May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Catechism: Prologue III-VI The Who and Why

By U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt Paul L. Anstine II
via Wikimedia Commons
If you want to understand the Catholic faith, then the Catechism is for you. Although it is primarily intended for those who are responsible for teaching the faith to others, everyone is encouraged to study it as a comprehensive guide to deeper understanding. It draws upon the sacred scriptures of the Bible, as well as the writings and teachings of the Church fathers and the magisterium (the Pope and the Bishops).

One of the most important things about the Catechism is that it is intended to be read and understood in its entirety. The Prologue says that it is an "organic whole." Everything within it is inseparable from everything else, and each article of faith should be understood within the context of every other article. This emphasis on "context", to me, is one of the distinguishing characteristics of Catholicism. The Church specifically warns against "cherry picking" scripture verses, for example. You cannot simply draw a single verse from the Bible and use it define your faith or your worldview. Rather, you must understand that verse within the context of the rest of that book of the Bible; when, where and why it was written; how it relates to the rest of the Bible; and within the wisdom we (as the Church) have gained over the millennia of studying it. To this end, the Catechism also provides a lot of reference for further reading and study, whether referring to other parts of the Catechism, the Bible itself, or other writings of the Church.

By I, Jfreyre
via Wikimedia Commons
Beyond that, the Prologue also explains that the Catechism actually can't be "all things to all people." In Section 6 Paragraph 24, it clarifies, "By design, this Catechism does not set out to provide the adaptation of doctrinal presentations and catechetical methods required by the differences of culture, age, spiritual maturity, social and ecclesial condition among all of those to whom it is addressed." In other words, these various contexts will have an impact on each reader's understanding and that those who teach the Catechism must adapt their instruction according to the spiritual maturity of the student. These "necessary adaptations" enable the Church to be "all things to all people," as we are instructed to do in the Bible.

Finally, the Prologue reminds us, as St. Paul, does that above all of this is charity: "The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love."

Access the Catechism online.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cathechism: Prologue II What is catechesis?

In honor of today's celebration of 

King: stained glass from 
San Sebastian 

hurch in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

By Eugenio Hansen via Wikimedia Commons
One thing you will quickly learn about the Catholic Church is that is still likes to hang on to its Latin and Greek roots. So, it is not surprising to encounter words that you may never have seen or heard anywhere else. One of these is, perhaps, "catechesis." It is a Greek word adopted into Late Latin and then later adapted into Middle English. Today, it basically means religious instruction, particularly of people before they are initiated into the faith. As with most ancient terms that are still in use, it originally meant something related, but more specific: to speak or even more specifically to teach orally.

Fortunately for us, we have more learning modes at our disposal, so we don't have to sit for hours and days and weeks learning by listening. However, our ability to listen closely and pay attention to what we are learning is likely less sharp. Nevertheless, the purpose of the Catechism, therefore, is to teach us everything we need to know about Catholic teachings. And, I do mean EVERYTHING. If you can't find the answer to your Catholic question in the Catechism, you probably have not spent much time looking for it.

Section II of the Prologue explains that "Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God's plan..." It states that although the following are not formally identified with catechesis, it is tied to the Church's mission to:

  • proclaim the Gospel and to arouse faith,
  • examine the reasons for our beliefs,
  • experience Christian living,
  • celebrate the sacraments,
  • integrate members into the ecclesial community, and
  • carry out apostolic and missionary witness.
Section II also allows that the Catechism is not wholly inflexible. Although it draws strongly upon scripture, it also welcomes learned and inspired thought over time. "Periods of renewal," it states, expand our understanding and provide "intense moments" of learning. To this end, it mentions the writings of the various church "fathers" and specifically names four of the declared "Doctors of the Church": St. Cyril of Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambroise and St. Augustine, who added to our understanding during the early centuries following the life of Christ. The Prologue, also states that the councils of the Church have also added to this learning. specifically citing the 16th century Council of Trent and the 20th century Second Vatican Council.

For me, all of this means that we have had (and likely will continue to have) an imperfect understanding of God and scripture. God is unchanging, but our understanding of him has continued to grow in fullness. To borrow the common anti-Church phrase of a few centuries ago, we become more enlightened, the more we study, the more we pray, the more we attempt to live as Christ told us to live. 

