The Catholic Times

Jubilee of Mercy (December 14, 2015)

I was trying to text our youngest daughter the other day by dictating my message into my cell phone so it would be translated into text a message.  When you do this, you have to speak the punctuation.  For instance, if I wanted to say, “Please pick up some milk.” I would have to say, “Please pick up some milk period” (assuming you use punctuation.)

For some reason, I didn’t think the text was sent, so I reverted to calling her. Forgetting which method of communication I was using, I spoke into the telephone and included the punctuation.  It would be like someone saying to you, “Please pick up some milk period.”

As soon as I did it, I realized what I did and thought, “Oh dear.  That was really dumb. They are never going to let me live this down.”  So when I got home, knowing this would not go unnoticed, I decided to tell our oldest daughter what I did.  She naturally could not restrain herself.

Then, our youngest came in, and with a wry smile, looked and me and said, “You want to hear something?”  I started immediately saying, “No, no, no!  We don’t need to actually hear it!”  Naturally, she couldn’t resist. 

It’s actually not the first time I have done something stupid. Shocking, I know, but it’s true.

When I was a young teenager, I went shopping and was in the dressing room trying on clothes.  It was one of those jeans’ stores that try to look western and for some reason thought it would be a good idea to have swinging doors on dressing rooms! Let’s just say I would never again lean on a dressing room door when trying on clothes. Need I say more?

Then there’s the time someone asked me how old I was and I proceeded to mistakenly tell them I was a year younger than I actually was.  I believed it until my mom caught my mistake and said, “What? You’re how old Janet?”  Needless to say, I was surprised at this discovery and my loss of an entire year. I have since decided to just pick a number and stick to it.

Then there was the time I backed into a light pole as I was dropping off our teenager for a driver’s education class.  Can you picture me standing there in the parking lot waiting for a tow truck, as students are walking into a driving class? Oh the irony of it all.  

I think I may have lost a little credibility on that one.

Trust me, I could go on (and on and on) about my stupid mistakes, but I won’t.  But one thing I can go on and on about is the Jubilee of Mercy that we just started December 8th.  God’s mercy is unlimited and I think we are going to discover this in new and varied ways throughout the upcoming year.

This is a great time for us to reflect on God’s love and forgiveness, but more than a simple exercise in meditation, this beautiful gift of God is something we can participate in.

When we are able to recognize our sins and experience forgiveness, it should make us more generous and forgiving of others.

Another thing I hope will come out of this Year of Mercy is an increase in our trust and confidence that God does actually forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

I say this because I have heard that many people return to the confessional and bring up a sin that has already been forgiven.  I am not talking about a sin that has been repeated since it was forgiven, but one that is over and done with, but that we cannot stop shaming ourselves for.

It is not the work of God that we re-live a particular, confessed sin, dwelling on it and living under the shadow of its shame forever.  To not let go of a sin that has been confessed raises a question of doubt about our confidence in God, and, perhaps more disturbing, it becomes a participation with evil, for it is certainly not God who wants to see us continuously beating ourselves up over a past sin.

True peace and joy comes from the extension of God’s endless mercy.  There is a purity in this, real freedom. We are not only called to holiness, as we so often hear, but we are also called to happiness as well.  Genuine happiness comes in the peace that comes from Jesus. 

Jesus himself even says it in the Gospel of John (14:27):  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”

When we are able to rest in the knowledge that we are loved by God, and when we are able to receive his forgiveness and offer it to others, we become willing participants in a loving exchange which brings joy to the world.

Enjoy this Year of Mercy.  Absorb everything you can about it. Participate in it. Open your heart to accept without reservation the forgiveness God offers, and in confession, let go of that sin that has been burdening you, once and for all.

And have a Merry Christmas!

Following the Master (November 30, 2015)

In his book Following the Master Michael Wilkins covers the term discipleship as it was used in the early church by walking through the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles.  How did the transition take place for those who were with Christ prior to his death, that were to “become” church following his ascension?  

What strikes me the most throughout his book, however, is the emphasis he places on the essential mission understood by the developing church.  “The activities of the church in making disciples of unbelievers and then facilitating the growth of believers is an illustration of what Jesus intended by the Great Commission,” Wilkins said.

The reason this hits me so hard is that whenever I read anything like this, it is my natural tendency to make a comparison to the church today.  I always end up asking, “How are we doing?” and I always end up being a little disheartened by the reality check.

When I look around us, it feels like what we have been “doing” in my lifetime has been quite lackluster compared to the passion and zeal that captured the early disciples.  That is not, of course, to dismiss the great works of the church when it comes to social justice, building hospitals, schools and so forth over the centuries, but in my lifetime, it seems like we have taken a brief nap.

In fact, and this is just my opinion based on my very limited line of vision, it seems like we have spent the last 50 years or so just coasting along.  Even when Vatican II tried to wake us up, we hit the snooze button because we did not really understand what we were being called to do, or we followed some misguided interpretation of the council Fathers’ intentions.

It feels like the “activities of the church” turned inward.  It doesn’t seem like our focus has been “making disciples of unbelievers,” nor have we actually been “facilitating the growth of believers.”

