Thursday, April 30, 2015

running hills


Life is like training for a marathon - while running the marathon. 


Are you a runner?


I'm a runner. Of the crazy, "I need my six miles today" variety. Maybe you're a runner... Maybe you claim only to run when chased... 

Or maybe you're a runner, and you don't even know it.

But if you run, or are close to someone who does run, you are probably aware that there are two types of workouts that runners usually hate: hills, and speedwork.

Me? I hate speedwork - particularly speedwork on a track. So confined. So boring. Round and around and around... Bleh. It drives me nuts. But speedwork is a necessary evil - so when I do it (which is not as often as I probably should) I combine it with a run on one of my normal routes.

The other night, I combined speedwork with hills. 
Yes. I know. I'm crazy. It's nothing new. 

I actually like running hills, or at least I've brainwashed myself into liking them, as they are unavoidable in the neighborhoods where I spend most of my running time. Every run is on hills.

In the midst of this speed/hill workout the other night, it occurred to me that life is like this... like a hill workout - like a series of hill workouts. Some of them involve speedwork, training those fast-twitch muscles to react quickly. Some of them are long, slow distance runs, to build endurance.

But whatever the pace, they always involve hills, and some of them seem nearly impossible. Yet, as in running, when I reach the top of a hill after a grueling climb and stand at its crest, there is something glorious about reaching the top of one of those hills in the journey of life.

Yet the workouts get progressively harder. Life is like training for a marathon - while running the marathon. The hills get steeper, the overall elevation increases, the distances get longer.

Some days, it's hard to run fast. Some days, it's hard to run long distance. Once in awhile, the toe of your shoe catches a crack in the pavement and you land on your butt. Sometimes, you get hurt and have to take some time walking to recover.

And of course, you always have to eat. And if you want to perform your best, you have to eat well.

The further I run, the harder I run, the more hungry I am afterward. Makes sense. (And man, there is nothing like post-long-run hunger. Whoa.)

It makes sense spiritually, too - the harder I "train," the more time I spend trying to do God's work, or at least do his will, the more time I spend learning to hear his voice - the more hungry my soul becomes for him - and the more I need him, in prayer and particularly in the Eucharist. There is no better food than Jesus himself. 

Here is to running the race that is set before me, before us - to going the distance in faith, through the sore muscles, the heartaches, the sprains, the windy days, the days when we feel great, and the days (and months, and years) when we feel like everything is falling apart. 

Then, when we crest that last hill, and stand atop it next to the Lord, looking out over the heavenly Jerusalem, he will say, "You have finished the race. Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come to the feast."

You're a runner... whether you knew it before, or not






Joining the Blessed is She linkup on "life" this lovely Thursday!
  

Friday, April 24, 2015

eucharist


Your love, Lord Jesus, is extravagant. As if your suffering and resurrection were somehow not proof enough, you have left yourself for us in the Holy Eucharist. 


How could it be true that the uncreated Creator of the universe - who cannot be contained, who is boundless, outside of space and time - allows himself to be contained in bread and wine? And all so that his creatures might consume him? 

All the while, Lord, as we consume you in the Eucharist, it is really you who consume us. It is less that we receive you, and more that you receive us - because you found us, before we found you. 

It is truly beyond human comprehension, but that makes it no less true. You chose to remain physically with us, veiled under the appearance of bread and wine. Such complete vulnerability - and total humility. 

You have given your very self for us, Lord. Grant us the grace to return your gift of self in thanksgiving - eucharistia - through the gift of our lives. 

I love you.






Joining the Blessed is She linkup on the Eucharist. Late again this week, no thanks to a sinus infection that doesn't want to go away. (Prayers are appreciated!) 

  

Sunday, April 19, 2015

mercy

The mercy of God shines through our inadequacy, because we lack nothing that the grace of God's mercy cannot fill when we place our trust in him.



One Sunday at Mass, about a year ago, my pastor quoted a wise person who had once said to him, "Fear not! You are inadequate."

That quote stuck in my head. The next day at work, I wrote it on a sticky note, and fixed it on the bottom of my computer monitor so I would see it every time I sat down at my desk. I have long been accustomed to feeling completely, painfully inadequate - even when I may have the skill or insight necessary for the task at hand. This was a good reminder to me of the truth of the matter.

