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.

Catholic Girl Journey

Never alone

A recent article caught my eye, “A Solution for Loneliness” by Kasley Killam in Scientific America. One of the suggestions provided in the article was volunteering, with reason being, it “fills our deeply rooted need for belonging.”

As a Catholic, I try to look at situations and challenges through the lens of faith. I was surprised to see a secular article make such a statement. To me that sense, the deeply rooted need for belonging, is more the search for God. However, we look at our physical world to fulfill that need. As Saint Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts our restless until they rest in you.” God is always there calling to us, calling us to a deeper relationship with Him. No matter where we are in our faith journey, as a human, we can never fully know God, so there is always more to learn and experience.

As we experience this longing for something, even if we don’t know what it is, usually we first look at filling that need with external things. Basically, we look for things to make us happy. Once we realize that things don’t make us happy, then we look outside of ourselves, to others. This is where loneliness can become an issue. If we look for people (or pets) to fill the need or ease the ache of being alone, we can become dependent on them. When situations change and the people or pets we relied on are no longer able to be with us, the need surfaces, often with a greater intensity.

I can see why a solution to loneliness would be to volunteer, but I would describe different reasoning than the article. To me, volunteering is acknowledging that life is not about me, but what I can do for others. Volunteering is giving one’s self to another not because it benefits us, but that it is our gift to those we help. When we give away the gifts God has given us, especially things like time and talent, He can fill us up. As Jesus gave up His life so that we can have life in Him, the more we give of ourselves, the deeper we can get to know Jesus. It’s hard to be lonely when we are not thinking of ourselves, but rather what we can do for others.

For the times when the thought of being alone crosses our mind, we can reach out to the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of God comes to us when we pray, when we receive Holy Communion and any other sacrament. He will remind us that we are never alone when we rest in God.

Catholic Girl Journey

Trust like Tweety

Question: If you could describe yourself as any cartoon character what would it be and why?
My answer: Tweety Bird, because he’s always happy.

I was reminded of this question and answer exchange that occurred early in my career during a mock interview. I remember my colleague laughing when I began my answer, but afterwards, she agreed, especially since I had a habit of encouraging people to smile or ask if they were having fun (at work!). I asked that question again to myself recently and thought about the character of Tweety Bird and if the answer would still be the same.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve watched any Looney Tunes, but what I do remember of Tweety is that he was always looking at the bright side of things. He had this way of trusting that everything would work out. His nemesis Sylvester the cat, on the other hand, was always scheming to get Tweety and always failed. But no matter how many times Sylvester tried, Tweety never seemed to get angry or be upset with Sylvester, he just trusted that everything would work out. While I originally described Tweety as always happy, I think it was more; it was a joyful spirit.

Since the beginning, God has been asking us to trust Him, teaching and encouraging our total reliance on Him. All throughout salvation history we see evidence of those who have trusted and those who have failed, either for a moment or a lifetime. It continues to be a challenge for everyone today. But if we live a life trusting, that even in the difficult moments or those that seem like the only result will be a bad one, by trusting in God and embracing the difficulties, we can live a joyful life and move through those moments.

I may not always be as trusting and joyful as Tweety, but I do try to practice total trust in God. Some days it’s a lot easier than others, but practice makes perfect. I think I would still describe myself like Tweety, not because I’m exactly like him, but that I aspire to his character traits of trust and joy.

Catholic Girl Journey

The Lord is my shepherd

Most Christians are familiar with Psalm 23 that states, “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack.” (Ps 23:1) Jesus identifies Himself as a shepherd of His people (John 10:27-30). But do we really allow Jesus to be our shepherd, and everything that it entails?

A common perception of a shepherd is one who watches over a flock. Either sitting or standing around all day seems like a rather boring job. Many see God in a similar way, just hanging around watching us from His far, distant throne in heaven. And while a shepherd does need to watch, it’s an active job that requires one to be alert at all times and from all directions. For a human, it can be tiring to constantly be both watching and listening, ready to spring into action to defend the flock from predators, or to rescue an errant sheep that has gotten into trouble, like being caught in brambles or turned upside down and struggling to right itself. Jesus is just as eager, if not more so, to jump in and provide assistance when we are in need.

One of Jesus’ directions to Peter was to feed His sheep. How does a shepherd do that? By herding the flock from one pasture to another. Sheep can eat quite a bit of grass and if they stayed in the same place, there wouldn’t be anything left for them to eat! Are we attuned to our shepherd when He calls us to move from one pasture to another? Or do we get so comfortable with our surroundings, that we dig our heels in and refuse to move?

People often think of sheep as a dumb animal, due to its flock mentality. However, being part of a flock and sticking together is actually the sheep’s best defensive move. When predators come to the pasture, the sheep will band together and run; any sheep that is not in moving with the flock becomes easy prey. When we sin, we move the way we want to, doing our own thing. Yet that is exactly what Satan wants, as a scattered flock is easier to prey upon. As the Church, we are Christ’s flock and we need to band together when we are faced with evil and run to Jesus, trusting that He will guide us away from every threat.

A sheep listens to his shepherd and follows his commands, trusting it will be kept safe and well fed. As the flock of Jesus, do we listen to Him and trust in His ways? Do we feed in the rich pastures He provides, or do we wander away seeking our own food?

Psalm 23 indicates that we will need to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, yet we are not to fear it, but trust that the Good Shepherd is leading us to greener pastures.

Catholic Girl Journey

Need for proof

While Thomas is most famous for doubting the resurrection of Jesus, from the beginning to today, people seem to struggle to find proof of God, not just once in their lives, but multiple times.

When the Israelites first left Egypt, they rejoiced to see the power of God, especially with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. They walked on dry land as they crossed the bed of the river. And when the river returned to its normal flow, proof of the miracle was the Egyptians who got caught and drowned. God had waged war against Egypt with nature and won. It didn’t take long for the Israelites to forget this amazing feat. As Moses was meeting with God, the length of time grew long and the peoples decided to build a golden calf to worship. After coming back to Him and receiving the 10 Commandments, their memory continued to be short-lived as they grumbled about not having food to eat in the desert. Yet God did provide both fowl as meat and manna as bread.

Ironically the Jews of Jesus’ time reference the manna as proof of what a prophet of God can do. Even with all the people He cured of various diseases and the feeding of the thousands, they still wanted a sign. Perhaps something otherworldly as proof to believe in Him. It may be a bit easier to excuse the people who may have encountered Christ for a few days, but when Thomas, an Apostle who traveled with Jesus for several years and saw all the miracles, we expect more from him. In reading the Gospel account, it was not enough for Thomas to see Him, or even greet Him with a kiss. Thomas wanted to be sure it was the same Jesus who died on a cross and specified that he wanted to put his finger into the nail holes and his hand into Jesus’ side. But when Jesus appeared before him, Thomas doesn’t even seem to need to probe the body of Jesus; His resurrected body was proof enough.

No matter who you are or how much time you spend with God, there will be times when we are challenged in our beliefs. Before we ask God for a sign, we need to look back in our lives and see the miracles that He has bestowed on us. The next step is to acknowledge that He knows what are needs are, and to help us through the situation so that our actions can bring glory to Him. It is a step not just in faith, but also in trust. This is an opportunity of growth. When we trust God, the need for proof is diminished. God’s ways are not our ways, and He does want us to grow in faith and trust in Him. So, in the next unexpected situation, instead of demanding proof He is with us, ask for an increase in trust. And don’t be surprised if God, in His generosity, grants you the signs you need as proof that He is walking with us.  

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.