O my God, Thou knowest I have never desired but to love Thee alone. I seek no other glory. Thy Love has gone before me from my childhood, it has grown with my growth, and now it is an abyss the depths of which I cannot fathom. -St. Therese
I have dipped my
toes in the chaos of the Christmas-before-Advent scene. I’ve been to the mall
once. I’ve landed on radio stations that play Christmas music around the clock
– and quickly popped in my Rosary CD to escape the noise. I’ve seen enough of
commercialized Christmas even though I have actively avoided it this year.
Advent is the only
But Advent only
comes to those who know how to get quiet. It hides from those who have to
hurry. It will never be found in the crowded places and packed spaces of
shopping aisles and city crosswalks.
Advent waits to be
invited to your December. It will not show up on its own. It is a polite guest.
It will not crash your party.
is a fake. An imposter. We all know it.
The Christmas we
all need, the one we long for, the one we can imagine so clearly . . . it only
comes to those who walk alongside Mary. In the quiet. Away from the crowds.
Where Sacred Scripture comes alive and holiness is real.
Shepherds Field - Sheep Fold - Bethlehem
It’s no mirage –
this Advent journey. It’s not an optional side excursion on the way to
Christmas. It’s necessary. It’s the way
to Christmas. The only road to Bethlehem.
I was blessed to
travel to the Holy Land twice in 2014. In fact, I am writing to you now from
Bethlehem. I stood there today, at Shepherds Field, and the idea of the crowded
mall seemed so silly, so completely out of step with Advent. I knelt to pray
where Christ was born, and the idea of jacking up the credit card to buy a few
more presents seemed almost unholy, almost contradictory.
The two don’t go
together. Not when you are here. Not when you are removed from the bright
lights and staged windows of Main Street America.
Today, I imagined
a pregnant young woman and her beloved husband as they journey from Nazareth to
Bethlehem, over the rugged terrain that I have walked with my own feet, in my
own Timberland boots, as my filled water bottle sloshed against my backpack,
and I lifted my camera to capture the real Nazareth, the real Ein Kerem
(Zechariah & Elizabeth’s home), the real Bethlehem. And I cannot think of
anything but the plan of salvation that brought God into our world. The part of
me that can be so easily abducted and thrown into the chaos of commercialized
Christmas is gone.
But this kind of
contemplation does not require an international pilgrimage – although it
certainly gave me a new perspective. One can find this path – from Nazareth to
Bethlehem – by doing some deliberate things.
begins with receiving God, your very own personal Annunciation-moment. Christ
coming to you in the Eucharist and you being sent to go forth once you have
received Him. The pilgrimage is a journey with Mary from Nazareth. It happens
when we take Christ with us, and we share Him with family and friends, as Mary
did at Ein Kerem in the hills of Judea at the Visitation. The Lord grows within
us as we feed and nourish our life in the Spirit. We do this by reading, by
praying, by remembering the poor, by listening to Advent songs (and waiting for
Christmas songs), by eating as a family around the table with the Advent Wreath
as a centerpiece, by saying a prayer for those who send us cards rather than
tossing the cards mindlessly in a basket.
does not require money, or imitation snow, or double-sided wrapping paper. It
only requires an undivided heart. We journey with Israel to the coming Messiah.
When we set our eyes on Mary and run ahead to take hold of her mantle, we
remember. That is the journey that leads to Christ.
Yes, you can make
this pilgrimage through the sacramental & liturgical life of the Church.
But if you are able to do it, go to the Holy Land. Some day. Some way. Go.
And kneel there,
where you can imagine it all, where the real Advent cannot be usurped.
Kerem. Bethlehem. These are real places. And the Franciscans are here, waiting
for you to come and experience it all for yourself. Pilgrimage. It’s part of
our faith tradition, whether it is a quiet pilgrimage of the heart or a
pilgrimage that takes us to the other side of the world.
We are a
pilgrimage people. And we are on a mission to discover Jesus Christ and to
share Him with everyone we meet.
Blessed & holy
Advent to you and your family, from Bethlehem of Judea.
Last year on
Reformation Day (October 31) one of my cousins mentioned the Protestant
“holiday” on Facebook. It was a celebratory post. “Happy Reformation Day!”
marks the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. It highlights the Protestant
reformers who began new denominations rather than remaining within the Catholic
Church. I mention it in this month’s column because many fallen-away Catholics
have basically done the same thing. Some fallen-away Catholics just stop
practicing any kind of faith, but many go in search of something else. There is
something they don’t like, something they want to see changed, and they are
tired of tapping their feet, waiting for the Church to see it the way they see
We are a people
who want change, we want it now, and we’d really like it if the Catholic Church
agreed with our point of view. When we realize that isn’t likely to happen, we
are out the door and on a mission to find the faith community that sees truth
as we see it.
unchanging (Psalm 199:160). Sure, new things come up now and then, and Mother
Church knows that a definitive answer on the things the culture proposes must
be weighed carefully. She consults Sacred Scripture and Church Tradition and
faithful theologians. She gathers the input of bishops from all over the world.
She ponders the entire deposit of wisdom given to her by the Holy Spirit.
The frustrated one
doesn’t have time for all that waiting, pondering, and praying.
I’m a preacher’s
daughter and a convert to the Catholic faith. It provides an interesting point
of view. Christian division grieves me. I simply cannot celebrate the genesis
of denominationalism. I affirm the good I see in those of other faith
communities, of those who through no fault of their own find themselves outside
the Church (CCC #818 and #848). But Reformation Day? No, I see nothing to
celebrate in that.
