Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Going Where Angels Fear to Tread

My friends thought it was harmless. But I had been warned by my mother. “Ouija boards are evil. Don’t play with them.”



I heard my mother’s warnings in the back of my head, but I was curious. I was at that age when one has more fascination with (than fear of) the unexplainable. So, my friend pulled out her game and plunked it in the middle of her bedroom floor. Five of us sat around the board and went where angels fear to tread.


If I were to get to the heart of my motivation for doing something so stupid, I would have to say that it was a desire to experience something otherworldly. Signs and wonders. Things one cannot explain. I’ve always believe in a world beyond, and I wanted – no, I demanded – to have proof.


My motivation reflected the root of all evil. The core problem of human frailty. Sin, at the foundation, occurs when one attempts to play God. Sin delights in the desire to be God.


To control things.


To spin things.


To manipulate things.


To direct things.


To manage things.


To change things.


To rule things.


Effecting changes in who gets promoted. Who gets crushed. Who gets praised. Who gets honored. Who gets to be born. Who must die. Who is believed. Who is slandered. Who is raised up and who is demonized.


We all want to fashion a world after our own heart. The problem is, we need a new heart. Create in me a new heart, Oh Lord. And renew a right spirit within me.


It’s time to retire from the god-role. Leave the apple on the tree. The only way to walk in divine life is to stop trying to be God.


Let go and let God. . . be God.


Lord, I want to be like you. Holy as you are holy. Humble and meek, like you. Transformed into your image. Willing to wait on you...


Not grabbing at fruit that will make me a god.


Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned against you, whom I should love above all things.
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Monday, August 30, 2010

Geranium Cuttings: Never Buy a Geranium Again!

I don’t quite understand it, but the box says that I am to simply cut a piece from my geranium plant and dip it into root hormone. That’s it. I poke the dipped end in a pot of soil, and miracle of miracles. . . I have a new geranium plant.



Actually, I have three new geranium plants if it all works as the box says it should work. The little babies are lined up in my garden window. I guess I will know that the whole thing was a success when I see new growth and pretty pink blossoms.


I’m not holding my breath. And, I haven’t planned out what I will do with the plants if they survive. I’m just not sure it will work as simply as that. But, website after website said that geraniums are easiest to replicate. They seem to take almost anything except over watering. One site even said that you’ll never have to buy another geranium again – if you just keep the cycle going. They’ll multiply like Spielberg’s Gremlins or Star Trek’s Tribbles.


Very cool, if it’s true.


I sterilized a knife today and began surgery on my mother plant. This kind of activity always gets me thinking. I work. I think. And I routinely think in spiritual metaphors. I can’t seem to help myself.


The RCIA leader at my parish was talking to me the other day. He said the next class of catechumens seems to be coming together. Their first meeting is next week. Each new catechumen is immersed in eight or nine months of teaching, before being planted in the fertile soil of the Church. It’s like my geranium cuttings, with the powdery root hormone clinging to the stem. All they need is time. And hope. And every part of the process working just like it’s supposed to work.


And if everything goes as planned, we will have much to celebrate this spring. That’s how it has been for more than two thousand years. The catechumens keep coming. Multiplying like those fuzzy creatures on the small or big screen.


No root hormone necessary to turn these catechumens into neophytes. Just grace. Grace and prayer and everyone doing just what they are supposed to do. Leaders. Sponsors. Catechumens. Priests. Laity. The entire Church.


Say a prayer for a catechumen today. I’ll be praying for three… as I watch my three little geraniums struggle for new life.



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Ultrasound TODAY!

10:00 A.M.



Today is one of those days that will rarely come again, and I am enjoying the anticipation. Sometime in the next few hours, my daughter will call and tell me whether my second grandchild will be a boy or whether it will be a girl.


The knowledge will make the whole pregnancy seem more real. The knowing will affect my daydreams and store purchases. But the truth is that this little one is real, and that reality has nothing to do with what I know. He or she has existed from the moment of conception. The day my daughter discovered that she is pregnant didn’t make it a reality any more than this day – the day we learn whether the child is a boy or a girl. These are special moments. These are the days when God lets us in on what He has already done.


There is a danger in this world of discovery, this era of early pregnancy tests and 3-D ultrasounds. There is a danger that we will begin to consider ourselves to be the source of reality. It’s as though we really think that the true existence of life begins with our acceptance of the reality. With our excitement. With our blessing.


But in our deepest hearts, we know that is not true. These moments simply confirm what God has already done.


The pregnancy test did not determine whether or not my daughter was expecting a baby. She was already pregnant. The test simply revealed what God had already created in secret. The ultrasound will not determine whether I am having another grandson or if it will be a granddaughter this time. The procedure simply reveals what God has already decided in secret.


We are not the authors of truth. We are the discoverers of truth.


Some say that reality is perception; that is not true. The real already is. Truth predates human perception. We are reading the greatest adventure of all time. God’s unfolding story.


And later today, I will discover what God has already written in the next chapter of our family’s life.


Boy or girl?


Today is the day of discovery. Check back later to find out what God already knows.

1:13 PM - It's a BOY!!!
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Sunday, August 29, 2010

He's the One - Today and Forever


Dating is a special season in life. Exciting, uncertain, full of words like possibility and perhaps. The question of maybe, always on the mind.


Engagement is better. This time of life is also exciting, but the uncertainty is gone. A kind of knowing takes its place. The word maybe is replaced by the word when.


In many ways, the life we will share is already beginning. We see it taking shape. We plan for it. We talk and talk and talk about it. And while we do all that talking, we are already learning what it is like to be married, with glimpses into that new era, withholding nothing, save the final consummation of all things.


