Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Legal Claim

Second Sunday of Lent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from Rom 8:31b-34. I strongly recommend reading beginning at verse 18, for context. Usually, I try to pull in all of the readings for mass, but this week, I just didn't understand the connection between all three together.

Instead, I'm going to invite you to also read the first chapter of Isaiah, particularly verses 21-28, and Matthew 18: 21-35.

Isaiah lays out in chapter 1 all of the ways in which, under the Law, God has a legal complaint against his people, Israel. They’ve transgressed both the spirit and the letter of his laws.

In the same way, we sin against one another and God, and we deserve all of his wrath. If God gave us real justice, none of us would deserve any better than Hell. We are dead in our trespasses if we don’t trust in the Lord for our salvation. We can’t earn it. [Note: See Mouseover!!]

For those who are in Christ Jesus, it has been earned already.

Beginning in Romans 8:18, Paul reflects on the the destiny of those who are in Christ Jesus. I think that he is speaking in the “eternal” sense when he says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

In the temporal sense, it’s pretty clear who can be against us. The whole world. It’s expected that the world will hate us - declared in Scripture. The world hated Jesus first - of course, it’s going to hate us, too.

So, in the eternal sense, let’s try to understand this.

The passage in Romans goes on to demand, “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn?”

This begged for me, this question: If God is not standing on his rights with me, who on earth has any similar, substantial claim? Who on earth has a complaint that even compares?

Nobody, that’s who.

Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? How he owed a debt that he could never hope to repay, and the master showed him mercy because he begged for it. The master later exacted justice on that servant because he stood on his “rights” when he really didn’t have any business doing it. The master had forgiven him freely, and yet this servant refused to do likewise for his fellow servant.

In spite of this warning, we hold grudges against others. The one who actually has a reason to complain isn’t complaining against them, and we are? How petty! What unproductive, unforgiving servants we are!

And we hold them against ourselves, too. It’s called “festering, unproductive guilt”. Who are we to second guess him? Even for our most serious sins, who are we to second guess him? If we’re really sorry, we’ve tried to make amends, and we’ve brought it to confession, why do we keep beating ourselves up about them?

A wise priest once told me that there is a kind of guilt that is not a conviction of the Holy Spirit. If the Devil can use our guilt to separate us from God, (by convincing us that we have to earn God’s forgiveness before receiving it) then he has us right where he wants us.

It’s important to distinguish between feeling convicted, and feeling like we have to do something to earn God’s forgiveness. It can be hard; and we have to rely on God to help us see it.

Let’s pray this week that the Holy Spirit give us eyes to see the difference between his conviction and something that doesn’t come from him. Let us ask that God give us the ability to forgive where we need to forgive, to ask forgiveness where we should, and for the ability to forgive ourselves.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Best Thing I Ever Did for Lent (Part 1/4)

I’ve done a lot of different kinds of things for Lent, but I think the one best thing I ever did was the year I decided to square myself with Church teaching on the Blessed Mother. My Monday posts for the next few weeks will chronicle what I did, what my experience was, and the fruits I have observed.

For years, I went round and round with myself about the dizzying height to which I thought some Catholics tended to elevate the Blessed Mother.

I couldn’t think of any other devotions that regular people did every. Single. Day. And quite frankly, it seemed like this pseudo-worship was kind of encouraged by local church leadership. Lay leaders, mostly.

I use the term “pseudo-worship” deliberately, because I knew that worshiping any beside God is not correct Catholic practice, but it seemed like everybody wanted to close group prayers with either the “Hail Mary” or “Hail, Holy Queen”.  And while I recognize that those prayers are not worship in themselves (nor even problematic), when they’re coupled with an incorrect attitude toward the Blessed Mother, they can lead one into error, and even into idolatry.

Moreover, it’s really difficult to make my Presbyterian husband feel welcome coming to church events when the same stumbling block gets thrown up at him over, and over, and over.

It bothered me. I mean, it really bothered me. What was wrong with all of the other prayers I ever learned when I was a kid?