Translated, that simply means, we have been very self-absorbed (navel gazing as some people would call it) and have forgotten to look outside ourselves.   You might even say we have been sitting quite comfortably for awhile now.  Our lack of passion and zeal seems to indicate a lack of personal spiritual growth as well.

If we are going to fulfill the mission we share in Christ, I think it is important to take an honest look at ourselves. Our churches had been full and the faithful were content.  But now, our churches are not full, and we are closing both churches and schools, which is the exact opposite of our mission, which should include planting churches and schools!

Take any particular church today and see if you can identify what we are doing that focuses on unbelievers, or even believers for that matter.  I am not talking about programs that say “We are here.  You are welcome.  Come to us.”  Our churches are full of programs like that.

Neither am I talking about limited programs that only serve to entice the same handful of people who are already involved (although you are greatly appreciated!) What we need to do is work from a model that helps every person in the pew want to become an intentional disciple.  Our love of Jesus and our desire to attract others should be evident. 

To discover this model, we begin by asking Jesus what he wants us to do.  Invariably the answer is found upon the cross. “Love like that” he says, pointing to his body on the cross.  To this we must respond, “Teach me how,” and then count on the grace of the Holy Spirit to do it.

We grow in our ability to become disciples in the bearing of good fruit.  As we learn to love each other, radically loving through self-sacrifice, we become who God has called us to be.  

Loving “like that” is complete self-giving.  Even in the face of persecution or humiliation, which are things Jesus himself suffered.  Loving “like that” is to have our hearts’ greatest desire to please the Father.  Loving “like that” is to look beyond the here and now.  This radical way of loving is very attractive.  It is both welcoming and proactive.

But we cannot find it in a program.  We can only find it on the cross.  When we “love like that” as Jesus tells us, we fully share in the mission, which allows us to bring the gospel, in a credible way, to those who do not yet believe, while being transformed ourselves in the process. 

As we move into the new church year and begin our holy season of Advent, we have a great opportunity to point to Christ.  If we are able to reshape our families, and thus reshape our culture, so that we celebrate the coming of Jesus, not for just one day, but for a lifetime, then we will truly know what it is to follow the Master.

Courage - FOCUS (November 16, 2015)

I was at a diocesan parish ministry meeting and the conversation at our table turned to the word courage.  One of the men spoke about the connection between mercy and courage. The word courage has been with me every since.

In relation to my work in the church, I have reflected on the necessity of courage.  Without courage, our churches will become stagnant and satisfied with keeping the status quo.  It takes courage, and a willingness to risk being unsuccessful, to drive the train forward.  

We must also embrace fear, which has the potential to restrain our courage.  Whether it is a new program, event or the proposition of doing something different, there is always the risk of opposition, or the dreaded public embarrassment.  But if we do not try, that is in a sense, failure in itself.

The New Evangelization has nothing to do with us staying the same.  St. John Paul II was quoted as saying the message of the gospel must move forward with a new freshness, ardor and method.  Does that sound like a mission to do nothing?  The problem is, we are creatures of habit, and oftentimes we do not like change, even if it has the potential to revive our tired souls.

When Jesus discipled his followers, he sent them out on mission and they risked much to do it.  It must have taken great courage to do what they did. We learn in the Acts of the Apostles that the reason they were able to go out on mission is because they had received the Holy Spirit, and they followed the Spirit as best they could. That is all any of us is really asked to do.  Follow the Holy Spirit wherever we are led and trust that God will fill in whatever may be needed.

Deacon Ralph Poyo, a noted evangelizer, has made it his mission to teach churches how to be Holy Spirit-led.  He says that first we must pray to be led by the Holy Spirit, and then ask God what it is he wants us to do.  Together, these two seemingly simple things have the potential to transform our churches.
There is a lot more to say on this subject, but, returning to courage, I would like to mention another example of courage today. There is an organization called FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) that sends young people out on mission, much like Christ did. 

The primary work of the FOCUS missionaries is to serve on college campuses and be the presence of Christ to the students. FOCUS requires their missionaries to raise 100% of their living expenses so that they may be laser-focused on their missionary work. To secure their funding, they must be able to articulate their faith and reach out to others in a way they have probably never done before.  Ultimately, they have to be confident that God will provide for them.  

I had the opportunity to hear the founder of FOCUS, Curtis Martin, speak at the Amazing Parish conference in Colorado in 2014 and I enjoyed a meal with two young people who worked for the FOCUS organization. I was very impressed.

I came across a beautiful quote by Pope Francis in the newsletter we recently received from our FOCUS missionary who is serving in Kentucky. I believe it perfectly describes their motivation: “We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel.”  Be sure to check out their website at

Here in our own parishes, we should be asking, “What can we do to forward the gospel message?”  Where is God calling us to be courageous and step outside our fears?

There is much work to do, right here and now, where we are.  We must let go of whatever it is we are clinging to that is preventing us from responding to God’s call.  Maybe, for some of us, we just need to be careful that we are not the obstacle to change.

