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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How to Win Friends, Influence People and still Love Jesus

I don't suffer well.  I rarely suffer alone.  Suffering in silence for someone like me is virtually unheard of but that is what has been happening for over a month now.

The silence is deafening and ABOUT TO END.

I love Jesus Christ.  I accept Him as my personal Lord and my Savior.  More importantly, I accept the teachings of the Church He founded.  I do not try to change anything to suit me.  As a result I have lost friends and family because I made the decision that what is in the Bible is the Truth - Jesus is Yahweh moving among us, He founded a Church and He gave that Church His Authority.  It is guided by the Holy Spirit.

I have weathered the sexual abuse scandals.  I have watched perfectly lovely people walk away from the Eucharist because the Church told them stuff they did not want to hear about how to live life and I have watched otherwise good Catholics twist themselves into moral pretzels to support political campaigns that fly in the face of Catholic Teaching.

The past two years have been an amazing technicolor dream show of Catholic infighting and name calling - the "I am a better Catholic than all of you because" wars have been hilarious and sad.  Through it all I have stood my ground and refused to jump on any one person's bandwagon.  I believe Jesus and He said The Church will withstand the onslaught of demons and political intrigue and people who are more Catholic than the Pope.

Credo.

Through it all my parish in the Central Valley has been an oasis of peace in many ways.  Oh look, we are not perfect.  We have goof balls and slackers and people who think they know everything here too just like any other group of humans.  However, I have been seriously in awe of the kind of love and support I have received here.  Outside of my 12 Step program I have never seen an organization like my Parish.  We are One.  We are Holy.  We are Catholic and we are Apostolic.

And then there is that one guy.......or gal.....

You know the one....This is the parishioner  who knows everything, can spot a liturgical abuse from 150 yards in the dark on a foggy night and answers any and all questions with a twenty page paper complete with  quotes and footnotes from obscure Vatican documents written by Popes in the 12th Century.   This is the woman who won't talk to someone who admits to be post-abortive because she is unsure if they have done proper penance.  This is the man who calls every woman, "dear" in that condescending tone that makes your skin craw.  It is the old lady who scowls at the woman holding a crying baby and the old man who freaks out a young girl wearing spaghetti straps in the summer while he wears Bermuda shorts with sandals and white socks to Sunday Mass.  It's the pursed lips and the shaking heads and the people who otherwise make it seem that being a Catholic means towing to the letter of the law rather than loving Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

I am a Rules Girl.  I love knowing what to do and then doing it....and I love being able to poke fun at my love of rules and regulations.  I am a Liturgy Girl.  I love a well Sacrificed Mass with a beautiful Choir and perfect participation.  I will never be a Charismatic type waving my hands in the air and shouting out 'AMEN' when the priest says something during the homily I like - though an occasional, "damn straight, father" has been known to escape my lips at the wrong moment.

Because I am an Alcoholic in Recovery I know how dangerous it can be to become too caught up in the minutia.  We can never forget why we are sober in the first place.  If we do we are in danger of losing our sobriety.

I can see that kind of 'only the details matter' thinking causing the same kind of trouble for Faithful Catholics as well.  If I become so bound and determined to school my brothers and sisters in the Truth about how they are to walk, talk and breath I may miss the opportunity to show them how walking, talking and breathing a Catholic Sacramental Life is the best way to walk on this side of the veil. 

This does not mean I overlook abuses or agree to shortcuts.  I defend and explain the Faith when called to do so (often to other Catholics) but how I do it has changed dramatically over the past 20 years.  I think (hope) I am more effective today.  I think (hope) that when I talk people listen more.  I KNOW (for sure) that I no longer hear every question put to me about The Church as some sort of personal challenge.  If someone disagrees with me, they disagree with me.  If someone walks away from me, they walk away from me.  It is what it is and life goes on.

Damage I did years ago when trying to evangelize still haunts me.  I know I will never be able to repair that damage.  I pray that the Divine Physician do the repair and that someday I can stand in the pew with those I drove away by my own bad behavior.  Until then I accept that my time in Purgatory will be spent there because of this very damage I did and my hope lies in the mercy and forgiveness of God.

Maybe what I have learned can be summed up this way:  I have learned to love without making others hate.  Anyone who takes offense at me today is doing so because an honest error was made - either on my part or on their part - and not because I have purposefully made them feel attacked or uncomfortable in order to make my point.

Today I hope to pass on to the children of my parish the ability to be Catholic Out Loud.  I also hope we can begin to teach them that doing so means loving the unlovable, smiling in the face of insults and bearing pain with dignity.

