No H8ers – why all the H8?

You keep using that word...Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or avoiding ALL forms of media, you may be aware that Central Texas has been a hotbed of debate over abortion recently. A catheter and brightly colored sneaker sporting single mother who chose life has been heralded as a ‘hero’ for enacting a nearly 14 hour filibuster to prevent the passage of a bill that would prevent abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would ensure that abortion clinics had the same surgical care requirements as your local Lasik location. The bill that would protect women seeking an abortion from dying from things such as a perforated uterus was considered ‘anti-woman’. In the end, the bill wasn’t passed because of a wild disruption in the gallery of the Senate that prevented the vote from taking place prior to midnight (it was passed 19-10 at 3 minutes after midnight). ‘Democracy’ shouted those who prevented its passing.

What became clear while watching what was happening at the Capitol was the amount of anger on display – but not by those wearing the blue shirts. Reports of the chants of ‘Hail Satan’ are widely known – but there was much spitting on and harassing of those in blue shirts by those in orange. What I don’t understand is the anger?

Last night I came across a retweet of a tweet from Dan Savage. I was initially struck by his negativity and anger – oddly, I decided to go to his Twitter feed and began reading his other Tweets. Many had made the one I initially read look happy and glee filled.

Rather than simply accepting that there are those who disagree with his lifestyle, Dan Savage has become what he hates. Or, perhaps he always has been what he hates. His story about being bullied and treated poorly because of his life choices is both sad and compelling. He has, however, lost his way as a role model in his anger and vitriol. Here are some samples of Tweets from a man who preaches no H8. Warning – vile and graphic language.

And celebrating his porn contest:

This is the man that President Obama and the White House celebrated and promoted as part of their support of the ‘It Gets Better’ project. After reading some of the Tweets above, I’m perplexed as to whether it really has gotten better for Dan Savage or whether he has become stuck in the place of an embittered and unhappy human being who spends his life feeding on the negativity that he and others so openly, willingly and widely spew.

How is it that he cannot see how he has become the very thing he hates? Perhaps he does, but he doesn’t care because he sees himself being paid very handsomely for doing so.

So very very sad. A man in need of prayers.

Slip slidin’ away – the ‘un’ definition of marriage.

Last week many in the country and around the world celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the unconstitutionality of the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’. The court’s overturning of this legislation opened the door for legalized same sex marriage around the country. Much celebration ensued as a result of this decision as no more could a ‘spouse’ be defined as a part of a heterosexual couple.

blueisblueWhat many (most?!) are failing to overlook is that the removal of the definition of marriage between a man and a woman means that there is *no* definition of marriage. A change in definition is a removal of the original definition which, in turn, means that the definition is not static but is fluid. As such, it is not enough for those who believe in ‘marriage equality’ to decide that ‘equality’ *only* applies to them. Once the door of ‘discrimination’ is opened it cannot be arbitrarily closed.

The courts have ruled that it is a form of discrimination to refuse to allow same sex marriages and allowing the door to open on states to pursue this option again. So what does that mean for marriage? If same sex marriage is permitted and it is discrimination to refuse ‘equality’ to those who wish to marry someone of the same sex – then what happens when polygamists go to court to argue that they are being discriminated against? If we have decided that marriage no longer means a relationship between a man and a woman, then – technically – any form of ‘marriage’ must now be accepted or face the risk of being discriminatory.

Think it sounds far-fetched? Not so much…

The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.

And what happens when parents and children decide to marry each other? What about 6 women and men deciding to ‘marry’ one another? Would it be okay to discriminate against those who believe that they should have the right to marry in the previous examples?

‘Oh, that would never happen.’ Would most discussing the idea of same sex marriage 50 years ago have believed that we would be redefining marriage at this point in time?

The Truth About The Truth

Today’s first world culture has access to information at our fingertips. In the blink of an eye, we can search for answers online and obtain clarity about just about any subject on which we have question. That isn’t to say, however, that we can’t also find erroneous answers and misleading information in our search for the truth. Thankfully, there are enough solid and credible sources available that the truth is very easy to find – and quickly! With that in mind, we have to stop and wonder why we live in a world that seeks existence in a virtual reality that seems, at times, as far as one can get from the truth. Our experience also tells us and has dictated that the further we live from the truth the more complicated life becomes.

If we believe that God and His plan for the world through the divine natural order He created is the core of truth we can see perfection. Nature is built upon perfection – the ultimate truth. Step outside your front door into nature and you will see a marvel of harmony among plants and animals. Step a little further into the desert of Africa and you will see the perfection that exists in the miraculous cycle of life. Lions eat the smaller mammals which have been grazing on the grass. What remains of the smaller animals are left for the predatory birds and even smaller animals which pick the carcass clean. The remaining carcass dries in the sun, decomposes and becomes nutrients for the soil. The rains come and, with the sun and the nutrients from the decomposed animals, feed the soil  so that the grass can grow and feed the smaller animals so that they can grow, reproduce and feed the lions etc… Its a perfect cycle of harmony in nature. All of nature was designed to exist in this perfection. We have, however, in the ‘genius’ that is man’s brain come to believe that we are smarter than the God that created this and stepped in to add our own ‘perfection’ to nature – which, has, of course set the harmony off kilter. Rather than stop what we are doing to ‘improve’ upon the perfect, we add something else to the system in order to ‘fix’ what we had added to ‘fix’ what wasn’t in need of fixing in the first place.

