Catholic Girl Journey

Testing 1, 2, 3…

What do you think of when the word ‘test’ comes to mind? Sharpened No. 2 pencils? Late night study sessions cramming information? Perhaps it’s a sinking feeling in your stomach that you might fail. But what exactly is a test? It’s the measurement of your knowledge and experience put into practice. So it is with the spiritual life when we are tested with temptations… I mean we’re given the opportunity to practice responding in a way that we know to be good and true.  

Sometimes, once we have successfully taken a test, we forget most of what we learned. For example, in our spiritual lives, we try so hard to overcome a temptation that when we succeed, we become so excited that we think we can do it every time. After all, if we succeed once, we can do it again! But when circumstances change, like the way a test question is worded, or there are changes in the multiple choices, or the temptation takes on a new form, we can trip up again in what we thought we had conquered.

Other times we have to retake a test in order to pass it. How can it be that we know what God wants us to do and we want to do what He wants, yet we respond to the temptation in the total opposite? As a result, we can get so disappointed in ourselves that it’s hard to imagine that God can be anything but disappointed in us as well. But God does not judge us the way we use our our limited logic to judge ourselves; and we should be very thankful for that! God wants us to improve, that’s why He is allowing us to be challenged; giving us the opportunity to practice and learn.

One of the greatest tools we have in our practice and preparation for tests is the examination of conscience. This allows us on a regular basis to review our responses to temptations and learn from the circumstances why we either failed or succeeded. By acknowledging our failures, we can ask God for forgiveness, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation, and to help us in the future.  

God loves us where we are today, but He also wants us to be all He has made us to be by following His commandments and His will for us. Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail. If we keep striving and reaching out to Him, we can deepen our relationship with Him and so be prepared for the end result of all these tests… I mean practice sessions: heaven.

Catholic Girl Journey

Don’t stop, just wait

Why does it seem that God is so slow in acting? It seems like you pray for something, especially something that needs a timely resolution, and you wonder when He is going to do something. And when you get frustrated, then you start tinkering with the situation, thinking either you can fix it yourself or that God wants you to play a part in fixing it. Sometimes it is true that God wants your participation, but sometimes the way we interpret participation is different than God’s definition.

When we pray, we do have to wait. But what does it mean to wait? Let’s take an example from everyday life. What do you do when you put your dinner in the microwave to reheat? Do you just stand there and watch the timer countdown? Or do you get your beverage ready, your eating utensils, maybe put a napkin by your place on the table and then, if it’s not ready, you watch the timer as it counts down to zero. Did you just stop, stand there and wait for it? Nope, you continued along the way. Did you have to be still and wait for it? Maybe, depends on what little tasks came to mind. This is a very simple example, as you know what will happen once the microwave timer dings and you know what dish you’ll be eating. Prayer is different in that we pray for our intentions and let God have His way. It would be like putting in a chicken dinner in the microwave oven and it comes out as beef, you just never know how He will answer your prayer. But the waiting game is similar, in that you can continue to prepare, but need to keep that open mind that God may answer your prayer different than you imagine.

There are times when we feel the need to stop and wait to see what God will do. It reminds me of a story of a flood situation, where a person had great faith that God would see him through the flood, and waited at his house. Even as the evacuation orders came in, he stayed. Then the trucks to take people out, followed by the boats and then the helicopters for those that were stranded on their roofs. Even then he stayed, waiting for God to save him. When he perished in the flood and met God face to face, he asked Him why He didn’t save him, and God responded that He tried: by sending the evacuation orders, the trucks, the boats and the helicopters. Sometimes our waiting needs to be active; God may be leading us on a path that will answer our prayers. We may not see that we are on our way to the destination God has planned for us, but He does.

It can be a balancing act trying to figure out how active we need to be in our waiting for God. As our prayers continue to forge a relationship with God, let us ask for the wisdom to understand when to be still and when to act in our wait.

Catholic Girl Journey

Thinking of God

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind.’” (Matt 23:37) I can understand the whole heart and soul, but the loving God with one’s mind? How do you start doing that?