Sacred Scripture talks about the Kingdom of God. There are times when we think of that far-off day when we will be able to live completely and freely in that Kingdom. But really, that life has already begun. We see it taking shape as we learn to love those who seem so unlovable to us. We plan for it when we pray, especially when we pray the Mass with the whole Church, the angels, and the saints. We talk about it. Read about it. And we are already learning what it is like to be One in Christ, glimpsing that new era, withholding nothing, save the final consummation of all things.

The Kingdom of God is waiting, that's true. But the Kingdom of God is also now. Within our grasp. The Kingdom of God is today.


It is true that engagements sometimes end and marriages sometimes never happen. But we have a guarantee that the Groom will never leave us. The date of the final consummation is set. There is only one who might walk away from this Wedding Day. You are that one.


For He is faithful.


The Kingdom of God is coming. The Kingdom of God is here. Just as the wedding day approaches, but the life together has already begun.


Even so, Lord Jesus, come!
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kiddie Cones and Best Days Ever

It happens in middle school. For most of us, it begins in junior high. We lose the child in us and begin to act like grown-ups. And I mean that in the worst way possible. We start gossiping about one another. We become fixated on what’s in. What’s hot. Our clothes and shoes and bookbinders are drab and dull. Everyone else has better everything.



We are so busy thinking about what's happening outside of home that we stop being present when we are at home. We begin to lose the contentment of those early days and the genuine joy in life. We have new wants. And that changes everything.


We look at our kid-brother and have a wave of nostalgia. For a moment, we remember what it was like to be a little child.


When we used to get a dollar’s worth of enjoyment out of every fifty cent experience. When the mom-kisses and the dad-hugs were given spontaneously and often. When a day went from drab to fab just because dinner was a pizza in town instead of goulash and canned corn.


When the disciples asked Jesus the question all middle school kids ask, “Who will be the coolest of all” (actually, it was “who will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”), the Lord called a little child to come to him. Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”


Unless your love is genuine. Your faith sincere. Your soul is pure. Your joy real. Your spirit humble. Your desires simple. Your trust complete.


Unless you remember what it was like to be like your kid-brother, you won’t make it. It’s time to reclaim your childhood. Not those middle years that really stole the life out of you. The early years when you knew you had much to learn and experience and your father was the most awesome guy in the world.


Unless you become the spiritual equivalent of that you will miss it all. Forget about being the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, you won’t even make it through the front gates.


Okay, time for me to stop at Dairy Queen and get the kiddie cone, buy a fake mood ring in the gumball machine, and remember to cross myself when I see St. Patrick’s Catholic Church across the road. Time to be a little kid again.


It's time for me to say what my daughter used to say every day when she was very small, “This is the best day ever.”
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Stereograms and Sacraments

Many years ago, my sister sent me a postcard from New Zealand. The picture on the postcard was a stereogram, a hidden 3D picture wrapped in a multi-colored 2-D design. The instructions on the postcard said to hold the image right up to your nose and slowly pull the picture away from your face. Stare through the picture. Don’t try to focus on the 2-D pattern. Let your eyes go beyond the obvious image, and you will begin to see the hidden image.



I tried it about ten times. My children figured it out almost immediately.


“I give up. I can’t see a thing!” I said, tossing the postcard on the table.


My young son picked it up and implored me to give it another try. “You have to let it happen, Mom. Don’t look at it. Kind of let your eyes go out of focus. And fight it when your eyes want to look at the design. You’ll never see it that way. The picture is like deeper. Not here.” He rubbed the palm of his hand across the postcard. “It’s there.” He took his right index finger and pointed down to the postcard in his left hand. When his finger touched the picture, he slid it around the side of the picture, and kept on pointing to an imaginary place beyond.


He handed the card to me, and I took it reluctantly. I wasn’t sure what I was doing, but I thought about what my son had said and really gave it one last effort.


And suddenly, I saw it. Three dolphins. Three 3-D dolphins in a row. It was SO cool.


There are times when the indelible mark of God on the lives of those around us can seem as elusive as the 3-D picture hidden in a stereogram. We don’t see Christ in our neighbor. We don’t see Christ in the poor. We don’t see Christ in the priest.


We just see a rude neighbor. A guy on the side of the road with a sign. A man with foibles like everyone else who sometimes wears a stole.


God tells us to look closer. No, not at the surface. Don’t fixate on the outward patterns. You’ll never see what lies beneath. Jesus is there, and you can see him if you let yourself get past the surface image.


He has placed his mark on every baptized Christian.


He is in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the immigrant, the hungry.


And the ordained one wears his indelible mark. He stands in persona Christi. A priest forever.


Sometimes, the pattern on the surface throws us off. We become frustrated by what we see. God tells us to look a little deeper. Give it another try. True identity is sometimes hidden. Cloaked in external trappings.


And if we can begin to see Jesus Christ hidden in the faces around us, maybe we can begin to see Our Lord hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.



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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Itsy Bitsy Spider and a Mother Armed to Kill


If you live in Missouri, then you have probably heard of the Brown Recluse Spider. Every spring, when I retrieve my grass-cutting tennis shoes from the back of the closet, I take them outside and bang them against the step a few times – just in case this poisonous spider has set up house inside my old shoes. We pay a guy to spray for creepy crawlies every quarter, but it doesn’t kill all of them.



Early this morning, I walked to the kitchen and slid open the patio doors to let our old poodle outside. A Brown Recluse clung to the door – at eyeball height. Before I could reach the fly swatter, the spider ran down the door and into hiding. I closed the door quickly. I needed time to think.


I was 100% sure that the spider was hiding on the other side of the door, probably in the exterior track for the sliding screen. Sure enough, there was a spider web in the lower left corner of the patio doors, between the glass and the screen.


Suddenly, I freaked out. I looked down at my fluffy slippers and kicked them off. I knew the spider wasn’t hiding in them, but I couldn’t help it. The thought itself made me crazy. I ran my hands up and down the arms of my bathrobe. Immediately, I felt the urge to shed another outer layer – just in case the spider-that-couldn’t-possibly-be-on-me was hiding in the plush robe.