Christian division? Why delight in the fact that so many have gone a different
way and left the Sacraments behind - the Eucharist behind?
We know that
Christian division hurts. We know Our Lord prayed for Christian unity for His
apostles and for those who would come to believe through their words (John
17:20). So, what do we do when we see posts about Reformation Day or we hear
that someone else has left the Catholic Church for another faith community?
When we are
tempted to get irritated, frustrated or discouraged, let’s remake it into a day
in which we reform the inner man. We do a deep and thorough examination of
conscience. We do our own gut check.What do I need to change? What is out of sorts in me?
When we are
frustrated by Christian division and a culture that still holds on to
anti-Catholic bias, let’s call for a day in which we make acts of true
reformation and reparation. Let us reform our attitudes toward the poor, the
unborn, the immigrant, those who can do absolutely nothing for us. Let’s figure
out what we can do for them.
Let us reform our
dreams and goals. Let’s put Christ and His Church at the top of our list. Let’s
reform our silent acceptance of another’s rejection of the faith. Let’s
determine to seek that one out and share the joy we have in our Catholic faith.
Let’s pray with Our Lord, “Father, make us one.”
For you see, the
faith does not need to be reformed. We need it. The teachings do not need to be
refabricated, recalibrated. We need it.
Let’s have a
little more renewing of the heart and mind. Reformation of the inner man. That
is the true reformation that leads to Christian unity.
Have you always wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Here is your chance.
As many of you know, I will be traveling to the Holy Land November 7-17, and we have a few openings. Yes, I would love to take you with me!
If you are interested, send me a Facebook message or email me. I will send you the flyer/itinerary. Ten days. Everything from Nazareth to Ein Kerem. From Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Mount Carmel to Mount Tabor.
My sister was the traveler, and she was barely 25. I was the mommy of three and barely 24. We lived vicariously through each other.
She indulged the wanderlust when she accepted a teaching position at an American boarding school in England. She wrote home about Piccadilly Circus and Paddington Station. She scouted out London and planned my parents' dream vacation to England. She welcomed them when they landed, took them places.
I visited once, but by then my sister was back in the States for a few short years. David Clark and I had implemented a European travel program at the school where he taught social studies and I taught Spanish. I spent that Thanksgiving in London (though it seems like something completely different when you are in a country that doesn’t do Pilgrims and turkeys and Thanksgiving). Instead, I saw Poets Corner and Hampton Court Palace. I shopped at Harrods and stayed at the King Henry 8th Hotel.
And then I returned home to my three littlies. I had helped to get the student European travel program off the ground at Beckman High School, but before their first trip, I resigned my position and followed my first husband on a cross-country move. That was the extent of my travel. Where he went, I went. Many students and teachers enjoyed the program in the years that followed, but I focused on other things.
I thought the door to international travel was closed for me. One little dip. A few souvenirs. A memory of landing at Heathrow on the very day Margaret Thatcher resigned. But at least the students would enjoy international travel. At least I had gotten that program off the ground (along with David--what a pair we were).
My sister backpacked across Europe. Then she took a job as a manager of a science roadshow in New Zealand. My parents made another trip to see what their oldest was doing while their middle child wrote articles, taught students, raised babies, and completed degrees.
Who had time for international travel?
And then the balance shifted. My sister adopted two daughters from China (and had her passport stamped two more times), and then she settled in to do what I had done. Raise babies. She completed a doctorate, and I said no, graduate school is enough for me. She taught middle school, and then she went on to teach math and science education at the college level.
She is 51. I am 50. And now, I am the traveler.
My degrees in English opened the door for writing. The writing opened the door to syndication. The syndication led to a book contract. And all of it paved the way for my first visit to the Holy Land with the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
That's all it took. I had caught my sister's travel bug. The timing was right - and I was ready. I wanted more.
I wanted to see everything, to hold plane tickets in my hand and see new destinations listed on each ticket. I wanted a reason to have a passport and keep renewing it. I wanted to return from other countries and crave what I ate there so badly that I searched Pinterest for exotic recipes and put new things on my grocery list. Tahini. Za'atar. Babaganoush. Quinoa. Couscous.
I wanted to be the family member who gave interesting gifts at Christmas.
I wanted to prove to myself that fifty is an ideal age for wanderlust.
And I have.
Dreams have a way of coming true far more often at fifty than they do at twenty or thirty. Education
and experience and everyday life isn't aimless. It goes somewhere. It leads to more work, to beautiful grandchildren, to opportunities you never expected to have.
Life is a journey.
And now is the time to see more of His grand world. To take it into my heart. The culture. The vistas.
A hymn by a Methodist preacher keeps going through my head these days. "This is my Father's world and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought.
And as I hum the tune to myself, I make plans - to see as much of that world as I can.
“This Is My Father's World” The United Methodist Hymnal. Text: Maltbie D. Babcock. Music: Trad. English melody; adapt. by Franklin L. Sheppard. This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres. This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; his hand the wonders wrought. This is my Father's world, the birds their carols raise; the morning light, the lily white, declare their maker's praise. This is my Father's world: he shines in all that's fair; in the rustling grass I hear him pass; he speaks to me everywhere. This is my Father's world. O let me ne'er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. This is my Father's world: why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!
We were visiting Washington D.C. the summer my dad received a phone call that a parishioner had been involved in a terrible farm accident. Leo Kraft sustained a crushed pelvis when a tractor ran over him. He was lucky to be alive.
Dad was the pastor of the small Presbyterian church where Leo and his wife Zoan worshipped. We cut our vacation short and returned home to the rural community where we lived so that dad could be with Leo and the family.