Our minds are one of God’s amazing creations. We use them to make decisions, to recall information, experiences and feelings and to ponder our experiences to get more meaning out of them. So how can you love God amongst the various functions of the brain? Do we include God in our decision-making process, asking Him for direction rather than approval? Perhaps it’s when we review our memories and thank Him for the good times and helping us through the difficult moments. Maybe it’s when we actively seek Him in our thoughts and keep our minds open to His will.

Artificial intelligence was a topic at a conference I recently attended and I learned that there are so many amazing ways it’s being used. While some may fear robots taking over the world, in a way we are welcoming them into our homes now. With products like the Roomba vacuum and Amazon’s Alexa, technology that learns about us is not futuristic science fiction, but reality in the here-and-now. I wonder if the beliefs all the religions of the world and their scriptures were input to one of these machines, would they pick one religion as superior? I would like to think that it would be Catholicism. I wonder if after analyzing all the data points, would it wish to be human, so that it could believe and worship God? After all, Jesus became one of us to save us; no human ever became a microchip to fix a bug in a computer. Or would it reject it all, since God becoming man and dying on a cross to save us is very illogical? Perhaps it wouldn’t be able to understand a Triune God. Then again, we all struggle with these items of faith from time to time even if we do believe in them.

Knowing God is not a matter of intelligence. It’s about having a relationship with Him. It’s about seeing the blessings that He brings to our lives and thanking Him for them. It’s about seeking to do His will. It’s about keeping Him in mind at all times. In everything we say, think or do, we do it for Him. It’s how we love Him in our hearts, souls and minds.

Catholic Girl Journey

Believe and behave

It bothered me that I was bothered. But I think I was bothered because I could have done better. I know life is not a test, or a series of tests, rather it is a constant opportunity to practice. Still, I know I could have done better and it bothered me.

After spending most of the week attending a business conference, I took advantage of being out west to take a trip to the Grand Canyon. It never ceases to amaze me how inconsiderate people can be. They are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t realize when and how much their actions affect others. There were a number of little things that really annoyed me on the 2-1/2 hour bus ride out to the western rim of the Grand Canyon. Here I was, blessed with the ability (means, time and opportunity) to experience one of God’s amazing creations, and I was silently fuming at my fellow passengers. While one woman did offhandedly thank me for letting her have her way, I was less than gracious; and that really started to bother me. “I shouldn’t feel this way,“ I kept telling myself, “it’s not all about me.” But the little devil on my shoulder nagged me that  it was unfair for me not to have my way too.

That evening as I made my way browsing around some shops, I saw a magnet that really made me feel like I got smacked in the face. Among the tasteless quotes that were displayed was one that read, “Your beliefs do not make you a better person, your behavior does.” Ouch! It was like a beacon reminding me that I could have done better in practicing my faith. When we recite the Penitential Act at Mass, we confess to God the thoughts and the actions not taken that are less than the Catholic ideal. While I may not have been outright mean in my words or actions, the thoughts and brusqueness of my attitude should have been tempered by more compassion towards my fellow travelers. I felt like I failed, and in a way I did. But each new day gives me new opportunities to try again. After a day like that, I was wishing that acting like a Catholic was more instinct rather than thoughtful choice.

Jesus never said His way would be our natural reaction, or that we would never fail. Rather He gave us the ultimate model to follow when he said, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Acknowledging our shortcomings is a step in learning to follow Jesus. Perhaps next time, I can recognize the opportunity sooner and be more mindful of practicing my faith so that I can be a better person.

Catholic Girl Journey

Act like a princess

It seems the items that interest me on Netflix all have some sort of royalty in them. Whether it is a movie, a series or a documentary about real or make believe monarchies, a common story line is the requirement to act the part, especially in public. It’s usually contrasted when the character or person has presented themselves less that what is expected. I must admit that the thought has crossed my mind more than once, “I’m glad I don’t need to worry about that.” But then again, maybe I do?!

Being a daughter of God, who is the Kings of Kings, wouldn’t that make me a princess? Before I go ordering a tiara, let’s think about this. When Jesus came, there were no parades, just a few simple shepherds and 3 very select wise men who came to welcome Him. His crown was of thorns and His throne was the cross. While those aspects are not typical, His actions, that of a leader and setting the example for others, are common factors between Jesus and any earthly ruler.  

