July 25, 2012

Finding Spirituality in a Crowd

There is something very good and uplifting about spending several days with close to 2,000 people who are in musical and liturgical ministry in Catholic parishes throughout the country. This week I am at the annual convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians in Pittsburgh, PA.  In addition to listening to and singing wonderful liturgical music, there is a spiritual component to the talks and workshops.

So far we have heard two wonderful addresses. The Keynote on Monday was by Fr. Ronald Raab, CSC. He spoke about finding holiness in our suffering and in entering into the suffering of others. Pretty powerful!

Tuesday's Plenum address was given by Fr. J. Michael Joncas, who I had the good fortune to have as a professor when I studied at Notre Dame. I also attended his workshop on the history of the Roman Missal yesterday.  But his talk was like being on retreat. It was about connecting liturgy and life and he used the Gospel Antiphon for Evening Prayer on the feast of Corpus Christi as the jumping off point, connecting it with passages from Sacrosanctum Concilium.  He had me mesmerized. I only hope the talk is made available so that I can reflect on it further.

Tuesday night was an evening of contrasts musically, but both were spiritually uplifting. First a concert of contemporary praise music by young composers and performers. I guess its distinct Catholicity is why we do not hear their songs on Christian radio. Following that was Taize prayer. I have always loved Taize prayer with its meditative chants. It was beautifully to be carried away in prayer by the voices of a few hundred people all singing in harmony while meditating on the cross of Christ surrounded by candles and icons.

This morning we heard another plenum address by Msgr. Kevin Irwin which was challenging but also a warning against making my participation in the liturgy all about me and my wants.  He gave me much to think about.

Right now I am skipping the morning showcases and doing some work on my book.  That would make my publishers, who are in a booth in the conference hall, very happy.

A conference such as this is tiring, and if I decided to do everything on the schedule I would be totally exhausted.  But the time away from work and the mundane things of daily life is good. I have time for prayer (although haven't found my way to a Mass yet as it is a far walk), and the opportunity to connect with some people I haven't seen in awhile and to make new friends, all in an atmosphere where the worship of Jesus is the main topic of conversation.  My voice is a bit hoarse from singing so much and I am walking about 6 miles a day between the hotel and the conference center, but all in all it is a wonderful and inspirational week.

July 11, 2012

St. Benedict and Me

Today is the feast of Holy Father Benedict. No, not Pope Benedict, but St. Benedict of Nursia, the sixth century saint who is considered the founder of Western monasticism.  Today is also a feast day for me because I am an Oblate of St. Benedict.

When I tell people I am an Oblate, their first question is, "What's an Oblate." Their second question is, "Why?" Some people wonder if I really wanted to be a nun. Others think I'm just the crazy church lady. Some are very curious, ask a lot of questions and seem genuinely interested. The real reason is that, for me, it is a path to holiness. The link above explains what an Oblate is, but why did I decide to make my oblation is a very good question.

I first read the Holy Rule of St. Benedict many, many years ago. I picked it up while visiting the Weston Priory in Vermont which was one of my favorite places to visit with a group from my parish. I understood it as a good rule for life but never took it any further by applying it to my own life. Years later I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris and realised that the Rule can apply to our ordinary lives and didn't require living in a monestary or abbey. I began to see how living the Rule made a lot of sense in this crazy world of ours. It was, in a sense, a call to go back to basics, not so much in an ascetical sense but in getting back to spiritual basics and living a simple and happy life in the here and now.

The next expereince that drew me closer to a Benedictine spirituality was when I began my liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame. I learned that the Benedictines and liturgy just go together like paper and glue. They were known througout the centuries to be the center of liturgical reform and the Pontifical Liturgical Institiute located at Sant'Anselmo in Rome is run by the Benedictines.  The more I studied the more I came to undertand why I love liturgy so much. I met quite a number of Benedictine religious and oblates during my time at Notre Dame and had the opportunity to see how Benedictine spirituality affected their lives.

In discerning how I could deepen my relationship with God, it was suggested to me that I look into a third order or affiliate myself with a religious community. After much prayer, a search into the charisms of different orders and communities, and reflection on where God may be calling me, I kept coming back to the Benedictines.  I re-read the Rule and did a search on Monestaries or Abbeys near where I lived. The closest was St. Walburga Monestary in Elizabeth, NJ. If I was going to make an oblation with a community, I wanted it to be one where I would be able to travel to easily.

I began to attend Oblate meetings and after a year of discernment decided to enter formation for my oblation. I made my final oblation a year later. Being an Oblate has had such a positive affect on my life. I have learned to live a simplier life, to appreciate people and things more. I have learned that humility and obedience are not "dirty words" and that in living these virtues I am a much happier person. I have come to realize the beauty of the Divine Office and look forward to praying the psalms every day, several times a day. But most of all my relationship with God has grown deeper.

Reading the Rule every day has shown me that the wisdom of St. Benedict does not lose anything 1500 years later. It is a relevant today as it was in the sixth century.  Today as we celebrate our Holy Father Benedict's feast I can't help but call to mind a quote from the Holy Rule, one that is on the stained glass window at our monestary and taped to my computer at work: "Prefer nothing to the Love of Christ."

Happy feast day. PAX

July 5, 2012

Isn't Somebody Missing?

For the past few months I have been listening to a radio station that was recommended to me. It advertises itself as Christian and inspirational, and indeed it is. The songs speak of the love of Jesus, His forgiveness and mercy, of dependence on the Father, and in turning to God in good and bad times.  Yet in all the time I have been listening to the station, I have not heard one song that mentions the Holy Spirit. I haven't even heard the announcers mention the Spirit. I find that rather odd. How can you talk or sing about the Father and the Son and leave out the Spirit who is the very Breath of God.

Perhaps it is because of all the Persons of the Trinity the Holy Spirit is probably the most difficult for people to comprehend. It is easy to relate to Jesus, who is human as well as Divine. The Father too is easy to relate to, even if it is as basic as thinking of Him as this old bearded grandfather type who created us and sustains us in our need and correcting us when we sin.  But the Spirit is kind elusive and difficult to describe how He works in our lives...or is He?

The Spirit hovered over the waters when the world was created, He was the breath that brought our first parents to life and breathes new life into us when we are baptized. He is the Love between the Father and the Son that is extended to God's people. He teaches us in the ways of the Lord, He inspires us and He even prays for us when we cannot pray on our own. How can we ignore Him. How can a station advertise itself as Christian and inspirational when they don't even mention the source of all that inspires us?

The station is always quoting Scripture, yet Who is it that inspired the authors of Scripture? Who was it in the Book of Acts that came down upon the apostles on Pentecost? Who is it that St. Paul speaks so eloquently of in His letters? Who came down upon the water when Jesus was baptized by John?

