I’ve always loved that quote by Shakespeare (inspired by Socrates), “To thine own self be true.” It, unfortunately, offers that same pitfall as the free will argument. Being true to ourselves should bring us more in line with our true nature—to be more like God in whose image and likeness we are created. But for many, being true to your self gets mixed up with being true to your selfishness.
Category archive: Catholic365
People can be so annoying. Pretty much everyone in the world has “friends” (or even family) who they never hear from…until they need something. Or there’s the person that every single time you run into them you get the “broken record” run down of everything going wrong in their life. You might see them coming and duck to avoid them, but they find you…oh, they find you…and they don’t take a breath. There’s no getting a word in here!
When we talk about Christmas, or sing about it in carols, we always use peaceful and charming words—idyllic, really—to tell the story about how Jesus came into the world. It’s nice how our memory heals the reality of a situation… For us, looking back at that moment we see a peaceful, happy and really joyful scene. And it is—but maybe not so much for Mary and Joseph when they were going through it. Instead of being what we would consider an ideal setting for the birth of any one of our own children, it was God bringing good to a very wrong situation.
We’ve heard it all before about what a risk Mary took with her “yes,” we hear in the Gospel about how Joseph wasn’t sure what to do with the info he’d been given about the condition his brand new bride was in, we know there was no room at the inn, and how the holy couple had to make a crazy long journey at the very end of Mary’s pregnancy. I’ve been pregnant, and I can’t think of anything that would make me take a long ride on a donkey right before giving birth. When you put all of that together, and add in the turmoil of the time, it’s a terrible story—except that it’s how God chose to enter into the terrible circumstances of the human condition. Then, it’s a really cool story…
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has called upon the Church to be a witness of God’s mercy to the world. Mercy is kindness that isn’t deserved. It’s forgiveness unearned. That’s what God’s love is all about. While on the cross, Jesus asked the Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34) If you read the Gospels, this kind of mercy is rampant in Jesus’ personal encounters. Jesus recklessly, extravagantly lavished mercy on people who everybody else had either hated or just written off.
Across the world, parishes have been participating in the dedication of Mercy Doors decorated with symbols of God’s invitation of love to all people. It is a Jubilee tradition to cross thresholds and to return home (Leviticus 25). God’s mercy invites all who have been away—physically and spiritually—from God to come home again and experience the forgiveness and reconciliation of Christ. Our churches are meant to be the homes that children of God can return to, to be welcomed, loved and accepted. They are meant to be a threshold that people who have felt estranged from a sense of community to find the embrace of God.
Have you seen the Snickers commercials where an overly hungry person is acting like a tyrannical maniac? My favorite is the one when a bunch of guys are playing football and one gets hungry and isn’t himself—he’s Betty White. He has a Snickers and is restored to himself. There are several variations on a meme going around the Facebookasphere that says “Sorry for what I said when I was hungry.” I can say for myself that, when I’m fasting or didn’t remember to eat, I can be a bear! We really can get out of sorts when we haven’t had the nourishment that we need.
We celebrate the gift of Eucharist every time we have Mass, but we need to periodically to bring attention to what we might allow to become commonplace or mundane (as the Church does on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). Because we are so blessed with access to the Eucharist pretty much whenever we want it, we have the potential to forget what it is that we are receiving.
Back in the day it sometimes happened that women who were in abusive marriages were forced to stay with their husbands because they had no means of supporting themselves and social stigma would have made life unbearable for them if they had left; leaving their own lives, and sometimes the lives of their children in danger. They were entirely reliant on their spouse. They didn’t remain in the marriage because they wanted to, or because they were freely choosing it; but because they were stuck, fearful and had no other viable options. Such a situation is not the life-giving vocation that God intended marriage to be, and is not the loving relationship that God wants for anyone.
God is entirely self-sufficient. God is perfect, unchanging, eternal, omniscient and omnipotent all by Himself. God doesn’t need you to be happy. God doesn’t need you to follow His laws to be fulfilled. God doesn’t exist because of you, and heaven will not fall apart if you don’t eventually wind up there. God will be perfectly content whether you ever offer Him anything or not.
God neither gains nor loses anything by being nice to us. God neither gains nor loses anything by us accepting or rejecting Him. That puts God in a very interesting position. It puts God in the position of true generosity, perfect freedom in gift giving and removes any motive from initiating a relationship with us except the motive of love. God created us entirely out of this self-giving love, but doesn’t need us to reciprocate to be happy. God desires that we reciprocate for our own benefit; because love desires the good of the other and always wants to share the joy that it possesses. But God will not cease to have joy simply because someone rejects it.
Some time ago a friend of mine shared an article written by a mom, who is an atheist, about her young son’s journey to atheism. Like many parents, she meant to leave him a blank slate so that, without her interference, he could come to his own conclusions about the existence of God and the necessity of religion in his own time. She spoke of how she wasn’t intentionally raising him atheist, and her realization that by raising him with no spiritual foundation, she actually was raising him to be an atheist.
