02 February 2016

Silence and Solitude

When was the last time you were alone?

No family talking around the table, no friends laughing at your side, no barking dogs, no social media notifications. Just you in the stillness of your house or your street or your office.

Recently, my husband was away from home, giving me multiple days of alone time. Some wives would take full advantage of such a time to watch trashy shows, cook food their husband doesn't like and refuse to make the bed (I identify with you women!). Still, there is a time, usually late at night, where I find myself in silence. No body breathing next to me, asking how I am, typing up a paper, taking a drink. No one whose thoughts whir or about whose thoughts I wonder. It isn't until even these barest indications of another human presence are gone that I realize how dependent I am on the presence of another. This is not a parasitic dependence, but a very human dependence I imagine many can relate to.

In these moments, I sometimes think of priests. While they have parishioners, family and friends of their own, how often do priests spend time alone? How often do priests sit in silence? How much more for contemplative orders?

Our world does not know how to handle silence. We turn on our stereos while we shower or clean the house. We put headphones in on our way to work and class. We keep televisions on for white noise as we sleep. We stumble verbally to fill lulls in conversation. We laugh too enthusiastically, ask too many questions, maybe even speak to ourselves out loud. Silence is awkward and uncomfortable.

Our world does not know how to handle being alone. We check and recheck and triple check social media. We go out at night in hopes of meeting someone new. We send a few text messages because surely one of these people will respond. We are out of a relationship for a while and wonder with dread whether some people are meant to stay single their whole lives.

But silence and solitude are not things we should fear.
"And rising very early, going out, he went into a desert place: and there he prayed." (Mark 1:35)
"He retired into the desert, and prayed." (Luke 5:16) 
"And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God." (Luke 6:12)

In the Scriptures, we frequently see Jesus go off by Himself. And boy, do I get it: if I were routinely surrounded by crowds in the thousands (Matthew 14:22), my introvert self would run for the hills. But Jesus wasn't retreating for the sake of quenching anxiety. Furthermore, Jesus wasn't going off to really be alone: He was going away to be with the Father.

Whenever we are alone, we should get into the habit not of thinking that we are completely solitary, but that we are with God. With the world so full of distractions, retreating is good for the health of our souls. Let's get into the habit of retreating, just a little, every day.

  • Build miniature retreats of reading and prayer into your morning routine (I subscribe to Blessed Is She devotions; the Liturgy of Hours is also a favorite of mine.).
  • Pause at noon to reflect on the first part of your day.
  • Close the evening with a moment to examine your conscience and make resolutions for tomorrow.

Take advantage of each moment of silence and solitude to sanctify your life.
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27 January 2016

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi: Kneeling and the Eucharist

What we do informs what we believe. What we believe informs what we know. What we know informs what we care about.*

While we were in Rome, one of the biggest cultural shocks was not the language, the money (coins are a much bigger deal in Europe than in the US), or the number of times I heard "prego" in one conversation. The biggest cultural shock, rather, came on the eleventh day of our trip, Christmas day, at Mass. We heard Mass at Maria Maggiore (Mary Major), which is one of the four papal basilicas. Though the smallest of the basilicas, it is a grand church, ornately covered in Marian art. Beautiful and historic spaces, however, do not necessarily align with similar practices in said spaces.

We found seats in some of the plastic chairs provided, the occurrence of which is not uncommon in these great old churches. Pews, after all, were not a common feature of churches for over a thousand years. No, the chairs were not the strange part. The strange part was the posture of the congregation during the Mass. Everyone sat during the readings, save the Gospel, for which people stood as usual. However, as the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) concluded, I saw only one older gentleman join me and C in kneeling. Everyone else remained standing through the Pater Noster (Our Father) [we stood], standing more at the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) [we knelt] and still standing during the Consecration.** (For anyone unfamiliar, "consecration" describes when the bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.)

