Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of faith

The measure of our faith is the measure of our relationship with God. Our Creator gives us life, but He just doesn’t turn us loose and forget about us. Rather He wants to have a relationship with us on an individual level, to share with us all He has.

Faith is not an intellectual exercise or an emotional attachment to an idea. It goes deeper than believing in the existence of God and the words of a creed. Faith is both decision and action. God gives us life and offers Himself to us. When we decide to accept Him into our lives, it changes how we makes our choices. As we get to know Him better, He offers us the opportunity to be His emissary to everyone we encounter. We are His smile to welcome a stranger, His hands to offer aid, and His word to educate and inspire. Faith is truly a gift that keeps giving.

During our time on earth, God continuously invites us to be closer to Him. Even when we spurn His outreach, He does not give up. When we accept a relationship with Him, He encourages us to go deeper, to not be content with Him as a mere acquaintance. However, faith has an expiration point when our life on earth concludes. It is then the final question of faith is asked and the answer will determine if we spend eternity with Him or without Him. The choice is ours to make, and we answer it every moment of every day, by seeing Him in the world around us and our experiences, or rejecting His advances.

We may say we “have” faith, but it’s not ours to own. It’s ours to share in a relationship with God, and to share with those around us. In this season of giving, let us remember to share this precious gift of God Himself with those we meet.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of life

If we think of life as a gift, then we deserve nothing. Yet how many times do we expect the world or more and appreciate none of it?

The secular world around us would have us believe that life is all about us, or more precisely, me. The what’s-in-it-for-me attitude is used by marketers to sell us their products and has become the litmus test for how we determine what we need and what we want to do. When we believe everything revolves around us, we start to have expectations of what we deserve and what should be given to us, not as gifts, but because we perceive we have a right to things or treatment. Instead of receiving with thankfulness, we take because we perceive it is ours. It becomes our possession.

As we begin to prepare for the season of gift giving, let’s pause a moment and realize the most important gift we have ever received: life. Our creation is by the will of God, who blessed the love of our parents from whom we are born. God loves each and every one of us. He wants us to be here, on this earth, in this time and place. We may never fully know or be able to comprehend why we are born into the time, space and conditions, but God has a plan for us. While God does not need anything, He wants to have a relationship with us, for us to share in His love and work through us for the betterment of others.

When we talk about life, what does that really entail? It’s not just our daily activities, but encompasses the minute biological needs like our breathing, our heart beating, and our bodies being able to move, to the more intangible attributes like being able to think and reason as well as our soul. How often do we thank our Creator for giving us this magnificent gift? It’s more likely we complain about what is not working well, like the creaking of our knees or when we are struggling with a challenging situation.

As the season of Advent begins, let us start small and take a moment each day to thank God for the gift of life. Take a breath and thank God for it. Feel your heartbeat and thank God for it. Realize that you are noticing these things and using your mind and thank God for it. Realize you are praying and thank God for your soul. In receiving well the most basic gift God has given us, we will be able to receive His Son when He comes.    

Catholic Girl Journey

Face of Jesus

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:40)

I recently went to Mass at a church that is rather modern. Not only has it been around for just 25 years, but it is built entirely in the round with the altar in the center and the pews in a theater style. I must admit that I missed having kneelers. I never realized how important body position is during the Mass, until the ability to kneel was not provided. I suppose I could have tried, but I’m not as flexible as I wish to be and I had no desire to get stuck. The other thing I really missed was the crucifix. My home parish of St. Isaac Jogues has a tremendous and larger-than-life crucifix behind the altar. I use it as my point of focus during the Kyrie, the Gospel, and communion. Without such a focal point, I felt lost and distracted. The thought bemoaned in my head, “I can’t see Jesus!” What I could see were the individuals who make up the congregation. And the answering thought in my head was that each person is the face of Jesus.

The way people treat us, and our experiences interacting with them, influence our response. In this secular age of “what’s in it for me,” it can be challenging to see Jesus in the selfish and self-absorbed, but He is there. It can also be very easy to pass judgement on others and to say they don’t deserve whatever kindness or opportunity you can provide them. If God waited until we deserved to receive His mercy and forgiveness, we would still be waiting for the first coming of Jesus.