When you get right down to it? Not a thing. Nothing was wrong with them, so why did everybody and his brother default to one of those two? It got to where it made me kind of mad that her devotions and her intercession got such vastly preferential treatment in the pews.

But like I keep telling Daniel: you don’t judge a religion (or a church teaching) by all of the flawed people that practice it incorrectly.

That said, some of the exceptions I had actually did rise to the level of dissenting against official church teaching, though never vocally. I was happy to keep my objections to myself and just trust that they weren’t wrong about anything really important. I just wanted an explanation. It didn’t have to be much… just point out what I’d been missing all these years.

To be specific, I had reservations about some of the later Glorious Mysteries because there appeared to be no biblical foundation for them. I wasn’t really comfortable with “proofs” taken from the woman in Revelation 12, because Revelation is highly symbolic, and difficult to interpret. Daniel often reminds me that John Calvin wrote a commentary on every book of the Bible except Revelation, and I have to agree that that choice wasn’t without good reason.

It wouldn’t have taken much to make a case for me - I was Catholic, after all. I just needed to see something other than the woman in Revelation. Even a good history of the Mysteries of the Rosary would probably have satisfied, but I never have seen one.

It looked like something got pulled out of someone’s hat somewhere up the way.

It looked like the Protestants might have gotten that one thing right.

I would recite the Rosary. Sometimes. When somebody else started it. What are you supposed to say when someone asks you if you want to pray the Rosary when you’d really rather not? No? (Ah, Sarcasm. My old friend.)

Of course not. You bite your tongue and you say the Rosary with them - because you’re wrong, and you know it. On occasion, I would even pray the Rosary alone, but it was rare. Less than once every three months, I think.

And then there was the language in which we discuss the sort of intercession done by Mary and the Saints. In my experience, calling it “prayer” is confusing to Protestants. The reason why is that most of my Protestant acquaintances (your experience may be different) very much blur the line between “praying to” and “worshipping”; for them, the two go hand in hand.

Prayer, for my Protestant acquaintances, is a kind of worship, because you (in their eyes) ascribe to the hearer of your prayer the ability (in and of themselves) to do something about it - in and of their own power, independent of the merit or assistance of anybody else. It is hard to explain the difference to them.

For a long time, I didn’t recognize my attitude as problematic. After all, saying the Rosary wasn’t mandatory, and it seemed apparent to me that the incorrect practices of some were damaging the credibility of the rest.

And… I think that’s enough for today. We’ve got the groundwork. More to come next week.

Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Baptism: A Big Responsibility

First Sunday of Lent

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Peter 3:18-22, I’d encourage you to read the rest of the readings.

The new covenant in Christ’s blood, of which we are partakers, is prefigured in great detail in the Old Testament.

The flood, Peter says, prefigured Baptism.

By coincidence, I happen to have recently had a lengthy discussion with Daniel about what Baptism is, and what is its function in the Christian life. (See the CCC 1214-1284, for its treatment on Baptism.) (Yes, we know. We’re both nerds who love the Lord.)

Peter says that Baptism is an appeal to God for a clear conscience. My Bible notes that the word “appeal” could also be translated “pledge”, which I think adds an important dimension of meaning to the passage.

If we are not baptized as infants, we also make a commitment when we get baptized, a pledge to live in accord with the precepts of the Gospel. It is expected that those baptized (or their parents, for infants baptized in the church) will do what is in their power to assist that faith to grow and develop into a more complete and mature faith.

For those of us who are parents, this is a very big and weighty undertaking, and very humbling when we realize the full scope of the task:
You mean I have to teach her everything in the textbook?
 And the Cliff Notes
But I haven’t even finished reading them myself!

There have been two thousand years of family history and development in our understanding of Christian doctrine.

We can’t hope to cover it all even once, so how do we make this look possible?

