Catholic Girl Journey

Dining with the saints

Starting out the month of November with All Saints’ Day has me thinking about the saints with whom I feel a connection. Modifying a question that pops up from time to time: if you could dine with any saint, whom would it be and why?

While that may seem like a wild question, it may not be that absurd. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the message of God preparing a banquet feast is a recurring theme. While some may argue it is used as an analogy, even if the purpose is not meant to eat, there is a gathering taking place. In heaven, it is called the communion of saints.

Since Jesus is the only one who has come to earth from heaven, it’s hard for us who live in time and space to grasp what heaven is and what it will be like. God has given us an imagination and I can’t help but think this is to help us prepare for heaven. While we will be able to see and experience God as He is and He will be all we need, the communion that the Trinity shares amongst the three persons I would think would be mimicked by the communion of saints. Our interaction with other saints may not be to see, hear, and talk to them as we do on earth, but there would be some sort of communication between all members, otherwise we would be in total isolation.

If I was able to talk with only one saint, I think it would be Saint Peter. I would love to hear his stories, from fishing to following Jesus and how much alike he thought they were. I would love to know about his family and how they handled his career change. I also think it would be fascinating to hear how his intercession has helped people over the past 2,000 years.

If heaven does allow us to get to know the other saints in on an individual basis, it may take eternity to get to know each person. What better harmony can there be in heaven, than the communion of saints truly being a family and getting to know one another.

Catholic Girl Journey

Feeding the beast

There is a legendary story, credited to the Native Americans, about the internal struggle using the analogy of two wolves. One has anger, envy, and greed and is considered evil. One has hope, kindness, and compassion and is considered good. As the story goes, the wolf that wins is the wolf that is fed.

The movie Tomorrowland was recently on television, and I happen to come across it right when it started. I had the time, and it seemed interesting, so I watched it. Early in the movie, the father was reminding the young girl that we all have good and bad inside us, using the analogy of the two wolves. This was the underlying theme of the movie. The young girl learns that Tomorrowland has found a way to see into the future, but the more it tries to show humanity the consequences of their bad actions, the more humanity wants to see those consequences eventually progressing until the end of the world is predicted in 59 days. The girl realizes that it’s the broadcast of the constant bad actions and their consequences that is causing mankind to behave so poorly, feeding its destruction. Of course in true Disney fashion, she saves the day and all of humanity by stopping the broadcast. At the end of the movie, the thought that came to my mind was Halloween.

Somehow, over the course of the generations, Halloween has become a major holiday. While the retail spending may not rival other holidays, the time spent decorating, preparing costumes and celebrating can rival many. Even pets get into the spirit with costumes made just for them! But instead of celebrating what this All Hallows Eve or All Saints Eve is supposed to be — the vigil of All Saints’ Day, it has turned into a celebration of horror, gore and evil. Especially in today’s secular culture, the lack of belief in God also translates into a lack of belief in Satan. The movies about demons and possessions are just stories; people enjoy being scared when they know no harm will come to them. But are they feeding the wrong wolf? While Hollywood may have invented the stories they present, real exorcisms are being performed around the world by select Catholic priests trained for that battle. Fighting the devil is serious business, not to be taken lightly.

So this year to prepare for a celebration of all the saints — everyone in heaven, not just the canonized saints — may we invoke their aid by telling their stories, praying for their intercession and praising God for the miracles he allows through them.

Catholic Girl Journey

Wisdom of a paradox

Jesus ate and drank with sinners. His parables included giving more to those who had, and taking away from those who had little, as well as a landowner who paid the same full day’s wage to each worker no matter how long they toiled. And the ultimate paradox, is that through His crucifixion, Jesus saved us, giving eternal life to those who believe. With the bible littered with these examples, how are we to ever understand them so that we can apply the lessons to our lives?

I was knitting recently and started pondering that question, as knitting busys my hands so that my brain can think. Theological ideas can be hard to grasp even when they are straightforward, so wrestling with contrary ideas can be even more complicated. In a pause of my thought process, I turned to my knitting pattern, actually a chart of stitches, to confirm yet again that I was following it correctly. It was then that I realized how much knitting had in common with the paradoxes of the bible.