Many of our saints, including both those formally sanctified by the Church and many who are unknown to us, have come closer to a full and complete understanding than others of us. As imperfect people, however, the best we can do is to strive to learn and to grow in understanding and mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the work of 21 centuries of the brightest minds, the most inspired saints, serious scholars, prayerful priests and religious devotees. Throughout these millennia they have worked collaboratively across time and geography to bring us the best understanding that we can have at this moment. The Catechism brings all of it together for us. So, if you are sincere in your faith, you must, of course, read the Bible, but you should also study the Catechism and read the wisdom gathered through the ages. 

The Church fathers and mothers of yesterday and today are speaking to us; it is our duty then to listen and to learn.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Becoming Catholic: No Time Like the Present

By Maioremlaetitiam2 via Wikimedia Commons
This is the time of year, when most Catholic parishes--at least in the United State--begin to form an RCIA group. As I've written before, the Catholic Church encourages non-Catholics to convert, but they don't always make it terribly easy to find out how to do this. The very term "RCIA" meant absolutely nothing to me the first few dozen times I heard it or saw it. The initials stand for "Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults," a phrase that didn't seem any clearer. So, when of the first things I did after I completed my own initiation was to join my parish's communications ministry and successfully advocate for the "RCIA" link on our home page to be changed to "Become a Catholic." Much better.

The RCIA process is intended to enable the individual to explore and truly understand the teachings, beliefs, mission, and function of the Catholic Church as well as the individual's responsibilities to God and to others and his or her own role within the parish and community. Unlike other denominations in which I have participated, the Catholic Church takes conversion very seriously. No other church I ever joined, ever asked me to participate in a single discussion about doctrine, liturgy or anything. They simply asked whether I wanted to join the church, I said "yes," and that was that.

Joining the Catholic Church is more complex, and I think that is a very good thing. The process of this "rite of initiation" takes prayer and discernment. It asks you to consider if this truly is the path you wish to follow. This is true with every rite of the Church. For instance, one meeting with the officiating clergyman will ever be sufficient before a Catholic wedding. This is serious. The Church takes it seriously and it expects you to take it seriously, too.

Having said that, the process is not difficult. I found it to be very rewarding. In my own parish, RCIA is led by a dedicated, loving and amusing Franciscan Sister assisted by an older married couple whose attention and care is warm and friendly. Each RCIA participant selects an established (and observant) Catholic as his or her sponsor, and the sponsors also attend the meetings, events and ceremonies whenever they are able. It enables the "newbies" to build connections with each other and with the "old" Catholics in a truly supportive environment. You can ask questions and express your ideas without feeling anxious that you might sound dumb or that you might be judged in some way.

Most of the time, the RCIA group meets weekly beginning in late summer or early fall through Easter. Individuals are also encouraged to attend Mass weekly and to find other ways to participate in parish life. As time and your understanding progress, you will be invited to participate in various rites like being presented to your Bishop and to your own Parish. In my Parish, we have three English-language Masses each weekend, so our RCIA participants are invited to come to each Mass to be formally presented to and prayer over by the congregation.

Along the way, if you decide that you don't want to continue, you may stop at any point. Likewise, you are welcome to return. Most of the participants complete RCIA and receive their first Eucharist during Holy Week around Easter, but others take longer to make their final commitment. I have found the U.S. Church to be fairly flexible in helping devoted RCIA candidates (or "catechumens") reach their goals even in extenuating circumstances. For instance, one college-age woman from our parish, took her RCIA instruction in another part of the country where she was attending university, but she was permitted to return to her home parish to celebrate her confirmation there.

If you think you might be interested in exploring Catholicism, even if you don't know whether you wish to convert or not, now is a great time to seek out the person in your local parish who is responsible for RCIA. Find out what is involved and start down that path. It is never too early or too late.

For instance, several years ago, an older lady in my parish asked our priest when RCIA would be starting. She had attended mass at our church for decades. Her children and grandchildren had attended the local Catholic schools. The priest knew her and her family fairly well. "Oh," he asked, "Do you know someone who would like to join the Church?"

"Yes," she said, "I would." In all those years of active participation, she was the only member of her family who was not Catholic. But, at Easter 2013, she stood beside me as we made our profession of faith together.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Catechism: Prologue I 2-3: Sharing the Good News

Via Wikimedia Commons
From my earliest youth, I can remember songs with lyrics like, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel and, lo, I am with you always," and Jesus' recruitment of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to lay down their fishing nets to that he could make them "fishers of men." We also frequently sang the children's ditty, "This Little Light of Mine," in which we kids promised not to "hide it under a bushel" (although we didn't know what a bushel was) and not to "let Satan blow it out" with accompanying hand gestures. Perhaps these songs and ideas have stuck with me so well because I also spent many years of my childhood in a fundamentalist domination that was strongly dedicated to sending Christian missionaries overseas. The lives of MKs (missionaries' kids) were often depicted for us, and missionaries visiting home frequently spoke at our church, sharing photos of the schools they had built and the kids they had fed and stories of facing down great dangers to bring the light of Christ to these remote, exotic and usually unfortunate peoples.

