Monday, February 28, 2005

The core of faith

Newsweek magazine, of all places, is where you can find this article on the Pope and redemptive suffering.
. . . suffering, scholars point out, is at the very core of the faith; it is the vital link between the human experience and that of Christ as savior. He was a suffering victim who seemed to have been defeated by the earthly powers of his time. But in his moment of apparent weakness and defeat, Christians see him as triumphant, dying for humanity's sins and opening the way to heaven . . . As Job understood, as Isaiah preached in the Old Testament, and as Christ taught in the Gospels and in his life, suffering is merely part of the human condition—and can best be answered with love. "Suffering seems to belong to man's transcendence," wrote John Paul. "It is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense 'destined' to go beyond himself."

Sunday, February 27, 2005

"He told me I'm a tramp! Yesssss!!"

Today's Gospel reading is John 4:5-42, about the Samaritan woman at the well. All Gospel readings are fruitful, some are especially useful for typology or historical context, but some you can plop yourself right down in the middle of and look around. This is one of those.

Picture the well, deep and without a bucket handy. There must have been a few trees and some greenery around the well, a little oasis. Picture the woman, who after five husbands and her current squeeze must have looked, well, I picture her looking a little cheap - too much makeup, a little too much wiggle while she carried her water on her head. See Jesus, tired, dusty, sitting down for a rest. It was about noon, Scripture says, so the sun is overhead and hot. He butts into her activity and shortly tells her of the living water He has for those who recognize Him.

There's an obvious evangelism lesson in the reading: she sees, hears and believes. She tells the people of the town and some believe because of her telling, but then after hearing Jesus themselves, come to believe on their own because of their "personal relationship with the Lord."

Something new touched me when I heard it proclaimed this morning: that Jesus told her about her sinful life and instead of turning around and going into the desert to mourn her sins, or, more what I'd want to do, moving somewhere far away to get a fresh start, she bounds back into town, saying "Come see this man who told me everything I've ever done!"

In their conversation, I don't think she was "positioning" herself with Him. She was so aghast that a Jew would speak to or share a common bucket with a Samaritan that I doubt it occurred to her that this stranger would know she was the town easy.

Note that He didn't soften it any and say "well, you sleep around too much, but you're good to your neighbors and generous at the temple." Nor does He get into grisly detail. We only hear briefly about her lifestyle and she's HAPPY about being told! Nor does He tell her that He loves or forgives her, and it's not recorded that He told her to repent. In fact, it's not recorded that she straightened up and flew right, but you know she did.

God willing that I develop a joy about being convicted in my sinfulness by His justice and mercy! I cannot honestly conceive of that yet. Faith-sustaining relief and grim happiness that He does indeed know me personally, because He can see into my heart and my soul and my motives, and I can therefore with confidence approach Him: at least He won't say "who are you?" I hope this Lent will teach me to recognize my own imperfection as the road to the Heart of all Perfection.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

This takes guts

A Philadelphia Inquirer columnist has publicly changed his mind about Terri Schiavo.

The abuse allegations against Michael Schiavo may be nothing but scurrilous rumor spread to damage his credibility. But what if there is even a tiny chance he is guilty of abuse? Should such a person be in a position to decide this life-and-death issue?

Last month, I wrote that Michael Schiavo's wish should be granted and his wife allowed to die rather than suffer for years in what the courts have deemed a "persistent vegetative state." I still believe Terri Schiavo, if she were aware today, would instruct us to not make her linger on like this.

But she is not aware and left no written directives. So we are left to guess her wishes. Last month, I said we could look inside our own hearts and know what she would want. Today, with the latest stay barring the removal of the feeding tube set to expire in hours, I am less confident making such assumptions.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gators stand up

University of Florida students petition Judge Greer to recuse himself in Terri Schiavo case.

Great and deep

This resounds with me.

Every event can be seen simply as a result of other events, a purely human thing; but it can be seen too as our Lord saw it: as God's will for us. And if we see it, and love it, like that, then it becomes something great and deep, something in which God's love and wisdom are active because we have made it an act of love, have made it part of the love-story.
--From The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God by Gerald Vann, OP via Disputations

* * * * *

Notes to those praying for Terri Schiavo:

Here's a link to the Novena for Michael Schiavo.

Personally, I have been moved to pray St. Faustina's Prayer of Divine Mercy as an intercession for Terri. Consider joining me.

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Following Jesus in the slow lane

There is something sweet about walking with God at a slow, steady pace. One of the first things I experience at the beginning of a retreat is not culture shock -- I've usually prepared myself for more prayer and less cushy comfort. My big challenge is Speed Shock. My mind darts around reflexively wondering where the next demand on my time will come from. I flit. I wander. Eventually the flywheel slows, the static subsides; I take a deep breath and gradually clear mental ground for the Lord to pitch a tent.

