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Faith

Let Mary be real to you in the Rosary

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An aspect of the rosary I love is that praying the mysteries, the stories of the lives of Jesus and Mary helps us remember that the Virgin Mary was and is a real human being. Her life, entwined with her Son’s was an actual earthly life just as ours is. That seems like an obvious thing to say about her but do we really think of her as a real person? Sometimes, though our stylized and symbolic depictions of her are pretty, I wish at least sometimes her Immaculate Heart would be drawn or painted more anatomically, like a Frieda Kahlo heart perhaps. I think this type of image would bring us closer to the everyday very real Mary who had a beating human heart in her chest.

Or maybe we could see her represented working hard with sweat under her arms for once!

Don’t you feel closer to her if you imagine her feet in the dirt of her garden or the weave of the rough fibers of her homespun dress, or when you imagine her laughing? I do. I always do. 

I want her to be a sister and a friend to me as well as my teacher of prayer, mystical queen and holy mother. 

I love the way Our Lady is presented in all of those gorgeous poetic prayers. But I need a hug. I want to put my face on her shoulder and smell that Mary smell. 

I want to love Jesus as completely as she does. I want to see everything and everyone through God’s heart as she sees all of us. 

I want to pray simply as clear morning light, pondering Jesus in my heart and the law of love continually in all I do, in all Mary and I do together. I want her always with me and I want myself always with her. 

I want to practice Marian mindfulness, being always aware of the presence of the Lord and his beauty.  

I want to be ready for anything God gives or calls me to, and to “arise with haste” and joy to go and act on it, share it with people and all of life as Mary did and still does from Heaven. I want to help her with her work for the kingdom, wherever she wants to take me. She is always reminding me to listen and to do whatever Jesus tells me. 

I want to come home to Mary and cook dinner with her. I want to listen to her concerns for her children and I want to be able to comfort her. I want to walk with her, hear her stories and share her happiness. 

I hope to plant more roses in her garden. I’d like to pick some too, and sprinkle the petals over her head and watch her laugh. 

It’s so easy to make her smile. 

When you think of Mary, when you pray the rosary and let her guide you through the mysteries of Jesus, let her be real to you. It will make all the difference. It will make you smile too. 

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A reading on spiritual childhood from my book, Come to Mary’s House

Christian love: is it fake?

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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.

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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.

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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.” 

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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

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Going to things: my project for Lent

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“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. 

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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.

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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.

Preparing for the “Synod on Synodality”

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The Pope wishes to “consult with the people of God” through the process of a “Synod on Synodality.” 

He says, “a teaching Church must be a listening Church.” Therefore for this new Synod not only will Pope Francis and the Bishops discuss, pray and discern about Communion, Participation, and Mission in the direction of our Church, but lay people are invited to join in the discernment and discussion as well. 

This may sound strange. Perhaps it is even disconcerting to Catholic ears to have the laity involved in a Synod. However, remember that we too are the Church, not just the hierarchy alone. We should be part of this!  

In order that our leaders may hear what the Spirit may have to say through the people, it is important that we all participate. All of our baptized are called. If you have left the Church, if you no longer practice the Faith, I hope you will also let your voice be heard. We need to hear from you, too. 

Each of us has our agendas, things about the Church that we are upset about or hope will change. Let’s endeavor, however, to be receptive as well as expressive. I think we should take this invitation very seriously in a spirit of prayer and discernment, seeking the will of God in what we are to say.  

How is this process going to work? 

The first phase of this “Synod on Synodality” began with the Bishops and the Holy Father in Rome in October 2021. The second phase, the “listening phase,”  is already underway in our Austin Diocese. Locally, one parish here is hosting open listening sessions.

There will be small groups formed at the session to discuss the questions for consideration, dialogue and prayer together.

The student parish here is holding discussions with its parish council only which I think is disappointing.

Our other three local parishes have not begun the process as yet but they will according to how this should work.   

Should you be uncomfortable discussing these things in public or you can’t make a listening session, there is a survey available on the Diocesan website you can fill out at austindiocese.org/synod to participate. Check with your own Diocese for what is being done for the Synod and how you can participate.

