Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Catholic Carnival #95

Oh, that handsome Nicholas Hardesty over at PhatCatholic Apologetics is hosting this week's carnival. He is a student at Steubenville. He probably is one of those guys imported from a different planet I wrote about here .

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Catholic Carnival #94

My friend Owen hosts this week's Catholic Carnival over at Luminous Miseries. Go take a peek. Say a prayer for us bloggers while yer at it :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wrestling With Angels

I have twin almost-toddlers. When shopping with them, people usually give me one of two reactions: pity or envy. I actually considered carrying a sign with a handle on it that says YES THEY ARE TWINS on one side and PRAY FOR ME on the other, and randomly flipping it back and forth as we move throughout the store. People love to kitchy-koo them. As they should, for they are very kitchy-koo type babies and usually very sweet-tempered. Except when it is bedtime and I’m exhausted and they are squirmy and wriggly and I have to literally wrestle them into clean diapers and pajamas. Then I have to remind myself that the angels that greet me with smiles and laughter every morning are the very same angels that are now whining and turned upside down and crawling away from me with a half-on, half-off diaper loaded with angel-poop. It’s difficult sometimes, but we get through it and it is one of the thorns of motherhood that is intertwined with all the blooms. When I am wrestling with them, I think of the patriarch Jacob and how he wrestled with an angel for an entire night. I think of how we all wrestle with things, with spiritual battles, with other people, with addictions and problems and joys and decisions. Life’s a struggle and we don’t seem to stop struggling until it’s over.

In the bible passage, Jacob wrestles and the angel does not overcome him. I know what the angel feels like sometimes. It is a revelation of sorts when you realize you can’t overcome the strength of your one year old who will not relinquish your house keys while you try to balance her 20 pound weight on one hip and a diaper bag and groceries on the other.

I am not a big wrestling fan. When I think of wrestling, I think of people like Hulk Hogan; big, loud, burly men dressed up in capes and tights who throw each other around a ring while the crowd goes wild. There is a kind of back-and-forth movement in wrestling, where one guy will have his opponent locked in a choke-hold and it seems like he is winning and then all of a sudden the guy in the choke-hold will pull a sly move on the first guy and have him writhing on the floor. I think most of it is staged ahead of time. In Jacob’s case, when morning comes and the angel cannot overcome him, he tells Jacob to release him. Even then, Jacob tells him he won’t let him go without a blessing. The angel has to reach out and shrink Jacob’s thigh to get him to let go of him. In this we recognize that the whole purpose of the struggle between the two wasn’t winning or losing, it was persevering in the struggle itself. Jacob’s bravery and his strength are proven.

I’m not particularly good at perseverance, especially if I’m uncomfortable. I hate having to go to the bathroom at a sporting even when the line to the ladies room is a mile long. But perseverance means more than waiting patiently for your turn. I’ve found it means being strong, even when everything and everyone around you is screaming at you to give in to the easier or more popular influence. For example, take same-sex marriages. Here in Tennessee the majority are opposed to gay unions and we did in fact vote to ban them. In my own personal opinion, it would be easy for me to say that love is love, and if two people love one another and are committed enough to want to marry, why not allow it? But as a Christian and a Catholic, I know that the answer is because it is an abomination to God, something that offends him grievously and out of love for Him, I must take a stand against gay marriage. This makes me a fuddy-duddy and a holy-roller; one of those bible-thumping Christians. Yes, and obedient to my Father in heaven.

The world tells us to seek riches, and to take advantage of those already disadvantaged, and to rely on our own mind for strength. In Jacob’s story, he was afraid of facing his twin brother Esau in battle, fearing that he would be overtaken by him and so he multiplied his prayer to God and leaned on what God had already promised him:

9 And Jacob said: O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who saidst to me: Return to thy land and to the place of thy birth, and I will do well for thee,
10 I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, and of thy truth which thou hast fulfilled to thy servant. With my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I return with two companies.
11 Deliver me from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am greatly afraid of him: lest perhaps he come, and kill the mother with the children.
12 Thou didst say that thou wouldst do well by me, and multiply my seed like the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for the multitude.

