Catholic Girl Journey

Don’t turn back, or drag it along

It’s been a full three months living in my home in my new state of Virginia. For as long as it took me to sort through things and box them up, donating or tossing a good portion, it has not made the unpacking and settling in any faster. While there really isn’t any deadline, I feel like I’m behind in getting it done. I was recently listening to a podcast by Franciscan Brothers Casey and Tito, Everyday Liminality,  which I found rather appropriate for starting a new chapter of my life. 

The topic for the podcast was about interpreting song lyrics, and Brother Tito brought up a song called No Roots by Alice Merton. “Ministry isn’t ours, it belongs to God,” he said as he talked about the itinerant Fransican life. As the brothers discussed their upcoming life changes (Casey being ordained and Tito professing his solemn vows), both agreed that when moving, it’s not just personal property we are called to give up, we must also be open to the change. The reason why problems seem to follow us, is that we can be too insistent on the status quo rather than being open. There will always be people that are easy to get along with and we enjoy their company. Others give us multiple opportunities to practice patience. If we find we’re struggling with the same issues, it’s probably because we have brought them along. 

I was very active in my previous parish, and I must admit that I’ve wondered whom I could talk to at my new parish about adding a particular song or two to the repertoire, or making other suggestions from my experiences in my previous location. Thankfully, I’ve only thought about it. I have signed up for two ministries that I believe will use the talents that God gave me, but are totally different from what I did previously. At times, my cautious attitude when volunteering makes me feel like I’m not giving God my all, but I have to remember that my intention is to observe and experience my location and what it has to offer and to become comfortable in being me in this new location. When I can appreciate what the parish and charities have to offer, then I can be a completely willing and productive volunteer. 

I don’t consider my previous parish participation and experiences void; on the contrary, they have made me the person I am today. And they’ve made me a better person than I was prior to those experiences. However, there is no turning back now, and I don’t want to face the same struggles in a different location. God has planted me here, and I want to bloom where I’m planted, even if it takes a bit of getting used to the new soil and some careful cultivation by Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

To infinity and beyond!

“To infinity and beyond!” is the motto for Buzz Lightyear, the astronaut from the Toy Story movies. After binge watching various tributes to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I was thinking, that should be the motto of us all. 

At the end of 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew a plane for the first time. Within 66 years, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on the surface of the moon. Flying fascinates me. I can’t say that I understand all the physics or mechanics of it, but I love learning about it. Having been born just 2 short years after the moon landing, flying anywhere is something that I’ve always known. For those who lived during President Kennedy’s space challenge decade, the various programs about the space race must seem like old history. However, for me, each special presented the events from a different perspective that was both educational and surprising. 

Perhaps because it’s not common place anymore, especially in the media, it stands out that every time an astronaut was giving a message from space, the phrase, “God bless…” was used. In the recounting the Apollo 8 mission, which occurred over Christmas of 1968, I was astonished to learn astronauts Borman, Lovell, and Anders had read from the first book of Genesis. I could understand if they read some of the story of the Nutcracker or ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, but it seemed that the men understood the deeper significance of the moment. They knew they would be on television and that most people would be watching the broadcast on Christmas eve. In an age where science presumes to trump religion, it’s nice to know that these very educated men, who actually escaped the bonds of gravity during their lunar orbit mission, took their role seriously and brought meaning to their work.  

I mostly fly when I’m going on vacation. During my first major trips, I would pray to God that if it was my time, could I have my vacation first before He called me home. Inevitably I would be in mid-flight when I’d start to think about where I was: in a large sealed tin can, being hurled at incredible speed high above most flying birds and even the clouds, to a destination very far away. “Now is not the time to think like that,” I would chastise myself. While flying is one of the safest modes of transportation, when it fails, it does so spectacularly. It’s hard not to think about what would happen after that. I used to bemoan that if I did pass away, I wouldn’t be able to get to this place or that location on my travel bucket list. I then realized that God has created everything. How can God deny His daughter a look around the world He created? Then I thought, “Why stop at places on the Earth? Why not ask God to see the whole universe?” I can almost imagine God taking me to Saturn for an up-close look at the rings, explaining how they were created and why. Perhaps He’ll take me to His favorite vantage point to look at what we call the Milky Way. 

Some folks may have a bit of fear they will be bored when they pass from this life, but with an unknown number of other galaxies out there, I don’t know if eternity will be enough time to see them all. Buzz Lightyear may be correct in his theology: To infinity and beyond, indeed!

Catholic Girl Journey

Good all the time

I was at Mass the other day and the priest said something that really resonated with me: God is always good, even when life is unfair.

