Friday, March 22, 2013

Who Crucified my Lord?

The answer is me.  Yep, sobering isn’t it?

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  It is the day we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to a hero’s welcome.  It is amazing how quickly the tide turned.  One day, they wanted him to be king and the next, crucified. On this Sunday, we will read the Lord’s Passion.  We will hear the story of how our King was welcomed with pomp and circumstance only to be crucified a few days later at Calvary.  What Happened?

I’ve heard this story since I was little.  As a kid, I looked at it much like a bad guy/good guy situation.  The people killing Jesus were the bad guys.  If I were there, I would be fighting them.  I would be leading the charge to protect Jesus.  I would be among the good guys.  With my child-like innocence, it is easy to lump myself in with the good guys because of the simple fact that I love Jesus.  I wouldn’t want to see him get hurt.  Yep, my child-like self had no doubt that I was a good guy.

Hearing this story as an adult is totally different.  How can a crowd turn like that?  How can you love Jesus one minute and hate him the next?  As I ponder these questions, I can’t help but wonder what role I would really play in the story.  It seemed that few people actually knew who Jesus was and fewer were willing to stand up and protect Him.  Would I really be as bold as I imagine?  Or would I silently watch with the rest of the crowd?  Or, perhaps, I would be chanting for his death in the heat of the moment.

As we see in this gospel story, it was the Sanhedrin that led the people to distrust and reject Jesus. They were the typical human beings. They were too proud to acknowledge Jesus' authority. They were too self-involved to look at the bigger picture. They were so involved with going through the motions of the law that they missed the spirit of the law that was embodied in their midst. They didn't want to give up their power. They didn't want to become humble. They would not open their hearts to God's love. Pride and selfishness is what drove them to influence the people and have Jesus nailed to a cross and die.  And these are the same traits I struggle with every day.   When I allow myself to take credit when I shouldn't, when I’m too proud to admit a mistake, or when take control when I should put it on the altar, then up goes the wall between me and my God. I become one of those people 2000 years ago, standing in the crowd, chanting for Jesus to be crucified.

Oh, Father, forgive me for who I am.  Show me the places in my life that are not filled with your light.  Give me the courage to empty myself completely to your love.  Grant me the grace to see the face Christ in those around me.  You are all that I crave.  My desire rests in your will.  Make me worthy of the life Christ won for me at Calvary.  All glory and honor belong to you, forever and ever. Amen.

Time for Lent

I had a brilliant idea this year- one that would make Lent more meaningful for my whole family.  There are no words to describe my excitement as I planned to pitch this idea to my unsuspecting loved ones.  So, at dinner last week, I presented the Lenten plan- we would, together as a family, choose a sacrifice and carry it out.  And throughout Lent, we would share our experiences and therefore, grow closer to each other and the Lord.  I know, it’s a pretty awesome idea!  Or at least that is what I thought…  While both my teenage son and little son gave me that “Seriously, Mom?” look, my husband stammered out “Well, honey that sounds like….fun?”  I pushed through their less-than-excited reactions and started with some suggestions- candy?  Soda?  And then the conversation quickly digressed.  As the other males were throwing around ideas like broccoli and homework, my little son brightens up and says, “I know, let’s give up church! Then we would have more time to play!”  Yep, we have a lot of work to do this year with Lenten Catechesis.  However, this little five-year-old has a point.  He is making an astute observation about how we manage our time.  In his own way, he is saying he wants more time to just be five.

As our culture marches forward in this post-modern age, we do so busier than ever. I don’t know about you, but my time seems to be spent before I even have a chance to possess it. My schedule sweeps me into motion like a rain swollen river, taking me on a wild ride until my head is finally deposited on the pillow at the end of the day. And when I look back at my ever so busy day, I wonder when I will ever really have time to just be. Time is ever so precious and we are starved for more of it.

So, I have to admit, when these special seasons in the Church roll around, I get a little anxious. How much busier will I be? How much more time do I need to commit to make the season meaningful for myself and my family? Is it even possible to find more time between the soccer and baseball practices, dance and gymnastics classes, band and academic competitions? How will I fit it in?

