Backsides and belly rubs

After just over a year of being a first-time pet parent to my cat, Vera, there were adjustments I needed to make and expectations that needed to be modified.

It sounds a bit idyllic: a cat sitting on your lap, purring away. I try to encourage that in Vera and often sit in my recliner with my feet up and calling her to come snuggle with me. When she first jumps up she’ll often smell my hands, face, and hair or she’ll start kneading. But when she’s ready to settle down, I find her backside is facing me, if not practically in my face. It would be so much more comfortable for me if her head were closer to where my hands are so I can scratch under her chin, where she likes it, rather than it being down my legs. However, I’ve discovered through this behavior she is telling me she trusts me completely. It’s made me ponder my relationship with God and how much (or little!) I trust Him. But if I turn my back to Him, not out of disrespect but out of trust, how does that change things? He can still catch me if I fall. He can still guide me with whispers in my ear on which direction to take. Perhaps I can see more of where I’m going and take in more of the beauty of His creation. It may not be ideal all the time, but practicing having trust in God to the point we can turn our backs may be an exercise worth trying.

On days when I work from home, Vera often takes her afternoon snoozes near my desk. But she doesn’t curl up; nope, she lays on her back with her feet in the air and her one paw  over her eyes to keep the light out. The soft, white fur on her tummy is a siren that calls me to give her a belly rub. She usually tolerates it well, but sometimes bats my hand to her head, which is her location preference. Here, again, in this position she is communicating her vulnerability and total trust in me. To see and touch the most sensitive areas of her body, and on a regular basis, illustrates the bond we share. Do I let God see my vulnerable areas? Do I let Him give me a “belly rub” in those spots? Or do I cover them up and pretend they don’t exist? God knows me better than I know myself, so why am I so resistant to His involvement in my life except for the few things for which I pray? As much as I want to do His will, there always seems some part of me that measures it against what I want.

While we may try to humanize our pets by putting thoughts and words against their behavior, learning what the actions truly mean can not only strengthen our relationships with them, but can also prompt reflections of our relationships to dive into deeper unity with God and those we love.

Catholic Girl Journey

Define help

How would you describe what it means to help? Is it someone rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to complete a task? Is it someone riding in and saving the day? Or is it opening your perspective to another’s?

While all three could define the word help, when we seek God’s help it may be the second one that we prefer, but it is the third one that actually occurs. It’s not unusual to pray to God for a specific outcome, even Jesus did that in His agony, so we are in good company. However, He did ask for the Father’s will to be done, whatever that might be. Too often it seems like we place our order for an outcome and then are disappointed when it does not happen as we desired. We may even conclude our prayers were not heard or answered. But perhaps the truth is that we were the ones that were not listening.

Asking for help can be scary. First we need to admit that we cannot do something. Then we need to listen to the one who is in a position to help us. Can you imagine seeking the aid of a piano teacher to learn how to play the instrument and then ignoring everything he or she instructs you to do?  Sometimes the remedy for our situation is not to our liking. As in the case of learning the piano, playing scales is not something most enjoy. It can be tedious and boring, but it is building a foundation and creating finger memories of the keys. And from learning the piano to asking for divine help, the resolution may not be instantaneous, it may come only after much time and the hard work of practice.

If we look to God for help, we need to be open, ready to accept anything. It means being humble and trusting in Him. When the occasional news story features a young child that saved a parent or family member by calling 911, it seems to surprise us, but why should it? The child’s actions are exactly the way we are to relate to God. A young child knows they cannot fix the situation, so they turn to whomever they think can, and sometimes that means calling 911. When we are in a situation we know we cannot change through human efforts, we need to turn to God the Father. It’s one thing to make the call, so to speak, but it is the next step that is truly important: trust. A young child trusts that whatever the 911 operator tells them will be the right thing to do. They do not second guess, they just do it to the best of their ability. We may call to God when we need His aid, but do we trust Him and follow what He tells us to do?

A humble and trusting heart does not seek its own will, but rather that of its Creator. May God convert our selfish stone hearts to open ones that not only seek His help, but follow where he leads.

Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Describe Mary

There are many words that are used to describe Mary: blessed, virgin, holy, queen, immaculate, mother, etc. Those that come to mind often seem to put her far away from us and make our relationship more formal than intimate. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that she is, after all,  human.

