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Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Lydia B. Spiritual Growth

Lenten Lessons Learned

Lenten Lessons Learned

 

Lenten Lessons Learned
The decade rosary that stays under my pillow, my faithful prayer companion each morning and night.

As I prepared myself for the next introspective soul searching that marches in during this year’s upcoming Lent, I wanted to share my lessons learned from 2018. Or, more honestly, lessons I should have learned. Sometimes I feel sorry for God. If only I were not so obtuse…

Last year I signed up for Dynamic Catholic’s “Best Lent Ever” emails, which suggested journaling. As I type this, the black leather-bound book is sitting open on the airplane tray table to my right. I know what you are thinking–how did I get a flight that was not purposely overbooked? Divine intervention. But seriously, I have this journal open and my heart is beating up a storm. I just read the words, “This Lent, I am examining why I feel joyless—angry even.” Aren’t those some uplifting words?

Let me take you back to Day One of Lent 2018. I was six months postpartum, desperately working to get my waist from 38 inches to at least 32 inches. As a female in the military, I can get fired and lose my job if my waist is larger than 34 inches by the time my annual physical fitness test rolls around. No pressure, right? Combine that with my husband deployed for the fifth time, a new sexual assault victim advocacy role, three kids five and under (none in school, of course), 19 hours of Alaskan darkness, and apparently, deep-seated anger issues.

Day Three of Lent was a list of all my worries. Looks like I ran out of room and went to page two with the laundry list of everything bothering me. The twist to day three’s journaling was to list the beauty in my life, which was a real struggle. During that moment, I turned off my go-to program, “Forensic Files,” and turned on “Joy of Painting” by Bob Ross. It may seem like a small thing, but someone told me the little things in life prepare us for accomplishing the rare, extraordinary thing that comes our way. I was told progress is cumulative, so do a little each day. My Catholic sponsor also reminded me, “Garbage in–garbage out.” Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become.

Rounding out Day Seven of Lent, I saw a tiny note scribbled in the margin: “Progress, not perfection.” I know I am not alone in feeling like I am a failure if life is not perfectly balanced. At this point in Lent, it was clear to me the four basic pillars–spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual–had violently collapsed. The realization of this failure hit me hard. I rallied back to the Cross.

I began the Dynamic Catholic seven-step prayer process each morning: (1) Gratitude: Thank God for what you are most grateful for today, (2) Awareness: Revisit the times in the past 24 hours when you were/were not the greatest version of yourself; talk to God about what you learned, (3) Significant Moments: Identify something in the past 24 hours and explore what God might be saying to you through that person or event, (4) Peace: Ask God to forgive any wrongs you have committed and fill you with peace, (5) Freedom: Speak with God about how He is inviting you to change your life, so you can experience the freedom to be the best version of yourself, (6) Others: Pray for anyone you feel called to pray for; ask God to bless and guide him or her, and (7) Pray the Our Father.

Being a wife, mother, and employee isn’t easy. But it helps to start the day adoring Christ and asking for Mary’s help.

Fast forward to nearly one year later. Honestly, I do not hit all seven steps every time I pray. Prior to my three kids waking, I aim to spend 45 minutes talking with God. Most of the time, I end up with only 10 minutes because my kids seem to have a master plan to thwart any alone time I might have envisioned. Isn’t that life as a mom? So I have improvised. Before I get out of bed, I grab the decade rosary I keep under my pillow. I practice the Nicene Creed (I only have a quarter of it memorized), and pray the Our Father and a Hail Mary. Then I pray motivation to get up. Next, as I am putting make-up on, I read a Catholic quote-of-the-day. If the quote doesn’t speak to me, I listen to 10 minutes of a Catholic podcast.

When I hear the pitter patter of little feet, I start the morning routine. I go into my daughters’ room where I have a blessed Crucifix hanging and a Miraculous Medal. I bow, cross my arms for a blessing, and place a kiss on Jesus’ face with my fingers. I glance to the calendar in the kids’ room. Every day or so I write in a new name of someone who needs prayer. I touch the Miraculous Medal and pray a novena for those people. Then I bow and thank God for creating me. I tell Jesus I love him and ask Mary to pray for me.