John Harrison's H1 TimepieceThere is a wonderful analogy that can be found in history when looking back at John Harrison’s life work in the 1700s. Harrison was a carpenter who had a proficiency for making and repairing clocks in his spare time. He developed a thorough understanding of the intricacy of keeping time and spent the better part of his life working on a project to solve the problem of how to keep time while at sea in order that one could properly calculate longitude and allow ship’s captains to correctly asses their position on the globe. Harrison built several timepieces and put each of them to the test of a voyage at sea. What he discovered was that there were elements at sea that he might not have considered – for example, types of movement that he couldn’t replicate on land – and that the timepieces would lose time during the course of the trial rendering them inaccurate. When he returned from the trial, Harrison would modify the timepiece somewhat and test it as best he could on land and then return to sea for another trial when he felt the timepiece was ready. What often happened is that the adjustments were subtle or additional pieces needed adding or modifying in such a way that it became difficult for anyone other than Harrison to understand how the timepieces functioned. After some time, he would eventually learn enough from one timepiece that he would begin a new timepiece based on what he had learned with the previous. What he finally discovered was the perfection in the pendulum and he was able to create a small enough timepiece that was efficient enough to be used at sea.

What we can see in Harrison’s experience is the idea that there is an ultimate truth – in his case, the pendulum – but that the further we stray from the simplicity of the truth the more complex the situation becomes until we no longer understand how complex we have made it because we have added so many variations to its existence and it no longer becomes efficient or workable. In our attempt to achieve our own worldly ‘perfection’, we have looked at various situations with our limited worldly knowledge and attempted to identify every single permutation but have failed because we cannot see the divine plan which takes into account all the intricacies of God’s creations.

Take, for example, the recent situation of the lesbian couple that sought a sperm donor through Craigslist. They decided that since they were unable to procreate on their own, but wanted a child, they would find someone to provide ‘the seed’. They hired a lawyer to draft an agreement with the donor such that he would relinquish all responsibilities as a father. All parties involved signed the agreement and the ‘donation’ took place. Fast forward some time and the couple split up with only one of the women retaining custody of the child. She fell on hard times, found herself unable to work and sought welfare from the state. The state, after some time, decided that it shouldn’t have to provide the sole support for the woman and her child, and sought assistance from the ‘donor’. But wait, didn’t the donor relinquish all rights to look after the child? Yes, he did. But the letter of the law specifically states that a contract such as that could *only* apply in the case where the ‘donation’ was made through a medical office. Since they had not involved a medical practitioner – the terms of the agreement didn’t apply and the state had the right to sue the father for support on behalf of the child even though the mother and the child didn’t seek support from the father and disagreed with the state lawsuit.

Ultimately, if we look around us in the world is that the further we have moved from the natural order in all aspects of our lives, we have added levels of complexity to the law in order to accommodate the ‘un-natural order’ and have failed to predict each and every permutation that may exist. As such, our legal code – and cultural code – has become increasingly complex and difficult to comprehend. It has also, at times, conflicted with itself.

Not only have we added to the complexity of life in our desire to live out our own truths rather than a fundamental ‘real’ truth, but we have allowed ourselves to become blinded to the ‘real’ truth and we have become accepting of those things that are clearly outside the realm of ‘truth’. In short, we allow ourselves to be lied to – repeatedly. One would think that with the access to truth available at our finger tips that we would become ‘smarter’ or more enlightened. To some degree that has happened making it harder for us to be ‘lied’ to but we continue to allow it to happen in some cases, and in others we simply don’t like the ‘truth’ so we choose to follow our own ‘truth’.

9weekfetus

Consider the issue of abortion. It has been 40 years since abortion became legal in the United States. Since that time, over 50 million unborn children have been killed inside the womb. In the early 1970s we could behave as though we did in the 1950s when we didn’t talk about ‘those kinds of things’. We referred to it – and still do – as a ‘choice’. It was very easy to overlook the reality of the situation when we didn’t have access to information that confirmed what we already knew – that the life inside the womb was a baby. Its easy to ignore that truth when you don’t have to look at or see the truth. Today, however, we know the biological truth. Science has confirmed that at the moment of conception a new life begins with its own unique DNA. Ultrasounds have confirmed what life inside the womb looks like from a very early stage. We know that by 9 weeks a baby inside the womb has all of its vital organs and simply needs time to grow and mature in order to prepare for life outside the womb. Technology has advanced such that we are able to save children before 40 weeks of gestation and we know that they are able to live with specialized care outside the womb as early as 24 weeks. We still, however, permit abortion in some states as late as this and – in some cases – even later.

