Many of us take part in the Catholic tradition of picking a patron saint for the year. Some of us even use the lovely Jen Fulwiler's' Saint Generator to do it!
I typically choose a saint along with my Religious Education students on the first day back from Christmas break. For 2014, however, I did not do that. This year, God had a specific patron in mind for me, and it took me until this week to finally appreciate the wisdom of His choice.
As I wrote back in January, a friend sent me a St. Philomena prayer card out of the blue. Just that weekend, I'd laughed at the idea of St. Philomena being my patron because I couldn't fathom why God would stick the poor girl with the likes of me. However, getting that card made me realize that was precisely who God sent for me.
So here I am in December - almost a full year later. I've kept her card and medal next to my computer this whole time, still not completely sure why God would choose to have this sweet, chaste young girl for my intercessor.
Some of you are aware that I have my Religious Education students give oral reports on their patron saints. I have them choose patrons for each semester, and their projects were due this past Tuesday.
One of them had chosen St. Philomena.
Now I know the story of St. Philomena pretty well, but for some odd reason, I never knew what she was considered the patroness of. As part of her report, my student explained to the class who she was partial to.
Does anyone here want to take a guess what my dear Saint Philomena is patroness of?
Patroness of the Youth with predilection for babies and children.
Protectress of young married couples, many times giving the joys of motherhood.
Assists and protects expectant mothers.
Comfront of the afflicted and imprisoned.
The solace of the suffering and sick.
Consoler of afflicted mothers who invoke her for material or spiritual help for their children.
Great helper of students and those who sit for examinations.
When invoked she encourages many conversions.
Conversion of sinners and return to the sacraments.
Assists priests in their work.
For all Spiritual and temporal problems.
There is no case too trivial or unimportant to concern her.
She exhibits her greatest patronage towards her devotees by leading them to the love of Our Lord and Our Lady.
Patroness of the Living Rosary.
Protectoress of the Children of Mary.
Vince was "helping" me in the kitchen the other day.
He's been doing this a lot more frequently. He'll grab a kitchen chair, drag it to the counter, and start doing any number of things that "help" me.
Now as every parent knows, help from a 4 year old is rarely help. Usually it's a sure sign your two-minute prep is about to become a 15-minute circus show of you trying to keep him from burning himself on the stove, stop him from reaching for a knife, begging him not to dance on the chair, and assuring him that the pasta doesn't need Cinnamon Toast Crunch added to the sauce.
However, we grin and bear these annoyances because, quite frankly, it's really sweet that our kid wants to help. It's wonderful that our children love us and want to be near us, even braving the sweltering heat of the kitchen and the annoying sound of the exhaust fan. It's a beautiful thing that our kids want to feel like a needed and necessary part of the family, and it's even more beautiful that we've done something right to get them to express that (by dumping cereal into your pot roast; I gotta move that stuff to a higher shelf).
That being said, Vince was being particularly "helpful" that afternoon. I almost sent him into the living room to wait for lunch because I was getting frustrated. Terrible, right? But it's the truth. Sometimes having a 4 year old's "help" is frustrating.
Before I gave the order for him to plant his butt on the couch, a little voice whispered in my ear, "You are the same."
The thought came and went so fast I actually stopped smearing peanut butter on the bread and pondered it a second.
"You are the same."
I'm an annoying kid pulling butter knives from the dishwasher?
As I thought on it more, I realized that in many ways, I am like Vince at the dishwasher. I love God and want to help Him out, but does God really need my help? No. My version of help is only going to result in Him cleaning up after me. However, God doesn't get frustrated that my pathetic offerings of help muck up His groove. Instead, He patiently allows me to try - over and over again - giving me pointers on how to better do the job of helping Him. In this way, I grow and mature until I am eventually able to offer help that is worthwhile.
The reflection was humbling.
I did not send Vincent to the couch. Instead, I taught him how to properly put the silverware away (which you can see him doing above). I snapped this picture because it was an eye-opening moment for me.
How incredible the lessons of parenthood. We are called, as parents, to exemplify the love of the Father. And in this, God is leading the way, briliantly choosing to use our own children as examples of His Love.
I have been having a very rough time getting Vincent to pay attention to directions. Because he's all over the place, I need to be very firm with him sometimes.
"Vincent, look at me. Look at me in the eyes, Vincent. VINCENT."
Then he'll finally realize I'm talking to him and look at me for a split second before turning his attention elsewhere.
"Vincent. Mommy is talking to you. You need to look at Mommy."
He looks at me again for about two seconds. When I think I've got his attention, I begin to tell him to get on his shoes. No dice. He's not paying attention again.
"Vincent, put on your shoes or we're not going outside."
Begins to move towards shoes, but clearly only discerned the word "shoes" because once he gets to where his shoes are, he makes no move to put them on.
"Vincent, you're not listening to Mommy. Look at me in the eyes."
He looks into my eyes.
"Put. Your. Shoes. On or we're not going outside."
UUUUUGH. Then the process all but repeats itself if he needs to put on his jacket or take a back pack with him. It's enough to drive me bonkers sometimes.
He's also having issues with impulse control.
"Vincent, stop smacking your stick against the slide."
Not two seconds later, he's smacking at the slide again.
"Vincent, look at Mommy in the eyes. Did I just tell you to stop smacking the slide?"
"I don't know."
"Vincent, stop smacking the slide. If you smack the slide again, I'm going to take away your stick. No more smacking the slide, 'cause if the stick breaks, you might get hurt."
He stops smacking the slide, but maybe two minutes later, he's at it again and I need to take the stick away.
All day, every day, this is what I sound like. I'm trying to splice together the negatives with positives ("Good job being gentle with Zoey!" or "I'm so proud of you for playing so nicely with your friends!"), but I've been feeling really overwhelmed by his inability to really listen and process directives (an ability he HAS to have for a productive experience in school).
I'm beginning to worry that I won't be able to prep him in time for school in July and that I'll be faced with him being removed again. I realize that's not likely, especially because this school had worked with him for two years successfully, but I can't help but worry.
And then there's his litany of "I'm Sorry."
Since he hasn't been listening to directives, I've had to punish him (taking away the stick, for example, or not letting him go to the park because he'd thrown a temper tantrum that morning).
When he realizes he's about to be punished, he immediately says "I'm sorry" because he knows that's what is expected of him. However, he's not usually sorry. He'll say "I'm sorry" and in the same breath, "I'm really angry with you" because I'm taking away a toy or something. He's not sorry he didn't listen. He's sorry he's in trouble.
I was about to say to him "I don't want to hear 'I'm sorry' from you ever again" until I stopped myself. Why? Because I saw myself in him. Painfully so.
How many times do I have to apologize in the Confessional for the same stupid sins over and over and over again? I have to wonder - am I really sorry at all? If I were, wouldn't I stop myself from getting into the same trouble?
And if God were to shirk my apologies, what would I do then? He even accepts my miserable contrition and extends mercy. How much more, then, should I work to extend that to Vincent so he has an example of what God's mercy looks like?
So I stopped myself from giving into my own frustration and sat him on my knee. I said, "Vincent, when you say "Sorry" to Mommy, it means you're not going to do the bad thing anymore. Sorry means you're going to work really hard at listening and doing the right thing, okay?"
He instantly shook his head "Yes" because that's what he thought he was supposed to do. I just sighed and let him loose. I imagine that's how God feels sometimes when He sends us forth from the Confessional.
I'm going to try a lot harder to be more steady in my resolve to "sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin."
A lot harder.
Sorry, Lord. Really. <3
John, Vincent and I attended the surprise birthday party of a friend of ours this past weekend. It was really nice of Vincent to be invited, too. Several children were in attendance with Vince being the oldest (and most active!).
Unfortunately, John and I didn't know there would be a pool at the house. Had we known, we would've gone out of our way to find a babysitter. Vince, like every other child in the universe, can't be near a pool without wanting to dive in head-first.
It was still too chilly for a swim and we hadn't brought bathing suits anyway. That didn't stop Vincent for begging, bartering and pleading to go for a dip, though. When he realized John and I weren't going to budge, he placated himself by zipping around the edge of the pool, successfully giving John and I enough agita to last us the rest of our lives.
I had to put him into a time out for disobedience. He wouldn't stop running around the edge of the pool even though I'd asked him not to three times. So I stuck him in time out.
My friend, Leo, made a well-meaning comment. He said, "What's the worst that can happen? Skinned knee? Soaked pants? Just let him be."
