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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dominican Spirituality

I am read a book by William A. Hinnebusch, O.P. entitled Dominican Spirituality Principles and Practice.  I have been reading this book for a month and tonight I finished Chapter I.

That's right.  Chapter ONE.

Being a member of the Order of Preachers is a daunting and fulfilling  life even for a tertiary like me. I am asked to be like the Apostles, to converse with God or, to use the classic phrase of St Thomas Aquinas, "contemplate and give to others the fruit of (my) contemplation".  

And I am not just supposed to contemplate any old thing.  Nope.  As a contemplative Dominican, I must 'pursue evangelical perfection'.  I must imitate the life of the Apostles.  I must engage in 'constant study' lest I jeopardize my very vocation as a Dominican.  If the study of Truth was not enough, I must be willing to devote myself wholeheartedly to pursuing truth in every aspect of my life.  I must do my best to be the best at whatever it is I do, not for my own glory but only for the salvation of souls.

There are many chances, every day, for me to pursue both perfection and Truth. It would seem to me that not taking advantage of these chances is what could be sinful for me.  If I am in the grocery store, I have the opportunity to shop in such a way as to shine the light of Christ in the 15 items or less aisle.  If I am in line for the Sacrament of Confession, I have the chance to bring Jesus to the priest who is there to hear my sins and absolve me, in persona Christi.

After reading just the first chapter of this book I am a little overwhelmed with my own unsuitability for the Order.  I cannot help but think that there might have been a mistake, that call I thought I heard,  and yet I can also tell you that I cannot think of any other place someone like me belongs.  I am drawn to the study of Truth, not because I want to be the best apologist or even the most learned Catholic.  I want to study, I want to learn and I want to share so that I can help others study, learn and share...I want to help them find the love I found in the arms of Holy Mother Church.   I want to contemplate, and share the fruits of that contemplation because maybe another sinful and sad woman might find her way Home once they hear what I have found.

Marie Joseph Lagrange, OP, wrote of his intention to die a member of the Catholic Church and to do so obedient to his vows as a member of the Dominican Order.  I intend the same.  It is lovely and comforting to me to know I stand on his shoulders and the shoulders of other giants in this order.  It helps me to know that others trod this path before me and that I can walk the same one even if I can never match their strides.

I intend to die a member of the Catholic Church.  I intend to live until that death trying my best to be a good Dominican.

St Dominic, pray for me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

God'sTime, Not Mine

Trusting in God is probably the weakest aspect of my relationship with Him.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary, I can find myself lost in the worry about my future and in potential despair of ever finding a way to serve God and support myself.  I want to trust Him....He has never let me down...but it would be so much easier if we could just have an agenda planning session once a week.  Maybe after Mass on Sunday.

We would sit at my kitchen table, sharing coffee and some pastry.  God the Father would lay before me His plan for me for say, the upcoming week.  I would review it carefully and make some suggestions.  He would consider those, perhaps make some changes to the plan that incorporate those suggestions, and we would smile at each other.  Both on the same page, I would then turn my will and my life over to His care, in complete confidence.

And of course I know it does not work that way....and of COURSE I understand that His plan for me is always going to be better than my plan for me and YES, I get it - God does know what Happiness Is for Leslie.

But still....

Lack of trust in my Higher Power is hardly a character defect particular to me.  Most human creatures have this same defect and while I hear us say out loud that we trust Him and know He has our back, I also know that often, when we speak those words, we are doing the equivalent of whistling in the dark as we walk past the graveyard.  We are warding off our fears.

Sometimes we are not even subtle about it.  I have said a variation on this:

I know that God has someone in mind for me and if I just do His Will and work on me, He will put that person in my life and I will fall in love with Mr. Right.  We will live happily ever after....I know this...because I trust God.


Of course, we do not want to entertain the idea that God's Will for us may be for us to remain celibate and single...no, that could not possibly be right.  Even when we SAY we believe this we usually qualify it to make ourselves feel better....or we try to comfort someone by saying, "Oh I know....the minute you just put that part of your life into God's Hands you will feel better...because He will put the right person there...."

