The Lenten Slump Challenge

It’s been awhile. Yes, I know. Life has been going along at its steady pace and then all of a sudden six months have gone by and I’m left standing here going, “Wasn’t it just Christmas? Wait, what season are we in–Lent?!”

And then comes the usual panicked question: “What am I going to do this year?!”

Fast forward two weeks into Lent, “I’m failing! Ugh, why am I such a spiritual lightweight? I can’t even go a whole day without chocolate?!”

If you’re like me, you begin to question why you chose your initial sacrifices. It sounded great at the time but now that you are into it, you realize you can’t do it all or have forgotten to integrate it into you life. For others, Lent snuck up on us too fast and we are still trying to figure out what we want to do.

Both of sides are in luck!

Because here is my Lenten Slump Challenge also known as the Senses Sacrifice. Pick one each week or use each of them to build ontop of each other!

Step 1: List out your five senses…

Step 2: Take a step back and look at your life. What are you most attached to right now? What small sacrifices can you make everyday? Mother Theresa and St. Therese always reminded us to do small things with great love. What little things can you offer up to Jesus? Here are a few ideas in case you get stumped:

Hearing:

-Maybe you are avid music lover: Maybe you can agree to only listening to Christian music on the radio or nothing at all.

-Like to talk a lot? Give up interrupting people when they are speaking for a week.

-Need a boost in your prayer life? Pay attention during the homily at Mass. Go to adoration without any aides (novels, books, journals etc) and just speak with the Lord and listen for His voice.

-Put away all electronic devices once you get home from work; seriously. No iPad, no computer, no phone. Hide the t.v. remote if you have to. Pretend it’s the 1940s and find something to do together as a family.

-Read. Read a spiritual book, read the Bible, read the life of a saint, read something that will bring you closer to God and if you have children–Read it aloud! Let them hear all the great spiritual stories!

Sight: This one can be hard in our day and age. Everything is geared to catch our eye!

-Maybe you can go a week without your favorite show. If not, the alternative would be to avoid turning on the t.v. just to ‘relax’ and ‘kill time’. Instead, take that time and read something!

-Maybe you can pull out that Catholic classic that has been gathering dust on the shelf for a couple of years. Maybe you can commit to reading the Bible every morning before/during breakfast and/or before you go to bed.

-Something a little out of the ordinary would be to take down your favorite poster or picture. It is something small but it is still something you can offer up to Jesus.

-If you can’t get off social media completely then limit it, say you can only get on Facebook once in the morning and once at night. Or make it a challenge to post something spiritual every day to challenge yourself but also those you are friends with. Use it as a platform for evangelization!

-Tape a prayer to your bathroom mirror, corner of your car windshield, the back of your laptop, anywhere your eyes focus on during the day. Fill your eyes with good and holy reminders.

Smell:

-Who doesn’t like to smell good? For this week, sacrifice using your favorite bodywash/lotion/perfume, etc.

-Don’t light your favorite candle.

-Don’t make your favorite food smell–that’s right, avoid making your favorite food aroma that when it hits you makes your mouth water and say, “Thank you God! I can’t wait to eat!”

If you’re looking more to do something than to give up something:

-Clean out your car every week regardless of its state.

-Wash your dish immediately after using it-don’t let it sit in the sink.

-If you have children, teach them how to clean (this can be laborious and may require some prayerful assistance for patience).

Taste:

This probably the most common thing given up for Lent so I’m going to go out on a limb here and put a twist on this beloved sacrifice.

-I have picky eaters in my family, so this sacrifice is inspired by them. Eat food that you don’t like or particularly crave. If I look in the fridge for lunch and see something I really want–choose something else to eat. Really want that cheeseburger? Eat the leftover meatloaf instead.

-Whenever food is presented to me at meal time, eat some of everything that is put on the table. It doesn’t have to be huge portions but it can be a sacrifice to take and eat a little of everything especially if there are things you absolutely don’t like.

-A lot of people give up chocolate for Lent. If you are like me and can’t give up chocolate completely…eat only one kind of chocolate the entirety of Lent, giving it up when you can. (This already has ruined my chocolate craving for this particular item.)

-Make Sunday meals special–No Leftovers on the Lord’s day!

-Ask a friend or family member if you can make a meal for them. Give the gift of food to others!

Touch:

This is a bit tougher one.

-I will not wear my favorite outfit (or better yet, I will give away my favorite outfit),

-Don’t sleep with a pillow. Or don’t sleep with your favorite blanket/sweatshirt/pajama pants.

-I was challenged once to walk for a week with a pebble in my shoe (talk about annoying) but it served its purpose. Take a lukewarm or cold shower once a week.

-When at Mass or adoration, don’t use the kneeler. Instead, kneel on the floor. If you pray at home, like a family rosary or your nightly prayers, kneel on the floor.

-Hug those you love.

Step 3: Pray. Start. Allow God to change you so that you can change the world!

God Wants Your Attention…

The world is a crazy place. Just look around at all the headlines. Scrolling through Facebook is like maneuvering through a minefield. My stomach lurches at the sight of any political posts and begs me to keep scrolling. But I’m oddly drawn to read the articles and the comments. I find myself reading the battles between people I have never met. Before I know it my peace and hope for humanity has nearly evaporated.

