Caterpillar or butterfly?

All around us in nature are reflections of God’s handiwork, as well examples of spiritual truths. This past week’s Gospel of Jesus’ transformation on Mount Tabor calls to mind the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The question becomes: are you a content caterpillar or a future butterfly?

The purpose of a caterpillar is to eat. It’s eating so that its body can go through metamorphosis. I think for many of us who are on a spiritual journey, we are hungry and just eat. We know we need to be fed, but may not be careful about what we are eating. We may forget that eating has a purpose, that we are not supposed to stay caterpillars forever. Yet we sojourners may become content caterpillars, just “eating” our way through life. We may absorb the information about God, but never find ways to put it into action.

During the spiritual journey, if at some point a person realizes that something needs to change in them, they become a potential future butterfly. The person who recognizes that all the “eating” they’ve done as a caterpillar means that they can’t remain the way they are, then they are ready for the cocoon. In some ways, we can consider Lent a type of spiritual cocoon, as we look deep into ourselves and focus on our relationship with God. It can be a time of darkness when we realize with stark realization how much we’ve strayed from what God had planned for us. In that cocoon, as we open ourselves up to God’s grace, we may be a bit surprised that God doesn’t put us back together the way we were, but truly makes us a new creation. As a caterpillar in a cocoon digests its cells so that it can make new ones, so we too, in our spiritual journey, allow all that we have learned to be put into action as we become a spiritual butterfly. 

The Catholic faith is not an intellectual pursuit, it’s not a club to join. A Catholic Church is not a place to be entertained or a place to go once a week “because we have to.” The Catholic faith is one of action: as our thoughts and words are channeled into action; we become God’s hands and feet in the world. When we worship God and acknowledge that we need to be spiritually fed by Him, we choose to attend Church Masses and events to be filled by God’s Word and Sacraments. We also volunteer to fill others by participating in outreach programs. We are not called to be content caterpillars, but rather to transform and become spiritual butterflies, spreading the love of God by our actions.

The perfect gift

There is nothing quite like having a gift package opened with a gasp of surprise and a voice of sheer delight exclaim, “Just what I wanted!” It’s like there is a bond created between the giver and the receiver; one knowing what the other wants and needs while the other is able to identify the item given as something pleasing and desired. As we wrap up the final week of Advent, what is it that we truly want for Christmas?

The Son of God was born over 2,000 years ago, and while Christmas is a celebration of that historic moment, it’s also a celebration of the way Jesus comes to us today. Physically, He is here in the Eucharist. Spiritually, He is in every Sacrament, conferring special graces on us based on the nature of the sacrament received. Jesus creates a bond of brotherhood with us through the sacraments of initiation, heals us with sacraments of reconciliation and anointing, and sends us on a mission with marriage or holy orders. When we seek ways to strengthen our relationship with Him during the Advent season, we turn away from what we want and turn to what others need. We look to imitate Jesus, to bring the light of His Presence to our little pinhead area of the world. 

The four weeks of Advent are a spiritual journey to take a break from the everyday and open our hearts to a deeper relationship with God. For some it may be a struggle just to get into a regular routine of reaching out to God in daily prayers. Even those with consistent prayer habits need to pause and see how they can dig further and open more of their bodies/minds/souls/wills to God’s call. No matter how old we get or how much experience we gain, there is alway some sort of improvement we can make in our relationship with God. The journey we take is one from self-love to selfless-love. At the end of it, what we want is nothing less than Jesus our Savior.

As Christmas draws closer, sometimes we need to double our efforts so they do not get lost in the rush of decorating/cooking/buying/wrapping/partying that is expected for the celebration. Central to the celebration is the Mass, which is the gift Jesus gives us. It’s literally the name of the feast: Christ’s Mass. It’s not meant to be one item on a checklist, to be completed as early as possible then not given another thought. Rather it should be the cornerstone of the festivities; to be the source of joy which flows over to all other activities.

