Catholic Girl Journey

Unexpected is not on the checklist

This past week has been crazy busy for me. I feel like I’ve been reduced to checklists, to make sure I accomplish as much as I possibly can, knowing that I can’t do it all. Church, work, home… all call for my time and attention.

One of the most significant items on my Saturday checklist was Abbey Fest in Paoli, PA. I bought my ticket months ago, well before realizing that work would also be competing for my time. As a result, I did not get there when the gates opened and missed the first two acts. It’s open seating, literally, on the grass wherever one can find room, and folks do tend to come throughout the day. The thought did cross my mind that just because I had a ticket didn’t mean that I had to go, but I think that was more of an evil temptation. I managed to find a nice spot with a good view of the stage and set up my chair and sat down. Doesn’t sound like much, but to be able to sit down, enjoying the fresh air and good, inspiring music was both restful and invigorating. As in previous years, I was glad I went, but this year I felt an unexpected joy immersing myself in the place and activities of Abbey Fest.  I found that is was what I really needed at that moment.

Another item on my checklist was to go to confession at Abbey Fest. While the abbey itself is open for folks to go in and pray, confessions are heard outside on the lawn, face-to-face. I’m not particularly fond of going face-to-face, since I usually end up crying, however it’s a bit easier there since the priests are from a variety of locations. The line was surprisingly short, although they did have quite a number of priests available, so my time to prepare was short. The priest was reverently humorous, which was very unexpected. It was one of the best confessional experiences I have had, as I truly felt that he was talking to me at my level. At the conclusion, I was considering asking the priest if I could hug him, but settled for letting him know what a great experience it was. He seemed a bit surprised and took no credit for it responding, “It’s all the Holy Spirit, not me.”

The speaker for the event was Paul J. Kim, who promotes himself as singer/speaker/inspirer. I was not familiar with his work, and even though his presentation and other events were not on my checklist, I found myself checking off each one. Paul‘s talents include making music with his mouth (and not just percussive instruments but even a trumpet sound!), as well as being able to convey thoughts, feelings and even doubts about religion and faith in a lighthearted and thought provoking way. I laughed out loud at his humor, which is unusual for me. And there were a number of times when I said to myself, “yup, I thought that way too.” Paul was able to dig down, deep into the core of the faith, and shed a different perspective to it. I was surprised to so thoroughly enjoy his presentation. It was a perfect prelude to the headline act, Matt Maher, who not only gave a fabulous show, introducing a few new songs, but led us in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the true highlight of the whole day.

The unexpected may not be on the checklist, but it was a real delight to have so many experiences all wrapped up into one Abbey Fest event.

Catholic Girl Journey

God love you

How much does God love you? As our Creator, God loves us each and individually. It’s a concept that one hears over and over again, but without seeing/interacting with God as a being, it can be hard to understand.

Jesus, the divine Son of God, came down to earth, and became man. I believe it, and yet it’s still difficult to understand. Jesus gave His life for us, dying on the cross so that He could descend into the darkest part of our humanity, death, and triumph over it by rising from the dead. I believe it, am humbled by it, in awe of it, and yet it does not help me to understand how much God loves me, Karen, as an individual.

God, in His infinite wisdom understands this, after all He did create me. To help me, He blessed me by allowing me to become a pet parent to my cat, Vera. I love the creature she is, even in her impish times when I’m completely frustrated with her behavior, but I’m glad she’s in my life. I love when she comes and sits on my lap and purrs. I enjoy her company and that simple act of her just being herself,. Even amidst the struggle of the medical issue she has, , I gladly endure the pain and heartache because of all the joy-filled moments she gives me daily.

While this may seem like a crazy cat lady talking about her cat, it’s really looking at relationships in a spiritual light. If I can have such a strong connection with another creature who only sort of gets who I am and my actions, how much more does God know and love me? This is still an imperfect perspective, but helps me to get a glimpse of His love. Vera understands when I get out a toy that it’s playtime, and when I pick up her bowls and take them to the kitchen that it’s feeding time. She also understands when the spray bottle comes out that she needs to stay out of the kitchen or off the dining table. She’s an intelligent creature, but sees things from a cat perspective. I see God from a human perspective, so my understanding of Him pales in comparison to who He really is and what all He does for me.

So every time that Vera jumps up on my lap, kneads before settling down, purring the whole time, I thank God for bringing Vera into my life. And then I thank Him for the unfathomable amount of love He has for me.

