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My conversion to the Catholic Church took about three seconds. I was an arrogant fool sitting in on my very first Mass and watching it like I had watched a National Geographic nature film. I was analyzing away—“Those pews are so phallic, who are they kidding that this isn’t all about a patriarchy?”—when I heard something Jewish. A cantor sang the Psalm. It caught my attention and stopped the haughty drift of my thoughts. I began to be interested. What else might they have stolen from the Jews?
This led to other discoveries, like the parading of the Gospels. “Well, if Jesus does claim to be the Jewish Messiah, I guess there should be Jewish elements in the worship,” I thought dismissively until it occurred to me I had never seen Jewish elements in the Protestant churches I had attended as a girl. Why not? I puzzled that one for a while.
About the time for the consecration (I had no idea what it was called at the time), I had come all the way around to the skeptical thought, actually accompanied by a quiet sarcasm-laden snort, “What if all this were true?”
Then I was hit in the head with a 2 x 4—that process took all of three seconds. I say that comically but wave upon wave of revelation breaking over my stunned mind was actually very painful. It was also beautiful, exquisite and utterly horrifying. I saw things, felt things, all in quick succession with the complete clarity of the words, “It is all true,” ringing like a bell.
Then an actual bell rang signaling the consecration. Jesus Himself was upon that altar and I was done. I had a choice to make and it was my very last chance. It was true. I could never again deny the truth of it but I could still deny Him. A ‘yes’ would cost me every friend I had, the community I had built, my reputation. Everything. Was I willing to give it all up? Oh, God, yes!
Then I came back from that heady place to reality where the Mass continued before me. I was Catholic now but that priest up there on the dais was the first one I had ever been in the same room with. I was Catholic now, but my husband was not. What now? I was Catholic, but I had no idea what that meant. I decided to start with the little pamphlet my husband had given me on a whim as we walked past a display on the way into the church. It was on the rosary. As I read through the mysteries all I remembered of the life of Jesus came back to me. Then I came upon the Assumption.
“The Assumption?” I thought, “What the hell is that?” (The conversion of my heart was won; my conversion of behavior was incremental).
The Mass ended. It was a daily Mass so there was not a crowd. The priest was at the back of the church talking with a woman. They both greeted my husband and me warmly, the priest asking a few questions of the new people. He quickly discovered my husband was an ex- Catholic and I was not anything I was willing to own up to publicly yet. I said I wanted to join the Catholic Church and shot a guilty look at my husband. I knew it was not nice to tell him like this, but I did not have the guts to face him all at once. Maybe he could get over the initial reaction and be polite by the time we got to the car.
Then I blurted out my question before I lost my nerve and before the polite chit chat wound down. “What’s an Assumption?” “The Assumption?” the priest looked surprised. He gave an answer too small to satisfy my hunger, “It was when Our Lady was taken to heaven to reign as Queen Mother.”
I pressed for more information and he asked me to make an appointment. I was there the next day and in RCIA by the end of the week. I was a thorn in that program’s side. I read book after book and, completely ignorant, each question generated more questions. I took to carrying a notebook to jot them in. People would actually groan when at the end of the RCIA class my hand would go up when they asked, “Are there any questions?” I had pages full.
Somebody in heaven took pity on my classmates and drew my attention to a bumper sticker with the local Catholic radio station on it. I tuned in my dial and there I found the depth and breadth I craved.
My husband was kinder than I knew. He had been uncomfortable with the direction our spiritual life had taken us and was relieved to come home to the faith. He joined a Landings Group and began his own Catechesis. Meanwhile, my conversion was a big secret from my family and friends. There were two reasons for this: my family and my friends.
My family was Church of Christ. While it was never spoken of from the pulpit, growing up the handouts available on the tables in the vestibule often held tracts that spouted things like the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Pope was the Anti-Christ. A few people in the church had family members convert to Catholicism. This news was greeted in the same manner as people whose family members had come down with cancer: with condolences, disbelief, and shocked horror. Although my mother and father made it clear they did not approve of the tracts, neither did they approve of Catholics and their beliefs. I grew up with the impression that they were a strange cult, like the Moonies.
My friends were an entirely different matter. They loathed Christians, especially Catholics. One had told the story of her son accompanying her to visit her mother at a senior facility. Some little old ladies in the lobby had made semi-rude gossipy comments about them as they walked past. The little boy got on the elevator, rolled his eyes and said, “Probably Christians.” His mother laughed as she told that story, as did everyone present; I did not. As far from Christianity as I was, I thought she was training a bigot and that is never funny.
I told one friend what was happening with me. She was pretty neutral except that she was worried how it would change the dynamics of our relationship. We still loosely keep in touch. The others were a different story. I announced my conversion and endured tears, anger and, finally, a scathing acceptance of my truth. I had lost all credibility and, in their eyes, any claim to intelligence. After a few abortive attempts, all contact with that group of friends was lost. No one would return my calls or even my Seasons Greetings cards. Finally, after a few years I just started sending Christmas cards thinking what could lose? One responded and now we exchange biannual letters. The others dumped me because they could not be friends with someone like me—an “intolerant Catholic.”