Let us prepare to receive Jesus Christ into ourselves in the Eucharist as well as into our families and friendships with our celebrations. Let us delight in receiving Him, knowing He fulfills our every need. Let us joyfully exclaim, “He is just what I wanted!” as we receive the most perfect gift of all. 

Gentleness of God

During Adoration last week, I was once again struck at how simple, how small the consecrated host is, and yet it contains the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. I then started to think about each sacrament and how gentle God is with us.

Depending on the parish, baptism can either be full immersion into water, or it can be a little trickle over the forehead. Oil is used in baptism, confirmation, holy orders, and the anointing of the sick; a little dab is applied in the shape of a cross. Matrimony includes the exchange of rings. The Eucharist is both bread and wine consecrated and a little of each is typically shared with the congregation at the Mass. Each of these sacraments conveys through a tactile method our encounter with God. These same items are used commonly in our everyday life. They don’t overwhelm us and they don’t threaten us by being strange to our way of life. 

God is awesome in His creation. Volcanoes spew boulders and molten rocks high into the atmosphere. Earthquakes tear large gaps into the crust of the earth. Tsunamis drive large amounts of the ocean far inland. Tornadoes destroy or hurl anything in their path miles away. Snow falling in feet can almost bury a town. A deluge of rain in inches causes streams and rivers to burst forth from their banks. We experience the massive impact that nature has on our world, and yet God does not ask us for extremes. God wants to be in a loving relationship with us. His touch is soft and gentle, using commonplace materials as signs of His grace. 

I think we are often like Naaman the leper from Samaria. (2 Kings 5) Naaman traveled to Israel and asked the prophet Elisha to cure him. Elisha told Naaman to plunge seven times into the Jordan river. While it doesn’t say it in the Bible, you can almost hear Naaman’s angry response of “That’s it? I traveled all this way just to jump in some water a few times?!” As his servants pointed out, if Elisha had given him an extraordinary action, Naaman would have no issue carrying out the prescription to cure him. How often do we want or expect God to interact with us in some monumental way? Would we really want His presence announced by molten lava or the ground splitting in two, rather than receiving His Body veiled in a piece of bread?  

A shadow of God’s glory is always on display in the creation and nature around us. If we saw God in His full glory, we would have no choice but to obey Him. But God wants us to freely choose Him. He veils Himself so that we can choose to seek Him out and pursue a relationship with Him. And if this isn’t enough, He sent Jesus to become one of us, live among us, and die for all the sins we have and will commit. Through the sacraments we are reminded of our journey with and to Him. 

I am humbled by the gentleness of God. 

Hungry for the Lord

Vera has not met a string she has not found tasty. This includes my scapular. During a recent cuddle time, as she tried for the countless time to yank the thread around my neck into her mouth, I told her that she couldn’t eat Jesus! She gives a whole new meaning to, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:9)

It’s one thing for her to spy the scapular during the summer, when the cut of shirts are more open. In the winter, I thought it wouldn’t be so bad. However, now that she knows it’s there, she looks for it, trying to move my shirt out of the way if she doesn’t see it. While it can get tiresome trying to pet her and at the same time discourage her from eating it, I have to give her credit for her persistence. In this simple, repetitive action, I can complain about what she is doing or I can dive deeper. She may think the string around my neck is tasty, but do I think the same of God? Am I as persistent in searching for Him as Vera is for my scapular? While even the Psalm instructs us to taste the Lord, is that meant to be the Eucharist host, or something more? 

Hunger is a basic response of the body, yet it is used to describe our yearning for more than just food. We can be hungry for love, power, fame, accomplishment, or almost anything. To describe the need for God as being a hunger is very appropriate, as it expresses our core desire for Him. Tasting what we are hungry for is our interaction with what we desire. Tasting is also indicative of having a small amount. We don’t need much to realize how good God is to us. Yet that little experience can change our whole lives. 

