Thursday, February 28, 2013

And Now, We Wait

It's too soon to say goodbye, Papa.  Though years will pass by, and others will come and go, you will always be the first, and you will hold a special place in my heart.  Though I had only begun to get to know you, and feel that stirring of genuine affection for you, these past weeks have brought it into sharper focus, and the bittersweet emotion threatens to pull tears from me.  Tears.  Over the loss--not even through death--of the father figure I really barely knew.  I used to wonder how it was that Catholics the world over could love this man.  Love him, love him.  The vast majority will never meet him, touch him, or even see him in person.  Yet they love him, with the kind of love that brings tears for the loss of him.  Astounding.

Then I found myself loving him.  And facing the loss.  So this is what it is to be Catholic.  To feel the emptiness of the papal palace, the darkness of its windows, within your own heart.

And now, we wait.  And the world watches.  All Creation seems to hold its breath along with us.  Which doesn't seem logical in the least, if you think about it.  Short of a supernatural element, how does anyone explain the impact on the world of the Bishop of Rome?  To those who are not Catholic, particularly those who are not even Christian, why does this man matter?  Why do you care what he teaches?  He has no earthly authority to compel you to abide by his teachings.  If you think he is wrong, you are free as a bird to live as you will.  He won't be sentencing anyone to prison, forty lashes, or a day in the stocks.  Those of you who wish to live contrary to what the Church teaches, why does it matter to you if the next Pope changes that or not?  You have free will.  Many mock the very notion of sin as antiquated superstition.  Why, then, do you want so badly for the new Pope to teach that your favored sins are no longer sins?  Okay, end of puzzled quasi-rant.

If you aren't going to obey me anyway, why do you care what I say?

But really, I say all that to point out this:  the Pope is important.  Whether we understand or can articulate why, he matters, and not just to the Church, but to the entire world.

And we hold our breath, because the chair is now empty.  Pope Benedict XVI has retired to a life of prayer, and we await the next Successor of St. Peter.  It's a bit like watching a chrysalis, and waiting for the butterfly.  You don't know precisely when it will emerge, or what it will be like, but you know it will eventually come, and it will be a thing of beauty.

Hope.  Pray.  But don't worry.  Easter is coming.  :)  As Blessed John Paul II once said, "Do not abandon yourselves to despair.  We are the Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Because Life's Too Short

Okay, I'm not real sure where this post is going to go, but I'm just going to start writing and see.  Jen Fulwiler over at Conversion Diary recently did an excellent, but simple piece on her first time wearing a veil to Mass.  I subscribed to the comments via email, and I have to say, it's been interesting following them.

What strikes me is the number of women who would like to wear a veil--or perhaps a stylish hat--but they don't.  Why not?  Because no one else does, or not enough others do, and they are afraid of sticking out.  And I at once completely understand this and am completely baffled by it.  If there is something you feel you should do (and the call to veil is backed up by Holy Scripture and the better part of Holy Tradition, so it's not some random, new-agey, feelings thing) to give honor and glory to God, why should it stop you that you are in the minority?  If you understand the devotion and would like to practice it, why would you feel it necessary that everybody (or indeed anybody) else do it first?  As Christians, particularly as Catholic Christians, we are routinely called to do what is right over what is popular.  Just because something falls out of fashion does not mean it ceases to be right.  And judging from the stream of comments I'm reading, how many other women in your parish do you suppose might just be waiting for "someone else" to do it first? What's wrong with being the first?

So the Church does not require a headcovering for a woman attending Mass anymore.  (Though this point is debated in some circles, I think it's safe to say that even if it's true that the requirement still technically remains, it isn't being enforced.)  So what?  The Church compels no Catholic to ever touch a rosary, yet I'd venture a guess that the vast majority of us own at least one, and most of us make use of it at least occasionally.  What the Church requires of us is the least we are to give, not the most.  A beautiful devotion should not be rejected because it is not required; neither should it be rejected because it is not fashionable.

