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Twists and Turns
Every morning for nearly 14 years, I have opened my kitchen blinds and watched a group of sycamore trees behind our property grow. Sycamore trees are common in California and the developer of this area planted a variety named London Plane, not indigenous to Sacramento County. This variety grows fast and very tall; at full height, they can top out at more than 130 feet! Although they thrive well in the hot dry summers of the Sacramento area, they need full sun to grow to such majestic heights. They will bend and twist to find the sun, which in turn can give them interesting shapes.
One of these sycamore trees had a rocky start when, only a few years old, it became badly infested with aphids. That weakened the trunk, making it droop to nearly a 90-degree angle. It could no longer seek the sun and looked like it was going to be removed. Fortunately, a local arborist—through pruning, nourishment and time— was able to save the little tree. It recovered yet had to twist to reorient itself for its upward journey to the sun. The misshapen tree is still angled quite a bit but if one can say they love a tree, I have to say it: I love this tree! This tree has a story and its very shape reflects my story and perhaps yours as well.
I am a “Cradle Catholic” born of Cradle Catholics. Having strong Catholic roots, I grew on a solid sacramental journey through my Catholic school years. The catechism of my parents’ generation seemed to focus on the “dos and don’ts” of the church but the “whys and wherefores” also intrigued my young questioning mind. At some point, when my questions could not be answered to satisfaction, I was told to “take it on faith.” It sounded like loving Catholic advice but to a growing inquisitive child, who did not quite understand the concept of faith, it equated to: “I don’t know,” “ Because I said so” or “Don’t bother me.” Those words planted within me small seeds of doubt.
Those seeds grew and weakened the faith I had, much like what the aphids did to the tree. Thus, throughout my young adult years I tested, stretched and ignored many of God’s and the church’s teachings. This led to sinful thoughts and behaviors that ultimately ended in painful consequences. My journey toward Christ had become weighed down by sin, and I had bent so far that I was no longer actively seeking the Son.
God loved me mercifully and unconditionally. Even though I had stopped seeking Him, He never stopped seeking me. “For thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick’” (Ezekiel 34:11, 16).
To Be or Not To Be
The years passed, I married young and had three sons before I was 30. We baptized our children and tried to make it to mass when we were not too tired or could not rationalize our way out of it. Although I was not actively seeking God, the roots were still strong enough to at least consider God as a sort of good insurance plan, sort of like a “get-out-of-hell-free” card.
In my early 30s, I questioned whether it was worth the effort of taking our kids to church. Our boys could be rambunctious and noisy. Sundays felt more frustrating than fulfilling. When I wearily fed, bathed and dressed the boys in their Sunday best, I weighed the pros and cons of such a decision. Thankfully, one Sunday forever changed my life. I packed bottles, snacks, books, toys, blankies and diapers, then our little family dutifully headed to mass.
For some odd reason, that Sunday I chose to sit in the front row. We never sat in the front. It only meant a longer walk of shame to the back of the church if one of the boys acted up. In retrospect, God had a hand in that decision. I had rationalized that perhaps they might behave if they could see what was happening on the altar. I surveyed their behavior after the Gospel … so far so good. The thought popped in my head, “Hey, I might actually get to listen to a homily for a change.” The priest began speaking on the topic of faith, which immediately caught and held my attention because its concept still felt elusive to me. Then he spoke words that pierced my heart. He said that faith is not a RIGHT. Faith is a GIFT. It is a grace given by God and we just need to ask for it. WHAT?
A Gift for All
I thought being a Cradle Catholic meant faith came with the insurance plan and I just did not understand the policy. I had a swirling mixture of emotions. I was mad that I had not been told this before. I was sad that it had taken so long to hear this information. Yet, I was glad and grateful that it was just as simple as asking for it! Boldly, then and there, I prayed. “God, if faith is a gift and all I have to do is ask for it, then I want it. I want the gift of faith. I want all of it and I want it now! I’ve lost my way. The weight of my sins is too heavy for me and I need faith so I can find my way back to You.” I sat there waiting. Nothing obvious happened, but somehow just asking brought me peace. Maybe I would keep coming to mass.
