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.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gift of life

If we think of life as a gift, then we deserve nothing. Yet how many times do we expect the world or more and appreciate none of it?

The secular world around us would have us believe that life is all about us, or more precisely, me. The what’s-in-it-for-me attitude is used by marketers to sell us their products and has become the litmus test for how we determine what we need and what we want to do. When we believe everything revolves around us, we start to have expectations of what we deserve and what should be given to us, not as gifts, but because we perceive we have a right to things or treatment. Instead of receiving with thankfulness, we take because we perceive it is ours. It becomes our possession.

As we begin to prepare for the season of gift giving, let’s pause a moment and realize the most important gift we have ever received: life. Our creation is by the will of God, who blessed the love of our parents from whom we are born. God loves each and every one of us. He wants us to be here, on this earth, in this time and place. We may never fully know or be able to comprehend why we are born into the time, space and conditions, but God has a plan for us. While God does not need anything, He wants to have a relationship with us, for us to share in His love and work through us for the betterment of others.

When we talk about life, what does that really entail? It’s not just our daily activities, but encompasses the minute biological needs like our breathing, our heart beating, and our bodies being able to move, to the more intangible attributes like being able to think and reason as well as our soul. How often do we thank our Creator for giving us this magnificent gift? It’s more likely we complain about what is not working well, like the creaking of our knees or when we are struggling with a challenging situation.

As the season of Advent begins, let us start small and take a moment each day to thank God for the gift of life. Take a breath and thank God for it. Feel your heartbeat and thank God for it. Realize that you are noticing these things and using your mind and thank God for it. Realize you are praying and thank God for your soul. In receiving well the most basic gift God has given us, we will be able to receive His Son when He comes.    

Catholic Girl Journey

Face of Jesus

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

(Matthew 25:40)

I recently went to Mass at a church that is rather modern. Not only has it been around for just 25 years, but it is built entirely in the round with the altar in the center and the pews in a theater style. I must admit that I missed having kneelers. I never realized how important body position is during the Mass, until the ability to kneel was not provided. I suppose I could have tried, but I’m not as flexible as I wish to be and I had no desire to get stuck. The other thing I really missed was the crucifix. My home parish of St. Isaac Jogues has a tremendous and larger-than-life crucifix behind the altar. I use it as my point of focus during the Kyrie, the Gospel, and communion. Without such a focal point, I felt lost and distracted. The thought bemoaned in my head, “I can’t see Jesus!” What I could see were the individuals who make up the congregation. And the answering thought in my head was that each person is the face of Jesus.

The way people treat us, and our experiences interacting with them, influence our response. In this secular age of “what’s in it for me,” it can be challenging to see Jesus in the selfish and self-absorbed, but He is there. It can also be very easy to pass judgement on others and to say they don’t deserve whatever kindness or opportunity you can provide them. If God waited until we deserved to receive His mercy and forgiveness, we would still be waiting for the first coming of Jesus.

From Jesus’ command to love God and then your neighbor to examples, of what that means in the letters of Paul and James, it is clear that Christianity is not meant to be a purely intellectual pursuit of belief. Rather it is an ‘and/both’ reaction to Jesus as the Christ; we believe in Him and from that belief, the love we have for Him is then transferred outward to everyone — family and stranger, those we have met and those in the next town, the next state, the next country, across the globe, and regardless of what they believe.

We can get so caught up in our daily routines that sometimes it takes a shock to make us see from a different perspective. While this was a relatively gentle shake, as I looked around the church, I wondered if others could see Jesus in me?

Catholic Girl Journey

Dos and don’ts of prayer

This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 10:17-27) is a great lesson in prayer. It’s a what to do and what not to do all rolled up into one example.

Mark begins the account with the three actions the unnamed young man takes: he runs to Jesus, he kneels at His feet, and he asks Him how to gain eternal life. If we stop to think about it, how often do we run to Jesus? When we have questions, problems or joys, is Jesus the first person we think about telling? Do we exert all our efforts to be in relationship with Him? The man’s action of running to Jesus illustrates his passion for more; it’s not just a passing interest. And when he reaches Jesus, he shows humility and reverence for the person of Jesus by kneeling.  This shows he believes Jesus is superior to him and he judges himself unworthy to stand before him. When we kneel in prayer, it helps us order our thoughts, and to submit our petitions with reverence; not like we’re placing an order at a fast food drive-thru. The young man poses this question: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. What an awesome question! He doesn’t ask for eternal life, nor even if he will achieve it, but rather what ‘must I do’, indicating he knows his actions play a large part, not just in this life, but in preparing for the life to come. In pondering this question, I must admit that I don’t think I’ve ever prayed this way. Usually  I am asking what God’s will for me is in the here and now or I am requesting the strength to carry it out.

Jesus’ initial response challenges the young man:  Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”  But then he continues with the plea to keep the commandments.  Because the young man has kept these since his youth, it would seem to indicate that he is on the right track to a life in heaven, but that doesn’t satisfy  the young man. He senses there is more he could do. And so he asks again, but it’s here that everything unravels and becomes what not to do. Jesus takes a deep look into the man and identifies what is keeping him from having a closer relationship with God: his riches. When you ask God to go deeper, you’re asking to be fully directed by Him. Not just to face your greatest weakness, but to take action against it. Jesus tells him to sell all he has. Why? Well, He gives him the answer: to ‘have treasure in heaven.’ He not only tells him what to do, but WHY to do it! How lucky the young man was to receive such direction and reasoning. I often wish I knew the whys of my life! Jesus then invites him to follow Him. Wow! Another amazing direction, clearly articulated directly by Jesus. And what does the young man do? He walks away sad. In essence, he says no to Jesus and no to a deeper relationship with God.  

The spiritual life is not just times of milk and honey, there will be times of struggle and pain as well. Many times those challenges are battling our own weaknesses and our need for control. If we pray to go deeper with God, we have to expect that He will ask us at some point to change our lives. While we may not all be asked to give up everything we own to follow Him, we will be asked to give up what blocks us from going deeper in union with Him.

This account doesn’t just serve as an example of praying but reminds us that prayer is a conversation with God. We talk to Him and He speaks to us. While it may not be face-to-face as it was for the young man, God does respond and does call us to go deeper. The real question is: how will we respond?