Monday, January 31, 2011

Saint James the Palestinian

                He knelt at the altar in prayer.  Every few moments his fingers progressed to the next bead while his lips moved in silence to the prayer of the intersession of Mary the mother of Jesus.  Tears streamed down his face and the drops of water could almost be heard as they dripped to the floor.  Blond hair fell to his collar in waves.  Monsignor knew the younger man could be found at the altar.  Everyday more accurate then clockwork he knelt praying.  The cleric sat behind him a couple of rows waiting for the prayer to end.  As he stood, the man saw Monsignor waiting patiently.  He took the seat offered and waited in silence.
                “Brother James we have heard word from your mother.  She is calling you home.”  He hesitated for a moment letting this much of the news penetrate the silence.  “Your older sister Catherine passed away in her sleep last night.”  He waited again.  James lowered his head cupping his face in his hands which still held the chain of Rosary beads.  More tears flowed in mourning.  “I have taken the liberty to make airline arrangements for you.  Brother Mark will take you to the airport.”
                James composed himself and stood.  Walking out of the sanctuary, Monsignor walked next to him with his arm around him in comfort.  They stopped at the door.
                “Your silence has come to an end.  Now is the time for healing and forgiveness.  For fifteen years you have lived here in solitude singing and praying for our Lord.  Sing for your sister and make amends with those you love.  Shed your past indiscretions and forgive yourself.”
                At the air terminal, Brother Mark helped James at the ticket counter with his luggage and paperwork.  They walked to the entrance to James’ gate.  Mark whispered instruction of how to get through security.  Beads of perspiration formed around James’ face.  All the noise bombarded him.  His hands shook as he handed his boarding pass to a young woman.  She gently guided him through security and to his gate.
                “Brother James, I am here to travel with you.” 
He didn’t question her presence.  Instead, he felt calmed.  They traveled to a small airport in his home state.  As they walked to the baggage area, he saw his brother approaching.  He turned to thank the woman, but she blended into the crowd only to disappear.
The days of preparation for the funeral blurred together.  He spent his time marveling with each conversation he had with his mother and siblings.  Forgiveness filled their hearts.  His father remained distant.  The night of the vigil he walked the grounds of the family parish.  The moon hung in the sky full and bright.  His sister loved the moon.  As children they howled at it during sleepouts in the backyard.  He envisioned her looking down at him and smiling.
Inside the small chapel friends and family took turns talking of Catherine.  Finally he stood and made his way to the front.  As he began to speak publicly for the first time in years, his father jumped out of the pew.
“You killed her.  She would be alive today married with children if you hadn’t destroyed her….”  The rest of the words his father spoke roared in his head.  Visions of blood and twisted metal crashed in front of him sucking him into the deep abyss of regret and hatred of self.
He couldn’t recall how he left the church or how he arrived at a bar down the street.  Each shot he drank deadened his pain.  The roaring subsided.  The vision disappeared.  The golden glow of whiskey enveloped him in a warm cocoon of numbness.  He stumbled out into the street marveling at the pretty lights.  Stepping off the curb, he didn’t see the car barreling down the road.  For the second time in his life, flashing red lights and the blaring of sirens became an instant reality.
Music woke him up.  A nurse sang Catherine’s favorite song as she changed a bandage on his lower leg.  Her smile radiated joy as she found him awake.  He recognized her.  She was the woman who traveled with him.  And then he realized she was an older version of who his sister would have been if she hadn’t been paralyzed in the accident he caused in high school.
“I did it again Catherine.”  Anguish seeped from every aspect of his being.  “I ruined your life.  How many did I ruin this time?”
“Oh, dear brother James, I was responsible for the accident.  You tried to talk me out of driving.  I brought my paralysis upon myself, but you blamed yourself and you never forgave yourself.  It is time to forgive.”
“I can’t.  Look at what I did this time.  I did it again.”
“Yes, you were in another accident.  This time you need to forgive.  You need to move on and grown.  No more staying in the past.  If you believe Jesus saved the world from sin, you need to start living that belief.  Jesus died to save you as well.”
Time went by as Brother James healed physically and spiritually from his wounds.  Every time he began to despair he took out his sister’s picture and prayed.  The rest of his days were spent in penance and prayer and forgiveness.

This is a modern day story of St. James the Palestinian.  So many times we hear stories of great believers of our faith from days gone by.  Though they have lived lives of purity, they were also human.  In James’ younger years, he wasted away his youth.  In penance, he lived the life of a hermit for fifteen years.  James fell from grace after this time as a hermit.  He surrendered to the temptations of life and committed a triple crime.  The grace of God saved him in his despair by sending a person of God to remind him of God’s divine mercy.  Saint James’ story, though drastic in crime, is much like our own story.  We sin.  But we need to continue to strive for goodness after these sins to continue our journey to holiness.
                Blessing to you all.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Hurting One Another

