Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Most Beautiful Wedding

Last evening I attended one of the most beautiful weddings that I have ever witnessed.  The couple was young.  The groom may have been all of 21 years old and the bride was, perhaps, 20 years old.  By modern standards, they were far too young to know what they want out of life and hardly able to enter into a marriage at that tender age.  I do not share that view.

So what made this wedding so lovely?  It was very clear from the words of the priest, who presided over the ceremony, that this was a marriage COVENANT not a marriage contract. The parties were entering into a covenant, with God and one another, that was life-long and eternally binding.  Many non-Catholics attended the wedding which was book-ended by a nuptial Mass.  Although the non-Catholics in attendance did not understand the significance of the Mass, one Protestant woman told me she was struck by the beauty of the ceremony. 

The couple had met two years ago, today, inside the very Church in which they exchanged their vows last night.  They had not lived together prior to the wedding, and, perhaps, the couple had even been chaste prior to their exchange of vows.  What a great gift they would be giving each other if indeed they had waited to become one flesh until their wedding night!  My husband likes to say, “Satan does everything he can to get a couple to have sex before they marry, and everything that he can to keep them from having sex after they marry!”  As a woman in my sixties I am awestruck with the truth of that statement.  

This wedding did not cost the bride’s parents a fortune, perhaps less than a thousand dollars total.  The flowers were artificial.  The wedding gown was simple, as was the bride's veil.  The groom wore his military uniform.  The mothers of the bride and groom each wore simple street dresses (the wedding was not about them, after all). 

The reception was held in the Church’s old, ugly activity center which probably should be condemned by the civil building authorities.  The food was likely in keeping with the simplicity of the other expenditures.  My husband and I did not attend the reception as only a select few were invited to keep expenditures manageable.  The parents are of simple means. 

Having been to many weddings previously, including far too many of my own, this was the first Catholic wedding embedded in a nuptial Mass that I have attended as a practicing Catholic with absolute faith in God and understanding of the truth and fullness of the faith embodied by the teaching of the Catholic Church. 

As the couple stood in front of the giant crucifix that hangs in our little parish church, I thought, "There symbolized is Christ on His marriage bed, the cross."  Our pastor made it clear to the young couple that “The HUNT was over!”  They were soon to become one flesh, thereby embodying their spoken marriage vows, and this was a forever union.  He warned them that they would have good times and bad, really bad, but that they were bound to their spouse in their journey to become saints and help the other attain eternal life.

And, indeed, I have found marriage to be a cross to bear.  Yes, there are more good times than bad.  However, withstanding the bad times—and I mean deeply bad times—without obvious complaint and pleasantly, too—is  a saint making task indeed!  This sweet couple will no doubt find all too soon that “Happily Ever After” is better relegated to fairly tales and that true love requires more work and sacrifice than popular culture would have us believe. 

In Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom exchange crucifixes symbolizing the death that each must undergo to self in their marriage covenant to one another.  I wonder how different our culture would be, and how different my own life would have been, if I had understood that marriage was a purifying cross whose purpose was to make me a saint rather than my achieve own personal happiness!

The good news is that we are never to old to learn!  

Peace and grace be with you, Meggie.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Sweetening the Sorrow

I must confess that I have a hard time praying the rosary.  It takes tremendous discipline on my part to recite that many Hail Marys, Our Fathers, and Glory Bes in a row while focusing my mind on the appropriate mystery for each decade.  Why does it feel so difficult for me much of the time?

It is not nearly so difficult for me to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet as that prayer is a very personal prayer for me.  A good friend of mine was praying a Divine Mercy Chaplet Novena for my return to the Catholic Church between Good Friday and Divine Mercy Sunday several years ago.  It was during the time of her novena that I responded to a mysterious but irresistible urge to go see the Catholic pastor in our area.   I did not know him nor had I been inside a Catholic church for some twenty five years.

I was an on-fire Evangelical Protestant as was my husband.  The Catholic Church of my youth would never be a home for me again—or so I thought.  It turned out that the priest in my little ‘Podunk’ town was also a Roman Catholic Canon lawyer and thus began my return to the Catholic Church. My reversion to the Catholic Church also started an intense study into the teaching of the Church I had dismissed.  My ex-Protestant pastor’s conversion to the Catholic Church took place shortly after I returned.  My husband and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church on the Feast day of St. Faustina about a year and a half after my friend’s Divine Mercy Chaplet Novena.

But it only takes me ten minutes to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet, whereas the rosary takes me twenty minutes or more.

As a child, we had meatless Fridays.  At some point after I left the Catholic Church, meatless Fridays were replaced by a personal penance of our own choice on Fridays.  Although this penance is still obligatory, from what I can tell, many Catholics my age are unaware of this.  I only discovered that we are called to perform a personal penance on Fridays a few months ago.

The perfect penance for me is going to Church to pray the rosary on Fridays during adoration.

I am consecrated to Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  This was something I did early on when I came back to the Catholic Church—that is, once I found out about it.  My consecration day is on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which is always celebrated on that Saturday following the Friday Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus which both follows the feast of Corpus Christi.  My consecration gives me even more reason to be frustrated with my struggles to get through the rosary.