 In parishes, I think, it requires taking a close look at what we do.  Are we stuck? Have we have been doing the same thing, the same way, year after year, for many, many years? 

Like those young FOCUS missionaries, our goal should be to invite people “into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church; inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship, and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.”

Can you say that your church is this intentional?

If not, look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, and you will surely receive courage and anything else you will need for years to come.

Bishop Barron – Golf & the Church (November 2, 2015)

I heard a keynote address by Bishop Robert Barron in which he described his approach to golf.

He said that when he initially started golfing, he was untrained and would swing wildly at the ball.  Eventually he received lessons and learned how to hold his posture and move, which caused him to want to learn more.  When his instructor implied he was done with his lessons, he craved more instruction and rules about how to improve.

Recognizing that he could stand there swinging at golf balls all day on his own without moving forward in the game, there had to be, from within, an acknowledgement that he could not go it alone, so when help was offered, he took it.  And once he realized what he needed and had been missing, he wanted more and more. 

Innately, I would say, it was satisfying, maybe even comforting, to accept the help that would move him along.  He might not ever become a professional golfer, but that wasn’t the most important thing.  He was on track, where he should be, and that probably felt good. And not only did it feel good, it was clear that his openness to instruction and formation ultimately proved beneficial to him.

This is not really so different from our own tracking when it comes to spiritual growth, and although organized religion is not limited to helping us gain our spiritual posture, it does do that as well.  At a time when anti-organized religion sentiment seems to be an influential, problematic perspective for a growing number of people who seek God outside of his Church, it is important to recognize why, like a golf instructor, church is necessary if one wants to grow in their relationship with Christ, holiness and one day enjoy eternal life.

When I was working on my undergraduate degree in Religious Studies some years ago, I found myself sitting alone in the school’s cafeteria eating dinner between classes.  Another student sat down beside me and we started talking about our classes.  When she learned my studies were of a religious nature, she identified herself to me as a spiritualist.  I wasn’t sure what that was, so I asked her about it.

It became clear as we talked that she had sort of shaped into an ideology various religious practices that she liked.  She simply began calling herself a spiritualist, which was nothing more than a category by which she could identify herself as sort of religious. As I recall, she had no particular affiliation with any organized church.  I figure, due to her age, she was either leading the way, or was the product of (I am not sure which) an emerging generation that would quickly become known as the Millenials.  

Of her generation, research has shown, about 20% say going to church is important; 30% think it is not important, and the rest, in the middle, are ambivalent about going to church (a group which might be considered “lukewarm,” a state which scripture warns against.)

I can see now that my young dinner companion was reflecting the very same characteristics associated with her generation as revealed in the study.  She was more individualistic in her approach to religious authority and beliefs, and she was less involved (or interested) in church as an institution. The good news is that researchers found Millenials do claim to pray each week, read the Bible and/or attend a small religious group.

The problem becomes more striking, however, as we look at the emerging idea that church is irrelevant.  If I pray, read the bible and attend groups now and again, why would I need a church?  I am doing fine on my own, thank you very much.

But, like Bishop Barron’s golf analogy, it all falls apart when we see that it is like swinging at golf balls all day long without good posture or instruction (or formation).  The foundation must be set, or the sand continuously shifts beneath us. In fact, Jesus tells us that it will collapse and be completely ruined (Matthew 7:24-27).

The sand is shifting today.  We are fast becoming like the fool Jesus describes, who builds his house on sand.  An entire generation is trying to live as though the Church can be separated from Christ.  It was Jesus himself who instituted the Church and the sacraments through which we are saved.  It is illusory to live as though we can faithfully follow Jesus while remaining outside his Church.

It is like learning all the rules of golf and wildly swinging your way through a bucket of balls at the range, believing that makes you a golfer.  How can one play golf without ever setting foot on a golf course or interacting with other golfers, or instructors for that matter?

It simply does not work.  Likewise, our journey to eternal life is a shared journey.  We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.  Those beliefs bring us together, where we worship and practice our faith as we are called, in our daily life.  

Church is not irrelevant.  Far from it.  It is essential for anyone desiring to follow the Master.

From Truth to Opinion – Assisted Suicide (October 19, 2015)

I don’t suppose I am the only one who has noticed this, but something occurred to me when I read a front page article in this illustrious newspaper about the passing of the assisted suicide law in California.

The headline indicated that our bishops were disappointed and the article quoted them as saying, “This bill does nothing to validate the lives of the vulnerable.”  They went on to point out that there are 48 Catholic hospitals providing “excellent palliative care” for people who are terminally ill.

The wisdom of the bishops in addressing this issue not only in religious, or Catholic terms, was evident as the article said they joined hands with many other groups in opposing physician-assisted suicide, with particular concern for the elderly and human dignity of all.

The article then explained California Governor Jerry Brown’s reasons for signing the measure legalizing assisted suicide.  Here is where I noticed something deeply disturbing that is reflective of a bigger problem in our culture.