As we approach this season of Lent, we also need to remember that time is not something we are guaranteed to possess. But, time is a gift from God. And like all the blessings he bestows on us, we are called to give in return. Lent is the season when we are called to seek God out. We are called to know him more fully and more completely. We are called to sacrifice so that we can walk closer with Christ and know God on a deeper level. So, instead of chocolate or Dr. Pepper, why don’t we sacrifice some of the busyness of our lives? Let’s give up a favorite activity, and then use the time we gain for the glory of God.  Let’s make time for God during Lent.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas Magic

I don’t know about you, but Christmas season always takes me by storm.  I barely have enough time in my normal life to get all the things done I am responsible for.  Pile the Christmas duties on top of that, and I am one big frazzled mess by the 25th finally rolls around.  This year has been no exception.  In fact, I sort of threw in the towel.  My house got decorated in the middle of December.  I didn't even bother with Christmas cards.  I didn't bake a single Christmas cookie.  The presents were wrapped less than 24 hours before they were opened.  And you know what?  It was okay.  In fact, I actually had time to observe and reflect.  So, you think I would have come up with a better answer when my little son asked me what we are celebrating at Christmas time.

We were sitting in the crowded Church on Christmas Eve well before the start of Mass.  We arrived just in time to sit in the choir loft.  Those arriving after us were invited to sit in the hallway, so I was quite grateful for our choir loft seat.  This was not our parish church as we were visiting my parents.  My little son took in all the unfamiliar sights from the kneelers to the altar.  He even perused the hymnal.  After a few minutes of observing the crowded church, he looked at me and asked, “What are we celebrating, Mommy?”  He was astute enough to realize that something special was going on- this was “special” church. 

“We are here to celebrate Jesus’ birthday,” I told him.  And that was all I said.  He seemed satisfied with the answer but I could tell that he thought this “special church” was a little too much for a birthday celebration.  Or maybe he thought that it was weird that Jesus was having his birthday party in church without balloons, presents and cake.  Either way, as Mass started, I realized my answer was lacking.

Christmas used to be my favorite holiday.  But as I have grown in age and faith, Easter has become my new favorite.  This year, as the hustle and bustle hummed around me, I reflected on this change.  Why has Easter surpassed Christmas in my favorites?  What happened to the magic of Christmas?  I think it would be easy for me to point out the obvious: Christmas has been hijacked by consumerism.  Christmas is more about preparing for the presents than it is about preparing for the birth of Christ.  Retailers use Christmas to sell, sell, sell.  And us Americans buy, buy, buy.  It’s inescapable.  Even if I wanted to return to the true meaning of Christmas and forego the outrageous gift-giving, I can’t.  I can’t do that to my kids.  As I was venting on this topic to my husband, he politely disagreed with me.  He pointed out that Christmas brings joy to our culture.  It inspires us to give and find the good in one another.  I couldn't argue with him.  Although Christmas is consumed by our consumerism, it does bring out the best in us.  The atmosphere in our country is pointedly different at Christmastime.  So, why is the magic gone for me? 

My inadequate response to my little son’s question at Mass on Christmas Eve really got me thinking.  Was I truly bitter about the hijacking of Christmas by consumerism, or did I not fully understand what Christmas is all about?  Holy week and Easter are about an awesome reality- Jesus’ radical display of love, obedience and faith on the cross.  AND it’s about His defeat of death and thus, His gift of life to us.  AND, it’s about His gift of the Eucharist.   The Easter season of the Church is HOLY.  Our identity as Christians is all wrapped up in Easter.  Now, Christmas is just Jesus’ birthday.  Right?  Is that really what we are celebrating?

