Monday, September 28, 2009

This Jesus Challenges Me

I use force, and He says, Forgive.

I am afraid, and He says, Take heart.

I doubt, and He says, Trust.

I feel anxious, and He says, Be calm.

I desire to be left alone, and He says, Come, follow me.

I make my plans, and He says, Let's go this way.

I want security, and He says to me, You will be persecuted for my sake.

I want to live, and He says, Give your life.

I believe I am a good person, and He says, That's not enough.

I want to be in charge, to give the commands, and He says, Serve, obey.

I want to understand, and He says, Believe.

I want clarity, and He speaks to me in Parables.

I want poetry, and He speaks of Realities.

I want tranquility, and He wants me To be disturbed.

I think of revenge, and He says, Turn the other cheek.

I speak of peace, and He says, I have come to bring a sword.

I want to hide, and He says, Let your light shine.

I seek out the first place, and He says, Sit in the last place.

I want to be seen, and He says, Pray in secret.

I want to hang on, and He says, Let go.

I want to win, and He says, Surrender.

No, I don't understand this Jesus. He provokes me. He confounds me.

Like many of His disciples I, too, think I would like to follow a different teacher; one who would be more clear, and who would ask less of me.

But it is as true for me as it was for Peter. When Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

I wish I could claim to have written this, but I didn't. I can only say that every word of it is as true for me as it was for the actual author, a Kenyan priest. My friend, MAM sent it to me and I love it!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Responding to your message'

Yesterday I got a message from my Senator who wrote—again—in reply to one of the many surveys, polls, letters, etc. I've sent expressing my commitment to Life from conception to natural death. Here is what he wrote:

'Dear Ms. Booklady:

Thank you for contacting me regarding abortion services in the debate on health care reform. As your voice in Washington, I appreciate being made aware of your concerns.

Throughout my service in public office, I have taken an ardent stand protecting the life of the unborn. I will continue to oppose all legislation supporting unrestricted abortion. Legalized abortion takes the lives of more than one million unborn children each year, robbing this nation of vast potential. Moreover, it destroys some of our nation's most cherished values: family, responsibility, and commitment.

As you know, the issue of federal and taxpayer funds being used to provide abortions has been raised during the current debate on health care reform. There is no explicit guarantee in any current proposals that public funds will not be used to pay for abortions or abortion-related services.

I am adamantly against the use of taxpayers' dollars for abortion or abortion referral services. The taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize abortion or programs that promote them. As the Supreme Court ruled in 1980 (Harris v. McRae), "Abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life." Clearly, the government should not be required to fund programs that explicitly encourage the destruction of human life.

The Declaration of Independence affirms all people are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The right to life is a foundational right, fundamental to the strength and vitality of this great nation. I believe in the value and dignity of human life at all stages of life.

As your Senator, I will join you in speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I will continue to be a supporter of pro-life legislation as it is brought before the Senate for consideration and will work to defeat pro-abortion legislation, such as the Freedom of Choice Act. Our government has both a moral and constitutional obligation to protect the sanctity of human life.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Be assured that I will continue to work to transform health care for Oklahomans and all Americans to ensure that affordable health care is available to all in a fiscally responsible manner with the most choices available while upholding the sanctity of human life.'

God bless you Senator Inhofe, and all those who speak up on behalf of the unborn, the voiceless, and helpless, those who only want a chance to live. Thank you for all you do and please know how much I admire and support you and politicians of principal and integrity!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Enough Crosses

Tonight my husband and I were discussing our daughters and their boyfriends. As is usually the case when this subject comes up, we marvel over how different things are today—compared with how they were when the two of us were in high school light years ago. Then we review the current relationships situation and finally we move on to possible outcomes. This evening my husband took the doom-and-gloom perspective; usually that’s my role.

Listening to him, it suddenly occurred to me, “What do I want for my daughters?” Not just in these teenage romances, nor even their education objectives or career goals, but what are my dreams for my children for the rest of their lives? Do I even have any? Have I envisioned their future? How do I love and pray for them?

I thought about parents who want or expect their offspring to become doctors, lawyers, priests, mothers, musicians—without taking into account God’s plan for those children. Do I do that? I don’t think so; I hope not.

I started seeing this ‘letting go and letting God’ philosophy from a much broader and bigger vantage point. So what do I want for the girls?