So, I have known for a long time, that one of the major responsibilities of a Christian is to share God with others. At times, I thought that meant I should be a missionary, too. Then, as a young teen, I participated in the musical, Surrender, about teens learning how to serve God. One of the characters sings, "I'd rather go to Africa, than Lakewood High, because being a believer isn't cool." It was eye-opening, the challenge of sharing my belief with others doesn't have to be full of life-threatening confrontations with head hunters or warring tribes; sometimes (often, usually) being a testimony to the people who are already part of my own world is scary enough.

The fact that the Catholic Catechism addresses this mission to share God's love with others so early in its pages has great significance, I believe. The only instruction that comes before it is to know and love God yourself. Once you've started that process, your next responsibility is to spread the "Good News" as so many faiths state it. But, here's the thing: these steps are not sequential. You cannot wait until you fully understand everything about God before you begin to let your light shine. Indeed, if you did, you would be under that proverbial bushel for your entire life. Most Christian faiths (indeed most religions of any kind) have a call for believers to proselytize. You are not permitted to perceive the truth and keep others in the darkness of ignorance.

How to do you do that? I suspect this exploration of the Catechism will help to explain how to share the Good News, and we shall seek to understand this process as we go. This year, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to observe a Jubilee of Mercy. The Jubilee prayer offers a succinct answer: "Let the Church [i.e. all Catholics] be your visible face in the world." When people see us, they should see God. We must strive always to live what we believe in order to demonstrate God's love and mercy. Not only do we represent God in this way, but we also serve God, as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 25, "in so far as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." (In that particular verse, he is talking about helping others, but he also elaborates later that the reverse is true. To neglect others or to actively harm them, is also a sin against God.)

But here is the biggest secret: you don't necessarily have to "go out of your way" to do this. Sure, many are called to serve God in the remotest corners of the globe, or in prisons, or in war zones, or in the poorest neighborhoods of our cities. The rest of us are called to use the talents that God has given us to serve him where we are. There are already people in your world today and people you will encounter tomorrow and next week and next year, who will benefit from your "testimony." While you may have the opportunity to actually speak about Christ to them or give them a Bible or a Crucifix, most of the time, the simplest act of kindness, mercy and love can be a trigger to encourage someone else to seek the peace and joy that you have. Conversely, there are few things more harmful to our mission, than Christians behaving poorly. (Ever been cutoff in traffic by a car with a "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker.)

It may not always feel comfortable to pray before a meal in public. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It may not always be convenient to help someone who is clearly lost or clearly struggling to carry something. That doesn't mean you should just pass them by. It may not always be easy to offer praise or comfort instead of criticism. That doesn't mean you are free to speak those sharp words that may come to mind.

Beyond that, you should seek ways to use your talents for God. He endowed each of us with individual personalities and abilities because He has need of these different skill sets. I hope I am never called upon to clear debris and weeds from the church yard or a neighborhood park. The kind of chore is not in any way part of my inclination or skill set and it sets me up for allergic reactions. (That doesn't mean I should always avoid this kind of service...) Since I was three years old, however, I have had a passion for reading and writing and for seeking to know and understand things. I have no doubt that these natural inclinations are part of God's plan for my service. When I completed the rite of initiation, I prayed for God to show me how to serve Him. His answer came very quickly, and I launched this blog that day.

This is one way in which I can let the light shine through me, and I pray for His inspiration as I draft each post. As the song from the popular rock opera Godspell says:
"You are the light of the world. You are the light of the world. But the tallest candlestick ain't much good without a wick. You've got to live right to be the light of world."


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cathechism: Prologue I.1 To Know and Love God

Part 2 in my continuing exploration of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition

I. The Life of Man--To Know and Love God
1. God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.

The Creation of Adam, from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo
via Wikipedia Commons
As most Christians know, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and the night and the day, and the birds and the fishes, and all the creatures. And, then he created man (which in our modern understanding means "humans," not just dudes). This is how the Bible starts--at the very beginning, which isn't "the" beginning at all since God is infinite and is always existing. This is merely the beginning of us humans. God created man the Catechism says out of "sheer goodness." Of all of his creations, man is the only with free will, and this enables us to choose to love God or not.

