Wise up!

Today is the feast of Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen - men both known for their wisdom.

"Wisdom" can be a tricky thing to pin down; we know it when we see it, but we don't see it much. So, let's explore a bit.

Merriam-Webster says "wisdom" is the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships or good sense. Um....okay. "Discerning inner qualities" makes me think of those folks who say they speak to the dead or can read your mind. And while I'm all for "good sense," I don't believe that is what "wisdom" is all about.

The Church puts much emphasis on "wisdom." There is an entire book of the Bible about wisdom. And it's not about "good sense;" otherwise, we'd be reading things like "put all your loose change in a jar and save for a rainy day!" or "Before going on a long car trip, make sure your spare tire is inflated." All very helpful, but not the characteristics that made Basil and Gregory saints.

The Church teaches us that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit (as opposed to knowledge gained from experience.) That also means that if you're baptized, confirmed and in a state of grace, you are walking around engulfed and immersed in wisdom. Of course, it is your choice as to whether you use it or not, but it's right there for you. Further, [t]he theological virtues dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have God for their origin, their motive, and their object - God known by faith, God hoped in and loved for his own sake.

It's tough for us to "get" the role of wisdom in our lives. Watching a bunch of 8th graders getting confirmed and thinking, "Well, now they are all wise!" would likely not be the first thought that pops into one's mind. Wisdom, like all the virtues are indeed gifts for all of us, but we have to cultivate them, grow in them, seek God in each of them.

How do grow in wisdom then? If it's not something "out there," but rather something in me, a something God has placed there, how do I become more and more wise?

Thankfully, God provides pretty detailed instructions. In the Book of Sirach, for instance, wisdom is an oasis in the desert, a place of refreshment so beautiful, we want to stay:

Happy those who meditate on Wisdom, 
and fix their gaze on knowledge; 
Who ponder her ways in their heart, 
 and understand her paths; 
Who pursue her like a scout 
and watch at her entry way; 
Who peep through her windows, 
and listen at her doors; 
Who encamp near her house 
and fasten their tent pegs next to her walls; 
Who pitch their tent beside her, 
and dwell in a good place...

I love that line: "Pursue her like a scout." It makes me think of Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans. He tells the woman he loves, Alice, that despite his having to leave her, he will find her again, in the thick, nearly-impregnable land of the New World: You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you . . . 

Can you imagine what saints we would be if we pursued God and His wisdom with such single-mindedness? What changes would we see in ourselves, our homes, our world, if we pursued wisdom like a scout, dwelt in her, absorbing wisdom into our very being?

Let us begin then: today, pursue wisdom. Look for wisdom and dwell there for a bit. Listen for it. Gaze upon wisdom.

Lost But Not Forsaken


It is a well-established fact in my family that we are "directionally challenged." My mother could not read maps, and my father could not follow directions. Thus, we were lost on every vacation we ever went on. We got lost on the island of Puerto Rico, which is only 100 miles x 35 miles, so that was quite an accomplishment on my Dad's part.

I tried very hard to remove this curse from my generation. I'm an awesome co-pilot and a darn good navigator. My mother accused me once of marrying my DH simply because he ALWAYS knows what direction he's facing. (It's a bit sick, really, but...what can I do?)

DH was in the hospital for a few days (nothing too serious!) It's a large hospital, with seven different banks of elevators, a screwy parking garage (remember your level, letter and color!!) and some questionable signage.

The first night he was in, we were waiting for a test to be done, which we were told was imminent. Then the nurse came in and said he'd been moved to the back of the line due to several ER cases. I got kicked out, so that he could rest.

I took the wrong elevator down. And then I couldn't find the parking ramp, large as it is. The signs in the lobby took me so far, and then the signs for the parking ramp disappeared. Uh....?

I back tracked. Same results. I'll ask someone. That was a good plan, except that it was nearly midnight, and all the usual helpful people in the lobby were home. I sat down and nearly started crying - I couldn't figure this out, I was exhausted, and worried about DH. A lovely tech came by, walked me to the parking ramp, and wished me a good evening.

Monday night, at Mass, I gazed at the Nativity scene in front of the altar. It occurred to me that being lost is our heritage. The Jews were (sorta) lost in the desert for 40 years. I can't imagine that Joseph and Mary had a map as they hightailed it to Egypt in order to spare the Infant Jesus from death. And Jesus told us with great love that if we are lost, he'll come get us.