Jacob was scared out of his wits because Esau was coming in haste to meet him with 400 men. He must have wracked his brain trying to understand how God could fulfill His promise to him while it seemed so impossible that Jacob could overtake Esau’s larger army. Taken figuratively, Jacob wrestled with his faith in God that night, against what he saw before him as something unconquerable. We are all like this, wrestling with what we see against what we don’t see, but believe through Christ’s promises. The Word is contrary to the flesh, and this struggle is made even more bitter and difficult when we are left to struggle alone, when we see others reveling in comfort and apparent peace, having gone the way of the world and given up on God and faith. But we are encouraged to persevere, being promised a blessing beyond description at the end of the fight. As we read in Matt 13: 31 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

The angel does indeed bless Jacob in the morning, and gives him a new name, an amazing name: Israel. Jacob says now tell me your name and the angel replies with a question: Why do you ask my name? As if to say, come on knucklehead, I’ve been with you all night…who do you think I am after all? Jacob knows he has wrestled with the appearance of God Himself, Who has taught him that He is faithful to His word.

I, too, am a knucklehead. I wrestle the angel all the time and am always questioning God’s hand in my life, so obvious to me and so needed. I look at my children and wonder how so great a God could be so generous to someone as unfaithful and, yes, unwilling to persevere at times in faith. But He leads me along gently, even if He sometimes has to “shrink my thigh” to get me to recognize His presence. This happens as I am scraping baby-goo off my shoulder and thinking that instead of being a mom I should have been an astronaut. Or a wrestler.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wrinkles In Heaven

Lately, I’m coming to the realization that I am getting older. For one thing, I’m not “hip” anymore. Today I was presented with one of those annoying internet pop-up thingies that show you a picture of some famous person and give you three choices as to who the person is and if you are really, really gullible you click on the right name and get an offer for lower auto insurance or something similar. Usually they are so easy that even if you have been living as a hermit in a cave for years, you still know who the celebrity is, like Michael Jackson. This time, I couldn’t tell who they were. I had no clue. Is there really somebody named “50 Cent”?

Another reason I know I’m getting older is that I have wrinkles. I just turned 36 and up until about a year ago, I couldn’t buy a bottle of wine anywhere without being asked for my I.D. In a hurry once about 2 years ago I huffed at the clerk behind the counter and said “You’ve got to be kidding!” He said to me, curtly, “No, Miss. You look to me to be about 17 years old and you had better go get your dad.” This was actually a pretty cool thing. Now, at the rare occasion I do buy wine, I think they see my wrinkles and they just stuff the wine in a bag and take my money. No protest. No sideways-glance. I’m deflated when I leave. When I go home, the wine tastes better for some reason.

Does older mean wiser? I don’t think so. I still do dumb things like put a 20 dollar bill in the back pocket of a pair of jeans I already KNOW has a hole in them and promptly lose the bill. I always get lost while driving and always lose my car in the parking lot of our Super Walmart, no matter how I tell myself to remember where I am when I’m parking.

I still date the wrong guy. I really think there is a planet somewhere in our solar system where all the tall, good looking, employed, Knights-Of-Columbus-Member, studying-to-be-a-deacon, wouldn’t-give-up-his-catholicism-if-his-life-depended-on-it type guys are and I think once every year they import one and he is always married off immediately to someone else. I see him in church with his wife and their kids. He always wears khaki pants and is holding a 6 month old baby. And he is smiling.

I still drink too much coffee. I still listen to the same old Joni Mitchell songs. I still cry over the obituaries in the paper, especially if the person was a kid or a really, really old person. I still think that you can’t have too many babies. I still am stunned at the sunrise, especially the one I saw the other morning over the river with the trees at peak autumn majesty along its shoreline, and heavy silver mist rising through the pinks and purples it reflected.

