About a pilgrimage

I happened across Pilgrimage, The Road to Santiago by the BBC on the local PBS channel one evening. I was fascinated to find there was a mix of Christians and non-believers taking that journey.

From what I understand, El Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, is a difficult trek over mountainous terrain in Spain. It’s not a journey one takes lightly, although if someone is interested in hiking, that may be a motive. While I didn’t catch the whole program, I was intrigued to watch from the point I found it. When I realized there were non-believers on the journey, I must admit that I was a bit horrified. I think my initial reaction was fear that the Christians would be mocked, looked down upon, or otherwise shown disdain for their beliefs. If I were on that trip, I know I would initially be rather uncomfortable about their lack of faith. After all, for a pilgrimage of that physical magnitude, having a common bond, like faith, is a huge aid when the going gets tough. However, all the participants seemed to show respect for each other and as opportunities arose, they did talk about their beliefs. 

There was one scene where two of the non-Christians spoke with a friar from the town they were lodging for the night. One of the men said that he believed in himself and his abilities and didn’t need to believe in God. I got the sense he was not raised in any religion at all. He also asked the friar, if he hadn’t been “brainwashed” in his youth, would he think he would still be a friar. It was an interesting question, but I rather bristled at the word brainwashed. I find that faith is a journey, and there are numerous times along the way that we will need to stop and think about what we believe and make sure we believe it. Faith is not a once and done thing, it is like a flower that needs to grow, that needs feeding, care, and attention. We need to put the effort into prayer, the sacraments, and weekly (or more) attendance at Mass. Faith is not something that is done to us, but something we choose to pursue.

During the course of the chat the friar indicated it wasn’t rare to find some travelers on El Camino that are not believers. He talks to them regardless, saying it’s okay and the important thing is that they are on this journey. He summed it up, saying that it didn’t matter if they believed in God, because God believes in them; and that’s what really counts. I cheered when he said that!

While there are pilgrimages I would like to take, I don’t think I could handle El Camino, at least at this point in my life. However, this episode did give me food for thought, especially the variety of beliefs within the group. It made me wonder, would I have the courage to share my faith with them, even if I was mocked or belittled? Would I label them as non-believers and mentally put them in a separate category than those who share my faith? Or would I see them, as fellow pilgrims and children of God, whose path in their faith journey has happened to cross mine?

Catholic Girl Journey

Thanks: thought or prayer?

During a recent homily a missionary priest indicated that when he says “thank you,” he says a prayer for the people he is thanking.  

I’ve often felt the phrase thank you was too small to express what I felt when I said it. It’s so simple and easy, but what does it mean? Looking up thanks in the dictionary for a more precise meaning resulted in a language journey. First stop is gratitude, but that only explained it as being grateful. At the second stop, there were several explanations:

  1. Appreciative of benefits received.
  2. Affording pleasure or contentment; pleasing.
  3. Pleasing by reason of comfort supplied or discomfort alleviated.

While this definition covered much more depth for the expression, the true discovery is in the etymology that grateful comes from the Latin, gratus, or grace.

Coming to the last stop of the language journey, the etymology for grace is from Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin gratia, from gratus; akin to Sanskrit gṛṇāti meaning he praises. So it seems that this Sanskrit word, which is one of the oldest languages around, has made its way into English with praise at its root. As Catholics, our praise  should always start and end with God. Logic would then reason out that every time I used the word thanks, I was really praising God for the actions of the people I am thanking. Wow, thanks goes much further than I thought it did!

Now that I know the history of the word thanks, I can be more confident in what it expresses. However, for those truly amazing circumstances, I think saying a prayer along with the word will convey appreciation to God for His blessings received through the hands of those around me. One thing I am certain of: we can never give too much thanks and praise to God. And thanks be to God!

Catholic Girl Journey

That’s not my job!

Recently, I realized that as I was praying I was trying to set a schedule for God. As I caught myself, I chided, “That’s not my job. I need to let God do His job.” So what IS God’s job?

God is the Creator. We’ve all heard the story of creation, and how God rested on the 7th day. How many of us think He has continued His work, even to today? Or do we think He’s sitting up in heaven watching the events unfold on Earth? God has never stopped creating, and He is mindful of all of His creations, else we would cease to exist. Each new life receives its divine soul from His hand. If He had stopped working, would He have led the Israelites from Egypt? Would He have sent Jesus to save us?

