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Andrea Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year

It’s Good to Feel Dusty Sometimes

It’s Ash Wednesday! Lent is here! Lent is here!

I love Lent. I love what it means… I love why we do it… I love what we’re preparing for. In my experience, I’m not the only one who feels this way. In conversing with Catholics (and traditional, liturgical Protestants, for that matter) the overwhelming attitude towards Lent is that it is one of their favorite liturgical seasons of the year, if not their favorite.

A season of fasting, penitence, and sacrifice… favorite.

Why do you suppose that is? Here’s my theory:

Lent is a time of renewal. Renewal of our relationship with God most importantly, and our attitudes and relationships towards what is around us… whether you are working on patience with your family or your attitude towards a particular vice you’re trying to kick.

During Lent, we re-prioritize. We give up something we love, not because we’re masochists, but because self-sacrifice is good for us. In our time and age, that’s going against the grain in a major way. We live in an age of unprecedented convenience and luxury: I want a hot meal in the next five minutes but I don’t want to cook- so I’ll go through a drive-thru. I want a new book but I don’t want to leave my couch- I’ll buy it online and download it onto my e-reader. Point being, picking something you love and choosing to go without it chips away at your “old man”, your flesh that indulges you with what you want instead of seeking God’s best for you.

Lent is also an opportunity for healing. This year, I’m giving up smoking. Yes, yes, a terrible, nasty habit that will kill me if I don’t stop. I don’t mention it for pats on the back or to point to my piousness. I mention it because it’s a habit that I picked up in a time in my life when I was so far away from God, and so far away from faith. It’s the last vestige of a life I don’t live anymore, of a person I am not anymore. It’s time to let go of what kills us. Maybe your thing isn’t as literal as my thing, but if we miss this opportunity to get real with ourselves and with God, if we look at Lent as a test where we see if we can give up marshmallows for 40 days and that’s all, then we miss an opportunity for grace.

Last year I didn’t give up smoking for Lent, though I knew that I should. I was too afraid. We humans are foolish, not stupid. We know what is killing us, and it is often one of our favorite things. Nobody likes to suffer, but as St. Paul tells us:

Romans 8:16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

When you go to get your ashes today, when you hear the words “Remember, o man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return”…. log it away. As the shiny newness of Lent wears off and the struggling comes and you hate it because it’s suffering, remember that it’s good to feel dusty sometimes. We are dust that God still chose to redeem.

Remember, too, that giving something up is half the battle. We must replace it with something else. Namely, prayer. My old pastor used to say, “Fasting without prayer is just dieting.”

Have a blessed Lent, as we prepare our hearts for Christ and renew our relationship with God!

Categories
Andrea Faith Formation Ink Slingers

Be Better

It’s that time of year, folks! Specifically, the end of the year… when we take stock of the past 365 days and look ahead to the next 366 (leap year!). This is also the time when we make New Year’s Resolutions. Awesome resolutions (“I’m going to devote every second of free time volunteering for worthy causes!” “I’m going to lose 23.7 pounds and run a marathon!”) that you’re lucky to still be committed to in February.

Maybe you’re looking ahead to this annual tradition with a gleam in your eye and a spring in your step. Maybe like me, you’ve had too many of these things go bad so fast that you’re squinty-eyed, looking ahead with mistrust and concern. Maybe you’re too exhausted to remember that 2011 is almost over. It is. You’re welcome.

This year I’m making it simple. I started to make a list, earnestly and honestly examining myself for what I could sincerely attempt to improve upon. It was long and unattainable, as it always is. Upon further analyzation, I realized it really could be summed up into one, neat little resolution. So, my New Year’s Resolution looks something like this:

Should work out okay…

I don’t want to screw it up with specifics, so I’m leaving it at that. There’s something like 5,000 things I could be better at or about, and I figure if I leave my resolution open-ended, my odds of success increase exponentially.