God works in His timing and although I did not immediately recognize what was happening, He began to bring His own arborists into my life. Through pruning, nourishment, time and love, He introduced me to people whose faith was strong and healthy. They in turn introduced me to God through their words and actions. Eventually, they introduced me to God’s word and that is when the real healing began. I started to read the Holy Bible daily and continued to ask questions. Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Every day I grew in a faith that led me back to the sacrament of reconciliation.
Like the little sycamore tree, I had to twist my thoughts and actions to reorient them toward Jesus. My life straightened out when I actively began to seek Him and the weight of sin no longer bent me away from His Son. I am still a work in progress needing God’s grace to grow upward. When I recently closed my kitchen blind, I noticed something for the first time; the sun was shining through the leaves and branches of that twisted little tree and the light it cast was interesting and beautiful. That became my simple prayer: May the Son cast His light through me to shine beautifully every day. Amen.'
During a silent retreat a number of years ago, as I was quietly kneeling before my Eucharistic Lord in adoration I was overwhelmed with the desire to pour out my heart and soul to Jesus. I began to silently weep. As the tears began to flow, I started writing these words from the depths of my heart:
Lord, deliver me from the depths of my own personal hell. Deliver me from the darkness within my soul. Deliver me from the bondage of the snares and traps of the devil. Deliver me, Lord, from the fear deep within that keeps me from loving You fully. Deliver me from my sinful pride that encompasses my being.
Deliver me, Lord, from my self- reliance that keeps me in bondage to self. Deliver me from my guilt and shame that keeps me from being still and know that you are God. Deliver me from the self-hatred that keeps me from embracing my King’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Deliver me Lord from the inclinations toward sin. Help me Lord to allow you to be God And I to be your child.
After pouring out my heart to my Eucharistic Lord Jesus Christ, He gently began to speak in my heart these most tender and healing words:
“My child, I have come to set you free from all your bondages. I enter into the garden of your heart. I root out the sin of pride. It is rooted up and tossed into the sea. I cast out all your fear with My perfect love. I shower you with My ocean of mercy and love which is never-ending. I clothe you with purity. I clothe you in the white garment of salvation. I call to you my precious child. Come and allow Me to hold you and wash you clean. I toss your stony, sinful heart into the depths of hell. I give you a new heart. I place my heart in your heart. You are my child. I make you whole. Enter into the kingdom the Father has prepared for you. You are washed clean. You are as white as the fresh, fallen snow. You are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. You are my beloved child. You are My light for the world to see. Walk in My light and bring others to me so I can set them free.”
“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your body your stony heart and giving you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel: 36: 25-26)
May these words bring you comfort and peace. No matter what you are going through at this moment in your life, there is hope and healing. Allow Jesus to enter into the mess of your life. He is the healer of your heart. Jesus is waiting for you.'
You may have heard about the great flood, which happened recently, in the small state of Kerala, in southern India. It is popularly known as God’s own country.
Much anguish filled every heart at the sight of the waters drowning both the green lands and cities. Many were trapped in the attics of their own homes without drinking water, food or electricity for days. The rescue teams were unable to reach most of them, due to strong torrents of water. During this difficult time, the fishermen joined hands. They lent their boats and actively went to the dangerously water logged areas where the others failed to reach. What really struck a chord with people was the report shared by one of the rescued women.
Like many others, she and her children took shelter in their apartment but nobody turned up to rescue them, as they were located far away from the city. These fishermen travelled miles to reach their premises, already submerged in more than ten feet of water. She could not thank them enough, and on reaching the rescue camp she gave them a lump sum of money. To her utter surprise they did not accept it. “We were not doing it for money… we only wanted to help” was their reply. These fishermen’s lives depended on their daily wages, and because of the rescue mission, an enormous financial strain was placed on them. Their fishing boats were also damaged in their efforts. yet, they remind us to be generous, even if it means loss or damage to your assets, or that you and your family would be without food for days. Truly their sacrifice makes them the real disciples of Jesus.
How generous would you be in helping those in danger? When it is time for giving does your heart buckle up? How often have you kept an account of all those good deeds? Here we see men, not well educated or of a high standard of living, storing up treasures in heaven! “…for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Just as baseball players head to spring training to practice and prepare for their upcoming season, might I suggest spring training for something a little different: being led by the Holy Spirit.
