Catholic Girl Journey

Grateful and gracious

While the words grateful and gracious may seem to go together, they are less likely to be used in conjunction with struggles and challenges. As Christians, however, we are called to be grateful and gracious in all circumstances, even those that are difficult.

One definition for grateful is to be appreciative of benefits received. Life is a gift, and on most days, it can seem fairly easy to be thankful to God for such a precious gift. In some moments, it may require a deeper look around us to appreciate what we have.

As I was stopped at a red light the other night, the big, full moon shone brightly in the sky. Knowing that it is reflecting the light from the sun, it made me think of how much Mary reflects the light of Jesus. In that moment I was grateful for such a blessing. While it didn’t warm me from the frigid cold that had descended upon my area, it lifted my spirit to be able to brave the walk from the car to my home. It also made me think that I need to thank God for the weather, as it could have been worse, it could have been icy or snowing. Instead it was just blustery and brutally cold. Do we thank God for the days of sunshine? Or do we just complain when the weather is not to our liking? Do we appreciate that we need the rain in order to see the rainbow?

We may be able to find something for which to be thankful amid the storms of life. Being gracious, acting in kindness and courtesy, can often require more intention and effort than we’d like to give. It can be difficult to be courteous when we are treated harshly, rather we want to defend ourselves and prove that we are right and others are wrong. As followers of Jesus, we need to act more like He did, with patience and love. As the just judge, He had every right to condemn those whom He came into contact. As our Savior, both then and now, He instead loves each person as they are, faults and all, and calls them out of sin and into a new life as His disciples. He truly is gracious and asks us to follow His lead with one another.  

I can’t help but think how grace-filled a person can be who exercises gratefulness and graciousness in all aspects of their lives. In our faith journey on the road to sainthood, let us not just practice these attitudes, but really live and breathe them so that we can experience a bit of heaven here and now.

Catholic Girl Journey

Strength in weakness

My muscles are sore. My day job is working with websites, sitting at a desk.  Because I’m moving to Virginia, my spare time has been spent packing boxes and painting to prepare my condo for sale. I can’t do it all alone.

I don’t look at it as a test, something I will either pass or fail, but rather as an opportunity. It’s not practice, as that suggests it doesn’t count in the grand scheme of the game of life. Rather, it’s like a solo performance of my trust in God. I’ve been on my own for almost 25 years; I’m very used to being responsible for myself and doing things alone. I pray the surrender prayer daily, “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” That’s very easy to say when things are going well, but I’m realizing I’m not as young as when I bought my condo 21 years ago.  I need help to get this place sold.

Sometimes it’s asking for the strength to pack another box. Another time it may be to resist the urge to dump everything in a box instead of thoughtfully sort through it to make the decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. The biggest moment of surrender was to send out emails to friends to ask them to help me move furniture and paint the remaining rooms. It was a public admission that I can’t do it all myself. It may not seem like a big deal to some, but for me, it was a huge step. I realized God has put people in my life to help me; not asking them for assistance is to refuse His gift. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a sign of strength. I know my limits, and yes, I may push my limits, but not so far that I would do injury to myself. When I ask for help in situations, I’m not admitting defeat, but rather I am humbly admitting that I need reinforcements to make it to victory. Defeat would be to say I cannot do this and just stop, which unfortunately has crossed my mind a time or two.

Once I am settled in Virginia, it should be interesting to reflect back on these opportunities of surrendering to God and asking for help. For now, I’m trying to keep the goal in sight and remember the words of St. Paul, “I have the strength for everything through Him who empowers me.” (Phil 4: 13)

Catholic Girl Journey

The depth of change

John the Baptist was the herald for Jesus; he prepared the way not just by instructing people to change their lives, but also by asking them to make an outward sign of their commitment by being baptized in water.  We’ve recently completed the Advent season during which we heard John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of Jesus; how did we do with making changes in our lives?

I’m in the middle of packing my life up, or at least packing up the past 21 years I’ve spent in my condo; I’m preparing to sell it in order to move closer to family in Virginia. I can’t help but draw a parallel between this sorting of things that I’ve accumulated and making a spiritual inventory. It’s a taxing process to look at a book or an item, remember the who, when and why of how it came to me and then make a decision to keep it, donate it, or trash it. Since I don’t know yet where I’ll be living, I don’t know what I’ll need. The instinct is to keep everything. But each item will need to be packed in a box, moved and then unpacked. The question becomes, is it worth taking? If I look at my relationship with God in that same manner, how much unnecessary stuff am I carrying? Is the baggage worth holding onto? Is it making it harder for God to work through me?

While I have purged my belongings before, as recently as two years ago in preparation for adopting my cat, this move is taking me far deeper than I have been before. It is truly an entire home in upheaval. It’s like the previous purges were those called for by John the Baptist, but this one is the one called for by Jesus. As He began His ministry, He proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) It is not a call to listen to His teachings, decide what we like and what we want to follow. It is a call to stop, identify where our relationship is broken with God and to mend our ways so that we are able to do God’s will.

This amount of change is a bit scary. I have no idea what God is asking of me. There is a part of me that just wants things to go back to the way they were and not have to go through this process. It’s at those times that I know I’m doing the right thing and that this depth of change is not just needed, but long overdue. As each box is packed, the donation and trash piles grow, and there is a sense of relief, of hope of something better. I can’t imagine what God has planned for me, and I don’t want to try. His blessings are much more fabulous than anything I can dream of and this is what changing is all about.

Catholic Girl Journey

Fresh start

Every new year offers the opportunity to change, grow, or even make a fresh start. The ads on TV promise us new bodies if we join a gym or participate in a weight management program. The calendar with 12 months of mostly unscheduled time can lead us to dream and plan of everything we want to accomplish during the year. Do we ever consider our spiritual life in these plans?

It can be very easy to delay any spiritual activity changes until the Church’s liturgical seasons present the opportunity, like Advent and Lent. Limiting any changes just to those times of the year, we may miss other opportunities that are offered based on the calendar, like adult faith formation and retreats. As we take stock of where we are in life at the beginning of another calendar year, let us also include our relationship with God and what changes could be possible.

To live a life of faith, we need to expose every area of ourselves to God’s will. There is no one answer to how one can know God’s will. By educating ourselves and learning about Him in the Scriptures, and how He moved others in the lives of the saints, we can open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and His promptings. Reading Thomas Aquinas may be a bit beyond our level of theological comprehension, but taking an interest in the development of the Church, theology, or even just learning about what makes the Mass such an important obligation can help deepen our relationship with God.

Faith is not just an intellectual pursuit; it is also a matter of action. The start of a new year is a great time to find out how to participate in the community and help others that are less fortunate. Perhaps it’s visiting a nursing home or hospital, reading to children at the library, or even volunteering at a soup kitchen. When we reach out to love one another, we are sharing the love God has for us.

The ultimate fresh start is celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. When we turn to God and admit our sins intending not to commit them again, our souls are washed clean with God’s grace. Most amazingly, the sacrament is available to us all throughout the year. While our determination for other new year’s resolutions may weaken and fail, we can restore our relationship with God and start anew at any time throughout the year. Perhaps making a commitment to celebrate the sacrament more frequently than we have before could be just the resolution that can lead us closer to God.

We are called to know, love, and serve God and one another. Let us take a moment at the start of 2019 to consider how we can take a step deeper in our relationship with Him.

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 .