14 July 2013

The Necessity of Community

Discoveringand consequently spending a good hour or two reading Catholic blogs and pagesis like wading in a deep, cool pool on a sunny day. I discovered that a two people I know (not well) have blogs and it's making me partly excited, partly nostalgic (as they're connected to my university) and a good deal happy to have more reading material.

It seems like everyone has a blog these days. Sometimes it's brilliant because they're brilliant and actually have interesting things to say, hopefully compelling things to say that make you consider a new way to think about a topic or help you refine your thoughts on the topic. Other times, it isn't so much. But that hasn't been the case too much with people I've seen! Since I'm usually seeking other Catholic writers these days, this makes me particularly happy.

One of the worst parts about finishing school has been leaving what became my home parish, the church where I converted and was Confirmed and made friends and formed pretty good habits of daily Mass attendance. This year, the friends I made were in the same boat of leaving the area. My sponsor M and her husband H left quite early on, even. Then I was leaving nearly two months before I expected to and in an instant I saw daily Mass and walking and praying routines vanishing.

The next and last time I went to Mass I was as joyful as I usually am to be at Mass, but it
much was tinged with sorrow thinking that my next regular experience of Mass would be different and unknown. I was pleased that my favorite (it happens) priest of the parish was saying Mass that Friday. I took special note, as one should with any Mass, but especially thinking, "This may be the last time you hear the words of consecration here. Hear them? Can you hear them as you did the night you were Confirmed, the night the chapel was slowly illuminated from the back by the Easter candle into brilliance, the night you completely changed?" When Mass ended, I prayed and set about trying to memorize a few things, as I often do when I fear a "last" moment is coming up. The stained glass shining brilliantly in the early afternoon light, the altar, the pieta statue, the painting of the Holy Family with Mary's kind face, the crucifix...

I had gazed upon the crucifix more than any other spot in the chapel over the last two and a half years (the only thing that competes is the Eucharist, which would have a better literal gazing chance if I were there more frequently when the Blessed Sacrament were exposed; a metaphorical gazing on the real presence, on the other hand....). The constant reminder of Christ's death was at once wounding and beautiful. The statues of his Mother and disciples around him drew me in by their size and position at the base of the Cross.

I feel like I have become a completely new person in that church, and I have. I first entered the chapel on a dark evening, candles lighting the pews, with confusion at genuflection and pretty much every step of the Mass, very uncertain but largely aware of something very powerful going on. If only my ignorant self could have known back then. I would have fallen eagerly on bended knee, sung joyously with hymns, had my breath stolen at Communion. But those were the things that did happen in time. I learned about Mass and Faith, myself and others there. I did bend, sing and gape at the beauty I witnessed there, which culminated no better than at Easter Vigil. Easter Vigil, where I steeled myself with an excited breath as I turned from the pew to the altar in the Communion procession, where I at last heard, "The body of Christ," spoken to me, where I made the sign of the cross at the side of the altar, where for once in my life I was too happy to cry (wild, since I cry at anything, especially happy things).

With all I learned and all the community I had there, it has seemed much harder work to stay inspired and driven and diligent since coming home. I know it matters not as much the particular church as much as The Church, but that support is so helpful and necessary to everyone (I imagine not only newbies, though I feel they possibly need it the most). I need to be coming home to Catholicism every day. I desperately need the Church and Her members to stay strong in this race. We all need each other.

13 July 2013

Action Before Self-Exile

Because I get everything from Father Z (thanks, buddy!), here's another one...

To Which Super-Catholic Place Would You Go For Self-Exile? linked to a post at Catholic Vote, which lists five places around the world where Catholics might enjoy being and/or relocating: Andorra, San Marino, Malta, Wallis and Futuna, St. Pierre and Miquelon. Go read about them for fun. And originally I did view it as for fun. I love travel and love Catholicism, so what problem would I have in learning about these places?

San Marino. Source.

A comment jumped out at me from Therese at Laudamus Te (and I hope she won't mind too much that I'm sharing this here, but she made me reflect on this a lot). She wrote about what a nice idea it is to go somewhere, but that for practicality reasons sheand many others, of coursecan't [guess I shouldn't be packing my bags immediately]. She then mentioned that she and her husband had been discussing death and considered the less than ideal circumstances that could happen. "I fully expect to be murdered in a long-term 'care' unit and am trying to prepare for this now."

When I consider my death I often don't think it a big deal, usually because I am focused on what happens after I die. Any sort of last-minute torment seems inconsequential compared to what comes next. But as I sat reading this comment and this post I realized that the last moments before death are the most vital. Not only my death, but my life, may be full of a dangerous struggle. It really isn't such a surprising thought, given the modern climate in the US. Christians are facing moral dilemmas which the state approves at a seemingly increasing rate. The world is and always will be against the Church. Can we be as relentless in our faith in response?