                Throughout the days, I watch and listen to see what would be good topics to write.  If I haven’t mentioned it before, I have a bit of a schedule.  On Monday I write about people for history who have done amazing things for the faith.  Wednesday I write about people from my life either past or present who have helped me along the journey to holiness.  Thursday I do a quote from the Bible or a fellow Christian who has made it to print.  On Friday’s, I try to write about my walk in faith.  As is typical, writing about me is a bit harder.  A friend thought I should write about egotistical people, but really, I would have to write about myself with this one.  I don’t think I want to go there just yet.  On the way back from dropping my son off at school, a topic that is near and dear to my heart was being discussed on the radio.
                Throughout the ages, vulnerable people have been hurt by their “church.”  As a child, I watched parishioners tear gaping wounds in one minister’s family causing the church to bleed from gossip and ridicule.  That minister and his family only lasted a short time.  I have watched PKs (preacher’s kids) raked over the coals because for some reason they were held to a much higher standard than the rest of us kids.  My heart always ached because my father wouldn’t go to church because “I won’t sit in the same pew as that hypocrite.”  I can’t understand how Christians can be so mean spirited though I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I have been mean spirited myself at times.  I still struggle when I watch people I care about fall away from their faith due to the actions of others.
                The other day I heard a quote.  It went something like this.  “Hospitals are for sick people and churches are for sinners.”  Every single person who walks in the doors of a church whether it is the piano player, minister, priest, deacon, or common lay person is a sinner.  It isn’t our church that hurts us; it is the people in the church.  We have all hurt someone along the way whether we realize it or not.  We are human; we are sinners.  I have been very blessed with the current church I attend.  I can’t think of one person I don’t consider a Christian in good standing.  Or should I say drives me crazy because they are so tarnished or have hurt me.  However, that can’t be said for my entire journey.
                Marrying outside a denomination has to be one of the most potential times of pain.  Twenty-two years ago I collected a number of hurts while going through the process of marrying a young Catholic man.  I at the time was protestant.  As I have mentioned before, my family didn’t attend church, so I went to any church people would invite me too.  I attended The Church of God from the years of about first grade through eighth grade and The Christian Church during high school.  However, during all this time, I had very strong Catholics in my life.  I attend Midnight Mass, Searches, and I watched many friends be confirmed in the church.  I always loved the history, tradition, and rituals of the Catholic Church.  I also knew we would raise our children Catholic because of my husband’s family.  They were very strong in the Church.  I was finally going to have a family to attend church with.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work that easily.
                While working with a priest and a minister, hurtful things were said of us and our faiths.  I still thank God that both my husband and I realized it was the people being hurtful and not the church.  Being stubborn, we persisted.  We found a minister who while growing up had been raised in five different faiths.  His parents were church hoppers.  While attending an Engaged Encounter, a different priest worked with us along with an older married couple.  These Christians were very loving and helped us through the marriage process.  For a couple of years, we attended both churches until my heart lead me to become Catholic.  I still love the protestant in me which will never leave, but I also love the Catholic I have become.  The hurt remained for many years.  Other hurts happened.  I am sure there will be more hurts for we are human sinners who mess up.  But, I will never stop attending church.  It is critical to my successful journey to holiness.
I am fortunate to live in a community with four Catholic churches all very different in their atmospheres.  I get a choice.  Many people don’t have a choice because they live in small communities with only one option.  I have been in this situation a number of times.  It can be very difficult to attend church when the priest/minister doesn’t fit your needs.  One priest we had rarely moved my spirit, but we didn’t miss church much.  We did try once a month to go to the next town over for a spiritual refill.  There are options out there we just have to explore.
I will admit; I have stopped attending different functions because of hurtful actions.  Many years ago, I attended a Cursillo weekend.  For the next year, I tried very hard to become a part of the group, but I always felt like an outsider.  I didn’t fit.  Of course, this could have been because of the people or it very well could have been me because I struggle during social/group activities.  So I stopped going.  Three years ago, my husband drug me back to Cursillo.  And yes, he DRUG me.  In the time I was away, I changed and some of the people changed.  I still struggle at times with fitting in, but I pray harder during these times.  I have been blessed by finding a 4th Day Group (Bible Study Group), going to meetings, and serving on the teams.  Yet it hasn’t been easy.
Have you been hurt by fellow Christians?  How have you handled the situation?  My prayer is that we will no longer hurt each other, but we are sinners.  It is bound to happen.  But hold on to your faith, and don’t let others turn you away from your faith activities.
Blessing to you all.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Waiting and Patience

“Waiting and patience are necessary if we are to fulfill what we have begun to be, and to receive, through God’s unfailing help, what we hope for and believe.” Saint Cyprian
          About three weeks, I sent out a query letter to begin the process of becoming an author.  Each day, I checked my e-mail to see if Ms. Rennert would want my novel.  I waited and waited.  Amazingly, I also had some patience.  Mainly because I need to do some editing, so the longer she took to answer the query the more I could procrastinate.  Earlier this week, I received the rejection.  She doesn’t want my work.  I haven’t yet taken a step forward to become an author.  Now, I have two options.  I could quite.  Or I can be patient.  I can rely God’s help to author.  I plan to be patient.  Well, as patient as I am able with support from family, friends, and God.
          This quote can inspire us for any vocation we set out to work.  For me it is an author, for others it may be a chef, pianist, or engineer.  I believe it is also our walk with Christ.  For those who want to be Christians we need to wait and be patient to become who God wants us to become.  We are not going to become perfectly holy overnight.  It is a process.  Every day we need to chip away at our sins, work on our humility, love, charity in small ways.  Years from now we will look back and see that on this day we still were babes in our journey to holiness and now we are toddlers.  Always believe God will be at our side helping us around our obstacles and rejections if we are patient and waiting.
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Babies: A Step to Holiness

