Sacrifice is the POINT: defending Lent (and Catholicism.)

I had a quick conversation today with someone very averse to Catholicism.

I mentioned my Lenten promises as an icebreaker joke. And she promptly told me that she grew up Roman Catholic and has since denounced it– proudly. She is not participating in Lent, no way!

I quietly listened, but was not impressed. I wish I had a better memory for the details, but basically she just said the idea of Lent turns her off to religion because it’s a sign of spiritual commitment.

I ask, what is wrong with that?

Next she bragged that her family has nothing to do with Mass! She seemed to identify it with control, as even oppressively controlling. She had been told by a parish that her child could not receive the sacrament of Baptism unless she had been a member of that parish for a year, I believe? Instead, she converted to Episcopalian.

I found her indignation immature. Like she expected the benefits of Catholicism for her children without anything in return, no sign that they would be raised in the holy tradition appropriate to those corresponding sacraments.

Today I realized how deep my Catholicism truly runs– and that I’m proud.

Usually I try to be impartial and understanding of anyone who isn’t religious or Catholic.

But today, I felt no empathy. I felt both defensive and proud to be Catholic.

Because being Catholic is not SUPPOSED to be easy or convenient. That’s part of the pride for us. It is an intense spiritual discipline. One that we choose. Many distance themselves in adulthood or go to a different Christian denomination.

I’ve chosen to stay.

To draw an analogy to Jimmy Dugan’s profession of love for baseball in “A League of Their Own,”

“It’s the HARD that makes it good.”

There is definitely a lot of crying in Catholicism! If you’re the type who cries– some do.

If you’re taking a hard look at your conscience, as we are taught to do.

And for me, crying is cathartic. I sometimes weep at Mass, or alone during Adoration. Or just praying by myself.

I know He sees them, and he hears me.

Those tears connect me to Christ, to my faith walk, to knowing He sees my struggle.

So today I didn’t talk back to this woman– I just listened.

And she revealed to me without knowing just how vital my Catholic identity is to me.

Uncle Donnie’s Last Thanksgiving : Saying Goodbye and the Power of Touch

*This is the speech I read today at his funeral, written last night.

HERE is his obituary, if you’d please take a moment to read about his life.

Regrettably, I didn’t spend much time with Uncle Donnie. But I was happy when he moved to Illinois circa six weeks ago to Brookdale Assisted Living.

I never knew my grandfathers– both died before I could meet them. I visited his room three times, and twice in the ICU at Presence Medical Center in Joliet. I didn’t know exactly what to say– I felt a bit intimidated. But he made and effort to make me comfortable as if it were his own home. I found I liked him, though he was a bit gruff. He sat in his leather chair and I sat on the bed, and we shared a companionable silence. We watched TV.

Both of us had a hearing-loss, but he really struggled to hear me. I could see how much he struggled to communicate. Even speaking slowly and enunciating well, often I still failed to convey my words in a way he could understand. But he took an active role in our conversation and asked me questions when I was feeling shy.

In his mini-fridge, he had a few basics: green grapes, Cheesehead’s string cheese, Sprite and Hershey’s milk chocolate bars. Each time I visited, he would offer me anything available– he wanted to be hospitable. He ate the string cheese in bites, while I peeled it. Thought he possessed little, he was instinctively generous and wanted to share.

I regret that I waited till the tend of his life to cultivate a friendship with this gentle man. He wore a beautiful gold watch, and allowed me to clean it up for him. He trusted me so easily with what must have been a prized possession. He also wore two medals on a gold chain– St. Christopher, and St. Francis, I believe. He had a beautiful crucifix on his wall. Clearly, he was a devout Catholic man.

I never called him in Florida for the same reason I never reach out to many family members I wish I knew better- I don’t know what to say. But I learned while visiting that what we say does not matter-rather, it’s our gesture of reaching out that matters.

When my Dad told me he was in the ICU on Black Wednesday, I went to visit him. He had a breathing apparatus on, but recognized me when I touched his arm. A nurse came to draw blood and I held his opposite hand for support. I knew how much it can hurt. He didn’t fuss or complain as she did her job.

On Thanksgiving my parents and I went back, and I was able to see him one last time. He was less responsive, but still fighting. Breathing was hard for him. We watched TV.

