Archive | February 2016

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 🙂

Lent: Day 1

I’m here. It’s cold and my will is starting to wane. My food supply holds no appeal to me at this time. The only thing I hear are the sweets in the cupboard taunting me. Already, I’m experiencing odd reflexes of my hands. I see a bowl of food and my hand lunges towards it. Sometimes I catch it mid-air, other times it nearly makes it to my mouth with the contraband food.

Hallucinations have set in. Everywhere I turn I see Twix and Snickers.

I hear the cries of the unused coffee pot on my counter.

The finger foods are plotting an invasion later.

I feel unusual shifts in my moods. I woke up with such hope for this season but now the winter frost has set in. I can’t take it anymore! Why did I give up chocolate?! Am I nuts?! And fasting between meals–my stomach groans at the very smell of my neighbor’s bacon and sausage breakfast.

I’m not sure when the next round of temptation will occur but it’s likely to get worse every Friday for the next forty days.

Facebook has never held so much appeal as a distraction as of now. If only I could access it more than once a day! Ugh! How will I know if I’m as hilariously funny and ridiculously good looking as I think I am if I can’t see how many ‘likes’ I’ve gotten?!

My mind doesn’t know what to do with itself. Less television, less internet, and there are these strange paper things that have been sitting on my shelves for ages. They have words all over them. Strange names adorn the by-lines like, “St. Maria Faustina”, “Dr. Edward Sri”, “Dr. Brant Pitre”, “St. Mary of Agreda”, “Pope St. John Paul the Great” and “Bible”. These names, I’ve heard them before. But it is becoming harder and harder to remember the last time I read something from them. These books also speak to me, I will keep you posted when I answer.

At Church, priests talk about ‘sacrifice’ ‘prayer’ ‘almsgiving’ and being joyful in sacrificing and drawing closer to Jesus. How can I do this when I have so many things to do? I mean, the time I did have is now consumed with dreams of bacon wrapped hotdogs served with a Mike’s hard lemonade and a large hot fudge sundae. They tell me to read, to pray, to accept this quietness that is now around me. Withdrawl is naturally difficult, it will take time to wean myself of the noise of life. Perhaps those heavy bound paper things will help me.

This strange blog page keeps appearing. I can’t help it, I have to write. When I do, I am oddly at peace. Perhaps this Lent won’t be so hard after all.

Pray for me and I will pray for you.

I can only hope to make it through the night of Lent to the light of Easter.
God be with you in your Lenten sacrifices,

~Veronica

Lent is hard.

Every year we give up certain pleasures under the guise of ‘sacrifice’. But does giving up chocolate really get me closer to heaven? At times, yes. Every sacrifice, big and small has an effect on our souls. A small sacrifice is like a pebble being dropped into a lake, a large is like a boulder. Lent is here not to annoy us or to make less chocoholics in the world for 40days. It is here to draw us deeper into God’s grace.

Like this past week’s Gospel, we see Jesus get into Simon’s boat and instruct him to go out into the deep. That is what Lent is about, God taking our boats out into the deep. The catch is, we have to be willing to let him in the boat. To tell us where to go. And to follow His guidance.

Sacrifice without a purpose is like a boat without a rudder.

If chocolate is a true addiction which harms you, your family and those around you, then by all means give it up. It is a means of distracting you from Jesus, absolutely, throw it out the window. But if you do, don’t walk around groaning and mourning the loss of your precious sacrifice.

What is the point of sacrifice? In life, it is often to show love. We give things up so others around us won’t have to.

Example: My son has been saving up for everything PAW Patrol. He earns money and he pays me for his newest item once he hits the set price. The price I set is at least half of what the item actually costs. I want to give him things but I want him to earn them. I love seeing his face light up when he earns something new or when I surprise him with a ‘raise’ because he has been such a good boy.

I give up the money I have saved to buy PAW patrol things that I know he probably won’t care about a year from now.

Why?

Because I love him, I love his little face, I love seeing him jump up and down and get so excited. I love the hugs, the broad smile and giddy laughter. I-love-him. I give up sleep for his baby sister, I give up my food to his little brother and I give up some of my material wants for him. Why? Because I love him. The sacrifices don’t seem so bad when I think about the person they are for.

This is no different then Lent. Why do we give things up or go out of our way to do more? Because we love Jesus. Period. If we love Jesus we will want to give more, lose more, pay more, etc. Because He is worth it.

So, no matter your chosen Lenten sacrifice, just make sure of one thing: You’re doing it for the one you love, for Jesus. Because no matter what you chose, you won’t be able to out do His Lenten sacrifice-the Cross. He gave His life for you. Give Him your twix, your coffee, your cigarette, your spare change, your unused clothes, your attentiveness, your extra prayers, your time. This Lent, get to know Jesus!

Joyful! Joyful! We Adore Thee!

I will be honest with you…I’m a pessimist. It’s true, when I look at a glass it is usually half empty, it is always partly cloudy instead of partly sunny, and no, I don’t see the silver lining.Lincoln

Despite this negative trend I am a happy person. Happy. But not joyful.

Have you ever met those people who are so full of joy that you would swear that they never had a bad day in their life? You know, those people who have the broadest, biggest most infectious smiles that you can’t help but smile along with? Those people who can’t seem to contain the inner joy of their hearts that outshines every inch of darkness of their day? I don’t understand these people yet I am oddly and irreversibly attracted to their beauty like a mosquito to a bug zapper.

It is only getting close to these beautiful souls that joy is uncontrollably zapped into me.