In trying to answer the question, "Why did God create man?", it would be easy to anthropomorphize him. Genesis says that God created us in his own image, and we intend to interpret that in a fairly literal sense. More specifically, we translate this statement with transitive powers: if man is like God then God is like man. Most Western religions even depict God looking like a human, albeit a generally older, wiser man (of course!) That makes it even easier to assign human emotions and motivations to Him. In different parts of scripture, He is characterized as jealous, angry, loving, compassionate, peaceful, faithful, gracious, merciful, wrathful, etc. etc. (Frankly, putting all of these adjectives together makes me think of the characteristics assigned to the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods or of other polytheistic religions.)

From there it is easy to suppose that God made man from some need to be loved or worshiped by someone who had a choice rather than just the angels. In this part of the Prologue, we see that God wants us to be close to him and to be unified with each other. Every Catholic question-and-answer site recites that man is intended to "know, love and serve" God. This answer leaves me feeling like a young child when I drove my parents crazy asking, "Why? Why? Why?" I accept that I am supposed to know, love and serve God. I really believe that is a given. But WHY does he want us to know, love and serve him? Through all of my searching and inquiries, there always seems to be another "why." We are always thirsty for the truth behind the truth. We always believe there is more to the story. But, just as our parents often ran out of responses to our incessant questioning, maybe the best answer for now is simply, "because."

I am made in the image of God, but I don't think that means I look like him. I cannot fully comprehend the nature of God and perhaps it is also equally as difficult to understand the nature of man. I have sometimes wondered if the way we are like God is that we exist in "three persons" too: mind, heart and soul--or as in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The fact that the Trinity is also referenced right here in the beginning of the Catechism makes that wonder even stronger. These three are united; God longs for us to be united with each other and in him. Many religions and philosophers throughout the ages and across cultures have some kind of unity at the core of their beliefs: we are all one. Sometimes these theories of one-ness include not just humanity and deities but animals, plants, minerals and the entire cosmos.

This first statement of the Catechism calls our attention to our need to be reconciled to God and with God. It is the central tenet of our faith. We may always have a surface-level understanding of God and his desires for us, but we must strive always to know, love and serve him. Perhaps even as we transition from this physical world, we may not know all of the whys, but I must trust God enough to let the answer be, "because."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Making the Sign of the Cross via Wikimedia Commons
You can always tell when a movie character is supposed to be Catholic: at some point or another, he will make the Sign of the Cross. For those raised outside of this tradition, it was certainly a foreign act, which we perceived somewhere along the scale of silly and useless to exotic and interesting.

Making the Sign of the Cross is common among the various Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches. Albeit some cross themselves left to right (like the Roman Catholics) while others go right to left (like the Eastern Orthodox). Some Protestants (like Episcopalians, Methodists and Lutherans) also use the Sign, but it is much more closely associated with the older Christian faiths and is used more regularly among their followers.

Whether you have a Bishop or Priest bless you with the Sign of the Cross or you cross yourself, the act is what the Church calls a "sacramental." This means that it is a symbolic action that serves as a means of receiving sanctifying grace. In simple, everyday terms it is a reminder of all you have professed to believe--I've seen it referred to as a "mini Nicene Creed"--that can be used as both a blessing and a prayer.

For Catholics and some others, it is used throughout the worship service and the Mass. Most Catholics will cross themselves with Holy Water upon entering the Church and again, while genuflecting, before taking a seat in recognition of the physical presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Celebrant will use the Sign of the Cross to bless the congregation several times throughout the Mass, especially at the end of prayers. The congregants will mirror this action by crossing themselves. They will also make a smaller Sign of the Cross over their foreheads, lips and hearts before the reading of the Gospel and will cross themselves after receiving the Host. After the Mass, most will genuflect and cross themselves before leaving their seat and one final time with Holy Water before exiting the Church.

By adriatikus via Wikimedia Commons
But what does all this arm waving mean? Like all sacramentals, the Sign of the Cross is steeped in tradition and symbolic meanings. The proper way to do it is with the first two fingers and thumb extended and touching each other represents the Trinity, while the last two fingers touching the palm signifies the dual nature of Christ as both God and Man. The movement from the forehead across the heart and down to the stomach and then from one shoulder to the other is also packed with meaning: a consecration of our minds, hearts and actions to God while tracing the ultimate symbol of Christ's sacrifice, the cross.

