Monday, January 25, 2010

Using Your Charisms

Wow.

This post on Intentional Disciples has rendered me mute from the influx of awe. I am, however, managing to post it. A teaser snippet:

All of us, whether we’re students in college, or attorneys in the midst of lucrative careers, need to ask if we’re doing what we were created to do – which is to ask whether we’re fully alive.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We are Saved in Community

I had great intentions of writing lots regarding the octave of Christian Unity, but a computer failure on Tuesday changed those plans. So it goes! Here are some posts I wrote last year.

Today I was musing over some memories I thought I'd like to share. Tonight's homily by Deacon Mike focused on how God's plan of salvation entails us being saved in community, not as solitary individuals. These memories have something to do with that.

The first is actually a dream I had many years ago that stayed with me for years as a sort of formative paradigm at the time I was coming into the Catholic Church. In this dream I was being asked by someone what I would like to eat. After a bit of thought, I requested a piece of pizza. "Really? Just a piece of pizza?" the voice inquired. Ok, I said, how about a whole pizza. A whole, large Domino's pizza, with lots of toppings. It was like the wildest possible thing I could imagine to satisfy me. Surely a whole pizza would leave me stuffed. The voice asked me "Does it have to be that?" No, I answered, somewhat puzzled. You did, after all, ask what I wanted... At this response, my grandfather entered the room carrying a very large container, something like a long feeding trough, full of beef stew. Suddenly I found myself at a long table set for many people, full of steaming homemade food.
Whether I realized it mid-dream or not, clearly the shift in my thinking was from self-satisfaction to being part of something wonderful and big that was meant for lots of people beyond myself. I once had a concept that salvation was about me squeaking out of this life, safe with Jesus. At best, other people were supposed to see me with Jesus and want to get their own pizza, too. I was being introduced to a whole new reality where salvation meant belonging to a people.

Which reminds me of another memory. Roughly one year after I became Catholic my friend Ann and I went to a Pentecostal camp meeting that we had frequented in the years before. I remember wanting to go just to verify whether or not I was missing anything. Would I feel I was suddenly coming in out of the cold? Like I was eating delectable food I'd longed for? I remember the registration area. The woman who helped me was impeccably dressed, extremely gracious, "God blessing" me and as smooth as silk. She was like the image of holiness, in the sense that I had come to know it in the pentecostal/holiness movement. She, and everyone else, had their parts down well. The conference was nice, but I felt rather disconnected from it.

On the way back home, Ann and I stopped off at a Catholic charismatic conference, as I wanted to make this process comparative. We came in at an odd time for only part of the weekend, so again I remember the registration process vividly. The woman helping us there was an older nun in full habit. She didn't really greet us, but was crabbing and complaining to the man with her that nothing was in the right place, and how was she supposed to do this job without the things she needed, how could she find keys for our rooms, etc. etc. Perhaps it sounds ironic, but my heart welled up warm with the thought "I'm home!" It was clear this nun was not exuding any plasticine sense of holiness. She was a grump, but she was showing her real self. Faking me out wasn't even occurring to her. Moreover, I knew I was a lot more like her than the other woman I'd encountered. This was my home; a place where I could be myself, warts and all. Ahhh....

When I first started attending Mass I was firmly in the plasticine camp. Outer religious looks were very important, and I honestly thought they meant something. Something good, that is -- like other than a mask to conceal all sorts of rot. I had a very hard time looking at regular ol' Catholics and realizing they apparently had absolutely no concern or desire for the plasticine holiness that had been my pursuit. Between hardships like being alone in Japan and the pain of infertility, over the course of years I slowly forgot about the value I had put on trying to have the right religious looks. Accepting people as they were no longer came painfully to me.

However, I realized about a year ago that I had held a residual fear about having become a Catholic. Issues of truth never gave me the slightest doubt or worry since my initial conversion. But I had held a residual worry that I would never witness bona fide holiness, real transformative love for Jesus, among rank and file Catholics. I could accept Sister Grump, but I longed to meet St. Bernard of Clairvaux. No, I longed to meet Christ. I knew that Christ was present in His Church and had been through the ages, as witnessed to by the fiery love of God expressed in people like St. Bernard. Subconsciously I had always sheltered myself among "certain groups," whether converts or charismatics or intellectuals or religious orders or movements, where I felt Jesus was more certainly found. But when I had initially encountered Christ in the Catholic Church it wasn't in the midst of any of these. It was in an everyday parish. Looking for him again there was something I'd taken only baby steps toward in the 15 years I'd been a Catholic.

