Catholic Girl Journey

Shaken by storms

I woke up to a low rumble of thunder. Shortly afterwards, while my eyes were tightly closed, I could see the intense flash of lightning. I tried to roll over and fall back to sleep, but with each flash and crash, I only felt more uneasy.

I’ve never liked thunderstorms. I know folks who love them; they will sit and watch them for hours. To them, it’s God’s artwork on display. For me, it’s power and destruction that leaves my nerves jangled. As I lay there, silently saying a prayer for relief against the storm, the thought came into my head as a question. Why are you afraid? So I answered it: because of the overwhelming power and damage storms can do, especially lightning. The next question came: then why do you sin?  No, this is not right, I thought. God does not intervene with fear and intimidation. Leave it to the one who wants me to sin to question me in such a manner.

As I began to wonder what Jesus thought of thunderstorms during His time on earth, I recalled one gospel story about Him being asleep on a cushion in the boat that was being tossed about on the sea, filling fast with water to the extent that the disciples were afraid of sinking and woke Him up. His response after calming the storm and seas was to ask why were they afraid and questioned their faith. (Mark 4: 35-41) Good question for me during that moment. Do I have faith, that no matter what happens, that God will see me though? It’s always easier to think we will be strong in times of trial, but even in a practice session with a thunderstorm, I show just how weak I am.

While the disciples were filled with fear and awe at Jesus’ ability to calm the storm and sea, I have no doubt that He can calm any storm, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or mental. Perhaps the real fear is not will Jesus will calm the storm, but that He will not and instead ask me to walk on the water. Here again, I should not be afraid but should rejoice in the opportunity to practice my trust in Jesus. With the thought of Jesus asleep during the raging storm, I said to myself, “If Jesus can sleep during a storm, so can I.” And after a few deep breaths, picturing Jesus, curled up sleeping in a boat, I too fell back to sleep for the rest of the night.

Catholic Girl Journey

First listen

How do you learn to make a sound, like a letter from the alphabet? You hear it, perhaps repeatedly, until you try to make the sound yourself, practicing it until you’ve mastered it. Through our education, sounds turn to words which turn to ideas and knowledge. Each level of complexity is built on the same foundation of the skill to listen.

This past Sunday’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) illustrates the importance on listening. A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to Jesus. The man cannot communicate properly because he cannot listen; all he hears is silence. It is only after Jesus not just touches him, but prays over him in the command, “Be opened” that he is healed. The literal understanding is the removal of whatever is blocking the man from hearing. But what if the blocker is not a physical problem, but a spiritual one? What if the man chose to walk away from a relationship with God? The command to be open to what God has for him can be very challenging! It’s a challenge we face many times through our lives, when we plan out our future, only to find a curve or fork in the road that we don’t think belongs there.

In reflecting on this gospel, I find the detail of the speech impediment an important clue in the situation. This man was not born deaf, otherwise he would be characterized as mute. Rather this man can speak, but it’s impaired. To me, that means the deafness was a result of an event after he learned to speak. His inability to hear, to listen, affected how he was speaking. The Church in her wisdom each week gives us the opportunity to listen to God through the Liturgy of the Word. We cannot be effective communicators of the message of Jesus unless we learn to listen to Him first. If we are closed to His Word, then we will not be able to speak clearly of Christ.

In our relationship with God, it can be easy to talk all the time, either to fill the silence or so that there is an immediate response. God, indeed, talks to us, but often in ways and at times that are of His making and not ours. We need to always be open to hear His response. We need to be constantly listening for Him. And in the times when we fail, closing ourselves off to Him, all is not lost. He can heal us, just like He did the man in the gospel. We just need to turn to Him and be opened.

Catholic Girl Journey

Grace abounds

What does God expect from you? Simply to use the grace you are individually given. What does this really mean? Well, Jesus gave us a parable to explain it, the parable of the talents. (Matt 25:14–30)

The story is one with which we are familiar: three men are given talents before their master leaves. Upon his return, each presents what he has done with what he was given. Many interpret these talents as the skills we are given, but what if you substitute talents as a metaphor for grace? Grace is what God gives, we cannot earn it. So how can we increase the graces received? The answer may surprise us, and it is given right in the gospel.

When we are given a gift, our first instinct is to keep it for ourselves; it’s the “mine” thought. We want to hold onto the bright, shiny object and make it last as long as possible. But as one of talent recipients in the parable illustrates, if we keep grace to ourselves, hiding it in the ground, it will not grow. Rather, it will be taken away from us. However, if we share the grace we receive in faith, put it into circulation, we are given more. It seems to defy logic: if we want more we need to give more.