I believe that one of the reasons I lack minute-to-minute consciousness of God in my daily life is that I force him to jump onto my speeding train. It's not my activity level. Heaven knows that I spend at least as much time in "idle" as I do in "overdrive". But my brain -- that's another matter.

Amy Welborn wrote about a retreat her family made at a Trappist monastery.
Despite the monks’ solicitude, one minor mishap seems to occur, without fail, every time newcomers attempt to participate in monastic prayer.

During the first exchange, and usually for several afterwards during prayer, one hears something like this:

Presiding monk: 'The Lord be with you.'

Non-monks: (without hesitation, almost before he finishes the “you”) 'And also with you.'

Two seconds pass.

Monks: 'And also with you.'

We wonder for a brief moment, what’s wrong with these guys? Why are they so slow on the draw? Then it occurs to us that perhaps something is wrong, but with us. We’re moved to ask, why are we in such a hurry? When we’re outside the monastery, why do we judge a Mass by it’s length? Why do I find myself tripping on the words of the Creed during a parish liturgy, racing to keep up with a congregation that recites it as if NASCAR points are at stake?

Why indeed? Why do I continually challenge myself to find a quicker route to my destination? Why do I keep looking at my watch in the Adoration Chapel? Why do I feel that even my prayer times need to be productive, as if I'm measuring grams of grace per minute?

I don't know how to do "slow yet steady" very well. But if I follow Jesus, I think I'll learn. He didn't even wear a watch.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Cranky Catholics wrap it up

Yesterday was the final meeting of the "Cranky Catholics," my parish's "Catholics Returning Home" series.

Every group is so different. This was a quieter session, little fireworks, no arguing (there's a difference), no finger-pointing. Part of that was the individual personalities, but part was the reason is that nobody in this session felt really injured or damaged or cheated by the church. The one who seemed to have a deeper hurt was our only dropout the first week. This was a group of what I sadly think is the norm among Catholics 30-60. They feel that they were undereducated in their Catholic schooling of decades past; they feel undertaught now, from the pulpit; they feel unconnected with their fellow parishioners, or don't know what they are thinking, if they believe, if they have faith.

That third item is where this group made the most progress. Each has said privately or in the group that the individual testimonies of team members and seekers meant so much to them. And now we have to let them go, back into the parish. We have a followup system we'll use, and the team members described when we each go to Mass, during the week or on Sundays, and even where we tend to sit. Maybe just knowing that they can sit near one of us will get them more readily to church.

So, what can you, our readers, learn from this? Tell your story to people; don't hold back. If you get a chance to begin a sentence "When I finally learned what the Church taught about...." or "When I went more deeply into my faith...." or whatever works for you, do so. People want to hear stories; they want to see someone happy to be a Christian; they want frankness and honesty, and they can tell when they get it.
Terri Schiavo update: I just read the report of the medical examination ordered by the Second District Court of Appeal in September, 2002. You can find it here. The doctor found that Terri's medical condition, the onset of which was never diagnosed, is neither a coma nor a persistent vegetative state. Towards the end of the report, in a paragraph all its own, he makes this intriguing observation: "Interestingly, I have seen this pattern of mixed brain (cerebral) and spinal cord findings in a patient once before, a patient who was asphyxiated."

You don't say.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Minus one day, and counting

On Monday at 2:30 p.m. EST, Terri Schiavo's parents will go before the judge to plead for an extension of the stay on removal of Terri's feeding tube while other legal questions are being explored. This young woman, loved by many, who laughs at jokes and eagerly waits for visits from her mother may die because her adulterous husband will not allow anyone to give her nourishment.

I found affidavits such as this one from an attendant at the nursing home to be eye-opening. If you read nothing else, read that. Further information, affidavits and numerous legal documents in the case are posted here. Fr. Rob Johansen's excellent blog Thrown Back has faithfully followed the case for a long time.

I have watched this situation from afar for a long time, but I'm a johnny-come-lately to taking this on with faithful prayer and effort. I'm there now, though.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Help Terri

You've been following the news of the proposed death by starvation of Terri Schindler-Schiavo. It's a frightening thought that this evil can be done by day, in full view of the courts and the press and the nursing home she lives in.

The fight led by her parents and a lot of lawyers who are working beyond what they're being paid needs MONEY, folks. Did you file your tax return yet? Will there be a refund? Consider, please, if you don't mind me asking, a tithe of 10% of your refund, which is "new money" and outside your normal income stream, to Terri's Fight.