The article said that Brown (who is Catholic), expressly sought to consider all sides of this issue.  From the theological and religious perspective, it sounds like he talked to just about everybody as he struggled to make a decision.  He listened to people who disagreed with the measure and people who supported it, including those who “take varied, contradictory and nuanced positions.”

Now on a first reading of this, you might say, “Well good, at least you made a very informed decision (albeit the wrong one); you weighed both sides carefully.”

But here’s the problem, regardless of whether you agree with him or not.  This is the part I thought was very interesting and underscores the error of our ways when it comes to making moral (or in this case, immoral) decisions.

He is quoted as saying that, “In the end, I was left to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death. . . I do not know what I would do if I were dying in prolonged and excruciating pain.  I am certain, however, that it would be a comfort to be able to consider the options afforded by this bill.  And I wouldn’t deny that right to others.”

Now read his response again and see if you can identify the problem.
If you cannot see it, you are probably not alone.  That is because the cultural influence from which it draws its strength, is acceptable today. The reality is, this decision was not being made on the right or wrongness of the act, but ultimately on how one person felt about it, that person being the Governor.
Consider that after gathering everyone’s thoughts on this subject, as the governor said he did, “In the end” it came down to how he might feel if he were terminally ill.  

It is not good to make decisions wrapped in emotions, especially fear, which certainly must be factored in.  It would be better to have a standard that is tried and true to measure the goodness of a thing, and then to actually use that standard.

We have such a standard in the very basic truth that every human life is valuable, from conception to natural death.  Even for someone who does not believe in God, this should be an objective area of agreement.  I count.  My life counts. Your life counts. The question at hand, of course, is whether I should have the right to choose to end it according to how I feel.

Knowing that fear is a part of living and can certainly be a part of dying, we can see the error in making a decision based on fear. Calculating an action based on raw emotions should not be the foundation for making life decisions. Neither should it be used for legislating it.

One last thing.  When we make decisions based on how we feel about something, rather than truth, we then set ourselves up as the arbiter of right and wrong. Not only is that arrogant, but it is dangerous when you consider that opinions vary so greatly.  Lost in this, of course, is the reality that there are absolutes when it comes to moral decision making. 

What Governor Brown did was move from truth to opinion in making this decision.  The sad part is, we live in a world where we can hardly distinguish between the two anymore, if we even recognize there is truth at all.
Keep this in mind as we face future decisions about a wide array of situations.  What is the standard measurement we should be using, truth or opinion?

The Message of Jesus is Eternal (October 5, 2015)
My husband and I were walking through a small town museum recently on a day away.  I am always nervous in museums because sooner or later I come across an exhibit of something I personally have owned.  How is it possible that anything I have owned is museum worthy yet?

Anyway, the museum had a progress-in-technology floor where it had a progression of advancements’ display.  Among them was a Walkman cassette player and a little black dial telephone.  I remember being so happy when I got old enough to have my own telephone, although my very first one was a heavy metal, black, army-type one.  I didn’t care.  It meant I didn’t have to talk on the corded family phone at the dining room table.

Also on display, although I did not use one exactly like it, was a Smith Corona Electra 120.  What was cool about this museum was they allowed you to actually sit down and use the typewriter. (Admittedly, on occasion, I have been known to refer to my computer as a typewriter, eliciting strange looks from my kids.  I have since broken this habit.)

Picking up the blank sheet of paper provided, I started to type.  Strangely, I looked for the “Enter” key, only to recall that I had to actually grab the handle to move to the next line.  I have always proposed that I can determine correct line spacing better than my children because I once had to physically move each line down by hand.  I think it helped my generation to “see” line spacing better.

Anyway, I opened the top of the typewriter, anxious to see the black and red ribbon that produced the type on the page.  I was not disappointed.  I quickly (well, not quickly, as the instructions warned the typist not to type too fast), I typed the old standby I learned when I was a kid:  Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

I wonder where that line comes from. Did other people learn it too? I have carried it in my brain forever.

So, while my husband perused the antique medical equipment, I left my special message on the typewriter for the next person to ponder.
I cannot honestly say I miss changing ribbons on a typewriter, nor can I say I miss dial telephones, even if it was fun to hear the clicking again.  There is a lot to be said for progress.  On good computer days, I love it.  On “download new software days,” not so much.

But the one thing I absolutely love that was re-introduced and reshaped in the 1960s as a result of Vatican II is the ever old, ever new Christian initiation process of the Church known as the Rite of Christ Initiation of Adults, or RCIA.  I am glad this was dusted off the Church’s shelf, polished up, and restored.

This process is a wonderful, clear way to address the needs of those who are beginning to think about God in their lives.  People who desire to know more about the Catholic Church and its teachings on faith, love, morality, and most importantly, God’s saving action in the person of Jesus Christ.
Does God really exist? How do we know?  Are all churches created equal? Why should I belong to organized religion? Why do bad things happen?  Does God really love me?