Oh Leo. How I love Leo. He's a new parent, himself. He's got a little princess named Maggie who is about 8 months old. He hasn't had the pleasure of her testing boundaries yet. He hasn't tasted the anxiety of seeing her (in his mind) tumble head-first into an ice-cold swimming pool. He can't even imagine what that's like until she takes those first precarious steps into toddler-hood. It's all fun and games until your kid discovers how much fun dangerous situations are. LoL.
Anyway, Leo didn't realize that aside from me trying to teach Vince obedience (and actions having real consequences), I was also trying to prevent, specifically, soaked clothing. Most people don't like sitting in wet clothes, but for an SPD kid, that's akin to being water-boarded; it's torture.
Vince sometimes freaks out if he feels even a spot of wetness on his pants or shirt. Imagine, then, the freak out that would occur if ALL his clothes were soaked through and clinging to him.
Leo doesn't think it'd be a big deal, because to him, it wouldn't be a big deal. To Vincent, however, it'd be huge.
John was getting increasingly agitated, so instead of leaving, I took Vincent inside and away from the temptation. The poor kid was over-tired and frustrated by several things:
The fact that he hadn't had a nap that day (because the party started when he usually goes down) only added to his upset. After I had him sit and settle for 15 minutes to regroup, he was able to sit on the couch and watch a game being played without issue.
It's funny. I don't fault Leo at all for the comment he made. Several of our friends waved off my attempts at wrangling Vincent as overprotective. They didn't realize I wasn't worried about him bumping his knee or even going for a swim. I was aware of a bigger problem that would come should the latter accidentally happen.
My guess is that's how God feels sometimes. So often, I look at a situation and figure "Eh, this isn't really such a big deal" while God is shaking His Head and saying, "Gina, put down the extra slices of bacon. You don't think it's a big deal, but you've been eating like a glutton recently and are increasing your risk for heart attack. I want you to die saving orphans from a burning building, and you can't very well do that if you're dead of a bacon-induced heart attack."
God is able to see so much more than we can. He knows more than we do. He's experienced more than we have. So when He repeatedly throws up roadblocks to our own ideas of satisfaction, my guess is He has good reasons. Just as I had reasons that went beyond Leo's understanding, God has reasons that extend well beyond mine.
My proudest accomplishment in Mexico was my conversation with a friendly old landscaper. We went back and forth several times until I had to apologize (which I did in Spanish) for my rudimentary grasp of their language. He grinned so broadly and said, in English, "It is good you try!"
I had been so self-conscious until he extended appreciation for me trying. I realized how arrogant we are to always expect English, so offering even my butchered bit of Spanish was accepted as a gift. How kind of that gentleman to be so gracious.
Until that point, I'd sheepishly greet folks or excuse myself as I made my way around people in the resort. I knew how to say "Hi" and "Excuse me" but I felt silly for even attempting because my accent would be terrible or people would think I was trying to sound more worldly than I am.
After that conversation, though, the tiny bit of Spanish I retained from high school came out freely. I was even complimented by one kiosk worker (who was likely just trying to charm his way into my wallet, but I appreciated that particular compliment nonetheless).
That kindly gentleman freed me from my inhibitions and empowered me to use the knowledge I'd been given. What a blessing. :)
I can't help but imagine he's an example of how God views us. In our feeble attempts at honoring His graciousness, we stumble over ourselves, unsure of how to best communicate with Him. However, God does not frown at us for our weakness in this; instead, He smiles broadly and appreciates the effort. Just as a parent appreciates the torn up weed bouquet clutched in their child's fist, so too does God appreciate even our smallest efforts to return to Him the love He so graciously gifts.
These are my in-laws. I love them both. Ridiculous amounts. I always have. I've always respected their love for each other and their family. I've learned a lot about marriage just from watching them interact. I've learned a lot about John that way, too, let me tell ya. He's got so many traits that he shares with his Dad that watching his mom interact with her husband has given me a few ideas how to go about interacting with John.
Anyway, given the incredibly emotional coaster this family has been on the last few weeks, I've been dying to see them and just hug them close. Natural circumstances prevented this, but when we DID finally see each other, I was so happy to just physically hug them. However, Dad wasn't too keen on any sort of emotional exchange. He was probably too drained from grieving Uncle Billy and worrying over his mother's rapidly declining health. Also, given his status as the leader of the family, he took upon himself the responsibility of shouldering the fear and anxiety of his brothers and sister.
Oh, how my heart breaks for him. He always takes on so much responsibility. But again, it's something I deeply respect him for. He goes out of his way to make things easier for his family, but at such personal sacrifice.
However, he doesn't like to let on that his strength wavers, too. Instead of reaching out, he'll vent in short, off-the-cuff ways. I want so much to help him, but I can't just say, "Dad, I love you. Punch the wall and yell at me if it'll make you feel better."
I'd love to, mind you, but I can't. He'd never let on that he's hurting, and I would never make things worse by letting on that I know.
But I still want to support him. So I'm supporting him the best way I know how - through his wife, my mother-in-law.
In the car on the way back from Uncle Billy's funeral, my FIL had to make a tough decision. My MIL said something that I pray will stick with me until my final days.
My FIL had to decide if he'd go away for a few days on business or if he'd stay behind in case Nanny passed away. He asked my MIL what she thought, and her response was beautiful. She basically said she would go wherever he decided because no matter what, she wanted to be with HIM when and if he got news about Nanny.
It was then that I realized I could support him by supporting her. She was, is and always will be, his rock. They are incredibly blessed to have found one another.
She knows her place is with him so that she can support him in any way that she can. She wants to be there, holding his hand, letting him cry, even letting him get mad at her so he could, in some tiny way, vent the torrent of emotion eating away at his heart.
I actually teared up when she said that. It was so loving... so perfect... that is what I want my response to be to John always. Whatever you decide, I will stand by you. I will be with you because that is where I need to be. I want you to know that you will always have me to lean on.
Such love. Such incredible, faithful love.
So I made it my personal mission to support him by supporting her. Since she'll be bearing the weight of the world in conjunction with him, I can lend my assistance to her. I might not be able to reach my FIL the way I'd like, but I can reach my MIL, and if she's a little less stressed and a little more rested, she can be a better support for him.
I love these two immensely. I really do. I wish I could do something to magically wave a wand and make life perfect again, but we all must endure this valley of tears. Thankfully, God gifted us families so we could walk this valley together and not alone.
"Turn then, oh Most Gracious Advocate, thine eyes of Mercy towards us, and after this, our Exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of thy womb, Jesus."
Please keep them in your prayers. Nanny, too.
Since this past week has been so frustrating and difficult for Vincent, I wanted to take him somewhere completely different to give him a chance to really run off some steam.
There is a massive playground a few towns over that he hasn't been to since he was very, very small. I decided that would be the perfect spot to forget the stress of his new environment and just have fun.
Vincent knew he was going "to the park" today, but he figured it was the one we regularly go to right around the corner. When we didn't make a right-hand turn off our street, he knew something was up. He started to whine, "No, Mommy. I want to go to the park. Turn right, Mommy. Turn right!"
I said, "Vincent, no whining. Mommy IS taking you to the park. We're going to a special park for you today. You're going to have SO much fun!"
He, however, was having none of that. He started to cry. I guess the poor kid was expecting his routine playground, and when his expectation for "normal" was once again smashed, he got upset.
I looked at him through the rear-view mirror and said, "Vincent, did Mommy tell you she was going to take you to the park today?"
He said, "Yes. I want the park."
"I'm going to take you to the park, Vincent. We're going to the park now. It's a BIG park with LOTS of fun things. You're going to like it, so stop crying, okay?"
His crying slowed to silent grumpiness. Clearly he did not trust Mommy to bring him to this big, awesome park that supposedly was better than his trusty old one.
I was confused as to where this distrust in me came from. I'm his Mom. When I tell him I'm gonna take him fun places, I take him fun places. Was the trauma of school really so much for him that he now thinks I've only got challenging things in store for him?
I drove on, but since this playground is a few towns over, it took longer than he's used to. He began to whine again that he wanted to go to the park.
I admit I was starting to get annoyed.
Then I felt this little knock on the head and an inner voice chuckling, "How do you think I feel when you do the same thing to Me?"
I really DO whine the exact same way when God tries to lead me down roads I want no parts of. I don't trust that He's leading me to goodness. I want to stick to my comfortable life of sin. What could Heaven possibly have that I can't find on my own down here on earth?
Vince's whining painted that picture better than any homily ever could. I was the crying kid who wasn't trusting her Father to take her to joy. How OFTEN I am that crying child.