Does that mean you need to evangelize the world? Well, that’s up to the ability God has given you. He didn’t give all three men the same amount of talents. We may cry, “Not fair!” Why does it need to be? However, if we use what God gives us, we will be doing His will and He will entrust us with more. It’s not a race; it’s not a game. There is no prize for the one who has the most. The result will be joy in heaven — with those whom we shared the grace we received and encouraged with our responses to that grace. He gives us only what we can handle. Once we learn how to engage with the gift of grace and share it with others, we may be given more. We may not be required to change the world, but maybe to spark a change that will ignite others that will set the world ablaze.

It’s fascinating that Jesus uses a commerce approach to teach us how to receive His grace. Rather than seeking to gain worldly riches, let us concentrate on giving away the wealth of grace we receive from Him today.

Backsides and belly rubs

After just over a year of being a first-time pet parent to my cat, Vera, there were adjustments I needed to make and expectations that needed to be modified.

It sounds a bit idyllic: a cat sitting on your lap, purring away. I try to encourage that in Vera and often sit in my recliner with my feet up and calling her to come snuggle with me. When she first jumps up she’ll often smell my hands, face, and hair or she’ll start kneading. But when she’s ready to settle down, I find her backside is facing me, if not practically in my face. It would be so much more comfortable for me if her head were closer to where my hands are so I can scratch under her chin, where she likes it, rather than it being down my legs. However, I’ve discovered through this behavior she is telling me she trusts me completely. It’s made me ponder my relationship with God and how much (or little!) I trust Him. But if I turn my back to Him, not out of disrespect but out of trust, how does that change things? He can still catch me if I fall. He can still guide me with whispers in my ear on which direction to take. Perhaps I can see more of where I’m going and take in more of the beauty of His creation. It may not be ideal all the time, but practicing having trust in God to the point we can turn our backs may be an exercise worth trying.

On days when I work from home, Vera often takes her afternoon snoozes near my desk. But she doesn’t curl up; nope, she lays on her back with her feet in the air and her one paw  over her eyes to keep the light out. The soft, white fur on her tummy is a siren that calls me to give her a belly rub. She usually tolerates it well, but sometimes bats my hand to her head, which is her location preference. Here, again, in this position she is communicating her vulnerability and total trust in me. To see and touch the most sensitive areas of her body, and on a regular basis, illustrates the bond we share. Do I let God see my vulnerable areas? Do I let Him give me a “belly rub” in those spots? Or do I cover them up and pretend they don’t exist? God knows me better than I know myself, so why am I so resistant to His involvement in my life except for the few things for which I pray? As much as I want to do His will, there always seems some part of me that measures it against what I want.

While we may try to humanize our pets by putting thoughts and words against their behavior, learning what the actions truly mean can not only strengthen our relationships with them, but can also prompt reflections of our relationships to dive into deeper unity with God and those we love.

Catholic Girl Journey

Not done yet

He was being hunted at the Queen’s command. He just completed his biggest success and now after being chased ragged, he pleads for death and settles down to die. No, it’s not the plot to a recent novel. It’s the story of Elijah that we heard on Sunday. (1 Kings 19:4-8) But God was not done with him yet…

Elijah should have been feeling like he was on top of the world. He had just called down the power of God and defeated the prophets of Baal. However, Jezebel was greatly displeased at the turn of events and sent her army after him. While most of us will not be physically fleeing from an army, there are times in life when mentally, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually we feel like there is an army at our heels. We are without peace and it seems like no matter what we do, it’s never enough or there is no resolution in sight. We pray to God to make it stop. That is what we want but what is it that He wants for us?

God did answer Elijah’s prayer, just not in the way it was requested. Instead of taking his life, rather He gives Elijah what he needs to survive, not just for the day, but for the journey he makes to mount Horeb. It is there on the mountain that Elijah encounters God, not in the fire or storm or wind, but in the tiny, whispering sound. The way God answered Elijah’s prayer for death is by rousing him not once, but twice by an angel encouraging him to eat for his journey. How many times when we feel that we are at the end of what we can handle, do we push away the hand sent to help us? Did Elijah know it was an angel? Perhaps. Maybe he was only able to tell after all the events took place and he reflected upon what had happened.