Meanwhile, my littles call out to me.

Child 1: “Mom, can you play?”

“After I read this hope-sucking article that will keep me awake worrying about your safety and future.”

Child 2: “Chips? Dink? Pizza?”

“I’m sorry, I just read that all our food has been coated in agent orange and could give you cancer and a painful death.”

Then there is the silent one. The little one who simply clings my leg. With small tugs the little one tries to gain my attention. Yet, my eyes are glued. The depressing images of the world keeps dragging me deeper into the darkness. Still, the small tugs keep coming on my pant leg.

Finally, I break my engrossment with the hopeless abyss which is our world today. My eyes are tired and I feel completely drained and frustrated at the falleness of humanity.

And there I see it.

The bright gleaming eyes of my little one. As soon as my eyes meet those hazel eyes a radiant joyful smile breaks across that cute little face. It was then that I finally understood what God had been trying to tell me.

How many times had I ignored God calling me back to Himself? He called me to leave what was *supposed* be a ‘retreat’ and instead had turned into a depressing rollercoaster. He tried through the voices of my children. But, I didn’t even flench. He had to go deeper then the physical. Finally, He resorted to His greatest weapons: silence and joy.

The bleakness of the world is not where He is. He is not in the tirades of celebrities. He is not in the hateful speech splashed around newspapers. He is not in the the anxiety and the tension that bind our minds and hearts to the worries of the future.

Think of it like this: You have a beautiful picture of a wide open meadow nestled in the magnificent valley of the Rocky Mountains. *sigh* That’s better. The air is clear, the picture clear and simple. Beauty is simple enough to raise our spirits to that which is above us. Yet, what happens when we pollute this picture? When we distort the beauty? Every bleak headline is like smearing black paint over our beautiful meadow. After awhile the picture is no longer discernible. What was once clear is no longer visible. The meadow still exists but I can’t see it through the muck.

This is what happens to my hope when I consume the darkness that is out there.

It is when I finally stop and take a look at what is right in front of me that I realize that God has been there the whole time, tugging patiently at my heart. He’s been calling out to me. But I’ve ignored, procrastinated, deflected or just flat out didn’t hear His requests to come out of the mud. Yet, it never fails, whenever I do pull myself away there He is. His silent ever persistent presence is just waiting for my attention. It is there that He brings me joy and it is there that I must dwell, not in the mud of the world.

He always meets us in the silence with comfort and joy.

 

 

*Please note this does not mean hiding under a rock or being an uninformed person of the world around us. It is about finding a way to filter the muck and darkness and still maintaining hope and faith that God is in control*

When God’s Call is not Your Own…

I love the Church. She is a great mother which has led me deeper into the great mystery of faith.

Found on catholiccompany.com

Found on catholiccompany.com

If there is one thing that I have learned is that we must do God’s will.

Read the saints, there it is. They constantly submit to God’s will in their lives.

They see His hand in everything that happens in their day, good and bad.

In theology classrooms professors (hopefully) teach that we are here to know, love and serve God.

From pulpits around the world the message is spread that in order to advance spiritually we must humble ourselves to answer God’s call, to do His Will for by this we will be set free and become an amazing vessel of grace to spread His message throughout the world.

So True and So Good but also SO HARD!

Why is it so stinkin’ hard?! In the words of Tom Hanks in the move “A League of Their Own”, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard then everyone would be doing it. Hard makes it great.”

Here’s the deal, I like to think that I’m not opposed to hard work. If I need to plant some seeds in a garden, I’m not afraid of getting down on my hands and knees and dig in the dirt. If I need to change a stinky diaper, I don’t even think twice about it. I grab the diaper, wipes and hold my breath for the 40 seconds it takes (depending on the disaster that awaits inside). I used to LOVE researching for papers. Sitting with ten books spread out in front of me until all hours of the morning, yes, please! That kind of hard I can do easily.

mother angelicaGod’s ‘hard’ is different.

God’s ‘hard’ stretches beyond my will. It pushes me to kneel instead of sit during the rosary. It means taking the times I can’t fast and replace it with another sacrifice i.e. eat a less favorite food as an offering.

You see, God knows what I like. He knows that I loved getting assigned 10 page research papers and secretly wished they were 20 pages instead. Instead, He tweaks my heart so that I have to reel in what I want to do.

I love teaching. I have always had a desire to dig in and pass on the faith to others. I finally got my taste of it this summer. And you know what, I want more. I have found my new 20 page research paper–it is teaching. There is one small obstacle.

I am a stay at home mom.

I love my kids and I am so elated to be their primary teacher. Yet, I struggle. I want to be ‘out there’. I want to be with others who are desperate to be fed. Who want to know about the Church but have no one to ask. I want to be there to answer their questions and learn with them. There are times I feel trapped in the walls of my home. My heart is split between the place my heart yearns to go and the place where God has placed me.

Then I remember, “If it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be great.”