I still like myself, which is a victory. But then again, I realize what I am liking about myself is Christ in me. Left to myself I am a wretched fool who makes much graver mistakes than losing her car in a parking lot. I still am hounded by past sorrows and losses, but I know that all things I have lost, down to that 20 dollar bill through a hole in my pocket, will be restored to me one day. Are there wrinkles in heaven? I sure hope not.
I read time and again that the saints embraced the cross of Christ with both arms, fully in joy, and embraced suffering for love of Him with all their human hearts. But embracing first His crown of thorns, His humiliation and His scourging. We tend to group these Mysteries together, knowing that in reality His entire life was a life of sorrows. But they are indeed separate sorrows, and each with its own purpose. When I was younger I prayed to know Christ and to be a saint, to be counted among that holy number as the song goes. Later, I realized what I had prayed sincerely from the heart was in fact Philippians 3:10-11 :

10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

I was influenced by the story of Saint Catherine Labouré and the Miraculous Medal, by Mother Teresa, St. Francis of Assisi and of course, The Little Flower and many others. The glories these souls experienced were my main focus, and being naive I was enthralled by their visions and ecstasies. And even though I read equally about the sadness and sorrow in their lives, the loss of friends and family, their persecutions and personal difficulties in overcoming the world, I counted them as small battles fought and easily won in light of the intimacy they experienced in knowing Jesus. Now that I am older, and fight my own battles daily, I am faced with the very humiliating knowledge that they are in no way small or easily won. They are in fact insurmountable on my own.

When I look at Phil 3:10-11 I see now what I prayed for was to basically die to the world to which I still stubbornly and petulantly cling to with an iron grip. So it has been for me a very, very slow and painful process of dying, where all at once I am at death’s door and yet temporarily animated again by empty promises and vain pursuits. My heart is restless, this heart which every night offers all things to the Sacred Heart and prays to love as He does, and in the morning is broken and searching again for (as one catholic blogger recently put it so perfectly) “that unconditional breast upon which to lay my head in peace.”

This prayer of mine was a child’s prayer, vain, naïve, immature and overzealous. I did not know what it was that I truly wanted except for the sincerity of knowing Christ. I wanted to know Him purely, with no other intent but to love Him and it was I think for that reason the Father obliged me. Suddenly my world, my relatively normal married-with-child world became a nightmare of loss, delusion and confusion. I have only managed to move forward and raise my head through it by walking with Christ. It is a very bitter walk, and every step I take feels like it is barefoot on broken glass. At times my sense of reality has failed me, people I have trusted and love dearly have failed me, and any path I choose without Christ as guide has led me to a wilderness where I am again a child, lost, unfed, dirty and thirsting.

When I meditate on the Passion, it occurs to me that before Christ picked up the cross and made His way to Golgotha to die, He delivered Himself into the very hands of ignorance. Before His ultimate Sacrifice, He poured Himself out in shame and derision, where He was beaten until He was in His entire body an open wound. He bowed His head to receive the crown that we, in our pride and cruelty, forced upon Him. It is in the 3rd sorrowful mystery that I understand what it is to live and breathe as a Christian, and it is the hardest to accept and embody in my own life. It came to me during one meditation that all of nature was made witness to His death on the cross so that all creation could testify to it, but God in His mercy allowed the angels in heaven to turn their faces away when He was mocked and crowned with thorns, and they did so, trembling, ashamed of their very wings.

