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

Every word of God

The Gospel for the first Sunday of Lent was about the temptation of Christ in the desert. It seemed to me any reflection I read about this passage was introduced with the following verse:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

(Matthew 4:4)

The phrases that jumped out to me were “bread alone,” “every word,” and “mouth of God.” Most commentaries explain that the bread is a symbol of the physical world. But the phrase that Jesus quotes doesn’t end with bread, but that bread alone cannot sustain a person. For me that indicates that, yes, bread is important, but it is not the sole important factor in life. To really live means to have bread and the word of God. If bread is symbolizing the physical world, then yes, we need the everyday physical world and we need the spiritual world as well; we need to live as part of both. As humans, we can make it an either/or. Since our humanity immerses us in the physical world, it is very easy to be consumed with what we can see and touch. Jesus is asking us to listen, not just to the immediate sounds around us in the physical world, but to listen with our soul, our spiritual center, to what God is communicating to us. We are not meant to just exist in the world, living from meal to meal or day to day, but to truly live, which includes embracing the mission God has given each of us.

When I think of God speaking, the first thing that pops into my head is the creation story in Genesis, usually Him saying: “Let there be light.” God’s word speaks creation into existence; not only addressing each element of light, sky, stars, sun, earth, water, and living creatures, but also placing each into relationship with the other elements. The “mouth of God” creates, not just causing things to exist, but to exist in accord with His purpose. The phrase “every word” tells me that there is nothing without meaning or purpose when God speaks. All too often, because we know God spoke creation into existence, resting on the seventh day, we think that God doesn’t speak much anymore. But God continues to speak through the Scriptures and through all of creation, still putting put forth His word as a creative act that forges relationships among His works, and helps reveal His will.

Since even Jesus was tempted, we know that we cannot escape being tempted many times ourselves. During those trials, it may help us to consider whether what we are tempted to do or say is really accomplishing God’s will. Is this temptation bringing us into a closer relationship with creation? Is what we are tempted to do good for the world on some grand scope or is it good for our neighborhood in an immediate way? If the answer to those questions is no, we can ask for God to provide aid in overcoming the temptation, so that as He speaks His word, His will can be done.

Catholic Girl Journey

Grateful and gracious

While the words grateful and gracious may seem to go together, they are less likely to be used in conjunction with struggles and challenges. As Christians, however, we are called to be grateful and gracious in all circumstances, even those that are difficult.

One definition for grateful is to be appreciative of benefits received. Life is a gift, and on most days, it can seem fairly easy to be thankful to God for such a precious gift. In some moments, it may require a deeper look around us to appreciate what we have.

As I was stopped at a red light the other night, the big, full moon shone brightly in the sky. Knowing that it is reflecting the light from the sun, it made me think of how much Mary reflects the light of Jesus. In that moment I was grateful for such a blessing. While it didn’t warm me from the frigid cold that had descended upon my area, it lifted my spirit to be able to brave the walk from the car to my home. It also made me think that I need to thank God for the weather, as it could have been worse, it could have been icy or snowing. Instead it was just blustery and brutally cold. Do we thank God for the days of sunshine? Or do we just complain when the weather is not to our liking? Do we appreciate that we need the rain in order to see the rainbow?

We may be able to find something for which to be thankful amid the storms of life. Being gracious, acting in kindness and courtesy, can often require more intention and effort than we’d like to give. It can be difficult to be courteous when we are treated harshly, rather we want to defend ourselves and prove that we are right and others are wrong. As followers of Jesus, we need to act more like He did, with patience and love. As the just judge, He had every right to condemn those whom He came into contact. As our Savior, both then and now, He instead loves each person as they are, faults and all, and calls them out of sin and into a new life as His disciples. He truly is gracious and asks us to follow His lead with one another.  

I can’t help but think how grace-filled a person can be who exercises gratefulness and graciousness in all aspects of their lives. In our faith journey on the road to sainthood, let us not just practice these attitudes, but really live and breathe them so that we can experience a bit of heaven here and now.

Catholic Girl Journey

Fresh start

Every new year offers the opportunity to change, grow, or even make a fresh start. The ads on TV promise us new bodies if we join a gym or participate in a weight management program. The calendar with 12 months of mostly unscheduled time can lead us to dream and plan of everything we want to accomplish during the year. Do we ever consider our spiritual life in these plans?

It can be very easy to delay any spiritual activity changes until the Church’s liturgical seasons present the opportunity, like Advent and Lent. Limiting any changes just to those times of the year, we may miss other opportunities that are offered based on the calendar, like adult faith formation and retreats. As we take stock of where we are in life at the beginning of another calendar year, let us also include our relationship with God and what changes could be possible.

To live a life of faith, we need to expose every area of ourselves to God’s will. There is no one answer to how one can know God’s will. By educating ourselves and learning about Him in the Scriptures, and how He moved others in the lives of the saints, we can open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit and His promptings. Reading Thomas Aquinas may be a bit beyond our level of theological comprehension, but taking an interest in the development of the Church, theology, or even just learning about what makes the Mass such an important obligation can help deepen our relationship with God.

Faith is not just an intellectual pursuit; it is also a matter of action. The start of a new year is a great time to find out how to participate in the community and help others that are less fortunate. Perhaps it’s visiting a nursing home or hospital, reading to children at the library, or even volunteering at a soup kitchen. When we reach out to love one another, we are sharing the love God has for us.

