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.