After Deacon Ralph Poyo lead my parish’s mission one year, the message that spoke directly to me was that we need to be a people and a parish that is led by the Holy Spirit. If we do not ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things, we will not become the vibrant, welcoming parish we desire and the saints we are meant to be.
For example, after the second evening of the mission, when Deacon Ralph talked about spiritual warfare, I commented to him that I had dreamt about demons afterward. I asked him, “Is this something I should be worried about?” He said, “I am not who you should be asking. Who should you be asking instead?” I immediately replied that “Oh, I should probably talk with our pastor.” He said, “Nope!” Then I realized I should be talking to God and he clarified that I should ask the Holy Spirit specifically. Light bulb moment!
The Challenge of Being Holy Spirit Led
Living guided by the Holy Spirit is not easy, as it is not how we usually live our lives. Rather, we tend to think what do I want right now and how can I get it? Or what do my kids want and how can I get it for them?
We have to relinquish that “me, me, me” self-centered way of life and change it to “He, He, He.” That requires some serious spring training for all of us to get into spiritual shape!
What does it mean to live guided by the Holy Spirit? It means asking His guidance in all things. I do not know about you but I cannot remember to throw the empty shampoo bottle into the recycling bin, so remembering to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance before all things? That is going to take some practice with undoubtedly a few curve balls along the way.
If we want to live “Holy Spirit-led,” then we have to turn it into a habit; we have got to get to the point that it is just a part of our “swing.” That means at least three weeks of doing this on a regular basis until it becomes ingrained in our day-to-day activities, so we no longer have to exert effort to make it happen. That takes practice! Not only do we have to remember to ASK, we have to remember to take time to LISTEN for His answers and then ACT on them. I pray every day to Mary for the grace to better discern God’s will for me, to actually DESIRE His will for me and then to have the courage to DO His will for me.
Spring Training Exercises to be Holy Spirit-Led:
Most importantly, we have to give the reigns of our lives over to God, allowing Him permission to guide us. Here are some other ideas and suggestions:
◗ Go to daily mass as often as you can and present your questions during mass.
◗ Spend some time in the Blessed Sacrament at the beginning or end of your day, lifting up your thoughts to the Holy Spirit.
◗ In the book “Walking with Purpose: Seven Priorities That Make Life Work” by Lisa Brenninkmeyer, the author suggests taking some morning prayer time to do the following:
➔ Using a journal, write a note to God/Holy Spirit about any worries, concerns or direction that you need;
➔ Write down a list of what you need to pray for daily.
➔ Read the Bible—You can read the daily readings or follow a Bible Reading Plan like the one from the Coming Home Network. Look for answers from the Holy Spirit.
◗ Before major discussions, emails and phone calls, stop and say a prayer for those involved and that God’s will be done.
◗ Pray the Angelus at noon—Set a timer on your phone and stop and pray this short prayer in solidarity with others around the world.
◗ Pray one of the Liturgy of the Hours—Download the Laudate app on your smart phone and stop and pray at 6 a.m., 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. or 9 p.m.
◗ Pray your calendar each day. Stop and review your calendar, praying for each person you will meet or talk with that day.
◗ Daily Reflection/Examination of Conscience— Matthew Kelly’s “Dynamic Catholic” offers a great prayer process you can complete upon the close of the day, examining what you did and did not do to be the best version of yourself, pray for others, thank God for what you are grateful for that day, etc.
◗ Go to Reconciliation monthly, so you can properly “hear” the Holy Spirit rather than have Him be clouded out by sins, even little ones.
◗ Receive the Eucharist as often as you can to continue to cleanse yourself of sin and receive grace from God.
◗ Engage in spiritual reading and look for answers from the Holy Spirit.
After You Listen, Put What You Learned into Practice
These exercises help us make time to ask and listen to the Holy Spirit but then it is time to ACT, which can be the toughest part. You are going to be out on the field, in front of everyone, putting into action all that you have learned in training and following the coach’s (Holy Spirit) orders even if you do not like them.
The Holy Spirit puts me outside of my comfort zone all the time in what He asks of me. I have slowly adopted the attitude that it does not matter what others think, only what God thinks. As an introvert, if I feel afraid to introduce myself to someone, or think they might think I am being too forward or strange, it does not matter; as embarrassment and anxiety creep in, I try to let those feelings go.
