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Monday, January 9, 2017

Devotion to the Mother of God

As a Cradle Catholic I have  been guilty of taking for granted the love Mary, the Mother of God has for God's creatures.  My devotion to Our Lady has been kind of just 'there'.  I mean, let's face it - she is reliable and constant like any good mother and so I just assumed she was always in my life.  I also assumed that everyone loved her and that people understood the difference between loving and honoring Our Lady and worshipping God. 
I have been educated in that area, let me tell you.  The number of people who are absolutely adamant that loving Our Lady is somehow blasphemous is astonishing and I am so sad for them.  To disrespect the Woman, the Ark of the New Covenant, the Mother of Our Lord - they are losing so much of true Christianity by doing so.  They leave themselves open to spiritual attack.  They take the most important woman ever born, ever created, and reduce her to a body part 'rented' by God.
How sad.
During my time away from The Church I never considered giving up my Catholicism; rather, it was an inconvenience to the life I was living.  I could not participate in the Life of The Church and be the person I thought I needed to be in order to survive in the world.  I was wrong, of course, and when I got sober I was put back on the right road, the road to recovery from alcoholism AND the road to recovery from the damage  caused in my life by giving in to the world.

So first I got on the road to recovery.  At two years sober I got back on the road to salvation, through the praying of The Rosary and attendance at Sunday Mass.

I started as a personal ‘dare’ – I dared myself to go to Mass on Sunday for one month.  At the time it did not even dawn on my that going to Sunday Mass for one month meant four times, for the love of Pete; rather, it was just the idea that challenging myself to do something out of my comfort zone for thirty days would kick start a new chapter in my life.  I was right, and I have not missed Sunday Mass without the proper dispensation since that first challenge.
My challenge to pray the Rosary once a day, Monday through Friday, for thirty days came next.  I knew it would be difficult but I also knew, by this time, that I could do just about anything for 30 days.   By golly, I was right and praying The Rosary, five days a week, has been a part of my prayer discipline ever since.
During the past 20 or so years, I have learned much about Our Lady and my love and admiration for this woman has grown.  As a Dominican, I have a special relationship with her because it is in our tradition that it was to St Dominic she taught to pray The Rosary.  We love her as we love our own mothers and for those unlucky enough to have lousy mothers, Mary gives a special grace. 
Today, my devotion to Our Lady manifests in my utter dependence upon the instructions she gives to all of us.   I believe that when I am frightened or worried about the consequences of following Jesus, His mother will help me do it. His yoke may be easy but I can make it hard through my own attachment to people, places or things.  Our Lady helps me overcome that attachment and walk through life with dignity and grace.
My belief is this:  If you need a woman role model in your life, someone unselfish and strong and willing to do what is necessary to advance the good in you and in the world, Mary, the Mother of God is the girl for you.  We can learn much from her, this humble and mighty woman.  We can thank her for much as well.  Most importantly, we can always count on her to give us right direction:
Do whatever He tell you to do.
Together we can pray:
REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.



Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hanging between The Stages

I am once again reading Father Antoninus Wall, OP's book The Journey to God and once more questioning where I am on my personal journey.  I think, if it is possible, I am bouncing between the stages Father Wall describes in the book and quite frankly it is getting a little boring.

Father Wall reminds us of the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas and how the great saint differentiates between carnal men and men of the spirit.  A carnal man (or woman) relates primarily to the world she can hear, see and feel.  It is the senses that guide a carnal woman.  St Thomas used the way the Shepherds in the field and the Three Wise Men found their way to Jesus.  He argues that these guys were carnal men for whom reality was found in the senses.  Because of that, they were lead to Jesus through the external - the Shepherds through the external appearance of the Angels and the Magi through the Star of Bethlehem.

I see myself all over this kind of idea.  I would like to think I am a real spiritual giant, a woman who has found Christ and no longer depends upon outside stuff to make her feel okay.  I would like to think I am, as St Thomas describes, a woman of the spirit who is totally aware of the Presence of God   at all times because I 'just know' - I am moved by the Spirit.