Hard to believe an average bunch of gals could be so anti-Catholic in this day and age? Not in the New Age. We were actually a group of goddess-worshiping pagans and I was a priestess. I was a leader in the community. I taught classes, wrote songs, and led rituals, the whole shebang. For those of you who do not believe in these sorts of things, I was able to do all sorts of unbelievable things, like mild prognostication and other creepy stuff. The allure of these “gifts” is such that I will not go into details. Suffice it to say, my group was astonished that anyone would be willing to give up such power.
Now that I am free, it amazes me how enslaved I was to it all. I did not see myself as worshiping the devil or demons, I just thought I had found a legitimate power source. I was amazed at the “miracles” I could perform. I was heady with it. The power is the bait. It hooks you and then turns on you. The people involved stagnate and become trapped into continually cycling through personal issues. It is similar to the stagnation of the personality caused by alcohol and drug abuse and the experience is very much like an addiction. With this much personal dysfunction, the groups can get ugly. One of the most chilling comments during my confession to my group was from the group leader, “There’s a reason we used to kill oath breakers.” She did not mean our group in particular but the groups in the largely recreated neopagan past. Her reference was historically dubious but I was so glad to dust myself off and move on in my life.
I found myself filling my days not with the chatter of friends but the chatter of Catholic radio. It was a lonely but wonderful time. I was discovering things and growing as a person in ways I never could have imagined. My husband was also undergoing a transformation. Our marriage had never been better. Incrementally, I was learning just how self-centered and sinful I was. I was also learning how much I was loved. All my life I had yearned for something unknown. Now I knew what that was, and I had that something.
In the midst of this, I told my parents. They were not pleased but they were not condemning either. They said they would tell the rest of the family for me, meaning aunts and uncles. It was their way to spare everyone any unkindness or awkwardness stemming from the initial shock. Then my parents said something that surprised me: “This will be good for your family.”
That they found some good in my conversion was an incredible surprise at the time. Of the two groups, family versus friends, I had expected the opposite reactions. I had feared that my family would disown me and expected my friends to work out a new relationship with me. Exactly the opposite occurred. I was disowned by my friends, but my family and I have worked things out.
Why did I visit that church that day? Like any convert, I was looking for something and found more than I bargained for. I was considering attending the Catholic Church because I wanted a community large enough to hide myself in. I wanted respectability without having to actually be respectable. In a sense, cafeteria Catholics evangelized me. I walked in that door thinking I would go to the cafeteria to pick and choose what I wanted from the table and I would remain unchanged. God had other plans.'
Most of us are regular church attendees and we participate in church-related and spiritual activities. Nevertheless, how well do we know the Lord whom we worship? We say with our tongue that He is almighty, powerful, gracious, loving, caring and so forth. But when we face an adverse situation in life, how do we react? Do we get anxious? Do we feel like God does not care? Do we get angry and frustrated towards God? Does it feel like He has abandoned us?
I believe the reaction we generate when we face a difficult situation will help us realize exactly how much we trust Him. In any relationship, how much we trust a person depends on how well we know that person. The more time we spend with that individual, the more we begin to learn about that individual’s character, including his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and so on. Our understanding of that person’s character helps us to determine how much we can trust that individual.
Just like that, how well we know our Savior can play a significant role in evaluating how much we trust Him. In order to understand our Lord’s character, we need to spend more and more time with Him. It is crucial for us to meditate on the things that He had to give up in order to come down to earth and become like one of His creations. Think about it: the God who created heaven and earth, the God who is full of glory and honor decided to shrink into our likeness so that He can endure all the trials and difficulties of the earthly life that His sons and daughters experience. Furthermore, we need to contemplate the painful and most humiliating punishment He had taken upon Himself so that we would be saved from the eternal punishment we deserve.
If we are measuring God’s love based on the materialistic blessings He has given us in this world, we will be disappointed and angry at God when we do not receive those things or when we lose them. On the other hand, if we realize the value of our soul and learn to understand His love based on the great sacrifice He has made for us to redeem our souls, then we begin to understand how much He loves us. Dear readers, Jesus loved you so much that He was willing to leave everything behind and come down to this earth and accept a painful death for our salvation. He shed even the last drop of His blood to redeem us. Because of that sacrifice, you and I have been granted access into Heaven.
It is also important to remember that God is our Creator and He loves us more than anyone else in this world. We do not like anything bad happening to our loved ones. We will not deliberately do or allow something to happen in our loved ones’ lives that would harm or destroy them. Considering that we—weak and sinful beings—would not want anything awful to happen to our dear ones, do you think our heavenly Father, the God who created us, would allow something to happen in our lives that would harm us? He will not. It is not in His character to do anything to hurt His children. He is love in its fullness. If God has allowed an unpleasant situation to happen in our lives, He has a great and good purpose behind it.
Many of us likely have heard this analogy: if one of our children has to go through a painful medical procedure in order to recover from a life-threatening illness, we would allow them to go through that process— no matter how painful it is to see our child suffering. That child may be crying and begging you not to let him go through that process. However, since you know that it is necessary in order to sustain his life, you would allow him to go through it with a heavy heart. Just like that, our heavenly Father is not rejoicing when we are going through hardships. His heart is heavy and sad when He sees His children suffer. But sometimes, He has let us go through certain sufferings in life to sustain our precious soul. He knows that if He does not allow us to experience certain adversities that our soul will forever be lost.
