Categories
Amy M. Ink Slingers

Planning for the Unexpected

Plan for the Unexpected

“Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” -Luke 9:62

           As we enter the second week of 2017, I am finding I’m having trouble getting myself into the present.  I’m stuck looking back at 2016.  It was a year of medical problems for our family.  We had four different people in the hospital, two surgeries, two broken bones (different children).  It was a year full of physical therapy for our oldest as he tried to recover, then prepare for surgery, then heal from surgery, and recover once more.  And it was also a year of great joy as we welcomed our youngest in May.
            Two of the hospitalizations were planned (the birth of our daughter).  One of the two surgeries was scheduled months ahead, and we were well-prepared to deal with the recovery process it involved (our son’s surgery).  The other surgery seemed to come out of nowhere.  My husband became sick, was admitted, and had surgery within 48 hours.  It was a whirlwind.
            The preparation for the first surgery didn’t make it less scary than the second.  One way wasn’t better than the other, in my opinion.  We called on faith and prayers in both situations.  I can’t say I felt God’s presence more in one surgery than the other.  He was there in both, in the people helping us with our other children and in the peace that only He can give in our hearts.
            Four years ago, my husband lost his mom the day after Thanksgiving.  She had been in the hospital for over a month and had been sick for many years.  When she passed away, he was at her side.  It was sad, and we miss her.  However, we felt she was at peace.
            Six weeks later, on the feast of the Epiphany, we returned home from church to a phone call from a local police department.  They had been called to do a well-check on my husband’s aunt.  She had died suddenly overnight.  His mom and aunt were twins, but his aunt seemed to be in much better health.  We didn’t expect that phone call at all, and the grieving process was much different.
            As 2016 drew to a close, we lost our two furry pets.  Our cat was 18, and we were seeing signs of decline, so we tried to prepare ourselves.  Then, Christmas night our younger dog started acting sick.  By the middle of the night, we were aware that it was serious.  We started to get dressed to take him to the emergency vet, but he died before we left the house.  We were devastated.  Less than a week later, our cat passed away.Planning for the Unexpected
            In each of these situations, there was a planned and an unexpected.  Looking back at each, preparing and planning helped, but no amount of control would make it easier.
            The more life throws at me, the more I try to control my circumstances.  I need to do x, y, and z by a certain time in order to consider the day “successful.”  Pulling in tighter, circling the wagons, so to speak, doesn’t help build trust, increase faith.  Knowing my son was going to have surgery and six extra months of physical therapy didn’t guarantee he would be ok.  He is still relearning how to run, waiting to be able to jump, only halfway through his therapy time.  My husband’s surgery happened before I could worry about it or try to control the outcome.  He needed surgery and needed it now.  It wasn’t a time for debate.  It was in God’s hands from the beginning.
            Losing our pets so close together brought back a lot of the time when we lost my husband’s mom and aunt so close together and also at the holidays.  I feel like I’m getting somewhat lost in the past, dwelling on what has happened and how it affected us.  How can we control situations better in the future?  How can we keep ourselves and those we love from being hurt?
            Dwelling on the past isn’t what Jesus wants for me, for us.  He wants us to go forward, living each day for Him and in His will for our lives, striving to be with Him one day in heaven.  That day may be years from now and expected or may come suddenly.  It’s up to us to be ready for the unknown, not by guessing what could happen but by trusting in the One who knows how everything turns out and only wants the best for us.
            At the beginning of 2016, the events and situations in which we found ourselves as the year unfolded had never crossed our radar.  As much as we planned and thought about the future, these things still caught us off-guard.  Yet God was still there in our midst.  He was still the Guiding Light.  We needed to stay in His shadow and let Him navigate us through the storms.  Once we let go of the helm and let Him take over, He will shelter us in the rain.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” -Jeremiah 29:11

Categories
Charla

But for the Grace of God

graceBecause of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

I was at a Catholic schools teaching conference this week and the facilitator began his presentation with the verse above.  His speech was on ADD/ADHD. I have three children, two of whom have this disorder.  I am not here to debate the over diagnosis, nor do I want to discuss the overuse of medication.  I actually do not even want to talk about ADD/ADHD. What I do want to discuss is the very real frustrations that children and parents experience as a result of attention or other health issues in the context of our Catholic Faith and our experience with attention issues.