I am reading A Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser.  In his book, Rolheiser explains in depth about the meaning of the incarnation.  He speaks of the significance of the incarnation and it’s reality in our world today.  I think I have always looked at Jesus’ life on earth from a quasi-historical perspective.  He was born, he lived and walked on the earth, he died, he rose from the dead and then he ascended into heaven.  What I have failed to focus on is the reality that Jesus still lives here.  In my Baptist upbringing, I was taught that when you are saved, Jesus comes to live in your heart.  As I have converted to the Catholic faith, I never doubted the truth that Jesus lives in my heart, but I also never connected the significance of this with Christmas or it’s subsequent impact on the world.

You see, at Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation of Christ- the arrival of God into humanity.  Sure, it is the birth of Christ, but, more importantly, it is the arrival of Christ into the world- a world in which he still lives.  Before the incarnation, God did not exist in the world as he does today in Christ.  That fact didn't really occur to me until I started to think about my little son’s question.  Christmas is a very significant event in Christianity because it is the arrival of Christ into humanity- a position he has not vacated.  That is what we celebrate- Christ’s life intertwined in ours, his life in our hearts.

Just as Christ gave us his complete life on the cross, we are called to do the same.  Our lives are spent converting our hearts to the reality of the incarnation- to the reality that Christ lives in our hearts and in the hearts of the rest of humanity.  Our response to the incarnation is to live out the Greatest Commandment- Love God with all your mind, heart and soul and then love your neighbor as yourself.  This requires us to put our own desires on the back burner and seek the desires of Christ- not only the desires we find in the Christ of our own hearts, but also in the Christ we see in others.

So, Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s birth.  It’s a celebration of Christ’s arrival in humanity- his arrival in our very lives.  It’s a celebration of Christ’s presence in our world.  So, the question is will we let Christmas infect us?  Will we surrender our desires and let Christ pour his love into our souls and then let it flow out to touch others?  As we put away our Christmas decorations and roll into the New Year, are we going to truly live the life we celebrate at Christmas or was it just another birthday party?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crazy Lovin'

So, I have to admit that I am not the same woman I was in my twenties.  When I was in my twenties, I remember looking at the older adults and thinking, “I’m not going to be like them.  I’m always going to be hip, stylish and fun!”  Well, I was wrong.  The other day, I shockingly realized that I am one of them. In fact, I could be there fearless leader.  When did I grow up and how could I have been such a silly and na├»ve twenty-something?

Do you remember those reality make over shows?  I felt bad for the women who when on those makeover shows.  I mean, really.  How embarrassing!  Her friends and family think her personal style and upkeep is in need of such dire help that they call a reality TV show.  And then the show “surprises” her by telling her on national TV how bad her problem is.  Of course the payoff is the make over and shopping spree.  When I was younger, I always felt sorry for that poor woman.  But now, 12 years, one husband, two kids and a career later, I am hoping someone calls one of those shows for me.  It would be so nice for someone to tell me what to buy and then give me the money to buy it.  I remember when I loved to go shopping.  I loved trying on clothes.  I loved finding a good deal and wearing the latest styles.  Now, all I want to do is get in, and get out with something that fits and is as cheap as possible.  And if it takes me longer than 10 minutes, I am instantly irritated.  How did this happen?  When did I morph into the lady I always felt sorry for?

My taste in TV has also changed.  I used to watch network TV, religiously.  I was always hooked to the most popular TV show and could carry on a decent conversation about TV around the water cooler.  Now, in a rare moment when I actually watch TV, I enjoy Swamp People, Duck Dynasty, and anything on the History channel.  I haven’t a clue what they show on ABC or CBS.  Oh, and movies?  Forget it.  Somehow, my attention span has been drastically reduced.  There is rarely a movie that I can sit through without going stir crazy or falling asleep.   I sometimes wonder if an adult can develop ADD.

So what has changed over the past 12 years?  Well, I think I can easily blame this on my kids.  Yep, it is definitely their fault.  It has been 12 years since I have been in a dressing room all by myself or even to the bathroom by myself.  It has been 12 years since I have been able to watch anything on TV without interruptions.  It has been 12 years since I have been able to walk leisurely through a department store or a mall.  It’s been 12 years since my husband and I have really, truly slept a good, solid, peaceful 8 hours in a row.  These kids definitely move you from a serene place where you feel like you have control over your surroundings to a place where your world is turned on its head at least 387 times a day.  That’s got to do something to a person’s sanity.

