Catholic Girl Journey

Wisdom of a paradox

Jesus ate and drank with sinners. His parables included giving more to those who had, and taking away from those who had little, as well as a landowner who paid the same full day’s wage to each worker no matter how long they toiled. And the ultimate paradox, is that through His crucifixion, Jesus saved us, giving eternal life to those who believe. With the bible littered with these examples, how are we to ever understand them so that we can apply the lessons to our lives?

I was knitting recently and started pondering that question, as knitting busys my hands so that my brain can think. Theological ideas can be hard to grasp even when they are straightforward, so wrestling with contrary ideas can be even more complicated. In a pause of my thought process, I turned to my knitting pattern, actually a chart of stitches, to confirm yet again that I was following it correctly. It was then that I realized how much knitting had in common with the paradoxes of the bible.

In knitting, there is really only one stitch, it just depends on which side you’re viewing it. On the “right” side, it is a knit stitch, but that same stitch on the reverse is a purl stitch. By including the reverse, or purl stitch in patterns, all various designs are created. Advanced knitters manipulate these two stitches to create lace, cables, bobbles, and all sorts of shaping. But in the end, it’s all just one stitch.

Then there is the pattern chart, like the one I was using. The “right” side, or that which faces out, starts at the bottom left, and the first row is read from left to right. The even rows are the back or “inside” of the garment and in a chart are read from right to left. Charts often indicate that a blank square equals a knit stitch on the front but a purl stitch on the back. That means reading from left to right on an odd row, I’m knitting the stitches and when I’m on an even row, or the back side, I’m purling those stitches. Why is the chart written that way? So that you can see what the final result of the pattern you are knitting will be.

Putting the lessons from the seemingly contradictory bible passages into practice is like knitting from a chart, only we may not see the whole chart, only the next ‘stitch’ we need to make in our lives. Or we may forget that above and below that knit stitch on the right side of the garment are purl stitches, the ‘backside’ of the knit stitch.

I’m not the first to struggle these seemingly illogical teachings. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, acknowledges that some teachings can be difficult to a logical mind, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the  Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:22-25) Like following the knitting chart pattern, while we may see the big picture of the results, it can be confusing to try to understand the details in the same way. One has to keep on knitting before the chart begins to make sense, usually as the pattern starts emerging. Faith, hope and prayer keeps us open to God’s wisdom, allowing us to get a stitch or two deeper in His mysteries and teachings.

Catholic Girl Journey

Fearless

“Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:27)

These three phrases of a quote from a recent daily meditation book struck me as I read them. I know I’ve seen and heard them a thousand times, but it’s almost as if they jumped off the page and entered into my brain prompting me to think.

There are two commands that Jesus issues in this short passage.  The first is “take courage.” There have been a lot of quotes about courage from famous people over the years, and there is a general sense that courageous people do not lack fear, but rather they push beyond it, maybe even using it to propel them through their situation.

Jesus told his disciples to “take” courage. There are 28 definitions for ‘take’ in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but I think the one most applicable here is; ‘to receive or accept whether willingly or reluctantly.’ Jesus was offering courage to them but it was their choice to accept it or not. Today, even if we reluctantly accept the courage Jesus is offering, we will be able to move past our fears instead of letting them rule us.

Why should the disciples have been courageous? Jesus identified Himself so simply: ‘it is I.” Just as God revealed Himself in the burning bush to Moses, “I AM WHO AM”, Jesus’ ‘I’ had the power of God behind it. The courage that Jesus offers us is not just faith or trust in Him, it’s acting on the word of Jesus and allowing Him to lead us completely.

The second command in this short passage is: “do not be afraid.” To be afraid is not just to be full of fear but to be especially fearful of a future evil in response to an action. Jesus does not want us to live our lives looking at each moment with the expectation that something bad is going to happen. If we live by the courage He gives us, even if we do experience a malady, that courage will carry us through. But if we persist in being afraid, we let just the possibility of evil to overwhelm us.

