Search

Bethany Hang Out

Catholic contemplative life and devotion

Christian love: what (really) and how

Photo by William Mattey on Pexels.com

What is Christian love? After my conversion to Catholicism (quite a leap from the way I was raised which was without religion,) my family had adjusting to do. My brother was the person I was closest to. We were symbiotic and as my mom said, “joined at the hip.” For me to make such a radical change in my world view seemed like a kind of betrayal by me. In the beginning we argued. I would say I loved him, which wasn’t especially well received when he was mad. Once he said, “I don’t want your ‘Christian love.‘ I just want you and YOUR love.” This upset me. I thought “What’s the difference?”

Pondering this interaction on the drive home, I realized what he meant and what his fear was. When we were kids my parents were very young, idealistic and nonconformist. We looked different. Our Hippie family was ill treated in the small Texas town my parents had moved to for school in 1968. It was a college town, yes, but unbelievably conservative. They did not allow women into the University unless they were married to a male student until 1972.

A lot of people who said they were Christian didn’t let us play with their kids, talked mess about our parents right in front of us, were harsh and cold with my brother and me and we didn’t understand why. We saw them as alienating people with fake smiles, and vacant eyes who were prone to heartlessness. When they said anything about loving us for Jesus’ sake it just sounded like they didn’t want to “love us” (whatever that meant) but Jesus wanted them to play nice. Which they didn’t.

My brother was afraid I would now love him in some generalized fake way, judging him as a person the whole time. It took him time and experience with me as a Catholic to disabuse him of that notion.

What does Christian love really mean? What does it mean to love someone for Jesus’ sake? I do think sometimes people don’t go very far with this. Maybe sometimes we do think it means to play nice.

Someone on social media told me he was tired of the Church being “the Church of nice.” I said I knew we weren’t supposed to be “the Church of Nice.” No we are supposed to be the Church of radical love.

I’m still working this out. All of us are, as my granny used to say, “full of prunes.” We don’t know what we’re talking about and we think we do. We think better of ourselves sometimes than we really are. We can wake up feeling like we love everybody and we hate everybody by 2 O’clock, or at least we hate several people. Some people. I’m no different. Sometimes I tell Jesus, “I know I’m not allowed to hate that guy. I know you love him, I know.” I tell him all about it. Then there is a glimmer, a hint, of what Jesus feels for that person, and I can’t go on with my tirade or hot headed attitude. I can perceive my self both as the fool I am and the affection and love God has for me. Most of the time peace comes to me pretty quickly if I’m willing. Life is so hard and I don’t know why it has to be so hard. It just is.

In that glimmer of understanding and touch of peace, I think lies the answer of the beginning of Christian love, real love, personal love for a unique and unrepeatable human being we may not know as well as we could, or a transformed love for someone we know as we know ourselves.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

He has put into my heart a marvelous love

– Psalm 16:3a

Christian love comes from union with Christ, the transforming love of “putting on the new self.” (Eph. 4:24. This is how we begin to love others as Jesus loves us. (See Jn. 13:34.) I don’t think this ability comes from baptism alone. I think it comes from prayer and time spent consciously in God’s presence. It is prayer that taught me how to love more fully, to examine my inner motivations and attitudes toward others and myself. Prayer and fledgling love of God inspired me to own up to my character defects and wrongheaded, prideful or selfish way of loving- even my brother.

With prayer and being with God we receive a new clarity and freedom of heart. This doesn’t happen right away. It takes so much time that often I get frustrated with myself. I have to remember that God will “complete the good work he has begun in [me.]”

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:6

Teresa of Avila wrote about detachment in relationships, especially in Chapter 7 on spiritual friendship in her book The Way of Perfection. “Detachment” sounds cold to us today. Based on my own experience I think I know what she means a little bit that we can apply here. This doesn’t mean less love for someone! It really means a detachment from self, from selfishness in our relationships.

How do we do that? Admittedly I don’t have this figured out yet. However, there is a lot of mystery involved so I don’t blame myself for that!

Similar to our efforts and experience of prayer there is an active part to this new kind of human love, and a mystical part.

The active part is more obvious. We decide to be more self aware to notice what to let go of in our ways of relating. Some of this is simple. Let’s have a look at my brother and me. When he went to rehab at age 16, we learned from the staff there how to better communicate. At first we felt silly like we had to learn to talk all over again and we would get tired of it sometimes and revert to old ways. Or we lost our tempers and had outbursts. We talked about this. We decided to see our progress. The progress was we noticed what we were doing wrong. Then with practice we got where we noticed even before we were mean and stopped ourselves. Then later, we didn’t even think about being mean anymore. Or controlling. Or selfish anymore. This is basic stuff for some people but to us it was a whole new fish bowl.