                Monday marked the 38th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.  In Washington D.C. and around the country tens of thousands of people participated in the March for Life which has been held since 1974.  Throughout the years, I have struggled with this political/religious issue.  As a mother, I can’t imagine every making the decision to abort my baby.  Yet, as a mother, I can’t imagine inflicting more pay on a young woman who feels she has no other option but to abort her baby.  God gives us all a gift or two, but being a part of this movement on the frontlines is not my gift.  But recognizing beautiful stories and writing about them is something I can do.
                Over twenty years ago, a family member found herself pregnant at a young age.  Being of strong faith, she prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  Abortion was not an option for her of which the family was very proud.  After agonizing over her decisions, she finally decided to give the baby up for adoption.  All of this seems to be a lifetime ago.  My husband and I asked to take the baby, but in an infinite amount of wisdom, we were turned down.  My heart ached for this baby.  I still long to know the baby, now a young woman; I pray for her and love her dearly.  The adoption was open; so many pictures came to the family.  I will never forget the family picture of my little niece with her mother and father.  My breath was taken away.  She looked just like her beautiful adoptive mother.  My heart healed that day because of this young family member’s steps to holiness by giving the gift of life to a couple who couldn’t have a child.
                Soon after all of this happened in the family, I joined the military and went to BASIC training.  There was another young girl in my platoon that I became friends with.  One day we began debated abortion.  I made the statement that I believed in abortion when the girl was raped.  She proceeded to tell me the story of her little sister.  She had been raped at an early age.  It seems like she was fourteen, but I am not sure.  The entire family went through hell from the emotional turmoil this caused.  Her sister was adamant about not aborting the baby.  After the baby was born, the love the family had for him caused all of them to heal and to move on to a wonderful life after great sorrow.  This young woman took a step towards holiness.
                The other day I listened to a woman tell an amazing story on the Catholic Radio channel.  Her mother was pregnant at age 42.  The doctors advised she about the twins she was carrying because at her age they would not be born healthy.  Her and her husband refused.  At twenty-six years old, the twin brothers were anointed priests to serve God and His people.  What a step to holiness.  Not only did she say no to abortion, she raised the children to love and serve God.  What an amazing testament to life.
                During each of my three pregnancies, we had the option to take a test to determine if the baby had any defects.  I am the type that would worry about such things more than prepare for them, so we opted to not take the test.  I believe my doctors would not have mentioned abortion if we had taken the test and found problems.  However, I think a lot of doctors would suggest aborting a baby with issues.  I have heard mothers opt to abort their babies with medical issues of deformities and mental issues.  Those couples who refuse to abort are taking thousands of steps towards holiness.
                Today I challenge everyone to pray for our unborn and to pray for those born.  To pray for all women faced with the choice of life or abortion no matter which choice they make.  I also challenge you to help those in need by giving time or treasure.  I think today I will go buy some diapers to begin the collection of baby items that are given during our Lent to Life drive at our church.
                Blessings to you all.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Paula Gambara-Costa

                Our world today is full of disposable items: plastic containers, diapers, and electronics just to name a few.  Many times it is cheaper and definitely easier to just throw things away than taking the time, and energy to fix them.  I cringe when an item breaks at my house because I know I will have to throw it away and buy new.  Unfortunately our relationships are also disposable.
                Marriages end in divorce, family member stop calling, friends quit spending time together because they are bored in the relationship or the other person is boring.  Loyalties are severed due to gossip and other hurtful activities of the “if it feels good I am going to do it mentality.”  How many times do we choose the easy way out of a situation instead of choosing the holy way?
                At the age of twelve, Paula Gambara was forced to marry Count Costa de Benasco in the year 1485.  She became a mother at fifteen.  The Count was of the Hedonism belief that if it felt good he was going to do it.  She supported him even though he treated her like a servant in their own home.  Later in their marriage, he even moved his mistress into their home giving the mistress control of the household.  Paula actually had to follow this woman’s orders.  I know how I would handle this situation and it wouldn’t be pleasant.  Paula however lived her Christian faith.  I would think she had bad days filled with hurt and anger, but she didn’t quit.
                The mistress came down with a deathly illness.  Paula tended to her every need.  When the woman was at death’s door, Paula called her priest to the woman’s bedside.  I am positive without the Holy Spirit’s intersession I would never be that good of a follower of Christ.  Paula’s work didn’t stop here.  Eventually her husband converted.  God rewarded her after this when her husband allowed her to wear the habit of the Franciscan third order.  (This is an order for all people, married, single, young, and old.  I looked it up on the internet and I could become one today.  Interesting thought especially since I have always liked St. Francis of Assisi.)
                Blessed Paula Gambara-Costa is an amazing example of making a successful journey to holiness.  She definitely gives me pause.  I have been proud of my twenty-two year marriage surviving difficulties, but she humbles me because my problems seem so minimal compared to hers.  Also, I know I have not faced the barriers in other relationships in a holy manner.  At times I have bought into the disposable relationship philosophy.
                Blessing to you all.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Self-centeredness