Yep, crazy is a good word to describe what these kids do to you.  They eat the food off your plate, paint your walls with sharpie markers, turn your last pair of black pumps into matching battle ships in the wading pool, teach you the value of having the poison control number glued to the phone, test the structural integrity of all your furniture, and are sure to teach you a lesson about “borrowing” your Mother-in-law’s Lexus without her knowledge.  So, I guess it is rather remarkable that I am not completely bonkers.  Well, I’m not sure I can say that with conviction.  Let’s just say that I haven’t been institutionalized…yet. 

And, without a doubt, I would do this “kid thing” all over again.  You see, that my friends, is proof of God’s existence.  Because even though they have turned my life upside down and inside out, I love the little boogers more than I can express in words.  It’s love when you see the beauty in the picture your toddler drew on the wall with your set of colored sharpies.  It’s love when you see the ingenuity in your little son’s little mind when he figured out the black pumps would make the best boats because they didn’t have holes like the pink ones.  It’s love when you walk into the living room and are truly enamored with the complexity of the fort your son created with all the clean and previously folded laundry.  Yes, my friends, that kind of love has to come from something greater than me.  That kind of love is divine. 

God gives us the gift of children to reveal to us the nature of who he is.  Many times over, the bible calls humanity the “children of God.”  And if we really think about it, in our experiences with our children, we see that God is showing us how much he loves.  We love our children without hesitation, through tough moments, unconditionally, and forever.  And so it is with God.  St. Paul tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Now that I am a Mother, I get that.  In fact, I get it more and more each day, every day, and all the live-long day.

So, yes, I am older.  I need a makeover.  I need sleep.  I could use a few dollars in the bank and I probably need more time for myself.  But, I am not in want of love.  And I thank God each day for this great opportunity to know what true love is, how to love and how to be loved- like crazy.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Turning the Tide

Today, I had an interesting conversation with a high school theology teacher.  We talked about teens’ tendency to distance themselves from the Church and how difficult it is to sell them on the idea of organized religion.  Our conversation gravitated towards the viral YouTube video posted last year “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”  With almost 23 million views, it is easy to conclude that this video resonates with younger generations.  In Lisa Hendey’s session at the University of Dallas Ministry Conference titled “Saints for Slackers, Seekers and Sinners,” she gave some interesting statistics about the state of religion and Catholic Church in our country.  Only 23% of Catholics go to Mass every week.  One-third of adults who are raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.  According to the Pew Research center, 33% of American adults under 30 describe themselves as having no religious affiliation what so ever.  Of these religiously unaffiliated adults, 68% say they believe in God and 37% consider themselves “spiritual.”  An overwhelming majority say they are not seeking to be affiliated with a religion because “religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”  I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics to be sad and overwhelming.

I’m not a cradle Catholic and I don’t have the experience of growing up in the Catholic Church.  I grew up in a church where a relationship with Jesus was at the heart of everything that was taught and preached.  This environment encouraged me to seek out this relationship and eventually led me to fall head-over-heals in love with the Lord.  My relationship with the Lord filled the God sized hole in my soul and the inner desire for something greater than this world was wholly met in my personal encounters with Jesus.  When I went searching for Jesus outside of the church where I was raised, I landed in the Catholic Church and discovered His presence in the Eucharist.  For me, the Eucharist was the cheese to my macaroni.  Finally, I found Jesus truly present to me in a physical way and he was inviting me to receive his body into mine.  He and I were finally one in body and soul.  This experience is the greatest of my human existence. 

