Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reptile Gardens & the valley of tears

My cousin Joanne found a snake in her house a few days ago. I was talking to her mother - Aunt Alice - about it. I would move out of my house, I said.

Aunt Alice said that a snake slithered up the plumbing when she was in college. The whole dorm was shut down when it bit a girl while she was on the toilet.

My phobia was going full-tilt.

It reminded me of the day we all visited Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, South Dakota. Aunt Alice was there. And all of my cousins.

The snake house at Reptile Gardens was creepy.  I didn't want to walk through it. The paved pathway was too narrow. Snakes hung from branches and occasionally crossed from one side of the walkway to the other.

I hate snakes.

You were brave if you went through the snake house. My cousin Nadine was the oldest. She said, "No, thank you!" and refused to step one foot inside the place. The rest of us said okay and started down the path.

Sometimes, this life is a whole lot like the snake house at Reptile Gardens. There is a path. It is the only safe way to make it through to the other side. The world, with all of its venom, is so close. It is on every side, on low-lying branches, and sometimes, we even have to step over the slithering things because they even cross our paths.

All it takes is one look over our shoulders, and we realize that there are snakes just a few steps behind us. They scoot across the path just seconds after we pass by.

It takes a lot of courage to keep going. The pathway twists and turns, and we know the exit sign is up there somewhere. We'd love to close our eyes tightly and ignore the danger. But it's better to keep our wits about us. It would be too easy to wander off the path. Lord, have mercy! Look at all of those snakes!

I can still creep myself out when I think about the snake house. And sometimes, I can have almost the same kind of panic rising up inside of me when I think about the pitfalls in life's journey.

It is a long walk through some pretty tough places. And one must keep moving in the right direction.

It can be a valley of tears.

The day we walked through the snake house, I wished I had an impenetrable suit like some astronaut in space. I wanted one of those space helmets so that I could look at the scary creatures and know that they couldn't get me.

If something crossed my path, I would just squash it--if I had a super-amazing snake-proof suit.

Well, we do have something like that.

We are wrapped up in the protection of Mother Church. We have devotions and prayers and guardian angels. We have the Sacraments and Adoration and Saints above praying.

We have Our Lady's Mantle. And Sacred Scripture.

Sure, there are dangers all around us, but the greatest danger is within. Nothing can harm us - unless we close our eyes to the danger. We can get through this safely - if we remain vigilant.

My cousins and I huddled closely to one another as we walked through the snake house. I have a few friends in the spiritual journey, too. I walk beside them as closely as I can. And we encourage each other to keep our wits about us.

See. Up ahead. That's the exit.

This won't last forever.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

We Need A Woman Like Judith Today

We have come to the moment in our nation's history when we need women to rise up and valiantly regain lost ground. It is time for us to be the Judith-of-today. Standing on the solid ground of our Faith, let us raise the standard for life, liberty, and love of Christ. -Denise Bossert, Catholic by Grace

I was a typical evangelical preacher’s kid.  I loved God very much, but I was also a bit spiritually condescending, even as a child.

I don’t remember this incident, but I’m told that my Sunday school teacher had finally had it with me and sought out my mother for an informal conference.  “Every Sunday when I introduce the Bible story, your daughter rolls her eyes and begins complaining that she already knows that one.  And can’t I come up with any new stories?”

While I don’t remember doing this, I do remember loving Bible stories and hungering to hear more of them.  This particular desire has been completely sated now that I’m Catholic.  There seems to be no end of inspirational and edifying stories of the Saints.  In addition, I recovered a few Protestant omissions from the Old Testament canon when I bought my first Catholic Bible.  (See, I knew there were more stories out there and my Protestant Sunday school teachers were holding out.)

Okay, so I’m kidding about that, but I really do wish that the Protestant Reformers had retained all canonized Sacred Scripture.  How much we missed without even realizing it!  If you haven’t settled the question on who is right about the canon of Sacred Scripture, I suggest you read a book by Gary Michuta entitled Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger.  Then I urge you to read the book of Judith.

Now she was one amazing woman!

After I converted to the Catholic Church, I sat down and read what I’d been missing.  About the third book into my search, I discovered Judith.  We see a widow in mourning.  Her beloved husband is gone, and she has wrapped herself in the clothing of grief.  She does not despair.  She bows her will to the Father’s will, and accepts the loss in the manner and custom of the People of God. Sackcloth and fasting.