The same scene played out at the Mass we heard at San Giovanni in Laterano (St John Lateran, another papal basilica), where there again one other man joined us in kneeling. I have replayed these scenes in my mind several times since their occurrences, both in confusion and frustration. Could I attribute these changes to a difference in culture? Is it less likely for Romans/Italians/Europeans to kneel? I remember kneeing at both Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur in Paris.

Since then, it has been pointed out to me that these churches did not have kneelers. Upon reflection, most of the churches that I have attended have had kneelers, including the churches in France. On the occasion that I have been in a church without kneelers (or without kneelers at my particular seat), I have still knelt. Still, why dissect the posture of the congregation during Mass? Why do I care if people stand during the consecration? Does it really affect me so much whether the people around me are standing, sitting or kneeling? Yes. Yes it does. In fact, it affects the whole Church Militant.

What we do informs what we believe.

If you look into your friend's fridge and see only fair trade chocolate, you might conclude that they value just commerce (or maybe that chocolate is delicious; two birds, one stone). If you see someone recycle, you might conclude that they care about their impact on the environment. If you see someone give money to a homeless person, you might conclude that they have compassion for all people, not just those who can give them something in return. We draw these little conclusions, perhaps subconsciously, but we draw them.

We know also that what we do can sway others. "Actions speak louder than words," goes the saying. One of my step-father's favorite lines was: "Do as I say, not as I do." because he understood that his actions were an example (in this case, one he didn't want me to follow). The example of our actions is a stronger testament to who we are at times than the example of our words. People remember our actions more than what we say. Think of job interviews, guides for which so greatly emphasize the non-verbal aspects. Have a good hand shake, maintain eye contact, nod and smile. Is someone attracted to you? See if they cross their legs in your direction, play with their hair or lean in. You can take classes on body language and physical cues. We file away this information, picking up such cues and interpreting them as confidence, shyness, aloofness...

Similarly, what happens around us informs our actions. From infancy, we imitate the actions of others. For example, babies learn to play peek-a-boo, pick up on mannerisms, and copy the accents of their parents when they begin to speak. It is apparent also when it comes to something like Mass. If you are a convert like me, or even a revert, you spend many of your first Masses glancing around at what other people are doing to make sure you are following the steps correctly. In time, you recognize why there are different postures, a sort of Catholic calisthenics, as some have joked. Sit in order to listen to the Old Testament and Epistle. Stand as if at attention during the reading of the Gospel, the words of Christ. Stand to raise prayers to God. Kneel at the words of consecration, the moment Heaven and Earth meet, when Jesus Christ is in our midst in an amazing way, in a way which defines Catholics. The Eucharist "is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life." (Lumen Gentium 11)

If I believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul and divinity, I am going to kneel. If "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow," why not at the consecration [Philippians 2:10]? We kneel in prayer. We kneel when we genuflect (literally, bend the knee) before entering the pew. We kneel during Adoration. We kneel before the Pope and Bishops (with the left knee).

Or we used to.

We used to kneel at all of these things. We used to kneel much more during the Mass when it was the old form. We used to fast from midnight to Mass instead of only an hour before Mass. We used to take on harsher penances, deny ourselves of more than just chocolate during Lent, and observe the seasons of the liturgical year with more rigor. I will perhaps be taken as too conservative or traditional in my take on such things, especially on kneeling. "That's something people used to do. It isn't important anymore," some might say. Why? Is Jesus any less present at Mass than He was one hundred years ago? No.

So why is this happening? Ignorance and apathy.

What we believe informs what we know.

We once understood that the material and the spiritual are intertwined, until they were divorced with the rise of dualism, the turning point of modern philosophy. In a way, we are at the mercy of the point in history in which we exist. In a way, we are not entirely at fault. Maria Maggiore and San Giovanni Laterano are not entirely at fault. Remember that I said our actions can sway others. So others' actions have brought us, by the culmination of a few popular ideas, to this point in history. As a consequence, the Church faces a universal problem.