St. Terese of Liseaux is the patron of missionaries. She always desired to be a missionary. Yet, when she discerned her vocation, she knew God was calling her to be a Carmelite. A cloistered Carmelite. Once she entered the abbey doors she would never leave again. Which makes me wonder, did she ever feel trapped? A missionary trapped inside a Carmelite’s cloister?

As I read her story, I realized that St. Terese didn’t suppress her desire to be missionary. She found a way to be a Lincolnspiritual missionary. Instead of her feet doing the walking and her mouth doing the talking as a physical missionary, she wielded her prayers to fight for the souls of those both inside and outside of the monastery’s walls. That missionary spirit compelled her to serve those around her. She didn’t sit for hours yearning for a life she would never have, instead she shifted her focus to see the mission field that God wanted her to tend to. Her missionary field became the very home which God had called her to take vows in. Those she was to serve were those right around her. Amazingly enough, the diary which she wrote has now become a spiritual juggernaut for countless people around the world. This beautiful, simple, holy nun’s mission and ways of carrying it out have touched the lives of saints and sinners alike around the world for over a century.

I may not be St. Terese but I believe we all have that same call. God has put us in our very situations and places not to kill the desires of our hearts but to challenge them to become something more. My desire to teach I know is a call from God and though I may desire a greater platform on which to proclaim His truths, He has placed my feet in my home. It here that I must teach. Who knows, who I teach at home may change the world one day.

View from Behind the Pew

church doors

There are times when being in the back is a good thing.

You know, like when you’re at Sea World and the dolphins splash the crowds with water that goodness knows how many animals have done their business in since the beginning of the show. Or, when you’re at a hockey game the puck goes flying over the protective glass. Those are times I’m glad I’m not front and center.

But when it comes to Mass, I like being up front. I like being able to see everything unobstructed by others around me. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that there are others at Mass. It is my lack of ability to focus that pushes me to the front and why I love it up there.

This last week, we went to church out of town. When my husband left to change our child’s diaper our second child began yelling for Dad. Grabbing him and flagging down my oldest we marched out to the back. Fortunately, the doors to the church were clear glass so I could still see Mass going on. I realized something while watching the Mass.

Seeing is great.

But hearing and seeing are an amazing duo of blessing.

As I bounced my little one from hip to hip, I strained to listen to the homily and catch all the prayers being said. Small mumbled blurps squeezed through the hinges of the doors to my straining ears. And even though I’ve been to Mass my entire life I still could only participate in about half of the prayers because I couldn’t hear where everyone else was at. it was then that frustration set in. All I wanted to do was go to Mass. To sing my heart out to God and praise Him as I know how. Instead, here I was, banished to the tundra of the back hallway of the church with my children struggling to understand why steam is coming out of their mother’s ears.

I have been told by countless people that, “God knows you are trying,” “You still get all the graces”, “God understands” “He sees you’re trying to train your kids” etc. It was as these phrases echoed in my ears that God gave me a new thought to meditate one: how many other parents throughout time have had the same struggles?

I mean, have you ever tried keeping a little one quiet in a magnificent cathedral whose ceilings were made to echo the praises of God to heaven and back?

How about the sermons of Jesus? How many people were chasing their kids in the back fields while he was giving the Sermon on the Mount. “What’s he saying? What are we supposed to do? Josiah, sit down! Jacob stop hitting your brother.”

Or how about that family who heard that Jesus was in town and gathered up all their gear to go out and hear Him speak only to make it one step out the door and have their newest bundle of joy fill their cloth diaper. By the time they changed the diaper, the next one was hungry. After you give him a snack his brother starts crying for some unknown reason, then they realized it is about time for his nap. Now the fork in the road. Do they go see Jesus or do they stay and let their child sleep? They throw caution to the wind and begin the journey. Finally, hours after Jesus was to speak, they trudge in just in time to grab some fish and a loaf of bread. “What did we miss?” the husband asks the wide eyed man next to him.

Then you have the families who were so exhausted after a journey to Jerusalem for the Passover feast with children that they were asleep before their heads hit the pillow. And to top it off, their baby sleeps through the night for the first time. The next day they wake up around noon, get something to eat and head out to the streets only to hear that Jesus has been crucified. “Wait, how long did we sleep?!”

Or how often were children crying during Jesus’ synagogue teachings, or when the apostles were preaching the gospel or during the first Masses. How many parents strained to hear, fought tooth and nail to be present, who pressed onward despite challenges and frustrations because they knew that it was important Jesus and childrenfor their children to be close to Jesus. I am sure many of them got the stink eye just as many of us do today for their efforts.

However, I have no doubt that Jesus knows that I am at Mass with my children just as He knew those parents were also there in the multitudes of people who first came to hear him speak the words of everlasting life. Yet, still, Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” Let all who are weary let them come and I will give them food for the journey, I will give them rest, I will set their way. What a litany of blessings for parents!

So, as we stand outside the heart of the church with our loud and lively kiddos in hopes of returning to our lovely front pew, I have one thought to comfort me. Jesus is not restricted by the doors.

Just as the Upper Room, Jesus is not restricted by earthly things. He can pass through and reside with me, my husband and my children in the narthex. He is there offering His comfort and reassurance. He does in fact see the efforts, the desires of our hearts to fully participate with Him and to bring our children up in the faith.