Don't misunderstand me.  A great many of the women I attend Mass with do not chose to veil.  They are devout Catholic ladies, and without their faith and their devotion to the Faith, I would probably not yet be Catholic (though I'm certain I would have been eventually).  I do not think they are less holy, less righteous, or less devoted to Christ because they do not do so.  Their choices and their reasons are their own, and I fully accept that God grows His children in the ways and times He sees fit.  Perhaps some may choose one day to try on a veil and find they like it.  If the fact that I wore one first emboldens them to do so, should they feel led, then I am happy for that.  But I don't think any of us should feel as though we must wait for someone else to go first.  Life is too short to agonize over what other people will think of you.  Most will, I assure you, react positively or not at all.

Of course, there's always One in Every Crowd.  I got one of those sorts of comments through my email, though I notice it's no longer on the blog's comment thread.  Perhaps the commentor thought better of his response and removed it; I don't know.  But let me explain what I mean by One in Every Crowd.  This is the sort of person who believes that veiling is about modesty, and since veiling is no longer fashionable, no one should do it, because to wear a veil when no one else around you is doing so makes you stand out, and that is the exact opposite of modesty.  This person (as a general character sketch, mind; I don't know the guy personally) believes it is a sin against the spirit of Christian modesty to not follow the crowd and just be like Everybody Else.  If everyone else is doing (or wearing, or not wearing) something, good or bad, you should too, or risk calling undue attention to yourself and therefore being immodest.


The lack of logic and blatant misunderstanding (or ignorance of) Scripture displayed in this attitude is astounding.  Are we not called to be salt and light?  Are we not called to be in the world, but not of the world?  Did the holy saints of old follow the crowd right off a cliff, or did they stand up and proclaim (and live) the Truth, sometimes to their martyrdom?  Christian modesty is about submission to God and the Church, not to the secular culture.  This line of thinking would, by logic, suppose that if every woman on the beach is wearing a string bikini, one who arrives in shorts and a t-shirt is being immodest.

Um. . . yeah, okay.  Really?  That's the best you've got?

I once knew an elderly lady who wore delightful hats (her Easter bonnets were not to be missed) and, often, the most amazing pair of leopard-print stiletto heels.  What was incredible was her complete and utter class.  How many women do you know who can pull off animal-print heels and make it look classy?  Seriously.  But she did.  Because that's who she was.  She was completely and unapologetically herself.  Life was too short to be anything else.  She was probably the sweetest person I've ever known.  She was herself.  She was loved.  And she was unforgettable.  Not because she blended in with the crowd, but because she was unafraid to stand out.

Never tell yourself you can't do something that you want to do (if that something is not a bad thing, of course, lol) just because you're afraid to be different.  Life's too short!

On Shoes, Suffering, and Spiritual Maturity

I recently bought a pair of shoes.  Boots, actually.  These shoes are fantastic.  Every woman should own a pair of shoes that makes her feel as great as these shoes make me feel.  Except for one thing.  You women out there, you know what I am about to say.  These shoes are their own penance.  My feet hate these shoes (though perhaps not as much as they've hated others I've owned in the past).  After wearing them for a few hours, my feet scream for mercy.

And yet, I continue to wear these torture devices.  God have mercy on my feet.  I have told certain friends of mine that they are bad influences.  You all know who you are; there is no need to name names.

But here is where it gets interesting.  My pair of Boots That Secretly Hate Feet is teaching me a lesson about suffering and spiritual maturity.  Yes, you read that right.  Let me (try to) explain.  See, the first day I wore my new boots, and I came home with feet screaming for mercy, I took them off.  Then I had to run some other errands.  Plus, I just don't like running around without shoes; it's an issue caused by a houseful of kids.  I know it's caused by kids because before I became a parent, I had no problem with schlepping around the house barefoot.  But now, you just never know what you might step on.  Or in.  Wear shoes.  But anyway. . . I was still wearing tights, and they were handy, so I slipped on a pair of lower-heeled pumps.  On past days, I have considered even these shoes torturous.  But on this day, I wore them around for pretty much the rest of the day.  And they were. . . oddly comfortable.

So how does this tie in to suffering and spiritual maturity?  I guess you could say God used it to show me that challenging yourself a couple levels beyond your comfort zone, whether in suffering gracefully (which is what those shoes sure brought to mind!), or any other area you struggle with, can make what seemed difficult before appear. . . oddly comfortable.  Now if I can just remember to apply that lesson and purposefully challenge myself.  :)

Oh, and I also remembered, whilst chasing my three-year-old through the grocery store, another reason why I haven't worn heels much since I started having children:  They really slow me down!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Examining the Papacy

Okay, so in the beginning, I promised you guys more than just ramblings about my life and failures; remember that?  I promised answers to the questions some of you no doubt had about my choice to become Catholic.  However, since no one has asked any questions, I found myself at a loss for where to begin.

