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

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

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.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Making the unbelievable real

The Easter Vigil is a feast for our senses with the candles for our sight, the incense for our smell, the bells for our hearing, and the holy water for our touch. While the liturgy is also much longer than a regular Mass, it’s not just the addition of the extra items that causes the length, but the in-depth review of our salvation history.

Jesus Christ was no ordinary man; He was both fully human and fully divine. His human form existed at a particular time in our linear world history. His teaching during this time, and especially his Passion, Death, and Resurrection that is celebrated in the Easter Vigil, illuminates the relationship God wants with each and every one of us. The sacred fire and the candles are the physical items we use to illustrate Jesus as the light to the world.

We listen to multiple readings from the Old Testament, starting with the story of creation. This is the very essence of matter mattering, as God creates the whole physical world in all its detail. God pronounces each of His creations good and initiates a relationship with all.  The second reading is about the sacrifice of Abraham and how he trusted in God to provide, to the point he was willing to sacrifice his son to Him, until God spared Isaac and provided a suitable animal in his place. This is a foreshadowing of what God would do for us, only He does not spare His Son, but rather allows Him to die a physical death in order to conquer it. In hearing the reading from Exodus, we hear how the Israelites passed over dry land while the waters of the sea became like walls to them, but to the Egyptians, who pursued them with the intent of returning them to slavery, God allowed the water to flow back and nature to be His army, clogging the wheels of the chariots so that man and beast drowned. We are reminded that God will triumph and He is always present in our needs. Additional readings from the prophets may also be proclaimed, as they tell the story of Israel, to whom the Savior was promised, even though they were not always faithful to the covenant they shared with God.

It is only after the Old Testament readings are completed, that the Gloria is finally proclaimed, not just with words, but sung out and complemented with additional instruments of praise, including the altar bells. It begins with the words the angels used to announce the birth of Jesus and renders worship to Him as our intercessor sitting at God the Father’s side. The incense too, both at the proclamation of the Gospel and in the preparation of the Eucharist gifts, is a visible sign of our prayers rising up to Jesus and acknowledging Him as our Lord. In the renewal of our baptismal promises, we once again are blessed with holy water. As the water touches our head, face and hands, we are reminded of the parting of the sea for the Israelites as well as the beliefs we proclaim of our Catholic faith.

It may sound unbelievable that God became man, suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that we may share in His divine life by having a relationship with Him. Yet that is precisely what Easter is all about: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through the scriptures and the additional “smells and bells,” the physical world joins us in our worship of Jesus as our Savior. Together all matter that God created rejoices in harmony in the victory Jesus won for us.

Catholic Girl Journey

Walking with the suffering

Holy week represents the most drastic combination of humanity’s high and low. It begins with Jesus’ celebratory entrance to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and descends to His crucifixion on Good Friday.  For those who are able to participate in the Good Friday liturgy and/or Stations of the Cross, being immersed in Jesus’ passion and death can be overwhelming. What purpose does it serve to participate in these events?

Suffering is something that no human ever wants to go through; yet whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, there will be times when we will experience pain. What is our reaction when we see someone in pain? Is it to avoid them, so that we don’t end up like them, to pity them and their circumstances, or is to walk with them to take some of their suffering on ourselves and in the process perhaps provide them some comfort?

While staying with my sister during my transition to Virginia, I’ve witnessed both family and professionals as they care for my Parkinson’s suffering Dad, who is also living with her. It takes two to three people to move him from his chair to the wheelchair, all so that the basic necessities can be achieved. He is relying on us to assist him safely, and in doing so, we are taking on the weight of his body.

When we participate in the passion liturgies or pray the Stations of the Cross, we may not physically be taking up the cross, but we are taking up the mental, emotional and spiritual weight. We are like Simon of Cyrene, helping Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha. If you’re thinking that Jesus carried His cross over 2,000 years ago so how can our participation and prayers help, keep in mind that Jesus is both God and man. While He in His manly form physically carried the cross in the past, as God the Son, He is outside time and space and receives our efforts no matter what the calendar says. He may have channeled our support, past, present, and future, to His manly form as He was experiencing His Passion and death.

When we walk with the suffering, be it Jesus, our family members, or complete strangers,  it is not about us and how we feel; it is about being present to those we are assisting. It is in the present that we feel pain. Once we pass from this life, there will be no more suffering. Let us be in the present moment, assume the weight of the suffering and support them in a special way during this most holy of weeks, with prayers and participation in the sacred liturgies offered.

Catholic Girl Journey

Empty

The empty page stood staring at me. What to write? I felt like I was waiting for inspiration to come. I was looking at this empty page, thinking about how, well, empty it was. Maybe I should write about empty!

When I think of empty, I think of the tomb on Easter. That is what we are all looking forward to: the empty tomb proving that Jesus rose from the dead. It’s too early to write about that, I thought. But there is another empty that Lent is all about. It’s the emptying ourselves of all the things that hold us back from a relationship with God. The whole 40 days is giving us an opportunity to dig deep into the recesses of our hearts, souls, minds, and emotions, to clean out what has been polluting us. It’s at the heart of fasting and almsgiving, and a big part of praying as well. We need to be empty in order to be filled with joy on Easter.

There are many paradoxes in the Catholic faith; like dying to oneself in order to have life in Jesus. Along that same concept is that we need to continually empty ourselves in order to be filled with God’s love and grace. If we want more of God, we need to give away what He gives us. If we hold on to what He gives us, He cannot give us any more. What great wisdom the Church has in providing us the opportunity to prepare for so great a feast with a time of preparation, prescribing ways to empty ourselves during this solemn season.

We only have a little more than a week until Easter, however, every effort we make now to prepare will be rewarded. Even if we haven’t been keeping our Lenten practices well, we don’t have to cram all 40 days worth of work into the last week. We just need to sincerely open ourselves up, to empty ourselves, and let the Spirit lead us closer to Jesus during His Passion. A good confession, praying the stations of the cross, and keeping Jesus’ Passion and Death in mind are all examples of how we can empty ourselves and walk with Jesus.

No matter if you’re just starting to empty yourself or feel you can’t be any emptier, this last week of effort will end with the joy and peace that Jesus brings at His resurrection. Let us walk together with Jesus on His final earthly journey.