But why is it so hard for me?  So many people love to pray the rosary.

I love to read the original writings of the Saints in the Catholic Church.  I take encouragement in that even great saints had struggles in their prayer life.  So why should a spiritual weakling, such as myself, expect no challenges?  St. Teresa of Avila wrote about her struggles in her prayer life in The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself.  And for what do we remember St. Teresa?  We remember her for her great prayer life among other things.  After years of slogging through difficult periods of prayer she was given the gift of contemplation where the Lord lifting her up both spiritually and physically (yep!) in ecstasy in during prayer.  Bernini immortalized the ecstasy of St. Teresa in his sculpture.

During my Evangelical years, I took the verse Matt 6:7 as a forever absolution of my ever praying the rosary again.  At that time I thought, “Why do the Catholics pray the rosary when the bible tells us not to keep repeating ourselves?”  However, I now recognize that my misdirected thinking was taking the verse completely out of the historical context in which it was written.   When I pray the rosary, the rhythm of those repeated prayers and the movement of our fingers quiet down my mind to actually allow me to meditate on the mysteries of the God’s mind-blowing actions in Salvation History.

When I facilitated the ‘33 Days to Morning Glory’ class in my home parish, I recall Fr. Michael Gaitley saying, “I do not know why Mary likes us to say the rosary so much, but she does!” on one of the videos.

Ever since then (and that was a couple years back) I have been asking, Why does Mary like us to say the rosary so much?”   

The answer came as quickly as a dried up kernel of corn metamorphosizes into a piece of popcorn when the perfect temperature is reached.  My stubbornly empty kernel of ‘wondering why’ was replaced by a soft, fragrant billowy bite of understanding and accompanying peace.  My explanation could be of my own creation but it makes sense to me and has had a profound impact on my prayer life.

The rosary is not so difficult to pray anymore.

I was in adoration thinking about how God is outside of time.  He has to be because he created both space and time.  Now Christ is fully divine and fully human…The Incarnation is this great mystery. Thus events in human history that Christ participated in occurred in time, as do things we do, but Christ's actions exist outside of time, too as God-events.  It is especially helpful to think this way about the to the passion of Our Lord!

Remember the agony in the garden of Jesus?  Jesus so wanted his three best apostle-buddies to keep him company.  They kept falling asleep while Jesus’ agony was so intense his blood became as drops of blood.  [BTW, this is a real medical phenomena, hematohidrosis.]  Remember how when Christ was hanging from the cross and His mother, his Aunt Mary, John, and Mary Magdalene were the only ones who kept him company?

Both those events are actual historical events, but also they are outside of time as God-events. Indeed in the Mass we are united with the sacrifice of Calvary precisely because this God-event is outside of time.  That is what it means, the representation of the sacrifice of Calvary.  When I hear the under-educated complaining about how boring the Mass is--I see the apostles asleep unable to keep Jesus company.  So many are asleep to the meaning of the Mass and the power of the Eucharist even among practicing Catholics.

Now when I meditate on the sorrow mysteries, as I do on Fridays when I pray my rosary, I can make myself present to Christ and console Him during His passion.  I can be there at Gethsemane and at Calvary.

This is the answer that I received.  I can take the struggles of my prayer life, in focusing my roaming mind and my recalcitrant will, to Jesus and unite them to His passion.   Mary has such a sweet way of bringing me into the company with her Son.  This is what it means to me to Console the Heart of Jesus.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Lessons from the Flying Flowers

You call them butterflies.  I call them flying flowers.  They slay me with their delicate beauty.  When I see them alight on my flowers, I am catapulted into my imaginary Garden of Eden by the combined panoply of colors, symmetry, and fragrance.  Which leads me to the topic of flowers…

In the Mid-South it helps greatly to be cursed with stubbornness.  Otherwise how can I explain that I have refused to give up growing on roses in our clay soil and high humidity?  And shall we not forget the summer’s temperamental weather that alternates between drought and relentless heat only to be randomly punctuated with deluge-like summer rains that can take days for the soil to accept. 

The crowning insult for my flowers, and what could be the death knoll for my butterflies, is the visitation of Japanese beetles for the three full months of June, July, and August.  Japanese beetles have impeccable taste, as their favorite flowers are mine as well.  Granted, they do possess an iridescent exoskeleton but whatever loveliness they may possess pays lousy dividends as they decimate my flowers!

Most people use an insecticide, called Sevin, to control these pests that so far only torment those of us who live east of the Mississippi River.  I cannot use Sevin because I love my butterflies and honey bees.  Sevin is an indiscriminate killer, and although it is very effective, I cannot sacrifice my butterflies or bees upon the altar of my rose bushes’ health.  Thus I must settle for twice-a-day slap-downs on fifty-two rose bushes and weekly (or more applications) of neem oil, which is not nearly as effective as Sevin.  Neem oil does not harm sucking insects only chomping ones, like Japanese beetles. 

I love butterflies for so many reasons.  