Catholic Girl Journey

Better or worse

“It can’t get any worse than this, can it?’” Every time I hear someone say that, I cringe. Life can always be better, and it can always be worse. Our lives are a set of choices and events and the intersection of the two. Regardless of what’s going on, however, God is always with us, loving us and blessing us.

When life seems to throw us a curveball of overwhelming circumstances to deal with, it can be very easy to wonder where God is in the midst of it. And when one more thing is piled on top of the heap, we can feel like we’ve hit our maximum. And perhaps that is true for some, but for others they may be stretched further; so in their case, it can be worse. But God is there with us, in every sigh and tear. He may even be blessing us by making our burdens just a little bit lighter or preventing them from getting too heavy, but since we can’t see things from His perspective, we may wonder what His role is in our lives.

In Jesus’ address to the disciples regarding love for our enemies, He says the Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) God has not created the world just to abandon it, rather He loves all His creation and wants to bless it, regardless of whether one believes or not, whether one obeys His commands or not. Even in the smallest details like sunshine and rain He bestows on all. I don’t think we can ever really know what life would be like without God since He is with us always and helping us along the way.

As a follower of Christ, I take comfort in knowing he is always present; it brings me a sense of peace in difficult circumstances. However, my initial reactions when challenging times come may not be as Christian as I expect of myself. I wonder if the saints ever reached the point where they accepted all challenges without struggling.  St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Perhaps as we continue our faith journey, we can learn to rest in the Lord, thanking Him for the blessings — both the obvious ones and those that only He knows.

Catholic Girl Journey

Faith skirmishes

Our faith is  under assault every day on many different fronts. Some are outright battles, but others I would consider skirmishes: subtle comments or situations that put down people of faith or the faith itself. It’s up to us to recognize these attacks and counter their effect on our own faith journey.

I attended a webinar for my work about the digital transformation in marketing, how websites, emails and social media have changed the way companies interact with their customers. One would not expect  to have faith attacked while listening to such a speaker, but after a rather callous comment from the presenter, I was sorely tempted to hang up. He claimed the Church opposed the printing press because they didn’t want anyone to read the Bible! St. Jerome, way back in the 5th century and well before the printing press, said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We do need to read, if not the Bible, then passages from it daily in order to keep the Word of God in mind. In some sense the Church was the first printing press, as many monasteries copied books, both religious and classical literature.  They kept books from being lost to time during the fall of the Roman empire and the period of unrest that followed it. If I didn’t know these tidbits of history, hearing a derogatory comment like the one mentioned during a business presentation could be a seed planted that would eventually have a negative impact on my relationship with God.

Another example: in a recent crime drama I watched that was set in 1920s Australia, the rich and worldly main character was horrified at the conditions of a laundry service run by a local convent. This was back in the day when the laundry was all done by hand; it was hard labor. The convent sheltered and cared for orphaned and troubled girls; they were the ones who did the actual laundry. The character seemed shocked that the girls were only given very modest housing in exchange for their labor. It’s very easy to look at that scene through modern eyes and be quick to judge the Church. While this is a fictional story, images and situations like this presented in a purely secular way even if they are based on truth seem to scream ‘unfair.’ What is unfair is the one-sided presentation. Many religious take a vow of poverty, when they open their home to share it with others, they open it as it is: simple and modest. I’m sure if the character ever heard the life of St. Francis of Assisi, she would be just as shocked that he gave up all his worldly possessions to become poor so as to be a better servant to God. By delving into the lives of the saints, we can broaden our understanding to our own calling as well as to see life from a different perspective.

When faced with a faith skirmish, let it be unsettling for us; let it cause us to dig deeper and ponder it. Let it be an opportunity to learn about our faith and its history. Let it become part of the armor of God that we wear. “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

Catholic Girl Journey

The known unknown

After 15 years, it was time to replace my mattress. I had gotten to the point where I had to sleep at the very edge, else I’d wake up with more aches than when I went to bed. But after delivery of a new mattress, I realized I could not really enjoy it, at least not  consciously, since I was asleep. However, a great deal of the true joy and appreciation of the new mattress comes when I get a full, restful and supportive night’s sleep.

For many, one third of the day is spent sleeping. While we are still ourselves, there is a bit of mystery in sleep. There are fields of study and medicines for insomniacs or for those with narcolepsy who sleep too much. There is just as much  research for those of us in the middle and just as many products to help us get the best sleep we can. But there is no way to tell how these products help unless someone completes a night’s sleep, or fails to do so. Sleep is the known unknown required of us all. We all participate  but sleep is unique for each one of us.