As an individual who lost her sight in a car accident, I truly believe this suffering that He allowed has been the greatest blessing in my life. In spite of the difficulties and challenges I face as a blind person, I am able to see this physical impairment as a blessing because this blindness has become a great eye-opener for me. Because of this condition, God gave me the grace not only to realize the value of my soul, but also to see how much I am loved by Him. When you come to realize these truths, it will become easier to carry the crosses that God has allowed in your own life.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17, Saint Paul says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Like Paul reminds us, make every effort to concentrate on that eternal glory that is waiting for us in Heaven. Let us shift our focus away from our trials and tribulations which are temporary and, instead, put our focus and trust in a loving God who is much, much bigger than any storms we face in our lives. Always remember that our God can turn any tragedy into a great victory when we put our hope and trust in Him.'
I have had several recent conversations with friends and professional acquaintances on the subject of openly sharing our Catholic faith. I was a little surprised at how many of them expressed strong reluctance to being open about their beliefs. The reasons given included “We are not allowed to do that at work,” “I don’t want to offend anyone” and “I don’t like to discuss that outside of my parish.” There was a central theme running through their responses which has been the catalyst for a lot of my reflection and prayer over the last few days:
Do we ever stop to consider how often our public actions and thinking involving our Catholic faith are influenced by a misguided concern for what others think of us?
During the day, how many times do we have missed opportunities to stand up for Christ or share our faith? Is it the conversation we avoid with a troubled co-worker? Is it our refusal to publicly make the Sign of the Cross and say a blessing over our meals? Is it standing up to someone who is attacking the Church? How about the person who is quietly curious about the Catholic faith and is only waiting on an invitation to attend Mass with us? Too often a misplaced concern for the opinion of those around us keeps us from embracing our responsibilities. However, it is crystal clear that Jesus expects us to openly share our faith and acknowledge Him before others if we read the Gospel of Matthew 10:32-33, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
Christ was our greatest example on how to not be concerned about the respect of others. He always taught the truth, regardless of the audience or His surroundings. His enemies recognized this aspect of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:16, “Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men.”
Francis Fernandez, author of “In Conversation with God,” makes this observation (about sharing the truth): “Christ asks His disciples to imitate Him in this practice. Christians should foster and defend their well-earned professional, moral and social prestige, since it belongs to the essence of human dignity. The prestige is also an important component of our personal apostolate. Yet we should not forget that our conduct will meet with opposition from those who openly oppose Christian morality and those who practice a watered-down version of the Faith. It is possible that the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, and even of life itself. With the help of His grace we will struggle to do His will. Everything we have belongs to the Lord.”
He goes on to write, “In such difficult circumstances the Christian ought not to wonder which path is the most opportune to follow, but rather, which path is the most faithful to Christ. Certainly, our desire for popularity is the direct consequence of self-love. Our behavior will be the proving-ground of our deepest convictions. This firmness in the Faith is often an excellent testimony to the beliefs of the Christian. In some cases it can cause people to begin their return to the House of the Father.” I would suggest that not taking a stand for Christ and openly sharing our true beliefs may be one of the biggest obstacles for many of us to grow in our faith…and possibly for those around us who are watching our example.
If you are a business person, in career transition, a stay at home mom, a student or a senior citizen, chances are that you have faced this struggle with worrying about what others think of you. It is a natural human tendency that affects me and everyone I know. We all want to be liked, respected and included. But, here is the catch…we cannot separate our spiritual selves from our physical being. The faith we profess is part of who. This prestige is also we are and cannot be hidden away. “One of the gravest errors of our time is the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives… The Christian who shirks his temporal duties shirks his duties towards his neighbor, neglects God himself, and endangers his eternal salvation” (Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes).
Can we all agree that being “Stealth Catholics” is not the answer? If so, here are five thoughts on how to overcome our fear of what others may think of us when publicly sharing our faith:
1. Show me that in the policy manual. I have heard many times that expressing our faith in the workplace is “against company policy.” Have you actually seen a written policy addressing making the Sign of the Cross and praying at meals, praying quietly at your desk, going to Mass at lunch or wearing ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday? I know there may be exceptions, but let me challenge all of us to consider the possibility that much of our fear may be based on a false perception of possible persecution and not reality.
2.“Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” Please reflect on these words of wisdom often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. It rarely occurs to us to think about our own faith journeys, the example we set for others and the Christ-inspired joy we should radiate as the most effective ways to share our faith. Letting others see Jesus Christ at work in us is a powerful form of witness that will attract others who want what we have in our lives. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-14 and 16).
3. Start the conversation with a little sharing of our own. Transparency invites transparency! We cannot expect someone to open up to us unless we are willing to do the same. Our faith journey is a blessing, meant to be shared, and the witness we give may have a profound influence on someone. As we read in 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”
4. Reality Check: Pursuing Heaven vs. Being Popular. Heaven is our ultimate destination and not this place called Earth. Will our critics help us get to Heaven? Will they stand up for us during tough times? No, they will pull us into a secular way of life which has little room for God and where materialism and popularity are the fashionable idols of the day. Francis Fernandez wrote that overcoming human respect is part of the virtue of fortitude. He describes the challenges a Christian may endure as “…rumors and calumnies, mockery, discrimination at work, the loss of economic opportunities or superficial friendships. In these uncomfortable circumstances it may be tempting to take the easy way out and ‘give in.’ By such means we could avoid rejection, misunderstanding and ridicule. We could become concerned at the thought of losing friends, of ‘closing doors’ which we will later be unable to re-open. This is the temptation to be influenced by human respect, hiding one’s true identity and forsaking our commitment to live as Disciples of Christ.