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Maybe, and I have written about this before, trusting God is being willing to accept that His Will for me may not look even remotely like what I dream my life should be ....  it may be that, instead of what I want, I get to live a life that is what HE wants me to live and therein find my own happiness.

For example?

I have been trying to get a job closer to home for the past two years.  I have interviewed over and over and over again.  Over and over and over again I have been turned down for jobs I am immensely qualified for that pay good salaries and allow me to live in relative splendor in terms of financial security.

I kept trying, but I had pretty much given up.  I surrendered to the idea that God had something else in mind for me and I achieved the inner calm I needed to protect my sobriety and deepen my relationship with my Higher Power.

In the past six months things have changed.

A job opening appeared at my Parish.  It pays about 1/2 of what I make now but it is 10 minutes from home and it is working with Catholic Curriculum for children.

I applied for it...just for fun.

My boss reneged on her promise of letting me work flex hours.  I was told I would have to go to a regular 8 to 5 schedule and there was no recourse for me to appeal this decision.

I looked at the possibility of retirement and got the numbers.  I knew it would mean a pretty meager existence but I also knew I could not live my life and travel two hundred miles in a day to my job working the hours they now demanded I work.

I was offered the position at my parish.

I added the gross amounts from pension and my salary together - and I will be making about 50.00 dollars more a month.

Today, I understand what God wanted me to do all those months and what He was preparing for me.  I will say that, for the first time in my life, I surrendered faster.  The fight was shorter, and it did not hurt as much.

Today, I believe that God knows what happiness looks like for me.

I can forgo the Agenda Planning Session.

Jesus, I trust in You.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Dearly Departed (PUT THAT DOWN AND PAY ATTENTION))

Recently, on Facebook, there was a letter making the rounds written by a Catholic woman.  In the letter, she extoled the virtues of praying for the souls of the dead by asking those hearing her letter - presumably for the first time as it is read at her funeral mass - to not just assume she is in heaven.  Rather, she was reminding them of her humanness by stating that she hoped she was on her way there but that she knew herself well enough to know that she was going to need their prayers because nothing unclean enters that realm.

I liked that letter.  I thought is was touching and lovely and real.  It got me to thinking, what do I want people to hear about me at my funeral?

More importantly, can I trust anyone I know to properly eulogize me?  Is anyone capable of capturing the true Leslie and describing her to the crowd (assuming there is one - for all I know it'll be me and the Dominicans).

Not that this matters, right?  I mean, once I am dead, I am dead until the resurrection.   If I am upset at the quality of my eulogy then at that time I can follow up with whoever  got up to speak at my Rosary or after my Funeral Mass.  I can then remind them that they left out how much I loved animals, that I never truly understood algebra and that I once spent three days in the Cow Palace Parking Lot in order to be up front for the Rolling Stones concert.  And I was - right smack in front of Mick.

If I am really concerned, maybe I can pull an Irish thing and hang out at my funeral as a ghost...and smack whoever is speaking on the head if they say something I don't like.

"Golly, Leslie was such a great gal...I wish she hadn't bothered us so much with all those Facebook posts about saints though (smack) OW".

Of course, if I am going to be very honest with my readers I have to admit that my biggest fear will be that people in my family who don't like me anymore will rush the ambo after Mass to tell everyone what a jerk I really was all those years.

"She shoved her religion down our throat!  We hated her and never spoke to her because she did not openly support gay marriage and thought abortion was evil...she wouldn't vote for Trump but she refused to vote for Hillary and we will never EVER forgive her for losing her temper with us when we were three".

"that woman told crazy stories when she was drunk - like how she knew rock and roll stars and did cocaine with astronauts - and then she could never remember what she said, which would just embarrass the hell out of all of us".

"She was a lot of fun until she got sober - then all that God stuff started up and she was a pain in the neck right up until she died".

"She kept yelling about the Eucharist and insisting that Once Saved Always Saved is a false theology.  I hated that she would not accept my reasons for leaving The Church were valid".