With the impending end of Pope Benedict XVI's pontificate, and the question of who will be next hanging in the air, the world is watching the Catholic Church, and the papacy, in a way they do at no other time.  So, it's as good a time as any to explore the question of the papacy.

As a non-Catholic, and even as I began to honestly explore the teachings of the Catholic Church, the "Pope" question was a big deal to me.  How could so many people believe that this one man was perfect?  That he was never wrong?  Christ alone was perfect.  Wasn't the Pope just a man?

What I found was both surprising (because it's not what I thought the Church taught) and reassuring.  The Pope is, indeed, just a man.  A fallen mortal, just like you and me.  He is not sinless or perfect, he is sometimes wrong.  For a fun example, if you asked the Pope for next week's Powerball numbers, he has just as lousy a chance of picking the winning set as anyone else.  :)  A Pope can even sin his way straight into Hell.  A few probably have.  The Church has had a few really crappy Popes in her 2,000 year history.  In 2,000 years, and given that, as we've already discussed, being elected Pope doesn't make a man automatically perfect, I suppose that's to be expected.  And it's as much a testament to the divinely-established nature of the Church as anything else.  If she has survived, with her deposit of faith (the core beliefs of Christianity, passed down from the Apostles) intact, even with mortal, fallible, and (sometimes extremely) sinful men at the helm, it makes it harder to doubt that God is behind it all.

One of my favorite bloggers, Leila Miller at Little Catholic Bubble, has done several excellent posts on the papacy, and I recommend reading them.  She has a way (a gift, if you will) of making the Church's teachings accessible and easy to understand.  If you're specifically looking for her articles regarding the papacy, here are the links, but the rest of the site is worth your time.


Point is, it's not really the Pope himself who is anything special, although if the Cardinals have done a good job, he is a holy man, a servant of God, and a man of impeccable character, devoted to Christ and to His Church.  Many men, however, fit that definition, and very few will ever be Pope.  It is the office of the Papacy that receives the special blessing of Infallibility.  Catholics believe that the Pope, by the virtue of his office, is protected (while serving in that office) from teaching error as truth in the areas of faith and morals.  So to those in the secular media who are constantly wondering if the next Pope will change the Church's teaching on abortion, contraception, homosexual relationships, or women in the priesthood--prepare to be disappointed.  He won't.  He can't.

To those of you who are complaining that the Church has changed her teachings on some things in the past (yes, I can hear you), I refer you again to Leila for the difference between dogma (unchanging truth) and discipline (changeable practices).

The dogmas (sometimes called doctrines) of the Church can never be changed.  In 2,000 years, they haven't changed.  They have sometimes been expanded upon, or things that have always been believed have been, in the face of some opposition, dogmatically defined or affirmed.  But they have not changed, and they can not change.  Truth does not change.  If the dogmas of the Church could change, she could no longer claim to teach Truth.

Disciplines can, and sometimes do, change.  One example is the celibate priesthood.  Celibacy is the norm for Catholic priests, for many good reasons.  However, there have been married priests, and not only in the past.  Some people seem altogether unaware that in some circumstances, the Church allows married priests right now.  The most common of these circumstances in recent times is seen with the conversion of an Anglican priest.  If a married Anglican priest converts to the Catholic Church, he can become a Catholic priest, despite the fact that he is married.  The celibate priesthood is a discipline, not a dogma.

But I find myself woefully off the subject and down a side street.

Some of you (like myself) may have heard that the apostle Peter is considered the first Pope of the Church, but not know much more than that about the roots of the papacy.  Let me attempt to delve into that, with the understanding that I am far better at learning than I am at teaching.  For the Protestant purists in the crowd, I will keep Scripture quotes to the King James Bible.

The moment of Simon Peter's installation as Pope (although that specific word was not yet used) can be found in Matthew 16, verses 15-19:

15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (which means "rock"), and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The parentheses are mine.  Note that this "keys of the kingdom" thing was specifically for Simon, who in that moment was given a new name (Peter) by Jesus and charged with what an ancient Jew would have understood as stewardship of His kingdom (the Church).  As steward and holder of the keys of the kingdom, he now has the authority to act and speak in the name of his Master.

