Sunday, July 22, 2012

Year of Faith... and so it begins

Image from Diocese of Down and Connor, Ireland.
Used with permission from the
Catholic Communication
Office of the Irish Bishops' Conference.
We are about to begin the Year of Faith.

For the Bosserts, it will probably be a year of great change. There is a very real possibility that we will be moving before the Year of Faith is over.

Not a move across town.

Not a move to a bigger house.

Not even a move to down-size.

A move away from family and friends and school and parish and everything that we know. A move out of state. A move out of the Midwest.

We don't know anything for certain yet. A fitting beginning for the Year of Faith.

We don't know if we will move. We don't know when we will move. We don't know where (exactly) we will move.

I don't know what I will do. Will I teach? Will I write? Will I speak? Will I go back to school? Will I be a stay-at-home mom?

Will I have too much time on my hands or will it be a lot like my life here. More to do than I can possibly get done - except by the grace of God.

Welcome to the Year of Faith. And so it begins...

I think women are good at this "not knowing" - it's kind of like being open to life. One little plus or minus sign means that everything is about to change.

I can do this faith thing. I don't give myself enough credit. It's all wrapped up in one word. Yes. May it be done unto me according to your word.

Spiritual pregnancy. Women get it intuitively.

I think I will throw myself into this Year of Faith. No holds barred. Yours, oh Lord, without reservation.

Yes, Blessed Mother, I'll do whatever He tells me to do.

Who knows what might happen - everything, anything -  from nothing, to a change of venue, to a change of purpose, to a change of heart.

Faith is exciting. Anything can happen when we decide to abandon everything to Divine Providence.

Welcome to the Year of Faith.

Buckle up.

You are about to give birth to Mystery.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Miss Rachel

Before I packed a bag, filled the gas tank and made the trip from Missouri to northeast Iowa, I knew I was about to meet someone very special. Days before the trip, the parish secretary sent me an email that began like this: I need to tell you a little bit about the woman you will be staying with while you are here.

From that email, I discovered that Rachel was well into her 80s. She still worked at the local grocery story, cleaned the church and rectory, and kept a yard and garden that rivaled all others in town. She walked wherever she wanted to go, because she didn’t own a car, and she preferred it that way. She’s on the fast track to sainthood, the secretary said.

And that summed up Rachel to a T.

In these last seven years as a Catholic, I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to have a Catholic grandmother. In March of 2011, Rachel showed me.

Every room of her house was inundated with holy things. In the guest room, there were two pictures on one wall: the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In the bathroom, there was a framed clipping from an old newspaper. It was an ode to John F. Kennedy and a prayer for those who grieve. At the top of the stairs, there was a peg board with numerous rosaries hanging from it. Each rosary had a story.

As we talked that weekend, Rachel would pause in the middle of our conversations and dash off to find a sacred object, prayer card or Catholic magazine. I returned to Missouri with many of them. She insisted on it.

I also returned with two baby blankets, gifts for my infant grandsons. Rachel distributes the baptismal gifts at St. Joseph’s Parish, and she invited me to choose from her baptismal stash. I secretly wondered if there was anything this woman didn’t do for the parish.

Rachel has survived two floods and one house fire. A few years ago, she was hit by a car as she walked home from church. Undaunted, she still walks everywhere.

Someone at the local grocery store asked her if she believes in all that God stuff. “I sure do!” She replied with complete confidence. “He’s the reason I’m still around.”

And she’s not exaggerating. In 1964, Rachel’s husband died unexpectedly. She was left to raise their two small children on her own.

She never remarried.

Rachel turned to her faith and her God, and she kept on going. She worked hard and surrounded herself with holy reminders. The Saints found a way to triumph over tragedy, and she was determined to do it, too.

This dear woman invited me into her home. She fed me. She gave me blankets for my grandbabies. She showed me to a bedroom with a white chenille bedspread and pictures of Jesus and Mary on the walls. She gave me a bottle of 7-up and glasses of water when I couldn’t stop coughing. She prayed that my cold wouldn’t sabotage the talks I was scheduled to give during the parish Lenten mission. She squeezed my hand hard after the last talk was done. I’d made it through, thanks to Rachel’s prayers and God’s goodness.

Rachel told me that I was something special, a saint in the making, she said. I shook my head. “Rachel, you are wrong.  You are the one showing me what it means to live out the faith.” She didn’t believe me. I could tell. But I know better. It’s easy to talk about conversion. The journey from where I’ve been to where I have landed is a delight to tell. I would go almost anywhere just to be able to speak of this great joy.

But that doesn’t make me a saint. Not even close.

When I was a stranger, Rachel let me in. When my grandsons were short on blankets, she gave me two. When I needed a bed and a good night’s sleep, she showed me to a quiet room. When my throat was sore, and I couldn’t stop coughing, she gave me something to drink. When I was hungry – and even when I wasn’t – she gave me something to eat.

She prayed for me.