If I was always adequate to the circumstance at hand, I would never grow. If I was always adequate to the task at hand, I would not require the grace of God to make up for what I lack - which is plenty, trust me!

The mercy of God shines in our inadequacy, when we don't have what it takes, or when we can no longer go on - and our Lord steps in, giving us the grace to trust in his merciful love.

Almost two years ago, I had reached a point where, spiritually, I could no longer move. I was frozen in pain - I felt as if I was suffocating. It has been my experience that suffering is like that - I am sure many reading this understand what I mean, and I know some of you understand it far more deeply than I - it's like struggling to breathe, fighting for air. Slowly suffocating, you begin to think you will finally be overtaken by the terrible pain in your chest that seems never to go away, and fade into the darkness... I can only imagine this is what it would be like to drown in the ocean. 

The details of what brought me to this point are irrelevant here, except to say that part of this pain resulted from the betrayal of my trust by a friend whom I thought had my best interests at heart, but whom I had sadly discovered only wanted to change me into who they thought I should be.

No one knows better than God who he intends us to become, who he has made us to be. I don't claim to know precisely who God intends me to be at the end of this journey we call life, but I do my best to follow him, through prayer and striving to live a moral life according to the teaching of the Church. I mean that, with all of my heart. 

Yet, worse than inadequate to the path I was following, this individual believed I was following the wrong path entirely, and thought it was their job to straighten me out - which they attempted in various ways, including using other people to get the message across. Ultimately, all attempts to uproot and transplant me to the path they believed to be right, failed. However, it was enough to leave me bewildered and hurt. 

I persistently questioned myself - beyond the level of simply examining my conscience, or some kind of proper introspection - thinking that if this person (and their supporting cast) believed there was something wrong with me, there probably was, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. After awhile, the demon of semi-scrupulosity that had worked its way into my heart convinced me that the person I was, was someone who would never really have a place in a community of faith, because whether I was "too much" of one thing, or "not enough" of something else, I was wholly inadequate, and that was bad

I was ready to give up. 

Then, through what I can only call pure grace, in the midst of this confusion and pain, our Lord Jesus showed me deep and unexpected mercy. His mercy is pure, undeserved gift, and so this was - not only beyond expectation, but completely unexpected - I simultaneously met someone who has become a beloved friend, and came to a parish which has become home in a way I never thought possible. 

In what seemed like overnight, God's mercy became like oxygen to my starved lungs. I began learning to breathe all over again - cautiously at first, scared of finding out this was too good to be true. Finding it safe, I started to breathe more deeply, filling my lungs with that sweet, blessed air.

I was safe. 
My God, your mercy and your goodness. 
I am not worthy.

After spending years pitting myself against the person someone else wanted me to be, no longer had to worry about being "too much" or "not enough". 

To that beloved friend, "I give thanks to God at every remembrance of you". It's one thing to write this and post it; it's another thing entirely to share it with you - so if I've sent you the link, and you're reading this now, you know who you are - and that's all I need to say.

Your heart is both immensely strong and gentle; you understand suffering so deeply and so personally. You are patient when I struggle with putting difficult things into words, in spite of my need to talk about them. You allow me to be myself without suggesting that I make myself into anyone else, yet you never fail to help me see how to seek to do better at life. You have taught me so much about my own dignity - not only as a child of God - but more than anything, as a daughter of God. You are simultaneously a dear friend, and wise guide. 

I don't think you fully realize how deeply you matter to me. I am so grateful to our good God for the gift he has given me in you - and to you, for being that gift - and for being exactly who you are. 


Yes, Lord, I am inadequate, and that is a blessing, because I lack nothing that your mercy cannot fill.





   



Monday, April 13, 2015

the church is the solution


Many Catholics - and many more non-Catholics - today seem to believe the Catholic Church is a problem that needs to be solved by the world - that the Church needs to be liberalized, and that it is okay to only abide by the teachings of the Church that are convenient. 


After the events of Triduum and Easter Sunday, I returned to work last week, feeling like I’d been gone for a year. It’s funny how taking even just a few days to dedicate to the things of God can make you feel like even more of a foreigner in the world than you’d felt you were before (even if you spent part of those days corralling high school Confirmation students). 


I felt as if I needed some kind of reintegration plan, though all I wanted to do was leave. 

Warning: "passionate Catholic" rant ahead. 