During weekly gatherings, these and many more questions are explored and doubts are considered and myths about the Catholic Church are peeled away.
It is not uncommon for Inquirers in RCIA to discover that what they thought they knew about the Catholic Church is simply not true.  It is not rigid.  It is not oppressive.  It does not limit one’s freedom.  It does not adhere to a bunch of irrelevant, outdated rules. These myths have probably been helped along to some degree by those who only know Catholicism through headlines and sound bites.

Learning about God’s revelation in scripture and Tradition is exciting.  I am yet to find anyone who is genuinely seeking, who has heard a clear, concise explanation of the Catholic Church’s teachings, turn away from their desire to enter. There are some people who do hold on to long held beliefs or grudges against the Church, and that is sad, because it is preventing them from something amazing.

Fall is a great time to join an RCIA session.  Since we work on God’s time, anytime is actually a good time to start the process, but I would encourage you now to make the call to your local church on your home, cell or black rotary dial phone and check it out!

Too many people, sometimes for years, attend Mass with their loved ones without understanding what is going on or being able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.  

The message of Jesus that lives today in a Church over two-thousand years old is not, nor will it ever be, museum ready. It continues in the lives of those who recognize its value and want to share it with others.

One thing is for certain, there will never be something to replace it.  There will never be a new and improved version of it. The message of Jesus is eternal, unlike that Smith Corona Electra 120.

Evangelization and the Holy Spirit (September 8, 2015)
I asked someone who is in evangelization once if he was a charismatic Catholic.  He smiled broadly and said, “Well, probably not like you are thinking.”

I knew exactly what he meant.  There is the common belief that if someone is filled with the Holy Spirit and motivated by his power, then they must be someone who belongs to the charismatic movement, speaks in tongues, and is freely animated in prayer.

But the reality is, each one of us is filled with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, and to put the Holy Spirit in a box of our own making limits our potential to work in full cooperation with God. Whenever we insist on placing labels on people, we step out of the scope of God’s plan and directly into our own.

Trusting in the Holy Spirit, the Church moves in a direction that is God-oriented.  All of us can share in that movement, as long as we do not make prejudgments about people, because these become obstacles to the work of the Spirit.

We are called to work together, one body, heart and mind.  In Redemptoris Missio (Mission of the Redeemer) John Paul II speaks of the early Church and how she experienced her mission as a “community task.”  He said we have a common mission and that even established Church communities should be connected to each other in order to “exchange vital energies and resources” to commit themselves to the “common mission of proclaiming and living the Gospel.”

Did you know that the objective of the Church’s mission is to “found Christian communities and develop churches to their full maturity?”
This fact struck me deeply as I considered the closing and merging of so many local parishes.  

Quoting Archbishop, Anthony Mancini, Fr. James Mallon said, in Divine Renovation, “The church cannot be a collection of individual believers practicing their faith in private, satisfied with their self-sufficiency.”  Fr. Mallon went on to say that “The truth is that the Church can be this, has been this and, sadly, often is this . . . If the renewal of our Church is to take place, the question of community will be essential.”

John Paul II, in speaking about the mission of the Church, said that it is the “work of the Spirit.”  The powerful experience of the apostles after the resurrection of Christ completely transformed the apostles.  This experience, according to John Paul II was the “experience of Pentecost.  The coming of the Holy Spirit makes them witnesses and prophets.”  They were filled with courage as they were impelled to “bear witness to Jesus with ‘boldness.’”

The Spirit, our sainted Pope said in Redemptoris Missio, became even more of a guide to those “first evangelizers,” as they decided who they were to go to, and where they were to go, on their missionary journey.

So as we stand on the edge of the New Evangelization, a movement that continues to spread, we should remember that it is not a “new” idea; we are looking at fresh ways to participate in the ever-present mission of the Church by proclaiming the Gospel.  This work involves every member of the Church, not just our priests and bishops.  The laypeople (non-ordained) have a very important role in the New Evangelization as well.

But first, it is imperative that we recognize that nothing happens without the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who has the power to transform into witnesses and prophets, those touched by the Pentecost experience.

At the end of each Mass, we are dismissed and sent.  We do not gather simply for our own renewal, but we gather to worship God and be readied for mission!
Now, filled with the Spirit, we are to go out into a world that awaits the Word of God. We are to go out to those who have not yet heard of Christ, or who have rejected him.  We are, by our very lives, to be Christ to others.

Of course, the only way this is possible is if we ourselves are open to receiving the Holy Spirit and trust that we are being called by God.  It requires courage, and trust in the movement of the Spirit.  This is not work for the faint of heart.
John Paul II said what is needed at times, is a “re-evangelization” for there are “entire groups of the baptized [who] have lost a living sense of the
faith . . . and live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel.”

Am I in this group? Am I living “far removed from Christ and his Gospel?” These are good questions to which we need honest answers if we desire to participate in the New Evangelization and bring others to faith, for it is only through a living relationship with Christ that we can draw others to him.

It all begins with a willing receptivity to the Holy Spirit. According to John Paul II, “through the Holy Spirit, who distributes his gifts as he wishes for the good of all, Christ stirs up a missionary vocation in the hearts of individuals . . . .”

Are you ready to “bear witness to Jesus with boldness?”  I sure hope so, because it will take great witnesses to overcome the poverty of spirit we are currently experiencing.