Other family arrived. Uncle Donnie never spoke that day, but he responded immediately to touch. He would turn his face toward the person and it seemed to deeply relax him. I watched our family keep a vigil at his bedside- holding onto Uncle Donnie. Letting him known we were there, that he was loved. We took turns being alone and saying goodbye. We were sitting around his bed just talking normally, when I left for maybe 20 minutes. I came back and he had just been unhooked and passed. All of us cried. We prayed over him.

I’m grateful I was given this chance to know him. To have a few moments to experience what it must be like to have a grandfather. Our love for him brought us together on Thanksgiving and he made his peace with life, his beloved family, and departed.

Now I bet he’s up in Heaven, smoking his Pall Mall Menthol 100’s, eating a Hershey’s bar, and watching over us.

As my father said, our dear Uncle Donnie went home for Thanksgiving. Home to rest with our eternal Father.

What’s Wrong with Religion?

It’s fashionable these days to identify as “spiritual, not religious.”

But I ask, what’s the taboo on claiming a religious identity?

If you have any religion, good for you. If it makes you happy, that’s what matters.

I’m aware that for many people, religion has been a radically different influence in their lives. They have good reason to distance themselves from it and to be suspicious of anyone associated with it.

But for me, prayer and Mass and the Sacraments have been the bedrock of my life.

I’ll tell you what I know.

I cherish all the benefits of religion: tradition, structure, discipline, dogma, family heritage.

Religion is more than a belief system, it’s a tremendous supportive network. It’s a rock in the storm of life.

For many, I think the term itself implies some sort of zest beyond what is acceptable.

But in my life, a devotion to religion is, and always has been, normal. Both sides of my family, plus my step-mother’s family, are all Catholic. Irish, German and Italian! I’m a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic school till I decided to transfer to a public school after my freshman year. I wanted some variety.

My parents always took me to Mass on Sundays. The idea was if I was too sick for Mass, I was too sick to do anything else. As a child, I thought of it as boring. But now I’m thankful– my parents cared enough to instill a respect for routine and specifically, religion, in my life. We prayed over meals– though quickly! I know many parents say their children can choose to be religious when they are 18. But I think it’s sad that many are not raised with religion as children. If you’re raised without it, it seems the majority never understand the beauty and power of having that as part of your life. If you’re raised without religion, you’ll most likely continue as an adult without it. Or you’ll spend your life as a spiritual nomad, looking for a denomination or religion that seems to fit you. At least if you’re raised with SOMETHING, you have a starting point. You can choose to leave it and join another, or you can reject it entirely, or dedicate yourself to developing a deeper relationship with it. In my case, I rebelled for awhile in college by not going to Mass.

But I never stopped praying. I never stopped loving Mary, or the Saints. I kept close friendships with nuns and the priests my family had known for decades. And they helped guide me.

When you’re raised with religion, it feels natural to participate in it and share it with others. I feel a peace with other Catholics that I treasure. It’s like having a giant extended family. I love that in almost any city, I can find a Catholic church. I’m lucky that my religion is often in the majority.

I grew up surrounded my nuns and priests, especially since my favorite aunt was a Catholic nun. Reflecting as an adult, I’m both surprised and somewhat sad that she didn’t talk about the Bible to me. But for 10 years, she took a leave from her convent and lived with us. She was a living example of Christ’s love. She was FUN.

She had no enemies. She never said a bad word about anyone. We never prayed the Rosary together, although we did pray often. She just exuded a gentle and steady love. When she moved back home with her community, she would send me prayer booklets, icon cards, and religious cards for my birthday, holidays. In college, her e-mails and care packages helped sustain me when I was desperately homesick. What little money she had, she was always sending me little gifts. She was always telling me that I was special and that God has a wonderful plan for me.

We kept in touch with cards by mail and often prayed over the phone together. She’d pray the Guardian Angel prayer with me. She was a gifted listener. When I would feel afraid or nervous, I’d call her and cry and just talk it out. She didn’t often give advice but her calming influence always reassured me. She would always remind me to be kind, to give the person who had upset me the benefit of the doubt. To consider why they may have acted that way– without malice. When she died in 2010, it was if a light in my life had been snuffed out. It was a Dark Night of the Soul for awhile.

But that loss of her only drove me closer to the faith I’d shared with her all my life. Now I feel she’s a guardian angel to me herself, protecting me and reassuring me still. Now I pray to her. I keep her close to me by being more resolute as a Catholic. I remember all the times she asked me to go to Mass with her and I said I was too tired and didn’t want to get up that early. She was never angry and always accepted my decision– but she never stopped asking.