In the mean time I was learning to pray. I must have been quite an emergency to God because he set about teaching me what real love felt like right away. It was the way he loved me, and the way I learned to love him back. His love is simple and tender and clear. It stops the thoughts and worries running through your mind and you don’t even think “Hey I’m being loved.” It just is.

My own love started to simplify itself, both my love for God and my love and regard for other people. I learned to listen to people in the same way I was learning to listen to God. This took work and came from an urging I think was from him, that I do so. But the transformation took time.

My brother decided I was still me and that he didn’t have to worry about me turning into someone else or loving him in some impersonal creepily fake way. He noticed me growing as a person and that he could translate my new language of spirituality into his own understandings about life and his pragmatic view of spiritual things. He noticed I judged him less, not more. Sometimes, like his early sober days, we reverted to old fears in our relationship, both of us afraid of not being accepted as were were. We both learned, we both grew. We learned to accept one another.

And that’s how it is. What do you know? When we are able to love someone in a Christly way, they don’t just experience Jesus through us, we experience Jesus through them as well, whether they are Christian or not. We want to know a person better when we meet them and we know that every one of them belongs. We may not know how we know, but we know.

And pretty soon the whole thing gets out of control and our way of loving grows a new dimension. The world opens up and the possibilities are endless.

What does God say about this?

Beloved,
we are God’s children now.
What we shall be
has not yet been revealed.
However, we do know that when he appears
we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he really is.

1John 3:2

Applied to learning to love others, I take this to mean in this case that we are already God’s children, but we ourselves are a mystery unfolding, known only to God. The closer we get to the Lord, the more we are transformed as we come to know him and love him as he is, which is for himself; the way he loves us. We will not be perfect at this in this life. However we can cultivate God’s kind of love through prayer, self awareness, God awareness, and the service he inspires. In his mysterious way he will work his beautiful will in us all our lives more and more in pathways of love.

And then we have so much to look forward to: the absolute fullness of love, the fullness of God and union with him.

Photo by Hassan OUAJBIR on Pexels.com

On the possible revocation of Roe v. Wade

Photo by Elu012bna Aru0101ja on Pexels.com

 

I feel like I can’t be happy about this and I can’t be sad either. I understand too well how this feels to the other side- that a good share of women feel that their bodily autonomy is being violated by the (mostly male) powers that be. Sexual assault survivors are particularly sensitive to this and many are triggered into PTSD symptoms today. Many women are terrified right now. I can’t rejoice because of that.

I can’t be sad about this situation either, however, because I believe that the unborn child is worthy of protection. Every human life is worthy of protection.

I can’t be happy because of the suffering this will cause and the fact that the burden of it will fall on women and girls who are without money or resources. Rich women will always be able to get an abortion that they won’t die from or be physically harmed by.

I am morally puzzled by the idea that the authority over life and death should go to the states. It seems inappropriate. If this revocation of Roe v. Wade has to do with protecting human life abortion should be illegal everywhere.

Those with the means can simply go to a state where it is legal.

I also know through many a conversation that too many intensely pro-life people more often than not seem not to care one bit about the poor and tend to blame them for their suffering, as well as support policies that deny more of a safety net, or even simply reasonable help for struggling single moms who are trying to get an education, and other policies that keep the working poor poor. This decision will keep generations of families trapped in poverty. I am skeptical that there will be any realistic remedy for that outcome.

I am troubled because it seems to me that some people’s desire for abortion to be illegal is only a wish to punish women for their perceived promiscuity or their wanting to sidestep their “proper sphere” of motherhood.

I can’t be sad today -because I want abortion to end. I can’t be happy because I don’t think this is the way abortion will end compassionately. And compassion is everything to me. I am obviously ambivalent but I can’t imagine condoning the violent act of tearing apart a helpless human life. I understand everybody. And it makes me just sad today… but not really.

I won’t be at any protests over this ruling. Of course not. Nor will I be gloating about it because it isn’t a real victory until the causes of abortion are fully addressed.

It’s been hard for me to find my home in the pro-life movement for the above reasons and some others too that maybe I will write about at another time. When I found Feminists for Life of America I was relieved. Now there is also New Wave Feminists. I included these links because perhaps you feel as I do; that there has to be a better way. Maybe I should say there has to be more. We need to be “pro-life for the whole life.” And we need women to truly be as important to us as our pro-life convictions.

Photo by kira schwarz on Pexels.com

The Sacred Humanity of the Risen Lord

All Easter day Jesus was playing hide and seek, surprising different disciples in different places and in different ways, all of these encounters beyond anything they ever thought they would see and know.  It had been an overwhelming day, a world inside out day. 

They had denied, laughed, and no doubt cried. They experienced impossible things they could hardly process. It was too astonishing to make sense. 

By Easter evening, they were settled for the time being, and they said, “Stay with us Lord, for evening draws near.” (Lk. 24:29)

They got to be with him for forty more undoubtedly beautiful days. 