And why? What has He ever done to cause me to doubt His goodness? Nothing. Some experiences have been tougher than others, sure. But all of them have helped me to grow when I've allowed them to. Heck, even when I've tried NOT to.
Point is, how often are we whining little children in the backseat of God's caravan?
We need to trust our Father to drive us to Heaven. It might take longer than expected. We might go down roads we're unfamiliar with... that might be a bit bumpy. But in the end, He's the very best driver there is, so we'd do well to trust Him.
By the time I'd finished that meditation, I was pulling my car into the parking lot of the playground. Vincent was in awe of how massive the structures were. It was pretty funny to see him go from whining to flipping out with excitement.
I imagine that's how we're going to be when we finally get to Heaven. In the end, we'll realize just how worth it that caravan ride really was, and we'll likely want to kick ourselves for all that pointless whining.
Here's a slideshow of Vince enjoying the playground. :)
This is our friend, Jake, who is always "gelling."
My husband and I were bowling last weekend. He's pretty awesome. Me? I bowl a 66 if I'm lucky and crown myself Queen.
John, though - he's a great bowler. After a particularly awesome strike, he turned around and said, "Before the ball left my hand I knew that was gonna be a perfect strike."
I didn't even question him. Of course he knew. He felt himself line up perfectly with the pins. He felt himself align his body with the lane so as he drew his arm back, the weight of the bowling ball, itself, propelled him forward. He was in-tune with the motions of the game. He was "gelling." He was "in the zone."
I understand the feeling. Maybe not for bowling (okay, DEFINITELY not for bowling) but I've felt confident and sure in other areas of life: pouring just the right amount of pizzelle batter into my iron for the perfect cookies, timing my laundry cycles to coincide perfectly with cleaning the bathrooms and the roasting chicken in my oven, and snipping the perfect amount of wire so I don't waste any for a pair of earrings.
We've all had this feeling. We're so "in tune" with what we're doing that our actions are second nature. We know, before we complete a task, that everything is going to turn out pretty awesome.
This is how I usually feel regarding religion. I gel. I'm "in tune" with God. I have an easy, natural response to confusing or potentially bad situations. When folks ask me questions about Catholicism, I've got an answer. When I'm faced with a severe temptation, I'm pretty quick to call out to St. Michael. That's just what happens when you communicate regularly through prayer and reception of the Sacraments.
Unfortunately, however, I was NOT gelling so much last week at work. I'll be honest... I'd had a pretty terrible weekend. I slipped into mortal sin, decided not to go to Mass, and paid for it on Monday.
Now please don't think I'm using my blog as a confessional. I'll get to that. I think it is important, however, to note just how damaging missing Mass actually is. So many people (my past self included) think that missing Mass is "no big deal." How can missing Mass be a mortal sin? Well, I had learned that lesson the hard way a few years ago, but apparently my soul shamefully decided it needed a refresher.
I missed Mass and intended to seek out Confession and Communion the following weekend. I trusted God not to let me get hit by a bus in between Monday and Confession, but I was definitely looking forward to Confession rolling around.
Anyway, Monday morning comes and all is well with the world. I'm doing my job properly, I'm having laughs with my coworkers, and everything seems perfect. And it was perfect... until my last call on Monday.
It was from a gentlemen who had a lot (and I mean A LOT) of trouble with the Catholic Church as a whole. He called saying he wanted answers to questions, but he wasn't asking questions so much as rambling about the various misconceptions about Catholics that have been strewn across the media.
Typically I'm able to handle those situations with poise and charity. I can usually redirect misconceptions with a firm and gentle explanation of the Truth.
I failed miserably this go around. Absolutely FAILED. I wasn't gelling with God. I wasn't gelling with my faith. I wasn't in communion with the Church I sought to defend, so how in the world did I think I was going to avail myself of the graces I willingly cut myself off from?
Sure I said a prayer to the Holy Spirit, and I have no doubt His answering grace was the only thing that got me through that half-hour call. That being said, I knew by the end of it that I'd failed. This person, though no longer vehemently angry, was still left with a bad taste in his mouth regarding Catholicism.
Usually at the end of such calls I've got people at least agreeing that though they don't like Catholicism's stance on social issues, the Church isn't the evil enterprise they originally thought it was.
This guy, even though he wasn't angrily yelling anymore, probably still thinks that Catholicism is stupid and should be outlawed to protect those who couldn't see it for the shell game he thinks it is.
Since it was my last call of the day, I felt pretty miserable going home. My coworkers all said I did a great job on the call, but no. I could tell I'd messed up. I could feel it, just the same as I could feel when I'd succeeded with a caller. I knew the reason, too - I wasn't in communion.
It's like expecting a master chef to prepare a gourmet meal when he's only given the fry station at McDonald's. Sure he might be able to wrangle up SOMETHING, but it's not going to be as incredible as what he could do in his natural setting.
My natural setting is Communion with the Church. That is when I do my best work. That is when I feel as though I can help the most people in the best way. When I'm not in communion, I feel something missing. I honestly think God dropped that caller in my lap in order to remind me of that.
Of course He wasn't going to let me get smashed by a bus before getting my relationship with Him back on track. But He wasn't going to simply walk away and allow me to be without Him for a full week, either.
Nope. He loves me too much, and quite frankly, I love Him too much, too. I then looked up daily confession and found out we offer them at the Basilica right behind my office. I went during lunch the very next day and reconnected with Him. The rest of the week, though busy, I was back in tune with the world around me. I was gelling.
But God was good to grant me that one caller who would haunt me into never missing Mass again.
Missing Mass isn't just about breaking up my relationship with God. It's selfishly cutting myself off from the graces that could be used to help other people. And I think that is the lesson to be learned here (at least for me, anyway).
Fr. Eucharist gave another stellar homily this past weekend. He reiterated some points regarding the True Presence, but I learned something new this time!
Ya know that 1 hour fast we're supposed to participate in before we receive? I always thought it was to clear our bodies of frivolous food so we could better accept the True Food of the Eucharist.
Fr. Eucharist's explanation was WAY more enlightening.
He gave us a brief history of the Eucharistic fast. I was already aware that there was a time in which you couldn't have even a drop of water past midnight in order to adequately prepare yourself to receive Christ. Then it was lessened to three hours, and now we're sitting at one. What I DIDN'T know, however, was that the fast was actually meant to make the faithful hungry.
Mother Church WANTS us to go to Mass hungry. She wants us to feel a physical emptiness... a physical hunger for sustenance.
Why, Father Eucharist?
To remind us that we should be hungering for Christ, of course!
Being humans, we sometimes need something physical with which to remind ourselves of the spiritual. A fast does this in several key ways.
First, we gain that physical hunger which should remind us to always hunger after Christ. Next, it should remind us of our brothers and sisters who daily face physical hunger on account of poverty, neglect or famine. After all, we are all connected, and sharing in the physical manifestation of hunger is a way to develop empathy (and through that empathy, activism) for our spiritual family (meaning all humans since we are all children of God).
Finally, this fast does serve to clear our bodies (and hopefully, our minds) of the frivolous junk we tend to ingest on a daily basis. Much like we would do a quick clean of the house before a friend arrived, we use the time of fasting to clear ourselves of unnecessary "junk" to make room for God.
I really appreciated that insight as it's something I never really thought much about.
My oldest friend from high school, Theresa, got married last weekend. I can't wait to see the professional pictures of her because none of the ones I snapped do her or her dress justice.
As a married woman who was over the moon for her own wedding dress, I can honestly say that Theresa's out-shone mine by at least 10 light years! Her train was beyond magnificent. The lace, jewels and satin made her look exactly like the princess she's always wanted to be. I was (and am) so happy she and John finally exchanged vows!!!
Vince was her ring-bearer. He escorted a beautiful little girl named Allison down the aisle. They were SO CUTE together!!!
Unfortunately, Vince was a bit of a terror during the service. During rehearsal, the priest allowed Vince to run around the sanctuary. I had specifically corrected Vince three times, but the priest told me not to bother each time. He said, "Don't worry - it'll make for a cute photo op."
I knew, as any parent of a toddler would, that allowing that behavior during rehearsal was just about the worst idea ever. Vincent doesn't understand the difference between a rehearsal and the "real thing." Thus, if it's okay to run amok in a church Thursday night, it should be perfectly fine to do the same on a Saturday.
As predicted, that's exactly what happened.
I wonder how long it's going to take me to re-teach him that we don't act that way in a church. *Sigh*
Luckily he didn't knock the candles over or rip Theresa's dress. He basically ran up and down the sanctuary steps a few times during the exchange of vows and climbed into Father's seat, evading the attempts of groomsmen to wrangle him in.
