Catholic Girl Journey

Trust like Tweety

Question: If you could describe yourself as any cartoon character what would it be and why?
My answer: Tweety Bird, because he’s always happy.

I was reminded of this question and answer exchange that occurred early in my career during a mock interview. I remember my colleague laughing when I began my answer, but afterwards, she agreed, especially since I had a habit of encouraging people to smile or ask if they were having fun (at work!). I asked that question again to myself recently and thought about the character of Tweety Bird and if the answer would still be the same.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched any Looney Tunes, but what I do remember of Tweety is that he was always looking at the bright side of things. He had this way of trusting that everything would work out. His nemesis Sylvester the cat, on the other hand, was always scheming to get Tweety and always failed. But no matter how many times Sylvester tried, Tweety never seemed to get angry or be upset with Sylvester, he just trusted that everything would work out. While I originally described Tweety as always happy, I think it was more; it was a joyful spirit.

Since the beginning, God has been asking us to trust Him, teaching and encouraging our total reliance on Him. All throughout salvation history we see evidence of those who have trusted and those who have failed, either for a moment or a lifetime. It continues to be a challenge for everyone today. But if we live a life trusting, that even in the difficult moments or those that seem like the only result will be a bad one, by trusting in God and embracing the difficulties, we can live a joyful life and move through those moments.

I may not always be as trusting and joyful as Tweety, but I do try to practice total trust in God. Some days it’s a lot easier than others, but practice makes perfect. I think I would still describe myself like Tweety, not because I’m exactly like him, but that I aspire to his character traits of trust and joy.

Catholic Girl Journey

The Lord is my shepherd

Most Christians are familiar with Psalm 23 that states, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack.” (Ps 23:1) Jesus identifies Himself as a shepherd of His people (John 10:27-30). But do we really allow Jesus to be our shepherd, and everything that it entails?

A common perception of a shepherd is one who watches over a flock. Either sitting or standing around all day seems like a rather boring job. Many see God in a similar way, just hanging around watching us from His far, distant throne in heaven. And while a shepherd does need to watch, it’s an active job that requires one to be alert at all times and from all directions. For a human, it can be tiring to constantly be both watching and listening, ready to spring into action to defend the flock from predators, or to rescue an errant sheep that has gotten into trouble, like being caught in brambles or turned upside down and struggling to right itself. Jesus is just as eager, if not more so, to jump in and provide assistance when we are in need.

One of Jesus’ directions to Peter was to feed His sheep. How does a shepherd do that? By herding the flock from one pasture to another. Sheep can eat quite a bit of grass and if they stayed in the same place, there wouldn’t be anything left for them to eat! Are we attuned to our shepherd when He calls us to move from one pasture to another? Or do we get so comfortable with our surroundings, that we dig our heels in and refuse to move?

People often think of sheep as a dumb animal, due to its flock mentality. However, being part of a flock and sticking together is actually the sheep’s best defensive move. When predators come to the pasture, the sheep will band together and run; any sheep that is not in moving with the flock becomes easy prey. When we sin, we move the way we want to, doing our own thing. Yet that is exactly what Satan wants, as a scattered flock is easier to prey upon. As the Church, we are Christ’s flock and we need to band together when we are faced with evil and run to Jesus, trusting that He will guide us away from every threat.

A sheep listens to his shepherd and follows his commands, trusting it will be kept safe and well fed. As the flock of Jesus, do we listen to Him and trust in His ways? Do we feed in the rich pastures He provides, or do we wander away seeking our own food?

Psalm 23 indicates that we will need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet we are not to fear it, but trust that the Good Shepherd is leading us to greener pastures.

Catholic Girl Journey

Need for proof

While Thomas is most famous for doubting the resurrection of Jesus, from the beginning to today, people seem to struggle to find proof of God, not just once in their lives, but multiple times.

When the Israelites first left Egypt, they rejoiced to see the power of God, especially with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. They walked on dry land as they crossed the bed of the river. And when the river returned to its normal flow, proof of the miracle was the Egyptians who got caught and drowned. God had waged war against Egypt with nature and won. It didn’t take long for the Israelites to forget this amazing feat. As Moses was meeting with God, the length of time grew long and the peoples decided to build a golden calf to worship. After coming back to Him and receiving the 10 Commandments, their memory continued to be short-lived as they grumbled about not having food to eat in the desert. Yet God did provide both fowl as meat and manna as bread.

