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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.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Marks of Discipleship - Livin' the Dream

There is this old saying that seems to hold true for any organization:  10% of the people do 90% of the work.   It doesn't seem to matter if I am operating within my 12 Step fellowship or my Catholic Parish, I see familiar faces in the trenches as major events.  The same people setting up chairs, making coffee or copies and putting up the decorations show up to 'do the deal' on every New Year's Eve or a Knights of Columbus Fish Fry. 

We begin to recognize each other.  We wave, we nod, we tell the same old jokes and we get to work, rolling up our sleeves and putting in the time to make sure that the people showing up experience the Love of the Creator when they walk through the open doors.  Newcomers and Oldtimers, we want you to feel welcomed.  We want you to feel comfortable and we want you to stay.

We also want you to join in - or at least we should, if we are truly being of service to the organization we claim to represent.

One of the marks of a successful disciple is 'fruitfulness'.  For Catholics, being fruitful actually proves we are the disciples of Jesus ("By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples" -John 15:8).  Our ability to draw another into the world of service that is True Christianity is part of the challenge of being a Disciple of Jesus and so we have to make sure we are inviting, carving out a space for others and encouraging them to become a part of the Church by getting their hands dirty, rolling up their sleeves and getting to work.

This can be a challenge.  Oftentimes I have found myself confronted with a wall of indifference to new people from those who have been doing the work for awhile now.  I have walked into situations, offered to help and been rebuffed....and it hurts.  It hurts my feelings and makes me feel awkward and unwanted.

This is why I have made it a point to always look for the newbie in any situation.  Who has never been on the committee?  What do they want to do?  What ideas do they bring to the table?  Even if the idea was tried in the past and found wanting, do I tell them that in a manner that does not shut them down but encourages input?  How can I help THEM?

It is important for every Catholic Disciple to invite others to become a Disciple as well.  I cannot just catechize, I must include, I must invite, and, if the person I invite has a different approach or is talented in an area I have ignored I have to let them apply their gifts.  Each of us has a different area of the garden to till.  Each area of the garden is important.

The next time I complain about the lack of volunteers for a project, I need to ask myself what I have done to attract someone to the project itself.  If I am truly a Disciple, people will want to participate with me.  If I don't make room for others at the table, I better not complain about the size of the gathering.

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017 - A Year of Gratitude

Life is not easy.

This is a truism with which I have been raised.  Both my parents survived the Great Depression and a major World War.  My mother's parents were immigrants and had to endure all that implies.  My father was raised by people afflicted liberally with the disease of alcoholism and in an incredibly harsh and cruel environment.  He was a combat veteran, which changed him in ways I will never fathom but with which I can sympathize.

We have had tough times this year.  My family has dealt with violence, sadness, the ending of relationships and the breaking of old ties.  We have lost people we love and kind of expected to be around forever.  We have not escaped from 'ups and downs' of every day living.

Life is not easy.

No one can call me a tough cookie.  At best I am a woman of grace and dignity who struggles with feelings of inadequacy and lots of fear.  I am well aware of my character defects.  I take things too personally and I am quick to try and protect people that are not needing protection.  In other words, I am wound too tight and my saving characteristic of being able to make a dark joke out of virtually any situation saves me more grief than I want to admit.

Life is not easy.

2017 has been a year of amazing changes.  I retired from an employment I had with the government for almost 30 years and started a job with my parish, doing things I have never done before but using skills I developed in those 30 years.  I stayed sober.  I am selling my family residence and moving to a gated community - and I am not a gated community kind of girl (though I once was in danger of becoming a resident of the kind of gated community that only lets you out after you have been there a specific period of time, or demonstrated 'good behavior').   I have lost a bunch more weight.  I lost a friend because I would not participate in their crazy behavior and I witnessed crazy behavior from people I love more than life itself.   

Did I mention I stayed sober?

Life is not easy.

Today I am going to say good bye to 2017, knowing that escrow does not close until January 4th and I have movers coming January 7th and cannot move into the new house until January 16th.

I am going to ask you all for prayers - not because I think I won't make it but because I know I will, but I want to make this change with grace and dignity and my head held high.  I want to be charming and loving and funny.  I want to care about you more than I care about me.