Ah well... at least he was attempting to mimic a priest. I can't be entirely upset about that prospect. Ha ha ha!
Speaking of priests, the one presiding at Theresa's wedding Mass was the president of our now defunct Cardinal Dougherty High. It was fabulous to see him. He looks wonderful and his personality is still gentle and welcoming. As I watching him go through the rehearsal, I couldn't help but think that his handling of people was the primary reason God chose him to be a priest.
He is so incredibly genuine when he's in priest mode. He goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels welcomed and cared about. It's rare to be able to pull that off with a huge group of people so effortlessly, but he's incredibly consistent (which is probably why they made him President of Dougherty).
Anyway, his homily was great. He should make it available to other priests as a general "go-to" wedding homily. He gave a lot of good advice - chief among them to remember that God blessed them with one another. In order to make it to Heaven, they NEED each other. They need to rely on one another precisely because God brought them together for the purpose of reaching Heaven. The unique challenges they each bring will compliment the unique strengths they have, and together, they will live a life which aims for Heaven.
Married couples would do well to understand this. Our spouses are NECESSARY. They are the ones we are given precisely because they will challenge us to grow in love. They will challenge us to sacrifice... to hope... to trust.
It was a wonderful reminder to me, and it made my heart sing a hymn of thanks for such a beautiful reminder that I've been truly blessed with John. He has challenged me to trust... to hope and to sacrifice. All of that has deepened my capacity to love and has very much led me down the road towards my rekindling of faith. I am a better Catholic today because of John (something he'd probably be loathe to acknowledge - ha).
So yes... your husband or wife is a blessing sent directly from God, Himself, for the express purpose of ensuring your soul gets into Heaven. How wonderful is that? :)
A few months ago, as my class and I were discussing the 10 plagues God sent to force the pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, the topic of the Angel of Death came up. This same discussion ended up finding its way into my inbox this morning from a friend of mine who is trying to decide if Catholicism is right for him.
The tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborns, was a punishment doled out specifically by the Angel of Death. My class had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the image of the angel pictured in the book. He was wielding a sickle (much like the one pictured), and left a trail of death and lamentation in his wake. Not one of the kids could believe that God would intentionally "murder" children like that.
I had to reel them back in for a bit. I explained that God never "murders" anyone. The picture they saw wasn't a recreation of that night... it was an artist's choice of symbols and images to tell a story. In the book, we saw a mighty angel holding a sickle. Around him were crying mothers and lifeless children. The artist chose these things for a reason.
First, the Angel of Death didn't bring God's punishment to the firstborns... punishment was meant for those left behind who would feel the pain on an emotional level (considering that months of physical punishment did nothing to deter them).
This angel carried a sickle to symbolize the "harvesting" of souls. The sickle is an agricultural tool that is specifically used to remove the most desirable parts of grain. In ancient Egypt, that's exactly what the firstborns would have been considered. The souls that this angel harvested (firstborns) were the most desirable and respected family members in Egyptian times. The fact that God demanded that the souls makes the punishment that much more severe.
Finally, the crumpled, broken parents who clutched the lifeless bodies of their children were meant to evoke strong emotions - the artist wanted to REALLY hit home how devastating this plague was in its emotional severity, so he used young children to symbolize all firstborns.
Firstborn didn't just mean babies. It didn't just mean toddlers. Firstborn meant everyone from child straight on through adult. It meant everything from calf to chicken to donkey. God harvested the most revered of Egyptian lives for Himself as proof that He was God over all - even the best protected. He controlled Life and Death (not just over base nature and animals, but over humanity as well - something Pharaoh never accepted as true until this final plague).
However, my class was still having a really tough time reconciling God taking these innocent lives with their image of a pure, holy, and loving Being. This is very understandable considering we, as humans, many times see death as a horrible, evil thing (especially when it is the death of an innocent... someone who did nothing to cause or solicit an untimely end).
One student asked me, "Do you think they [the firstborns] were scared?"
I paused for a second, because I realized then that my poor class had in their minds this image of a massive weapon-wielding warrior with wings blazing a trail through Egypt slaughtering unsuspecting children. Their collective looks of horror and disbelief challenged me to break down the Angel of Death for them a bit... into one who looked a little more like this:
The Angel of Death wasn't running around slashing throats. In fact, I doubt the people who were chosen to die that night even felt pain. Though I never thought about it before, when she asked me that, I immediately pictured one of those children, soundly sleeping, engulfed in a brilliant light. The Angel of Death was present, and he showed this tiny soul something of Heaven. He gently said, "Come, little one. God is calling you home." He reached out his angelic hand and without thought or hesitation, the soul - immeasurably joyous and willing - leapt from its body and consented to be carried along to meet the Source of such radiating, all-encompassing Love.
Instead of punishment or pain, these souls were met with joy and love... comfort and beauty. The Angel of Death is not this menacing monstrosity that humans should fear. Instead, he is the herald of our Heavenly welcome - the one tasked with the joy of bringing us home after our earthly sojourn.
I have two rosaries that I typically use for everything. I used to have three, but I'm waiting to purchase a new Rosary for the Unborn (since I lost mine on the airplane back from Jamaica - bah).
I digress... as usual. *Blush*
The first is my Confirmation rosary. I was given this simple white rosary by my Aunt Bernadette (both my Godmother and sponsor) back in 7th grade when I was confirmed. I had it socked away in a drawer for years, but since my reversion, it's never been far from my side.
I chose that rosary to take with me on my trip to Treasures of the Church, though, which meant I got to touch it to almost 200 1st class relics. From that night on, anytime I pray with that rosary, I feel it's perfectly acceptable to ask all the saints I venerated to pray along with me. I'm sure they're only too happy to oblige.
Anyway, last night I said my prayers downstairs so as not to wake up John (who had gone up to bed an hour earlier). Since I keep my Confirmation rosary next to my bed, I reached into my purse to use the one my mother gave me for Christmas. It's a beautiful birthstone rosary with lavender pearls and amethyst beads. The Crucifix and center piece are by far the nicest I've ever seen.
As I pull the beautiful rosary from my purse, I realize that I can't fairly ask the saints to pray along with me since I don't have "their" rosary. Mind you, I'm fully aware that they'd pray along with me just the same, because they have no care what's in my hands so long as the prayers are coming from the heart, but I still feel as though that something is missing. This is sort of like Jesus being fully present as I accept Him in the Eucharist vs. Him being fully present in the Eucharist at Adoration. In both instances, He is absolutely fully present. There is, however, a different type of intimacy. I feel the same way about praying with the two rosaries. Both obviously help me in my spiritual development, and both guide me through the meditations of the Rosary / Divine Mercy chaplet, but in uniquely different ways.
So instead of asking the saints to pray along like I normally do, I ask my guardian angel to pray along with me. Whenever I make this request, I always picture a beautiful ethereal being solemnly bowed down in prayer, then rolling his eyes at me for such a foolish request. Of COURSE he'd pray with me. He'd do it regardless, and probably tries to coax me into doing it more myself!
But I ask anyway, because I don't want him to feel left out or think that I don't appreciate his presence. So off we begin our prayers when a thought enters into my mind:
"Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in their midst.” (Matt 18:20)
Welp... me and my guardian angel make two, right? So I wondered if Jesus was hovering around us somewhere. As I made my way through an Our Father, I realized that not only was Jesus present, I was SPEAKING HIM!
Jesus is the Word of God, right? He is the Word of God incarnated, but the Word of God nonetheless. The words of the Our Father were given to us straight from Jesus, Himself, so that's about as "Word of God" as it gets. In the state of prayer, in acknowledging His Presence, I understand that I SPEAK His Presence. He really was present with us as not only were His Words being used... His Will was being done through those prayers.
The Holy Spirit was kind to me with that little nugget of illumination. When I acknowledged that, too, I realized that the Trinity does fully exist with, for and in one another. One can never be without the Others. As soon as I realized that I was speaking Christ's Presence, I realized it was the Holy Spirit who placed that thought in my head. I realized then it was the Will of the Father being done through the simple action of reciting His Words granted through Jesus, His Son.
This is another reason why prayer is so important. This is proof that not only do we talk to God, God speaks directly back to us... just not necessarily in the ways we expect or are used to.
So make use of your guardian angels! I hear they like that sorta thing... *wink.*
Okay, once again, God placed some breadcrumbs for me to follow these last couple weeks, and I absent-mindedly popped them into my mouth one-by-one, never even realizing I was being set up for a cool perspective that I could meditate on for a while.
