Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Best Thing I Ever Ate -- Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives -- and Receiving Holy Communion

Last night, my husband and I were watching Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network Channel.

It got us talking about our favorite meal in a restaurant. We couldn't come up with one contender - and we eat out a lot - too much.

That's when I realized something. My favorite meals have always been the ones I eat when I am incredibly hungry.

John agreed.

When we come to the table hungry, we experience the best meal.

The same is true with receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist. We come hungry for Jesus. Having set every other substitute aside, we come to receive the Meal we most desire.

Some may leave feeling ho-hum about Mass, but those who put aside all other contenders, those who have set their hearts and minds and bodies on Christ, are always filled. Always satisfied. Always renewed and strengthened.

The International House of Pancakes has a slogan. Come Hungry, Leave Happy.

Spiritually, that could be our slogan.

Come to Mass hungry to receive. Leave fulfilled and happy. Ready for almost anything.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Pat on the Back or a Kick in the Pants?

My mind goes to many things as I get ready in the morning. This morning, I thought about the man who asks Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to follow the commandments. If you are reading this blog, you probably already try to do that. People who routinely break the commandments aren't likely to click on a blog that is called Catholic By Grace.

It's the next part of the story that is meant for you and me.

The man tells Jesus that he already follows the commandments. So he asks, "What else must I do?"

Do you have a spiritual companion in the journey? Do you have a spiritual director? If you have a go-to person in the faith, imagine asking him this question. The ultimate question we all have for our spiritual director is really the same one this man asked of Jesus.

What must I do to be holy (or what must I stop doing to be holy) because I want to inherit eternal life?

There really is no point in asking the question if we are unwilling to hear the answer. Our spiritual director could pat us on the back and say that we are doing great. Keep on keeping on, brother.

But if he knows us really well, if he knows us like Jesus knew this man, then he knows what is keeping us from becoming holy.

What happens next is important. It is probably the most important moment because it is the moment that plants your feet on the path to holiness or the path to selfishness.

Now is the time to be docile to the Holy Spirit.

Now is not the time for the word can't.

Now is the time for the phrase by the Power of the Holy Spirit, I can, and I want to.

Are you following the commandments?

You probably are.

But there is more to be done, and you probably already know it. Perhaps your spiritual director has already named it.

What happens next is important--probably the most important moment because it is the moment when you plant your feet on the path to holiness--or you keep on keeping on.

Let your spiritual director lead the way. If you have no intention of listening to him, then what's the point of having a spiritual director in the first place? It's almost as bad as not having one at all.

And if you don't have one, remember what St. Teresa of Avila said. The man who has himself for a spiritual director has a fool for a spiritual director.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Have a Mother

(Previously published in the Archdiocese of St. Louis Laity and Family Life E-Newsletter May 2013.)
As a convert from evangelical Protestantism, it feels presumptuous to think I have great insight to share with life-long Catholics about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I grew up in a Protestant preacher’s home. We had two images of Mary. The first was a figurine that came with our Nativity set, the second a ceramic Madonna my sister painted in art class which she gave to my father for Christmas. When he opened it, Mom laughed and said it looked Catholic, but Dad kept it on his office shelf anyway. That was the last time anyone in my family did anything to highlight Mary’s place in the lives of believers – until I converted.


 Catholics have taught me many things about the Blessed Mother – things I never learned growing up Protestant. There is something beautiful about planting flowers in my Mary garden as I say a prayer.

There is a quiet strength to be gained when I pause to touch the image of Mary on my mantle… to light the candle at her feet… to entrust my cares to her.

There is an inexpressible joy, a balm that heals and peace within when I reach for my Miraculous Medal. Sometimes, I reach for it almost mindlessly, but that subconscious habit becomes a deliberate act of faith countless times each day.

In these moments, I know that Jesus Christ loves me so much that He shared His own hand-picked Mother with me. And He has chosen you – His Church – as the means by which I discover the Holy Mother of God. I remember these things each May. I ponder them at every May Crowning. I think of them when I reach for my rosary. I have a Mother because of Christ and His beautiful Church.


And so I say thank you even as I continue watching you – my brothers and sisters in the faith – that I might learn even more.




Field of Grace

There's something about a field of corn in late spring. It appeals to my love for order and rhythm in life.

Straight rows.

Rich soil that is freshly plowed and planted.

Tiny green plants full of promise.

Warm days. Rainy afternoons. Mild evenings.