After weeks of recovery, Leo was finally released from the hospital and returned home. I remember
the day I was riding my bike down the street that passed in front of our house (the manse) and the Presbyterian church less than a block away. I noticed Leo and Zoan as they walked inside the church. It was the middle of the week, so it was odd that someone was going to church. We didn't have around the clock adoration time like many Catholic parishes do. So the only time people gathered at church was on Sunday mornings or for fellowship and scheduled events. If there was an event at church, we would have known it. We were the pastor's family, after all.
As I watched, Leo and his wife walked through the front doors and up the aisle, where they kneeled to pray. I felt warm inside. I knew what they were doing. They were thanking God for sparing Leo's life. It was a rare thing to see a Presbyterian doing something like that. They were usually "proper" and didn't do the overtly holy things I remembered from our years in the Wesleyan denomination (dad was a Wesleyan pastor before he became Presbyterian pastor). Wesleyans were always praying and hitting their knees in those Wesleyan churches.
As Protestants, we believed you could pray anywhere. One place was as good as the next. The church offered the whole community a place to pray, but praying on one's own could be done anywhere.
So why did Leo feel the need to hobble to the car in those first days following his release from the hospital and why did he slowly mount the front steps of the church when there was no easy access for one who was recently handicapped, and why did he walk with his wife to the front of the church and kneel when it must have been painful after all he'd been through?
It's simple, really.
Somewhere inside of us, Protestant and Catholic alike, we know that there are holy places - places set aside for our most fervent prayer time, places where we know God shows up and we can commune with Him.
Churches. Shrines. Grottos. Monasteries. The Holy Land. Lourdes. Fatima. Knock.
The bedside of a loved one who is dying.
It is a Catholic concept - this going to a place because we anticipate God will meet us. Sure, Catholics believe they can pray anywhere.
But they also know that there are holy places where one meets God more substantially.
If there are unholy places - and there are - then there are holy places.
If one can expect the demons to dance in places where evil people do evil things, then we know there must be holy places where holy people do holy things.
In those moments when we long to come close to Christ, we know that it requires some kind of pilgrimage.
It's like the Holy Spirit is sending us. Yes. It is a kind of divine sending and a divine visitation.
Pilgrimage. Perhaps it's a simple as driving to your church and kneeling before the Tabernacle. Perhaps it is as wonderful as planning a trip to France or Mexico or Rome or Israel.
Yes, we can bow our heads anywhere and encounter God, but somewhere inside, we all know that there is something holy about taking a journey with the expectation of encountering Christ when we reach that holy destination.
It’s one of the
more difficult teachings for converts to grasp. But there are ways to approach
the Assumption so that non-Catholics may come to believe.
In 1995, I wrote
an article for Protestant newspapers called “Trends in Christian Fiction” which
considered the possibility that a Christian fiction book might hit the New York
Times Bestseller List. I traveled to key Protestant publishers – Tyndale,
Crossway, Moody, Victor and Bethany House – to interview editors. The
publishers handed me galleys, and they all believed their books had that
crossover appeal. Only one actually did. Left Behind was on the
publishing turnpike back then, and it was among the galleys I brought home with
me after that Chicago-Minneapolis trip. Tyndale released the book within six
months of my visit, and the book (and subsequent series) was a huge success.
Nicholas Cage and
Lea Thompson star in a screen adaptation of that book. The movie opens October
3, 2014. So the Left Behind craze continues.
I have one
And it isn’t about
whether or not the idea of Rapture is biblical. My question has nothing
to do with Christians disappearing when Christ returns. I’m not going to take
the time to explain why Catholic teaching on eschatological things is solid and
Left Behind theology is Hollywood science fiction.
No. I’m pondering
Why is it so easy
for people to believe that Jesus Christ will return and “rapture” those who
love Him, leaving behind the rest of the world, but those same people find it
impossible to believe that Jesus Christ came for His mother and assumed her,
body and soul, into heaven?
Why is that harder
When I ponder the
glorious Assumption of Mary into Heaven, I have to smile. It fits. It makes
sense. A perfect and loving son would do that if he could. A divine Son
did do it because He could.
looked upon His mother, and Love broke through the veil.
Jesus, the perfect
Son of God, would not let His mother’s body know corruption. Not this mother
who was so carefully created – so immaculately formed.
In May, I traveled
to the Holy Land. We visited many places, but one place that stands out in my
mind is Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion.
Let me take you
there for just a moment. Step with me into the Tomb of King David. Let’s pray
there, together. Let’s think of David’s descendent, the Christ, who was given
an eternal throne.
Now, let me lead
you just a few steps from the place where David is buried. There, you will find
the doors to Dormition Abbey. According to tradition, Mary fell asleep and was
assumed into heaven here.
There is a place
in Ephesus that also makes this claim, but many Catholic sources say Mount Zion
is more likely. And I agree.
The one who is Daughter
Zion and mother of David’s eternal heir should end her earthly life here –
and be visited by the Lord who lovingly laid claim to His mother – right here.
Come to me, my
beloved mother. Come and see the place I have prepared.
shouts and trumpet blast, she was raised and crowned Queen. Earth was silent.
But heaven erupted with great jubilation.
Why is it so easy
to imagine a silly story about Jesus coming to Earth and Christians across the
world disappearing? Airplanes crashing as pilots disappear into thin air. Cars
crashing as drivers disappear. Students leaving behind open books and laptops? Why
is that easier to imagine, but Mary’s Assumption seems far-fetched?
