Checked Out & Distracted

This weekend, I was one of many, many Catholics we find in the pews at Mass: Distracted and Checked Out.

Some of it was because I am the mother of three kids who takes her kids to Mass.  This means that during various points of the Mass you may find me:

  • writing my three year old’s name for him over and over on the back of the worship aid just to keep him quiet.
  • shushing the 6 year old who keeps up a constant stream of chatter no matter the time or location (she even talks in her sleep).
  • elbowing my 8 year old and pointedly gesturing to the worship aid when he isn’t engaging in “full, active, conscious participation.”

Screaming-3-year-oldThis week, before communion, as I was trying to pray to prepare myself to receive the Eucharist, the 3 year old slipped off the kneeler and smacked his head on the pew and meditative prayer quickly took a back seat to kissing the injury and active pleading to God that he would quiet down so we wouldn’t have to sneak out the side door (He did and we didn’t).

As much as I’d like to blame it all on the kids – it’s not just their fault.  At various points during Mass, I caught my mind wandering in ways totally unrelated to their distratctions:

  • Did my husband take the fish we were planning to have for dinner out of the freezer to thaw?
  • Is it going to be warm enough to go out on the boat or to the pool?
  • I should talk to Father about how he could easily Tweet this homily.  Maybe I’ll just get him to give me a copy and I’ll Tweet it.
  • on and on and on….

After Mass I realized that there are a lot of times (not just during Mass) that I’m checked out of and distracted from my faith.

Today, I took some time to pray through the readings for today’s Liturgy of the Hours and found both comfort and challenge. (If you don’t know what Liturgy of the Hours is, that’s okay – I didn’t until a few years ago either!)

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, and in reading through the story of his birth, I realized that even some of the holiest, most church-going people in Scriptures shared in the struggle to pray well, to have faith, and to truly engage in that faith.

John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was a priest who knew the promises of Scripture inside and out.  While I’m sure he had faith, he also had moments of doubt, moments where he didn’t really believe with his whole heart.

Read his story in Luke 1:5-25, 57-80

Zechariah was like many of us – good people who occasionally check out and end up just going through the motions – so much so that he missed the miracle before him.  Zechariah learned to trust God the hard way – nine months of being deaf and dumb. But Zechariah’s 9-month “incarceration” in a prison of silence served a greater purpose: he was able to meditate deeply on Scriptures, and then filled with the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the beautiful canticle that shows what it means to truly believe with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength. B_US

I take comfort in knowing that even a faithful old priest like Zechariah could lose a little bit of his faith, become distracted, and check out.  I’m also challenged to make sure it doesn’t take an angel rendering me deaf and dumb for nine months to refocus my heart and bring me back to the joy of a relationship with a living, loving God who fulfills his promises.

The Canticle of Zechariah has been a reminder for me that while God’s faithfulness is not dependent upon my ability to see it, my own faith is.  Even if the words don’t always ring true, I pray them with hope that they’ll open my eyes so that I can remain checked in and focused on the victories – large and small – He has won, is winning, and will win for me.

Sacrament of Love

8712117476_70c31dfe68_b

My son received his First Communion last week.  Amidst all the processions, bread sharings, Scapular inductions, white dresses and camera-wielding in laws – amidst all the hoopla – the parish photographer managed to snap this photo of my son at the moment he received Jesus for the first time.

I cannot get enough of this picture.  I look at it every day.  Not just because it’s my kid (but seriously, check it out – that’s my boy! – he and Jesus are tight now).   I also look at it every day because every time I do, the look on his face brings me to tears.

I know my son well enough to know that there are a thousand different thoughts that could have been running through his head at this moment:

Don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it…don’t drop it.

I wonder if Mom will let me play Minecraft when we get home.

I hate tacos, why are we having tacos for my First Communion party.

I’m totally giving my load of bread to Zach.  He’s cool.

Cake…frosting…cookies…party!

Do I HAVE to take the cup?  It tastes nasty.

Father needs to cut his fingernails.

My eyes itch.