Don't Allow External Practices to Divide Believers (Aug. 29, 2015)
Mantillas.  To wear or not to wear, that is the question.  The wearing of these circular or triangular shaped head scarves in Mass seems to be making a comeback.
When you look up the history on wearing head coverings in church, there are quite varied and extensive, sometimes even contradictory explanations. I have not yet been able to personally sort out their lineage, so I will leave that to the experts among us.
I did learn along the way, however, that humility, modesty and the promotion of one’s “humble hiddenness” seem to be dominate reasons to wear them.  If I cover my head, I am covering my beauty, allowing the beauty of God to be glorified remarked one wearer.
Of course, this explanation sort of falls apart when you consider that the Spirit of God dwells in each of us and that, being made in his image, our inward and outward beauty mirrors’ his and, in fact, glorifies him and should be seen.
I remember wearing a head covering to Mass when I was a kid.  For me it was just fun because the way it trailed down the back of my head made me feel like one of the sisters who were fortunate enough to wear those veils that hid who knew what.  They were so lucky it seemed. Didn’t you always wonder what they looked like under their veils?
Okay, so maybe humility and prayerfulness did not land on me at the time like it should have, but I digress. Wearing a mantilla today, from what I have read, can help women feel more prayerful and humble.  It is a personal choice and is optional. Unfortunately, there are a few common presumptions made upon those who wear them.  Here are a few.
They wear them because they want to appear more holy or special than others.  They like being set apart, drawing attention to themselves.  It makes them feel, or appear, more pious.  They long for days gone by.  They think it will help bring back more of a sense of reverence for the Eucharist. At times, I am sure, it can make those who do not wear veils feel like they are less serious about the Eucharist. (Of course, this is not the fault of the wearer.)
Anyway, the list of critiques goes on and on.  Unfairly, I am sure, for most who don the scarf, but still they exist. But in our Catholic culture today, I say why only pick on those who wear veils, when our landscape provides such a vast array of things to dispute?
What about those who promote particular devotions by making those who do not participate in them feel like they are somehow less Catholic? Do you not realize that you are simply promoting a practice you love, that someone else may not be called to do, and then making them feel guilty about not doing it?
Or those who separate themselves in the communion line by genuflecting on one (or both) knees as their personal expression of humility? (Please, this is one practice, I will say, we need to stop for safety reasons before someone gets hurt.)  Even if you do it super fast, do you realize that I have almost stumbled over you as I am approaching our Lord?
Speaking of our Catholic culture during Mass, let’s just go for it.  This standing/kneeling after communion thing that came up a few years ago to promote unity has done nothing more than cause disunity among us.  I’m just saying.
These challenges go on and on.  They impact us socially, not just philosophically.  I understand the desire for humility, and the gestures that reflect it.  Gestures are an important part of what we do as Catholics.  They help us pray and express ourselves with our whole bodies, and that is important.
But, admittedly, there are things that can be disruptive, or even divisive, as they do not express our communion with each other.  Our worship should reflect our unity as much as possible.
It seems to me that a greater act of humility would be to submit my personal preferences of outwardly expressions of piety or humility to the greater good.  Mass is not, in its entirety, a God-and-me alone experience.  I am not sure we really get this.
Hopefully you are not reading this as a diatribe against wearing mantillas, because it is not. I was reading a column by an apologist at Catholic Answers (Michelle Arnold) who made this comment:
“One of the first lessons I was taught as an apologist is not to attempt to bind consciences where the Church does not.”
She further stated that “If an idea or practice or custom is a matter of personal freedom, then do not say or do anything that might make another Catholic feel like his or her permitted idea, practice, or custom is wrong.  It is perfectly fine to have your own idea on the subject and to explain why you hold it.  But an acknowledgment that it is your personal opinion or practice goes a long way toward easing tensions among people who feel differently.”
Well said.  Take note that she said “permitted” idea, practice or custom.
Mantillas, genuflecting, standing/kneeling and shaking hands are really not our problem.  Our problem is allowing these external practices to give rise to division, distraction or derision in a body of believers who are called to be unified.

Envision a different world (August, 2015)

I watched a couple of the videos highlighting the questionable illegal practices of Planned Parenthood.  I think I missed the third and fourth videos and just recently watched the fifth. It was very gruesome.

Quite honestly, I have never been a supporter of shocking graphics, like those used so frequently on the signs of protestors. When my children were little, I did not think they needed to see graphic pictures in order to understand what abortion is.  We talked about abortion quite frequently and they grew up pro-life, sans pictures.

So, as you might assume, even today, I have to force myself to view the videos being made public by the fictitious Center for Medical Progress.  That is the cover organization for the citizens journalists who made the videos of “doctors” and others working for and with Planned Parenthood.  This was quite an extensive project.  I believe the video-recorded interviews were done over a two-year period, and there are several of them which continue to be released.
I watch them with dread, but as with everything, I like to hear what is actually being said versus what someone tells me is being said.  The debate, as you probably know, is about whether Planned Parenthood is actually making a profit selling fetal tissue/body parts.  I am sure the legality of all of this will be sorted out eventually.

