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Elle Stone Ink Slingers Spiritual Growth

The Mass is EVERYTHING (so why doesn’t it feel that way?)

Kinda a Big Deal

So, the Eucharist is kinda a big deal.  No crap, Sherlock. It would be the first sentence of “Catholicism for Dummies.”  And even after that they would add “duh.”

But let me be real.  This is a truth that I know in my head…but whether or not I feel it in my heart, or actually conduct my life to reflect this truth, varies immensely.  Some days I’m on fire for the Eucharist, for Adoration, for Mass. My heart is filled. I can’t keep from singing or crying or outpouring my mind onto the pages of my journal.

But sometimes…sometimes I let it slide.  I go a while without visiting Christ in adoration, even though I definitely have the time for it.  Thinking about the meal I’m making after Mass is a lot more exciting that the consecration. For the past few weeks I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock when it comes to this Sacrament.  My mind isn’t present. My heart certainly isn’t present. I’m bored. I’m apathetic. I’m distracted. I’m disengaged. The priest is going too fast. Too slow. I can’t understand him.  The family in front of me is too rowdy. They played the one praise and worship song I can’t stand. I’ve got this big project at work…

And it’s extra bad that I let this slide, because the Church could not be more straightforward about how important the Eucharist it. According to the Catechism:  

“The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself.” (CCC 1324; http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm).

So, yeah.  Kinda a big deal.

But if the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life…shouldn’t I…get more out of it?  It’s the source of, well, everything. This may sound painfully obvious, but… shouldn’t I get things from sources?  It’s the summit of all I do as a Catholic. Shouldn’t it just feel perfect?

Shouldn’t my heart be overflowing?  Shouldn’t my soul feel peace? Shouldn’t my mind be at ease?  Shouldn’t be strength be restored?

I recently read an awesome article, The Prayer of the Liturgy by Romano Guardini, and listened to a great podcast Praying Alone or in Community? from the Vici Mundum Show. Both really set me on the train of unpacking why I’m feeling separated from the Mass.  Bonus: they gave me insight into how I can change my mindset in order to reconnect a little better.  

I took three key nuggets of wisdom that have helped me get my head back on straight regarding the Mass.  They’re not a complete explanation or cure to why people might feel disconnected from the Mass by far–but rather three things I had not considered that I wanted to share with my sisters. <3

1. The Mass expresses the Universal Church, not us as individuals.

Stated more plainly, the mass is everyone’s prayer.  And I mean everyone. Every member of the Universal Church expresses their prayer through the liturgy.  This WAY changes the focus of Mass!

In the article by Guardini (referenced above), he states that:  
“The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of the individual’s reverence and worship for God. It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such. Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual. It does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of a church. The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful as such–the Church–a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.”

So yes, a ton of words, but let me boil that down: Liturgy is not time for our individual prayer.  It isn’t even time for our local parish’s prayer. It is a bold, vibrant expression of our unity with the entire universal Church.

Yes, God reaches out to us in the liturgy–He reaches out to us at all times, constantly longing for our hearts.   And yes, our parish and ourselves individually should make a spot for our own prayers during Mass. But those prayers aren’t the point!

The Mass itself–and other forms of the liturgy–is our unique chance to pray with our ENTIRE CHURCH AROUND THE WHOLE WORLD.  Whoa.

I have received a ton of fruit from this paradigm shift–going to Mass as a chance to experience unity, rather than to quest for my own personal experience.

2.  The Mass must express the the full Truth, not just the parts that speak to us.

Some images of God, some mysteries, some saints, are going to resonate with our hearts more than others.  Maybe you’re more of a Good Friday person than a Holy Thursday person. Maybe Advent speaks to you in ways that Lent falls flat.  Maybe St. Therese is your girl and St. Teresa of Avila leaves your head spinning.