A blogger I follow, Devin Rose, recently posted this entry regarding the Jewish lore regarding the Eastern Gate that I found particularly interesting. I'd never heard of this particular prophesy, so I dutifully followed his links and read the article written by Dr. Reagan.
I immediately went back to Devin's page with a flurry of thoughts:
Jesus, Himself, was (and is) the new Temple. When His Heart was pierced by the lance, couldn’t that be seen as the “opening of the Eastern Gate”?
After all, through this final wound, His Precious Blood and water flowed forth (which we now recognize as His Divine Mercy through Saint Faustina).
This would explain the other quotes from the article (which, BTW, mostly consist of OT prophecy). Jesus did, in fact, walk on the Mount of Olives. He now dwells with us forever through His Eucharist. And for as much as folks don’t like to picture His Passion as glorious, He gained for us salvation upon that gruesome Cross. His Death and subsequent Resurrection are about as glorious as it gets.
However, as I was thinking more on this over the next few days, I randomly came across this blog entry from Shameless Popery while I was looking for images of Jesus as the New Temple. Don't you know my line of thinking followed his, and he took it about 100 light years further than I!
He also brings up the possibility of the Blessed Mother being the Eastern Gate, which would make more sense than my idea that it might be Christ's Sacred Heart. After all, the Blessed Mother's womb certainly fits the bill! :)
So yeah - how wonderful that all these little things lined up to create a much fuller picture of Salvation History and God's promises fulfilled!
Moses accepting the Word of God
So I was prepping for next week's lesson on the Exodus. I came across the following excerpt from Exodus 24:9-11:
"Moses then went up with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy elders of Israel, and they beheld the God of Israel... yet He did not lay a hand on these chosen Israelites. They saw God, and they ate and drank."
Basically, this portion of the story occurs after Moses delivers the Word of God to the Israelites. In "one voice" they consent to the Mosaic covenant linking them as a people to God. They follow the prescribed sacrificial offerings which solidifies them as a family through the physical symbol of blood. Then, Moses and the elders take part in the spiritual sign of family as they partake in a Heavenly feast in which they "saw God" and yet remained unharmed (important point because Jews believed that to see God was automatic death). God did not "lay a hand on these chosen Israelites" because they were now His family. They feasted together in the Presence of God which fully solidified their covenant with him.
Now, it took me a bit for this quote to register, so bear with me.
Since my class has been going over covenant history (we've gone through Edenic, Adamic, Noahic and mostly Mosaic), I was really trying to take them a bit more in-depth with the Mosaic covenant because of the 1st Reading for this coming weekend (Ten Commandments).
However, as I was putting together my lesson plan, I copied and pasted the "review" from last week (which consisted of Adoration since I had reminded them about why we'd be taking part in it during Lent). Here's where things get entertaining.
As I got midway through my lesson plan, having just highlighted Adoration for myself through the review, I started putting pieces together.
"Hey wait a minute! The Eucharist is the ratification of the New and Everlasting Covenant which fulfills the promises made throughout Salvation History! Not only do we feast WITH God, we feast on HIS FULL PRESENCE - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. So just as the Jews were able to "see God," we, too, are given this privilege and grace through our own spiritual feast (made visible through the physical sharing of the Eucharist).
Gotta love when things come full circle.
And then when I was looking up images to use for this entry, I came across the one you see at the top with Moses kneeling down to accept the Ten Commandments from God the Father. I had another little light bulb go off over my head. Moses was kinda receiving a precursor to the Eucharist. After all, what is the Word of God other than Jesus Christ, Himself?
Okay, I now have the cheesiest grin on my face. It's like all these little pieces are coming together and I can't help but shake my head in wonder. God is such an incredible Author. His foreshadowing simply cannot be outdone!
Great Blog if you click the pic!
So I was watching a documentary the other night about a woman and her no-kill cat sanctuary. Being a bit of a "crazy cat lady" myself, I thoroughly understood much of what was revealed during the hour-long special.
I've been an avid animal lover my entire life. I must've drove my mother up the wall with the amount of animals I'd try to sneak into the house. I succeeded with a few she still doesn't know about to this day! Ha ha.
(Mom, if you end up reading this, sorry... blame Grandpop. His blood pumps through me, too, and inevitably ends up using my heartstrings as a makeshift accordian. I'm powerless, really!)
Anyway, it wasn't until I moved out and started a life with John that I kicked into "foster-mom" gear. In the last few years, John and I have fostered and found homes for more than 50 cats / kittens. Now obviously 50 isn't nearly as fantastic a number as 700, but those 50 that we saved enabled 50 others to find room at the shelters. Our work also opened the hearts of others to the plight of unwanted animals, and now several of our friends have either fostered or adopted their own furbabies. Be the change you want to see, right?
In my travels as foster-animal advocate, I've come to see a lot of heartbreaking things. My own foster-turned-adopted cat, Zoey (read her story as featured on Animal Planet) taught me an incredible amount about the overburdened shelter system, the carelessness and cruelty of humans, and the power of faith.
Knowing this, one thing from the documentary really struck me. A tiny, malnourished kitten was brought in, barely clinging to life. A team of volunteers rallied around him, bottle feeding, warming, and caressing this impossibly small, hungry and dehydrated kitten. Sadly, they were too late in their efforts and the kitten succumbed to its tryst with neglect. This situation is all too common all over the world. However, Lynea Lattanzio (the "crazy cat lady") said something I've found myself saying when faced with the crippling emotions that come from being "too late."
She said "At least this animal died surrounded by love. At least, for a few moments, he understood what it was to be cared for, to be held, to know dignity."
I was crushed, then, because I've known that feeling. I've felt my heart break over the loss (and even potential loss) of these little lives. People would always look at me cock-eyed, asking me how I got attached so quickly to these animals. Much like the kitten documented above, the volunteers had only known him a total of 15-30 minutes before his life slipped away, yet all felt that sharp pang of loss.
Lynea said something else that echoed my own voice to friends: It never gets easier. It's always painful when you lose one. In all the years I've done this, it's never not hurt.
And as I was thinking more on it, a little light went off over my head. Why DO we feel such an incredible sense of loss? Why does that pain linger? Why do we catch ourselves mourning - years later - those little lives that were lost on our watch?
I realized it was because we felt, briefly, Divinity. As I explained in a previous post, all animals have souls. Not only do they have souls, they have pure, unblemished souls that can do nothing but infinitely please their Creator.
As we hold those little furry angels, we delight in that purity. We recognize the hidden gem of God's breath that animates their beating hearts. As that life force returns to its Creator, it inevitably leaves us behind, and we sense that we lost something of infinite value. We lost something pure and innocent - a reflection of the One our souls unconsciously seek. I really do think that is why we immediately sense that connection and subsequent loss.
All life comes from God - and as such, all life returns to Him.
May those folks over at the Cat House be immensely blessed for everything they do. May all fosters, volunteers, and rescue staff be blessed. They do incredible, heart-breaking work... and they DO make a difference. Even if the world is incapable or unwilling to see it.
God's Timing is Always Perfect
So I had a big date today with the courthouse. I can't offer many details at this juncture, but be assured I didn't break any laws. Ha.
Anyway, I was really hoping that today would be the end of a very long, very emotional, and very psychologically draining battle. Unsurprisingly, God had other plans in mind.
I was feeling pretty miserable on the way home. Luckily I had brought my new Lighthouse CD with me for the ride, and a brilliant quote wafted over the speakers. I actually replayed it - twice - because I knew God wanted me to not only hear it, but understand it.
"Sometimes God makes you wait in order to purify your motives."
Hrm - how true that is! I realized that in my desire to have this done and over with, I was being a smidgen outlandish. Instead of accepting this litany of grievances as opportunities to practice patience, or offer them up for some greater good, I've been selfishly desiring the end of them and the opportunity to "get away" from my issues.
I needed to hear that, and I needed to hear it right then and there.
How often do we rush and grumble when others aren't rushing with us? Instead, maybe we should slow down and be grateful for the "Gift of Waiting." In being forced to slow ourselves down (even in traffic), we could very well be given blessings untold. God's timing is perfect. Every red light a manifestation of His Mercy... every irritatingly slow driver a testament of His Grace... every tear-inducing conversation with the lawyers a new chance for us to submit to God's Will in an effort to understand what it means to trust.
I got a lovely little booklet in the mail today from the Franciscan Missions. It's titled "Little Francis' Love Notes." It must be the most adorable little booklet I've ever seen!
It's filled with cartoon images of Franciscans (like the plush version pictured) and sweet little sayings that help you open your eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world.
One, in particular, caught my attention.