And then for a brief time I feel like they do. And I’m not going to lie, joy is great.

It is a deeply rooted beauty that bubbles up inside my heart that longs to become a permanent fixture of my life. Yet, Johnny Raincloud inevitably returns and I’m back to being me.

The Gospel readings of the last few weeks of Mass from the beginning of Advent to now have focused on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. We had Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, the Presentation and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Like many, these readings seem routine. Yeah, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary traveled to visit Elizabeth, Jesus is born yadda yadda, prophet says some stuff and then Jesus is lost then found. Big whoop.

Whenever we are ‘bored’ as Catholics we need to slam on the spiritual brakes. Because boredom means we missed something.

 

minion of boredom

So, let’s throw our spiritual cars in reverse and look at these events again.

These 5 Mysteries of the Rosary are called Joyful. That in of itself is interesting. Why? Because they show that there there is a distinct reason that God chose Mary as His mother. Put yourself in her place.

First, the Archangel Gabriel appears.

In Scripture, Gabriel only appears at the most vital, integral and pivotal points of change in Israel’s history. When he appears, it means something HUGE is about to happen. The Gospel of Luke opens with Gabriel appearing twice. First, to Zechariah (husband to Mary’s cousin Elizabeth) who is offering the prayers of the people to the Lord inside the Holy of Holies. It is here that Gabriel appears and tells him that his prayers have been answered and that his wife will have a son. EPICALLY HUGE!

His job as a priest was to offer the petitions of the entire country. He was there to pray for their return to God’s grace, redemption, forgiveness and the worldwide kingdom and blessing promised Abraham, etc. And Gabriel says his prayers have been answered: your wife will bear a son.

Jigga what?!

Did I miss where it said he slipped in a prayer for he and his barren wife to have a child?

Nope.

Gabriel doesn’t stop there but goes on to say that his son will be named John. He will not drink wine, be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will go before him like Elijah and he will prepare the way for God’s chosen one (Luke 1). To the ears of a Jewish person bells would be ringing. Gabriel is saying that John will be set apart, like a Nazarite (check the old testament for others like him) and he will be a prophet like Elijah (HUGE!)

He will prepare the way for the Messiah. In the Eastern Rite they refer to John the Baptist as the ‘Forerunner’.

So, Gabriel has just set the forerunner in motion.

Now it is time for the Messiah.

From there, Gabriel goes onto appear to Mary–the mother of the Messiah.”Hail, full of Grace. The Lord is with Thee”, he tells her she will bear a son who will be conceived by the Holy Spirit. And Mary replies, ‘fiat’. An unreserved and joyful ‘YES!’ to God’s proposal. And yet these are called the Joyful Mysteries…

It is Joyful, right?!

Would you be joyful?

I’m pretty sure if this had been asked of me, these would not be called the Joyful Mysteries but the ‘Mysteries of Worry’ or the ‘Anxiety Mysteries’.

My Persepective:

Annunciation: Angel Gabriel–Hey, I know you haven’t moved in with your husband yet and you’ve consecrated yourself to God as a virgin but you have been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Don’t worry though, you won’t conceive Him through human means but through Divine Grace. Me: Haha, yeah right. Oh, you’re serious?

Visitation: “Mary! My son is a prophet and is leaping before you like David in front of the Ark of the Covenant! He’s going to be the King…aka take on the Roman Empire.” Shoot. That’s not going to be easy.

Nativity: I’ve just traveled for this many days, on a donkey, nine months pregnant and there is no room in the freaking inn? And now, this child, conceived by the Holy Spirit is coming, yeah, great, why not?

Presentation: “Lord, we dedicate our Son to you.” Simeon, “This is the Messiah!: Me: Wohoo! Simeon: he will be a light for the Gentiles. Me: Wait, the promise of Abraham being fulfilled? Uhh, wow. I’m the Mother of the Messiah…Simeon: He will be a sign spoken against, he will divide the nation. Me: Wait, what? That’s not good. Simeon: And for you, Mary, a sword will pierce your heart.” Me: Should’ve seen that one coming.

Finding of Jesus in the Temple: “I lost who?!”

So, how is it that these are called the JOYFUL MYSTERIES?! Two things: the events themselves and also Mary’s ‘Yes’. Many people growl at the rosary because they believe Mary is too overemphasized. That Mary scores 10 Hail Mary’s and Jesus only gets mentioned in the Glory Be. On the contrary, as always, Mary points onward to her son. The mysteries themselves revolve around the crucial points of Christ’s life. Just like when parents get to see their first positive pregnancy test, it is an incredible moment. It is a memorable event.  That is when Christ’s life on earth began. The events of the rosary, especially the joyful can be traveled through the eyes of a mother watching her Son grow in a very unique way. (I will explore the Hail Mary more in the next post)

Mary’s response to God’s joyful proclamation that the time of the Savior had come was one of joy. In my mind, this only furthers the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin or concupiscence (our tendency to sin thanks to the Fall of Adam and Eve). She did not begrudgingly give her consent to God’s request for her to be the mother of His Son. She didn’t ask for some time to think about it or go ask her close friends for advice. She did not look at herself, she did not see fear or worry, she saw only God’s will.

Mary yields freely without fear and full of joy. Because through her the Messiah would come, Israel would be restored, Gentiles would be converted and God would dwell among His people once more. She saw Jesus’ life with joy. It is her perspective and joyful response that set into motion the other joyful events heaven had in store–the events that would lead to the redemption the entire world.

The rosary allows us, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, “contemplate with Mary the face of Christ” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 3).  And that is precisely what I will do in the following posts!