Three things come to mind:
(1) You can’t do it alone, and you aren’t doing it alone.
You have your spouse, and the godparents to help and support you in this undertaking, along with family and friends, when you need them. Call on them for their support and insight when you have a problem.
And aside from these, even the single, divorced, widowed, and disowned have another support - the Church herself. So, call on your parish to support you, too!
(2) Pray! Pray, pray, pray!
Jesus promised us that whatever we ask in his name (there are some strings attached to this "in his name" clause) will be granted. How might we suspect that the salvation of our children is anything but in accord with his holy will?
So, pray without ceasing. Ask others to join their prayers to yours. Storm heaven with your prayer!
And then...
 (3) Trust.
We have from God’s word that for him who has faith, all things are possible. And whoever has even the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains.
Trust that once you’ve put your best foot and prayed earnestly, God will take care of the rest.
 Let’s pray this week that the Lord will open the eyes of our hearts, so that we can see the next step in our own formation, and in that of our children.  Let us ask that he help us to make time for that next step in our busy schedules, to take it, and to do it as well and as completely as we can.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spring Cleaning

I attended a Catholic high school, and we had school mass once a month. That was back when I wasn’t really interested in my faith, so I wasn’t as excited as I should have been about going to mass.

I apparently was, however, paying enough attention that I still remember the Lenten meditation that we recited after communion during Lent each of the four years I was there. Well - I remember one line of it at any rate: Lent is the Church’s springtime. Lent is a time of reflection and growth. Lent leads us to Easter, and to new life. (I regret that I do not know where they got this reflection. If you do, please let me know so that I can give proper attribution.)

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that of all of the reflections for all of the liturgical seasons, that’s the one I remember. I also don’t think it’s any coincidence that Lent and spring coincide.

Lent is a good time to undertake some life simplification and spiritual spring cleaning. Removing the things that complicate your life also helps to remove the things that take your eye off Christ. I know that I find it much easier to sit down and pray when I’m not distracted by the clutter in my home - much less the “life clutter” that comes with drama.

One of the reasons that “spring cleaning” is undertaken in the spring is because for the first time in months, it not a bad idea to leave your doors and windows open. Before the days of air conditioning, the first warm days of spring meant that you could let a lot fresh air into your home for the first time in a while.

In those days, people would open doors and windows on the first warm, clear days of the year and do a lot of dusting, so that the breeze would waft in and carry the dust away. (You know, in the days before air conditioning and ionic breeze filters!)

How very good of the Lord to give us Lent and Spring at the same time. He encourages us first to open the windows to let a breath of the new life into our spiritual houses, and then to shake the dust from our apathy and get things really moving again.

We do a whole world of different kinds of things for Lent, but it really all comes back to this, we are doing what we can to open the doors and windows in our spiritual lives so that the Lord can breathe new life into it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Be Imitators

6th Week in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Cor 10:31-11:1… but as usual, I’m going to send you to read the rest of the chapter and the other readings. It’s Lectionary # 77, if you’re reading from a hard copy.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” quoth many a mother. We strive to be like the ones we love and respect. Children strive to be exactly like their parents, even when they don’t do it very well. (We’ve lost a few dishes to Pitter-Patter imitating us unloading the dishwasher!)

And Paul enjoins the church in Corinth (functionally) to the imitation of Christ. It’s a tall order - so tall that one might call it prideful to hope for success…

For that reason, it might be best for us to us to try to focus in on only one thing this week.  In the Gospel, the Lord heals a Leper and then enjoins him not to tell anybody how he was healed.

For a very long time, the fact that Jesus wanted his miracles to be kept a secret really, really confused me, until about 3 years ago, when Daniel’s pastor, Wayne King, pointed out that Jews of that day had a very large appetite for signs.

It happens a number of times in the Gospels that a sign is either called for or volunteered to confirm Jesus’ authority, which gives Wayne’s words a strong ring of truth. Their appetite for signs and miracles would have impeded the progress of the Gospel - and  we can see that after this man spread the tale about his miraculous healing, Jesus couldn’t even enter a town openly.

He certainly could have gotten a lot of popular esteem by doing lots of signs for the people, but how could he have preached if was positively tripping over people asking for signs all the time?

In much the same way, we could gain a lot of popular esteem by compromising on the Gospel. If we were just willing to pass over certain teachings that are unpopular, the gospel would be a lot more easily received.

