Friday, May 29, 2009

Catholicism and the Fruits of Discipline

Which teachers in high school made the most positive impact upon you? Which ones brought out the best in you?

There were a few teachers I had in high school who inspired me in different ways. Mrs. Foley was a stickler for proper grammar. Ms. Davidson challenged us to make speeches that persuade people. And Sr. Rita inspired me to find a way to switch out of her class because she only had love for the school jocks.

If you look at your past history with teachers, you would probably have one or two who seemed unreasonably strict at the time but yet pushed you to go beyond what you thought you could do. Those are the teachers who are great - the ones who aren't so much concerned about being a student's "friend" as they are being a guide. A truly great teacher will challenge you to see the world - and yourself, differently.


We learn from those types of teachers. Sometimes we'll have mini-epiphanies while listening to one of their lectures. Some students are so inspired by their commitment to creating a learning environment that after graduation, they pursue teaching as a college major. I obviously didn't go that far, but teaching, to an extent, has always been in my blood. I love to energize a group and share what I've learned with them. I love to see them take new knowledge and come to an understanding of a particular concept. (I teach digital scrapbooking classes and love to see excitement in my students.)

To me, teaching is a combination of love and discipline. A great teacher must love their students but not coddle them. They must train their minds but not break their spirit. It is a difficult task which is why there are so few great teachers. To walk the line between pushing a student beyond mediocre work and being too demanding is an art; and one not appreciated enough in our society as far as I'm concerned.

We live in a soft world. Passivity and an aversion toward challenge is killing our school systems. In the attempt to "level the playing field" for students by lowering the standards for educational excellence; our public school system has churned out truckloads of non-thinking individuals. Take a child's brain of mush and only throw entertainment at him, and he will expect to be entertained the rest of his life; never examining his own potential for greatness.

No Soft Pillows

The Catholic Church has never been about ease. School uniforms in Catholic high schools reflected a group in training. Perseverance through suffering, denial of self, and a demand to be your very best was instilled in many Catholic students. It's not surprising that some of these very same students went on to become leaders in their fields. Leadership demands discipline.

An anthropologist recently discovered a truth many of us already knew: Martyrs make religion. In other words, when someone is willing to pay the ultimate price for their beliefs, such as dying for them, others pay attention. We as Catholics know that when the early Church was being persecuted, new believers were being born. Those who watched the Christians bravely embrace their circumstance knew that anything worth dying for - was worth living for.

These words from the article about the anthropologist caught my eye:

If Henrich is right, churches that liberalise their behavioural codes may be sabotaging themselves by reducing their followers' commitment, New Scientist comments, adding that this may explain why strict evangelical Christian churches are expanding in the US at the expense of mainstream denominations.

There is something in us that instinctively knows it is good to be stretched. The athlete pushes their endurance levels in order to fulfill their greatest potential. The artist disciplines herself by spending years studying the Old Masters so she will be able to create her own masterpiece someday. The violinist spends hours disciplining his hands and ears so he can perfectly deliver a stunning rendition of a musical piece.

And the Catholic Church? She instills in us the discipline so that eventually, we may become saints.

Little Challenge Produces Little

Liberalism does nothing for the human spirit. It is weak, with little demand or challenge in its statutes. Again, we know deep down inside that there is a justice when one is rewarded for their own efforts and an injustice when those rewards are taken away and given to one who hasn't earned them. Liberalism does not produce greatness, but dependence.

And this is why I foresee the Catholic Church growing, surprising even her harshest critics. They will be unable to deny the sincerity of those who reject the "easy way," although I suspect they'll find a way to punish it all the same. Those who believe in the truth and economy of discipline, have already received their reward, whether it's a well-paying job or recognition in their field of expertise. Little effort produces only mediocrity.

Catholicism challenges us to resist the temptation to just coast through life. Our Mother Church says, "Stand up straight. Don't talk with your mouth full. Study your Bible. Know your catechism. Pray your rosary. Love your enemies and forgive them. And don't forget to go to Mass."

Because as every good parent knows, you have to train the child to walk before they can fly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Great News! Ordinations On The Rise!

What a fantastic turn of events as we head into "The Year of the Priest!"

If someone had told me in 2007 that within a few years I'd be rejoicing at the news of an increasing priesthood within the Catholic ranks - I'd have asked them if they were off their meds. My new love and appreciation for priests surprises me more than probably anyone else, including my brother. (Who still can't believe I'm "into" the Traditional Latin Mass.)

Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia, noted that "the biggest bevy of new priests" came from the Archdiocese of Newark. When I checked out this remarkable archdiocese, I found Archbishop John J. Myers. While Bishop of Peoria in 1993, he penned a pastoral letter to celebrate the family. In it, Archbishop Myers referred to priests in this way:

Priests are the primary religious educators on the parish level. As "fathers brothers, pastors and teachers," they have the important task of enlightening others with the Church's teachings, about which they must be secure. According to Familiaris Consortio no. 73, "their teaching and advice must... always be in full harmony with the authentic magisterium of the Church, in such a way as to help the people of God to gain a correct sense of the faith to be subsequently applied to practical life."

Full harmony. I like the sound of that.

