Thursday, January 29, 2015

Our Imperfect Marriages

  Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Cor 7:32-35. This reading is in sequence from last week's epistle reading.

So, last week, Paul counseled the church in Corinth on the need for detachment from this world. This advice was given in the midst of his instruction for widows, virgins, and married people.

In this week’s reading, he zeroes in on one possible problem for those in married life. Paul leads off this passage by asserting that he desire that his brothers and sisters in Christ can be free of anxiety. What does this really mean? defines anxiety (in non-clinical context) in this way:
1. distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune
2. earnest but tense desire; eagerness

I think that both of these definitely apply to married life, though perhaps not in this order. I’d like to focus on the second definition.

Consider how one acts in a new relationship (either when you’re still dating, or when you’re newly married). How did you act toward your husband (or wife) in the early days? I’d be willing to bet that you were anxious to please them? Any little gift - breakfast in bed, the last chicken finger in the box, that [whatever-it-was] that they just had to have - you watched them very carefully to make sure it was everything they hoped for.

Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Marriage is a vocation of service. I should want to serve my husband, to do for him, to make him happy; I should desire that he continue to be refined to more perfectly resemble the image and likeness of God. And he should want to do the same for me.

Paul’s point is that because we are finite creatures, this eagerness that we have to please our husbands does take away from the energy we are able to put into serving Christ. We can only do so much before we collapse from exhaustion. We who are married are, in a word, “divided”.

This is not so much a fault as it is a fact of life. In married life, we do what is called for by our vocation. Paul says that there isn’t anything wrong with married life. Earlier in the chapter, Paul says that those who are married shouldn’t seek to be single, and he says that a person who marries commits no sin by doing so.

We, being fallen creatures, will not live our vocation perfectly, we will love inadequately (neglect), incorrectly (lust), or to excess (idolatry), but we are, each of us, called to love our spouses in the way that Christ loved his church - perfectly. And we are to desire one another’s spiritual perfection.

Let’s pray that God will open the eyes of our heart to show us the ways in which our love for our spouses is not in line with his plan for us. Let us also pray that he will provide for us a course correction, so that our marriages will more perfectly reflect the plan he has for our lives and what is in store for us in eternity.

Monday, January 26, 2015

No Reflection Today

Sorry, everyone!

I had hoped to post about the LA Life March today, but because I started feeling bad when I got home and spent the rest of the weekend too sick to write, I am going to hold off on posting a reflection today.

I would rather do that than write a mediocre (or possibly lousy) reflection in the name of following my editorial calendar. I will consider doing a catch-up post in the coming week or so.

Pitter Patter is also sick right now. She got sick Friday and threw up on my face at 2AM Saturday. Daniel has been laughing at me for emphasizing where she threw up any time I tell the story about what happened.  He and I were both frazzled, because of the whole 2AM part (me more so because of the whole on my face part), but she thought it was great! She got to take a bath right then; bath time is currently one of her top favorite things.

She still has a runny nose, but she's been in generally very good spirits. It's taken me about half an hour so far to write this post because she has brought me several books to read in between sentences!

Please say a prayer that our recovery proceeds quickly. I'd really like to get back to full speed on these blog posts!

Again, my apologies for the lack of a reflection today. :-(

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Without Interference

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Cor 7:29-31. It would be helpful to also read The rest of the chapter, and the other readings for today. It's Lectionary #68, according to the USCCB, if you want to look it up offline.

Can it be that Paul is telling us that we who are married should act like we are not married? That those who weep or rejoice should pretend that their sorrows and joys simply do not exist? That we should not make use of the world that God has set before us?

Of course not! (He says this all the time. I figured it was safe for me to do it too!) To suggest that married people should act as if they were not married would be to suggest that we should neglect our loved ones, rather than teaching them to follow Christ. And to suggest that when we weep or rejoice, we should act as though we are not weeping or rejoicing is to deny a part of the humanity that God blessed us with - our human emotions.

Then what is he talking about?

It is important to note that the first reading this week recounts what the citizens of Nineveh did when warned of God’s coming wrath, and the Gospel reading this week relates the main working of Jesus’ public ministry. He went to Galilee proclaiming that, “The kingdom of God is at hand,” and the call of four of the twelve disciples. In both cases, they drop everything to respond to God.

It is also important to note that he gives this advice in the midst of a section with instructions on marriage and virginity. One of his important points not included in this section is this: an unmarried woman (or man, he says it for both) does not have a husband to draw her attention away from the Lord, as a married woman does.

Members of the early church had a much more concrete sense that they could meet Christ at any time (either at his return, or their martyrdom). That is something we - who are not missionaries in countries where you can be killed or jailed for being a Christian - have lost. It’s not hard to find them, though. Just search the web for “Christian Martyrs 2014”.