I want to be part of the Church Militant in an obvious and powerful way. I know that this blog is a pretty good way to be able to express my thoughts and do so where friends and relatives will see it. I know I can volunteer service. I know I can pray for souls. In what way can I make a larger impact at a larger level? Will I make an affect on the country by voting and going to rallies? Will I travel intra- and internationally to reach the world? What can I do before self-exile seems the most practical option? I don't know what the future of the US is, or what my future will be, but I'm ready to work for the Kingdom now.

So what are your thoughts? How do you act now, every day, to spread the Gospel, help people and save souls? What groups are you members of? What saints do you rely on? Join me in making a commitment to act purposefully each day.

11 July 2013

Love in the Time of Persecution

Earlier today I was looking through Pinterest (as one does when they spend their day off being as lazy as possible) and came across this image that I pinned ages ago:


This image just goes so well with the time that has lapsed since my previous post. The best part is when your new way is now The Way. It also pairs with the Gospel reading from this past Sunday from St. Luke. In it, Jesus is sending out disciples to various towns He would later visit and telling them what their journeys will be like.
The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolvesCarry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.
—St. Luke 10:2-12
 Nothing rings truer in my ears these days than the promise of persecution. Jesus warned His disciples of it multiple times:
Then he said to them: Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
And there shall be great earthquakes in divers places, and pestilences, and famines, and terrors from heaven; and there shall be great signs. But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and into prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, for my name' s sake.
St. Luke 21:11-12
And you shall be betrayed by your parents and brethren, and kinsmen and friends; and some of you they will put to death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name' s sake. 
—St. Luke 10:16-17
If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you. If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you...  
St. John 15:19-20
There are three things I want to note, based upon these passages, especially the first one from Luke.

1. Christians will be persecuted.
"I am sending you like lambs among wolves." Jesus states it quite plainly. Family and friends may betray you, you may be brought forth before officials, you may be put to death because of your faith in Jesus Christ. (Just recently, a priest was beheaded in Syria. If that isn't persecution, what is?) He knows what the world is like. He knows what its reaction to Him is and will be. Christians are despised by the world because of Him.

Something that helped me really understand this was a revelation earlier in the week. Christ suffered and was hated by the world. As followers of Him, how can we expect not to experience the same suffering and hatred? (I'm pretty sure I got this from a much better worded quotation, perhaps of a saint, but I am having trouble finding it. If anyone knows, let me know in the comments!)

But there is a great deal of joy in this suffering. St. Peter writes, "But if also you suffer any thing for justice's sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear, and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you." (1 Peter 3:14-15) The saints suffered too. St. Bernadette is to have said, "The more I am crucified, the more I rejoice."

St. Therese (my Confirmation saint, for her clear awesomeness) wrote, "I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: "My God I choose all!" I do not want to be a saint by halves. I'm not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will, so take it, for I choose all that You will!" 

2. We should always continue the race, no matter how difficult.
"Peace to this household," the disciples were prompted to say to those they visited. As the Church Militant, our purpose on earth (aside from serving and loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength) is to bring more souls to Him. There will come a pointrather, several pointswhen people we try to reach will reject our thoughts, our words and us entirely. None of it is as personal as we initially take it. As my fiance reminded me, it is not our tone or our attitude which offends people; rather it is the truth. Christ was not rejected by the world for His tone, but for the Truth He preached, for His claiming to be the Son of God. It is not us persecutors reject, but Christ, which should motivate us even more to pray for their souls.

3. God, Justice, the Kingdom will prevail.
"[I]t will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town." Jesus' final promise in that passage is that justice will be had. Those who are presented with the Gospel and the Truth but reject it will be rejected. They will hear, "I never knew you." So even in our day-to-day struggles, in every conversation, in every time we are told that we have changed, in every negative article, in every further religious freedom restriction, in every hour thinking and praying and trying to find a new approach, we still have hope. The faithful are fighting a winning battle. Love wins.

That is the reality. But the reality also is that these three things go together. We should carry out the work that has been entrusted to us to make disciples. We should not expect to be exempt from suffering or mockery. And then, we should not despair at suffering, but take joy in it, because suffering refines our lives. Suffering makes us like Christ. As Jesus says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it." (St. Matthew 16:24-25) Being a Christian doesn't mean being (merely) nice or pleasant. It doesn't mean supporting certain social causes, though they may have merits. It doesn't mean, as the world often supposes, supporting our own bigoted agendas for the sake of making difficult the lives of others. Being a Christian means embracing the Cross every day, because it is beautiful; because it represents the redemptive work of Christ's suffering, Christ's blood, Christ's death; because it is Love.

Nothing is more important than Love. Without it, God would not have lowered himself down from Heaven to become man. Without it, we would have no redemption. Without it, we cannot hope to advance the Kingdom of God. Let us keep thisdrawing souls closer to the Love of Christat the front of our minds. Let us keep it at the front of our minds even as we face persecution.