Why do we do it? Its because we ignore the truth or because we are lied to. Abortion clinics and organizations like Planned Parenthood refuse to tell the truth. They train their workers to use words like ‘fetus’ or ‘blob of tissue’ to refer to the life inside – anything to avoid telling the mother that its a baby. Their explanation is that they do this so as to not upset the mother during a time of a ‘difficult decision’. There are many who walk through the doors of an abortion clinic who do not fully understand biology and truly believe what they are being told. They are in a clinic and are with ‘experts’ who they can trust. These women don’t yet believe or know that the life inside is a baby and many of them report being horrified after their abortions when they see an image of what their baby would have looked like inside the womb at the time of their abortion. What they see in the images contradicts what they had been told at the abortion clinic. They had not been told the truth.

On the other hand, there are those who say “I would never have an abortion myself, but I respect a woman’s right to choose.” What does is really mean to say that? Instead of using the words ‘abortion’ and phrase ‘right to choose’ – let’s use the description of what that word and phrase means and expand on what that phrase is saying.

“I would never intentionally terminate my pregnancy by the removal or expulsion from my uterus through surgical or pharmaceutical means a fetus or embryo, but I respect a woman’s right to choose.”

We’ll keep going and break down the words until the sentences are full descriptions.

“I would never intentionally terminate my offspring developing in my body by the removal or expulsion from my uterus through surgical or pharmaceutical means a human being with its own unique DNA structure in its earliest stages of development either before the first 9 weeks of being carried in the womb before birth or an unborn human being with all of its vital organs fully formed and simply needing time to grow in order to survive outside the womb, but I respect a woman’s right to choose to intentionally terminate her offspring developing in her body by the removal or expulsion from my uterus through surgical or pharmaceutical means a human being with its own unique DNA structure in its earliest stages of development either before the first 9 weeks of being carried in the womb before birth or an unborn human being with all of its vital organs fully formed and simply needing time to grow in order to survive outside the womb.”

That – complicated as it sounds – is the truth. It is the truth based on the definition of the words used within. Note the words ‘offspring’, ‘human being’ etc… all those terms are the ‘truth’. If abortion really is an acceptable ‘choice’ – then why are we unable to tell the truth about it to the women seeking that ‘choice’? If we can’t tell the truth about it, then perhaps its not an acceptable choice and we shouldn’t be permitting – much less encouraging – women to seek out that choice.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. - Arthur Schopenhauer

We need to work toward being a culture of truth and being courageous enough seek out and follow truth in our lives. The truth is at our fingertips should we choose to seek it out and we sell ourselves short if we think we don’t know when we are being lied to and allow ourselves to submit to the lie. We have the ability to change our culture for the better if we stop and examine that which is being fed to us on a regular basis through the media and other sources and pause to ask ourselves on what truth is it based? And if it isn’t based in truth, then we need to ask ourselves why.

Robbing Myself of Joy

joyAs a woman, I try very hard to maintain ‘control’ over my life. I’ve written about this – repeatedly. Its very difficult to try and maintain order amidst chaos of running a household without some element of ‘control’. I recently wrote about my attempt to instill the virtue of ‘meekness’ in my life. Its not very easy.

I had the blessing of being able to bake biscotti with the Dominican Sisters recently. They are an amazingly joy filled group of women of which I am still trying to determine exactly how I can abscond one or perhaps all of them to come and live at my home. Of course, that’s not the answer nor is it possible. I know that I must be a source of joy for my family. Ultimately, their joy must come from within, but – as a mother – I must be an example for joy by revealing the sources of joy to them.

While baking biscotti, I talked with Sr. Maria about my virtue paper I had received on the weekend of the retreat. She explained to me that meekness isn’t necessarily what we believe it to be, but truly means ‘having an appropriate response’. We didn’t have much time to delve into that further, but I appreciated her insight into the definition. It had given me much food for thought and I have contemplated it during my day to day activities since that encounter. One of the most ‘appropriate responses’ to any given situation is joy.

Over the holidays it occurred to me that I had ‘lost’ my joy. Its funny, but we forget that we are capable of joy until we experience it – even if only momentarily. I had realized this because of two experiences when I felt true joy – one was with theDominican Sisters baking biscotti. The other was during the Liturgy of the Eucharist during a Sunday morning Mass. It was the Sunday morning of my retreat weekend with the Dominican Sisters.

I had returned home on Saturday afternoon and went to Sunday Mass at our local Parish. During the Liturgy of the Eucharist while on my knees in prayer waiting to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, I felt a joy in my heart that I had never felt before during the Eucharist. It was a feeling as though I might burst inside at the excitement and anticipation of receiving our Lord and Saviour. I looked around and saw everyone looking so serious as they filed their way up the aisle to receive the Holy Eucharist. It dawned on me that, while quiet contemplation and humility are appropriate responses to preparing to receive the Eucharist – so is joy. I could barely contain myself. My face almost hurt from smiling so wide. That feeling has returned during subsequent Masses, though not as intensely as that very moment. It was a beautiful gift of grace from God to reveal the love and joy He wants for us to feel and can receive through the power of the Sacraments.