I stood in the
crypt of Dormition Abbey. I thought of King David’s bones which were just a few
steps away. And yet, in this crypt, there are no bones. Mary is not
here. And nobody has claimed to have Mary’s remains. Why? Because there are no
In fact, the
disagreement about a possible site for the Assumption exists because there are no
bones to settle the matter. The dueling claim underscores the reality of
the Assumption. She is not here – or there!
Yes, Jesus Christ
will return again. And He will raise the living and the dead. It won’t follow
the plotline of a Hollywood thriller. But there is precedent for our rising to
meet the Lord. Although Mary’s Assumption is unique, the One who assumed His
own mother will return – for us. The dead in Christ will be raised to new life.
But the unfaithful won’t be left behind – although they probably will wish they
had been left. Earth is preferable to eternal separation from God. The Bible tells
us we will be divided—the faithful going one way, the unfaithful another.
Leave the Left
Behind hoopla in Hollywood.
Turn your eyes to
the Holy Land, or Ephesus, or even toward heaven.. And celebrate the Assumption
of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What Jesus did for Mary – in a unique and special
way – gives us hope that one day Christ will return. So let’s model our lives
after the Blessed Mother – remaining faithful until the end.
My mother may have
gone overboard. In order to keep our tongues in check, she not only banned us
from using Our Lord’s name in vain, but she also prohibited my siblings and me
from using gentler cuss words. Not geez. Not gee whiz. Not jeepers. Not gosh or
It was too easy to
go from the benign to the profane, she said.
It may have been
extreme, but Mom’s high standard kept me from breaking the 2nd
Commandment. I still have a low tolerance for foul language – especially when
it misuses the name of Our Lord.
At His name, knees
should bow. At His name, there should be no punching of walls, no throwing of
dishes, and no stamping of feet.
By His name, all
creation should be blessed.
There are many
ways to express anger. Even Our Lord became angry. But He did something rather
amazing in that moment. He affirmed the authority of the Father. He elevated
the dignity due His Father – and his Father’s house. Yes, He raised his voice.
But even in anger, He remained perfectly holy. It is possible for us to model
His righteous anger. It is possible to be angry and yet not sin (Ephesians
This is a
frustrating world. We can hardly escape feeling angry at times, but we do not
have to defile the tongue in order to express emotion.
The book of James
tells it like it is. “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his
tongue but deceives his heart, his religion is vain” (1:26).
The old adage has
some truth to it: you can lose your
religion – or at least render it useless.
When my parish
priest was transferred to our little Missouri town, he immediately began
visiting the local establishments. He learned names. Made friends. Won our
respect. After morning prayers, he stopped by the local watering hole. And when
the good ole boys began taking the name of His Lord in vain, he cringed inside,
but he waited. He waited until he’d gained their respect. And then, he said it,
You know, guys, I love starting my day with
you. And I hope to keep doing that. But there’s something you have to know
about me. When you say Our Lord’s name carelessly, you are using the name of the
One I love in order to curse. To vent. That’s hard for me to hear. Just thought
you should know.
Sure, the guys
sometimes fall into old habits, but they are more careful now. They see my
priest as a friend – and now, they see him as a friend of Christ. That has made a difference.
I don’t suppose we
have to go to extremes. We don’t have to purge words like gee and gosh from our
But we must
remember that Jesus Christ is worthy of worship and praise. And holy is his
It is May.That means Catholic schools and parishes will
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 Mary and the month of May?” I asked my cradle Catholic friend.
She explained that the Church has set aside the month of May to honor the
Blessed Mother – hence, May Crowning. It’s time to pray the rosary and present
the Blessed Mother with flowers and a crown, she said.
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
the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a
Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff?
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, the Immaculate
Conception, the Ark of the Covenant, the New Eve and why that's all scriptural.
You’ll have to crack open the Bible and look at the Book of Revelations and the
“women clothed with the sun” and explain how Mary was prefigured by Hannah,
Ruth, 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 Judith is
the most amazing widow in Salvation History.
And if you find
yourself back to the Bible, you are going to have to talk about the rosary
again and how those prayers come right out of the Bible because Jesus prayed
the Our Father, and the Hail Mary is a combination of the words of Archangel
Gabriel and Saint Elizabeth.
And if you manage
to explain why Catholics 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, and
To the Blessed
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 bite. 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 intricacy.
Let’s face it. The
best way to experience Mary's month is to become a little child. Don't try to
figure it all out at once like someone cramming for a final exam.
Just go cut some
flowers and lay them at her feet. Pick up your rosary and pray the Glorious
Mysteries.Or simply plan to learn the
Hail Mary if you have never tried to do that.
For you see, it
all comes down to this:
best way to find Christ is to let yourself find Mary.Embrace the simple elegance of it and the
organic complexity will fall into place.
I will be talking with Matt Swaim on the Son Rise Morning Show Wednesday morning (tomorrow) at 8:10 ET and 7:10 CT. We will be discussing the Holy Father's upcoming trip to Israel. I will be traveling with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Tune in tomorrow! Listen live here: http://www.sonrisemorningshow.com/
I believe it is the key to unleashing the New
Evangelization. And Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would agree.
I believe there can be no resolution to the crises in
vocations to religious life, the priesthood and married life without it.
And no wonder.
Mission depends upon holiness and holiness requires
contrition, mercy, healing, grace, and ongoing spiritual direction.
So what is this missing element? It is the confessional.
You might have expected me to say the Eucharist. It is, of
course, the Source and Summit of our
faith. And Saint John Paul II said Holy
Communion was necessary. At the Eucharistic Congress in Seville on June 12,
1993, John Paul II gave a homily that established how we are to share the
Gospel. “Evangelization through
the Eucharist, in the Eucharist and from
the Eucharist: these are three inseparable aspects of how the Church lives the
mystery of Christ and fulfills her mission of communicating it to all people” (4).