She is content to live like this for as long as God wills it, even if the season of mourning should last the rest of her life.  But then King Nebuchadnezzar goes on a rampage.  He’s mad at the whole world.  There are scores to settle.  One by one, Holofernes, Nebuchadnezzar’s general of military forces, descends on his king’s enemies and destroys them.  One nation panics and tries a new approach.  They receive Holofernes with garlands and tambourines.  Basically, they decide to kiss up to him.  Without batting an eye, Holofernes cuts them down.  Now, he turns his attention to the House of Israel.  The military general decides to shut off their water supply. Israel’s strength wanes, and women and children grow faint. Everyone despairs except Judith. 

Judith scolds Israel. What’s wrong with you? Have you forgotten that Our Lord has always been faithful to us? Rise up and be People of God. We are not yet dead.  God is putting you to the test, my beloved brothers and sisters. Yes, this is a test. But do not despair, because God only tests His Beloved.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Now give us some water.  Well, that isn’t what they say, but it might as well be.  Sounds like Moses and the Israelites, doesn’t it?  Only Judith doesn’t strike a rock and command it to bring forth water.  She simply prays, “O God, my God, hear me also, a widow.”  She goes on to pray, “Crush their pride by the hand of a woman. Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your power depend upon stalwart men.”

Very humbly, Judith puts aside her garments of mourning, and she dresses in festive clothing.  Anklets, bracelets, rings, earrings and other jewelry and perfume.  Talk about a radical make-over.  My Bible tells me that the men who saw her that day were very much astounded at her beauty.  What did this woman of beauty do next?  She didn’t look at herself in a mirror or parade herself before the Israelites. 

She bowed down to God.

She had her maid pack a satchel, and they headed off for enemy territory.  The guards were so smitten with her beauty that every closed door was thrown open for her, and she was admitted into the inner chamber of the enemy himself.  Holfernes is completely besotted, and he’s about to be outwitted.

Now, I must point out one thing.  Judith never sees this as her personal victory.  There is a marked difference between praying for personal wealth and prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing (a modern heresy we hear televangelists propagating) and praying for God to triumph over His enemies.  Judith was not there for her own personal victory.  She was there to do God’s will.

Sounds a little like David and Goliath, doesn’t it? An absurd imbalance of power – unless you factor in Almighty God?

At this point in the story, I was actually a bit angry that I had been deprived of such a profound ancient witness.  The story has all the marks of an Old Testament woman of valor.  Queen Esther.  Ruth and Naomi.  Hannah.  Deborah. 

Now, Judith.

She walked right into the enemy’s inner chamber.  And when it was all said and done, the enemy was slain.  She handed his head to her maidservant, who put it in a satchel. The two women walked out of the enemy’s lair without a guard’s second glance.  They returned to the House of Israel and pulled the decapitated head from the bag.

Judith did not gloat.  She took everything in stride.  She had not done anything spectacular.  But God had.  She had simply refused to bow to defeat.

Of course, Israel celebrated.  Judith did not return to a season of mourning.  God had reset the seasons.  It was no longer a time to mourn; it was a time to dance.

Many men wanted her hand in marriage after that.  With the grace and peace of a woman of God, with the serenity of a woman who knows who she is in the eyes of God, she graciously declined the offers.

After the story ended and I put down my Bible, I realized that this woman of ancient times was so like the other women of the Old Testament.  She, too, is a prefigurement of Our Lady.

Judith and Mary were both preceded in death by their husbands.  Our Lady buried a husband, and then faced the greatest battle of all.  She would stand in the gap for her people, let her own heart be pierced, and watch her Son die, while His disciples scattered in fear.

Her resolve to be God’s handmaid would not falter even then.  She would embrace this ultimate battle for the enemy’s territory.  Satan would soon lose his stranglehold on the human race.  Victory belonged to Our Lord.

While Judith decapitated the enemy’s head, Mary was about to crush it with her heel.

It kind of makes you want to rise up and take our world by storm, doesn’t it?  What a legacy!  The battle belongs to Our God, and He seems to enlist the help of women when things get really tough.


Monday, June 24, 2013

Women, we have too much to do to worry about the size of our jeans and the color of our hair.

If you haven't read Proverbs 31 lately, you need to pick up your Bible.

Women, we have too much to do to worry about the size of our jeans and the color of our hair. I've been thinking about this a lot. Maybe it's because the number of grandchildren in our family doubled this year. I'm a grandma - not just of a couple of babies - but of four grandchildren. Four. And two of them are definitely not babies anymore.

It's time for me to have some new priorities.

Time to be the woman in Proverbs 31.

The important question (as I face the last half of life) is what will Our Lord have to say when the size of my jeans and the color of my hair have no relevance. What will Jesus judge me on then?

How did I spend my time?