And then, when I first was experiencing the shock of joining my parish choir, what struck me was that this was the verification that the full deal promise of Catholicism was actually true: Jesus was really present among regular folk who had absolutely no interest in "appearing holy" in the way I'd once learned to. Certain of our good choir folk don't always have the most pious mouths. There's no faking anyone out evident at all even though we are all so different. And yet (I keep trying to stop myself from thinking that this is a contrast instead of a direct corollary) grace flows through these good folk. This grace has blessed my life tremendously, and indeed has worked healing in me.

I am so, so grateful for my family in the Church. That includes Sister Grump and yes, even the plasticine brethren. We are not perfect, let's face it (even when we think we are). But we are loved (even when we think we are not). If we are faithful to His love, we will love each other in return. Just the way we are.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Wine

This morning, with my husband being off for the holiday and my children being asleep, I had the chance to attend Mass by myself. While it is nice to go as a family, somehow my ability to focus and concentrate rises exponentially when I arrive in a timely manner and both my mind and body can be quiet and undisturbed! In these times it seems every word that is uttered or sung seeps in to me like water to a dry, weary land.

And the readings today did not disappoint. "Obedience is better than sacrifice." "To the upright, I will show the saving power of God." "New wine is poured into fresh wineskins."

The first reading of course reminded me of the old Keith Green song: "To obey is better than sacrifice/I don't need your money I want your life..." "You pray to prosper and succeed, but your flesh is something I just can't feed." Now, ol' Keith had a harsh, cutting edge to his songs, but perhaps for this reason they still hold an appeal for me. He spoke especially to a certain subset of the Evangelical Christian culture of his day. But hearing this reading today with that song in my mind allowed me to see the proper "cuttingness" of Saul's words to Samuel, and God's words to my heart. I can want all sorts of lovely Christian things in my life, I can fulfill all sorts of roles, make the right noises and have the right associations, but if I am doing them as a cover for ignoring simple obedience to God, it's all garbage. Not a speck of it is going to impress God, and I delude myself.

This matter of new wineskins had me thinking about priorities in my life, in conjunction with that simple obedience. I am not an overly structured sort of person; I don't keep a rigid schedule, nor do I make short- and long-term goals and review them at regular intervals to see how I'm doing with my action steps. I'm more of a "live with purpose and meaning" type person who thinks a lot about that purpose and meaning. What I'm describing is really a sort of structure, but it is more global or "circular" instead of linear. But regardless of what type of structure makes my life go around, I realize I am liable to difficulties if I don't take stock of my life with a bit of objectivity from time to time. One difficulty I fall into is this matter of my priorities morphing to fit the amount of time I spend with or on various facets in my life. For example, there have been times in my life when I spent a lot of time on the computer, and therefore the things I did while on the computer became high priorities in my life. There have been Yahoo! groups that I've needed to leave simply because of a lot of meaningless chatter with people I didn't even know was becoming far too important to me. And what a revelation when one needs to be without a computer or without internet for awhile! You know what? Life actually goes on with out it!

My poor husband tends to be victim in another way. He is gone for long hours every day, and my life is consumed with home and children and all thing things buzzing through my head. Here is a clear example where the priority I make of my marriage has to be much, much higher than the actual time I have to invest one-on-one with my husband when he's home. Because frankly if I don't have that priority straight, ain't nothing else gonna work in life anyway.

God intends for me to be transformed:

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)
What I am gleaning is this: God is not in the business of taking the lovely things away from my life. I've worried far too long that God was like that, and He's just not. He is all about me taking very seriously the gifts and grace He has given me, however. Nothing may be allowed to choke the basic vocation He gives me, and I need to examine everything not on the basis of how pleasant or unpleasant it is, but on how it fits with my vocation. Of course, I must continually strive to understand the fullness of what my vocation is (and by this I don't only mean being married, I mean the vocation to follow Christ in the time and space I occupy and the person I am). Obedience to God always ultimately leads to the fullness of happiness. I can trust that He has only my good in view, and my happiness. It is SO much better than me dreaming up schemes by which I "sacrifice" all sorts of things to improve myself and save the world. (What a laugh!)

You Are Witnesses of These Things: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity


Once again it is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.




Here's an appropriate prayer for the beginning of this week. (lyrics)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Memento


Today my daughter decided to clean off the bulletin board in her room. Once upon a time I had tacked several things to it that I had kept as mementos, and she'd never really noticed them as her bedroom evolved from the guest room to her own.

