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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

How the Mighty Fall

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines concupiscence as:

Insubordination of man's desires to the dictates of reason, and the propensity of human nature to sin as a result of original sin. More commonly, it refers to the spontaneous movement of the sensitive appetites toward whatever the imagination portrays as pleasant and away from whatever it portrays as painful. However, concupiscence also includes the unruly desires of the will, such as pride, ambition, and envy. (Etym. Latin con-, thoroughly + cupere, to desire: concupiscentia, desire, greed, cupidity.)

When I present Catholic Teaching in Inquiry during the RCIA process I always teach this word to the adults.  The few times I have had a chance to teach our little ones at the Parish School of Religion I teach this word. 

It's a good word.  It explains a lot, especially in light of the problems I witness every day on FaceBook and other Social Media Platforms.  Constantly on display are the 'unruly desires of the will" and I struggle with those unruly desires as much as the next person. 

Every once in awhile I am able to master those unruly desires and when I do I am always surprised.  I am surprised because I know me, I know my tendency towards being way too judgmental and unforgiving.  I really have to watch  myself.  I can lose my patience with people in a heartbeat, especially if I am overly tired.

What mastering those unruly desires looks like, for me, is keeping my big mouth shut.  It means saying something kind to someone who drives me crazy with what I perceive as constant complaining and an inability to 'suck it up, buttercup'. 

Master that desire to take someone down a notch or get them to just shut UP already is firmly rooted in two things - frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a nightly Examination of Conscience.

As my desire for a closer relationship with Jesus and His Church has grown, my need to look myself squarely in the mirror has grown.  Without  willingness to see the total me - faults and warts and assets and all - I cannot master the unruly desire to be number 1 in the eyes of all those around me.  I can stop thinking that YOU being loved somehow diminishes God's ability to love ME.  I can scoot over and make room at the banquet table without wondering if my giving up that little bit of space on the bench somehow means I am less likely to get dessert.

Taking the time to understand ourselves is, I believe, imperative to growing closer to Christ.  While self-knowledge may avail me nothing in terms of conquering my alcoholism it helps tremendously in my quest for deeper spiritual communion with the One True God.  If I can accept the fact that it is only me and my selfishness that closes me off to God's Grace then I am more willing to look at why I do that in the first place. 

Inevitably I discover that the core of my sin is self-obsession, pride and lack of trust in God.

My prayer today is that God relieve me of this obsession and that He accept my prayer:

Lord, I believe.

Help my unbelief.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Past is the Past - Until It Isn't

We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.

A foundation piece of most 12 Step programs is the idea that our past, our ugly, destructive past, can become an asset.  We are encouraged to share, in a general way, about who we were in contrast to who we are today.  What we hope is that a newcomer will see that the desperation that brought us to the tables of the local fellowship hall propelled us forward.   That gift of desperation gave us the ability to feel compassion and empathy while still demanding of the newcomer and ourselves a change in attitude, perspective and behavior.

Most people who have read my stuff over the years know I am an alcoholic in recovery and a post abortive woman.  I share that part of me with other alcoholics - both men and women - because I want people to know two things: first, that one can recover from alcoholism and second, that one can recover from perpetrating horror upon another human being - in my case, choosing to terminate the lives of four of my own children for the sake of convenience. 

That last sentence was difficult to write.  I could sugar coat it.  I could tell you how frightened I was, how alone I felt, that no one tried to talk me out of it and that I thought it was my only choice at the time.  The reality is I was, at that time, deeply mired in a life of sin and I was horribly ill from Alcoholism.  I could not practice birth control because that took too much effort and clear thinking and my body didn't work right anyway because of the abuse it was suffering at my hands.

Why do I share this with you all again?  Why not just let it go and move on?

Two reasons:

1.  It is important that I remember what and why so that when a woman comes to me and expresses her sorrow and her belief that she is no longer worthy of respect I can share with her my journey.

2.  Other people will never let me forget - and will often try to shame me with my past when I dare to express a political or philosophical or religious belief different from their own.

Recently I submitted a letter to the editor of the Modesto Bee in support of a candidate for Governor of the State of California.  His name is Desmond Silveira ( and he represents the American Solidarity Party in California. 

The party is Pro-Life.

I am Pro-Life.

Yes...I am now Pro-Life, Catholic and no longer silent about the horror I inflicted upon my children and myself.  I have been forgiven, am active in my Parish and fully embrace all Catholic Teachings as TRUTH. 