There will always be challenges in life. Let us take the courage that Jesus offers and fearlessly follow to where He leads… heaven.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Cost of freedom

July brings the celebration of the United States as it’s own nation. We come together as family and friends to enjoy a picnic, fellowship, and, if we’re lucky, a dip in the pool to cool off. There may be parades where we cheer the veterans who have served our country. Some may remember those who paid the ultimate price to protect the country by giving their life. Perhaps, the true cost of freedom was paid by the sacrifice on Calvary.

The Declaration of Independence acknowledges three gifts that most know by heart: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Over 240 years ago, the founding fathers released this document that put into action a revolution from which the United States would emerge. They acknowledged God as the giver of these gifts. I’ve heard it mentioned that the order matters. You can’t pursue happiness if you don’t have your freedom (liberty) or your life. In a way, the document reminds us of the creation. God created Adam and Eve — that is He gave them life. He gave them the freedom to choose to do His will or their own by asking them to care for the garden and not to eat the fruit of one tree. Otherwise, they were to pursue their happiness by living in communion with God and the rest of His creation. Instead they put their pursuit of happiness above their relationship with God and thus impacted both their life and liberty.

God did not leave man on his own. He patiently gathered the tribe of Israel to teach them His ways and prepare for His Son to pay the price of that first and every sin. Jesus’ pursuit of happiness was to reconcile creation back to the Father through the forgiveness of man’s sins. This journey brought Him to the cross on Calvary, where He gave His very life for us all. The liberty He chose was to free us from our sins so that we can have a opportunity to pursue a relationship with God, both on earth and in heaven. We always have the freedom to choose: to do God’s will or our own. Now when we are sorry for those times we choose to do our will instead of God’s, we can return to a relationship with Him through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Let us give thanks to our creator, not just for our country, but those three precious gifts He gives to each of us. Let us not take our freedom for granted, but look to do the will of God and thank Jesus for paying the price for us.

Catholic Girl Journey

The purpose of the Church

What did Jesus do when He first met with His apostles after His resurrection? He bestowed His peace on them, sent them out into the world, and gave them the power to forgive sins. These blessings were given to men who ran away when the going got tough, who locked themselves in a room because they were afraid, and who did not believe when Mary Magdalene brought them the great news that Jesus had risen from the dead.

These frightened but overjoyed men were asked to walk the way of Jesus; to proclaim His name throughout the world. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) They were sent out into the world to bring the peace of Jesus to all. This mission continues to our day and is not just the responsibility of bishops and priests, but all Catholics. We need to receive the peace of Jesus and not only hold onto it, but freely share it with others as it has been given to us.

In today’s world it seems when giving that everything has a price or must be negotiated: I did this for you, you need to do that for me or I gave you this, so you owe me that. Instead Jesus gives without expecting to receive it back. “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” (John 14:27) He gives His peace willingly, without obligation. It is only by our own free will to receive and respond to His peace that we oblige ourselves to follow His commandments. He sets the example to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.

“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:22-23) In sending them out with His peace, Jesus expected the apostles to help heal the variously fractured bonds that each person has with God. He just doesn’t want people to know about Him, He wants them to know Him. He wants a relationship with them; one that cannot be achieved unless they willingly turn to Him and ask for the damage that sin has caused to be repaired. By giving the apostles the Holy Spirit, He provided His authorization to these men to do what, up until then, only God could do. So by going to the bishops and priests for the sacrament of reconciliation, we are receiving the peace and forgiveness He bestowed on the apostles. While individual members of the Church may not forgive sins on behalf of God, we can forgive the injuries others inflict on us, just as God has forgiven us.

The purpose of the Church is to go out and meet people where they are, share the peace of Christ with them, and when people willingly want to turn back to God, to forgive them their sins so they can start afresh with their relationship with God.The Church didn’t begin with perfect men, but by fulfilling her purpose, she perfects them.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

For the Father

In a recent homily, the priest asked the parents in the congregation, “What would you tell your children if they said to you, ‘I love you so much, what can I do to show you?’”

While I may not be a parent, I can imagine that the responses would be things like: do your chores without complaining, don’t fight with your brothers/sisters, listen when I tell you to do or not do something. For young children, these answers reflect the fact that parents have their children’s well being in mind when they give them boundaries and responsibilities as they are growing up.