When you don't have a job and/or a chronic illness, being "lost" is a pretty common experience. I have spent most of the last two years asking God (ok, yelling at God): "Why am I here? I have no purpose here! Where do you want me to be? What do you want me to do here???"

(Side note: Yelling at God doesn't work. He will reveal answers in His own due time. And that's why he's God.)

He's answered a lot of my prayers. I have family that prays for me, friends who support me, a parish family that is brilliant and shimmering with faith.

I've come to realize that I have a cross-shaped hole in my heart. (Sorry, St. Augustine.) It is only when I am united with the Cross, the Crucifix, that I know I am home. The Cross becomes the compass, pointing us to Christ Himself. Once we are there, Christ graciously allows us to be a small part of His suffering.

I am lost, but never forsaken. And the act of being lost is important too. Just like I needed help to find the parking garage (and risk looking like an idiot when I asked for help.)

It seems to me that it doesn't matter how a person finds God or how God directs a person's life. What matters are these moments of grace when God reaches down and puts His light yoke upon us. No, he doesn't provide a map, but he does us one better. He reminds us first that He is with us, He will always be with us, and we are never alone.

Lost, but never forsaken. Found in Christ, our Eternal Home.

Into the Foggy Dew


If you've ever driven through a thick fog, you know what fear is. You can't see anything. You're not sure if you're still in your own lane. Your lights don't help; in fact, if you hit the high beams, the light will only reflect off the moisture in the fog, making it even harder to see.

Your hands grip the wheel. You sit up straighter. Every cell in your body is alert. You would pull off somewhere, but you truly can't see a thing.

I imagine that many of you feel that, in our present culture, we are driving through fog. Everything is muddled. Details are obscured. We can become so easily lost.

Sister Ruth Burrows, OCD, wants to help us make sense of the cultural and religious fog we seem to be trapped in. (By the way, if you are unfamiliar with the abbreviations of Catholic religious orders, OCD stands for Order of Discalced Carmelites. I know you were thinking obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

Sister Ruth writes:

We must move into the shadowy mists of detachment. Far on the horizon, see - God appears, and his coming spreads a mist over all the earth. We should want this silencing, shadowing mist, that cuts us off from unnecessary things - things that are not him for us. We cannot truly see them until he comes, so it is better to live in the mist - detachments, silence of desire - accepting the mystery. We must shroud our souls in Advent mist.

What?? I have to move into mists and fogs? How will I ever see God clearly if I do that? I can't even see my own hand in front of my face!

First, remember that God is mystery. Yes, we can know Him, but not fully, not in this life. We catch glimpses of Him in our sacraments, in Scripture, in those around us.

I think Sister's big point here is: stop relying on yourself. Stop stockpiling "stuff" in order to fill up that God-shaped hole each of us has. Everything we know, see, hear and touch in this world is distorted - we cannot see its full beauty or its full ugliness.

What we have to do, says Sister Ruth, is plop down and get very comfortable in the foggy mist. If we do so while fully trusting in God, He will not only keep us safe (and here I mean our true "us" - our souls), but He will reveal Himself at the right time.

We have to get comfortable with the fog. That means silence. Give yourself time and space to pray be shutting off the noise in your world. We must detach ourselves from all things that take our attention away from God, or worse, putting someone or something in the place where only God can be.

Even tougher: we have to trust that God has allowed this fog, and He will lift it when He knows it is the right time. Our job is to sit and prayerfully wait.

Perhaps when you were little, a parent gave you the lesson my dad gave us: if you get lost in the woods (which was a very real scenario for us), STOP MOVING AROUND. Sit and wait, Dad said, and we will find you. If you keep moving, it makes it harder and harder for you to be found.

In this Advent season, sit and wait. Be calm. Get comfortable with silence. Ponder what parts of your life you need to detach from.

Most importantly, know that God is with you in this foggy dew. You are not lost. Be patient. And God will reveal Himself. Yes, there in the mist and fog: God is there. What upon Him.

Always Faithful

We went to Mass last night, and had an older priest. In his homily, he exhorted us to "semper paratus:" Be prepared. The Gospel, of course, alluded to Christ's return, and Father wanted to  make sure our souls were ready.

I'm not sure I'm prepared.

I'm a darn good planner. I can whip up a meal for 30 people in no time. Lesson plans? Airtight. But prepared to meet God? Nope.

I try. It certainly is an idea that was pounded into my head by an Irish-Catholic mother. I just can't imagine being prepared for the End, or at least my End.