The first comment under the letter online was from the wife of a man who has hated me and my politics for over 15 years.  He hated me when I wrote for The Hive, the now-defunct blog site he and his cronies drove into the ground with their relentless personal attacks on people.   She has joined him and several of the less than stellar 'community activists' in our area to essentially go after people they do not like and one of the methods they try to use is shame.

Her comment, in short, stated that it was ironic that someone who had had four abortions should now be forcing her religious beliefs on other people.

Apparently the hope was that by stating I am a post abortive woman my credibility would come under fire and no one would look into the candidate or the party because of my past.

The woman believes sinners like me should not have any opinion other than this:  our past sins define us and should be available to all of you - for us to speak out against those sins is wrong and must be stopped.  Sinners are irredeemable.  Sinners are inconvenient and annoying.  Sinners should be stoned to death - figuratively, I hope - so that the rest of you pure types will never have to deal with their ugliness again.

I think of the woman in the Gospel, brought before Jesus by the Pharisees, because she was caught in the act of adultery.  Yes, they were testing Jesus to try and come up with something to charge Him with so He could be silenced but don't you think it is odd that only ONE person was brought before Him?  She was caught in the act of ADULTERY....was she by herself?

The woman who commented on my letter, without realizing it, played the part of the Pharisee.   Look, EVERYONE!  This woman who now claims to be Catholic and Pro Life HAD FOUR ABORTIONS.  HOW HORRIBLE IS THAT????  She stated that she could understand one or two but 4?  And NOW...30 years later...THIS horrible WOMAN was DARING to state that her life is now changed and she is Pro Life.  How DARE she???? 

I dare because only someone who has lived in darkness can truly appreciate the blinding Light that is the reality of Love.   Only someone who has spent time in a cave created by sin knows the joy of rolling away the stone blocking the entrance back into true freedom.  Only someone who has faced their demons with the help of the healing Grace of God can look at a would-be tormentor and laugh at their attempts to shame and silence her.

Like many others (Harvey Weinstein's treatment of Rose McGowan comes to mind),  the commenter makes the mistake of thinking strong men and women recovering from sin can be toppled by someone else naming their sin out loud.  What she and other abusers fail to recognize is that our dark pasts are our greatest ally, our source of strength because it is that past that has been sanctified by Grace.

The greatest evil ever perpetrated on earth was the Crucifixion of Jesus.  Creatures murdering the Creator.  Yet it was that act of evil that redeemed the world and what was once a symbol of fear and trepidation becomes a badge of triumph worn around the neck of billions of Catholics around the world - the Cross.

My family turned a governmental torture device into a symbol of redemption, of hope and of beauty.

A comment on my letter is not going to deter me...I stand with that family, and I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Monday, February 26, 2018

I had to wait...because my heart hurt

I could not write anything about the horrible events in Florida.

My heart hurt. 

It hurt because of the deaths, because of the miscues by law enforcement and because I knew the stupid debate would begin once more.

I am tired of the debate.

What tires me is our lack of common sense and the zealous behavior of the left and the right.  I am so tired of the far left calling all members of the NRA 'monsters' and I am sick to death of those on the far right being convinced that this mass shooting didn't happen and that jack-booted police are waiting in black jeeps at the end of their street for the signal from the government to kick down their door and take their weapons.

I am tired of the self-proclaimed REAL Catholics on BOTH sides of the debate declaring the other side as going to hell.

Being the daughter of a WW2 Vet and experienced sportsman, I was raised with weapons in the home.  Those weapons disappeared when my father left us but I knew where those guns were, could have put my hands on them at any time and knew how to operate them.

I have nothing against responsible gun ownership. 

I am a proud citizen of the United States.  I believe in the US Constitution and I believe that law abiding citizens have rights under the 2nd amendment that need to be respected and upheld.

NONE of this means I think we do not have a problem in this country because anyone and everyone seems to be able to get their hands on weapons that can kill 17 people in a matter of minutes.

I do not like the idea of big government.

That does NOT mean I think black helicopters are being dispatched from the UN, flown by Alien Hybrid Lizard People, to take over our country.  I do NOT believe in 'Crisis Actors' and think anyone who believes these mass shootings are fake are the very people who should NOT be allowed to have any weapon more dangerous than a hunting knife - which, as you probably know, can kill someone. Rarely, however, can one person wielding a hunting knife kill a dozen people in 4 minutes, unless they are a character in The Badlands.

I do not pretend, like most people on the internet, to have a solution to the problem however it flies in the face of reason that we cannot come up with some way to curtail the behavior of someone like Nikolas Cruz or Adam Lanzo.  

What bothers me the most is that we fight over the dumbest stuff - Crisis Actors? REALLY, PEOPLE???? - and waste so much precious time looking for someone to blame and feel superior to that we miss opportunity after opportunity to try and figure out a way to protect our kids.