(Poor kid had nasty allergies all week – in some of the pictures he looks like he has two black eyes).

As much as I would like to believe he was having a Blessed Imelda Lambertini moment, I know it’s possible (ahem – likely) that’s far from the case.  After I saw the picture the next day, I asked him: “What were you thinking about right then?”  His response, complete with the dismissive shoulder shrug, was all 8 year old boy:  “Dunno.  Jesus, I guess.  Can I go play a video game now?”

But you know, it kind of doesn’t matter.  Because the look on his face in this moment speaks a thousand words.  They may not be his words, but I am certain that they are our words.  They are the words of the Bride to the Bridegroom – of the Church to Christ – of us to Our Lord.  They are the words of the deepest love.

The words of love visible on my son’s face in that moment are an echo of the words of Pope Benedict in his encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love):

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring him whom we receive. Only in this way do we become one with him, and are given, as it were, a foretaste of the beauty of the heavenly liturgy.

Oh, would that our hearts, souls, minds, and faces would reflect this same look each and every time we receive this Sacrament of Love!

 

Retired Presbyterian pastor: How I became a Catholic

Below is a link to an interview with a former Presbyterian pastor who decided to convert to Catholicism.  This is from the great state of Alabama, where the population is 2% Catholic.  So, this is kind of a big deal.  And, for it to be covered by our major news outlets is an even bigger deal.

Mr. McCrummen gives some fantastic and thought-provoking answers to very tough questions, presumably asked by a non-Catholic interviewer (though, i honestly don’t know).  Definitely a great read and one that would be worth sharing with Protestant friends who have questions about the Catholic church or those who are actively pursuing it.

Retired Presbyterian pastor Norman McCrummen: How I became a Catholic

The Changing of the Seasons

It’s often considered “the most wonderful time of the year.”  To many people, even more wonderful than the ACTUAL “most wonderful time of the year” (the birth of Our Lord and Savior).

It’s the changing of the seasons.  And, no.  I’m not talking about the weather-related changes from the warmth and sun of the summer to the coolness and colors of the fall.

Supporting a team while keeping things in perspective

No, I’m talking about the changing of the sports seasons from baseball to football.  Or, as most people understand it in my state, from “not football season” to “football, y’all.”

It’s hard not to love football when you’ve spent your entire life living in the greatest conference of the NCAA and having your entire society revolve around one of the greatest team rivalries in college football.  Some might even argue that this is, in f act, the greatest state FOR college football (at least, in the past decade or so).



(NOTE:  I’m not saying that it IS the greatest state for it, I’m saying that many in this state might argue such.  So, anyone from Texas, Buckeyes, Californians, Sooners, and whoever else disagrees need not send me hate mail or comments touting your state’s glories.  I know there’s lots of great college states out there.)



Anyways, I have to admit that, yes, i DO in fact love football season.  Maybe it is because of the changing temperatures and getting to break out my jeans again.  Maybe it’s the beat of a drum line on a Friday night, echoing across high school campuses.  Maybe it’s the tailgating, wearing your team’s colors, and uniting with fans of the same team, even if you don’t know each other. Read More

Jesus is Sneaky.

I didn’t expect the hand rung bell. I was at a Saturday Evening Mass at a parish in Miacatlan, Mexico.  The Priest had just finished the consecration. We prayed through the Our Father and shared a sign of peace. The Church was mostly a large roof over an open air seating area. Out of the back and around the corner of the far wall came the clanking sound of two hand rung bells. I didn’t know what it was at first. Then I realized; the head communion minister, the two servers, and about 10 other people with banners were processing the Eucharist from the tabernacle to the altar for Communion.

The ministers and honor guard walked slowly and with purpose.  They were careful in their task. Every step and every movement showed the great care and deep respect they held for what they were doing and who they were carrying.  Every couple steps the servers rang these impossibly heavy looking bells. The group was so careful with the Eucharist.  It was as if they were carrying the very body of Jesus Christ (which of course they were).  I was left asking if we are that careful. More importantly I asked, am I that careful with what I carry when I walk out of Church having received Jesus and I am a tabernacle of the Eucharist?