But I would
posit that priests already do an amazing job at accommodating parishioners when it comes to offering the Sacrifice of the Mass. My
own parish has four Sunday Masses, daily Mass Monday through Saturday, and
numerous other special Masses throughout the year.
And they come.
People show up at every Mass.
But we are sinners. As much as we do not wish to do it, we
fall back into sin – often. And so the net result is that people are receiving
the Eucharist while in sin. Perhaps even while they are in mortal sin.
That is a problem. One cannot advance in holiness this way.
In fact, it only adds mortal sin on top of mortal sin. The spiritually ill become
So much for holiness and mission. Without holiness, we
cannot be a people on mission. Redemptoris
Missio is clear on this.
”The call to mission derives, of its nature, from the call
to holiness. A missionary is really such only if he commits himself to the way
of holiness: ‘Holiness must be called a fundamental presupposition and an
irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation in
“The universal call to holiness is closely linked to the
universal call to mission. Every member of the faithful is called to holiness
and to mission. This was the earnest desire of the Council, which hoped to be
able ‘to enlighten all people with the brightness of Christ, which gleams over
the face of the Church, by preaching the Gospel to every creature.’ The
Church's missionary spirituality is a journey toward holiness” (90).
In his papal address on the Sacrament of Confession in March
of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI made it clear that, “the New Evangelization draws
its lifeblood from the holiness of the children of the Church, from the daily
journey of personal and community conversion in order to be ever more closely
conformed to Christ.” Because personal
holiness depends upon the Sacrament of Confession, Pope Benedict XVI went on to
say that “the new evangelization, thus, also begins in the confessional!”
And on the parish level, this is where things begin to break down.
While most parishes are incredibly accommodating in
providing opportunities for Mass attendance, they are abysmal – tragically so –
when it comes to providing opportunities for the Sacrament of Confession.
Some may say that nobody shows up for the scheduled opportunity for Confession as it is
– those fleeting fifteen minutes before Sunday Mass or half an hour after Mass
on Friday morning when most people are at work. That is when many parishes have their standing opportunity for Confession.
But this is what the parishioner thinks:
I don’t want to bother my priest before Mass because it’s just a venial sin, and he’s so busy right before Mass, and I would guess there are others far more sinful who need these few minutes more than I do.
If I go to Confession right now, then my parents (wife, children, husband, friends) will know that I have mortal sin that I need to deal with before Communion. Who wants to open that can of worms.
I’ll just go another time.
But there is no other time.
That’s it. Sunday before Mass – if you can find Father. And expect a whirlwind confession because he is bound to
have his mind on Mass and his eye on his watch.
Or, take off work on Friday so you can go to confession. Try
explaining that one to your boss.
It wouldn’t be so bad if we were holy. But we are not holy.
The Church is a hospital for sinners.
But we are acting like it is a battlefield and the only ones
who should receive a healing touch are the ones about to die.
Or, we are acting like we are all in Heaven already and nobody really needs to confess anything anyway.
We need to stop practicing spiritual triage with the
We need to stop acting like we are all holy and marked for sainthood.
Every parish should have one night a week set aside for
confessions. The parishioners need to know that their shepherd is there,
waiting. The people need to be reminded that he is there – often.
Every parish should also
have a time for confessions during the weekend – and that time must not be
limited to the fifteen minutes before Mass. Nobody wants to bother the priest then.
These things must be implemented in every parish.
Here is what will happen in the parish:
People will become holy. People will be on mission. The New
Evangelization will come to your parish. The faithful will begin to discern
vocations to religious life.
Here is what will happen in individuals:
They will be healed from mortal sin first and lose their
attachment to it. Then they will begin to address chronic sin. Jealousy.
Gossip. Eating disorders. Bitterness & unforgiving spirits. Laziness. Then
they will become stronger, more accustomed to walking in grace.
This is not a pie-in-the-sky ideal. My parish priest
implemented a generous confessional schedule – and these are the very things
that I have brought to him – and praise God, grace showed up. There really is
healing in the confessional. It is not just something we say. It is real.
I testify to it.
I also have one recommendation for every diocese. Every day
of every year there should be a priest somewhere who is waiting in a
confessional somewhere in the diocese. The diocese should make this schedule known – in much the same
way as it shares the Mass schedule of parishes in the diocese.
If a diocese has fewer than 200 priests, each priest would be the
designated priest of the day twice each year. If the diocese has over 300, each priest would be the designated priest of the day once each year. Catholics would know that a
shepherd was available every day of the year. The bishop/archbishop should be
on that rotation. It would benefit both the priest and the penitent if the
priest could stay in his parish for his designated day. Imagine, there would be confessional hotspots
popping up every day all over the diocese.
Here is what will happen:
People will become holy. People will be on mission. The New
Evangelization will come to your diocese. The faithful will begin to discern
vocations to religious life.
When I was a teacher, we used to talk about the hidden
curriculum. By hidden curriculum, we meant those things students learned that
we did not set out to teach. The students always figured out what was important and what wasn’t
important. They learned the corners that could be cut and what the teacher really
cared about - despite what he/she said was important.
Sometimes, to our dismay, we realized that the students
jettisoned things that were really important because we inadvertently fostered problems and created issues we never
meant to foster or create.