He wants my children to be there. To have them there, is the most precious gift I can give Jesus and my children. And even though I may not be able to see and hear, I have to keep in mind the words of Jesus to Thomas, “Blessed are those who haven’t seen but believe.”

Tales of a Tired Mama

It is currently in the middle of the night and I am awake with a fussy infant. I have tried everything I can think of to soothe her. I’ve walked with her, bounced with her, rocked her, given her food, laid her down and nothing seems to help. I know that she is not feeling well, yet nothing seems to be working.

Even at this late/early hour I know God is revealing Himself to me.

Sometimes, I wonder if God feels the same with me. He tries everything to console my nerves and what ails my soul but I am so worked up I can’t slow down enough to let any of His efforts take effect.  Sometimes I just can’t stop focusing on my spiritual discomfort that I completely ignore His loving efforts to console me. Instead, I fuss, whine, cry and complain until I pass out from spiritual exhaustion.

Just as I try to train my daughter to sleep so He is training me to love. Love right now, means being awake so my daughter has someone to love her as she fusses. She knows I am here and right now that is all I can give her. Just like the Lord, I know He is in my struggles and that He cares. He is there just waiting for me to give into His comforts.

 

Update: My little one barely slept last night. Finally, when I was at my wits end and she was screaming in pain I began to shower her head with kisses. Within a minute she was asleep. So often I wish I would give into the tenderness of God and let peace come over my soul. Babies are such sweet vessels for God to teach me through.

God is Stronger

I always thought when people talked about getting me to heaven it was going to be like having a little pep talk every day. Lots of, “You can do it!” “Thatta girl!” “Did you see how great you did just now?” and “Wow, you handled that better then you did last time.” “You’re doing great!”

Yeah.
No.
That lasts about 5 seconds with kids. Or when I am left to my own thoughts.

There are times in this life where I feel like I’m being crushed. Not by those who are against me–that one I anticipated–I am blindsided when it comes from those challenging me to live a more virtuous life. The ones who are supposed to be lifting me up are doing it in a different way than I thought it would happen. Instead of lifting me up higher with lofty praiseworthy quotes about my awesomeness, they have laid a divine banana peel at my feet. And as I step on this slippery bugger, I watch as my seemingly good world is flung around me. As I lie flat on my back I no longer see my awesomeness but the ugly underbelly of my faults. I feel the pain of what being a fallen human being means.

It means I want praise. I want others to walk in and say,

“Wow! You look great! And your house is so clean! Is that a Liturgically/Biblically/Feast day themed dinner I see? And your children, they are so well behaved. Is your oldest singing the Our Father in Latin? Then there’s you, you did not just have a baby. You look incredible! I wish I had your life!”

But reality prevents this. My kids are wonderful. But kids don’t know the necessary compliments to lift their mother’s heart in times of distress. (Though the ‘I love you Mom’ ‘You’re beautiful’ and ‘You’re the best teacher ever’ make my heart overflow with joy and happiness I know that a tantrum is only a short time away). Kids only only know how to dig deeper. To force me to find a deeper resolve, a deeper level of giving, a deeper source of sacrifice and a deeper well of love. Whether it is to stand up in the face of their insistence that they are in charge and that they only like Dad now I know I must be stronger.

pope francisMy heart needs to be stronger.

What is it that the Isaiah says, to ‘set his face as flint’. Yet, for me it would say, ‘her face was set as dry wood. One strike of a match and she would burn quickly.”

I know God is showing me my faults because I struggle with pride…a lot. I think that because I have a bachelors degree and a masters that teaching my own children should be a walk in the park. But the ugly truth is, I am afraid of not teaching them correctly, of failing them, of ruining their lives.

Fear and worry are painful things. Worrying about fear is even worse.

Instead of me teaching my kids about virtues, they are giving me a practicum in building virtue. They are teaching me that I am not perfect (despite all my justifications). That I have a lot of work to do to get to heaven. That I am weak. That I can’t do this on my own. And it is all true. With every tantrum I turn to the hidden chocolate cupboard. Hoping that the small dark chocolate and almonds will grant me one minute of reprieve.

But chocolate can only do so much.

Chocolate doesn’t strengthen my heart. It doesn’t give me the strength to face reality. When the bag is gone I’m left with one other alternative to draw strength from. God.

God is stronger than me.

He is stronger than my resolve.
He is stronger than my kids’ iron will.
He is stronger than my fears of failing.
He is stronger than my biggest weaknesses.

Yet, I fear going to Him. I know it makes no sense. Yet, God tends to be somewhat of a last resort. I mean, He’s busy and why would he want to help me with my kids? He’s got the world to deal with. In comparison, I should be able to handle a few toddlers. So, I figure I shouldn’t bother Him with my petty struggles. In fact, I would be stronger if I could show Him that I can do this on my own. I clean the house, do laundry, sustain the lives of my children and do lots of other things on my own. Why not this too?