My mind drifted a bit as Father went on. I thought of the Marine Corps motto: "Semper Fidelis" (or Semper Fi"): Always faithful. Somehow that makes more sense to me.

Even though my dad had served in the Marine Corps, he was never the type to bark orders or demand that his little girls make a bed you could bounce a quarter on. He was very methodical, however, and very kind. He certainly took his wedding vows seriously, and loved Mom to pieces. She, he assured us, was the one in charge.

The church we were in last night has a gorgeous (Original! Restored!) altar, with Christ's Crucifixion at the center. Faithfully, His mother, Mary Magdalen and  St. John stand at the foot of the cross. Were they prepared? I can't imagine any mother being prepared for her child's execution. They were faithful, though.

Faithful means you show up, even if your scared. You speak up, even if your voice shakes. You grab a bottle of wine and maybe a frozen casserole to bring to a friend facing a bad diagnosis. Faithful makes that first or fifth or fortieth wedding anniversary possible, even when we are not prepared at all for the sacrifices required. I sure wasn't prepared for the gargantuan strength it took to manage five teens at home while teaching classrooms of teens at work, but I showed up.

I am not, in any way, saying that I have a solid handle of being faithful. Faith is a mystery, ultimately. And while I am not always prepared, I hope that my showing up for whatever God places in front of me counts as a just a tiny flicker of the faith it took to stand at the foot of the cross. God, of course, is always and perfectly faithful. And I'll stand in that truth any time.

Going "All In" With Jesus

One of the joys of being Catholic is that there is always new stuff to learn. And if you do run out of new stuff, there are plenty of new ways to look at the old stuff. No generation is without its woes, and no one of us escapes sin and its effects.

And one of the joys of being (ahem) middle-aged is that you forgot so much stuff! We learn all the time!

Our pastor mentioned something in his sermon yesterday. As I'm sure most of you are, I'm pretty familiar with the readings yesterday (specifically the 1st reading and the Gospel.) Most of us have heard them a time or two.

Here's the new thing I learned about these old readings: The first reading has Moses telling the people of Israel what the Word of God is: "...you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength."

Our pastor then pointed out how this is echoed in the Gospel, as Jesus answers the question about the most important commandment. He replies: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

Note that Jesus added: "with all your mind." I can't tell you why I've never noticed this before. I've read or heard those words countless times and never really questioned Jesus' version of it. Our pastor said this was, in fact, important.

The scribe who asked this was a scholar of sorts. His job was to copy sacred texts for the Jews, a job that required great accuracy in a pre-literate culture. While this scribe seems to be asking a genuine question, many of the scribes joined the Pharisees in looking for ways to "trip up" Jesus and His teachings.

Why "the mind"? Why did Jesus add that?

First, I think, He was speaking to the immediate audience. It is likely there were more than a few scribes there who may have sided with the Pharisees. Second, He was speaking to His disciples and the Apostles. They needed to know this in order to live and teach it! Finally, He is speaking to us, those in this life who dwell in sin and death. We also live in a highly literate society, where we are bombarded daily with information, commercials, ideas, websites, news, and on and on - all of it taking up space in our heads.

Just as God asked all that the Jewish people had to give, so Christ asks us. If we are to follow Christ, knowing He is our Lord and Savior, this is the price of admission. Your heart and soul, yes: your strength and your mind. All our frailties like depression and anxiety - we need to turn those over to Christ. Our bitter memories of long-ago hurts from family members: turn that over to Jesus. The knowledge we pride ourselves on, that is how we make a living? Yep, He wants that too.

In gambling, there is a term: "all in." You are putting all your money on this next card, or roll of the dice, or SnookiePie in the third, if you play the ponies. Christ is asking us to go "all in" here: everything that defines us.

As I've struggled with mental health these past few months, Christ's request is making more and more senses to me. Ultimately, He is asking for me to fall before Him, recognizing that He is Lord and Master of my life and a Brother who wants only good for me. I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there. At least I know enough keep trying.

There is a bike in my dining room....

Really. There is a bike in my dining room.

DH got obsessed with cycling after we bought our first house. You know: young, married, no kids...we could indulge. He road a century race or two (those are 100 miles) and then decided to do the 24-Hour Challenge, which is pretty much what it sounds like.

Having a bike when we lived in a house was no big deal. It could go just about anywhere. (It found a place of honor in my hubby's den.)