Isaiah 22:21-22 speaks of the office of the steward in the household of the Davidic kings:

21 And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand: and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
22 And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

The steward of the King's household held the authority of the King himself.  He was, for all intents and purposes, second in command of the kingdom, in much the same way that Pharoah made Joseph second in authority only to him in all the land of Egypt.  (Genesis 41:39-43)

To understand this, it is important that one acknowledge (though I haven't time to expand on it much) Jesus's role as the Son of David, and King of the Jews.  It was promised that the House of David would reign over Israel forever, and yet after only a few short generations, the line appeared to be broken.  Still, the Jewish people hoped that God would raise up an heir, a "shoot from the stump of Jesse (David's father)" who would restore the kingdom and save his people.  This King would be God's Annointed One (the translations of which in Hebrew and Greek form the basis for our words "Messiah" and "Christ").  If Jesus is a Davidic King, then it is to be expected that He would follow the traditions of the Davidic court, even though the Kingdom He established was not earthly in nature, but heavenly.  (More on this in a future post.)

In short, the Pope is, if you will, the "head pastor" of the Catholic Church.  He is the Vicar of Christ, Servant of the Servants of God, steward and guardian of Christ's Kingdom, the Church.  He is a spiritual father (the word Pope actually means Papa), and worthy of respect, even reverence.  No, we do not worship him.  :)  But we love and pray for him, and he does the same for us.  Because the Church is more than just a kingdom; it is a family.  And that's what families do.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Random Ramblings

Friends are wonderful things.  You can bounce a thought off a good friend, and suddenly, things which were foggy seem amazingly clear.  I wrote yesterday about my horrific lack of ability to stick to my "no chocolate" penance (and for the record, I also inadvertently drank a cup of cocoa with my children this evening. . . bad Catholic).  Really, my problem is a total lack of attentiveness; abstaining from meat on Fridays was difficult in the beginning--and sometimes is still a problem--for this simple reason.  I simply forget that it actually is Friday.  And while my attention to detail probably needs to improve, I see no real reason to beat myself up over it.

What I really should be flogged for is the way I've dropped the ball on my prayer commitments.  Those of you who have been following along will recall that I aimed for a weekly hour before the Sacrament (that's prayer actually at the church, for my non-Catholic friends--there's more to it, but it would be worthy of its own post) and a daily rosary.  Haven't made it to church for prayer time, and I have a nasty habit of letting my guardian angel finish my rosary, if you know what I mean.

On the bright side, so far I've been seeing improvements in my work as a mother, though I'm not going to be vain enough to attribute that to my own merits.  The intercession of Mary and the Saints has certainly played a large part in that success.  I've been dragging the children out for Mass with me more often, and the house is (a bit) cleaner.  And we've been spending more time on reading--motivated by the promise of free tickets to Six Flags, lol.  My kids may complain about most anything academic I ask them to do, but dangle a trip to an amusement park in front of their noses, and watch how fast they'll open a book!  If only I could afford to bribe them on that level all the time.  :-)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lent--Week 1--Otherwise Known as "Yeah, I Suck"

Warm, gooey deliciousness.
Yeah.  I suck.  Which, frankly, I think is part of the point of Lent.  To point out to us how completely fallible and inadequate we mortals are.  Remember my lame Lenten penances and plans for devoting more time to specific areas of my prayer life?  Well, so far, I've stayed away from soda.  Pretty sad when you can make and eat chocolate chip cookies and not realize until the next day that you've violated your penance.  And my prayer plans?  Totally shot.  My only hope lies in the fact that there's still plenty of Lent left to get it right.  :-)

And believe me, I want to get it right.  I find myself caught in the rather contradictory position of assigning great importance to this year's Lent.  Contradictory because it's my first Lent, and as such, unlikely to be my best.  But at the end of this Lent comes my first Communion--an important event for us converts, not altogether dissimilar from your wedding day.  Which is an apt analogy, given how often marital imagery is used in describing the relationship of Christ to His Church.  And so, the season of Lent becomes akin to the time of preparation for a wedding.  At least, it does in my mind, on this particular year.