I also liked how Archbishop Myers was even thinking about the connection priests have to the larger family which is the Body of Christ. Too often, our priests feel isolated and I for one would like to be a part of changing the current status quo. How can we best support our priests? This is a question I will be asking of God, myself, my fellow parishioners, and of course, our priests as we head into "The Year of the Priest." Although the enemy would love to disconnect priests from understanding their role and identity within God's perfect pattern for His Church, (divide and conquer); we know that priests who resist this and have victory over obstacles and temptations will ultimately fortify the Church.

Over the years, the enemy has had a field day with the priesthood. Sexual abuse, aggressive promotion of homosexuality and female ordination, and the blurred lines between the priesthood and laity have all done damage to the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The enemy, in essence, has robbed the Church of her Fatherhood.

But the tide is turning, praise be to God! Spiritually strong young men are answering the highest call to give up all in order to serve Him. Our priests need our support more than ever, especially in prayer. Long, grueling days that require a priest to meet the needs of so many people can eventually take its toll. It is an extremely emotionally draining role, not to mention the attacks one often receives not so much from outside the church - but from within.

Let us lift up our prayers already, even before Our Holy Father formally begins "The Year of the Priest," and thank God for His provision, asking Him to thoroughly equip these new priests through the power of the Holy Spirit, with everything they need to accomplish His will. God bless our priests!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

I hope you have had a lovely holiday. What is important to me is thanking the men and women in service who have helped preserve the freedom of our country and assisted others in need throughout the world. Many have sacrificed everything, including their own lives. My deepest gratitude goes toward all who have worked so tirelessly for protecting us; and especially toward the parents and loved ones of those whose lives were lost.

Memorial Day usually goes quickly and many give little thought to the purpose of this day. Here's a beautiful video to remind us. Have some tissues nearby...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Missing Link? Most Likely Still Missing

I give my boss credit for not skipping into my office with the news that scientists "might" have found the missing link to explain evolution of man from animals. Some may think that finally a link has been found, but the true question is - why aren't there more "missing links" around, anyway?

If we truly did evolve from an animal, why isn't there proof? As I've commented a few times when talking about this topic: why indeed, are there still apes? If an ape evolved into a man, why didn't they keep evolving? I believe that the true missing link, is the one between a person's refusal to believe in a Divine Creator and God, Himself. Scientists for centuries have tried to prove our existence apart from God but seem to keep running into this nasty bit of evidence called reality.

Obviously, I'm no scientist. But I am a believer in Christ who has watched over decades now the insistence that everything can or should be explained by science. Aside from all the arguments, I find it amazing that people can remain in a state of denial regarding man's spiritual side when it is so clear that mankind searches for spiritual fulfillment. Just as our bodies need food and water, so our soul needs spiritual nourishment. Without it, we turn inward and become cold, brittle people.

I have the day off today, which is just wonderful. I took the opportunity to prepare for myself a nice, leisurely breakfast and turned on the TV as I ate. Watching TV is very rare for me, but I decided to watch one of the morning shows. They had a portion of their programming where they highlighted "Good Samaritans" who helped others through tough times. The stories were compelling but I noticed something immediately.

Almost every one of them made a reference to God.

Either the person receiving assistance said, "it was God's blessing" or the person giving help said, "God has blessed me and I wanted to pass it along." It made me feel very, very good as I realized that as difficult things have become, we have a large portion of our population who believe in God and believe He has a purpose for their lives.

I know there may be a secular humanist reading this and say, "So what? I can give the same help and often do." If you do, wonderful. Everyone needs a little help now and then. But I still say the need to give help and receive is something built into us by God. I also am baffled by atheists who say it's right to give back to others and yet they refuse to acknowledge the origin of that belief.

If indeed we evolved from animals, how did the concepts of love, forgiveness, and shame come into being? We see loyalty even in animals, but yet why do they act as they do? Somewhere down the line, Someone had to place such awareness and intent into living creatures.

My boss likes to think that this need to believe in a "higher power" is DNA-embedded (if he only knew!) but will be "bred out" of us as mankind continues to evolve. I challenged him by saying, "Well, it hasn't been bred out in 2,000 years" to which he replied, "That's nothing! A drop in the bucket compared to a million years!" Still, neither he nor anyone can deny that Christianity, for all the attempts to destroy it - still lives.

Maybe I should be praying that such people "evolve" toward accepting God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: It's Good Medicine

Do you remember when you were a child and became ill? Often, either your mother or father would give you medicine (like cough syrup), which would taste just awful, but they'd assure you, "Take this. Trust me, it's good for you. It will help you feel better."

As we grew older, we realized that there is a time and a place for medicine and it if we could persevere through the unpleasant taste, it did help us feel better.

I'm reading Teresa Tomeo's testimonial book, Newsflash! My Surprising Journey from Secular Anchor to Media Evangelist. I can relate to the "surprising" part of her journey since I'm on one of my own. However, something I just read made me realize the truth of the Catholic Church:

It is my prayer that if you are struggling with a particular tenet of the Catholic faith, or if you have a difficult time accepting certain Church teachings, that you will hang in there. Allow your heart to be transformed by your Creator. Ask God for the grace to open your heart and speak to you concerning your won walk with Him and to truly see how the areas the Church provides whatever it is that you need.

I have found that most people leave the Church because they don't truly know what she teaches. Additionally, many people think the Church dogmas are unrealistic, outdated, and too difficult to apply to their lives when, in actuality, Church teachings, or more precisely, God's teachings, are meant for our well-being.