I better be able to practice what I preach.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Spirituality and Religion - Two Sides of the Same Coin

It is common within the rooms of most 12 Step groups to hear the following pronouncement, "This is not about religion, this is about spirituality".  In fact, much of the argument against organized religion uses this foundation to launch their reasoning.  Religion, they state, divides people but truly spiritual people do not.

At the risk of being contrary, I don't agree with that assessment.

As an example, I always look to my particular order - the Order of Preachers, more commonly known throughout the world as The Dominicans.  Founded over 800 years ago by St Dominic de Guzman, this order reeks of a spirituality that flows specifically from the Catholic Church.  The 2oth century theologian Josef Pieper once suggested that one of our shining lights, St Thomas Aquinas, should be honored as St Thomas of Creation.  Why?  Simple.  Aquinas, while doing everything as a result of a total love for the Incarnate Savior Jesus Christ, never stopped drawing full theological implications from St Paul's words to the Romans: from the beginning, from the very moment of the creation of the world,  Gods invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.

If one looks at legitimate Religious Teachings, one cannot help but note that the practice of Christianity in its fullness requires our total submission to and reverence for The Holy Trinity.  Our goal, as Catholics, is to draw as near to God as possible and we do this through our Liturgy and the reception of Sacraments.  If our agenda is to align our will with the Will of God, we are living a spiritual life. 

Perhaps the problem is that there has been a redefinition of 'spiritual' to mean only that which involves burning sage, holding séances, meditation on a mountain in the Himalayan Mountains and Ouija Boards.  I would argue that it is this co-opting of the word spiritual that has lead to society losing the essence of true spirituality. 

Just as I reject the idea of a 'good old days' based upon statistics that show less divorce, I reject the idea that being religious means one is not spiritual.  Can those two be mutually exclusive?  Of course.  Jesus warned us against those who pray for all to see or who make sure they are sitting in the front so everyone knows how much they are tithing.  However, I also can tell you that I have met Buddhists who are cruel to strangers and Native Americans who reject anyone who dares to develop a spiritual path that differs from that deemed right by their Tribal customs.  To me, what I see, is not the Religion that is at fault; rather, I see those who find it too difficult to practice it every day rejecting it as being at fault.

For many years I rejected my Faith Tradition because it was just not compatible with the lifestyle I was living.  I kept the lifestyle because society told me I had a right to do anything and everything I wanted - with my body, with my mind and with my language.   When that lifestyle exploded in my face, I crawled through the back doors of the 12 Step Fellowship I needed and discovered that in order to be successful in my recovery from the disease of alcoholism I would need to surrender my will to God.

WTH?

Today I work every day on that surrender.  My surrender involves the goal of totality: my heart, my mind, my passions...my will and my body...my fertility...my sexual identity.....my longing for companionship...my finances...my love for animals....my love for my family and for other people's children...all of me, good and bad.  Unless I am willing to at least make the effort to give myself in total to The Holy Trinity I am not living my Religion.  I am an empty gong.

I want to end with the words attributed to St Thomas Aquinas when he received Our Lord in The Eucharist for the last time:

"I now receive you who are the price of my souls redemption, I receive you who are the food for my final journey, and for the love of whom I have studied, kept vigil, and struggled; indeed, it was you, Jesus, that I preached and you that I taught."


I don't care what anyone says - That's SPIRITUAL.....


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For those who have a mind to pray, please pray for the repose of the soul of one of the greatest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing:  Don Brown.  A tireless worker in the 12 Step community, Don lost his life in a tragic car accident over the weekend.  Please keep his soul in prayer and please keep his family in prayer.  We lost a giant, but our loss is heaven's gain.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Theology of Sacramental Bookkeeping

When I began this job as the Coordinator of Children's Catechesis for a large Catholic Parish in California, I had limited understanding of what my role would entail.  In fact, I had no idea what my job would be and since my hiring in April of this year I have learned more than I could have ever anticipated.  For the first time in many years I feel as though I am fully engaged in life - body, mind and soul.  I am working for The Church.  I make very little money.  It doesn't matter, because  every day I discover a deep and loving theology behind each of the tasks my job encompasses.  I am truly an important, though small, part of a great whole.

Recently we completed 'Sacramental Season'.  With the exception of a few little ones who will be receiving in August, the majority of our children received either their First Reconciliation (went to confession for the first time) or their First Holy Communion (received the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the first time in their lives!) during the past few weeks.