I am positive that  these Christian songwriters have been touched by the Holy Spirit. Who do they think inspired them to write the songs in the first place. Who is it that led them into this ministry of music that helps bring people to God?

I have a friend who is very deeply in love with the Holy Spirit. She calls Him the Eternal Nag.  Not in a negative way but in a playful way. It is the Holy Spirit who gently, and sometimes not so gently, encourages, pushes and prods us to walk in the way of the Lord, to do His will and to serve God and His people.  In light of this, I am on a prayer mission asking the Holy Spirit to nag  Christian songwriters to write something about the Spirit that will inspire people just as much as their songs about Jesus and the Father do.  It is possible you know, we Catholics have been singing about the Spirit for centuries.

July 3, 2012

What's in a Name?

The Incredulity of St. Thomas by Caravaggio

I was thinking today that  St. Thomas goes down in history with the name Doubting Thomas. It seems a shame that one little mistake and he gets saddled with this moniker for all eternity. I mean really, who wouldn't have doubted. You hear from your friends that someone you knew was dead is now alive. It's only been a week, they were grieving, maybe drank a bit too much wine.  Who wouldn't have said "prove it?" You don't hear Peter referred to as Denying Peter, or Paul called Persecutor Paul. So why pick on poor Thomas?

I don't know about you, but I have my doubts at times about all this God stuff and Jesus and everlasting life. My goodness, even great saints like Therese and Mother Theresa had doubts. People all the time wonder about the truth of it all. The important thing is what you do with those doubts.  Jesus appeared to Thomas and told him to touch His wounds.  Thomas probably felt a bit embarrassed but then he proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!"  What a statement of faith!  He then went on to evangelize India and did so well that today is a great feast there,

We, in a way, are privileged.  We have 2,000 years of the faith of others to lead us in ours. We have the Gospels and epistles and the Fathers of the Church who handed down to us the teachings of Our Lord and showed us the Truth contained in the faith. 

But then what of  this title of Thomas.  What if we were known for eternity by the one BIG mistake we made in our lives.  I can just hear it...Adulteress Audrey, Embezzler Frank, Susan the Proud, etc., etc.  What a way to be remembered. Then again, it shows the great Love and Mercy that Jesus shows those who sin and seek forgiveness. The Doubter becomes a great saint.  I'd like to be a great saint.  Well, maybe not a great one but a saint none the less. And I just want to be known as Jo-Ann, plain and simple, if you please.

June 22, 2012

Regrets, I've had a few...

I haven't posted in well over a month and a half. It is not that I didn't have anything to say but things just got away from me between work, a major writing assignment, my daughter's shower and wedding planning, my husband's retirement and getting ready for summer. I just didn't have it in me to do one more thing.

So summer is here and it has been 100 degrees here in NY, but it is nice an cool sitting on the deck here this morning. I was awakened at 4:00 AM by a giant party bus bringing home the neighbors' kids from their senior prom. Oh those were the days. Wait a minute...I didn't go to my prom.  Seems I missed out on a lot of things at that age.  I guess you could say I was a bit nerdy and a goody-goody.  But I have no regrets about that.

Speaking of regrets, the thought of regrets has occupied much of my spiritual reflection as of late. It seems that in my journey of growing closer to God, there are some things in my past that keep popping up in my mind, things I wish didn't happen or that I should have avoided. Even though I have been reconciled with God for some reason the regrets surfaced. While I have come to see that it is good to feel regret and to despise certain things from my past, it is not good to dwell on regrets. It is a distraction that can keep me from focusing on my spiritual progress.

The one thing that came clearly to me is that regrets make me aware of how important it is to follow the way of the Lord. I keep thinking of Sinatra's song "My Way."  The lines, "regrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention. I did what I had to do...I did it my way." The things in my past that I regret are the things that I did "my way" instead of the Lord's way. I think that is the key to having a relationship with Jesus, to do it His way, and to surrender my will over to Him.  I find when I do that, things just fall into place and I am filled with His peace and His joy, no matter what is happening in my life or in the world.  I am not talking about a Pollyanna type attitude, but an attitude of trust and reliance in God's providence. Maybe it is time to drop this bag of regrets I have been carrying around and just bask in the freedom of God's mercy and Love. 

May 3, 2012

National Day of Prayer

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Last year I wrote a post about this day which falls on the first Thursday in May.  I think what I expressed there is still appropriate a year later.


May 1, 2012

May Musings

Here is it is May.  Time flies by too fast, but in a way I am glad to see April gone. It's not that I don't like April, it's my favorite month, but there was so much going on that I didin't have time to relax.  There were birthdays (including mine), anniversaries (mine too), Easter, retreats, writing deadlines, tax deadlines, family obligations, work obligations, spring cleaning (not quite done yet), and of course wedding planning. 

So what does May have in store? It seems that things will be a bit easier on me this month and I can focus on a few important things, like my prayer life and my relationship with the Lord and His Blessed Mother. Last year I posted art work of Our Lady during the month of May and I hope to do the same this year. As I've said before, my relationship with Mary is sort of an on again/ off again thing. It's not that I do not honor her, but I just can't seem to make that connection that so many others seem to have achieved.

This past weekend I was on a parsih retreat and heard a talk about one woman's relationship with Our Lady.  The talk was beautiful, but I found myself a bit sad that I cannot feel that level of love and devotion. Even daily recitation of the Rosary does nothing to help in this regard.

Where I do find my connection to Our Lady is through art, particularly icons. An icon is a window to the enternal. They are meant to draw the viewer into the mystery that is presented in paint or moasic in two dimensions and lead us into deeper contemplation on those mysteries. The mystery of Mary leads me into deeper contemplation on her Son Jesus. And I guess that really is her purpose.

April 20, 2012

A Conversation About Saints

Tapestry at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles

This morning I was engaged in a very stimulating conversation on saints.  Since the beginning of Lent I have been meeting on Friday mornings in my living room with a small group from my home parish to watch Fr. Robert Barron's documentary series CATHOLICISM.  I can't praise this series enough and the episode we watched this morning was the one on the Communion of Saints.  If I had to choose my favorite episode of the entire series this would probably be it.

He begins by telling the story of from the Gospel of Luke (5:1-11) of the call of Simon. Simon and his companions were fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus gets into Simon's boat, uninvited, orders him to go out to deep water and cast out their nets.  They haul in a tremendous catch of fish.  Jesus then tells Simon that he will now be a fisher of men.  Fr. Barron suggests that a saint is "someone who lets Jesus into their boat."  He calls this an "invasion of Grace." Those two phrases stuck with me the first time I saw this episode and they still resonate in me every time I view it. When the people in my living room heard this I could tell that this struck them as well. 