After all the years away from the Catholic Church, I can say with confidence that very few non-Catholic churches provide complete "good medicine," like Catholicism. We know that a caring parent is not going to give a child everything he demands. Young children are very self-absorbed, and it is the parent's role to help them understand that the world doesn't revolve around them. It is an unfortunate turn of events when a parents does not do this, and the child grows up to be selfish and defiant; expecting the world to cater to him.

Allowing oneself to be disciplined and taught is a humbling thing. A child has few choices except to submit to the guidance of their parents. But as a child matures, he needs to guide his own life, and if he had a strong foundation built, will usually make the right choice, even if it may take a few attempts to do so.

There are many reasons why I am back in the Catholic Church, but now see that my upbringing prepared me. I was taught at an early age that momentary discomfort could be endured for a long-term benefit. In essence, I was taught to see "the bigger picture." The Catholic Church is all about "The Big Picture" - which is the transformation of a believer from a selfish child, in a sense, to the image of Jesus Christ - a saint.

Oh, how so many fight against this! When I returned to the Church, I was slightly amazed to see dissenters trying to justify their childish "wants" to Rome, insisting upon their own way - which included issues like the the ordination of women as priests, marriage for priests, and recognition of same-sex romantic relationships. To me, they seemed to be nothing more than toddlers, throwing a tantrum because they weren't getting their way. And if they couldn't get their way, they'd recruit the help of the world, which was only too eager to plead their case in the media.

I say "slightly" because it really isn't a surprise if you think about it. We all have our childish moments when we look at what God is asking of us and yes, pout. It's not easy to sacrifice our own preferences but what we need to remember is that our own preferences lead to death. Satisfying the lusts of the flesh, which doesn't just include sexual issues, but issues such as pride and unforgiveness, does not lead to the joy we are seeking. We may feel temporarily satisfied, but it is hollow, quickly dissipating like the dew in the morning sunlight.

The Sacraments are for our benefit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, is for our benefit. Wonderful priests and nuns who proclaim the truths of the our faith, teach us such difficult lessons for our benefit. It is "good medicine" for our souls.

I think about those who rebel against the Church, especially Catholics who call themselves "progressive" and I wonder if the scales will ever fall from their eyes. Will they ever understand that our Lord Jesus Christ desires their complete loyalty and fidelity? Will they ever understand the ramifications of that desire? I know in my heart the answer is yes, and although it can be discouraging to witness such events as this past weekend's graduation ceremony at Notre Dame, I realize I cannot stop praying for it.

We must press on and tell people the truth. The truth, Jesus Christ, is the "best medicine" for a very sick and ailing world. Only through our complete surrender to God will we receive the healing we need. For "by His stripes, we are healed." (1 Pet. 2:24) And if you look at Google's logo today, you can see how they, along with everyone else is rejoicing at the possibility of finding the "missing link" that connects humans with an ape.

God is the God of science. He knows our innermost thoughts, and the functions of our bodies because He created us. And praise be to His name forever, He has given us the "good medicine" we need to rid ourselves of the poisonous sin of Adam and Eve, who birthed the bondage of the flesh.

I know I'm filled with joy to take my medicine, however it appears, for, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28) Amen, and amen!

Note: I found myself commenting on Fr. Longnecker's blog regarding a few entries he posted recently regarding the "new angry atheism." I don't mind talking to atheists. In fact, I enjoy the intellectual challenge. But I just came to this conclusion: I would much rather converse with those who want to find reasons to believe, than those who want to find reasons to disbelieve.

Some of my other thoughts regarding the existence of God:

An invisible God uses invisible means, to make Himself known.

How can we expect a finite mind, to understand completely the infinite? If I am able to "prove" God's existence, then He really wouldn't be much of a God, would He? God is not a science equation although He is the creator of science since all things were made by Him. But it is a pretty ridiculous argument to think that my mind, with all of its limitations, can somehow explain something as enormous as God.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: Priestly Vestments

Yesterday at Mass, we had a visiting F.S.S.P. priest. My pastor assisted, along with another visiting priest. As all three entered in the processional, they were clothed in the most gorgeous vestments - gold brocaded chasubles with intricate embroidered designs, with a large cross on the one for the priest. The inside lining was a vivid red.

As they proceeded toward the sanctuary, I felt my eyes well up with tears. I was slightly surprised by the depth of emotion I felt and after, pondered my reaction. Why get all choked up about clothing? I suppose it has something to do with my growing awareness of how worship is meant to separate us from the world. Worshipping God should be different than any other activity we engage in. Clearly defining the experience of worship is important.

I had an interesting conversation with my husband last night about this issue. He brought up the point of "house churches," when the early Christian church met from house to house as their numbers grew. Many times throughout history, and in countries today that forbid the open practice of Christianity, believers have had to go "underground" and meet in homes. Obviously during those times, a group of believers is limited in their worship activities.

However, I pointed out the circumstances of the Israelites, after they left Egypt and were wandering in the desert. God had them stay in a certain spot, and then gave them instructions for the Levitical priesthood, complete with what Catholic would call "rubrics" or standards, including the craftsmanship of sacred objects to be used in worship. I said to my husband, "God thought this was more important than anything else. He didn't say, 'Build a recreation center' or 'Build a school.' He said 'Build a temple to worship Me.'" And He had very specific instructions for how to do this.