In the quiet moments after I drop off all the kids to school and daycare, I think about what I did great and not-so-great the day before. I pray for courage and humility. I ask for signs. As my day unfolds, I stop and pray when I feel my composure slipping or my ego cropping up. At 3:00 p.m., I pray a Hail Mary and Our Father in unity with a Catholic Facebook group. Our prayers join together as our collective spirit asks for the healing of the Catholic Church, justice for those who have abused others, and accountability for their abusers.

Finally, at bedtime, I pray. I reach under my pillow for the decade rosary. When I get to the Hail Mary beads, my mind brings forward an image of a person that needs prayer. This week it was for the souls of a 97 year-old grandmother of a friend, a 22 year-old military service member who died of suicide, and 40-year-old friend who died of a rare cancer and left a family behind. I see each of their faces, one for every bead. Visualization is powerful and I can feel my soul merging with those in the next world.

In the end, my Lent Lessons from 2018 translated into new ways of prayer for me. While the journaling approach seemed daunting, I am glad I did it. There is now a tangible, physical testament of who I was and what I have become. I encourage you to use this upcoming Lent to change one thing about yourself. Shine a flashlight into a dark corner. Have a serious conversation with you and God.

Be still.

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Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lydia B.

God Writes Straight with Crooked Lines: A Conversion Story

 

GodWritesStraightwithCrookedLines

So there I was, crammed into a tiny Boeing 737 bathroom whilst trying to pee into very small Dixie cup. I was flying to Alabama and due to the early morning flight, needed to check my fertility on the Clear Blue monitor I use for the Marquette Method of Family Planning. Despite the turbulence of the Rockies, I successfully avoided urinating all over myself. Win! During this debacle I started laughing out loud to myself. Seriously, how many Catholics–or women just desperate to get pregnant–have checked their LH levels at 35,000 feet?

How did I get to this point in my life, especially when I am not even Catholic? Like many conversion stories, it’s a long one. I wanted this first blog post to be my introduction. I am a real person, just like you. I struggle. I juggle being a wife to a military man, and having three jobs. I feel guilty I do not spend enough time with my six-, two-, and one-year-old. I eat off the floor most days of the week, sadly content to eat the scraps of my disgruntled toddlers. I lament I do not set enough time aside for God. I have phases where I am all over our Lord Jesus, followed by dry spells where I just keep praying for the rains of passion to come back. The struggle is real.

Perhaps because of my struggles, I have had this unquenchable drive for the truth. Ironically, Jesus said in John 8:32 that “the truth shall set you free.” I searched for the truth during my Protestant upbringing, never fully satisfied. At 18, my heart was ripped from my chest when my little non-denominational church split over an argument of whether baptism should constitute full immersion in water or just a few drops sprinkled on the head. The church voted to fire the pastor that I had grown to love like a father. Sixty of 120 people left the church. I sobbed and sobbed. There must be something better. God could not have wanted His Church to be this way.

I was early on in my military career and had the benefit of free education. I took a religion class and thoughtfully researched the top five religions. I never wavered from Christianity, but I wanted to be open-minded and hear out the others. The falseness of the other religions, especially Islam, seemed evident to me. I felt at peace knowing that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

While learning more about Christianity, however, I discovered that all roads led to the Catholic Church. Odd, I thought. Growing up, I had been taught that Catholics were going to hell for blasphemy. They worship the anti-Christ (Pope), Mary, so-called Saints, and had idols in their sanctuaries. Worse yet, Catholics believe they are eating the flesh of Christ, like some weird, perverted cannibal. Catholics are sadly mistaken people who believe Jesus never got off the cross, which is why he is still on the Crucifix. In short, to be Catholic was to be an unbeliever.

