How Can We Know the Way?

Children's Museum "selfie", including photobomb by Drew and Grandpa!

Children’s Museum “selfie”, including photobomb by Drew and Grandpa!

Spring Break 2014 is looking good so far.

Two of my three favorite young men are home lounging with me and yesterday we were greeted with a lovely sighting. Grandma Kate and Grandpa Jim brought us some special visitors from Chicago. A rarely and smiley day of fun with Aunt Robbi, along with cousins Maddie and Ellie ensued. We giggled our way through the Indianapolis Children’s Museum then onto a late lunch before most of the crew headed off to see either “The Muppets” or “Noah” and I drove down to Bishop Chatard High School to catch some Guerin Catholic baseball action where son # 3 simply couldn’t be left without a fan base, despite the rain.

Granted, it’s not sun and sand, but it’s an overflowing scoop of favorite people topped off with the angelic little toothless grin of my youngest Goddaughter, Ellie! Elle-belle is a 1st grader at All Saint’s Academy near my sister’s home in Naperville, IL.

“Aunt Thelly. I read at thcool math. But it wathn’t even fair. The reading wath impothible. It wath full of eth-eth”

I couldn’t stop smiling at her.  She was just like a piece of candy….you want to eat her up she is so sweet.

“Thesse thent hith theven thons to Thamuel.” She explained.

“Jesse sent his seven sons to Samuel?” I interpreted. “That’s what you had to read at school mass, Ellie?”

“Yeth!”

I mean, she’s 40lbs of sunshine that one. I couldn’t stop laughing. That moment of toothless cuteness is just a tiny window of time I now realize as my boys are all well past it. I SOOOO wish I could have been a fly on the wall at that mass. I think it’s a little rude of my sis to marry a guy from Chicago and move so far from me, actually. Don’t you agree?

Today is Spring Break day 2 and it’s a bit lower key.  I let my two “staycationers” sleep in while I headed to 8am mass. As I was getting ready to leave, my “holy texting friend” Vivian invited me (via text of course) to come sit with she and her hubby for the mass, after which I had set up an appointment for confession.

If I am honest, I didn’t sleep well last night. I was reflecting again on what I needed to apologize to Jesus about and I was tossing and turning. This confession seemed particularly overdue. There are loads of things every day I do or don’t do, or say, for which I know I need forgiveness. I suppose they had been piling up a bit.

Really, though, the biggest impediment for me in being the woman Jesus means for me to be this day is my own lack of forgiveness of myself. Many times, even after I know Jesus has forgiven me, I hang on to my sin, beating myself up over mistakes big and small.

My inner dialogue goes something like this:

Shelly. You know better and look at you. You act like you love God but you are just a worthless sinner. What qualifies you to talk about faith with your kids or friends? You’re nothing but a hypocrite anyway.

When it starts to sound like insanity, a broken record inside my crazy head, I know that I am overdue for some sacramental assistance.

It’s funny what happens when I pray “Jesus, I don’t know what I need, but You do, please help me. I want to love You more.”

“Shelly, Satan is clever. He’s insidious. He knows just what to do to disarm you. Lack of forgiveness of self, stirring up old wounds, that’s the devil. The prayer to St. Michael is a prayer of exorcism– say it. It will help you,” said my confessor very matter-of-factly.

We talked a bit more, and he absolved me, then he handed me a book. He asked me to read it, giving me the assignment of reading the first chapter as my official penance.

As I left my realization was that I cannot allow myself to be far from the grace of the sacraments. I need to be at mass receiving Jesus and I need more frequent receipt of the sacrament of reconciliation. Our priests are exhausted, and so I feel guilty asking for even more of their time. The thing is, that whole “the last thing Father needs is a call asking for time from a pain in the ass housewife”… that’s not righteous guilt. What that is about is Satan trying to take away what I know… by any means he can find which will work to unravel me. However, he cannot. Jesus loves me. This I know.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

Shortly after I returned home today, I got an amazingly well timed message from a friend via email.  It was a copied little piece of a larger work of commentary on David by an author with whom I am not yet familiar named Mark Buchanan.

I don’t believe in coincidence. God’s perfect timing is at work.

In Louis Ginzberg’s monumental 7-volume work The Legend of the Jews, a compilation of the Jewish oral tradition, he retells the story of David in paradise. 

According to the legend, David is the superstar of the after life, a personage of “glory and grandeur,” whose throne sits opposite God’s and from which David “intones wondrously beautiful psalms.”

David’s “crown… outshines all others, and whenever he moves out of Paradise to present himself before God, suns, stars, angels, seraphim, and other holy beings run to meet him.”

But the main thrust of the legend is David’s relationship with God.

God throws a lavish feast on the Day of Judgment, and God at David’s bidding himself attends.