Now that I think about it, it would be a much more honest eulogy if there was a kind of Point/CounterPoint exchange.  On one side would be those people who regularly tell me how much they love me and how I have positively impacted their lives.  On the other would be people who are breathing a huge sigh of relief that I am finally dead so they don't have to worry about me showing up at their party and telling their preacher that I am a Dominican and we don't go along with heresy, thank you.

At least the ones in the Western Province don't - I can't vouch for those other guys.

The most important thing for me to remember is that I have tried my best to be a better and better me ever since I started my journey in sobriety.  At times I have failed miserably and I am sorry.  Other times I have done a pretty good job and surprised myself.  In fact, the number of times I have walked with grace and dignity through some really tough periods in my life are astounding when one considers the material God has to work with here. 

Maybe, if I were to write anything to be read at my funeral, it would be this:

She did her best.
She often failed.
God loves her anyway.
And she loves Him.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Please keep the soul of my friend, Macile Lejeune, in your prayers.  She has gone on to claim a dance with Jesus.  Macile, please pray for me as I pray for you.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Success in Today's World

Life is a series of events.  How we manage those events determines our success as human beings.

Whether or not I accept the above declaration as true hinges on how I define the word success.  If I drop that word into a Google Search engine, I am told  that success is a noun.  I am told it can mean three things:

1. The accomplishment of an aim or purpose
2. The attainment of popularity or profit
3. A person or thing that attains desired aims, purpose, popularity or profit

I look at this definition and I ask myself, does this definition fit?

What is my aim or purpose?  For a Catholic, my aim is to love God, to serve God and His creatures and to spend eternity with Him in heaven.  My purpose is to be a saint, to be (in the words of a popular Catholic writer), the best version of myself that I can be so as to bring glory to His Name.  My purpose, my aim in this life is to be the type of person that attracts others to Him.

Will this allow me to attain popularity or profit?  Maybe.  I will, most likely, be very popular with some people and I might even be able to support myself while living the principles of Catholicism in the workplace.  I also have to accept that, with other people, I will not be very popular.  With those people who put the world first I will be considered an odd ball.  My experience is that people are uncomfortable with odd balls and have a tendency to try and make their lives miserable.  There will also be that group that will adopt some or part of the Christian life and proclaim that they have 'reformed' the Teachings of Jesus Christ and anyone who still clings to the 'old ways' is a bigot, a hater, a person not in touch with today's reality. 

My popularity, therefore, may not manifest itself in any earthly way.  I won't be elected to city council if I proclaim myself Pro Life.  I won't get to be the mayor if I state I do not believe in same-sex marriage.  Sure, I can tell people that I do not intend to not honor the laws of the land but they are going to have to accept the fact that I am a Catholic, I do not believe in sending tax payer dollars to organizations who provide abortions and I do not believe the government has a right to license a sacrament.  This stance will not get me elected to anything, including dog catcher.

My profit will probably be small.  I am not very business like.  I am good at administration stuff, not entrepreneurial stuff.  I like the fact that I am about to retire after 30 years at my job and will collect a little pension and medical care for the next 35 years (I plan to live at least as long as my Mom and she is 95 right now).

Yet my profit, at the end of time, may be the greatest of all - I will not lose my immortal soul.  If I stay the course and walk the talk, I can hope to be saved.  I can hope to hear those words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant".

Success is, as I see it, manifested in how I handle the every day trials and tribulations that come my way.  It means I must acknowledge that I have it really good right now - no one is holding me at an airport, no one is shooting at me as I walk to Mass, no one is telling me that God has okay'd my rape at the hands of Isis and that I should be grateful to be able to be a slave of someone who thinks women like me do not matter.  I do not have to march through the streets dressed as a woman's body part in order to feel important.  I am, right this minute, successful.

Tomorrow may be less successful...I don't know.  It is not here yet.  What is here is today and today, because of a loving God and His Church and 24 years of being in the 'pure breath league', I am a success.

How about you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What do you mean, Resisting Happiness?