When I first returned to the Catholic Church last year, I was fascinated with sacred vestments. Not only that, I felt sad when I saw priests or nuns wearing "regular" clothes. Something just didn't seem right about it. I remembered posting in several places a question about the meaning of sacred vestments (Catholic Answers being one of them). I never received a response. I turned to God and said, "Please help me understand, if You will, the meaning and importance of these vestments." I think God is starting to give me understanding.

Although there have been times when Christians were not able to fully practice temple worship, I believe this is what God has intended as the 'norm' for His people. Our worship as Christians has roots in Judaic worship; and why wouldn't it? The believers in the early church were Jews as well as Gentiles. The Gentiles had no specific framework from which to approach worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus, as a Jew, said He had come to not destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. Would it not make sense to continue the Judaic form of worship but with the addition of Jesus Christ's fulfillment of Himself as the Paschal Lamb; sacrificed to take away the sin of the world?

I believe so. And along with that worship, comes sacred vestments. The vestments are a way to help transport us from the world to heaven. We know when we witness a priest wearing such garments that something is different. We are entering a holy place and for that; holy things are needed.

When I was involved in non-denominational churches, I never did agree with the "casualness" that permeates the service. Everything from bringing in a cup of coffee to chattering away endlessly before service and sometimes during; made me long for a demarcation between "the world" and "worship." I don't know why it's difficult to find reverence within a worship service, but I am convinced Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, deserves no less.

I'm still pondering, but wanted to share with you my thoughts so far about worship and vestments. I'd love for you to share what you think and if you have any resources. I was thrilled to find a woman through Twitter who will soon be releasing a book about the roots of Judaic worship in Christianity. I am looking forward to reading it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Encouragement for the Battle-Weary Soldier

At the last non-denominational ministry I was involved with, there was a unique perspective often preached. It came from the founder of the ministry and would permeate our worship and inspire a sense of duty. It was the teaching that we were an army waging war, with an enemy who opposes Almighty God. We were to spend our time and resources with this in mind, equipping ourselves for the battle and seeking His will as we fought the good fight.

So much of it seemed hyperbole at the time. Not anymore.

Like so many other Christians, I felt as though we turned a corner last November. Life as we knew it, had changed. But how much, we didn't know. There was just something inside of us that knew things had changed and it wasn't for the better. During the past five months, many have been shocked as we've witnessed stunning blows to our Constitutional rights and our sovereignty as a nation. We've been shocked as we wake up, not recognizing our country anymore. Speaking for myself, this is not the nation I grew up with and certainly not the one I had envisioned for the future.

During these past five months, I've given serious consideration to my identity. For many years, my identity has been firmly rooted in being a red-blooded All-American girl. I've been patriotic to the core with many in my family fighting in WWI, WWII, The Korean War, and in Iraq. I love our country's history and would defend her to all detractors. But I believe something has shifted and my eyes need to be upon something greater.

I have always had a somewhat general understanding that spiritually, we are at war with the world. Jesus Himself said that the world hated Him and did not recognize Him as the Son of God. Today, this is true more than ever. With rising, militant atheism and nominal Christian churches capitulating to "politically-correct" beliefs , the hatred is ramping up. We are engaged in a fierce, spiritual battle.

Each day, we are faced with one outrageous development after another - priests brazenly cavorting with single women, formerly respectable news outlets openly mocking average citizens concerned for their country, honorable Catholic institutions welcoming supporters for "the culture of death," Christians being labeled as 'haters' for holding strong to their convictions - in addition to the ever-increasing number of senseless murders, genocide, and a race of mad world leaders bent on world domination.

Heavy? As Governor Sarah Palin would say, "You betcha!" But did God leave us alone and without help? Praise be to His name, the answer is an emphatic No!

Jesus said, "Come to Me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest." We are given our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered more than any of us will ever suffer, and who now stretches out His nail-wounded hands to us with love. He knows the enemy we face. And the enemy isn't always obvious. It can be the relentless news on TV and radio, the co-worker who smugly mocks your belief in "a higher power," a networking event filled with non-thinking people blindly following a political "messiah", or a surly teenage son who thinks religion stinks. We are surrounded each day by the tools of the enemy. Separately, they wouldn't be difficult to handle. But together, grouped as one big package from hell, dumped upon our doorstep each day - can be spiritually overwhelming.

Lately, I've been thinking about home. Our real home. I mentioned this to our intern, a young college-aged man working in our office, and he politely listened. He is an atheist. But I shared with him that the woes of this world isn't a surprise to Christians. We understand that this world doesn't like us very much, anyway and that our true home, is in heaven. Heaven has been on my mind more and more. No surprise, given that this world is starting to become darker.

We have bits of heaven on earth already: The Holy Sacrifice of Mass, our loving relationships with family and friends, the joys of experiencing life's beauty in so many ways. I believe God uses those small slices of joy to encourage us to not give up, and that there is "lots more where that came from." Can you imagine being in a place filled with joy and void of suffering? That is our home and as we cling to Him, that is where we are headed.

More than ever, we need to be at His side, receiving spiritual nourishment and getting stronger in the spirit. Nothing shakes the enemy more than watching Christians get stronger. And the wonderful, delicious truth of it is this: when we are at our weakest, that is when He is able to be His strongest. Because we know at that point that it really isn't anything within us that shines for His glory - it is all Him. We are only His earthen vessels, but vessels in His Hands turn into pure gold, mighty witnesses of His truth.