I have to be at peace knowing I was trying to do what God asked and knowing He will be pleased no matter what anyone else may think, even if I feel embarrassed or silly as a result (believe me, that happens most of the time!). That is truly all that matters.
Are you ready to be Holy Spirit-led? It is critical if we want to become the saints God desires us to be. Let us let Him lead us to the Promised Land but first let the spring training begin!'
One of the greatest women of the Catholic Church, Saint Gertrude the Great (1256-1301) was a Benedictine mystic, writer, intellectual, but most especially a great lover of both Jesus and Mary, His mother. Saint Gertrude’s literary masterpiece is titled “Herald of Divine Love,” which is highly recommended to enrich your spiritual life and to put you on a sure path to holiness.
As a Christian-Catholic mystic, Saint Gertrude was gifted by God with the grace of having very special visions. At times she would have a vision of Jesus the Lord. Of course, a vision must have a proper interpretation for the benefit of individuals as well as for the Church at large.
The Vision of the Golden Coins
One of the most renowned visions of Saint Gertrude the Great was that of Jesus in heaven. In this particular vision, Saint Gertrude saw Jesus in heaven and in front of Jesus could be seen a tall pile of coins, golden coins. Shining, glimmering, glowing, this pile of coins radiated extreme beauty. Saint Gertrude observed that Jesus was depositing another shiny, glimmering golden coin on top of the pile of other coins. This golden coin seemed to shine even more brilliantly than the rest.
Curious to say the least, Saint Gertrude wondered why the golden coins, why the big pile of coins and why did the last one Jesus was depositing have a very special glimmer to it? She asked Jesus why. Jesus’ response was the following: “My daughter, every time you pray a calm, fervent and loving HAIL MARY to my Mother, I deposit a golden coin in the Treasury of Heaven for you.”
In the Gospel Jesus exhorts us not to worry about things, nor to focus on material things that come and go. Rather, Jesus says: “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and its righteousness and everything else will be given to you.”
The Golden Hail Mary
The interpretation of this vision of Saint Gertrude the Great is not overly complicated for our purposes. Mary is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church and the Mother of all of us individually. Mary has a great maternal love for all of us and desires our happiness in this life, but most especially in the life to come. However, there is a prayer that causes the Immaculate Heart of Mary to rejoice, to leap with joy, and that is the Hail Mary.
How to Pray the Golden Hail Mary
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his spiritual classic “The Spiritual Exercises,” presents to us various modes or forms of prayer: mental prayer, contemplative prayer, Daily Examen, etc. However, in addition to the abovementioned forms of prayers, the saint offers another form that can truly enrich our spiritual lives and our relationship with Jesus and with Mary, the Mother of God. Saint Ignatius recommends we take a formal, vocal prayer that we have possibly prayed many times but most probably never meditated upon in depth.
Take this prayer, the Hail Mary, and say it very slowly, pondering each word, relishing each word, really savoring it to the full. The prayer, which many of us have prayed thousands of times by reciting the most holy rosary, is really a spiritual gem, a spiritual masterpiece.
Actually, the first part of the Hail Mary, sometimes called The Angelic Salutation, can be found in the first Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary. (Luke 1:26-38). These words were first uttered by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of Nazareth: “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you …” How much this should encourage us to pray the Hail Mary with greater fervor, attention and devotion— words actually expressed by an Archangel sent from the throne of Almighty God!
Saint Elizabeth’s Greeting
When Mary greeted her cousin Saint Elizabeth, who was carrying the baby Saint John the Baptist in her womb, Saint Elizabeth, moved by the Holy Spirit, proclaimed: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” This is the Biblical and historical origin of the first two parts of the Hail Mary or, if you like, The Angelic Salutation!
‘Full of Grace’
Therefore, meditation and reflection on the first two parts of the Hail Mary should fill us with great reverence, awe, love and devotion toward she who is known as full of grace. We should strive to imitate the Archangel Gabriel in our humble, reverential and trusting attitude toward Mary, the Mother of God.