These are all natural experiences within our faith!  But what’s important to remember is that our Church is the fullness of all these elements.  Guardini points out that:

“If a prayer therefore stresses any one mystery of faith in an exclusive or an excessive manner, in the end it will adequately satisfy none but those who are of a corresponding temperament, and even the latter will eventually become conscious of their need of truth in its entirety. For instance, if a prayer deals exclusively with God’s mercy, it will not ultimately satisfy even a delicate and tender piety, because this truth calls for its complement-the fact of God’s justice and majesty. In any form of prayer, therefore, which is intended for the ultimate use of a corporate body, the whole fullness of religious truth must be included.”

Again, a lot of words–let me paraphrase.   Your heart might be SUPER moved by God’s incredible mercy.  Whenever there is a powerful reading about mercy, or the priest proclaims a wonderful homily on mercy, you can feel God’s presence, right then and there.

However, if the Mass were to focus only on certain things (God’s mercy, for instance), and neglect the rest of the picture (God’s justice), the mom of four kids sitting behind you, who’s heart is just wrapped up with imagines of God’s majesty, would be neglected.

What’s more, our hearts long for the fullness of truth.  If all we get is the same message of mercy over and over, but no justice, sooner or later our hearts will not be satisfied.

That means that sometimes–sometimes Father’s homily will fall flat on us.  And that’s totally ok–our hearts secretly hungered for that nugget of truth.

3. We expect too much of ourselves.

This final nugget of truth came from the Vici Mundum podcast, referenced above.  I’m going to paraphrase because it’s a little more difficult to transcribe from a podcast. (Definitely check it out though, awesome people with really thoughtful insight.)

One of the presenters expressed similar struggles as I had: not really feeling anything from the Mass.  Feel super disconnected. She mentioned that we can often get frustrated by this. But she noted that God is never frustrated with us.  He knows we’re human, He knows that we have a lot on our hearts. We might be expected more of ourselves from the liturgy than even God expects of us.

I loved this.  Because when I don’t connect with the Mass, I feel like something is totally wrong with me.  But that isn’t the case. God knows exactly where I’m at. He asks that I come to Mass, participate, and pray that my heart be open.  Other than that, it’s all in His hands. It doesn’t need to “feel” like everything. It just is, and I can rest in that.

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Domestic Church Ink Slingers Kasey Lent Liturgical Year

My Liturgical Suitcase: The Penitential Psalms

My Liturgical Suitcase
I never felt a weight associated with the liturgical seasons until I had children.

From the moment I held my eldest son, I knew I had the grave responsibility to raise him as a good Catholic in a world that, at times, can be a very hostile and cruel place.

Selfishly, I also wanted memories.

I wanted the cookie baking, card making, St. Nicholas shoes filling, Easter basket earning memories of a home that was built on the shoulders of a Catholic tradition.

The issue was that I wanted traditions that I hadn’t been raised with myself and I was floundering in the Pinterest perfect social media posts of bloggers and friends who had already found their secret sauce.

I was also a hormonal new mom looking for purpose and I was drinking deep from a well of insecurity.

So naturally, I tried everything.

I handpainted Jesse Tree ornaments.
I baked traditional Easter cookies that my baby couldn’t even eat yet.  
I spent hours looking for an Advent wreath that would fit on our tiny apartment table.
I agonized over the Masses I missed because of sleep deprivation and nursing troubles.

And ultimately, I felt like a failure. There wasn’t a way to do everything and be everything in the throes of early motherhood.

And then a streak of real life happened.

It started with a nasty bout of flu during the Triduum.

A pregnancy that made it difficult to enter our church because of the incense.

And recently, two Christmas seasons that were spent with very ill grandparents.

This past year, my sons and I flew across the country to be caregivers for my mother-in-law who had fallen ill during chemotherapy.

No tree.
No gifts from us.
And a church that felt foreign.

I cannot say this was ground zero. I will not lament over an important duty. It was the only right decision.

But it did break me.