I look with a particular sense of awe on those who seem to give up practically everything for Lent. They've gone vegan for the season, given up sweets of all kinds, given up seasonings on their food, and fast on bread and water every Friday.  Maybe someday.  For now, such severe restrictions on my own diet would require preparing separate meals for myself, which seems pretty impractical, not to mention hard to stick to.  I know, I know.  Hard is part of the point.  But I have a real fear of failure.  And not just the little, "Wait, were those chocolate chip cookies I ate yesterday?  Oops." kind of failure, but the explosive crash-and-burn kind of failure.

Still, I feel like I should be stepping it up a bit.  But, as with choosing a penance in the first place, I'm not sure specifically how.  Something to think on, perhaps.  Or maybe I should leave my penance alone, and give more focus to the prayer end of things, which has already been a spectacular crash-and-burn.

But for now, I'll settle for actually remembering all day tomorrow that tomorrow is Friday, and I'm not supposed to eat meat.

Yeah.  I suck.  :)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Mommy Guilt, Meet Catholic Guilt

Every mom on the planet knows about mommy guilt.  It's that member of the guilt family that tells her she isn't doing enough for her kids.  She could be homeschooling ten kids and making sure each of the ten participates in the art/music lesson and sports team of his/her choice, making her own laundry soap and homemade granola, growing organic produce for the family, and piecing together fantastic birthday parties on a shoestring.  Doesn't matter.  She is never doing enough stuff, and doing it well enough.  Lest you think I come close to this depiction, let me point out that this is, in fact, a description of my personal ideal (though I only have four kids).  And yet, I am quite sure that if this woman exists, she still suffers from mommy guilt.  There will always be something that it seems as if someone else is doing that you aren't, or maybe they just seem to be doing it better.

In my particular world, the sink is full of dirty dishes (every time they hear the water running, all hell breaks loose, I swear), the floor desperately needs to be mopped, and I have been after the children to clean their bedrooms and do their chores for. . . well, ever.  Child #1 can't get along with #2, who can't get along with #3.  I am dealing with PMS, or so my FCP tells me, and they insist on pulling the mattresses off their beds to make a landing pad for flights from the top bunk.  ~sigh~  Nothing I try works, and it is on these days that mommy guilt moves in and gets comfy.

Now, since I began to explore the Catholic faith/culture, I've heard tell of a little thing called Catholic guilt.  But in several months of being a practicing Catholic (am I allowed to call myself that at this point?), I had never encountered it.  Or so I thought.  I realized this evening that I've actually been dealing with Catholic guilt for a while now.  It just disguised itself under the larger banner of mommy guilt.  See, during Advent, we started a little tradition of gathering around the Advent wreath in the evenings to light the candles and do our readings.  It was a nice thing, I felt.  A good tradition, and a way of bringing faith home for my children in a way my family never had as Baptists.  I wanted a new tradition for after Christmas, to replace the prayers, readings, and candles of the Advent season.  So, I made each of the kids a tenner (single-decade chaplet), and began, one at a time, to teach them the mysteries of the rosary.  We started with Joyful, since it was a natural fit for the Christmas season.  And I must admit that I fell off the wagon fairly quickly.

You see, my mother lives with us.  She is not Catholic, and feels (I think) alternately baffled and betrayed by my conversion.  Advent readings were largely applicable even in a multi-denominational setting.  Hail Marys, not so much.  So, I became uncomfortable with the whole thing almost immediately, for fear I was upsetting her.  

But the children were in LOVE.  However, other things, as they have a tendency to do if you let them, disrupted my routine as well.  So now, I face a new breed of mommy guilt--Catholic mommy guilt--at bedtime many nights.  Like when my sons want their Bible story, candles and prayers (usually brought up during the course of the bedtime wars as a way to put off sleep), and I have to tell them no, because I'm busy with other things that can't really be put off, and I think it's a bad habit to get them used to asking for different things at bedtime just to stay awake.

Don't tell me; I know.  What I need is a genuine bedtime routine that includes their prayer time.  I just seem to have trouble establishing one.  Routines have never been my strong point.  Perhaps it's something I should work on for Lent.