From Jesus’ command to love God and then your neighbor to examples, of what that means in the letters of Paul and James, it is clear that Christianity is not meant to be a purely intellectual pursuit of belief. Rather it is an ‘and/both’ reaction to Jesus as the Christ; we believe in Him and from that belief, the love we have for Him is then transferred outward to everyone — family and stranger, those we have met and those in the next town, the next state, the next country, across the globe, and regardless of what they believe.

We can get so caught up in our daily routines that sometimes it takes a shock to make us see from a different perspective. While this was a relatively gentle shake, as I looked around the church, I wondered if others could see Jesus in me?

Catholic Girl Journey

Dining with the saints

Starting out the month of November with All Saints’ Day has me thinking about the saints with whom I feel a connection. Modifying a question that pops up from time to time: if you could dine with any saint, whom would it be and why?

While that may seem like a wild question, it may not be that absurd. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the message of God preparing a banquet feast is a recurring theme. While some may argue it is used as an analogy, even if the purpose is not meant to eat, there is a gathering taking place. In heaven, it is called the communion of saints.

Since Jesus is the only one who has come to earth from heaven, it’s hard for us who live in time and space to grasp what heaven is and what it will be like. God has given us an imagination and I can’t help but think this is to help us prepare for heaven. While we will be able to see and experience God as He is and He will be all we need, the communion that the Trinity shares amongst the three persons I would think would be mimicked by the communion of saints. Our interaction with other saints may not be to see, hear, and talk to them as we do on earth, but there would be some sort of communication between all members, otherwise we would be in total isolation.

If I was able to talk with only one saint, I think it would be Saint Peter. I would love to hear his stories, from fishing to following Jesus and how much alike he thought they were. I would love to know about his family and how they handled his career change. I also think it would be fascinating to hear how his intercession has helped people over the past 2,000 years.

If heaven does allow us to get to know the other saints in on an individual basis, it may take eternity to get to know each person. What better harmony can there be in heaven, than the communion of saints truly being a family and getting to know one another.

Catholic Girl Journey

The other nine

I’ve heard it said before and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. Someone remarked recently, “I’m a good person. I haven’t killed anyone.” Somehow being a good person has been boiled down to not physically taking a person’s life. Is that how we Christians are reduced to measuring ourselves?

When I hear that judgement, it makes me sad. There are many ways to kill a person that still leave them living and breathing. That may sound oxymoronic, but one can kill a person’s spirit with constant harsh and demeaning words. A person’s sense of community can be killed by purposefully ignoring them and having others do the same. The resulting isolation can be both mentally and emotionally crippling. If we are not lifting others up in our words, actions and deeds, then we are not contributing to their well being.

We can’t just stop with family and friends, it extends out even to those who we may not easily get along with as well as total strangers. It’s not always easy and some may struggle more than others, but we can always reach out to God for assistance. One way that helps is to pray for the challenging people in our lives, not that they see things our way, but that God will shower His blessings upon them. When we see others as a child of God and a recipient of His grace, it’s harder to hold onto anger and hate. When we voice our hatred of another or wish them ill, we are not bearers of Christ, but rather we kill the grace inside of us. The more we do this, the less we can call ourselves good people.

As Christians (and even our Jewish brethren), however, we can’t just look at one of God’s commandments as the litmus test of being good. The other nine are not optional, but support the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” just as this commandment is part of the other nine. Our attitude towards God and His will for us should be at the center of our life. When we turn our back on God, we actually start killing ourselves, little by little, because we become less of who we are meant to be. When we lie, steal and covet from our neighbors, we are slowly killing any relationship we may have with them.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our motives for doing any action before we know it. To judge oneself as a good person is to claim divine abilities. The commandments were given, not so that we can judge others, but that we have guidelines to follow. I don’t judge myself to be a good person, but rather strive with God’s help to be the best person I can be, using the commandments to identify when I have failed, so that I can see to resolve the rift I’ve created with God in the sacrament of reconciliation .