It disconnected me from the constant stream of expectations I had built up for myself.

It gave me a suitcase with actual limits and asked: “What are you bringing with you?”

After essentials, there was room for three things: my Bible, my missal, and a cross to hang over the door.

As Christmas approached we were no longer hanging hand painted ornaments on a lighted tree branch. We weren’t singing Christmas carols or baking cookies. But we were returning to scripture every day. We were together and I could breathe into a season of hope in a time when I felt very alone.

For Lent, I have decided to simplify my season routine again and to focus on reading scripture with my children. My husband introduced me to the seven penitential psalms and I thought their history was worth sharing.

These particular psalms are grouped together not only because of their expressions of sorrow for sin but also because of their association with the seven deadly sins. They have often been interpreted as a type of spiritual ladder in which the reader embraces a separate virtue as he or she reads each psalm. Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly assigned them as such:

Psalm 6: Fear of Punishment
Psalm 32: Sorrow for Sin and the Desire for Confession
Psalm 38: Hope of Grace
Psalm 51: A Love of Purity and Mercy
Psalm 102: A Longing for Heaven
Psalm 130: Confidence in Divine Mercy
Psalm 143: Joy  

However, the grouping of these psalms extends much further back than Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly’s. St. Augustine of Hippo mentions them as early as the 5th century and is said to have had copies of them posted near his deathbed. Up until 1972, minor orders and those that received tonsure were assigned these psalms as part of a daily prayer practice.

Personally, I am planning to focus on one each Sunday of Lent, with hopes that I will reflect and re-read them during the weeks leading up to Easter. We are also holding on to our family fasting traditions, but I will be taking this time to reassess my general approach to liturgical living and to define the limits of my proverbial “suitcase.”

What am I bringing with me?

With Lent here, I have given myself more permission to look up from my daily “to-do” list. It’s been a hidden gift. I have had time to truly reflect on the talents of my friends.

Each of the Catholic ladies in my life has a beautiful and unique suitcase of their own- different shapes, depths, colors, and filled with different essentials. I have crafty friends that build Lenten roads that span the entirety of their house, friends that dig into their prayer life with saintly devotion, friends that attend morning Mass every week, friends that bake traditional breads, and friends that host every single person that is without a home regardless of their budget or chair count.

Truly, I am blessed with their example.  

Whatever you fill your suitcase with, I am honored to be traveling with you towards the same horizon. May you have a blessed and fruitful Lent.

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Domestic Church Faith Formation Fatherhood Ink Slingers Mass Motherhood Nicole B Prayer Vocations

Father’s Day Liturgy: Cheerios, Tears, and Prayer

Mass with a five year old and a two year old. It’s a beautiful, chaotic, maddening, complicated adventure, isn’t it? The longest hour of the week for sure. How can 60 minutes seem so excruciatingly slow one morning, but the next day, let’s say when I am rushing to get one to school and the other to daycare it whizzes by?

Prior to March 24, 2015, I was never so proud as when we went to church as a family of four. In my mind there was nothing more beautiful than a family worshiping and growing in faith together. Sure it was a challenge with little ones, but always a time that I treasured, honored, and looked forward to each week.  

Fast forward a year and three months, and I am absolutely anxiety ridden about taking my children to mass. It’s ridiculous to think that way, I know. Church is a safe haven, but as I sit there trying to juggle a preschooler and a toddler I am constantly reminded that he left us. That he is so ill that he cannot comprehend that he would have been supported, cared for, and forgiven within the Church. He has left us and it is now just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew.

On Father’s Day 2016 I ventured to mass with my own father and two children. Armed with a bag of church appropriate goodies (which I was very much against when we were a family of four) I was determined to have a peaceful, faith filled hour. My soon-to-be Kindergartner got it. He did great, the toddler was a young two, so it was the typical struggle of an inquisitive 27 month old.