Sadly, I allowed myself to be robbed of joy over the holidays by what was a less than appropriate response to something entirely beyond my control. We had travelled to be with my husband’s family and were looking forward to visiting with them as it had been some time since we had been together. Our little family hadn’t been back to visit for a major holiday since the passing of one of his sisters in May, 2011. It was a bit of a milestone for us. One of his sisters had suggested hosting a lovely Christmas Eve dinner at her home. His parents had booked a photographer for early that afternoon in order that we might have family photos done since everyone would be together. Again, another milestone since the last family photo we had included his deceased sister just months before she passed. On the morning of Christmas Eve, we received an email from his sister hosting the dinner to advise that she had left town with her family to be with her husband who was away on business and unable to return for Christmas. She wanted to surprise him and take her kids to be with him. The email indicated that they had just landed and she was sorry for any inconvenience it would cause.

My response – I was livid. I was over the top and almost out of control livid. My anger completely overtook me – and I let it. In the middle of an absolutely crazy month of projects, I had done all of our Christmas shopping and wrapping early in order that we could pack everything and take it with us to his family’s Christmas. While we were only traveling for a few days, I packed for my kids and myself and took care of all the necessary details for our road trip. I did this with a sinking feeling in my heart because all I really wanted to do was stay at home and be in our comfortable little abode. I have been feeling anxious and overwhelmed with managing the work on my plate and the details of Christmas and planning a trip nearly put me up over the top. Needless to say, when I heard of part of his family’s decision to leave town without advising anyone after the efforts we had made – I felt utterly betrayed.

‘How could someone invite someone to come and spend the holidays and then leave after they arrived – and without telling them?’

I was ready to pack up the car and head home. I was a mess. My kids were upset at seeing me upset so I packed myself up and went out for a drive trying desperately to figure out how to pull myself together. I drove around looking at Christmas decorations. I even went to the Mall to try and find Christmas spirit there (not exactly an ideal choice on the day before Christmas!). I finally felt marginally acceptable to be around and decided to return to my husband and our kids at his parents’ home. I turned to prayer. I was so closed off to receiving any gifts of grace at that exact moment that even God couldn’t break through my armour of anger. I was still highly volatile and really not ready for prime time. I hadn’t yet been convinced I was even going to participate in the family photos. What was the purpose? Not even everyone was there!

When I returned, I saw the sadness in my daughter’s eyes and realized that I needed to get it together. I had allowed my joy to be robbed and it was robbing her joy. I was being entirely selfish and entirely inappropriate in my response. Yes, I had reason to feel angry – but I had no right to allow it to consume me such that it would destroy how everyone else was feeling. We were all disappointed and sad. I picked out a present from under the tree for my daughter to wear so she’d have something new and pretty for our dinner.

We ended up at my sister in law’s house for the photos and dinner. We did what we could to make the best of it. We took our family photos with our marginally sincere smiles and we enjoyed the company of those who were there.

Had I been a bigger person – or perhaps a little less overwhelmed to begin with – I might have responded in a way more in keeping with the idea of ‘meekness’. It was a great lesson in ‘joy’ because it was a moment where I allowed myself to be robbed of my joy. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of our Lord and Saviour. I had lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. I had lost sight of my children and what Christmas meant to them in the excitement of seeing their cousins again. I had lost sign of what it meant to my husband to be with his family who were still there. I had lost sight of what it meant to be ‘meek’ and allow myself to feel joy.

The beautiful thing is that I have been able to reflect on what I have learned and it has provided me a reminder of being aware of those things that can bring joy – and hopefully be reminded to not rob myself or others of joy in the future. I stop and look at my beautiful children and find joy in their laughter. I look at the beauty of my surroundings in nature and find joy in the canvas that God has painted for me to look at. Perhaps most importantly, I can attend Mass and experience the joy that comes through the gift of grace received in the Eucharist.

‘Thy will be done.’

Some weeks ago, on Election Day, our parish offered last minute Eucharistic Adoration for the day. We only offer Adoration on Wednesdays every week, but a special request was made as it was Election Day and our Priests very kindly agreed. Given the anxiety, I decided to go – not once, but twice – that day. I went for a short while in the afternoon to offer up prayers. Admittedly, those prayers were for what *I* wanted the outcome of the election to be. Sort of a ‘request’ of God.

As the day progressed and turned into evening, I felt more anxious and sick to my stomach than I had in some time. I couldn’t watch the returns and was determined to entirely tune out the mainstream media as they’d already made their preference for President known for over four years. Our family ate dinner and I felt overwhelmingly restless upon finishing. I had not signed up for a specific hour of adoration, but decided to go back to the Church again and stay as long as needed in order to return to a place of inner peace.