                Yesterday a dear friend asked me a really tough question.  “How can people be so self-centered?”  I proceeded to tell her when I discover that she will be the first I reveal the answer too.  Many people will say it is the society we live in today.  To some extent I agree only I believe it is the society all people live in from the beginning of time.  I finished reading Matthew Kelly’s book Rediscovering Catholicism; plus, Tuesday I went to the first of six DVD seminars given by him.  He talks about how there are three philosophies that most people act on.
                Individualism is the philosophy of what is in it for me.  If a person can’t see any positive outcome for themselves, they just won’t do it.  I tend to think this is the reason there are so few volunteers in the world.  Hedonism states if it feels good do it.  Hum, I have to be honest here.  I love chocolate and tend to consume too much of it because it feels good.  Unfortunately this philosophy can cause addictions, end marriages and other negative outcomes.  Finally, there is the minimalist philosophy, what is the least I can do.  Again, I must confess, I do this with my housecleaning.  I also so this a lot in the work place and I see it in peoples relationships with each other. 
                There are many reasons people become self-centered whether they learn it from a parent or have been hurt so many times they use it as a defense mechanism.  The result is they become very greedy people, greedy with their time, emotions, material goods and the like.  They stop thinking of others and only think of themselves.  Proverbs 15:27 states, “He who is greedy of gain brings ruin on his own house….”  In a word, relationships are hurt or worse destroyed.
                How do we fix self-centered adults?  We don’t.  They have to fix themselves.  If we get angry with them, they become justified.  If we try to help them, we become disappointed.  A wise person once told me not so long ago that it is our ego that thinks we can “fix” them.  They continued with only God can fix them.  All we can do is pray.  But, when people hurt us or our loved ones, we still have those rolling black emotions of anger.
                Saint Francis de Sales says we need to “keep…gentleness and humility in our hearts.”  He continues with “gentleness and humility will avert the burning and swelling which contradiction is apt to excite in our hearts.”    And there is the complication, our hearts.  I can only speak for myself, but I think I am not alone.  When I become angry, the cause is because my heart and most likely ego have been hurt.  My defense is to get angry.  Yet, I know with prayer, gentleness, and humility God will get me through the tough times because we can’t avoid all the self-centered people out there.  But during the first moments of anger and sometimes the first months of anger, I wrestle with being holy in my reactions.  I have learned over the years to try and not speak.  If people bring up topics that insight anger, I listen politely and casually change the subject.  I also try to be busy.  I crochet, cook, or pray during times of difficulty with people I know will cause chaos in life.  This is much better then speaking words in anger because this will never help the situation.
                 Are there any techniques you have to stop the anger when dealing with self-centered people?  I definitely could use some more to help me along the journey.
                Blessings to you all.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Generosity

Proverbs 11:24-25
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.


          In other words, the unselfish person who gives freely will gain blessings from the Lord.  We may not see the blessings, but they are there.  In my younger years, I really struggled with giving.  I could go on for a couple pages the reasons behind my fear of being poor and my hardened heart that other people should help too.  Fortunately for my soul, my husband is generous.  From the beginning of our marriage, he has patiently worked with me in increasing our tithing, giving to the poor and devoting time, talent, and treasure to many causes in our community.  The people we know see us as a couple to be relied on to get things done.  They don’t know my heart and how I don’t come by this naturally.  But we must all work to better ourselves and the lives around us.  Am I a generous person?  Let’s just say, I am a work in progress. 
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Letters To Iraq