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Feeding the beast

There is a legendary story, credited to the Native Americans, about the internal struggle using the analogy of two wolves. One has anger, envy, and greed and is considered evil. One has hope, kindness, and compassion and is considered good. As the story goes, the wolf that wins is the wolf that is fed.

The movie Tomorrowland was recently on television, and I happen to come across it right when it started. I had the time, and it seemed interesting, so I watched it. Early in the movie, the father was reminding the young girl that we all have good and bad inside us, using the analogy of the two wolves. This was the underlying theme of the movie. The young girl learns that Tomorrowland has found a way to see into the future, but the more it tries to show humanity the consequences of their bad actions, the more humanity wants to see those consequences eventually progressing until the end of the world is predicted in 59 days. The girl realizes that it’s the broadcast of the constant bad actions and their consequences that is causing mankind to behave so poorly, feeding its destruction. Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves the day and all of humanity by stopping the broadcast. At the end of the movie, the thought that came to my mind was Halloween.

Somehow, over the course of the generations, Halloween has become a major holiday. While the retail spending may not rival other holidays, the time spent decorating, preparing costumes and celebrating can rival many. Even pets get into the spirit with costumes made just for them! But instead of celebrating what this All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is supposed to be — the vigil of All Saints’ Day, it has turned into a celebration of horror, gore and evil. Especially in today’s secular culture, the lack of belief in God also translates into a lack of belief in Satan. The movies about demons and possessions are just stories; people enjoy being scared when they know no harm will come to them. But are they feeding the wrong wolf? While Hollywood may have invented the stories they present, real exorcisms are being performed around the world by select Catholic priests trained for that battle. Fighting the devil is serious business, not to be taken lightly.

So this year to prepare for a celebration of all the saints — everyone in heaven, not just the canonized saints — may we invoke their aid by telling their stories, praying for their intercession and praising God for the miracles he allows through them.

Catholic Girl Journey

Question or doubt?

“I just don’t get the Trinity,” her grandson told her after his confirmation. He was looking for an explanation he could understand. But nothing she or her daughter said could provide the reasoning he was seeking. The mysteries of the faith leave us grasping for words to describe what we don’t fully understand.

I was chatting with a woman from my parish when she told me about her grandson’s question. She was thrilled that he was interested in his faith and really thinking about it deeply. It wasn’t just a passing thought that he shrugged off. Yet at the same time,  his question brought frustration because she wasn’t able to provide a suitable answer. But that’s what faith is all about, as St. Paul said to the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25). All the same, we want to provide answers to help our young people, especially early on their faith journey. But is an unanswerable question a doubt?

I once had a coworker who would use doubt as a synonym for question. English was not her native language, and she was so serious when she’d approach me with what she called a doubt. I would brace myself for the worst, only to realize all she really had was a question. So what’s the difference? Doubt has several definitions, among which are: to lack confidence, to consider unlikely and to be uncertain. For me, doubt is something negative; it’s saying we believe that something is not possible. A question, however, does not have a negative connotation. Rather its definitions include: an interrogative expression often used to test knowledge, a subject open for discussion, and an act or instance of asking.

As humans, we are made in the image and likeness of God in that we have an intellect and can reason. God has provided us a mind to think, imagine, and dream. For those who seek a deeper relationship with Him, it means opening up our minds to the mysteries around us: in creation and in faith. To question is not a bad thing; but to doubt leads us on a slippery slope  away from faith. Our limited minds will never comprehend the totality of God and all His mysteries, but that doesn’t mean we cannot probe deeper. When we use our minds to seek out God, we are using the gifts He gave us. I’d like to think He would be delighted with our efforts, however feeble they may be.

I advised my friend to tell her grandson to ask God about the Trinity. After all, no one knows it better than He does. And no one can it explain it better to her grandson than God. It may be a lifelong learning experience, but if he keeps his mind open, not only will he continue to grow into a deeper relationship with God, but His question will be answered again and again to the measure of his ability to understand this great mystery.