Maybe I’ll be better at being patient. Or, maybe I’ll be better about eating healthy. Perhaps I’ll be better organized in my prayer life. Maybe a year from now, at the end of 2012, I’ll be so much better at everything that my 2013 New Year’s Resolution will simply be to maintain the awesomeness I achieved in 2012.

I like the idea of resolutions in theory. A new year, a new slate, a new chance for self-improvement. It’s just that… I really can’t think of a year I was successful… ever. Honestly. I’m really wracking my brain and coming up with nothing. There’s no “I resolved to wake up early every day and read my Bible and now that it’s December and I am still doing this, I can say I met my goal.” going on over here. I have a hard enough time during Lent, let’s just put it that way.

And you can’t help but wonder, “Why?”. If Resolutions worked out as they were supposed to, every year you would be a new and improved you. The good habits you made the year before would stay with you into infinity. Now, this isn’t a perfect world, so I don’t expect the ideal to be reached per se, but not even one year? Just one? Is it just me? Is this a scam?

It was this frustration that drove me to commit myself to a resolution that’s realistic. Someone with a lot of free time and a very poor grasp of science once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Oh yeah? I don’t think so, friend. I grant you that it sounds nicer than “Shoot for the moon. Although you should know that if you miss you’ll either die in space, smash into an asteroid, or incinerate in our atmosphere.” The stars? Stars aren’t the nicest places, anyway. Short on water I hear. And oxygen. But sure, sounds like a great time.

Anyway, back to resolutions that don’t pan out. All that failure? That was before. Now I’ve figured out the system… solved the puzzle, if you will. I have found a way to all but guarantee myself a good 2012. Wait a minute… Did I just make a better resolution than I ever have before? Am I already better at something?!

Bingo. My resolution is already off to a fantastic start, and it’s not even 2012 yet. I can’t wait to see all the other stuff I’m going to be better at! If life were golf, I’m walking up to the first hole 3 sub-par. If life were football, I just sacked life’s quarterback in his own endzone and got myself a safety. You get the idea.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Wait a minute… I thought this was a blog for mothers whose three-year-olds are discerning the priesthood, and they’re paying you to write this crap? What does this have to do with Catholicism?”

I understand your concern, pious reader, and it will not shock you to learn that they’re not paying me. They can’t afford me. I demand Bailey’s and coffee as compensation, and that starts to add up.

Additionally, I’m not really sure why they let me write here, either. I think they either feel sorry for me, or there’s some obscure indulgence attached to putting up with convert shenanigans. For what it’s worth, there’s always the hope that my writing will also “be better” in 2012. Pray for me.

Finally, it has nothing to do with Catholicism. I mean… I could make something up about how resolutions and the new year are symbolic of sacramental grace and firmly resolving to go and sin no more… but I think we both know that’s reaching.

Still, if you’ve made it this far, I wish you all a very happy Christmas season with your family, and for all of us- I wish that 2012 will be a year that we may all truly be better.

What’s your resolution this year?

Categories
Andrea Faith Formation Ink Slingers Mary Motherhood Vocations

Birthdays, Blocks and Mary

My son turned two the other day. Let the games begin! Ever since he was a newborn, and before the Catholic Church was even a blip on my radar, his birthday made me think of Mary.

Cake!!

It’s interesting to have a child whose birthday is so close to Christmas, because as my son begins his foray into toddlerdom (specifically terrible twodom), my mind can’t help but wonder what the Child whose birth we will soon celebrate was like as a toddler. It’s pretty unfair to compare your kid to Jesus, and I know this… but still, you wonder.

For instance, here’s a few things I’m pretty sure Mary never had to say to toddler Jesus:

“I don’t like that attitude.”

“Don’t spit your milk into your Legos. They cost a fortune, and I really don’t want to clean sour milk out of all the nooks and crannies.” (Seriously, why are Legos so expensive?)

“Oh my gosh… did you just color on the dog with a Sharpie?!”