My kids are bright and beautiful and creative and articulate. I believe them to be perfect in every way God created them, but when I heard this quote, the image of the “thorn” never left me.  Difficulties in my kids’ everyday thinking and learning have brought me to tears, not because it makes them less perfect, but because they struggle and work twice as hard for, sometimes, half the results. What parent wants their children to suffer in any way?  I realize that ADD is a very slight problem to have in the grand scheme of things, and as compared to the sufferings of many children with severe physical sufferings, but it is our family’s challenge nonetheless. This is our “thorn”.

This thorn keeps does indeed torment, but it keeps me from exalting myself too much.  This has definitely put me in my place and has made me empathetic in a way I had not been before.  Many times I have asked God to help my children, even take away this difficulty.  However, this weakness in our lives has enabled us to accomplish so much, yet become so humble. God’s power is certainly perfected in our weakness.  The ability to overcome struggles has been an invaluable blessing for my children.  If they did not know the bitterness of difficulties, they could not know and relish in the sweetness of accomplishments. I am more grateful on the good days, and I turn to Him more and more on the bad days.  I realize how much I need Him because I cannot do this without Him.

Kids who are “imperfect” and their parents often experience insults, distresses, persecutions.  Their parents are questioned constantly: Are you doing enough? Medication, why? Are you sure he/she isn’t just spoiled? Are you sure you don’t need a second, third, fourth opinion? Your child just needs X (fill in the blank.) The list goes on and on.  At the risk of sounding cliché: God does not make mistakes.  A child with any kind of difficulty blesses us in ways we cannot understand; amidst the tears and battles, this child brings his or her family graces.struggle

St. Paul is saying in this passage that God wants us to trust Him more. Asking to be void of struggles brings no grace.  Asking God for the strength to deal with these struggles is what brings us infinitely closer to Him through the graces he bestows. Even Christ Himself asked, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me;” but He also followed that up with “…yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Luke 22:42.

I am blessed by my children in more ways I can even imagine.  I love them for their imperfections, because the struggles are blessings. I can attempt to be like Christ in my unconditional love for my children and I can strive to trust God in the way that only Christ Himself was able to trust the Father.

What struggles do you encounter that bring you closer to God?  How do trust God through everyday hardships and self-perceived imperfections?

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Categories
Adrienne Catechism Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers

What is Grace?

Immaculate Conception with Saints, Piero di Cosimo, 1495

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible, we are saved by grace alone.  But, what is grace?  What does saved by grace alone mean?

I must admit that I cannot do any better a job explaining what grace is than what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on it, nor the simpler Baltimore Catechism.  So please consult these links for explanations from  genuine writers and theologians.  However, often we learn better first from a friend in common speech than a formally written text.  So, here we go, my friend.

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a2.htm

http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson09.html

To understand grace, first we must understand who we are.  We, humans, are souls first and foremost.  We are souls tethered in time and space by our earthly bodies.  Similarly, angels (God’s creations before us humans), are souls as well, but in contrast, they do not have bodies and thus are not bound in time nor space, similar in that way to God.

Grace is a share in God’s life; it is a free gift to our souls from Him.  There are two kinds of grace, actual grace and sanctifying grace.  Actual grace is an unmerited favor that God bestows upon us by His generosity, like what we mean when saying, “By the grace of God we made it to the airport on time.”   The other kind of grace, sanctifying grace is what I’d like to focus on.  In the Bible, this kind of grace, or a soul in the state of this kind of grace, is often referred to as being or having Eternal Life.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562

The angels were all created in a state of grace, and were living in harmony with God in Heaven, until a third of them, lead by the angel of light Lucifer (also known as Satan), chose against God and were cast into Hell.  The fallen angels, being creations of a higher order than humans, were damned immediately for all eternity.  It is these fallen angels who are the masters of evil.

The souls of our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created with sanctifying grace, a share of God’s life, dwelling inside.  Their souls were alive in God.  Like the angels, they too had a perfect union with Him.  They were created in a state of Original Justification.  However, they were beguiled by the Serpent (a disguise of the fallen angel Satan), and chose of their own free will to disobey God’s one rule for them.  They ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge knowing full well that God had warned them they would die if they did so.  When God punished Adam and Eve afterward, their bodies did not die but it was their souls that died.  They lost the grace in their souls they had been created with.  They no longer had God dwelling in their souls.  They were now separated from Him.