Curiously, this wasn’t the only time I encountered Christ in the Eucharist that trip.  When we stopped by a small chapel in Cuernavaca where the founder of NPH was first pastor, the chapel was open for walk-ins for noontime adoration.  When we visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, a huge monstrance was exposed in a side chapel and many of us stopped to worship. It seemed everywhere I went Jesus was present in the Eucharist.

Reflecting on a summer of Youth Ministry with the CREW at HNOJ, it became abundantly clear God was near us in the Eucharist. At Christpower, our Mission trip to North Minneapolis in partnership with Church of the Ascension, we had a powerful night of Eucharistic adoration.  At the Steubenville Youth Conference in Rochester, Jesus once again came to our young people in the Eucharist during the large session, and our small groups always seemed to end up by the small Adoration Chapel.

Everywhere we turned Jesus was offering us his very body in the Mass and Eucharistic Adoration.  I shouldn’t be shocked that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but I was legitimately amazed all the times that Jesus snuck himself into a day of Youth Ministry when we had no purposeful intention to meeting him the Eucharist.

I guess Jesus is sneaky. 

Besides being sneaky, Jesus is persistent.  I really felt like Jesus was pursuing us all summer. Every event, every day it seemed like Jesus was physically really there. Every corner we turned at each event, Jesus was there. Jesus just wouldn’t leave us alone.  This is closer to reality then I normally think about.  Jesus really is chasing after us.  He really is coming for us.  Jesus won’t let us just wander without coming to find us.

We are the dropped coin, the lost sheep, the prodigal son, and our God is coming for us.

I think we often talk about people “finding God.”  People may say, “Oh he found Jesus.”  But in reality, Jesus is finding us.  And here is the thing, Jesus doesn’t just come in some metaphorical way or some random turn of events or some supernatural sign – no. Jesus is coming for us physically, really, truly, completely in the Eucharist. Jesus is literally physically running down the road to meet us.  Jesus in the Eucharist isn’t a symbol, idea, poem, or myth.  The physical, fleshy God of the universe, incarnate (which means ‘taking on flesh’) in Jesus Christ, has come to find us.  God doesn’t send an angel or a cloud shaped like heart to tell us he loves us and wants to be with us, God comes himself.

No messenger, no poetry, no text message or tweet – the God that breathed the stars has come physically to find you and me.

What are you going to do when he finds you?  How are you going to respond when God Almighty offers his body to you at the next Mass you attend?  What are you going to do the next time you step into that Eucharistic Adoration Chapel at HNOJ?  How will you react the next time you come into the physical present of God?

Put Down the Camera…and Slowly Back Away

I recently attended the last Mass of the school year at my kids’ Catholic school.  For those of you not familiar with the Catholic elementary school culture – each week the whole student body attends Mass together.  One of the classes “leads” the Mass by doing the readings, bringing up the gifts, serving, carrying up the processional cross, etc.

This week, it was the 4 year old Kindergarten class that finally got its turn.  They can barely (if at all) read so the readings were done one sentence at a time – and, I suspect, memorized.  The typical Kindergarten Mass characters were present including:

  • The girl who doesn’t believe the microphone will pick up her voice, so she shouts her line.
  • The shorty whose hairline is barely visible above the top of the ambo.
  • The boy who forgets how to pronounce at least one of the words on his construction paper mounted sheet.
  • The teacher frantically motioning that the children holding the psalm response poster board have it upside down.

It may not have been the highest of liturgy, but it was cute – and there certainly is something moving about watching 15 Kindergarteners belt out every word to “I Love You, Lord” and know (because I know their music teacher) that they understand it to be a song of praise to our God.

What’s not so moving:  15 parents in the back of church running around with video and digital cameras trying to capture every cute moment for posterity.

I have little kids – I have the boy who shouted into the mic when it was his turn to read part of the 1st reading last year, and I anticipate my daughter will be one who holds the poster upside down (she can be a little ditzy) – so I certainly understand the desire to capture the moment.

But at what cost?