I don’t know.

Some days I don’t know how to work out my own life, what I should do next, if I need to change this or get rid of that—how can I possibly be qualified for this huge responsibility of parental authority figure? In one sense I’m not qualified and never will be. But in another, I’m qualified by virtue of the fact that these children have been given to me by God.

After some thought I told my husband, “It all comes down to this: I want them to go to Heaven. I don’t know how they’re going to get there. It may be that like their silly old mom, they have to go down some dead-end streets, over a few waterfalls, even a cliff or two, take plenty of detours and always always always carry a cross ... or two.” So in the end, the ‘how’ doesn’t matter. It’s the getting there that matters.

I’m a mom who loves her children. Very much. But even so, I don’t love my children anymore than the Lady of Sorrows. Without Her Son’s Cross none of us could ever reach Heaven.

My oldest daughter collects crosses and crucifixes of all sorts. She has quite a collection as you can see. She started her collection at her First Communion when she received several crosses as gifts. Since then, we’ve continued to give her unusual crosses as gifts for other special occasions. It has made me more aware of the Cross as sacred symbol.

On this the Feast of the Exaltation of Holy Cross, I pray my children, husband and I have enough crosses to get us to Heaven.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Regulations on Indulgences

Let’s be up-front about things: when you say the word, ‘indulgence’ or ‘indulgences’ to most people—including most Catholics—some grotesque system of medieval fraud and abuses is often the first thing to come to mind. Sadly, this misconception persists in spite of the deep-seated psychological need within most human beings to do something to ‘put things right’ after becoming aware of lingering guilt from past sins and transgressions, never mind the Biblical basis for this most ancient of Church traditions.

This little gem of a book defines¹ clearly and simply what an indulgence – with a small “I” – is and then gives the two types: partial and plenary. There is no more ‘determination of days or years as regards partial indulgences, only the words “partial indulgence” are used. This does away with the need of trying to explain what is meant by so many days or years. How much (temporal punishment) will be remitted depends upon the “the degree to which the charity of the one performing the act is greater, and in proportion to the degree to which the act itself is performed in a more perfect way.”’ (page 22)

What I found most enlightening about this book was when I recognized the three general ‘concessions’ under which partial indulgences are given. The first I learned is prayer or, raising the mind and heart to God in frequent invocation. After that, the text of the book gives reference after reference from Holy Writ reminding us of the importance of constantly calling on – and out to – the Almighty: Matthew 7:7-8, Matthew 26:41, Luke 21:34-36, Acts 2:42, Romans 12:12, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Ephesians 6-18, Colossians 4:2, and 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, “Pray without ceasing. In all things give thanks.”

And what is the second general concession? Have you guessed it? It’s the giving of oneself or one’s goods in the service of those who are in need, i.e., in more quaint terms, almsgiving. So I don’t have to tell you, do I, what the third concession is … it’s fasting, or when one (in a penitential spirit) of one's own accord abstains from something permitted and pleasing.

According to St. Peter Chrysologus, 5th century bishop of Ravenna, Italy, and Doctor of the Church,

“There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.”

But going back even earlier in The Book of Matthew, Chapter 6, Our Lord also tied these three disciplines together, teaching us to fast cheerfully, give alms secretly and pray privately.

A very affirming quick read. Indulgences have gotten a bad name and one they don’t deserve. We need them, along with every other help God and His Church can offer us.

¹ "An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, a remission which one of the faithful, properly disposed and under certain definite conditions, can acquire through the Church which as a minister of the redemption authoritatively dispenses and applies the treasure of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy refers to the total number of decades in the complete rosary—fifteen ... as it used to be before the addition of the five Luminous Mysteries. It is also Rumer Godden’s title for an incredible book about the lives of women, real women—suffering, tainted, fallen women, modern-day Mary Magdalenes. It is fiction and yet it is set in a very real historical context and based on an actual society of sisters, the Sisters of Bethany, many of whom were former prostitutes and prisoners who through Grace and the ministry of other sisters, gave their lives over to God and ministering to the poor, the outcast and the imprisoned.

The story centers around Lise, or Elizabeth Fanshawe, an innocent, young British woman caught up in the liberation of Paris at the end of World War II. Swept away in the delirious debauchery of the time period, Lise finds herself far from home, and totally dependent on a man who runs a brothel when the post-war madness finally ebbs. Oh, and she has the bad fortune of being in love with him as well.