Personally, I hope Planned Parenthood folds like a house of cards.  I’ve heard the accolades for all of the wonderful things they do, but from a moral perspective, they need to not be doing this.  When it comes to morality, even if the desired end result is good (like curing cancer for example), that does not justify the means used to attain it.

Anyway, with much angst, I sat down to watch the latest video.  I was watching it on my phone until I could no longer bear the graphics.  Covering up the image, I read the caption as I listened to the conversation.  It was unbelievably horrible. There are no words.

All I could think while listening and watching (as much as I could tolerate), was that they were talking about somebody’s baby.  Did the parents really know that their baby would end up like this?  Really?  

I have to think, as well, that some of the people working for the procurement companies, who deal with this every day, will surely be impacted mentally and emotionally when it all catches up with them.  You simply cannot deal in this kind of trade without it eventually destroying you.

On the latest video, they actually take you into the room where the aborted fetuses are kept, at least what is left of them.  Then, since the journalists wanted to see a “specimen,” the lab people take one out of a bag and lay it on a table, extracting the parts being discussed.  That’s when I had to avert my eyes.  This innocent child, this gift of God, this human being, I hate to say, looked like something you would find at your local butcher shop during processing. It was beyond appalling.

What also struck me was the terminology they used, over and over again when referring to these babies.  In the latest one I heard a new phrase.  They referred to the aborted fetus as “the product of conception.”

This, in fact, is a perfect description of how they view our innocent children. Of course, this is not acceptable language to us, but to them, they are nothing more than a product in an industry without any sense of respect for human life.
There is a question about whether these children are, at times, born alive and then killed, in an effort to keep them as a suitable “specimen” to supply the needs of those doing research.  But again, no matter the desired outcome of their research, to use our little babies to accomplish it is barbaric.  How can this be legal? I can’t count the number of times I have asked myself this question over the years.

How can we, in this country, allow this practice to be legal?  Are we really any better than those who performed child sacrifices throughout history? If these videos are any indication, this is what is happening every day, in our country, in the land of the free.

Naturally, the rhetoric that got us into this spot in the first place continues today.  I recently received an automated reply from a U.S. Congresswoman who rang the praises of the “important primary care and cancer screenings” done in these “women’s health clinics.”

Give me a break.  Does anyone actually believe this stuff anymore? The manipulative advertising that promoted abortion as a choice, a right, family planning and protection for the health of a mother was powerful and effective at one time, but hopefully will one day be seen as the worn out, superficial argument it was/is.

I am not sure what their upcoming videos will contain, and I am not even sure I will be able to watch them, but one thing’s for sure, abortion will no longer be able to remain behind closed doors as an abstraction.  If those who previously bought into the rhetoric can now see they were duped, perhaps they will now become a force for change. 

It is time to envision this world differently.  One without abortion.  Are you willing to move this vision forward?

Vacations, July, 2015

I went for a short walk the other night mostly because I wanted to listen to a few new songs I had just purchased for my Ipod.  There’s nothing like some familiar songs to get you moving.

When I returned home I sat on the porch and listened a little longer.  I realized while sitting there that I do not do that a lot anymore.  Usually, when I listen to music, I am doing something along with it.

I mentioned this to my husband, recalling how when I was younger I could sit in my room for hours on end listening to the Beatles, Elton John or Anne Murray.  What did we do all that time while the record player was going? I don’t remember actually doing anything other than just sitting and listening. Maybe drawing?  I don’t recall. The most important thing seemed to be trying to get the words right and hit a few notes on key every now and then.

There is a lot of value in just sitting and doing nothing from time to time, but active adults don’t do much of that anymore.  We think we are too busy.  Besides, it probably feels too much like wasting time, something in our culture today that is akin to laziness.  I think that is really sad.

Scripture tells us that even Jesus, as busy as he was going from city to city, took the time to go up on the mountain to be with the Father.  Sometimes he gathered everybody together as well.  Maybe he sensed they needed a break from the tension going on around them and the work they had yet to do.  Maybe it was his way of saying, “Hey, you can’t do this if you don’t rest with me.”  I am sure there were a lot of things they could have been doing, but he showed them, quite clearly, that nothing was as important, at that moment, as spending time with him.

That evening on the porch melted into more quiet time in the house, where I relaxed and enjoyed the peace.  I definitely do not do that enough.  How can we “go on mission” (we are sent at the end of every Mass), if we do not spend some time being renewed?

Listening to my new music, which was actually quite old, (it was from my high school years), I was transported in time.  Friends from years ago came to mind and my travel to the 70s left me with this pervasive sentiment that I couldn’t quite grasp. 

It’s funny how music can immediately take you back to a place and time you haven’t thought about in awhile. It’s like the lyrics in the Styx song Come Sail Away:  “I look to the sea, reflections in the waves spark my memory, some happy, some sad, I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had.“
Maybe we should “waste” time more often.  I think a healthy pace in life is good for the soul, and that must include some down time.  But I don’t think it should just come in waves like once or twice a year in scheduled vacation time; it should be built into a regular part of our day or week. 