We aren't meant for this world, but for another higher, more glorious place. Where the colors are brighter, and His love and beauty fills the air. A place where all the saints live at this moment and who are praying for us to not falter, to not give up - but persevere.

Be of good cheer.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Year of The Priest: Persecution, Piety, and St. Jean-Marie Vianney

Before the Vatican II years, the priestly vocation was always presented as sacrificial, which brought deep and satisfying rewards. "Vocations appeals," wrote Church historian James Hitchcock, "always emphasized the spirit of self-denial expected of the priest, and many communities, such as those of cloistered monks and foreign missionaries, attracted vocations by offering almost nothing but a life of self-sacrifice." - Goodbye Good Men: How Liberals Brought Corruption into the Catholic Church, Michael Rose, p 230

My husband has a friend who is vehemently anti-Catholic. We've not spoken much about my return to the Catholic Church, but I know enough about him to know that he thinks Protestants are the only ones who go through "real" persecution. When I was a younger girl, attending Catholic schools, I would look at the priests almost as a nameless, faceless organization, all marching in agreement with whatever the Pope said. All serving their churches with the same amount of love and devotion. How wrong I was.

It hasn't been until recently that I've realized not all priests are on board with the Pope. And not all share the same devotion to serving their parishes as is required by their vocation. It is appalling that someone like Fr. Alberto Cutié isn't immediately removed from the priesthood. Fr. Cutié not only has confessed to having an inappropriate relationship with a woman for 10 years, he is completely unrepentant over being discovered frolicking with her on a beach. In his words, "I will never ask forgiveness for loving a woman.'' Absolutely breathtaking.

In light of Pope Benedict XVI's proclamation of The Year of the Priest, which will run from June 19, 2009 to June 10, 2010; I have perhaps been divinely led to focus on priests. Before I heard about the Pope's intent for this upcoming year, I had heard about Michael Rose's book and planned to read it. In fact, years ago, while still involved with non-denominational churches, I had heard about the 'Lavender Mafia,' the name given to active homosexuals in seminaries who had risen to positions of leadership and systematically blocked good, orthodox men from becoming priests.

For those who know me, I can be a fireball of passion. During my years away from the Catholic Church, I was heavily involved in the ministry. One of the ministries I was involved with was prayer and specifically, I felt called to pray for pastors, their wives, and families. No matter which church I was affiliated with, I always seemed to find myself being held in the confidence of the pastor or his wife and would dedicate many of my prayers toward their protection and spiritual health. Leaders are spiritually attacked on levels that few experience, and it's no surprise. The devil hates the church and her leaders are especially hated. The enemy's strategy is, "strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter." (Matt. 26:31)

In Rose's book, I have been introduced to the patron saint of priests, St. Jean-Marie Vianney. This humble priest was an amazing man. His piety was reviled by not only sinners, but those within the church. Interesting, isn't it - that oftentimes those who lead pious lives receive persecution not just from the world, but from those who call themselves believers in Christ. But Fr. Vianney would not be dissuaded. Arriving at the small village of Ars, he prayed and said, "I will show you the way to Heaven."

Fr. Vianney had a difficult time during his seminary days, for he wasn't seen as particularly bright. But his humble and contrite heart could have taught his teachers several important lessons if they had been paying attention. Instead, young Fr. Vianney was ridiculed for not throwing his lot in with Jansenism, which many of his teachers promoted. There were many mortifications Fr. Vianney endured, some self-inflicted, others inflicted by others; but they only purified his soul, preparing him for a beautiful lifetime of ministry with one goal: to see his village converted.

I'll be writing more about St. Jean-Marie Vianney as I discover more about his life. But for now, lift up the priest of your parish in prayer and ask God to bless him and keep him safe. There is a fierce spiritual battle being waged against them and I suspect having a year dedicated to them by the Pope will only bring more. Still, God's grace is sufficient and His Church will prevail!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Catholic Architecture and the Understanding of Sacredness

This past weekend, I attended a Southern Gospel concert at my brother's church. He was kind enough to purchase tickets for the family, so on Saturday night, I, along with my father, my brother's mother-in-law, his wife and daughter; sat and heard a pretty amazing group, The Hoppers. Like many Southern Gospel groups, it was comprised of a family and a daughter-in-law, who simply had an incredible voice.

I watched with slight awe as the church's choir walk to the front of the 'sanctuary.' There were almost 200 people involved and they filled the stage. But as I looked toward the stage, I thought about the differences in a Catholic church and how these differences effect one's perspective toward a Sunday church service.

Within a Catholic building, there is an altar. There is a very good reason it is an altar, for upon altars, sacrifices are made. In the Judaic tradition of worship, animals would be placed on the altar and sacrificed as an offering to God. There were specific offerings such as a sin offering, a peace offering, or a guilt offering. Altars have a very distinct connection in our Christian tradition, which developed from Israelite worship as described in the book of Leviticus.

This is powerful stuff. But instead, let's examine what a typical non-denominational church does with the front of the sanctuary, which is usually nothing more than a large stage area that holds the worship band's instruments and a podium.

Whereas the Catholic is facing an altar, with all of its symbolism and meaning, the non-denominational church is empty, lacking any physical reminders of traditional worship. If an altar is not present, then what has replaced it? Man. Or perhaps even more pointedly, the flesh of man. What do I mean when I speak of "the flesh of man?" It means ego, a desire for recognition and adoration.

