‘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.

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.

St. John the Baptist and Religious Freedom

Today is the Feast of St. John the Baptist, otherwise known as the Jesus’ cousin and the man who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Today is also the first Sunday of ‘Fortnight for Freedom‘, the two week period of prayer, study, catechesis and action regarding the threats to religious freedom. How fitting that the Feast of St. John the Baptist would be celebrated during this Fortnight as St. John the Baptist epitomized the importance of religious freedom and what can happen when an all too powerful government dictates what may and may not be acceptable in terms of religious expression.

St. John the Baptist was first described to us when Mary first goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, upon courageously and obediently saying ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel when he tells her that she has been chosen by God to bear His son. In Luke, we are told

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

The baby to which the passage refers is Elizabeth’s son, John. We learn from various writings that John was a bold man who preached the truth. He lived as a hermit in the desert and was known to be somewhat eccentric. Some time around his thirtieth birthday, he began to preach fervently about the importance of penance and baptism for the forgiveness of sin – even baptizing Jesus. His following grew and grew and was a great threat to Herod Antipas. John was never one to shy away from truth and honesty – and never one to be quiet about sharing this in a very public way. As such, John spoke openly against the adulterous and incestuous marriage of Herod to Herodias, the wife of Herod’s half brother Philip. Herod had John arrested and imprisoned for speaking out against him. John’s life ended at the wish of Herodias’ daughter, Salome, who requested his head be served on a platter to her mother.

While the conditions of St. John the Baptist’s death differ from the threats to religious liberty we face today, there are similarities that can be drawn here in the US and along the lines of what Christians around the world – particularly in the Middle East – face as a result of publicly expressing religion. St. John the Baptist told the truth about Herod and Herodias. Herod didn’t arrest St. John the Baptist only because of what he said, he did so because Herod was a threat to his power and St. John the Baptist had an ever-growing ministry of followers who turned toward truth and honesty and disavowed corruption.

The recent HHS Mandate in the United States which requires that individuals, companies, hospitals – and everyone other than a Church – pay for and provide health insurance plans that cover the free distribution of contraception, as well as include coverage for sterilization and abortion inducing drugs. The only organizations exempt from this mandate are organizations that serve ONLY people of their own religion. The US Council of Catholic Bishops noted that even Jesus wouldn’t qualify for exemption under the requirements as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services.

As a result of this mandate, 43 different religious organizations have filed suit against the Department of Health and Human Services (ironically, headed up by a professed pro-abortion Catholic, Kathleen Sebelius). Many believe the lawsuits are about contraception – but they aren’t. The lawsuits seek to argue that the Department of HHS steps beyond the bounds of the US Constitution by declaring the definition of ‘religious expression’. The US Constitution States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The First Amendment declares is that a) Congress may not establish a religion (keep in mind what had been happening in England at the time the colonists left to settle the United States) and, equally important, b) that Congress may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. The second part of the statement is extremely broad and what the current lawsuits are using as a basis to fight the Obama Administration and the Department of HHS. Perhaps the best example describing this violation is Marc Barnes’ description he provided here:

The free exercise of religion is violated both by what you take away from a religion, and by what you force a religion to do. If members of a religion are forced by the government to perform actions contrary to their beliefs, they are no more free than dogs.

The second part of his first sentence is key – you violate the free exercise of religion not only by what you take away but always what you FORCE THEM TO DO. In this case, religious freedom is being violated by forcing individuals and organizations to pay for and offer products and services (purchased from a private entity!) against which they have a moral obligation.

Thankfully, we have a court system in the United States against which we can file a grievance and hopefully resolve the issue in a peaceful manner. Following the news in the Middle East and Northern Africa, one can see that we are truly blessed to live in a civil democracy in which religious freedom is, for the most part, respected. We must pray during this Fortnight for Freedom that we continue to be blessed with religious freedom and that our brothers and sisters here in the US understand the importance of awareness and action in keeping our religious freedom safe. We must also pray for the expansion of religious freedom to those Christians currently persecuted and dying as a result of the expression of their religion.

We can all benefit from taking a moment to asking St. John the Baptist to intercede on our behalf for an expansion of religious freedom around the world, as well as a strengthening of religious freedom here in the US. After all, St. John the Baptist knew first hand what happens when the government is free to dictate the definition of freedom of expression.

Its never okay.

Last night before going to bed I read online of the guilty verdict of Jerry Sandusky who was found guilty on 45 out of 48 counts of sexual abuse of 10 young boys over a period of 15 years. What happened to these young men was horrific and inexcusable. It appears that the jury was convinced of the charges and the evidence must have been overwhelmingly convincing. Sandusky deserves to serve the time he will receive at his forthcoming sentencing. No amount of time served, however, can undo the damage done to the young men at his hands.

Here in Texas, we have had several incidents recently where teachers have been arrested in possession of child pornography. Several are listed below:

Texas Junior High Teacher Suspended After Child Porn Arrest

Feds launch teacher child porn inquiry

And reported this morning in the WSJ

Msgr. William Lynn who served as secretary for clergy in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004, was found guilty on Friday of one count of child endangerment for allowing a priest to take a new assignment involving contact with children after learning of allegations that he had engaged in inappropriate contact with at least one minor.

None of this behavior is acceptable on any level. We must, however, pray for those who have perpetrated as difficult as it might be. We must pray for Mr. Sandusky and for the producers of the pornography. We must pray for their healing – particularly for those who have not yet been caught so that that might cease their behavior and avoid preying on more and more children. Studies have shown that those who perpetrate are by a great majority individuals that have once been victims. This doesn’t mean that everyone who is a victim of sexual abuse goes on to be a perpetrator, but those who have been victims have a much greater risk of becoming a perpetrator later in life if counseling and healing has not taken place. While I have not read anything indicating this to be the case, it is highly likely that Mr. Sandusky was, at one time, a victim of childhood sexual abuse. It is also likely that those producing the child pornography were also victims of childhood sexual abuse at one time. In the case of the teachers, some might argue that the teachers didn’t actually produce the porn, but by possessing it they are complicit in its production by partaking as a consumer of the horrific products.

In the case of Msgr. Lynn, we must also pray that the Church and all of those in positions to protect our children – school administrators, youth ministers etc… be mindful of their responsibility to keep our children safe and to report suspicious behavior.

We must pray for those children whose lives have been changed forever by this behavior. Please pray for their healing from the scars – both physical and mental – that have been caused at the hands of others. Not only do they deserve our prayers for healing for their loss of innocence, but we can also pray for them that the seek the necessary tools to assist in their healing such that we can end the cycle of abuse that exists within society.