Of course, you don't have to be in Church to use the Sign of the Cross. Catholics are encouraged to use it to dedicate their actions to God, as a blessing on people and objects (like meals!), and as a protection against evil (since the Devil hates the Cross). So you can use it in your own prayers and at the beginning of any activity whether that's starting a new project at work, cooking dinner or playing a game of tennis. As one person posted on Catholic Answers Forum"Good gravy, when is it NOT appropriate?!?"

In my daily life, I also use it as I pray for others. I have established "reminder" cues to encourage myself to pray for the well-being of others. So, I cross myself to invoke the protection and blessing of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when I pass a hospital or hospice where people are suffering; when I hear a siren indicating that people are in danger; when I see someone stopped by the police so that each side of that interaction may be safe; when I see a young parent walking with children that they may have all of the necessities of life; and when I see a disabled vehicle or an accident so that those impacted will be safe and will have the ability to bear the financial burden of the incident.

My Cradle-Catholic husband crosses himself at similar moments and he also uses the Sign of the Cross when passing any Catholic Church. Just as many Catholics cross themselves upon entering the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, many like my husband pause to recognize that they know the Sacrament is nearby. He will also cross himself near cemeteries to pray for the dead, especially his own parents, and to solicit their intercession on behalf of those still here.

The sacramentals and symbols of the Catholic Church are a great part of the Church's attraction for me. By using the Sign of the Cross, I am not only going one step further than just thinking good thoughts for others, I am also providing a visible sign to those who may see me. Whether in a restaurant, in my car, or on the street, the Sign of the Cross can be a powerful reminder to others that we all should draw closer to God.

For more about this topic, I recommend:

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
1235 The sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to him and signifies the grace of the redemption Christ won for us by his cross. 

1671 Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father "with every spiritual blessing."177 This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ. 

2157 The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior's grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Something About Mary

Madonna and Child by Michelangelo
via Wikimedia Commons
Several months ago, my husband and I unexpectedly visited a church in a different part of town. When we walked in, a choir was already singing. Their style was a bit different from any Catholic choir we had heard before--it was strongly influenced by the most lively old Negro spirituals of the South. My cradle-Catholic husband, who had only ever associated this music with Baptists or Evangelicals or other such Protestants, turned to me and asked, "Did we come into the right church? Are you sure this is a Catholic church."

"What do you see on the right side of the altar?" I asked.

"The Virgin Mary," he responded.

"This is certainly a Catholic church," I told him. (After all, I knew we weren't in the only Orthodox church of our community.)

It is perhaps ironic that Mary was one of the things that kept me from the Catholic Church in the earliest days of my spiritual awareness, but ultimately was also one of the people who attracted me to it. As a young teen, I had attended a Rosary for the mother of one of my friends. I was perplexed by the repetition of the prayer. "How sad," I thought, "They think they aren't being heard." Of course, it was also odd to me that anyone would pray to or through Mary. It was just not part of my understanding. Then, on an episode of the 1980s sitcom "Gimme a Break!" I heard Nell Carter sing the Bach-Gounod version of the Ave Maria. I had never heard anything so beautiful. Her character sang it to soothe and calm the other characters who had just experienced an earthquake. I began to understand the power of that simple prayer--the lyrics of which are drawn entirely from the Gospels. I learned the words, and I began to pray it every time I flew in a plane. It was a comfort to my anxiety during take off and landing.

Only later did a I come to focus more on Mary herself. As a great admirer of Pope John Paul II, I started to see her through his eyes. Having lost his own mother as a child, the Pope was a great devotee of Mary as the only mother he had. As a budding feminist or post-feminist in college, I thought, "Why shouldn't we have a spiritual mother as well as God the Father?"

I began to think, if I'm going to be a Christian, I should adopt the full breadth of Christianity, which I saw as Catholicism. And, if I were going to be a Catholic, I should fully embrace that too and become a Marian. So, now I am trying to learn more about her, about her role in the Gospels, in Salvation history, and in the growth and development of the Church.

I came to view Mary as the first Christian. Not only was she the first to understand and accept Christ's role, but her faith never wavered. Even when the disciples ran away, even when Peter three times denied Jesus after swearing that he was prepared to die with Him, even as they panicked over the empty tomb, and fretted in the Upper Room, Mary's faith never wavered. She gave herself, body and soul, to God in a way that no one else ever has.