I tossed the robe over a kitchen chair and studied the spider web on the other side of the glass. Where could that thing have gone? Okay, you’re just being crazy now, I told myself. I reached for my bathrobe and sheepishly slipped it on again. The tag at the back of my neck rubbed against my skin, and I spastically tossed the robe back over the chair and stepped away from it.


As much as I wanted to forget about the stupid spider, I couldn’t. Our dogs go in and out of that door multiple times each day. Sometimes I’m the one opening the door. Sometimes it’s my daughter. I could not live with the thought of a poisonous Brown Recluse just hanging around the door, waiting.


I’d probably see the spider before it saw me. But my daughter was oblivious to it, and I wanted her to stay oblivious. Fear is not fun.


So, I took the fly swatter and slowly slid the door open. Hiding at the base of the door, between the glass and the sliding screen, was the spider. I could get him right now. Take care of this menace immediately. But if I wasn’t careful, I could frighten the spider into scurrying inside the house.


Armed with a fly swatter and a surge of adrenaline, I made war on the arachnid. I won.


It was time to wake my daughter up and tell her to get ready for school. I walked down the hall and opened her door. “Time to get up, Sweetie.” She mumbled a reply and I closed her door. She emerged from her room soon after that and walked to the patio door to let her labradoodle outside. I sipped my coffee and leaned against the kitchen counter.


And I thought of Mary, Our Mother. I wondered if she had smashed any potentially harmful predators while I slept peacefully last night. If I were a betting woman, I would put my money on it.


Our Lady of Perpetual Help… thank you for going to battle for my safety. Amen.







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Monday, August 23, 2010

Corrie ten Boom



Corrie ten Boom, author of The Hiding Place, tells the story of a conversation she had with her father when she was a child. She confided in her father that she was afraid of death and was quite sure she did not have the strength to be a martyr. Corrie’s father reminded her of the train ride to Amsterdam. “"When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?"

"No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train."

"That is right," her father said, "and so it is with God's strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength . . . He will supply all you need just in time."

Many years later, Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their father were imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for hiding Jews in a secret room in their home. Corrie’s sister and father passed away during their imprisonment. Corrie was released from Ravensbrück, due to a clerical error, just a week before all the women her age were killed. She spent the rest of her life traveling the world, telling people "there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still." Corrie died at the age of 91.

Corrie drew strength from her father’s metaphor during her imprisonment. In the face of death, she remembered that God would provide all the grace she would need to make the final journey, no matter when the "train" arrived to take her into eternity.

Just as her earthly father provided the ticket when they were about to step onto the train to Amsterdam, her Heavenly Father provided the grace for the final journey.

The grace of God is not restricted to the moment of our death. God’s grace is ongoing. He offers us the grace to say yes countless times each day. Even now, we are learning how to wait upon the Father for strength. We meet each moment with outstretched hands, waiting for the ticket. We are learning to rely on God, to trust in his providence, to wait upon the Lord for strength.

There is strength for every task. Strength to get out of bed when the alarm sounds. Strength to study for tests and to complete assignments. Strength to work productively for our employers. Strength to meet familial challenges with patience and perseverance.

Simple grace, for the thousand-and-one demands on us today.

We learn to receive small graces for small challenges so that we will readily receive great grace for the greatest challenge of all.


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I'm good. I'm bad. I'm good. I'm bad.

There’s a stereotype out there about preachers’ kids. People say that we are either terrifically wicked or absurdly good. Maybe you’ve heard the cliché.



As a preacher’s kid, I know that I struggled with these polar opposites. Oh, I wasn’t wicked-and-good simultaneously. The state of the soul was like a pendulum that swings back and forth. The struggle was with being steadily holy. Consistently good. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not a problem that solely plagues preachers’ kids. It is the human condition.


Our struggle is a battle between desires. A desire to be found pleasing before God and a desire to gratify the desires of the flesh.


Let’s face it. Every baptized Christian is the PK, the child of the Father. We all feel the pressure to be good and the pull to be wicked.


On one level, we long to shed the Christian label, especially when the world seems ready to mock us for our goodness. No, I’m not that good. Really, I’m not.


I’ll show you. And we show the world.


Then we feel the shame that accompanies failure. We realize that we really aren’t that good. But, Heavenly Father, I want to be holy. Really, that’s what I want.


Ugh.


Heavenly Father, make me steadfast. Make the pendulum stop. I’m good. I’m bad. I’m good. I’m bad.


It’s a waste of time. An effort in futility. This trying and trying.


Make me yours alone, oh God. Help me to face the onslaught of concupiscence, the desires that come simply because I am a human being. Help me to know that the temptation isn’t the sin. What matters is my response to it, which is really my response to you, oh Lord.


Let one love fall away. Let only love for the Father remain.


Not appearing wicked or good. Eyes off the waves. Eyes on the Lord. Walking on the waters of baptism. Steady. Strong.



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Saturday, August 21, 2010

'Til the Storm Passes Over

Last night, we ended up in the basement while the tornado sirens sounded. My husband usually
prefers to watch the storm roll in and out, stubbornly ignoring the warning system. But last night, he found the whole experience boring and ended up downstairs with our daughter and me. We checked out the pantry in the basement and broke open a bag of milk chocolate Hershey’s chips. John opened the bag and poured some out for each of us. As we popped chocolate into our mouths and played with the dog, we talked. Somehow, we got on the subject of doubt.



Atheism and agnosticism.