The priest’s question piqued my interest. I realized that  young parents want their children to listen to their advice, to follow their example, and obey them, so that they can be molded into responsible and loving parents as they become adults. It reminded me of the 10 Commandments. For example,“Do your chores” is like “Keep holy the Sabbath.”

As we grow up, we have a responsibility to nurture our spiritual life and, among other things, by going to Mass, and reflecting on the readings and homily, we are learning to be responsible for the growth of our faith. To be asked not to fight with our siblings is much like the commandment “do not kill.” While it may seem like a leap from fighting over the TV remote to killing, any anger and violence is like a plant seed that grows with each fight. God the Father gave us the 10 Commandments, through the Israelites, to serve as a guideline for living,  similarly to what any parent would give to their children, for their own good, the good of the community and the good of the relationship with God.

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (John 14:21) At the end of the Last Supper, Jesus tells His Apostles that it is by observing His commandments, that they not only show their love for Him, but how they can keep a relationship with Him, even if He is not physically present in the world. The time spent keeping the commandments makes up the building blocks of the relationship with Jesus.

The actions we take, the choices we make all reflect our love for God, as we chose to — or not to — observe and obey His commandments.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

In the world

Living in a tangible world, we experience our surroundings by seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting and touching. In His infinite wisdom, God knows this so He has given us the ultimate tangible gift, Himself in the Eucharist!

I’m blessed that my parish has a Eucharistic adoration chapel where I can drop in from 8:30 AM to 10 PM any or every day for a visit. I can go and offer all my fears, questions, petitions and thanks to Him in His visible presence. Seeing the Eucharist displayed in the monstrance gives me focus. That sacred host is, after all, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus which allows me to tangibly see Him. It also allows me to be open to His love and peace. When I am there sitting directly in front of the Blessed Sacrament, there is a sense of His love washing over me and time seems to stand still.

While the chapel provides the opportunity to encounter Jesus at a time that fits into my schedule, it is when I take time for Mass that I can fully experience Jesus. At Mass we are given the opportunity to not just see Jesus, but to touch and taste Him by receiving Him in Holy Communion. Through this sacrament, He wants to be a part of us and wants us to be a part of Him.

After the Last Supper, Jesus prayed to God the Father: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23) This oneness that Jesus prays for is found in the Eucharist. He also prayed: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) Being part of the world is to experience it through our senses.

God gives us multiple opportunities to encounter Him through His creation, but none so intimate as to be in the presence of or to receive the Holy Eucharist. He comes to us so that we can have a relationship with Him that goes beyond the tangible world into the spiritual.

Catholic Girl Journey

Pondering the mystery

I’ve always been fascinated by mystery stories. Growing up I read Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown.  I enjoyed trying to figure out what happened as the story unfolded. As an adult, it seems my search for mystery stories leads mostly to murder mysteries.  While  I’m not fond of reading about a character’s demise, the who-done-it clues from the story do get my mind thinking.

It seems that people like mystery stories of many kinds because there are numerous subcategories in the genre. But with all the creative and varied stories that are out there, are we missing the chance to ponder the greatest of all mysteries: God? While we can enter into a personal relationship with Him, that doesn’t mean we know or understand Him completely. For example, take the Trinity; we can do our best to explain it in human terms, but what is it really and how can it be? Have we ever thought about how a simple petition we make is received by the Trinity? We may pray to any one person in the Trinity, but since all are one, do they need to consult one another?

If the topic of the three persons in one God is too overwhelming, how about pondering something more down to earth: Jesus; specifically His incarnation, death and resurrection. It’s very easy to say that since He is God, that’s how He was able to become man, suffer, die and rise again. But if we chalk it all up to His divine nature, are we missing the opportunity to go deeper into His humanity? In my simple brain, I wonder what He was thinking while His body was developing in Mary’s womb; did he know as each organ and body part was being formed? As a child, did He have to be taught how to read and write, or did His divine nature allow Him to bypass those little adventures? And as for His resurrection, how did he know when it was time to rise from the dead?  After all there is no time and space when we die, right? These may seem like trivial questions, but they are human questions — mysteries to consider.

Do we shy away from pondering the mysteries of God because it’s too overwhelming, or is it that we, as humans, will not be able to solve them in this lifetime?