Catholic Girl Journey

Faith is more than a feeling

The Easter season gives us plenty of time to ponder the mysteries of our faith and reaffirm what we believe.

From a human perspective, we can attempt to understand the passion and death of Jesus. But His resurrection and ascension into heaven, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, are a bit beyond human reasoning. We say we believe all of these things because we have faith, but what does that really mean? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and give himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life (CCC 26).

After 2000 years, time does not make the resurrection and ascension any easier to understand. Even the apostles, the men that spent the most time with Jesus, had a hard time understanding what happened. Of course the most extreme example is Thomas, who refused to believe the other apostles when they told him of seeing Jesus after the crucifixion, until the Lord appeared and invited him to touch the nail holes and spear mark. Most of us will not experience the physical presence of Jesus, and so faith is not based on the tangible.

Faith is also not just a good feeling. Performing good deeds, spending time with Jesus in prayer, and adoration may make us feel good, but that is not faith. Our feelings can change from day to day and even minute to minute. To base what we believe and act upon solely on how we feel can be dangerous and Satan can use our feelings to explain away sin. In the lives some of the saints, their faith was tested by withholding the good feeling; Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is one example.

Faith is a gift from God. If we choose to accept it, then it will grow based on how much effort we put forth into having a relationship with Him. It cannot be measured by the physical sciences and it cannot be diluted into a warm, fuzzy sense of being. It is as diverse as the population of the earth, since it reflects the uniqueness of a personal relationship with the Divine. Even the the most faith-filled person can have doubts from time to time. It is in these times of questioning that we can dive more deeper into a relationship with our Almighty Creator and our Savior.

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

Peter and the Passion

During the reading of Christ’s Passion, our focus is on Jesus, and rightfully so. But have you ever reflected on the actions and activities of the other disciples? One apostle that is mentioned by name several times during the sequence of events is Peter.

I’m not sure if it’s boldness or brashness that Peter displays as we first encounter him at the last supper, when he challenges Jesus during the washing of the feet. First he protests Jesus doing such a menial task, but then swings to the total opposite of the spectrum and asks the Lord to wash all exposed parts (hands, head and feet). Peter is not focused on the teaching of the moment, but rather the specific action Jesus takes.

Peter continues his seemingly reckless responses as Jesus talks about being betrayed. Confident of his love for Christ, he declares that he will not betray Jesus even to the point of death. His faith, while strong, is still in a development stage, which can be illustrated by his actions in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus takes the apostles to the garden to await Judas’ betrayal. He charges the apostles to pray and steps deeper into the garden to pray alone to the Father. Three times He comes back to the apostles and three times they are all asleep. He addresses Peter specifically:

“Asleep, Simon? You could not stay awake for even an hour? Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test. The spirit is willing but the nature is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38)

Lastly, we find Peter in the courtyard of the high priest. While others ran away, Peter followed at a distance to find out what was happening. It is here that Christ’s prophecy of Peter’s threefold denial comes true. When Jesus talked about a betrayer among the twelve, He meant Judas Iscariot. Jesus uses Peter’s rash declaration of never betraying Christ to show just how easy it can be in the small, everyday circumstances to begin the betrayal by denying a relationship with Him. The crowing cock is Peter’s wake up call to what he has done, and to the awareness that Jesus knew what he would do. Peter, the strong fisherman who was ready to take on the world with Jesus, “broke down and began to cry.” (Mark 14:72)

While to some, Peter can seem like a bit of a knucklehead, I find comfort in his honest responses. How easy it is to be confident when everything is going well, but when things get rough, our confidence is put to the test. How often have I responded to Jesus like Peter did? How often have I been sleeping when the Lord needed me? If Peter, in the physical presence of Jesus, responded by challenging and denying God and was not just forgiven, but entrusted with a mission, then there is hope for little ol’ me. Let us ask Saint Peter to help us through this Holy Week to see how we can grow in our love of the Lord and have true confidence in Jesus as we carry our daily crosses.

Catholic Girl Journey

Thorns and nails

We are just about to start the most holy week of the year. Thorns and nails play their part in the Passion of Jesus, but they can represent our sins in a much deeper sense.

When I think about thorns, roses are the first thing that come to mind. While roses are not the only plant to have thorns, they are probably the most familiar. Roses are so beautiful and human nature’s tendency is to reach out and touch, only to find out that the beauty comes at a cost. So it is when we become enamored with a sin that is attractive to us at the surface level. We may be so caught up in how it affects our senses that we may not realize how dangerous it is to our spiritual life. Sins of vanity and pride can often disguise themselves in a beautiful way and later reveal their hidden peril. Sometimes the disguise is a bit more ordinary; thorns can be found among shrubs and leaves, too. Those who are prudent and watchful may be able to recognize the dangers before their soul is scratched or pierced.

Nails are a different story. By themselves they are useless. But when they have the force of a hammer to drive them, they can be deeply embedded, securing one item to another. Nails can be used for good, but the nails driven into Jesus to keep Him on the cross are like the sins we know are wrong, but still intentionally commit. Our act of willful choosing is that hammer driving the nails into Christ. It’s the times we choose our way over God’s, or when we walk away from a relationship with Him. When we choose to sin, do we only look at our temporary gain? Or do we recognize the cost of that sin, especially the damage to our relationship with God?

As we remember, reflect on, and celebrate holy week this year, let us thank Jesus for all He endured to save us. We should acknowledge our transgressions, the thorns and nails that we personally added to his suffering. This is the first step in taking ownership for our actions. With more awareness of our choices, we can begin to change from our sinful habits and draw ever closer to Christ.