When I was young and in Catholic school, of course we learned about the saints, but I never thought much of them.  They were interesting and sometimes strange people who appeared to be so unlike anyone I could ever knew or could strive to be like. I didn't understand why people had a devotion to the saints when they could go straight to Jesus.  The saints were no more real to me than the plaster statues that some people had in their homes or that were in church.

All that changed after beginning graduate studies in theology, when I took a course on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I, like Fr. Barron mentions in this episode, had read her autobiography but found it overly sentimental.  I found out through the course that many people only see that one side of Thérèse and that more recent editions of her book, Story of a Soul, based on unedited translations of her original manuscript, present a very complex and not a all sentimental young woman.  As I read her letters and her poetry, I came to appreciate this complexity and came to love her.  If I could change how I felt about Thérèse, what about other saints? So began a journey that continues today of reading the lives and writings of the saints.  They have become my friends.

Part of our conversation this morning centered around Fr. Barron's remark that we should all strive to be saints. We look at the lives of saints and we see their heroic virtue and think that we can't be like that.  Why not?  When I read or hear their stories, they were just ordinary people who let Jesus be the center of their lives. Isn't that what Jesus wants of us? I admit it is not easy, but was it easy for them?  And what's the alternative. If we don't become saints then what does that mean?  I don't even want to think about that. So we decided we all want to be saints, and hopefully all came away from this video and conversation with a clearer view on what it means to be a saint.  We decided to let Jesus into our boat and set out into deep water.

April 17, 2012

Called to Witness

The USCCB just released a new document titled "Disciples Called to Witness: The New Evangelization."  This document was created as a resourse for all Cathoics to become evangelizers, to invite newcomers to the faith and to reach out to "our missing brothers and sisters." We have been hearing about New Evangelization for quite a number of years. In the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, which Pope John Paul II issued for the Jubilee Year 2000 he encouraged all Catholics to "direct our thoughts to the future." In this new text, the US bishops are encouraging all of us to take up the challenge to strengthen our own faith, and to share the Gospel message to those who have strayed or become lukewarm, to those who are Catholics in name only.

Having just downloaded the document this morning, I haven't had the chance to give it more than a quick read, but it puts much responsibility on we the laity.  Yes, the parish does have a responsibility to provide programs and education but we have the responsibility as Catholics to live as disciples of Christ, to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and to use those gifts to further the Kingdom of God. We need to be formed into disciples who know how to share our faith with others.

Sharing our faith is not something we Catholics have done well in recent times. During this Easter Season as we read from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the early disciples of Christ preached  Christ risen from the dead and brought many people to the faith.  You might say that they had the fire of the Holy Spirit within them, but so should we. It is the same Spirit that we received at our baptism, the same Spirit that we were sealed with at our Confirmation.

Before we can be effective evangelizers we need to equip ourselves with the tools to be great evangelizers. We need to be converted to Christ over and over again, reorienting our selves to Him. We need to fully engage ourselves in the sacramental and devotional life of the Church, we need to take advantage of educational opportunities and to spend time in prayer.

I think most of all we need to learn to tell our stories. We need to let others know what our faith has done and continues to do for us. We need to let others know what letting Christ into their life can do for them.  Not everyone will listen to us, and there is the possibility that people will label us as a bit odd. But in a sense we are odd in that we are different than others because we belong to Christ in a world where individualism , materialism, and secularism rule the lives of most people. Odd as we may appear, we need to overcome all obstacles to preach the truth of the Gospels not only in words but in how we live and how we invite others to experience Christ.

I am looking forward to sitting down this evening and giving the document a good read, and then take it to prayer so that I may work on becoming a more effective evangelizer and help others to be evangelizers as well. What a challenge!  I pray that Jesus will give me the strength and courage to heed His command to "go and make disciples of all nations," and to invite those who have drifted to come back to the Lord.

April 16, 2012

Another Anniversary

This time it's a big one...35 years married!  How can that be? I remember it like it was yesterday.  In fact it was the weekend after Easter, purposely chosen to be in the Octave of Easter, and it was so lovely with all the lilies. The wedding itself was beautiful but, and I can admit this now, liturgically it was not what I would do now.  It was the 70's, and, well, lets just say it was a time of liturgical experimentation, and as a member of the parish folk group I had all these great ideas as far as music.  I won't say what was sung at the Mass, but I didn't have an organ, only a guitar played by a very nice young woman who was probably very happy that she didn't have to sing anything too religious.  I chalk it up to the times. .

Back to the anniversary. Thirty-five years is a long time and we had our ups and downs and we're still together. Of course we are, we made a vow before God to stay together, something many people today don't take seriously.  We brought three wonderful children into the world and now are pondering what to do as empty nesters (well sort of).

Now I am in the process of preparing my daughter's wedding this coming October. They just finished pre-Cana and they understand that the vows they will take are serious and meant for life.  They understand that the wedding Mass is the most important part of preparing their wedding.  That's why liturgist Mom is doing most of the work (that and the fact that she lives 3,000 miles away from the parish where the wedding will take place).  She is choosing the readings but is allowing me to do the rest, with her approval of course.  And this time the music will be appropriate...and there will be no guitars.

By the way, we've put on a few pounds since that picture was taken 35 years ago. We are  grayer  (under my hair coloring), a bit of lines around the face, and maybe we are more tired at times. But we continue, knowing that a marriage is more than a social arrangement, more than just for the happy times. We have our health, but who knows what is around the corner and in what ways our vows will be tested as we grow old together.  All I know is that we have each other.

April 13, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Today is the first anniversary of beginning to write this blog. As I wrote in that first post, my goal was to talk about a relationship with God that begins with trust.  As I look over the 128 posts of this past year, I think I have kept to that goal fairly well.  

I have had over 8,000 hits but over 2,000 of them were most likely from people who googled a winter scene I used in the post and just happened upon my blog. But I like to think that maybe some of them read it and perhaps it got them thinking about their relationship with God.  My second most viewed post was one I posted in March about faith.  Again it could have been the picture however I do hope they read the post.

The third most viewed post was not about the picture but about a quote from St. Augustine, "Behold what you are, become what you receive," which I posted on the Feast of Corpus Christi last June.  I know many came to that site looking for this specific quote as it showed in the blog stats.  It is my favorite quote on the Eucharist and one of my favorites from this great saint whose love of the Eucharist has inspired me in my own dedication to the Blessed Sacrament.

When I think about the first time I heard that quote when I first began to take basic courses in liturgy offered by our diocese, it jumped out at me.  "Behold what you are." I could reflect on that one part of the quote for years.  What am I?  Who am I?  Think about it. I am a child of God, a daughter of the Father through baptism, incorporated into Christ's Body, the Church. But is that all? I receive Communion almost daily, but what does that do for me?

Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est
"In sacramental communion I become one with the Lord, like all the other communicants. As Saint Paul says, ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor 10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom He gives himself. We become ‘one body’, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to Himself.”
This is what I "become", one with the Lord, "joined in a single existence," with Christ as the Head. As I wrote in my earlier post, that changed my life. I cannot view my existence in any other way, as long as I continue to be joined to His Body. The sad fact is that I can break that union, but Jesus is always calling me back into union with Him.  

It puzzles me how many Catholics can stay away from this wonderful Gift. I like to believe that they truly do not understand what the Eucharist is; that they don't understand Who it is that they receive in Holy Communion. I hope it is not because they just don't care.

If there is one thing that I would hope to do this coming year is to grow in my devotion to the Eucharist, but also to work on that other part of becoming "one body" that Pope Benedict mentions; love of God and love of neighbor joined together. Not only that, but I hope to help evangelize others to come to appreciate the Gift of Christ "who draws us all to Himself."

April 12, 2012

Getting Energized

These past two weeks have been the busiest weeks of the entire year. As any liturgist knows, preparing for the Triduum is all consuming and tests the stamina of even the strongest among us. As I approach another birthday, I realize that the rigors of Easter week and the Triduum take more of a toll on me physically than when I was younger.  I haven't had a full day off from work since March 30 and while I know that is not a good thing to do, I seem to be like a ball rolling downhill and can't stop.  I only hope I don't hit a brick wall.

Over the last two days I attended a meeting in Albany, NY, which meant that a day off will have to wait until next week sometime.  Yet despite a four hour drive each way, two days of meetings, sleeping in a tiny room in a convent and dealing with extreme heat (old nuns like it warm I guess), these past two days were very energizing and fulfilling.  

It seems that whenever liturgists get together there is always good conversation, a chance to verbalize frustrations, do some networking, and spend some good times over food and drink. This meeting was for Region 2  of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgy Commissions.  It's a national organization that works with the US Bishops Committee on Divine Worship in a number of ways that promote good liturgy in our dioceses.  Region 2 is the smallest in the Federation, only eight dioceses, all in NY State, but what we lack in number we make up for in determination and dedication.

The meeting was attended by nine liturgy commission members from around the state (2 priests and 7 lay people), and one guest who is working in evaluating the Federation.  His presence made for very stimulating discussion and we New Yorkers thoroughly enjoyed his Louisiana accent. But most of all, I believe that each and every one of us were able to reflect upon the importance of the job we do as liturgist.  Yes we are misunderstood and the butt of jokes, but we truly love God and the Church, and we believe that the Church's liturgy is truly the "work of the people" in the praise and worship of God. Our goal is to help others to come to that realization as well. 

Gathering together with other liturgists is a time for support. We all get frustrated with what we do at times, but each and every one of these wonderful people offer encouragement, new ideas or ways of approaching things, and the realization that we have someone we can lean on or call upon when things seem to be beyond our individual expertise.  Good friendships have been made, and all newcomers are made to feel welcome and just as important as those who have been around for years. We learn from each other and while we don't always agree on things on the regional and national level, we continue to work well together because our goal is not our own good but the good of the liturgy and ultimately bringing people to Christ. 

I won't be able to attend the national meeting in October (as it is the week before my daughter's wedding), but I know that I will be there in spirit and that any thoughts I contributed over these past two days or in e-mails during the year, will be considered by those who will attend.  Hopefully I will be able to join them at the annual meeting in 2013 and I look forward to our next spring regional meeting as well. Until then I know I will run into some of the members at other events or online, and this too keeps me going...and going...and going...

April 9, 2012

It's finally over...or is it?

I did something today that I haven't done in years. I went to work on Easter Monday. For most people that would not seem like a big deal, but for those who work in parish liturgy not taking Easter Monday off is well, just plain stupid.  After all, during Holy Week and the Triduum we work hugh numbers of hours overtime, run around as if we were in training for a marathon, eat on the run, deal with mishaps and emergencies, and spend hours at the copy machine.  If you happen to be a musician, you have no voice and don't want to go near a musical instrument for awhile. We are usually the last ones to leave the church on Easter and then we go home and crash...after doing the dishes (with lots of help from hubby).  So why on earth did I go to work today?

It seems that this year I just needed to be there to decompress instead of at home. I needed to wind down slowly instead of just crashing and sleeping most of the day. That got me thinking, Easter week is not a time to crash after the celebration of the Triduum. The Octave of Easter is a continuation of the great celebration of the Resurrection and we need to keep it going.

I was disappointed at how few people were at morning Mass compared to during Lent. No one was in the church the few times I went into it during the day. It was as if people were thinking, "Christ is risen, so now I can go back to my normal routine." But because Christ is risen there is a reason not to go back to normal.  We should have been changed, transformed by our Lenten experience and the celebration of the Resurrection should have heightened our desires to be with our God.

To be fair, Easter can be exhausting, and many people had large gatherings at home or drove long distances and needed to take a day off. Still, I hope the spiritual fervor and devotion that so many people experienced during Lent and the Triduum continues so that God may be glorified and praised continually and with great exuberance.

I wish all my readers a very happy and joyous Easter! And may your love of God grow stronger during this Easter season.

March 30, 2012

Entering Holy Week

Today is basically my last day off for two weeks. While most Catholics, practicing ones that is, enter into Holy Week hopefully with a sense of prayerful quiet reflection on the passion and death of our Lord, for those of us who do parish work it is anything but quiet and reflective.

Holy Week is my busiest time of the year.  There are liturgies to coordinate, worship aides to compile and print, discussions with priests, musicians and other liturgical ministers, rehearsals, and last minute preparations to contend with.  I am stressed with still looking for people to have their feet washed on Holy Thursday (not sure why so many say "no" to this). The revised texts of the Mass are making this year's Triduum a bit more challenging, not to mention that we are doing some lighting renovations on the church which hopefully will be finished before the Triduum and that I learn how to work the light before the Vigil. Things get crazy this week.

The days of the Triduum will find me working from early morning until evening. As far as Easter Sunday goes, I come home and crash while everyone else is enjoying a great dinner that I, thank God, don't have to cook. To add to the intensity of the week, I have the first installment of a book due on the 15th, along with my taxes which are not done yet.

Despite all this, which might seem like insanity to those who are not responsible for some aspect of parish liturgy, I do love this time of year.  It is an immersion into the Paschal Mystery.  While I can't sit in the pew as part of the assembly without thinking about what needs to be done next or what I forgot, or what is going wrong, I know that what I do, in some small way, helps others to experience Christ. But it also helps me to realize my own connection to Jesus.

