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.