5. Be consistent and lead an Integrated Catholic Life. Do we take our faith with us to work, meals with friends, the kid’s soccer games and neighborhood swim meets? Or, do we only practice our Catholic faith at Mass on Sunday? It is easy to conform to secular expectations, but difficult to publicly show our love of Jesus, live out the Beatitudes, evangelize and lead a fully integrated life. I have always found inspiration on this topic from the wisdom of Saint John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation, “Christifideles Laici”: “The unity of life of the lay faithful is of the greatest importance: indeed they must be sanctified in everyday professional and social life. Therefore, to respond to their vocation, the lay faithful must see their daily activities as an occasion to join themselves to God, fulfill His will, serve other people and lead them to communion with God in Christ.”
We cannot do this alone and we must pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my own experience, this is a daily work in progress and it is never easy. But, we should all recognize that there are people looking at us to see our example. They want to learn from and be inspired by our courage, if we are only willing to take a stand for Christ. Think about how fortunate we are to live in a Christian country (although our religious liberties are under attack) where all we risk is a little disapproval or alienation from others. In the early Church, to be openly Christian was to risk a martyr’s death. Christians are being persecuted in Indonesia, the Middle East and other parts of the world even as you read this article.
I know this is difficult, but a sacrifice on our part is required. The sacrifice is simply to love Christ more than the opinions of those around us. We should realize how little is being asked of us compared to what Jesus endured for us on the Cross. As I stated earlier, the desire to be liked, respected and popular is normal and I struggle with this as do many of you. But, let us pray for one another and continue to ask Jesus for courage, strength and the discernment to know and follow His will and not be concerned about the opinions of others. Besides, I do not see the merits of being the most popular person in hell. Do you?'
From our childhood days, most of us can remember a daily prayer to our Guardian Angel. The prayer of my youth went: “O angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide.”
Angels are a consistent feature of the Jewish and Christian understanding of our spirit-world. They have a high profile in Christian tradition, regularly referred to by Jesus Himself. Modern portrayals of angels in pictures and statuettes tend to take them less seriously, indeed a new angel-culture has become popular commercially which does not reflect the angels of Scripture and tradition.
Angels are to be found in the Bible from its opening pages. We find an angel guarding the gate of Eden in the book of Genesis. In the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, it is the angel who announces the Day of Judgement. Jesus is strengthened by an angel in the garden of Gethsemane.
Angels appear in the Bible as messengers from God to His people. Only three angels are given specific names–Raphael, who accompanies Tobias on his travels and protects him, Gabriel who comes to Mary and asks her to be the mother of Jesus, and Michael, who is named in the Book of Revelations as the angel who leads the angelic forces against the devil. Angels are also referred to in the Bible under different groupings such as Cherubim, Seraphim, and Powers. There are nine groupings in all. In some places in the Bible, angels seem to represent God Himself. The visit of God to Abraham in Genesis 18: 1-2 is one such example.
Angels are taken for granted in the writings of Saint Paul. They are constantly referred to as part of the believer’s landscape. To the Christians at Rome, Paul writes: “for I am certain of this. Neither death nor life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). To the Christians at Corinth he writes: “If I have all the eloquence of men and of angels, but speak without love, I am simply a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (1 Corinthians 13:1). To the Christians at Thessalonica he speaks of the end time: “At the trumpet of God, the voice of the Archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
The prayer of the Church is also very rich in the understanding of angels, and prayer is always an expression of the Church’s belief. In the Eucharist, we include angels in our vision of worship. At the very beginning of each Mass we ask the prayers of “all the angels and saints” for forgiveness of our sins. At the Preface to the Eucharist Prayer we join with the “choirs of angels in heaven” in their unending hymn of praise. In the first Eucharistic Prayer we pray, “We ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy angels to your altar on high, in the sight of your divine majesty ..” The angels are part of our dialogue with God.
Devotion to the angels has been very rich in popular piety. Surely one of the most beautiful awareness’s is that God has given us a personal angel to guard us through life. Yes, we each have a personal friend at God’s throne – our Guardian Angel. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 18:10: “See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven.”
Saint Michael the Archangel is often venerated on mountains. One can think of Mont San Michel in Normandy; Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry; or St Michael’s Mount, a small tidal island in Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, England. There has been a recent revival of devotion to the Archangel Michael, recalling the practice of reciting, in public, a prayer to Saint Michael after each Mass in the liturgy prior to Vatical II. Many of an older generation will remember it by heart:
“Blessed Michael the Archangel, defend us in the hour of darkness. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God restrain him we humbly pray and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell and with him all those wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (328 & 336) tells us:
“The existence of spiritual beings, that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition…. From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading them to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men and women united in God.”'
Ruth Knutson is the wife to Dr. Ron Knutson, an anesthesiologist in Bismarck, North Dakota. Together they have five children. No one would suspect such a poised and joyful person to have had a childhood full of extreme abuse and neglect. But Ruth points out, “It’s what we do with the rest of it that is our story.”
Growing up in Williston, Ruth’s bad-tempered, alcoholic mother was not married to the father she never knew. There were four half-siblings; an older brother and younger sister and two younger brothers. “My house was a disaster,” she said. “If I put stuff in the laundry, I never saw it again.”