"It's best to try to look at others from the inside out. God makes everyone's heart the same color."
Mmmmmmm - I adore that. Even those I don't necessarily agree with or even like too much - we're all children of the same loving God. All of us have been given a sacred dignity and a share in the gifts of our Father.
In other words, it's best to don a pair of those "Resurrection Glasses" and see folks for who they really are, not just who they seem to be.
Just give the video a few minutes to pick up. Excuse the shoddy acting - the point is worth it. <3
We've all got one (or two!)... a person with whom any sort of interaction leaves us feeling like we want to punch a wall, scream into a pillow, or pray for a special sort of smiting that only God can occasion.
I kid, I kid. Sorta.
In all seriousness, though, even a simple act of greeting that person is a test of our charity. I know for myself, it's also a test of humility (and I've been known to fail that test, repeatedly, for years).
I've done a lot of reflection on this. Once again, those Sorrowful Mysteries haunted my meditations, and visions of Our Lady opening her heart to those who crucified her Son shamed my over-inflated ego. Now that I understand the "cold shoulder" and "angry silence" are the result of pride, I can no longer continue to rely on them. I need to break myself of these bitter habits if I fancy the idea of doing right by Jesus.
So I resolved to remain cheerful and say "Hello" despite the immense well of irritation that bubbled away beneath my calm exterior. And I was successful, but again, only "sorta."
What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, though I'd say "Hello" I wasn't exactly cheerful. It was almost a quick "Hi" just to get it over and done with so I could pat myself on the back and go "Good job, you did your civic duty!" On top of that, I'd also high-tail myself away from any further discourse as I doubted my own ability to remain civil for more than the reflecting two syllable response.
Not exactly the Christian way of acting like a loving person, huh?
I quickly realized that I couldn't just "go through the motions" of loving my enemy. I really had to reach for the Love of Christ in order to grow. So I relied on Our Lady. I looked to her for the example I needed and poof... I got my lightbulb moment in the form of a fleeting image.
Our Lady was standing at the foot of the Cross. No doubt she was agonizing in unison with her Beloved Son. However, upon His Death, as the soldier standing guard proclaimed that He was, in fact, the Son of God, her heart must have leapt in joy. Yes! Another soul has been touched by my Son. Another soul has seen the Light and will journey back to God!
This soldier who pierced the Side of Christ - we know him as St. Longinus - who promptly proclaimed the Truth of the Savior... would she have coldly shut him away from her heart while struggling against the crushing weight of desolation, loss and pain? Never. Our Lady rejoiced that another soul - so dear and loved by Jesus - was again on the road towards reconciliation.
Thus, if the Blessed Mother, even in such sorrow... even with every right to turn angrily away from those who killed her Son... if she was able to continue to open her heart joyfully towards these people, how can I do any less, especially when I have less reason to be angry, hurt or sorrowful?
So I thought on this some more. How could Mary rejoice in souls who had hurt her so? The answer was Jesus. She rejoiced because these enlighened souls were now going back towards Jesus, and that is Christ's singular desire - to have souls come back to Him. As always, the Blessed Mother leads me to my answer, and that answer is always "Jesus."
Jesus resides in every single human soul. Regardless of how wicked, evil or thoughtless they are, God's ruah- His life-breath- resides within their souls. Thus, in opening our hearts to even those who most hurt us, we open our hearts to Christ.
With that in mind, I've been much more successful in dealing with "enemies." I no longer view them as enemies so much as souls who need to feel the potential for reconciliation. Had the Blessed Mother turned her eyes coldly upon those centurians, would they have felt absolution possible? Would they have retained their faith in Jesus that Love could, in fact, triumph?
No. That is why we must follow Our Mother's example and open our hearts to everyone - joyfully - in the hopes that they, too, feel something of Christ's love. And if we still harbor some bitterness, at least do Christ the honor of greeting Him through the person He chose to create. If He deemed this person worthy of not only love, but love through death on a cross, who are we to deem them differently?
She was in the Church, standing before the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, heartbroken. In her hands, she carried a beautiful red rose perched precariously in a cracked, though ornate, vase. She openly wept, oblivious to the others milling about in awkward silence.
Finally, a gentle old woman, Rita, moved towards her, hoping to find the source of such heavy grief. Softly, the older woman placed her hand upon the crumpled body of the younger and asked, "Why are you crying?"
Looking up, almost confused by the question, she answered, "My tears humbly go where my words dare not." Bowing her head again, the tears fell full and fast.
Not content to leave such a gaping wound with no salve, Rita eyed the chipped vase cupped in those trembling hands. "Such a beautiful flower," she whispered.
"I broke it. The Blessed Mother gave it to me and I broke it."
Rita thought for a moment. "You haven't broken the flower, dear."
"No, but I broke its vase. It's leaking, and the rose is already starting to brown. I've pieced it back together so many times, but the cracks are too deep, the shards too many. All I can do is watch it die. So here I am, begging God to perform a miracle."
Rita smiled, then. The chapel florist, she knew a thing or two about flowers and vases. She affirmed, "Your flower truly is a gift. It is unique and special beyond compare. I believe Our Lady entrusted this to you because she knew the goodness of your heart. She knew you'd protect this rose, and she knew you'd come to God if ever you felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of nurturing such a special gift. And here you are."
"Yes. Here I am, still with a broken, bleeding vase."
"Ah, but here I am, too! You don't need a miracle; you need a remedy. I believe that I am your remedy. The gift is yours, and you've done well to nurture it all this time. Sometimes, however, we need help protecting those things most dear to us, even when we think the responsibility is solely ours. I can help with this."
Rita then pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. After dampening the cloth in a font, she gently removed the rose from its crippled vase. With deft fingers, she wound her cloth around the stem. She said, "This will keep your rose well guarded while you choose a new vase. It should be simple and strong. An ornate vase has too many parts that chip and fall away, and it detracts from the humble beauty of the flower itself."
Then, while handing the flower back to her, Rita added, "Showcase this rose for what it is... not for what you think it ought to be."
Grateful, the young woman nodded her head, dried her tears, and hurried to find a simple vase, having left the broken one at the Feet of the Lord. He and Saint Rita smiled gently after her.
True photo of an in-womb child.
_The below text is taken from Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ. For those of you who have not yet read this book, please avail yourselves to its contents here.
I've been thinking about this a lot recently. It's probably one of the most thought-provoking moments in his memoir (and he's got a LOT of those!). Ever since first reading it (several months ago), I've been unable to parray it from my mind for very long. It swooped in and enveloped my conscious again yesterday, when a friend asked me how I could possibly be sure there was an afterlife.
"Suppose that we could speak with an embryo in his mother's womb and that you would tell him that the embryonic life is only a short one after which follows a real, long life. What would the embryo answer? He would say just what you atheists answer to us, when we speak to you about paradise and hell. He would say that the life in the mother's womb is the only one and that everything else is religious foolishness. But if the embryo could think, he would say to himself, ‘Here arms grow on me. I do not need them. I cannot even stretch them. Why do they grow? Perhaps they grow for a future stage of my existence, in which I will have to work with them. Legs grow, but I have to keep them bent toward my chest. Why do they grow? Probably life in a large world follows, where I will have to walk. Eyes grow, although I am surrounded by perfect darkness and don't need them. Why do I have eyes? Probably a world with light and colors will follow.'
"So, if the embryo would reflect on his own development, he would know about a life outside of his mother's womb, without having seen it. It is the same with us. As long as we are young, we have vigor, but no mind to use it properly. When, with the years, we have grown in knowledge and wisdom, the hearse waits to take us to the grave. Why was it necessary to grow in a knowledge and wisdom that we can use no more? Why do arms, legs, and eyes grow on an embryo? It is for what follows. So it is with us here. We grow here in experience, knowledge, and wisdom for what follows. We are prepared to serve on a higher level that follows death."
This truly is a beautiful insight... an inspired insight. May it touch you as it has touched me.
Please note: For this particular entry to make sense, you'll have to read the original one which can be found HERE. It's titled "Question Box Stumper - Adam and Eve."
This'll be jumbled, but I was in the shower a second ago when another thought struck me...
Adam, as a man, would have carried both an X and a Y chromosome. Since he technically had no mother, where did the X come from? EVE!
Women do not carry the Y chromosome. Only men. Women, instead, have a double X. Since we were taken from men and "closed up" with flesh, the only thing God would have taken would have been the X chromosome then finished us off with a second helping.
More proof that Eve was part of the equation from the very beginning... even though Adam was completely unawares!
:) :) :)
So last Tuesday, I chose the Big Bang Theory question out of the question box. While I was elated to delve into that with my students, I got smacked with a stumper at the tail end of that discussion.