When we divorce the material and the spiritual, we run into one of two problems as far as the Eucharist goes. We can admit the spiritual and deny the material and, in so doing, say the Eucharist doesn't really matter. God, then, is not in the Eucharist in any more special a way than He is in any part the world. Most Protestant groups would take this side, which contributes to the rise of such slogans as "I am spiritual, not religious," for religion hinges on practices, and practices hinge on actions, and actions hinge on the material. On the other hand, we can admit the material and deny the spiritual and, in so doing, say the Eucharist is nothing more than a piece of bread (or any of the other more...deplorable...descriptions).

The Sacraments simply dissolve under either of these views, for the Sacraments require material and spiritual dimension, matter and form, power and will (for more information, read Lang's Why Matter Matters). What else dissolves under these views? Our understanding of who Jesus Christ is. How can we say Jesus Christ is true God and true Man if we deny either the material or spiritual dimension? Well, I can tell you, because the Church has faced such heresies. In the fourth century, Arianism arose, a belief which denied the divinity of Christ (and St. Nicholas punched Arias at the Council of Nicaea, so you can see how that went). Docetism, the belief that Jesus only appeared to be a man but really was pure spirit, accepted by and definitive of Gnostics, is denied by the Nicene Creed: "[Jesus Christ] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man."

shared from St. Peter's List

What we know informs what we care about.

If you don't know about these things, you can claim ignorance. However, careless ignorance does not excuse you. Now you do know these things (because at the very least, I have told you). If you know, you either care or you don't. When you don't care, you become apathetic. Remember those who say, "That's something people used to do. It isn't important anymore." But again I ask: who has changed? God has not changed. Jesus Christ in the Eucharist has not changed. We have changed. Jesus calls us to more. We are to take up our cross and follow Him [Matthew 16:24], not take it up like a January exercise regime and drop it after a couple of weeks. We have become lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, and Jesus will spit us out [Revelation 3:16]. The apathetic do not hear "Well done, good and faithful servant!"

What is the solution?

The solution to ignorance is conscious religion:

We need to study the Mass, the Scriptures, the texts of the Church Fathers and understand why they say what they do.
We need to examine our actions and understand why we carry them out.
We need to invest in our Catholic schools and parishes if we don't want them to close and combine with other schools and parishes, as many in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are doing, for example.
We need to hold Catholic universities to a Catholic standard when they begin firing Catholic professors and handing out contraception.
Parents need to bring up their children in the Faith and take on the responsibility that is theirs to catechize them (catechesis is not only the responsibility of a parish or a school).
Parents need to remind their children that marriage is not the only vocation: encourage them to look into the priesthood and religious life.
We need to seriously examine ourselves and return to Confession. Has it been years? Go! The grace that awaits you is more powerful than any sins which seem to ensnare you. (We pray to St. Michael to defend us against the snares of the Devil. Do not despair: snares can be undone.)
We need to pray for priests, for the persecuted, for the souls in Purgatory, and for the whole Church Militant.
We need to understand that Jesus Christ is present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, and that the Eucharist is an incomparable gift, worthy of adoration and bent knees.

Are we going to be defined by the age or are we going to define it?

Quotations by early Church Fathers about the Eucharist:
"Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ." 
-St. Ignatius of Antioch [Letter to the Ephesians, 80-110 AD]

"This food we call the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus." 
-St. Justin Martyr [First Apology, 148-155 AD]

"The Blood of the Lord, indeed, is twofold. There is His corporeal Blood, by which we are redeemed from corruption; and His spiritual Blood, that with which we are anointed. That is to say, to drink the Blood of Jesus is to share in His immortality. The strength of the Word is the Spirit just as the blood is the strength of the body. Similarly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. The one, the Watered Wine, nourishes in faith, while the other, the Spirit, leads us on to immortality. The union of both, however, - of the drink and of the Word, - is called the Eucharist, a praiseworthy and excellent gift. Those who partake of it in faith are sanctified in body and in soul. By the will of the Father, the divine mixture, man, is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word."
-St. Clement of Alexandria [The Instructor of the Children, 198 AD]

*Thank you to my husband, C, as well as two priests, Fr. W and Fr. Z, whose conversations and posts have helped me in the drafting of this post. I should also thank the Saints, whose examples and writings have edified the Church. Ss. Nicholas, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria, pray for us!
**If you have some sort of physical ailment  (injury, old age, late stage of pregnancy, nursing, and the like) which prevents you from kneeling, that is quite a different thing. I would suggest sitting with bowed head when genuflections occur.

