Servant of God

November is the end of the liturgical year for Catholics and our focus turns towards the end of time. The readings for Mass take on a sense of ugent remembering for what awaits us at the end of life. It should not be surprising that the month starts with the feast of All Saints. The Church in her wisdom draws our attention to those who are cheering us on from their place in heaven. Yet the path to being declared a saint has several steps, the first is being named a Servant of God.

The process for sainthood begins at a local diocesen level. After a person who has the reputation for living a life of holiness dies, an investigation into their life begins the process of potentially being declared a saint. During this investigation, the person’s life is examined to determine if their life reflected a pursuit of improving their holiness and heroic virtue. Every aspect of their life is reviewed, any correspondence, writings, journals, and the like are scrutinized. While a person’s past may contain some less-than-holy times, it is how the person responded to those times that matters: did they repent and seek a closer walk with God? Once a cause is opened at the diocese level, the person receives the title of Servant of God

I read Black Elk Speaks way back in my college years as part of a Native American Literature class. I remember enjoying the book with its rich details of tribal life. And in researching people who are considered Servants of God, the name Nicholas Black Elk caught my attention. Wondering if the two were related, I was surprised to find out they are one in the same! In reviewing the website supporting Nicholas’ cause, I was amazed to find that he embraced Catholicism and had become a catechist to his people. While it was sad reading his disappointment in how the story of his life only included, as he referred to it, his pagan life, his passionate embrace of God was still equally refreshing. He was proud to be a catechist and the story of his life is not complete unless one includes all of it. He lived about 20 years more after the book was written, and from a Catholic perspective, those were the best years.

I read He Leadeth Me over several months during weekly Eucharistic adoration. It is an amazing reflection of the spiritual struggles of Servant of God Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., who was born in Shenandoah, PA (my parent’s hometown.) After ordination, he served in Poland and made his way into Russia, where in 1941, he was captured as a “Vatican spy.” He spent 20 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps in Siberia, working in dehumanizing and soul-sucking conditions. Yet even here, Fr. Ciszek was able to minister to his fellow inmates (mostly in secret.) And long after his family thought he was dead, his family began to receive letters from him after his release and he was returned to the United States in 1963. 

The lives of these two men cannot be more different, more diverse. Both answered the call from God to fulfill the purpose He had for their lives. Each is a model for us in how to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. No matter if they are officially declared a saint or not, we can ask these holy men to intercede for us in our moments of challenge and affliction. 

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

Best wine

I was reminded recently of Jesus’ first miracle which took place at the Wedding Feast of Cana and found in John’s Gospel (2:1-11). I love the detail about how the head waiter comments to the groom about saving the best wine until after the guests had already been drinking an inferior one. When I look at that statement with a logical mind, I think, “Of course, it was water turned into wine by Jesus. He’s not going to make something inferior.” However, I think there is a deeper meaning to the wine being of better quality. Jesus as the bridegroom of the Church has been taught throughout Church history and the marriage of heaven and earth is through the salvation efforts of Jesus. 

The wine at the Wedding Feast of Cana can be viewed as a symbol of our life, and when we complete our life on earth, the life that comes next is far superior. Jesus did remark to His mother that His time had not yet come to perform miracles, yet he proceeded in doing so. Was it because His mother was insistent, to the point of directing the wait staff to follow the directions Jesus gave them? Or was it because He could use the opportunity to teach people that while they may enjoy life now, a far better life is yet to come? 

I do enjoy a glass of wine and I like sampling them at wine tastings. There is always an order: light white wines first, then the heavy reds, and sometimes finishing up with the sweet dessert wines. If you try sampling them out of order, it can be hard to cleanse your palate enough to taste something that is more delicate in flavor and you can’t appreciate it as much. It doesn’t indicate they are not good wines, just that the flavor is affected by what we have consumed prior to it. I can see how heaven would be a wine that is light and delicate, yet full of fruit flavor. We may think our life on earth is a glass of bubbling champagne, or maybe a refreshing blush wine. We may enjoy it while we are living our earthly life, or maybe the bubbles are too much for our taste. Whatever the situation is, the wine of heaven will be suited to our taste, and the best we have ever had.