What did I worry about?

Who did I try to imitate and emulate?

Where did I spend my money?

It doesn't mean that I should give up looking the best I can for the age I'm at and the DNA I've inherited. It's not a license to eat donuts for breakfast and French fries every day.

But it does mean that I need to take every thought captive. I need to rethink what I think about every day. It's time to take stock of my choices.

How I spend my time.
What I worry about.
Who I want to be like.
Where I readily drop twenty dollar bills.

Baby, you look pretty good for your age, but it's time to have higher goals.

Proverbs 31 is a great place to start. The woman who can go to bed at night and say she held her own against that standard - well, she's probably tired enough that she will sleep the sleep of the righteous (Proverbs 3).

It's late. Time to turn out the light on my nightstand. And it's time to make promises. Tomorrow, I will be a little more like the woman in Proverbs 31. That woman gets better with age.

And what woman doesn't want that?

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Great Fallacy of Sola Scriptura & Why It Causes Division not Unity

I have spent the last 24 hours in a tweet exchange. I'm exhausted.

I have refuted a ridiculous number of interpretations of Sacred Scripture. I have come to the conclusion that there is no adequate refutation to the phrase "I choose to believe" when it comes to
exegesis of Bible passages.

No. The New Testament does not support gay marriage. It doesn't condone or elevate gay lifestyle. It just doesn't.

One can explain certain passages seven ways to Sunday, and my Twitter-happy-friend would still not believe a word of it. He rejects the Catholic Church, saying it has nothing to do with proper exegesis of Scripture.

The fundamental flaw in Sola Scriptura hit me with new force in the last 24 hours. Anyone can take anything from the Bible and make it mean anything he wants it to mean and nobody can refute it.

I choose to believe.

Ok. Knock yourself out. You choose to believe.

Sacred Scripture doesn't support gay marriage or abortion or any other deviation from truth. Truth is not up for grabs. It is not always self-evident. It requires the Holy Spirit moving in and through the Church Jesus Christ founded.

I am a convert. I grew up in a Protestant pastor's home. I'm a PK. Subtitled: I grew up with Sola Scriptura.

But in the last 24 hours I have encountered the most ridiculous, extreme, bizarre and completely irrational example of why Sola Scriptura does not work.

I choose to believe.

When someone throws that phrase into the mix, everything comes to a grinding halt.

Why? Because I do not determine truth. And you don't either. The Bible does not even say that it is the sole revelation of truth. I Timothy 3:15 says that the Pillar and Foundation of Truth is the Church.

Now we are getting somewhere.

The Church.

And there is only one Church that has a legitimate claim to being The Church. She's 2000+ years old. She gave us the Bible through the Power of the Holy Spirit.

I can choose to believe Her when She speaks.

Or I can choose to believe in tooth fairies and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and monsters under my bed.

It doesn't make them so.

It is not my word against someone else's word. We never get anywhere that way. I have about fifty 140-character tweets to prove the point.

I don't lean on my own understanding because that's how factions and divisions arise.

I do not choose to believe in my own brilliance or my own feel-good-interpretations.

Solid answers start with the Creed-- and end with one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Terra firma.

The tweeting has ended.

We have not gotten anywhere.


Because he chooses to believe whatever he wants.

He would say that I am doing the same thing. He would be wrong.

I choose to believe Mother Church. Terra firma. A solid ground. Where truth never morphs. It does not change. It cannot be bought or manipulated. It is the same today as it was five hundred years ago. Or two thousand years ago. Or yesterday.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Best Way to Bring Fallen Away Catholics Back

I attended the Archdiocese of St. Louis Evangelization Conference last Saturday. It was an inspiring day of talks and videos, panel discussions and round-table brainstorming.

My biggest take-away? The best way to share your faith is to share the joy of being Catholic. Do you love Mass? Do you hunger for quiet Adoration time? Do you get a little stronger and feel a little better when you dip your fingers in the holy water font?

Then tell someone.

When you share with others, don't just share the theology. Share the joy.


Talk to God more about your friend (family member) than you talk to your friend (or family member) about God. In a word: pray.

And the best prayer (outside of the Holy Mass) is the Rosary.

Here's a challenge for you. Promise to pray the Rosary every day (or as often as you possibly can) for the conversion of someone you love. If you have multiple people to pray for, attach one person to every decade of the Rosary. For example, I have five other people in my family. Each one gets a decade.

I came into the Church in 2005. In 2006, my youngest child followed me into the Church. In 2008, my husband followed me into the Church. On Pentecost 2013, another daughter came into the Church. At Easter Vigil, my grandson was baptized in the Catholic Church. This summer, another grandson will be baptized.