Matthew Kelly, a Catholic motivational speaker, has a new book out that is all the rage among my people right now:  Resisting Happiness.  As with most of his work, it is an easy read - the words flow like you are having a coffee shop conversation with a friend.  After reading Journey to God and still plowing through the work by Father Bedoule, OP on St Dominic, this little book is a kind of exhale for the brain....I read half of it while in the bathtub soaking my aching joints in epsom salts for twenty minutes.

The book has me thinking about something another like-minded and similarly afflicted woman I know says about her relationship with God.  She says that she had given Him every aspect of her life except for dating because - and I am paraphrasing - she was pretty sure God did not know handsome.

At the time she said it, the room full of people laughed.  We knew, whether we were male or female, straight or gay, exactly what she meant and our laughter was rueful and full of recognition.

The idea of resisting happiness, therefore, is not about stubbornly refusing to be happy - it is more about the trust I have that God really does have my best interest at heart.  My sin is this: despite all the evidence to the contrary, despite example after example after example that He knows what is best for His Creatures (all of them - human or not), I still think that He has somehow overlooked me.  I still think, deep down inside, that the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" means I have to make the decision about what is best for me in terms of people, places and things.  I am the one in control and so it is me who will decide what makes me happy.

This is really pretty funny.  If I am honest about me, about the decisions I make about my life, I have got to admit that what I have determined I need to have in my life in order to be happy is rarely necessary.  In fact, to tell the truth and shame the devil, I have very little in my life right now that I thought even ten years ago would be necessary in order for me to be happy and fulfilled.

I am not the size I thought I needed to be...my hair is not the color I thought it had to be....I have no husband and no children and am not a published author with a book tour on my horizon.  I am not filling halls as a speaker or staring in a reality show that brings people to the Catholic Church.  I am not working where I want to work and I still have all those pesky bills that need to be paid, by me.

Yet if I am going to continue down this truthful path, I also have to tell you that I am happy.  I am happy being 45 pounds away from my final goal weight, happy with my natural hair color, happy with the crummy job I have surrounded by people who just have a way different value system than me (a value system I find frightening and ugly).  I am happy living where I am living.  My bills are all paid.  I have a Scottie and two cats and yesterday my nephew came by to visit for no reason other than wanting to stop by and spend some time with me and Mom.   Today I get to take her shopping and tonight I get to be of service in my 12 Step program.  I am on vacation this week which means I do not have to drive in fog or rain.  I get to take the dog for a walk later.

I get to share my thoughts with all of you.

What is making me happy today?  Why is it my life, as small and mundane as it is, is a life that is second to none?  Being sober is a big part of it, of course, but it is more than just physically not picking up a drink.

I think, and I may be wrong, my happiness is rooted in my determination to be closer to God.

I just am no longer concerned with doing what the world thinks is necessary as much as I am concerned with being able to stand in front of Jesus Christ, at the end of my time, and hear the words, "Well done, my good and faithful servant".

Years ago, when I returned to Holy Mother Church, I was attacked verbally by people who saw my return as a betrayal of feminism and liberalism.  They saw my return to The Church as an indictment of them.  They saw my decision - and my willingness to state that this was my decision - to put receiving Him in the Eucharist at the top of my list of things to do as far more important than whether or not a woman could become pope or if homosexuals could get married.  I have lost family and friends and I am considered a fool by many people.  I refuse to change that decision - and because of that decision, I am happier than I have ever been...without having anything I thought I had to have in order to be just that - happy.

Do I still occasionally resist happiness?  Heck yeah - it is my concupiscence.  When it is a cold Sunday morning and I would rather stay inside...when I see other people being lauded for their open mindedness and congratulated on being inclusive...when I feel lonely or overlooked .....all that stems from my taking my eyes off the prize - the ultimate prize:  eternity with God.

But I am blessed.  I am blessed because I have a Sacramental and Liturgical life that draws me closer and closer to Him.  Even when I fall, I know I can get back up, ask for forgiveness and grace, and then keep on trucking.

Today I do not want to resist what makes me happy.  Today I want to live life as He would have me live it and so, today, just for today, I give Him my will and my life...I offer it to Him as a sacrifice and a sign of my love.

And I ask Him to help me live the way He wants me to live - just for today.