For now, however, I made the mistake of giving #4 a nap today.  Which means we're still awake at nearly 2:30 a.m. on a night when we have to be up at 6:30.  Bleh.  I love that awkward phase where a nap means you will be up all night, while no nap means your sweet child will become a holy terror by suppertime (and exhaustion means you will be babbling and publishing it, lol).  And I'm trying to figure out if there's a Redbull loophole for the person who gave up soda and chocolate (yes, it turns out I really am that lame) for Lent.  Thinking I'll be stuck with coffee, since Redbull is carbonated.  And surely even loopholes are closed on Fridays.  :)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jokes Only Catholics Get

Maybe it'll become a feature, who knows?  But I was in McDonald's a couple days ago with a friend of mine, and I happened to see this on the menu:

Thanks to a friend for taking the pic for me.  Busted camera and all that.

And I cracked up.  And no one got it.  

Dear McDonald's, are you trying to help us or hinder us?  Really?  Encouraging the sin of gluttony--for LENT?!?

Now of course, many of us will be sensible.  We will order an extra sandwich, perhaps upsize the meal, and split it with someone else.  And some of us will not.  Which is what ol' Ronald is hoping for, I'm sure.  :)

Happy Lent, people!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ashes and Ice Cream

So.  It's my first Ash Wednesday.  Except that it's actually Shrove Tuesday--more commonly known as Fat Tuesday, from the tradition of eating everything delicious in the house, so it doesn't tempt you during Lent.  I'm familiar with the concept; it's how I've started a fair number of diets.

So, how is it both?  Well, I'll tell you.  For the few who don't realize this I live in a very small town.  There are few Catholics here; in fact, only about three people (aside from myself and my kids) who regularly attend at our parish are unrelated to the core group.  By necessity, we share a priest with a neighboring town.  Obviously, Father Dan cannot be in two places at once for the actual Ash Wednesday Mass, so we got to have ours this evening.

So, we assembled at the church at 5:50 this evening for Stations of the Cross.  I took all my children, which, I think, gets me a jump start on my penance for the season.  ;)  They've been a collective handful today!  Got my ashes.

No, that's not me.  My priest is not so precise, lol.

Just for purposes of clarification, most pictures from this new point in the blog until I actually buy a new camera battery are pulled from the internet via Google.  But anyway. . .

I then decided I should embrace the whole experience and have something decidedly unhealthy and unpenitential this evening for dessert.  Which is how I found myself in the store buying ice cream, and being asked, 

"Oh, my gosh, Cassi!  Who hit you in the head?!?"

Yeah, apparently when you forget to wash your ashes off, and they sit there a couple hours, they become mistakable for a bruise.  :)  My bad.  The question was answered by the lady checking me out faster than I could process what the one asking the question was talking about; apparently I was not the first Catholic to go through G&S tonight.  In a town this size, not exactly surprising, especially since a couple of us actually work there.  But I digress. . .

And I still really don't know what I'm giving up for Lent.  I may end up going with something ridiculously cliched, I don't know.  Now don't get me wrong.  It's not like I have NO Lenten plan.  I do, really.  I've downloaded several works of the Saints that I intend to read (at least some of; I'm not fool enough to think I'll get through it all), I'm going to keep chipping away at the Catechism, and as far as prayer goes, I aim to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament each week and pray a daily rosary.  Almsgiving is a bit tougher when you're short on cash, so one has to be creative.  Brainstorming ways to actually give, but I haven't cemented a plan yet.  While I aim for some giving in the classical sense (I do have a cause in mind that's near to my heart), I also mean to step up my service to my family.  Some of you may scoff at this notion as not real giving.  If so, you don't know me as well as you think.  

But penance.  Penance is the one that has me stuck.  To be honest, at first, my plan was to give up yelling for Lent.  I thought it was genius.  I'd challenge myself, and work on one of my spiritual weak spots at the same time!  Then I read somewhere that you can't give up bad habits.  Not that you CAN'T, obviously, but. . . not as a form of sacrifice.  And that makes sense.  A sacrifice is a good thing or pleasure that you give up.  The children of Israel didn't sacrifice their sick or lame livestock.  God would only accept a perfect animal as a sacrifice.  So, back to the drawing board.  But I'm rather afraid I'm going to end up giving up something lame like chocolate.  :(

Monday, February 11, 2013

Of Barf and Benedict

When the first thing you hear in the morning is the voice of your child announcing, "Mom, I barfed in my bed," it's just not going to be a good day.  That notion was cemented by the discovery that he had, indeed, barfed in his bed. . . and on his wall (right where I'm currently doing plastering work), and in between his bed and the wall.  They can't ever make it easy.  :-\  Of course, while I set to work moving furniture and cleaning up the mess, the sick child ambled into my room, curled up in my bed, and went back to sleep.  The upshot is he seems to be doing fine now.

