Monday, August 30, 2010

A Blast from the Past

So, I got a call from a boy that I dated 20 years ago. I don’t know if you can really say that I dated him. We were in the sixth grade and I wasn’t allowed to go on dates at such a young age. He was the boy that sent me the note asking me to “go out with him” that included the big square for “yes” and the little square for “no”. What girl doesn’t dream of getting that note passed to her during math? So, he was my first boyfriend. But shhhhh…. I didn’t tell my Daddy about him because I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. This forbidden relationship was quite exciting for me and my envious girlfriends!

Anyhow, we “went out” during 6th grade and part of the summer after. I moved just after starting 7th grade. I am a Navy brat and my Daddy started a new tour in Washington D.C. that school year. I remembered that we broke up during that summer but I didn’t remember why. In fact, I find that I have a hard time remembering a lot of the details of my childhood. Since I moved so much, I was always adjusting. I was always saying good bye and then having to make new friends all over again. I didn’t hang onto people because they were always leaving my life. Because of that, I don’t have the luxury of old friends to talk about the past with so the memories stay alive. Also, there wasn’t a lot of closure in my childhood relationships. If I had a fight with a friend right before I moved, then that was that. There wasn’t opportunity to possibly work things out and have that closure. My closure was that I didn’t have to see that person again, which wasn’t always the healthiest way to go about living life and learning about relationships. And that brings me back to my 6th grade boyfriend.

He found me on Facebook. When I saw his friend request, my first thought was “why does he want to friend me?” That should have been my first subconscious clue into the past. Flattered, I accepted his friend request. Then we started e-mailing back and forth with all the usual “how are you” and “what have you been up to all these years” and it almost seemed as if 20 years had never passed. Then he brought up that infamous summer of ‘89. Even though my memory was failing me, I didn’t have a good feeling about it. When I admitted to him that I didn’t know what he was talking about, he called me…on the phone. Now, before I go any further, let me say that Mike is a really nice man. He and his wife are raising beautiful children in the Catholic faith. He serves in our Armed Forces and dreams of being a math and science teacher when he leaves the service. He is a really great person. So, imagine how embarrassed I was when he very politely told me about the nasty note he received in the mail during the summer of ‘89.

Way back in the olden days, we didn’t have computers or cell phones. At my house, we didn’t even have a cordless phone, which meant that any conversation you had on the phone was overheard by all who wished to be in the kitchen. This probably made it difficult to maintain a forbidden relationship during the summer. Anyhow, I must have decided to send him notes in the mail as a way to communicate. The problem was that he didn’t write me back. He also never tried to risk his own safety by calling me on the phone. Now, you also need to know that I had a team of advisors to coach me through this relationship. Me and my equally-psychotic girlfriends must have been taking notes from the unwritten book of How Boys are Supposed to Behave When They Are Your Boyfriend. And since we didn’t have any attempts at communication from him over the summer, we decided he must be dumped. So I fired off a nasty letter giving him the boot. I am sure this letter was met with great enthusiastic approval from my team of advisors before hitting the post office. After I mailed that letter, Mike and I never really talked again. I saw him at school that fall and I remember being embarrassed. Even though I had gotten approval and admiration from my girlfriends, I knew I probably hurt his feelings. And, like I said earlier, I moved shortly after school started that fall, so moving away from the situation was my closure. I never needed to see Mike again - until he found me on Facebook and called me on my iPhone. How ironic.

Embarrassed is just not a big enough word. Here was a very nice man telling me about my psychotic behavior all those years ago. I must conclude that if he remembers what I did to him 20 years ago, then he must have been impacted by it. I must have hurt his feelings. I apologized many times. After we got off the phone, I started to wonder why he brought this up. The whole situation put me in a very reflective mood. And what do I do when I am reflective? I clean, or organize, or find some project that needs attention. This time I assaulted the garden.