The most prominent items that typically exist on the stage (and how interesting that this is the same term used for anything entertainment-oriented) are the worship band's instruments. Even the podium can be portable but it's tough to carry back and forth a drum kit. How does this influence a Christian? One possible way could be that a Christian enters into worship by focusing on the talent (or lack of it) of the worship team. I have witnessed the trap that many churches fall into regarding this area. It always seems as if "bigger" is better and few worship teams would say they're either "big enough" or "good enough." There is always a relentless drive to improve the sound, improve the player's talent, or improve the song roster.

I know there is authentic worship that happens with this approach. But there is also the more common result of a worship team feeling judged by their performance - either basking in the adulation of an applauding audience or feeling dejected after a poor performance. There is the trap of depending upon the people's response to gauge whether a worship service has been successful or not.

Compare this with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The altar is clearly the center of focus. Some parishes have choirs, but according to the rubrics of the liturgy, they are not to be present in the sanctuary. Usually a choir loft is utilized or a small worship team may stand off to the side. The altar creates an understanding of the sacred. Even the lectern, which is used for the readings of Scripture and the priest's homily, is always to the side of the altar. Never in front of it.

A typical non-denominational church has very little in way of sacred architecture. Usually non-denominational churches are in a warehouse or a nondescript building. Bland, uninspiring, and often cavernous. Very little visual prompts are present in order to draw a Christian's heart toward prayer and meditation.

Yesterday, I was able to bring my father to a Sunday Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky. It is a glorious example of Gothic architecture and has the world's largest stained-glass window; which depicts the First Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., when Mary was officially given the title "Mother of God." The Mass was beautiful, presided by the Bishop of Covington. Afterward, I asked my father, "We both visited two church buildings within a 24-hour period. Which one elevated your soul the most and encouraged you in worship?" Without a doubt, he agreed (as did I) that the Cathedral Basilica inspired us in worship.

There is much anti-Catholic sentiment in the world. But I would like to challenge anyone who has such feelings to visit one of those old Catholic churches and evaluate their spirit's response. I can't imagine, for instance, anyone attending the Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica and not being moved.

It's not entertainment. You won't be greeted by huge screens churning out modern and hip images to go along with the worship songs. But you will be confronted with timeless truths that still apply to our spiritual journeys today. After all these years away, I have a fresh appreciation for these grand and glorious churches; for not only are they visually a delight - they have persuaded my soul to go deeper in worship. Alleluia.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Prayer, Catholicism, and Non-Denominational Intercession

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matt 6:5-8 RSV)

One of the "anti-Catholic" teachings I received was the belief that praying the rosary was "vain repetition," using Matthew 6:7 as proof. But notice in that verse that Jesus said "empty phrases." The Greek word used is battalogeō from the root word Battos, meaning a proverbial stammerer. I have written about my new found delight in praying the rosary and how it has helped orient my day. When I pray it early in the morning, it reminds me of several things: 1) I am wholly dependent upon God's grace and 2) Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, went through an extraordinary effort to bring salvation to me.

I would say those two revelations would sit well with any Protestant. It may be that for some, praying a prayer over and over again seems senseless. It's not. I'm not sure of the details, but I do know that when praying, my mind gets easily distracted. It can be all over the place. But when I pray the rosary, my mind has in a sense, "train rails" to keep me on track. As I pray the "Our Father," the "Hail Mary," the "Glory Be" and the Fatima prayer, my mind also is focusing on the mysteries. There are four: The Joyful Mysteries, The Glorious Mysteries, The Sorrowful Mysteries, and The Luminous Mysteries. Each mystery focuses on Jesus Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection. It also includes meditation upon the role of Mary, the Apostles, and the Holy Spirit.

I've given some thought about what I was involved with during those years in non-denominational churches. I have made mention of this before but will delve a little deeper with this entry.

One of the first things I wanted to do after I left the Catholic church and entered into a Presbyterian church was learn more about prayer. For reasons familiar with many of us who left the Catholic church, the prayers within the liturgy weren't "enough" for me. At the time, those prayers seemed "rote" or "mechanical." So, I was off and running to learn what I could about prayer.

I studied prayer extensively, especially focusing on famous intercessors like Rees Howell and the many historical figures who were part of great revivals in the United States, which were preceded by earnest, heartfelt prayer. I joined prayer groups, eventually learning enough to teach others. When I switched my church membership to the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, I immediately joined a small group who prayed with the pastor early Sunday morning before the service. I branched out into two areas of prayer: intercession (praying for the spiritual needs of our community, city, state, nation, and world) and prayer ministry (praying for the specific needs of an individual).

During my final years of involvement with a non-denominational church (at this time, it was not the Vineyard but a 'prophetic movement' church), I noticed something that concerned me regarding intercession. My role at the time was to organize intercessory teams for our conferences. These teams were predominately made up of women. The process for preparing these teams and the actual time of interceding was getting more and more complicated.

Before, we would gather in rooms before the conference and intercede, praying for God's direction in guiding the speakers and worship. We prayed for protection and empowerment by the Holy Spirit, seeking God's will in all things. But we slowly moved from that to other activities. Activities, that, interestingly enough - were all about being "seen by men."