In our golden Hail Mary we should pray the Hail Mary slowly while pondering, meditating, ruminating over the simplicity and, at the same time, great depth of the mystery revealed in this beautiful prayer. May she who is the full of grace attain for us a constant appreciation for grace—the life of God within our souls.
With the help and intercession of Mary, full of grace, may we daily grow in grace; may we attain more abundance of grace. The grace of all graces for the human person is to die in the state of grace. If accomplished, we will rejoice in heaven with Mary for all eternity.
Gift of the Woman
“Blessed are you among women …” Relishing these words, we meditate on the greatness of the woman, most especially reflected in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every woman on the face of the earth, as she prays the Hail Mary, should contemplate Mary as their model and guide, on whom they pattern their lives.
Gift of Motherhood
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb …” Mary as a model teaches women, as well as the world at large, the importance of maternity. One of the greatest gifts God can give to the world—and it is through the instrumentality of the woman—is a new life, a new person, a child whose destiny one day is the kingdom of heaven.
To conclude, we invite you to strive to be multimillionaires in the spiritual life. You may not have a very rich bank account on earth, but you can have an enormous bank account in heaven! How you might ask? Remember the vision of Saint Gertrude and the golden coin, the golden Hail Mary. In imitation of Saint Gertrude, every time you pray the Hail Mary slowly, pondering the beautiful words in your heart, you store golden riches in heaven for all eternity!'
On a Sunday morning, I was dropping off my husband, a pilot, at the airport for work. We had just finished saying the rosary and were rounding the large loop about a mile from the airport when we noticed a car off to the side of the road. The hood was up, indicating the usual sign of a car problem. What was notable, however, was that several of the passengers, looking particularly anxious, flashed the thumbs-up sign signifying they needed a ride.
Several cars ahead of us zoomed right by them. We did not discuss what to do among ourselves, but we knew. We pulled over and helped. Their gratitude was overwhelming as the clock was ticking and danger of missing their flights was imminent.
They wanted to pay us for our effort, which we vehemently refused. I told the woman that this is exactly what we are supposed to do as humans for one another. To this she stated, “You have resorted my faith in humanity.”
I do not write this to brag about a good deed, for it was no more than my duty to my fellow humans. Jesus spoke about this when we do no more than we are commanded. “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do” (Luke 17:10). We are commanded to love one another, to love our neighbor as our self and to go the extra mile. It cost us nothing to do this, yet it made all the difference in the world to those whom we helped.
Why do we not do good things every time the opportunity arises? Should we not look for ways to lighten humanity’s load? Why do we settle for excuses instead of just doing it? Imagine if everyone who read this decided to make this very thing a priority in his or her everyday life. The effects, while small at first, would exponentially grow over time, and the world would change day by day.
In his new book, “The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity,” Matthew Kelly calls these kinds of occasions “Holy Moments.” He defines a Holy Moment “as a moment when you are being the person God created you to be, and you are doing what you believe God is calling you to do in that moment.” He goes on to write, “Every good act, every collaboration with God, every Holy Moment fueled by grace echoes throughout history.”
Public personalities and those nearer to us than we like to admit are taking their own life at an unprecedented rate. I am blown away every time I hear about it. Shootings and other acts of violence are becoming commonplace. What is happening? I know there are many factors that come into play—mental, emotional, environmental and physical, to name a few. The breakdown of the family has also contributed, as has the eradication of anything God, who is our hope, help and means of making sense out of suffering.
What I am suggesting is something positive we all can do, it is not revolutionary but a needed reminder. By showing acts of kindness and attention to those around us, including and especially to people we do not know, we are giving them a taste of what authentic love is like. Love is what grew the early church in leaps and bounds. Tertullian wrote in his Apology, “See how [these Christians] love one another …”
What the world has always needed is exactly what Dionne Warwick sang about decades ago: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it is the only thing that there is just too little of …”
Love is an action. “To consistently will and choose the good of another … to love what God loves …” (Aquinas). This, of course, means not just our family members but everyone.
It is not that simple Barb. Yes, it is! God does not ask the impossible of us. One little smile. Courteous driving. “I am thinking about you” text to someone who is down. A meal for someone who is sick, a kind word for a stranger. A cheery “hello” to your seat mate on a plane. (Ye gads, no!) Yep, it is that simple. The more you practice this, the better you feel inside. Do not worry about rejection or the stern rebuke; sometimes those people need love the most.