John has faith. He believes in God, but he understands how some people just cannot believe in anything beyond what they can feel and touch. One of his friends has read and studied faith matters and philosophies and still says it’s not enough. On a rational level, there is not enough to go on, his friend says. And maybe he is right. We cannot know what lies on the other side. His friend takes it even further. Not only is it impossible to know if God is waiting on the other side, it is impossible to know if there is another side. Maybe this is it, his friend says.


Maybe there is only a time to live and a time to die - and nothing beyond that. I don’t believe that for a minute, but there are many who do. The three cherry trees that I bought a year ago, the ones that died after my husband planted them in our back yard, I don’t think they are experiencing another kind of existence anywhere else. Since they weren’t capable of conscious thought, I don’t suppose they cared one way or another.


Other created things are much the same. Living, dying. Some domesticated life. Most not. There is no evidence that these creatures will exist beyond this life.


But we are different. We have the ability to scam each other, love each other, teach one another, die for another, forgive another, take revenge on another, work together, tear each other apart, to bless and to curse.


We can rule over one another. And we can serve.


Even some of our illnesses set us apart. We can die from stress, suffer from mental illness, and find healing through the most extraordinary things. Like faith, hope, and love.


It is true that we know very little about what comes next. God acknowledges that in Sacred Scripture. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, what God has waiting for those who love him.


Love. Maybe that’s the key. The most important thing separating us from a cherry tree: We can love. And if we can choose to love, we can choose to hate. But the love and the hate are not an end in themselves. They points to the One who is Love. And the one who is hate.


Love points to an existence beyond this one.


We live in a society that does not feel compelled to believe in mysteries like these. We study everything, except what lies beyond. We throw our efforts into our careers and our children and our bank accounts. We attain degrees. We build houses. And we invest.


Many try to ignore the thing that we cannot research. They don’t think much about what happens after this world.


We cling to the brilliant ones who tell us we cannot know. Or worse, that there is nothing to know. But then a man like Pascal comes along and throws out the challenge to the brilliant ones. Being brilliant himself, he makes a wager:


Okay, so it’s a gamble. On a purely rational level, we cannot know, we cannot be certain. For the ones who do not have faith and cannot attain faith, for them, it is a toss of the coin. Maybe there is something more. Maybe there isn’t.


Either way, we’ll find out. Pascal believed the better bet was on the side of God’s existence. That gambler has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Betting that there is no God is foolish. This gambler has everything to lose and nothing to gain.

Agnosticism, says Pascal, is not an option. Death is inevitable. So place your bets.


It is an interesting application of probability theory.


Those of us who have a faith which shapes everything we do and every thought that passes through our minds – we have trouble understanding the thought processes of those who have no faith in God and eternity. How do we help them get from point A to point B. From no faith to at least some faith?


My husband tells me that the best answer to this is to have compassion for the one who cannot believe and to encourage him to try. Just try. Faith, no matter how small, leads to faith. Encourage them to say the word maybe. To drop the word impossible.


For we know that eternity is possible before we know that it is certain.


Or so my husband tells me. And when I respond that all creation speaks of the glory of God, he smiles and reminds me, "Yes, but knowing that is a gift of grace. Faith is a gift."


And if I remember this, I will be better equipped to share the faith with others. Faith is a gift.
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting A Handle on Anger

I don’t like conflict. Let me say it again. I do not like conflict. And I’m not very gifted at dealing with it when it comes up. When I was in my thirties, my dad offered me some advice. He said that he had a trick when things got dicey. When people began to irritate him, he “fogged” the problem. He mentally took a can of gray spray paint and covered the thing until his irritation subsided, and he could think clearly. “You can’t let your emotions get in the way. Just fog them,” he said.


It worked for dad, but it doesn’t work for me. I have used his gray fogger many times. The problem does not go away. Sorry, Dad. The people still irk me.


Only one thing works for me, and it is not a fogger. It is real. It is true re-ordering of my inner self. It happens during Mass.


My emotions are not squelched. They are transformed. My memory isn’t erased or covered over, it is directed beyond.


The One that I have offended in so many ways – on so many days – communes with me.


He doesn’t overlook my weakness. He tells me to give him that part, too. Not just the good stuff. The worst parts of me. And he takes all of it and nails it to a tree.


The Body of Christ.


The Blood of Christ.


And when I turn to look at the ones who sometimes irk me, I hear the One who has forgiven me of some really awful stuff.


And yes, there is a fair bit of emotion. Yes, there is a memory. But it is not the kind of emotion that gets in the way of reconciliation. It’s not the kind of memory that sabotages relationships. It’s the kind of emotion and memory that transforms all things.


Like standing with Mary at the foot of the cross and knowing that Mary’s Son embraced this death for me – while I was still in sin.
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Make it a great year!

God bless the students and staff at St. Margaret's Catholic School in Riverton, Wyoming as they begin a new year!

"Let the children come unto me" - Jesus Christ
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing in the Heart of Bread Company

I'm at Panera Bread (St. Louis Bread Company), writing as usual. There's a guy getting some marriage counseling at one o'clock. Some women doing a Bible study at five o'clock. And others are chatting about life and love and family from a more secular perspective.

Everyone is breaking bread. Sharing and caring. Listening. Helping.

It's a good place to be -- if you're working on a book about life and God. I spend my days hunting for metaphors to help me understand God better and encourage others to grapple with the spiritual and figurative along with me. And right here, not ten feet away, there's a living, breathing metaphor.

Let us break bread together. You and me. And pray that God will show up in the middle of our meal.
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Lessons From a Double-Dip Recession

I’m wondering today why we never recognize times of prosperity when we are in them, but we sure know it when the economy is in a slump.



Like it is right now.


The state of the economy is a little like the state of a soul. When we are in a state of grace, we are busy with our calling, outward focused, concerned with the things of God, interested in our neighbor's plight – in a good way.


When we are in a state of sin, we don’t see it right away, but it doesn’t take long and WHAM. There it is. The signs of distress are unavoidable. Everything reminds us that we are out-of-order. Something’s broken. And we look around for a quick fix to make us feel better.


