Saturday, March 6, 2021

Restoration

An anniversary, a Gospel reading, and a Rosary mystery are all converging today. Eighteen years and one day ago it was Ash Wednesday, the Gospel reading for today is the Prodigal Son, and the Fourth Mystery on this Saturday is the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

What do these three things have in common? Restoration.

Just over 18 years ago I made a tentative return to the Church during Advent. I went to Mass every weekend and on Christmas Eve and then…nothing. As usual. Until the parish priest called me to follow up on the letter I had written to him about my desire to return. We had scheduled a meeting in December but I had canceled it. I think it was the season finale of my favorite show the night he wanted to get together. I know, I can’t believe I did that either. So, we set up another meeting and this time there was no looking back. It was full speed ahead to be restored to the Sacraments, which took another 15 months, but that’s another story for another day.

The Gospel today concerns the parable of the Prodigal Son. This young man wastes his inheritance, squanders the good will of his family, and ends up with the pigs – not a place any self-respecting Jew would care to be. One day he realizes he is not meant to live this way and returns home to the welcoming embrace of his loving and relieved father. I’m sure the parallels of my story and the Prodigal Son are easy to spot.

But what of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple? I was listening to Bp. Barron’s meditations on the Rosary this morning and he reflected on the importance of the temple for ancient Israel as a dwelling place for the Lord, that this is where the human race was reconciled to him. Ezekiel 8-11 tells us that the glory of the Lord had departed the temple due to the rebellion and disobedience of the people and in Ezekiel 43 it returns. When Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the temple the prophecy is wholly fulfilled.

In a sense, as a baptized Christian in whom the Trinity dwells, but who was away from the Church for many years, living in rebellion and disobedience, the glory of the Lord didn’t depart from me (it can’t because I am baptized) but his Spirit certainly went dormant. When I came back to the Church and was reconciled to God, the glory was renewed. I am not saying it made me sinless and perfect, far from it! I am saying that right relationship was re-established, that my emotions, intellect, and will were brought back into line, and like the Prodigal Son I was restored to my place in the family.

If you feel distant from Jesus, ask Mama Mary and St. Joseph to bring you to the temple. Close your eyes, imagine putting your hands in theirs, and walking with them into the Temple of Jesus’ Sacred Heart to begin again with joy. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Mountaintop

Today’s Gospel is from Mark 9:2-10 and depicts the Transfiguration of Jesus on a high mountain in front of his apostles Peter, James and John. I like to think that the phrase “mountaintop experience” comes from this passage of Scripture but there are many times God speaks life changing words to his people from a mountain. This experience isn’t necessarily a feeling of ecstasy but it is certainly an all-encompassing situation of total engagement and awe in the Lord’s power, often to the point where we are left speechless or perhaps incoherent.

When Scripture says Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone could bleach them, it reminds me of what happens to our sight when we are in a pitch-black room and someone snaps on the light. The light is so intense that we shut our eyes initially. I imagine Peter, James, and John wanting to see, but being so overcome with the Lord’s brightness, which is really his goodness and love, that they immediately squeezed their eyes shut until they were somewhat more accustomed to his radiance. Sound familiar?

In the spiritual life we often refer to mountaintop experiences as moments when we know God’s love for us so profoundly, we are changed by it. These situations are often precipitated by healing in our souls and by our forgiveness toward others, all of which are animated God’s grace working in us, with our consent. This is often done incrementally, with God lining up people to be his messengers and events to be His catalysts. While God is out of time, we are not, and he generally works within the framework he created for us.  

If you have not had a mountaintop experience do not be discouraged. Nine out the twelve apostles were not there with Peter, James, and John, yet eight of them became great evangelizers and healers. Keep praying, keep frequenting the Sacraments, keep reading Scripture, keep trusting God. As you continue climbing towards him, know that he sees you and he knows exactly where you are on his mountain. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

One Hundred Days


One hundred days ago I began praying the rosary as part of a preparation to renew my consecration to Mary. The prep lasted 46 days. I didn’t think I’d make it past the first 2 weeks, but obviously I did. Right after the renewal my prayer group rolled into a preparation to consecrate ourselves to St. Joseph. Praying the rosary was not a prescribed part of that program but I thought it would be a good idea regardless. So, I prayed it another 33 days. After that consecration I figured what’s another 21 days to get to 100? And so here I am.

Many proponents of the rosary say your life will change if you pray it every day. I am usually cautious when it comes to claims like this. Does it mean I will be holier? Does it mean my charisms will be stronger? Will it help me to have more trust, less fear, spiritual equilibrium? And will it last? Will all the effort I put into setting aside 20 minutes a day bear fruit? I don’t think we can, or should, quantify our spiritual lives that way. But I will say that I was having a problem with intrusive thoughts and flashbacks when I started praying the rosary daily and these events have become less frequent and less bothersome lately.

