July 23, 2013

Nothing More Than Feelings

I have been up since before 3 AM listening to the rain softly falling outside. While it is a nice sound and the breeze was gently blowing in my bedroom window, I do wish I was able to go back to sleep. Prayer was difficult so I just decided to rest in the Lord until I decided to get out of bed at 4:30.  This is probably not good for facing a day of work.

I thought perhaps it is a good time to write a post.  I haven't done so in awhile. Call it writer's block. My journal entries are even brief as of late. I get all these ideas in my head about what to write about, but when it comes time to do it my mind goes blank. It is not that I don't reflect on things, for I do that a lot, but the words just don't make it onto paper, or the screen in this case.

For awhile I have been giving a lot of thought to the concept of feelings. Yesterday I viewed a post on Facebook that again got me reflecting on feelings. Thanks Karla for posting it. It expresses much of what I was thinking about.  I have heard it said, and have also come to the realization on my own, that we put too much emphasis on our feelings. Everything seems to be about how I feel or how I don't feel. Don't say this or that for it might hurt someone's feelings. Feelings are most important, never mind what is the truth. Even within my Catholic circles people are saying that it is all about feelings.  I don't believe that anymore.

I have discovered that feelings can be deceiving and can also keep me from discovering the reality about who I am. I feel hurt by someone, so I shut down, or start feeling sorry for myself. Yet I believe that feelings, positive or negative, can be a starting point for self reflection, for asking the big question, "why do I feel this way?"

When it comes to God, that's where feelings can really get in the way. We often think that God must make us feel good.  Well there are many times when I just don't feel good, when I just don't feel God's presence. This had happened more often in the past few years.  I could have just thought that God has abandoned me, although based on things that have happened in my life I know that He hasn't, but I just don't get those nice feelings with regard to God.  I have come to realize that that's OK. It all comes down to faith.

Faith is not a feeling. My friend Sandy has a favorite Bible quote; "Faith is the confidence in what is hoped for, and the assurance of things not seen." (Heb. 1:1). In 2 Corinthians 5:7, Paul writes, "we walk by faith and not by sight."  For me these passages confirm my thoughts that just as our senses can deceive us with regard to our faith, feelings can as well. Faith is a gift that is available to all who are open to receiving it. Faith gets us though the hard times, even when we feel like all is falling apart, even when our feelings are hurt, or when our feelings are saying that God has abandoned us.

Reading John of the Cross has helped me a lot with regard to relying on senses and feelings when it comes to faith and my relationship with God. When we let go of our desires to "feel good" or to "sense God" and to simply trust in His Love, knowing that He is always with us, that is when we can begin to attain true union with God. And the closer we get to union with God, the more our feelings do not dominate us and our relationships with others. I haven't arrived there yet, but I'm working on it.

June 2, 2013

Airport Musings

I write this while sitting in West Palm Beach airport with a 3 3/4 hour delay on my flight. They say it is because of severe weather but from what I can gather the weather at JFK is perfect. So here I sit with close to three more hours to go, and I've been here an hour and a half already. Nothing much I can do about it so I thought I would write some reflections.

Today is the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is one of my favorite feasts and I was hoping to hear a really good homily at Mass this morning.  I was greatly disappointed.  Granted the priest was old but there was absolutely no meat in the homily.  I don't think it was necessary to explain why the sanctuary light is there, but maybe there are people at Mass who don't know that, however I highly doubt it.  And I can easily look up the origins of the feast, in fact I think he took his information straight off Wikipedia.

The reality of the Eucharist is such a great gift that Our Lord gave to us; His very Body and Blood that we take into our bodies. The great beauty of the Eucharist is expressed in the words of St. Augustine; "Behold what you are, become what you receive." Through our baptism we are part of the Body of Christ, we are members of His Body and He is the Head. The parts of the body can do nothing without the head, so too we are nothing without our Lord. Each time we receive Jesus we are transformed "more deeply" to borrow Bishop Murphy's term, into His Body. Yet it seems that so many people are unaware of this reality. It seems that to many, reception of Jesus in Holy Communion is just something you do at Church because, well, it's expected. When I did my doctoral project on First Holy Communion, a number of parents wrote in the survey I conducted that they didn't believe the Eucharist was the real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus, but they want their children to receive First Holy Communion because it is expected as Catholics. It doesn't matter that they don't go to Mass regularly, not to even mention confession. I wonder if they understood what St. Augustine wrote if they would act differently. I pray that they will be open to this great gift and allow Jesus to touch their hearts.

When I hear stories of why people convert to Catholicism, so many times it is because of the Eucharist. The thought of truly receiving Jesus somehow touched something inside of them and drew them closer and closer to Catholicism and deeper into their relationship with Christ. 

I wish there was something I could say to the parents and students in my religious education program that would convince them that receiving Jesus every Sunday gives them ultimately so much more than they can imagine. The Eucharist is food for the soul. For me, it is what keeps me going. The days that I don't go to Mass and receive communion are days that I feel incomplete.  