As I have embraced the Catholic faith and community, I realize that I am not normal.  I do not have a normal path into the Church and that provides me with a unique perspective.  I find comfort in the Catholic Church’s history, longevity and endurance.  The Catholic Church is the church founded on the rock of Peter.  This is the church that has endured for 2000 years.  This is the church that has and continues to be the largest distributor of charity in the world.  From the Catholic Church, we have the bible and well-developed Christian theology along with other countless treasures.  And, obviously, the Church’s greatest treasure is Jesus present in the Eucharist.  Therefore, it is hard for me to understand why people choose to step away from it.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know the people who run the church are not perfect.  In fact, some have erred GREATLY in their personal and professional lives and have hurt others in ways I can’t imagine.  And although that is really terrible and hard to forgive, it doesn't take away from the Lord’s presence in the Church- His presence in the Eucharist.  How can one walk away from the Lord Himself?

I am reading a book called The Holy Longing by Ronald Rohlheiser (1999 by Double Day and Company, Inc.).  He makes a great point about choice.  He says every choice is a renunciation (p. 9).  When we choose something, we are turning our backs on all the other possibilities.  At times, that is why it is so hard for us to choose.  I see this in the teenagers I teach.  And truth be told, I even see it in myself.  I don’t like to make commitments, especially social commitments until the last moment because when I commit, then I am closing the door on all the choices I haven’t even seen yet.  I think this is true for a lot of people my age and younger.  We don’t want to choose because we don’t want to be tied down just in case something better comes along.  I sometimes wonder if our modern culture has perpetuated this behavior.  Because of the progress of technology in the past two centuries, we are connected in ways we haven’t been connected and the choices before us seem endless.  Has this mindset been a factor for the 33% of adults under 30 who do not affiliate with a religion?  Are the endless choices more attractive than choosing a life with Christ and sharing this life with a community?  Do they even know what they are losing by not choosing this life?

The key factor in my own experience with the Catholic faith is the personal relationship I have with Jesus.  I don’t think it would be fulfilling or even possible for me to practice the faith if I did not have this relationship.  I wonder if that is what people who walk away from the Church lack.  Maybe they never developed this relationship.  Maybe they always just “went through the motions” and never made a connection.  I can see how that could make faith meaningless.  What is the point of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist if you are not engaging him in a relationship?  If the Eucharist doesn't mean anything to you, then receiving it can seem rather pointless (although he is still present and bathing you in grace regardless of your lack of faith).   How sad that 77% of Catholics do not have a strong enough relationship with Jesus that they do not hunger for the Eucharist on a weekly basis.

So, what do we do about this?  Where do we begin?  We can view these statistics as a great tragedy or a great opportunity.  In general, I think people are looking for something greater than this world.  They believe in a loving God who offers peace and hope.  But they just don’t know where He is.  There are too many choices, and therefore, renunciations.  And it is hard to see the beauty of the Catholic faith through the lens of this modern culture.  It is a tragedy that so many are looking, but it is also an opportunity.  By living a joy-filled life in the faith, we become instruments of the Holy Spirit.  Christ can reach through our lives to touch other hearts.  The harvest is great and Christ is calling us to be his laborers in the field.  All we have to do is respond to the love He pours into our lives.

In my own ministry with youth, I emphasize two things- they are loved by God just the way they are and that God desires a personal relationship with them- so much so that he sacrificed his life for it- so much so that he continues to make that sacrifice at every Mass so that he can be physically present to them.  If a young person doesn't connect with these two basic truths, then they are more likely to become the 77% of Catholics who don’t go to church, or worse yet, the 33% of adults who do not affiliate with any religion.  Love and relationship with Christ are essential to passing on the faith and helping others find purpose, true joy and happiness.  So, let’s spread the fire by loving as Christ loves and living this joy-filled life in authentic and purposeful ways.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Freedom From Purses

Do you notice the women who come up to receive the Eucharist with their purse?  I have always wondered about that.  It seems to be common practice, but why?  I should probably throw out my disclaimer that I am not a cradle Catholic, so I wonder about weird stuff that normal Catholics probably don’t think twice about.  But, why do they bring their purse to communion?  Are they afraid it will get stolen if they leave in in their seat?  Are they planning to leave right after communion?  Are they just following a common unwritten practice all cradle Catholic women innately have?  I have always been puzzled by it but too afraid to ask one of these women.  It seems kind of rude.  It’s like asking, “Did you really mean to wear that dress to church today?”  Yep, rude.