11 January 2016

Why Conversion is Like Marriage

Ever since I announced that I was converting in the Summer of 2012, I have received questions (and sometimes, incredulous comments).

"Why are you converting?"

"How did you know the Catholic Church was the right one for you?"

"But what about [insert doctrine here]?"

"But...you've been Protestant your whole life!"

My simple, reader's digest, keep it simple stupid response was: "Because I believe the Catholic Church holds the truth." Only recently have I realized that one of the best analogies I can give is this: conversion is like marriage.

Now, what could that possibly mean? Imagine people asking you these questions instead:

"Why are you getting married?"

"How did you know he was The One?"

"But what if he puts the toilet paper roll on backwards?" (He does.)

"But...you've been single your whole life!"

In a way, going through the conversion process is like going through the dating process. (I should admit that my dating experience is limited: my husband was only my second boyfriend.) You get to know someone/something you thought at first glance you might not be interested in. Or maybe something catches your eye at first sight and you dive in. You want to understand, and so you ask questions, you learn about their past, you try to see the world as they see it.

In our world of casual dating, many a convert approaches the Church in this way. "Oh, I'm just curious," I would tell myself. "I just wanted to know more. I just wanted to understand." There was no immediate commitment. I was not binding myself to the Church after the first Mass, just as I would not have married someone after knowing them for a week.

But there is something about the Church which prevents the convert from being too casual in his relationship with Her. The Church is mysterious, strong, constant and beautiful. Are we (those of us called to marriage, at least) not attracted to those qualities in our spouse? The Church is, after all, the bride of Christ.

This comparison, then, shouldn't be too surprising. It isn't that joining the Catholic Church is like finding the spouse God planned for you and marrying that person. It's that marriage reflects the relationship of Christ and the Church.

At our Nuptial Mass, our celebrant (a really awesome priest, by the way) had some very good things to say in his homily. Some excerpts:

"[You] now await in this Mass those precious moments which will make your union not merely a contract or a convenient arrangement, but a reflection of heavenly realities."

"Even though they make their vows to each other in the presence of the Church and Her minister, they quickly turn, taking their own love and offering it on the altar of God. In a sense, the vows of these two people are similar to the bread and wine which will be placed on the altar. They offer up their human love to the Source of all love."

"What better place is there, then, for an earthly marriage to take place than in Mass, the image of the marriage of Christ to His Church, the image of Heaven itself?"

The Sacrament of Marriage is understood to be lasting, faithful and fruitful. These words describe the Catholic Church as well. When one finds his spouse, he falls in love, and he commits to her in the presence of God. When one finds his spouse, he stops looking for another. It is likewise with the Catholic Church. When I found the Church, I fell in love, and I committed to Her in the presence of God. When I found the Church, I stopped looking for another, because the Catholic Church held everything that I desired, and more importantly, everything that I needed.

I am reminded of a quotation (on which I have commented previously) by G.K. Chesterton:

"It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment men cease to pull against it they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair."

31 December 2015

A Letter from 2015

Jet lag or new routine adjustment or plain exhaustion somehow found me awake at four in the morning. So now I'm curled up in a cozy corner of the living room with blankets and pillows, toast and homemade hot chocolate, looking at the Christmas tree lights and listening to Haley Stewart's Christmas playlist, thinking about the last twelve months. This year has been one of the best and most exciting years of my life.

In January, I started a new job at a tutoring center, where I discovered that children are hilarious, teaching is very enjoyable and Korean is fun to learn. I gained more confidence with teaching and with kids because of this job and will always be thankful for that.