I should clarify and note that the place of ‘inner peace’ had been missing for quite some time. Several months in fact. Perhaps even as much as a year. It had become particularly bad as I was finding myself suffering regular bouts of insomnia where I would wake in the middle of the night with my mind racing through roughly as many topics on Wikipedia and doing so at the speed of sound. To make matters worse, I would drift back to sleep sometimes only minutes before needing to wake up for the day. These sleepless nights weren’t regular – but they were consistent.

I did what any good Catholic would do during times such as these… watch TV or go on the internet. I would pray now and then, but only very briefly. It wasn’t anything deep or meaningful and ended up being more rote than anything. I’m not entirely sure what I was trying to accomplish other than I knew that someone – likely my husband – would ask me in the morning, ‘Did you try praying?’. Of course – other than saying the ‘Our Father’ and some other prayers in a very rote and meaningless way – I hadn’t.

As I made my way into the Sanctuary, I thought about the craziness taking place in the country that day and how much it was contrasted by the calm and quiet at our Church. There were several people already there and they were those whom I would expect to be there praying.

I knelt down on the floor at the end of the pew. The stone floor felt cold and hard but the light was warm and the entire mood inviting. I prayed for God to guide me. I asked Him to share with me for what He wanted me to pray. I moved off the floor and made my way into the pew and knelt along the kneeler. I could feel Jesus’ presence so strongly that night. I took my rosary out of my purse and began to pray. I listened quietly to the intentions that God placed on my heart and began to realize the importance of prayer as a moment of conversion.

Yes, God wants us to pray. Yes, He wants to hear our petitions. But He also wants for us to  be moved in our prayer. He wants for us to experience ‘conversion’ and to move away from ‘my will be done’ and move towards ‘thy will be done’. None of our prayers come as any surprise to Him. God always initiates prayer through an offering of grace. It is up to us to receive that grace and act upon it. He wants us to spend that time in conversation with Him and not only share with Him our petitions, but to listen to Him speak to us in the silence of our hearts.

I saw the beauty in this so clearly during my prayers on this night. Instead of praying for one candidate to win over another, I prayed for a return of our country to His will. I prayed for our country to turn its eyes back to Christ and to accept Him into our lives and to let Him lead. Of course, He’s given us all the grace that each of us need to do that. He *wants* desperately for us to love Him and share our lives with Him, but we – as a nation – have decided that *we* know better and that our time here on earth is more important than our time spent in eternity. We have become the result of the instant gratification that we have been sold through mass marketing.

My prayers that evening became God’s prayers for us instead of what *I* wanted. I could see within myself, at that very moment in time, the conversion that was taking place during that period of meditative prayer. I listened still and quietly and heard God speak to me over and over and over again through the thoughts he placed in my mind and on my heart. I didn’t write it down at the time, but it is clear as day in my mind and I’ve already begun to act upon it in several different ways. I hope to continue to be able to do so as the days pass.

What was, however, the most powerful experience for me was His leading me in prayer. As an ‘organized Mom’, I have difficulty letting go of being in control – its counter to what society tells us we need to do! I learned that if I was willing to let go and let God be in control, even if it was just leading *me* in prayer, beautiful things happen and we experience His grace and His mercy. We can experience the beauty of conversion.

All the grace we need.

One of the ways in which I know God is trying to talk to me is when I see or hear the same message over and over and over and over again. I say that He is ‘trying’ to talk to me because often times it takes a good smack upside the head for me to pay attention. He is, however, always there and always speaking to each and every one of us.

The message to me of late has been about ‘grace’. As I look back in recent times, I see moments where the idea and concept of grace is placed in front of me on several different occasions, but in my infinite stubbornness – I refuse to acknowledge or see them.

The trend started with my husband noting – repeatedly – that everything is grace. As a wife, I – of course – thought, ‘Yeah, yeah honey… everything is grace. Pass the peas please.’

God, however, was trying to make a point and I wasn’t seeing it so He spoke a little louder by having one of our sessions of ‘Catholicism’ by Fr. Robert Barron speak about the ‘Communion of the Saints’ of which my biggest takeaway was that the saints were virtually overflowing with grace. It was a beautiful reminder of His intention for ALL of us to become saints in our lives here on Earth.

The Catholicism session may have been a reminder, but apparently I *still* wasn’t getting the message so He spoke a little louder and sent me on a 24 hour retreat with the Dominican Sisters of Mary. It was their very first retreat here in Central Texas and I knew virtually nothing about it until after I registered and even then I was still fairly in the dark only looking up where the retreat center was the morning of the day I was to drive to it and discovered it to be much further away from home than I had thought! I had received the agenda only a day or two before the retreat was to take place and discovered that it was to be centered around the theme of – you guessed it – grace!

While on the retreat, each of the women were given a little gift from the Sisters. It was a sheet of paper on which a particular virtue was written. They had given them to each of us with the idea that we could meditate on them for the next 24 hours we would be together, or even for the entire Advent season. The little sheets of paper were all placed in a basket and passed around among the women who had been told that they could either search for a virtue in which they knew they were struggling, or perhaps leave it up to the Holy Spirit. Working hard to let God be in the driver’s seat, I decided to it be a Holy Spirit moment and closed my eyes and picked my paper out of the basket. My virtue – meekness. I am an organized control freak to put it politely. I knew that the Holy Spirit was calling on me in a big big way. That little sheet of paper which may have seemed like such an ‘insignificant’ gift may have been one of the best gifts I have ever received. It serves for me a constant reminder of my need to trust in God and His will.