Ironically the Jews of Jesus’ time reference the manna as proof of what a prophet of God can do. Even with all the people He cured of various diseases and the feeding of the thousands, they still wanted a sign. Perhaps something otherworldly as proof to believe in Him. It may be a bit easier to excuse the people who may have encountered Christ for a few days, but when Thomas, an Apostle who traveled with Jesus for several years and saw all the miracles, we expect more from him. In reading the Gospel account, it was not enough for Thomas to see Him, or even greet Him with a kiss. Thomas wanted to be sure it was the same Jesus who died on a cross and specified that he wanted to put his finger into the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side. But when Jesus appeared before him, Thomas doesn’t even seem to need to probe the body of Jesus; His resurrected body was proof enough.

No matter who you are or how much time you spend with God, there will be times when we are challenged in our beliefs. Before we ask God for a sign, we need to look back in our lives and see the miracles that He has bestowed on us. The next step is to acknowledge that He knows what are needs are, and to help us through the situation so that our actions can bring glory to Him. It is a step not just in faith, but also in trust. This is an opportunity of growth. When we trust God, the need for proof is diminished. God’s ways are not our ways, and He does want us to grow in faith and trust in Him. So, in the next unexpected situation, instead of demanding proof He is with us, ask for an increase in trust. And don’t be surprised if God, in His generosity, grants you the signs you need as proof that He is walking with us.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Overstimulated

I’m finally in my new home in Virginia, and my cat Vera never ceases to both amaze me and teach me. There have been numerous transitions recently: packing to donate, packing to paint, painting all the rooms, packing everything else, driving to Virginia, staying with my sister for a few weeks, and finally moving into the new home. It’s very easy for anyone to get overwhelmed, but impossible to explain to a small furry creature who loves routine.

While staying with my sister and her family, I first kept her in the bedroom, with the door shut. Even in such a confined space, she would hide, first under the bed and then behind the decorative pillows. As she got more comfortable, she was allowed the run of the upstairs as a gate kept her from venturing down into the dogs’ territory. During the rare times of quiet, I would be surprised to find her in one of her hiding spots. I didn’t realize until we moved into our new home, that hiding for her is a natural reaction to being overstimulated. Within the first 20 minutes in the new house, I thought I lost her amongst the sea of boxes. Instinct told me to look under the sofa, and there she was. The next day she would explore for awhile and then retreat to her hiding place. I finally saw her pattern, as much as she loved watching the birds or exploring our new home, it was too much stimulation for her. She had to stop and rest; it was programmed into her nature.

This recovery mode from being overstimulated, especially during this Easter season, has me thinking about the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection, always in small doses and to select individuals. After being with Jesus for three years, this may have been confusing for His Apostles. However, Jesus was in His glorified body, and it was a lot to handle; His disciples would have quickly been overstimulated. Since they had a mission from Jesus, it was important to have enough time with His risen self so they could be witnesses.

Even today in our own relationship with Jesus,  there seems to be times when He withdraws from us. We may call them tests of faith, but perhaps they are just recovery periods He provides us, so that we don’t get overstimulated to the point that we can no longer be effective witnesses to Him. While we don’t see His presence physically, He may shift the way He is with us, and since we can’t see it, we may think that He’s not there. Just like when the Israelites were in the desert and He changed from a pillar of cloud to a pillar of fire, He will never leave us — nor make us hide under the sofa.

Catholic Girl Journey

Making the unbelievable real

The Easter Vigil is a feast for our senses with the candles for our sight, the incense for our smell, the bells for our hearing, and the holy water for our touch. While the liturgy is also much longer than a regular Mass, it’s not just the addition of the extra items that causes the length, but the in-depth review of our salvation history.

Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was both fully human and fully divine. His human form existed at a particular time in our linear world history. His teaching during this time, and especially his Passion, Death, and Resurrection that is celebrated in the Easter Vigil, illuminates the relationship God wants with each and every one of us. The sacred fire and the candles are the physical items we use to illustrate Jesus as the light to the world.

We listen to multiple readings from the Old Testament, starting with the story of creation. This is the very essence of matter mattering, as God creates the whole physical world in all its detail. God pronounces each of His creations good and initiates a relationship with all.  The second reading is about the sacrifice of Abraham and how he trusted in God to provide, to the point he was willing to sacrifice his son to Him, until God spared Isaac and provided a suitable animal in his place. This is a foreshadowing of what God would do for us, only He does not spare His Son, but rather allows Him to die a physical death in order to conquer it. In hearing the reading from Exodus, we hear how the Israelites passed over dry land while the waters of the sea became like walls to them, but to the Egyptians, who pursued them with the intent of returning them to slavery, God allowed the water to flow back and nature to be His army, clogging the wheels of the chariots so that man and beast drowned. We are reminded that God will triumph and He is always present in our needs. Additional readings from the prophets may also be proclaimed, as they tell the story of Israel, to whom the Savior was promised, even though they were not always faithful to the covenant they shared with God.