In May, I truly began to freak out about my ability to be a decent wife, and at the end of the month I GOT MARRIED (?!). Our wedding was a beautiful and practically perfect day. I loved our Nuptial Mass, which we celebrated in the old rite with an amazing priest, incense we got to design ourselves (with orange and rose. I wish I had a perfume like that incense), a gorgeous choir and our family and friends. We topped off the celebration at an Irish pub with whiskey, poor dancing and many flavors of cake. I am more in love with and thankful for the husband God gifted me with every day.

In July, Christopher and I went to Washington DC as a mini honeymoon. We got to see so many sites, my favorite of which was the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It is a massive church with great, colorful mosaics splashed everywhere. It was nice to be a tourist there at the 4th of July.

In August, we visited my family in Illinois where my mother put on a reception for family who were unable to travel to the wedding. It was so good seeing people I hadn't seen for over a year. It was also good to see my little monkey of a cousin. I'm hoping she becomes a pianist. I became incredibly nostalgic when I realized I was going off to start my own life.

In the same month, we made the move to Texas where Christopher is continuing his PhD. Texas has been immensely friendly and welcoming. I've made friends that I think I'll keep all my life, joined an editing business and entered into one of the happiest times of my life. I truly think I could become a southern girl and I don't terribly mind the 70 degrees in December either. ;)

In December, we traveled to Rome and Venice for two weeks as a belated honeymoon. ROME and VENICE! TWO WEEKS! Even though we've been back for a couple of days, I still have trouble believing it happened. I count myself incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Italy, which has been my number one destination for years. Given my conversion, my experience in Rome was so much more meaningful than I anticipated. A post (or a few) on the adventure is forthcoming and I'll share all the details there. You can catch a few glimpses on my instagram, siriuscomet2, in the meantime.

All these things considered, 2015 has not been without negativity. I have had difficult work experiences. An old friend and family member died this year. Multiple moves have been stressful. Self-doubt has entered the picture several times. I'm trying to focus less on the negatives, because I notice that when I do, everything becomes that much worse.

But no matter what, there is forgiveness in the sacrament of Confession. There is beauty in the Mass. There is incomparable joy in the Eucharist. No matter what happens in my life, God holds everything together. He has been present in each high and each low. He has guided me to this point in my life.

I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI's words to the youth in Madrid:

"Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your own weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world."

May God bless you in the new year!

14 November 2015

When Catholicism is "Unrealistic"

At this point, this news from the Synod has been discussed hundreds of times. Go me for being late to the game (or: not paying as close attention as I should have in the moment). I was prompted to think of the Synod again this week when I saw an article about a priest's parents who lived as brother and sister (that is, they did not have sexual relations). Why would a couple choose to do such a thing? The father of the priest (...the Father's father...get it??) had previously been married, divorced the first wife, and married the mother of the priest. Their son came home from school one day concerned that his parents were sinning by not going to Mass. The family went to Mass the next Sunday and continued to do so. They desired to receive Holy Communion but could not, as they were committing the mortal sin of adultery. Their parish priest said that they could petition the Church to see if the first marriage could be annulled or they could abstain from sexual relations, confess their sins, and return to the Sacrament. So they took the priest's second option and remained in such a relationship for the rest of their lives.

While I find this story to be a beautiful testament to the Faith, others would find it preposterous. It is too harsh, some say, to tell people that they cannot participate in receiving the Body of Christ. As if the Blessed Sacrament is a participation trophy. The Blessed Sacrament is not free merchandise distributed at an event. The Blessed Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. When we treat the Blessed Sacrament a car that Oprah gives away ("You all get one!"), we have truly disgraced Our Lord. Receiving the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, while living in a state of unrepentant mortal sin is a poor way to thank Christ for His most generous and incomparable gift.*

At the Synod last month, the topic of admitting the divorced and remarried (that is, people committing adultery, a mortal sin) to Communion was discussed. Cardinal Marx said, "The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many. It is also questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." [Note: Let's be straight up. Marx is not the only person suggesting the Church deviate on various positions She has held for years, even since Her institution, even positions from which it is impossible to deviate. Pray for the Church, for those who oppose Her, and for those who need guidance.]