In knitting, there is really only one stitch, it just depends on which side you’re viewing it. On the “right” side, it is a knit stitch, but that same stitch on the reverse is a purl stitch. By including the reverse, or purl stitch in patterns, all various designs are created. Advanced knitters manipulate these two stitches to create lace, cables, bobbles, and all sorts of shaping. But in the end, it’s all just one stitch.

Then there is the pattern chart, like the one I was using. The “right” side, or that which faces out, starts at the bottom left, and the first row is read from left to right. The even rows are the back or “inside” of the garment and in a chart are read from right to left. Charts often indicate that a blank square equals a knit stitch on the front but a purl stitch on the back. That means reading from left to right on an odd row, I’m knitting the stitches and when I’m on an even row, or the back side, I’m purling those stitches. Why is the chart written that way? So that you can see what the final result of the pattern you are knitting will be.

Putting the lessons from the seemingly contradictory bible passages into practice is like knitting from a chart, only we may not see the whole chart, only the next ‘stitch’ we need to make in our lives. Or we may forget that above and below that knit stitch on the right side of the garment are purl stitches, the ‘backside’ of the knit stitch.

I’m not the first to struggle these seemingly illogical teachings. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, acknowledges that some teachings can be difficult to a logical mind, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to the  Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:22-25) Like following the knitting chart pattern, while we may see the big picture of the results, it can be confusing to try to understand the details in the same way. One has to keep on knitting before the chart begins to make sense, usually as the pattern starts emerging. Faith, hope and prayer keeps us open to God’s wisdom, allowing us to get a stitch or two deeper in His mysteries and teachings.

Catholic Girl Journey

Don’t scratch

No matter how many drapes or towels used at the hair salon when I have my hair cut, there always seem to be a few cut hairs that find their way between the collar of my shirt and my skin. After a recent trim, I felt itchy the whole drive home. I so wanted to scratch the itch. I knew that in fifteen minutes I could change my shirt and wipe away any remaining hairs. With every urge to scratch, I reminded myself how close I was to relief. However, the thought of Saint Thomas Moore also came to mind. He wore a hair shirt as form of discipline and penance. Here I was trying to put up with some discomfort for a short amount of time, and this man purposefully welcomed being uncomfortable.

It was only after his death that it became known Thomas wore the hair shirt as penance for his own sins and the sins of his country. King Henry VIII had declared himself head of the church in England so his marriage to his first wife could be annulled.  St.Thomas refused to approve and was eventually imprisoned for it, but he added to his own suffering by enduring this personal penance.  The garment was made of rough cloth, possibly from goat’s hair. The ancestor to this clothing is the sackcloth that is mentioned in the Old Testament. It was worn close to the body to remind the wearer to resist temptations of the flesh. Used by both religious and lay people, it was a rejection of luxury and comfort, and a reminder of the sufferings of Jesus. As Thomas was a man of means and power, and a close adviser for the king, wearing this shirt helped to keep him humble and to remember that he was, “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

I wonder how he got used to wearing it, or if he ever did. Did he begin wearing it for small amounts of time to build up his tolerance? Did he have skin issues as a result of all that irritation? This kind of penance calls me to rethink the comforts in my own life; how attached am I? I don’t know if wearing a garment that irritates the skin is for everyone, but are there other penances that could be just as effective? As we are all unique in God’s eyes, I wonder if we each have our own penances based on our weaknesses and temptations?

The saints provide great examples for us and help us in our moment of need. They challenge us to reflect on our actions and our relationship with God so that we keep moving closer to Him in our daily lives—sometimes embracing discomfort rather than seeking relief.

Catholic Girl Journey

Instant change

I was preparing to lector for a daily Mass, and the reading happened to be Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-20). Part of my preparation is to read out loud, and hearing this powerful passage made me take a closer look.

The writer of Acts does not shy away from bold statements, and the chapter begins, “Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord…” It’s clear that Saul doesn’t just dislike the disciples; he wants to put an end to this group known as The Way, even if it means killing all the followers of Jesus. However, the official letters he requested from the high priest were not for putting them to death, rather that, “he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.” Perhaps he had hoped that these followers could be reconditioned or convinced to return to the proper Jewish practices. Perhaps it’s this passion, this zealousness for God, that makes room in his heart for conversion.