God is Love. How can love be a job? Because God’s love is beyond what humans think of as love. There have been endless amounts of books, songs, and analyses done on love, yet the definition that gets the closest of what God does when He loves is how St Paul described to the Corinthians:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

1 Cor 13:4-7

God’s love is a relationship with each of His creations. For those who turn away or ignore Him, He is constantly trying to woo them back. For those who pursue a relationship with Him, He slowly draws us closer to Him. A relationship with God takes work, for both parties involved!

God blesses. God listens to us and answers when we pray. While it may not be the answer we want or expect, He does shower blessings upon us. Gifts of life, breath, and love are hardly paltry tokens of affection. Yet how often do we recognize and thank Him for these basic necessities? And for those times when we don’t get what we ask for, how often do we realize at a later date His wisdom in not granting our requests? How often do we thank Him for the little and delightful surprises? Why is it easier to say we are lucky than to give God the credit?

When you think about the millions of people in the world today, it’s quite a bit of responsibility that God has for all of them. And then you add in all those who have come before us, and all those who will come after us, well, I’m glad that God is God and that I’m not! I need to stop trying to do God’s job and focus on my job: loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind, body, and strength, and loving my neighbor as myself.

Catholic Girl Journey

Now what?

In praying the Surrender to the Will of God novena, one of the daily prayers got me thinking: 

“And when I must lead you on a path different from the one you see, I will prepare you; I will carry you in my arms; I will let you find yourself, like children who have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, on the other bank of the river”.

With the move down to Virginia slowly settling down to the last few walls to be painted and a few more boxes to be put away, I feel like I’m on the other side of the river. In so many ways and experiences in the whole moving process, from the decision to the execution, I felt that God was with me and leading me. I know God has not left me, but there is a bit of “what happens now, God? I don’t know this side of the river, which way do I go?” It’s like in Psalm 30 “Once, in my security, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed’… but when you hid your face I was terrified.” (Ps 30-7-8) I think God has a lot more confidence in me, than I have in myself!

Perhaps it was because I was seeing His guidance through the process, I came to expect that it would always be there and always manifest itself. But just as a child’s ability to apply what is learned is hindered if the teacher is always there assisting him, we are given the time and opportunity to practice lessons we have learned. There are some days when I can look around my new home, smile and thank God for His generosity. There are others when I look around and think “it’s too much for me, or dear Lord, why did I get this one?” It’s not like there was another that I wanted more. In fact, the kitchen is so fabulous that I thought it would be snapped up before I would be able to put in an offer!  Now, as described in the novena, I need to trust God and His will for me in my new home. He will provide for me while I’m providing for the needs of others, using my kitchen to prepare meals for various parish events. 

While I don’t know how long I’ll be here, I don’t expect to move anytime soon. So why do I expect God to lay out the full plan for living here at this moment? I spent 22 years in my previous home. On the day I moved in I would not have been able to fathom what my life would be like in year 22. So, I must learn to trust God to nudge me if I start to wander too far off the path He’s leading me. I have to start walking, rather than looking around and wondering what to do next. Step one is to just put one foot in front of the other. 

Writing history

When you look at all the countries that have active Catholic Churches, it’s rather amazing. For over 2,000 years, evangelists have been setting out on missionary journeys. Our world today seems rather small, yet the need for evangelists never goes away.  One might even think that it’s grown greater through the years.

When we hear of recent studies where a fraction of Catholics attend Mass every Sunday or believe the eucharist is simply a symbol of Jesus, we wring our hands and bemoan the situation. It seems like these statistics are presented as if never before in history has this happened. Scandals are always tragic and may differ from age to age, but they have happened before and will again in the future. The need to evangelize both baptized Catholics and non-Catholics has been based on the erroneous beliefs of each era. We need to remember that hindsight is 20/20, and use caution that we aren’t interpreting past events with our present-day understanding. 

The past — good, bad, and ugly, has made us who we are today. As a result of these trials, Councils like those of Nicea and Trent brought together those consecrated to God to pray, discuss, and refine the tenants of faith. They didn’t bring new revelations to light, but clarified existing beliefs. These teachings have helped us to connect the dots, but they will always remain imperfect due to our human nature. The Infinite God will always be beyond our comprehension, no matter how much our logical brains desire a firm grasp. Those who have gone before us have laid a foundation for us to build upon and we should appreciate the efforts, while continuing to evangelize today.  It is our turn to write church history!