God knows when we are at our wit’s end, and still we cry out to Him. It can be challenging to keep ourselves open to God’s will for us. The circumstances may not completely change, Jezebel was still queen when Elijah finally came back, but God will not abandon us. He will give us the food for the journey and the helping hand we need. Our angels may be disguised as members of our family, friends, neighbors or even strangers, for they are like angels because God has placed them in our lives to provide us aid. We may not see the hand of God helping us through our trials or hear His whispering voice of encouragement, but He remains with us, since He’s not done with us yet.

Catholic Girl Journey

The patience of God

God’s patience is on display throughout the whole of the Bible; however, this past Sunday’s continuation of the Bread of Life discourse really underscored just how much He is willing to suffer our hard-headedness as well as our hard-heartedness.

The gospel picks up when the crowd finds Jesus after being fed with the loaves and fishes. They are astonished that He would flee from their intention of making Him king (at least an earthly one). But Jesus cuts off their question by telling them they are seeking Him wrongly, not “…because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves…”(John 6:26) Their response of “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28) makes it appear that they are paying attention to what Jesus is saying. Jesus gives the definition that has become the standard for all Christianity: to have faith in the One whom the Father has sent.

In the most ironic turn of events possible, the Jews ask Him, “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…”  (John 6:30-31). Jesus’ initial proclamation to them, is ringing true: they have not seen the signs. Hello, didn’t they just eat the bread that was multiplied to the point there were leftovers? How could they ask for a sign like eating of bread when they experienced it first hand? If the seriousness of salvation wasn’t at the heart of this, it would almost be comical. And then Jesus’ loving, and may I say merciful, patience instructs them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the bread, but the Father. God the Father sees to all our needs, not our wants, but what we truly need. First and foremost is a relationship with Him. Despite the grumblings of the Israelites in the desert, God teaches them He can be relied on to sustain them. Jesus uses a very similar miracle to lay the foundation for what will be instituted on Holy Thursday: the Eucharist.

I must admit that in the 40+ years of hearing this story, it was only this year that I caught on to the depth of blindness displayed by the Jews. It now feels like I have a spotlight on my life to see where I am being blind and dumb to how the Spirit is trying to lead me. We have countless saints, both in example and insights to Jesus and yet we still ask God to give us signs. As this incident illustrates, God does not cast us off and leave us to our ignorance, but oh so patiently answers us, teaching again and again His ways. Let us pray for open hearts and minds to accept the answers He provides instead of insisting on our own.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Transformed

Which word would you use if you wanted to convey permanence: change or transform?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, while the word transform is defined using the word change, change has three synonyms to convey subtle differences in meaning: alter, transform and switch. Defining change using the word transform includes a more precise nuance: to make radically different. And for “transform” itself, the definition is to change completely. This past Sunday’s gospel was the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel.  It sets the stage for the next four weeks as Jesus teaches this difficult concept. We know it today as the Eucharist, but reaction of the people to Jesus’ proclamation was anything but welcoming.

How can He give us His flesh to eat? It’s not about puzzling the technicality of it, but rather thinking how utterly revolting the thought of eating the flesh of another human being would be. It was hard for those who had just feasted on the bread and fish that Jesus multiplied to hear they would need to eat His flesh one day. Many remained faithful in spite of this, learning only later how this could be accomplished.  It has never been an easy concept. Even after 2,000 years people can still find it hard to believe the little, white wisp of bread is Jesus: body, blood, soul, and divinity. It is not the priest himself who changes the bread into the Body of Jesus. Rather it is the priest using his ordained faculties, in the person of Christ, calling down from Heaven for the hosts to be transformed, to be changed completely, to be radically different than flour, water, and the juice of grapes.

As Catholics we believe that once the bread and wine are consecrated, they become and remain the Body and Blood of Jesus. From an outward appearance, they still look like bread and wine, but they have been permanently changed. Some Protestant denominations believe in this change, but they think of it as only temporary, lasting for just as long as the worship service. As I was reading a reflection about Sunday’s gospel, one of Jesus’ directives caught my attention, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” (John 6:12) I don’t think this was Jesus just being frugal. The leftovers in this case were not transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood, but they were the result of a miracle, and a miracle should not be tossed away in the trash or given to the animals to eat. Likewise when at Mass more hosts are consecrated than are needed, they are gathered up and stored in the tabernacle.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ permanent presence in the Eucharist, can we expect to stay the same person we are today after we receive Him? While our transformation may happen slowly over time, we can’t expect to believe, receive and stay the same. Jesus will never force us to change, but just a little opening in our heart to welcome Him in the reception of host and chalice is an opportunity for grace. Little by little, we too will not just be changed, but will be transformed, will be radically different, doing God’s will rather than our own will.