Jesus had a mission in life, to bring souls into union with Him and with His Father.  It was hard work, but He did it out of obedience and out of Love.  During His Passion, Jesus did not rest. He was pushed by His persecutors to utter exhaustion, and He still continued for the sake of those He loved, for us. My experience of the Triduum is knowing that what I am doing is out of Love for Christ and for His people.

I do get a few moments of respite during these days, and one in particular that I wouldn't trade for anything. Sometime on Holy Saturday afternoon, after confessions are over and the flowers are set up, after the volunteers who help decorate the church are gone, after the things are organized in the sacristy, after the wood for the fire is ready and everyone has left the church, I usually find myself alone.  I turn the lights down low, sit in the third pew on the center aisle, and looking at all that has been made ready, I have my Triduum experience.  I never timed how long I sit and there are no particular prayers I say or things I do. I simply sit in vigil, watching and waiting for the Resurrection.  And for that time, in that place, I am with God, and all the busyness of this week is worth it.

March 20, 2012

New Growth

The first day of spring! It doesn't seem like such a big deal this year since we have been having such beautiful spring weather for the last month.  My daffodils, which usually bloom in April, have been in full bloom for a week already, and the blossoms on the trees are about to burst forth in color.  The birds are making their nests and the Canadian Geese are stopping traffic on the ramps on and off the parkways here on Long Island.

I love spring!  It's a time of new growth and I have many wonderful memories of childhood walking to school and looking at all the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths blooming in the yards I passed. I loved the smell of freshly mowed lawns that have laid dormant all winter. Spring meant time for the bicycles to come out of the garage and to locate our roller skate key (us Boomers remember those).  It was time for jumprope, chalk on the sidewalks, new pink Spauldines and bubblegum baseball cards.

Spring also meant Easter was near.  Easter is less than three weeks away and we are counting down to the final days of Lent. Lent by the way means spring, but you probably knew I was going to make a connection somehow.  New growth is all around us, but how about our spiritual growth?  This Lent has been good.  One of the better ones of the past few years.  I did slip up here and there but there has been so much inner growth, some healing of past hurts, and an emerging fervor in evangelizing others.

I think much of my growth this Lent has to do with Robert Barron's Catholicism series. I have been presenting them three times a week at work and to friends at home, and I never get tired of seeing the same episodes over and over again. Each time I see an episode I pick up some new tidbit of information or insight. It's like my daffodils.  I never get tired of them and each year they multiply and bring me more joy. If you haven't seen the series find a parish near you that is showing them or ask your library to purchase the set, or splurge and buy a set for yourself.

Our Catholic faith is a great treasure that needs to be celebrated and shared.  This Lent has been a time of persecution for the Church but it has also been a time of rebirth and renewed fervor for what the Church can offer us, new life in Christ. In times of persecution the Church has grown stronger. In these final days of Lent, if you haven't already, renew your commitment to Christ and His Church. Visit a parish near you, celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, and re-discover the joy of being Catholic.

March 12, 2012

Almost half-way to Easter.

We almost at the half-way point of Lent, and this is a good time to take a look at how we are doing with our Lenten disciplines. Some of the practices I have assigned myself are more difficult that others, and I sometimes fall short. But I need to remember that Lent is a time to grow closer to the Lord and to be aware of those areas in my life where I offend God and seek His mercy.  God is not a taskmaster. My Lenten practices are not a check list of activities that I have to complete and if I don't then I have failed.  If I find I slipped up, I need to just keep going not letting my slip deter me from continuing my Lenten journey.

It is almost like the weight loss program I am on. Sometimes I slip and have that piece of cake or an extra helping of pasta. The temptation is to say, "well, I had the cake, so I might as well have some ice cream too."  Since I had the ice cream, my whole program is done with and I might as well forget it. NO!  I had the cake, but I need to put that aside and continue on with my program. I should not let a moment of weakness mess up all my good efforts.

So too with Lent.  If I skip morning prayer or find myself watching a bit of television, instead of telling myself that I have failed, I just need to pick up where I left off and make a more concerted effort to keep my disciplines.  Lent is not some contest to see how much we can do or how much we can deny ourselves.  If it doesn't lead to metanioa, a true conversion of heart, then it's just an exercise.  If my Lenten practices do not lead me to true repentance then they are simply a list of things to do, sort of like New Year resolutions that are easily broken and forgotten.

As I look back on the different spiritual practices I engage in on a regular basis, many of them began as a Lenten disipline. Attending daily Mass as much as possible, praying in the car instead of listening to the radio, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, among other things, all began as Lenten practices.  I am not saying that everything I do for Lent continues year round. I am really looking forward to watching TV again after Easter, but maybe I won't watch as much, or perhaps I will be more selective as to what I watch instead of just mindlessly watching whatever is on at the moment.

As I enter into the second half of Lent, I ask the Lord to reveal to me what I need to do to grow even closer to Him before Easter, to reveal to me my weaknesses, my sins and the areas where I am doing well and following His commands.  I pray that He will continue to give me the grace to have a good Lent and lead me to share in His passion and resurrection. 

March 5, 2012

You Got to Have Faith

Last week when reading a meditation by Ruth Burrows in  Magnificat, this line caught my attention.  She writes,
Faith is not a thing of the mind; it is not an intellectual certainty or a felt conviction. It is a sustained decision to take God with utter seriousness as the God of my life.
I spent a lot of time this week reflecting on this.  I was always taught that faith was a gift bestowed by a gracious God whose only desire is for us to love Him and to share in His life. Yes, faith is a gift, but it is a gift I must accept with the same Love in which it was given. 

When someone tells me to have faith in God, he or she is telling me to open up my heart to God, to hear and listen intently to His Word, to his commands.  But faith goes beyond listening, for we all know that  often when we listen it goes in one ear and out the other, Faith demands a response on my part. Faith requires that I say "yes" to God every minute of every day. I have to take my faith seriously.

Many people can say "I believe," but I don't think all believers have true faith. Faith is different than belief. I believe Satan exists, but I hope and pray I would never put my faith in him. Faith involves trust. For me to say, "Jesus, I trust in you," is an act of faith, an act of total abandonment to the Lord. Faith is also not a one shot deal. I must recommit myself to Christ each day. For faith to grow I can not just sit back and wait for it to happen,

Lent is a time when we do the work of faith, when we make that conscious decision to focus on the Lord. We fast, we do acts of penance, we increase our prayer life, and we do acts of charity. Do we do these things as some sort of religious Great Race or Survivor hoping that we complete the difficult tasks that we assign ourselves to win some prize. No! Lent gives us the opportunity to look at our faith life, to take our relationship with God to the next step, and to decide for God in deeper ways. But for this to happen, we need to come before Him with open hearts, with humility, and with trust.

Oh Lord, increase my faith.

March 2, 2012

I can't sit idly by any longer.