What is stopping you? God needs us to be His hands, feet, voice and heart in this moment of history. It is part of why we are here. Each aching, lonely, worried, broken, ailing human is desperate for the healing and hope that is in our power to provide as Christians.
Let us start today. Time is of the essence.'
On that luminous light in Bethlehem, when the world had fallen asleep, a mother wrapped her first-born son in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger. But the bitter cold pierced His tender body like a thousand knives and poor baby Jesus lay tremulous. His dear mother latched Him close to her bosom to give a little warmth, not knowing the cold He would experience all through His life.
Many scurried to Him for signs, miracles and even food, but they never knew or loved Him.
In the garden of Gethsemane He wept tears of blood and was deeply grieved to the point of death when He realized His sacrifice was for an ungrateful generation. On the cross at Calvary He was rejected and betrayed by those He loved, insulted and mocked by those around. The bitter cold pierced His very bones as He looked up to heaven and said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Today He waits for us in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, truly present in body and blood in the form of bread and wine. Still He feels the bitter cold. Jesus thirsts for our love and what do we give Him? There are those who still insult, mock and do terrible things to Him. Others are called His followers, but they deny Him by saying “not practicing.” Those who know Him receive Him into their hearts but look for gifts, miracles and healings and fail to love Him alone. How much more will He suffer the cold in our hearts?
This Advent let us make our hearts warm for baby Jesus to take abode. Only the love of God that reaches as far as the cross can open a breach in our hardened, cold hearts. In every act of love and kindness let us pray unceasingly, “Sweet kisses to baby Jesus, quivering in the bitter cold.”'
When I was little, a Ugandan priest used to come and visit our parish. The families in our parish took turns inviting him to dinner. When it was our family’s turn my parents, in their usual fashion, went all out. They provided a big meal complete with t-bone steaks. In a story that is now etched in the annals of our family history, Father Matthew looked at the steak on his plate and asked how many pieces he should cut it into to share. My dad smiled and said, “No, it’s all for you, Father.” His eyes widened. Back home his one t-bone steak would have fed an entire family. Father Matthew ate that steak until only a clean, white bone was left.
What I take away from this story is extreme gratitude for and knowledge of the gifts God gives. How easy is it to forget the gifts we have been given? In a sense we are surrounded by “t-bone steaks” and sometimes forget to appreciate the immensity of our gifts—our Catholic parish itself, perpetual adoration, praise and worship … the list is endless and the gifts are HUGE. When was the last time we spiritually “ate the steak to the bone”? None of the meat of spiritual gifts has to be saved for later. The Holy Spirit is just waiting to give us more. Truth be told, I am the most-guilty party in all of this. I have been given gifts galore and have done practically nothing with them. So let us pray together:
O God, I seek Your face and ask with humility and love that You help me realize how great and wonderful all Your gifts are and how abundant they are in my life. Sweet Jesus, I beg You to help me use the gifts You have given me every day, every hour so that Your Holy Name will be praised. Mother Mary, I ask that you intercede and pray for me in this venture today and every day. Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.'
You can never fail to notice us at Mass, whether it is on Sunday morning or during the week. We fill the front pew on the right-hand side with our chaos, noise, and disarmingly cheeky smiles. Our youngest tries to escape from our pew, and the church, while Mass is going on and spends the time after Mass trying to get back into the church to run amok.
Hubby and I have not listened to a homily from start to finish in almost ten years. Despite our regular attendance at Mass, we do not seem to be getting any less noisy or less distracting, especially now that our eldest is an altar server and our almost two year old considers it vital to point and call out his brother’s name on a regular basis.
Additionally, our second youngest likes to ask, loudly, from the offertory onwards: “When is Mass going to be over?” Because, of course, when you are four, the highlight of Mass is putting your money on the plate and once that is over, well, what is left?
As you can imagine, I have conscientiously tried to find that elusive secret to keeping five children under ten manageable at Mass. I have scoured the Internet and tried to implement the strategies employed by mommy bloggers who have had more success in this area. Except, of course, they have not because we all struggle to make it through Mass with small children and not lose the plot altogether. Some weeks you think you have made a gain and the next week disaster is putting it mildly.
