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: " 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.

This Food Isn't For You

My grandmother was the only girl amongst a bunch of boys. They were big men physically, but rowdy boys most of their lives. My great-grandmother, as with most mothers, thought the world of her boys, even if the boys seemed to have rocks in their head occasionally.

On Mondays, without fail, my great-grandmother would bake a cake and frost it. This was in preparation for her son Jack's impending visit. My great-grandfather, a day or two into the week, would suggest they have a piece of cake. No, his wife would firmly declare, "That's for when Jack comes."

You likely know how this turned out. Jack rarely came, and the family was left eating stale cake. Every. Freakin'. Week. Not only was Jack the crowned prince, but there was food for him that he never even bothered to get, even just to please his mother.

We find Jesus in a similar position: He's got the food and people turn up their noses. "Not for me!" "I'm gluten-intolerant." "Ew, all those other people touched my food; gross!" Okay, I don't know exactly what was said, but we know that Jesus prepared the meal, set the table, invited everyone ... and people ran for the hills.

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me...

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?"... As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. (Jn. 6: 53-66)

Jesus (and my great-grandmother) wanted to serve the best, because of love. And any country cook and big city chef knows something both Jesus and my great-grandmother knew: food is never just food. (Unless you're Giselle Bundchen, who seems to survive on tree bark.) Food is love. It's community. It's a recipe passed on from one generation to the next.

Maybe it's just my family, but we still talk about food that my parents and their parents served. Rutabaga, anyone? Carrot cake baked in a coffee can? Roast the turkey, fry the turkey, undercook the turkey?

No, Jack never came. (Well, he did show up sometimes, but it usually ended in a fight of some sort.) The cake got stale, and no one was happy. Jesus offered a new food, with a new promise, and many people decided this was too much. They turned down a gourmet meal for McDonald's. Jesus wanted to feed them; they said, "No."

My grandmother told everyone but Jack, "That food isn't for you!" Some of Jesus' disciples said, "This food is not for me!"

Food is life, and Jesus' food is eternal life. Don't miss out because you are too busy with other things or worse yet, miss out because you, like some obstinate 7 year old, deciding "It's gross!" when met with a new food.

The table is set, the cake is baked the food is ready, and Jesus awaits. Come, eat rich food and celebrate with us!

5 Ways to Survive Tough Times

Part of the human experience is struggle: locked in combat with the guy in the next cave over or the guy next door regarding the height of hedges. Sometimes the struggles are private ones (say, working to alleviate sin and cultivate good habits in oneself.)

Both my parents were Depression-era kids. My mom always said she and her siblings didn't realize they were poor until they were older. Everyone they knew was in the same situation. Yet, any time I visited my folks, their pantry was STOCKED. "Mom, why do you have 6 cans of peaches?" "They were on sale." The memories of the Depression never left them.

For Catholics, we've been living in tough times for, uh, about 2,000 years ago. And things were tougher still for folks before that. Flannery O'Connor once said, "People think that they Catholic faith is a big, warm electric blanket. It's not. It is a cross."

These past few weeks have been absolutely demoralizing for Catholics. Our priests are demoralized. The lay faithful are also angry; how could this happen to so many people over the past 100 years? By priests, for God's sake? I don't really have a lot to say on this that hasn't already been reported, but I do know one thing: we need to be on our knees, in prayer.

The lay faithful have both the incredible responsibility of maintaining our parishes and local Catholic schools, but also the awesome responsibility to become holy.

Get that? The Church needs you. We need you praying, worshipping, begging God for holiness. 

Yes, you.

What can we do to survive in these tough times?

1. Be honest. If someone in the family loses a job, or becomes ill, be honest about it. Tell your kids what is going on, and brainstorm ways to cut costs out of the family budget. Even if it's a delicate situation (such as the abuse scandal), be as honest as possible, given the child's maturity level.) Kids get much more worried when they constantly hear whispered conversations in the next room or parents who say, "No, nothing is wrong" while Mom's hair is falling out due to chemo. It's so much better if we are honest with each other.

2. Hunker down. Pretend it's 1955. That means we cook dinner every night (cuts down on fast food), we entertain ourselves (Play cards! Drag out Monopoly!), and vacations turn into stay-cations.