One of Ruth’s earliest memories was at five-years-old, pleading with her mother not to leave her with the abusive stepfather. Her mother would not protect her. Two of their houses burned down; one from electrical problems and the other because her three- and four-year-old little brothers were home alone playing with matches.
THE LIGHT OF CHRIST
Amid the chaos, there was her grandmother. Her grandmother had eleven kids and her grandfather had died of cirrhosis of the liver from alcoholism in his late forties. “My grandmother always made me feel safe,” Ruth explained. Her relationship with Jesus began at Mass with her grandmother. “I thought: Jesus suffered and made it through, so I can make it through too.” Years later, when Ruth married Ron, she joined him in the Lutheran church.
As a third grader, Ruth recalled telling God that she had enough. “I told him I didn’t want this life and that I wanted to die and be done,” she said. “I felt God tell me clearly: This is not your life.” It gave Ruth awareness that she had a future to live for and that her terrible home life had nothing to do with her.
A WAY OUT
Years of looking out for her siblings and trying to keep the home in order were overwhelming. By sixth grade, Ruth walked to her social worker’s office and asked to leave. She and her sister, who was eighteen months younger, were placed with different relatives for what became the first of Ruth’s four foster homes.
When her sister was sixteen, she ran away to Wyoming and eventually had two children; one she gave up for adoption, the other was raised by the father. Her sister died five years ago at forty-nine of cirrhosis of the liver. Ruth’s three brothers have also struggled with addictions.
She reached out to them to help, but they made other choices. Ruth does not judge, however. Much their life was beyond their control, such as getting drunk for the first time at two-years-old or being drinking buddies with their mom in junior high. Ruth attributes her own happiness and fulfillment with God and family but said there is a lot of randomness we cannot control.
While in high school, Ruth met her future husband who was two years older. “He knew my mom was a character and that I was in foster care, but he didn’t run away,” she said. By the time she was a senior in high school and he was a pre-med major in college, they married.
“I can’t emphasize enough the love and support that Ron has had for me and how blessed I feel to be a wife, mother, and grandmother,” she said. Ruth stayed home to care for her family until the youngest went to school. Then she earned degrees in addiction counseling and social work and was an addiction counselor for seven years. “I loved working with patients and realized we are more alike than we are different,” she said. “I really think the 12-steps [to sobriety] is a spiritual journey; one that we can all take by surrendering to God.”
REUNITED WITH HER MOTHER
Ruth believed that she had overcome her past, but then learned twenty years ago that her mother had lung cancer. She felt that if she really had forgiven her mother, she needed to go visit. Ruth drove to Minot and brought her mother back to Bismarck. “God’s grace filled me with peace,” Ruth said. “I felt so sorry for her. She never experienced how much love children give you and you give them.”
Her mother had been sober for ten years, earned a math degree, and worked as a tutor. “I wanted her to say she was sorry, but I had a light bulb moment and suddenly understood that she never saw me as a child,” Ruth said. “She was never able to be my mother, but I realized I had a small window of time to be her daughter.”
During the six months they had left, Ruth visited frequently, often telling her mother: “I love you.” It was something Ruth had only heard once from her mother from behind a door.
Soon, her mother started saying it back. When her mother died in October 1995, it seemed both mother and daughter were at peace. “That time was a gift,” Ruth said.
There is one more part to the story, however. “The story would not be complete without forgiving yourself,” Ruth said. She had to forgive herself for not being there for her sisters and brothers and for not trying to start a relationship earlier with her mother.
In the end, Ruth said that her past has given her a heart full of gratitude. Even the bad things are part of the blessings of her life today. For instance, while raising her children, she taught them compassion in a meaningful way. “If you make fun of someone for dirty hair or messy clothes, know that you would have made fun of me when I was a little girl,” she taught them.
“I always ask God what I’m supposed to see,” she said. “I’ve come to understand that there is something to learn in every circumstance. My prayer has always been, ‘Dear God, give me eyes to see, a mind that is open and a heart filled with compassion.’'
One of the Five Hard Truths that will set us free is this one: “You are not in control. “This unnerves us, even terrifies us at times. We like to be in control, but control is an illusion; things you think you control are resting on things you cannot control such as the next beat of your heart or even the continued existence of the cosmos! No, we are not in control.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).
This is just another way of saying that we are not in control. The paradox is that accepting this hard, even terrifying truth is what frees us from many fears and anxieties. Uncertainty is not the deepest source of our anxiety, rather it is our desperate clinging to control and our insistence on our own preferred outcomes. We do not always (or even usually) know what is best for us. Abandoning ourselves to God’s wisdom and leadership is the only path to true peace.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “What are we to make of Christ? … [Rather] it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us …. Try to retain your own life and you will be inevitably ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved …. Whatever is keeping you from God … whatever it is, throw it away …. And do not be afraid. I have overcome the whole universe” (The Business of Heaven, p. 33).
The only solution is to trust God. Now trusting does not mean assuming God will eventually give what you want. No, trusting is believing that you will be just fine with whatever the Lord wants. Notice that trusting does not necessarily mean jumping for joy at what God decides. What He decides may not turn out to align with our preferred outcome. Most of us prefer health to sickness and wealth to poverty. We want God to say “yes” to our requests, not “no” or “later. “Trusting means being serene and “OK” with what God decides. In this is our path to peace.