One of my kids shot her hand up and asked "Why did God create man before woman?"
I knew it would happen eventually. My first stumper! I took a moment and said, "That is a great question! I honestly am not sure of the answer. Looks like this is one we get to save for next week!"
She was triumphant. She deserved to be. All the questions that got sent my way this year have been cake. To finally stump me... all the kids got excited. Ha ha ha. It was fun to see them so giddy. The best part, though, is I know all of them will be looking forward to how I tackle it this week. It's one of the reasons I love the question box so much. I've always got something to get them psyched about coming back!
Anyway, this one really did stump me. I talked it over with my Spiritual Director to gain some insight, but she had the same original reaction I did. We both had a good laugh over it, but neither of us offered any "concrete" answer that would satiate (and not befuddle) 6th graders.
My original thought process was "Man was created in the image of God. God, though "genderless" personifies the creative capacity of men moreso than the creative capacity of women. Though women take part in creation, it's a more passive role - accepting into herself the life that man offers. Mind you, I don't claim women are more passive in bearing forth life ('cause let me tell you, honey... we're about 1,000 times more active than men are in that regard). However, in the simple act of creation, women are the passive recipients of the life force men actively give.
Also, Adam may very well have come before Eve to solidify that God wishes men to be the heads of families.
That's when it hit me... God didn't create man first. God created man and woman at the same time. After all, when God brought forth Eve, He brought her forth from the rib of Adam. Eve, though not "alive" in the way we picture her - wandering around the garden getting hustled by a wily snake - existed within the bosom of Adam. God wished of Adam to recognize the need for a true mate so that Adam would appreciate the gift when God deemed him ready to accept her.
I then went and looked up the Hebrew versions of Adam and Eve. Here's what I found:
Adam comes from the Hebrew word "adamah" which means "earth" (a hilarious note for Battlestar Galactica fans out there). It also traces roots back to an Akkadian word, "adamu" meaning "to make." Akkadian, by the way, is a defunct Semitic language, so it's no wonder it shares the sound of the Hebrew.
Eve (or Eva) comes from the Hebrew word "havah" or "chavah" meaning "to breathe" or "to live."
Keeping this in mind, it makes sense, then, that Adam (earth) already possessed the breath of life (Eve) within himself. Until he was mature in both mind and spirit to appreciate understanding this gift, God with-held this knowledge from him. Adam thus had to ask God for a mate (prayer, anyone?). Only when Adam understood his need and God as the answer to that need did God cause Adam to sleep, thus enabling Him to "awaken" Adam, opening his eyes to the gift of woman that He chose to bless humanity with.
Okay, for real, how awesome is that?! The Holy Spirit let me dangle for a whole week this time, but ya know what? He knew the kids would be hounding me tonight, so He cut me a break. :) Three cheers for the Holy Spirit! :)
This Sunday's gospel is of great interest to me. Only recently did I come to understand the meaning of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's."
I admit that as a child, I was always highly confused by this. First, it's on the heels of Jesus' seemingly psychotic reaction to moneychangers in the Temple. That, in and of itself, was at odds with my idea of the peaceful, loving Jesus of the NT. The Jesus who overturns tables, scatters the merchants, and physically assaults the wares of the temple-goers seemed so fundamentally wrong that I'd brush it off, unable to reconcile the differences.
Next, Jesus seems to be saying that just because a coin has the Emperor's face on it, it belongs to him. That seems like a cheap way to say "Well, his name is on it, so give it back." That always reminded me of the bully in school who would say "That desk is mine!" and when you'd look at him thinking "What?" he'd point out his name, angrily etched into the grain, as proof the territory belonged solely to him.
However, I came across a book not too long ago that taught me how to delve deeper into the context of these passages. In attempting to better understand the Bible, this is one of those passages I took out for a test drive.
As I try to teach my current crop of students, we cannot fully appreciate the lessons of the New Testament without first understanding the Old. We also cannot understand the lessons of Christ without looking at His messages as a whole.
In other words, I'd been going about processing this particular story all wrong. Instead of "ignoring" the images of Jesus I was uncomfortable with, I needed to embrace them. Instead of reading this story out of context (just a snippet of a larger message), I needed to place this on the timeline of Christ's message and hear what He was trying to say and listen to the message as one of those present would have.
So let's lay out the framework for those less familiar with this particular story.
Jesus is preaching, publicly, to a group of the faithful.
The Pharisees send a representative to entrap Jesus with a question. The answer to that question, they believe, will indict Him against Rome and ensure His execution as traitor.
Jesus discerns the motive for the question and reprimands the representative, not before, however, indicting the representative against the Jewish people He was preaching to.
Now that we have the framework, we need to place this in a timeline. This exchange happens on Holy Tuesday... two days after Palm Sunday and three days before Good Friday. Unless you really know your gospels, that fact can be lost when you're hearing this reading on a Sunday in October.
The reason this is particularly important is the holiday in which it occurred. Jesus was in Jerusalem for Passover. Passover brought INCREDIBLE numbers of Jews from all over the empire to the temple to celebrate their most important feast. Keep in mind... since Jerusalem was a huge mecca the week leading up to Passover, extra Roman authorities were brought in to keep Roman rules in check.
In other words, there were a lot Jews in Jerusalem and because of that, there were a lot of Roman soldiers eyeballing everyone as a potential threat. That's also why Pontius Pilate was in Jerusalem. He didn't typically reside there. He, too, was brought in as an extra presence... a heavy reminder that though the Jews were allowed to practice their religion, they were still to recognize Rome and Caesar as the supreme "Son of God."
As a result, it makes perfect sense that the Pharisees would be extra inclined to get Jesus out of their hair. After all, Jesus represented a very real threat to them. They weren't just concerned that He challenged their religious authority... they were extremely concerned that He threatened their very existence in the face of THEIR bosses (the Romans) who had tasked them with keeping their people under the authority of Caesar.
So the fact that Jesus is running around preaching, in public, about the Kingdom of God and inviting the lower classes to unite (peacefully) against the materialistic, imperialistic and oftentimes violent Rome... it's no wonder their panties were in a bunch! If Pontius Pilate caught wind that the puppet leaders of the Jews weren't doing their job in assuring the authority of Rome, not only could they have been deposed - they could have been put to death as traitors themselves!
Again, this is VERY important to understanding why the Pharisees were so gung-ho about trapping Jesus in a public setting. Considering that Jesus had already gone berserk with the moneychangers just a day earlier, their nails were bitten to the cuticle and they needed to prove themselves as capable of squashing this rebellious leader.
The question they posed to Jesus was this: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
Truth be told, that is an absolutely BRILLIANT question to ask. To answer "No!" would label Jesus a rebellious traitor who could be jailed or worse for His denial of Roman rule. To answer "Yes!" would label Jesus as a traitor to His own people. Remember, the Jews at this time were under the rule of Rome. The yearly siphoning off of their hard-earned money was a painful reminder that they were not free and were, instead, working to prop-up the arrogance and wealth of their overlords. This is why tax collectors were hated. This is why money-changers weren't trusted.
So the Pharisees figured this question was win-win for them. A "no" would ensure Jesus was sent to jail and a "yes" would ensure every Jew listening to Him would spite Him henceforth. I have to give credit where credit is due, and they deserve credit here. That is a BRILLIANT question to pose.
No worries, though. For as brilliant as that question is, Jesus' answer trumps it by a mile. Jesus says "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax."
This first piece of information, though typically glossed over, is hilarious. Why did Jesus call them hypocrites? Why did He ask them to show Him a coin?
Because Jesus didn't have a Roman coin! None of the people He was preaching to would have had a Roman coin. Only the Pharisees or their corrupt representatives would be carrying around Roman coins! Jews would have to go to the Temple to change their local currencies into Roman currency in order to pay the tax. Once the tax was paid, they'd go right back to using local currency, doing their best to avoid any and all ties with Roman lordship (including use of Roman money).
Jesus, in asking for a coin, proves two things at once. First, He is unified with His Jewish followers against using Roman money. Secondly, He proves that the Pharisees were NOT unified with the Jews because they DID, in fact, keep and use Roman money.
This is why Jesus revealed them to be hypocrites. They put Jesus to the test without realizing that they, themselves were guilty of that which they were attempting to paint Christ into a corner with. Ah... hilarious.
