Catholic Girl Journey

Overstimulated

I’m finally in my new home in Virginia, and my cat Vera never ceases to both amaze me and teach me. There have been numerous transitions recently: packing to donate, packing to paint, painting all the rooms, packing everything else, driving to Virginia, staying with my sister for a few weeks, and finally moving into the new home. It’s very easy for anyone to get overwhelmed, but impossible to explain to a small furry creature who loves routine.

While staying with my sister and her family, I first kept her in the bedroom, with the door shut. Even in such a confined space, she would hide, first under the bed and then behind the decorative pillows. As she got more comfortable, she was allowed the run of the upstairs as a gate kept her from venturing down into the dogs’ territory. During the rare times of quiet, I would be surprised to find her in one of her hiding spots. I didn’t realize until we moved into our new home, that hiding for her is a natural reaction to being overstimulated. Within the first 20 minutes in the new house, I thought I lost her amongst the sea of boxes. Instinct told me to look under the sofa, and there she was. The next day she would explore for awhile and then retreat to her hiding place. I finally saw her pattern, as much as she loved watching the birds or exploring our new home, it was too much stimulation for her. She had to stop and rest; it was programmed into her nature.

This recovery mode from being overstimulated, especially during this Easter season, has me thinking about the appearances Jesus made after His resurrection, always in small doses and to select individuals. After being with Jesus for three years, this may have been confusing for His Apostles. However, Jesus was in His glorified body, and it was a lot to handle; His disciples would have quickly been overstimulated. Since they had a mission from Jesus, it was important to have enough time with His risen self so they could be witnesses.

Even today in our own relationship with Jesus,  there seems to be times when He withdraws from us. We may call them tests of faith, but perhaps they are just recovery periods He provides us, so that we don’t get overstimulated to the point that we can no longer be effective witnesses to Him. While we don’t see His presence physically, He may shift the way He is with us, and since we can’t see it, we may think that He’s not there. Just like when the Israelites were in the desert and He changed from a pillar of cloud to a pillar of fire, He will never leave us — nor make us hide under the sofa.

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.

Catholic Girl Journey

In transition

Isn’t it over yet? When can I get back to normal? This is the time in Lent when, even if we have a good rhythm to our practices, we consider them as something special, something above and beyond what we normally do. But we only take them on during the time of Lent and we may even look forward to when we no longer have to abide by them.

It’s not a bad thing to take on something extra for the duration of Lent, as long as it is something that will bring us closer in our relationship to God. But like most changes of some duration, it can be hard to always see the transition process in a positive light. Currently I’m feeling that in a very physical sense, as I am surrounded by boxes for my upcoming move to Virginia. While the physical impacts will be of a relatively short duration, living this day-to-day is fatiguing. I just want it to be over and not have to be planning and packing. However, once I’m in my new home, everything will be different. I anticipate a change in routine, like how I do things or where I go to shop. All of that will need a little experimenting as to what is best, so while the boxes may be put away, it will be yet another transition as I try out different options and settle in.

Instead of looking forward to the resumption of our normal routines, perhaps now is the time to examine how our Lenten practices can become part our normal lives. Does that mean abstaining from meat everyday or giving a donation to every cause that comes your way? No, there’s no need to be drastic. What if we consider abstaining from meat one day a month? It could be the first day of the month, the first Friday of the month, the last Friday of the month, or your birthday day. This could serve as a way to be mindful about what we eat and to thank God for for the gift of food and the people in the various industries that support it. Another example would be if you’re volunteering time during Lent to a community or church service to start donating monthly to them, or if your Lenten practice was to send a donation, consider volunteering for the organization. For those attending daily Mass just during Lent, rather than returning to only the Sunday obligation, consider attending one additional day a week, or prayerfully reflecting on the daily Mass readings.  

It may take a little experimenting once Easter comes as to how we will keep our Lenten practices alive, but planning for it now begins the transition from a seasonal obligation to choice we make to express our faith in action.

Catholic Girl Journey

Temper, temper

Although I was trying not to pay attention to the TVs in the gym while I was working out, I couldn’t help but notice some scenes from the Bruce Willis movie, the only non-sport choice running that day. The closed caption option for the programs was turned on and I was able to understand a bit of the movie. The scene that got me thinking was an exchange where the villain chided the hero for losing his temper during a phone call.

My temper has gotten the best of me more times that I care to admit. Sometimes I’ve excused it, explaining it as being passionate about the topic at hand. But when you pause and think about it, losing one’s temper is basically getting frustrated at the inability to control a situation, to communicate our point of view so that another can understand it, or to have the events unfold the way we want them. It harkens back to the temptation of the serpent to Eve, if she ate the fruit, she would be like a god. Who doesn’t want to be able to know and control events and situations? The only thing we have control over, is our reaction, and even then it is a struggle.

We may wonder why God allows these occurrences to happen, especially if they will tempt us to react in a way that causes us to sin. But as long as there is free will, people will be able to make choices that affect us in ways that provoke our temper. These are valuable opportunities to learn what triggers our buttons, so that when we realize we are starting to build up steam, we can ask God for guidance and help. After all, He is the one in control. He may ask us to be humble and open in the situation. Other times He may ask us to be gentle and merciful in our correction of another. In all our responses, we need to express the love that God has shown us.

Some situations may be easier than others, but God is giving us a lifetime of opportunities to practice, along with His grace and mercy when we fail to hold our temper. Just because we get it wrong sometimes, is not a reason to give up, just a reason to try harder next time.

Catholic Girl Journey

Multi-distraction

In today’s world, the ability to multi-task is not only a nice-to-have skill, but a mandatory requirement, especially for those in the workforce. I’m wondering however, is it really just doing multiple tasks, or is it more being distracted by multiple resources vying for our attention at the same time?

I have met a few people who are really talented enough to be able to focus at working on their computer while listening to a conversation that has no connection to the topic on which they are working. They are, indeed, rare and gifted folks. Most of us do some sort of what we call multi-tasking, working on one thing and thinking about another. What I’ve noticed is that multi-tasking has started to creep into my prayer life. I try so hard to focus, but there are times, when I end up thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner while I’m saying my morning prayers. Sometimes I have been able to backtrack to discover how I ended up thinking about something so totally different. Usually it starts with me trying to keep a person in mind and raise them up to God for assistance, and it triggers some memory, which then gets me thinking about something else, and the next thing I know, I’ve added three more items to my grocery list, when all I was trying to do was say my rosary!

Prayer is our time to communicate with God. We are to take time out of our day — 5, 15, or 30 minutes, and immerse ourselves in His presence. Whether we read from a daily prayer book or the Bible, say a rosary or just open ourselves up to Him, there are many ways to pray; the important thing is to take the time to be with God. He knows that we will have distractions; be it the cat that wants to play, the neighbor’s noisy car, or the rain pelting the windows. It can be difficult to concentrate just with all the noise of the world around us. But the biggest distraction is our own brain. In an age where everyone is using a mobile device to get the most updated whatever, our mind is on alert for the next ping, constantly working and filling the silence in between. It can feel as though God is not near us, when it may actually be that we aren’t paying attention to God at all.

The real skill is to practice praying without distraction. Lent is a good opportunity to step away from technology or whatever may be causing our distractions, and to practice quieting the mind and being in God’s presence. Perhaps we should pray, “Lord, help me to quiet the noise and draw closer to your peace so that I can concentrate and hear You.” With God’s help and consistent practice, we may be able to hone the skill needed to cultivate a deeper relationship with Him.