Catholic Girl Journey

Wisdom of a paradox

Jesus ate and drank with sinners. His parables included giving more to those who had, and taking away from those who had little, as well as a landowner who paid the same full day’s wage to each worker no matter how long they toiled. And the ultimate paradox, is that through His crucifixion, Jesus saved us, giving eternal life to those who believe. With the bible littered with these examples, how are we to ever understand them so that we can apply the lessons to our lives?

I was knitting recently and started pondering that question, as knitting busys my hands so that my brain can think. Theological ideas can be hard to grasp even when they are straightforward, so wrestling with contrary ideas can be even more complicated. In a pause of my thought process, I turned to my knitting pattern, actually a chart of stitches, to confirm yet again that I was following it correctly. It was then that I realized how much knitting had in common with the paradoxes of the bible.

In knitting, there is really only one stitch, it just depends on which side you’re viewing it. On the “right” side, it is a knit stitch, but that same stitch on the reverse is a purl stitch. By including the reverse, or purl stitch in patterns, all various designs are created. Advanced knitters manipulate these two stitches to create lace, cables, bobbles, and all sorts of shaping. But in the end, it’s all just one stitch.

Then there is the pattern chart, like the one I was using. The “right” side, or that which faces out, starts at the bottom left, and the first row is read from left to right. The even rows are the back or “inside” of the garment and in a chart are read from right to left. Charts often indicate that a blank square equals a knit stitch on the front but a purl stitch on the back. That means reading from left to right on an odd row, I’m knitting the stitches and when I’m on an even row, or the back side, I’m purling those stitches. Why is the chart written that way? So that you can see what the final result of the pattern you are knitting will be.

Putting the lessons from the seemingly contradictory bible passages into practice is like knitting from a chart, only we may not see the whole chart, only the next ‘stitch’ we need to make in our lives. Or we may forget that above and below that knit stitch on the right side of the garment are purl stitches, the ‘backside’ of the knit stitch.

I’m not the first to struggle these seemingly illogical teachings. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, acknowledges that some teachings can be difficult to a logical mind, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the  Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:22-25) Like following the knitting chart pattern, while we may see the big picture of the results, it can be confusing to try to understand the details in the same way. One has to keep on knitting before the chart begins to make sense, usually as the pattern starts emerging. Faith, hope and prayer keeps us open to God’s wisdom, allowing us to get a stitch or two deeper in His mysteries and teachings.

Catholic Girl Journey

Unexpected is not on the checklist

This past week has been crazy busy for me. I feel like I’ve been reduced to checklists, to make sure I accomplish as much as I possibly can, knowing that I can’t do it all. Church, work, home… all call for my time and attention.

One of the most significant items on my Saturday checklist was Abbey Fest in Paoli, PA. I bought my ticket months ago, well before realizing that work would also be competing for my time. As a result, I did not get there when the gates opened and missed the first two acts. It’s open seating, literally, on the grass wherever one can find room, and folks do tend to come throughout the day. The thought did cross my mind that just because I had a ticket didn’t mean that I had to go, but I think that was more of an evil temptation. I managed to find a nice spot with a good view of the stage and set up my chair and sat down. Doesn’t sound like much, but to be able to sit down, enjoying the fresh air and good, inspiring music was both restful and invigorating. As in previous years, I was glad I went, but this year I felt an unexpected joy immersing myself in the place and activities of Abbey Fest.  I found that is was what I really needed at that moment.

Another item on my checklist was to go to confession at Abbey Fest. While the abbey itself is open for folks to go in and pray, confessions are heard outside on the lawn, face-to-face. I’m not particularly fond of going face-to-face, since I usually end up crying, however it’s a bit easier there since the priests are from a variety of locations. The line was surprisingly short, although they did have quite a number of priests available, so my time to prepare was short. The priest was reverently humorous, which was very unexpected. It was one of the best confessional experiences I have had, as I truly felt that he was talking to me at my level. At the conclusion, I was considering asking the priest if I could hug him, but settled for letting him know what a great experience it was. He seemed a bit surprised and took no credit for it responding, “It’s all the Holy Spirit, not me.”

The speaker for the event was Paul J. Kim, who promotes himself as singer/speaker/inspirer. I was not familiar with his work, and even though his presentation and other events were not on my checklist, I found myself checking off each one. Paul‘s talents include making music with his mouth (and not just percussive instruments but even a trumpet sound!), as well as being able to convey thoughts, feelings and even doubts about religion and faith in a lighthearted and thought provoking way. I laughed out loud at his humor, which is unusual for me. And there were a number of times when I said to myself, “yup, I thought that way too.” Paul was able to dig down, deep into the core of the faith, and shed a different perspective to it. I was surprised to so thoroughly enjoy his presentation. It was a perfect prelude to the headline act, Matt Maher, who not only gave a fabulous show, introducing a few new songs, but led us in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the true highlight of the whole day.