And then I turned on my computer.  And found out that not only is it a lousy day to be a mom, but it's a lousy day to be a Catholic, too.  :(

Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement this morning--an unprecedented thing, really.  It's been around 600 years since a Pope retired instead of dying in office.  I'm a fresh enough Catholic that I didn't even realize a Pope could retire.  Though I was a Baptist with no thoughts of conversion at the time, I watched the papal election proceedings after JPII died with moderate interest.  I remember seeing the smoke signals from the Vatican, and the announcement that a new Pope had been chosen, Cardinal Ratzinger.  For some reason, I remembered the name, even though, since I wasn't Catholic, the question of who would be Pope really held little significance for me.  But who hadn't felt some affection or respect for Pope John Paul II?  Perhaps that was why I was curious about the man who would replace him.

Since then, nearly eight years have passed.  Three of my children have been born during Benedict's relatively brief pontificate, and last year, after a great deal of study and surprise, I made the decision to join the Catholic Church.  And I read some of Pope Benedict's writings.  I can honestly say I've come to like and respect him, and I truly appreciate the work he has done for the Church.  I hope his successor will continue some of the work he has really only begun.

So, I approach the season of Lent with a renewed fervor and sense of urgency.  All of us would do well to offer our prayers (and sacrifices) for Pope Benedict, for his successor, and for the men who will be charged with selecting said successor.  Oh, don't get me wrong.  :)  I know very well that our Lord always has a plan.  He already has a man in mind for the job.  Still, the members of the conclave will have to listen to the Holy Spirit, and hear His voice well.  And the man himself will have to sit in the chair of St. Peter and lead the Church well.  They will need the prayers of the faithful.  As for Pope Benedict, I give thanks for the years he served, and pray that God will bless him in his retirement.

Still, it's hard to believe that by the time I make my first Communion in just a few short weeks, the Catholic Church will have a new Pope.  Speculation has already begun, of course.  Who will it be? How will he lead?  And, in "news" articles written by those who clearly don't have the genius level understanding of this convert of less than a year (did you choke on the sarcasm?), how will the Church handle the "conflict" of "two popes"?  Well, I don't know.  How is the United States currently handling about four Presidents?  Oh, you mean only one of them is actually President right now?  I had no idea.  I mean, we even call the two Bushes and Clinton "Mr. President" still, don't we?  Yes, this is very unusual.  But I don't see why it should be so difficult to understand.  And for heaven's sake, if you're going to write and publish a national news article about the Catholic Church, do yourself a favor and gain an understanding of how the Church works and what we believe.  Otherwise, you just look like an idiot.

Okay, rant over.

God bless us, every one.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A New Journey--And You're Already Behind!

Well, I haven't been for a run in quite some time, and the body shows it.  My mother's health problems caused me to falter in my good intentions, and though her health has (thankfully) stabilized, my current excuse extremely valid reason for not going running is that my son, who is ten years old and currently sharing my shoe size, has lost my running shoes!  How does one lose a pair of size 8.5 NBs?  The world may never know, but personally, I advocate loaning them to your child.  ;)  IF you actually want them lost, that is.  And a new pair just hasn't been my priority yet.  So, we wait.  UPDATE:  I owe my son an apology.  He did not, in fact, lose my shoes.  I hung a new coat rack down low for the littles, and while I was moving coats from the main rack, I found them in a plastic grocery bag buried beneath 6 people's coats.  Honest mistake, right?  lol

But never fear; the journey is not over, or even derailed, it's just taken a new turn.  And it's that turn, over the course of the past year, that I now intend to write about.  And so, this blog will, for a season at least, become a place for all those who want to know, but are afraid to ask.  :)

In the early months of 2012, I began a new phase of spiritual growth.  I've noticed over the last several years that I seem to grow in this area, as children tend to grow, in spurts of rapid growth and change, interspersed with spells of relative stability or "sameness."  So, this was no particular surprise.  The surprise was where the road would lead.