Comfort food. A credit card purchase. A get-away trip. Too much reality TV.


We pack on pounds, jack up the monthly Visa statement, wear ourselves out with hotels and tourist attractions, and let our brains feed on the misery of reality TV celebrities – like we can’t get enough of the brokenness in our own lives.


And we’re surprised when things just seem to get worse.


Turning the spiritual economy around requires deliberate action: true contrition (wow, I have really messed up), a firm resolve to turn from sin (no kidding, I’m done, done, done with that), and the intention to avoid the near-occasion of sin (here’s my weakness, those are my triggers, and I promise that the two will not meet if I have anything to say about it).


The financial advisors begin with the obvious life-style changes, the equivalent to “get yourself to confession ASAP”. Then, they turn to more creative answers. It’s the “once that is taken care of” talk. In the spiritual life, it’s the great list of options available beyond the confessional.


Prayer. Reading Sacred Scripture. Studying the lives of the saints. Daily Mass. Incorporating sacramentals into your daily routine. Beginning the morning with a prayer of consecration. Wrapping up your evening with a review of conscience.


And if that gets you excited, the professionals have a few fun things to try.


Wear a rosary bracelet. Get a pocket cross. Hang a holy water font in your front entryway. Research and visit a shrine, a monastery, a wayside parish. Get up in the middle of the night and experience holy adoration of Our Lord at an unusual hour – three A.M.


Three steps: Fix the problem. Begin to modify your habits. Try investing in the future. It works with personal finances, and it works in the economy of salvation.


You may not notice that things are turning around – at least not right away. But they will. In fact, you have a guarantee that they will turn around, and that is more than any secular economist can say.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mrs. Grace's Windowsill



I remember the day I discovered the joy of playing with a prism & the power contained in a magnifying glass. I was sitting on the windowsill of our fifth grade classroom and chatting with friends. We were looking at Mrs. Grace’s plants and goofing around with the magnifying glasses and prisms. I was fascinated by the rainbows appearing on our notebook paper when we held a prism just so between our fingers and thumb. What an amazing thing, this ray of sunlight! I studied the spectrum, trying to figure out just where one color ended and another began. It was an impossible challenge. It was magnificent how one color faded into the next. Colors without beginning, without end.

A friend was playing with the magnifying glass. She was fascinated by the pinpoint of bright light that she could generate by steadily holding the magnifying glass in one position and letting the sunlight pass through the glass. As we watched and laughed at the wonders of science, her paper began to smoke, and the little spot of bright light turned brown. The paper was on fire.


Psalm 34:4 says “Magnify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.”


I get it. If you’ve ever played with rays of sunlight, you get it too. Our lives are the prism in the hand of God. A rainbow for all to see. Beautiful. Drawing the eyes of others toward God, causing their souls to marvel and wonder. 

Our souls are the magnifying glass in the hand of God. We lift our souls up, and Jesus Christ is magnified. Those who are fascinated by God’s glory now hold their breath in wonder, in awe.


The divine prism reveals our unique gifts, like the colors in the rainbow. The divine magnifying glass reveals God himself. Power. Majesty. The dominion of God the Almighty.


That day, on a windowsill in a fifth-grade classroom, a group of children were stunned into silence for just a moment. We had been fascinated by the rainbows. But when we realized the power of the sun, and what we could do with a little magnifying glass, we made no sound at all. This was a power too great. Something too important to misuse. We had discovered a mystery that went beyond beauty. We had discovered the sun, the power and mystery of light.


We looked at each other with big eyes and open mouths. And we quietly put the magnifying glasses away in a plastic box. We had uncovered a secret about the sun that demanded maturity, awe, respect.

Dear friends, we are God's magnifying glass.


Magnify the LORD with me; let us exalt his name together.



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Monday, August 16, 2010

Note to Self: 9:30 Sunday Morning -- Thank and Praise God


Many years ago, I heard a man say that he made an entry in his day planner to remind himself to tell his wife that he loved her. He was quite proud of himself for making his wife and their marriage a priority.


I felt sorry for his wife.


The husband saw his wife and his marriage as a job. A duty. A task. Something he could check off and then move on to something else. I bet he didn’t have to remind himself to watch the game on Sunday. Or eat lunch every day. Or play a round of golf.


I took a class this summer called Liturgy of the Word for Children. I was preparing for the exam and part of that preparation meant memorizing important parts of the Mass. In the Mass, we thank and praise God for who he is and what he has done. Thank and praise. I went over the words in my head, trying to commit them to memory. That’s when it hit me. I was like the man who couldn’t remember the most obvious part of marriage.


I couldn’t remember my most important role in the Mass. To thank and praise God.


In the Mass, we lift our hearts to the Lord. For all he has done. For all he will do. For who he is.


As we enter the Liturgy, we proclaim that it is right to give God thanks and praise. Not out of duty. Not because we have to do it. But because our own souls call us to respond to divine love.


So, go ahead. Lift your hearts up to the Lord. For it is right to give him thanks and praise.
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The Innocent

It doesn’t happen very often, but it is a terrible tragedy when it does happen. Every once in a while, we discover that a convicted criminal is really innocent. Someone on death row is not guilty. Someone serving a life-time sentence is innocent. Wrongly accused and wrongly convicted. There’s new information. Better forensic evidence is found. A witness finally comes forward.

 

My heart breaks for the one who was wrongly accused. The justice system failed him. Bottom line, we took a piece of his life away from him, and he was innocent. I imagine all those years he spent in prison. I wonder if he thought about his plight every day, every hour. Or did he simply give up?


It’s tragic. But aren’t we responsible for this same injustice when we wrongly accuse another person? When we misjudge someone? When we assume the worst?