I think in order to taste the goodness of the Lord is to allow Him into our life without constraints. We need to let Him be our God: to listen to Him, to let Him lead us, and to trust Him with our whole lives. This is difficult because we have become accustomed to “junk food,” and we crave that over what God provides. But God is always walking with us, waiting for us to take a bite of what He offers, to turn our midnight cravings into conversations with Him, and to balance our diet with a healthy serving of a relationship that only He can satisfy. 

Missing the human touch

Lent is almost over and in a few days we will be celebrating Easter. However, with the lockdown still in place, it may seem like Lent will continue onwards.

While the Easter Vigil Mass celebration will still take place, there will be no public reception of the sacraments. That means no new members will be received into the Church. There will be a noticeable void of the outward or tactile components of the sacraments. Even when no one is being baptized at Easter, the Church takes the opportunity at this sacred time to remind and renew our baptismal promises, both in word and with the sprinkling of holy water. We will be able to renew our promises as we participate in the Mass streamed into our homes, but we will miss the holy water. I do feel sympathy for those who are waiting to be confirmed. While they can participate in the praying the Mass, there is no substitute for the oil and the imposition of hands confirming them into the Church.

Perhaps the most missed of all the sacraments is the Eucharist. It’s one thing to abstain on Sunday Mass, but between Holy Thursday and Easter, the ache for the Eucharist will be like physical hunger pains. From posts on the Catholic Twitter thread, many are feeling the absence keenly already. Many online Mass options include the prayer for a spiritual communion, yet that seems like a weak imitation of the real thing. 

We are composed of body and soul; we are spiritual beings living in a physical world. Jesus knew we needed a material way to understand communion with Him, and so He blessed us by turning bread and wine into His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. However, in this time, He is asking us to go deeper; to open our hearts to exclusively receive Him spiritually. How can we let our current situation deprive us of receiving Him, by focusing on the fact that we can’t do so physically? Do we really believe that Jesus will not shower his blessings and grace on us because His Body and Blood have not past our lips? Do we think that God, who created the universe out of nothing, and Jesus, who turned water into wine, healed the sick, and raised the dead, is incapable of communing with those who desire it? Will we mourn our loss instead of rejoicing in His resurrection? 

This year, I will miss the Eucharist and the human touch that makes the sacraments real on a physical level, but I will not let that stop me from glorifying God and praising Jesus during this most sacred time of the calendar year. And in a few months when we are allowed to gather again as a community in worship, the Eucharist will taste sweeter than ever before, and will be just as effective as our spiritual communion in desire.

Catholic Girl Journey

Christmas every day

Merry Christmas! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were Christmas every day? Well, it is.

No, I’m not talking about the gift giving to one another, the feasting, the cookies, or the chocolate. I’m talking about the true Christmas; Jesus coming to us in a tangible way. Every Mass we participate in is like Christmas. In the Eucharist, Jesus is present: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — just like in the manger at Bethlehem. Every time we adore Christ in the monstrance, we are just like the shepherds and the wise men who came to pay Him homage. How often do we think about Baby Jesus when we are at Mass or adoration?

The Son of God came down and spent 33 years on earth, and His whole life, from the manager to the cross is encapsulated in the Mass. Jesus came to die, but in order to die He needed to be born. Jesus lived, breathed, ate, laughed, and cried during His time here. It is this whole Person that we celebrate at each and every Mass. With Christmas, we focus on the humility of Christ, that He would become one of us, shedding the appearance of divinity to mingle with creation, not just as a man, but starting out as an infant. Jesus brings to infancy and childhood a sacredness, not something to just be endured, but celebrated.

Coming as a babe, Jesus relied on others for everything. Not from a demanding you-shall-do-this-or-else, but rather gently in appreciation for whatever little we can provide to Him. His Blessed Mother Mary cared for Him as any mother would, and St. Joseph protected and guided Him during His childhood. The Holy Family welcomed both rich and poor who came to celebrate the birth of the Son. Today, we are welcomed to Mass: saint and sinner, rich and poor, bringing whatever it is we have —  joy, sorrow, worry, and we offer it up to Jesus. He receives our littleness and blesses us, just as He did during His ministry on earth.