In a sickening twist of charitable commercials, instead of a third-world orphan, your money will help to feed an American woman who smiles, laughs, closes her eyes when someone in the room prays, who is clearly alive and part of her family.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Surprise! What God really wants us to give him is . .

The very wise Oswald Chambers with a Lent-worthy reflection:
No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until he is willing to relinquish not sin only, but his whole way of looking at things. To be born from above of the Spirit of God means that we must let go before we lay hold, and in the first stages it is the relinquishing of all pretense. What our Lord wants us to present to him is not goodness, nor honesty, nor endeavor, but real, solid sin; that is all he can take from us. And what does he give in exchange for our sin? Real, solid righteousness. But we must relinquish all pretense of being anything, all claim of being worthy of God's consideration. (emphasis added)

I'm printing out the whole piece to read carefully during my next prayer time.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Let's ask

Today is St. Valentine's Day. Although watered down with sentimentality, candy hearts, lace and obligatory remembrances, it is the only generally recognized holiday that celebrates Love. (Isn't it too bad that there's no day for Hope or Faith?)

What can we do with this day? One thing, ably highlighted by Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, is to consider the way in which God has designed human love -- especially that between husband and wife -- to reflect the loving relationship we have with Him. The nuptial love illustrated in the Song of Songs is a little uncomfortable for some Christians as if it's a heady draught of wine that might make us cough. But it's a pale shadow of the deep passion with which the Lord regards us, his Bride and most treasured creation. He wants to give and give, and he gives us the privilege of giving what he does not need -- love of Him in return.

For a long time, if you had asked me whether I loved God, I would have been a little lost. Oh, I would have articulated an appropriate answer, but I would be reduced to looking at my own behavior for clues to the bewildering question. "Let's see, I love the Church, I appreciate God's gifts, but I sin regularly and am more worried about being found out by others than by Him. Hmmm. I don't know." The love and passion shown in the writings of the great saints seemed as far beyond me as leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Many of us measure our relationship with God by how frequently we go to Mass or Confession, our almsgiving, or even (insidiously) how strongly we take a stand against fellow Christians with whose doctrine or practices we disagree. We're missing the point.

It is not the Father's desire that we stand in the foyer eating dried out canap├ęs instead of coming inside for the feast. He wants to be personal with us, to embrace and offer comfort, to feed and to bless. C.S. Lewis talked about our inclination to settle for crumbs: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." Our desires are not too strong; they are too weak. Our capacity for loving and receiving love is far too small for the love that is offered us. We try hard to be content with the inch of water in our buckets while we should be expectantly petitioning God to flood us and give us a bigger bucket. Think of his delight when he hears us tell him that we want to love him more and to experience his love more fully every day!

In the Epistle of St. James we read, "You do not have because you do not ask." We can't stir up awareness of God's love or feelings of affection on our own. But we can ask the Father who loves us to do this work in us. What better time than Lent to take this opportunity to be drawn closer to the heart of God? What have we got to lose?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I love this man

Peggy Noonan writes eloquently today about John Paul II and what he is teaching us through his illness and suffering. It is tremendously moving. Here are a couple of excerpts.

I always get the feeling with John Paul that if he could narrow down who he meets and blesses to those he likes best it would not be cardinals, princes or congressmen but nuns from obscure convents and Down syndrome children. Especially the latter. Because they have suffered, and because in some serious and amazing way they understand more than most people. Everyone else gets tied up in ambition and ideas and bustle, but the modest and limited are able to receive this message more deeply and openly: God loves us, his love is all around us, he made us to love him and play with him and serve him and be happy.

* * * *
But why, I said, does God allow this man he must so love to be dragged through the world in pain? He could have taken him years ago. Maybe, said Mr. Novak, God wants to show us how much he loves us, and he is doing it right now by letting the pope show us how much he loves us. Christ couldn't take it anymore during his passion, and yet he kept going. Which reminded me of something the pope said to a friend when the subject of retirement came up a few years ago: "Christ didn't come down from the cross." Christ left when his work was done.

Like many pilgrims who are actually making it to Rome in these times, I wish I could lay eyes on John Paul the Great. I am blessed to have seen some of the ways God has use this man, who has truly fulfilled the traditional subtitle of the Popes: the servant of the servants of God. May God offer him physical relief and spiritual communion until He calls his servant to be with him in complete joy and glory.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Humility is the new beige

It goes with everything.

The word humility signifies lowliness or submissiveness and it is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus, i.e. the earth which is beneath us Humility isn't just being human, it's far more organic: remembering that we're from the dirt. Even the name of Adam is Hebrew derived from adamah, meaning "ground."