So, let’s change the subject.  The Pope has declared that this is the year of faith.  As we enter this year, the Lord has really laid the Saints on my heart.  He has challenged me to read their stories and admire their beautiful faith.  And, of course, all this story reading has gotten me thinking about my own faith.  Do I have what it takes?  If I were Stephen, would I have the courage to be stoned to death because I love Jesus?  If I were St. Lawrence, would I have the courage to be cooked alive because I love Jesus?  If I were St. Thomas More, would I proclaim my love for Jesus all the way to the end when they cut off my head?  Do I love Jesus more than my own life?  Do I trust him enough to lay my life at his feet like these martyrs?
Sure, it is easy to say that I do.  I have spent many hours on my knees in surrender.  At every Mass, I lay down my life with the words of the Suscipe.  At the moment, I have given up my career in education for a much less lucrative career in youth ministry.  But I have never been tested like these martyrs were tested.  I do not have to fear for my life simply because I am a Christian.  I am blessed to live in a country where that fear is not a reality.  But what if it was?  What if the Christians in my town were rounded up by a crazy person and threatened with execution if they did not renounce Christ?  What would I do?  Truth be told, I don’t know what I would do.  I am a wife and a mother.  I am a daughter, a sister, an Aunt and a Godmother.  I have family and friends whom I love and people who count on me.  Could I trust them to Jesus and allow myself to be killed rather than renounce my faith and my love for Christ?  Do I trust the Lord that much?  I have ties to this world- strong ties. I have things that I love to do and places I love to go.  I have friends and family who make each day better than the next.   I am blessed beyond measure.  But with those blessings come ties.  Don’t get me wrong, these are good ties, but ties none the less.  

So, now that I work at my church, I have my own small space in the office.  And often, I leave my belongings in there before I go to Mass.  That way, I can be completely hands free and I am not concerned with leaving my stuff.  This experience has been great.  I didn’t realize how much I was distracted by keeping track of my stuff.  There is freedom in coming to Mass without my belongings.  As I have been experiencing Mass with this bit of freedom, I realize that this is what the Martyrs felt- freedom.  They had to.  In order to give their lives as they did, they had to be free from all ties. 

So, how do we get the freedom found in the spirit of a martyr?  We have to trust.  We have to be willing to not be in control of our own lives.  And we also have to be willing to not be in control of the lives of those we love- especially our children.  We have to trust Christ absolutely and completely with EVERYTHING.  There is freedom in that trust.  When we trust Christ like this, then we open ourselves up to His love in new and more profound ways.  This is where the faith of a martyr is found.

So in this year of faith, we need to approach the altar with love AND trust.  We need to trust the Lord as much as we profess to love Him.  When Jesus sent the disciples out two by two, he told them to take nothing for the journey (Matthew 10:5-15).  They didn’t have to worry about keeping track of possessions as they traveled because they left them behind.  They trusted the Lord with all they had and went about to do his will.  This is what we are called to as well- trust the Lord and do His will.  Before we can do His will, we have to let go of our ties and trust.  If we truly love the Lord, then we will.  We can only love the Lord as much as we let go and trust him.  The martyrs show us what it means to completely trust and thus, love.

So faithful Catholic women, let’s leave our purses behind.  (Seriously, leave them at home if you need to.)  Approach the altar with just the clothes on your back and the shoes on your feet.  You don’t need anything more for the journey than an open and trusting heart. Our ties to this world are strong and comfortable.  So, let’s get uncomfortable for the Lord.  In this year of faith, let’s experience the freedom found in absolute trust of the one who has already given us His life.
                “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life….” (Matthew 10:25)
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