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.

Catholic Girl Journey

In transition

Isn’t it over yet? When can I get back to normal? This is the time in Lent when, even if we have a good rhythm to our practices, we consider them as something special, something above and beyond what we normally do. But we only take them on during the time of Lent and we may even look forward to when we no longer have to abide by them.

It’s not a bad thing to take on something extra for the duration of Lent, as long as it is something that will bring us closer in our relationship to God. But like most changes of some duration, it can be hard to always see the transition process in a positive light. Currently I’m feeling that in a very physical sense, as I am surrounded by boxes for my upcoming move to Virginia. While the physical impacts will be of a relatively short duration, living this day-to-day is fatiguing. I just want it to be over and not have to be planning and packing. However, once I’m in my new home, everything will be different. I anticipate a change in routine, like how I do things or where I go to shop. All of that will need a little experimenting as to what is best, so while the boxes may be put away, it will be yet another transition as I try out different options and settle in.

Instead of looking forward to the resumption of our normal routines, perhaps now is the time to examine how our Lenten practices can become part our normal lives. Does that mean abstaining from meat everyday or giving a donation to every cause that comes your way? No, there’s no need to be drastic. What if we consider abstaining from meat one day a month? It could be the first day of the month, the first Friday of the month, the last Friday of the month, or your birthday day. This could serve as a way to be mindful about what we eat and to thank God for for the gift of food and the people in the various industries that support it. Another example would be if you’re volunteering time during Lent to a community or church service to start donating monthly to them, or if your Lenten practice was to send a donation, consider volunteering for the organization. For those attending daily Mass just during Lent, rather than returning to only the Sunday obligation, consider attending one additional day a week, or prayerfully reflecting on the daily Mass readings.  

It may take a little experimenting once Easter comes as to how we will keep our Lenten practices alive, but planning for it now begins the transition from a seasonal obligation to choice we make to express our faith in action.

Catholic Girl Journey

Temper, temper

Although I was trying not to pay attention to the TVs in the gym while I was working out, I couldn’t help but notice some scenes from the Bruce Willis movie, the only non-sport choice running that day. The closed caption option for the programs was turned on and I was able to understand a bit of the movie. The scene that got me thinking was an exchange where the villain chided the hero for losing his temper during a phone call.

My temper has gotten the best of me more times that I care to admit. Sometimes I’ve excused it, explaining it as being passionate about the topic at hand. But when you pause and think about it, losing one’s temper is basically getting frustrated at the inability to control a situation, to communicate our point of view so that another can understand it, or to have the events unfold the way we want them. It harkens back to the temptation of the serpent to Eve, if she ate the fruit, she would be like a god. Who doesn’t want to be able to know and control events and situations? The only thing we have control over, is our reaction, and even then it is a struggle.

We may wonder why God allows these occurrences to happen, especially if they will tempt us to react in a way that causes us to sin. But as long as there is free will, people will be able to make choices that affect us in ways that provoke our temper. These are valuable opportunities to learn what triggers our buttons, so that when we realize we are starting to build up steam, we can ask God for guidance and help. After all, He is the one in control. He may ask us to be humble and open in the situation. Other times He may ask us to be gentle and merciful in our correction of another. In all our responses, we need to express the love that God has shown us.

Some situations may be easier than others, but God is giving us a lifetime of opportunities to practice, along with His grace and mercy when we fail to hold our temper. Just because we get it wrong sometimes, is not a reason to give up, just a reason to try harder next time.

Catholic Girl Journey

Multi-distraction

In today’s world, the ability to multi-task is not only a nice-to-have skill, but a mandatory requirement, especially for those in the workforce. I’m wondering however, is it really just doing multiple tasks, or is it more being distracted by multiple resources vying for our attention at the same time?

I have met a few people who are really talented enough to be able to focus at working on their computer while listening to a conversation that has no connection to the topic on which they are working. They are, indeed, rare and gifted folks. Most of us do some sort of what we call multi-tasking, working on one thing and thinking about another. What I’ve noticed is that multi-tasking has started to creep into my prayer life. I try so hard to focus, but there are times, when I end up thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner while I’m saying my morning prayers. Sometimes I have been able to backtrack to discover how I ended up thinking about something so totally different. Usually it starts with me trying to keep a person in mind and raise them up to God for assistance, and it triggers some memory, which then gets me thinking about something else, and the next thing I know, I’ve added three more items to my grocery list, when all I was trying to do was say my rosary!

Prayer is our time to communicate with God. We are to take time out of our day — 5, 15, or 30 minutes, and immerse ourselves in His presence. Whether we read from a daily prayer book or the Bible, say a rosary or just open ourselves up to Him, there are many ways to pray; the important thing is to take the time to be with God. He knows that we will have distractions; be it the cat that wants to play, the neighbor’s noisy car, or the rain pelting the windows. It can be difficult to concentrate just with all the noise of the world around us. But the biggest distraction is our own brain. In an age where everyone is using a mobile device to get the most updated whatever, our mind is on alert for the next ping, constantly working and filling the silence in between. It can feel as though God is not near us, when it may actually be that we aren’t paying attention to God at all.