Annunciation by Fra Angelico via Wikimedia Commons
I recently read a Lutheran posting about Mary that started by saying, "It's hard to understand all the fuss about Mary." It went on to state that Mary was a fairly unimportant person in the Bible and, when she did appear, she was entirely passive. Unimportant? How could anyone think that for a moment? There is no Incarnation without Mary. The story of Jesus as human begins with Mary's acceptance. From the moment the angel says, "Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you," she is an active participant in what was to come. Her acceptance of this very strange announcement was anything but passive. In accepting, she was risking her reputation, her future, her place in her family and in her society, perhaps even her life. She could easily have been cast aside by her fiance Joseph. In fact, she nearly was until an angel appeared to him as well. She could have been exiled by her family, condemned and executed by the leaders of her community. Yet, Mary's response was "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

Mary by Josef Moroder via Wikimedia Commons
As Mary nurtured her Holy Child, she remained watchful and faithful. She saw all that He did and all that happened to Him, and the Bible says, she ponders these things in her heart. She is constantly thinking and wondering, but always trusting. When Jesus is fully adult, it is his mother Mary who actually launches his "career" at the wedding at Cana. It is Mary who insists he perform this first public miracle, even after Jesus tells her that His time has not yet come. In response to his protest, knowing who He was and why He had come, she turned to the waiters and instructed them to do whatever He told them to do. And so, He did as His mother had instructed Him.

Her instruction to the waiters is the same as her instruction to all of the children of God: "Do as He says." That is hardly a passive role. It is the most active role possible. By her word and by her example, we are told to follow Him with full faith despite any troubles that may befall us, because as the angel told her, all things are possible with Him.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fast Food Fridays

If you are struggling to figure out what to eat when:

  1. It's Lent.
  2. It's Friday.
  3. You're in a hurry.

You are not alone. Last week, I had to remind my husband a couple of times not to eat meat. I finally sent an instructional text offering him two lunch options to choose from: baked potato and salad at the Wendy's near his job or a tuna sandwich at the Subway. A couple of years ago, I found myself in a situation when I scheduled a lunch date at Steak n Shake. I mean, "steak" is in the name and there is not much there to choose from unless you want to make a lunch of French fries. Not only is that not balanced or healthy in way, but I'm also not really a fries fan. One time, I actually told a server to bring me just five French fries. In addition to a strange look, I also got a plate full of French fries.

So, I thought I'd make a quick rundown list of Lent-friendly options for the next time you find yourself in similar situations.


Breakfast is actually super easy. Many of the fast food places have pancakes or oatmeal or bagels with cream cheese. Even if they don't, you can order a breakfast sandwich just about anywhere and have them leave off the bacon, ham, sausage, etc. Remember, cheese and eggs are okay so you can eat them on a muffin, a croissant, a bun, a bagel, a biscuit or whatever your preferred choice is. Here in the South, you can sometimes get grits.


I'm going to break it down with a choice or two from most of the main chains or types of restaurants.

Sandwich shops: Almost all offer a tuna sandwich or a veggie sandwich.

Pizza places: Order just cheese or load it down with mushrooms, olives, peppers, onions, etc. You can even have anchovies, if you are into that.

Fish sandwiches: You can now find fish sandwiches at most of the major chains. Of course, McDonald's has had the Filet o' Fish forever, but Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr./Hardee's and even Arby's and Dairy Queen now have fish options. Jack in the Box even offers a fish and chips option in addition to its sandwich. DQ also offers additional local menu items, which could include shrimp in your area. (Plus, you can still have ice cream--just don't over do it.)

Fish restaurants: The choices are obvious here since most of their options are meat-free, although several of these chains do have a chicken choice (just stay away from that one). However, if you are sick of fish, remember these places often offer shrimp, clams or even stuffed crab.

Mexican options: Fast food "Mexican" or Tex/Mex is one of the easiest places to find Lenten options. Taco Bell has even been known to put up a special Lenten menu to highlight these items on their menu. You can order almost any kind of burrito, taco, enchilada, etc. without meat by sticking to beans and/or cheese. A bean burrito is one of my favorite choices, even when it's not Lent.

Wendy's: As mentioned above, Wendy's baked potato with side salad makes a filling combination.

KFC: Chicken is the heart of KFC, and they actually do not offer any entrees or sandwiches without chicken. However, I am a fan of both their mashed potatoes and their macaroni and cheese. Order some mac and cheese with their green beans or cole slaw and you have a satisfying and balanced Lenten meal.

Chick fil A: Another restaurant devoted to the chicken with no non-chicken entrees. However, they do offer a meat-free side salad and you actually can have their chicken soup. I don't know why but soups and broths are not included in the Catholic definition of "meat."

Not on the menu: Unfortunately, I could not find any Lent-friendly options at one of my faves, Sonic, unless you want to make a meal out of mozzarella sticks (which I admittedly have done) or cheddar poppers.