All of this is easy to say but hard to do. We need to accept our poverty, our inability to relinquish our illusion of control and trust God. We need to beg for greater trust. Say with the ancient disciple, “I do believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Say with the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).'
There comes a time when parents simply want some quiet time to themselves. Handling the rigors of parenthood by meeting the temporal and spiritual needs of our children can take a physical and spiritual toll. This carnal desire is something almost every parent goes through. It is not a sinful desire per se for a parent to seek a retreat or respite of sorts from his or her children. What can lead this desire toward the stages of sinful behavior is the intention of deliberately removing ourselves (isolating) from caring and teaching our children.
A subtle but troubling trend I have witnessed over the last several years is the parental desire for some peace and quiet replaced with the act of parents isolating themselves from their children. What I mean here is a gradual separation of the spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological relationship between parent and child. Whether the reason is work, family structure (i.e., singleparent family), working parents or the daily distractions that come from daily living, the intimate relationship between parent and child appears to be gradually eroding for more reasons than the ones just mentioned. By nature, children desire to be near their parents—it is part of the protective nurturing process all children seek. When this parent-child structure is interrupted the alternatives may not always be spiritually healthy and in a worst-case scenario lead to direct isolation which then becomes the norm of parenting.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”) reminds us that the Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. … The relationships within the family bring an affinity of feelings, affections and interests, arising above all from the members’ respect for one another. The family is a privileged community called to achieve a sharing of thought and common deliberation by the spouses as well as their eager cooperation as parents in the children’s upbringing (“CCC,” 2204-2205).
The Sin of Isolation
In his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul tells us that we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly makes bodily growth and up-builds itself in love (4:15-16).
Our identity as parents rests in our understanding and willful intent to place Jesus Christ at the center of everything we do, especially our parenting. every time a parent asks, “What should I do about my son?” I immediately tell him or her to first begin to be genuinely present. It is very important that a child knows that his father and mother are there both spiritually and physically. The ease by which one can fall into what I call the sin of isolation from their children is why the virtue of presence is so important. When isolation begins to occur, the child will, more often than not, direct his attention toward something that will draw his desire away from his family and replace it with another outlet, typically one involving social media.
Saint John Paul II reminded us that the family finds in the plan of God the Creator and Redeemer not only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can and should do (Familiaris Consortio, 17). This means that our actions as parents are intimately called to re-echo Christ. One facet of this action is to bring Christ into the home in prayer. When we invite and initiate a relationship with Christ within the home, it strengthens the family unit and provides a spiritual base by which the family can withstand the sin of isolation. Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons. Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity and disinterested service are the rule (“CCC,” 2222-2223).
A recurring theme on the family found in the “Catechism” is the practice of showing respect to our children. This act of love is very important in avoiding the sin of isolation because it reaffirms the Christian anthropology of the family. This means that the parent child relationship was not created to be isolated from one another.
Addressing the Sin of Isolation
A sound and practical way of avoiding the sin of isolation is by being present to our children, especially in prayer. Children desire reassurances from their parents, which include their physical presence. The process of accompaniment between a parent and child involves the simple act of recognizing the dignity of the child. This act of love dispels any temptation to isolate ourselves from our children because we see them as authentic gifts from God.
One of the surest ways to dispel parental isolation is through the practice of intercessory prayer. Simply put, intercede (pray) on behalf of your children and offer them to Christ. At the heart of the act of intercessory prayer is the deliberate act of the will to think of someone other than yourself. You place the intentions of the person before yours and in this case our children before us. The gift of intercessory prayer is that it allows us to always be present with our children and that is exactly what our parental call is all about.'
Why did my older children insist that the new baby’s name must be “Joy?” It was the strangest thing: one day when I was still pregnant, my four-year-old son got it into his head that “Joy” was the baby’s name and he has not backed down since. When guests refer to her by her real name, he or my two-year-old will adamantly correct them that she is to be called “Joy.” They have been so insistent that our family has just given up and officially given her that nickname.
Meanwhile, her real name is Catherine. It is odd because Catherine was never a name I felt drawn to—it was not even on the list for consideration with my other daughters. Yet as soon as I found out that this baby was a girl, I knew that that was her name. We never seriously discussed any other options. I did not feel like I was choosing a name for her as much as it seemed like I was just articulating the name she already had.
I wondered if perhaps there was a reason for this, so I prayed to know if there was any particular saint named Catherine whom she was supposed to be named after. Soon after I said that prayer, a package with a painting of Saint Catherine of Siena arrived in the mail. My uncle had been traveling Italy. He just so happened to be in Siena on the day she was born so he got the picture of the famous saint for the baby. He did not know what day she was going to be born—it was just a “coincidence” that he was in Siena that day.
I figured that was probably an indicator that she was meant to be named after Catherine of Siena, but wished I had a little more certainty. Then, while researching something unrelated, I came across the biography of Catherine of Siena. My jaw dropped when I read: her family gave her the pet name of Euphrosyne, which is Greek for Joy.
I guess that answers the question.'
Many of us who grew up in the Catholic faith were told that confession is good for the soul. However, as children preparing for the Sacrament of Confession, most of us were rather anxious about entering the darkened confessional booth and sharing our deepest, darkest secrets with the parish priest.
Once we entered the confessional, despite being nervous about using the correct liturgical wording and format, we quickly discovered that it was fairly simple and straightforward, and we wondered why we had been so fearful. Nevertheless, we were in no hurry to return to the confessional booth.