It was exactly the time I was transitioning off of active duty service that I had a come-to-Jesus meeting. I invited Jesus. I was in the Bible Belt deep in South Carolina, parked at a Red Lobster. I said a prayer to God asking for a sign that Catholicism was the right denomination for me. I closed my car door and walked into the restaurant. After the hostess ushered me to my table, I sat down and glanced at the table. Next to the salt and pepper shakers was a genuine, Italian made medallion of Saint Christopher. Let me re-iterate. I was deep in the Protestant Bible Belt and had never seen a Catholic church in the five years I had lived there. I picked up that medallion and cried. I have that medallion on my key chain to this day.

Change doesn’t come easy though, does it? I wanted proof. I wanted someone to refute all of those Catholic misnomers that Protestants indoctrinate their children with. I signed up for RCIA a year later, but no one ever called me. I signed up a second time. No one called me. I began to get discouraged and irritated that Catholics seemed so lackadaisical about gaining followers for Christ. Many Catholics seemed content to just go through the motions and bolt like a Kentucky Derby champion out of the pews after mass. I turned to Catholic radio for answers and for three years worked out doctrinal and theological issues in my head.

The olive branch to the Catholic faith came from an unusual source: Mary. If you have ever been Protestant, you know what a hang-up those Christians have with Mary being the Mother of God, Immaculately Conceived, and Ever-Virgin. But God used my first pregnancy to connect me to Mary, as both of us had very long journeys during our ninth month of pregnancy. She was the gateway. My heart started to accept Catholicism more and more. I started RCIA two more times, successfully finishing the course in 2014. This part of the journey took 10 years.

I am currently in limbo now. Terrible life choices in our 20s led my husband and me to marry different people. My annulment was granted in 2016; my husband’s is still ongoing. There is the possibility he had a valid Catholic marriage. Looking at the Catechism, it is pretty clear we are living in sin because our legal marriage was not blessed by a priest—it couldn’t be.

But guess what? Jesus came to forgive me. I have faith that whatever the annulment outcome, I can remain Catholic in my heart. I will work on purifying myself every day in some small way. For example, at Mass I go up and receive a blessing from the priest. I have had all our girls baptized. I even spent five sessions having the priest perform soul-tie cutting of every unhealthy sexual relationship I have had.

We should all strive to be Saints, and sometimes the journey there is not pretty, as you can see by this post. But do not give up. Keep fighting through your struggles. Pray. Ask God for signs and listen quietly for answers. But more than anything, believe. God is real. God loves you and He is coming back for you.

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Conversion Faith Formation Ink Slingers Kerri Lent Liturgical Year Prayer Sacred Scripture

Lectio Divina: Third Sunday of Lent (2017)

I feel like Lent just started and yet here we are at the Third Sunday of Lent already. It seems to be going by too fast. It makes me wonder if I am not being sacrificial enough. But I need to be careful there, no one wants to go down the road of scrupulosity. It might be that I just went to three nights of a parish mission earlier this week and I’m thinking a lot on how much I really do for God (and how much I fail) and whether I really do trust him or not. I think this is one of those things that I like most about Lent, it’s a time of reflection and a time to seriously consider where conversion is needed in your life.

Conversion is the main theme of this Sunday’s Gospel reading. How perfect, right? Conversion is not a one time thing. We all may have memories of those moments when we had a profound conversion, but we should also recognize that we are always in the process of conversion in one way or another. That’s a good thing to keep in mind as you pull up the Gospel passage to read and pray along as you read the following reflection.

Sit back and take some time to read, reflect, respond, and rest in the Gospel passage for the Third Sunday of Lent. Join me as we read this passage in the manner of lectio divina prayer. To find the Gospel reading, follow this link to the USCCB website for Sunday’s readings. For a brief review of the lectio divina steps, I recommend this brief explanation from the Archabbey of St. Meinrad.

Don’t forget, I’d love to hear some of your own thoughts (what caught your attention, what you feel God is saying to you, etc.) in the comments below.

READ

  • Living water
  • Never thirst
  • In Spirit and truth
  • I am he

REFLECT: What is God saying to you?