This is craziness, I know. God is our loving Father and God is the one who tells us to “Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me and I will give you rest.” (Rest. *Sigh* Sweet Rest. What does that even look like anymore?) But He will also set me on fire, on fire for Him, for His love. The dry wood that I am is set to burn it just depends if I set it afire with my faults, failures and fears of if I let God set my heart ablaze with His love.

faithGod does this on purpose. He makes us face our fears head on. But not on our own. Instead, He leads us. With our hands in His, He steps in front of us like a Father teaching a toddler to walk.

He sets the goal.

He steps in front of the fears that we see in the future so that we see only His face. He is who I am striving towards. With Him my path is set. And I know no matter how many times I fail, he will be their with his nail scarred hands to help me up. To tell me, “Be not afraid. Lean on me. I will help you. You cannot do great things without me. Let me help you.” Then like Mother Angelica said, with “Faith is one foot on the ground, one foot in the air and a queasy feeling in the stomach.”

Bold is Beautiful

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. Holy Week, Easter, the passing of Mother Angelica. Each of these are extremely powerful in and of themselves. Today though, I want to focus on Mother Angelica who, in her life, reflected both Holy Week and Easter until her final earthly breath.

I’m pretty sure Mother would not want a long eulogy about how much she has inspired me. Instead, it would only please her to praise the Lord who worked through her to reach me. If it was not for a series of events that led me to purchase Mother’s biography it is undeniable that this blog and my writing career would not exist. Reading about her faith in Jesus fanned my faith.

Mother said many things but these really struck me,mother 4

“A soul that trusts God is invincible.” and

“Faith is one foot up in the air and a queasy feeling in the stomach.” (How true that is!)

“Boldness should be the 11th Commandment.”

Boldness.

That is one thing she did not lack. That is why she herself was so endearing. We are naturally inclined to those who immolate it. That is one of the many reasons Jesus and the saints are so attractive. They have a surety and confidence that is mystifying to those of us who don’t have it.  If you ever watch reruns of Mother Angelica Live Mother always had an answer. She wasn’t wishy-washy. She was bold, straight and to the point. She didn’t let her past get in the way of her communion with Jesus or her mission of bringing Him to others. They worked side by side to carry out the mission He had for her life. Jesus was not a distant figure to her, He was her spouse and she knew Him well. Isn’t that part of being a saint? Knowing Jesus well.

The apostles had jaded pasts.  Heck they had jaded presents at times. “No, I’m greater.” “No, I’m greater.” “Lord, sit me at your right hand.” “Then I get your left!” “Jesus, who? Nope, don’t know him.” There were tax collectors and fishermen among them. They were considered the lowest and not the prettiest nor smartest people in society. Yet, they were the ones who answered His call to “Follow me”. The ‘smart’ people were no where to be seen in the inner twelve. Just some rough men who had great faith and boldness in spades.

Mother Angelica 3Yet, even with these pasts we never hear the apostles say to Jesus (like Moses did) “Lord, I’m not fit for this mission.” or “Lord, I’m not eloquent enough to preach your Gospel.” “I don’t have the education needed.” “I’m just a fisherman/tax collector/etc.”

They went out preaching knowing that many would be aware of their backgrounds, their imperfections and if they weren’t they would after a few minutes of talking to them. But I think it is critical to note that their worries are no where recorded in Scripture. They trusted that God would provide. They went forth with boldness to proclaim Christ. And you know what? They were invincible.

Not in the sense that they couldn’t be touched physically–goodness knows those guys took beatings and were persecuted out the wazoo–but you know what? Their faith gave them something I wish I had: The faith to not care about anyone’s opinion except God’s! They didn’t care what happened to their earthly bodies, they cared only about spreading the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth, they cared about saving souls. They were willing to offer every inch of their being and breaths in their body to minister to the people of God.

That, my friends, is the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit.

To have such zeal to know that the people of this world may slander you, beat you and even kill you but your reward is in heaven and then the joke is on them.

That is part of the great legacy of Mother Angelica. She was praised by popes but persecuted by bishops, she suffered greatly in this world with many health problems yet she always saw her illnesses as a chance for saving souls. Even towards the end it is said that she told her sisters to “shove as many pills down me as you can.” When asked why, she replied (paraphrased), “Because one more day I get to suffer is one more day I get to offer up for souls.” It doesn’t take being drug out into the streets to be persecuted or to offer suffering (Just bring up you are Catholic in a public space). Anyone can be a saint right where they are. That is the great message of Jesus through Mother Angelica: anyone can be a saint. ANYONE!

Reflection: Mother Angelica was often quoted as saying that the biographers of saints should be sent to purgatory for forty years. Why? Because they made saints seem unreal. They made holiness seem unattainable. In her book “Answers not Promises”, she asks where are all the saints with long noses, warts, and unflattering figures? We need to make saints real again, not just by speaking/reading about their lives but by becoming ones ourselves. We need saints who are moms, dads, accountants, lawyers, doctors, priests, nuns, teachers, etc. We need people living in this culture who have managed to find, love and serve God. We just first have to get it through our heads that we can in fact be saints too!

Challenge: If you were to write your saint biography right now what would  it say? Think about it in your spare and wandering thoughts. Would it talk about how much you loved and served your family or spouse? Or would it talk about how much time you spent at work and money you saved up during your lifetime? Would it speak of your struggles to find holiness and communion with God in your vocation? Or would it list the great car you just bought and the amazing deal you got on your house?