After the wrapping paper is trashed and the feast consumed, let us remember that is it not the end of the Christmas celebration. It’s always Christmas whenever we see a consecrated host; come, let us adore Him!

Catholic Girl Journey

Repetitive repetition

Have you ever noticed in the gospels how often Jesus starts a statement with, “Amen amen. I say to you…”? Why the repetition?

I was at a conference last year where a YouTube video for golf store was exemplified as what to avoid. The owner of the store was doing his best to use this media to get the word out, only he just kept repeating, “We buy golf clubs.” And I do mean repeating; 9 times in 40 seconds of video. However, I do remember that video and know without a doubt, if I had golf clubs to sell, that would be the first place I would think to go. The video, via the repetition, has done its job.

In last week’s reading from Revelation on the feast of Mary’s Assumption, I noticed again repetition. “Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child when it should be born. She gave birth to a son — a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and to his throne.” (Rev 12: 4-5, emphasis added) While this example may be more subtle than other repetitions among the books of the Bible, the point is clear: a child was born. For those that struggle to see Jesus as human, this repetition of the words child/son/boy and birth/born anchor the thought in our memory.

This past Sunday’s Gospel reading continues with the Bread of Life discourse. While it may seem like a recycled reading from last week, it’s actually a continuation of the gospel. It is also a gold mine of repeated words and word families.  There are 5 instances of bread, 6 instances of both eat and flesh, and 9 instances of life/live/living. As a marker of how important all this is, Jesus prefaces the most important teaching,

“Amen, amen. I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” (John 6:53)

The double amen is used to focus our attention on the teaching Jesus is giving us. Some translations use the word truly instead of amen. I’ve even seen it translated as Let me solemnly assure you. I think I prefer the use of double words to make that impact of catching our attention.

In a world that did not have videos to watch or soundbites to hear, repeating key teachings was a way to makes sure the message was communicated, and more importantly, remembered. In today’s world, repeated keywords still capture our attention, like fingers snapping us to pay attention.   

Catholic Girl Journey

The patience of God

God’s patience is on display throughout the whole of the Bible; however, this past Sunday’s continuation of the Bread of Life discourse really underscored just how much He is willing to suffer our hard-headedness as well as our hard-heartedness.

The gospel picks up when the crowd finds Jesus after being fed with the loaves and fishes. They are astonished that He would flee from their intention of making Him king (at least an earthly one). But Jesus cuts off their question by telling them they are seeking Him wrongly, not “…because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves…”(John 6:26) Their response of “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28) makes it appear that they are paying attention to what Jesus is saying. Jesus gives the definition that has become the standard for all Christianity: to have faith in the One whom the Father has sent.

In the most ironic turn of events possible, the Jews ask Him, “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…”  (John 6:30-31). Jesus’ initial proclamation to them, is ringing true: they have not seen the signs. Hello, didn’t they just eat the bread that was multiplied to the point there were leftovers? How could they ask for a sign like eating of bread when they experienced it first hand? If the seriousness of salvation wasn’t at the heart of this, it would almost be comical. And then Jesus’ loving, and may I say merciful, patience instructs them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the bread, but the Father. God the Father sees to all our needs, not our wants, but what we truly need. First and foremost is a relationship with Him. Despite the grumblings of the Israelites in the desert, God teaches them He can be relied on to sustain them. Jesus uses a very similar miracle to lay the foundation for what will be instituted on Holy Thursday: the Eucharist.