Over the past few weeks I have been showing Fr. Robert Barron's Catholicism series to both friends in my home and to our parishioners at work.  The reaction has been so positive and it is encouraging to think that Fr. Barron's documentary will inspire people to think more about their Catholic faith, and re-engerise them so that they can go out an be part of the new evangelization.

The series has affected me as well. Not only has it increased my joy in being Catholic but it is making me realize that the Church that I love is coming under terrible attack and I can't just sit idly any longer.  I am the type of person who doesn't get involved in politics. I am not registered with a political party, and I don't know much about what goes on in Washington. But as of late, what is going on in Washington has given me a wake up call that I cannot just let slide and ignore. We, as Catholics in the United States, are under persecution. Of course I am speaking about the HHS mandate requiring Catholic institution to provide their employees with  insurance coverage for contraception, some types which are abortifacients, and sterilization.

I know many people who disagree with the Church on this and that those employed by the Church should not have to be subject to beliefs that they do not agree with. The way I see it, they don't have to believe what we believe, but as someone working for a religious institution, they have to respect the beliefs of their employer.  When I was a teenager I would babysit for an orthodox Jewish family. They kept a Kosher home and when I watched their children on Friday evenings when they went to the synagogue, there were things that could not be done according to their religious beliefs. I was expected to go along with them.  I could not turn on or off lights, there were certain utensils that could not be used, and certain foods that the children were not allowed to eat.  I would not think twice about disobeying their laws since I wanted to be asked back to baby sit, and I had a great respect for their religious beliefs. Or another example. The the catering hall where my wedding reception was held was Kosher. My reception had to start after a certain hour on Saturday night and there were certain foods that could not be served.  I  knew this when I signed the contract and while a big shrimp station might have been been  popular and enjoyable  at our cocktail hour, according to Jewish law it was not allowed. Neither were any dairy products allowed to be served since we were having meat as part of our dinner. Perhaps these examples aren't exactly the same thing as the HHS mandate, but in a way they are.  I had to obey the religious laws of a religion that was different from my own.

When it comes to the right to contraception and sterilization, both are against the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Church does not hide the fact and it would be a sin for any Church institution to promote sinful behavior by including these things in their health package. The government is asking the Church institutions to commit sin, to go against Church law. It flies in the face of our Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Besides, pregnancy is not a disease that is necessary to be avoided. There are many medical procedures and medications that insurance does not cover because they are not seen as medical necessities. My eye surgery a few years back was not covered, but if I did not have it I would live with severe eye pain for the rest of my life. To me it was very necessary, so I paid for it out of pocket.  If someone wants to avoid pregnancy, and is working for an institution that sees contraception as a sin, then the woman should either pay for it herself or seek other means of birth control. NFP is 99% effective and all natural, but of course we all know the arguments people have against it.

I admit, I am not good at arguing this and there are so many that do it so much better than I.  What I am doing, and I encourage others as well, is to write your senators and congressmen and women. This most recent setback is a rallying call to all Catholics and to those of other faiths as well as it is not just a Catholic issue. Government cannot dictate the rules by which our religious institutions can be run. This is a slippery slope that will lead to more interference and other mandates. Where will it end?

The Catholic faith knows about persecution. We have lived with it for two thousand years. What we need to do is to stand firm in our faith, to trust God and to take a stand for what we believe in as Catholics. I am Catholic. I am proud of it and I am happy to be among those Catholics taking a stand against this affront against our Church.

Since I like Fr. Barron's series so much, I end with his thoughts on this issue.

February 26, 2012

You gave up what?

In recent days, since Ash Wednesday, the subject of giving up something for Lent has come up a few times in conversations at work and at home. It has also been the subject of a number of blogs and homilies that I have read or heard. Since it was discovered that one of the things I have given up for Lent is the television quite a number of people have made comments to me about it. My daughter even jokingly commented at my son's birthday celebration last night as to why I was in the room with the rest of the family when the TV was on.  When you live in a small house there are not too many places one can go to avoid the rest of the people. Besides, being with family is more important. We should not be so legalistic as to neglect the important people in our lives. But, we also need to know that fasting is important.

Deacon Greg Kandra at the Deacon's Bench wrote:
Part of what we do during Lent is we do without: we fast, we give up meat on Fridays, we offer up something as a sacrifice.  In our way, in doing that we venture into the desert, like Jesus did in the gospel.  We strip ourselves of what we like, what we find enjoyable or comfortable.  We don’t do it really to build character.  We do it to discover our character – to see anew – or HEAR as if for the first time – just who we really are.
Stripping away some of the distractions of life, we are forced to confront ourselves.
My giving up the television has certainly caused me to confront myself. I am a TV addict, although I am a lot better than when I was younger. Back in the day I could watch sitcoms all night. Now I find myself watching HGTV, old movies, and some reality shows. No I'm not a Jersey Shore or Real Housewives type of person, but I do find Hoarders fascinating, perhaps because it makes me feel so much better about my own housekeeping efforts, or lack of them.  These past few days without the television have been difficult and I find myself sitting in the living room staring at that big black rectangle hanging on the wall.  Isn't there something better in life?

Ahh, there is the key to fasting, to giving up things.  We fast to discover what is really important in our lives. We deny ourselves to find out what we really hunger for, who we really hunger for.

But fasting alone does nothing. We must accompany our fasting with prayer and acts of charity.  But I have heard it said, what good is giving up things or doing things for Lent only to go back to our old ways come Easter. The purpose of our Lenten discipline is to change who we are. To bring us closer to being the person God calls us to be. 

Not watching TV is allowing me to focus on my new writing project, to spend more time in prayer, and in real conversation with people.  It allows me to "turn off" all the background noise that I found was really serving no purpose in my life.  Will I watching TV at all during Lent?  Sure, in fact I did watch mid-morning prayer with Cardinal Dolan yesterday, but I took the opportunity to pray along with those assembled at St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Will I watch the Academy Awards tonight?  I don't know.  If I want to be legalistic and minimalistic about it, Sunday technically isn't a fast day. But,  I haven't been to the movies all year so don't know the films, and do I really need to see what everyone is wearing on the red carpet? Perhaps if an important news event happens I'll watch it.

One of the purposes of fasting is to make a change in our lives. To redirect our focus. Perhaps I won't find the television so important anymore or stop using it as a means to just pass the time.  Who knows, it's a long Lent and it's just begun.

February 15, 2012

Didn't your mother teach you not to do that?