It is Paul’s first concern for the Corinthians that they be able to seek the will of the Lord without the world to interfere. His instruction, then, is not to neglect those things which God has blessed us with, but to give to them their proper station and no more.

We should love our families, and we should not allow our homes to fall into a state of disrepair, because we have no idea when Christ might return. We should not, however, allow people or things to take our eye off God. Yes, take your family on a picnic, celebrate your kids’ birthdays, repair your leaky faucet, replace the crummy awning on the back porch, but don’t let these things distract you from loving the Lord and seeking his will for your life.

Let us pray this week for God’s grace to actually see the idols we have set up in our lives in place of him, and how these things might be given their proper station. Let us ask that he take away the scales from our eyes that we might see ourselves as we truly are, rather than as we want ourselves to be. Let’s also ask that God grant us the strength to change our lives, so that we are centered on Christ, rather than on something else.

Please Pray

I'm apparently a little behind, since several bloggers have already posted their columns on this.

The LA courts are trying to compel a priest in our diocese to give information about what was divulged to him under the Seal of Confession. The young woman in question was abused by a parishioner (who has since died), not a priest, when she was twelve years old. She has said that the priest told her to hush it up. Given everything else I know about the priest in question, this literally makes no sense.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge appealed up to the SCOTUS, which declined to hear the case.

Please include in your prayers. Here are some links for further reading on what's going on, and why it's important.

Catholic Culture - US Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of Louisiana case challenging confessional seal

Satan Ups His Game: Supreme Court Declines to Protect Secrecy of Sacramental Confessions, by Jennifer Fitz

Supreme Court Will Not Hear Confession Confidentiality Petition, by Simcha Fisher

I will be posting my regular reflection later this morning.

Monday, January 19, 2015

10 Ways to Switch Gears for Prayer

I can’t be the only one who struggles to be in a good frame of mind when I’m praying. It takes me a little while to change gears, and so if it’s been a rough day, I might spend half of my “prayer time” mentally chewing out various people who’ve gotten on my bad side throughout the day.

Here are some ways you might consider to help you switch gears, so that you can enter into your prayer time a little more effectively.

(1) Take a walk.
When I’m wound up about something, walking can help me unwind a little.
(2) Take a shower.
A good shower often helps me clear my head. I even come out singing show tunes sometimes!
(3) Play a game - one that you can do by yourself.
Choose a game that you are good at, but don’t generally feel a driving need to win. Remember, this is mostly about helping yourself switch gears. I have lately found that playing with a Spirograph I got for Christmas can be helpful to me in mentally settling down. (Yes, I asked for the Spirograph. Yes, I got my husband toys for Christmas, too. ^.^; )
(4) Spend a few minutes journaling.
Journals are a great way to help you let go of your stress. I know that there are times when I just need to process something, and writing is a great way to do that, especially when its a topic that Daniel is a little worn out of listening to me talk about. Nothing like writing it down to help you realize how silly the things you’re mad about really are.
(5) Listen to some music to change your mood.
I like Pandora. It was a huge help to me during Advent. I left the music going, and gradually, I turned my regular stations off, and my Religious and/or Christmas stations on as the weeks went by and Christmas approached. It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to set up a couple of faith-centered stations, and gradually turn off the others throughout the evening until it gets close to prayer time.
(6) Do some spiritual(ish) reading.
The idea is to shift your focus from things of this world to things above. It ideally isn’t anything terribly challenging, just enough to remind you of the presence of God.
Recommendations: Mere Christianity, Secret of the Rosary, The Five Love Languages for Kids, Raising God-first Kids in a Me-first World, or try reading some of the pope’s recent talks on the Vatican Information Service e-mails. (I say this about Pope Francis; this will vary with the speaking style of any particular pope.)

(7) Do some theology study.
I know, I know, this sounds an awful lot of the previous suggestion. If you’ve ever spent any time reading theology (as opposed to other kinds of spiritual reading) you can testify that it is not the same. Theology is often very difficult to read. The sentences can be long, can be difficult to understand, and might even require diagramming (especially if the writer was not a native speaker of English). Spiritual reading gently nudges you away from your worldly thoughts. Theology bulldozes you away from them. You can’t focus on anything else and make headway at reading your theology.
Recommendations: Redemptoris Mater, Summa Theologica, Any of the Vatican II documents.
(8) (women only - sorry, guys) Consider wearing a chapel veil or other head covering during your prayer time.
I know, chapel veils are a little off the beaten path, right? I used to think so, too. There's like one other lady in my parish who wears a headcovering at mass.

I haven’t been wearing a chapel veil very long. I only started wearing them for mass in the last 6 months or so. I’ll probably do a full post on my reasons for starting at a later time, but among my reasons was to help me focus, and to keep me focused on God while I’m there.