The First Holy Communion (FHC) kids looked so wonderful.  The girls, dressed in white dresses and veils resembled little brides - Brides of Jesus - while the boys looked so handsome in their formal attire.  I made it a point to tell all the boys that if men knew how darn handsome they all look when they are dressed in suits and ties they would wear them swimming just so they could always impress the girls.  They laughed, but I saw that some of them got what I was saying....every girl's crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man.

If all we had to do to make this occasion special was have them show up dressed to the nines, walk down the aisle and receive Our Lord my work would have been over the afternoon of June 10th, 2017.  However, that is only the beginning.  The real work begins after the Sacrament is received.  It is then that the information is entered into the Sacramental Registers for the Parish, certificates are created, seals are made on those certificates and they become ready for distribution to the Faithful children to keep forever.

I really did not know how important this work was but God provided me with an angel, a former RCIA Director who offered to come and help with the task.  This wonderful woman (a Persistent Widow, just like me) trained me, my Office Assistant and an eager volunteer in the task of Sacramental Bookkeeping.

There was more than training involved.  My Angel imparted to the three of us the importance of the work we were doing.  Covered specifically by Canon Law, the recording of Sacraments received must be done in a specific and special way.  The names must be correct.  The Baptismal information must be correct.  Without it, or if not correct, a person could be prevented from future Sacraments until the information is substantiated.

In March of 1995, the book How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill was published.  I purchased a copy for my father that year as a present for Father's Day.  In the book, Mr. Cahill argues that the Irish people, specifically Catholic Irish Monks, preserved information essential to the history of the people of Ireland, Scotland and the rest of Europe while Rome was being overrun and collapsing.  These devout and devoted men, in particular St Patrick, St Augustine of Canterbury and St Columba (of Loch Ness Monster sighting fame)  "single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent." (p. 4), according to Cahill.

This might not seem important to a lot of people today; to me, I see the significance because I often read on social media  an attempt by people with specific political agendas to re-write history.  Example: recently, a man I know insisted that Napoleon hired Michelangelo to paint over all the artwork that depicted Jesus as an African man.  The fact that the two men he wrote of lived close to 300 years apart does not deter him from his insistence that evil White European Men destroyed the 'truth' that Jesus Christ is a Black man, and that this was done in order to keep Africans down.  This is a result of either poor scholarship or way too much marijuana - either way, it shows me that there is importance to keeping accurate records.

This importance is more than simply historical.  There is a theology surrounding this task.  Each day I correct another certificate, each day my office assistant re-checks my work against our records or makes another phone call to verify spelling, we find ourselves caught up in the Sacredness of our task.  The beautiful volunteer right now stamping Father's signature on each completed certificate, and then sealing it with the Seal of The Church, is doing something holy.  We are the modern day version of those devout, Irish Catholic Monks.

We are living the teaching of The Church that all work is important.  All tasks done for the Glory of God mean something in His Kingdom.  We are not just 'the people in grey' like the Kinks sang about - we are doing something lovely and important and meaningful in God's House.  Our work matters - WE matter - and our determination to do it well and the lack of 'oh no not again why can't this be over' just indicates to me that the Holy Spirit has permeated our chores. 

We love what we are doing.

Most of my life I wanted to matter....to people, to my family, to my husband, to someone.  Today, because I took a chance and answered an ad in the Church Bulletin I get to be a small part of a greater whole.  I get to do something that was done with love and determination and a sense of higher purpose by Irish Monks and Missionaries and prisoners and Catholics hiding in Catacombs.  I get to preserve the information of the People of God.

Sacramental Bookkeeping - whether you are an ex-rock and roll wild child in California or in a monastery in Scotland, it means something.

I am so glad I get to be a part of this today.  I am forever grateful.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Awards

Tonight I will gather with others in a Parish Gymnasium to eat dinner and accept an award for being a  Catechist for 15 years.

I am pretty sure I won't be giving a speech, just as I know for a fact there are men and women getting honored tonight that have been passing on the Truth of the Faith far longer than this kid.

If I was going to give a speech, I would give thanks to God for sending His Son to found a Church that helps me walk towards heaven.

I would also thank my Mom.

Yeah, yeah...I know.  EVERYone thanks their Mom when they win something or make a touchdown or round the bases for home.  

However, I really am thankful for my mother.  She was raised a nominal, Cultural Catholic in a farming community.  She is the first person to state she was not well catechized as a child.  Yet she sacrificed a lot to make sure her only children received their Sacraments of Initiation and learned The Faith.

What did she sacrifice?