Crossfire

Inventory time: How many crucifixes are in the room you are sitting in? How about the house you live in? I don’t know about you, but growing up I got a few raised eyebrows from friends when they would come over to play. Not because of the size or color of my house but by the sheer number of religious articles around it.

Let’s face it, Catholics love sacramentals.

It’s true, whenever I decorate a home I make sure to have a crucifix in every room. We have rosaries hanging on the rearview mirrors of our cars and religious window clings to boot.

I love all our sacred art, sacred music and ancient traditions but there is something Catholic that I dread. It is something that I take for granted, that I do before every prayer in the privacy of my home but dread doing at the public table.

The Sign of the Cross.

It makes me wince whenever I do it in public. For me, it is much easier to nail up crucifixes in my home where only friends enter. For me, it is easier to hang a rosary in my car where no one can say anything to me unless I roll down my window. For me, it is easier to dunk the tips of my fingers in the Holy Water font and sign then it is to make it in front of a crowd at lunchtime in McDonalds.

It is also no surprise that the Church adopted this so-simple-I-can’t-believe-its-so-hard-to-make-in-front-of-my-friends sign. That’s what God does. He doesn’t give us complicated formulas of ways to connect to Him. Instead, He takes simple things that most humans have like bread and wine and accomplish the unimaginable. Here, he uses a simple cross to stand as a creed to all his followers.

When made outside the doors of the church or our own homes, we are thrust into the scrutiny of the public arena. To make this sign over ourselves is to step into a place where sign of the cross 2religion is often mocked and misunderstood. It is a hard thing to face for those of us who don’t like conflict.

Wouldn’t be easier to wear a blessed medal? Sure, it would. Blessed articles are beautiful reminders of God’s goodness and grace. They are expressions of our faith. But the Sign of the Cross calls us to take one step more into His grace. To not just wear his blessings and graces close to my heart but to share that with others. The Sign of the Cross declares to all who see that I am a dedicated Christian. I can’t hide it behind a door or tuck it into my clothes.

“The Sign of the Cross can be made to testify to belief in the Crucified and thus be a profession of faith or to show that one hopes in and places one’s confidence in the same Savior, in which case it is a means of invoking God’s assistance in virtue of the Passion of His Son.” (St. Francis de Sales, “Sign of the Cross: The Fifteen most Powerful Words in the English Language”, pg 17)

This simple motion invokes an entire Bible’s worth of information. It is with this very sign that I enter into the liturgy, experience the Lord entering the Eucharist and the very sign I am commissioned with at the end of Mass. I have done it a million times, seen it done a million times and taken it for granted a million times. St. John Chrysostom asks: “If someone asks you, “Do you worship the one who was crucified?”, have no shame and do not lower your eyes to the ground, but instead glory and rejoice in making the confession with your chin raised and eyes looking straight ahead.” (pg 12.)

Sign of the CrossThis Sign of the Cross, according to St. Francis de Sales, is performed by Christians to show that they were knights, whom had taken on the Cross of Christ (become His disciples) and were not ashamed of the great power of Christ’s cross and salvation for all souls. (pg 12)

St. Jerome, Tertullian, St. Ephraiam, St. Cryil and St. Ambrose, all invoke that the sign of the cross should be  made in all matters of day to day life. From the time we rise to the time we sit, eat, stand, enter a room, go to a meeting, go outside etc. the sign of the Cross is there to strengthen us, to protect us and to remind us what our actions should be geared toward.

It is an outward expression of our faith to those around us but coincidentally, by making this sign God sends special graces to our soul. So, wouldn’t it follow that even if we are nervous about what others will say, the Sign of the Cross itself will grant us the graces to answer the questions posed to us?

Reflection: Everything we do as Catholics in our liturgies and customs are packed with meaning. For example, When making the Sign of the Cross, we confess three great mysteries: the Trinity, the Passion and the remission of sins, by which we are moved from the left, the hand of the curse, to the right, the hand of blessing. Did you know that most people in the early church made it with either three fingers (in honor of the Trinity) or five fingers (in honor of the five wounds of Christ)? (pgs. 9-10) Even St. Cecilia, who was one of the Church’s first martyrs, was found in the position of holding three fingers pressed together (for the Trinity) and two on her other hand touching (representing the two natures of Christ).

There are so many times I complain about not having time to pray. By that, I of course mean that deep, spiritual, contemplative prayer that usually happens during an hour of adoration. That doesn’t happen regularly here so I am constantly disappointed in my performance as a pray-er. Yet, the Sign of the Cross is a prayer in and of itself. So, if I don’t have time in my day to make four small motions with my right hand then I think I had better loosen up my schedule.

Challenge: Make the Sign of the Cross every morning when you wake up and every night when you go to sleep. Get in the habit of making this sign and thinking about what it means. Be aware of how many fingers your are making it with, what are you saying with your body? If you’re feeling particularly adventurous make the Sign of the Cross every time you pass a Catholic Church, sit down to eat a meal in the breakroom, go out to eat at a restaurant, or kiss those you love goodnight. Make the Sign of the Cross. See how it feels!