If Jesus wasn’t willing to compromise the integrity of the Gospel for something that would be more popular, then neither should we! There are numerous places in the New Testament where serious warnings are given about modifying the Gospel message.

Let us ask the Lord to give us the grace to courageously proclaim the whole Gospel in our words and our actions. Let us pray that he give us eyes to see the places in which we have not been willing to follow his example, the grace to change our hearts, and the courage to act on it.

Monday, February 9, 2015

5 Things to Do for Lent

So it’s about time we start thinking about what to do for Lent, right? You could go to your old standbys of giving up chocolate, or candy, or coffee, but those are starting to feel a little worn out, and you’re looking for something to really shake up your interior life. Here are five ideas for things you could do for 40 days:

(1) Read a section of the Bible…thoroughly.
I’ve done failed the New Year’s Resolution of “read the whole Bible” before, and it doesn’t work out well over the course of a year, and I definitely don’t think it would go well in 40 days (or 46, counting Sundays - whatever).

It’s much more worthwhile, I think, to do something like, read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, or read St. Peter’s letters, or read St James’ letters, or read the Gospel of John.
To be perfectly clear, the goal is not to say you’ve read those books of the Bible. It’s to absorb them. If you finish, start over and read them again.
(2) Copy something from the Bible.
A couple of weeks ago, I became acquainted with the idea of hand copying scripture to spend time meditating on it, absorbing it, and making notes. This is on my list this year. I’ve started with Galatians, and I’m planning to (hopefully) finish it and keep going after I’m done, even after Lent, maybe, if it goes well.
 (3) Give up complaining about that person.
There is somebody in your life that you’re supposed to love who makes themselves difficult to love. You know the person I’m talking about. That frienemy that you love to hate. That relative whose favorite pastime is arguing with you. That person who really hurt you that you’re holding a grudge against. That person on Facebook who is always wrong and refuses to listen.

Or maybe it’s a group of people that really get your goat. Like I don’t like rude drivers of large vehicles, or activists on certain political subjects.  Give up complaining about them for 40 days, and refraining from whining about them when they annoy you becomes much easier, also.

I’ve done this one before, and it worked out really well. My relationship with this person was vastly improved by that Lent.

It had the added bonus that I developed a thicker skin when I came to this person, and I found that I had fewer reasons to complain, at least for a good, long while.

No, I have never told my person that I gave up complaining about them for Lent, nor do I suggest you do so. Unnecessary hurt feelings and whatnot. This person never did stop being themselves, (aw, darn them!) and I think I might be due to do it again.
(4) Give up indulging that emotion.
A friend of mine once expressed amusement that one of our mutual acquaintances for giving up “anger” for Lent. “How can you give up an entire emotion? You can’t just decide not to feel that way,” was her comment.

The short answer is, “No, you can’t.”

The longer answer is, “…but you can learn how to diffuse it in yourself, so it doesn’t grow to be sinful.” Anger, left unchecked, can grow to be wrath, which is one of the seven deadly sins. Taking action to keep yourself clear away from the near occasion of sin makes that a great thing to do for Lent.

Do you find yourself wallowing in any one emotion? Give up indulging it for Lent.
(5) Fast from social media.
Admittedly, this isn’t much of a fast for me. (Unless, of course, we're talking about Pinterest. Then I might be in trouble!). However, a lot of my friends live tethered to their devices because they just have to see the latest buzz on Facebook. You might discover - like I did, but not during Lent - that Facebook really makes you more miserable than it’s worth.
I found that some people who were my “friends”, and who I even talked to regularly in real life, are just jerks to others on the internet. (Though, I was somewhat relieved when these people decided that they no longer wanted to be my friend on Facebook.)
Another potential benefit is developing a greater “true intimacy” with your friends - because in order to be in contact with them you have to *gasp* call them! And *gasp again* talk to them!
Dude! I totally just realized that the last time I posted on Facebook was in November - though, to be fair, I almost posted something last week. (Maybe I should let poor Facebook know that I haven’t died!)
So, there you have it. My five great ideas for things to do for Lent. Have you had any unusual Lent ideas come your way? What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever done for Lent?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Our Attitude Toward Evangelization

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday, the second reading will be from 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23.