I had long been aware that I held certain disagreements with the Southern Baptist faith in which I was raised.  It's hard to buy, for instance, that all alcoholic beverages are evil when Christ's first miracle was to change water into wine for a wedding celebration.  And how does one justify an obstinate disbelief in things which science or even personal observation shows compelling evidence for?  Let me be clear:  my faith in God was never in question.  But my belief in the teachings of the church of my childhood certainly was.  For a long time, I was okay with that.  These were, after all, relatively minor details.  Surely one could agree to disagree.  It was all about Christ, after all.  As long as the correct core beliefs were in place, the rest was just icing.  Right?  I was a firm believer throughout most of my life that the main reason different denominations even existed was so that people could worship God in an atmosphere and a style that best suited each person.  So, while I believed that my denomination's teachings held their flaws, I saw no reason not to stay put and, to borrow a phrase, bloom where I was planted.  But, long story short, during this particular spiritual growth spurt, I was inspired with the desire to find the denomination, if such a thing existed (and I felt it must) where the full truth of Scripture was accurately taught.  So, I searched, and I learned.  I picked up some new nuggets along the way, but I was getting no closer to finding a denomination that didn't have its flaws.  It became the focus of my prayers.  "Lord, show me the truth.  Lead me to the place You'd have me be."  I entertained the notion that I might be meant to start a new church (laugh it up, ye who know me better than that), but that seemed like the craziest idea of all--which to be honest, was the only thing that gave it credibility, lol.  God has a tendency to ask His people to do the insane impossible.  Think about it.

"We've been fishing all night, and we've caught nothing."  "Throw your net out on the other side of the boat."

"These 5,000 people must be getting hungry.  Let us send them home so they can eat."  "Why send them home?  Just feed them."  "Uh, Lord?  We don't have that much money, and if we did, where would we buy that much bread?"  "What do you have?  A kid's sack lunch?  That'll do."

"Lord, if that's you, bid me to come to you on the water."  "Come on."

Obviously I'm paraphrasing, but you get my drift.  It seemed as if the church I was looking for simply didn't exist.  God had given us His Word, the Holy Scriptures, containing everything we could possibly need to know, and we had screwed it up.  No one out there was getting it all right.  Now, of course I understand that we're human.  In practice, not a one of us is always going to get it all right.  But I wanted a church that taught it all right, and held the faithful accountable for at least striving to uphold Christ's ideal.

Remember how I said that finding that church had become the focus of my prayers?  Be careful what you ask for.  :)  When God lifted the veil, the answer was the last thing (almost) I would have expected.  I've likened it searching all over the house for your car keys, and finding them in the butter dish.  Though with four boys, I suppose that's not as odd a scenario for me as it might be for others.  :)  I have found the Church of my prayers--and she is Catholic.

Now, as some of you scratch your heads in puzzlement, while others gasp in horror, I offer you these words of wisdom from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church.
There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church--
which is, of course, quite a different thing."

This sums up things quite succinctly, actually.  The more I learned, the more I realized my preconceived notions of what the Catholic Church teaches, and what it means to be Catholic, were, to phrase it mildly, not entirely. . . accurate.  Much could be said in this regard.  Much has been, by others, but this blog is for a different, smaller audience.  So, much will be re-said, here.  Questions are welcome, and will likely become ideas for future posts.

Am I biting off more than I can chew here?  Most likely.  :)  I'm no genius, or theology expert.  And I'm still fairly new at this.  Anticipate links to the writings of those who are smarter than I am. The potential certainly exists for this to become overwhelming.  I recall my first months exploring the Catholic Faith.  I went from swimming in a pool to being dumped in the ocean.  Translation:  I went from thinking I knew pretty much all there was to know about Christianity to realizing I had actually understood VERY little of the depth and richness that truly exists in my own faith.  My desire is to eventually share some of that with you (after, of course, we get past the "But Catholics worship Mary!!!" humdrum), but I also fear that I will fail miserably at articulating the true beauty and complexity of it all.  I am, you see, much better at learning than I am at explaining that which I have learned.  :)

But, if you're curious, and willing to take a chance on us all sitting around twiddling our thumbs, come into my virtual living room, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or your beverage of choice, but I recommend caffeine), and get comfortable.  We have a lot to catch up on!