As Catholics, we are only obligated to confess our mortal (serious) sins to a priest once a year. Mortal sin kills our supernatural soul and severs our relationship with God. Although the number of Catholics partaking of the sacrament has steadily decreased over the past four to five decades, there has been a recent trend among Catholics to confess more frequently in order to sacramentally receive God’s sanctifying grace and thus deepen our intimate relationship with God.
Unfortunately, there has been great misunderstanding about the Sacrament of Reconciliation (the name to which it is most often referred) which has kept many Catholics from receiving this vital sacrament. Most of the confusion stems from the erroneous belief that Catholics are confessing their sins to a man (the priest). But, the priest acts in Persona Christi, that is in the person of Christ. So we are confessing our sins to Christ. In addition, during the past several decades people have developed a decreased sense of sin. Rather than acknowledging and admitting to sin people rationalize and deny sin. Not only does rationalizing mitigate and eliminate the perception of sin, but it often leads to more serious sin.
In Matthew 9:6 (NABRe), Jesus says of himself, “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus exercises His authority when He says to the paralyzed man, “your sins are forgiven.” This passage concludes by informing us that the crowds were awestruck and they glorified God, “who had given such authority to human beings.” Jesus was given the authority to forgive sins by His Father.
On the night of the resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23, NABRe). As we can see in this passage, Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the Church.
After the resurrection, Jesus knew that He would no longer remain with the Church in human form as He would be ascending to heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father; therefore, Christ conferred the power to forgive sins to His disciples in order for the Church (which would be the continuation of His presence until the end of time) to offer forgiveness to generations in the future. According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen in “Life of Christ,” “Just as Jesus’ own human nature was the instrument in His divinity in purchasing forgiveness, God would forgive sins through men, who were the appointed ministers of His forgiveness.” Therefore, the power of forgiveness and reconciliation has been acquired by the price of Christ’s blood.
Sin not only disrupts our relationship with God, but it damages our relationship with others in the community (the Church). Despite being cleansed of original sin through baptism, Christ knew that human beings by nature were imperfect and would continue to sin. Christ’s plan for rectifying this was to establish a sacramental mechanism for man to repair his relationship with God and with his fellow man (the Church) for sins committed after baptism.
In seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness, we sacramentally receive God’s mercy and grace. Grace is a gift of the Spirit that sanctifies us and justifies us. According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (“CCC”), “grace is participation in the life of God” and it “introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.” When we partake in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we obtain the following benefits:
1. Through the examination of conscience, we are forced to recognize our shortcomings and faults. By confessing our sins aloud, we overcome pride. We are thus reminded that we are imperfect beings who need to rely on God in order to overcome our sins and to grow spiritually.
2. When we are forgiven, our guilt is erased and the heavy burden of sin is lifted from our shoulders. We are pardoned from eternal punishment incurred by mortal sins. In addition, we are remitted, in part, from temporal punishment for venial sins. Through the healing power of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and the Church, our peace of mind is restored and we experience spiritual consolation.
3. Jesus’ call to conversion is made sacramentally present in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We regain our baptismal grace and heal our wounded ecclesial communion. This permits us to become more holy, more saintly, and more conformed to the image of Christ. Through sacramentally receiving Gods’ mercy, we are encouraged to be merciful to others.
4. With our conscience purified, we receive the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel, which enlightens us to resist temptation and evil and to make the right moral choices. When our self-control is tempered, we are more determined to follow God’s Will. This reinforces us spiritually for living the Christian life.
5. By placing ourselves before God and asking for His mercy, we are preparing ourselves for the particular judgment at the conclusion of our lives. According to the “CCC,” it is only through choosing conversion that we may be granted entrance into the Kingdom of God. Christ instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the proper avenue for the forgiveness of sins and to reconcile us with God. Since we were created by God and for God, He wants to have an intimate friendship with us. When we understand that the Sacrament of Reconciliation restores us to God’s grace and full communion with Him, we should fully embrace the free gift that our loving God has bestowed upon us in this sacrament.'
I really did not want another cesarean (“C”)-section. I asked everyone I knew (and even those I did not know) to pray, that I would be able to avoid the procedure that had lengthened my recovery period so dramatically after having my twins (only 15 months ago). I enlisted all my favorite saints and assured new saint recruits that they would be listed among my favorites in gratitude for their intercession. Saint Therese sent me a rose to let me know she had my back and my little ones added their powerful intercessory prayer to every family rosary. But in the end, God said no.
Every factor that needed to fall into place to allow for an attempted vaginal birth after C-section (VBAC) fell through. I had been given little glimpses of hope, contractions starting the morning I needed them to but stopping instead of intensifying. Every spark of hope became a source of torture, like someone holding an iced cappuccino (my severe prego craving) in front of my face and whisking it away just as I reached out for it. I stared at the rose from Saint Therese and almost wished I could send it back. I was hurt and felt so abandoned by a Heavenly Father who had so often given me more than I deserved. How could He say no to something that would clearly be better for my family and me? Why would He want to increase my suffering? I knew He loved me, so it pained me knowing that the Lord of my heart, the One who could easily move mountains and make paths in the desert, was choosing not to move this baby out in a way that would be less traumatic for my body and would end up laying a heavier burden on my family.