At the end of the banquet, God invites Abraham to pray over the cup of wine. Abraham declines on grounds of his unworthiness.

At the point I read this, I think, “Ok God. I’m listening. What are you doing to me today?”

It goes on.

So God asks Isaac, who for similar reasons declines. God then turns to Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua. All beg off for reasons of unworthiness.

Finally, God asks David to bless the cup. And David replies, “Yes, I will pronounce the blessing, for I am worthy of the honor.”

At first blush, this is shocking as I read it. It seems brazen and delusional. Who do you think you are?

The author goes on.

“On second thought, this sounds biblical. The heart of the Bible’s message, muted in the Old Covenant but shouted aloud in page after page of the New, is the improbable, astonishing, breathtaking good news that I am the one Jesus loves.

I am the tax-collector whose house Jesus had to enter, so that salvation could invade it.

I am the leper who cried out to Jesus on his way past Samaria, so that he could speak wholeness into me and then woo me back to worship him.

I am the lame man whose friends lowered me down through the rafters, so that Jesus could speak forgiveness and healing to me.

I am the invalid Jesus found in a dark part of town, bed-ridden and complaining, so that he could say to me, “Get up, take up your mat, and walk.”

I am the prodigal he saw a long way off, who ran to me, threw a feast for me, put his robe and ring and sandals on me.

I am the elder brother who refused to join the party, and so he went out to me and begged me to come in.

I am Lazarus, the one he raised from the dead and then invited to recline with him at the table.

I am not worthy to bless the cup, except He makes me so.

At great cost, all by his own doing, Jesus makes me his own, loves me without condition, forgives me without remainder, places his own name on me, puts his own Spirit in me, and goes ahead to prepare a place for me.

He’s made me a chosen people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, one who belongs to God.

I am the one Jesus loves.

 Let that rattle around a bit. Then say this out loud.

THE AUTHOR OF SALVATION IS CRAZY, MADLY IN LOVE….WITH ME.

You’d think this would be the end of my entry for today, wouldn’t you? But for me, who is a certifiable supernatural thinker, it got even better.

So, I read this lovely email which spoke just exactly to the sinfulness which was most bothering me this morning and I felt it was God kind of yelling at me to get it together. I quite literally took a deep breath and said ALOUD, “Thank you, God. I am listening. Your will, not mine…I get it. You love me. I love you.”

DING.

“One new email message has just arrived.”

I click on it, and the email makes me laugh aloud.

It’s from the editor of a Catholic periodical asking ME to write an article on THIS bit of scripture “How can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5).

What took you so long, Lord? I mean, I think I agreed to try it Your way about 6 seconds ago.

You best be sending the Holy Spirit in a big bad way if You want ME to show anyone the way to anywhere, Big Man. I can get lost on the way to the bathroom sometimes.

Our God is an Awesome God. He also makes me laugh. And laughing makes me smile.

SMILING? MY FAVORITE.

And that is all I’ve got for Spring Break, day 2.

 

 

 

Forgive Me, Father, for the Crappy Attitude

All Saint’s Day and Halloween were on a collision course this year here in Carmel.  I don’t ever recall a government entity before changing the date of a holiday because of rain.  I remember loathing the whole “when I was a kid, we used to walk 3 miles uphill both ways…” line of chatter that seemed to emanate from some members of my extended family.  They always seemed to think that we “young people” were “soft”.

I have to say, I am old enough to finally understand where they were coming from.  My thought process a couple weeks ago was that Halloween belongs in October and the kids need to “man up!”

Therefore, it will be of zero surprise that I decided we would NOT postpone Halloween and we just marched forward with our annual party.  The house was filled with the laughter of 21 kids and many of their parents.  Captain America, Jake from State Farm, a “Cereal” Killer, Cliff Paul, a Taco, a Tennessee Volunteer, an Artist, a Mouse, a Cowboy and several other children ages 9-16 took to the streets in the rain in search of giggles and some chocolate!

Returning to the house soaking wet and with precious little “loot”, their spirits were high nevertheless.  We dug through drawers and passed out dry t-shirts from my sons’ closets and the kids ate chicken and noodles and downed the candy that I had purchased for neighborhood trick-or-treaters who stayed home this year.  Some played X-box, some sat around the table and laughed, some played foosball………and they all laughed at each other’s rain soaked Halloween hair.

All I could think was about how blessed we all are to be surrounded by the smiles of happy, healthy children—and that of all the Halloweens, it’s this uber- wet 2013 that they’ll all surely remember.

“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God.  Yet so we are.” (1Jn 3:1)

The next morning at All Saint’s Day mass, I heard this bit of scripture in the second reading.  It struck a chord.   Actually, it kind of stung me.