A word about salads: If you order a fast food salad, be aware that many of these come with some kind of chicken or other meat, so be sure to order without that.


Of course, you can repeat any of the ideas above for dinner and apply them to casual or fine dining restaurants. Also, if you are invited to a catered banquet or dinner, don't forget that the chef probably has also prepared a vegetarian option, which you can request. My husband and I attended a banquet last week and requested the veg option. We ended up enjoying a spinach stuffed tomato with green beans and a nice risotto. Other common vegetarian catering options include mushroom or eggplant as the featured entree. And, remember, it is not the Church's goal to make things very difficult or to give offense to others. So, if you have no other option and/or don't want to upset your host, eat what you are served. (In my business, I often have to eat things I don't like even on normal days, so I promise, it won't kill you!)

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Why Do You Want To Be Catholic?

The Last Supper by Ambrosius Francken via Wikimedia Commons
This week I spent half a day in the Emergency room with my mom after she had a severe asthma attack. (She is okay now.) As soon as she was able to talk again, she immediately began lengthy conversations with every nurse, tech, volunteer or doctor who entered her room. That's my mom--if you are within her eyesight, she will learn your life story and you will learn hers. Guaranteed. Doesn't matter where she is or whether she can even breathe properly. It is her special gift.

When one nurse casually remarked that she was trying to be a "good Catholic girl," my Baptist mother began to explore the lady's faith and life. We learned about her education, her career history, her plans for the future, her husband's health and his career. (I told you,my mom is very thorough!) When the nurse told us that she had recently moved to our town, my mom immediately began recruiting her to my church! When she shared that she had been "born Baptist," my mother exclaimed, "so was she!!!!" gesturing proudly at me.

Mom told her all about my conversion and how great my priest is and how wonderful she thinks the Sister who runs the RCIA program in my parish is. (My mother is the kind of mom who thinks EVERYTHING about her children is the BEST! People and things around us are also the best by association.)

As amazing as my mother's incredible PR job for the Catholic church in general and my parish in particular was, the most amazing moment came when mom asked the nurse why she had converted. "You just know when it's right," she responded.

That's exactly how I felt. Like me, her first real encounter with Catholicism happened when she accompanied a friend to Mass. Also like me, she was first attracted to the reverence of Catholic worship. And, also like me, she takes comfort and joy in knowing that Catholics everywhere around the world are reading the same scriptures and praying the same prayers. At the same time! There is a joyful resonance in the feeling of that powerful connection across distance, culture, race, politics, economics. It is the actual meaning of the word "catholic."

According to, "catholic" means:

1. broad or wide-ranging in tastes, interests, or the like; having sympathies with all; broad-minded; liberal

2. universal in extent; involving all; of interest to all

This unity of spirit helps bring me closer to God. I feel reassured that our history, though troubled at times, stretches directly back to Jesus as He taught the Apostles, and even earlier than that to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. I am strengthened by the idea of the Apostolic succession, that once Jesus told Peter, "you are my rock, upon you I will build my Church," that that is exactly what happened. Then, for almost 2,000 years that awesome responsibility has been passed from Peter to pope to pope.

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
The Church has not been perfect. We cannot take pride in things like the Inquisition, the scams of indulgences, and various corrupt leaders over the centuries. But, at the very heart of it, we have this real, physical connection to Jesus. He touched the Apostles, who touched their disciples, who passed that loving touch down to us. Each time, the minister gives me the Host, the miracle of transubstantiation is not just the bread becoming flesh but the passing of that Eucharist directly from Jesus at the Last Supper in the Upper Room at the dawn of a new age  to me in a church in a small southern American city two millennia later.

So, I hope that each of us will invite our friends to come with us to Mass so that they also can discover this universal connection to God and each other that is also very personal. All are welcome. Including nurses, techs, volunteers, and doctors--and if my mother keeps it up, they all will soon be converted!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Beginner's Guide to Lent

Fast. Abstain. Penance. Almsgiving. Terms like these may seem archaic, unnecessary, confusing or even scary to the newly initiated, especially as we enter the Lenten season. For those of us who were not raised Catholic, it can be challenging to figure out what's going on, what is expected of you and how to do it. The good news is that all of these observations and tradition, are a lot less stringent than you might think. The Church does not expect you to go on a hunger strike, never eat meat, give up all of your favorite activities, or give away all that you have. The guidelines are actually not terribly difficult and can help deepen your connection to God and to the crucifixion and resurrection.