                In the summer of 2004, my husband shipped out for military training in Texas.  After a few months he went to Louisiana.  We were blessed to have him home in November for about fifteen days on leave.  Right after Thanksgiving he went to Iraq to serve his country in the war.  One woman played a role in his life that to this day still amazes me.
                We had been attending the church out in the valley for about four years.  I had worked for two years on the parish counsel, the boys went to religious education, and we attended some of the social functions.  However, me being a wall flower, I didn’t know many people unless they had kids our children’s age.  My life with Jerry gone was chaos.  I continuously felt guilty for not sending Jerry letters weekly if not daily on how the kids were doing.  I did manage to slip an e-mail note to him while at work, but he only received a letter about once a month. 
One day after church, a woman stopped me at my vehicle as I was leaving.  I recognized her.  Every Sunday she sat in the second row next to a couple of other women her age.  We always said hello, but I didn’t know her name.  She went on to tell me that every week she sent Jerry letters.  She wrote about seeing us at church and how the kids were growing.  She sent different newspaper clippings to keep him informed of things happening in Helena.
                Relief washed over me.  He was getting letters from home.  I thanked her profusely and told her that now I wouldn’t have to worry as much about him receiving enough letters from home.  She wasn’t just helping Jerry; she was helping me as well.  I went straight home and looked her name up in the church directory.  The next time Jerry called we talked about the letters.  He did appreciate them.  The best part is with every letter she sent, I know she prayed for his safety.  Knowing her, she prayed for all of us on the home front as well.
                Since Jerry came home, I have gotten to know her better.  She has a son about the same age as me and she has a couple grandchildren.  She is in charge of the Eucharistic schedule for all the Masses and she runs the 10:30 Mass in making sure we are all set for the ministry.  I am blessed to say she is one of my church moms.  I get hugs from her and we chat about life.  Most of all she has shown me selfless service (a military buzz phrase).  When she heard one of her fellow parishioners was being deployed, she didn’t ask how it would affect her.  She also didn’t pray for a day and move on with life since she didn’t really know the young man.  Instead she asked how it would affect him and what could she do for him.  Then she did it.  She is definitely a great example of making a successful journey to holiness.
                Blessings to you all.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Jr

                Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Many people have the day off from work and school to celebrate this man’s life.  In high school and college, I learned a little about the man.  His era in history isn’t my favorite, so there are many gaps in my knowledge.  This morning I thought I would close up a few of the gaps.
                In my quick study, I learned that Martin Luther was originally named Michael King Jr. after his father at his birth on January 15, 1929.  At the age of six, his family traveled to Germany.  Soon after the trip, his father changed both his and his sons name to Martin Luther in honor of the protestant reformation leader.  I believe the year was 1959 when an attempt was made on Martin Luther King Jr.’s life.  As he put it in a speech, a demented black woman came up to him during a book signing.  She stabbed him in the chest.  Just a sneeze away, the tip of the knife would have struck his aorta drowning him in his own blood.  Many people wrote to him: the president and the vice president to name a few.  Yet he held dearest a letter from a high school girl who was very glad he didn’t sneeze.  She was a white girl.  I knew Mr. King spoke at many protests, but I didn’t realize he wrote five books.  My must read list is getting bigger every moment.
                Most people have studied or heard parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech.  Today I went out and read “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”  He gave the speck on April 3rd 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee.  It would be his last big public address, for he was assassinated the next day.  While reading his speech, I highlighted many paragraphs.  I loved his writing and the intertwining of Biblical passages that he put in the text.  One story he took from the Bible struck me as a way to continue my journey to holiness.
                He begins the idea with this statement, “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”  Then Mr. King goes on to talk about the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told.  Many of you know the story about how a man was stuck by thieves and laying on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  This road was very dangerous with its twists and turns and steep grade.  I imagine it to be much like the Going to the Sun highway in Glacier Park only with bandits and thieves.  Well, a priest and a Levite rode right past the man and didn’t stop to help.  Instead, a Samaritan stopped to administer aid to the man.  Mr. King describes the Samaritan as “a man of another race.”  I have also been told Samaritans were looked down by the people of Jesus’ time and they would have been shocked to hear of one being spoken of as doing such a good act.
                Mr. King challenges the people of Memphis to quit asking the question that the priest and the Levite probably asked.  “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”  He continues to challenge them by asking the question the Samaritan must have asked.  “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”  Instead of worrying about the me of a situation, we should worry about the he or she.  We need to stop being selfish.  Martin Luther King Jr. did just that.  His life work was to help people to be free even if it meant giving up his life.  Now, I don’t believe we need to be martyrs to successfully finish our journey to holiness, but we do need to not be selfish.
                I challenge you, develop your dangerous unselfishness.
                Blessing to you all.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Well Pleased

                This past Sunday, the Gospel reading was when John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  After this happened, the Holy Spirit came down from Heaven in the form of a white dove.  God said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 4:17.    I have heard and read this passage numerous times throughout my life.  What struck me is what Father said in the homily.
                Of course, my memory is never good enough to quote someone.  In fact, listening to what he said, I wished I had my small backpack to pull out my notebook.  I should take notes during church.  Anyway, Father asked if we believed God said this about us when we were baptized.  As a baby I was baptized in the Lutheran church which I never attended afterwards unless with my dear aunt on my father’s side.  As a teenager, I was baptized again.  So Father was asking me, do I believe once I was baptized did God say, “This is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”?  Wow, this small section of the Bible is going to hold a lot more meaning to me!
                I do believe God was pleased with me at both my baptisms.  How could he not?  I was a wee babe at the first one.  Babies are a blessing from God, so He is always pleased with them.  At my second baptism, I do believe He again was well pleased.  I was a faith filled young adult following His teachings.  The question is now, is He still pleased with me?
                Is it egotistical of myself to believe He still is?  I don’t think I am all that egotistical and I do think He is pleased with me.  Why?  It definitely isn’t because of my negative thoughts, harsh judgments of others, or my failure to do right 24/7.  He is pleased with me because He is a loving father.  Also, He watches me try to be holy.  He has picked me up when I fall; he has stood back to let me fall.  Good fathers do that for their children.  I am sure he chuckles at some of the things I do.  He is sure to shake his head at this blog.  “Well, she doesn’t have it quite right, but she is trying.”
                So, is there anything he is well pleased with me this week?  I have tried to stay positive even when my health has been difficult.  He loved watching me interact with my beautiful children that He has lent to me.  He smiled when my son and I stopped to help a lady our of a snow bank.  He had his angels finish my nightly prayers after I drifted asleep.  He guides me in my studies.  I tell you, I am feeling pretty loved right now.
                How about you?  Is God well pleased with you?  I believe He is.
                Blessings to you all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Quote of the Week

Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
                This verse piggybacks very well with the writing I did with Saint Francis earlier this week.  I talked about how Francis worked towards helping the lay people strive towards a devout life and how it can be difficult in the secular world.    This verse gives us guidance while dealing with those who are of less devout pursuits.  We don’t want to take their advice because it won’t be Christ centered.  If we stand in the way of sinners, we are libel to get mixed up in their affairs.  Sitting in the seat of mockers I struggle with the meaning.  Yet, I am afraid it brings to mind the time I talk badly of others because of the person I am with gossips.  And I have never been blessed when I do this.  What I like about this verse is it doesn’t say that you have to avoid this type of person.  We can’t avoid them.  They are in the work place, organizations we volunteer, church, family, and quite frankly they are us from time to time.  Plus, we are to minister to them either through voice or actions.  But, we are not to assimilate if we want to be blessed.
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Bus Driver

                In the structure of churches of all faiths, ministries are a vital part of how they continue to function.  Depending on the faith, it can have a welcoming, social, Eucharist, and youth ministry.  The church I attended as a child had a ministry that was vital to my attending every Sunday and the one week in the summer for Vacation Bible School.  This was the church bus ministry.
                I don’t know if this was the official name.  I also didn’t know what all it entailed.  Maintenance and payment of gas were probably a big part, but as a grade school girl, none of this was relevant to me.  Mrs. Fields played the role that was so very important.  Every Sunday morning, she woke up early, prepared her children, and the bus to begin their journey.  She drove around town and out into the countryside to pick all of us up.  I believe her service first thing in the morning was a nicety for some families.  They sent their children to Sunday school and followed later for church services.   My parents didn’t attend church, so the bus was my only option.
                For me, I woke myself up and prepared for my mornings with God.  I waited patiently at the kitchen window until the yellow bus showed up at the end of my driveway and the horn blew.  If the weather was nice, I waited outside.  This journey took me to learn about Jesus and his followers and grow friendships of faith with my fellow students.  At church I would sit by an elderly couple who were cousins to my grandmother or a family would take me in and let me sit with them.  At the end of church, I got on the bus once again for my ride home.
                I didn’t always appreciate Mrs. Fields.  She was a strange lady.  Though we didn’t have much money growing up, her family had less which scared me.  As I entered those terrible junior high school years, I looked down on her lack of worldly goods.  At the time, I lacked in spiritual goods.  She could also be very mean if we misbehaved.  However, she did let us sit at the back of the bus when we were good and we could bounce on the seat.  One day we hit a bump in the road and the two of us in the seat hit the bounce just right.  We flew through the air, cushion and all.  A bump on my head resulted and much concern from Mrs. Fields.
                Years have passed since those days long gone.  She played a critical part in my early journey to holiness through her service to our small little church by working on her journey to holiness driving an old yellow bus.  I pray for her now whether still with us on earth or making her way through heaven.
                Who played a role in your early faith development?  Offer up a prayer for them.
                Blessing to you all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Devout Life