May 31, 2013

The Visitation

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. I love the Gospel reading for today because it is chock full of things that are food for thought and for meditation.  I recall giving a talk on Mary over 20 years ago and used this Gospel as the basis for my talk. I must honestly admit that at the time Mary was a a much more a part of my prayer life than she is now. I seemed to connect to her more back then, and while she is not absent from my life, I don't focus on her as much as I probably should. But at the time, I guess I needed her more.

I remember the verse that I focused on in that talk. "And how does this happen to me that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" I invited my listeners to ask themselves that same question, for Mary indeed comes to us in very quiet, humble and gentle ways. Even though I am not at all aware of her presence at this point in my life, I do know that she is always there watching over me. What have I done to deserve this attention from the Mother of God? The truth is, nothing I do makes me deserve this. As Mary felt the need to travel a long distance to aid her cousin, she too has the need and desire to be with us in our need. It's kind of like my own kids. Now in their late 20's and 30's they don't seem to need me as much. They are adults and and involved in their own lives, which is good. Yet I am there for them when they do need to talk, want a bit of attention, or just want to be with Mom.

Like my children, even though I have distanced myself a bit from her, I know I can count on her in my need. Every evening I pray the Magnificat, which is part of Evening Prayer and was part of todays reading. It is a beautiful prayer to meditate on. It is a song of humility and praise to the Father. I try to make it my song as well. Perhaps you can too.

May 26, 2013

Join in the Dance

As I write this I am on a well deserved vacation visiting my family in Florida. It is a good time to be here since the weather back home is terrible for this time of year.  I am hoping it improves before I get home the first week of June.

When I think of Trinity Sunday I can't help but think of the movie Footloose.  OK, you might be thinking what on earth does that film have to do with the Trinity. Well, to be honest, nothing.  But it does have everything to do with dancing. For people who really know me I love to dance. I am not very good at it but when the music starts, especially good old Rock and Roll (from the 50's-80's) I can't help but get on my feet and move with the music. Footloose was all about a town that banned dancing and the one high school student (a young Kevin Bacon), who wanted to convince the town's minister and townspeople to let the senior class hold a prom. He does so by reading passages in the Bible that speak of dancing as a way of praising the Lord.  Perhaps the kind of dancing he was trying to get approved is not what you would call praising the Lord, but the image of dancing before God in the Bible has a lot of merit.

Dancing can also be used to describe the Trinity, the relationship between the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. I wrote the following in this blog about two years ago on Trinity Sunday and thought it would be good to repeat. In it I talk about one of my favorite 'churchy" words, perichoresis.

"My favorite way to enter into the mystery of the Trinity is with the word "perichoresis."  It is a Greek word that literally means "to dance around;" peri meaning "to circle" and choresis meaning "dance" (the root of the word choreography).  It is a word that was first used by the early Church Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssea, Gregory of Nazianizus and John of Damascus to describe the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. St. John wrote, “The subsistences [i.e., the three Persons] dwell and are established firmly in one another. For they are inseparable and cannot part from one another, but keep to their separate courses within one another, without coalescing or mingling, but cleaving to each other. For the Son is in the Father and the Spirit: and the Spirit in the Father and the Son: and the Father in the Son and the Spirit, but there is no coalescence or commingling or confusion. And there is one and the same motion: for there is one impulse and one motion of the three subsistences, which is not to be observed in any created nature” (The Orthodox Faith, 1.14).
I do like  the image of a dance.  If you look at dancers, and I am not talking about what you see on "So You Think You Can Dance," or "Dancing with the Stars" or other such TV shows, but real ballroom dancing, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sort of dancing. The dancers are individual persons, each having their own distinct movements and costumes, but together they create something beautiful and cohesive.  You cannot have someone ballroom dance alone.  It just cannot be done. So too with the Trinity.  The Trinity is a Communio Personarum, a community of Persons who move and flow and draw life from one another in a "Great Dance" of Love."

God wants to take my hand and lead me onto the dance floor where I can move with Him, Father, Son and Spirit.  Isn't that great! But an even greater thing about God is that He can have more than one partner.  Today, and every minute of every day, He is calling you to dance with Him as well.  The music is playing, so get your feet up and dance with the Lord.

April 28, 2013

Did He Mean Love Everyone?

In today's Gospel we hear the great commandment that Jesus gave his disciples: “As I have loved you, so also should you love one another.” What is this Love that Jesus commands of us? It is not simply a feeling or a nice sentiment. It is not something romanticized or something we might find in a Hallmark card. This kind of Love that Jesus commands of us is something radical. It is a complete giving of love to others, whether we feel like it or not, whether we like the person or not. Just recently this concept of Love has been tested in a dramatic way in my life. Like probably many of you I was glued to the TV on as the manhunt went on for the younger of the two men who planted the bomb at the Boston marathon and were responsible for the deaths of three people and the horrible injuries of so many others. I was hoping they would catch the young man, but I also found myself praying for him. That night, before we heard that he was captured, I was at a prayer gathering with some friends. We prayed for him and for all those who find themselves caught up in religious or political ideologies that cause them to commit horrific acts of terror. We prayed that he would be caught alive and that someday he may become aware of Christ’s Love for him. This is the radical Love that Jesus was talking about. Yes, we prayed for the victims and their families. We prayed very hard for them. Their lives are torn apart. But it is easy to pray for them because we feel such sympathy and concern for them. It is much harder to pray for those who we might feel don’t deserve our prayers.