 What happens after all of this listening? What everyone has said will be taken into another listening session with the Bishop who will then take it with him to the next phase of the Synod in Rome in 2023  with his brother Bishops and the Holy Father. Do the Popes and the Bishops have to do as we say? No, they are still the Pope and the Bishops. Their authority is still their authority.  However they do want to hear from us and they do care what we have to say.  They will be discussing how to incorporate this listening process more in the future. 

The prospect of the invitation to be a part of this Synod has stirred new hope in me; the most hope I have felt for the healing and renewal of the Church since 2002 when the abuse crisis broke.  The first step in healing and for the renewal of our communion, participation and mission is this listening and being heard. This will build trust between the laity and the hierarchy and has the potential to renew and restore.  

We live in difficult times for the Church. However, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed…struck down, but not destroyed. (See 2 Corinthians 4:8)   Our Church is sturdy enough to guide us through two millennia of Christianity, and also dynamic enough for the same and into the future. We are still the Church that the gates of hell will not overcome. (Matt. 16:18b.) So let’s take courage and take part, trusting this process and in the Holy Spirit active within it to bring good fruit and new hope.  

Another part of taking this seriously is to pray steadfastly and persistantly for the whole process. As a Carmelite, an important part of living our charism is to pray for the Church.

When I set myself to pray in a dedicated way for something or someone the first thing I do is go to Confession. I have noticed that that sacrament tends to grant me clarity of heart and I think I am better able to discern how to pray the way the Holy Spirit wants me to then. At the suggestion of my friend Julia, I have set an alarm on my phone to pray for the Synod daily at noon. I already pray the Angelus at noon so that is easy. I dedicate the Angelus for Synod and I pray for participation and the movement of the Spirit in the Church through this, for the Bishops and the Holy Father and for all of us to discern the voice of God in what we receive and say, for healing and renewal in the Church.

We can offer any suffering we experience during the day for the Synod, and after the example of St. Therese, offer our small sacrifices through the day, the work we do, remembering this intention at mass when we receive communion.

If the timing works out, we could pray a novena to the Holy Spirit. We can offer a rosary, or our time in silent interior prayer, or your time in adoration. In whatever way we pray and remember God, we can ask for open-ness of heart and the inspiration of the Spirit.

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Here is the prayer suggested by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for this Synod. It is a simplified version of the one used at Vatican II and also during the Synods of the past. 

“We stand before You, Holy Spirit, as we gather together in Your name.

With You alone to guide us, make Yourself at home in our hearts;

Teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.

We are weak and sinful; do not let us promote disorder.

Do not let ignorance lead us down the wrong path nor partiality influence our actions.

Let us find in You our unity so that we may journey together to eternal life and not stray from the way of truth and what is right.

All this we ask of You, who are at work in every place and time, in the communion of the Father and the Son, forever and ever.

Amen.”

I also like this prayer and I say it often.

“Come, Holy Spirit,

come by means

of the powerful intercession

of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,

Mother of the Church.”

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Advent tea with St. Therese

“The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You shall see his glory within you.” — Liturgy of the Hours

We are sitting in my living room, reflecting silently together in the glow of the blinking lights of the Christmas tree. It looks particularly lovely in the dark. Its light turns the smooth, gentle face of my companion from pink to yellow to blue and back again. She seems content with her tea in a flowery cup from our kitchen.

“St. Therese, what is Christmas?” I ask.

She likes this question. I have been trying and trying to write about her, but she wanted me to interview her about Christmas. So we’re talking about Christmas.

“It is the time that the children of God remember and celebrate the birth of the infant Jesus.”

She smiles with a faraway look, “It is also a time that once again the doors of heaven swing open, great graces and torrents of spiritual light are poured into the world. The child Jesus will come to each person in a special way, to be reborn in each soul, all the world receives a blessing from heaven.”

“So many people have a hard time with Christmas, St. Therese. Some people have trouble with their families, don’t have money for gifts, or are agitated and stressed at Christmas, or they get their feelings hurt at their family celebration, or things don’t go the way they want them to, or they feel lonely or they are grieving. Can you address situations like that?”

She looks at me tenderly, knowing my mixed feelings at this time of the year, and that, as I said, they are shared by far too many others. She herself suffered grief, sorrow, loneliness, depression, severe illness and disappointment.