The unexpected may not be on the checklist, but it was a real delight to have so many experiences all wrapped up into one Abbey Fest event.

Catholic Girl Journey

God love you

How much does God love you? As our Creator, God loves us each and individually. It’s a concept that one hears over and over again, but without seeing/interacting with God as a being, it can be hard to understand.

Jesus, the divine Son of God, came down to earth, and became man. I believe it, and yet it’s still difficult to understand. Jesus gave His life for us, dying on the cross so that He could descend into the darkest part of our humanity, death, and triumph over it by rising from the dead. I believe it, am humbled by it, in awe of it, and yet it does not help me to understand how much God loves me, Karen, as an individual.

God, in His infinite wisdom understands this, after all He did create me. To help me, He blessed me by allowing me to become a pet parent to my cat, Vera. I love the creature she is, even in her impish times when I’m completely frustrated with her behavior, but I’m glad she’s in my life. I love when she comes and sits on my lap and purrs. I enjoy her company and that simple act of her just being herself,. Even amidst the struggle of the medical issue she has, , I gladly endure the pain and heartache because of all the joy-filled moments she gives me daily.

While this may seem like a crazy cat lady talking about her cat, it’s really looking at relationships in a spiritual light. If I can have such a strong connection with another creature who only sort of gets who I am and my actions, how much more does God know and love me? This is still an imperfect perspective, but helps me to get a glimpse of His love. Vera understands when I get out a toy that it’s playtime, and when I pick up her bowls and take them to the kitchen that it’s feeding time. She also understands when the spray bottle comes out that she needs to stay out of the kitchen or off the dining table. She’s an intelligent creature, but sees things from a cat perspective. I see God from a human perspective, so my understanding of Him pales in comparison to who He really is and what all He does for me.

So every time that Vera jumps up on my lap, kneads before settling down, purring the whole time, I thank God for bringing Vera into my life. And then I thank Him for the unfathomable amount of love He has for me.

Catholic Girl Journey

Fearless

“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:27)

These three phrases of a quote from a recent daily meditation book struck me as I read them. I know I’ve seen and heard them a thousand times, but it’s almost as if they jumped off the page and entered into my brain prompting me to think.

There are two commands that Jesus issues in this short passage.  The first is “take courage.” There have been a lot of quotes about courage from famous people over the years, and there is a general sense that courageous people do not lack fear, but rather they push beyond it, maybe even using it to propel them through their situation.

Jesus told his disciples to “take” courage. There are 28 definitions for ‘take’ in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but I think the one most applicable here is; ‘to receive or accept whether willingly or reluctantly.’ Jesus was offering courage to them but it was their choice to accept it or not. Today, even if we reluctantly accept the courage Jesus is offering, we will be able to move past our fears instead of letting them rule us.

Why should the disciples have been courageous? Jesus identified Himself so simply: ‘it is I.” Just as God revealed Himself in the burning bush to Moses, “I AM WHO AM”, Jesus’ ‘I’ had the power of God behind it. The courage that Jesus offers us is not just faith or trust in Him, it’s acting on the word of Jesus and allowing Him to lead us completely.

The second command in this short passage is: “do not be afraid.” To be afraid is not just to be full of fear but to be especially fearful of a future evil in response to an action. Jesus does not want us to live our lives looking at each moment with the expectation that something bad is going to happen. If we live by the courage He gives us, even if we do experience a malady, that courage will carry us through. But if we persist in being afraid, we let just the possibility of evil to overwhelm us.

There will always be challenges in life. Let us take the courage that Jesus offers and fearlessly follow to where He leads… heaven.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Better or worse

“It can’t get any worse than this, can it?’” Every time I hear someone say that, I cringe. Life can always be better, and it can always be worse. Our lives are a set of choices and events and the intersection of the two. Regardless of what’s going on, however, God is always with us, loving us and blessing us.

When life seems to throw us a curveball of overwhelming circumstances to deal with, it can be very easy to wonder where God is in the midst of it. And when one more thing is piled on top of the heap, we can feel like we’ve hit our maximum. And perhaps that is true for some, but for others they may be stretched further; so in their case, it can be worse. But God is there with us, in every sigh and tear. He may even be blessing us by making our burdens just a little bit lighter or preventing them from getting too heavy, but since we can’t see things from His perspective, we may wonder what His role is in our lives.

In Jesus’ address to the disciples regarding love for our enemies, He says the Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) God has not created the world just to abandon it, rather He loves all His creation and wants to bless it, regardless of whether one believes or not, whether one obeys His commands or not. Even in the smallest details like sunshine and rain He bestows on all. I don’t think we can ever really know what life would be like without God since He is with us always and helping us along the way.

As a follower of Christ, I take comfort in knowing he is always present; it brings me a sense of peace in difficult circumstances. However, my initial reactions when challenging times come may not be as Christian as I expect of myself. I wonder if the saints ever reached the point where they accepted all challenges without struggling.  St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Perhaps as we continue our faith journey, we can learn to rest in the Lord, thanking Him for the blessings — both the obvious ones and those that only He knows.

