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.

The Best Laid Plans...

About 20 years or so ago, I stopped giving up things for Lent. It's not that I didn't find it a worthy practice; I did. It's ...