Catholic Girl Journey

Detached

In writing about the divine love of God, Saint Teresa of Avila wrote, “But if we do what we can to avoid becoming attached to any earthly thing and let all our care and concern be with heavenly things, and if within a short time we prepare ourselves completely, as some of the saints did, I believe without a doubt that in a very short time this blessing will be given to us.”

Saint Teresa is not alone in that viewpoint. Reading the lives of the saints or their own writings, it can seem like they are against the physical world. They speak out against filling our hearts with items of this world, yet to those of us still living in it, trying to be divorced from the everyday seems impossible. Perhaps because we have a close bond to the things of this world, it is that bond which keeps us from seeing and understanding the truth of what the saints are saying.

I think I am getting a glimpse of this in my current situation. Now that my home is freshly painted a bland color and a sizable portion of my belongings are in storage, it seems less of my home and just a place I’m living. It’s familiar enough not to completely feel like a hotel, but I’m no longer attached to it as I once was. I don’t know how long I’ll be living in this state and the only way I can describe it is: detached. I appreciate the familiarity I have with it, as well as the shelter and space it provides me to live. I do not feel comfortable claiming as my own anymore; it does not feel like mine.

What if we changed our viewpoint? What if we no longer considered things as something to be owned? What if we lived, appreciating everything that allows us to live without becoming attached to them as if we owned them? How would our lives be different? Would we be able to see other people as fellow children of God and reach out to help those in need? Would our actions be more carefully taken, so not to damage the space and items provided to us on a daily basis? If we treat others and the world around us with more reverence and appreciation of being God’s creation, that sounds very much like a participation in the divine Love.

God made the world, all that is in it, and declared it good. The physical world is not a bad thing, but the idea of ownership of things can distract us from a full relationship with God. He calls us to participate in life, not fill it with things that do not satisfy us so that we no longer recognize Him. For me it apparently was what I thought was my home, for another it could be something else, or some other relationship. It can be painful and scary to detach ourselves from these things we think we own. But if we look to the wise words of the saints, what will fill those empty spots will be the blessing of God’s love. Sounds like a good trade off to me.

Catholic Girl Journey

Delight in the Lord

When was the last time you took delight in the Lord? Hopefully I haven’t stumped you with that question. For me it was today and a small detail God took care of for me. It wasn’t anything I had any control over, but when it happened, I was excited and my first thought was to thank God for that act.

A dead limb on a rhododendron bush outside my front door may not sound very consequential, but the staging consultant had pointed it out to me and suggested I remove it. I considered it part of the trunk of the bush, as it had split close to the ground and grew for quite some time. The thickness of it was about half the size of my wrist, and my hedge trimmers were no match for it. I tried on several occasions and always gave up when I could barely put a dent in it. This needed a saw or some sort of professional tool to remove it.

I’ve spent the past month sorting, packing, and painting. Trimming that bush was the last thing on the list, partly because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had thought to ask my friends who helped me to paint to bring a saw to cut it down. They were such a big help, I didn’t want their tools to get ruined over a partly dead shrub. Of course, the location of the limb couldn’t be against the wall and hidden by the healthy side; no, it had to be closest to the walkway and very noticeable.

My development recently changed landscapers and I saw they were out trimming my neighbor’s bush. I then realized my cat was rather anxious with all the activity, but oddly enough, she wasn’t looking out the window at my neighbors, but out the window that shows my front door. I looked out but didn’t see anything, so I said some soothing words to her and tried to calm her down. Her eyes were riveted at the activity out that window. I took a look again and saw the landscapers were trimming the bushes of my neighbor on the other side. I considered asking the crew if they could cut down that dead limb, but when I looked at the bush, it was already removed!

While this may not be considered a miracle in most aspects, to me it is one. I’m not lucky and I don’t believe in coincidences. This is God’s way of letting me know He’s on this journey with me. I am about a week away from having my place listed for sale. The timing couldn’t be more perfect! I realized how delighted I was in the event and little detail God took care of for me. It has buoyed my spirits and carried me through the day. I can’t help thinking that I’m acting like a little child who has been given a lollipop, not because I’ve been good or done something well, but just because Daddy loves me.

The next time you are delighted by an unexpected surprise, don’t chalk it up to chance, but thank God for all His blessings, even the little ones that only make a difference to you.   

Catholic Girl Journey

Pondering the law

As I was reading my daily Magnificat recently, a passage from the first psalm caught my attention, “He who ponders the law of the Lord day and night will yield his fruit in due season.” (Ps 1:2-3). How can one ponder the law? One either knows it, or they don’t, what’s there to think about? So I began to ponder what it means to ponder the law.