The way we relate to God, faith and religion in our homes; whether intentionally or not, does, in fact, raise our children to be something. If we speak of God’s presence in our individual lives and in the life of our families, pray together, do charitable works together, make Mass part of our routine and celebrate holidays with their intended meaning, we are creating a culture of faith, belief and probably a lasting relationship with God and the Church that will be passed on to the generation beyond our own children. If we don’t, we are sending a different message, and imbuing our children with a different set of values.
Many different circumstances can lead to the need to leave the parish that was your spiritual home—moving, parishes closing or merging, a change in schedule that makes it impossible to attend Mass or Religious Ed, or whatever your need is. Regardless of how it happens, having to leave your parish family can be profoundly painful. Often, it takes a lot of adjustment to make your new parish your home. It takes sincere effort to not compare every little aspect of the new place to your old one: the priest isn’t as friendly or as good a homilist, the music isn’t as good, they don’t have __________ ministry/group, my Church was prettier…believe me I’ve heard, or even said it all! If you have recently changed parishes—or even changed a long time ago and are having trouble getting comfortable—please consider the following ideas on how to make a successful transition.
5. Say “Hi” to the people around you at Mass
It’s not necessarily appropriate to have a full-blown conversation in Church before Mass starts, but people are creatures of habit—and chances are—you are going to find that you, and the people around you are in the same spot each week. Make an effort to acknowledge the people around you; with a nod, a smile, a quick wave. You’d be surprised how a little gesture like that can go to making a connection in the pew. And, it could lead to conversation after Mass!
4. Get involved
Belonging to a parish means that you have a claim on them, and they have a claim on you. Just like you have spiritual and relational needs, your parish has need of you! It’s not enough to scrutinize what they do or don’t have to offer—you have a lot to offer, too! Maybe the choir isn’t great, and you are aware of it because you can sing…bring your beautiful voice to their assistance! Maybe they don’t have the ministry that nourished you most in your old parish…ask if you can help get it started—if it nourished you, it might be great for other people, too! A major part of parish life is community—religion is not meant to stay between you and God—it’s meant to reach out to the people of God. So, get involved and become part of the action of the Holy Spirit!
As the reader looks at the list below, they will notice immediately that not all of these things are absolutely unique to Catholics. But, they are useful ways that Catholics can experience grief and suffering. I would have added to this list “take a break” and “find humor where humor can be found,” but not everybody can do those things—and the ones who can, do it naturally. It’s not meant to be a complete list—feel free to add your own in the “comments” section!
1) Moving from the question, “why me,” ask, “why not me?”
When we are suffering, it’s the most natural thing in the world to ask “why.” Things that catch us off guard, or at our most vulnerable, or as a series of unfortunate events can get us scrambling to find meaning in our suffering—and that’s brilliant because it acknowledges that we believe that there should be meaning in our suffering. And, as Big Bird says, “Asking questions is a great way of finding things out!” We need to ask God “why” to get us on the journey to discovering that meaning. Whatever personal meaning you may find along the way is a gift—it is the answer to “why me.” But, there is another question we have to ask alongside it; “why not me?” Suffering is a natural part of human experience. It is something that no one successfully avoids. It is something that even God chose (yes chose) not to avoid in the person of Jesus so that we could immediately find meaning in our own suffering. Jesus’ suffering led to the conquering of sin and death for us. It is our salvation, our hope and our model for how we can suffer.
A woman who was preparing for the birth of her child responded to an ad on Craigslist to purchase clothes for her baby. Upon her arrival, the person who placed the ad, a deranged woman bent on kidnapping the unborn child, attacked the expectant mother, cut her open and removed the baby; leaving the mother in serious danger of death and ultimately killing the infant. The assailant is being charged with the attack on the mother, but will not be charged in the murder of the infant. Colorado state law does not consider a fetus to be a person because it cannot live on it’s own outside the womb for an extended period of time; hence the death of the baby was not a murder—because a person wasn’t killed. (See article on CNN here.)
I have often noticed that in news reporting, when discussing abortion, reporters would refer to the unborn child inside as a “fetus”, but when they were reporting on a story where a wanted unborn child was killed as a result of an accident or an attack that the child was referred to as an “unborn baby.” A distinction is made according to the intention of the mother. That’s bad enough. But now, in a case where a mother was actively preparing for the birth of her child, she is not even being given the dignity of the state acknowledging her little lost one as a person.
How wounding, how disgraceful and how inhuman the law is becoming. In an effort to “protect the rights of women” in their reproductive choices, we have come so far as to not even protect the lives of unborn children that are wanted. I believe all abortion is wrong—I can’t understand how in this day when we have so much information about what happens in the womb, the way a child develops and the absolutely clear humanity of these tiny ones how anyone could not see the evil of abortion. But this takes our disregard for human life to a whole new level.