It must have been hard to stop looking at him, hard to stop hugging him, hard to calm down and just be with him. Maybe it was easier in the glow of the fire to relax in his presence, to enjoy his tenderness and love for them, to truly believe in his reality.  

 He had shown the disciples his wounds, invited them to touch him, eat and drink with him. He wanted them to know he wasn’t a ghost, of course. But I also think he wanted to reiterate something of the utmost importance in the spiritual life of a Christian; that Our Lord is a real person. After the resurrection, he is still as real as before, the same man they experienced and traveled with during his ministry… except for that walking through locked doors thing, and that rising from the dead part… still their same holy Friend. 

His disciples are not having a vision, but actual contact. 

There is always the temptation among people of prayer over the centuries of Christianity, to relate to Jesus as only spirit. St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) saw this and the Doctor of Prayer made sure we understood that the only way to true intimacy with the Lord is through his Sacred Humanity. We are not angel spirits, but human beings, and that is our way to him who became incarnate for us. 

He still is incarnate for us. 

It is amazing to me that this Teacher who tended to buck religious regulations, customs and rituals if they got in the way of necessity, or especially,  the obedience of the love of God and the pre-eminence of charity, to suddenly, at the end of his earthly life, give us the Eucharist and make it a permanent ritual sacrament for all time. In the Eucharist, we will always have his physical presence with us as well as his divine presence. We will always be able to eat and drink with him (and of him) at mass. 

We can sit with him in Adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, as a real and accessible person.

He said, “I will be with you always until the end of the age.” Mtt. 28:20

Sometimes we forget the Treasure we have in the Eucharist.  

Because he is a real person, but also divine, we can take him home with us, too, and say, “Stay with us, Lord.” 

He said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (Jn. 14:20) This isn’t just a nice thought. His presence in us is so real that that is exactly how our bodies will rise from death on the last day. 

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11) How real can he get? 

And also, St. Paul asks, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” (2 Cor. 13:5b)

Jesus is real and he is within us as real. 

St. Teresa would add “and we should not leave him there alone!” 

He said, “No longer do I call you servants but friends.” (Jn. 15:15a)

We can’t be friends with an idea. We can’t fall in love with a vision or a ghost. 

But Jesus with his dirty feet and rough calloused hands, Jesus the real person, we definitely can. 

We can love him and see him the way he wants to be seen and loved: as real! (Jn. 20:27)  

St. Teresa said that interior prayer and being with Jesus is “nothing else but falling in love with Christ, frequently conversing in secret with him who we know loves us.” (translation, Fr. Otillio Rodrigues, O.C.D.) 

The Christian life is a life of friendship with Jesus in his Sacred Humanity, with a real and accessible, truly present and incomprehensibly humble Lord who is truly in and with us.  

We too should look at him, touch him, peek in at him when he is sleeping to make sure he is still there, hear his voice as alive and active, ask him, “Stay with us Lord.” 

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

Wake up! It’s Easter!

Some types of darkness are so complete I wonder what I was calling darkness before. Fiddling with the scree at the bottom of the cave floor I am sitting on, my hand bumps into the most unlikely thing in the world… flowers? They are not dried flowers but living ones. I can feel their soft petals. I sense him smiling in the dark. 

“What are we doing?” I ask Jesus. He doesn’t say anything so I take his cue and don’t say anything either. 

It never occurred to me that the Risen Lord might have wanted to sit and reflect before he came out of the tomb but it makes sense.  Before I take a big step that turns the world upside down that is what I do too. 

And then I think that it would have been possible for him not to tell anyone that he had risen from the dead. He could have just done it in the secret of the tomb and ascended without an audience. The victory would still have been won. But Jesus isn’t like that. He wants to bring us all in, share everything with us. He wants us to choose him and engage with him in life. Even the work of bringing all the world in on this most mind boggling gift he doesn’t keep to himself. 

He wants us to share in the power flowing from his resurrection and to shine out for everyone. 

He wanted us to know what he was doing for us not when we got to Heaven but right away, and to act on it in this life. 

I wonder what he is thinking about over there.

I want to be closer to him so I start edging toward where I think I may have heard him scratching around.  I keep bumping into waxy plants of some kind. Going over them with my hands I realize they are lilies. They smell like lilies; that mild, sweet fragrance they have. 

“What are you thinking about?” I ask him. “Everything,” he says, and I am at his side.

 “Things that have happened? Things that will happen?” I ask. 

He chuckles which makes me laugh too, so glad to be in this moment with him. 

We stand together and I do my best to follow him. It must be time. 

We pause and I feel a roundish jagged rock in front of me. It is so strange that it is covered with a wild tangle of roses. I know they are roses because of their beautiful and unmistakable scent. 

I never know what is going to happen around him but I do know it will always be life, life  and more life! 

