Cushion life

Sometimes my cat, Vera, reminds me of Jesus. Though I may be tired, upset, frustrated, angry, or any other emotion and when I look over at her, she’s asleep on a cushion. 

As I was reading an art essay in the February edition of the Magnificat® on The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Peter Paul Rubens, I started to think about the times in the Gospel that places Jesus in a boat. Besides the one depicted in the painting, the first one that came to my mind was when the boat was sinking and the disciples had to wake Jesus up because he was sleeping through the storm that was about to sink the boat. The other instance that quickly came to mind was when he was walking on the water and intended to pass the boat by, but they thought he was a ghost and in an effort to prove he was not, Simon walked on water towards him. While we don’t have an exact record of every moment in Jesus’ life, I’m hoping the events that were recorded were due to the extraordinariness of what took place. It does make me wonder if these were the only events that took place at sea, or just the most amazing, or most repeated ones?

The essay prompted a deeper study of the painting. Much of the detail goes unobserved since I’m reviewing the copy that’s only as big as what fits into one page of the Magnificat®. The essay called out the movement of the fishermen and the strain on their muscles as they wrestled with the large catch. I began to think of the correlation of life without God’s presence or His guidance. We work so hard and while we may not strain our muscles, we do tire out without anything to show for it. Yet when we follow God’s direction, not only are we blessed, but we have to work harder than we can ever imagine. God’s blessing is so overwhelming, we can’t keep it to ourselves, we can’t even receive it all ourselves! We need to share it with others, ask others to help us with the blessings He’s given to us.

Even when we are following God’s guidance, there will be storms in our lives. We may wonder where God is, thinking He’s a ghost and passing us by or asleep while we live in terror and fear. All emotions have their purpose, but they are not meant to overcome us, but to instead caution us. Sometimes we need to step out of the boat into the tossing, stormy seas, and be bludgeoned by the wind. Yet if we keep our focus on Jesus and not the wildness of the elements around us, we too can walk on water. And for the times when we think Jesus is sleeping? He’s even more aware of what’s going on in our lives than Vera is of what’s going on around her as she’s sleeping. On occasion I may be able to leave Vera napping, but usually she knows when I leave the room and if she hears me elsewhere or I don’t come back to the room when she expects me, she will come and find me. Most times when I think she’s fast asleep and the moment I get up from my chair, her eyes pop open and she watches what I’m doing. If my cat does that for me, I know Jesus is many times more attentive to the details in my life. 

A life with Jesus doesn’t mean there won’t be any trouble or hard work. It means that when we pursue a relationship with Him, He will always be with us, supporting us through the wild storms of life and blessing us with the help we need to share His blessings to those in need. 

Clutter soul

It doesn’t matter how big, Jesus just needs an opening.

It’s been a challenging and overwhelming time at work. After a particular difficult Friday, I was disappointed that I had to schedule a meeting first thing on Monday to address some issues. It’s easy to say, “Leave it in God’s hands,” or, “Don’t think about it.” And I know worrying about it won’t make it any better; all it does is make me feel even more stressed. Yet even with that logic, I couldn’t let it go. I just kept turning it over in my mind, again and again all weekend long. I, who pray the Surrender Novena regularly, was having a hard time accepting this suffering.

Ever since I started the new job, there has been negativity towards the new application being implemented. Each time we reach a milestone, I think we finally have turned a corner and things will get better, only then to feel like the headwinds have increased to the next range on the hurricane scale. I was feeling very useless. My prayers were focused on being able to communicate better, to keep from seeing the naysayers as my enemies, and to help me forgive them of the hurt I was feeling from all the stress.

Upon awakening on Monday, dread filled my stomach; I was not looking forward to my first meeting. As I was asking for help, trying to turn it over to God, I felt like my soul was cluttered. I spent so much time worrying and rehearsing what I was going to say and the points I needed to make that there didn’t seem to be much room for anything else. Yet all Jesus needed was for me to recognize how much I needed Him and needed to open up to Him. If He could give sight to the blind, heal the lame, and bring the dead back to life, I believe He can take my cluttered soul and tidy it up. 