The real skill is to practice praying without distraction. Lent is a good opportunity to step away from technology or whatever may be causing our distractions, and to practice quieting the mind and being in God’s presence. Perhaps we should pray, “Lord, help me to quiet the noise and draw closer to your peace so that I can concentrate and hear You.” With God’s help and consistent practice, we may be able to hone the skill needed to cultivate a deeper relationship with Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

Every word of God

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent was about the temptation of Christ in the desert. It seemed to me any reflection I read about this passage was introduced with the following verse:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

(Matthew 4:4)

The phrases that jumped out to me were “bread alone,” “every word,” and “mouth of God.” Most commentaries explain that the bread is a symbol of the physical world. But the phrase that Jesus quotes doesn’t end with bread, but that bread alone cannot sustain a person. For me that indicates that, yes, bread is important, but it is not the sole important factor in life. To really live means to have bread and the word of God. If bread is symbolizing the physical world, then yes, we need the everyday physical world and we need the spiritual world as well; we need to live as part of both. As humans, we can make it an either/or. Since our humanity immerses us in the physical world, it is very easy to be consumed with what we can see and touch. Jesus is asking us to listen, not just to the immediate sounds around us in the physical world, but to listen with our soul, our spiritual center, to what God is communicating to us. We are not meant to just exist in the world, living from meal to meal or day to day, but to truly live, which includes embracing the mission God has given each of us.

When I think of God speaking, the first thing that pops into my head is the creation story in Genesis, usually Him saying: “Let there be light.” God’s word speaks creation into existence; not only addressing each element of light, sky, stars, sun, earth, water, and living creatures, but also placing each into relationship with the other elements. The “mouth of God” creates, not just causing things to exist, but to exist in accord with His purpose. The phrase “every word” tells me that there is nothing without meaning or purpose when God speaks. All too often, because we know God spoke creation into existence, resting on the seventh day, we think that God doesn’t speak much anymore. But God continues to speak through the Scriptures and through all of creation, still putting put forth His word as a creative act that forges relationships among His works, and helps reveal His will.

Since even Jesus was tempted, we know that we cannot escape being tempted many times ourselves. During those trials, it may help us to consider whether what we are tempted to do or say is really accomplishing God’s will. Is this temptation bringing us into a closer relationship with creation? Is what we are tempted to do good for the world on some grand scope or is it good for our neighborhood in an immediate way? If the answer to those questions is no, we can ask for God to provide aid in overcoming the temptation, so that as He speaks His word, His will can be done.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gladly forgiven

A recent line in the monthly Magnificat really struck me, “With joyful trust, let us own our sins before the Lord, who gladly forgives. (emphasis added) I was struck by the two phrases highlighted, as I don’t think I would have ever put them together like this.

First there is that  thought of “owning” sins. How many examples do we have of people blaming others for their actions? It’s not just a recent phenomenon either, even in Genesis Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit, and Eve in her turn blamed the serpent. It seems like we all  make excuses as to why we commit sin. Perhaps in analyzing what we did, we think that we could have made a different choice if the circumstances/people/weather/etc. were different. While reviewing our actions is a good thing, explaining them away is not. This idea of taking ownership for all our actions, including and especially those that are sinful, is a powerful step in developing our conscience. When we review what we have done and acknowledge those choices that damage our relationship with God, we are training ourselves to pay attention to what might tempt us and lead us astray. When we can recognize a situation that can lead us to sin, we can be attentive to the choices we are making, and with God’s grace, avoid those that lead us away from God. We cannot undo the actions we have already taken, but we can learn from them to avoid those situations in the future.

Acknowledging our sins is just one part of the equation. When we take ownership of our sins, we turn to God and admit our wrongdoing. We ask for His forgiveness and open ourselves to the penance assigned to us. It may seem a bit arbitrary when a priest assigns a certain number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys to say in atonement for the sins we committed. But it’s not just saying a few prayers; it’s taking the time to set ourselves before God and spending those few moments repairing the damaged relationship. Saying those prayers is the action we are taking to turn away from sin and turn back to God. What we often forget, or can’t imagine, is God gladly forgiving us. He wants so much to have a close and intimate relationship with us. How can He not rejoice when we turn ourselves away from sin and turn our hearts towards Him?

As we begin the penitential season of Lent, we have 40 days to dig deep into ourselves and find those deep-rooted sins that distance us from God. When we take ownership bringing our failings to the Lord for forgiveness, we are building a relationship that will bring us more joy at Easter, but that will only be a shadow of the final joy of being with the Lord forever in heaven.