The members of the NRA are not MONSTERS - stop calling them that - and those who are trying to restrict access to guns are NOT NAZIS - stop calling them THAT.

In fact, stop using name calling of all kinds as a way to make your point.  Tell me what you would like to see done...don't tell me what we CANNOT do, give me an idea for a solution. 

If we can begin with that objective, maybe we can come up with some idea that might work.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ash Wednesday and Self Knowledge

As a member of a 12 Step Program dealing with the disease of alcoholism I believe and embrace the idea that self knowledge gets me nowhere in terms of permanent sobriety.  It is essential, on the one hand, to admit I am an alcoholic but that alone won't do the deal in terms of recovery.  I have to know I have this affliction, true, but in addition to that self knowledge is my admittance that alcoholism has me on the ropes - that I am powerless against it and need to turn to a power greater than myself in order to beat this thing one day at a time.

As a Dominican, I can also hold to the belief that self knowledge is an important foundation for spiritual growth.  If I know myself, I have a better chance of identifying that which keeps me from being the woman God intends me to be or, as Catholic Author and Motivational Speaker Matthew Kelly would say, the 'best version of myself'.

Ash Wednesday is a day that I can use as a starting point for a deep spiritual encounter with the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - that allows me to confront my fears and my defects in a manner that helps to strengthen me through humility.  While this may seem counter productive (how does humility make me strong?) or, to the outside world, simply another way for Catholic Guilt to overtake my life, I see the upcoming Lenten Season as a chance to restock, to look deeper and to ask myself if I have truly had that conversion of heart necessary for the type of discipleship to which Jesus calls me. 

One of the ways I start Lent is to share with you, in a general way, some of my Lenten practices.  Some Catholics object to this - they caution (rightly so) about shouting your spiritual stuff to the rooftops in order to bring attention to how good you are, how spiritual you are, what a GOOD Catholic you are and I get how dangerous that it!  I have watched some people separate themselves from the Parish because they are more Catholic than the rest of us.  We get called names.  They get to be isolated.  It feels ugly and it feels sad and it happens a LOT in the modern world.

So why do I chose to share my Lenten practices?

I can assure you of this: I don't do so to prove I am the Best Catholic EVER.  Nope..I do it  because by sharing stuff, talking about it out loud, I stay accountable to you.  By telling you I am going to give up a favorite snack (cashews) that I use as a source of protein and replace it with something I find less fun and satisfying to eat (but will serve the same purpose and keep me healthy) I do so with trepidation.  Why?  Because if I tell you then I have to do it - no more promises or foolin' around - and that means I gotta do the deal unless I am willing to lie to you.

If I lie to you about cashew eating, I will lie to you about something else...and little lies (much like venial sins) weaken my character over time.  Pretty soon I am lying to you about something big - like maybe smoking a little marijuana or taking a sip of wine now and then.  After awhile I am once more trying to live a double life and that means, eventually, I am dead drunk most of the time.

If I am dead drunk then I am not the best version of myself.  I am not the woman God intended me to be and I am certainly not being of maximum service to Him and to you.

Self knowledge, therefore, while in and of itself avails me zippo it does help me rebuild the temple that is Leslie - body, mind and spirit.  And self knowledge, in order to be something valuable, requires my willingness to dig deeper and look closely at my reaction to things.  Emotional reactions - whether those reactions are joyful or sorrowful - reveal more about me to me. 

I struggle with feeling positive about myself even when things are going well.  I have a tendency to walk around waiting for a giant shoe to drop somewhere.  Why?  I think, and I may be wrong, it is because I still attach too much importance to what people think of me.  I have grown in this area, of that there is no doubt, but there is still that part of me that really wants you to like me - the Sally Field Oscar Recipient part of me, I guess - and that character defect rules the roost when something comes out of left field and smacks me in the heart.   By sharing with you my Lenten practice for this year, I kind of hope for approval.  If I don't get approval or if someone tells me it is wrong to share that practice I MUST guard against feeling left out and defensive - they are not disliking ME, they are sharing their IDEA that all Lenten practices should be kept quiet and not be shared.

I don't agree.  I still love them.  They don't agree with me.  They might still love me....see the difference?  I have that tendency to question whether they will still like me just because I approach Lent with a different mind set than they do...which is just a character defect on my part.

Fueled by a hundred forms of fear we lash out at our fellows and they retaliate.  I don't have to lash out today.  Today I can just share and then ponder the emotional stuff going on with ME without attaching it to THEM.  I can come to the conclusion that the problem is sin - the sin of pride - and I can take that sin to the confessional, to Jesus for forgiveness.  And I can move on into Lent with a strengthened resolve to learn more about me during these next 40 days.  The more I learn, the better me I can become - for the sake of the Church, The Body of Christ.