Father Wall, in his book, lists the characteristics of those people of the Spirit.  I am cool with a lot of the list (it is really too long to recreate here - go buy the book on Amazon) but then I see things like:

  • They are forgiving and do not hold grudges
  • They have little 'ego' and seem to have no need for praise or recognition

And I come to a SCREECHING HALT.

I believe that I am growing and maturing but I also am acutely aware that I still depend way too much on the outside, on the world of the senses, to feel okay.  I still care what others might think of me, whether or not I am making a good impression and if anyone likes my earrings (or shoes or whatever else I deem important at the moment).  While I have lessened my dependence upon people, places and things it does not take much to remind me that I am far and away from a total communion with God.

I am reminded that the purpose of the journey is to find God.  I am also reminded that the journey itself can be amazing.  I have been an active drunk, I have hit bottom, I have gotten sober.  I have aborted my children and lost one to miscarriage.  I am a widow.  I am a daughter, a Supervisor, a Catechist, a Lay Dominican, a writer and a player of FarmVille 2.  I am an aunt and a sister and a cousin.  I am a Niner Faithful and someone who would love to someday go to a World Series game where I watch Bumgarner strike out batter after batter after batter.

I am, still, a carnal woman but I am moving closer and closer to be a woman of The Spirit.  Every day I pray and try again to live a life worthy of Jesus I am making an attempt to be someone better than I am right now.

I am grateful for Holy Mother Church and Her guidance on this Journey.  Without Her, without the Sacramental and Liturgical Life offered to me I would be stumbling far more than I do.  Never one to pretend I got this, it feels good to know that the answers to the kind of life I want to live are easily accessible.

Easy?  no.  Simple?  yes.

Keep me in prayer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Requiesce in Pace, Debbie and Carrie

We have lost two Hollywood heavyweights.  Mother and daughter, immensely talented, flawed and strong...Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher are both (I hope) on their way to heaven.

Debbie Reynolds was the star I wanted to be when I was a little girl.  The grand dame of Hollywood musicals, Debbie was beautiful without being over-the-top.  I loved that she could do it all - dance, sing, act - with such effortless grace.  I wanted to be Debbie Reynolds.  Or Bette Davis....actually I really wanted to just be a star.

Debbie's daughter Carrie Fisher was the gal with whom I shared a lot.  Both of us the same age, with flawed fathers and struggles with substance abuse, Carrie found the type of success I had hoped to find but never did.   Carrie, who grew up Hollywood Royalty, carved out a niche that was uniquely her own.  She was an actress, an author, a woman of substance.  Never afraid to confront her own demons in a public way, Carrie Fisher made it possible for others to do the same.  She gave courage a face and because of her bravery others found it possible to look at those around them and say, "I am also struggling".  She found herself...and never apologized for the woman she saw in the mirror.

In one of her interviews, Carrie said that if she could tell her younger self anything it was that saying "I don't know" is okay.   Wise words.  So many of us are afraid to do that, to just admit that we don't know everything or that we are flat out wrong about what we were so sure of even six months ago.  I have certainly had a difficult time learning that lesson.  For instance, this past election cycle proved to me that I really know nothing about politics.  Quite frankly, my only comfort is that, apparently, I am in really good company.

Carrie found sobriety and with sobriety came the strength she needed to walk the path God made visible to her.  It was not with a cost, but it also came with great triumph and she allowed the world to see into her life through her writing.  The struggle was personal, private and played out on the public stage for all to see.

Sobriety started me on my path to sanity too.  Once sober, it was finding my way Home to the Catholic Church that has given me the strength I need to walk the path I am on but it has not been without a cost.  I am no longer sad about who or what I have lost as a result of finding my way back to the Eucharist.   Just as Carrie found her voice, I have found mine.  Just as she came to find peace and healing with her family, I have found mine.

I look at the great gifts both these women gave to the world and I realize how very blessed I was to grow up while they were in the world.  Debbie Reynolds, a woman of strength and dignity who weathered pain and betrayal without losing her sense of humor.  Carrie Fisher, a woman of grace and intelligence who walked through the storms of alcoholism and mental illness with  twinkle in her eye and a love for the universe that shown through her gorgeous brown eyes.

