Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of salvation

We can only receive the gift of salvation once we acknowledge that we are sinners.

God did not become man just to be oohed and aahed over as a baby. It was the first step of many to bring us back into a right relationship with God, to heal what was fractured with sin. Ultimately, He was born to die for us, and as St. Paul says to the Romans, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) It can be very easy in this time of joy to push aside the unpleasant reality of the crucifixion, but even the Church is careful to keep all of Christ’s work in mind, when on December 26 we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen. Before He comes, it is appropriate to prepare ourselves.

As my pastor pointed out in a recent homily, Advent is not a mini-Lent; it is its own season. It shares a penitential perspective, like Lent does, but with a different emphasis. Advent prepares us to celebrate both comings of Christ. Two? Yes, His future coming at the end of the world/end of our life on earth and the remembrance of His first coming in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In the beginning of Advent, the readings are taken from Revelation about the second coming. It’s not meant to scare us, but to be a wake up call. What have we been doing with our lives? Are we prepared to be judged before God? Are we prepared for heaven? As the season moves closer to Christmas, we hear about John the Baptist and his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As we reflect on our relationship with God, we see the areas that need attention. Hearing John the Baptist’s message, we know that there is hope. Part of our preparation for Christmas should be celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Our culture wants us to fully celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving (or even before!) and finish on Christmas so that we can turn our attention on the next holiday. But we cannot fully celebrate Christmas until we prepare properly. The Church carves out the four Sundays before December 25 to help us recognize just what a gift that is being bestowed on us: the opportunity to be saved from a life of slavery to sin and a healed relationship with God.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of faith

The measure of our faith is the measure of our relationship with God. Our Creator gives us life, but He just doesn’t turn us loose and forget about us. Rather He wants to have a relationship with us on an individual level, to share with us all He has.

Faith is not an intellectual exercise or an emotional attachment to an idea. It goes deeper than believing in the existence of God and the words of a creed. Faith is both decision and action. God gives us life and offers Himself to us. When we decide to accept Him into our lives, it changes how we makes our choices. As we get to know Him better, He offers us the opportunity to be His emissary to everyone we encounter. We are His smile to welcome a stranger, His hands to offer aid, and His word to educate and inspire. Faith is truly a gift that keeps giving.

During our time on earth, God continuously invites us to be closer to Him. Even when we spurn His outreach, He does not give up. When we accept a relationship with Him, He encourages us to go deeper, to not be content with Him as a mere acquaintance. However, faith has an expiration point when our life on earth concludes. It is then the final question of faith is asked and the answer will determine if we spend eternity with Him or without Him. The choice is ours to make, and we answer it every moment of every day, by seeing Him in the world around us and our experiences, or rejecting His advances.

We may say we “have” faith, but it’s not ours to own. It’s ours to share in a relationship with God, and to share with those around us. In this season of giving, let us remember to share this precious gift of God Himself with those we meet.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of life

If we think of life as a gift, then we deserve nothing. Yet how many times do we expect the world or more and appreciate none of it?

The secular world around us would have us believe that life is all about us, or more precisely, me. The what’s-in-it-for-me attitude is used by marketers to sell us their products and has become the litmus test for how we determine what we need and what we want to do. When we believe everything revolves around us, we start to have expectations of what we deserve and what should be given to us, not as gifts, but because we perceive we have a right to things or treatment. Instead of receiving with thankfulness, we take because we perceive it is ours. It becomes our possession.

As we begin to prepare for the season of gift giving, let’s pause a moment and realize the most important gift we have ever received: life. Our creation is by the will of God, who blessed the love of our parents from whom we are born. God loves each and every one of us. He wants us to be here, on this earth, in this time and place. We may never fully know or be able to comprehend why we are born into the time, space and conditions, but God has a plan for us. While God does not need anything, He wants to have a relationship with us, for us to share in His love and work through us for the betterment of others.

When we talk about life, what does that really entail? It’s not just our daily activities, but encompasses the minute biological needs like our breathing, our heart beating, and our bodies being able to move, to the more intangible attributes like being able to think and reason as well as our soul. How often do we thank our Creator for giving us this magnificent gift? It’s more likely we complain about what is not working well, like the creaking of our knees or when we are struggling with a challenging situation.

As the season of Advent begins, let us start small and take a moment each day to thank God for the gift of life. Take a breath and thank God for it. Feel your heartbeat and thank God for it. Realize that you are noticing these things and using your mind and thank God for it. Realize you are praying and thank God for your soul. In receiving well the most basic gift God has given us, we will be able to receive His Son when He comes.    

Catholic Girl Journey

Face of Jesus

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:40)

I recently went to Mass at a church that is rather modern. Not only has it been around for just 25 years, but it is built entirely in the round with the altar in the center and the pews in a theater style. I must admit that I missed having kneelers. I never realized how important body position is during the Mass, until the ability to kneel was not provided. I suppose I could have tried, but I’m not as flexible as I wish to be and I had no desire to get stuck. The other thing I really missed was the crucifix. My home parish of St. Isaac Jogues has a tremendous and larger-than-life crucifix behind the altar. I use it as my point of focus during the Kyrie, the Gospel, and communion. Without such a focal point, I felt lost and distracted. The thought bemoaned in my head, “I can’t see Jesus!” What I could see were the individuals who make up the congregation. And the answering thought in my head was that each person is the face of Jesus.

The way people treat us, and our experiences interacting with them, influence our response. In this secular age of “what’s in it for me,” it can be challenging to see Jesus in the selfish and self-absorbed, but He is there. It can also be very easy to pass judgement on others and to say they don’t deserve whatever kindness or opportunity you can provide them. If God waited until we deserved to receive His mercy and forgiveness, we would still be waiting for the first coming of Jesus.