The start of that day was rather a rough one, and while I don’t like going to Mass grumpy, I know that’s when I especially need to go. As Father was giving his homily, his point struck home and I needed to hear that. I do get passionate about my work and my home, so when things are not working out the way I would like them to, it seems unfair and inconvenient to me. It’s like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything accomplished and if situations don’t go in my favor, I get further behind. The more I get behind the more worried I get. After worrying about things for awhile, I get annoyed that I’m spending all this physical/mental/emotional/spiritual effort on trivial matters way beyond my control. But God rains blessings on the just and the unjust, the ones at peace and the ones that worry. The difference between them is that one is attuned to God’s will and sees His blessings in everything, and the other still has a focus on themselves, rather than God’s will. 

God IS good all the time, and all the time God is good. It can be hard to feel God’s embrace when difficulties arise. Rather than focusing on our troubles, our focus should be on how God is sustaining us; how His goodness and kindness are around us: in the smile from a stranger, the purr of a cat, and the blue sky above. If we start thanking God for how things didn’t go wrong when they could have, we can put into perspective life’s unfairness. If anyone knows about the unfairness of life, Jesus’ death can be the poster for it. He was abandoned by His followers, denied by His closest friend, and executed as a criminal. However, Jesus’ suffering and death is not meant to make light of our situations, rather is an example of how to totally surrender to God. It also shows the power God has in making suffering become something beautiful. 

God loves us. God showers us with blessings. God is good all the time. Thank God that He is and does all that and more.

Catholic Girl Journey

Beauty in work

As the iridescent bubbles from the remaining soap suds glistened their colors of purple, pink, and yellow in the sink, a smile formed on my mouth. “Work is pretty,” I thought. Wait, did that thought come willingly into my brain? Yes, it did. I may not have spoken it aloud, but I thought it just as if I would have. 

After yet another change in management structure, I’ve lost count for the year. It’s hard to want to do a good job when it’s somewhat of a moving target, when I’m not sure of the direction from the management, or how I will be measured against the company goals. Yet, that is where God has placed me. I’ve asked, prayed, and practically begged for a change. How can this situation be beautiful? 

Perhaps it’s not about seeing beauty from my work, but grasping the fleeting moments that are special and enjoying them, just like the colorful soap suds in the sink. Perhaps it’s bringing beauty to others as I wish them a happy day, and receive a chuckle in response. Perhaps this is my cross to bear at the moment and I’m being given ample opportunity to practice carrying it with joy. 

Some say if work was meant to be fun, it wouldn’t be called work. A large percentage of the time, I would agree, but there are others who genuinely enjoy their jobs. There are times when I have enjoyed aspects of mine, even in the midst of challenges. Work has always been part of the equation for man’s life, as a way to partake of the divine life. God works to create everything. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Gen 2:15) Adam was not sitting around and eating bon-bons in Eden, he had a job to do there, even before the fall. It was only after he pursued his own interests and ate the forbidden fruit that work became sweaty toil in order to survive. 

Work can be hard, but it can also be fun. It can be a source of grace and blessing as well as temptation and sin. It’s not something to run from or wish away with a lottery win. Work is to be embraced and offered up as a gift, a sacrifice, and a prayer. And when it’s all over, we’ll see the beauty and be privileged to have participated in it. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Church practice

On the feast of Corpus Christi, the gospel reading from Luke is about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Most reflections focus on the miracle and it being a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. But it is also a bit of training for the Apostles.

After a long day of preaching and healing by Jesus, it is the tired Apostles who suggest that Jesus dismiss the crowd so they can go and eat. Perhaps it was the Apostles who were hungry and just wanted some quiet time. Instead, Jesus instructs them to feed the people. It is the Apostles who organize the people into groups at Jesus’s direction. Sounds to me like the precursor to parishes in a large city. Jesus then blesses and breaks the bread and fish for distribution. The Apostles are given the task to give some to each group. I wonder how long it took them to realize the miracle that was happening? Did they notice they kept having food to share with the next group? Or was it only when everyone was finished and they were picking up the leftovers that they knew what had happened?

As fishermen, Peter, James, and John were used to hauling in fish. What were they thinking when instead of gathering fish, they gave it out — for free? Did it go against their instinct? Or were they getting comfortable with the ways of Jesus? How about Judas Iscariot, was he happy to give out free food or did he resent the task? As the Apostle who spoke most of love, I can imagine John as he is gathering up the leftovers, asking each person if they had enough or if they wanted to keep a portion for later. If you were one of the Apostles, what do you think your reaction would have been, both to distribute as well as to gather the remains?

While this miracle is not considered the first Mass, the first Eucharist was at the Last Supper, it does have similar qualities. The people first hear Jesus speak, just like we do in the Liturgy of the Word. Then Jesus performs a miracle with the bread and His chosen ministers give some to each person, just like in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus uses this opportunity to teach and for the apostles to practice part of what will become the focus of their lives. 

We all need practice from time to time. Jesus understands that and often uses circumstances for multiple purposes in our lives, including practice for any future event. So the next time you want to ask Jesus why you are doing something, think of it as practice and ask Him how you can do it better next time. 

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.