May I remember what they taught me and smile....may I walk this path with the same spring in my step, trust in the Lord and laughter as the two of them.  Help me to be the woman You made me to be, Lord....just like Debbie and Carrie.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Washed in the Waves of Sobriety

I recently attended a 12 Step conference in Las Vegas.  I did not realize how odd that sounds until my last day there.  On the drive to the airport, sitting comfortably in the front seat of a nice Range Rover, the Uber Driver asked, with all sincerity, "Is it a good idea for you people to come to Las Vegas for a conference?". 

At first I was confused, and even a little offended.  What do you mean by "You People"?

Then it dawned on me that, to someone not afflicted with the disease of alcoholism it probably does seem strange to pick a Las Vegas hotel as a destination spot for people battling that disease.  It also underscores, to me, the 'us' and 'them' concept of the disease model used by the 12 Step program to which I belong and in which I have found my relief .

Even in the rooms it is sometimes difficult to discover people who buy into the idea that I am fundamentally different from a person who does not suffer from the disease of alcoholism.  It wasn't always that way, of course; when I arrived in the rooms back in 1990 we were still using terms like 'normies' to distinguish ourselves from those are not alcoholic.  At some point that went out of style (I suspect as a result of treatment centers intent on restoring self-esteem) but it seems to be gaining traction once more.  I am glad.  Personally, it was a relief to discover that one of the reasons I could not hold to my resolve to 'drink like a lady' no matter how hard I tried is because I have an abnormal reaction to alcohol. I did not find that offensive and I did not think that referring to my mother as a 'normie' means I think she is better than me.  I do think she is better than me, but that's because she is my mother and I think she is amazing, but that's another blog post.

Once I was able to be relived of the burden of immorality under which I had labored when it came to my ridiculous drinking, I was able to focus on what I needed to do to not drink.  I could address those defects of character that get me in trouble; oversensitivity, selfishness, self-centeredness and actions fueled and motivated by fear.  I could look at my tendency to be lazy and overbearing, to want to be thought well of without having to put out much effort and my reluctance to ever admit I might be wrong as pitfalls rather than permanent states.  I could address my problems by asking for help from God and taking appropriate action.  I found that, when I concentrate on that relationship with God my obsession with drinking was lifted.

I also re-discovered my Catholic Faith.  Nothing I had been taught as a child was incompatible with the principles being offered to me through the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of my program.  In fact, being a Catholic made those principles make a lot more sense to me.  Grace abounds in a Sacramental and Liturgical Life.  Grace is what keeps me sober. 

I can attend meetings three times a week not as a way to GET but as a way to help someone suffering from the same affliction I have right now.   I can be in service, sponsor, speak from the podium, set up chairs and make gallons of coffee not just as a member of the program but as a Catholic practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  When I shake the hand of a newcomer, I am doing so in persona christi even though they just see an old lady with a big smile.

Many people find their way back to their religion and no longer see a reason to sit in the rooms.  I don't mind that anymore because I suspect there is a good chance they don't have what I have - a seemingly hopeless case of mind and body.  In fact there is a really good chance that what got them to the rooms in the first place was a lot of hard drinking rather than actual alcoholism.  Once they reconnect to God and feel safe they don't need the program like I need the program.  They can drop in once in awhile, sit in a meeting, take what they want and leave the rest.

However, if you are like me, you need something extra.  If you are like me, you need to connect with another one like me.  You need to sit in the rooms, work with another one like yourself, listen to someone with the same disease and laugh at the tragedy that was your life.  You need to cry at the good news you experience today.  You need to be able to nod your head when a speaker shares what it was like, what happened and what it's like now.