What is Lent? 
Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) when we mirror Christ's 40 days in the wilderness as a time to focus on our spiritual wellness and to deepen our faith and understanding. It is a time of reflection, repentance, and service to others. Sundays are not included because we celebrate Christ's resurrection every Sunday. Sundays are a day for rejoicing not sorrow as we unite with God and each other through the Eucharist. To assist in your reflection and to build discipline, the Church calls on you to pray, fast, abstain, and participate in almsgiving.

I used to think that fasting meant not eating at all but this is not the case. The Church defines fasting as eating only one (meatless) meal a day and you can supplement this with two snacks. This sacrifice is intended to help you focus on your spiritual hunger and to realize your blessings. It is not meant to be a punishment or to cause you physical harm. In fact, if you have an illness or condition that requires you to maintain certain dietary requirements like diabetes or pregnancy, you should modify your fast as needed or not fast at all. Otherwise, during Lent, you should observe a fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

In today's world, we often hear the word 'abstain' in reference to sex. That's not what this is about. Rather, it is about abstaining from consuming flesh. This means that you avoid the meat of warm-blooded creatures: mammals (cows, pigs, deer, etc.) and fowl (chicken, duck, turkey, etc.). However, you can still eat their products like milk, eggs, butter, sauces, and gelatin. You can also eat cold-blooded creatures like fish, frogs, shrimp, alligator, etc. The specific reason for not eating flesh is to show respect for the sacrifice of Christ's flesh. That's why most of Catholic world abstains on all Fridays--the day we remember the Crucifixion. In the U.S., however, the Bishops got the Pope to excuse from this in return for offering more good work. (So, if you don't abstain on Fridays, you are supposed to be extra charitable.) During Lent, we are expected to abstain from meat on all Fridays. 

As mentioned above, you should not participate in these penitential acts if they are harmful to your health or the health of your child in the case of a pregnant or nursing mother. You are not expected to fast until the age of 18, although you should abstain beginning at age 14. People aged 60 and older are excused from both. You are also permitted to break your fast or abstinence if observing it would cause offense to a host. For instance, if your boss invites you to dinner and serves you steak, you can eat it. 

Giving Something Up
The Church does not regulate the longstanding tradition of giving something up during Lent. The Church views these penitential acts as a disciplinary observances that can help the individual focus on the meaning of the season. Many people choose to give up something they love, like chocolate or candy, or something that is harmful to them, like smoking, or bad habit, like oversleeping. Others, select to give up a particular comfort or vanity item (like sleeping pillows or wearing makeup). Whether you choose to forego a particular food or habit or comfort, you should not choose something that is going to be so difficult that it will result in frustration or anger. (The year I gave up sodas, I was depressed and mean and not even interested in eating at all during the last 10 days!) Again, the purpose of all of these penances is not to actually punish yourself, but to discipline yourself. So, you can indulge in whatever you have surrendered on Sundays if you wish. However, if you are truly trying to discipline yourself into a new habit (like not smoking), taking a break once a week could undo that effort.

We are called at all times to be charitable, whether through contributions of money, goods, services, or time. During Lent, we are asked to increase our charitable practices. You can do this by contributing to special appeals, identifying a new cause you'd like to support, volunteering more, or making more time for others. If you don't have money to spare, clean out your closets and donate those clothes you don't wear. Volunteer to help at the local shelter or spend a Saturday visiting people in a retirement community. Or, you could make an extra effort to say thank you by making a meal for the people you work with or reaching out to family or friends you've lost touch with. Remember, Jesus washed the feet of the apostles. If He can do this, there is no charity too low or too small for you.

What else can you do?
If you want to really step up your observations during this time, go to Mass more frequently. Even if your parish does not offer daily Mass, there is likely a church in your area that does. You could also make an effort to attend all of the special Masses of the season: Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Saturday Vigil--which is when we welcome new Catholics into the church. If you live in a city that is the base of a bishop or archbishop, you can also attend the Chrism Mass during the week before Easter. All of the priests of the diocese participate in this ceremony, reaffirming their own commitment and blessing the holy oils that will be used throughout the upcoming year. If you have the resources, go to Jerusalem or to the Vatican--I think we should all do this at least once in our lives. You can also pray more by attending Stations of the Cross, Rosary, or Novena or performing an Adoration. Join a study group, read the daily readings, study the Catechism, or watch or listen to Catholic can provide you with schedules and programs. (When I am too ill to go to Mass, I always tune into one on the local EWTN station.)  And, don't forget reconciliation. There is no better time to repent and seek forgiveness than now.