It is when our hearts, unhidden and loving freely, are scorned, mocked, abased, abused, unappreciated and even unacknowledged, that we are asked to love more, give more, and offer them in unison with the Sacred Heart in oblation. They must be broken continuously for the sake of others and for Love Himself. We mistakenly think somehow that we will reach a point in this life where there is no longer sorrow or heartbreak, but we are only promised this in the next life. If we then hold our hearts selfishly to ourselves and not yield to Divine Providence and His Holy will, we then live out a lesser heaven here that in no way resembles the majesty of what Christ has laid up for us in His heaven. I am given knowledge of these things and feel unworthy and unable to carry them out. I am incapable of controlling my own passions and failures, let alone to have heaped upon me the weight of the world’s groanings and yet I find that is exactly what the Lord has made me aware of; that the spirit that inflames cruelty today is the same spirit that inflamed it two thousand years ago. That there truly is nothing new under the sun. That we, as created beings live in a universe that was willed into being and is sustained not by us or our will, but by a God who expects of us not only a passing nod of approval, but to love him with all of our heart, soul and mind. How can we love our children or our spouse, without understanding and giving thanks that we are able to love at all because He first loved us? How can we not know that any love we feel is drawn first from the very Heart of God? Because of this, I accept that bitter crown of thorns and sit with Him in silence while the tempest rages around me.

In all appearances, Christ was offered up needlessly to the hands of corrupt and selfish men whose agenda had nothing at all to do with furthering God’s purposes. If viewed from a purely human standpoint, say that of a Roman soldier, it was basically just another day at the office. We know now that God’s ways are not ours and His thoughts not our own and we must maintain constant faith that His Hand is indeed in all things, even in the midst of the hardest cruelties and sufferings. That faith begs obedience. It begs stamina and fortitude. That the same God Who delivered Himself into our hands to be falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, stoned, mocked, crowned with thorns, humiliated, crucified and put to death begs us in every moment for our piteous and unfaithful love makes me ashamed of my pride, my own imperfect wings.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Catholic Carnival #92 up this week at ...And If Not... . Go have a look-see and be inspired!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Shaken and Stirred

I used to live in California, back in the day when I was young and big hair was still kind of “in”. I was in my glory then, as I have notoriously big hair and thus felt pretty hip. Nowadays I have to slather all kinds of cream and grease on it to get it to have that smooth, sophisticated style all the women seem to have. In a crowd, it’s easy to find me. Just look for the woman with the really frustrated hair.

I lived smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, a lovely part of Southern California, where all the Hollywood studios are and lots of famous people live. I lived, as fate would have it, just five miles away from a town called Northridge, and in 1994 Northridge was the epicenter of a very large earthquake. It was 6.7 on that mysterious machine all the scientists use to measure these things, the Richter Scale. It “hit” at about 4:30 in the morning, on Martin Luther King Day. It literally threw me and my then toddler daughter out of bed. We hit the floor, while the house shook and shimmied, and the floor rocked and felt somehow liquid-fied beneath us, and things crashed and banged and sloshed and rumbled for a period of about 15 seconds. During this 15 seconds I don’t remember much else except clutching my little girl to my chest and telling her again and again that I loved her. Because, you see, I really thought we were going to die and I wanted her to know. I think she knew, in retrospect, but at the moment it was very important that she really know. I’m sure you can relate.

When the quake finally stopped, it was chaos. For one thing, there was no moon that night. I remember that distinctly because of course the power had gone out and it was black as pitch. I can remember trying to climb over furniture that had fallen over, and broken glass, to get to my grandmother’s room next to mine and calling out to her in a panic. I remember the relief of hearing her call back, as calm as ever, “I’m alright…I’m alright…” There were, it seemed, tons of dogs barking and car alarms sounding off. I heard some people crying out and yelling. I do remember praying, especially when the first aftershock hit shortly after. An aftershock is like a mini version of the initial quake, and thousands of them happen after a big one. The three of us stood in an interior doorway, as any Californian is educated to do, while the aftershocks came and went, and prayed for daylight, and our family in the next town, and that, please God, just make the ground stay STILL.