I mean, you could argue that she never said those things because toddler Jesus didn’t have Legos or a Sharpie- but I think my point remains.

It’s also a challenge because you don’t want their birthday to get lost in the Christmas celebrations, either, although it is an awful lot of presents in a small time frame. He’s young still, so I have time to figure out the nuances of explaining, for instance, how buying an over-priced bag of MegaBlocks (can you tell I’m a little bitter about Legos?) is totally a celebration of Jesus’ birth. My top contender at the moment is that I bet if they did have Legos back then, He would have wanted them instead of myrrh. It’s just a hunch I have.

Mostly, at this time I feel a sort of camaraderie with Mary. She had a Son whose birth we’ll soon celebrate, I have a son whose birth is pretty close to her Son’s celebration. That’s really where the similarities end for us. Well, we’re both girls, and she was probably dark-haired, too… So maybe three things?

Anyway, maybe camaraderie wasn’t the right word. Gratitude, more likely. I’m pretty selfish. If Simeon prophesied over my son (after an angel had announced his birth to me, mind you) and then added to me- “A sword shall pierce through your soul”, I would have been like, “Not if we hide out in Gaul it won’t!”

But, Mary didn’t. Sure, maybe she didn’t have to scold toddler Jesus for spitting milk into his Legos AGAIN… But I won’t have to watch my son offered up as a ransom for many.

As my son grows every year, so does my affection for him and Our Lady. When he gets older, I’ll tell him how blessed we are to have her as our Mother, too. In the meantime, I’ll clean the milk out of his Legos and trust him to Mary’s intercession, because unlike me, she didn’t run off to Gaul. And for that reason we have something to celebrate in a week.

Categories
Andrea Catechism Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Sacred Scripture Series Ten Commandments

Idolatry and You! Part 1

If you’ve been Catholic for longer than 2 minutes, the chances are decent that you’ve been accused of idolatry. Idolatry being, of course, a pretty big deal. It’s the first of the Big Ten, and that is the important, but oft brushed-aside commandment that we will be tackling. This topic is so huge and multi-faceted that I really felt than in order to do it the justice it deserves, today’s post will be the first in a three-part series organized thusly:

  1. What is idolatry, and why is it a big deal?
  2. Non-Catholic Christian objections to Catholic praxis and why
  3. How to respond to #2

Hopefully, at the end of this series, we will all have a catechetical refresher on idolatry, a deeper understanding of the position/mindset of our separated brethren, and a renewed defense of our faith (apologetically speaking), so that we can better lift non-Catholic Christians up in prayer and evagelize more effectively. Therefore, without further ado, let us tackle point #1:

What is idolatry, and why is it a big deal?

Amidst the many instructions and commandments that God gave to Israel after their deliverance from Egypt, the first of them are a few biggies that we all know as The Ten Commandments. And, the first of these first commandments is one that’s easy to check off of our lists and say, “Oh yeah, got this one in the bag.” I am of the persuasion that this first of the first commandments is super important because, well, it’s the first thing God says to the Israelites:

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying:
2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

(For our purposes, we will address verses 4-6 in the coming two posts, so remember them!)

As far as having “no other gods” before God, that part seems pretty easy, right? Pretty straightforward? I mean, none of us are out there worshiping trees, I’d assume. But this is so important not to brush aside. The Catechism has a lot to say about idolatry, but one pertinent paragraph says:

2113 Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Many martyrs died for not adoring “the Beast” refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God.

You see that the object of idolatry does not necessarily have to be a person. It could be your free time, your career, money, power… anything that you give more importance or honor to than God. In the words of Mark Shea:

People with a cartoonish view of idolatry often tend to talk as though idol worship is something stoopid heads just get up one morning and start doing out of a perverse desire to prostrate themselves before a rock or something.

