to die.”

Neither do I, sweetie. We weren’t made to die. And though we have the hope of the resurrection, the great unknown still scares me.

I wish that I could stop all the painful little realities of life from affecting my babies. I have hope to offer them, but there is so much difficulty that they will go through before they see it. What more, although I wish it weren’t necessary, I wouldn’t stop the pains of life for them if I could. Adversity is good for them, shaping them into better people, which is more important than living an easy, pleasant life. Which is also why God the Father allows us to make our own messes. We’re on Earth for a reason. From beginning to end, we change, which could mean our eternal salvation or eternal damnation. At least my daughter has already figured out that her recourse is to Christ in the Eucharist. Beautiful, with a tinge of sadness.