Last Friday, and again today, we heard in the Gospel how Jesus healed, not just by speaking and touching the sick person but by using his spit.  Sounds kind of gross at first. After all spitting is disgusting and in some cities it illegal to spit on the ground or to spit at people. All good mothers teach their children not to spit. But then I thought of something my mother used to do, that is to use her spit to clean our faces.  It usually happened when we were on our way somewhere and our faces got dirty just before we arrived. Not wanting us to been seen with smudged faces, Mom would spit into a tissue or on her thumb and rub the smudge until it came clean.  I carried on the habit with my own kids, and I am sure many moms have done it throughout the ages and continue to do it.  It's an act of tenderness and of love. As kids we never thought of it as gross, although we might have winced a bit.  If you think about it, the mother is using something produced in her body to clean her child, and not worrying one bit about germs.

Jesus is doing the same thing. The saliva of the God/Man, a product of His Body, is used to make a sick person clean, to heal him of his blindness or inability to speak. Some scientists believe saliva has a natural disinfectant. We often lick a cut, and many in the animal kingdom (as anyone with cats knows), use their saliva to keep clean. Jesus uses it to allow the sick to see and hear their Savior.  It's an act of Love and tenderness.  I remember hearing that Jesus using His spit was the opposite of  Jesus being spit upon after His arrest.  He takes a negative insulting action and turns it into a positive healing action.  Jesus was good at doing exactly the opposite of what was expected. He healed on the Sabbath, He spoke to women, He touched and raised the dead, and He spit.

I was wondering if our Blessed Mother ever  used her spit to clean dirt of Jesus' face before they went rushing into the Temple or to visit relatives after a long donkey ride or walk.  I would bet she did. Maybe Jesus learned it from her.

February 14, 2012

What would happen if we told the truth?

Sunday night I didn't watch the Grammy awards. I didn't care what women were wearing on the red carpet, I was already tired of hearing about the tragic death of Whitney Huston, and I was unfamiliar with all the nominees anyway. Instead I caught the movie City Island. I had seen it once before and I thought it was kind of quirky and a bit weird.  But I like Andy Garcia, so I made a cup of tea and settled in to watch this film which is about the totally dysfunctional Rizzo family who live in the Bronx on City Island.  Garcia's character, Vince, is a prison guard who discovers Tony, the son he abandoned as a baby before he met his wife, is now an inmate.  Vince arranges for Tony's release under his protection  and he takes him home keeping Tony's true identity a secret, even from Tony.  But that is not the only deception occurring in this family. Vince is secretly taking acting lessons but telling his wife he goes out to play poker, the daughter is hiding the fact that she got suspended from college and is now working as a stripper, Vince's younger son has an inordinate attraction to extremely obese women and all the Rizzo's are sneaking cigarettes. Vince's wife Joyce seems to be the only one not hiding a deep secret, but thinking that Vince is cheating on her she sets out to seduce Tony. Even Vince's acting partner has a big secret she's hiding. The only one who recognises these deceptions is Tony and although he doesn't know Vince is his father, he does know that there is more to their relationship than is being told him. What stood out in the film for me is the power of lies. Because all in this family were afraid of the truth, one lie built upon another and nearly tore the family apart. 

I think lying is probably one of the most frequently committed sins. Why? Because it is an easy one to rationalize away.  Think about this, how many husbands, when his wife asks if she looks fat in a dress, is going to say "Sure honey, you do"?  In one of my favorite TV shows, House, Dr. House is fond of letting people know "everybody lies," and I believe it.  It is sometimes so much easier to tell a lie than to have to deal with telling someone the truth. And we often don't even realise we are doing it.  I'm not talking about big lies here.  For example, one of my favorite lies is when a telemarketer calls and asks for me.  I tell them "she's not home right now."  Pretty innocent wouldn't you say?  I don't like confrontation and instead of dealing with somone trying to get me to donate to the Police retirement fund (my husband is a retired cop and his retirement comes from the state not some fund) I just pretend I am not home.  Or if  a friend calls and asks me to go out and not really wanting to I'll say that I am busy.  What's a little lie?  No one gets hurt.

The Rizzo family lied thinking they were protecting the others in their family because the truth might hurt them. But they also lied because they were afraid of the truth.  What would have happened if they told the truth from the beginning?  Without spoiling the film for those who didn't see it, the end answers that question. It's a question I need to ask myself whenever I am tempted to tell a lie, or to withold the truth.  What would happen? Yes, perhaps someone will get hurt but maybe people would respect me for telling the truth. I think I lie because of fear, fear of what people might say, or do, or think, fear that someone will be angry with me.  I have discovered that lies really get me nowhere and the one they hurt most is me.

Jesus said "the truth will set you free."(Jn 8:32)  When I lie I am held bound by my lies and I often have to add to the lie to keep the deception going.  Each lie makes it easier to tell the next lie and pretty soon I even begin to believe my own lies.  Part of being a Christian is to believe in the Truth.  That means coming to terms with where I stand with regard to the Truth.  It may not win me friends, it may not be easy, but in the end, I think it will make me a better person.

February 11, 2012

Our Lady of Lourdes

The Grotto

I have never been to Lourdes, although I hope to be able to go there one day. However, one of my favorite places is the Lourdes Grotto at the University of Notre Dame.  During the three weeks each of the five summers that I spent there studying liturgy, I would spend time at the Grotto almost every day.  It is a man made facsimile of the Grotto at Lourdes and even has a rock from Lourdes imbedded in the wall just below the statue of Mary.  It is a peaceful place, especially in the summer, but there always someone there praying the rosary, lighting a candle, taking pictures or just sitting on a bench reflecting or reading.

I always made the Grotto the last stop after my evening walk around the lakes.  The glow of the candles helped me to reflect on the many prayers that were being offered on behalf of so many people in need, and my needs as well to get through the grueling course of study and writing of papers. The evening before my written comps, after Evening Prayer, I wandered over there and ran into one of my classmates there for the same reason, to ask our Blessed Mother to calm our fears and help us to focus during the four hour exam.  On the day of my oral comps I woke up extra early to stop by and say a prayer.

Being at Our Lady's university those summers was a special time for me. The fact that Mary watches over the campus from her vantage point on top of the Golden Dome was inspiring and reassured me  that she was watching over me as well.  I have to remind myself time after time that Our Lady watches over me all the time, even when I am not aware of her presence.  Mary's is a quiet peaceful presence. While I guess it would be amazing if like Bernadette, I was to come face to face with her, I feel that simply knowing by faith that she is there is amazing as well. As St. Peter said of faith in Jesus,
Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy...(1 Peter 1:8)
The same can be said about faith and veneration of our Blessed Lady. Mary appears so that she can lead us to Jesus. Like a loving mother, she guides us in the ways of righteousness and truth. So yes, I would like to go to Lourdes some day, hopefully before I get too old to make the trip.  But, in the meantime, I have my faith in her love and her presence and the knowledge that just like at Notre Dame, even without a dome, she is watching over me...and that brings me joy.