“I want God’s children to know that Jesus truly comes to them in all humility and with love. Just as he left his beautiful heaven to be with us on earth, so he comes to be in your soul, a heaven infinitely more dear to him because of his love, his personal love for you. When you are tired, look inside and find the little beggar of love. Cradle him, cherish him; look at him. Find a moment of peace there in the Christmas stable of your heart and he will give you his grace.”

“What should we do if we are disappointed or get our feelings hurt with our families at Christmas?”

“One Christmas when I was 13, my family got back from midnight Mass, and my father was very tired and grumpy. I overheard him say he hoped this was the last year for presents for me because I was getting a little old for this. I was crushed! I had been a very sensitive child ever since the death of my mother when I was little. My family doted on me, but they knew a torrent of tears was coming and they dreaded it. I ran upstairs to cry. Somehow something happened before I reached the top stair. Everything changed for me. A new strength, a new tenderness touched my soul. I encountered in the depths of my heart the light and tenderness of the Holy Child and in an instant I just … changed my mind. My tears dried, I turned around, came back down the stairs and surprised my family very much with my joyful opening of presents and sharing with them all the happiness of the occasion. It was a Christmas miracle!”

“How do we get in touch with the grace you describe in that transforming moment of your life?”

“If I reflect on it, I see that I had been preparing myself for that moment by making small sacrifices wherever I could. I saw this as adorning my heart with freshly gathered flowers for Jesus. Some of these were violets and roses, others were cornflowers or daisies or forget-me-nots. I wanted all the flowers I could gather to cradle the baby Jesus in my heart. “

She is leaning forward now, and I see how her face lights up talking about this.

“It seems to me you are talking about how you trained yourself not to let an opportunity to do a kindness, or make a small sacrifice slip by. Is that what you mean?

“I found that life would bring me plenty of opportunities. So if one of you should find yourself naturally irritated with someone this Christmas, decide for peace and serve that person nicely. It will set you free.

“If your Christmas isn’t going the way you planned, give up your expectations as a sacrifice to Jesus, and you will feel your burden lightened.

“If someone wants to argue, let her win; just this one time.

“You will be surprised how you can walk away happy, or even find that you regard that irritating person with genuine affection. Find opportunities this Christmas, to be kind, to serve, to take the lowest place. I will be there winking at you!”

I laugh, imagining this. “That’s perfect!” I say. “I will be looking for you.”

I lift my tea cup for a toast and we clink our cups together, smiling.

She tells me a story about life in the convent when now and then one of the novices would lose her temper with St. Therese and tell her angrily exactly what she thought of her. “I decided to savor these incidents like good vinegar on a fresh salad.” She chuckles. “You could use that at Christmas, to counteract all those holiday sweets! I will be there to give you a high five to celebrate your glorious victory over yourself, and Jesus will grant you immense strength, you will see.”

“This is hard stuff, though,” I say.

She knows it is hard.

“I had such a longing to be one of God’s great heroes. I had such overwhelming desires to do great things. I came to understand that doing these small things with great love offers plenty of challenge. Yes, these are almost the hardest things of all, these little things to do! But before you know it, you will find such joy. You will realize the presence of the Little Beggar of Love in your soul. And you will be glad you gave him what he wanted for Christmas most of all. The milk of your love at every opportunity you had.

“Ask the good God to show you an opening to do a small bit of good around you, to lighten someone’s burden quietly.”

I am smiling now because I know she is right. This is a way to be good soil for the seeds of the Gospel Jesus came to bring. If we give ourselves over to little Jesus in this way, he will find our souls full of flowers for him to be cradled in, and he will make his sweet presence there known.

We will find ourselves not only doing small things with great love, but with great joy.

And if you burn the cookies, or you say something you shouldn’t have, be patient with yourself, she says.

“Little children fall often but don’t have far to fall, so they don’t hurt themselves very much.” So strive to be little, even to yourself.

Practice this “Little Way,” for his Christmas presents, fill your heart with these flowers, and the little Jesus will come to you with his grace to be cherished within you.

That is the Christmas spirit, I believe, according St. Therese of the child Jesus.

“Love him,” she says, draining her teacup.

“Love him in everything. It’s that simple.”

“In this brilliant night which illuminates the joy of the Holy Trinity, Jesus, the gentle little child of the hour, will change the darkness of my soul into torrents of light.” — St. Therese of Lisieux

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