As I write this we are in Lent. Will I make it to 150 days? That is certainly the plan. And while graces and insights seem more accessible during this time of the liturgical year that’s not the only reason to keep up the prayers. To meditate on the life of Our Lord, to ponder the virtues and fruits of the mysteries, to lift our hearts to eternal truths, to deposit that into the divine economy, has to be good for everyone, not just me. It’s cooperation in salvation. And isn’t that the point of Lent and ultimately of Easter?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

And So It Begins...


It’s Lent! My favorite liturgical season! Except that it feels like Lent never ended last year and we are now on Day 358 of it. However, I have learned many spiritual lessons since last February and I am sure you did too. We have practiced the virtues of patience, tenacity, surrender, hope, detachment, and many more; and that was just learning how to sign in and navigate Zoom! And so here we are again, ready to begin a deeper trek into the desert.

Lent is always exciting for the first few days. I have my checklist ready, full of spiritual books to be read, vegetarian meals to cook, prayer schedules to adhere to, and deserving charities that will receive a donation.

You know what – I’m throwing that list out.

I’m not getting closer to heaven by performing good deeds. Yes, it’s good to turn off all my devices so I can read worthy material. Yes, I need to obey Church precepts regarding fasting and abstinence. Yes, I need to pray daily and praise and worship the Lord. Yes, I need to assist the poor financially. But there’s more to Lent.

Lent is about making room for God and letting him change us and heal us. He can’t make us do anything, he will never force us, but if we make an effort to remove the obstacles that we put in his way, we will receive his grace.

When I was praying at church on Tuesday, I told God that I wanted whatever he wanted for me during Lent. I’m not sure I convinced either of us. Do I not trust him?  This led to memories of the many times my plans crashed and burned, but I realized that most of the time I had rushed into things and only then did I pray that God would bless and crown my plans.

So, this Lent I am asking God for the virtues of prudence and self-restraint. These qualities are totally opposed to my natural instincts but I’m also asking for a boatload of grace and trust. I know he will deliver. What are you asking God for this year?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Cynicism, Therese, and Lent

We were watching Jeopardy last night. The final question had something to do with Greek philosophers and cynicism. I know that Greek philosophy had some influence on the early Christian church but truthfully, I don’t know a lot more than that. I was also intrigued by the word cynicism. In current times this denotes scorn and distrust. I decided I needed to do a little research.

For one who practices the classical philosophical tenet of cynicism, “the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, and fame.” My husband said that sounds like the way a monk would live. I agreed, though I would venture to say all practicing Christians should be striving for these qualities.

If that wasn’t hard enough already, we have to fight against our temperaments. Being a person who reacts first and then tries to think things through, plus having to correct the hurt and damage I’ve inflicted by my initial reactions, this seems insurmountable.

Then I thought of St. Therese of Lisieux. She was one of five surviving children born out of nine. Her mother died when she was four years old, and the elder sister who became a second mother to her, left for the convent when Therese was nine. Naturally these losses had an effect on Therese, making her anxious, overly sensitive, and somewhat neurotic. However, Therese experienced a conversion when she was thirteen and at fifteen, she followed her sisters into the convent. However, she still experienced struggles due to her personality. Biographer Kathryn Harrison wrote, “her temperament was not formed for compromise or moderation...a life spent not taming but directing her appetite and her will…” St. Therese was not the syrupy sweet, plaster saint she is so often made out to be. I would venture to say she was right up there with the Greek Cynics, living her life in the cloister, where every trait, both good and bad, is brought into sharp focus, and vices are pruned by the Sacraments, by penance, and perhaps also by community living.

So how does one practice virtue and train themselves while living in the world? Pray for grace! One cannot white knuckle their way to detachment from vice and secular values. Lent is a perfect time for this. Sometimes it seems the veil between heaven and earth is a little thinner during Lent. Maybe it’s because we are more open to change and asking for help at this time. And although this verse is out of context for this post, I echo the words of Peter to Jesus, "LORD, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” ~ John 6:68

 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lourdes

It's Feb. 11 today, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In honour of this special day I would like to share a few of my own experiences of Lourdes.

💧💧💧

Lourdes. It was nothing like I expected. I had tried not to build up the place in my mind but that’s hard to do when the Mother of God has visited there. It was crowded, the lines were long, the pilgrims didn’t always act holy, and one of the men on my tour even had his camera stolen there.

So, would I go back? In a heartbeat!

I can still feel the walls in the grotto, made smooth by millions of hands caressing the stone as they shuffled by. Many touched their rosaries to it as well. There were little rivulets of water running down the rock, that pilgrims would bless themselves with. Each one seemed to linger as they contemplated the niche in the rock where the Blessed Mother had appeared.