February 3, 2012

It Came Down to a Dance

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist
 by Caravaggio
The story of the beheading of John the Baptist, the gospel reading for today, always bothers me. Mostly because it is gruesome, but also because of what it reveals about the character of Herod, character traits which I sometimes recognize in my own self.  Herod liked John, even though John's words were convicting. Yet, because of a dance, Herod bowed under pressure, not wanting to be embarassed in front of his guests or to be thought of poorly.  He could have stood up for what was right and perhpas, in time, John could have convinced him of his wrongs. But that didn't happen. He beheaded John and brought the head out on a platter.

Today we hear a similar story. Over the past few days, the Komen Foundation made the decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood.  A decision that did not go over well with many, but was applauded by those who are pro-life.  It seemed like a step in the right direction. Yet today, Komen bowed down to pressure.  They allowed Salome to perform her dance and they caved in to her wishes. They preferred not to be embarrassed by their decision or to risk the false accusations that they are forsaking the lives of women by not funding Planned Parenthood. But their decision ends the lives of millions of innocent children through abortion promoted by the very organization they say is saving lives. What would have happened if they didn't reverse their decision? Maybe other organizations would act out of their conscience instead of popular opinion.

How many times am I afraid to stand up for what I truly believe is right, even though it might cause me embarrassment, false accusations, or the favor of friendships? How many times to I just go with popular opinion because it's easier than fighting what sometimes seems like a loosing battle? I know this opinion is not going to be greeted well by some of my friends and acquaintances, but I have truth on my side, and Jesus who promised to be with me always.  He said, in the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Would I rather cave into pressure to not follow the truth? Do I want to dance with the Devil or do I want to be gathered into the eternal dance of the Trinity?  There's a lot to think about there.

January 30, 2012

Catholic Identity

I just finished writing a journal article to be published in several months. Although not the specific subject of the article, I do talk about Catholic Identity. I think it is obvious these days that we have lost a lot of our identity as Catholics. However, I also think that people are realizing that we gave up a lot in losing this identity.

When people lose their identity they also often lose their way. Think of those Alzheimer patients who, not remembering who they are or who their loved ones are, live a life that's neither here nor there, often literally losing their way. Some people's identity is so completely dependent on their jobs or in their relationships that when these things are lost, the person falls apart. Having an identity is crucial to who I am.

So who am I?  I could easily and truthfully say I am a wife, a mother and a daughter. I am a Pastoral Associate, a friend, an artist, a musician and a writer.  But is that my identity? Yes these words describe different aspects of my identity but even in their sum they don't do justice in identifying who I am.  So again, who am I?  I am a child of God, claimed by Jesus Christ and formed by the Word of God and two thousand years of tradition.  This is not just my Catholic identity but my identity as a human being.

This is why regaining our Catholic identity is so important. We are a people who have, in a sense, lost or are in danger of losing our way.  The world is shaping our identity, not our faith in Jesus Christ for whom people for centuries have given up their lives and continue to do so.  The world is telling us that they way we pray, the way we worship, our beliefs, and our devotions are not relevant today.  But I believe they are more relevant because they are needed today more than ever.  

Do you know who you are? If not it's time to discover who you are. Rediscover your Catholic identity.

January 25, 2012

Silence and Communication.

I have written before about silence and how important it is in our lives.  On the Feast of St. Francis de Sales on Jan 24th, Pope Benedict wrote about silence in his message for the 46th World Communications Day which will be celebrated on May 12, 2012. The question that might be asked is, what does silence have to do with communication?  Isn't silence a lack of communication? One might think so. We  often get the "silent treatment" from friends, loved ones or co-workers when there are differences or anamosity between people.  But even that is a form of communication, since it communicates negativity and the lack of desire to settle differences.

In a world filled with constant noise and instant communication, the Pope shows us the necessity of silence as a means to enhance communication, not only with God but with humanity as well. He writes:
Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested.
I happen to love silence. Sure I enjoy talking as well, in fact when I was younger my parents would say I talked too much and would call me a chiaccherona (Italian for chatterbox). Sometimes, like many women, I tell long stories to the point where it takes awhile for me to  get around to what I really want to say. I think some people would enjoy a bit of silence on my part. That is not, however,  what the Holy Father is referring to with regard to silence. We need silence in our lives in order to be able to communicate better with words.  In the silence we hear God's voice and are able to better discern His will and His desires for us with regard to communicating with words.

Silence is difficult for many people. We are so used to noise that silence makes us uncomfortable, and in conversation we often say things without sufficient reflection, leading to mis-communication.  The Pope writes that silent reflection "permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts."

The Pope, I believe, offers us a corrective for our noisy world and a means to better communicate and in turn to engage in the ministry of evangelization that is so necessary today. I am considering making silence a large part of my Lenten disipline this year.  The hardest part will be to stop talking to myself out loud and to not offer my opinion when it is not solicited. I think it might be good for me. The idea of silence has been coming to me clearly for a number of weeks, so Pope Benedict's message seems to be a confirmation of what I have been thinking about.  It won't be easy, but I am sure it will be worth it.

You can read the entire text of the Pope's message here.

January 21, 2012

I'm still here and thinking of Lent

Over two weeks have gone by since I last posted but aside from being extremely busy at work, I am experiencing a major attack of writers' block, which is not good since I have an article due at the beginning of February.  I am also working on preparing a special project for our parish during Lent.  We are going to be distributing a free book to any parishioner who wants one.  The book is Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly and is part of the Dynamic Catholic Institute founded by Kelly to help Catholics not only learn about their faith but to rediscover the beauty of our Catholic Faith.

Kelly found that most Catholics have not read good books on the faith. He makes books available for a minimal fee of $2 a copy if a parish orders over 500 copies. Currently there are three other titles available in the program. Through the generosity of a parishioner, we will be able to distribute 1500 copies of the book on the first Sunday of Lent. Hopefully our parishioners will read the book as part of their Lenten discipline.   At a later time, probably soon after Easter, we will have gatherings where people can talk about what they have "re-discovered" about their faith.

I am also working on showing the series Catholicism to small groups. Yet the fact that due to a lighting project in our church, our large meeting room is set up for daily mass during the week.  This will limit the number of people who we will be able to accommodate in our much smaller meeting rooms.  I am hoping people have heard of this wonderful series which I have already viewed twice and used with RCIA and an adult formation class.  I will be asking people to invite a friend to attend with them.

Personally, I am discerning what book I will be reading for Lent as well as what other disciplines I will be engaging.  Lent is still a month away, but it is never too early to start thinking about it.  Liturgy Training Publications has a wonderful little booklet What Am I Doing For Lent This Year? that helps people with that regard.  At $1 per copy with generous discounts for large orders, it is something the parish can purchase and distribute now to get a jump on Lent.