While this is a dramatic example, right in our own community and perhaps even if our own families, there are people who we do not like or don’t want to be around. We might hold a grudge or feel great anger toward them. Radical Love means that we forgive them. We don’t have to become their BFF, but we do need to pray for them and hope that they open their hearts to the Love of Christ who gave us the ultimate act of Love. He died for our sins. He died for all of us so that we might have the opportunity to live with Him forever. This Love comes without conditions. On our part, we need to be open to receiving it.

April 14, 2013


Peter Jumping into the Water by James Tissot

Today at our RCIA session following Mass, the catechist leading the session led us in a meditation on today's Gospel. In typical Ignatian fashion, she directed us to put ourselves in the story. As she read the Gospel, she stopped along the way and asked us to picture ourselves on the lake and feel the coolness of the morning, the heat of the sun as it rose. Then she asked at specific points in the story what we were thinking as something occurred, what emotions arose in us, what would we have done if we were there? At one point she asked what would you be thinking when you saw Simon Peter jump from the boat into the water.  I sort of chuckled to myself as I thought, "Is he crazy?  What the heck is he doing? I think he's lost it."

I stayed with that image and those words for awhile after the meditation was over. When asked to share our thoughts or reactions, I shared those words, but then I continued. When we grow closer to the Lord and deepen our relationship with Him, we begin to change. Things that brought us pleasure may not matter so much anymore. We don't do some of the same things we did before. We may go to church more often, spend more time in prayer, get involved in activities in our parish, read the bible or other spiritual books. People who know us notice the change and may be confused by it and might even have some negative thoughts. At times we may hear criticism of our dedication to our faith. Friends or family might think we are crazy, that we have become some sort of "holy roller."  They may wonder why we focus so much on God.  Yes, and they might think we've "lost it."

I could think of a number of times when that happened to me, and I know some of my family members think of me as a bit too religious. They say I'm like the Church Lady, in fact at my last parish I have had kids call me that when I ask them if they knew who I was.  Some people might get offended if called something like this, but in a way I don't mind. No, I'm not the kind of Church Lady that Dana Carvey plays, but what's wrong with being a Church Lady? What's wrong with being someone who tries to put God first in her life and orient whatever she does toward living as a good Christian, as a good Catholic? What is wrong with talking about God, speaking the truth about the faith, and abandoning myself to the Lord. 

Like Simon Peter, we sometimes have to "jump in" when we discover the Lord, not considering what anyone might think of us. It's not easy and I admit I do struggle with that. But in the end it comes down to loving Jesus above all things.  Do I listen to the voices that might distract me from reaching the Lord, or do I jump?

January 1, 2013

Reflecting on the New Year

It has been over six months since I have posted.  I am not sure why I stopped, but there has been a lot happening in my life over the past six months.  My daughter Laura got married, my daughter Theresa moved back home, we got a new puppy, I got a new job, and I had a book to finish writing.  All these things were very good events but they pulled my attention and motivation to post and to write in my journal as well.  A few times I wanted to write, and I believe I had some good things to say, but upon sitting down to the computer my mind went blank.  This being New Year's Day and a time for resolutions, I have decided to make posting again and journaling my resolution.

I am not the type of person that celebrates the New Year, or makes resolutions. Eventually all those resolutions fall flat. like the resolution to lose weight or exercise more. For me, the New Year is a time to reflect upon the past year, to see how far I have come spiritually, in my relationships with God and with others, and to uncover areas where I need some work.

In today's Gospel, for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, we hear that "Mary kept all these things reflecting on them in her heart." The events of the conception, pregnancy and birth of Jesus would be overwhelming for anyone, especially for a young girl of Mary's age. She reflected on them however, and though they maybe didn't make sense, she knew in her heart that they were God's plan for her.

It appears to me that is something that is missing in our society today, reflection and making time to reflect. Oh yes, we brainstorm and organize our thoughts and ideas, we make plans and lists, and we sometimes obsess over what we have done, but that is not reflection. One of the advantages of having a puppy and an old cat is that they wake me up early in the morning and after I finish taking care of their needs I can sit with a cup of coffee, the puppy on my lap and my breviery (or iBreviary on the iPad - no page turning). It is a time to pray and reflect. It is a special time. The quiet of the morning is conducive to reflection. There is little noise, it's dark and very still. I am sure Mary had those mornings when Jesus would wake up early to nurse, and she was able to reflect on all that had happened and the wonder of it all. It is a time to listen to the still voice of God. It is a time to take a look at what has been happening in my life, to try to make some sense of it all, to see God's plan in the things that have occurred and to look toward the future.

The sun is beginning to rise, a new day and a new year is beginning. May God bless us this new year and like Mary, may we take the time to reflect on all things in our hearts, that we may see His glory, His mercy, and His Love in our lives.