Over the weekend, Sr. Maria noted that

God gives us enough grace in each and every day to become a saint.

Tonight I had a beautiful example of God’s grace and my need to focus on meekness – as well as the way in which we are able to see God’s unending and merciful love in a lighthearted and humourous way as we accept the grace that he unceasingly bestows upon each and every one of us.

This evening our Parish held out Advent Reconciliation Service. As we arrived at the Church I had an organized Mom moment and thought that we should find a place close to the one of the confessionals as we arrived so that when the mad rush to line up for the various Priests scattered around the Sanctuary took place we would already be seated in a primo spot and would be in line! ‘Brilliant’, I thought. God, however, had His own ideas. And I’m pretty sure he was looking at me and thinking of that slip of paper I’d received this weekend with the word ‘meekness’ on it – and laughing. Not in a spiteful way, but in a knowing and fatherly way that said ‘Oh, my dear, how quickly you forget.’

As the various Priests were introduced and our Pastor noted where they would all be located, I realized very quickly that he went through the entire list and didn’t say who would be in the confessional to which I had so ‘brilliantly’ placed my family. No, he hadn’t said it would be because there would be no Priest in our confessional. A name was posted on a sign on the window, but that name had not been called and was clearly not going to be there. This, of course, led to a mad dash across the Sanctuary to get to another line… and hopefully a short one. The one that I *thought* was short had nine people ahead of us. Because I am ‘organized Mom’, I did the math in my head and estimated that it would be on average between 5-10 minutes per confession – leaning more toward the 10 minute average which would see us there for roughly an hour to an hour and a half. Of course, there were several behind us in line – so we wouldn’t be last.

During the course of our waiting, I spent time reading and also reassessing my calculations regarding how long we would be waiting.

‘There are many young people ahead of us in line. They don’t like to be in there very long.’ I thought. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so long after all. I looked around the Sanctuary at the other lines and saw people who had come into the service late and were already in the pews praying their penance.

‘Ugh’, I thought, ‘I was here first.’

I realized as I stood in line that, while I had just been to confession on Friday, I might build up enough sins just standing in line with my children to be able to have enough to confess again myself! As the evening progressed and the lines got shorter, people bounced from line to line trying to find the one that would move the most quickly. I, of course, didn’t pick quite so well. People behind us left our line and moved to shorter lines. They came back after their confession and told those still waiting behind us that they had already made their confession and fulfilled their penance. Even my daughter jumped ship for a faster moving line with her friends.

In the end, it came down to my son and I and one other person in line behind us. I noted to her that there was still a Priest in another room nearby and that while he was with someone at that moment, there was no one waiting. She noted that she really wanted to see the specific Priest for whom we had been waiting in line.

In went my son in front of me. Then I went in. My son was very patiently waiting for me when I finished. My husband and my daughter had left a little earlier as she had homework to do and I didn’t want her to have to wait around needlessly and then be up late.

As I picked up my books and purse off the floor where my son had been sitting, I looked up and out around the Sanctuary. It was empty. Absolutely and completely empty. I saw one other Priest who was getting up from his spot and getting ready to leave. As I stopped and looked around, I laughed. I saw the humour in God’s gift to me.

I had spent the early part of the evening ‘planning’ for how we would get in and out of there quickly and easily. Didn’t happen. I then spent my time in line feeling frustrated and trying to figure out how long we would be there. For the record, we were there longer than I had anticipated. The Service ended at about 7:25 and we left at roughly 7:20. We had waited for two hours.

There is a saying that goes like this:

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.

Tonight’s experience couldn’t have been a more perfect example of this idea. I envisioned God above looking down and chuckling at me thinking, ‘You just don’t get it do you? You are NOT in control.’

As I stood in line with my two children – both of whom were incredibly patient – I began reading ‘The Better Part’ written by John Bartunek LC. Its a wonderful book on prayer. On one of the pages he notes

Mass media stimulates the surface of the mind, but the constant rapid flow of images and information militates against going deeper. Meditation provides a respite from frenzied mental stimulation and gives the soul a chance to simply love and be loved in the intimacy of spiritual embrace.

I thank God for the many graces He provides including the the many reminders of where He is calling me to listen and grow, and especially for the opportunity provided through the retreat to stop, slow down, listen and be willing to receive His unlimited supply of graces – and then through His love and mercy this evening give me that gentle and light-hearted reminder that I need to carry over what I learned while on retreat to my day to day life.

Dear Kids of the United States

Dear Kids of the US,

On behalf of the adults in this country, I’d like to apologize for our role in messing you up. It occurred to me to today that if you listened to the government we elect, you’d have no idea what we expect of you.