I am almost giggling thinking of how surprised Mary Magdalene is going to be when she sees him. I am so happy I will get to see this. 

“Are you ready?” he asks. “This is where things get really crazy.”. 

I don’t know what to say. Why is he asking me if I’m ready? 

“I’ve been waiting for you, Lord.” I say. 

“For me?” he asks. 

Something about the way he says it causes my understanding to shift. With amazement  I realize this is my tomb, not his.  It is I who am about to rise with him and go out from here as something or someone I am not sure I will recognize. Also he said things were about to get crazy so … I hesitate. 

He seems to think this is great fun however, and I can’t help but be infected with his joyous excitement; his happiness because he loves me and he came that I might live, and live to the full and forever with him.  

I embrace Jesus and I tell him I am ready. We step back and we count together, “1…. 2….3!” 

And what about you? 

Hey, COME OUT OF THERE! 

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Mary’s Day: Holy Saturday 2022

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today, Holy Saturday, is traditionally Mary’s day. It was the loneliest Sabath she had ever spent. The sword Simeon had prophesied had pierced her heart through. Traumatized and grieving I don’t think she knew what God would do. Better than anyone she knew her Son’s Divinity as an indisputable fact. She would have known he allowed his own death. Im sure the implications of sacrifice didn’t escape her given the Passover. She didn’t know what God would do but she knew he would do something, that an inscrutable divine process was underway. I think she continued to offer her suffering and the sacrifice of her Son continually, even as she was crushed in a darkness we would find hard to fathom. I am sure she would have done her best to comfort her new family, the disciples, and offer her love, forgiveness and understanding to the ones who denied him or ran away. She let the holy women care for her and she held them when they cried. Sometimes none of them knew what to make of her. She seemed to be…. waiting for something.

No photo description available.

5Kristin Ventura, Sarah Louise and 3 others

Going to things: my project for Lent

Photo by Bakr Magrabi on Pexels.com

“Turn not to the easiest, but to the most difficult,” wrote St. John of the Cross. This principle has been my inspiration for my project for Lent 2022. 

By nature I am somewhat reclusive. Solitude, prayer, and reflection come far more easily to me than leaving the house. Leaving the house requires an urgent duty such as work, the request of someone who needs me, or maybe a crowbar. 

When people ask me to go to events I usually say no. Sometimes  I say maybe and then don’t go. Even events I want to go to I start to dread as the time draws near, and I wish there was a way out of them. 

St. Teresa of Avila wrote that the perfect soul is a sublime balance between Mary of Bethany who listened at Jesus’ feet and her sister Martha who served his needs. (See Luke 10:38-42) This soul would be an ellipse dedicated to both prayer and service. If we don’t serve, then have we prayed in a way that allowed Christ to transform us? How can we keep what we have with Jesus if we don’t give it away? How can we grow if we don’t change? Well we can’t. 

St. Teresa said the life of prayer should always lead us to “good works, my daughters, good works.” I don’t mind “good works,” and in spite of my love of solitude, I have a full and busy life. 

When I am with someone they are the only person in the world to me. However, group interaction with people I don’t know tends to overwhelm me. Make it something official like a meeting for an organization and I am automatically miserable and feel socially inept. 

For Jesus this Lent I have been trying to show up anyway, go against my natural inclinations, and expand into new territory. Doing this I have found new dreams and new vistas where Jesus is leading me. I am even on the board now of a new organization to help those in need in our community. (More on that new endeavor at another time.) I have never been on the board of anything and would never have thought that I would be competent to do so. I’m still uncertain but am trying anyway. 

In the past I have helped people in a “vigilante” kind of way, just on my own. I thought this was because organizations have so many of what I considered “annoying rules” such as “don’t let random people you help into your car or home, and avoid getting involved in their lives,” etc. I like to be free to let someone take a shower at my house if they need to. I have wanted to be a friend more than to feel like an agent of some kind. I don’t want to have to fill out forms or be impersonal with someone in any way. At least this is what I thought my disinclination was about. It was partly that. 

However, through this Lenten project of “going to things” like meetings for charitable concerns, I have come to see that some of my aversion to rules and organizations comes also from the fact that I am willful and kind of flakey, or I have been in the past. I didn’t want to be accountable. I didn’t want to have to help every day or on a schedule. I liked to do whatever I wanted when I wanted and the way I wanted, mostly as opportunities to help naturally came my way.  Well that is a new insight into my selfish nature I had not looked at before. 

What I am learning now by experience is that collaboration with other people and organizations on behalf of a person or people in need, is one of the most powerful forces for change in the world. You probably already knew that but I didn’t. I am continually surprised how much can be done when people put their heads together to do something good. 

I am learning that showing up makes even my home life and my prayer life more fruitful and creative. I feel inspired. I even feel like my life has taken a turn down a new path and all I did was go to things. While there, I tried to keep an honest, open and willing heart even if I was nervous and uncomfortable.  Maybe the Martha and Mary parts of my soul are influencing one another and working together in new ways. Maybe they can be friends. 