While the meeting was actually more pleasant than I anticipated, definitely far from perfect, but not the disaster I was expecting. The day still had a few rough spots in it.  Perhaps it will take a few more decades of me praying the Surrender Novena before I can confidently leave everything in the Lord’s capable hands. Maybe I should expect miracles to happen more often. What I do know is that God put me in this situation for a reason, not for punishment, but because I have gifts that can be of great benefit. I may not know while I’m in this position the specifics of God’s will, I know that as long as I lean on Him and ask for His grace and blessings, He will see me through, especially in the most trying of moments. 

Yes, my soul can get cluttered with me holding onto grievances and anxiety, yet God is always there to help me. It doesn’t mean He’ll make it all sunshine and roses, but it will be a bit brighter and convey His special peace.

Life challenge

It’s easy to believe in a cause that is just. The difficulty is finding a way to support that cause fully, not just the immediate efforts, but the long-term effects of the changes that result.

After hearing about the recent Pro-Life March in Washington last week, an announcement on the local Christian radio station I listen to caught my attention. The World’s Largest Baby Shower supports five Virginia pregnancy centers by supplying the most needed items. I smiled when I heard that message and thought that it would be a good idea to participate. I then remembered how many donations pet shelters received in memory of Betty White on what would have been her 100th birthday. Suddenly, the thoughts collided in my brain: what if every year on the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children (i.e. Respect Life Day), we all donated to these pregnancy crisis centers? 

In this throw-away culture, there may be some people that consider children as things to have, as opposed to unique individuals that deserve dignity and respect. When women are pregnant, the decisions they make aren’t just for themselves, but for their unborn children as well. Pregnancy crisis centers help with education, counseling, as well as some medical testing, so that expectant moms can make life sustaining choices both now and in the future. This may be especially important when women are surprised to learn they are pregnant.

It is important to continue to march on Washington, as well as to pray outside abortion clinics. It is equally important to help women and families who do choose life by decreasing the cost of medical and material needs associated with children. If we believe that every person matters, from conception to natural death, then we need to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in how we can demonstrate this belief. For some, it may be participating in the march every January. Others may be called to volunteer their time at a pregnancy resource center. Still others may be called to support these efforts with financial donations. We all have our part to play in supporting life for all, not just for those whom we may know. 

It’s never too late to show your support. I challenge you to open your heart to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. What can you do to support life? 

Grape leaf and bunch of grapes gilded on a church door in Israel

Water jars

They were just standing there; tall sentinels watching over the wedding festivities. Once their purpose of ceremonial washings was already completed, they didn’t seem to have any purpose. Until Jesus put them to use. 

The wedding feast of Cana was the Gospel proclaimed last weekend, and is such a well-known story, that sometimes the details get lost. If there were six stone jars holding at least 20 gallons each, those vessels could practically be used as seating options! Most likely they were probably used at the beginning of the ceremony for the participants to draw water out of for the ritual cleansing. And then the party began, and, as typical in ancient times, it went on for days. The lack of wine meant several things: the party was about to end, the bridegroom and his family did not prepare sufficiently for the party, and/or the family did not have the funds to procure enough. Imagine how embarrassing it would’ve been to start one’s newlywed life being the laughingstock of the community! 

I read one commentary on the Gospel reading that mentioned there would have been wine casks from what had already been distributed. But Jesus did not choose them. Rather, He chose the vessels that were specifically intended to be for the ritual cleansing as identified in Leviticus. Oddly enough, stoneware was the only material that could come in contact with ritually impure items and not be rendered unusable. Clay vessels, if tainted, had to be smashed and no longer used. Stoneware jars were like mini cisterns that kept the ceremonial water for washing, usually around a town’s synagogue or in the houses of priests. It’s from this “pure water” that Jesus turns an embarrassing situation into a non-event. Jesus keeps this celebration of uniting two lives into one going, not just for a few more hours, but potentially a few more days. After all the wine that had been already consumed, only God knows if all the wine Jesus provided (120 gallons?) was consumed or if some was leftover. 

It’s interesting to ponder how Jesus transforms these Old Testament jars into a New Testament miracle. One perspective is to see the old order, and habits, passing away for what Jesus is instituting. Ceremonial washing is good, yes, but living life and celebrating it, which is what the wine represents, is far better. We may look at the people in the Bible or even the saints throughout the ages and say that we can’t be as holy or do the good deeds that others have done. Yet Jesus takes these jars that were largely ignored and repurposed them. He gave them new life in abundance, and He wants to do the same for us. We cannot change water into wine any more than the stoneware jars could. But when we let Jesus into our lives, anything is possible. 