And....I can still give up CASHEWS.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Mystical Body of Christ - Why Individuals Matter

The hallmark of American Society is the idea of personal freedom.  Do anything that seems to infringe upon our right to determine what we will and will not do and a great cry will erupt.  Our nation was founded upon the ideal of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness being the right of all persons and that those rights were bestowed upon us by God.

When I was a child of grade school age we were taught the word 'rights' along with another important word - "responsibilities'.  The good Sisters at Christ the King emphasized to us that which each right came a corresponding responsibility - to be good citizens, to be respectful of legitimate authority, to protect the weak, to care for the poor and most importantly to honor God in all we do. 

Somewhere along the way the relationship between 'right' and 'responsibility' has been lost.  It is my assertion that it was lost for two reasons:

  • authority overplayed its hand
  • we have confused 'right' with 'because I want to'
All legitimate authority deserves to be honored, respected and obeyed.  The problem has been that we often do not recognize legitimate authority.   We have also had to confront the harm caused by men and women wearing the trappings associated with legitimate authority abusing the power granted them by the office or position they hold.  It is difficult to respect a teacher who calls a child of color the 'n' word or solicits sexual relationships with children or demands obedience on a whim.  It is impossible to love a priest, minister or rabbi who does not know their stuff, who abuses their own power and causes sexual, financial or other scandal.  How can we trust a politician who lies to his wife or children to tell us the truth about anything?   When a police officer rapes someone who has been arrested and is in their charge or shoots an innocent, unarmed man how do we trust the phrase "the police officer is our friend"?

Catholics believe that legitimate authority originates with God (CCC 1902).  We also believe that  a person dedicated to serving God works hard to ensure that people they are leading are treated with respect, mercy and justice because that is what God asks of them.  The leader is trying to be LIKE CHRIST and so their management style, their means of communication, the very laws they will propose for the community are going to reflect that effort.  We do not expect our leaders to be perfect; rather, we expect them to TRY to be perfect knowing all the while that they will fail.  This, we believe, is the very acme of humility - trying our best to be perfect while knowing there will be no way on God's green earth we will achieve that goal.

In my opinion, because power was abused and/or neglected, we as a people have lost confidence in the institutions we once looked to for guidance.  We are wary of The Church because of the Priest Sexual Abuse Scandal.  We do not trust politicians because of "Pick A Scandal".  We do not like police because of brutality and/or unanswered questions.  'Authority' overplayed its hand and today we are less likely to accept anything on its face value.

We have also confused our 'rights' with 'because I want to' and that has lead to a mishmash of ideas of what we, as humans in American Society, have a right to do.  No matter what anyone says, no matter how you want to paint it or color outside the lines, no one has the RIGHT to do something that is evil.  It may be my body, my house, my life but I do NOT have the right to use it in such a way as to harm another person. 

This is nothing new.  We have built society on this foundation - what is the common good (CCC 1905)?  It is the common good to not allow people to walk up to random neighbors, knock them down and take their stuff.  It is not conducive to the common good to ignore the red light at the intersection.  It supports the common good to protect the most vulnerable members of our society so that we are not stepping over dead bodies in the street.

For Catholics, this means recognizing our importance to each other.  We are all members of the Mystical Body of Christ.  My attendance at Sunday Mass is not just a fulfillment of a personal obligation to Jesus Christ; rather, it also bolsters the strength and harmony of all Baptized Catholics throughout the world.  When I obey and accept the authority of Holy Mother Church in ALL things, I am helping those members who are dying in areas where to do just that can mean martyrdom.   When I sin, I hurt my brother and sister in New York, Australia, Israel, Nigeria - in other words, what I do matters in the grand scheme of things.

Years ago I saw this as a horrible idea - I am NOT responsible for YOU - while today, as I mature in my love for Jesus and His Church I see it as this marvelous thing.  I am a marble in a beautiful mosaic of life here on earth.  My actions, my words, my behavior matters in ways I never thought possible - I am a ripple on water, a soft breeze or a raging windstorm...I am a member of something much greater than just me, just Leslie.

If I chose each day to keep my eyes on the prize of heaven, then I can contribute to your happiness.  If I remember that my sins affect you, then I can care for you in a way that far exceeds my expectations.  If I keep in mind that being a woman of grace and dignity is important for all people and not just me then I will have a greater reason than my own personal comfort to continue to try to be Like Christ every day.