Friday, November 8, 2019

MY TEAM IS 8-0 and I am STILL a GOOD CATHOLIC

I have had some interesting interactions the last few weeks with the 'Super Catholic' crowd.  I am blessed, of course, because oftentimes my first reactions to their comments is to burst into laughter.  No, not because I am deriding them; rather, because I honestly think they are making a joke.  It is only later that I have to apologize to them for hurting their feelings and listen to what they are telling me so that I can respond with measured charity and a semblance of intelligence.

Their big worry right now is that I am committing a sin against the first three Commandments and so they are making sure I know how wrong it is to put something before God.

Why are they worried?

I am a huge football fan.  I just love the intricacies of the game.  No, I have never wanted to play it - it is far too rough a game for me - but I enjoy watching it, discussing strategy with people, cheering for my team and spending time with my mother who, at 98, is also a big football fan.

The favorite team in our family is the San Francisco 49rs.  We have rooted for them, as a family, since their founding in 1946.  While we do have a few heretics among us, we (including those who do not watch football) root for the Niners.  We root for them to win but we support them no matter what and for the past 15 years it has been a rough row to hoe for people like us.

This season we are having such a great time.  As of today - November 8th - we are the only undefeated team in the NFL.  That is huge for us.  We play the dreaded Seattle Seahawks this Monday night and we know it is going to be a tough, tough game.  What we also know, as Niner Faithful, that even if we lose we are going to cheer for our team and congratulate the opponents and then move on to the next game.  Win, lose or tie, Faithful.  Win, lose or tie....

My particular spiritual journey has room for this for one reason - it is not the most important thing in my life.  Is it important? You betcha.  I loves me my Niners, but is it the MOST important thing in my life?  Oh heck no and everyone who truly knows me knows that - my motto is GOD, Recovery, Family and Football.  That is how I roll.  Anyone who wants to walk beside me will be walking the same path or they will simply be wished well on THEIR journey - no harm, no foul.

So how does this particular lifestyle work?  How does a day in the life of someone like me unfold?

I begin my day with prayer.

Nothing in my life today would be what it is without my acknowledging my sins, my failings, my inability to do that which is for my highest good under my own power.  I cannot achieve anything without God, I know that, and so nothing really starts unless I take the time to tell My Father I need His Grace to do the deal.  My life, which He gives me, I offer back to Him.  I do this of my own free will, another amazing gift from The Creator.  To think that He who created me did so out of the kind of unconditional love that allows ME to make the decision to even acknowledge His existence?  That is mind boggling.

Once I walk through the door of Prayer  all manner of wonders become available to me.  I have the Mass, the Sacraments, the Wisdom of Holy Mother Church, the amazing support of those men and women who pray for me every day before the throne of the Most High and the devoted love of my mother, HIS mother that He so freely gave to the world as He hung dying on a cross.  I have all this and I thank Him for it.  To pray is to worship.  To study is to worship.  To preach is to worship.  To LOVE?  Yeah, guess what.....all things must be ordered towards God and that is my goal every day.  When I fall short of that, I sin.  When I start to think I matter more than God?  I head to the confessional.

I can absolutely understand people who think being devoted to a football team is somehow less than good - some people make all kinds of stuff their god, including their own intellect and will - and so when one of the Super Catholics takes the time to remind me that being a football fan is dangerous to my spirituality I try to remember they are on a path similar to mine.  They are trying to do the best they can with what they have and their worry is that someone like me is not going to get to heaven.

What I also try to remember is that they do not have to like what I like, do what I do or order their lives as I order mine.  I have many aspects to me that must be ordered - I have a disease that must be managed, I have loves that must be ordered and I am so grateful that I am finding a way to do just that within the Arms of Holy Mother Church.

I give thanks today that my life is rich and full.  I pray for those who are wandering and cannot always find their way through the fog that the world presents to them.  I am grateful I found The Lighthouse that is Jesus Christ and His Church.

And I pray that we hand the Seahawks a loss on Monday night.

GO NINERS!


PS - Happy birthday, Stephen.  May God continue to bless you, one day at a time.




Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Pain of Jealousy

New Advent's Catholic Encyclopedia defines 'Jealousy' as:

...a sorrow which one entertains at another's well-being because of a view that one's own excellence is in consequence lessened.