But, in fact, idolatry is typically born out of the deep love of something that is genuinely good and great. It is the best things in the world that become idols, not the worst. Nobody idolizes the band that opened for the Beatles (whoever they were). People idolize the Beatles, because they were really good. Nobody idolizes the mediocre ball player, the second-rate artist, or the guy who lost the race to be the first from New York to Paris. They idolized DiMaggio, Leonardo, and Lindbergh.

For just this reason, one of the tricky things about the Christian Faith is that we must always be on guard, not against loving creatures per se, but against loving them more than we love God. Keep God as your first and greatest love and you are free to love creatures (especially human beings) as much as you like. But get those loves out of order and, no matter how worthy the creature, you are an idolator.

As the Catechism also says, idolatry “rejects the unique Lordship of God”, and this is an important aspect to keep in mind as well. Jesus said:

Luke 6:46 “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?”

As Christians, we know that obedience to God is required- God’s Lordship over us is unique in that there is no one else who holds a position over us that is anything like it. Your boss may ask you to stay late one night, but his lordship over you is nothing like God asking you to love Him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. You may ask your children to clean their rooms, but your parental lordship over them is not like the Lordship that our Father has over us, when Christ’s words to St. Peter echo back to us through the ages: “Do you love Me more than these?”

Put someone else’s requirements for you over God’s, and it is idolatry. Outright rejection of His Lordship is idolatry because it elevates- to the pinnacle of importance- oneself.

This is why the Catechism says with absolute truthfulness that idolatry remains a constant temptation to faith. It’s something we all must be mindful of, because none of us are immune to idolatry. And, although Catholics are often on the receiving end of idolatry accusations- idolatry isn’t a Catholic problem… it’s a personal problem. One that all who profess Christianity must be ever vigilant against.

So what about statues? What about praying to saints? What about kissing icons? Where does this leave us with Mary? All questions that will be answered in the coming posts! Stay tuned!

Categories
Andrea Doctrine Faith Formation Feast Days Holy Days of Obligation Ink Slingers Saints

Why We Love All These Saints

STOP! We know today is a Holy Day of Obligation, yes? Do not pass go, do not collect $200, get thee to Mass! Okay, moving on.

Happy happy All Saints, from all of us to you! We hope that you become a saint so you can party, too! (Who else did you think would be writing today?)

I am thrilled to be writing on this day because, as you know, I love me some Communion of Saints. So, I am ecstatic to give a synopsis of the life of every saint the Church recognizes! I hope you have a few hours to spare! Haha! I kid.

At first blush, All Saints Day may seem like a pretty random day to pick as a Holy Day of Obligation (hereafter HDO). Almost like they were trying to meet a quota of HDOs for the year and this happened: “Okay guys, it’s either All Saints or Michaelmas. Heads: Michaelmas, tails: All Saints.”

It is, in fact, a most appropriate HDO, and not at all random.

For one, in the Apostle’s Creed, we confess: “… I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting. Amen.”

So important is this belief that it is professed immediately after our belief in the holy catholic Church and immediately before our belief in the forgiveness of sins. Appropriately so! Our belief in the holy catholic Church includes the Church Triumphant. And, the very fact that there is a Church Triumphant means that there is forgiveness of sins, and it works.

The Communion of Saints is so important because it is the full expression of our hope. In other words- there are saints in Heaven, they are connected to us because we are part of the same Church- the Body of Christ- that they are (though we are in the Church Militant), and they have obtained life everlasting through Jesus Christ, our Lord- and so can we.

When we celebrate All Saints, what we’re really celebrating is the hope of Calvary that has reached its fruition, a hope that we, too, “run the race with endurance” to realize ourselves. What we’re saying every November 1st isn’t, “Remember those cool dead people?” but, “Hallelujah! These cool people are alive!”

It’s why the early Church, though persecuted, could joyfully worship in catacombs. It’s why the catacombs are filled with pictures and names of saints. It’s why the stories of martyrs were preserved for future generations. It’s why we have relics.