I’m still a hermit type. I’m still nervous at meetings and I still wish I could stay home. But I’m excited too that Jesus is doing something new with me even though it is still somewhat unknown. For me, following him into this new adventure is a big step.  

And what about you? What are you doing or what can you do that may be new or come less easily for you? Where might Jesus be taking you? 

Whether your journey with the Lord this Lent is inward or out into the world, may the same love of Christ urge us on. 

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Friday all the time: going vegetarian; my story

I stopped eating meat October 1, 1985. I was 17. I did not yet believe in God, having been raised without religion. However I think this life choice at 17 was the beginning of a journey toward God for me.

I was a punk rocker as a teen in the eighties. I was very serious about it. I was in a local punk band. I had a punk radio show on the college radio station. I was as politically active as a teenager who can’t vote can be, very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war, (lots of people were then of course, during the Cold War) about poverty, the environment, human rights.

I was withdrawn with most actual people though, holding society largely in contempt, except for my closest friends. To me people cared about all the wrong things and too often were inauthentic and mean. My dad raised a good point when he said, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?” I didn’t have the answer to that. I didn’t know. I had the self awareness to figure out what I believed in and act on it as best I could, but not enough to know why I wanted to save a world I had so much disdain for.

My best friend in High School, Philip Iselt, and I picked up a book about vegetarianism in ’85, and we read it aloud together after school. It was a pretty radical book called Animal Rights by Peter Singer. I don’t think it would be my favorite now. However it opened our minds to the fact of animal suffering and what happens in factory farming. We read all we could about this issue for the next few months.

Hello

We decided on October 1 of that year to quit meat together, support one another and hold each other accountable. Going vegetarian is pretty easy these days as far as finding stuff to eat. However, it was not easy in a small Texas town in 1985. Not at all. There were no “garden burgers” or “Beyond Meat” patties at the grocery store, definitely not much vegetarian fair at all in the school cafeteria. Restaurants offered you salad, and usually of the iceberg lettuce and pale tomato variety.

I remember having to go way into our sister city to find shampoo and other personal items not tested on animals at a tiny health food store called Calico Foods, if memory serves.

I gave away my awesome black leather motorcycle jacket I had found at a second hand store for $10. I gave away my combat boots I had gotten from the army surplus store.(Back then it was so hard to find any for my small feet!) Since I was trying to embrace nonviolence I got rid of the ammunition belt I had bought from the army surplus store. too that I used to wear.

My favorite food had been chicken fried steak. Ooph. Giving it up wasn’t easy.

I was responsible for cooking for my dad and myself back then. My parents were divorced and at that time I lived with Dad. He was pretty annoyed. He wanted to know my limits. “No fish either?” I explained I didn’t want to eat any living thing that could suffer; nothing, certainly, with flesh that would try to avoid being killed. He said, “Why don’t you just not eat anything that smiles at you?” My dad is funny.

My mom was supportive about it but a little worried whether this was a healthy choice. Once she saw I was reading about what to eat and also seemed OK she was OK too.

I found a little paperback vegetarian cook book called Laurel’s Kitchen at Calico Foods. Philip and I learned a new way to eat from that lovely book which is still my favorite cookbook. I’ve had to buy new copies many times over the years. It has since been updated. And now that I am vegan I just adjust the recipes for that.

The choice to go meatless was the first intentional lifestyle choice I ever made, and the first one that was a sacrifice. It was my first try at anything ascetic. I believe this was a gentle inspiration from God. The Lord knew how to reach my heart and begin to open it: with animals and Philip, who was a gentle soul I loved very much.

Like any decision that lasts a lifetime, my commitment to vegetarianism has grown, broadened, deepened and evolved for me. I broadened my reasons to include not only the animals but the good of the poor around the world, and care of the environment. I believe that the sacrifice of not eating meat opened my heart and helped me become a more gentle person, even opening my heart just that little bit more to God who created all life. My sense of connection grew into being a part of me.

Photo by Jan Koetsier on Pexels.com

There is a sense of joy that comes with a vegetarian way of life. It’s an aesthetic choice to me as well. It seems to me to be a more beautiful way to live.

I shared it with my children and raised them vegetarian from the womb.

Conversion and many years of prayer have given me a sense of open-ness and tenderness toward all life that only fills out my dedication.

I don’t have any problem liking and loving people anymore either, thanks be to God.

No our Catholic faith does not require vegetarianism though there is an ascetic tradition of it that runs through our history, especially in some religious orders. Though there is no requirement in our faith for it, I do see a plant based diet as being in line with charity, care for our common home, and positive self denial. I would also argue that in these times, it is no longer necessary to eat animals or even dairy. If we can go without doing so, why not let meat go? Biblical people ate meat sparingly unless they were rich. They would have had milk in season, in the Spring when it was naturally available. Now we manipulate the bodies of animals and raze the land so that most of us have dairy and meat several times a day. Why not cut back? Every little bit helps.