I have been meditating a great deal on jealousy the past two days in light of an observance of behavior that is a bit disturbing.  I couldn't quite put my finger on the problem until I was in front of the Blessed Sacrament, asking for the grace to understand rather than be understood.  It also helped to talk things over with my mother who, at 98, has pretty much seen it all and is not surprised by much.

My life today includes the blessing of a really great boss.  Perfect?  No, of course not, but I have yet to meet a perfect person.  My hope lies in my salvation and I look forward to meeting Jesus.  That being said, he is learned and he is kind and he is deeply concerned about the quality of Religious Education in our parish.  I have learned so much from him but, more importantly, I have learned how to reach out to others I find and get help and information from them.  As a Dominican and as someone who read her way back into Holy Mother Church I want to be a force for good within the Religious Education community here.

We are also blessed with the Parish we have.  Seriously, sometimes we look at each other in amazement.  Last year we offered two Latin classes and both were bursting at the seams.  I taught a "Back to Basics" course on SUNDAY AFTERNOONS and there was NEVER less than 75 people there.  Now granted both the local professional football teams were stinking up the joint but still, come ON.  People suit up and show up for classes because they are so HUNGRY for Truth.  They are told they need 10 hours of Adult Faith Formation when their child is receiving a Sacrament and then they bring friends and relatives to the classes.  It is flipping awesome.

We had Professor John Bergsma out to do a presentation on the Dead Sea Scrolls and over 500 people showed up on a Saturday night.  He stood at the podium in awe and said something to the affect that he has never made a presentation on this subject to so many people at one time.  'Good Lord, who ARE you people?' was the essence of his amazement.

Now, again, is the Parish perfect?  Of course not.  We have people who talk after Mass in front of the Tabernacle because frankly they have forgotten Who is in there.  We have people who do not go to confession ever and go up to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist and have no idea what is going on.  We have over 5000 FAMILIES (not people) and like any Catholic Parish our problems reflect the problems of society - divorce, adultery, drug addiction, alcoholism, spousal abuse, child abuse, sexual sin - we can find these issues here just as we can find them in our neighborhoods on the 'good' side of town and on the 'other side of the tracks'.  Human Beings sin and concupiscence is a real thing.

What we do have, however, is this stalwart band of people willing to stand in the gap and try our best.  We make sure our curriculum is orthodox, our Catechists are REALLY Catholic and we concentrate on both memorization and fostering a love for Jesus and His Church in our youngest members.  We offer classes to our teens and our adults that will both educate them in the basics and challenge them to think harder than they are being asked to when at school or work.

When we do this, we are both successful and we fail.  We have children age 8 coming out of the confessional for the first time with big smiles on their faces.  They proclaim, "Oh you were right!  I feel so much better!" with such enthusiasm that you cannot help but wonder what was burdening their 8year old heart.  We also have kids who come out, stumble through their Penance of 'two Hail Marys' and will not be back in there until we take them the following year before they receive Our Lord in the Eucharist.

We also have kids in 6th grade who say things like, "I am thinking of being a priest".

In other words, we are making headway and we are losing ground.  Both are the reality in a Parish and if you do not think that is the case you are not paying attention.

What we do not need are Monday Morning Quarterbacks - those members who decide that no matter WHAT we do or what class is offered we are doing it 'wrong' or we are wasting our time or we are otherwise adding to the problem.

So what usually causes this type of behavior?

After prayer in front of Our Lord, in front of the Real Presence, and after asking Holy Father Dominic to guide me, I have come to the conclusion that this type of anger and behavior is caused by good old fashioned jealousy.

Lacking a position of power, jealous people spend the much of their lives feeling lessened by any success they see around them.  They must find a drum and beat it and the beat, while covered in paragraph after paragraph of blah blah blah, comes out as 'you are not letting ME do this and people are liking what YOU are doing; therefore, you are doing it wrong and my new job is to tear you down every chance I get'.

Now, part of their attack will always have some truth to it (little 't' truth).  We have to 'dumb down' philosophical terms so people can grasp the basic idea.  We have to gloss over all the documents written about Priestly celibacy and still teach to the Truth of why a man who acts in persona christi is The Bridegroom in the Latin Rite and so will not take a wife.  We have to be willing to say to those to whome we present, "this is just a glimpse into what the richness of the Catholic Faith is and you will spend the rest of your life diving into Her beautiful spirituality".  In that way, we are always falling short.