But it wasn’t their behavior that caused the anxious pain in my heart that day, they were actually quite well-behaved on the third Sunday of June. Instead it was the message. As I tried to squash my single mother anxiety when I prepared for mass that morning, I didn’t think about the possible homily. I didn’t think about the message that might be shared on our first official Father’s Day without him.

The priest began with statistics. Statistics about children from a fatherless home. The priest spoke words like, “low self-esteem, poverty, addiction…” These words made me uncomfortable, a little angry, somewhat sick. “Those will not be my children,” I thought to myself. However, before I could dwell on his statistics, the priest said (quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), “when human fatherhood has dissolved all statements about God the Father are empty”. This idea played over and over in my mind, as I held back tears. It made perfect sense – if one doesn’t understand what it’s like to have a human father, it is difficult to understand and trust in God the Father. With that statement my purpose became clear. After that statement, my dedication to sharing the faith with my children became renewed. I vowed to live a Catholic vision of family life for my children no matter the circumstances.    

With this in mind, I sought to answer two questions:

  1. How can my children even begin to understand God the Father without their own father as an example of Christ?
  2. How can I help my children to trust in the Lord when they have already experienced so much heartbreak in their young lives?

These are complicated and loaded questions that will most likely take me the next 20 years to answer, yet I have in my heart a simple plan: model and pray.

It’s a great responsibility to model our faith for our children. Our behaviors are what truly reveal our beliefs. It can be frightening when we become aware that our children are listening to us and watching us much more closely than we ever realized. We are the first and the primary teachers of faith to our children. I never expected to carry that responsibility on my own, but my situation only strengthens my commitment. I know that I must model the faith in hopes that they can experience the true love and trust of God the Father.

Along with trying to model the faith for my boys on a daily basis, I pray. I pray so fervently for my children, for my parents who help us everyday, for our supportive friends, for my former in laws, and for him – my ex-husband, their absent father. At first, those prayers were extremely difficult. There was, and still is, so much anger towards him. However, I pray for him. I know that it is a necessity. It’s the greatest modeling of the faith I can do for my children. I pray for him every.single.day. I pray for him at night. I pray for him in the car. I pray for him in moments of sheer single mother panic. I pray for him when it’s just me, the boys, and a bag or two of Cheerios in the fifth pew at Sunday mass.

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Ink Slingers

Our God is Here

our-god-is-here

The Mass three weekend’s ago was perfect. Of course, every Mass is technically perfect, but this one felt like the beginning when the liturgy was new to us and we were breathlessly aware of being part of the worship of the millenia with the cloud of witnesses both on earth and on the other side. Beautiful music not too high to sing, beloved Bible passages from Psalm 145 and Luke 19, and an expressive homily by a visiting Irish priest with a lovely accent. I’m sure it helped that my children were a little tired and droopy in the pews, without their usual boisterous participation. Even the seven year old shook hands sedately and murmured “Peace be with you” for the sign of peace instead of his usual hand-pumping “Howdy.” No one asked to leave to use the restroom, no one got tripped moving about and around for Holy Communion, and no one hung on my back while I was kneeling for prayer. It was a short mountaintop experience for this tired mother that rivaled any retreat from my younger days. Thank you, Lord, for such an oasis!

Sometimes it all comes together: the facts, the faith, and the feelings. Do you know this maxim? “Fact, faith, and feeling went walking on a wall. Feeling took a tumble and faith began to fall. Fact pulled them up again ’til all were walking tall.” It’s good to have the feelings perfectly in place with the facts and faith. But feelings make fickle masters because they are affected by everything. Or nothing. Much of the Christian life involves decisions based on the facts. Our “credo” – Latin for “I believe” – is a solid foundation upon which our faith rests. “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,” calls the priest and the congregation sings, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death O Lord, until you come again.”

Now that we know who our president and congressmen will be, I’m praying that my faith in the facts of salvation centered on Christ will keep a tight hold on my tenuous feelings. 