The intercessors wanted special badges to distinguish themselves from the attendees of the conference. Then, they wanted special seating, to be in the front row so their prayers could truly "cover" the worship and teaching. I started to notice pride entering in as some women relished being on the front row and would pout if they they were somehow overlooked. I had to juggle the names and rotate the teams since there were many "breakout" sessions that 'needed' the intercessory team present.

So. Which scenario best fits the passage above from St. Matthew? Praying the rosary or the intercession teams I facilitated? I know my answer.

What we must always guard against (and believe me, I put myself through the same examination) is a desire to be seen and praised by men. Many women who get caught up in the race for recognition, often forget Jesus' words when it comes to prayer. We are not to make a show out of it, or seek admiration. In fact, Jesus Himself would find a quiet place to be alone with His Father and pray. Does this mean there is no value in corporate prayer? Of course not. We are strengthened when we gather with others to pray. But it is the attitude of our hearts that will let us know if we are really there to pray, or there to look good because we're praying.

I both witnessed and was a part (to a degree) of some crazy intercessory stuff when I was away from the Catholic church. But being involved with heavy-duty spiritual warfare has its consequences. One of them is an understanding of a believer's authority in this area. Many intercessors have suffered physically or experienced hardship in their life because they didn't understand that there are some areas we do not have the authority to confront in the spirit realm.

This is when I learned about St. Michael the Archangel, and Jude 1:9:

But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, disputed about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, "The Lord rebuke you."

Even St. Michael, as high up as he is in the Angel Army - did not judge the devil but said, "The Lord rebuke you." It is a powerful reminder to us that although we can boldly approach the throne of grace with our needs, we must remember our place and ask for the intercession of St. Michael in such spiritual battles.

I am slowly entering into intercession again, but with much more sobriety and awareness than ever before. Praying devotions is powerful. I am looking forward to learning more and hopefully, will avoid true "vain repetitions."

(5/8/09 9:30 PM) Note: Shirley just commented that today is the Feast Day of the Apparition of St. Michael. I had no idea, but appreciate her letting me know. I had intended on blogging about this topic earlier but had a very busy week with a work-related conference. What timing, eh? St. Michael, pray for us, for we need your sword more than ever.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vote for Me.... The 2009 Cannonball Blog Awards!

Okay. How embarrassing is it that I don't have even one vote? I know, I know... I've not let anyone know that I'm there. The voting just started this past weekend and will end May 23rd.

So. If you need a little help, here you go:


Shy, I'm not. :-)

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Christian's Relationship With the World

Last night, I had an interesting "discussion" on Twitter. (I use the term loosely since it's very difficult to have a discussion limited to 140 characters per 'tweet.') It began with a young girl, who goes by "holy canoli," and her statement about gays.

i cant stop thinking bout this Gay ministry issue lately. we r all sinners, it seems unfair that some are stoned for theirs
My response was this (and I'm "CathPrdDaughter." My responses to her are in red.):

@holycanoli Yes, we are all sinners. I don't 'stone' anyone but plead w/those who are going in the wrong direction to come home.

@CathPrdDaughter and what i appreciate the most is the call to prayer over politics, focus on Jesus, not our internal disputes. its all love

@holycanoli Amen. Make God your focus and He will guide you. But, Jesus did say He did not come to bring peace but a sword. Matt. 10:34-36

@CathPrdDaughter totaly! i get it! somethin just sits uncomfortably when we condemn & judge members of the church for their sins. its complx

@holycanoli Hang on tightly to Him, because we will see upheavals and at times, chaos. Still, God is in control. :-)

@holycanoli I will tell you this. It is never easy to tell ppl they are sinning accrding to the Bible. (more)

@holycanoli Our desire to be liked by the world is death to obedience to God. The world is in darkness & hates the "Light" of Jesus Christ.

@holycanoli Gal. 2:20 is my verse. When we die to the desire to be "cool" or "liked" by those who oppose God, we can be fully used by Him.

@CathPrdDaughter thanks so much for the grin :) im always a bit nervous to have these discussions, its so good& alive in Him!

@holycanoli If you ever want to write to me and discuss this more, I'd love it. Blessings! Off to have dinner, now. :-)

You can check my Twitter stream to follow her responses, if you'd like.

The reason this abbreviated discussion caught my attention was because I am in the midst of following St. Louis Marie de Montfort's "Preparation for Total Consecration" and am in the first part, which is examining the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world is in direct opposition to the spirit of Christ. We are seeing the truth of this more than ever as we witness aggressive government promotion of abortion, radical homosexuality, and the attempted destruction of marriage - just to name a few.

I have felt for many years that the attack on the Church of Jesus Christ is a two-pronged one: Radical Feminism and Radical Homosexuality. The two are joined for diabolical reasons, and together form a powerful foe. One destroys God's purpose for woman, and the other, for man. Jesus Christ came to set us free, and this includes setting us free from fleshly ambition and the strange notion that we're gods. There are consequences for sin, some evident in this world and some will not be seen until after death. But the evil that is rising from this two-pronged attack cannot be ignored.

As a Christian in the United States, I realize I have had a pretty easy life. Persecution isn't something I've had to give much thought to unless I was praying for Christians persecuted in other parts of the world, such as China. Now, however, it seems we are going to be given an opportunity to be a witness to God's truth. As Jesus often told His disciples, "Be not afraid." We know who wins at the end and happily, it isn't the bad guys.