I will address the second sentence first. "It is questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context." I wonder what kind of context is required. Do we need to know that two people really care about each other? Do we need to know that the new couple has had children? Do we need to know that these people adopt stray animals? While all of these things may be the case, they do not change the fact that sin is being committed. I would like to see someone explain to Christ what the appropriate context is, when Christ Himself has said, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery." (Luke 16:18) What does Christ tell the woman caught in adultery? "Go, and now sin no more." (John 8:11)

This reaction is seen again and again when Christ meets sinners. He confronts the sin. He and the sinner both know it. Then He forgives and tells the sinner to go and sin no more. Our God operates under perfect justice and mercy. Our God IS perfect justice and mercy. For this reason, I cannot understand it when people deliberately go against what Our Lord has commanded us. It is not reasonable. Speaking of unreasonable, let's talk about unrealistic.

"The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship not only appears unrealistic to many." Unrealistic is what I am told it is when I suggest that people practice abstinence or NFP. It is unrealistic to expect that people should refrain from acting on the passions (what low esteem we hold each other in!). It is unrealistic to expect people to act based upon reason. It is unrealistic to live as an all good God has commanded us to do. In a way, it is unrealistic: it is unrealistic to expect that we shall, all on our own, be perfect as Our Father in Heaven is perfect. Sin can seep into our lives. What a good reason to have Confession! We can go to the priest who acts in the person of Christ to absolve us of our sins and help us to be holy.

What about the unrealistic things we cling to as part of the Catholic faith? Is it unrealistic to profess a man to be the Son of God and born of a Virgin? Is it unrealistic to say that the Son of God established His Church among sinners? Is it unrealistic to say that He gave us His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the beauty of a most glorious sacrament? Is it unrealistic to profess that He died and was resurrected? Is it unrealistic to say that He ascended to Heaven? Is it unrealistic?

All these things are unrealistic to the skeptic. Christians have endured persecution for professing a number of unrealistic things. I wonder: if it is unrealistic to believe that men and women cannot rise above their passions, how realistic is it to believe the tenants of the Faith? If we deny the words of Christ, how can we profess to belong to His Church?

I purport that it is unrealistic to allow sin to reign in our lives and at the same time claim we adhere to the Church's teaching. How can we speak of God's loving kindness and ask for His grace when we turn from Him? It is a slap in the face. We are told to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul, and all our strength. We are told to put God before all else. We cannot say, "Yes, Lord, I give you everything. But not this. Not this sin that I want to hold on to." When Jesus told the rich young man to give away his possessions and follow Him, the man went away sad (Matthew 19:16-22). He could not serve both Christ and the world. Neither can we serve both Christ and the popular opinion of the world. We cannot submit to sinful lives. Jesus is not in the sinful lives business. Jesus is in the salvation business. Jesus is in the follow me business.Jesus is in the calling it as it is business. Jesus is in the making sinners into saints business.

I could perhaps go into quite a discussion about problematic Church leadership, but I'll keep it brief and affirmative. What kind of leaders do we need in the Church? What kind of role models do we need in the Church? Who are the people who are willing to live out the life God plans for us? Who are the people who love Him fully, who put Him before all else? Look to the saints. Look especially to the martyrs. These are the people who, no matter their situation, said, "Yes. I will give everything to You. Even my very life. Because You are the Truth. You are Good. You are Justice and Mercy and Perfection." The saints are the people who didn't settle. The saints are the people who turned from sin and toward God. The saints are the people who stood at the foot of the cross, who battled dark nights of the soul, who led nations, who raised holy children, who sacrificed themselves for the love they had for their brothers, who served the poorest of the poor, who gave everything to God. The saints are the people who hear: "Well done, good and faithful servant."

So when Catholicism is "unrealistic," when it seems to ask too much of you, when it tells you to abandon sin, listen up! Respond to Christ's call. Return to the God of your fathers. Recall the doctrine of the Church. "Do this in remembrance of me." Remember the saints. The saints before you have followed Christ. They have kept the faith and run the race. Be a saint in our time.