Let’s start when they are in their ugly caterpillar stage.  They are a reminder to me of how I was before I believed with 100% certitude that God existed.  That was before the Lord showed me how much He loved me...even when I was dead in my sins!  I did not give God the time of day and did not even obey the Natural Law let alone His commandments.  Stubbornness incarnate…aka me.  Perhaps that still describes me, but now I attempt to direct that stubbornness towards my sanctification

Did you know that if you try to help the butterfly as it emerges from its chrysalis, thereby interrupting its struggle, that it will never be strong enough to fly?  Once we become true believers we'd like to believe that we can run the spiritual marathon without pain and struggle.  But this is not how we are sanctified.  It is only thorough great travail that we are remade in the image of Christ.  Our spiritual muscles grow as we suffer.

The butterfly gives glory to God by doing the same things over and over again.  Yes, it is in the butterfly’s nature to do so, and by simply living according to its nature, the butterfly gives glory to God.

The first two humans were made in the image and likeness of God, once God breathed an immortal soul into them. In the Hebrew, saying that someone is created in the image and likeness of a person means that they are his children.  Thus we are told in Genesis that Adam and Eve were sons and daughters of God in that first "Garden".

Once the first parents committed a very personal sin against God, that direct kinship was broken both for them and their offspring.  Yes, we are all God's creatures; the butterfly and I have that in common.  But just because one is human does not make one a child of God.  All of humanity would have to wait to become adopted sons and daughters of God for the graces that were poured out through Christ's Passion and Death, our Redemption, made available in the sacrament of Baptism.  Perhaps this does not seem politically correct to you, but God is not bound by our notions of fairness with are frequently distorted and out of alignment with God.

I relate very much to this adoption scenario because my own adoption, as an infant, that left me hungry to know who I was and to discover my biological parentage.  Eventually God used that ravenous hunger and emptiness to bring me to Himself but only after I had sunk about as low as one could go—which is the inspiration for my novel (in progress).

The butterfly trusts that when it goes from flower to flower that it will find food not poison (like Sevin).  Oh, how I wish I had such dependable trust in the goodness of God to meet my daily physical, mental, and spiritual needs!  I put on my own butterfly wings, as I pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, attempting to cloak myself in the simple unquestioning trust that my little butterfly friends demonstrate.

Occasionally I find butterfly wings after my little friends have finished their lives.  I see little broken parts here and there on their wings.  They are still beautiful but they no longer look perfect.  Such is the curse of time outside the "Garden".  As we age, our physical body undergoes the metamorphosis that heralds our own mortality.  We call that swan song by despised names like wrinkles, saggy skin, grey hair, and pain.  

What about our souls? 

If we do things God’s way, our souls acquire beauty as we run through the gauntlet of our mortal life.  We can unite all our heartaches, disappointments, pains, and sorrows to the cross of Christ and ask the Father to use these very things to conform us to the image and likeness of His Son.

This is the much misunderstood process of sanctification.  Sanctification has been largely ignored in many non-Catholic Christian faith traditions.  And many Catholics, due to poor catechesis, do not understand the process of sanctification either.  I believe that the failure to understand sanctification is at the heart of Christians who support same sex marriage and abortion.  Such people, who in many cases love God deeply, have both misplaced mercy and undue trust in their own powers of spiritual discernment.  Why? Because they have no concept of sanctification through the gift of redemptive suffering!

Sanctification is that process that, as we step into immortality at the point of our deaths, enables us to understand what true beauty really is and allows us to be drawn to it!  We will have the capacity to understand and, ultimately, to be united with the beatific vision!  

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I Am Told That I Must Blog

Nowadays anyone can self-publish a book.  There are many great books in print and/or electronic form ready to be enjoyed while curled up in one's comfy chair.  Unfortunately there are a glut of poorly written books available for your torment, too.  Self-publication has made the good, the bad, and the boring all in ample supply.  I hope to contribute my first novel sooner…or later.  It would be nice to have my novel be good and, at worst, boring.

My novel may be published quite a bit later if I do not stop succumbing to any and all legitimate distractions that preclude my actually finishing it.

I am told that I must also blog.   Blogging is expected.  If I want my book to be read by more than friends and family, it is essential that I promote myself and my writing via a blog or website.    You get the idea.

Now I am in no way opposed to blogging.  Previously I blogged for five years and loved every minute of it.   I was working full-time and wrote several times a month as a break from my science-related job on weekends and evenings.  It was a painless and fun way to write for relaxation without the pressure of trying to get published in science-related journals.  At that time, I wrote using my real name.

I killed that blog about the time I reverted to my withered and under-catechized cradle-Catholic roots from Evangelical Protestantism.  I became an Evangelical Christian after decades of agnosticism and living life my way.  (Guess what? God's way works much better!)

I stopped blogging because I was so blown away by how wrong many of my ideas were about the Catholic many more of my thoughts were half-baked?!  I needed time to research, study, and inhale the centuries of truth and fabulous Catholic writings of the saints and theologians that I had not availed myself of for more than 50 years!  That is a delicious on-going experience.

My blog postings will be semi-random but probably a couple times a month.  I will aim for once weekly.  It is my way of opening up my heart and mind to you, the reader should happen across my blog.

Many blessings, Meggie