            The next couple of weeks, I would like to study the words of Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers.  I believe even though he lived over four hundred years ago, he still has something to teach us.  Amazingly, he grabbed my attention in his introduction to Introduction to the Devout Life.  He is a writer with vivid analogies painting a picture which helps in his guidance to holiness.  I also was amazed by his humbleness.
            In the introduction to his essays, Francis explains that he has nothing to add to the great works of the Bible.  Instead, he wants to use different words to assemble the ideas from the Bible to make a different arrangement.  He compared what he did to that of a florist making an unusual arrangement from the same flowers.  The imagery of his words took my breath away.  He continues in humbleness by saying though he writes about being devout he in not.  “…but most certainly I am not without the wish to become so [devout], and it is this wish which encourages me to teach you.”  Again, his modest manner as a bishop when he is writing reflects holiness even if in the beginning stages.
            We are all called to a vocation, career.  Francis knew we are not all called to work for our churches.  We are called to be soldiers, bankers, doctors, mothers, and fathers.  This does not leave us out of the call to holiness.  “But my object is to teach those who are living in towns, at court, in their own households, and whose calling obliges them to a social life, so far as externals are concerned.”  In other words, though we are not called to live a life away from the secular world as monks, nuns, and other cloistered groups, we are still in need of being taught further then just attending services on Sunday.
            Our world is filled with many temptations.  We see people fall to the lure of power and money.  We are swayed by taking the easy route.  Francis gives us hope.  “…a true steadfast soul may live in the world untainted by worldly breath, finding a well-spring of holy piety amid the bitter waves of society, and hovering amid the flames of earthly lusts without singeing the wings of its devout life.”  Francis doesn’t paint a pretty picture and warns us.  “Of a truth this is not easy, and for that very reason I would have Christians bestow more care and energy than heretofore on the attempt, and thus it is that, while conscious of my own weakness, I endeavor by this book to afford some help to those who are undertaking this noble work with a generous heart.”  Again Francis expresses his understanding for he is also weak.  I am comforted by his understanding and belief we are working a noble endeavor in the world.
            The other day I was listening to the Catholic channel on XM radio.  Lino Rulli talked about how we need more Saints that are parishioners instead of archbishops, nuns, priests, and popes.  His thinking was that then the common lay people would feel they have something to work towards.  I think Francis agrees.  “This is a caviling [to make petty or unnecessary objections] age and I foresee that many will say that only Religious and persons living apart are fit to undertake the guidance of souls in such special devout ways.”  Wow, not much has changed in the last four hundred years.
            The easy way that many people take is to believe if we aren’t working directly for God, our work doesn’t matter.  But it does.  All work we perform is noble if we approach it with a generous heart.  This will lead us to holiness.  I believe a good dose of humbleness will also help us along the way.  Saint Francis de Sales believes in us.  We can live a devout life.
            Blessings to you all.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pray Without Ceasing

            All great people of faith making the journey to holiness pray.  Many of them pray without ceasing.  After making Cursillo (a four day Catholic retreat) over ten years ago, I began a more serious walk with Christ.  I began by studying and praying more.  My passion is to learn so studying is a constant.  Prayer is more difficult for me.  I forget to pray.  Unless someone reminds me, I practically never pray before breakfast, lunch, or snacks.  If I am not with my family, I forget to pray at dinner.
            Thoughts of God are never far away.  I think of Him often throughout the day; yet, I am not actively having a conversation with Him.  Distractions at work, radio and other areas get in the way.  Over the years I used paperclips at work.  I put ten on my desk.  Through the day each time I said a prayer, I put a paperclip back in the container.  For years I kept a prayer by Saint Teresa on my computer monitor.  During one lent, I taped a morning prayer to the bathroom mirror.  While I exercise, I love to pray the Rosary.  All of these activities in prayer have fallen by the wayside for a variety of reasons.  I need to get back to these and start some more.  Oh, and I should add prayer to my mornings when driving the two younger kids to school.  I need to pray when cleaning the bathroom, cooking for the family, and doing dishes.  I need to pray without ceasing. 
            While reading Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly, this sentence touched my heart.  “And the actions of our lives are determined by our last most dominant thought.”  If we are praying continuously, our last thought will be of God causing our actions to be virtuous.  So, if I pray while doing dishes, I will approach the task with more love and not resentment.  If I pray while driving, instead of getting angry at other drivers, I will have more patience.  Praying without ceasing is a goal worth striving for in our lives.
            How often and when do you pray?  Blessings to you all.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Be You

“Be who you are and be that well.”  Saint Francis de Sales
          We have all tried to fit in with friends, coworkers, or family; changing something about ourselves to make them like us more.  A friend of mine actually gained weight to be more like his adoptive relatives.  In my case, a number of times when I have tried to assimilate; I have become miserable and still not accepted for the core being of Lisa.  (Luckily I have never changed the core.)  We loss who we are and who God wants us to be when we try to change and become someone else.  So, I will continue to be my peculiar introverted self who likes to stay home more then be out and about.
Blessings to you all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Traits of Holiness