That is the situation right now. When the scheduled
confessions are right before Sunday Mass or at a time when most people are
unavailable, we are teaching our parishioners that confession is a last-minute
Sacrament, a kind of triage-only Sacrament, a rarely-needed Sacrament, a
While we do not believe any of these things – it is the
hidden curriculum, the catechesis we did not intend to teach.
Thousands are receiving the Eucharist while in a state of serious sin. And our current Confessional schedule makes them think that is not a problem.
Keep in mind--
Some of the holiest people have availed themselves of the
Sacrament of Confession weekly. Weekly. If even two people in every parish
decided they wanted to emulate that kind of holiness, the current Confessional schedule
would not be sufficient.
If even two people wanted to purge the sin before receiving Christ in the Eucharist, the current Confessional schedule would not be sufficient.
My friend is attending a class on life after a divorce. She is Catholic. She loves the faith and simply wants to heal and be whole for Christ and His Church. She lives in fidelity to the faith she has received.
Her counselor suggested that she attend the post-divorce class which is held in a non-denominational church in the area.
My friend doesn’t know if she will go back.
On the night of the first class, she walked down the hall and read the signs on the doors as she looked for the class on healing after divorce. The sign on one door said De-cluttering Catholicism.
It felt like someone had punched my friend in the stomach.
She felt the blow both physically and spiritually. And the one thought she had was how much she loves her faith – and how little they must understand about the faith she holds so dear.
She kept on walking and eventually found the class on divorce, but the blow against her faith and her Church stayed with her.
When she shared the story with me, I felt the anguish, too. Oh, Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are saying.
I do not want to de-clutter any part of this beautiful faith. It is a treasure. And nobody throws open the Kingdom’s treasure chests in order to toss out all that is beautiful and precious.
Nobody raids the coffers in order to cast the treasures aside.
How precious the intercession of saints.
How dear the gift of the Blessed Mother.
How sacred the Chrism, the bells, the incense that rises to the heavens.
How lovely the holy cards and statues and icons. Mosaics. Stained glass. Sculptures. Paintings. Paten.
How holy the Body of Our Lord. The Most Precious Blood.
How full of grace the Sacraments, the open door to the Confessional, the steps that lead down the
aisle to the Eucharistic Lord of Life.
How healing the touch of Christ through the hands of the priest, the anointing of the Bishop, the blessing that comes down to us through the Pope, through St. Peter and apostolic lineage.
How sweet the feel of smooth rosary beads, the voices of those beside me praying, the cares and intercessions lifted by each one kneeling.
What joy is found in the holy water font, the cool water touching the forehead, the smell of Chrism on a baby’s head.
What a treasure the family baptismal gown, a grandmother’s prayer book with its weathered pages.
What meaning comes with the flowing stream of the liturgical calendar, the readings each day and each hour, the colors, the altar, the Tabernacle and lit candle.
The Stations line the walls. The kneelers wait to be lowered. The book is opened and ready.
No. Do not de-clutter my precious faith.
Do not reduce it to something too small.
Do not suggest that it is better to have a faith that is summed up in five bullet points and one passage from Scripture.
I. Want. It. All.
I need it all.
I thirst for these streams of running water. It is life. It is strength. It is all a venue for grace.
One would never enter the King’s palace in order to de-clutter the rooms and toss out the treasures.
And so it is with the Faith.
It is a deposit worthy to be kept sacred. Worthy to be passed down to our children.
It is rich, so very rich, and the divine life infuses all of it.
No. You cannot purge the most holy, most beautiful, most precious of all that serves to bring us into the holy, the beautiful, the precious.
I read something yesterday in Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage. It made me think of conversion and Lent and even a little something from my days as a graduate student at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
“The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos, the tick-tock chronological time that we are more familiar with; and kairos, the right or opportune moment. We also know what these kairos moments are like: tired and dissatisfied with our lives, we’re waiting for someone to say that it is okay to change. For the fishermen on the shore, this was their kairos moment” (Martin 140).
All the talk of chronos and kairos reminded me of The Sense of an Ending - required reading for M.A. comps. Not that I wrote anything profound that awful, awful day. I received a B on my comprehensive exams though I had trended toward A’s throughout graduate school. I choose to blame my performance on the migraine that rendered the experience a nightmarish blur. No hyperbole. I began the day with a shot of Imitrex which worked no better than a couple of Tic Tacs.
I remember three writers from the long list of required reading. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot. The Writing Life and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. And Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending.
I might have known that I was headed for a massive conversion –for I forgot most of the other things I read in the months of preparation for comps, but the things that remained and took up residency in my long term memory were Annie Dillard, T.S. Eliot and Frank Kermode. If you took Pilgrim, Writing Life, Four Quartets and Sense of an Ending and ground them up with a mortar and pestle, you might end up with words like Catholic and mystery and contemplative and writer.
It is where I was headed – though I, myself, had no idea.
But there is something about the notion of kairos. A time for each thing. A season. A changing over and rendering up. Dropping nets to follow. Or abandoning the now for the unexpected call. The sense of an ending. And of a beginning.
When you talk about such things, others stare. They don’t get it. Aren’t privy to the crook of God’s finger. The hook of the Shepherd’s staff. My walking papers. My mandate to go. To follow. To pick up a pen. Or a cross. Or both.
There is something beautiful-and painful-in accepting the call one receives in these kairos moments.
You try to get others to understand, but there is no way they truly can– not being in your skin.
Not having walked in your moccasins.
The most one can hope for is for one’s spiritual director to affirm the call.
It’s enough. A nod from him and a nod from grace– that’ll do.
Kairos. The changing time.
A blank page.
It’s not that anything is possible. It is only that His Will awaits. And somehow, you know it. You begin to perceive it.