Now, it's in our dining room. Why? Because DH wants it close by.

See, about 3 years ago, he had minor heart surgery that turned into a 3 week hospital stay. His right arm was badly affected by the surgery and he now has a great deal of nerve pain. After surgery, riding the bike became an exercise in pain control - every bump and dip added pain to his ride.

He doesn't want to give it up - it's been a passion of his for 30 years. But his bike is too expensive to lock up outside. It's sitting in the dining room.

At some point in every marriage, there comes a moment of clarity (and it may certainly be different for each person.) That moment of clarity usually happens in the first 3 months or so of marriage (taking into account that hubby and I did NOT live together before marriage.) That moment of clarity goes something like: "Golly, I could just strangle him right now" or "Holy Hannah! I'm gonna kill her!"

No, we are not really going to murder our spouse. What we have done is recognize that living with another human being is tough. And when you tack on the 24/7, til-death-do-us-part nature of marriage - well, you see how the strangling and murdering comes into play.

That bike, sitting in my living room, is a sign of my holiness (or truly, lack thereof.) It cost way more than I would have spent on it. It's been a constant item in the apartment for the past two years; he shuffles it around. I would love to sell it and put that money towards debt. But it's not going anywhere.

See, it's not just a bike. It's my husband's dreams, past and future. It's a way of life he's enjoyed. He gets to decide if, when and how the bike leaves his ownership. And I support him fully in that.

Spouses - if their marriage is going to be successful - have to put up with bikes in the dining room, or pink wallpaper in the bedroom, or snoring, or being untidy. Yup, there are things you roll your eyes at, maybe even argue about (stop doing that; it's bad for your marriage.) These things are not important to you, or at least not as important to you as they are to your spouse. And you have to let it go.

My mom always said the key to a good marriage is learning to keep your mouth shut. There is great wisdom in that. There are also great marriages that bear fruit because of that.

So, there's a bike in my dining room. And I love it.

Unstopping Sacred Springs

I've been staying away from the news and social media as much as possible. My mom used to call it "The Silly Season:" that time we are inundated with political ads. Between those, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the situation with the Church, I'd like to curl up in a ball with a dozen bags of Hershey's candy and a couple bottles of Moscato. Wake me for the Rapture.

(Joke. Catholics do not believe in the Rapture. I do not believe in the Rapture. It's a joke.)

See? That is exactly what I'm talking about. I write something about the Rapture, and I have to explain that I know the Church's teaching on the topic and I am in agreement with the Church. Sometimes a joke is just a joke, people!!

I am angry and tired and discouraged. I'd like, in a very motherly way, to knock a few heads together. I don't want to do this anymore.

One great thing about belonging to a  Church that is a few thousand years old is that when something happens, we can almost always point to a time in history when something similar happened. Let's be honest: there are no new sins under the sun. Humans are not terribly creative: we do the same stupid stuff over and over.

St. Francis of Assisi knew this. Heck, if he'd been alive today, St. Francis would have been posting videos of his parties, as he stood on the table laughing and signing, a bottle in one hand and the other fondly pulling a pretty little thing closer.

Of course, that all changed. St. Francis was able to be as passionate about the Church as he had been about entertaining. And the Church needed him - it was a mess: bribery, sex, power - this should all sound familiar.

Author Georges Bernanos, writing about Francis, notes that Francis didn't look at the very wounded Church and decide to leave it. Nor did he seek out a position of power in order to "fix" things. No, says Bernanos, Francis "threw himself into poverty...Instead of trying to snatch from the Church all her ill-gotten goods, he overwhelmed her with invisible treasures..."

Yes! I can't fix the government, or the scandalous behavior of our leaders, both secular and religious. But I can pray. I too can overwhelm Church and society with "invisible treasures."

Bernanos continues: "Would you still allow me to say, however, in order to be better understood by some readers, that what the Church needs is not critics but artists?,,, When poetry is in full crisis, the important thing is not to point the finger at bad poets but oneself to write beautiful poems, thus unstopping the sacred springs.

I know many of us are praying very hard right now for our nation, for our Church, for our families. However, I think far too many of us are waiting on God to answer those prayers. In the mean time, we need to get busy. We have to become artists, creating beautiful poetry and supporting all those who are doing the same. This, my friends, is what God is waiting for us to do, so that He may unstop the river of graces He has prepared for us.

Wise up!

Today is the feast of Ss. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen - men both known for their wisdom. "Wisdom" can be a tricky th...