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.

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.