3. Hold Your Head Up. Money issues are generally not moral issues, so if times
are tough, you have nothing to be ashamed of. And if you're head is always down, you don't notice those around you who may need your time and attention or are willing to support you.

4. Volunteer. If you've got time on your hand, volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart. There is no shortage of organizations, adults and young people that need our help.

5. Be faithful. It's ok to be angry, but don't let anger drive you. This will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS end badly. Be angry, and then move on. Consider keeping a journal - writing things down often helps us sort out our thoughts and emotions. It's also a safe place to unload some of those negative emotions like fear and anger.

Drawing closer to God should be our desire every day, not just on tough days. Praise him! Adore him! Were it not for Him, we would not exist. Yet he loves us so much, he created us in HIS image and likeness. Yes, these can be tough times, but they are not invaluable. The persecution of the Church (whether from the inside of the outside) requires great, tough saints.

I don't like tough times. I don't suppose too many people do. But this opportunity to grow in faith cannot be ignored or wasted. Tough times have nothing on tough prayers.

Hard Blessings

When my kids were little and my days were organized chaos, I would day-dream of being a Carmelite nun. Oh, to have a quiet little cell for study. Slipping into the chapel for a quick visit with our Lord. Praying the Psalms with heavenly chant. Bliss.

Of course, being a Carmelite is not about quiet study and a search for bliss. It is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and humbling vocations the Church offers. To be wholly cut off from the world, to pray constantly, 24/7 both in private and in community. There are no vacations, no accolades. The Carmelite monastery of today looks pretty much like it did 100 years ago, and 100 hundred years before that.

I know that the Carmelite life was not for me. (The Great Silence alone would be a complete disaster.) I know that I was meant for marriage and family; this would be my path to holiness.

"Holiness" is so important - it is our means of obtaining Heaven. We emulate Christ, his manners, his prayer. We take and eat, at his command, his Body and Blood, in order to gain eternal life.

But in the day-to-day of it, holiness looks a lot like work. There is laundry to do, meals to cook and serve (Oops - just let me get that spilled milk.) The lawn has to get mowed, the dog walked, the bills paid. SOMEbody has to write those lesson plans. This is my path to holiness? I liked my Carmelite daydream better.

The past two years have been really difficult. My health is a constant concern. Our finances -better now! - have been a mess. And I've lost all 4 of the jobs I'v had in the last two years.

Now, while the physical aspects of my health aren't great, that is far easier for me to deal with than the mental aspects. I forget things. A lot. In a conversation with someone, I'll struggle for a word. (One time, someone asked me the name of the book I'd written. Yeah...took me few minutes to pull that up.) Driving requires directions, even to places I've been before. The worst of it is this: I do sub-par work, and don't even notice. (Since you asked so nicely: depression, anxiety and PTSD.)

I could easily turn in a written piece to an editor with a dozen typos in it, and not realize the shoddy work I'd done. I give misinformation. I struggle to place names and faces. Sometimes my pain is so bad, that there just isn't a coherent thought in my head.

Now, I don't have a job. Every time I think about having a job, I start to hyper-ventilate. I still have panic attacks when I just drive by the building where
I last worked.  Everything needs a checklist, everything needs to be written down.

This time has been a hard gift as well: I'm nearly done with a book I've been working on. I get to go to daily Mass and Adoration much more often. And my beautiful little chapel is our deck, with the most comfortable chair, a bevy of plants and flowers, blue skies, trees.

By nature, I tend to be more Eeyore than Pooh. That includes my spiritual life as well. A few weeks ago, I was having a particularly hard time - sometimes, I don't feel like I'm "doing" anything of value. And I feel as if I have no value.

It's a very ambiguous place to be. I loathe ambiguity. It's quiet. I'm not. All of my prayers seem to come back with answer, "Not yet."

Except one. I was thinking/praying/pondering about my whole situation. I acknowledge, Yes, God: you have been gracious to me. Thank you, thank you. And I'm not saying I don't want to be holy.... but.....'

Spit it out, child!' 

Well, I thought it would feel better ... you know, as you get holier."

And God grumbled up His answer to me: "It might. But not for you."

I'm awaiting more hard blessings.

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,...