Now I see it was something she wanted to SHARE with me. It’s harder to find people now to go to Mass together.

I realize now what an act of love it was for her to want to go with me to Mass. And I feel bad that I bypassed so many opportunities in my life to do that with her.

And now, on my own, I’m starting to want to delve deeper into Catholicism. I’m beginning to read The Bible more. I’m feeling closer to the Blessed Mother, praying to her more often. I’m feeling a desire to pray the Rosary, though it’s intimidating.

I even have a Non-Denominational friend who wants to learn to pray the Rosary with me. How beautiful is that?!

If you weren’t raised with religion, please try to open your heart and consider it.

You might be shocked by the peace you feel. And if you are afraid to pray, that’s why we have so many prayers.

Just read it out loud and I promise, God will hear you. Here’s one you can try:

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God,
my Guardian dear,
to whom God’s love
commits me here.
Ever this day,
be at my side
to light, to guard,
to rule and guide.

Amen”

He always does, even if He doesn’t answer right away.

Satan’s Application to Harvard DENIED: Black Mass Canceled Last-Minute

According to The Harvard Crimson, the hotly-contested black mass planned for tonight has been canceled– by the students of the Harvard Cultural Studies Club themselves. See article.

Even better, apparently there are no plans for the Satanic Temple members to continue the ritual elsewhere– although validity of that is obviously dubious. How much do you trust an organization that categorically denies belief in Satanism, while members of its namesake?

However, a victory has clearly been won. The Voice of the Faithful spoke.

Harvard President Drew Faust was inundated with protests– to the tune of 60,000 signatures and a strong letter from current student Aurora Griffin, Rhodes Scholar and a Catholic herself. I’m proud to see that she leveraged an irrefutable point that ties in not just religion, but feminism and social justice as valid reasons this ritual should not sully the name of Harvard, or the Roman Catholic Church.

A true black mass not only defiles the Eucharist and The Church, but the bodies of women, who are used as ritual objects.

Read her letter HERE in this update via Women of Grace.

I did pray tonight. I went to a local parish that I know is always open for prayer and into early evening hours. Usually when I go, I’m alone. Today, I noticed four other women, and one man. I wondered if they, too, were praying to stop this upsetting event.

Apparently, St. Michael the Archangel was fighting on our behalf.

Regardless, I felt comforted. Just seeing others and knowing we share a belief helped. And not long afterward I checked my phone for an update, and saw this incredible news.

I call this proof that yes, some things are just WRONG. That protesting is worthwhile and effective.

I feel happy to know that this attempted Satanic event ALLIED the Christian world– rather than divided us. So often, we fight amongst ourselves as different denominations have differing beliefs. And it’s well known that many other denominations disagree with Catholic doctrine and some even vilify us categorically.

This week, none of those differences mattered. Our shared love of Christ brought us together.

I’m grateful to my Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, who prayed and protested with us.

This event woke people up. Somehow, the would-be participants realized this demonstration wasn’t worth it.

There is undeniable proof of God’s presence tonight in Cambridge.

Satan Goes to Harvard: Not a Joke

*Update: It was cancelled! See new post HERE.

If I could be in Cambridge tonight, I would be protesting the black Mass being “re-enacted” by a Harvard University student group off-campus at 8:30 p.m. Since that’s not possible, I can at least warn others and hopefully enlist your prayers in this time of need. Catholic or not, all Christians should be allied against this dark event, as it is relevant to all believers in Christ.

I realize that by going on record about this, I’m crossing into a territory some will consider “too Catholic.” It’s fine to talk about God, Jesus and Mary–but Satan? That’s where most people draw the line.

Well *I* draw the line at performing a recognized Satanic ritual at an ivy league university in the name of religious freedom. So to me, it’s worth speaking out about this. Why is this something that must be tolerated? I understand it’s not illegal. But this goes beyond erecting a statue in the name of fairness. This is a ritual based in hate and blasphemy. They want controversy. They want to offend Catholics and Christians– yet, they don’t want to take responsibility for it.

Members of the Cultural Studies Club will be joining New York members of the Satanic Temple to perform this ceremony, which they all insist has no supernatural meaning and is purely an expression of their intellectual curiosity. According to the Women of Grace, Early reports confirmed that a consecrated host would be used, until public ire inspired Priya Dua for The Satanic Temple to retract this statement, saying it was a misunderstanding.

Most alarming to me is the utter APATHY so many seem to have toward this news. There’s going to be a Satanic ritual at Harvard? Oh.