However, my experience is becoming that those who find nothing right with what an amazing group of people are doing (on their own time, in deep prayer and using orthodox curriculum) are having a spiritual crisis.  It has, really, nothing to do with us or with what we are presenting.  It has everything to do with how they see their own excellence. They see their own human dignity lessened by our actions and in order to feel better they attack.

It is often predictable.  I am always prepared, for example, the week before First Holy Communion, to be told what a bad job I am doing by people who have not offered to help with anything the entire year.

I am no longer surprised by  people who make it their mission to let you know, in their own sad and wounded way, that they are jealous.  We didn't ask them for their opinion.  We are, by our very existence, making them less than who they are - which is, of course, a sin against charity.  Not against us, really, but against themselves for they are judging themselves by a standard they have set up in their own minds and finding themselves wanting...which is not being very loving towards themselves at all.

The way back from this begins with two things:  a Thorough Confession and then a deliberate and intentional disengaging from that which is causing the pain.  If I am convinced that everything someone posts has to be commented on so I can point out how wrong they are?  I need to make a deliberate choice not to post and not to comment.  The fact that I think they are wrong, or I am not liking their opinion or they have hurt me by not asking me what I think has got to be overcome by my NOT telling them that - keeping my mouth and my keyboard silent.

BUT WAIT - how can that be if I am to be a Defender of The Faith?

I tell you how - and I learned this the hard way.  Begin with a simple phrase, asked in private:

Would you like feedback on that?

If I use this phrase, I am affording that person dignity.  I am not acting in arrogance and assuming they MUST be corrected because if I do not do so the entire Church will crumble.  If I use that phrase?  I am being loving at most, practicing humility and allowing for grace to guide the conversation.

Having to come to the realization that much of my early evangelization attempts were done with underlying jealousy - feeling as though someone was lessening ME with their actions - was a huge step forward for me.  As a Dominican, I am committed to Truth.  However, if I am pounding someone over the head with my interpretation of The Truth and not stepping back and asking, "Wait.  I think what they just did is wrong.  Why?  Oh...this is why....I think they defined something incorrectly...I think I will ask them about that, privately and with humility.  Maybe I am reading it with an incorrect interpretation or I took something out of context."

To get to this point in my life has been a long and arduous journey.  I stumbled a great deal - still do, when I am overly tired - but each time I did my Spiritual Director took me back to the question of motive.  What was I REALLY trying to do?  The more I saw that my actions were governed not by a love for what was True but for a need to be right and a need to be important, I was able to grow in love for Jesus and His Church.  

This is why, today, when I get a message from someone who just wants to be argumentative or is nit picking because they were not asked to participate, my heart first fills with deep pity and empathy.  I remember what that is like - and how I can still go there in a minute - and I simply do not respond, I delete, I walk away.

My prayer life deepens and I try to put myself in their shoes and inevitably I can feel for them the compassion they lack for me.

I wish I could do this all the time - maybe with practice?

Keep me in prayer, everyone....and by the way?

My team is 6-0!



Monday, October 14, 2019

The Power of Prayer

There seems to be an ongoing discussion about whether or not praying for anything is even necessary.  The idea that God knows what is best for me, that He knows my heart and that He will only give me what I can handle is all true.  This reasoning is used by some to not pray.  I mean, why bother, right?

Others point to places in Holy Scripture where Jesus Himself tells us that those who ask receive, or where He points to the Persistent Widow as a model of prayer.   This would seem to bolster the idea of praying for what we want - 'Storm Heaven, Girls'  the Sisters would tell us - so that God may grant us His favor by rewarding us with what we are asking.

So which is it?  Do we pray or not?  Is it wrong to 'name it and claim it'?

I have been actively praying for a healing in my family for the last several years.  Without going into a lot of detail there has been ruptures that needed repair.  For the past five years I have been sending a weekly petition to the National Shrine of St. Jude, known by us Catholics and the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, in my name in the name of my mother.  I have frequently reminded Our Lady of my wants and desires so that she may take my petition to her Son, as a good Queen Mother does for her subjects.

Last Friday night I saw a lot of good things happen and my first thought was, "Thank you".