“Mother” seems to be used most often and can be more of a title than just a description. She is: Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Church and our mother, just to name a few. She was a also a spouse and caregiver to her family. Do we ever think of her bandaging the hand of St. Joseph when a hammer went awry? While we don’t know how St. Joseph died, any nursing activities would have been handled by Mary. She also wiped the nose of Jesus and kissed a few bruised knees and elbows as He was growing up. She cooked, cleaned and probably made their clothes. She cared for the needs of both Joseph and Jesus.

Mary did minister to human needs while she was on earth. Now that she is in heaven, her care is spiritual. Her goal is for all God’s children to be with Him in heaven. She has given us the Rosary as a tool for us to ponder Jesus’ life on earth and to help us cultivate a relationship with Him. She does such a good job, sometimes it’s easier to think of Jesus being human than Mary! Even in the prayer that we think of as hers, the Hail Mary, it’s really a vehicle to praise God for filling her with grace, blessing her among all women, and blessing her as the mother of Jesus.

Mary is also a woman of action. She does not sit by and wish that her children would do God’s will. She visits us with messages of correction and direction. Guadalupe, Knock, Lourdes, Fatima, Loreto, and Medjugorje are just some of the few places that Mary has made an appearance. She wants what is best for us and what could be better than an eternity with God? She cares for us spiritually as she did for Joseph and Jesus while she was on earth. She seeks out those who are like herself to spread her message: simple, humble, and loving.

Mary is never far away from us and will gladly lead us to a deeper relationship with God. She is human and can truly understand our needs. Let us put ourselves in her caring hands and walk with her in our spiritual journey to be closer to God.   

Catholic Girl Journey

Saints on earth

A person who is declared a saint in heaven is perfect. They have reached perfection and now enjoy being in the presence of God. But it wasn’t always this way. The saints were once…human.

While working out recently, the gym had the Golf channel on, and while I was not actively watching it, I couldn’t help but listen to it with my subconscious. While I have no idea who the announcers were referring to, a comment was made to the effect that one of the pro golfers was seen practicing and having trouble with a particular shot. It surprised them since this particular player made that shot look so easy and second nature when playing in tournaments. When I heard the comment, I silently laughed at it and asked myself, “How do they think she got that way? She practiced and keeps at it!”

When saints are on this earth, they are much like that pro golfer. They may make it seem easy to put their faith into action, but it’s only after many years of practice and hardship, and of trial and error. Some days are good and some are filled with doubt. We hear about saints who were called by God at a young age, or have had apparitions of Jesus or Mary and think ”Well, I that hasn’t happened to me, so I’ll just go on living my life.” However, whether we receive an engraved invitation from God or not, we are all called to become saints and we are all called to be holy. Often the ones who have had a special call from God have a larger task from Him and need extra support.

Just like a pro golfer continues to practice as a professional, a saint is not a saint until they reach heaven. That means their whole life is spent in practice. It starts with a solid prayer life that seeks out a relationship with God. Just like the various strokes of the golfer, sometimes the prayer connection is strong and other times it’s a fight to pay attention. Some tournaments are won by the golfer and some have a lower ranking. For a saint-in-training, sometimes we succeed in the tasks God gives us and sometimes we fall short. Whether we are doing well or not, prayer for a saint-to-be is like practice to the pro golfer.

God calls all of us to become saints. It’s up to us if we are willing to spend a life in practice and hard work, responding to His call.

Catholic Girl Journey

Resurrection of the dead

“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” It’s one of the beliefs of Catholicism that we acknowledge every Sunday in the Nicene creed as well as in the Apostles Creed. But do we say it because it’s part of the prayer or do we really mean it?  

What does it mean to rise from the dead? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that question is raised and answered in # 997, “ In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body.” As Jesus was the first one to rise from the dead, we can look to Him as an example of what to expect.

Unrecognizable may be one characteristic used to describe Jesus’ risen form. Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realize who Jesus was and the eleven thought He was a ghost when He first appeared to them. Was it His glory that confused them? Or was He able to hide his identity by changing His appearance? Or was it because they did not think He was alive that they could not recognize Him because they were not expecting to encounter Jesus? It was only with the intimacy of words: being called by name and in the blessing and in the breaking of bread, which were actions they were familiar with Jesus doing, that they were able to see that it was Him.

What was not hidden or healed were the wounds of the crucifixion. He showed the eleven His hands and feet and bid Thomas to put his hand into His side. By these wounds Jesus healed the relationship between God and humanity and as a result, they are glorified too. They no longer remain a source of pain but become a reminder that through suffering there is the promise of life eternal. In this glorified state Jesus is able to appear and disappear, even in rooms that are locked. And to prove He is not just spirit alone, He eats and drinks with His disciples.