The words on the blank page are written in invisible ink – the kind of ink that fills God’s pen. And your spirit is the secret decoder that unlocks the hidden script. You see the words.
And you get to say–
Ok. Let’s do it.
So be it. Amen.
You drop your nets and walk away from what was to embrace what is to come.
It is the moment you are ready for God’s plan for you.
Please join us in praying for the Holy Father's trip to the Holy Land. Recent headlines indicate that Israel may be cut from the Holy Father's itinerary, due to a strike by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that began this week. Join us in praying for a speedy resolution so that our Holy Father can join us in Israel this May. See article:
I am one hour in to my first set of invisalign braces.
I now have many more things to offer up this Lent. No coffee
– except with meals when the braces come off. No soda either. Nothing with
color – unless I want a red, or brown, or orange smile. No eating with the braces on either.
Water. I can drink water. And I can eat and drink whatever I
want – but only at meal time when the braces come off.
As they said in the orthodontist office: This is a good time
to start a diet. So there is a bright side.
They say the good thing about invisalign is that you can
take them out. They say the bad thing about invisalign is that you can take
Still, I think invisalign is a good choice for me. Perhaps
you should ask me later – after my teeth start hurting – because they say they
will hurt. They say I will want to take them out. But they said I should not
give in to that desire.
It’s kind of like the freedom God gives us. The good thing
about this faith is that God has given us the choice to love him or to walk
away. The good thing about God's gift of grace is it depends on our free will to receive it and to walk in it. The bad
thing about God's gift of grace is that it depends on our free will to abandon it and to let it fade away completely.
There will be times we will feel like throwing off the
mantle of holiness. But we should not give in to that desire.
Like the invisalign braces, my faith may not be obvious at
first glance. This pursuit of holiness is usually a quiet, hidden process.
But those who are closest to us know it’s happening. They
are aware of the changes, and eventually others will notice as well.
So we submit to the pain required in spiritual change. We do
not throw off the mantle when it becomes a little difficult.
And when we need some assistance, we know where to go. The Eucharist.
The waters of Baptism. The confessional.
Dad was my first confirmation teacher. He taught the
Presbyterian confirmation class that I attended when I was in middle school.
Years later, when I became Catholic, I was Confirmed again – as a Catholic.
But when I was in that Presbyterian confirmation class, Dad made the students learn the Apostles’
Creed. When I hit the line, I
believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, my hand went up.
“Why is the word ‘Catholic’ in there when we aren’t
Catholic?" I asked.
My dad’s explanation? The word catholic means universal. And
we, as Presbyterians – or Wesleyans or Assembly of God or Nazarenes or
Methodists - were part of that church.
Small “c” you see.
I nodded. It made a little sense. But there was still
something unnerving about it. It seemed to point to something I had never
considered. We all traced our roots back to catholic – whether you were part of the big “C” church or little “c” church –
whether you were part of the Church or just a bunch of churches that kind-of-sort-of belonged together
in a we-don’t-really-agree-on-things-but-we-all-love-Jesus type of way.
While the Catholic Church defines catholic as universal, she
has a fuller command of the definition. As Greg Willits writes in his book The New Evangelization and You, “the
word universal, when applied to
Catholicism, has a deeper meaning. Universal
in terms of Catholicism means ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping
with the whole’” (69). In this excerpt, Willits cites the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Willits goes on to say, “In other
words, the Church affects everything totally and completely. Imagine an area of
our world, of your very existence, that isn’t somehow affected by the Catholic
He’s right. Even as a Protestant preacher’s daughter, I
brushed up against the Catholic Church quite a few times. If you read my
column, you know what I mean. Almost every column has an “I remember when”
moment from my non-Catholic days. And each of those moments points toward the
Catholic Church – with a big “C”.
Education. Recreation. Procreation. Cantatas. Current event. Fine
arts class at a Free Methodist college. Literature class at a Presbyterian
college. Friends. Eventually, politics and employment.
As Greg Willits says, “. . . it’s borderline impossible not
to be affected in some way by the Catholic Church.”
It is, however, completely possible to belong to any other
denomination and not brush up against another
denomination. You can go your whole life as a Presbyterian and not be exposed
to the Pentecostals, the Nazarenes, the New Springs of Life in Christ
Non-denominational church. You get the idea.
But the Catholic Church is everywhere. And the Mass is
everywhere. And the Church touches everything.
No matter where you go on the planet, you will be close to a
Catholic parish. When you walk through those doors, you will encounter the same
Mass – in a variety of languages with people from every race on planet Earth.
When you leave the building, you will continue to encounter that Church again
and again and again.
Only one church can lay claim to being truly universal –
complete – touching everything and everyone. The Catholic Church.
I will be traveling to the Holy Land from May 18-28th with the Catholic Press Association as a guest of Israel's Ministry of Tourism. It is an amazing opportunity and the timing couldn't be better as my book on Judea will be released by Ave Maria Press later this year. The trip also coincides with the Holy Father's visit to Israel. I look forward to sharing this journey with readers on the blog, through my column in diocesan newspapers, and in the pages of my book. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude.
This article ran in diocesan newspapers in the U.S. and in the Catholic Press Association paper The Catholic Journalist.
One morning last
spring, I caught my older daughter flipping through a diocesan newspaper while
eating breakfast. I had to smile. On that particularly morning, she wasn’t
officially Catholic. She entered the Church later that day at the 2:30 Mass at
the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis, Missouri. It was Pentecost Sunday and
soon, my second child would be entering the faith I had chosen less than a
“Did you read the
diocesan newspapers when you lived here? Or is this a new thing for you?” I asked
She looked up from
the paper and smiled. “When there was no catalog or magazine on the table, I
would read it. It was something to do.” She laughed and closed the paper.
