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

The other nine

I’ve heard it said before and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. Someone remarked recently, “I’m a good person. I haven’t killed anyone.” Somehow being a good person has been boiled down to not physically taking a person’s life. Is that how we Christians are reduced to measuring ourselves?

When I hear that judgement, it makes me sad. There are many ways to kill a person that still leave them living and breathing. That may sound oxymoronic, but one can kill a person’s spirit with constant harsh and demeaning words. A person’s sense of community can be killed by purposefully ignoring them and having others do the same. The resulting isolation can be both mentally and emotionally crippling. If we are not lifting others up in our words, actions and deeds, then we are not contributing to their well being.

We can’t just stop with family and friends, it extends out even to those who we may not easily get along with as well as total strangers. It’s not always easy and some may struggle more than others, but we can always reach out to God for assistance. One way that helps is to pray for the challenging people in our lives, not that they see things our way, but that God will shower His blessings upon them. When we see others as a child of God and a recipient of His grace, it’s harder to hold onto anger and hate. When we voice our hatred of another or wish them ill, we are not bearers of Christ, but rather we kill the grace inside of us. The more we do this, the less we can call ourselves good people.

As Christians (and even our Jewish brethren), however, we can’t just look at one of God’s commandments as the litmus test of being good. The other nine are not optional, but support the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” just as this commandment is part of the other nine. Our attitude towards God and His will for us should be at the center of our life. When we turn our back on God, we actually start killing ourselves, little by little, because we become less of who we are meant to be. When we lie, steal and covet from our neighbors, we are slowly killing any relationship we may have with them.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our motives for doing any action before we know it. To judge oneself as a good person is to claim divine abilities. The commandments were given, not so that we can judge others, but that we have guidelines to follow. I don’t judge myself to be a good person, but rather strive with God’s help to be the best person I can be, using the commandments to identify when I have failed, so that I can see to resolve the rift I’ve created with God in the sacrament of reconciliation .

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Question or doubt?

“I just don’t get the Trinity,” her grandson told her after his confirmation. He was looking for an explanation he could understand. But nothing she or her daughter said could provide the reasoning he was seeking. The mysteries of the faith leave us grasping for words to describe what we don’t fully understand.

I was chatting with a woman from my parish when she told me about her grandson’s question. She was thrilled that he was interested in his faith and really thinking about it deeply. It wasn’t just a passing thought that he shrugged off. Yet at the same time,  his question brought frustration because she wasn’t able to provide a suitable answer. But that’s what faith is all about, as St. Paul said to the Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with patience.” (Rom 8:24-25). All the same, we want to provide answers to help our young people, especially early on their faith journey. But is an unanswerable question a doubt?

I once had a coworker who would use doubt as a synonym for question. English was not her native language, and she was so serious when she’d approach me with what she called a doubt. I would brace myself for the worst, only to realize all she really had was a question. So what’s the difference? Doubt has several definitions, among which are: to lack confidence, to consider unlikely and to be uncertain. For me, doubt is something negative; it’s saying we believe that something is not possible. A question, however, does not have a negative connotation. Rather its definitions include: an interrogative expression often used to test knowledge, a subject open for discussion, and an act or instance of asking.

As humans, we are made in the image and likeness of God in that we have an intellect and can reason. God has provided us a mind to think, imagine, and dream. For those who seek a deeper relationship with Him, it means opening up our minds to the mysteries around us: in creation and in faith. To question is not a bad thing; but to doubt leads us on a slippery slope  away from faith. Our limited minds will never comprehend the totality of God and all His mysteries, but that doesn’t mean we cannot probe deeper. When we use our minds to seek out God, we are using the gifts He gave us. I’d like to think He would be delighted with our efforts, however feeble they may be.

I advised my friend to tell her grandson to ask God about the Trinity. After all, no one knows it better than He does. And no one can it explain it better to her grandson than God. It may be a lifelong learning experience, but if he keeps his mind open, not only will he continue to grow into a deeper relationship with God, but His question will be answered again and again to the measure of his ability to understand this great mystery.

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?

Catholic Girl Journey

The price

“Everything has a price,” I overheard someone say recently. I started thinking about that, and while usually the remark is in regards to an object or service, it can also be applied to the spiritual life.

Believing in God can have a price on many levels. From the beginning of the Church, the first followers risked their very lives believing in Jesus. Today, most believers will not be risking their physical body, but they may pay a price in other  ways. There are countless stories of people who once they converted, were shunned by friends and family. They live with mixed emotions; with joy they embrace their faith and with sorrow they see the rift it causes with those they love and with whom they would most like to share the faith. For some, being a follower of Jesus can also have repercussions  at a professional level, even in today’s world.