Cleanliness is Next to Holiness

Lent. It’s that time of year when everyone gives something up in hopes of breaking an addiction they have. Maybe it is to the morning cup of coffee, watching too much t.v. or the daily dive into the strategically hidden bag of chocolate in the bottom right drawer of the fridge. But there are times the caffeine headache is too much to take and the only way to alleviate it is by drinking a caffeine rich soda pop.  The twitches for chocolate when that person who really annoys you enters the room are too much to take.

Your head hurts, stomach groans, you can’t seem to muster up a happy thought. You can’t help it, you have to rub the temples of your head. You have to find some alternative to chocolate. How else will you deal with not being able to find out what happened last night your favorite show or your favorite team? Maybe cheesecake…No!

http://www.catholicallyear.com/2015/02/feast-then-fast-tips-for-fat-tuesday.html

http://www.catholicallyear.com/2015/02/feast-then-fast-tips-for-fat-tuesday.html

How can we possibly find joy in the sacrifice in the middle of temptation?! How can we, in the middle of mild yet irritating suffering, not carry out the habit we formed long ago? Is the solution to start a new habit? Perhaps. But not in the way that instead of chocolate when I feel irritated or annoyed I now head straight for a wine bottle. The point of Lent is to offer up something freely to root the bad out, not to fill up with a new ‘stuff’.

Lent is like spring cleaning for our souls.

The point is the deal with the ‘stuff’ of our lives. How cluttered are our souls with unnecessary things? How piled up are all the extra feelings of failure, annoyance, boredom and frustration have we hoarded away against ourselves or those around us? That is what the Lord wants to clean out.

There was a show on t.v. once that had a married couple clean out two rooms in their cluttered house. Once all the belongings were outside, they had four signs out that said, “Keep” “Give Away” “Trash” and “Garage Sale”. The couple would then talk through the various items and decided which one went in front of what sign.

God doesn’t want our chocolate. He wants our soul, our personhood, our time, our attention. He wants a conversation over what has clogged up our souls and thus our lines of communion with Him. With Him we need to figure out what needs to be healed or given to Him to be fixed, what things need to get trashed immediately that are dragging us down, what things we have that we can give to others (this may be volunteering at a parish event, becoming a CCD/PSR teacher, or joining a Bible Study), and what things we need to keep with us to foster and grow.

Yes, Lent is about getting rid of things but it is also about fostering good things. Yes, we are weeding the gardens of our souls but we are also planting new seeds as well as tending to those that have already begun to sprout and that is something to be joyful about.

Reflection: “Ugh, I miss (insert Lenten sacrifice here).” “I can’t wait for these forty days to be over.” “What day are we on? What?! You mean I have 32 days left? Good-ness.” “Can I switch sacrifices?” “Sundays don’t count, right?”–You know you are a Catholic during Lent if any of these phrases have ever entered your mind or exited your mouth. There are times I think that it would be easier to get rid of sins if they were physical. Like, if sin were a king sized mattress stuck in a closet, that I could handle. Sure, it’d be hard to get it down two flights of spiral stairs and out to the garbage. It would take a lot of effort and I’d probably smell pretty nasty once I got it down. Not to mention that I’d be sore all over from doing the most work I had done all year in a day. But in the end, it would be out and done with. Sins are so much harder when they are spiritual. Because the battle is not with an annoying object that’s in my physical way. Instead it is with an invisible reality stuck inside the closet of my soul and the only way to get it out is for me to work at it.

Challenge: Jesus said, we are not to be solemn, moan or groan when we are sacrificing or draw attention to ourselves when we sacrifice. Goal for this week: Have a good week. Every day make a conscience effort to be happy even in the midst of sacrificing for Jesus. And when you find it hard, pause, take a minute and ask Jesus and Mary for help. They always come.

Annunciation

It’s amazing how one phrase can change your life.

“You won!”

“You passed.”

“Marry me.”

“I love you.”

“I’m pregnant.”

“You have cancer.”

“It/She/He’s gone.”

Each of these phrases has the ability to lock you into an emotional roller coaster. It has ups and downs that make your spirits soar and your stomach churn into knots.  For me, each of these phrases take me back to very specific times in my life.

I mean what kid wasn’t relieved to hear that he/she had passed a test they didn’t study for and were certain they failed? It made you feel like doing backflips of joy that apparently enough information had stuck in your brain during class that you were able to pull of a grade that didn’t have to be signed off by a parent or warrant an e-mail home.

Likewise, when we’ve heard bad news, those words haunt our memories. For years I have had mysterious health problems that no one has been able to accurately label. I’ve been to every doctor under the sun for over ten years and am just now starting to get answers. But it wasn’t until I heard the word ‘cancer’ did I really stop in my tracks because this diagnosis wasn’t mine but my sister’s. Before I could fully grapple with it, she was gone.

Each phrase invokes an emotion, a memory, a reaction.

It is no different then when we pray the rosary. We have to keep in mind that these are actual events that happened in real time. They are not merely nice little tales drawn out of someone’s imagination.  Mary, Jesus, the apostles and people of Israel actually lived the rosary.

