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.

Catholic Girl Journey

Receiving God’s gifts

How well do you receive God’s gifts? Do you accept them at once with joy? Or do you feel that you don’t deserve them?

God continues to pour out many blessings to us daily. From the basic gifts of life, health, and family, to the insignificant treats that are sprinkled throughout our day, I’m not sure it is possible to be able to thank God for all that we receive from Him. Some gifts, like family and our health, we can take for granted, complaining about them until we lose someone or have an issue. Others we may be oblivious to because they are events that didn’t happen or were able to be avoided.

There are other gifts that we may actually push away, thinking that we are being humble and trying not to take more than we need. What we need however, is very subjective. We may think we need more, and God may seem to be stingy with His blessings, when in fact He is giving us only what is truly needed to do His will. Or He may be providing more than what we think we need because He will be changing what we are called to do for Him and He is preparing us for His next calling.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says, “I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” (Phil 4:12-13) While Paul relied on God and the skills God blessed him with to be self-sufficient, he also accepted help from the churches, like the people of Philippi. He rejoiced, not in the gift itself, but that it was a self sacrifice that would strengthen their relationship with God and Jesus.

God’s gifts are not like the ugly Christmas sweater we can take back to the store. The blessings may ebb and flow and we need to learn to live within the means of His blessings, thanking Him for them all — the wonderful and the challenging, the unexpected and mundane. For them all, we ask that we use them for His glory and are grateful for what He has bestowed.

Catholic Girl Journey

Out of season

Doesn’t it feel like something is missing right now? It’s past the middle of February and we are not yet in Lent. On Fridays I feel like I need to check myself, assuring that I’m not required to abstain from meat. Doesn’t it feel strange?

For some it may be a relief not to have to think about what to give up yet or following the rules set out for the penitential season. But for those who feel like they should be giving up the second cup of coffee or not eating meat on Fridays, I ask you, why not do it? Just because you don’t have to do it yet doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to do it. Maybe offer it up for the priest(s) of your parish, or for vocations from the youth of the parish. Offer it up for the legislators of our country or those of struggling nations. Offer it up for your family, no matter what size, shape, or combination of members that it contains. There are a thousand ways to offer up a little sacrifice, whether it is once a day or once a week; it all counts.

So what can God do with the little offering you make? Well, if the feeding of the 5,000 with a few loaves resulting in baskets of leftovers are any indication, He can do quite a bit with very little! For us humans, the hard part is that we don’t often get to see how we are making a difference. We hope we are, and we try and trust that we are, but we really don’t know how much of an impact our actions make. That’s when we need to remind ourselves that it is an offering; we are giving of ourselves to God so that He, in some way, will bless those for whom we make the offering. We’re not placing an order for Him to do something specific, but letting God in His abundance of Love, touch the lives in a special way. We offer and let go.

While God does not need us to perform acts of sacrifice, He does rejoice when they are freely given. We may be surprised that in making such an offering, the one who is blessed may be us! Perhaps in starting to make sacrifices now, our Lenten practices may take on a different meaning or have a deeper impact than in previous years. In the few weeks left of ordinary time, consider challenging yourself, even if it’s not yet the penitential season.

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.