It *does* matter. Even if you don’t consider yourself a believer, could you at least have some empathy for those who are, and how upsetting this is for us?

I’ve talked to a few of my Christian friends, as well as a local priest about this. After Mass yesterday with my parents for Mother’s Day, I stopped the priest at their church to discuss this. He wasn’t even aware, and thanked me for telling him. I asked if there’s any particular prayers I might say and he suggested calling on St. Michael the Archangel. I will praying to St. Michael continuously tonight– here is the prayer. I hope you will join me in solidarity, here is THE PRAYER. And of course there’s the Our Father and the Rosary.

Harvard President David Faust confirms in a statement today that even he understands the gravity of this ritual, and will be attending Holy Hour on campus in solidarity with local Catholics who are deeply offended by the undisguised sacrilegious nature of the black Mass. Yet, despite an uprising and a formal petition to stop the event, he feels his duty to uphold student rights to free speech and free religious expression leaves him no choice but to allow it with detachment.

Though I wish a university as prestigious as Harvard would take a stronger stand and cancel the event, I take some solace in the fact that the president himself will be attending the Holy Hour instead. Especially since his last name is Faust– I can’t be the only one to appreciate that irony.

The black mass is a Satanic ritual designed to openly defile Roman Catholicism and invoke Satan. By definition, that’s it’s purpose. What angers me is the people orchestrating and participating in this event are denying it with such force. Who are you fooling here? No one. If you’re going to publicly enact a Satanic ritual, at least own it. I find it duplicitous and cowardly that these individuals are trying to paint themselves as noble freedom fighters for intellectual discourse and of course, painting themselves as marginalized victims of prejudice.

If there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, why are you yourselves denying that participating entails a belief in Satan? Why are the club members refusing to be named? Perhaps because just being affiliated with this event has become dangerous– and they’re realizing they’ve gotten in over their heads in the name of a publicity stunt.

Evil is real, even if you profess to not believe in God. Even if you don’t believe in Satan, I wouldn’t toy with dark forces. Are you really that self-assured that you can also wager that staging a Satanic ritual is just a fun way to educate people about cultural practices? I worry for the people engaging in this event, and those who will attend out of morbid curiosity.

I hope some of those participants change their mind and decide to stay away. Here’s another perspective, from an exorcist. 

As Catholics and Christians, let’s pray together in solidarity today.

And I Added Mary, and Found an Onyx Surprise

As I’ve said before, I frequently wear a gold cross necklace.

But I’ve noticed this year that most Catholics also wear a medal of some sort– a saint, or the Blessed Mother.

I was sorting through my jewelry box, when I realized I had a small felt bag filled with crosses.

Sorting through it, I found five silver cross charms, interchangeable for different necklaces. One angel charm. Silver charms of St. Michael, St. Luke, and St. Catherine of Siena, and one of the Blessed Mother. A silver pendant of St. Christopher.

And one gold charm, of the Blessed Mother.

Coincidence? I think not. I threaded it onto my gold chain, along with the gold cross.

The medal of Mary compliments the gold cross perfectly. As if they were meant to be worn together.

I just pray the clasp doesn’t break– it may need to be reinforced a bit.

But adding Mary makes me feel stronger. Calmer.

And on the same day, I also found something else I was wondering about. I have a box full of Catholic pamphlets, prayer devotion books, icon cards, prayer cards, and rosaries. A cross I bought, but haven’t yet put up. It’s made in Mexico and has sunflowers painted on it, beautiful. Reminds me of my home state, Kansas.

I found a silver necklace with a beautiful silver and onyx cross charm on it.

I used to wear it all the time, but couldn’t remember what happened to it.

That beautiful onyx charm was actually given to me by an Atheist friend.  She herself didn’t believe, but she knew I did.

And I’ve cherished it ever since. Recently, we’ve reconnected after a few years of having lost touch.

She’s a thoughtful, hilarious and brilliant woman that I admire very much. And I love that just after reconnecting with her, I found the same cross that she gave to me years ago.

God works in ways that always delight me. I love the surprises of His will.

The Body of Christ, and How My Parish is Helping Me Believe in Jesus

Bringing Holy Communion to this woman and her daughter is teaching me about accountability.

I don’t always feel like getting up and going to Mass on my own. There are so many Catholic churches in this town, I can go to Mass all day long on Sunday. I used to go to whichever Mass was convenient for me on that given day.