Mary was human. She would have had strong emotional reactions to the events of the Rosary. Not because she was completely caught off guard by God’s plan but because she had to make a conscience choice to be a part of the mission God had laid out centuries before.

Some people like to paint Mary as an ignorant young girl who was suddenly confronted with an unplanned pregnancy and thrust into the events of the life of Christ without a clue of what was going on. On the contrary, Mary would have known a lot just from her upbringing in the Jewish faith. Which would mean that on that day when Archangel Gabriel appeared before her at the Annunciation she would have known very pointedly that her life was about to change.

So, let’s set the scene.

It’s a warm day in Israel. A young woman in her early teens is strolling along in a garden when suddenly a bright light bursts before her. From the light emerges a heavenly figure radiating with power and peace. Stunned, the young girl awaits his words. Then, he speaks, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Her stomach leaps in surprise at the angel’s presence and greeting. A greeting like this was not what she expected from such an angel.

We’re going to pause right here.

A garden? I’ll be honest, no one is certain where Mary was when Gabriel appeared to her but many theorize that it would be appropriate for her to have been in a garden. The first woman who assisted in the Fall of mankind did so in a Garden, so it would make sense that the ‘New Eve’, the one to assist in the redemption of man would be in a garden. It also seems reasonable that Eve’s ‘no’ to God’s command and declare herself more wise than God would be countered by Mary’s joyful yielding ‘fiat’.

Now, the greeting,

“Hail, full of grace”

In Greek, this phrase is translated as “Hail, you who is, who was and who will be full of grace.” It is a statement not of just one time but for her entire life which has been, is now and will be. Her soul will always be full of MaryRosarygrace. This grace points directly to her unique role in humanity. She is the New Ark of the Covenant for the people of Israel. (Check out, Exodus 25-40 for the specifics of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle/Tent of Meeting)–the Ark was the most prized possession of the people of Israel. The golden vessel was adorned with golden cherubim, beneath them were inclosed manna from the desert, the rod of Aaron and the tablets of the 10 Commandments. But the most cherished feature of this sat nestled between the wings of the cherubim: The Shekinah, the Holy Cloud, the presence of God. God dwelled among his people between the golden wings of angels. When their days of conquering the Holy Land were over, the Ark was moved to the Temple. But God’s people sinned against him many times. Many believed however, that nothing bad would happen to them since God’s presence remained in the Temple. When the people did not change, God’s Holy Cloud left the Ark of the Covenant and the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to take the Ark of the Covenant and hide it in the hills, never to be found again. Despite what Indiana Jones may claim, it still has not been found.

Yet, I ask, as valuable as the Ark of the Covenant had been, how much more valuable would it have been if God’s fingernail were in there? His hand? Arm? Leg? Heart? Head? The materials of the Ark were meticulously chosen and arranged to hold His presence and the most sacred objects of Israel. Why would the place where His Son would dwell for nine months, whose home He would be raised in for thirty years, whose care He would be entrusted to be any different. She would have been treated greater then the Ark. She would be more beautiful, more pure, more sacred then any golden encasing. Now, in an amazing step, God no longer hides among the wings of angels or veiled in a cloud or behind a Temple veil, instead He dwells inside the womb of a virgin, consecrated to Himself and free from sin.

Most importantly, the Ark was not an end of itself. Yes, it held valuable things within itself but without God’s presence it was just a golden box with artifacts inside. It is God’s presence that set it apart. The Ark, was designed by God and given to the people to build. The Ark itself always pointed past itself and onto God.

Pope BenedictMary is the greater than the Ark. Unlike the Ark whose materials are plain and meaningless on their own, she as a person has innate value and dignity. Her role as God-bearer is not everything. Because once He was born She is a mirror, a reflecting pool, an outward sign which always points onward to her Son, Jesus. Why else do you think his name is in the middle of the Hail Mary?

The Hail Mary itself is the telling of His story, of His incarnation, of His journey to fulfill prophesies.

“The Lord is with thee”

This is no ordinary small talk. To have the Lord with you was to have His power and favor. Figures like Moses, David, Noah, Joseph and even the entire nation of Israel have all heard these words applied to themselves. This phrase appears when the chosen ones of God are being given a mission, are battling to bring their mission to its fulfillment, and is given a special movement of the Spirit of the Lord over them.

To have God with you was to defy logic.

(The Israelites never should have been able to enter the Promised Land. Two out of twelve of their own spies said the people were too large and too many, their walls to large for them to penetrate. Yet, they won. In another battle Moses’ arms were raised to God in heaven and as long as his arms were raised Israel won the battle, when they dropped they started losing (no, this is not like wearing your lucky jersey during a game so your team will win or if you leave a football game to go to the bathroom and the other team scores that your bladder is mystically holding the game’s fate). When Israel faced enemies under Gideon, the army was reduced to a mere regimen of 300 men. And they won.)

And so it would be that a young woman, pure and consecrated virgin would become the mother of God. It defies logic, yet, it happened.

Next up, the Visitation…until then, may the Lord be with you 🙂