The Fall of Man, Michelangelo,

Furthermore, their children would also be created in a state of separation; the souls of their children would be created without grace, without God’s life, dwelling inside.  This is what we call Original Sin.  This does not mean humans are created evil, for God does not create anything in a state of evil.  All of us offspring of Eve are simply not created in a state of grace, not in an automatic friendship with God, the way Adam, Eve and the angels had been.

Without grace in our souls, without God dwelling in our souls, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  The gates of Heaven had been closed after the fall of Adam and Eve.  However!  God took pity on us lowly humans, and instead of casting us to hell immediately, He promised us a Savior – someone to restore our souls with God.  When Christ defeated death on His Cross, when He died for our sins and Resurrected, He reopened the gates of Heaven.  He made Heaven attainable.  It is Christ that brings us the grace our souls need in order to be restored and in order to enter Heaven.

We first receive sanctifying grace in our Baptism, which is also known as regeneration.  This is why Baptism is so very, very important to all humans.  God uses an element of His creation, water, as a vehicle to apply Christ’s saving grace that our souls need to be “reborn”; to become alive again in God and to be eligible for Heaven.

The Last Supper, Leonardo Di Vinci

Moreover, we receive grace through the Eucharist.  When we partake of the Eucharist, we are partaking of Jesus’s body, blood, soul and divinity.  While God uses water in Baptism to apply Christ’s grace to our souls, it is through His creations of bread and wine that God continues to feed our souls more of Christ’s grace during our earthly lives.

When we choose to sin, whether it is mortal or venial, we adversely affect the grace in our souls.  In a venial sin, we remain in a state of grace, but our souls are just a bit ill or injured.  In a mortal sin (a sin of grave matter done in full knowledge and with full consent, like Adam’s and Eve’s) the grace in our souls is actually lost – the way the angels, and Adam and Eve lost their grace.

However, when we approach Christ in the Sacrament of Confession with genuine and contrite sorrow, another one of God’s creations, a human, specifically a priest, is used to restore grace in our souls, whether we’re in a state of mortal or venial sin.  It is a wonder God is so patient and forgiving toward us humans, but let us be thankful He is!

In a closely related side note, I would like to briefly mention what the Immaculate Conception of Mary means in this context.  Jesus, as the second Adam, and being God made man, of course came to this earth in a perfect state of grace (not having been created, but simply made incarnate).  Also, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the second Eve, was given the privilege of being created in the same state as her predecessor, Eve.  Her Immaculate Conception means she was created with God’s grace already dwelling within her soul, in view of the merits of her Son, Jesus.

The topics of Justification and Sanctification are natural follow ups to this discussion of grace, but we’ll stop here today.  I hope perhaps this explanation has helped some readers of Catholic Sistas understand these topics, as it’s not always easy to understand!  I leave you with some Church Father quotes, as they are better and holier writers than I’ll ever be.

St. Justin Martyr in A.D. 151

In his First Apology talks about persons seeking to become Christians and quotes Scripture:

Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” John 3:5 Now, that it is impossible for those who have once been born to enter into their mothers’ wombs, is manifest to all. And how those who have sinned and repent shall escape their sins, is declared by Esaias the prophet, as I wrote above; he thus speaks: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from your souls; learn to do well; judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow: and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white like wool; and though they be as crimson, I will make them white as snow. But if you refuse and rebel, the sword shall devour you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” Isaiah 1:16-20

St. Augustine in A.D.412

In The Merits and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants he explains the necessity of Baptism and the Eucharist and quotes Scripture:

The Christians of Carthage have an excellent name for the sacraments, when they say that baptism is nothing else than “salvation,” and the sacrament of the body of Christ nothing else than “life.” Whence, however, was this derived, but from that primitive, as I suppose, and apostolic tradition, by which the Churches of Christ maintain it to be an inherent principle, that without baptism and partaking of the supper of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and everlasting life? So much also does Scripture testify, according to the words which we already quoted. For wherein does their opinion, who designate baptism by the term salvation, differ from what is written: He saved us by the washing of regeneration?” Titus 3:5 or from Peter’s statement:The like figure whereunto even baptism does also now save us?” 1 Peter 3:21 And what else do they say who call the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper life, than that which is written:I am the living bread which came down from heaven;” John 6:51 and The bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world;” John 6:51 and Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall have no life in you?” John 6:53 If, therefore, as so many and such divine witnesses agree, neither salvation nor eternal life can be hoped for by any man without baptism and the Lord’s body and blood, it is vain to promise these blessings to infants without them.