While making small talk with coworkers before a meeting last Tuesday morning, religion came up in conversation – someone had mentioned something about Easter. Despite the fact that religion is one of those infamous topics everyone is told to avoid discussing at work, the ball started rolling. 

Somehow, Catholicism entered the conversation, and a (non-Catholic) colleague exclaimed, 

“I really like Pope Francis! I didn’t like that guy before him, though.” 

… … Well, thanks for your valuable contribution to the conversation, I thought. I wanted to stay out of this one, but now I have no choice. 


“I really liked Pope Benedict, actually.” I was met with shocked stares of silence. 

“But he didn’t DO anything!” the same colleague asserted. 

Um, seriously? Here we go with the people who know little-to-nothing about the Church telling the Church what the Pope has or hasn’t been doing…

“Besides, the Catholic Church needs to be liberalized,” another non-Catholic coworker piped in, “I mean, really, can we get over the abortion thing already?” (Believe it or not, a man - a husband and father - said this!)

Okay. If this goes much further, it will be all out WAR. Before I could respond, the only other Catholic in the immediate group offered, 


“I agree, the Church needs to be liberalized! You know, I’m Catholic, but I don't agree with all of the Church’s teachings. I just ignore the ones I don’t like.”

Oh. Dear. Lord. Have mercy.

As I was about to respond, the meeting was called to order. The conversation ended as quickly as it had happened, and was probably forgotten by everyone except me. 

I’m used to being the weird one who actually agrees with Church teaching on, well, EVERYTHING. I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that most people – even perhaps most Catholics – don’t understand this. If a colleague asks me what I believe, I will absolutely tell them. But other than wearing a crucifix and keeping some holy cards out in my office, I don’t “advertise,” and I don’t slap people around with my copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I keep that at home, lest I be tempted. ;-)

But this conversation, though certainly not the first of its kind I've been involved in - deeply bothered me. A lack of understanding of the Church is, of course, common among non-Catholics, and although I don’t like it – particularly when non-Catholics think it is appropriate to armchair quarterback the Chair of St. Peter, or criticize an institution that they know so little about, and are often predisposed to dislike – this lack of understanding, I can deal with.

Blatant disregard of Church teaching by Catholics who clearly know Church teaching and are willing to publicly state their dissent, though… That’s hard for me, and it struck a particular nerve given the few days preceding.  

I know it's not easy to follow the teachings of the Church; some are harder than others to embrace. There are some with which I struggled for many years - but God is good, and I eventually learned the goodness, truth, beauty found in the teachings of the Church - and the importance of (much-underrated) obedience. I am certainly not perfect, but I have learned that life is hard enough without challenging God's truths. 

The Catholic Church has been an unchanging barque in the turbulent waters of the world for 2,000 years. She hasn’t sunk, while maintaining a consistent, if unpopular, course – particularly in the realm of teachings on human sexuality, which, at minimum, always seems to underpin the issue at hand. (I could write for WEEKS on this alone.)  

Want to see what happens when churches lack consistency and commitment to their teachings? A shining example (and there are plenty beyond this!) is today's “high church” Protestantism – whether Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc… – all have waged internal wars and have splintered over ordaining women or recognizing homosexual unions, or some other such thing to which the Catholic Church has said, and continues to say, “no”.

Consistency.  My God, it is a beautiful thing (and yes, I am addressing that remark to the Lord, not taking his name in vain). I find the Church’s consistency and fidelity to what she deems unchanging truths, beautiful. 
Basically, the principle is that the Church didn’t just make these things up – they are actually God’s ideas – it is the sacred duty of the Church to pass them on to the faithful, and the world.

Without apology to those who know Church teaching and knowingly dissent from it, I offer the following: 

The Church is the solution, not the problem. 
When we dissent from Church teaching on faith and morals, we become the problem, not the solution. 

The Church doesn’t need to liberalize. The Church doesn’t need to change her teachings. They are not hers to change. 

Catholics need to pray. Catholics need to study. Catholics, we need to let God shape us, and learn to do his will, instead of trying to change his Church to fit our will. 

In other words, we need to learn to be Catholic. I know it’s hard for us post-moderns, living in our liberal democratic society to consider anything other than fierce individualism as good – but the Church? It’s not a democracy. It’s not even a Pope-ocracy. It’s a THEOCRACY. 

The Church is not a problem to be solved by the world. The Church is the solution to the problems of the world. 