The morning after his call, I found myself elbow deep in dirt, weeds, and dead flowers, all while pondering what I did to this boy all those years ago and wondering why he chose to contact me. I certainly would not want to find me if I were him. He was clearly a braver person than I could ever be. As I was pulling the weeds, I realized that even though I didn’t understand why he called me, he gave this Navy brat a rare opportunity. He gave me a chance to ask for forgiveness. He gave me a chance to pull those weeds I planted 20 years ago and find a little closure. He gave me the gift of mercy.

I have to say that Catholics talk a whole lot more about mercy than my Baptist church ever did. In my Baptist church, you asked for forgiveness when you prayed the prayer to ask Jesus into your heart. Beyond that, we didn’t talk much about asking God to forgive our sins. All of our sins were forgiven in that one prayer. Catholics don’t see it that way. We are encouraged to always examine our conscience. We are encouraged to acknowledge our sins and then take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation where we ask for forgiveness of those sins. It is a necessary ongoing process that brings us closer to the Lord, each other and heaven.

As an adult convert, the whole idea of confession to a priest was a hard sell for me. I now understand that our lips have to speak our shortcomings and our ears have to hear our shortcomings in order for true acknowledgement to take place. And when we acknowledge that sin and ask for mercy, our ears need to hear that we are forgiven. That is how the Lord lifts the burden from our shoulders and nails it to his cross. And from that cross, love and mercy flow and carry us to His presence. I understand with my head and heart the importance of the sacrament, but that doesn’t make it any easier to wait in that line. It doesn’t make it any easier to look at myself in the mirror and admit who I really am.

Lately, I have been feeling very unworthy of God’s presence. No matter how hard I try to be worthy, I fall far short of the goal. And I have been frustrated by my inability to be the person God calls me to be. This experience with Mike has made me realize that I can’t be who God is calling me to be unless I weed the garden. Just as Mike called me, the Lord is calling me and offering me the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. Even though I don’t deserve it, He is offering me mercy. Weeding the garden will always be a dirty, but necessary, task. I must not let the weeds choke out the flowers God is trying desperately to plant in my heart. I must ask for His mercy and live in His love so the flowers have a chance to blossom for His glory.

P.S.  This article was written and published with Mike's blessing.  Thanks Mike!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Holy Chalice

When I walked into the church for Mass this past Sunday, I was immediately accosted by a Knight. “Excuse me,” he said while trying to balance a squirming toddler in his arms, “Can your family take the Elijah cup this weekend? We don’t have a family signed up.”

Considering that I walked into the church alone (my husband was parking the car), I was surprised that the Knight knew I was part of a family. I could chalk it up to luck on his part or perhaps divine providence. I went for the latter and after assessing the desperate look on his face (Mass was just seven minutes away), I gladly accepted and promptly went over to the book to officially sign up. The Knight was relieved.

Each week in our community, a family takes the Elijah cup home and promises to pray for an increase in religious vocations. The cup is a blessed chalice used at Mass for the precious blood. The family is presented with the cup at the end of Mass and brings it home where they put it in a place of honor. Every day, the family gathers around the cup and prays for an increase in vocations with the same faith of the widow in 1 Kings 17: 7-15. In this passage, the Lord asked the widow to feed Elijah her last bit of food and in return the Lord promised that he would provide her flour and oil until rain fell again and the famine ended. She obeyed and because of her faith and obedience, there was always flour in her jar and oil in her jug and they didn’t go hungry. We too need to pray with the same faith that the Lord will continue to call priests, deacons, brothers and sisters to guide and nurture His sheep. And those called will answer and dedicate themselves to religious life so that the sheep will not go hungry during the famine.

All during the mass, I watched the cup. I watched our pastor pour the wine and hold it up to heaven. I watched and was humbled at the awesome moment of consecration. This cup was holding the precious blood of our Lord. This cup was holy. Our family would be trusted with this cup – to pray with this cup. What an awesome responsibility we had been given just seven minutes before the start of Mass. At the end of Mass, our pastor called us forward and handed the cup to my very excited 10 year old son. The reverence I felt for this holy cup could be seen in the enthusiasm on my son’s face as he held the cup. My heart expanded with joy because he got it. He understood the Eucharist with his heart.