Is everything hunky dory?  No.  There are still some cracks and fissures that need to be addressed by the Carpenter Himself but I have seen amazing progress.  The biggest has been the willingness of others to start to maybe consider that it might kind of be a good idea to forgive someone for acting like a jackass.  That alone is huge in my family because we will carry a grudge to the moon and back.

However, my prayers will continue.  I believe that praying to God is not about getting what I want - it is about willingly opening my heart to Him.  It is about making myself vulnerable before Him, being honest and open.  The fact that He already knows does not diminish the emotional gift I give myself and Him by acknowledging my sorrows, my joys and my wishes for a serene life for my loved ones.

It also soothes my soul and reminds me that I am loved no matter how it might feel during the day.  God is my refuge.  When I deliberately move closer to Him I feel solace and peace.

I will never understand His timing or why He allows certain evils in the world.  What I can do, however, is trust in Him.  By doing so I remove the burden of trudging this road of happy destiny all by myself.

Yesterday I got to watch my Niners beat the Rams and go 5-0 on the season.  I got to watch with my Mom.  We were both so excited at the end of the game we would laugh and dance.

For that, dear Lord, I am truly grateful.

I will continue to praise You, to request things of You and to enlist the help of the Saints and Angels asking them to pray with me and for me as I walk through this life.  And I thank you, Lord, for my life right now.  It is wonderful, it is awkward, it is painful and it is scary - and I wouldn't change a thing, even if I could.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Happy Birthday, Mom!


This is my mother, Laura Crocco Shaw.  Today, October 9, 2019, is her 98th birthday.

No one will ever be able to convince me that there is a better woman on the planet.  Not that she is perfect - she can be stubborn (determined), unreasonable (staunch in her beliefs) and she is not to be taken lightly.  She was a single, Catholic mother long before it was fashionable and one out of 2 of her kids are practicing today - not bad....battin' .500.

Happy birthday, Mom.  I love you.


Thursday, September 26, 2019

Life is Tough and then....

When I was in college (and knew everything) we had this saying:

Life is tough, and then you die.

We thought we were hilarious, of course, because we would recite it with that wonderful flippant attitude of the young.  At that time our concept of a tough life was pretty circumspect.  Most of us had not weathered horror yet (though some had) and so for us a tough life was having a 'bad' reputation among the frat boys and girls we lived with day in and day out.   A tough life was having to haul 50 pounds of books in a backpack across campus to make it to an 9am class after a night of drinking.  A tough life was getting yelled at by our parents for going over budget or getting bad grades.  A tough life was losing Big Game to Standford.

The hard times were in front of us - failed marriages, dead children, diagnosis of cancer, lost jobs, homelessness, drug and alcohol issues, rape...all that was to come for so many of us.  The fact that we are still standing after all these years is a testimony to the human spirit.  The fact that I am not just standing but firmly rooted in Truth is a testimony to my mother's prayers and the grace received at my Baptism.

Coming to the conclusion that having a tough life can lead to immense joy, I am also starting to realize that there is always going to be an element within the Faith Community that does not see the value in a St. Lucy of Syracuse.  Reform of life and heart is encouraged and touted as something to strive for but most of us suffer from the 'how come they get paid the same wages, Lord' syndrome Jesus describes to His followers.  Sure, we want people like me back in the pews but we might also want them to be quiet and sit their with their head down in the appropriate pose of a repentant sinner.
While I believe in repentance I also believe in joy.  I know that my life has been transformed and to be able to look people in the eye and smile at them is part of the earthly reward reconciliation to Truth has allowed me.

This does not mean I don't still suffer from the effects of concupiscence.   I can go all St Jerome on you  when you attack my Catechists or try and bully me into something I know is just wrong and that can get me into trouble.  Depending upon who you are, I am either a champion or I am a flat out b#$ch.   I do not stay away long from the confessional.    I am grateful no one has ever said, "Be perfect right now or get out".

I also will forgive and cut you the slack I want because I understand we are all on this road together - walking towards God or walking away from God.  It makes for difficult traffic but we are on the same road of humanity so I get it when someone makes a wrong turn or gets a flat tire...I really try to avoid the road rage, though I am convinced there are people out here deliberately trying to start a fight every chance they get.

So, yeah...life is tough...but life is also beautiful and joyful and tons of fun.  Life is a gift and we need to honor it and respect it.  Life is not something to be taken lightly or thrown away out of inconvenience.  Life can include suffering as well as great happiness.

And then....