Thursday, April 9, 2015

forgetting easter


Easter. Resurrection. Christ is risen from the dead. How quickly we forget that Easter is more than a day... 


I could wax theological on the resurrection, but waxing theological doesn't feel right to me this evening. I've pondered the topic of "resurrection" today, thinking about what I might write. Sitting here now, I realize that thinking about this, isn't the approach I need to take.

I'm analytical by nature - I like to think about things, to solve problems, to pick things apart - but some things don't require my analysis - they only require my heart.

This Triduum was difficult for me. My Confirmation  students were required to attend the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday, and Easter Vigil - and  sit together. Which meant I had to sit with them. Which meant I had to be constantly conscious of them, and their behavior - in addition to trying to be fully present to worship Christ. That was... not easy. To say the least. I had to focus on them with my head, while trying simultaneously to focus on the Lord with my heart.

By the time Holy Saturday arrived, I wasn't sure if I was more excited because the Easter Vigil was that evening, or because it was the last Mass at which I would have to play "mother hen" for my students... But if I'm honest, it was probably the latter. Yes, such joy to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus!

Easter Sunday, my husband and I attended Mass again - this time, with my family - and then spent the afternoon with them. By Easter Sunday evening, I was tired, kinda crabby, and a bit miffed that well, Easter Sunday had seemed more full of chaos than grace!

The next morning - Easter Monday - I went to my parish's morning Mass. As I walked into the chapel, I noticed the morning light streaming through the stained glass window on the east wall. The warm light touched everything in the chapel sanctuary and it positively GLOWED... I knelt to pray, and suddenly, I couldn't stop crying.

Easter. Thank you, Jesus, that Easter is more than a day - and that your Resurrection is for all eternity.




Hitting the linkup with Blessed Is She - on resurrection!
  



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

the breaking of the bread


Then the two recounted what had happened on the way, 

and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 


Today's Gospel (Lk. 24: 13-35) tells the story of the two disciples who unknowingly meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus, not recognizing him until he blesses and breaks the bread. 
This is one of my favorite Gospel readings. I wait for it every year during the Octave of Easter, and it has often been a beloved companion in lectio divina. 

I'd hoped to go to Mass this morning, but other obligations (i.e., my day job) intervened. My home parish doesn't have a Wednesday evening Mass, so driving home from work this evening, I stopped off for Mass at another nearby parish where I attend daily Mass on occasion. I never quite feel comfortable there - it's a good, solid parish, but it's simply not "home." 

In any case, I wasn't about to give up Easter Wednesday Mass.

As I listened to the Gospel, I imagined how those two disciples would have felt - encountering Jesus on the way. They were completely out of their comfort zone - not yet knowing Jesus had risen - probably still in fear of the authorities, in addition to feeling confusion and grief - one can see how it would have been easy for them not to recognize the risen Lord. Yet, their hearts burn within them as he explained the scriptures, and then they know him in the breaking of the bread. 

They know him in the Mass, as it were - the Word, and the Eucharist. And though they were not "at home," they still found the Lord - or rather, the Lord found them

Lord Jesus, I prayed as the priest said the words of consecration, help me to know you in this breaking of the bread. 

Praised be our risen Lord, now and forever! 







  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

o felix culpa


O happy fault, that gained for us so great, so glorious, a Redeemer. 


Jesus, how I wish I could cradle in my arms, as your Holy Mother did, your sacred head - and weep over its bruises, over the punctures from the crown of thorns.

To kiss your pierced hands and feet. 

To lock myself in the tomb to guard your sacred body while awaiting the glory of your resurrection. 

O Lord, I would gladly kiss the stone closing your tomb - but I would rather that my heart were entombed behind that stone, next to yours. 

In the holy silence of this day, teach our hearts to love you, and to long only for you as we await your return. 



Thursday, April 2, 2015

what wondrous love is this


"What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul... "


Lord Jesus, what love you show us - 
In the gift of your Body and Blood 
And the gift of your life for our sins.

In your gently waking me when I fall asleep on watch,
And in the grace that is to share in your Cross 
 - even when the pain is beyond my imagining. 

In the joy that is to know the fire of your love, 
And to know that you are Love, 
That you are Light, 
And Life everlasting.

And that as your life became intertwined with the mystery of suffering and death, 
Ours shall be no different.