*I couldn't help but include a Harry Potter reference. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin discovers that Harry has been wandering around the school at night and says, "[James] and your mother gave their lives to save yours. And gambling their sacrifice by wandering around the castle, unprotected, with a killer on the loose seems to me to be a pretty poor way to repay them." Christ gave His life for us. Wandering around spiritually, letting ourselves believe that sin is okay, playing right into Satan's hands is a poor way to repay Christ and His sacrifice. It is a poor way to repay God's love for us.

05 November 2015

Coming Out As Catholic To Your Family & Friends

This post will probably be most helpful for those who have religious parents of a different faith, particularly those of a different sect of Christianity (that is, a Protestant denomination like Baptist or Methodist), as that was my situation. It may be helpful for people in other social circumstances, but I won't claim to be able to speak to something I don't have the experience to cover. Okay, let's jump in.

So, after careful study and thought, you've decided to convert (or return!) to Catholicism. First, that is awesome! I'm super stoked for you and hope that you're finding a nice parish, getting yourself to an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program, learning Church history, choosing a Confirmation saint, preparing for Confession and getting ready to get down at Easter Vigil. You've got a great road ahead of you. But you still have to tell your family and friends about your decision. That can be super difficult, but it is an important step in the conversion process. Here is some of my advice when it comes to having "the conversion talk."

1. Remember Your Roots

Always remember where you came from, especially when it's from a non-Catholic Christian background, especially when your family is pretty devout in their own sect. Your family probably remembers you participating in Sunday School plays and learning about the faith right beside them on Sunday mornings. If your church was as fellowship-focused as mine, you'll probably have a long list of potlucks, picnics and house visits under your belt. In this circumstance, you have faith and community to contend with. You may find that when you say, "Hey, I'm converting," people hear "I don't appreciate what you did to help my faith," or "The memories I have of our times of fellowship together mean nothing."

Just because you now believe the Catholic Church is the Church Christ established while here on earth, you should not feel or communicate arrogance about your conversion. Did you come to the Church all on your own without God's grace? I didn't think so. Instead, be grateful for what God has done in your life, and that includes being thankful for the journey and where it all started.

2. Know Your Audience

Your audience will largely decide your delivery. That is not to say that you should be dishonest about why you are converting. Rather, only you know what kind of people you are telling your epiphany to. If your family is very devoutly Protestant, as mine was, you might find yourself with a large discussion on your hands (*see #3). You might need to emphasize how much they have helped you develop your faith and that this decision is not made against them, but for Christ. If your friends are not incredible apathetic to any religion, as many of mine were, you will face more confused looks than anything else. You may get to thrown down some fun facts (eg. "Do you know about St. Lawrence? He was a martyr who was tied to a grill and slowly roasted to death. Part way through, he said, 'Turn me over. I'm done on this side.' True story."). Knowing who you're speaking to will help you know how to say what you need to say.

3. Plan Your Speech

Now, this doesn't have to be a huge speech, but knowing what you want to say ahead of time can help you out when nerves might be hanging about. [Just don't be like me when I have to talk on the phone and write it all down, only to go off the cuff. "Uh...hi...hello...how are you? My name is Haley. ...Oh, right, I called about" Don't be a bumbling mess.]

If you are at a loss, just keep it simple. "Hi, so-and-so. I want to share some exciting news with you. I am converting to Catholicism. I have thought and prayed about this for a good while. I appreciate your prayers and would love it if you came to my Confirmation. Any questions?"

Don't make excuses. Don't tiptoe around the topic. If your audience is in the "That's interesting. I have many questions" camp, enjoy the opportunity to tell people what you love about the Church. If your audience is in the "What utter nonsense this is!" camp, be patient and charitable. You have had time to think about converting, while your people have not. Continue to be patient and charitable through any questions or exclamations. Looking back, I will always see the ways I could have said or done something differently, and the only thing I regret about converting is that I definitely could have handled telling the news in a more charitable way. Again, this is an opportunity to tell people what you love about the Church. Time to represent.

