Catholic Girl Journey

The ultimate of all-you-can

There are many restaurants that use the all-you-can-eat or bottomless dish promotions to entice people to come and eat there. They do it because it works. But there is another sort of all-you-can in faith, yet it seems that many people pass it by.

Even among those who consider themselves faithful, belief often remains very superficial.  But for those who are hungry for more, there is an endless banquet available in the Catholic Church.  The Trinity is a mystery that we can try to explain, but our language is too limited to easily express the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are many simplistic ways we try to convey it, like the three-leaf clover analogy, but the mystery is so deep, we could spend not only our current lifetime, but all of eternity probing its  depths. Yet this all-you-can-seek opportunity is lost on many people. Complete unbelievers want to use science to explain away God, suggesting that He’s no longer necessary. Believers, on the other hand, often focus all their attention on Jesus, clinging to him because He had a human nature just like ours. Thoughts like those can lead us to think of Jesus as just a powerful and wise man instead of as transcendent and divine. But God cannot be limited or boiled down to just one aspect of Himself.

The endless all-you-can-eat food events are offered because there is a known limit to the amount of food patrons can eat. They will be sated when they leave. Thinking, praying, and talking to God about the mystery of God, we can never reach that point where everything is known due to our human limitations. We can, however, feel satisfied as the mystery unfolds for us. We can be sated with the knowledge, relationship, and awe we experience when we reach out to God for more. And just like consuming all we can of the bottomless fries offer does not mean we will never eat fries again after we are finished, in the same way the offer to explore more of the mystery is always there and we can return again and again to go deeper. Yes, there may be times when we cry out that we can’t take any more or that we feel more confused than when we first started, but God will never give us more than we can handle.

God calls us to a relationship to get to know Him better, through the gift of wisdom. In Proverbs we hear that Wisdom has “…dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table.” (Prv 9:2) It is truly the never-ending feast that we have all been invited. It takes place here on earth at Mass, and also for eternity. Are you ready to dig in?

Catholic Girl Journey

Rainbow formula

There are two ingredients required to make a rainbow: water and light, or more specifically, rain and sunlight. If we want to see a rainbow, we cannot complain about the rain.

Shortly before I finished my workout, I could hear the water pounding on the roof of the facility. My umbrella was tucked neatly in my car across the parking lot. I was hoping that the storm would pass and I could wait out the rain, but after checking the weather app on my phone, it didn’t seem promising. I got drenched walking to my car. Although the ponding on the roadway played havoc with my nerves, I was able to navigate safely home. When I turned down my street, even though it was still raining, the sun came out — bright and shining. I laughed at the contrast between the two opposites occurring at the same time, thinking that God certainly has a sense of humor. Just as I was about to turn into my development, across a backdrop of dark skies full of rain, the rainbow appeared.

I wanted to just stop and enjoy the moment, but I think any drivers behind me would not have appreciated it. I tried keeping an eye on it as I wound my way through my development, but as soon as I parked, it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. The rain was much lighter now and reminded me that rainbows require rain. After a day of mostly rain, it can be easy to get caught up in the challenges of our daily life and especially those things that don’t go the way we want them. It’s like the weather is a physical manifestation of our daily struggles. But the rainbow, because it is made of both rain and sunlight, reminds us that even during trials and challenges, there can be bright spots of sunlight that produce gifts like rainbows.

As I walked from my car to my door in the light rain, it didn’t seem to matter much that it was still raining. God had tickled my funny bone with the rain and sun display, and topped it off with a rainbow. Whatever challenges I’m dealing with, God brings His light to them all and transforms them into something beautiful. With God at my side, I can make it through any rainstorm.

Catholic Girl Journey

Answering the call

While many think the month of June is for graduations, weddings and Father’s Day, it also tends to be the month for a liturgy that practically encompasses all three of those celebrations in one: the ordination of priests.

Typically when a man finishes his theological training, he may have a graduation from the college he is attending, but ordination is the final acknowledgement that his training is completed. The priest says vows similar to those at a wedding, each party makes an oath to give their whole selves to the other. In a wedding ceremony, it is the bride and groom that make the pledge to each other. In an ordination, it is the priest making that pledge to the Church. Once the priest is ordained, his title is usually Father, as he is now responsible for the spiritual health of the people he serves.

During Sunday’s homily, my pastor mentioned that he attended the ordination for the Richmond diocese and then talked about the beauty of the liturgy. Every priest in attendance was allowed to pray over each of the newly ordained  and to share the sign of peace with them. It’s a powerful moment for the newly ordained as they are welcomed into a brotherhood who will help support them in their ministry. My pastor recalled looking down at his shoes peeping out from the vestments before one of his first Masses, and recognizing the shoes, but in awe that they were his under those vestments. “Those are my shoes! I’m a priest!” he thought to himself.

Priests have been blessed with the amazing gift of acting in the person of Christ during the liturgy and in celebrating the sacraments. They are human, though, and need our prayers, just as much as we need  theirs. I recall during one confession, the priest asked me to say a prayer for him as we concluded. After being reconciled with God and receiving His grace, it was a joy to ask for God’s guidance and assistance, not only  for the priest who just heard my confession, but for all priests. I have made it a habit to pray for priests immediately after saying the prayers given for penance.

As we prepare for the birthday of the Church on Pentecost, let us pray for those who answer God’s call to become priests and religious. To give one’s life for the life of the Church is an amazing and generous gift that as laity, we are blessed to receive. Without the priesthood, there would be no Eucharist; and without the Eucharist, there would be no Church. Let us say a prayer for priests this Sunday, in thanksgiving for all the men who serve Christ; that they may be guided by Jesus and do His will in all things.

Catholic Girl Journey

Never alone

A recent article caught my eye, “A Solution for Loneliness” by Kasley Killam in Scientific America. One of the suggestions provided in the article was volunteering, with reason being, it “fills our deeply rooted need for belonging.”

As a Catholic, I try to look at situations and challenges through the lens of faith. I was surprised to see a secular article make such a statement. To me that sense, the deeply rooted need for belonging, is more the search for God. However, we look at our physical world to fulfill that need. As Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts our restless until they rest in you.” God is always there calling to us, calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. No matter where we are in our faith journey, as a human, we can never fully know God, so there is always more to learn and experience.

As we experience this longing for something, even if we don’t know what it is, usually we first look at filling that need with external things. Basically, we look for things to make us happy. Once we realize that things don’t make us happy, then we look outside of ourselves, to others. This is where loneliness can become an issue. If we look for people (or pets) to fill the need or ease the ache of being alone, we can become dependent on them. When situations change and the people or pets we relied on are no longer able to be with us, the need surfaces, often with a greater intensity.

I can see why a solution to loneliness would be to volunteer, but I would describe different reasoning than the article. To me, volunteering is acknowledging that life is not about me, but what I can do for others. Volunteering is giving one’s self to another not because it benefits us, but that it is our gift to those we help. When we give away the gifts God has given us, especially things like time and talent, He can fill us up. As Jesus gave up His life so that we can have life in Him, the more we give of ourselves, the deeper we can get to know Jesus. It’s hard to be lonely when we are not thinking of ourselves, but rather what we can do for others.

For the times when the thought of being alone crosses our mind, we can reach out to the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of God comes to us when we pray, when we receive Holy Communion and any other sacrament. He will remind us that we are never alone when we rest in God.

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.