It starts in elementary or middle school. A student is sentenced by his peers. Unworthy by their standards. He wears the label “loser” just as the wrongly accused wears the label “guilty.” And we put him in a kind of cell where he has no companionship. No friends. He doesn’t get to have a voice or to mingle with the free ones.


We do it in our families. There’s even a name for it. Black sheep of the family. And we steal from that little sheep something that is almost as precious as life itself. Our love. Our understanding. Our acceptance. This rejection is worse than physical pain, because it is a rejection by the people in his inner circle. The ones who share his DNA. Those closest. It is the worst betrayal of all.


We can all find our place – our face – in the crucifixion scene. Some of us are among the crowd of peers who wrongly accused the Lord. Some of us are family members who refused to stand with Mary and chose to distance ourselves from the family’s black sheep. God’s holy Lamb.


Some of us are the accuser. The executer. The judge. The jury. The peers. The family members.


And some of us are Jesus. The one who suffers at the hands of others.


This may be the one redemptive part in the whole scenario. It’s all so tragic. It’s all so terrible. But if we kneel, and if we raise our eyes to Christ crucified, we can bear even those things that should crush the spirit. We can find strength to endure the unendurable. Hope in the hopeless moment. Grace to go on even in the midst of the pain that tells us to just give up.


The truth is, we rarely are any one character on Mount Calvary. We are all the betrayers. We are each one of us the victim.


In a fallen world, we experience all of it. But the accuser finds forgiveness, if he seeks it. The accused finds hope, if he seeks it. The accuser and the accused are reconciled, if they seek it.


Yes, there is a script. Mount Calvary plays out in our lives every day. But the story doesn’t end there. The final act of this play is one of redemption and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation, new beginnings and second chances.


Look around. You’ve made someone into a black sheep of the family. You’ve labeled someone a loser. You’ve got some work to do to make things right.


And, your first stop is probably the Cross of Christ or the confessional. Jesus is waiting for you there, with hope and forgiveness.



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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Assumption

If you believe that Jesus will come again, and we will rise to meet him, why wouldn't you believe he would do this first for his own mother?
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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gotcha Day

In one week, my sister will celebrate a special anniversary in the life of her family. It is the anniversary of the day her daughter was placed in her arms. She calls it a “gotcha day.”

As Catholics, we have a gotcha day. Our birth into the family of faith came with our Baptism. But our Confirmation day was the day we were fully received into Mother Church. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon us on that day, and the Bishop himself marked us with Holy Chrism oil and proclaimed,”Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We had entered into a more perfect bond with the Church. We were now fully incorporated into Christ. The Catechism tells us that this seal marks us as belonging to Christ. Forever his.

Today is my Gotcha Day. I’m writing this on August 14th, the fifth anniversary of my Confirmation and First Holy Communion, the day I was placed into the arms of Mother Church.

I had already been born . . . Baptized. Like my sister's child, I had been "born" beyond the full embrace of my Mother. I was baptized in another faith community. But on this day, five years ago, I was placed in the loving arms of Mother Church. And my Mother is filled with the same joy I now see in my sister when she celebrates Gotcha Day. The daughter that was born half-way around the world is now safe in her mother's arms. The gift of life came with birth. This gift completes and perfects God's plan for that life.

On this day, we celebrate the moment of Confirmation. The moment we were fully marked and given a new name. This is my Gotcha Day. My name is Teresa of Avila.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

August Catholic by Grace Article

When we were dating, my husband said those three little words first. He knew my history and was well aware of my doubts in things like lasting love and fidelity. After a little gentle and careful wooing, he took a gamble and told me he loved me. Before I could formulate a reply, he quickly assured me that he didn’t expect me to say anything to that. My reply could wait. He told me that he had time, all the time in the world. And he would wait as long as necessary for me to figure it all out.

Deacon Weishaar shares an interesting fact about God in his first lesson with the Confirmation class at Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Melle, Missouri. This is my third year as his assistant, so I know what’s coming. “What is the most dangerous gift God has given to us?” He poses the question and the students stare at him blankly, waiting for him to supply the answer.


“Free will!” he says quite loudly, and all of the students jump in their seats. “God gave you life. He died on a cross for your redemption, but He is the perfect gentleman. He never forces Himself on anyone. Being God, He could make us love Him.” The deacon’s voice gets soft now, as he tries to convey the mystery of such love. “But God doesn’t do it. He lets you decide how you will respond to that kind of love.”


Incredibly, the God who made you also gives you the option of loving Him or turning your back and walking the other way. The Creator of all living things lets you decide how to respond to Perfect Love.


Back when I was dating the man who has been my husband for nearly 14 years, I had three options. When he said that he loved me, I could have run in the other direction. And to be honest, I was scared enough that I thought about it. I also could have said the words back to him, though I knew I wasn’t ready. It would have filled the awkward silence, but it wouldn’t have meant very much because it would have been a knee-jerk response.


I chose the third option. I decided to stick around long enough to know for certain. I watched him. I tested him a little (poor guy). I wanted to know if this was real. I gave him time to prove himself, and I gave my heart time to heal. Like a gentleman, he gave me all the time I needed.


And that’s what RCIA class is all about. The letters stand for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. But here it is at the most basic level:


There is a class that meets every year in every Catholic parish. The classes usually form in August or September. For those of us who were raised outside of the Catholic Church (or with no faith at all), we have a way to stick around the Bridegroom and see if He’s for real. We can give Him time to prove Himself to be the Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ who comes to us in the Holy Mass, under the appearance of bread and wine. Through RCIA, Our Lord gives each one of us time to let our hearts (and souls) heal from previous wounds . . . a failed marriage, a disillusioned spiritual life, a persistent doubt. RCIA is a lot like dating – it’s a kind of spiritual courtship.