Mom became a divorcee in the early 1960's.  I was the only child of divorced parents at my little Catholic School and I will tell you the majority of the kids in my class were cruel and nasty.  I won't go into it - it is water under the bridge and all is forgiven - but my Mom struggled to maintain her integrity in a world that was changing fast. 

She did just that - maintained her integrity.

Mom never dated.  She told our parish priest that just because her husband would not honor his marriage vows did not mean she wouldn't and she embraced her vocation of Motherhood with her whole heart and whole soul.  Mom told me she was mocked for being so devoted to her children.  Her only support was her family and her best friend, Harriet.  She took her children to Mass.  Her son was an Altar boy.  Her daughter sang in the choir.  We prayed every day at home.  She received the Sacraments because she lived the life Holy Mother Church told her she needed to live.

Both of her children strayed.  One came back.  Not bad - batting .500 - better than a lot of the SF Giants this season.

Today my mother is 95 ½.  She is tired and she is sometimes disgusted by the world today but she is still Catholic.  She reads my books on Dominican spirituality and the saints and she never stops learning.

I am glad I get to be a Catechist today - but I am deeply grateful for the life my mother modeled for me and my brother.

I have big shoes to fill.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Time Travel and History

Recently a friend on FB posted that Napoleon hired Michelangelo to paint over all the art that depicted Jesus as an African or a Black man.  When I pointed out to him that Napoleon lived almost 300 years after Michelangelo he dismissed me with a 'thanks for your two cents".

This got me thinking about all the claims being made regarding 'fake news' and 'alternative facts'.  It seems to me, and I may be wrong, that despite our being able to access more information than ever before in human history we still are having a difficult time figuring out truth from lies.

Read anything on FB today and you are obligated to do so through the lenses of your own particular prejudice.  People of intelligence who are well educated can hear the same Senate testimony and come to wildly divergent conclusions as to what was said.  An intelligent African American man can be given proof that Napoleon and Michelangelo never met and, because it is a white woman giving him that information, dismiss it because it does not fit his own particular narrative.  Even worse,  people read these posts and because they trust the people posting think they have been given new, secret information previously withheld from them by some sort of international cartel of horrid truth killers.

Things were not quite so polarized 25 years ago when I was making my way home to the Catholic Church.  By the time I was ready to test all that stuff the nuns had taught me at Christ the King and Carondelet I could go http://newadvent.org/ and start reading.  The internet offered me the chance to learn from a reliable source about the Early Church Fathers and Mothers.   I found myself becoming more and more mesmerized by Early Church History.  What I did not know was that the fires of my Baptism and Confirmation were being fanned alive by the Holy Spirit.  What had begun as a challenge to find out if those nuns had lied to me so I could worship Jesus just like those FIRST Christians did became a journey into a spirituality that is deeper and wider and more mystical than any I had ever known - and I went to Berkeley in the 1970's!

Coming alive as a Catholic happened as a result of my reading and listening to radio shows like Catholic Answers.  In particular, I was lulled back into The Church by people like Jerry Usher, Tim Staples and Jimmy Akin.  There was no slightly snarky behavior, no attempts at humor that was hurtful but could later be excused because the person who heard the remark is somehow at fault because "they didn't hear it right".  I remember one time being incredibly impressed because someone called in and chastised the host at the time for their tone of voice, saying to him that he sounded so smug and self-righteous.  The host did not try to justify anything.  The host simply said, "I am so sorry if I sounded that way.  It was not my intention.  I hope you can overlook my sinfulness and not let my bad behavior steer you away from The Church".  I almost stopped my car on the freeway.  I was in awe.  Such humility.  Such love.  No "but" to that apology. 

I have not always been the best at evangelizing - in fact, I am pretty sure I am the reason some people will never be Catholic - but I know that my bumbling attempts at sharing the Truth have improved.  I am a better Catechist today.  I am a better Catholic today.  I even apologize better today.

What I fight today is my need to be liked and loved.  That need is diminishing; however, it rears its ugly head once in awhile especially when someone shoots a verbal dart my way.  Hurts, it does.  Why?  Simple - they don't think I am wonderful.  ACK...how dare they?

Seems to me that the striving for humility must be a never ending mission for anyone trying to walk the path of Truth.  Without humility, one can start to believe their own BS...they can fall prey to the sin of pride and start to want to be like God.

You know...that whole Original Sin deal.

Keep me in prayer everyone...and let's send up a prayer for The Warriors tonight.  It would be nice to sweep, but let's remember that pride goeth before a fall....even in basketball.