Take the Rosary challenge. And see what happens.

And during the challenge, be sure to offer this person as a petition/intention when you receive Holy Communion. Make a deliberate offering as you walk forward to receive Christ. Spiritually, take that person in your heart and, when you take Jesus inside of you, talk to Him about this one you love. Feel the peace of Christ in this moment. Jesus will take up your burden and leave you with peace.

Do you have faith?

Then go to Jesus with your request.

Conversion is real. It is possible. And grace is made available to you through praying the Rosary and receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

Share the joy and pray, pray, pray.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

When a Little Brother Dies

He is only in 7th grade, but he has witnessed the effects of original sin. In my first weeks as his teacher, I heard his story while eating lunch with other staff members.

Five years ago, Justin’s mother was driving home after attending a fundraiser event sponsored by another teacher. She had two of their three sons in the car. Two-year-old baby Carson and four-year-old Sam. Justin wasn’t in the car.

The accident took the life of Justin’s littlest brother, it caused significant brain damage to his mother, and it left a long scar on the right side of Sam’s face.

Every time there is a field trip and parents are asked to chaperone, Justin looks up and says, I can go, but – well, dad’s busy.

His father is busy. He’s busy raising two boys and caring for his wife. Amy struggles to speak, she cannot walk, and she labors to complete simple daily tasks.

Justin asks questions every now and then. They are the kind of questions any student might ask in a religion class. But behind the questions, there is a sincerity borne of experience; there remains a desire for answers and a willingness to receive them.

“Mrs. Bossert, what happens to us after we die? I mean – you know…” and then he groans loudly and runs the palm of his hand up his face and over the short hair on the top of his head.”

“Are you wondering what happens to the body or to the soul?” I ask.

He gathers himself together and tries again. “Well – I mean – there’s just nothing there. I’ve been to funerals and the person just lays there. It doesn’t do anything.” His gestures are big and the whole class is quiet.

I nod my head and pray for the necessary grace to respond well. I listen to my own words and critique them as they come out. Are they enough? Will the words falling off my tongue help him to heal a little more? Do I see peace and understanding registering on that perfect face?

When we come to the part in his religion book that talks about original sin, he asks more questions. Other students are learning a lesson on original sin and gathering information that they can put down on the next test. Justin is learning something more.

He is making sense of the senselessness in his life.

This is not God’s plan. He did not want us to know the very thing the serpent wanted us to know. He did not want us to understand good only when we contrast it against the terrors or tragedies or temptations of a world marred by original sin.

God wanted us to be in perfect relationship with Him and with one another.

The Fall placed the entire human race under the scourge of original sin. And God grieved.

God is the redeemer and healer. He restores what was lost through Adam’s sin.

Justin gets it. I can see that he does – because he nods his head as I speak. The others are listening and learning. Justin is healing.

Another teacher at the school teaches reading to Justin’s class. She asked the students to write one thing they would change about the world if they could.

Justin wrote that he wished there were no such things as car accidents.

I don’t understand why a two-year-old brother was killed. Why he would never enjoy a game of kickball like his brothers, Justin and Sam. Why he would never carry the football into the end zone on St. Francis Borgia’s field like Justin does every fall. Why he would never be able to bring birthday treats for the class like the other students who are in the grade Carson would have been in.

I don’t understand why Sam will always have a scar. Why he has to look at it every time he looks at a mirror. Why he has to be the youngest boy in the family when he was really the middle child.


I walk Sam and Justin across the road every day after school, and I watch as they race each other down the long lane that leads to their grandmother’s house. And I think of the little brother who will never run with them on this side of eternity. I think of Carson and know if I turn 90°, I will see the cemetery where that boy’s body rests.

This kind of tragedy was not God’s plan. But I have seen a family’s strength. A father who works hard to do-it-all. A grandmother who bakes “the best food in the world,” according to Justin. A mother who suffers well and still takes delight in her sons. A community that joined together to fund and build a handicapped-access home in the months that followed that accident. A school where teachers intensely love the two brothers that remain.

Original sin has dealt this world a terrible blow. We know how “good” good can be because we have seen how “evil” evil can be. God was right about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We were not made to eat of that poisonous fruit.

But the Tree of Life brings us the fruit that is the antidote.

What happens to a little brother who knew the Sacramental life even though he didn’t live long enough to learn his ABC’s? What happens to a toddler who has been washed of the stain of original sin and didn’t live long enough to have personal sin of his own?