4. Find Your Support

If your loved ones respond positively to the news of your conversion, then celebrate! That is great! If your loved ones are straight up baffled by your decision, then pray for them and find the support you need in the Church. Invoke the saints: Saints Helen and Monica are patrons of converts (and the mothers of Constantine and Augustine, respectively). We also live in the age of social media; use it to your advantage. I have made many Catholic friends because of blogs and Twitter (check out my "favorite blogs" link above and follow me at @bakeorbake!). Get involved at your parish with Bible studies and weekly Rosaries, and get to know other converts. Find your own support group.

In Conclusion

We owe a great deal to our family and friends. These are the people who have seen us grow up, who know us better than others, and who have our best interests in mind. Remember these things when you share your news. Though this may be a difficult step at first, with time, your loved ones will likely adjust and may even consult you on an aspect of Catholicism. My family and friends came to my Confirmation and showed their support again at my Nuptial Mass. The process of converting can be exciting, but the result is important, too. Always show others the light of Christ.

26 September 2015

Forgive Yourself

This morning I prayed day five of the St Therese Novena. If you would like to join in the one I'm doing, you can find it here. Part way through the prayer of the day, it says:

"Loving God, You gave St. Therese the gift of forgiving others even when she felt hurt and betrayed. Help me to be able to forgive others who have wounded me, especially..."
Do you know who popped into my head? Myself!

I lay in bed for a moment, stunned into silence by my response. Perhaps for some, forgiving oneself sounds cliche. Perhaps several people pop into one's head: "My siblings, for being insufferable annoyances. My spouse, for doing everything the wrong way. People in general, for altered bus schedules, crappy work days, taking all the close parking spots, and global warming." For me, though, there are no truer words when it comes to me forgiving someone. The person I am worst at forgiving is myself.

Now, there are different ways this manifests.

One way is in day-to-day inner monologues. I make a mistakeforget to return library books on the right day or slosh a cup of tea all over myselfand I think, "What an idiot!" I remember all the fights I had with my sister and think, "There is no worse sister than me." I realize that I haven't talked to a friend in months and think, "We shouldn't be friends anyways. Why would they want me as a friend?" I ask my husband a question I've asked him three times before and think, "He probably can't stand me. He should have chosen someone who paid better attention."

Obviously, this cycle of negativity does no good. Not only does it confuse other people (for I withdraw into myself when I am upset and then they probably do think I am upset with them), it makes me treat myself in ways I would never treat another person. I would never tell another person they are lousy, undeserving, or the worst person/sister/daughter/friend/wife ever. So why do I do it to myself?

Some flaws, though, may help me realize when I am wrong. Maybe I have serious sins on my soul that need to be confessed (and I need to brush up on a guide to Confession). In that case, I should make myself right before God. For the most part, I find Confession to be a truly freeing experience. I am blown away by the mercy of God. But sometimes, in my imperfect heart of hearts, I'll confess something and still be thinking on it months later. Why? If God can forgive me, why can't I forgive myself?

If I have been forgiven, what use is it to dwell on the past? In the Gospels, Jesus told those he healed, "Go and sin no more." He did not say, "Go and dwell on your past failures." What did I say my favorite verse is? "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) This verse is a reminder that in Christ I can be new. So why do I insist on holding on to the old?

The St Therese Novena continued: "I try to forgive, Lord. Help me to forgive 70 times 7 times!" 70 times 7 times! Could I forgive myself that much? I should forgive myself that much! If Our Lord can forgive the people who denied Him and crucified Him, surely I can forgive myself for burning my morning toast.

If you struggle similarly, I don't know the secret to treating yourself with the respect you deserve. I do know that if God lowered Himself and became man for our sake, if He endured ridicule, persecution and a gruesome death for our sake, then we can all manage to be a little bit nicer to ourselves. Let's talk in the comments.