That’s faith in action. Sermon-on-the-Mount faith. The kind of faith that makes us sheep instead of goats. Saints instead of sinners.

It’s easy to write about becoming Catholic. It’s a joy to talk about it. Talk is easy.

Many people say that converts make the best Catholics. Not so. The people who love-and-live-Jesus make the best Catholics. The question I’ve yet to answer is whether or not I can spend a lifetime living out the Gospel. The saints did it. As a convert, I’m just getting started. But, His grace is sufficient for even one like me.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Check Out This Catholic Blogger

It's worth the CLICK. I promise.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My FIrst Pilgrimage EVER

My first pilgrimage was today.

I knew that a pilgrimage is not supposed to be predictable. It is about the journey. Journeys take on a life of their own.

Today's journey certainly had a life of its own.

My daughter and I began our day with morning Mass at our parish. In the middle of Mass, I realized that I didn't feel my usual self. I was very sleepy.

That's when I realized that I took my evening medicine (with its soporific side effect) this morning instead of reaching for my over-the-counter allergy pill. Wrong medicine. Definitely the wrong medicine.

I labored through Mass, and we headed back home for some coffee before hitting the road for the Shrine at Starkenburg, Missouri.

We took the scenic route - an hour on the back roads of Missouri. Beautiful, but few bathroom opportunities. Did I mention that I had coffee before this trip?

Finally, we made it to the Shrine.

It was about 11:30. A number of cars were parked in the lot already. It's the second Tuesday of the month, and that means a noon Mass at the Shrine.

We were going to slip in and slip out before Mass - since we had already been to Mass today. So, we found an unlocked door into the chapel and stepped inside. We had noticed a German shepherd dog on the front steps, and when we opened the chapel door, he dashed inside. He was half-way down the aisle before I caught him by the collar and coaxed him out the doors. I was mortified. The faithful who were praying looked at me. I wanted to explain that it wasn't my dog. Really. I have never seen that dog before!

My daughter and I took a deep breath and finally slipped into the back row. As we prayed, the dog whined so loudly that everyone could hear it.

We prayed for our special intentions and decided to visit the Shrine.

There he was. Waiting for us. His tail wagging joyfully. I decided to descend the steps and go into the Shrine alone. My daughter stayed with our new canine companion so that he would not follow me into the holy space. The sign out front reminded visitors to be quiet and reverent. I suspected that meant Fido was not invited inside although there was no front door to keep him from entering.

When I came out of the Shrine and mounted the steps, my daughter informed me that Fido had been nearly impossible to restrain. I told my daughter to go on ahead and pray in the Shrine. Perhaps Fido would stay with me while she prayed.

I didn't want her to miss the chance to pray after everything that went into this pilgrimage.

The dog jerked away from me and bounded down the steps.

People were parking and walking to the church in greater numbers. Once again, I wanted to announce that I did not know this dog at all. I've never seen him before! Honest!

We left after that. Fido stayed behind. Our last glimpse of him was from the parking lot.

Later, I took my daughter to lunch. I asked her what her favorite part of the pilgrimage was. Her face brightened.

"When the dog followed us."

I laughed. I worry too much what people think. And I realized, there was something of value that came out of this journey.

There is something about myself I need to amend.

It doesn't matter if others misunderstand or think they know me when they don't. It doesn't matter if they draw conclusions about me that are far from accurate. I worry too much what people think.

I have only to love God.

Today, God planted a dog at the Shrine. He permitted that dog to enter into His Holy Place and make it half way to the Tabernacle. He inspired that dog to descend the steps to His Holy Shrine.

I think He did all of this to tell me to lighten up.

I'm with my daughter. The dog following us -- that was the best part.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Riceville, Iowa - Immaculate Conception

In the mid 1970s, my father returned to pastoral ministry. The former Wesleyan minister answered a call to re-enter the pastorate, this time as a Presbyterian. During the preceding months, while living on the family farm, two yoked Presbyterian churches were in between pastors (Lime Springs Presbyterian and Saratoga Presbyterian). The vacancy in their pulpits meant that they had to find a guest preacher every week until they could decide on a new pastor to replace their previous pastor. In Presbyterian churches, this process can take up to two years. My father was asked to fill the pulpit on Sunday morning. This became a weekly event. Eventually, the two Presbyterian parishes asked him to become their permanent pastor.

We changed schools once again, this time attending Riceville Community School (from 5th grade through 11th grade).

Our years in Riceville are, for me, the best years of my childhood. If there is a part of Iowa that has my heart, it is this town.

This is also the beginning of my deeper awareness of the Catholic Church. It wasn't just a parish on the other side of our public school playground (as when we lived in Cedar Falls). It was the parish of many of my school friends. That gave it meaning. It gave the parish character, personality, hands-and-feet, a face.

I heard these friends talk about Catholic things. I still believed that we had a better (perhaps even purer) faith, but I was beginning to listen . . . to take note.