And the promise of what the farmer will harvest sometime next fall.

This is God's world. The seasons and planting cycle are reminders of the order and rhythm of the liturgical calendar.



Ordinary Time.

We watch the colors, just as the seasons have their colors.




I am blessed to live in a rural area with distinct seasons. Every morning this time of year, I drive past fields and gardens. And I think about the God who has ordained the seasons of life to point to the seasons of grace. Dying. Tilling. Planting. Growing. Harvesting.

It's the Memorial of St.Isidore, patron saint of farmers.

He intercedes for all those families that depend upon the land, relying upon its order and rhythm. Is it any wonder that farmers, who live so close to the land and depend so completely on the elements of sun and rain, tend to live close to the God who ordered all things well?

St. Isidore, pray for all farmers who are the best stewards of this world that you have given to us. Teach us to have a spirit of gratitude for all that they do. Amen.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Holy Spirit, Come, With Healing in Your Wings

I've been thinking about Pentecost Sunday and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Jane Mellinger writes of Ives Congar: "he insisted that the role of the Spirit is to unify these diverse individuals and gifts into one ecclesial body."

I've been toying with this thought: Christian unity totally depends on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Do you ever feel like you are standing in front of a door, and you've expended a crazy amount of energy trying to get the door to open. Your intellect is spent trying to figure out what's wrong with the thing. Your energy is used up trying to turn the knob and push the door in and out.

And the really horrible thing of it is this. You are meant to get into that room. You have to get into that room.

The problem is, you've tried everything. So you sit down and cry. Or you stand there and just kick at the base of the door, over and over.

I pray for Christian unity. A lot. And this year, something clicked. I didn't come up with it. I figured it out while reading something by Ives Congar.

There is only one way that Christian unity will ever happen. By the Power of the Holy Spirit. So simple. The key was in the story of Pentecost. The whole thing is waiting for the new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The division that occurred at the Tower of Babel was reversed on that Pentecost day when everyone understood every language perfectly. Unity is a sign of the Holy Spirit's presence!

So the division in the Christian world will be reversed when we open our hearts and minds to the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I don't know about you, but I am ready for the number of Christian denominations to shrink not grow. Don't we have enough denominations? Do we really need more than 33,000 of them? I'm ready to see the whole fractured Christian community healed.

Talk about getting back to basics! Talk about finding our roots!

Let the Church arise. That one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. There's only one church that has all Four Marks.

 I have prayed the prayer Come Holy Spirit. I have prayed it many times. But I have always prayed it for myself.

Or for my students.

What if I began praying this prayer with one petition in my heart? What if I waited on the Holy Spirit, as those first disciples did? Come to us. Create and renew us. Make us one!

Ives Congar, I don't know you very well, but perhaps you would pray with me.
Blessed John Paul II, please pray as well.

 And all who truly wish to see the Body of Christ restored to full, visible unity, please pray.

Come, Holy Spirit.
Fill the hearts of the faithful.
Enkindle in them the fire of Your love.
Send forth Your Spirit,
and we shall be created,
and You shall renew the face of the earth.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Sharing the Faith When You're Afraid of Public Speaking

We are called to witness.

Every baptized Christian must go out and share the Gospel message with others.

Yes, even those who are afraid of public speaking are called to give public witness to the joy that comes to all who live in Christ.

Before you dismiss the Great Commission, before you tell yourself that the mandate to give witness to the faith is only for those who like to stand up in public and hold a microphone, you need to know something.

We are all afraid of public speaking.

This morning, I was a lector. As I stepped up to the Ambo, I felt the familiar fear. It always comes. It has a voice. It tells me that I am going to lose my place or trip or get a frog in my throat that won't go away or have a clothing malfunction. I'll sit down in a few minutes and realize that the tag is sticking out of my shirt or I forgot to zip up my pants or my shirt is tucked in on one side and not the other or...

You get the idea.

I am afraid.

Every time I get up to speak, I bow before the Altar and I give it all to Jesus. My weakness. My horrible insecurities. My mind games. What I might do. What they might think. I give it all to Him.

He does wonders with our broken, little gifts.

I hesitated to admit that I have these fears, but then I changed my mind. Here's why:

If there is any chance that you have exempted yourself from sharing the Good News because you
don't feel comfortable speaking up in a crowd or talking about the faith to others, then you need to know that you are exactly like the ones who do it. The only difference is that you don't do it, and they do.