This birthday card was from my father in 1998, the year that my husband and I were engaged. If I hadn't appreciated and cherished this, I wouldn't have tacked it up to stay in my view. But it also seems true that appreciation only grows as our hearts grow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Penance

Penance has been a theme for me of late, and today I read this section from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1430-1433.


Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (Cf. Joel 2:12-13; Is. 1:16-17; Mt. 6:1-6, 16-18)

Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one's life, with hope in God's mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give a man a new heart (Cf. Ez. 36:26-27). Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored!" (Lam. 5:21) God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced (Cf. Jn. 19:37, Zech 12:10).

"Let us fix our eyes on Christ's blood and understand how precious it is to his Father, for, poured out for our salvation, it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance." (St. Clement of Rom, Ad Cor. 7.4: PG 1, 224)

Since Easter, the Holy Spirit has proved "the world wrong about sin," (Cf. Jn. 16:8-9) i.e. proved that the world has not believed in him whom the Father has sent But this same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion (Cf. Jn. 15:26; Acts 2:36-38; John Paul II, DeV 27-48).

Friday, January 08, 2010

Grace, and Homilies in General

I guess homilies are really sticking with me these days. Today's memorable homily was by Fr. David Morrier, TOR. He spoke from the reading in 1 John about how grace is like gravity or like wind: you can't see these things directly, but you can see their effects. The effects of grace that are evident in our lives from being with Jesus? Cleansing, healing, empowering.

Once again I look at my experience, and what Fr. David said rings true. We are cleansed: sin is removed, uprooted from my life. We are healed: grace puts back in working order that which wasn't working right before. We are empowered: grace doesn't stop with me "just surviving" but moves me to do things for the good of others.

You know, there is a completely different feel between a Catholic homily and a Protestant sermon. I think this is why many Catholics who encounter Christ in a Protestant setting leave the Church bewildered with the sense that no one is "feeding" them. Homilies sort of require us bringing our experience to Scripture within the context of the Church, so they collaborative in a way, and not meant to just fill empty cups and passive minds. It seems though, that what is direly needed is the basic teaching or catechesis that already informs us as members of the Church. Here is a nifty guide that can be used for reading the Bible and the Catechism through in a year, which might be very handy for adult Catholics who find themselves drawn to Protestantism to help them understand the Christ they have met.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Dignity of Being Causes

I really love the blog Intentional Disciples. I want to keep more current with reading it as things are posted. But just this morning, I came across this December 27th post entitled The Second Eve and the Dignity of Being Causes, on which I could stand to meditate for a good long time.

Here are a few snippets:

Why does God give certain charisms only to a few? For instance, if a few people having the gift of healing is a wonderful thing, why not give the gift to millions? Of course, we don’t know why God distributes the gifts the way that he does. Such questions are natural and intriguing but they can distract us from a far deeper mystery: why does God bother giving us any gifts at all? ...

Why delegate any real power to us to affect things for good or ill?...

Why does God insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes? And not just causes of trivial things but of ideas, decisions, actions, and movements whose consequences ripple through the lives of million over the centuries and right into eternity.

When we ask such questions, God does not respond with an answer. Instead, he gives us a mystery: the Incarnation....

God does insist on raising us to the dignity of being causes. If this is true, how many people's lives and salvation, how many communities, organizations, families, and cultures - history itself and its eternal significance - hang in the balance on the life choices of ordinary Catholics?

What possibilities in the year ahead are contingent upon my choices, your choices? Our listening obedience to God's voice through the Scriptures and the Tradition, the prompting of the Holy Spirit or the guidance of our guardian angel?
Why does God delegate real power to affect things for good? Why has a certain kind of real power touched my life? What do I do with it? This has been my pondering, and seeing it put in print by someone else makes me sit up and take all the more serious notice of the questions.

Check out the whole blog here and the associated Catherine of Siena Institute here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I listened to a homily that was blistering, amazingly descriptive of the last year of my life. Why was it blistering? I guess because it described the actual events my soul had experienced. The homily knew me. My experience is part of The Experience of Christ, and someone was testifying to that. And the person who had been so intimately connected with that experience of mine was sitting to my left, behind me. And I was surrounded by others of the community where this experience had become real. Deacon spoke of experiencing Christ in and with the others in our parish. And there I was, in the midst of my parish, in the midst of the people through whom I've experienced Christ, near especially that one person to whom I'd tried to describe what had happened over the last year. So real. Liturgy. This is where life happens.