SEE WHAT LOVE!

God is so good to me.  I would have to bet He is getting a little bugged by my lack of a grateful heart in return.  He pours on blessing after blessing, and I shrug them off, take them for granted and grumble back at Him like my son does when I ask him to take out the trash.

He gave me amazing parents, 3 healthy thoughtful boys, a cute, funny husband, a wonderful city to live in, a parish full of compassionate people, terrific schools for the education of my children, 2 gorgeous Goddaughters, a fav sis, sunsets…mad air hockey skills….and on and on.

So, why is it that I so often fail to gracefully carry the small crosses of everyday life?

The rude neighbor, the pounding headache, the coach who doesn’t seem to appreciate the “awesomeness” of my child, the little boy who prefers not to bathe—I am not gracious interiorly on these matters.  Even my most patient moment is far from what I would deem “Mary-like”.

“Everybody’s got a little larceny operating in them, surely you know that?”  –Bing Crosby

Sidebar:  If you know the movie this quote comes from, then you are eligible for an automatic upgrade to first class in my book.  Bing’s made a good point though, hasn’t he?

Allow me to digress and provide a just one specific example representative of the greater series of failures that has been on my heart lately.

Several days ago, my youngest came home after practice a bit overwhelmed.  He was tired and hungry and his teacher was clearly out of control.   It seems he announced there would be a big test THE NEXT DAY!  Ugh!  My sad, freckled faced boy was frustrated and exhausted.

“How long have you had this 4 page study guide, hon?”

“Today, Mom.  We just found out today.”

“Are you sure?  You didn’t have any more notice?  1 day?”

“Uh huh.”

Well, I was irked.  You see, my little man is not quite there yet when it comes to independent study.  This 8pm development also occurred just moments before the Colts were going to take over my large family room TV.  I was already in my jams, ready to watch Andrew Luck get it done on Monday Night Football.  NOW, I was in the study helping my third grader understand wavelength and amplitude.

THEN, it hit me.

I  texted my friend whose son is in Zach’s class.

“How long has Anth had the science study guide?”

The quick reply was “He brought it home Friday, why?”

AHA!!!!  The irritable feeling I was having towards my son’s science teacher was irrevocably transferred to the little criminal I am raising.

Suffice it to say I had an ugly temper tantrum and followed it up with an inappropriately loud homily about honesty.

Sadly, this one might be my holiest child.  He’s the one who asks me to read to him about the saints, and who says things like “Jesus likes it when we come to mass.”  I couldn’t seem to recall that while I was missing the Colts game to try and pass 3rd grade science….AGAIN.

But Bing was right.  There’s a little larceny operating in all of us.   This poor kid clearly inherited an extra dose of it from his maternal side of the family.

Still, a grateful, grace-filled mother would certainly have handled this situation with more patient affection than I did.  I believe it may even be possible to sincerely and lovingly teach the lesson on honesty to the little criminal (ha?), or endure the headache without grumbling, speak well of the coach who cut your kid from the team, or smile at the difficult neighbor who dislikes your every move– for the love of Christ who loves us tenderly– even though we might be filled with piles of imperfections and a healthy dose of larceny ourselves.

I am screwing it up.  God just loves me up.  I give him back attitude.  Real mature huh?  I am not proud of myself.

So I went to confession this week.  I told my confessor that I have a crappy attitude.  I told him how blessed my life is and how I just interiorly feel bugged and exhausted every time God asks me to bear a little tiny cross.  I might outwardly even be sunny, but inside I have an ungrateful heart.  He smiled and he let me exhale—at considerable length.  The guy is going to heaven.  Then, he absolved me.  He reminded me how I profess to enjoy St. Therese—whose life literally is a book on this exact subject of bearing our little crosses in love.  He told me to get over myself, carry my crosses, and go to the chapel and say a prayer of gratitude.

Geez I love that sacrament.  I went to that chapel and I did my penance.  There, I read this:

“Brothers and sisters:  we, though many, are one Body in Christ and individually parts of one another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them; if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others; with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold onto what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.  Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord, Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, and persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  (Romans 12: 6-15)

Okay, God.  I hear your marching orders.  Thanks for giving me a do-over…..AGAIN.

 

 

Lent: A Little Morbid?

LentYesterday, I was chatting it up with the CVS store clerk as I waited for the pharmacist.  I remarked about her truly cute haircut and bemoaned my own overly gray “situation”.  The sweet young gal said “Nobody will even notice your bad hair day because we are all thinking about your dirty forehead.”

I began to giggle at her honesty and I said, “Ashes?”  She truly looked at me like I needed to put down the crack pipe.  It was then I explained, “It’s Ash Wednesday.  Today’s the start of Lent.  It’s a Catholic thing.”

“Oh!”