If we do this, then maybe it would help us avoid the idea that we can “bank” our resting time, in order to use it during that limited time off. This is not only impossible, but not particularly helpful to us during the rest of the year.
There is a tendency, from what I have seen, to want to pack too much into that short period of time known as a vacation, only to find ourselves coming back exhausted, rather than re-energized.  

Why not just plan a day or two, here and there, in order to play more throughout the year?

I must say, the last time my husband and I went away for a weekend, we gave ourselves permission to do nothing.  We didn’t plan our days at all.  We did whatever we felt like, whenever we felt like it.  We had so much fun and came back so refreshed.  Admittedly, we didn’t go anywhere that could even remotely be considered exotic (Michigan doesn’t have those kinds of places), but the best part of all was that, when we returned, we didn’t feel like we needed another vacation in order to recover from the one we’d just had!

Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that I am somehow against amazing vacations in far-off lands, because those can be invigorating, too.  But if they include over-stuffed agendas (as they often do), I wouldn’t think that would be particularly relaxing.  Of course, maybe it’s just me.  I don’t survive in the crazy very long.  In fact, I am someone who can find spiritual retreats too busy at times!

When I was a kid, we always gathered with friends on the front porch and hung out.  Today, we would look rather idle, but back then, it was normal. Since we are fresh out of mountains around here, I think Jesus, would recommend more porch sitting. 

In fact, I can almost hear him singing a little Simon and Garfunkel, “Hear my words that I might teach you, take my arms that I might reach you.”
Oh yeah, the words of the prophets are definitely “whispered in the sounds of silence.”  Have you been listening lately?

Real success comes from helping others in a real way
About a year ago, when we were out for a walk, we came across a family working in a woodsy area down the street.  As we stopped and talked to them, we learned that they had just purchased the acreage.  The couple, along with their kids, was in the throes of excitement over their new acquisition and had begun clearing out a small patch of the land.

They explained that they owned a house nearby, which they were going to sell, and planned to build on this new property.  I felt so excited for this young family with big dreams and hope for their future.

Our job is not to pull weeds, but to keep sowing
People often say that they don't "get" scripture, that it is a bunch of stories about people from long ago and it uses references that are not understood by us today. 

While it can be challenging at times to sift through some of the nuances that we are unfamiliar with, to the soul who is open to the Spirit's movement, and the willing learner, scripture can speak volumes.

Let me give you and example.

I decided that I needed a larger filing cabinet for my office and made a deal to trade my two little ones for a larger one.

As always happens when you start moving things around, I inadvertently lost the space I had set aside on one of the little cabinets for my paper shredder and recycling box. Since the new cabinet was taller, I needed to find a new place for them.  I thought I would try balancing my recycling box on a narrow register where it did not fit very well.

Union with God/St. John of the Cross

Sometimes when you are “in the zone” in prayer, and contemplation seems particularly rich and fruitful, you can have one of those moments when the presence of Christ is intensely felt.  Saints throughout history have tried to put their experiences in words, but words are always inadequate when trying to describe an experience of God. 

August 20, 2012, Feral Children & Formation

I tuned into an interview the other day on EWTN’s Bookmark.  The author being interviewed was Dr. Robert Royal.  It was an old interview from 2009 and he was discussing his book The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West. (I have never read it.)

August 6, 2012, Movies, Bikes & The Eucharist

I was walking by our youngest daughter the other night when she was watching a movie.  “What are you watching?” I asked. Wrath of the Titans came the reply.  We exchanged knowing glances as I passed by, securing her thoughts that she would be watching it alone.  I have never been into mythology so I dismissed it without question.

July 23, 2012, Tator Tots

I don’t get Tator Tots®.  What I mean is, I don’t understand why people like them.  That little, deep-fried barrel of fake potato, to me, just doesn’t have much flavor, and the little flavor it does have is a far cry from any real potato I’ve ever tasted.  Of course, that’s just my opinion.

July 9, 2012, The On-Ramp

The other day I was on the on-ramp of the expressway trying to enter the flow of traffic while following a slow-moving car.  Honestly, some people have no idea how to get on an expressway! 

It’s a strange dance we do. 

Some people creep along at their own pace and surprise everyone at the last moment by fitting in.

Other people fly in quickly, and just as fast, they are gone.

June 27, 2011, The Spider Column

Deliver me, O Jesus . . .

I’m not into spiders. Not at all. There are some--the little, innocent-looking ones--that I can easily overpower, eliminating them without fear (Hey, I never claimed to be St. Francis.) But others, like the one I saw sitting in my family room the other day, I simply cannot even think about approaching.

 July 3, 2011 (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta)
Deliver me, O Jesus. . .
(Meditations from A Simple Path)

June 19, 2011 (The Bathroom Scales)

We had to buy a new pair of bathroom scales this week because we outlived the lifetime lithium battery in our old set. I guess that should be good news for us, but it didn’t really feel that great. . .