Wine is composed, on average, of over 80% water. While it is still miraculous that Jesus turned the other amount into the elements that make up wine, He still started with the basis of water and enhanced it. That is one of the hallmarks of being exposed to Christ, you don’t remain the same person you were before encountering Him. Being God, Jesus could have turned anything:  lava or wood or some other object, into wine. Yet, He chose to turn water into wine. Something so similar in composition yet drastically different. 

Our lives are changed when Jesus enters our lives. For those who welcome Christ into their lives and seek a relationship with Him, He promises life eternal far superior than we can ever imagine or taste. Cheers!

Catholic Girl Journey

Dining with the saints

Starting out the month of November with All Saints’ Day has me thinking about the saints with whom I feel a connection. Modifying a question that pops up from time to time: if you could dine with any saint, whom would it be and why?

While that may seem like a wild question, it may not be that absurd. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the message of God preparing a banquet feast is a recurring theme. While some may argue it is used as an analogy, even if the purpose is not meant to eat, there is a gathering taking place. In heaven, it is called the communion of saints.

Since Jesus is the only one who has come to earth from heaven, it’s hard for us who live in time and space to grasp what heaven is and what it will be like. God has given us an imagination and I can’t help but think this is to help us prepare for heaven. While we will be able to see and experience God as He is and He will be all we need, the communion that the Trinity shares amongst the three persons I would think would be mimicked by the communion of saints. Our interaction with other saints may not be to see, hear, and talk to them as we do on earth, but there would be some sort of communication between all members, otherwise we would be in total isolation.

If I was able to talk with only one saint, I think it would be Saint Peter. I would love to hear his stories, from fishing to following Jesus and how much alike he thought they were. I would love to know about his family and how they handled his career change. I also think it would be fascinating to hear how his intercession has helped people over the past 2,000 years.

If heaven does allow us to get to know the other saints in on an individual basis, it may take eternity to get to know each person. What better harmony can there be in heaven, than the communion of saints truly being a family and getting to know one another.

Catholic Girl Journey

Who art in heaven

As I was praying the Our Father recently, an odd question popped into my head: Why do we state where God is? It’s not like there are multiple gods out there which we need to differentiate. It’s not like He changes locations with the seasons that we would need to keep His whereabouts in mind. And how is it that we humans can definitively know where God is?

Heaven is not about a physical place or space, as we define location. Rather it calls to mind that God is not a being limited to our world. He is Creator of all, so His signature is on everything we see around us. That helps us to bring Him to mind and ponder what He is like. After all, what better way to get to know someone than to look at what He has created? But creation does not fully reveal who God is, rather provides us examples of what God is like. Creation can lead us to a relationship with God, but not to God Himself.

If God is not a being limited to this world, then He is beyond it. When humans first roamed the earth, they had no idea what was above the clouds, as the clouds, sun, moon and stars were beyond their reach. It makes sense that the first definition for heaven in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “the expanse of space that seems to be over the earth like a dome.” However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The symbol of the heavens refers us back to the mystery of the covenant we are living when we pray to our Father. … [Christians] are in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh. They spend their lives on earth, but are citizens of heaven.“ (CCC: 2795-6) Does that mean the Our Father is not reminding us that God is elsewhere, but that we are called to live with the hope and anticipation of getting there?

Jesus Christ came down from heaven by being born of a woman and ascended back into heaven after He completed His mission (His passion, death and resurrection). He has bridged the gap between the two realms. He has taught us to keep heaven in mind when praying by using it not just once, but a second time so that we ask for God’s will to be ‘done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Heaven is not a state of mind, but a state of which to be mindful.

Catholic Girl Journey

My choice, my responsibility

If a non-believer asked you why does it matter if they believe in God, how would you answer?