From the beginning of the story we know Lise has a deforming scar on her face and that she has gone from bordello, to years in prison, only to enter a third form of ‘bondage’, a convent. But why? And how is such a transition possible? Who is Vivi? Why has Lucette followed Lise? What is the significance of the rosary to the English Elizabeth, raised Protestant, turned prostitute, then prisoner, finally cloistered nun? These are some of the many questions the story confronts us with as we try to put all the pieces together.

Ms. Godden’s novel is intriguing from start to finish, both as a story and as a commentary on human weaknesses, the longing for God and the never-ending struggle to overcome the self. Two of my favorite passages are these:

'It was a revelation to the aspirants that the sisters, some of them elderly impressive nuns, filled with quiet holiness, should publicly admit their faults. Could Soeur Imelda de Notre Dame, the calm saintly person, really have snapped sharply at anyone? Could Soeur Marie Dominique have lost her temper? “Then do you go on being you until the end? they could have moaned. “Even after all this trying and training?” “Always,” Soeur Théodore would have told them. It was a good thing Compline finished with a prayer to Mary Magdalen: “Intercede and pray without ceasing for us, Marie Magdaleine, you who are most close to our Lord Jesus.”' (page 156)

'“I wish I had your imperturbability,” said Lise.
It was not just a shell; Lise herself could keep her face and voice in control when in reality she was in turnmoil; this was deeper—the nuns were not perturbed over things like this. “When you have seen as much of God’s providence as I have,” said Soeur Raymonde, as any of the nuns would have said, “seen the unfathomable ways in which He works, if you have any sense at all, you learn not to question or to judge—only to trust.”' (page 212)

Prayer and trust: two simple words, two powers actions.

For those familiar with Ms. Godden’s better known novel, In This House of Brede, Five For Sorrow picks up some of the same themes and re-examines them in a new light. However, although both books deal with convent life, they are totally different stories. Which is better? I’d be hard pressed to say. They are both excellent!

Someone's birthday is coming up...

What will you give our dearest Mother for her birthday this year?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Mental Prayer, Part 7

A leper came to him (and kneeling down) begged him and said, "If you wish, you can make me clean." ~~ Mark 1:40

Today I finally—and somewhat reluctantly—finished Dom Chautard’s, The Soul of the Apostolate. I’m also almost finished with Pope Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. Both books have been long, slow, meditative reads—unlike what I usually do, which is to “gobble” my books.

It’s interesting when you read two classic works simultaneously; you get to see how the thoughts of Great Minds—separated by time, space and even death—can sometimes synchronize. The Scripture above, interestingly enough comes from a selection I was reading in the Pope’s book and not Chautard’s, but it seemed a very appropriate lead in to what will be the last post in this particular series, and hopefully just the beginning of something even bigger.

In his book, Chautard recommends daily Mass; in his book, the Holy Father shows us why participation in the Liturgy is essential to our ‘transformation by it into the Logos (logisiert), conformed to Him and made the true Body of Christ.’ (page 174)

Making time for Mass is one thing, participating is another. For a fuller appreciation of our Catholic Liturgy, I cannot recommend a better guide than this incredible book by Pope Benedict, for all it is not the easiest text by him, nor is he writing at the usual 8th grade level of most popular Christian books today.

However, this series being about mental prayer, I want to leave you with what I have learned—thus far—from my repeated efforts to persist in fidelity to mental prayer. Some of these “lessons” are practical and some philosophical. I debated dividing them up but found that impossible, so here they are. The list is in no way authoritative, nor definitive, nor do I claim originality. Most likely everything I write has been recorded before by those much holier, wiser and more experienced than me. That’s just fine. This is my list and my experiences. If they are helpful to anyone, I am most humbly grateful; if not, it has still helped me to compile this list. Mostly I'm just deeply humbled and grateful for all I've learned. What I share below is just a fraction of it.

1. Schedule time for mental prayer every day-no matter what! Some sources recommend thirty minutes; others say we should give a minimum of an hour to our mental prayer each day. Seek the counsel of your spiritual director and/or confessor based on your particular vocation and current life requirements. But whatever, you decide, be faithful to daily mental prayer. If you know you will not be able to accomplish your prayer first thing in the morning, make sure you do it as soon as possible.

