Attributes of the saints

On the eve of All Saints Day, I was reminded again of Saint Peter and some of the qualities that transformed him into a saint.

My favorite story about Saint Peter was when he walked on the storm-swept water with Jesus. As the wind blew around my home and the rain pelted it, I watched the local meteorologist for an hour and a half, without commercial break, talk about the progression of a nasty storm through the central Virginia region. We were under a tornado watch. Since I’ve only been in my home about 6 months, it was a bit frightening. Hearing the powerful wind, I was reminded that Peter not only asked to walk on the water to Jesus during a storm such as this, but he actually got out of the boat and started to do so! It would have to be a rather catastrophic situation for me to step outside on a night like that. I was anxious just being inside the house. 

You can say I was fearful, but I don’t think you would call Peter fearless. Saints don’t lack fear, rather they have an abundance of confidence in God. Simply put, they trust Him completely. If Jesus could walk on the water, Peter thought that he could do the same with Jesus’ permission. And he did! It was only when his focus was distracted from Jesus that he realized what a precarious position he was in, and that slip of faith caused him to stumble and sink. To be a saint means that we need to put all our trust in God, not just for a moment or for the initial decision, but for all our lives and in every situation. To be a saint also means that we may stumble at times, but Jesus is never too far away to help, as long as we reach out to Him and trust in His actions.

Another quality of sainthood is to be holy, that is to be set aside from the everyday for a sacred purpose. When we give our lives to God, and trust Him completely, we are separating ourselves so that we are in the world but not of the world — not being consumed with what is popular. Peter set aside his fishing business to be an apostle of Christ, and then to lead the fledgling church through the first years after Jesus’ Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. The call to sainthood is  not just for the apostles, it’s for all of us to mirror the love Jesus displayed to every person we meet. To love without conditions, just as Jesus was equally kind to rich and poor. To be generous, just as Jesus was generous in laying down his life for us. Everyone in heaven is a saint.  They come from all walks of life and their actions spoke louder and more eloquently than words of how much they love Jesus.

The celebration of all the saints may have come and gone, but taking time during the month of November to think about the saints and the qualities they displayed is a good preparation for Advent. May we follow in their footsteps, through this life and into the heavenly paradise.   

Catholic Girl Journey

Church practice

On the feast of Corpus Christi, the gospel reading from Luke is about the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Most reflections focus on the miracle and it being a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. But it is also a bit of training for the Apostles.

After a long day of preaching and healing by Jesus, it is the tired Apostles who suggest that Jesus dismiss the crowd so they can go and eat. Perhaps it was the Apostles who were hungry and just wanted some quiet time. Instead, Jesus instructs them to feed the people. It is the Apostles who organize the people into groups at Jesus’s direction. Sounds to me like the precursor to parishes in a large city. Jesus then blesses and breaks the bread and fish for distribution. The Apostles are given the task to give some to each group. I wonder how long it took them to realize the miracle that was happening? Did they notice they kept having food to share with the next group? Or was it only when everyone was finished and they were picking up the leftovers that they knew what had happened?

As fishermen, Peter, James, and John were used to hauling in fish. What were they thinking when instead of gathering fish, they gave it out — for free? Did it go against their instinct? Or were they getting comfortable with the ways of Jesus? How about Judas Iscariot, was he happy to give out free food or did he resent the task? As the Apostle who spoke most of love, I can imagine John as he is gathering up the leftovers, asking each person if they had enough or if they wanted to keep a portion for later. If you were one of the Apostles, what do you think your reaction would have been, both to distribute as well as to gather the remains?

While this miracle is not considered the first Mass, the first Eucharist was at the Last Supper, it does have similar qualities. The people first hear Jesus speak, just like we do in the Liturgy of the Word. Then Jesus performs a miracle with the bread and His chosen ministers give some to each person, just like in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus uses this opportunity to teach and for the apostles to practice part of what will become the focus of their lives. 

We all need practice from time to time. Jesus understands that and often uses circumstances for multiple purposes in our lives, including practice for any future event. So the next time you want to ask Jesus why you are doing something, think of it as practice and ask Him how you can do it better next time. 

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

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

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.