At first I sat still with my eyes closed. Then, I opened them. I began to rub the back of my hand with my thumb. Then I began scraping the back of my hand with my nail to the point of breaking my skin. I tapped the kneeler with my shoe. One, then two tears ran down my cheek. Then maybe a half dozen more. I let them run. The homily was like being at the feet of Christ and listening to him say "Yes, I know who you are." My body was struggling to find a way to contain me as my heart also leapt toward Him in response.

Deacon talked about the need we have to risk. Man, I feel that risk, and I've felt it. Nothing abstract there. He talked about how we all help each other, regardless of where we are in our individual journeys. About how necessary it is that we bear witness to each other, and how essential it is for us to see the face of Christ in each other. What did I write in my letter: I've seen in you what I have desperately needed to see: the human face of Christ. I used the word desperately. That's a risky word. In between all of Deacon's words what struck me is how totally obvious it is, objectively speaking, that beholding the face of Christ is about beholding love. This is what Christians are to be known for; it is basic to who we are, it is basic to Christianity, yet it is like that water to the one dying in the desert, like food to the starving, it is the craving of every human heart, and isn't it incredibly risky to speak of it? I wonder if I speak of it only when and because I cannot really take it in. When I take it in, it becomes ineffable and majestic in its power and I cannot speak. It is like standing on the precipice of life and death, and knowing that I am safe in life. This is risky stuff. But I have spoken of it and there it is; now I have to grow into what I have spoken.

Yes, that's it; I have to grow into what I have spoken.

(Is this why in the Old Covenant, speaking the name of God was not done? It is so amazing to speak of a God Who has a name.)

And at the sign of peace, as those words were spoken to me, perhaps they never meant more: "Peace be with you, Marie." Christ's peace, extended to me through Christ's brothers.

Ineffable.

The Feast of Ephiphany

The Three Wise Men by James Tissout


They risked their lives; they started out over the desert. They knew what they were seeking was worth it, but how could they have known how worth it it would be?

We must risk our lives, too. We are called, but we must choose to respond.

We travel together, and the lived desire of one to seek can inspire others to do the same, far more than lectures about how it is the right thing to do.

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Homily

Last night my family attended Mass together to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Our pastor's homily has stuck with me. From the readings, he proposed some simple things for us to keep in view for the new year:

  1. Bless people, especially those who present you with difficulties
  2. Appreciate and live out the freedoms we have, especially the freedom to pray and to worship
  3. Ponder the mystery of Christ present in your life
It isn't uncommon for me to poo-poo homilies that aren't exactly profound theological meditations. But I realize that living the gospel is far more valuable than pontificating upon it or being intellectually dazzled. The dazzle part comes in living it!

This is My Commandment: Love One Another

On the first of every month, Our Lord gives Anne a new message about His call to service.

January 1, 2010

Jesus

There are many different ways to communicate love. One of the ways that I communicate love to My apostles is through My constant presence. I am in each moment, in each day, offering you My heavenly companionship. I offer you a constant stream of love which heals and reassures, which steadies and directs. When allowed, I can help an apostle to adjust his viewpoint to My viewpoint, which is very different from the viewpoint of one who has either forgotten about My presence or rejected My companionship. With this viewpoint comes calm purpose. The days flow past, one by one, and My will flows through each one of you who has accepted My presence. You do not see big changes at your hands. Perhaps you wonder if your cooperation is helpful at all. I assure you today that if you were to reject Me tomorrow, My kingdom would suffer. Without you, I would have one less home for My great love on earth. Each time I use you to love another, I feel gratitude. My gratitude is a force for change in the lives of those around you. You are gaining graces that only heaven can understand. Only heaven can see how an action of grace is stored in waiting. This grace surrounds each person you intercede for and at a moment when it is possible, meaning that heaven sees the opening, that grace is utilised to protect and advance the soul. Dear apostle, serving heaven so steadily, leave all of your difficulties to Me. Abandon yourself to My providence completely. Serve with discipline in this moment and I will care for your loved ones. I am using you for the purpose of love and I want to use you even more fully. When you become discouraged, please sit with Me and I will help you to grasp the limited nature of your vision. Concentrate on My will for your day. Concentrate on remaining in the present, connected to your service in each moment. Avoid being trapped by the past and avoid being drawn into a future on earth which may not include you. You do not know when I will come for you. But I am with you now, as you read these words, and I have work for you today. Look, together with Me, at what I am asking of you and together we will be a successful force for love. I crave love from you. When you trust Me and reject fear, I am delighted. Calm, steady service is what I require from My beloved apostles who seek to serve Me. Be at peace. I am with you.