The ultimate fresh start is celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. When we turn to God and admit our sins intending not to commit them again, our souls are washed clean with God’s grace. Most amazingly, the sacrament is available to us all throughout the year. While our determination for other new year’s resolutions may weaken and fail, we can restore our relationship with God and start anew at any time throughout the year. Perhaps making a commitment to celebrate the sacrament more frequently than we have before could be just the resolution that can lead us closer to God.

We are called to know, love, and serve God and one another. Let us take a moment at the start of 2019 to consider how we can take a step deeper in our relationship with Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

Christmas every day

Merry Christmas! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were Christmas every day? Well, it is.

No, I’m not talking about the gift giving to one another, the feasting, the cookies, or the chocolate. I’m talking about the true Christmas; Jesus coming to us in a tangible way. Every Mass we participate in is like Christmas. In the Eucharist, Jesus is present: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity — just like in the manger at Bethlehem. Every time we adore Christ in the monstrance, we are just like the shepherds and the wise men who came to pay Him homage. How often do we think about Baby Jesus when we are at Mass or adoration?

The Son of God came down and spent 33 years on earth, and His whole life, from the manager to the cross is encapsulated in the Mass. Jesus came to die, but in order to die He needed to be born. Jesus lived, breathed, ate, laughed, and cried during His time here. It is this whole Person that we celebrate at each and every Mass. With Christmas, we focus on the humility of Christ, that He would become one of us, shedding the appearance of divinity to mingle with creation, not just as a man, but starting out as an infant. Jesus brings to infancy and childhood a sacredness, not something to just be endured, but celebrated.

Coming as a babe, Jesus relied on others for everything. Not from a demanding you-shall-do-this-or-else, but rather gently in appreciation for whatever little we can provide to Him. His Blessed Mother Mary cared for Him as any mother would, and St. Joseph protected and guided Him during His childhood. The Holy Family welcomed both rich and poor who came to celebrate the birth of the Son. Today, we are welcomed to Mass: saint and sinner, rich and poor, bringing whatever it is we have —  joy, sorrow, worry, and we offer it up to Jesus. He receives our littleness and blesses us, just as He did during His ministry on earth.

After the wrapping paper is trashed and the feast consumed, let us remember that is it not the end of the Christmas celebration. It’s always Christmas whenever we see a consecrated host; come, let us adore Him!

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of time

Gits bought & wrapped? Tree decorated? Cookies baked? During this season time seems more like an enemy than a gift. There’s so much to do AND we also want to spend time enjoying the moments that make the holiday special. Advent is the calendar reminder that we need to prepare, not only just for the secular celebrations of Christmas, but also to take the time to seek the coming of Christ in all His manifestations: past, present and future.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.”

(Gal 4:4-5)

St. Paul reminds us that Jesus’ first coming wasn’t an accident or on a whim, rather it was planned and with purpose. The preparations were made through history, starting with Adam, proceeding through Abraham and David until the time was right. I’m sure there are plenty of Scripture scholars who can detail why Jesus came at the time He did, but only God knows truly why He fulfilled His promises for a Savior at that time. I like the way St. Paul refers to it as “the fullness of time.” The thought that comes to my mind is a fruit that is picked so that it is sweet, juicy and bursting with flavor; like it can barely contain itself. Since God is outside of time and space, it’s hard to imagine Him looking in anticipation for that moment. Jesus’ birth, however, is only the beginning, then there are 33 years of growing, traveling, and teaching that need to pass before the final act on Calvary. It seems that every major moment comes at the climax of many little preparatory ones.

Waiting for Christmas to come seems like an eternity to the young, and to the adults it seems like it comes way too quickly. Yet every second is measured the same. Do we thank God for each moment? The good and the bad, the quick and the slow are all bestowed on us; we deserve nothing. We cannot change how much time has passed, nor how much we have left. It will end in an instant. Will we be prepared? Do we spent the time we are given seeking a relationship with God and doing His will?

We measure the gift of life using the gift of time. The gift of salvation is a journey across human time. It is through the gift of faith that we can thank God for His generosity. No matter how many presents that are under the tree on Christmas morning, none can compete with God who gives us all that we need: life, faith, salvation, and time.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of salvation

We can only receive the gift of salvation once we acknowledge that we are sinners.

God did not become man just to be oohed and aahed over as a baby. It was the first step of many to bring us back into a right relationship with God, to heal what was fractured with sin. Ultimately, He was born to die for us, and as St. Paul says to the Romans, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) It can be very easy in this time of joy to push aside the unpleasant reality of the crucifixion, but even the Church is careful to keep all of Christ’s work in mind, when on December 26 we celebrate the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen. Before He comes, it is appropriate to prepare ourselves.

As my pastor pointed out in a recent homily, Advent is not a mini-Lent; it is its own season. It shares a penitential perspective, like Lent does, but with a different emphasis. Advent prepares us to celebrate both comings of Christ. Two? Yes, His future coming at the end of the world/end of our life on earth and the remembrance of His first coming in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. In the beginning of Advent, the readings are taken from Revelation about the second coming. It’s not meant to scare us, but to be a wake up call. What have we been doing with our lives? Are we prepared to be judged before God? Are we prepared for heaven? As the season moves closer to Christmas, we hear about John the Baptist and his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As we reflect on our relationship with God, we see the areas that need attention. Hearing John the Baptist’s message, we know that there is hope. Part of our preparation for Christmas should be celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation.

Our culture wants us to fully celebrate Christmas from Thanksgiving (or even before!) and finish on Christmas so that we can turn our attention on the next holiday. But we cannot fully celebrate Christmas until we prepare properly. The Church carves out the four Sundays before December 25 to help us recognize just what a gift that is being bestowed on us: the opportunity to be saved from a life of slavery to sin and a healed relationship with God.