As of this year, we have new ‘anti-hunger’ federal guidelines that limit your high school lunches to 850 calories including 2 oz of protein which has left you – well, hungry. While we have told you we don’t believe you can manage your food intake, we have also told you that you can obtain sterilization (without a co-pay!) at age 15 without parental consent (of course, your parents will likely find out when they open their health insurance statements).

At 16 you are old enough to careen through town in control of a vehicle weighing thousands of pounds, but not old enough to legally obtain alcohol. At 18, you are old enough to vote and sacrifice your life for your country by joining the military, but still not old enough to legally obtain alcohol. We tell you that at 25 you are old enough to represent us in the US House of Representatives, but you are still considered a ‘child’ according to health insurance laws.

In municipalities like New York City, no one is permitted to buy soft drinks in sizes larger than 16oz and schools are not permitted to administer pain relief such as Tylenol to children without parental consent. So, if you have a headache and they can’t reach your parents, you’ll just have to deal with it. The school can, however, help you if you think you might be pregnant by administering ‘the morning after’ pill to children as young as 14 without parental consent.

On behalf of those to purport to be ‘adults’ in charge. I do sincerely apologize.

Christ knows we are capable. Why don’t we?

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a dear friend about self-confidence and self-doubt. The world is full of individuals who have tremendous amounts of doubt in their abilities –  its both sad and disheartening. We are products of our surroundings and our upbringing, which can be both good and bad. Children raised in a home with unconditional love and given the opportunity to thrive grow up to be loving and confident adults. Those raised in homes with little to no love and made to believe that they are incapable of achieving certain things or that its not worth it to try because the obstacles are insurmountable are the victims of a great injustice – they are taught not to be confident. Worse, they are taught not even to try and never have an opportunity to feel the satisfaction of success. Conversely, there are those children out there who are coddled to such lengths that they never experience the opportunity to fail. From the heartbreak of failure comes learning.

We learn best when we don’t achieve our goals. Watching the London 2012 Olympics is a beautiful example of this idea taken to its extreme. The men and women from around the world who have travelled to compete in London are the best of the best. They have achieved their goal of competing at the very top of their game. They didn’t, however, get to London without some degree of failure along the way. Listening to the stories of the athletes, time and time again we hear the idea that someone barely qualified or someone had lost several races prior to their local qualification. These athletes have learned from their failures. They have felt the heartbreak and pain of not succeeding. They have taken that experience and used it to modify their training or their performances such that they might instead succeed the next time.

Aside from being struck by the sheer number of athletes who very publicly professed their Christian faith and thanked God first in their post-win opportunities to speak, it was inspiring to see cross after cross around an athlete’s neck or see them make the sign of the cross before competition. The idea that these Christian athletes would be successful or that many of the athletes would be Christian makes perfect sense. I had never put two and two together before and thought about the idea that as an athlete one needs to believe in their ability to push beyond seemingly insurmountable odds and push themselves to their fullest potential in order to achieve their goals. One has to believe that within them exists the ‘perfect’ athlete, but they have to work to find that deep within and that it is by the grace of God that they are able to identify what is required to bring that perfection to the surface. Making the sign of the cross before competition or thanking God first after competition is a recognition that it is God who gave them the ability and that it was through His graces that they were able to find it within and work to express it to its fullest.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. – John 15:16

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about going to hear Matthew Kelly speak. He told a beautiful story about Michelangelo carving David from a slab of imperfect marble.

When asked about the statue, Michelangelo noted that he had not carved David, but that God had helped him chip away the excess stone in the block of marble so that David could be revealed – but that he had always been present inside the stone.

Christ knows that within each of us is our own beautiful self – just like David inside the block of marble. Doubting that beautiful self exists is a doubt that God did not create us in His image, which – in turn – suggests that we think that God is somehow imperfect.

God doesn’t make junk.

Our faith in God as infinite love and infinite perfection is a pathway to our believing in ourselves and our own abilities. While we may not be able to create the universe or exist across all space and time, we sell ourselves short by suggesting that we can’t do something or we can’t try something. It is our worldly upbringing and those with whom we surround ourselves who convince us that we are something less than what God created us to be. If one believes in God as all-powerful and that He created us in His image, then it is not a stretch to believe that we too can be powerful and capable human beings if we take the time to stop and pray for God’s graces in helping us to find those gifts and talents within.

Let us today and everyday take time to pray for those who have been negatively impacted by those around them such that they may open their heart to God’s graces, find that beautiful self within, and trust in God to be there with them as they find the courage to move forward with the God given gifts they have received.

Just shut up and listen.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book I picked up at Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma called ‘Praying the Bible – An Introduction to Lectio Divina‘ by Mariano Magrassi. Its a wonderful book in which I hope to learn more about ‘praying’ the Bible instead of ‘reading’ the Bible. Its been wonderfully informative thus far.