“I am he.” This is what Jesus tells the woman at the well when she mentions the coming Christ. “I am he.” On hearing these words, her conversion finally takes hold (third time’s the charm, right?). She doesn’t say anything more, she leaves her water jug behind and races back to town. Yes, races. Why else would she leave the water jar behind? It was heavy and full of water at this point, and the sun would have been directly overhead (it was noon) making it very hot. The town is also a bit of a trek from where the well is. So we know she was trying to get back quickly. I don’t know about you, but I’d have probably left the water jar behind too.

“I am he.” I wish my conversion had been so quick. To have those words spoken to me from the man himself … well, I hope I would have been convicted on the spot. My own conversion came about much more slowly. Very slowly, with lots of stumbles along the way. I was kind of like this woman at the beginning of the passage who isn’t quite getting what Jesus is telling her. Only it took me a lot more than three times before it finally clicked! Yet even though I do believe now and have no doubts that Jesus is the Christ, the he is my Lord and Savior, I still need these little reminders. These words Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman are also for me. It is as if he is speaking to me: “I am he.” Don’t forget it! But just in case you do, I’ll remind you again … and again, and again.

Isn’t it great to know that no matter how far away we get, Jesus is always trying to bring us back, even when we don’t recognize it. Amazing!!

RESPOND: What do you want to say to God?

Yes, I do believe! Thank you, Jesus, for the reminder that you are he who is the Christ. Thank you for your unending love and for always coming after me no matter how often I fall. May all my praise, love, and adoration always be directed to you alone.

REST

Read the passage one final time and spend a few moments in quiet contemplation, rest in the words of the Gospel.

YOUR TURN

What do you feel God is saying to you in this passage? How would you respond to him? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Ink Slingers

Five Reasons Why I Love the Catechism


In the twelve years we’ve been Catholic, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has remained dear to our entire family. Here are five reasons why:

1. It was instrumental in my husband’s conversion. Very early on in our studying of Catholicism, he bought a copy of the catechism, figuring that since he was interested in what the Church taught, he might as well go right to the official catechism. He read it cover to cover and checked every Biblical reference. He still reads it for personal encouragement and education and appreciates it more every time (He tells me!).

2. It is beautiful to read – poetic, solid, and satisfying, with footnotes from Scripture, history, and other Church documents. A random opening of my copy while writing this fell to paragraph #2842 on Christian Prayer: “When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world. Along with deliverance from the evils that overwhelm humanity, she implores the precious gift of peace and the grace of perseverance in expectation of Christ’s return. By praying in this way, she anticipates in humility of faith the gathering together of everyone and everything in him who has ‘the keys of death and Hades’ who ‘is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’.”  Magnificent. There is a footnote directing the reader to three passages in Revelation. What a devotional!

3. It covers everything, from difficult, contentious issues to heartbreaking, suffering issues to mystical, spiritual issues. Topics are neither shied-away from nor sugar-coated. We can read about sex, social justice, national laws, union with Christ, and the problem of pain (the section that brought me to my knees; see paragraphs 1499-1532.) It is something I direct my children to time and time again. 

4. It can be relied upon for instruction in our Holy Faith, for it is a “Full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life (From the prologue by Pope John Paul II).” There are no worries about whether or not an author is faithful to the Magisterium. Jesus told the apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13)” and Paul told young Timothy how to behave within “the ousehold of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth (I Timothy 3:15).” A bulwark is a defensive wall; I wonder if Paul had the formidable walls of Jerusalem in mind as he pictured the Church keeping Christians safe from false doctrines. The Catechism is the continuing of the Holy Spirit’s leading of the Church as it guards the precious deposit of faith and instructs the faithful. Jesus never left a book; he left men filled with Holy Spirit, guided into truth, forgiving sins (John 20:23), and going out to teach and baptize (Matthew 28:19-20). They did write, however, and our Church in her wisdom, gathered and compiled their stories and letters into a New Testament. The Catechism is another example of her wisdom in leading Christians here on earth.

5. Jesus is central. Again, from the prologue: “In reading the CCC, we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, sent by the Father, made man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior. Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct, and the teacher of our prayer.” How powerful and peaceful.

I encourage you, dear Sistas, if there’s not a copy on your bed stand; put one there and dig into it. I bet you’ll love it!