Rather than watching the world go by, let us offer ourselves as vessels for Jesus to bring new life into the world. And don’t be surprised to find yourself the life of the party. 

Called by God

As we begin ordinary time, we hear  the Gospel reading of Jesus calling the apostles. We may wonder at their response of leaving their work as fishermen, as well as leaving their families to follow Jesus. Do we think that being called by God was just something that happened a long time ago as recorded in the Bible, or do we realize that it continued to happen throughout salvation history and even happens today?

God calls us by name, each and every one of us. He has a mission for us, which could be one special purpose or many different tasks. When He calls us, He speaks His Word to us, and so it is through Jesus via the Holy Spirit that we hear His call. God knows us because He created us; He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows how we can be instruments of His will and grace. He allows each of us to choose how to respond to Him. He calls us, but do we answer?

In reflecting upon the call of God, I think of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Participation in these are responses to God’s call to become part of His divine family. In Baptism we are named and anointed, marked with an indelible seal of God’s grace. Confirmation completes the sacrament of Baptism with yet another anointing, an additional name, and receipt of the  gifts of the Holy Spirit. Each of us receives our own special recipe of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that make us unique individuals and enables each of us to do God’s will. When we respond to God in an open and positive attitude, He blesses us with what we need. Just as God created each person, He calls out to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve received the sacraments of initiation or not. 

Baptism and Confirmation are one-time events where we respond to God’s call, but His calling does not stop with those two sacraments; He calls us each and every day, and even multiple times throughout the day! How can we respond to Him? Prayer and witness. Through prayer, we develop our relationship with God. We learn how He speaks to us and we come to understand His will. Prayer helps us discern how we will answer God’s call.  We may be His disciple by becoming a witness to Him through our words of praise, our loving actions toward our neighbors, and/or by being an intercessor for others in need of support.

One example of God’s call can be our vocation: single, married, or religious life. When we hear God calling us to a particular vocation; we can respond by accepting it with humility and trust, or we can choose to do what we think is best. Regardless of our choice, God will continue to bless us with His grace and love us through both good times and difficult times. He will continue to call us to do His will in the daily events and circumstances of our lives. May each of us listen carefully for the sound of His voice. Can you hear Him now?

Beginning again

Merry Christmas! Yes, we are still in the Christmas season, even though liturgically the feast of Epiphany was celebrated on January 2nd this year. The birth of Christ so close to the calendar change gives us time to celebrate the awe and wonder of God becoming man and heralds to us start anew. 

The Son of God born of a woman gives His message a personal invitation. God isn’t shaking His finger from afar in judgment. He didn’t just show up as a fully grown man to tell us what to do. He came to live with us, starting the way we all start out: as a wee babe. It’s hard not to feel compassion for an infant. We hear the story of His nativity and rejoice with His parents, the shepherds, and the Magi. He gathers us into the story of His life — His mission, and we follow Him throughout His ministry. He changed the world with His life, death, and resurrection, but it all starts with Jesus being born in Bethlehem. He was at the beginning of creation, and becomes the beginning again with His nativity. 

The Catholic Church celebrates the Nativity of Jesus as an octave, that is eight days celebrating the feast as if each day is the feast itself. The eighth day of that feast just so happens to be January 1st, the first day of the new calendar year. How perfectly providential that we begin a new year — we begin again, as we are still celebrating the feast of Christmas! While any day and time is acceptable to change and start something new, to begin a change in January adds a sense of order to whatever change we are focusing on. It’s almost as if there is an energy that we can tap into to help us as we begin again. While some may call it a resolution, to “resolve” to change errant behaviors, I think if we embrace words like begin and start, the hopefulness those words bring can help support us in our changed ways. We also need to be cautious not to try to change too many things at once, as that can be overwhelming and hamper any progress. If we pick one thing to start, to begin again, and let that change lead us to other changes, we may find ourselves much more successful than we ever thought possible when we first started out. 