“I can make another Mass,” I told myself. But there were so many options, that I often just didn’t go.

I used to live my entire life by what was convenient for me. I was ruled by my feelings, and what I wanted.

And I let a lot of people down– but namely myself. It’s a selfish way to live, and you miss out on a lot.

Since I had no routine, I didn’t feel rooted in any particular parish. I had no spiritual “home,” so to speak.

Then I took off Sundays from work, specifically so I can go to Mass– because I missed it. And I’ve been happier since.

But the days when I sleep in and miss Mass, I don’t just feel guilty as a Catholic. I feel sad, because I missed out on it.

Because truly, my church is da bomb. It’s not just Mass– it’s like a party for God.

Because Mass is real– it nourishes me. Receiving Holy Communion nourishes me, although I no longer take the wine.

I believe that it’s not just bread– but Jesus. I was skeptical for most of my life.

But what else could explain the change in me? I have my good and bad days.

But by volunteering to bring Holy Communion to this woman and her daughter, I’m becoming more responsible as a result.

I’m becoming more motivated to go, because I don’t want to disappoint them. And because they are so patient with me, which makes me want to do better because they deserve better. They are understanding if I have needed to cancel or re-schedule.

That makes me want to not cancel or re-schedule, because I want to be someone they can rely on.

I’m beginning to really look forward to visiting them, too. We’re starting to talk more.

And lately this woman has been wanting to KNOW about what happened at Mass– and I want to be able to tell her.

She wants to know about Father Ray, and how he’s doing. I can’t answer that if I go to Mass somewhere else. She’s been wanting me to bring her a copy of the bulletin. And it’s not the same if I just bring ANY bulletin– she misses the people in THAT church.

In our church. I’m finally admitting, this is my church.

I have a hard time committing to things. But I’m getting better– and Mass is really helping me to feel rooted.

The first step for me was choosing a parish. The next step has been going regularly.

Knowing that I can count on going to Mass at my parish every Sunday makes me happy. Knowing that this woman and her daughter can count on ME is making me feel even happier.

I usually sit with my friends’ parents. And I usually arrive late.

But I think I’m going to make a point to get up earlier, and sit closer– so I can hear better. I like sitting with my friends’ parents, but they will understand. And heck, maybe I’ll even invite someone to go with me too.

Luckily it’s a small parish, which is one of the reasons I like it so much. It makes it easier for me to hear, when so many larger parishes and cathedrals echo too much. I’m too far away, even when I pay my best attention and sit as close as I dare.

But this parish is just the right size for me.

And the priests who preach rotate, which I also like. Father Ray leads us, but he allows others to preach too. And they are all commanding speakers, with good voices that I can mostly hear.

This is not coincidence.

We also have a live band– with drums! I love it. It’s so different from every Catholic church I’ve ever attended.

I’m a Democrat, and my parish embraces and champions social justice. It’s a progressive Catholic church. They DO exist!

I feel like I BELONG. I have friends there, who are always happy to see me. I’m also starting to want to go more to see them too.

There are candles you can actually light, and kneel down and pray. So few churches have that anymore– and the ones that do mostly have these cheap electric candles– it’s not the same at all.

I’m so grateful. It recharges my week! If I don’t make it to Mass, my week doesn’t have the same charge of joy.

I’ve had a hard time connecting to the idea of Jesus– but I’m beginning to really believe it now.

For the first time, I’m beginning to understand the concept of the Body of Christ.

In my Roman Catholic family, and in the members of my parish– which is also a family.

They accept me as I am. They never chastise me for being late, or for missing Mass.  They don’t care about what I’m wearing.

They’re just so happy when I return next time.

Without feeling any judgement for my tardiness or absences, it makes me want to be there– and not miss a minute.

This parish is helping me to believe in the authentic, healing presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Because if I leave Mass every week feeling incredible, that’s the spirit of the Gospel.

I’ve never been a big Bible reader, but here I am, blogging about my faith. Something deeply personal, for which I know others may judge me. But that doesn’t bother me anymore.

Because not long ago, a friend whose own faith is in flux told me that reading my blog makes *her* want to go to Mass again.

And I felt a little unsure about it, but I texted her a Bible verse– I didn’t want to be pushy. And she said it was perfect. She thanked me.

And I sometimes want to quit blogging, but hearing that this blog is helping her makes me want to keep writing.

We never know how we may be quietly influencing the lives of others around us.

And that’s Jesus at work.