The Mass three weeks ago opened with, “Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you spare all things because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls (Wisdom 11:22,26).” And we sang from Psalm 145, “I will extol you, my God and king; I will bless your name forever. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love. All your works give you thanks, O Lord, and your faithful bless you. You are near to those who call upon you, to all who call upon you in truth.” These inerrant words help me to breathe easier. Our time here is short. There is much we can do as civilized Americans and as Christians to be the hands of Jesus to ease pain and make our world a better place no matter who sits in our state capitols or Washington, D.C. 

Our Gospel reading that weekend was the story of Zaccheus. While the deacon was reading, I was mentally singing “Zaccheus was a wee little man; a wee little man was he…” from my Sunday school days! Whatever is happening; whatever good or bad place I may find myself; whether it’s my fault or not;  Jesus notices me. He notices everyone. When Zaccheus answered Jesus and let the Lord come in, he vowed to return what he’d taken and give away half of what he had. He was changed for the better and his sphere was changed for the better. It happens all the time when people listen to Jesus. Good things come from messes when Our Lord is involved, whether or not our chosen political candidates win.

The song that moved me to tears that weekend and that I’ve been humming ever since is called Our God is Here and it sounds like the song of the angels John saw in his revelation visions. “Here in this time, here in this place, our God is here. Here for the broken, here for the strong, here in this temple we belong. We are his body living as one, our God is here. And we cry holy, holy, holy are you. We cry holy, holy, holy and true. Amen we do believe our God is here.”

That’s my song. Whatever direction my beloved country may take, I will cry with the angels, Holy are you, holy and true; my God is here.

holy-holy-holy

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Adrienne Evangelization Ink Slingers

The Crisis of Fluffy American Homilies

I’ve wanted to write a piece about strong preaching for a while, but needed a catalyst to get the ball rolling. Low and behold, this gem turned up on my news feed last week.

I’m Still Not Going Back to the Catholic Church by Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher explains that while folks have been speculating that Pope Francis’s compassionate side will bring people back into the Church, it is precisely the pontiff’s lack of emphasis on the harder teachings of the Church that will keep Dreher in Orthodoxy and out of the RCC.  In his years as a Catholic, he never heard priests preach on the hard topics.  Though I never left the Catholic Church, I couldn’t help but agree with much of everything he argued.

fluffy-bunnyTwelve years ago I moved to a new city and naturally began attending the parish closest to my apartment. It was like every other parish I’d ever visited or been a parishioner of growing up. We sang “On Eagle’s Wings” and “Anthem” for a peppy recessional. The homilies were of the only variety I’d ever heard – the soft, love Jesus more and take care of the poor type. Upon the concluding rite, still high on, “We are called we are chosen, we are Christ for one another…” I’d leave through the narthex feeling good about myself – the message was, “I’m doing great already and all I need to do is more of what I’m doing to be even better – or I can just keep on keeping on, it’s cool, I’m a good person, and that’s what Christianity is about”. I never knew there was anything else to learn about at Mass, or even about Catholicism.

A handful of years ago the position of head pastor at our parish became and remained vacant until the diocese was finally able to fill it with someone right for the task of shepherding our 6,000 family parish with parochial school, two priests and several deacons. In came a man who would soon be elevated with the title Monsignor. I still remember the homily where he introduced himself to us as his six foot tall frame towered over the ambo. With his measured beat and dry cadence, he shared his story as a convert to the Catholic Church, and challenged us with, “If you have an issue with any teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, make an appointment to see me in my office, and you had better bring your Bible and your catechism.” This was a challenge I’d never heard a priest give before, furthermore, I’d never even heard a priest approach controversy in the least, and our new pastor was inviting it.