In these first days of January, while we finish celebrating the 12 days of Christmas (which started on December 25th), and end liturgically with the baptism of Jesus, let us pray for guidance as to what areas need a new beginning in our own lives. As we consider aspects of our spirit, mind and body, we can rest assured that no matter where we start, the other areas of our lives will be affected by beginning again. 

Thank you, Jesus, for allowing me to begin again, and with the support of Blessed Mother Mary, please help me make the necessary changes in order to become the best version of myself. 

Gifting to God

God is lavish with His gifts to us. He didn’t have to create us, but He did — and He hasn’t stopped there. Moment by moment, He showers blessings down upon us. He has even given His most precious gift to us, His Beloved Son, Jesus. Is there any gift we can give to Him?

It’s very overwhelming when we try to consider how much God has blessed us in our lives. We think about the gifts of friendships, or even those who have crossed our paths for a short time and left a warm fondness in our memories. We think of all the happy occasions we have celebrated and even some regular ordinary days that were just delightful. I don’t think it’s possible to be able to inventory all the blessings just from our own lifetime! God is a role model of generosity; we really can’t give more than He gives to any one of us. Is it possible to give God a gift at Christmas? After all, it is His birthday, shouldn’t He receive a gift from us?

Looking to the Gospels for inspiration, I found where Jesus once remarked, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Since God created everything, that seems like a tall order, not to mention a totally new dimension to re-gifting. Yet a recent Advent reflection I read used the analogy of a coin from this Gospel reading. It talked about how a coin minted in a kingdom has the image of the king on it. It went on to say that God will only recognize our actions if they are in the image and likeness of Jesus. While we can’t give the blind back their sight, we can be their eyes. We may not be able to heal a sick person, but we can provide a little comfort to ease their pain and be a shoulder for them to lean on. We cannot forgive another’s sins, but we can forgive those who have wronged us and show mercy to them. 

As Catholics, we are all called to love one another. You may think you are because you’re nice to people. Being nice is but an atom in the element of love. To love someone is to sacrifice a bit of ourselves for their good. Like a parent who gives up their own time to spend time with their child, we must sacrifice our time, our talents, and our resources in loving others. When we give of ourselves out of love, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves or to strangers without reward, we are acting in the image of Christ Jesus. 

We’ve passed the halfway mark in Advent and preparations for Christmas will soon heighten to a frenzy of activity. Let us make the time and effort to be a gift to another. Maybe it’s a phone call to someone who may be lonely. Perhaps it’s participating in supporting a food pantry. In whatever way we can, let us  give God a gift of ourselves by mirroring the love and generosity He has shown us in His Son Jesus.  

The desert of Lent

Last week there was no holy water at the entrance to the church. While I expect that on Good Friday, we’re only about half way through the Lenten season. It’s just one more reminder of how different things now are.

This Lent is, indeed, a desert: no water in the fonts, no Mass with the public attending, no gatherings for Lenten talks or Friday Fish Fry. But this is no time to be sad and forlorn. God knows how it will all turn out and will give us what we need, when we need it. It may be a challenge for us to participate in a Mass that is streaming from an empty church, but what a gift it is to have technology to bring it to us! We may not be able to physically receive the Body and Blood of Christ, but we can always make a spiritual act of communion. If we don’t believe Jesus comes to us through that prayer, then it is we who limit His abilities, not that He is limited to entering us through the physical realm. It is because we are in the physical realm that He gives us His Body and Blood hidden in physical form, since it’s much easier for us to understand and connect with Him. He is calling us deeper into faith in Him.

I can’t help but think about the lepers, from Jesus’ time through Saint Damien of Molokai, Hawaii and because of the contagiousness of the disease, they could not worship with the rest of the community. They had to be kept apart to keep the disease from spreading. While this bacterial illness is now curable, it can be very easy for us to shrug off the impact it had on society. With the crisis now at hand, we are getting a taste of how life can feel like it’s being turned upside down. Perhaps the next time we hear a gospel about a leper, we can realize the compassion that Jesus had for each individual. We can take the lesson and apply it to those who have been touched by this current affliction. Perhaps with every Hail Mary we say as we make sure we wash our hands for the appropriate length of time, we can offer it up to those who most need our prayers. 