It is only after the Old Testament readings are completed, that the Gloria is finally proclaimed, not just with words, but sung out and complemented with additional instruments of praise, including the altar bells. It begins with the words the angels used to announce the birth of Jesus and renders worship to Him as our intercessor sitting at God the Father’s side. The incense too, both at the proclamation of the Gospel and in the preparation of the Eucharist gifts, is a visible sign of our prayers rising up to Jesus and acknowledging Him as our Lord. In the renewal of our baptismal promises, we once again are blessed with holy water. As the water touches our head, face and hands, we are reminded of the parting of the sea for the Israelites as well as the beliefs we proclaim of our Catholic faith.

It may sound unbelievable that God became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that we may share in His divine life by having a relationship with Him. Yet that is precisely what Easter is all about: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through the scriptures and the additional “smells and bells,” the physical world joins us in our worship of Jesus as our Savior. Together all matter that God created rejoices in harmony in the victory Jesus won for us.

Catholic Girl Journey

Walking with the suffering

Holy week represents the most drastic combination of humanity’s high and low. It begins with Jesus’ celebratory entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and descends to His crucifixion on Good Friday.  For those who are able to participate in the Good Friday liturgy and/or Stations of the Cross, being immersed in Jesus’ passion and death can be overwhelming. What purpose does it serve to participate in these events?

Suffering is something that no human ever wants to go through; yet whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, there will be times when we will experience pain. What is our reaction when we see someone in pain? Is it to avoid them, so that we don’t end up like them, to pity them and their circumstances, or is to walk with them to take some of their suffering on ourselves and in the process perhaps provide them some comfort?

While staying with my sister during my transition to Virginia, I’ve witnessed both family and professionals as they care for my Parkinson’s suffering Dad, who is also living with her. It takes two to three people to move him from his chair to the wheelchair, all so that the basic necessities can be achieved. He is relying on us to assist him safely, and in doing so, we are taking on the weight of his body.

When we participate in the passion liturgies or pray the Stations of the Cross, we may not physically be taking up the cross, but we are taking up the mental, emotional and spiritual weight. We are like Simon of Cyrene, helping Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha. If you’re thinking that Jesus carried His cross over 2,000 years ago so how can our participation and prayers help, keep in mind that Jesus is both God and man. While He in His manly form physically carried the cross in the past, as God the Son, He is outside time and space and receives our efforts no matter what the calendar says. He may have channeled our support, past, present, and future, to His manly form as He was experiencing His Passion and death.

When we walk with the suffering, be it Jesus, our family members, or complete strangers,  it is not about us and how we feel; it is about being present to those we are assisting. It is in the present that we feel pain. Once we pass from this life, there will be no more suffering. Let us be in the present moment, assume the weight of the suffering and support them in a special way during this most holy of weeks, with prayers and participation in the sacred liturgies offered.

Catholic Girl Journey

Empty

The empty page stood staring at me. What to write? I felt like I was waiting for inspiration to come. I was looking at this empty page, thinking about how, well, empty it was. Maybe I should write about empty!

When I think of empty, I think of the tomb on Easter. That is what we are all looking forward to: the empty tomb proving that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s too early to write about that, I thought. But there is another empty that Lent is all about. It’s the emptying ourselves of all the things that hold us back from a relationship with God. The whole 40 days is giving us an opportunity to dig deep into the recesses of our hearts, souls, minds, and emotions, to clean out what has been polluting us. It’s at the heart of fasting and almsgiving, and a big part of praying as well. We need to be empty in order to be filled with joy on Easter.

There are many paradoxes in the Catholic faith; like dying to oneself in order to have life in Jesus. Along that same concept is that we need to continually empty ourselves in order to be filled with God’s love and grace. If we want more of God, we need to give away what He gives us. If we hold on to what He gives us, He cannot give us any more. What great wisdom the Church has in providing us the opportunity to prepare for so great a feast with a time of preparation, prescribing ways to empty ourselves during this solemn season.

We only have a little more than a week until Easter, however, every effort we make now to prepare will be rewarded. Even if we haven’t been keeping our Lenten practices well, we don’t have to cram all 40 days worth of work into the last week. We just need to sincerely open ourselves up, to empty ourselves, and let the Spirit lead us closer to Jesus during His Passion. A good confession, praying the stations of the cross, and keeping Jesus’ Passion and Death in mind are all examples of how we can empty ourselves and walk with Jesus.

No matter if you’re just starting to empty yourself or feel you can’t be any emptier, this last week of effort will end with the joy and peace that Jesus brings at His resurrection. Let us walk together with Jesus on His final earthly journey.