It’s really an invitation to love, but you don’t have to make any statements of love and fidelity until you are ready. It’s a time to let God do what He does oh so well - woo the soul.


Sure, you can run away from the greatest love humankind has ever known. But then, you will never really know what might have been. God sets a choice before you, and then He waits. He gives you that most dangerous gift. The gift of choosing what to do with the offering of a Perfect Love.


Here’s my advice: Stick around and ask Jesus to show you more of Himself. Call your nearest Catholic Church and ask them about RCIA. And then, look out, because you are about to be swept off your feet.

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Missed the Bus

I had it all planned. Now that my daughter is in middle school and her bus arrives a full-hour earlier than it did during the elementary years, I can make 8:00 Mass part of my daily schedule. Yesterday was day one. My whole day was encompassed by a beautiful aura. I was looking forward to day two and further incorporating this new habit into my daily routine. I can do this, I told myself. I’m going to be like those faithful ones who make it to Mass, come rain or shine. Isn’t it great how humans can decide to do something different and make it happen? It’s a kind of self-imprinting. It’s a change in habit that’s borne of sheer determination of the will. And eventually, you just do it. It’s part of you.

That's what I was thinking when I woke up this morning and had my coffee and shower before 7:00 (so that I could fast the full hour before Mass).


Today, my daughter missed the bus. So much for planning ahead.


God has an interesting way of reminding me that my thoughts and expectations aren’t necessarily his. While I was planning my day, he knew that the bus would arrive ten minutes before its ETA. He knew that my daughter would need a ride to school. He knew that I would be in a car, trying to console my middle school daughter while others were parking in the parish lot.


“No, you won’t be late. Yes, I know it’s school picture day. No, you won’t miss pictures. See, we’re doing fine on time. Don’t you have a prayer or something that you pray when you begin to feel like this? Well, maybe it’s a good time to come up with one.”


Today, God threw a wrench into my plans. My self-imprinting will have to come next week. Today, God wanted to show up in the conversation between my daughter and me. A conversation that wouldn’t have happened if she had been standing at the end of our driveway just a couple of minutes earlier.


Today’s imprinting wasn’t for me. It was for my daughter. When things aren’t going as you planned and you realize that you are feeling anxious and insecure, have a prayer, daughter of mine. Something short. Something easy to remember. Say it over and over, until you know that God is with you and all will be well.

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Word for the Lazy and Frustrated

My perfect day would begin when I wanted it to begin. I would be able to choose how to spend my waking hours. Sit when I felt like it. Sleep and eat as much as I wanted to sleep and eat. Have clothes in my closet that all fit well – without ever doing a bit of exercise. Nobody would call, unless it was to give me great news. When I sat down to write, the rough drafts would hit the paper as though they were final drafts, and I would already have publishers hoping for first rights to every manuscript. My husband would agree with everything I said. My children would seek my advice and follow it. And I would end the day happy, healthy, and confident that tomorrow would look pretty much the same.

I’ve never lived that day.

Not even close.

Everything takes work. Sometimes it takes hard work and relentless determination. Sometimes, I’m up to the challenge. Most of the time, I am not.

God is always up to the challenge.

St. Teresa of Avila said, "I often thought my constitution would never endure the work I had to do, (but) the Lord said to me: 'Daughter, obedience gives strength.'"

And so, I get up before I’m ready. I do more than I think I can do. I write with shaky confidence that anyone will read what I write. I offer up the conflicts that arise with those I love most, and I pray for those things that are not in my control – like my children’s lives.

When I go to bed, knowing that tomorrow will probably look a lot like today, I realize that St. Teresa of Avila had it right. There is enough strength, as long as I know where to go for my source of power.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Having Doubts

If doubt were a chapter in a book, the next chapter would contain the climax. Doubt is no reason for despair. It’s a good time to keep turning pages in life. -Denise Bossert

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Sunday Mornings in the Pastor's Home

Sunday mornings had a distinct rhythm to them when I was growing up. Dad woke up early. I could hear him getting ready. The shower running, somewhere in the periphery of my consciousness. While we enjoyed the final hours of sleep, Dad was eating breakfast, getting his comb-over just right, putting on his suit and picking out a tie. In a few hours, we would come home together and he would slip his tie over the side of a lampshade while mom, my sister and I finished getting the Sunday meal on the table. Mom hated the ties on the lampshade. As a kid, I didn’t get that. As a wife, I get it completely.

Those Sunday mornings were special. While we were busy with breakfast and showering and dressing, we knew Dad was already there. He was preparing for everyone’s arrival. He was going through the message he needed to deliver and trying to get the method of delivery perfected. And, he was praying.


In 2003, Dad passed away. It felt more like being ripped open and having pieces of me torn out bit by bit. As the weeks passed, there were moments of grief that came out of nowhere. It was as though someone were peeling off the bandages when I least expected it. The sudden return of grief left me weak and trembling, wanting to reach for the morphine . . . or God.


I still feel a wave of sadness every now and then, a sense of longing, a need to be hugged or hear a word of encouragement.


But the overwhelming sense now is different than it was back then.


Now it feels like Sunday morning. This is the dream world. Dad’s in a more real world. I can hear him moving around. It brings me peace, the kind of peace that comes with sweet dreams on early Sunday mornings.


Then I wake up and begin getting ready. And there is something comforting . . . and even a little pleasurable . . . about knowing that Dad is already there. He’s going over the message and figuring out how to deliver it to those he loves. How to reach us in ways that will stay with us as we muddle through life. And above all, I know he’s praying. As he always did, he’s praying for us.


And waiting for our arrival.

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Toughest Jobs in the World

These are some of the most difficult jobs:


A diplomat. To encounter the world, and even one’s enemies, and still remain true to the message entrusted to you.


A teacher. To foster learning in those entrusted to you, even the ones who would rather be somewhere else, don’t have an iota of respect for you, and have no desire to learn . . . especially not what you have to share.