Go vegetarian!

I have been vegan on and off, a year or so here and there. When my husband and I were fighting his brain cancer, we went vegan as part of that. He had glioblastoma multiforme. He made it two and a half years after diagnosis with a grade four brain tumor which ten years ago was pretty good. There were a lot of reasons for his living with it so long. I think eating super healthy was at least one of them.

After his death I had trouble eating at all so I went back to just vegetarianism.

The way I got back to veganism a few years ago was going vegan on the Fridays of Lent. After a while I added Wednesdays as well. Once Easter came, I thought, “This is working out!” So I have stayed with it. I’m very grateful. When I make a beautiful vegan meal, with all it’s colorful happiness, I always thank God that I have been able to do this.

I recently read an article from America magazine that suggested going meatless every Friday and not just during Lent the way the Church used to do and how much it would benefit the world. Obviously I think this is a wonderful idea. Why not? It could do you good, do the world good, aid you to live in love just that little bit more.

The power of Lent in these troubled times

Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

As we prepare for this Lent of 2022, it seems to me the timing is good. With Russia invading Ukraine before the eyes of the world and as we watch and pray, deeply affected, this period of intensifying our prayer comes particularly welcome. Lent is the perfect time to remember our ability to heal the world and touch others with the power and love of God as we draw nearer to him on the path toward Easter that is Lent.  

People Francis has said, 

“I would like to appeal to everyone, believers and non-believers alike. Jesus taught us that the diabolical evil of violence is answered with the weapons of God, with prayer and fasting. 

I invite everyone to make next March 2, Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting for peace. I encourage believers in a special way to devote themselves intensely to prayer and fasting on that day. May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war.” 

I am reminded that the disciplines we take up for Lent are not just for ourselves and our personal relationship with Jesus or merely for our own improvement and transformation. We aren’t going to the spiritual beauty shop or to the gym of souls for a virtues workout for our own peace of mind about ourselves. No. This is not only about ourselves. 

Not only are we accompanying our beloved Lord into the desert to pray and be with him. No.  When we  accompany him, we accompany his brothers and sisters who suffer as well. 

There is yet another aspect of our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and alms giving, which is that these things we do can change the world. 

As Catholics we know that everything we do affects everyone everywhere because we are all connected. This is why after Confession we don’t simply walk away free but we first do penance for our sins. Usually our penance is to remain in the church a while for prayer and reflection in some way that the priest suggests. Why do we do that? Fr. Greg McLaughlin explained it to me this way: when we have done something to harm someone else, it is best not only to apologize but to make amends as well. Because we are all connected to one another our sins, even our personal ones we think only hurt ourselves, harm everyone else on a spiritual level. So we make spiritual amends to repair the damage we have done. 

When we pray, fast and make personal sacrifices in union with Jesus and his own sacrifice, he shares his salvific power with us. This is one of the ways we already reign with Christ. 

As St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) put it: 

“The world is in flames. Are you impelled to put

them out? Look at the cross. From the open heart

gushes the blood of the Savior. This extinguishes the

flames of hell. Make your heart free by [your commitment to God]; then the flood of divine

love will be poured into your heart until it overflows

and becomes fruitful to all the ends of the earth. Do

you hear the groans of the wounded on the 

battlefields in the west and the east? You are not a

physician and not a nurse and cannot bind up the

wounds. You … cannot get

to them. Do you hear the anguish of the dying? You

would like to be a priest and comfort them. Does the

lament of the widows and orphans distress you? You

would like to be an angel of mercy and help them.

Look at the Crucified. If you are…bound to

Him…your being is precious blood. Bound to Him,

you are omnipresent as He is. You cannot help here

and there like the physician, the nurse, the priest.

You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief,

in the power of the cross. Your compassionate

love takes you everywhere, this love from the

Divine Heart. Its Precious Blood is poured

everywhere, soothing, healing, saving. The eyes of

the Crucified look down on you asking, probing.

Will you make your covenant with the Crucified

anew in all seriousness? What will you answer

Him? Lord, where shall we go? You have the words

of eternal life.”

Photo by KoolShooters on Pexels.com

Whatever you undertake for Lent, whatever prayers,  commitments, holy reading, various forms of fasting and self denial, do it intentionally and dedicate your actions, reflections and prayers for the good of the world, for peace, for all who suffer. When you receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, you can offer your Communion for peace. 

Remember that united to the Heart of God, you can set out in the Spirit across the world with Jesus, with Mary, and touch every face. 

Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

What being part of the Synod was like

Photo by Binh Ho Image on Pexels.com

I thought I wasn’t going to be able to attend the “Listening Session with the Bishop” because I had already missed a day of work that week, and was going to miss another one for a funeral. I was sure I was going to have to work that night and wouldn’t be able to go. I admit to being a little relieved, actually. I am such an introvert. Furthermore, I have social anxiety. I never want to go anywhere. Even things I want to do I start dreading when the day arrives. I knew the Synod was my responsibility though. I knew if the opportunity presented itself I should go and would go.

As it turns out I got off work early so I was not off the hook after all. I had just enough time beforehand to start dreading it.

I admit that another fear of mine was that I would leave feeling disappointed or angry and alienated or all of those things.

I confess that I have felt that way a lot already as a Catholic for a while now. Sometimes it is worse than others. There are a few reasons for this but they are exactly the ones that are a big deal to me.

The abuse crisis and the adversarial treatment of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and tone deaf pronouncements on the crisis by Church leaders were hard to get over. I had started to acclimate myself to this new reality we are living with and find ways to express myself about it which helped a lot.

After the murder of George Floyd, I was largely horrified by the reactions of white Catholics. I know y’all saw the same thing and heard the same running commentary so I won’t elaborate here. I live in a very conservative town but I suppose I was naive about what that would mean when it came to this issue in the age of Trumpian politics. I care deeply about racial justice for a variety of reasons. I am not perfect but am working on being more aware of these things. I have also not learned how best to talk to fellow white people who freak me out on that topic. Presently I have to be aware of my limitations and some people I have learned not to engage.

I was extremely disappointed in the response of local and national Church leaders in the wake of the racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s death. In fact I was aghast about their absence on the scene. In my town, even at prayer rallies on racial justice sponsored by several local churches, none of the five Catholic Churches in our deanery participated and none of them held their own events either.

Our town is CONSERVATIVE yet people really turned out for George Floyd outside the courthouse and the busiest street in town to show support and demand action There were local church pastors there and even in the lead. There was an area set up for prayer with someone always there to pray with anyone who wanted to. A local Orthodox priest was even there. Not one Catholic priest.

Local churches signed a letter about their commitment to racial justice that was published in our home town paper. There was nothing against Catholic teaching in the letter. Not one of our Catholic parishes was on that list. Some Bishops went out of their way to condemn Black Lives Matter but did nothing of their own to stand with Black People, to stand with Black Catholics. A couple of them did. The Bishop of El Paso even marched with BLM. All in all however, the response was paltry in some cases. and abhorrent in others.

The division in the Church politically has become as ugly if not more ugly than it is everywhere else. Some people hate the Pope. Some Bishops hate the Pope. We can’t stand each other and go on the attack on social media. It’s a mess.

So I was worried I would just feel even more the way I already did.

Plus the introvert thing.

And the social anxiety.

However I prayed and I went.

Not that many people were there. This may be due to the lack of advertising about it and unclear information about who was invited to what session. I didn’t hear about it once at my own parish though the one I attended was supposed to be regional. My attempts to call around and ask were pretty much fruitless, the information scanty and/or incorrect. I don’t know what’s going on with that. If nobody else did either that is probably why the attendance was not impressive.

There were several tables set up, and some coffee, tea and snacks on the counter. Wandering around and recognizing nobody I picked a table where there was a couple with kindly faces who smiled at me. It took a while before I noticed it was the bilingual table. I’m not bilingual though I took Spanish at school I don’t know that much nowadays. I apologized and offered to move. They said, “Stay!” So I stayed.

Bishop Joe Vasquez arrived and made the rounds visiting various tables. I have never met him before. He has a peaceful and gentle face. I thought he was adorable!

Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Diocese of Austin

A bilingual woman from the Diocese named Leslie came to sit with us. People started talking. Some of them knew the Bishop and took pictures with him.

People began arriving late, probably just getting off work.

Another woman from the Diocese who oversees Catholic Schools got up to talk to us about what to expect. She also let us know this was not about airing grievances or debating with others especially about Church teaching. This was about praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to know how we can do our part in discerning his guidance in the direction of the Church in Communion Participation and Mission. It was about listening as well as speaking.

The questions for consideration were different and much more thought provoking than the ones my daughter told me about when she was completing the online survey.

They showed us a series of power points with sets of questions. Of each set we could personally pick one to answer, one that stood out to us. Then we had a couple minutes to pray and consider. This part of the process reminded me of Lectio Divina; the way we read, take a word or phrase that stands out, ponder and pray what God could be saying to us and then respond to it.

After we had done this, we then took turns at the table discussing what we came up with. I was not only welcome at the bilingual table but Leslie and others translated everything everyone said for me. This was most kind. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have enough time that way for everyone to speak but it worked out fine.

People at my table were friendly and warm. I felt so comfortable I forgot to be anxious.