Our faith journey is a known unknown also.  We believe in God, but can only know Him as much as our finite brain can know the infinite. There is much study and many practices to lead us on the journey: some work, others don’t. Sometimes we can tell when they don’t work, just like the sleep aids that don’t help us sleep. But some we won’t be able to evaluate until our journey, like a night of sleep, gets us to a place of peace or causes us more pain.

The closest way our faith journey resembles a night of sleep is in our total surrender to it. Just because we give ourselves and our lives over to the Lord does not mean we are mindless or that we lose our sense of self. Rather it is when our lives are like a good night of restful sleep that we can see we are more ourselves. We become who God meant us to be and bring more of His light to the world. And each journey is as unique as the way we sleep.

It may be only when we fall asleep in Christ that we will be able to realize what a difference our faith journey has had, not only to ourselves, but to each and every soul we have met on the way. And maybe it is then that we will be able to fully enjoy the fruits it brings with the other saints in heaven.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Can’t or won’t?

As a child, I remember saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  However the words we use can be damaging to ourselves or to others. The language we  choose, especially for self-talk, can influence our outlook negatively or positively.

After a long day at work, I was on my way to the fitness center for a short workout but I really just wanted to go home. That thought kept going through my head: I don’t want to be here.  I also had  certain expectations of how my workout would go. After getting into the swing of it, I was waiting for the wave of energy to kick in. Instead, it seemed to just get harder. ‘I can’t do this,’ I thought to myself. I wanted to stop and sit down. But after sitting all day at a computer, I knew this was the best thing for me. I’ve done this workout for weeks, I thought, why was it so hard today? Why did it feel like it was impossible?

Is it can’t or is it won’t? I didn’t really want to work out when I drove to the center. Was my lack of  enthusiasm for working out making me feel that I was incapable of doing so? Since I had been working out regularly, I knew I could do it. Maybe it was more about the expectations I had about how the workout would go. It seemed that my efforts were being blocked because I really didn’t want to exercise.  I did keep going, but at a slower and more deliberate pace, and I let go of my expectations.  In the end I was able to not only finish the workout, but to feel good about completing it.  

While exercise is vital for the body to function properly, we also need to ‘exercise’ our spiritual soul. How often do we say we can’t do something, like weekday Mass, adoration or a rosary, but what we really mean is that we won’t. We let our feelings or our expectations get in the way. Sometimes, even when we get into a groove, we can face a challenge. However, if we persevere it will be to the betterment of our soul.

The call for perseverance is issued throughout the Scriptures. Jesus even questions, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) We are not promised that our choices will be easy or our tasks without effort. But it’s when we continue on, even during our hardships that we come closer to God. “Happy the man who holds out to the end through trial! Once he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12).

 

Catholic Girl Journey

The strongest weakness

God knows we all have weaknesses; too many that we may only choose to acknowledge just a few. But what about God; does He have any weaknesses? Is there anything He can’t do?

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he calls to mind the paradox of the cross. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Cor 1:25). The weakness of what the cross appears to us, is the instrument that God uses to save us. What kills a man has now become our salvation. It’s amazing to think that God can take our weakness and allow His greatness and glory to be revealed. Who could have known, that as Jesus hung on the cross, He was redeeming us? Only those few with faith, standing at the foot of the cross and believing that God could bring good out of it. In the eyes of the world, it seemed foolish keeping the vigil below a condemned man. The world may call us foolish for kneeling before a crucifix, but I’d rather be called a fool by the world, than a fool by God.

God can do anything. He created the world and all that is in it. He knows each creature by name. I think to ask the question of ‘is there anything God can’t do’ is the wrong question to ask. The better question is ‘is there anything that God chooses not to do?’ Yes. God does not force us to have a relationship with Him and He does not revoke His blessings on those who choose not to do so. God does not need us, but He wants us. God is love itself and He wants to share that with us. But He wants us to be willing. Even the angels were given the opportunity to eternally be in a right relationship with Him or not. Just as some angels chose against God and He allowed them; He allows us to make that decision. Unlike the angels, we have every day during our lifetime to choose Him and His will or to go against Him. And every day, in every moment, He calls us closer to Him. While He allows us to make our own decision, He also continues to pursue us to draw us closer to Him.

Instead of bemoaning our weaknesses to God, let us offer them up for His use. Let us petition Him to aid us in choosing His will for us daily. Perhaps after we complete our earthly life, God will show us just what He was able to accomplish through us by being open to Him and offering all of ourselves and every weakness to His will.