It can feel a bit like science fiction to try to imagine the resurrection of the dead, but God did give us minds to think, ponder, imagine and dream. Those who are not pleased with their looks in this life hope that they can change their appearance in the next, but that is human vanity speaking. If Jesus’ wounds were glorified, would not our imperfections also be glorified? Perhaps those who feel the effects of an aging body hope the resurrected body is from their youth or prime. But do we limit God’s ability to transform our weak, human form in His glory?

I don’t know what I will look like in the resurrection of the dead, but I am looking forward to being amazed at God’s glory. Just looking around at the symphony of nature, which is fleeting daily, I know He will make a masterpiece of me. I can’t ask for anything more.

Catholic Girl Journey

Love and mercy

Love and mercy, that’s what I remember being taught about a God from my Catholic elementary teachers. How different now is my understanding of what these these two things mean.

I came of age in post-Vatican II. No longer was the Baltimore catechism used; instead it was ‘draw what God’s love looks like to you.’ Mercy, to a young child, seemed to indicate that no matter what you did, it was okay. I must admit there were a few times a a young adult that I remember thinking, “it’s okay if I miss Mass; God will forgive me.” Yes, I was confident in God’s mercy, but my attitude at the time was taking for granted His mercy.

After being so assuming of His mercy, I now have a great respect and appreciation for it. Through the practice of the Divine Mercy chaplet, and the corresponding novena, I have learned the true cost of His mercy was Jesus’ passion and death. By reciting the chaplet, I call on God the Father to remember the passion of Christ and ask for Him for mercy, not just for me, but for the whole world. How incredible that He gives us humans the ability to invoke His mercy in such a mind-blowing and comprehensive way!

It is fitting that that after a week celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, the intensive octave is capped by the solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday. After all, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus restores the divine relationship with fallen humanity. We will continue to sin and God’s mercy will flow abundantly to those who return to him with contrite hearts. First we thank Jesus for all He went through (Easter) and then we thank Him for what He continues to bestow (Divine Mercy Sunday). But these eight days can’t capture the joy and festivities of such a compassionate and loving God, and so the Easter season continues for a full 50 days and includes the celebrations of the Ascension and Pentecost. God truly is rich in kindness and plentiful in His blessings.  

God the Father loved us so much He gave us His Son. Jesus loved us so much He gave us His life. By this love we are able to be children of God. And when we choose our own selfish ways, we can turn back to the love to God by being sorry for our sins and find ourselves in the warm embrace of His mercy. God is Love and Mercy.

Catholic Girl Journey

Awesome root canal

Many jest saying they’d rather have a root canal than deal with whatever difficulty they are currently facing , but after having one, I have to admit it’s really quite awesome.

I was very lucky, my only symptom was a bubble in my gum that would come and go; I had no pain. My endodontist is a rather jolly fellow who enjoys his work and took the time to explain the procedure to me. As the procedure can be rather lengthy, there’s not much one can do but sit, meditate, and pray. So there I sat, in between Hail Marys, thinking about my eyetooth that was being drilled, drained and then plugged. A tooth is not that big, and to go inside to clean out an even smaller area than the tooth itself is amazing! Being such detailed work, it’s a wonder that a human can do  it. All the branches of medicine have progressed, and continue to do so. Is that what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God?

I started to think about some of the details that God created: a minuscule atom, a drop of water, a baby’s breath flower, a cat’s fur, and a human being.  There is such variety in his creation  from a field full of kaleidoscope-colored flowers to men and women with so many different skills and interests. Dentistry is not something that interests me, but clearly my doctor loves his job. It takes people with an interest to study, understand and make progress in their field of work, not just in the medical profession, but in every field including business and agriculture. It’s amazing that there are people interested in focusing in just a small part of their field to really know it and progress its understanding. Yes, God has created us all, but he made us unique so we can cooperate with Him as creation continues.

While my initial intention was to offer up any suffering and discomfort during the procedure to God for the holy souls in Purgatory, I was quite surprised that I had such a spiritual journey during the root canal. I’m very thankful that I didn’t lose the tooth and that the recovery has been relatively benign. God has truly blessed us. I only hope I can do my part to further His creative work to make things even better for the future. How? I don’t know, but if I try to do His will, I’m sure He will use me in some way for the good of others both now and for the future.