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Catholic contemplative life and devotion

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Christian love: what (really) and how

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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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On the possible revocation of Roe v. Wade

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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.

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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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Mary’s Day: Holy Saturday 2022

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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.

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5Kristin Ventura, Sarah Louise and 3 others

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.

The power of Lent in these troubled times

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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.”

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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. 

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How a St. Francis statue changed my life

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I was 19, and living back home with my family for a while, when, coming in one evening, I found everyone very bemused with me.

“We got a call from the Christian book store that the book you ordered is in…….?” My mom queried.

“OK.”

“We thought it might be a wrong number……?”

“No, that’s the book I ordered about St. Francis.”

They all looked at each other.

As I headed down the hall to my room, I heard my brother ask, “What? Did you hear that?”

My step dad said, “Well… you never know what Shawn is going to do.”

At that time I was getting ready to go to Corpus Christi to spend some time with my Granny.

I planned to re-paint the St. Francis statue she had in her back yard while I was there.

Someone had given it to her in the distant past, to set at the grave of a beloved family dog who had died long ago. The worn, concrete statue was of a serene faced man in a tattered habit, a hood drawn over his head. He is holding a small, trusting bird against his chest, his eyes closed in prayer, or perhaps gazing down tenderly.

This statue had stood under the cottonwood tree year after year. It was a marvel of Granny’s household, having survived three major hurricanes without tipping over, even though it was a knee high concrete statue anyone could lift.

One night, however, the St. Francis’ face had been vandalized; spray painted an ugly red and black. I planned to fix that.

None of us knew much about St. Francis the person.

How a st. francis statue changed my life

We had heard he had been known to communicate with animals.

Granny was in the habit of adopting injured, stray and abandoned animals to the point her house was filled with them. (It’s a good thing she cleaned all the time!) Most of her grocery bill was for pet food, and the veterinarian down the road heard from her often.

Generally Granny had a rough, colorful personality. However, she would break down sobbing over the suffering or death of an animal.

She had a special love for birds, and daily fed the ones who frequented her back yard. Crowds of them weighed down the branches of the giant oleanders, and sang in the orange and mulberry trees around her garage each evening. A few sea gulls usually circled above. She would hear their “racket,” and go out to her waiting admirers.

She would raise an old metal trash can lid, turned up and filled with birdseed high above her head, and a whirl wind of wings would surround her. Some of the birds settled on her shoulders, or even in the palm of her hand. It looked like magic.

She had the quaint habit of talking to animals seriously, as if they were people, and they seemed to listen to her.

A saint who could commune with animals would naturally interest her. I had only recently begun to believe in God, and to learn to pray and meditate a little. I was not open to religion.

I thought it would be nice, however, to learn about St. Francis while I worked on his statue.

So we would put on a pot of coffee now and then each day, and as she worked her trade of re-weaving,*  I sat on the floor by her work table. As I had done since I was a little girl, I read aloud to her.

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I don’t know what I expected, but The Way of St. Francis by Fr. Murray Bodo, was a very reflective book. Reflective Christianity was a new experience for me.

I was impressed with the author’s depth, warmth, humility, and spirituality.

St. Francis surprised me, too. His Christian faith made him more authentic rather than less so. His unabashed love for Jesus led him to embrace people and ideas he had always been afraid of, and to renounce social acceptability when it got in the way of going where God, where love, was leading him.

Because he wanted to be a faithful Christian, he practiced radical inclusiveness, and unconditional love.

Because He loved God, He loved the created world for His sake.

He did delightfully crazy things.

He was charming and challenging.

He was adventurous and full of joy, love, and humility, ready for anything.

I had never heard of living simply, in solidarity with the poor, out of love for “the poor Christ,” or of voluntary poverty as a spiritual discipline.

It was healing for me that he did not seem to trample on other people’s feelings or their sense of self. Instead, they were won over by his kindness and love, his respect, his happiness, and by the fact that he really did visibly live what he believed in, even down to his love and obedience toward Church authority.

He knew suffering, but he found inner joy from knowing God, and from loving with abandon.

I felt very impressed with the beautiful, joyful life of love St. Francis lived.

As I sanded the statue, and carefully painted it in calming shades of blue and gray, I found myself thinking about him and smiling.

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I had not known it was possible to listen for the voice of God in one’s heart, and to actually be inspired be that.

Striving for a certain type of life was also a new idea for me.

I loved learning about Francis’ soul friend, St. Clare. I had never heard of contemplative Christianity before. What a deep, poetic, courageous woman. She was the first of many women mystics I would read from or about in the years ahead, opening my heart, a little more at a time, to God and prayer.

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Granny and I both loved the stories about St. Francis. Of course she really liked hearing that he had preached to the birds, and tamed the wolf of Gubio. My favorite was the surprising story of Francis and the Damietta prostitute. 

I was inspired to memorize the St. Francis prayer, and to use it as a point of meditation for years to come. Later, Granny sent me a prayer card of it that I still have.

Over the next several years, I would sand down and re-paint the statue on my lone visits to Granny. It became a kind of ritual for me.

Granny started to talk to St. Francis over her morning coffee on the back porch before she got to her work, and at other times during the day, and to pray more often.

I earnestly tried to begin to live a spiritual life and to learn to love, little by little.

I don’t know if all of my attempts were directly inspired by St. Francis, but I think he and his example had a lot to do with it.

I tried several things that changed the way I lived and saw the world.

I began to try to reach out and connect with people even though that was hard for me, and to try to see the good in everyone.

I got over my embarrassment and started to talk to homeless people whenever I saw them, to give them what I could, to hug them if it was OK with them.

I attempted to smile from the heart at every human being I saw. I still try to do that.

I became more interested in prayer.

I made conscious efforts to live more simply, as a spiritual practice, and so that I could share more with others.

I recognized joy, love, and humility, as virtues to respect, to look for and see in others, to hope for, for myself.

I rediscovered my childhood connection to nature and to animals. I saw beauty more and more, and learned how to drink it in and enjoy it.

I started to notice my hardness of heart and to try to become more open and loving.

I was not about to become a Christian, (so I thought.) But getting to know St. Francis began to give me new ideas about life and about God.

Many things happened over time that drew me slowly into the Catholic Church, and inspired me to live the faith as fully as possible. Maybe my friend, St. Francis was helping me along.

Eventually, my granny was baptized and confirmed as a Catholic. She chose the name Francis at her Confirmation.

When she was asked, “Ruth, what do you ask of God’s Church?” She unconsciously went “off script” and answered from the heart, “I want to love and to be loved.” Everyone smiled.

That St. Francis statue stands faithfully at my grandmother’s grave today. It is even more worn by the weather now, into a wonderful blend of shades and textures from years of being outside, and from my different loving restorations of it. Since I set it there beside her head stone, I have chosen not to repaint it anymore. It is beautiful just as it is.

How a St. Francis statue changed my life

*Re-weaving was the trade of re-weaving cloth that had holes, flaws or tears in it, making it look new. My grandmother was the last re-weaver in Texas.

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