Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mary, Mother of God

It wasn't a hard teaching for me. As a convert, I had so much more difficulty with the Immaculate Conception and Mary being Queen of the Universe. Mary, Mother of God, was easy in comparison.

After all, Elizabeth said it herself. As the infant John leaps in her womb, Elizabeth turns toward Mary and says, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

There is so much going on in this passage. Elizabeth stands in the place of Israel, representing the Old Covenant. How can we be sure of this? Like so many Old Testament references to Israel, Elizabeth is the once-barren woman, but now she is pregnant with her own child, like Sarah, like Hannah, like Israel herself.

Yet, even though God has blessed Elizabeth beyond her wildest dreams, she is able to look beyond that blessing and see the divine and promised one, hidden within Mary, and yet already in the process of his Incarnation. God has come to earth, and Elizabeth knows it.
Elizabeth knows this is no ordinary mother and no ordinary baby. In this moment, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant embrace, literally. God has chosen his mother, and Elizabeth seems to know it intuitively.

Maybe it's something every mother understands intuitively.

My daughter didn't inherit very many traits from me. Other than being female, she is a carbon copy of her daddy. And yet, I do not say that I am only the mother of those things that she inherited from me. I am the mother of the whole child. I'm not responsible for her nose. I'm not the reason she's a good artist or gifted in music or has a propensity for technology. And yet, I am her mother. The mother of all of her. Jesus' mother is also the mother of Our Lord's divinity. The Mother of God himself. Elizabeth pronounced it first. And today, we celebrate the mystery of Mary's motherhood. Indeed, every generation should rise up and call her blessed.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Preacher's Daughter

It seems like my dad always waited until nightfall to realize that he’d left his Bible on the podium at church. I enjoyed having a minister for a father, except at that moment in time. He’d casually lift his eyes from a bedtime snack and say, “Why don’t you run down to the church, Sis, and get my Bible for me?” I’d roll my eyes and groan, “Oh, Dad.” The idea of going into a church at night – by myself – just to fetch his Bible was not my idea of fun. It sounded more like a good way to see a ghost or something. If I hesitated further, Dad would smile and add, “If you do it, I’ll let you be my daughter.” After more eye-rolling, I’d pull myself out of the chair and trudge down the road to a darkened Presbyterian church and let myself inside.

Suddenly, I would shift gears, dashing full speed through the narthex and frantically feel along the far wall for light switches, the whole time praying, “Please, no angels. Please, no angels.” Then, I’d run like a maniac to the platform, now praying that the Bible would be right where Dad had indicated so that I would lose no time to a search effort, and finally, Bible in hand, I’d run back down the aisle, hitting the light switch in one fluid motion, as I passed through the narthex and out the church doors. I would barely drop the pace as I headed for home.
Now that I’m older some things have changed. For starters, I’m Catholic now. If you look closely at my conversion, it’s almost like Our Heavenly Father asked me to do the same thing my earthly father used to ask of me.

Sis, I want you to walk down this road where you’ll find my Word Made Flesh. At that point, I probably rolled my eyes a bit. I know I asked the Lord, Why me? Why not ask my sister or brother? Or start with my husband, at least. The idea of becoming Catholic wasn’t an easy road to go down alone.

Then, the Lord smiled and said, “I’ll let you be my daughter.” This time it was no joking matter. I reminded Him that I would probably make mistakes and look like an idiot sometimes as I fumble for the lights. But I want to please You, Lord. I want to follow You, wherever the journey leads me.
Conversion is like that.

The Father sends us on a mission. Sometimes fear of the unknown makes us want to say no, but we submit anyway. We dash in and dash out, seeking the first light switch we find, hoping to make it through the journey without experiencing anything that is too life-altering, when the way of real obedience is to walk at the Lord’s pace, even if it is through the dark night.


Living Simply

The poor box. It's a Catholic tradition. This year, we're going to bring that tradition into the home. In the next few days, you will need to get a little creative. It's time to design your own poor box. Don't worry about what will go in it or where you will put it. Just make it.

  • It can be a tin can with a label printed from that new label-maker you got for Christmas.
  • It can be your grandmother's Rosary box.
  • It can be the empty cardboard box that your new watch came in this Christmas.
Add a little creativity and your own label, and you're set. Check back every day of 2009 for new and easy ways to "live simply that all may simply live!"


Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blessed Feast of the Holy Family

December 28, 2003, fell on a Sunday, just like today.