Last year I was in the midst of preparing to move from Pennsylvania to Virginia, so I felt my Lenten practices were a bit weak, since I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t see through during the move. I was excited to see the possibilities for this Lent in my new home parish. Now, I must admit, I feel like I have been robbed a second time in preparing for Easter. But I know God can make the desert bloom. Rather than focusing on what I can’t do or what I’m missing, I need to focus on what I can do: watch Mass online or on TV, read the Bible or a spiritual book, make all activities a prayer, and leave the results to God.

Catholic Girl Journey

Now what?

In praying the Surrender to the Will of God novena, one of the daily prayers got me thinking: 

“And when I must lead you on a path different from the one you see, I will prepare you; I will carry you in my arms; I will let you find yourself, like children who have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, on the other bank of the river”.

With the move down to Virginia slowly settling down to the last few walls to be painted and a few more boxes to be put away, I feel like I’m on the other side of the river. In so many ways and experiences in the whole moving process, from the decision to the execution, I felt that God was with me and leading me. I know God has not left me, but there is a bit of “what happens now, God? I don’t know this side of the river, which way do I go?” It’s like in Psalm 30 “Once, in my security, I said, ‘I shall never be disturbed’… but when you hid your face I was terrified.” (Ps 30-7-8) I think God has a lot more confidence in me, than I have in myself!

Perhaps it was because I was seeing His guidance through the process, I came to expect that it would always be there and always manifest itself. But just as a child’s ability to apply what is learned is hindered if the teacher is always there assisting him, we are given the time and opportunity to practice lessons we have learned. There are some days when I can look around my new home, smile and thank God for His generosity. There are others when I look around and think “it’s too much for me, or dear Lord, why did I get this one?” It’s not like there was another that I wanted more. In fact, the kitchen is so fabulous that I thought it would be snapped up before I would be able to put in an offer!  Now, as described in the novena, I need to trust God and His will for me in my new home. He will provide for me while I’m providing for the needs of others, using my kitchen to prepare meals for various parish events. 

While I don’t know how long I’ll be here, I don’t expect to move anytime soon. So why do I expect God to lay out the full plan for living here at this moment? I spent 22 years in my previous home. On the day I moved in I would not have been able to fathom what my life would be like in year 22. So, I must learn to trust God to nudge me if I start to wander too far off the path He’s leading me. I have to start walking, rather than looking around and wondering what to do next. Step one is to just put one foot in front of the other. 

Catholic Girl Journey

Next time is now

Our human nature causes us to fall all the time. When we choose not to do God’s will, or sin, remorse can immediately kick in or it may take awhile as we see the consequences, to feel it. When it does, we often promise to do better next time. Why do we put it off? Why do we wait? Why not make the right choice now?

Let’s take the example of judging others. There are numerous times Jesus remarked not to judge others, yet we do it all the time. I’m not sure if it’s any worse than in previous generations, but with the rise of social media, we can do it much more instantaneously and on a grander scale than before. Plus with the plethora of social media apps, temptation is never far away. 

I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and follow a few companies that I regularly patronize. Everyone has different tastes and hobbies and sometimes I’ll see a posting with which I don’t agree, and I’m quick to think that it shouldn’t have been posted. The whole point of social media is to broaden our outlook and learn from one another’s differences. But our instinct is to disagree, perhaps post a negative response, or even think poorly of the person posting it. Once we catch ourselves in this thought process, what do we do? Close the app and say next time I won’t react? Or do we try to turn the situation positive by reaching out to the person or saying a prayer for them?

As human time is linear, when we commit a fault, we are not forgiven until we confess our sins. It makes putting things off until next time much easier. But God is outside of time and space, not to mention He’s the creator and master of it as well. If we put off making the right choices or repairing a breach caused by our sin until next time or until after our next confession, we are letting precious moments of grace go unblessed. These are times when Jesus lifts us up from our fall. Do we let Him, or do we linger on the ground and insist that we can get up on our own? While we do have to take responsibility for our choices and actions, we can lean on Jesus for assistance, not only to help us up now, but also to help us identify and avoid those times that lead us into a temptation that we cannot defend ourselves against. 

Total failure is to linger in the fall from grace and refuse to accept it as a means out of our situation. When we stop and apologize to God (and any others we have hurt by our sin), we start anew in that moment. Don’t wait for tomorrow or the next time; reach out to God and begin again now. What are you waiting for?