                The other night I went to dinner with my family for Monday night football.  Usually just my husband and the boys go to meet with their fantasy football buddies, but the daughter and I tagged along.  One of the guys showed up and asked if I had started a blog yet.  He is a dear military friend who I have known for too many years to remember.  I laughed because I did start the blog that very day.  Then he asked the dreaded question, what is it about?  Hum, how do I answer that question in a short one sentence answer?
                I don’t remember exactly what I answered.  However, I do remember the gist of his reply.  “Oh, I don’t think it is a blog for me.”  My counter reply, “Oh, but it is.  The blog is for the average person.”  We didn’t continue the conversation because he was on the other side of the table, the restaurant was loud; plus, we were watching football.  However, some of my less holy traits are pride and bullheadedness; I was going to write a post just about this friend, for this friend.
                We met about twelve to fourteen years ago in a maintenance unit.  Being in different platoons, I didn’t get to know him until about nine years ago when he applied for a job as a voucher examiner.  I was the lead and fortunately my boss agreed he would be perfect for the job.  Over the years our friendship has grown at work and across a table drinking beer and watching football.  His wife and my husband join us on these outings plus we go out to dinner during the off season.  His integrity is impeccable and his loyalty to friendship brings tears to my eyes.  He annoyingly sees situations in a positive light when I want to just growl.  In the past we have talked a little about church and God.  He doesn’t attend church, but if I remember correctly, he does believe in a higher power. 
                So, how does a guy like this portray holiness?  He isn’t a priest or minister.  He doesn’t attend church.  He is the average Joe, or is he?  In Colossians 3:12 it states, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”.  For years, he has been very patient with me.  He laughs a lot about my thoughts on the military, but he is also very patient with them.  At work, he displays humility in admitting when he doesn’t know the answer to a problem by finding it.  When he does something wrong, he admits it and immediately goes about fixing it when it is within his power.  My daughter adores him because he has always been gentle with her.
                Going through tough times in life brings out interesting traits in a person’s friends.  While my husband was deployed to Iraq, this friend displayed kindness and heartfelt compassion.  Every day at work he stopped by my cubicle to check up on me and the kids.  If I needed to vent, he sat and we would talk.  For a military guy listening to an emotional wife is not an easy task.  But without him, my life would have been much harder.  His compassion didn’t stop there.  When my husband came home, this dear friend didn’t just welcome him home.  He called, he visited, and he drug my husband out of the house.  Neither my husband nor I could ever thank him enough for all that he did during those trying years.
                This past year we almost lost this friend to medical problems.  Much praying went on in our household for his recovery of numerous surgeries and difficulties.  Even the other night, I was so thankful he could join us for some football.  Sitting around the table at Thanksgiving, we all were stating what we were thankful for.  My oldest said he was thankful that our friend is still here on Earth.  Now I ask you, how can this man’s actions not display the true meaning of what it is to be working on a holy life?  I challenge all of you to think of those “unlikely” people around you.  How are they displaying the traits of compassion and kindness?  Look for it.  See their goodness, their holiness.
                Blessings to you all.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Francis de Sales

                My love of history began in elementary school while watching television Monday nights.  The life of a pioneer girl named Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie fascinated me.  I also lost myself in the Great Depression while watching the Walton children in The Waltons.  Finally, the study of history came alive in 8th grade with the mini-series The Blue and the Gray while studying the Civil War in history class with Mr. Lee.  My love of theology also began at this young age.  I love hearing the stories of the Bible and reading the beautiful words.  In fact, I wanted to be a nun back then but since I wasn’t Catholic I dreamed of writing or teaching just like Laura.  Thus, the Catholic saints have fascinated me once I became Catholic in my early twenties.  History and theology coming together in a perfect combination like chocolate and peanut butter.
                Over the years, I have studied Joan of Arc, Francis of Assisi, Mother Mary, the Little Flower (Saint Teresa), Christopher, Patrick, and Daniel of Padua.  I have also read about a bunch of the others along with the apostles.  Now whether a person is Catholic or not, it can’t be argued that these are people in history who did amazing works for God.  Most of them were far from perfect though some of their stories say otherwise.  Once I started this blog I wondered who I would pick from history to study.  Being a writer, I thought it was time to look up the patron saint of writers, Saint Francis de Sales.
                Like many young people and their parents, Francis and his father had different ideas of what Francis should do with his life in the 1580s.  Francis wanted to become a priest but his father wanted him to become a soldier.  This reminds me of when I was preparing for college.  I so wanted to go to Puget Sound Bible College in Seattle, Washington, but my father wanted me to go to a school that would give me a real job.  Francis went to Paris to study and I went to Billings.  After going to Padua to study, God finally told Francis it was time to make his commitment.  One day while riding, he fell three times from his mount.  Each time his sword and scabbard fell to the ground forming a cross.  Francis made the move and became a priest.  I never became a nun or received a degree in theology, but I write about it.
                Priesthood did not come easy for Francis.  The people complained about him because they thought he made fun of them while he preached and they thought he was arrogant.  Against the good guidance of others, he decided to cross the mountains to Switzerland to bring back 60,000 people into the Catholic Church.  They had converted to Calvinism.  The people wouldn’t listen to him.  He slept on the ground, in trees, and in haylofts.  Finally he started writing his sermons on paper and put them under the doors.  These are the first known religious pamphlets to be distributed.  The people finally started listening when he began talking and interacting with the children.  Of the 60,000, it is said he brought 40,000 back to his beloved church.
                During this time in Catholic history, the belief was that only nuns and priests could work towards holiness.  Francis disagreed and offered spiritual direction to the ordinary people.  He wrote the famous book Introduction to the Devout Life.  He recommended to, “Retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.”  He also thought gossip and judging others a great sin.  In the next couple of weeks I plan to read his book and see what other words of wisdom he has for all of us.  So far, he seems like an amazing man who can help me on my journey to holiness.
                Do you have perfect combinations in your life that help you on the journey to holiness?  Someday, I think it would be fun to study the great works of art that depicts theology.  So go out and enjoy your blending of an everyday activity like history and see how it intertwines with theology.  And maybe the next time you eat a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup you will think of history and theology.
                Blessing to you all.