Before we can go out and try to inspire lapsed Catholics, we need to make sure we understand what we believe. Our beliefs go beyond the list of items we recite in the creed weekly. We believe that the purpose of the Catholic faith is to nurture and grow a personal relationship with God. We believe Jesus Christ is present — Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the consecrated hosts. All our actions, all our decisions need to reflect these beliefs. When we live as we believe, we will be evangelists to all our brothers and sisters.

Catholic Girl Journey

What do you call her?

It was a single meow, but I knew exactly where Vera was and what had happened. She ran into the powder room as I was cleaning and I didn’t realize it before I shut the door. She had finished exploring and was ready to come out. The meow almost sounded like a question, and was almost like, “Mom?” Without saying a word, I released her from her enclosure with a smile on my face. Perhaps it was because of the feast of the Assumption this month, but my action to free her made me think of how Mary intercedes for us.

According to a document I found posted on the Secular Franciscan Order – USA website, Mary has at least 143 titles associated with her. I believe there are probably many more, as my favorite, Our Lady of Czestochowa, and Pope Francis’s favorite, Our Lady Undoer of Knots, were not listed. Many do invoke her assistance, as Helper of All in Danger, Lady of Good Help, and Mary, Mediatrix of All Graces. Those titles remind us that we can ask for her aid whenever we are in need. It is not surprising that we may be in awe of her, as she is known as Immaculate Conception, Mary Queen of Angels, and Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, which can be daunting to ponder. 

Perhaps the most controversial, Theotokos or Mother of God, was not so much about her, but about who Jesus really was. The Council of Ephesus clarified the Church’s teaching about Jesus being both human and divine and through this mystery, we can call Mary by this quite awesome title. For over a hundred years before that council, the question of Jesus’ nature — human or divine, was called into question. Several councils, from 325 through 431 A.D. addressed the unity of Christ’s humanity and divinity from different aspects until the last, which named Mary as Theotokos. But this is what Mary does best: lead us to Jesus. Mary is the Star of the Sea of life as we journey in faith towards our heavenly homeland. She is the Seat of Wisdom waiting to give Good Counsel to those who seek a closer relationship with God. She is the Aqueduct of Grace, pouring out heavenly gifts to those in need. 

Of the 143 titles listed, 19 of them contained the word “Mother.” As the humble Handmaid of the Lord, I believe the title Mary likes most is Mom. She is happy to be the Mother of the Mystical Body and Mother of the Church, which allows all Christians to call her Mom. As we celebrate the solemnity declaring her bodily presence in heaven, let us call out to her, asking her aid in releasing us from whatever enclosure we find ourselves trapped in, or blockage we have encountered in our relationship with Jesus.

Catholic Girl Journey

Peaceful sleep

In my recliner with my television on, I can fall fast asleep, even when it is a program that I find interesting. Yet as soon as I lay down at the end of the night and bring the cover up, I feel like I’m instantly wide awake.

Whether it’s recapping the events of the day, or trying to prepare myself for tomorrow’s activities, my mind seems restless once my head hits the pillow. Vera tries to lull me to sleep with her kneading and purring, and while that can be relaxing, it’s just not enough to put me in dreamland. I keep reminding myself that I can’t do it all and that I need to put everything in God’s hands. I recall hearing a story about Pope St. John XXIII, that before he would go to sleep, he would pray, “I’ve done my best I could in your service this day, Oh Lord. I’m going to bed. It’s your church. Take care of it!” Can it be really that easy?

Recently in the Magnificat, there was a meditation from St. Peter Chrysologus where he reminded his flock that when we are asleep, God is not. God does keep watch over everyone and everything that occurs. While the enemy may take the opportunity to plan and create mischief, God knows what’s happening. 

“God cannot lose what He Himself guards. You author of deceit, you are fighting the Lord and not fighting against His servants by trying to have the result of your deceit ascribed to their negligence.”

St. Peter Chrysologus

There are many battles we will need to fight, but sleep is not one of them. Every day we are given the opportunity to do God’s will. Every day we can choose to hand over our lives to Him. Brooding and worrying does not help us in our challenges, rather they take away the precious minutes of the day we could enjoy if we trust that God takes care of us. Every night we are given the opportunity for a peaceful sleep, if only we just let go and let God keep watch over us.