That’s the good news, Justin. While his body rests in the cemetery beyond the schoolyard, he intercedes for you every minute of every day at the Throne of God! For you. For Mom. For Dad. For Sam. For us all.

The Tree of Life has the final Word. And Justin nods his head knowingly.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Blessings on all Ministers of Holy Communion for the Sick

My daughter texted me this morning from her hospital room to say that someone visited her room and asked if she would like to receive the Eucharist.

Kari is a recent convert. She entered Mother Church on Pentecost Sunday a few weeks ago. Today was the first time she was going to miss Mass.

It is the first Sunday in which she would not receive the Eucharist.

And then, somebody knocked on her hospital door and said she had heard there was a Catholic mom in room 5547.

There was a time I didn't know that Jesus was waiting for me down the street in the Tabernacle. Now, He comes to me - and He comes to my husband and daughters  - wherever we are.

This access to the Eucharist is universal. Where the Church is, there is Christ. Wherever the Church goes, so goes Christ.

Kari's hospital band says that she is Catholic - and the Church knows how to find her and bring Christ to her.

As long as we stay close to the Church, the Eucharist finds us.

In a hospital bed, in a nursing home, on the battle field, behind prison doors.

My daughter texted me to say that Jesus came to her today. She just gave birth to a son. You would think that would be enough joy for one weekend, but her text indicates that our joy is made complete when we have Christ truly with us.

Thank you to all who bring the Eucharist to those who are unable to come to Mass.

And praise be Jesus Christ who longs to find us - wherever we may be.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Grandson Levi Michael Born Today

Our Fourth Grandchild, Levi Michael.
Born at 1:30 AM on Feast of Immaculate Heart of Mary, 2013
Thanks be to God!


Monday, June 3, 2013

June Catholic by Grace Column

The Alpine Tower is a rite of passage. The name alone strikes fear in the hearts of student campers.

In 2012, I chaperoned 17 students on their Camp Lakewood adventure. The students stood at the base of the tower - and stared at the 50-foot vertical structure.

The most athletic boys had the greatest mental challenge. They silently assessed the tower from all angles. They categorized the ropes and swapped notes. Taking the easiest way up would look bad. They had images to uphold. But choosing the most difficult way up might mean not making it at all. That would be tragic.

The girls had their own fears.

One girl marched over to the base of the tower. Her older siblings had made it to the top in previous camping trips. And, by golly, she would too. Family honor was at stake. She scaled the structure quickly and easily.

Another girl stepped forward. This one approached the challenge as she does everything. She focused on the immediate six inches in front of her. She did not know if she was three feet off the ground or thirty feet off the ground. And that is how my frailest girl made it to the top. She didn’t see a tower; she merely saw one handhold after another.

Then there was the girl who begged to come down when her fingers could touch the highest platform. We shouted, “Just reach up and touch it. You are right there.” Another classmate started climbing on another rope and gave her a pep talk as he passed her on his way up. Finally, she threw a leg over the platform and hauled her body up.

There was still one more student. She was from the neighboring school, and she was as petite as a second grader. She trembled as tears rolled down her face. She never looked at the teachers. She only saw The Tower. There was no getting out of this challenge. And she knew it.

The girl walked quietly to the tower and began climbing. And climbing. And climbing. She went deliberately. Silently. We weren't witnessing confidence, just pure determination. She made it all the way to the top, while some of our strongest students had stood on the lower platform and begged to come down.

I've thought a lot about those students and how they approached their challenge. The making of a climber is not so different from the making of a saint.

Some people who seem to have this whole faith-thing figured out tremble as they face the last, greatest fear. The shadow of death. There is humility in this moment.

For some, their entire family has set the standard, and it's almost as though they were made for this. They have been groomed to conquer this challenge. Like little Therese, whose parents and sisters were so holy that holiness was what one did, who one was, how one lived.

Still others are like the girl who moved from one handhold to another. The journey is do-able because the climb is never more than six inches higher. These are the ones who know how to give a yes to God. And another yes. And another yes. And then, it's done.

Some are like the girl who wanted to quit when the end was within sight - when they can touch the final landing and all it takes is one more heave upward. They, too, find the grace to make that final ascending move.

I think I’m like the smallest girl. The weakest. The youngest, spiritually speaking.

I'm the convert. I spend much of my life just trying to keep up with those who have longer spiritual strides.  I'm not a cradle Catholic with a family line that seems to fit me for this task. I'm not able to compartmentalize the journey, taking in only today. I look at the tasks before me and tremble. I've been known to mutter to myself I don't think I can do this.

Dear, little girl. If you can make it to the top, then I can too. It's time to reach for the rope and just move higher.