I loved the braziers full of candles, each one representing the silent prayers of the pilgrims for their loved ones. Sometimes the heat was so intense the candles would bow over, as if they too were imploring God with their requests for miraculous healing.

Every night there was the great winding candle procession from the grotto to the front of the Rosary Basilica. I watched from the balcony overlooking the square, the luminous stream winding its way up and down the avenue, as I listened to thousands of voices singing Ave Maria together, lifting their candles in unison during the chorus. It was absolutely soul stirring.

The morning my friend and I went to the baths we rose early. As we walked across the square there was a magnificent full moon setting behind the basilica. I wanted to take a photo but I knew the camera could never capture the full glory of it.

The lineups for the baths were long. We sat in the same place for over an hour. Slowly we began to inch forward. Parents were bringing their sick children in strollers and wheel chairs to the baths set aside especially for them. This is the most penetrating memory of them all; little twisted bodies, parents clinging to their last shred of hope, the kindness of the bath attendants. This was the real Lourdes. I had to look away, to spare them my look of pity. That, they did not need. What they did need was prayer.

Finally I waited by the blue and white striped curtains for my invitation into the private area. When my turn came, I entered a small changing room. There was room for 6 of us plus some attendants. We were given long navy blue capes so we could undress in relative privacy. A woman came through another set of curtains as she exited the bath, now it was my turn.

The baths at that time dated from the 1950s and were made of gray Lourdes stone, the same as the grotto. The walls were tiled and at the end of the small room was an image of Our Lady. I was frozen at this point, my eyes as wide as saucers trying to take it all in. The attendant spoke to me in French but I told her I spoke English. She asked me to pray for my intentions. I could only look at the picture of Mother Mary and entrust my prayers to her for I could not arrange my thoughts properly. This was probably the best thing to do.

With my blue cape still on I was discreetly wrapped in a wet sheet that had been wrung out by two attendants. The cape was then removed and they indicated I could now enter the water. I tried to be brave but that water was so shockingly cold I gasped. I had waited for over 40 years for this so I decided I would embrace the experience and I submerged myself to my neck, quickly praying that the waters would heal anything that might be making me ill, either physically, mentally, or spiritually. I then stood up and was helped out of the bath. The cape went back on, the wet sheet came off to be wrung out for the next woman, and I went back into the changing room. It was as if time had stopped and sped up in the same moment. I couldn’t believe it was over already, not that it would have been comfortable to linger in that icy water.  

There were no towels to dry off with. I was instructed to simply put my clothes back on under the privacy of the cape. The amazing thing was that I was dry almost instantly and I felt comfortably warm. Many others have reported having the same experience. I then exited the baths and went to Mass at the the Grotto. 

A few days later we travelled to Nevers where the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette still rests. When I was finally able to kneel in front of her glass casket I wept. For so long I had desired to see her. She was endearingly small. Sadly this resulted from her poor health in childhood. She died at the age of 35, even though she had been offered water from Lourdes to bathe in. She declined, knowing the restoration of physical health was not meant for her. Truly I think she longed to be with Jesus, and to see our beautiful Blessed Mother again.

🌹🌹🌹

Je vous salue, Marie pleine de grâce ;
le Seigneur est avec vous.
Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes et Jésus,
le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,
priez pour nous pauvres pécheurs,
maintenant et à l’heure de notre mort.

💗


Friday, February 5, 2021

The Wedding at Cana

I just watched Episode 5 of The Chosen again. I specifically wanted to see the segment featuring the wedding at Cana. You can just feel Mary’s concern for her friends and their social predicament. But what I really love about the scene is the conversation between Thaddaeus and Mary Magdalene that runs alongside the narrative. It’s not in the bible but it clarifies why this miracle is so important to Jesus’ ministry and to the role Mary plays in our lives.

Thaddaeus and Mary Magdalene are talking about the work that he did before Jesus called him to join the apostles. He says his father was a smith and that he was disappointed Thaddaeus wanted to be a stonecutter. Mary Magdalene remarks that it seems like harder work. Thaddaeus replies,

It isn’t harder, it’s just more final. If the smith wants to change a horseshoe or a pot hook, he has only to put the iron back into the fire and reshape it to fit his desires. But once you make that first cut into the stone it can’t be undone. It sets in motion a series of choices. What used to be a shapeless block of limestone or granite begins its long journey of transformation and it will never be the same.  

And that is what happens at Cana. There’s no going back now. They have just embarked on the long road to Calvary. Mama Mary knows this too. How bittersweet that moment must’ve been for her. But what really struck me is how much she must love us, and how dedicated she is to helping her Son in His mission to save us, by complying so graciously in her role to initiate His public ministry.