Highlights for me were were hearing the answers around my table about how the Church can reach out more. Most of the people at the table were from Santa Teresa, a primarily Hispanic parish in the downtown area. One of their ministries involves knocking on doors and talking to people. One man told a story about a house where they were verbally attacked by an angry anti-Catholic family. Their group’s response was to listen instead of reacting. The mother of this family in particular was extremely upset. She felt “attacked” by the Church, she said. The ministry group encouraged her to talk about what happened. I don’t remember what happened but the woman had been very hurt by the Church to the point she felt she had to leave. They listened to everything she had to say and then they apologized to her, “on behalf of the Catholic Church.” She started crying and was very moved by that. She kept thanking them when they left. “What!?” I exclaimed, “I need to learn Spanish so I can come with y’all!” “You are very welcome! Come with us anyway!” Other people around the table said in response to the story, “That’s beautiful!”

One of the questions on the screen was about where we find joy in our life in the Church. I really liked that. Another one in that set was about whether there were any barriers to us participating in Church life and liturgy. When it was my turn I said that my parish is very alive and active and the presence of the Spirit is easily felt there. I love it. However, I don’t participate in many ministries largely because of the requirement to take classes about sexual abuse and how it happens etc. I had not planned on talking about it but I said that as an abuse survivor those classes are very triggering for me. I don’t sleep well and feel all messed up for a week. Even the one- on- one milder version threw me. So I just stopped being a Eucharistic Minister for instance when the classes began to be required for that. Everyone just listened to me kindly.

Some people at my table were much involved in catechesis and I was struck by their devotion to children and the young, by the gentleness in their faces and voices when they spoke of it and of the things they hoped to do for the young in their parish.

I began to have fun. I felt very at home with them and I started to feel like I almost understood when they spoke Spanish. They were good natured about my mistakes when I tried to use any Spanish I knew. They didn’t seem to mind that I am a little awkward in general.

When one of the questions asked who the marginalized in the Church were and how the Church can better reach them and include them, I answered slightly differently than I had thought I might on my drive over. When it was my turn I said I thought there were very few black Catholics in our area. I know in some places there are more, such as in Louisiana and Houston. There are a couple of primarily black parishes in our outlying counties. However at any given mass here in town there are anywhere from no black people at all or just two or three if that. This bothers me. My granddaughter is black. She starts CCD classes next Fall. She will be the only black child in her class without a doubt. I wish things weren’t that way. I thought that we as Church would seem like a welcoming place for African Americans if we stood up for racial justice more publicly, if we lifted up black Saints, and had more black Catholic leaders speak in our parishes more, or asked our black brothers and sisters what they would like to see us do. The others nodded solemnly and supportively.

Some of them mentioned the elderly being marginalized and that we needed more ministries devoted to them and to host more activities for them, visit them more. Others mentioned the poor. I mentioned single moms, having been widowed when my children were very young. I felt loved and supported by the community but single moms and single parent families being mentioned sometimes and our particular problems addressed would be good and make us feel we belonged more.

During another part someone from each table was invited to stand up and either give a summary or say something they wanted to say.

Some of what people said at this stage annoyed me but I felt like a good sport. We need their voices too.

One table thought that the devotees of the Latin Mass were the marginalized.

Another table said the Church needed to focus on the family more. (“What?” I thought. The Church focuses on the family the family the family all the time!)

Someone said we should all stop complaining to the priest about what tree gets cut down and other minor issues and let them care for souls.

One table said that in “olden times” the Church was somewhere people could go when they were in trouble and get help and consolation. The poor could come for assistance. However these days we send these people to other places (I assume they meant St. Vincent de Paul) and don’t deal directly with them. I have discussed that before with others and know it to be a contentious issue for some. However everyone just listened.

Hey I see that the Holy Father is on to something. We all just listened to one another. And the world didn’t blow up.

I had started to see people I knew and even a whole table full of people from my parish, St. Mary’s by the end of it. However I stayed at my table because I loved it over there.

One person stood up and talked about the importance of being people of prayer. He was basically talking about The Practice of the Presence of God and praying without ceasing. I found out later I had known him in High School and that he likes my column in the paper.

By the end the mood was festive. In fact I think it was festive the whole time. (Joy and a sense of Community: true signs of the Holy Spirit at work!)

We ended in thanks and prayer. The adorable Bishop Vasquez began to pose in pictures with various groups of people. My fellow table mates all thanked one another and I said I had to go to Santa Teresa more often. Everyone said they would keep an eye out for my book.

It was good. I reflected on the way home that the Holy Spirit was certainly at work in that process, on the move among us.

Photo by Nikolai Lapshin on Pexels.com

It may sound dramatic but I felt that the load of anger and alienation had been lifted for me. I still have the same values as before. But I felt part of the Universal Church much more than I have in a good while.

At my table we had all agreed that this Synod was a very significant step toward healing and renewal for the Church.

Turns out it was for me too.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