In the months to follow, his homilies received mixed reviews. Many parishioners were startled and even offended. Monsignor addressed abortion, contraception and same sex marriage right there in the middle of a Sunday or weekday Mass. And he didn’t just mention it in passing, as if we were supposed to know it was wrong by a one word topic drop. No, he spoke at length and in depth about each topic with solid arguments and reminded our parish why the Church taught these things were against the teachings of Christ – and that Christ’s teachings still matter. The offense entered when Monsignor would reach further still and assert that anyone sitting in our pews who did not see these issues as intrinsic evils worth standing up against were complying with evil themselves. Farewell to, “I can just keep on keeping on, I’m a good person.” I was surprised to be in the midst of a priest who had the courage to preach so boldly – he was risking people’s temporal happiness and even losing many to the neighboring parish which was still preaching love Jesus more and take care of the poor.

The preaching was a change to encompass the whole of Catholic teaching. As Dreher argued in his article, we need to be preached to about God’s mercy and God’s judgment. It is clear to me that Monsignor is out to evangelize the Catholics – to reteach us authentic and whole Catholic teaching. He boldly reminds us that hell is real and we can all attain that if we follow what the secular world both teaches and scolds us to believe. He also teaches boldly and thoroughly how merciful our Lord is, but that in order to be forgiven and to attain Heaven, we need to repent, not just keep on keepin’ on. Often priests truncate Christ’s message to something like all persons can all be forgiven because there is no sin. Yet, Christ’s message is that all persons can be forgiven, that there is no sin too great to be forgiven by a repentant soul. It’s no wonder the lines for confession are nonexistent – the congregations aren’t being taught what sin is and how they’re personally committing it. And it’s no wonder Catholics think being a Christian is just about being a good person – all they hear at Mass is that they are a good person.

499px-Michelangelo,_Giudizio_Universale_02
Last Judgement, Michelangelo 1536-1541, Sistine Chapel

In addition to preaching about sin, Monsignor also makes sure to preach about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist – reminding us that the very reason we attend Holy Mass is for Jesus in the Eucharist. And he also preaches about Confession, and corrects misunderstandings about Baptism. In a twenty minute homily every mass, we are instructed on the whole of Christian teaching, not just the easy on the ears and pride parts. Furthermore, our music made a dramatic shift as well. Out went the eagle and the anthem and anything modern and peppy. In came a large choir who sings beautiful, heavenly, old school hymns. Latin and Greek hymns have even made returns that we recite together. Mass has been restored to a formal and important Christian event, and the music reminds us that we are experiencing a unique uniting of Heaven and Earth in the Eucharist, not just getting together for preaching and a sing along.

Fluffy homilies have done a great disservice to American Catholics. I think of parents who, in moments of weakness, refuse to enforce what is right for their child because they don’t want to deal with a tantrum, and I believe this is where many priests find themselves. In a perpetual moment of weakness, priests know if they preach whole and authentic Catholic teaching, their parishioners will tantrum. I want to encourage our priests to be our parent, to be our shepherd, to be a “Father”. And I want to encourage parishioners who desire Catholic strength returned to their parishes to vocally support their priests in making the change. We’ve lost generations to cafeteria Catholicism, non-Catholic Christian traditions and even the secular world in this time of fluffy American preaching.

Though our parish did lose a good many of our parishioners to other churches when Monsignor persisted with his unapologetic homilies, our Mass attendance still remains high, if not higher than before. Catholics in our area are willing to drive up to an hour for strong preaching and a reverence in the music and liturgy. And I can see our strong pastor’s determination to evangelize Catholics even spreading down to our children as during the children’s liturgy dismissal the kids are gathered for their blessing wearing backpacks stuffed with their Bible and their Catechism. The world already has enough of itself and does a better job of being itself than our Catholic Mass could ever. Christ is made present to us at Holy Mass, so let us have the courage to demand that the human parts of the Mass, the homilies and the music, be what it is supposed to be best at being – Catholic.

The website Courageous Priests highlighted a homily of my pastor’s which can be found here: http://www.courageouspriest.com/msgr-harts-strong-pro-life-stance.