Anyone who has ever lived through a major earthquake can tell you, it is devastating. When morning finally came, we marveled at the wreckage. We watched cars parked on the street rock back and forth slowly while the ground literally buckled with aftershocks. Our swimming pool, 30 feet from our back door, had almost emptied itself onto the back porch. My gram lost her china. A neighbor with a monkey wrench came by and turned off the gas. I remember thinking that he was very unselfish for leaving his own family to go house-to-house to make sure his neighbor’s gas was off. And I remember being grateful that we were safe. Time progressed, the power was restored, but the cities around us were broken and a lot of buildings were almost-rubble. The news gave us an accounting of the dead and injured and awful tragedies like the 3 story apartment building in Northridge that had “pancaked” into one story, flattening the people inside as they slept. A motorcycle patrolman on his late shift had driven right off the end of a freeway that had collapsed. The parks became full of families in tents who refused to go back to their apartment buildings out of fear of more quakes. We DID heal, eventually, and rebuilt. But that feeling of non-reality, and terror, didn’t leave me for a long, long time. Every time a truck would rumble by outside and shake the house, I would head for a doorway. In retrospect, I think I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I am sure many of us did.

I think about this experience when I read about the coming of the day of the Lord. Now, I’m not one to be expecting Him today or tomorrow (although, we are admonished to live every day as if His appearance were immanent and keep that lamp burning brightly.) I know no man knows the day nor the hour. But I read, in 2 Peter 3, a description of the Day of Christ’s return, from the New American Standard Bible:

8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

Natural disasters abound around us. Because of our ability to film and televise these events, we are given a first-hand look at what a Tsunami or an avalanche, a flash flood or an earthquake really is like. When the world around you is so shaken, so turned upside down, it reminds you of how very, very small you are and how large the earth is and that in reality you are in control of nothing. When we sifted through our belongings after the quake we noted what we had lost. Nowadays, I think about what I gained through this experience: humility in the knowledge that if I can’t control the ground beneath me, I had better get friendly with the Guy Who does.
When the Lord returns, it will be unexpected. The sky and the air around us will be on fire. The very foundations of nature will be burning, the foundations of all things will be melting with intense heat. To meditate on this is frightening. I am reminded of the feeling of the earth beneath my feet being dissolved into liquid, its solidity gone and gravity uprooted. I remember praying in terror that this not be the “big one” that scientists have long- predicted will eventually destroy California. I am both hopeful for Christ’s return and terrified of it, but I am, above all else, assured of it. And this fear does prompt me to be a better Christian and to cooperate with the grace given to me daily. Living through that earthquake awakened in me the reality that God “…holds in His hands the depths of the earth, and the highest mountains as well. He made the sea; it belongs to Him, the dry land too, for it was formed by His hands.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006


When I was recently seeking donations for a local "Walk for Life", I thought niavely that my non-Catholic christian friends would be happy to support the cause. The responses I got instead were things like,"Oh, I'd rather not. I have my own reasons." The idea of taking a stand against abortion seemed to make the women I approached uncomfortable, and the reluctant donation I did receive was mostly given to humor me out of friendship. I understand abortion is a huge issue, but I mistakenly thought that as christians we would all be like minded in knowing that the destruction of life is abhorrent to it's Author and Sustainer. Not so, sadly. It was extremely humiliating for me to realize ( me, as peaceable as one gets) I had to resist the urge to wave pictures of dead fetuses at people and accuse them of NOT being christian and instead pick up my rosary beads and pray. I had to recognize that God Himself, except for a relative handful of cases throughout history, does not infringe on our free will and choose to control us. As Our Lady has said "Pray, Pray, Pray!"

We have, as modern-day women been so duped into believing that paying a multi-billion dollar-a-year corporation, such as Planned Parenthood, to murder our unborn children somehow empowers us and gives us freedom. We have, sadly, been made to believe that in order to finally obtain "equality" in a so-called man's world, we must de-feminize ourselves, and become masculine. We have opted for a "If ya can't beat 'em, join 'em" type of resignation...and it is indeed a resignation, a sad surrender...and will continue to be until women are regarded as "equal" with regard to human rights in all of their femininity, in motherhood and in the businessworld.