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Guest Posts Mark Regnerus Perspective from the Head Spiritual Growth Testimonials

It Just Makes Sense (Even as a Protestant)

It Just Makes sense (Even as a Protestant)

My family and I are approaching the five-year mark in the Catholic Church. While my wife may describe her experience differently, I am quite certain that the honeymoon is over. 

My personality didn’t change at the Easter Vigil 2011, nor did my character radically improve. This is solid evidence that purgatory is real, because there’s a clear difference between saintly and saved.

Not that I needed any help believing in purgatory; I had long ago accepted it as a Protestant. I just didn’t call it purgatory, because it sounded bad. People who don’t know much about purgatory associate it with hell, not heaven. Plus, anything ending with those last five letters isn’t going to be an easy sell…conservatory, suppository, obligatory—they all sound bad. But needing purification after death—that has always made sense to me. It’s logical. Too bad people think the gift of purgatory is a punitive thing, though.

Four years in, I now know what “Catholic guilt” means. But I’m convinced my familiarity with the confessional is partly because we converted from Calvinism to Catholicism, and didn’t quite drop the Calvinism thing completely. My wife and I remain convinced of total depravity, not theologically, just on a gut level. You should feel sorry for us Calvinist-turned-Catholics. 

Catholics with our background don’t need convincing that we’re supposed to go to confession. It just feels appropriate.

You know the good, relieved, clean feeling that comes after confession? I like that. When I first converted, the feeling lasted a few days. Post-honeymoon, it lasts for an hour or two. Pretty soon I’ll probably just exit the confessional and get back in line.

No worries, though. The long confessional lines at my parish means there’s plenty of time to accrue more to confess by the time I get back to the confessional. A friend accused me recently of simony—you know, the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges—because I said I’d pay to jump the lengthy confession lines. I’ve even come up with a formula of comparing how bad I’ve been to whether I can stand the line length. I probably should confess that, too.

Enough about confession. Another compelling aspect of being Catholic is the communion of saints. The border between heaven and earth seems thinner than it did before, back when death was a more decidedly one-way ticket and conversation. This, too, I was convinced of before becoming Catholic. As Calvinists, we too recited the creeds, for which I’m grateful. But I remember dutifully dismissing the Catholic-sounding aspects of the Apostle’s Creed, including the “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy (small-c) catholic church,” and then we’d say “the communion of saints.” I was convinced this phrase just described the small-c catholic church…comma…which is the communion of saints.

In hindsight my mental gymnastics were almost laughable. But even before we joined the Church, I knew I was wrong and that the communion of saints is not just an adjective for the Church.

The communion of saints also means that the hereafter is closer, too. Not because I’m getting older, but because the dead aren’t as far away as I thought. We pray for them; they pray for us.

I remember the first time a Catholic friend told me—years after my dad had died, but long before we converted—that she would pray for him. I looked at her funny and asked, “Why?” She explained that sanctification can occur even after death. “Huh,” I probably said.

That also seemed logical long before I became Catholic. In fact, this is a perfectly rational practice of Catholics—that of not making premature claims about who is in heaven. I always thought evangelical deathbed conversion stories were a bit optimistic about the deceased’s readiness to be in the presence of a holy God. Fortunately, at least one Protestant gets it–C.S. Lewis explains purgatory beautifully The Great Divorce.

I’ve grown more comfortable with acknowledging the grace of God and entrusting my loved ones to it. But it would wrong to declare my dad is in heaven this very moment, because I don’t know. I can’t empirically confirm it.

My Protestant mother asked a few years ago, “So, you think your dad’s not in heaven?” Talk about an awkward conversation. I responded truthfully, “Mom, relax. If he isn’t yet, he’s still in good hands.”

Another truth that resonated with my prior to conversion is the Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage. In 2006, I was writing my first book on the relationship lives of religious teenagers. To position the topic, I wanted to include sections on what different religious traditions had to say about sex and relationships. I could write the evangelical one in my sleep and it would be about a paragraph long, because Protestantism doesn’t say a whole lot except “Wait till you’re married. Then…do whatever.” But without crystal clarity from the Bible, the back-and-forth arguments about what God’s laws are about sex and marriage is characteristic of a tradition that lacks authority.