What really is the law? While that could be a whole topic for a post, I like the way Sonja Corbitt explains it in her Fulfilled series. Within the Old Testament, there are three types of laws: first moral or natural laws — like the 10 Commandments, second ceremonial laws — like how to celebrate Passover, and third judicial laws that govern the civil actions. While the latter two can change, the one type of law that cannot change is the moral law. I think it is this law that we are meant to ponder.

Ponder is a verb of action; it is purposeful and intentional. One makes a choice to ponder. If someone is to ponder a list of dos and don’ts, at first glance it may sound like a useless way to spend time. However, if you start to think about why those laws are important, you begin to realize that they are not just arbitrary rules to restrict your activities, but rather they are guidelines for how to live as a child of God. They are guidelines because we are supposed to go deeper than the surface definition. For example, you shall not kill certainly means not taking the physical life of another, but it also means not damaging any part of their total being: body, mind, or soul.

Reflecting on God’s moral laws is not a once-and-done action, rather we are meant to ponder them  over a lifetime in three ways: to know, to keep, and to love. While many have learned the 10 Commandments as a child, a periodic refreshing of our memory by prayerfully reading Exodus (chapter 20) can help us go deeper into their meaning. As our understanding of the nuances of the law grows, we must review how we are living our lives according to those laws. It’s not enough to intellectually know the law, we must also keep it by making decisions and choices that are in alignment. Over time, loving the law will come as we practice knowing and keeping the laws. We see the value of the laws as an expression of love towards God and all of His creation, leading us to looking deeper to know and to keep the laws better than we have in the past.

Meditating on God’s law for us is a tool He gave us to draw us into a closer relationship, not only with Him, but also with each other.  We can be sure our efforts will bear fruit, both in this life and in the next.

Catholic Girl Journey

Grateful and gracious

While the words grateful and gracious may seem to go together, they are less likely to be used in conjunction with struggles and challenges. As Christians, however, we are called to be grateful and gracious in all circumstances, even those that are difficult.

One definition for grateful is to be appreciative of benefits received. Life is a gift, and on most days, it can seem fairly easy to be thankful to God for such a precious gift. In some moments, it may require a deeper look around us to appreciate what we have.

As I was stopped at a red light the other night, the big, full moon shone brightly in the sky. Knowing that it is reflecting the light from the sun, it made me think of how much Mary reflects the light of Jesus. In that moment I was grateful for such a blessing. While it didn’t warm me from the frigid cold that had descended upon my area, it lifted my spirit to be able to brave the walk from the car to my home. It also made me think that I need to thank God for the weather, as it could have been worse, it could have been icy or snowing. Instead it was just blustery and brutally cold. Do we thank God for the days of sunshine? Or do we just complain when the weather is not to our liking? Do we appreciate that we need the rain in order to see the rainbow?

We may be able to find something for which to be thankful amid the storms of life. Being gracious, acting in kindness and courtesy, can often require more intention and effort than we’d like to give. It can be difficult to be courteous when we are treated harshly, rather we want to defend ourselves and prove that we are right and others are wrong. As followers of Jesus, we need to act more like He did, with patience and love. As the just judge, He had every right to condemn those whom He came into contact. As our Savior, both then and now, He instead loves each person as they are, faults and all, and calls them out of sin and into a new life as His disciples. He truly is gracious and asks us to follow His lead with one another.  

I can’t help but think how grace-filled a person can be who exercises gratefulness and graciousness in all aspects of their lives. In our faith journey on the road to sainthood, let us not just practice these attitudes, but really live and breathe them so that we can experience a bit of heaven here and now.

Catholic Girl Journey

Strength in weakness

My muscles are sore. My day job is working with websites, sitting at a desk.  Because I’m moving to Virginia, my spare time has been spent packing boxes and painting to prepare my condo for sale. I can’t do it all alone.

I don’t look at it as a test, something I will either pass or fail, but rather as an opportunity. It’s not practice, as that suggests it doesn’t count in the grand scheme of the game of life. Rather, it’s like a solo performance of my trust in God. I’ve been on my own for almost 25 years; I’m very used to being responsible for myself and doing things alone. I pray the surrender prayer daily, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” That’s very easy to say when things are going well, but I’m realizing I’m not as young as when I bought my condo 21 years ago.  I need help to get this place sold.