God in His wisdom has allowed this to be the case. If there is one thing I have learned about this vocation it is this: parenting is full of chaotic, messy graces but they are graces nonetheless.
For us, Mass attendance falls somewhere into the humbling category of why are they having more kids when they obviously cannot control the one’s they have? For a mother with a choleric temperament and a tendency toward pride, you know this hurt—but that is the point.
Our parenting chaos and challenges are the path to our sanctification; if it was an easy road we would all be saints already. Perhaps the reason there are so few married couples canonized by the Church is that it is easy to lose sight of God among the piles of dirty laundry, childish disobedience, and self-deprivation. It is too easy to think that our daily challenges have nothing to do with His presence in our lives.
Our challenges are different. For some the generosity of being open to life is tempered by infertility or the loss of beloved children; for others that same openness might result in a large family that results in an overwhelming workload. The support, or lack thereof, of our extended families can make these burdens seem even more insurmountable.
These challenges are our chance to pick up our cross and walk alongside Christ. Now, it certainly does not sound as inspiring as the lives of the saints and martyrs that we read. I know I would certainly much rather read about the life of someone like Saint Edith Stein than a fellow mother struggling in the trenches of her vocation.
Yet, how many of the saints implore us to do small things with great love? What if every small act I undertake, as necessitated by the demands of my vocation, was done out of great love? If I consider all of the tasks I perform each day—and add in the unexpected dramas that family life can throw into the mix—and look at each one as a paver or a stepping stone, how far would they reach?
There is no doubting that they would reach a long way. I know I am not alone in feeling as though the demands of a big family are almost never ending. Right now, those stepping stones are not leading to anywhere in particular. They are packed haphazardly in a big stack, collecting dust and dirt, while the paving project experiences continual delays.
If, however, I complete each of these tasks with a great love for God and my family—offering each one out of love not a grudging obligation—then that pile of stepping stones is repurposed. Each one is carefully placed next to the one next to it, increasing in length.
Perhaps one day the project will be complete, my humble stepping stone path will reach all the way to heaven where I will be welcomed with open arms. That, my friends, is worth toiling for.'
The mountains are moving. The seas are parting. The storms are calming. Promises are being fulfilled. But no, it could not be. There is no way that this could be this great. There is no way that everything you have been longing for could actually be here. Am I the only one to experience this? His yes?
The Lord has been leading so many of my friends into good, holy relationships. After season upon season of brokenness, growth and preparation, He has been slowly leading them into this season of fulfilled promises.
It is not just about relationships, though—it is when plans are anointed and now becomes the time. Waiting ceases for a particular miracle. The job is found, the team is formed, the logistics are working out beyond anything that you could have planned.
The time comes that we never thought would. Wow, God does actually keeps His promises.
There is no way this could be real. There is no way this healing could be real. There is no way that this much goodness could manifest itself. There is no way that now is the time. There is no way that this could be for me. There is no way that He is doing this much with my life.
Even as we are seeing the promise, doubt threatens our receptivity of this beautiful reality.
Huh? Reality? Who sets the terms and conditions on reality? Who dictates what makes sense?
Is it you? Is it your broken heart, so let down by placing your hope in things less than a God who never withholds? Is it your misunderstanding mind, wounded by an addiction to control, to the belief that you are unworthy of miracles?
Why would we choose to believe in a false reality, created by daydreaming and doubting, when the true reality of adventure orchestrated by a God madly in love with us is unfolding?
Your story does not get to make sense to you. Your Father does not get to make sense to you.
When we were little girls and received a gift, what did we do? Shyly deny it and say, “No, I don’t want it?” No, we ran with open arms, squealing with delight. We did not worry about it being taken away. We did not worry that it would break. We did not worry that it was not as amazing as we thought it was.
If you are in a season of promises being fulfilled, claim that. Receive the promise that you prayed for the night that there were no stars, when it physically hurt to hope. Are you surprised that it has come?
Are you surprised that He did not speak in vain? Stop waiting for your story to make sense.
Stop waiting for reality to feel real. If you equate reality with what makes sense, that is never going to come. If reality is what you feel worthy of, it is never going to happen because we worship a God who gives immeasurably more than all we can think or ask.'