The epistle this week very much forms the bridge between the first and second readings, so I strongly recommend reading them, and go ahead and read a couple of chapters back on that first reading - just to really get the context. It’s lectionary # 74, if you’re reading from a hard copy source.

So, Job's friends see that he is miserable, and they come to comfort and counsel him about whatever his secret sin might have been, Job said all of the right things. He served the Lord, but he also complained about his burden (if you read on in Job 7 to the end of the chapter).

In the midst of his trials, Job does not serve with a willing heart, so for him, obedience is a heavy burden. Likewise, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus also serves the will of the Father. He works signs, he drives out demons, and then he gets up early enough to sneak out of town so as to ensure that the mission of the Father isn’t impeded by the townspeople’s appetite for signs.

Jesus, like Job, emptied himself to the Father’s will and placed himself at his Father’s disposal, but mark the difference between them in how they carry it out. Job patiently plods ahead, dragging one foot in front of the other, but Jesus is glad to do the work of his Father.

Paul reflects on the character of our obedience in this week’s second reading. By our condition as Christians we are made missionaries, and an obligation has been imposed on us. How do we take up this obligation?

Enthusiastically? (Jesus)

Willingly, but complaining? (Job)

Have to be dragged kicking and screaming? (Jonah) - Yeah, I know we didn’t read Jonah this week, but you know the story, right?

Paul reflects that if we are willing preachers of the gospel, the spread thereof is its own reward, and we do all we can to optimize our lives to further its ends.

We are called to be enthusiastic preachers of the Gospel. Is that what we are doing?

Do we gladly take up every opportunity we get to invite our friends and neighbors to come to knowledge of the truth? Or do we shy away from it? Would we rather send somebody “more qualified”?

Lord, help us to joyfully take up the call to make disciples of all of the nations. Show us where we are missing opportunities to grow your church. Help us to foster in ourselves and in our families a missionary outlook in our lives, so that we might always look for ways to spread the good news to those around us.

Monday, February 2, 2015

2.0 Readiness

Well, last week was exciting. I knew that Pitter-Patter and I weren’t feeling well, so I canceled my post on Monday. What I didn’t know was that within 24 hours of writing that post, we would be in the pediatrician’s office sporting 103.7.

Pitter-Patter is a dream of a child - she communicates well, she slept through the night early, she loves fruit and vegetables, and doesn’t really like cake or candy… and she doesn’t even cry all that much.

Up until the “Great Ear Infection Crisis of 2014” she’d never given us anything in the shape of a “real” problem or scare. It was the most I’d heard her cry in months. (She did not want that sponge bath I gave her when I realized what her temperature was, and she did not want me to give her a cold bottle of milk to bring her temperature down instead of nursing her. And she definitely didn’t want me to put her down long enough to put clothes on and comb my hair before we left for the doctor.)

I had about 18 hours of good, solid “parental freak out mode.” In short, it was a really big deal for us - at least until she started showing a dramatic improvement within an hour of the first dose of antibiotics. Big enough that I think it was kind of significant for my growth as a parent.

I have always known that I wanted a big family - or at least what passes for a big family nowadays. (12 is big, right?) But after having such an obviously easy child, I wasn’t really sure I was ready. Something was telling me that I wasn’t quite ready to make that jump from one to two. A kid that doesn’t give you any real problems can’t possibly prepare you for settling World War 3 in the back seat.

In short, I was scared about it, but maybe I didn’t really need to be. Pitter-Patter is fine, and I hadn’t thought about it before, but in the last week, she’s actually started throwing fits (laying on the floor and screaming) when I tell her that she can’t have/do something she wants, and she’s also starting to show some early signs of potty training readiness. And I’ve been handling those transitions pretty well.

I think I was more ready than I was giving myself credit for. I just needed God to show me.

Also, because I know my parents read this blog… No, Mom. I am not pregnant. :-)