Sometimes it’s asking for the strength to pack another box. Another time it may be to resist the urge to dump everything in a box instead of thoughtfully sort through it to make the decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. The biggest moment of surrender was to send out emails to friends to ask them to help me move furniture and paint the remaining rooms. It was a public admission that I can’t do it all myself. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me, it was a huge step. I realized God has put people in my life to help me; not asking them for assistance is to refuse His gift. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. I know my limits, and yes, I may push my limits, but not so far that I would do injury to myself. When I ask for help in situations, I’m not admitting defeat, but rather I am humbly admitting that I need reinforcements to make it to victory. Defeat would be to say I cannot do this and just stop, which unfortunately has crossed my mind a time or two.

Once I am settled in Virginia, it should be interesting to reflect back on these opportunities of surrendering to God and asking for help. For now, I’m trying to keep the goal in sight and remember the words of St. Paul, “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4: 13)

Catholic Girl Journey

The depth of change

John the Baptist was the herald for Jesus; he prepared the way not just by instructing people to change their lives, but also by asking them to make an outward sign of their commitment by being baptized in water.  We’ve recently completed the Advent season during which we heard John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus; how did we do with making changes in our lives?

I’m in the middle of packing my life up, or at least packing up the past 21 years I’ve spent in my condo; I’m preparing to sell it in order to move closer to family in Virginia. I can’t help but draw a parallel between this sorting of things that I’ve accumulated and making a spiritual inventory. It’s a taxing process to look at a book or an item, remember the who, when and why of how it came to me and then make a decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. Since I don’t know yet where I’ll be living, I don’t know what I’ll need. The instinct is to keep everything. But each item will need to be packed in a box, moved and then unpacked. The question becomes, is it worth taking? If I look at my relationship with God in that same manner, how much unnecessary stuff am I carrying? Is the baggage worth holding onto? Is it making it harder for God to work through me?

While I have purged my belongings before, as recently as two years ago in preparation for adopting my cat, this move is taking me far deeper than I have been before. It is truly an entire home in upheaval. It’s like the previous purges were those called for by John the Baptist, but this one is the one called for by Jesus. As He began His ministry, He proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) It is not a call to listen to His teachings, decide what we like and what we want to follow. It is a call to stop, identify where our relationship is broken with God and to mend our ways so that we are able to do God’s will.

This amount of change is a bit scary. I have no idea what God is asking of me. There is a part of me that just wants things to go back to the way they were and not have to go through this process. It’s at those times that I know I’m doing the right thing and that this depth of change is not just needed, but long overdue. As each box is packed, the donation and trash piles grow, and there is a sense of relief, of hope of something better. I can’t imagine what God has planned for me, and I don’t want to try. His blessings are much more fabulous than anything I can dream of and this is what changing is all about.

Catholic Girl Journey

Fresh start

Every new year offers the opportunity to change, grow, or even make a fresh start. The ads on TV promise us new bodies if we join a gym or participate in a weight management program. The calendar with 12 months of mostly unscheduled time can lead us to dream and plan of everything we want to accomplish during the year. Do we ever consider our spiritual life in these plans?

It can be very easy to delay any spiritual activity changes until the Church’s liturgical seasons present the opportunity, like Advent and Lent. Limiting any changes just to those times of the year, we may miss other opportunities that are offered based on the calendar, like adult faith formation and retreats. As we take stock of where we are in life at the beginning of another calendar year, let us also include our relationship with God and what changes could be possible.

To live a life of faith, we need to expose every area of ourselves to God’s will. There is no one answer to how one can know God’s will. By educating ourselves and learning about Him in the Scriptures, and how He moved others in the lives of the saints, we can open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and His promptings. Reading Thomas Aquinas may be a bit beyond our level of theological comprehension, but taking an interest in the development of the Church, theology, or even just learning about what makes the Mass such an important obligation can help deepen our relationship with God.

Faith is not just an intellectual pursuit; it is also a matter of action. The start of a new year is a great time to find out how to participate in the community and help others that are less fortunate. Perhaps it’s visiting a nursing home or hospital, reading to children at the library, or even volunteering at a soup kitchen. When we reach out to love one another, we are sharing the love God has for us.

The ultimate fresh start is celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. When we turn to God and admit our sins intending not to commit them again, our souls are washed clean with God’s grace. Most amazingly, the sacrament is available to us all throughout the year. While our determination for other new year’s resolutions may weaken and fail, we can restore our relationship with God and start anew at any time throughout the year. Perhaps making a commitment to celebrate the sacrament more frequently than we have before could be just the resolution that can lead us closer to God.

We are called to know, love, and serve God and one another. Let us take a moment at the start of 2019 to consider how we can take a step deeper in our relationship with Him.