I have noticed a difference. My toddler is still a toddler, so I still get my attention suddenly wrested away from mass every week, but I have found that I refocus more quickly than I used to - it serves me as a reminder of what I’m there to do.

For those who are not used to veiling, it’s not necessary to wear a designated “chapel veil” or “mantilla.” You can use any scarf, doily, hat, or even a towel that happens to be convenient. Plus, as an added bonus, you won’t have anything to feel self-conscious about (like you might think you do at mass).
(9) Begin with a litany or other memorized prayer.
And pray it out loud! If possible, choose ones that you don’t know super well, but can mostly get through by just glancing down at a printout. If you pick one that you’re too familiar with, you can put yourself on “auto pilot”, and you’ll finish just as wound up as you were when you started.
(10) Keep practicing until you find something that works best for you.
We all struggle with distractions. When you find yourself fixating on something that made you angry during the day, apologize to the Lord for being distracted, ask for his help, and try to move on.
…and it’s occurring to me that many of my suggestions are the very same things that some people do to get ready for bed, so try not to fall asleep, if you do a bunch of them in succession!

Do you have any tricks that help you switch gears for your prayer time?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Temple of the Holy Spirit

Second Week in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”

Humbling words, right? To think that we have in our possession a dwelling place of the holy Spirit, and what do we do with it? If you read back a little in the chapter, there’s no doubting that Paul’s intention was to discuss sexual immorality, but let’s take this a step broader.

Do you really believe that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit? That it is a good and beautiful thing that you’ve been given, free of charge? (You should!)

How poorly do we maintain the temple we’ve been given? How many times this week have we skipped meals? Do we usually get ourselves to bed at a decent hour? When we’re sick, do we push ourselves, or do we stay home and look after our health until we’re better?

My parents told me a story about some neighbors they had a long time ago who were given a brand new refrigerator, for free, because they really needed it. When those neighbors moved (not long after receiving the fridge), they left behind the refrigerator and it was given to my parents. It was frankly in deplorable condition. My dad said that for months it had to be kept outside because the smell was so rank.

It’s easy to neglect the condition of things we’ve received for nothing. We’ve received our bodies and souls for nothing. Do we take care of them? Do we put them through their regular maintenance? Do we feed them right?

How ungrateful we can be in looking after the gifts received from almighty God! How could we be better about this? Think of one way, right now. I’ll wait.

It could be as simple as having more than a cup of coffee for breakfast… Or getting to bed at a decent hour, or saying a morning offering every day. Make that one small change for this week to take better care of the gift that God has given to you.

Let’s pray that God will give us the grace to recognize the ways in which we are not treating the gift of our bodies with the care they deserve. Let us pray that we might turn the one small change we’ve made into a habit of caring for ourselves better in the future.

(Full disclosure: I am 5’4”, and weight 195lbs. (That’s about 1.6m and 88kg.)  In the past week, there have been multiple days on which I have forgotten to eat one meal or another without just cause, and I am not good about remembering to exercise. I am trying to be better about these and other ways in which I have not manifested due gratitude to God for the gift of my body. I just wanted to be clear that I am not talking about “other people” when I say “we” in this post!)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Staring into the Infinite

Have you ever had to drive on one of those days when there’s a cloudless sky, and the sky is so blue that it hurts your eyes to look at it?

I found myself looking up at just such a sky one day last week. Only a few clouds, and the sky was this deep, bright blue. It’s hard to explain until you see it, and then you never quite forget how gorgeous it is. This always seems to happen to me when it’s freezing cold outside - also, when I'm driving and therefore unable to take a picture.

If it wasn’t for the atmosphere, you could see into space. Could look directly into the infinite. Finite, next to infinite. It reminds me of what I am like next to God.

It’s an awe-inspiring thought. It makes me feel, truly, how small I am, in comparison to the rest of creation, and how small I am compared to God.

And if it were not for the atmosphere, we would be fully exposed to the sun’s radiation every day. The atmosphere protects us from this. Not too long ago, it was pointed out to me that if we were exposed to the full glory of what happens each week at Mass - if the accidents changed with the substance - we couldn’t stand it.

While the atmosphere protects us from the sun’s harmful radiation, it also prevents us from seeing the sun as it truly is, as does the vast distance between us and the sun. In the very same way the fact that the accidents do not change at mass is an expression of the mercy of God.

We could not stand the full glory of God as he is - not in our present, sinful state, and so God covers that glory under the accidents of bread and wine, for our benefit.

If you have time this week, I would encourage you to visit the adoration chapel, and spend a little time gazing into the infinite.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

No Partiality

The Baptism of the Lord

This Sunday, the second reading will be from Acts 10:34-38. I strongly recommend also reading the whole chapter for context.