I wrote a Mormon friend for with the LDS section. Then I came to the Catholic section.

“Catholics…OK…they’re the ones against birth control. I should try to figure out what’s up with that.” Pope John Paul II had recently passed away, and in a providential move I had picked up George Weigel’s tome Witness to Hope, about John Paul’s early life and papacy. I looked up “sex” in the index. (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the first time I had looked up that term in the index of a book, but that’s a different story.)

Turned out there was no entry for sex, but plenty about “sexuality.” Weigel’s short summary of John Paul’s “theology of the body” mesmerized, stunned, and embarrassed me.

Within a day or two, I’d declared to my wife that the Catholic Church was probably right about sexuality and that Protestants—ourselves included—were out to lunch. She probably responded with something like, “OK, Mark, that’s nice.” To which I probably responded, “Yeah, but it’s too bad they’re so into Mary and saints and stuff, because boy they are really thinking clearly on sexuality. I’ll give them that.”

I had long thought the Catholics were right on the indissolubility of marriage. Deeann and I were always pretty firm on that. We agreed in 1993 to throw away the nuclear option, and not to speak of it, not to use it as a threat. But as Presbyterians we were in modest company on the matter, watching congregations bless marriages, then honor divorces, then bless subsequent remarriages.

But what I didn’t know at that time was that sexuality, marriage, family—all of it was of one seamless weave. I came to see that evangelicals weren’t talking much about some other things, either—things like dignity, nature, solidarity, and the common good—because there were few-to- no verses in the Bible about them. And I started wondering what else the Catholics might be right about. But these things take time—years—to percolate in the head and heart.

As I discovered, the Church is not just theologically astute on matters of sexuality and marriage. They’re also right. As in, one can see it in the data. Empirically, I mean.

Humanae Vitae was published 47 years ago. Coming on the heels of the Second Vatican Council, I think we tend to underestimate the pressures on the former Cardinal Montini to cave to the remarkable scientific discovery in 1960 of an effective way to control fertility. The Church, after all, isn’t an enemy of science.

But it wasn’t until 2008 that the encyclical’s claims registered in my brain and work. That’s when I first read Nobel laureate George Akerlof’s 1996 argument that the uptake of the Pill led, ironically, to a massive increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing. He wrote that paper with his wife, now our Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen. It made sense to me, so profoundly connected was the increase in Pill use and explosion in premarital sex.

And Paul VI prophesied the consequences. He didn’t concern himself simply with whether the Pill was an abortifacient, like so many evangelicals do. He saw what it would do to couples, to fledgling relationships, to persons, and to communities. It would change how they think about each other, themselves, the meaning of sex, and the good of children. It would alter the social reproduction of entire communities.

Akerlof and Yellen, unfortunately, concluded their landmark study with advice suggesting that “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” having deduced that it was not only pointless to resist a contraceptive mentality, it would be the wrong thing to do. Instead, let’s push for contraception.

Nearly 20 years later, it’s a stretch to claim the relational world is better, more loving, and more moral than it was before the Pill. Don’t you think?

This article was an excerpt from a talk Mark gave in September 2015 at the Fullness of Truth conference in San Antonio.

It Just Makes Sense (Even as a Protestant)Mark Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, a research associate of the university’s Population Research Center, and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. His areas of research are sexual behavior and family formation. He’s the author of two books (2007 and 2011) on the sexual behavior of teenagers and young adults. 

His new research on the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships was published in the July 2012 issue of Social Science Research, and is available here. It’s understandably drawn a great deal of scrutiny, and so he wrote a follow-up response to critics and made the data publicly available to other scholars. A dialogue about the study’s findings appeared in Slate and is available here. Mark has also written several short essays about data collection on same-sex parenting, polling about same-sex marriage, new evidence from Canada, and thoughtful assertions about how same-sex marriage may shape the wider mating market.