I was watching a video from Bishop Robert Barron about ‘Reaching the iGens’, which concerns individuals who have grown up in a post i-phone world and the alarming number who have no religious affiliation. They are considered the ‘nones.’ He pointed out a few main considerations to think about when evangelizing to them. For instance, he mentioned seeing a billboard in California that seemed to sum up their attitude: “My Life, My Death, My Choice”… a total contradiction from the Catholic perspective, in which these are God’s choices.

The idea of having an opportunity to evangelize a ‘none’ person has me thinking of what I would say. There are so many ways to express why I believe, but most end up starting with the assumption of a belief in God, a higher power. But what about those who claim that since science hasn’t found any evidence of God, that the Bible is just a bunch of fables and tall tales like Greek and Roman mythology? I think the answer lies in society’s preoccupation with choice. Every marketing campaign starts with knowing that the consumer has a choice, they want you to choose their product. But a plethora of choices surrounds us: from the number of TV channels to ways to watch TV, to opportunities to dine out, what to make at home or even a combination of ordering from McDonalds and having it delivered by Uber. Among all these choices, how do you make a case to choose God?

“It’s my right to choose,” is far too often a defensive cry. But what if we turned that into the basis of our argument for God? Yes, we all have the right to choose, but who gives us that right? God does. He gave us freewill to either invite Him into our lives willingly or to turn away and ignore Him. However, with every choice there is a responsibility one has to accept for making that choice. For example, if I decide I don’t feel like going to work and I stay home, I have to accept the responsibility that at some point my employer is going to terminate my employment. It might not happen immediately, but eventually some disciplinary action will occur. If a person chooses to ignore God, He’s not going to go away, but at the point of their death, they must accept the consequences of this choice – eternal damnation. Would you want to wait until the point of death to realize that there is a God? God is merciful, so depending on how one lives their life, it’s still possible to reconcile with God even at that last possible moment.

I choose to believe in God. I believe that He will help me become the best version of myself. I will never reach perfection on earth, but I try because I know He’s supporting me. Even when my world seems rocked and anxiety starts creeping in, His peace is never far away. Living my life for God gives me purpose, direction and guidance along the way. I’m choosing to believe in God because I’m responsible, not just for what I do or not do in this life, but also for what happens after I die. I don’t want to wait until then to find out I should have done things differently. That reality may happen sooner than I think!

Catholic Girl Journey

Excuse me, do you know the way to heaven?

They are our constant companions. They are our lifeline to the world. They are smartphones. Without them, we would be, well… LOST.

There was a time when I would search a map for the best route to get to my destination.and carefully write down the directions, turn by turn. Then I would notate the reverse, so that I could drive home without driving in endless circles. Now, I don’t have to prepare a thing. I just type in an address and the map in my phone will take me there. Don’t like the way it’s taking me? I can turn down a different road and it will re-route me. As long as I have my phone charged up, I can go anywhere.

We put faith in an electronic gadget that it will get us where we want to go. We might get frustrated with our phone for dropping a call or sounding a notification without cause, but we trust that whatever map app we have, we can make our journey. We may make fun of the way it takes us, sometimes the long way around, but never do we really question if we will make it.

How do we make the journey to heaven? Do we trust God enough to lead us there? Or would we rather put the address into our smartphone and drive there? I don’t think of myself as a person who has to be in control all the time. However, since I drive on a daily basis, I think some of that need for control creeps into other areas of my life, like my faith journey. Can I let God take the wheel and lead me to heaven? Do I think I’ll get lost on the way? Well, if I insist on driving, I very well may get lost! But if I let God drive me, how can I ever think I won’t make it? It sounds so easy, but it does require trust on my part.

I have to trust in God’s Word. I may not be able to enter an address for heaven, but I know the way because it has been mapped out by Jesus.  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). I need to be open to way that Jesus is directing me. I open up myself to a relationship with God through Jesus in the Mass, in prayer and in trying to follow Jesus’ life example.

It’s not about what I want, it’s about what He wants for me. I need to stop being a backseat driver, telling God where I want to go and how I want to get there. I need to trust that He will take me where He wants me to go. Sometimes it may be a direct route and sometimes it may be the scenic way. What I need to remember, is to just sit back, relax and enjoy the view and the journey.