Another price someone might pay for faith in God is the change that following Jesus causes day to day. The very fabric of our lives changes and is modeled on Jesus’ example. If it is a slow change, it may not be perceived as radical, and thus may be a price we are willing to pay. However, changing the routine of life, the way decisions are made, and even the perspective in which the world is viewed, can sometimes cause regret and temptation to return to the previous way of living when challenges arise.

Once a commitment to follow Jesus is made, abandoning the way can have an increasing price spiritually. In this situation, the risk is to our immortal soul. We are very fortunate that God is loving and merciful and gives us the length of our life and even the moment of our death to choose Him. Still, someone who  has turned away from being a Christian may find it hard to give up the worldly life, especially if this person is prideful and stubborn. The initial relationship with Jesus may be long forgotten like a first crush.

No matter what price we pay throughout our life of faith, it is but a tiny fraction of the price Jesus paid for our salvation. He willingly gave His innocent life, enduring His passion and death on the cross so that we could be eternally welcomed as adopted children by our Father in heaven.   

Catholic Girl Journey

Appreciating Catholicism

Surprise! Salt Lake City was the destination of the mystery trip I took last week. Touring the heart of the Latter Day Saints country made me appreciate Catholicism and all it offers even more than I did before.

While the tour did take us to fun places like Promontory Summit where the railroad first connected east and west, and the Olympic Park, we also had a thorough introduction to the various places that the LDS Church sponsors, including a genealogy center and a humanitarian aid center. Especially at the humanitarian aid center, I found it uncomfortable listening to the guide who spoke about following Jesus’ example.  To me, it seemed a bit preachy; in my mind I had to justify that I do as much as any of them. This should be a responsibility that every Christian takes to heart. But while they are big on the corporal works of mercy, the LDS church seems to be missing out on crucial elements of the faith, like the Real Presence and the sacrament of reconciliation. I can’t imagine having a relationship with Jesus without either of these.

As our tour guide  was a member of the LDS Church, she told us that after a church is dedicated, only members can enter. It is a place for private prayer. While centuries ago, the Catholic Church insisted that the catechumens, those studying to become members of the Church,  leave after the Liturgy of the Word, now anyone is welcome to attend Mass. The beauty of the Word and the Eucharist can be a powerful force in a person’s conversion. Just being in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle can be moving. I can’t imagine saying to someone, “You’re not allowed to come into the church building since you’re not Catholic.” The church building is THE place for both communal and private worship. To deny entrance seems like a violation of our human rights.  

One thing that did surprise me was the appreciation the members of the LDS Church seem to have for our Church. On several occasions, positive comments were made about Catholics. As Catholicism is the second largest religion in Salt Lake City, it was encouraging to hear how the two churches work together in the community.

Ironically, while I was there, the gospel for Sunday was Mark 9:38-43.  Jesus tells the disciples not to stop others not of their group from doing good deeds in His name. The LDS Church certainly does a lot of good  in Jesus’ name, but I prefer the rich and vibrant life that being a Catholic offers.

Catholic Girl Journey

Gem of faith

Faith, well fed and exercised, is a beautiful gem.

Many look at religion as a list of dos and don’ts, what is right versus what is wrong. In that perspective, faith is no more than a dividing line that separates us. And since all of us are sinners, that puts us in the wrong column, the don’t list.

For others, faith is compartmentalized, with routines that are practiced only at precise times and occasions. It may mean going to church for Christmas and Easter, or it could be most Sundays, as long as other activities don’t get in the way. Sometimes it’s arriving a bit late and leaving early; definitely not staying more than an hour. These approaches are like a slice of a raw gemstone: flat with no definition or brilliance. This is because there is nothing to reflect the light of God.

Then there are those who are their faith. They do not separate the spiritual from mental, physical, and emotional aspects of their lives. Faith is living and breathing within them and in everything they say and do. For example, preparation for the sacrament of reconciliation begins with an examination of conscience. Being truly sorry for the errors committed, and intending to avoid these failings in the future, the penitents humbly seek forgiveness from the priest. Believing the priest to be acting in persona Christi, it’s with an open heart that they listen to him. After receiving absolution, the newly reunited with God are filled with joy and cautious of committing the same errors again. In this way, the light of God enters their faith and is able to be reflected within them in many different ways, just as light coming into a precision-cut gemstone is reflected off the various facets producing a sense of awe and wonder at its beauty.

For these, it is not enough just to go through the routine of confession. It is a true participation in the sacrament. The examination of conscience includes everything that makes up their daily life. They take the time to contemplate, not just actions committed but opportunities that were neglected. From the approach to the sacrament, in the preparation and then the execution, each is like a facet cut in the gemstone. The more we seek a stronger faith the more facets in our faith gemstone will dazzle as we let the light of God shine in our life.

Just like a gemstone cutter will take time in cutting gemstones, so we too slowly shape our faith by actively participating and trying to go into a deeper relationship with God. It is a lifelong process that will create a unique gemstone of rare beauty that is priceless.