Anyway, after they acknowledge the image of Caesar on the coin Jesus' response continues "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
This response is in no way evasive. It seems like that at first glance, though. However, in order to understand how precise this response is, the listeners must first understand the reference Jesus makes. Since the Roman soldiers wouldn't have been avid followers of Jewish Scripture, they wouldn't have picked up on the fact that Jesus was calling His listeners to mobilize for the coming revolution. The Jews Jesus was preaching to, however, would have heard the message loud and clear. The representatives of the Pharisees, too, would have understood the message, but would have been powerless to explain it to Roman soldiers. Thus, Jesus spoke the Truth free from reprisal.
You may be wondering how this could have been a call to mobilize. Again, let's go back to the Old Testament.
1 Maccabees, Chapter 2 deals with the defilement of the Temple and the enslavement of the Jews by Gentile forces. A small group of Jews decided to accept the violent force the Gentiles were using in coercing them to ignore God and His Commands. As a result, they were murdered viciously. Another small group of Jews, seeing this attack on their way of life, banded together and began a rebellion against the Gentile forces, demanding respect for the laws of God in the face persecution from Gentiles (those with no regard for God's Commands). The leader of this rebellion, Mattathias, was put to death for his part. However, before he accepted his fate, he pressed his followers to continue the fight for the right to follow God's Will above all else. His final words before execution were "Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and observe the precepts of the law."
Mattathias wasn't telling his followers to pay the Gentiles taxes. He was requesting that his followers avenge the violence committed by the Gentiles and to always give God the obedience His Law deserves.
This entire nuance was lost on the Roman soldiers who no doubt stood watch over the crowd. Jesus' followers, however, must have inwardly rejoiced, amazed - no doubt - by His courage and desire to overthrow the Romans who so viciously ruled them.
Jesus took their very dangerous trap and turned it into such a triumphant victory that the Pharisees were probably besides themselves with fear. It's no wonder they stepped up their efforts (through Judas) to dismantle Jesus' "Kingdom of God" rebellion before they, themselves, ended up killed.
So now, having a better grasp of the timeline, framework, and audience of this exchange, we come to understand that Jesus isn't just saying "Everything belongs to God." Jesus is concretely saying: "Followers, I have come as I have promised you. I have begun the rebellion as your Messiah. I have come to bring you salvation... to bring you the Kingdom of God. For that, I am happy to die. I now ask the same of you. After My Death, you must continue to carry out God's Commands. You must continue to strive to follow God's Will, and God's Will alone. Despite imperialism, despite materialism, despite the persecution that is sure to come, you MUST be willing to abandon yourselves to the Word of God. YOU carry the stamp of God within your soul, and as such, YOU belong to God. Give yourselves to Him wholly in all you do."
A very interesting and spine-tingling note about Mattathias' final words that only more firmly cements Jesus' prophetic call to action:
"Here is your brother Simeon who I know is a wise man; listen to him always, and he will be a father to you. And Judas Maccabeus, a warrior from his youth, shall be the leader of your army and direct the war against the nations."
Just as Mattathias left his followers Simeon (also known as Simon or "Thassi") as a wise and trusted father for his people, Jesus left for us Peter (ALSO known as Simon) as our first Holy Father. It's interesting to me that Mattathias' Judas is a champion of the Jewish armies while Jesus' Judas turns out to be unwitting champion of the enemy's army.
"Behold, I make all things new!"
So tonight I introduced my class to the Rosary. Being October, I thought it fitting.
I had printed out this beautiful image on a large, laminated poster in order to impart the idea that the rosary is pretty much the photo album of Jesus' life, but I quickly realized that the kids (for the most part) hadn't even been introduced to what the rosary was let alone how the mysteries played into the recitation at all.
I was floored!
So we began with where the rosary came from, how St. Dominic codified it courtesy of Our Lady's visions to him concerning the prayers, and the importance of the Hail Mary as a Jesus-centric prayer.
We focused, in particular, on Our Lady's words to St. Dominic. They are so beautiful, and they explain in perfect detail why this litany of "Angelic Salutations" is so vital for the regeneration of faith for humanity. She says to St. Dominic:
When God willed to renew the face of the earth, He began by sending down on it the fertilizing rain of the Angelic Salutation. Therefore preach my Psalter composed of 150 Angelic Salutations and 15 Our Fathers, and you will obtain an abundant harvest.
In other words, God began His renewal with the Annunciation. The angelic salutation that the Blessed Mother refers to is Archangel Gabriel's greeting of "Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee!"
I explained to the children that at this momentous event, the Blessed Mother came to understand that she was not only a mother, but the Mother of God! She was chosen to be "blessed among women" as the harbinger of salvation, even before John the Baptist. Her heart at these tidings was full of joy, brimming with gratitude, exaltation and hope that God would bestow upon her a gift so incomprehensible.
For many women, the moment of learning they're pregnant is a happiness incalculable. So when we say the "Hail Mary" we not only call to mind this immeasurably happy time for Our Lady, we call to mind this happy time for humanity as well, because as the Blessed Mother pointed out through St. Dominic, that first "Hail Mary" was the trumpet that sounded the calvary had arrived.
... Calvary ...
Until now, it never occurred to me how fitting it is that Christ died on Calvary. He truly was waging war against evil, and through that "last stand" He gained for us everlasting victory over death itself.
My heart has been humbled by so wondrous a thought.
As usual, I digress (but I thank the Holy Spirit for it this time).
Anyway, upon the Blessed Mother's acceptance of the news the Annunciation brought, Jesus was conceived within her (the Incarnation). So again, through the Angelic Salutation, Mary delivered her "Fiat" which, in turn, drew the Word of God into her womb. Thus, the Hail Mary prayer - ever echoing in thanks this most merciful act of God - is instrumental in helping us "fertilize" the earth. These prayers send a flourish of smiles across Our Lady's face because they remind her of a time so divinely precious that graces overflow in gratitude, raining down on souls as glorious, spiritual nourishment.
So I guess I'll be adding more to my Rosary series, especially for my CCD kids who are so hungry for these beautiful blessings of our Faith. If you, too, are interested in reading more about the Rosary, check out my sidebar and click on the "Rosary" heading under Categories. I've got a 4 part series (which will eventually stretch into about 12-15 parts) that delves into the most basic (and surprisingly misunderstood) understandings of this Advent Psalter.
While putting together another outline of material for my kids, I came across the realization that some kids think the Church began the second Jesus was born.
In fact, the Church began at Pentecost, when Christ's words were fulfilled in baptizing the Apostle's (and Blessed Mother) with the Holy Spirit. Catholics recognize Pentecost Sunday as the true "birthday" of our faith.
In my attempt to explain that, the analogy of Bride and Bridegroom popped up in my mind again (considering that's the most widely used
analogy in the Bible of God and His Church). I realized that much like any relationship, God's to the Church also developed and gave birth to what we now recognize as our faith.
Just a quick outline of my ideas:
If Pentecost is the birth of the Catholic Church, what was the conception? In my mind, that'd be Holy Thursday... the institution of the Holy Eucharist. After all, that act was Jesus handing Himself over totally (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) to His People (the future Church).
So if Pentecost was the birth and Holy Eucharist was conception, what was His Passion and Resurrection?
It hit me - labor. Christ very concretely LABORED intensely in order to bring about total salvation.
Now my mind started working backwards... if Christ conceived, labored and bore forth the Church through Pentecost, He had to have been given over in 'marriage' at some point.
It hit me again... Palm Sunday. Jesus was presented to the city of Jerusalem with the pomp of a wedding procession. The people welcomed Him as their hero... their protector.
Still working backwards, I wondered what His introduction to the future "Church" would
be when "Baptism" came to mind. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming, he
announced to the people "Here is the Lamb of God!" John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the people (the future Church).
That means that the entire courtship was Jesus' public ministry.
So wow. I picked up a pen and jotted down the following:
Jesus' introduction to the future Mrs. Jesus (Church): Baptism by John the Baptist
Jesus and future Church (the people) getting to know one another: Proclamation of the Kingdom, 3 years of ministry
Jesus' betrothal to future Church: Palm Sunday
Jesus' consummating fidelity to future Church: Institution of the Eucharist by literally giving ALL of Himself to the Church
Jesus laboring to bear forth the Church and ratifying the Will of God - Passion and Resurrection.
The Church, finally born in the fires of Pentecost, is made new. Just as the Bride takes the name of her Bridegroom, the Church - once just followers of a preacher named Jesus - take the name "Christians" unwittingly by consenting to follow Christ's message of love, sacrifice and hope.
K, so I realize this is all over the place, but I wanted to get it all out there so I could delve into this more when I got a chance. Also, feel free to leave feedback. I've already left this
with my wonderful SD, so hopefully she'll have more to say on this as well.
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