“I can’t believe He’s not answering my prayer,” I told my husband. My husband’s response was, “He always answers our prayers.” My eyes were burning with tears at that point. “But His answer is no, so it doesn’t really feel like an ‘answered prayer.'”
Then God brought me to the garden of Gethsemane, at least mentally. Every time I prayed my mind was filled with the image of Christ begging His Father to save Him from the suffering that lay ahead—praying and weeping with such intensity that His sweat and tears became drops of blood.
“Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
And so I wanted to joyfully pick up my cross and follow Him, but I could not—because I am weak, because I hate pain, because I liked my plan for how things should go MUCH more than the plan God had for me.
I was comforted to see that even Christ could cry out with the voice of humanity and be struggling with the sacrifice He was being called to make, but I realized fully being His follower would mean that I also would have to say, “Thy will be done,” and find a way to offer the trial at hand for the good of others.
Do not laugh at me, but first I needed to grieve. I had to grieve the loss of MY will. As pathetic as it may seem, I went through the five stages of grief within two days. I experienced denial, fantasizing about secretly giving birth at home or devising some sort of plan to avoid the inevitable. I hit up the anger stage. I was so mad and frustrated that I took it out on … well, puzzle pieces. Usually, when I would find the kids’ stray puzzle pieces I would locate the proper box and put them away but not this time! I took those babies and whipped them into the recycling bin, “HA! Say bye, bye!” (I know pretty lame, but we do have too many incomplete puzzles). I bargained with God (along with all my enlisted saints) and assured Him I would write a very flattering blog about how He always comes through in the end, if He would just make a way for me.
Next, I just gave up and entered the depression stage where I cried hard, distanced myself from everyone and generally felt sorry for myself. Finally, I reached the coveted stage of acceptance and here is where I began to ask those around me if there was something that was weighing on their hearts for which I could offer my disappointment and impending recovery period. I offered my pain in hearing no from God and asked if He would in turn say yes to the other women I knew who were hoping for a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), as well as all those women who were praying for safe and healthy deliveries. Because in the end, God’s ‘no’ to one thing is often a huge ‘yes’ to something else.
A friend of mine who prayed for years that God would fill her womb with a child was met with a firm ‘no’, but elsewhere another woman was bringing several children into the world (in spite of not being able to care for them) and those children are now in my friend’s arms. Had God said ‘yes’ to her, in her desire to mother her own biological children, she would never have considered adopting the little ones God had intended for her.
I do not fully understand why God said ‘no’ to me. I know there is a ‘yes’ somewhere. Perhaps I would have ruptured if I had attempted the VBAC, which could have caused serious harm to our newest little member, Callista Therese (I obviously got over my disappointment regarding the rose), or me. I may never know the reason, but I do think that in surrendering my will, perhaps I was able to offer more than I otherwise could have.
Thanks be to God, Callista arrived safely in May twentieth. Being the month of Mary, I am grateful to have been able to follow the example of Our Lady in her submission to God’s will, that I could come to echo her fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38).'
“Everything within me cries ‘Holy! Holy! Holy is the Lamb that was slain.’” These words are from an inspiring worship song that I have occasionally sung at Mass and at prayer group. However, after watching Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, The Passion of The Christ, the words of this song have taken on a deeper meaning for me.
I have always understood and believed intellectually that Jesus had to suffer and die for my sins. But watching this movie has made me intensely aware of the extent of His inconceivable suffering. Isaiah 52:14 says, “Many were amazed when they saw Him, beaten and bloodied, so disfigured that one could scarcely know He was a person.”
By time the Roman soldiers had mercilessly beaten Jesus, His bloodied, bruised, wounded body was very difficult for me to see. I found myself wanting to cover my eyes, as I did not want to look upon Jesus in this way and to realize He willingly suffered all of this for me. Rather, I wanted to see Jesus in His glorified body, sitting at the right hand of the Father. Indeed, Scripture tells us it was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured. He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon Him was the chastisement that makes us whole; by His stripes we were healed.
I can only imagine the kind of love Jesus has for you and me that He willingly took on this indescribable physical and emotional agony. I can only imagine what it was like for Jesus knowing that His Father had to turn His back completely on His son during His terrible suffering. God the Father’s tears fell from Heaven as He heard his precious Son cry out in a painful voice, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). I can only imagine that God the Father breathed a gigantic sigh of relief when Jesus uttered those penetrating words, “Into your hands I commend my Spirit” (Luke 23:46). Jesus was willingly led like an innocent Lamb to the slaughter, for you and for me.
I can only imagine what it was like for Mary to stand and watch helplessly as her precious son was so severely beaten. With each excruciating painful time Jesus fell under the tremendous weight of the Cross, Mary’s heart was being ripped into a million pieces. It must have taken great courage and faith not to try and rescue her son from this horrible, deplorable torture. But Mary knew this had to be. Mary knew that her son had to suffer and die on the cross for all of us. Jesus surrendered Himself to death to take away the sins of many and win pardon for all our offenses.
Jesus destroyed death and sin once and for all and opened up the door for eternal life for each of us. Jesus declares: “Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How does Jesus love us? “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
At Easter, as I join with others in rejoicing and celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus and joyfully sing, “He is Risen from the Dead and He is Lord,” I will indeed remember His indescribable suffering and death on the cross. I will also know on a more passionate level that Jesus loves me so infinitely that if I were the only person in the world, He would have suffered and died just for me.'