Read More

50 > 40

Ham

50 slices of ham > 40 slices of ham.

Jesus Christ is Risen today, Alleluia! Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Easter is awesome, and easily my favorite time of year for my faith.  Spring has usually sprung, flowers are starting to bloom, and I feel new too.  After a long, and this year it felt extra long, Lent, we cap off our 40 days of sacrifice with the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil on Saturday – best liturgies of the year) and then Easter Mass.  Can’t get any better than that.

Here is the great thing about being Catholic – 50 is greater than 40.  Lent lasts 40 days. It feels like forever because we can’t drink diet coke or put sugar in our coffee or eat meat or whatever we offered up. But then we get to Easter, and instead of just one day to party; we get 50 full days to party.  Easter lasts from Easter Sunday through Pentecost a full 50 days away.  So as you read this, it is Easter! (Unless you are reading this in like August, then you missed it.)

Everyone has little traditions they do in their house to celebrate Easter.  At my house, we are pretty traditional.  We dye eggs. We roast a ham (like forever till it smells and tastes like bacon).  We eat a lot of unnecessary candy.  We pass out from a sugar comma.  Good times.  Read More

Good Coffee won’t save your soul – Part 3

What do we do when we go to Mass and we “don’t get anything out of it?”Coffee Cup

I think at some point in the Mass as our boredom or frustration mount, we have to make a decision.  Are we going to let something as insignificant as bad coffee get in the way of encountering God?

Sometimes going to Mass is like getting great coffee in a bad cup.

The other day I bought a coffee and didn’t realize that the seal on the bottom of the cup was imperfect. The leaking coffee made huge stains over the front my sweater.  I was hacked off to the point of not being able to enjoy the coffee. Then I considered that there was nothing I could do to change the cup at that moment, so either I could be angry and not enjoy my coffee or I could drink it and enjoy every drop that wasn’t on my shirt.

Even when everything seems to be going wrong at Mass, God is still present. And if God is present, we have an opportunity to find Him. The path to finding God in the midst of the messiness of imperfect Church is a shift in focus from our needs or wants to God’s outpouring of love.  When we move our focus from us to God, the bad coffee matters less and less.  In other words we have to name the coffee as bad, and then get over it.

This is hard.

It is hard to experience God in the midst of poorly done Church. So what do we do? I don’t have a great answer. I wish I did. What I do have are two suggestions for making sure every time we walk out of Mass we know God moved in us. Read More

Good coffee won’t save your soul – Part 2

Why are we so infatuated with coffee or preaching or music, if it isn’t the most important thing?  Are we that shallow? Why do we lose the point in the midst of all the things trying to make the point?CoffeWorship

We know when we have a good cup of coffee.

Things like coffee can be judged and measured. We know when we have heard a good homily because we have an emotional or intellectual reaction. We know when the music works for us because our toe taps, and we are tempted, dare I say it, to sing and pray along.  We know when we walk into a church, look up into the mosaic covered dome and utter “Oh my God” (not at all in vain) in reaction the undeniable beauty before our eyes.

We want to know something has happened when we go to Church. We want to be able to observe or even measure the value we received.  If Church is going to be worth our time, we want to know that it worked.  Not only do we want Church to be actually good for us, we want to be aware, to know, that it was good.

Thus, we put more importance on good music, entertaining preaching (did I laugh?), and coffee because when those things are good, we know we got something out of Mass.  When those things aren’t good we often walk out of Mass and don’t know that we were affected.  We may even think nothing has happened. Read More

I ♥ Being Catholic! (And, Here’s Why…)

I love being Catholic.

But, if you are reading this blog, this shouldn’t be earth shattering information to you.  I’m writing a Catholic blog – a blog that’s pro-God, pro-Catholic Church, pro-life, pro-ministry, pro-family, pro-pro.  So, it should be pretty clear…

I love being Catholic.

I have never really explained why I love being Catholic, though.  And, to be honest, it would probably take years worth of blogs to explain all the things I love about the Catholic church, my Catholic faith, and my Catholic upbringing. Read More