It wasn’t the most impressive evangelization effort, that’s for sure.

We find ourselves in the midst of those 40 days which began with us each being literally marked as sinners.  To dust we shall return.   If that seems a wee bit morbid, well, I think that’s the point.

Shouldn’t we be interiorly restless as it relates to the fundamental question of sin—especially as it speaks to eternity?  How likely are we to use our freedom to choose God if our minds are focused on the question of our own salvation?

“Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”  (Mt. 7:13)

Yikes.

Lent is an excellent time to reflect on the reality of our own mortality and ask to be filled plentifully with grace, loving Him enough to repent for sins large and small.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said “Conscience tells us when we do wrong so we feel on the inside as if we have broken a bone.  The bone hurts because it is not where it ought to be.”

In this increasingly secular world, it’s easy to forget about salvation and focus on what is of this earth, what is finite.  During Lent, the Church wisely suggests we take a pause from those things which cause us to drown out that voice of God within.

I know what some of them are for me and what I am going to work on.  What about you?

“Seek eagerly after love.  Set your hearts on spiritual gifts.”  (1 Cor 14:1)

I move that we all embrace the austerities of Lent, find our way to a confessional, and pray for properly formed consciences, through which (with our cooperation) the Holy Spirit will encourage us after each mistake to turn towards our God and walk in His light once more.

P.S.

Oh, and don’t forget to use some of that prayer time to ask the Holy Spirit to be powerfully present for our Cardinals too as they choose our new Pope!

 

Is Hell Empty, or is it Crowded?

Deadly sinsRecently, I was asked to write an editorial style article on the topic of sin.  In essence, the assignment was to share what is sin, from my perspective here at the back of the carpool line.

I began by pounding out paragraphs containing several fairly impressive adjectives essentially describing sin as whatever separates us from God.  I then consulted the Catechism as it relates to “venial” vs “mortal” sin.  Nothing in the writing moved my heart whatever.  I simply wasn’t “feeling it”.  Hmm.

My own struggle with this topic seems to be that I am interiorly restless as it relates to this fundamental question of sin—especially as it relates to eternity.  Do I believe we are all sinners?  YES.  Do I believe Jesus died to save us from our sin?  YES.  Do I believe we are FREE to choose God or choose to curse His holy name?  YES.

Assuming you are still with me, let’s engage in some speculative theology for a moment.  Is hell empty, or is it crowded?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs” (CCC 1035).

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Mt 7:13-14)

All of this is rather heavy stuff for a gal such as yours truly whose faith is strong but simple.  As a mom, I love my boys.  They make many mistakes, and still I stubbornly love them.  That inherent, God-given, and sometimes irrational, foolish love seems to me the example Christ provides in my life to help me grasp how much He must love me.   The words of Christ on the cross to the good thief are also a clear sign which moves my spirit to hopefulness as it relates to the great love of God and our hope for eternal life.

My small minded, baseball-mom thinking boils down to this.  “If I love these sweaty, stinky boys so much, and NO MATTER WHAT and can’t imagine not wanting them near me….how much MORE must OUR AWESOME GOD desire the same of all His children?”

Further, the Catholic Church has made numerous proclamations about people in heaven—the saints!  It has never made a similar proclamation of even one person being condemned to hell, because we Catholics commend all people to the mercy of God.

So, even though some of my Catholic “heroes”, who were clearly brilliant and divinely inspired people (examples such as Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine) believed and wrote extensively about how few  the “elect”, and even though Jesus spoke about that narrow gate, I choose to put my trust in the love of God.

At the end of the day, here’s what I learned from my assignment on “sin”.  It makes a ton of sense that my tolerance of myself and my own sinfulness is very much a pendulum which runs from nearly presumptuous patience to fairly reproachful scrupulosity.

After all, part of me wonders if only the “lucky” who live a good life and who quit breathing shortly after the perfect confession will see God forever.  HOWEVER, the larger part of me is much more Universalist.  Perhaps that’s naïve, overly hopeful, or presumptive.  Perhaps it’s just my way—BUT– as the simple and usually sunny mayor of “Shellyville”, I choose hope.  I hope that I will live in eternal happiness with God.  I hope He will fill me with enough grace that I will love Him enough to repent for my sins large and small.  I hope I will do so more out of love than fear.

Bishop Fulton Sheen said this, “Conscience tells us when we do wrong so we feel on the inside as if we have broken a bone.  The bone hurts because it is not where it ought to be.”

With all the authority I have as mayor of (very) sparsely populated Shellyville, I move that we all pray for properly formed consciences, through which the Holy Spirit will encourage us after each mistake to turn towards our God and walk in HIS light once more, like little children, submitting to the will of our loving Father, simply because He is our Father and He knows best.

I choose hope.