What would acting like a princess of God look like? We have plenty of examples in the saints. High on the list would include loving every person with the same love and compassion that Jesus has for me. Another would be setting the example of following the commandments by living them in my daily life. It may not be waving at crowds of strangers, but a smile or wave could help brighten a person’s day. Help those in need in whatever means available: by time, money and/or talent. It sounds like much the same as being a follower of Christ, doesn’t it?

Just like earthly rulers, we will fall short of those expectations. It doesn’t mean we stop trying, it just means we try harder. Perhaps in do so, we can bring a little bit of God’s kingdom here to our corner of the earth.

Catholic Girl Journey

Change begins with me

I feel the need for a change, or that a change is going to happen. What that is, I’m not sure. I could wait around to see what happens, but then, I’d only fret about every small thing that occurs differently and wonder if that’s the change. How can I welcome change without fearing it?

I’ve been rather blessed in my life and I’m lucky that there isn’t anything major for myself that I’m leaning on God, rather it’s the little day-to-day stuff. If I was going to change anything about myself, it would be the amount of procrastination that I do. I always feel that there is time “later” to get things done. It’s not that I’m replacing it with other meaningful activities, but rather indulging in the ability to relax. It’s like Newton’s first law of motion, ‘A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it…’ The thought that keeps going through my head is that if I want to change, I need to be the one to want that change. In Mark’s gospel, the father of a possessed boy asks Jesus, “If out the kindness of your heart you can do anything to help us, please do!” Jesus calls the man out for his lack of faith saying, “If you can? Everything is possible to a man who trusts.” The father’s response is a prayer I pray daily, “ I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:22-25) The first step to any change is to want it, and not just kinda-sorta want it, but really, truly, deep-down with all your heart want it.

Why do I want to change? That is a question I need to fully investigate. Changing how much I procrastinate seems like a no-brainer, but other changes that I may want to pursue should be carefully considered. Change for the sake of change does not make me a better person, just a different person. But if a change will aid me in my journey to heaven and be of benefit to those around me, those are the ones I need to pursue. I also need to understand that sometimes I’ll succeed, but there will be many challenging times when I feel prompted to do something and instead sit down and say I’ll do it later. I need to remember that even living in-person with Jesus, the Apostles ran away when He was arrested. It’s only after the coming of the Holy Spirit that they were fortified enough to go to the ends of the earth to preach the Good News.

Usually change takes time. In this day of instant everything, the slow process of change can be frustrating to the point of quickly giving up. Its slowness can also mean that we don’t even realize we’re changing. While the gospels record Jesus healing numerous people instantly, even without Him being present, He also took three years to prepare His disciples and the people for His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. It took the Israelites 40 years of wandering in the desert before they reached the promised land. If I give up on pursuing changing myself, I give up on the graces God has given me, and continues to give me, to help me change.

It may take a lifetime, and that’s okay. I just need to keep reminding myself, change begins with me.

Catholic Girl Journey

God’s blessing

The other day I was chatting after Mass with our recently ordained deacon and one of the women from the parish. She was telling us about a presentation she was excited to give, but asked us to pray that not only does she do well, but that the audience understands the information. Our deacon then proceeded to bless her efforts so that they bring glory to God. I was rather in awe to witness the moment. Afterwards, with a joyful grin, he indicated how much he loved blessing people and how he wished he could just bless everyone. What a marvelous attitude for someone with his vocation!

I knew that deacons had special privileges at Mass, like reading the Gospel and giving the homily, and that they could baptize as well. I don’t think, until that moment, that I realized deacons could give a blessing as well. What an amazing gift: to be the instrument of God and invoke His grace and blessing on His creation. A gift that is meant to be shared and given away to others.

While the ordinary lay person does not have quite the same power for blessing, we too can pray for a blessing over others: parents, children, siblings, friends and strangers. Asking God’s aid on behalf of another, in their presence, brings us closer together in the family of God. For some this may come easy, but for others it may seem awkward; the remedy is practice! God has blessed us with many gifts beyond that of prayer. Some are material while others are more intangible. They all are meant to be shared as well. As we share, from giving to the poor, to listening to a person’s troubles, to smiling at a stranger, we not only share the gifts that God has given us, we bring His blessing to others.

In the troubled world we live in, we can all use God’s blessings, especially when they are delivered by you and me.