The fear is exactly the same.

You know that parable of the Talents? How the first two guys invested their gifts from God and turned a profit, but the third guy buried his gift (probably because he was afraid of what might happen if he put it out there and messed up the little transaction).

It's okay to be the guy who has the least-- if that is given back to God.

What isn't okay is hiding it because it is so small or so easily lost or so pitiful compared to the gift God has given to another guy.

So be a witness.

Let your knees wobble.

Let your words get all jumbled up.

Fumble for your glasses.

Trip on the first step.

But offer all of it to the Lamb Who Was Slain, the One who comes to us on that very Altar.

We are all a little insecure, but that must never eclipse the message.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What's the Deal With Mary and the Month of May?

It is May.

That means Catholic schools and parishes will all be having May Crowning.

About two years after my conversion, the whole Mary-and-the-month-of-May thing hit my radar. So what's with the month of May and Mary? My friend explained that the Church has set aside the month of May to honor the Blessed Mother.

Hence, May Crowning ceremonies, where living rosaries are prayed and flowers presented to the Blessed Mother and a lovely floral crown is placed upon the head of Mary.

Try explaining that to your Protestant family & friends.

You do what?

We pray the rosary...

[You've already lost them and you haven't even gotten to the part about the crown.]

Have you ever read that book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie? It's kind of like that.

If you mention May and the Blessed Mother, you have to mention May Crowning.
If you mention May Crowning, you have to explain how Mary is the Queen of Heaven & Earth.
If you mention that Mary is the Queen of Heaven & Earth, you have to talk about the Assumption.
If you talk about the Assumption, you have to explain that Mary was received into Heaven, body and soul, without suffering corruption.
If you make it through all of that, you have to explain that Jesus loved her and wouldn't the perfect Son want to do that for the Mother who bore Him and loved Him and was there at the beginning of His public ministry and stayed with Him even when He was crucified on Calvary.
If you explain that she is full of grace and lived out her calling perfectly, you have to talk about the Immaculate Conception.
If you talk about the Immaculate Conception, you are going to have to talk about the Ark of the Covenant and how no man could touch it and how it prefigured Mary and how she is the New Eve and why that's all scriptural and the Book of Revelations and the Women Clothed with the Sun and how she was like Hannah, and Ruth, and Queen Esther, and Judith.
And if you make it to Judith, you are going to have to explain why Judith is not in their Protestant Bibles--but they don't know what they are missing because it is an AWESOME book.
And if you make it past the Septuagint, you are going to have to explain why the Protestant Reformers rejected it.
If you mention the Protestant Reformation, you are going to have to talk about Indulgences and the Papacy and praying to the Saints and the Rosary.
And if you talk about the Rosary, you are going to have to talk about why the prayers come right out of the Bible and the Our Father was prayed by Jesus Himself and the Hail Mary is a combination of the words of Archangel Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth.
And if you manage to explain why we pray memorized prayers, you will have to explain that we pray in many different ways and it all comes together in the Mass and the Mass fits into the Liturgical Calendar and the Liturgical Calendar takes us from Advent to Christmas to Ordinary Time to Lent to Easter to Pentecost to...
To the Blessed Mother.

And... if you mention the month of May and the Blessed Mother, you'd better put on another pot of coffee because you are about to cover the same ground all over again.

Our Faith is organic. It all fits together. It cannot be reduced to one sound byte. It lives and breathes and has a complexity and beauty that is as mysterious and glorious as the Body of Christ.

And the month of May is connected to that living, breathing complexity.

It is May. And the best way to experience Mary's month is to become as a little child. Don't try to figure it all out at once and be able to take the test on it and ace it on your first try.

Just go cut some flowers and lay them at her feet.

Pick up you rosary and pray the Glorious Mysteries.

Or simply plan to learn the Hail Mary if you have never even tried to do that before.

Sometimes, the best way to discover Jesus is to let His mother lead you to Him, to show you the stable & manger, to let you catch a glimpse of Him in the Temple when she finally found Him, to listen as she tells the apostles to do whatever Jesus says and then to watch as those same apostles fill the jars with water and pour out wine, to hold her trembling hand as she watches her Son die in agony before her eyes, to pray with her in the upper room, to stand with her when the Holy Spirit comes.

Sometimes, the best way to find Christ is to let yourself find Mary, the one who magnifies the Lord.

Embrace the simple elegance of it.