From Jesus’ command to love God and then your neighbor to examples, of what that means in the letters of Paul and James, it is clear that Christianity is not meant to be a purely intellectual pursuit of belief. Rather it is an ‘and/both’ reaction to Jesus as the Christ; we believe in Him and from that belief, the love we have for Him is then transferred outward to everyone — family and stranger, those we have met and those in the next town, the next state, the next country, across the globe, and regardless of what they believe.

We can get so caught up in our daily routines that sometimes it takes a shock to make us see from a different perspective. While this was a relatively gentle shake, as I looked around the church, I wondered if others could see Jesus in me?

Catholic Girl Journey

Dining with the saints

Starting out the month of November with All Saints’ Day has me thinking about the saints with whom I feel a connection. Modifying a question that pops up from time to time: if you could dine with any saint, whom would it be and why?

While that may seem like a wild question, it may not be that absurd. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the message of God preparing a banquet feast is a recurring theme. While some may argue it is used as an analogy, even if the purpose is not meant to eat, there is a gathering taking place. In heaven, it is called the communion of saints.

Since Jesus is the only one who has come to earth from heaven, it’s hard for us who live in time and space to grasp what heaven is and what it will be like. God has given us an imagination and I can’t help but think this is to help us prepare for heaven. While we will be able to see and experience God as He is and He will be all we need, the communion that the Trinity shares amongst the three persons I would think would be mimicked by the communion of saints. Our interaction with other saints may not be to see, hear, and talk to them as we do on earth, but there would be some sort of communication between all members, otherwise we would be in total isolation.

If I was able to talk with only one saint, I think it would be Saint Peter. I would love to hear his stories, from fishing to following Jesus and how much alike he thought they were. I would love to know about his family and how they handled his career change. I also think it would be fascinating to hear how his intercession has helped people over the past 2,000 years.

If heaven does allow us to get to know the other saints in on an individual basis, it may take eternity to get to know each person. What better harmony can there be in heaven, than the communion of saints truly being a family and getting to know one another.

Catholic Girl Journey

The other nine

I’ve heard it said before and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. Someone remarked recently, “I’m a good person. I haven’t killed anyone.” Somehow being a good person has been boiled down to not physically taking a person’s life. Is that how we Christians are reduced to measuring ourselves?

When I hear that judgement, it makes me sad. There are many ways to kill a person that still leave them living and breathing. That may sound oxymoronic, but one can kill a person’s spirit with constant harsh and demeaning words. A person’s sense of community can be killed by purposefully ignoring them and having others do the same. The resulting isolation can be both mentally and emotionally crippling. If we are not lifting others up in our words, actions and deeds, then we are not contributing to their well being.

We can’t just stop with family and friends, it extends out even to those who we may not easily get along with as well as total strangers. It’s not always easy and some may struggle more than others, but we can always reach out to God for assistance. One way that helps is to pray for the challenging people in our lives, not that they see things our way, but that God will shower His blessings upon them. When we see others as a child of God and a recipient of His grace, it’s harder to hold onto anger and hate. When we voice our hatred of another or wish them ill, we are not bearers of Christ, but rather we kill the grace inside of us. The more we do this, the less we can call ourselves good people.

As Christians (and even our Jewish brethren), however, we can’t just look at one of God’s commandments as the litmus test of being good. The other nine are not optional, but support the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” just as this commandment is part of the other nine. Our attitude towards God and His will for us should be at the center of our life. When we turn our back on God, we actually start killing ourselves, little by little, because we become less of who we are meant to be. When we lie, steal and covet from our neighbors, we are slowly killing any relationship we may have with them.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our motives for doing any action before we know it. To judge oneself as a good person is to claim divine abilities. The commandments were given, not so that we can judge others, but that we have guidelines to follow. I don’t judge myself to be a good person, but rather strive with God’s help to be the best person I can be, using the commandments to identify when I have failed, so that I can see to resolve the rift I’ve created with God in the sacrament of reconciliation .

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Feeding the beast

There is a legendary story, credited to the Native Americans, about the internal struggle using the analogy of two wolves. One has anger, envy, and greed and is considered evil. One has hope, kindness, and compassion and is considered good. As the story goes, the wolf that wins is the wolf that is fed.

The movie Tomorrowland was recently on television, and I happen to come across it right when it started. I had the time, and it seemed interesting, so I watched it. Early in the movie, the father was reminding the young girl that we all have good and bad inside us, using the analogy of the two wolves. This was the underlying theme of the movie. The young girl learns that Tomorrowland has found a way to see into the future, but the more it tries to show humanity the consequences of their bad actions, the more humanity wants to see those consequences eventually progressing until the end of the world is predicted in 59 days. The girl realizes that it’s the broadcast of the constant bad actions and their consequences that is causing mankind to behave so poorly, feeding its destruction. Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves the day and all of humanity by stopping the broadcast. At the end of the movie, the thought that came to my mind was Halloween.

Somehow, over the course of the generations, Halloween has become a major holiday. While the retail spending may not rival other holidays, the time spent decorating, preparing costumes and celebrating can rival many. Even pets get into the spirit with costumes made just for them! But instead of celebrating what this All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is supposed to be — the vigil of All Saints’ Day, it has turned into a celebration of horror, gore and evil. Especially in today’s secular culture, the lack of belief in God also translates into a lack of belief in Satan. The movies about demons and possessions are just stories; people enjoy being scared when they know no harm will come to them. But are they feeding the wrong wolf? While Hollywood may have invented the stories they present, real exorcisms are being performed around the world by select Catholic priests trained for that battle. Fighting the devil is serious business, not to be taken lightly.

So this year to prepare for a celebration of all the saints — everyone in heaven, not just the canonized saints — may we invoke their aid by telling their stories, praying for their intercession and praising God for the miracles he allows through them.