We passed Immaculate Conception Parish twice every day on our way to and from school. We passed it every time we attended basketball games or football games or picked up a few groceries.

One evening, as we passed this parish, my father asked my mother if she knew what they meant by "Immaculate Conception". She said it probably had something to do with Jesus' birth. My father said, no, it refers to Mary's conception. Catholics believe she was conceived free of sin. My parents talked about that for a few minutes while I listened from the back seat.

It would be a significant memory for me. I would carry a prejudice against this teaching for decades and struggle with it during my own conversion into the Catholic Church. It would almost stop my journey. And indeed, it would have stopped my journey . . . if not for a miracle and a lot of grace.

The years at Riceville were full of many things. My father attended seminary in Dubuque and encountered some priests from the Catholic colleges in town (Loras and Clark). He began to accept the Presbyterian position on infant baptism. In fact, he became more sacramental in his theology, and my sister and I were baptized, we learned the Apostle's Creed and the Lord's Prayer (Our Father), and attend Presbyterian confirmation class.

In my middle school years, I attended Mass with one of my friends while spending the weekend with her family. I didn't have any clue as to what was taking place, but it was my closest encounter with the Eucharist - until I entered my 20s.

Another friend stayed overnight at my house and we spent one afternoon in my dad's church talking about the differences in our worship experiences. Catholic vs. Presbyterian.

My junior year, I went to prom with a Catholic boy. I had a serious crush on him and I think that fact also raised my awareness of his parish, Immaculate Conception.

Once again, I was blessed during these years to grow in my understanding of the faith - and the gifts we had as Presbyterians, even though we did not realize that all these gifts were ours because they were entrusted to Mother Church first and foremost.

No, we saw the faith differently. Christianity - in our minds - did not have a history to be traced. We had the Gospel stories and the other writings in the New Testament. But then, our legacy stopped, until the 1500s. We did not learn about the saints who lived during those first 1500 years. We did not study the Church Fathers. Or the development of doctrine. We did not discuss the origin of Sacred Scripture, how it too came from the Catholic Church, as She followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

All these things were ours in isolation. They were gifts . . . that simply were -as though dropped down from heaven to no one in particular, to be picked up by Protestant Evangelicals somewhere in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Once again, we were in possession of many graces because we had received so many good things from our Catholic heritage - even if we didn't recognize the source.
This Sunday, I will be in Riceville. I will be attending Mass at Immaculate Conception. My heart is filled with so much as I anticipate this very special Mass.
I celebrate the gift of faith and a God who is so incredibly gentle and merciful and abounding in love.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Great American Vacation

Some of my worst arguments with those I love have been right in the middle of a vacation.

There. I said it. It's terrible, but true.

We are gearing up for another summer vacation, and I'm wondering where our selfish sides will collide. Will it be before we get out the door? Will it be while choosing a restaurant? Will it be when we are packing up our things in the hotel and getting ready to check out?

Will it happen when we are driving by Catholic churches and reading the Mass times? Is that where the vacation will derail?

In the middle of the questions, I can't help but wonder one more thing. Why do we let a great vacation go bad?

Vacations are supposed to be a time of rejuvenation. They should help us to go back to our lives and be better employees and family members.

The American vacation seems to do the opposite - at least for the Bosserts. Vacations are fertile ground for selfish tendencies to germimate, grow, and strangle the good stuff.

So say a prayer for me.

I want it to be different this year. This year, I want to go on vacation and learn how to be more selfless, not more selfish.

It doesn't sound like much of a vacation, but I think it just might be one of those crazy Christian paradoxes. A vacation wrapped up in selflessness just might be the ticket to a perfect vacation. It's time to find out if that is true.

Time to hit the road. Lord, have mercy.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Catholic Writer on Writing

My plan is to read my way through summer.

Right now, I'm reading a book on writing. I am not reading it because I am a Catholic writer. I'm reading it because I teach writing to middle school students. But I've decided I don't agree with the ideology of writers who write books about being writers.

Annie Dillard. Stephen King. Anne Lamott. And my current book by Georgia Heard. I've read others. These are the ones that stand out in my memory. I've been writing for about thirty years. That's a long time. And I've read a lot of books on the subject.

Books on writing and writer workshops have one thing in common, they are built on the ideology that writing is a kind of nirvana. It is a transcendent state. The writing is the goal. The writing is the thing.

I don't belong to writers' guilds or roundtables. I find their mantras a waste of time. They're peddling a kind of religion. I've found my religion. That search is over.

Writing theory goes something like this: when you write, you will find your true self.

I don't find myself when I write. I find myself in my faith, and then I have to write... like painters need to paint and songwriters need to write songs and evangelists need to speak and husbands need to make love to their wives.

The thing itself isn't the thing. I write because something bigger happened to me first.

God happened.

I'm not looking for a place. I've found it. I'm not seeking an experience. I've discovered it. I'm not waiting to transcend anything. I've found the God who transcends all.

And that is why I write.