Catholic Girl Journey

Living your mission

‘Act of God’ is one episode name for Netflix’s The Crown series.  It has haunted me since I watched it weeks ago. The Crown is a dramatization of the life of Queen Elizabeth II starting just prior to her ascent to the throne and continuing through the early years of her reign. However, it is not the major character, but a minor character used for storyline purposes that has kept me thinking about our mission in everyday life.

The episode takes place in December 1952 during the Great Smog over London. The fictional character Venetia Scott, a secretary to Winston Churchill, is inspired by his autobiography and wants her life to mean something. She bemoans the fact that all she does is put papers in front of the Prime Minister to sign and takes them away again. Churchill, at the same age, was pursuing a military career and making a difference. Scott sees an opportunity when she takes her roommate to the hospital for treatment due to the effects of the smog. The hospital is in chaos. She asks the doctor what is needed and tells him that she can help by putting in a word with the Prime Minister. The doctor scoffs at her suggestion, too overwhelmed by patients needing attention to give any to her. The doctor’s dismissive attitude fuels her passion for making a difference and she sets out to prove that she does have the ear of Churchill. Marching on her way towards Downing Street with that goal as her main focus, she is tragically cut down by a bus that fails to see her in the dense smog until it is too late.

My instinct was to look away from the screen rather than watch this horror. I didn’t want to see it, knowing that no one could survive that type of accident. I felt bad for the character  who never had the chance to convince Churchill that this smog was not some weather phenomenon, but a crisis that needed his attention. While some of the details may be more fiction than fact, the life of Venetia Scott is portrayed as a bright spot for Churchill; so bright, that upon hearing of her death, he decides to visit the hospital morgue to pay his respects.  Her death brings Churchill face-to-face with the crisis and the fact that people are in need of his help. Doing what a politician does well, he quickly orchestrates a media opportunity and delivers a speech declaring monetary support to help the victims. The example of Scott’s life, lived so brightly that it transcended her death, is the focus of my pondering. While the writers of the story may have intended the title “Act of God” to reference the great smog, it is the fulfillment of Scott’s mission to make a difference  that is truly the act of God. He makes her life — and death — purpose-filled, for she succeeds in her mission in the end.

We are all called to mission, to serve others as brightly and boldly as we can. We cannot count the cost, since we can never truly measure the benefit to those whose lives we touch, directly or indirectly. Perhaps our impact will be felt by those we leave behind after we cease to live on earth; perhaps it will  continue to grow as they keep the memory of our lives present in theirs.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Faith skirmishes

Our faith is  under assault every day on many different fronts. Some are outright battles, but others I would consider skirmishes: subtle comments or situations that put down people of faith or the faith itself. It’s up to us to recognize these attacks and counter their effect on our own faith journey.

I attended a webinar for my work about the digital transformation in marketing, how websites, emails and social media have changed the way companies interact with their customers. One would not expect  to have faith attacked while listening to such a speaker, but after a rather callous comment from the presenter, I was sorely tempted to hang up. He claimed the Church opposed the printing press because they didn’t want anyone to read the Bible! St. Jerome, way back in the 5th century and well before the printing press, said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We do need to read, if not the Bible, then passages from it daily in order to keep the Word of God in mind. In some sense the Church was the first printing press, as many monasteries copied books, both religious and classical literature.  They kept books from being lost to time during the fall of the Roman empire and the period of unrest that followed it. If I didn’t know these tidbits of history, hearing a derogatory comment like the one mentioned during a business presentation could be a seed planted that would eventually have a negative impact on my relationship with God.

Another example: in a recent crime drama I watched that was set in 1920s Australia, the rich and worldly main character was horrified at the conditions of a laundry service run by a local convent. This was back in the day when the laundry was all done by hand; it was hard labor. The convent sheltered and cared for orphaned and troubled girls; they were the ones who did the actual laundry. The character seemed shocked that the girls were only given very modest housing in exchange for their labor. It’s very easy to look at that scene through modern eyes and be quick to judge the Church. While this is a fictional story, images and situations like this presented in a purely secular way even if they are based on truth seem to scream ‘unfair.’ What is unfair is the one-sided presentation. Many religious take a vow of poverty, when they open their home to share it with others, they open it as it is: simple and modest. I’m sure if the character ever heard the life of St. Francis of Assisi, she would be just as shocked that he gave up all his worldly possessions to become poor so as to be a better servant to God. By delving into the lives of the saints, we can broaden our understanding to our own calling as well as to see life from a different perspective.

When faced with a faith skirmish, let it be unsettling for us; let it cause us to dig deeper and ponder it. Let it be an opportunity to learn about our faith and its history. Let it become part of the armor of God that we wear. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)