And if the place you do that is in a hotel in Las Vegas, you go there.  You go there with confidence because you know you are going to be surrounded by like-minded and similarly afflicted people.  You will leave the conference to go to Mass with another member who also wants the Grace offered only through the Sacramental and Liturgical Life.  And you do all of this with a smile.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How do I Love Thee - Give Me A Minute

Rants can be cathartic.  Allowing for pent up emotion to flow out from the brain through the fingers and onto the virtual page can relieve stress.  Putting pen to paper, either figuratively or while clenching a #2 pencil in a white-knuckled hand, can often make it unnecessary for the object of frustration to be subject to a tirade.

In the past I have allowed my rants to be published, causing harm that far outweighed my need to be heard or validated.  My hurt feelings might have been relieved.  The damage my expression did was incalculable.  This taught me a valuable lesson, estranged me from beloved people and humbled my spirit (which needed humbling).  Not every thought I have has to be expressed for all to hear.  Not every hurt feeling or observation of another's behavior needs to be aired to the world.  It is perfectly acceptable to keep one's thoughts to oneself, no matter how frustrating or painful it may be to do so. It is also okay for others to not tell me every dang thing that crosses their mind.  I don't have to know everything about you in order to love you.

But we sure resist that idea.  "You are only as sick as your secrets", we declare, sitting in the rooms of 12 Step Programs across the continents.  "Be honest with each other" is out battle cry as we wave the banner of True Relationships and Mental Health.

It gets me to thinking:  is it always necessary for you to know all my feelings in order for you to feel you know and love me?

It is better if I assume that all human beings have crosses to bear rather than for me to know all those individual crosses?  Can I extend you mercy without having to know that you suffer in a specific way or is having that information the foundation of my ability to love you?

I have often been told what my motives are, what I am feeling and what I mean when I say something.  Usually the person expressing that information is way off the beam but they are basing it on the information I give them.  They look at how I walk, talk, my mannerisms and the toss of my head when I speak and they leap to conclusions about everything from my education (or lack thereof) and my political ideas.  Usually the person making the assumption is wrong.  They have heard something in my tone, discerned something from my choice of verbiage or made a determination based on my skin color, size and gender - and almost always, without a doubt, they are wrong.

The times I found it necessary to let the entire world know how I felt about someone else's behavior, I was usually wrong in my characteristic of their actions.  I got my feelings hurt, I made assumptions, I voiced them and caused more damage.  It does not surprise me when other people do the same thing.

Still, it gets me to thinking....

In the prayer we use in my 12 Step Program to facilitate the 11th Step Meditation, there is a line that reads something like this:  Lord, let me strive to understand rather than be understood.  If that is my daily goal do I need specific information about you in order to reach it?

I want to say yes, because honestly if I have that information it becomes easier for me to understand you.  Yet no where in that prayer, or any other spiritual writings, can I find anything that says, "as soon as you know your subject, you can start to love them".  Rather, all the teachings I find tell me to love and respect and honor another based on one thing:  they exist, and therefore they are worthy of love, respect and honor.

If I make the decision to love, respect and honor you simply by virtue of you being a creature of the Creator I am making great strides towards knowing the real you.  I don't have to have a complete list of faults and assets, though that might make it easier for me to be your spiritual director or your 12 Step sponsor, for me to know and hold on to the most important fact about you - the only one that matters.

You are a child of the Eternal God.

Here's what's cool about this - you don't even have to BELIEVE you are a child of God in order for me to treat you with the love, respect and honor you deserve from me because you ARE just that; in other words, this particular reality does not require that you acknowledge it in order to be reality.  Just as a bridge does not need me to believe it is a bridge in order to get people from one side to another, you are one of God's children whether you like it or not.

So here is the deal - I may not share everything about my life with you.  You may assume all kinds of things about me based on what you do know about me - my size, my hair color, my ethnic background, my religion - and I cannot stop you from doing so.  However, if you make the assumption that I am a certain way and lock your belief system down so tight that nothing will change your view there is a really good chance you are going to miss the boat.

I don't want to miss the boat today.  Today I am going to just assume you are what I know already to be true - you are a human being, a creature worthy of respect, love and honor - and I am going to act accordingly because that is what people like me are required to do.

If I get hurt, so be it.

Have a FABULOUS weekend!  GO NINERS!