I woke up that morning, and my father was alive. By evening, he was gone. In a recent post, I shared the story of my loss and how it became the catalyst for a conversion that would take place over the course of the next 18 months.

I began to see things in the Catholic faith that intrigued me. The saints. The prayer life of the contemplatives. The teaching on suffering. The following June, I tried to find one of my father's friends, a priest on the ministerial board in town. I wanted to ask him a few questions. I had to understand what was happening to me.

Father Larry Brunette was no longer at the Catholic parish in the town where my father had been a Presbyterian pastor. After some research, I tracked him down at Holy Family parish in Granite City, Illinois. His voice was so calming, so encouraging. He told me how much he had thought of my father, how sorry he was for my loss. But the thing that would carry me through the pain was what he said next. All my questions came down to what I believed Jesus was saying in the Gospel of John chapter 6, he said. Then he suggested I read a book by Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian pastor who had become Catholic (see interview on youtube - link below). I didn't know that ever happened! Presbyterian pastors, like dad, becoming Catholic? I felt a freedom, a great relief. Maybe Dad would understand this crazy thing that was happening to me. Maybe he was beyond the veil actually helping me to find my way. (By the way, there are actually about 1000 Protestant pastors who have made the journey into the Catholic Church in recent years. It's not that uncommon after all!)

Last summer, on June 29, 2008, I was invited to share my conversion story with a parish for the first time. There was joy that evening. My sadness and loss had transitioned into amazing joy. The name of the parish? Holy Family in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Yes, there is something about the Holy Family and it didn't just begin five years ago. It began over two thousand years ago . . . and it continues to change lives today.

Blessed Feast of the Holy Family!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Roman Catholic Preacher's Kid

Roman Catholic Preacher’s Kid

My journey from Protestantism to Catholicism is as complex and beautiful as the God who orchestrated it.

During my early childhood, my father was a Wesleyan minister. When I was eleven, Dad changed denominations and became a Presbyterian minister. Dad’s faith journey wasn’t easy. He had high regard for the Wesleyan focus on holiness and sanctification. But his scriptural study had given him a new appreciation for infant baptism and many other things which the early church held sacred, things spelled out in the Apostle's Creed, things that were more Presbyterian than Wesleyan. The importance of seeking God’s Truth at any cost was the most important faith lesson my father taught me.

In October of 2003, Dad underwent surgery for a herniated disk. Six weeks later, an MRI showed that Dad had developed a massive staph infection and sustained a fracture to his back. They began immediate intravenous antibiotics and put Dad in a back brace. Before the medication could work, Dad died unexpectedly of a pulmonary embolism. It had not been an easy death. He was only sixty and had spent the previous eight years battling a number of neurological disorders as well.

Following his death, I went on a quest for answers as to why the Lord of love and mercy would allow my dad to endure such suffering.
After a lot of seeking and searching, I found the answer in a book by St. John of the Cross. In his book Dark Night of the Soul, this saint explains that we should rejoice when we go through profound suffering, because God has not abandoned us, even if it seems like He has, but rather He is making good use of us (Starr translation 138). Protestants believe we are to pray for healing from our suffering or for strength to endure our suffering. Protestants do not subscribe to the teaching that they are to “contribute to the good of the People of God by freely uniting themselves to the Passion and death of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1499). In other words, they do not see the eternal value for the Kingdom of God in simple or profound human suffering. To them, suffering for the cause of Christ is primarily limited to persecution for one’s faith. What about a sore throat or a herniated disk? Could those be crosses as well? Could they be united to Christ's suffering and somehow be efficacious for the Kingdom of God?

While my father’s life taught me to seek the Lord for answers, his suffering provided me with the question the Lord wanted me to ask. By asking that one question on suffering and by seeking with all of my heart for the answer, the Lord was able to lead me home to the Catholic Church.

When my father died, I inherited much of his personal library, and I perused those books in a quest for answers. Once I had exhausted his library, I borrowed books from Saint Louis University library and purchased others at a local book store. By June, I had read some fifty books, including Confessions by St. Augustine, Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross and The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila.

I suppose my life as a Protestant was over at that point. When a Protestant falls in love with the saints, there’s no turning back. That’s how it was for me.

That fall, I enrolled in RCIA classes and began to explore the tenets of the Faith. I learned that the Catholic Church places a high premium on holiness and sanctification, AND they hold firmly to all that the early church taught . . . because they WERE the early church. I had followed Truth, and I had found my way home. On August 14, 2005, in the Year of the Eucharist, I received Our Lord, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in my First Communion.