 St. John Chrysostom in A.D. 388

In The Priesthood he speaks of how priests make possible the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Confession for our Salvation, and quotes Scripture:

For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority which God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them,Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 18:18 They who rule on earth have indeed authority to bind, but only the body: whereas this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, Whose sins ye remit they are remitted, and whose sins ye retain they are retained?” John 20:23 What authority could be greater than this?The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?” John 5:22 But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable. … For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?

Categories
Abortion Respect Life Testimonials

The Truth About Abortion: A Post-Abortive Woman Shares Her Story

While Planned Parenthood is busy desperately painting a picture today that rosies up the effects of abortion, we at Catholic Sistas don’t care about sugar-coating this evil with a nauseating shade of pink. We want you to know the true stories of real women who have suffered abortion, not just the pro-abortion soundbites and marketing you can find here at Planned Parenthood’s website.

The following story was submitted just this morning. We pray it has a profound effect on the countless women who suffer in silence. Your story needs to be heard, you aren’t alone, and there is forgiveness and peace after abortion.

We are dedicated to collecting and sharing your stories, so if you feel called to share how abortion has negatively affected your life, please e-mail me Martina{at}catholicsistas{dot}com.

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On this Day of Prayer for the Legal Protections of Unborn Children, I have decided to tell the story of my conversion back into full communion with the Church I loved and grew up with. It is not an easy story to tell or to read. I only ask for your prayers for all mothers who have not made the right choices in life.

In the spring of 2000, when my son was in 5th grade, he developed a loud vocal noise that sounded like he was choking or going to be sick, then barking animal sounds. He was diagnosed with Vocal Tics, a form of Tourette’s Syndrome. We removed him from school and his homebound teacher would come for a couple of hours every other day. He had to keep up with his schoolwork basically on his own.

Not knowing when or if the tics would end, as well as the demands of some of the teachers, made it very difficult for me to cope. I could do little except tend to my son. Friends stopped calling and family members criticized how we were handling the situation. One day several years later, I remember driving through our neighborhood and asking God why couldn’t my son just have one normal day and go to school like all the other kids. I became very bitter and angry at God. I stopped going to church all together. Finally, in his 8th grade year, the tics settled down and he could return to class full time.

This experience brought me spiritually and mentally to my knees. Instead of turning toward God, I had run from Him and blamed Him, feeling our struggles were punishment for the sins of my youth. You see, I have had an abortion. More than one abortion, actually.

I truly felt I was being punished for my past by God. I really did not know what to do about it, though, as I was Catholic and Catholic girls were not supposed to do THAT. I am not sure I understood why, but I now know it was keeping me from really embracing my faith.

Over the years, my family would sometimes participate in religious education. When it was time for my daughter to start the Confirmation process, I offered to help and was assigned as an assistant teacher to a class. I did not want to get too close to the people there, though, as I feared my sins might be discovered. I thought I really did not belong there, but I wanted to serve. As we went through the year, I learned a lot about why the church has certain beliefs and truths that never really made any sense to me. I am sure this was because of my hardened heart.

The diocese had a new program at the time called “Ethics and Integrity in Ministry” that required those serving in the Church to fill out an online application, undergo a background check, and attend a workshop. The class was tough, especially when we watched videos of children who had been abused and those responsible for the abuse. As I was reading through the material given to us, under the “Standards of the Diocese” were activities listed that responsible adults should not engage in. Listed there was:

III.B.1.c) Procuring or participating in an abortion.

Whoops, they were talking about me. Not only had I had an abortion, but I had had multiple abortions.  I finished the workshop, but that guideline stayed in my mind. As we went through the year with the teens, the thoughts of my past abortions occurred more and more and I just kept sweeping them back under the rug. No one could tell by looking at me, after all.

Reconciliation and prayer was a part of the Confirmation process for the teens. I had managed to avoid the sacrament for 25 years or so. Our priest, however, felt it was important to come to confession regularly. He preached it, lived it, and offered multiple times one could receive the sacrament each week.

When the group would do pro-life activities, the thoughts would come back and I would sweep them back under the rug again. I just hoped every time I went to class that the topic wouldn’t come up. I hated even hearing the word “abortion.” I came to believe that as a teacher, I could not ask the teens to do something I would not do. So I  decided that after Confirmation ceremony, I would work on my own spiritual life. The Lord knows I had more sins than all the kids combined, I thought. I was ready to take my punishment and live with integrity again.