Catholic Girl Journey

Giving up independence

What would it take for you to give up your independence? Would you willingly give it up, or acquiesce when it was taken from you?

I’ve been thinking about the line in John’s gospel where Jesus says to Peter, “‘I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19) While this may, indeed, have been prophetic for Peter, it can also be rather prophetic, minus the martyrdom, for many people as they age..

The Parkinson’s my Dad suffers from is slowly growing worse; he has lost his ability to move his legs in anything but a straight-forward direction. He needs professional care that my Mom cannot provide, not just due to her lack of training, but because at 85, she’s getting weaker herself. Yet they want to stay in their own house and live just like they have been for the 60+ years they’ve been married. They don’t want to prepare for what will happen next, they only want to take one day at a time and deal with it as it comes Since they live by themselves in a small, rural community, their options for assistance are very limited. Mom once told me, “It’s in God’s hands.”

My parents’ home and their independence are the last things they really have left that are “theirs.” I understand that things are much more comfortable in surroundings that one chooses oneself. But ultimately home is not this earth, but in heaven with God. The independence God gives us is a gift to choose Him, or not. It’s hard to go outside of our comfort zone and we all want the ability to say ‘no’. As we age, after all we’ve accomplished, it’s hard to let it all go and face the realities of diseases that bring constant pain and continually limit our abilities. Letting go of our independence might seem like we’re giving up. Maybe, though, we are giving up to the Lord. We are letting His glory shine through our weakness as we learn to rely on others.

Peter did suffer a martyr’s death and it might have been every bit as hard to accept as a slow progressing disease. Perhaps the daily challenges to our comfort zone and independence are opportunities for us to practice and prepare us to say ‘yes’ to God’s will in the future, no matter how our earthly lives complete.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Breaking boredom

When does the familiar become boring? Does routine lead to boredom or is it the busyness of our lives that leaves us unable to concentrate? Have we become so comfortable with Jesus that we don’t even work at growing in relationship with Him anymore?

The folk of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus, after all, He grew up among them. They knew His parents; spoke to Him throughout His formative years. Yet  Jesus, who healed all over the countryside, is not able to perform many miracles in Nazareth. At one point, the people become so angry with His words, they try to throw Him down the cliff outside the town. Are we much different than them? Do we expect Jesus to prove Himself to us?

Routines like Mass, the rosary, and morning/evening prayers can become just things that we do. We check them off the list of what is required and continue about our lives. During Lent we may try to give up chocolate or an extra cup of coffee and keep our Fridays meat-free, but maybe we think of it as just more to add to the checklist. Whose checklist?  Our checklist, the one we think will tally up to get us a pass into heaven when we die. Only what we forget, or maybe never knew, is that it’s not about a checklist, it’s about our relationship with Jesus. And it’s not a once and done. We can become too comfortable with routine, thinking that we know all we need to about Jesus and let daily distractions disrupt the relationship.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of judging an entire Mass based on the homily. If it wasn’t  relevant to our current life, then we feel cheated and complain we “got” nothing from going. But the Mass is more than just a homily; it includes a time to reflect on our relationship with Jesus and our weaknesses that strain it, it includes the Word of God from the Old and New Testaments, the re-presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary and our communion with Him. Jesus may speak to us at any moment of the Mass…or not. Perhaps it occurs hours or days later when we remember something we heard and it hits home. But if we are so engulfed in our daily lives outside Mass that we have difficulty not just concentrating, but being open to Jesus speaking to us, there is no chance to grow in relationship with Him.

Lent is a time to give ourselves a shake. It’s an opportunity to go outside of our comfort zone. It’s a time to look at our relationship with Jesus and try new ways to go just a bit deeper. Can we turn off the outside world, not pay attention to the time and just listen to every word spoken at Mass? When saying the rosary, can we really mean and believe every single word we speak? Can we make a sacrifice of time and participate in Lenten events at parishes, like the Stations of the Cross or making a holy hour in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament?

Jesus is not bored with us. Let’s make sure our routine of worship does not turn our relationship with Him into a bore for us.

Catholic Girl Journey

Successful failure

It’s only the second week of Lent and already I feel like a failure. Maybe that’s a good thing.

If you remember the movie Groundhog Day where the character re-lived the same day over and over again, the last few days have seemed very similar for me. Each day it seemed like I was always running late, fumbling with whatever I needed to carry, and just when I thought things at work couldn’t get more challenging… well you get the idea. It was like everything was conspiring against me. I know that’s not true, but when you’re trying to live through it, it’s hard not to think that way. Luckily all the issues are really minor annoyances, but when they all stack up together, it can be overwhelming. One morning, in a short burst of clarity, I offered these trials up to Jesus for Lent. Many times when I do this, things don’t seem to be too bad. This time though, the challenges seemed to crank up in intensity.  

What really bothered me most was after getting rather exasperated at work about how something was handled, I remembered the gospel for that day had Jesus saying that anyone who called their brother a fool would be liable to fiery Gehenna (Matthew 5:20-26). While I might not have said it aloud, I had certainly passed judgement about the individuals involved with that same sentence.

What these trials have shown me is just how much I daily rely on God’s mercy and grace. In a way, my failure to respond to these in a Christian manner has revealed some habitual sins that I need to work on and be more cognizant. In addition to being sorrowful, I am encouraged that these situations have opened my eyes and my heart, so that I can let God into these areas and help me become a better person. Isn’t that what Lent is all about; opening our hearts to God for Him to work His mercy and grace in us?

Perhaps true failure is when nothing changes. There are still a few more weeks of Lent to go and, even if it is a bit painful, I trust in God’s mercy to see me through and His grace to help me. And these trials? They are nothing more than opportunities to practice what I believe.