I must admit that in the 40+ years of hearing this story, it was only this year that I caught on to the depth of blindness displayed by the Jews. It now feels like I have a spotlight on my life to see where I am being blind and dumb to how the Spirit is trying to lead me. We have countless saints, both in example and insights to Jesus and yet we still ask God to give us signs. As this incident illustrates, God does not cast us off and leave us to our ignorance, but oh so patiently answers us, teaching again and again His ways. Let us pray for open hearts and minds to accept the answers He provides instead of insisting on our own.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Transformed

Which word would you use if you wanted to convey permanence: change or transform?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, while the word transform is defined using the word change, change has three synonyms to convey subtle differences in meaning: alter, transform and switch. Defining change using the word transform includes a more precise nuance: to make radically different. And for “transform” itself, the definition is to change completely. This past Sunday’s gospel was the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel.  It sets the stage for the next four weeks as Jesus teaches this difficult concept. We know it today as the Eucharist, but reaction of the people to Jesus’ proclamation was anything but welcoming.

How can He give us His flesh to eat? It’s not about puzzling the technicality of it, but rather thinking how utterly revolting the thought of eating the flesh of another human being would be. It was hard for those who had just feasted on the bread and fish that Jesus multiplied to hear they would need to eat His flesh one day. Many remained faithful in spite of this, learning only later how this could be accomplished.  It has never been an easy concept. Even after 2,000 years people can still find it hard to believe the little, white wisp of bread is Jesus: body, blood, soul, and divinity. It is not the priest himself who changes the bread into the Body of Jesus. Rather it is the priest using his ordained faculties, in the person of Christ, calling down from Heaven for the hosts to be transformed, to be changed completely, to be radically different than flour, water, and the juice of grapes.

As Catholics we believe that once the bread and wine are consecrated, they become and remain the Body and Blood of Jesus. From an outward appearance, they still look like bread and wine, but they have been permanently changed. Some Protestant denominations believe in this change, but they think of it as only temporary, lasting for just as long as the worship service. As I was reading a reflection about Sunday’s gospel, one of Jesus’ directives caught my attention, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” (John 6:12) I don’t think this was Jesus just being frugal. The leftovers in this case were not transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood, but they were the result of a miracle, and a miracle should not be tossed away in the trash or given to the animals to eat. Likewise when at Mass more hosts are consecrated than are needed, they are gathered up and stored in the tabernacle.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ permanent presence in the Eucharist, can we expect to stay the same person we are today after we receive Him? While our transformation may happen slowly over time, we can’t expect to believe, receive and stay the same. Jesus will never force us to change, but just a little opening in our heart to welcome Him in the reception of host and chalice is an opportunity for grace. Little by little, we too will not just be changed, but will be transformed, will be radically different, doing God’s will rather than our own will.  

Catholic Girl Journey

The first Eucharist

Oh the smell of freshly baked bread; it makes one feel at home. In ancient times, one did not go to the store to buy bread, it would have been made at home. I wonder who made the bread for the first Eucharist?

I love receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I equally enjoy spending time with Him in adoration, but the perfect round host is vastly different from what was used at the Last Supper. It was an unleavened bread, but was it round or oval/rectangular? Did it have any flavoring to it, like some olive oil or honey? Was it large, like pie-sized, or small, like a dessert plate? While the details may not matter in terms of belief, thinking about them can draw us closer to Jesus, especially to His human nature.

The month of May seems to be popular for children receiving their first Holy Communion and is synonymous with Mary, as she is often crowned during May processions. These two ideas collided in my head and made me wonder if Mary made the bread for the first Eucharist? We know she was in Jerusalem, since she was at the foot of the cross. And being Jesus’s mom, I’m sure she helped His earthly ministry in whatever ways she could. It almost seems like a logical progression: she gave birth to Jesus, and thus provided Him with His human body, so who else would be the one to make the bread that would become the first Eucharist, the transubstantiated presentation of Jesus Himself? And did she continue making the bread that was used for the Eucharistic celebrations after Jesus ascended into heaven?

Picture the scene at that Last Supper when Jesus picked up the bread made by Mary with a mother’s love, and blessed it, performing the first consecration, and then shared it with the people He loved the most, the men he called to follow Him. Now wrap that all up into the host the next time you receive Communion or are in adoration. It’s food for thought and prayer.