I initially thought I would go to the other side of town, where no one knew me. There, I would confess my sins and then be asked to leave the Church and never come back. Because the Church did not need people like me in it. But then I decided I would do it at my home parish and take whatever comes from it.

I made several attempts to go to Reconciliation and chickened out. I would get as far as the parking lot, then decide I couldn’t do it. Finally, one Tuesday afternoon, I was determined to stay. When it was my turn, I went in and knelt down behind the screen. The first thing I heard was a voice that pleasantly said, “Welcome!” This isn’t how I remember Confession being 30 years ago, I thought to myself.

“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been 25 years since my last confession. I have had four abortions.

You know that rug I had been sweeping everything under? It was finally being cleaned. I hadn’t even been aware of everything under it, nor how big the pile was that I’d been tripping over. Father did not belittle me or scold me in any way, but gently asked if he could ask me some questions. He asked a lot, going way back to help me grasp what I had done to myself and others. I had never talked about these issues with anyone in such depth. No one in my family, the psychologist I’d seen…no one.

We talked for a while, then Father said, “I have good news!” He said God forgave me and he absolved me. When I finished, I could feel the terrible weight of my burdens being lifted off my shoulders. Father told me I could visit with him for more spiritual guidance. He also handed me a Project Rachel pamphlet and said I should go on one of its retreats, as he had heard they were “awesome.”

I stayed for the Mass, tears and all. I had not been to daily Mass since junior high. Of course, I sat near the back. I remember Father picked “Come, Holy Spirit” for the entrance song. I truly felt for the first time in many years that I was in God’s presence. I could feel Him there with me in mercy and forgiveness. I realized something so important: God never really left me; I left Him in all my darkness.

I did meet with Father several more times. My secret was not my mine and my husband’s anymore. I laid it all out there and it was not a pretty sight. But our priest stayed with me and gently guided me toward healing. So many memories came back and flooded my mind. We talked about forgiveness and mercy, as well as how to reestablish a prayer life and follow Christ. He helped me shed the lies of society that I had believed for so many years about abortion.

I had done things that were so wrong, so very wrong, yet Father never scolded me. He helped me own my sins and accept responsibility for them, but also taught me I can repent and be forgiven. I had had no clue how to be forgiven, probably because I had not been able to forgive myself for so long. I knew I needed a change of heart. But could I sincerely change from pro-death to pro-life after what I had done? Father and I prayed together and it was beautiful for me.

He encouraged me again to attend a Project Rachel retreat. I had never been on a retreat before, but I called the number for Project Rachel and discovered there was going to be a retreat in my town the next weekend. I decided to attend. I wasn’t sure that sharing my story would be anything anyone would want to hear, but I wanted to hear from other women like me. After all, this wasn’t exactly dinner conversation.

It’s a good thing the retreat was so soon; I did not have much time to think about it. The retreat was at a small house and the retreat leader and the leading priest were there to greet us. Six other women attended. We talked and introduced ourselves. Our first task was to write/share why we came and what we hoped to get out of this retreat. I decided to attend after years of feeling distant from the Church and God, I wrote. I shared that I had felt the gap getting bigger and wider, though I kept telling myself I was okay. I shared my problems with anger, depression, and anxiety. I had always wanted to go back to church, but I’d had this huge roadblock: a voice telling me I did not belong there because I was a liar and not good enough. We did a lot of soul searching that weekend, and healing began to come slowly.

As we planned for the coming year of Confirmation, I felt this time I was more spiritually ready to teach. Our theme was going from darkness to the light of God and I was definitely an example of that concept. There were a lot of pro-life activities planned. We were going to attend the Respect Life Mass at one of the area churches, then participate in the Respect Life March in Washington, D.C. on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I knew I wanted to attend Mass, but decided not to attend the March. I was surprised by all the people at Mass, both young and old. I recognized many from our parish and I remember thinking, “All these people support life.” To them, it was natural to support life; they were so innocent and alive.

We finished our classes and I could really feel my heart changing. I wasn’t much on forgiving others, so I made myself a promise that I would start to forgive. It wasn’t easy, but with prayers and help from the Holy Spirit. I found it in my heart to forgive those complicit in my abortions, as well as others in my life. What a difference it made to say, “I forgive you,” if only in my heart—and mean it.

I finally know not only that I am forgiven, but that God’s mercy is endless.