This morning I spent some time reading the chapter on Concrete Dispositions in which Magrassi talks about preparation for Lectio Divina. One of the dispositions on which he focusses is ‘Dialogue’ about which he explains that the reading of scripture is a dialogue between two people – God and the reader.

When I read, he speaks to me. When I pray, I respond to him. (p. 78)

What struck me, however, was the reminder that God speaks to us first.

The whole Bible stresses the primary of the divine initiative. Augustine says that we would have not sought God if God had not first sought us. It was not Israel who chose God, but God who chose Israel. Speaking of love, John observes that it was God who first loved us. The same must be said of that primordial reality, the Word. God is not only someone who listens to me. Before that, he is someone who speaks to me. The Word is the act by which he takes the initiative: he seeks me, enters my life, takes hold of it and molds it through the power of his love. It is, in a way, the central point of God’s intervention in human life. Our history becomes sacred the moment he intervenes in it.

As I read this, I felt a pang of personal ‘guilt’ as I realized that I have stopped listening to God recently. Its not that I haven’t been ‘praying’ per se, but my prayers have not been a dialogue with God. Over the past several years I had been very good at listening to God and maintaining that dialogue, but more recently – I’ve been doing all the talking.

It struck me that I’ve become somewhat stunted in my spiritual growth in the same way a child or young person can become stunted in their own maturity. As children grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them, they come to a point where they believe that they know what is best for them and that the things that we – as parents – have to say are very ‘nice’ but not entirely necessary. They are kind suggestions, but they need not be taken to heart or given serious consideration as the child believes that they know what is best for them based on their own experiences. It hit me right between the eyes – I have become that child of late.

Its not so much that I don’t follow the 10 Commandments or respect and fully love my faith. I know that the 10 Commandments were not called ‘commandments’ and not ‘suggestions’ for a reason. My spirituality, however, has shallowed somewhat in the sense that I have been going through the motions but without any real or deep intentions. I have continued to believe and practice – but the practicing has been lacking at best and fairly non-existent at the worst.

Does that make me a fraud for trying to write a blog about being a Catholic convert? No – quite the opposite. It makes me a human being on a real and true faith journey in which one will not always be fully immersed in their beliefs to the fullest extent possible. I need to be fully honest about where I am on my faith journey at any given moment in time and know that I am not alone in these experiences.

Thankfully, however, God had us spend a couple of nights along our vacation journey at Clear Creek Monastery and had me stumble upon this wonderful book so that he could give me the good whack up the side of the head that I needed. The whole book has been wonderful reading and has me very excited to return to my Bible with an eager and open heart and prayerful mind, but this chapter in particular has helped me to stop and consider where I most need to modify my behavior.

Too often, God is seen only as an object of faith. All I have then is a set of truths to memorize, rather like dry grammar. I cannot enter into communion with the living God. No, he is first of all the subject of the relationship. God ones to meet me and addresses me through the free and sovereign initiative of God’s love. Then for me, as for Abraham, God has a face and a voice. God called me by name and speaks God’s Word to me. And I fall on my knees before God like Thomas, with a cry of faith, “My Lord and my God.”

With regard to prayer in particular:

… the two participants are the soul and God; the initiative must belong to God. What he says must matter most. We could even say it is the ONLY thing that matters. Thus prayer is first of all listening – listening to someone who speaks in Scripture.

Magrassi explains that prayer that does not begin with the Bible is inconceivable. Here is what I had been missing entirely – I had stepped away from my Bible. This hasn’t been an intentional act, but one that had simply ‘happened’ through the basic acts of ‘life’. Fr. Larry Richards is known for saying

No Bible, no breakfast. No Bible, no bed.

I had always thought that this was a nice discipline, but didn’t understand – until now – the considerable importance summed up into that simple statement. I had thought it something one should ‘do’ to be a good and faithful servant, but had no real understanding as to ‘why’. As I read the chapter in ‘Praying the Bible’, I realized that prayer and the Bible go hand in hand which led me to understand why I had felt a spiritual void. My morning prayers in the Magnificat had been put by the wayside recently meaning that I have had no daily connection with Scripture. I am abundantly aware that this has to change.

Scripture is a letter. Unlike a book, a letter always bears a personal message.

In my own life, I had put aside the importance of reading the personal letters that God wishes for me to experience as part of my faith journey – not just read, but fully experience.

On a larger scale, however, I was also struck by the idea that we, as a society, have stopped listening and have become stunted in our growth. We have decided that we would prefer to life perpetually in a state of childhood whereby we insist that we know best and need not consider that there is a power greater than ourselves that set out to love us first, as our parents love us, and guide us to a greater joy and happiness than we could know if left to make our own decisions without experience or wisdom. One only has to glance at the world around us to realize that we have made a conscious decision to stop listening.

Thankfully, however, I had an opportunity to stop, shut up and have listen to God by reading the book he placed before me and recognize its intention for me as a gentle nudge back onto the path in which he knows will lead me to a more peaceful and meaningful existence. It may not always be ‘easier’, but it will be the one that God intends.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

… and don’t hesitate to remind me to shut up and just listen.