My heart went out to this young woman last night as I briefly talked with her. Most likely, she either attends a church where Biblical truth is not preached or worse, compromise is made with the world. It is also likely she has received quite a bit of worldly, anti-Christian propaganda in her schooling unless she attended an orthodox Christian institution. The world attacks from all sides. If it isn't through the schools, then it may be a church. If it's not through a weakened church, then it will come through the media and entertainment. Our only defense is to have a strong personal devotion to the Word of God and prayer. We must stay closer to Him than ever.

My distaste for the concept of "cool" in the Church was mentioned in this entry, My War Against Cool. I'll repeat one of my thoughts here: When one becomes so focused on "relating" to the world, it doesn't take long before he or she is conformed to the world; not transforming it.

The Christian's purpose in life is also "two-pronged": To avoid being conformed to the world and then to transform the world by living a consecrated life to God by obedience to Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a battle. Everyday, we are targeted but praise be to God - we do not fight alone! Can I just say what an amazing realization it was to re-examine St. Michael the Archangel and his relationship with the believers on earth? How awesome! In the future, I do want to write more about my years involved with intercessory prayer - the "good," the "bad," and the "ugly." Suffice it to say that when we implore the spiritual hierarchy in heaven for spiritual protection, we're going about it the right way. St. Michael was built for such a battle, and, there are many others. God has not left us alone but indeed, has surrounded us with a host of heavenly warriors who watch over us and fight on our behalf.

Hold on tightly to Him. I say these words not only to you, but to myself. For I sense that the Christian church is entering into a darker season and we need to "gird our minds" as St. Peter exhorted in his first letter, chapter one. We know that God will not be mocked. I pray for strength to endure but also, pray for the souls of those who are still in darkness.
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord abides for ever." That word is the good news which was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:18-25

Friday, May 1, 2009

What I Love About Catholicism: Devotions

When I left the Catholic Church back in the early 80's for "something more," I didn't realize I already had more than enough spiritual sustenance within Catholicism. In my early twenties, I remember eagerly hunting for books on living the Christian faith and was especially happy if I found a good devotional book. This, of course, was done in non-Catholic Christian bookstores.

There were a few "classics," Morning and Evening by Charles H. Spurgeon, My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and the wonderfully concise If by Amy Carmichael. Each of them are excellent. However, I got the impression back then that only non-Catholics were able to mine to deeper spiritual truths and put them in a book.

How wrong I was. In fact, it may not be a matter of "right and wrong" but one of understanding. We cannot understand something if we do not realize its existence. I've slowly been coming to the conclusion that as exemplary as my all-girls Catholic high school education was; it was mostly "progressive" in its approach to the Catholic faith. How different would my life have been if, say, I had teachers who talked about St. Catherine of Siena in religion class? Or talked about Marian devotions such as the ones by St. Louis Marie de Montfort? I heard none of that. Now I'm discovering saints and devotions that I never knew existed; but seen with fresh eyes - delight my soul.

(A little 'bravo' here to all you homeschooling Catholic mothers who are teaching your children such things. You are building a strong foundation in them that will serve them well.)

Another observation about devotionals: Non-Catholics will write many books on their thoughts about God. Catholic devotions are basically prayers to God. I remember a few Catholic prayers when I was younger, mostly the Memorare and the rosary. Now that I am learning about various devotions, such as novenas, I realize that the prayers are simply beautiful and yes, very Biblical. I remembered when I was attending non-denominational churches, I would look at Catholic devotions as "superstitious." I thought the prayers were just outdated texts that really didn't have any value for the culture today. Again, I was wrong.

The prayers I am discovering have incredible meaning and are at times breathtaking in their ability to express a person's "heartcry" toward God. I was just telling someone yesterday how I prayed my first novena ever last year, when I was looking for a job. I was at the end of my rope and realized that perhaps my age was starting to affect my job search. (Those who are middle-aged can attest to the "overqualified" phenomenon.) I decided to make my first novena to St. Joseph, who is the patron saint of workers.

I obtained the prayer and for nine consecutive days, I prayed the prayer along with the rosary. I was at a conference in July, during part of those nine days, and still kept the novena. In August, I was offered a full-time job that would perfectly use my skills and education. Some might doubt that the novena had anything to do with it, but I'd disagree. There are graces for being with the Catholic Church and I believe praying novenas is one of them.

I am now engaged in St. Louis Marie de Montfort's "Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary." I am only in the fourth day of it, but already, it has grounded my spirit in Christ. What touched me was the very first day of the devotional. It focused on the Beatitudes. As I read them, I marveled at how timely they were for the Christian who is witnessing greater hostility to our faith than ever before. Meditating on the Beatitudes brought peace as I remembered that Jesus didn't have it any better. This 33-day devotion is divided into four parts: The Spirit of the World, Knowledge of Self, Knowledge of our Lady, and Knowledge of Christ. I am looking forward to completing this devotion, which Pope John Paul II called "integral" to his interior prayer life.

There are many other devotions, and I look forward to discovering them. Devotions are just that: devotion to God through prayer and supplication. They strengthen and nourish our spirit and help keep us on the right path. I've been humbled by God for my previous judgement of Catholic devotions. But I am so glad He allowed me to see the truth of their purpose.

Note: I just found out today is the Feast Day of St. Joseph the Worker! Well, my gosh. How providential is that?! Bless you this day. :-)