We don’t believe in cubicle Catholics. We’re not isolated, all by our lonesome. We know that as the Body of Christ, we suffer with each other and, especially today, rejoice with those who rejoice. We look to Heaven and rejoice with the saints who completed their race well and enjoy the beatific vision of God because we are commanded to love one another, and because we know better than anyone that the grace of God is not without effect- the Church Triumphant being, as I’ve said, Exhibit A.

Like all Catholic doctrines that seem peculiar from the outside looking in (until you understand it), we celebrate the saints because we’re wild about Jesus. He died so we could have life, and the saints in Heaven have that in abundance! We know He loves us and His Church, so we love them, too.

The saints were a powerful tool in my own conversion. Before I decided to take the plunge, as I was becoming more convinced- I was totally dragging my feet. I was miserable, whining at God that I did not want to be Catholic. I did not want it in a train. I did not want it in a plane. Not in a boat or in a tree, I did not want to convert, you see.

So, I started to pull a Gideon, and put out various fleeces for God. A sign! I needed a sign, because I felt like I was going crazy. Who becomes Catholic, after all? (This guy.) One such fleece came in the form of the Saint Name Generator, run by Jen from Conversion Diary. It instructs you to pray while your saint is being chosen, and so I did:

“God, if you really want me to be Catholic, then spell it out for me. If it’s okay for me to pray to saints, then give me one in this generator that You want me to have.” And I waited. And then, my saint popped up! St. Mary Magdalen, patron of: Converts. I almost fell off of my couch.

(Lest you think this was mere coincidence, it was not the only fleece that God in His mercy deigned to give me. One night as I lay in bed, I told Him matter-of-factly, “You know, I am not the spiritual head of my household. My husband is supposed to be. I can’t go gallavanting off to be Catholic and drag him and my son with me. So, You’re gonna have to let him know if this is what you want.” I went to sleep thinking, “Problem solved!” Hehe, painted You into a corner now, God! Literally, the next day my husband was walking by me and out of the blue he turned to me and said, “I think we should be Catholic.” and kept right on a-walkin’ as I stood there frozen in pure shock. Game, set, match. God: eleventy billion. Andrea: zero.)

Things got even more hilarious when I started to actually try to pray to saints. If you’ve always been Catholic, you probably won’t appreciate this, but it was literally painful. I was just waiting for the lightning strikes to rain down from heaven. Throwing out a “Pray for us!” didn’t seem so bad, because I figured that was pretty obvious- if they couldn’t hear me, then no harm, no foul. But actually praying personal petitions, especially to the Blessed Mother, took me awhile because I always started my prayers with a long, rambling preamble:

“Ok, Jesus. I’m going to talk to your Mom now. If this isn’t kosher, then please just totally ignore what I’m about to throw out there, and please, mericiful God, forgive me. Also! Please don’t in any way, shape, or form answer my prayer if this is wrong. That will only confuse me because I’ll take it as confirmation that Your Mom was, in fact, praying for me. So, I’m gonna go ahead and start now, just so You know…”

I just imagine Jesus sitting at His heavenly desk, leaning on His elbows and rubbing His temples while Mary peeks her head in the door saying, “Is she ready for me yet or is she still talking?”  “She’s still talking. We gave her St. Mary in the Saint Name Generator, what more does she want?!”

Clearly, I finally got the message.

So, who are your favorite saints and why?

 

St. Mary Magdalen, pray for us!

St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, pray for us!

All the angels and the saints, pray for us!

 

This topic is so big, and so near to my heart that there is much I’d love to say, but time and space constrain me. So! If you’re looking for a little catechesis on the Communion of Saints (particularly of apologetic value), then please feel free to visit a previous post I wrote outlining Scriptural support for this doctrine. Catholic Answers is another invaluable resource to Scriptural support for this doctrine, as well as fleshing it out in the early Church.