Saul’s encounter with Jesus came in a blinding flash of light that caused him to close his eyes and fall to the ground. In this vulnerable state, Jesus spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The encounter leaves him blind, requiring his fellow travelers to lead him by the hand into Damascus. For three days, he was left in prayer, he neither ate nor drank. What must have gone through his mind during this time? There was probably a good amount of ‘what have I done’ during his meditation. But perhaps all the exposure to the disciples’ teaching started to sink in, including the debates Stephen participated in prior to his martyrdom which Saul witnessed. Is there a deliberate connection between the three days that Jesus spent in the tomb and this three day hiatus in Saul’s life? When he was baptized, Saul’s old life was washed away and new life in Jesus’ resurrection took root, so that “he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”

Reading the twenty lines of this major transformation makes it seem like it happened in an instant. But it took Saul three days of being blind, praying, fasting to prepare for this baptism and his new life for Christ. He went from being the persecutor to being the persecuted. The results are the fourteen letters he wrote to the Christian communities, timeless messages that continue to be relevant to Jesus’ followers even today.

Catholic Girl Journey

From ordinary to extraordinary

Name three saints that first come to mind.

Which ones did you choose?

Perhaps some were apostles of Jesus, like Peter or John. Perhaps one was your patron saint. Another may have been a more recently canonized saint, like Pope John Paul II or Mother Theresa. Do your three saints all come from among the religious elite?  It can seem sometimes that all the saints were called to religious life of some sort. Does this mean only people who have a religious vocation are eligible for sainthood? For those in the laity, like myself, it can be a daunting thought. I was paging through a book of saints recently, and when I tried to find one that did not belong to a religious order, it was a bit difficult! Joan of Arc was one that surfaced. To my surprise, there were also a few royals listed, like Edward the Confessor of England and Elizabeth of Hungary. So it is possible for extraordinary leaders to reach heaven. But what about the ordinary folk?

Pope Francis did just canonize two such individuals: Louis and Zelie Martin. I found it rather interesting that both considered the religious life, but realized that was not what God called them to do. Louis & Zelie were called to more than just religious life, namely to bring into the world a little girl who would one day become a doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux. In living their lives focusing on God and their children, they demonstrated the love of the Trinity within their family.

God creates such variety in life, it seems logical that the diversity in His people is a part of His plan. If our daily activities can be done with care and love as an offering up to God, we can use the ordinary things of life to come closer to God. And by coming closer to God here on earth, we will be more prepared for heaven. Once on heaven, we will realize our day to day actions helped us become saints. That is extraordinary, indeed.

Catholic Girl Journey

Here today, saint tomorrow

November starts with the feast of All Saints Day, which in the Church calendar is a great time to reflect on the lives of the saints. We are counting down on the liturgical year, since a new year starts on the first Sunday in Advent. During this year end, we pause to contemplate the lives of those who have gone before us.

One year when I was  a student in a Catholic grade school, we were asked to dress up as our patron saint for Halloween to commemorate an ancient custom of “All Hallow’s Eve” as it was originally called. This was a great exercise for kids, since we had to learn more of about the saint for whom we are named. My name, Karen, is actually a derivative of the name Catherine. In the little book of saints that I had as a child, there was one listing for that name: Catherine of Alexandria. I remember being aghast reading that she had been scheduled for torture by a spiked wheel, only it fell apart instead of hurting her, so she was beheaded instead. As a youngster, that sounded terrible to me, especially since I had to dress up like her.

Now I realize there are many saints named Catherine, and it’s up to me to find the one that I can truly call my patron, someone that I can look up to and learn from. As a subscriber to Magnificat, a monthly devotional that includes snippets of writings from various saints and holy people, I have come to admire St. Catherine of Siena and consider her my patron. Her letters helped to bring the papacy back to Rome from France. She was an incredible writer and leader and was named a doctor of the Church.

There are so many amazing saints, and even if we don’t share their name, we can still consider them our patrons and ask them to intercede for us. Learning about men and women who faced hardship and worldly problems yet succeeded in living holy lives helps us to connect with them. We can learn from them how to trust in God and how we can let God lead us to heaven. We are all on the journey during this life to the next. Will we be the saints of tomorrow?