Those were rough
years. She had moved into our house with her little boys and was trying to
juggle them and full-time employment. She was also trying hard to avoid God.
But on this
particular Sunday, the fight against God ended. On that day, she was received
into Mother Church.
My husband also
used to scan diocesan newspapers and magazines before he converted. He's the
kind of guy that goes through withdrawal when he doesn't have a book to read.
In the years after my conversion (before his own conversion), he would read the
Catholic papers that were on the table – the random complimentary copies I
received as a columnist. This is the
same man who promised he would never become Catholic. He was born Southern
Baptist, and he would die Southern Baptist.
He’s been Catholic
I don't know if
there is a cause and effect relationship between conversions and subscriptions
to diocesan periodicals, but at the very least, there is some correlation. I
believe families that have subscriptions to diocesan papers are the very
families most likely to experience conversion and ongoing conversion – even
among families in which some members actively resist God. There are times that
the diocesan newspaper on the kitchen table is the only remaining voice for
Mother Church in the lives of those who stubbornly resist grace.
I am blessed to
write for diocesan papers and magazines, but I am even more blessed to have
those periodicals in my home and on my kitchen table. There was a time when my
husband told me to stop talking about my new-found faith – but he would still
read the diocesan newspaper. My daughter tuned me out for years. But last
spring, she entered the Church.
are tools of evangelization. Sometimes, they are the only evangelization tool
left in a household.
If you are reading
this, you understand how important this magazine or newspaper is. You know that
it assists you in your journey – and you know that it assists those who live
under your roof and sit at your kitchen table.
In a world that is
filled with many voices and so many words, it is a blessing to have faithful media
coming into our homes, sharing words that matter – words that bring life.
The company left yesterday. It's time to begin taking down Christmas and getting on with Ordinary Time. But I am dragging my feet. I enjoyed it, and now I'm clinging to it. I'd like to keep it a few more days - maybe forever. Not the flu I caught over Christmas despite the flu shot in October. But the rest.
The baking, the hostessing, the linen changing for guests, the grandchildren -- yes, those little faces!
I enjoyed my daughter's break from school - and those four extra snow days which kept her home until today.
But the season is ending. And there are things I have abandoned. Things I'm avoiding.
I'd like to stay inside. To keep the resting & lounging going. Hide here a bit longer, like the agorophobe I could so easily become. The reclusive writer - without the dedicated writing routine.
I want to freelance life. Keep what's easy.
Even grocery runs seem too much. And dog grooming. And that dental appointment I should schedule.
Lord, help me to leave the comfort of this house, to travel to Egypt with the Holy Family - though I'd like to stay in Bethlehem & wait to see who else might drop in.
Let the world come to me.
But that isn't how it works.
Ordinary days are going out days. Routines that fill up. Errands to be run. More people. More places. More work.
So give me that dreamy mandate to go, like you once did to St. Joseph.
Because what seems safe - it's not good for me. Egypt awaits.
Last night, before the snow began falling, my husband and I went to a Twelfth Night Christmas party. The night was something from a dream. We revisited a home we had not seen in seventeen years and talked with professors we knew in graduate school. And I had the thought before the party began, before we even left our home – what if we stepped across the threshold and suddenly were transformed into the people who met and married seventeen years ago – like some kind of plot in a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story. What would happen if people who knew each other a lifetime ago suddenly changed and re-entered the prime of life?
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment all over again.
John and I don’t socialize very much. We’ve had company for two weeks, but they were all family members. Our idea of socializing is going out to eat with our parish priest (which we enjoy immensely). So last night was the kind of night that will stick with me; it’ll come up again in a dream. My subconscious mind will gnaw on this experience months from now.
My husband and I stepped into old patterns. We were the same two people last night that we were seventeen years ago – like the time travel-thing really did happen. John carried the conversations. I listened. Nodded. Smiled. Pondered it all. Because that’s what writers do.
I take the people with me, and they don’t even know it. Each room has a unique feel to it. The crowded dining room. The lovely sitting room. The large kitchen with its team of caterers in their crisp, white uniforms, offering roasted lamb and crab cakes. The sweeping staircase. And my favorite – the three-story library with its own spiral stair.
The people are as unique as the rooms. People from the Order of Malta and the Eugene Field House. Editors. Professors. Book designers. Architects. A priest.
The quieter ones, like me, gravitate to the library. This is where literature keeps its own time capsule. One can sit and read and discover that time travel is possible.
And we did step back in time.
My husband and I stood in the middle level of that three-story library, where just a few others had migrated, and John pulled a book from the shelf and read the poem he quoted to me more than seventeen years ago.
And we remembered our story. We remembered each other and this vocation that has been so full of grace and love.
It was Twelfth Night.
We had just been to Mass and celebrated the Epiphany – where Mary and Joseph’s quiet little life with Jesus was interrupted. The whole world came to them in the form of Magi. Joseph probably did most of the talking – like my husband. Mary probably quietly took it all in – like me. Perhaps this is where they realized that their life would not be their own. It was meant for others. It was meant for everyone. Perhaps their vocation was felt most acutely in that moment.
Christ is not meant to be kept a secret. He is Lord of the nations. We must let Him be who He is. We cannot remain closed off. We must not keep Him to ourselves.
It was like someone had taken the book off the shelf and laid it open before them - for us. The old scroll contained it all. And they found themselves stepping into those words – finding themselves there.
“Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” Isaiah 60:6