If you’re a little confused by the Baptism of the Lord, you’re in good company (or at least plenty of company). Several heresies throughout the ages have denied the dual nature of Christ. The consequence of some of these heresies is the error that Jesus was “just a guy” until John baptized him, when God came upon him, and then left him at the crucifixion.

The Lord’s baptism is recorded in all four gospels, so we can be pretty sure that the first generation of apostles thought it was important. The reason why is harder. The Summa Theologica contains a question on The Baptizing of Christ. I am still working on reading it myself, and have found it enlightening so far. Dive in at your own risk, though - the Summa is not easy reading!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why I am Organizing my Husband's Church for the Louisiana Life March

Daniel is a member of a small Presbyterian church. They have sixty people in the building on a good Sunday.

A few weeks ago, I approached one of the elders in the church about attending the Louisiana Life March South, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. There were a few reasons why.

(1) Abortion is one of the great evils of society.
What? It is. Our society is willing to condone this particular type murder for any reason - in the name of convenience, freedom, or just for spite.
The culture pretends that it’s about personal liberty and empowerment and happiness, but this is a lie. Happy and empowered people just don’t get abortions. They just don’t. You know who does? Scared people. Desperate people. People who don’t see any other way. Those are the people we need to reach out to the most.
And so, in summary, I am willing to recruit anyone who is willing and peaceful to come and march and pray with me that it might come to an end. Which brings me to my second reason:
(2) Abortion is not a “Catholic” issue.
Abortion is widely perceived as an issue of the Catholic Church. This perception is often used against us whenever we discuss pro-life issues. (i.e. - “Don’t hold others to your arbitrary standard of morality.”) Several members of Daniel’s church have lamented to me about that fact. I believe that if more non-Catholics attend these events, this perception will be more easy to disprove.
We shouldn’t treat abortion as a Catholic issue. We should treat it as a issue for all people of good will. We should invite everyone we can find to come and march and pray with us.
(3) It is an opportunity for Christians to evangelize to the culture together.
One commonly cited reason that I hear for people leaving the church is hypocrisy among the members. We talk about love, and yet “good” Christians of different denominations are at one another’s throats - in public.
When I was a kid, we were always enjoined to be on our best behavior on field trips, "because we were representing our school." I think this is a good rule for us Christians when we interact with on another in front of the watching world. We can have our interdenominational disagreements, but not when we’re trying to do outreach to those who don’t know Jesus yet, or who have turned away from him. It’s not the time or place; we can talk about interdenominational concerns another time.
(4) There was a need.
As I mentioned, the church is very small, and they had so many who are of one mind as to the moral character of the issue and of attending the march. If I had seen a need to organize participation from my local Catholic parish, I would have volunteered there, but there simply isn’t such a need.
If your husband (or wife) is not Catholic… by all means, invite their whole church to join you at your local pro-life events. You won’t do them or yourself any harm by inviting them to come and stand against evil and for good.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christ for the World

The Epiphany of the Lord

This Sunday, the second reading will be from Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6.

The first Messianic prophecy in the bible occurs in Genesis 3:15. What do you suppose Adam and Eve would have said and done if God had unfolded for them the full plan for salvation right then? Do you think they could have possibly understood it all? Could they have even taken it all in?

Certainly not. At the time, they didn’t even have any idea what this thing called “dying” was, only that it would be necessary for them to one day do it, and it was a punishment.

God has, throughout the history of humanity, revealed himself to mankind, until ultimately, we were ready to receive the whole plan. God chose Abraham, and his descendants to be his chosen people, revealed his laws to them in the desert, and chastened them throughout history whenever they drifted away to the service of other gods. And with each event, he revealed to this chosen people more of himself, and more of the plan, all the while leaving the rest of the world in the dark.

Public revelation was closed with the completion of the New Testament. But now Christians are in very much the same place as the Jews had been in salvation history, right up to the coming of Christ. “Darkness covers the Earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.” We have the light and can see to walk a clear path.

The earliest Christians were a sect of Judaism. Isaiah prophesied that Israel, his chosen people would lead all of the nations of the earth to him. The Great Commission can be understood as an extension of the prophecy about Israel. The chosen people of God - at least the ones who accepted the Messiah - have worked hard to spread the word about him to the nations. Gentiles, too.

Most Christians, nowadays, are not converts from Judaism. Most of us are converts from something else - somewhere up the way in our family tree. This is because that first generation of apostles wisely discerned God’s will for the church that it be open for all of mankind.

In this Sunday’s second reading, Paul declares that it is God’s will that the church must call all of the nations to repent of their sins and come seeking the Lord, in the very same way that the three wise men came seeking the new king.

Let us pray, thanking God that the salvation that has been made available to all the nations through the perfect sacrifice of Christ our Lord. Let us pray that we might manifest true gratitude.