Triumph and humility: giving credit to God for the tools and opportunities. Sadness and humility: understanding that you're no better than anyone so stuff happens to you, too. Pleasure and humility: recognizing that appetite is a strong beast that, properly yoked, serves you well, but out of control can pull you off course or over a cliff. Happiness and humility: see also "sadness," and remembering that happiness is transitory. Joy and humility: knowing the difference between happiness and joy.

Friendship and humility. Talent and humility. Changing lanes on the expressway and humility. Arguing with your spouse and humility. Buying a swimsuit and humility....

I want to make humility my friend this Lent.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Making our kitchens holy

Today is Pancake Tuesday for many Catholics. Its history comes from the final chance for housewives to use up all the butter and fat and syrups and sugars in the house before the long Lenten fast. The kitchen is ready for the coming battle against our earthly and indulged appetites, to intensify and purify our desire for His Coming.

Don't Jewish people hide a little hanky-wrapped piece of matzoh after they've cleaned the house of foods forbidden during Passover? The child who finds it gets a prize. Look at the similar sensibility (and the same season even); they purify their house to be ready for the feast of remembrance and praise.

So tonight I'll go home and have a little look around for any leftover penance foods. If I find any, I'll just have to (sigh) eat them.

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

I'm giving up hyperbole for Lent

Hyperbole. Even irony and archness.

No kidding. Along with the normal reduction or cessation of favorite TV shows and treats, I thought I'd try reducing something else: the desire to be the first with my opinion and the urge to try and get a laugh. I HATE the unfilled silence and fool myself into thinking that it's "helpful" to fill it with something pleasant, inevitably out of my mouth.

This year, I want to grow in humility in "unimportant" everyday conversation. As successful adults, we all learn to manipulate and form our speech to shift blame or to draw attention. Choosing words is a charity, to help someone see a mistake without making them feel stupid, but it also allows us to shield our ego. And whose glory does it serve to be the first with the out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth comment?

To get it into my heart, I want to remember the beautiful prayer by Cardinal del Val, the Litany of Humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may, increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

So, with God's Grace, I'm going to tickalock.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another free gift!

From TSO -- Peter Kreeft writes the following heart-stopping truth:

'God is a lover, not a manager, a businessman, accountant, owner, or puppet-master. What He wants from us first of all is not a technically correct performance but our hearts. Protestants and Catholics alike need to relearn and reemphasize that simple, liberating truth..."We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain sort." [C.S. Lewis]. '

Happy Paczki Day!

Today is Fat Thursday, at least if you're Polish, which I am, partly. In the US, the final happy greasy eating day before Ash Wednesday is usually celebrated on "Fat Tuesday," but the Poles celebrate it today. The traditional sweet is a Paczki, pronounced, more or less, "POONCH kee," a filled soft doughnut-like pastry.

A real Polish person on our staff brought in the real deal, and I have on my desk a half each of a prune and a custard paczki. They will shortly disappear down my throat, which was blessed after this morning's Mass on this feast of St. Blase.

I simply love being Catholic! God's love is so enormous, we can't even begin to see its reach or scope, but He helps us understand it with the sweetest small things.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Candlemas! Free gifts!

(Yes, a gift is automatically free. Made you look.)

Cynics in the Church will say that the crowds are always better when the Church gives something away: ashes on Ash Wednesday, palms on Palm Sunday. We have a double-header coming up:

Wednesday, February 2nd, is Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

It's been forty days since Christmas, and the baby Jesus is brought to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord. This is when Simeon prays his canticle

Now dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, in peace, according to Thy word. For mine own eyes hath seen Thy salvation which Thou has prepared in the sight of all the peoples, a light to reveal Thee to the nations, and the glory of Thy people Israel. (Luke 2: 29-32)

Like many traditional Catholic prayers, this one is called by its first line, "Nunc Dimittis." It's part of the night prayer of the daily office, or Liturgy of the Hours.

If you attend Mass tomorrow, many churches will give you a candle to symbolize this light that will reveal Him to us.

On Thursday, February 3rd, we will celebrate the Feast of St. Blase, an Armenian (!) physician who, among other saintly things, saved a child from choking. Hence crossed candles will be held up to our throats and the priest will offer this blessing

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Did you need just one more push to go to daily Mass? Here are two charming little ones. Come for the prizes and stay for the Glory.


Sample Text

We are grateful ladies with a point of view and a sense of humor. Like-hearted people are welcome. Others, too.

For a glimpse at our lighter side, hop over to In Dwelling.

E-mail us.

Sample text

"There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being. This much we know."

Pres. Barack Obama, Feb 5, 2009