We all want to help our children go to Heaven. In seeking this, we all know that our children need to learn the basics of the Catholic faith. Therefore, we teach them; at home, in Sunday School, etc. It does not take a genius to figure out these details. Yet, if we all know the importance of a religious education, why is it that so many children still fade away from the Church? Yes, many of them come back eventually, but that does not make it acceptable to fall away in the first place. Just because people survive plane crashes, does not make me want to be in one.
I would like to present the idea that the child’s mind is not a neutral object that we can “pour” Catholic doctrine into, and expect them to behave rightly as a result. Taking them to weekly Mass and a religious education class are good, but not the sum total of a parent’s responsibility. We need to “fertilize the soil” of the child’s mind in order for the seeds of God’s truth to survive in that soil and take root. Parents need to be working actively to help their children’s minds be spiritually healthy, or all the Sunday School classes on the planet will not be enough to keep them in the faith.
Here are three simple steps to help save your children’s minds:
1. Reduce their time in front of a video screen (in some cases, drastically reduce it); generally, the more video they see, the less they will be interested in the truth of God.
2. Give them activities that strengthen and stimulate the mind (rather than those that turn it to mush); if you reduce their video time but do not stimulate them with something good in return, their minds will stagnate. The mind is like a muscle; it needs to exercise.
3. Assert your loving authority as a parent (so that they understand you really want what is best for them); if you are wimpy in your leadership, the children will not take you seriously.
In the ideal world, parents should begin doing all this before their children turn three years old. I know for many of you reading this, however, your children are already older than three. That does not mean that the work is useless, or that success is impossible, it merely means that you have to put more effort into accomplishing this. Depending on the children’s age, you will need to explain to them the need for some changes in their lives (i.e. point three above), and do so in a manner in which they genuinely understand that you are not doing this merely to maintain control over their lives, but to save them from a lifetime of pain.
I know that these three steps run counter to much of what parents are being told today. Someone said to me recently that, “unless you entertain children, they won’t listen to you in religious education classes.” She then proceeded to ask, “What can we do that will entertain them better, because they still are not listening?” That is the wrong question. The assumption that we have to respond to these children’s problems (an obsessive need for entertainment) by making concessions to them (and giving them more entertainment), is wrong from beginning to end. All we are doing with this response is enabling them to avoid overcoming their problems. We cripple their minds, and do not help them to learn how to think. We need to ask, “How can we help them to reject the self-absorbed demand for entertainment?” What would that look like if we actually carried it out? Maybe some parents would take away their children’s cell phones (!). Maybe some parents would throw their television sets in the trash. I certainly am not advocating a radical and sudden change in the home that will only alienate the children. What I am advocating, however, is that parents (especially fathers) need to discipline their children and teach them what it means to “love God with all our heart, soul, mind and body.” They need to educate them, and get them to the point where the children see the need for change. This is not done overnight, but it must start sooner rather than later.
I found it difficult to answer the earlier question about “better entertainment” in the religious education class because my children do not need to be entertained in order for them to pay attention. In fact, they appreciate learning about God without any desire for “a new and entertaining methodology” to keep their attention. No, they are not perfect; we have just avoided letting them become obsessed with having a constant barrage of entertainment.
Yes, there will be children who resist this. In my experience, however, I have found that children will generally follow through with changes for the better if the parents explain things all along the way, and make it clear that they are doing this for the good of the family (and also show that they themselves are willing to sacrifice for the sake of the children). In general, it is the parents who resist the changes far more than it is the children. Parents will say, “That’s too hard,” or “They won’t listen to me,” or “They’ll never let me do that.” We are not talking about choosing a different brand of socks, we are talking about their eternal souls; we cannot afford to find excuses.
In a mindless culture, children need to learn how to use their minds, and this goes beyond a class in logic (though, please be aware, that logic is incredibly useful). It means that we need to work, intentionally and purposefully, to help our children to think like Christians. We cannot merely throw a couple of Bible stories at them and hope that they will make the right choices when they grow up. Parents have done this, and it fails every time. This is treating the child more like a puppy than like a human. They have minds, and those minds can be cultivated and made fertile ground for the truth of God. Parents, begin the work today.'