Recently, our family dedicated ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We Enthroned Him as King of our family and home. We invited all our friends and family to witness as we placed his image above our fireplace, got on our knees and dedicated ourselves – mind, body and soul to Him. Since we have made this dedication to Him, I can see how we are changed. We are drawn to the Eucharist. Mass is more meaningful. Adoration once a month isn’t enough. The other day, my husband and I were lamenting over the fact our schedules don’t allow us to attend daily mass. I have even started watching mass on EWTN only to find myself frustrated that I couldn’t be physically there to receive our Lord. We are drawn to the Eucharist like a moth to a flame.

I think this is why I was so enamored by the cup. After Mass, we brought the Elijah cup home and placed the holy chalice on our mantle – right below our image of Jesus and His Sacred Heart. It was so fitting to see the cup there with the image. We prayed around the cup as the week went on. And then one morning, I came downstairs and stopped in front of the cup. I started to thank God for allowing that Knight to stop me in my tracks on the way to mass – to thank Him for letting us have this holy cup in our home, this cup that contained His precious blood. And that is when I heard His voice in my head say “but you are my living cup. I was present in that holy chalice, but now I am present in you. You came to the table, partook of that cup and now I live on in you – my holy, living chalice.”

Suddenly, the cup on my mantle wasn’t as shiny. The Lord was present in that cup, but now He is present in me. All week I had been walking around my home captivated by that cup without realizing that what was in that cup was now in me. He is part of me. He nourishes me. While that cup is just a cup that the wine can hold, my body is a living thing that the Lord’s precious blood can nourish and become one with. The Lord’s heart truly becomes one with mine in the Eucharist. He dresses me physically and spiritually in His salvation.
As I let these words sink into my understanding, I immediately felt unworthy. Am I holy enough to be a living chalice? Am I worthy enough for the Lord to be present in me so intimately? The answer is no. I am not. I fall far short. And when I quickly came to this realization, I heard Him say, “But I’m doing it anyway. I love you in spite of your unworthiness.”

I understand why the Church calls it a mystery. As I am drawn closer to the Eucharist, the light I am walking in becomes brighter and brighter, and my unworthiness is more and more apparent. And when I stop to take in the state of my soul and see my unworthiness in His light, He takes the opportunity to tell me that He loves me in spite of my unworthiness. He knew how unworthy I was before He let them nail Him to that cross. He knew of my wretchedness before He allowed the crown of thorns to be pressed into His head. He knew of my nature before He offered His back to that first whip. He knew about me in the garden. He knew. And He did it anyway. And He keeps doing it over and over, humbling himself into the hands of the priest at the altar and becoming present in the Eucharist, all because He loves me and He wants to live in me. This is a great mystery my finite brain cannot understand. This is a love foreign to my human heart. This is salvation my soul doesn’t deserve. But all my spirit wants to do is be present with and in the Eucharist; to be present with and in Him. I pray that He will continue to give me the strength, courage and desire to keep flying towards Him like the ugly moth to the beautiful flame.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Transfiguration Prayer

Transfigure my mind, O Lord, transfigure my mind. Change my thoughts to your perfect will. Use my words to seek you out. Give me wisdom so I may find you in the midst of this world. Give me understanding so I may know your truth. Give me knowledge so I may know you and know myself. Rain down your light so I may see your path. Take my mind, O Lord, and make it a worthy gift for the Father.

Transfigure my heart, O Lord, transfigure my heart. Bring my stony heart to life. Place my cold heart in the furnace of your divine love and allow your fire to melt the ice, soften the hardness and enlighten the darkness. Infuse it with your love and mercy. Give me courage to die to this humanity so that my heart may truly be yours. Take my heart, O Lord, and make it a worthy gift for the Father.

Transfigure my soul, O Lord, transfigure my soul. Have mercy on my unworthiness. Have pity on my fallen nature. Allow your body and blood to wash me white as snow. Clothe me in your salvation. Give my dying soul your life. I long to lose myself in you for eternity. Take my soul, O Lord, and make it a worthy gift for the Father.