Life is not easy.....

but ain't it GRAND?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Being All Alone on Family Holidays

I have been a widow since August 7, 1987.  For more than thirty years I have missed my husband and while I thought I would marry again the honest truth is that Fred is the only man who ever wanted to marry me, a fact I once found puzzling.  Quite honestly? It used to make me sad.  Not anymore.  Today I am grateful that I found him and that we were married, albeit for a short time.  Many people never find that person.  Many people find them and then blow it.  I was blessed.  I am grateful for that blessing.

Which is wonderful and oh so very mature of me to state but it does not change the fact that people like me are often alone during holidays.  Let's face it, gang...this is a season designed for families.  Turn on TV and every commercial, every sappy Hallmark 'Movie', every sitcom pushes the idea that the Christmas Season is for Families to Reunite and Celebrate.  Today's culture even makes an effort to redefine the word 'family' in an attempt to make those who do not fit the mold feel better about their status.  Good for the culture.  It still leaves me flat.

As time goes by my self-pity over being an old childless Catholic Widow Woman lessens.  This is not because the wish about the past has changed; rather it is because my acceptance of God's Will in my life has taken on a deeper meaning.  I no longer see my life in terms of sadness.  Today I see the incredible sparkles of Gold and Silver my life has become and I marvel at the way in which Christ continues to reveal His Love for me in little things.

I will be standing in line at a grocery store and hear my name called out in a childish voice.  Turning, I will have a 7 or 8 year old boy or girl throw their arms around me, hug me and shout, "HI, MISS LESLIE, MERRY CHRISTMAS!".

Turning into my driveway at night I will catch a glimpse of my neighbor walking the big, huge shaggy dog.  Our eyes will meet and he will wave with a smile, and I swear his dog will smile at me too.

The phone will ring and someone I mentor will be calling with a problem and the first thing they ask me is, "Is this a good time?".  This is more than good manners.   This is demonstrating the mutual respect I try to model and showing me that they have that respect for me even though they are in pain and need my immediate attention.

My smoke alarms go off.  I cannot do anything other than disconnect them.  I am too short and my arthritis is too bad in my fingers to get those stupid little wires back in the stupid little holes.  I come to work and share my dilemma with my boss, a PhD and author of critically acclaimed books on Evangelical Christianity and the beauty of discovering Catholicism.  He offers to go connect them.

Life is not perfect.  It always will be a tug at my heart that I am alone in the pew or that I am the third wheel at a dinner party but what God has revealed to me is that being a part of the Body of Christ, His Church, truly does give me a family that cannot fit into the 90 minutes of a Hallmark Movie.  I am connected - to the priest who reveals his homosexuality AND his adherence to Church Teachings on Sexuality and to the woman raped by ISIS and now raising the child that resulted from that evil act as a Chaldean Catholic.  I am connected to the American soldier on patrol in Afghanistan who wears the St Michael the Archangel Medal sent him by a doting grandmother.  I am the sister, the daughter, the aunt, and even (yes) the MOTHER of the child sitting in line at the food giveaway by St. Vincent de Paul who shows up every week for Catechism at the Parish.  Every Baptized person is a member of my family.  It does not matter if they agree with me politically or if they are nice to me.  In fact, that part of the description just makes it more real.  Not wanting me at their table doesn't matter.   Truth is not dependent upon my belief, upon your belief or upon our adherence to it.  TRUTH IS ....just as He is I AM.

Do I wish I had the picture of me with 8 grandchildren other people have on their Christmas Cards? Of course I do...but you know what? 

I have more than that - I have a life that calls me to communion with Christ, a life that challenges me to try harder, be better, do not give up.  I have something more than stuff and people....

I have a Family in Christ Jesus and the Holy Catholic Church.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

But the Bible CLEARLY says....

A fantastic perk of working where I now work is that my boss is Dr. Doug Beaumont, former Evangelical and author of the book Evangelical Exodus.  I have learned much since starting here in April and am forever grateful to God for providing me with this job.

Recently, he shared with me the ongoing debate between a 'Young Earth Guy" (of COURSE there were dinosaurs on the Ark!) by the name of Ken Ham and Dr. Richard Howe (from Doug's alma mater Southern Evangelical Seminary).  Apparently, there have been dueling blog posts about exactly how young the earth is as both Dr. Howe and Mr. Ham believe in the Young Earth perspective.

For a better explanation you can reference my boss' blog post here.

He does something really clever in his post and I hope you take advantage of the link.

It gets me a thinkin' about all those people who are picking and choosing their Scripture to make sure they can avoid having to confront a tricky question.

What did Jesus say we needed for eternal salvation?

I will leave you to read Dr. Doug's blog.....and I will come back later.