A captain. To be entrusted with a mission, the safe arrival from point A to point B, tagged with the responsibility of the entire crew, and always aware of the possibility of complete mutiny.


A shepherd. To have the role of serving and guiding. To care for and to correct. To have the sole responsibility for keeping safe those within the fold and to seek out those beyond the fold. To be the front man when the bear or wolf attacks.


The family sage. To be the source of wisdom for everyone in the family when you are at the age of infirmities. To hold wisdom gained from living and be rejected by the ones who could learn the most. To be ridiculed, though mostly behind your back, by those who need you the most.


The Holy Father is all of these.
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Sunday, August 8, 2010

What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

When our daughter was three, she wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. She was completely serious about it, too.

Sometimes our ideas of the future are about as farfetched. With some maturity and inspiration by the Holy Spirit, we can get a clearer view of what we were made to do.

Now that our daughter has grown a little (she's eleven now), she's decided to be an artist. I think it just might be what God has in mind...

Check out her latest artwork:

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Blessing From Above

Congratulations Jennifer! And a great big welcome to baby Isabelle!
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All the Children of the World

The motto for the state of Iowa is Iowa, a great place to grow. As one born and raised in the state of Iowa, I completely agree with that assessment. Even so, it is not – or at least is was not – the best place to develop a sense of diversity. In college, I took the requisite Multicultural Education class. It was supposed to form me as a teacher, widen my horizons, make me ready to receive with loving arms all the little children of the world.

Unfortunately, the professor’s ultimate idea of multicultural formation was singing “Feliz Navidad” at our final class and having team sharing of what our research uncovered regarding our assigned culture projects.

My real multicultural awareness began in another college class, where I learned to speak enough Spanish to converse (mas o menos) with someone else.

Sometime later, I met a woman from Panama. She was a teacher visiting U.S. schools through a two-week exchange program. She was at our school for just one day. It was shortly after the Panama Crisis and the overthrow of Noriega. In the faculty lunch room, the teachers all asked her about the U.S. military invasion... and wasn’t she relieved when our forces showed up. They let it go when they decided that she could barely speak English.

I realized later, when I talked to her in Spanish, that her impressions were not all grand and glorious about that particular U.S. assistance. When she realized that I was maxing out my Spanish, she switched over to English and finished unloading. I was the only one in the school who was permitted inside her deeper heart. All because I could talk with her in Spanish, and I was willing to talk, one woman-to-another, and not as American-to-Panamanian.

That happened a long time ago. I don’t remember very much Spanish anymore, but the other day at Walgreens, my daughter and I were waiting for her prescription to be filled and a little girl came running around the corner. She was speaking Spanish as she scanned the shelves. "¡Aquί, aquί!" she exclaimed. Her mother rounded the corner, and it became obvious very quickly that the little girl could read English, and she was translating for the mother.

After a few minutes, I approached the mom and asked her if she needed help. The woman looked at me and hesitated. I had spoken to her in Spanish, and that opened a door. I could tell that she was deciding whether or not to let me in. In Spanish, she told me that someone had a cold. I asked the age. Catorce – fourteen, she said. I asked if he had a fever. She didn’t seem to understand my rusty Spanish. I asked if he was hot. No. He was not hot. His nose – I made sniffle sounds. No. He did not have congestion.

I walked to the pharmacy window, but the mom stayed around the corner with her daughter. The pharmacist told me what to recommend, and I returned to the mother and helped her to find the medicine on the shelf.

That’s when my daughter’s antibiotic was ready for pick up. A few minutes later, when we were leaving, the little girl ran up to me. She turned that adorable little face up and smiling, she said, “My mom wants me to tell you thank you.”

“De nada,” I said. You are welcome. And the little girl skipped away.

Those were learning opportunities for me. But the best learning came when my sister adopted two girls from China and when my daughter gave birth to my African-American grandson. I will never forget the beautiful, tearful bond I felt with the other grandmother in the room as we both fell in love with this little boy and hugged and congratulated our children on their first born son.

It’s not about multicultural awareness and diversity education. It is about love and communication and a broader understanding of family. As Catholics, we are universal. We are a global family. We are from every nation, but we are one. We speak a common language, and it is the language of family. It is the language of love.
And the best place to learn how to love is in the context of Family.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

Going Through the Liturgical Changes

Recently, I was talking to a priest. When he realized that I am a Catholic writer, he suggested that I write something about the changes in the Liturgy. “It will be hard for the musicians and some of the people. And it will be hard for priests. We’ll probably stumble awhile, as we try to learn the new wording.”

“Oh, Father! You’ll feel just like a convert!” I told him about my year in RCIA. I was just beginning to get it. I knew what was coming next in the Mass and could say it and sing it without too much stumbling, and then I went to a later Mass and the organist was different and she played a different arrangement for the Gloria. Once I adjusted to that, Lent came along. And we lost the Alleluia. And the dreaded sense of being out of my element returned.”


The church secretary who was sitting near us smiled then. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It might be good for priests to feel like a convert.”


She’s right. We all need to feel like converts every now and then. We need to be shaken up and stirred sometimes. We need a little bit of Lent in our lives.


Change is never easy. And this change will be particularly difficult for many. If you are a priest or a musician, offer it up for a convert who finds the entire Liturgy something of a foreign language. Offer it up for the one who longs to be part of the Church family, but feels like he will never fit in as easily as the cradle Catholic sitting beside him. Offer it up for the one who is trying to learn everything in just a few months of RCIA. Yes, it can be overwhelming. Change is never easy.


But I will let you in on a secret that every convert knows. You will look back on that part of the journey and miss it a little. You will realize that God was there. You knew it. You felt it. You relied on it.


And maybe that is the most essential part of the journey.

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