2. Prepare for the next morning’s mental prayer by thinking and praying about it the night before. Lay out your materials: breviary, rosary, Bible, prayer books, cards, icons, notes, lists, etc. Decide (if possible) what will be the focus of your prayer time. I found this to be a vital first step as I often wasn’t sufficiently awake first thing in the morning to make important decisions. However, if everything was organized and ready, things went much more smoothly.

3. Begin by asking the Holy Spirit for the Grace to pray well. Invoke your Guardian Angel’s protection. Often formal prayers are/were a good way to start, especially if I was tired. Many days I read from the Daily Readings and used those as ‘launching pad’ for discussion. However, it wasn’t long before, I found my own faults and failings provided plenty of material! This brings me to the opening quote from the leper—when I read that today it jumped out at me because it reminded me of something God and I had been talking about earlier today. Since I’ve begun mental prayer, the daily readings at Mass have come ALIVE! They breathe with the fire of the Holy Spirit, like they never did before.

4. Invite Jesus to sit down next to you or across from you. Find or place a favorite chair near yours so that you may talk to Him one-on-one. Or, if you prefer, kneel down in front of Him. Sitting or kneeling, you are in His Presence and He is in yours. Be with Him. He is with you. Close your eyes if you want. See Him in your mind. Talk to Him ... silently or aloud. Begin by telling Him how much you love Him and need Him. Know He loves you as well!

5. Accept that you are with Jesus . . . wherever your mind goes. This is NOT to say we shouldn't bring our attention back to Our Lord each and every time we become aware it has wandered off; it is only recognition and acceptance that, in His eyes, we are but spiritual children and He knows our weaknesses and understands our struggles. I will write more about this later when I begin a new series on the Interior Life, delving into Santa Teresa’s beautiful book, Interior Castle, but for now, think of Jesus as you would a benevolent parent or trusted spouse. Even when you are with your beloved, you have your moments of time where each of you think your own thoughts. This is understood and accepted by married couples and loving families everywhere. Why should Our Lord, who made you, knows and loves you better even than your own mother, expect what is impossible from His children? The answer is, He doesn’t. He wants us to strive and keep striving for perfection. With His Grace, may we always do as much. There is much more to be said on this particular point. However, in the meantime, let no one be unduly harsh with him/herself in this matter, nor set unreasonably high expectations.

6. Use holy objects which help you begin or refocus your prayer. These items may include, but are not limited to: candles, icons, prayer cards, rosaries/chaplets, statues, spiritual reading(s), and lists of things to talk about and/or people to pray for. If such aids will or might help you, consider keeping them near your prayer chair for those particularly dry times; it’s comforting to have something to fall back on.

7. And last but not least, what about Interruptions? Interruptions used to throw me into a positive tizzy! I tried turning off the phone, locking myself in my room, putting signs on the front door, wearing ear plugs, etc., all in an effort to get myself some quiet in a noisy home with children. Sooner or later, all my efforts backfired. Finally I settled on a simple rule of thumb: all interruptions come from God to further test my patience. I can either accept them gracefully or what is the point of my prayer time? However, accepting them, doesn’t mean I have to respond to them all equally. Now I start my prayer time before anyone else (except my dear hubby) is awake so the kids, phone and doorbell usually aren’t the problems they once were. Still, if the phone or cat or child(ren) do happen to enter during prayer time, I deal with it/him/her/them accordingly. Then, if the prayer session is less than ½ over, I go back and finish it; if the interruption occurs after the midway point, I call it a day.

‘Mental prayer is a furnace, in which the watch-fires of vigilance are constantly rekindled. Fidelity to mental prayer gives life to all our other pious exercises. By it, the soul will gradually acquire vigilance and a spirit of prayer, that is, a habit of ever more frequent recourse to God. Union with God in mental prayer will lead to intimate union with Him, even in the midst of our most absorbing occupations.

The soul, thus living in union with God, by custody of the heart, will draw down into itself, more and more, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the infused virtues, and perhaps God will call it to a higher degree of prayer.’ ~~ Dom Chautard, page 292, "The Soul of the Apostolate"

This is my closing prayer for this series . . . and the promise of more to come!

In Him,