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To Whom Shall We Go?

It’s human nature – when we are forced to look in a mirror and confront uncomfortable truths, we are destined to squirm.

The Catholic Church rocked by incendiary and evil sexual abuse scandals? There is nothing but critique for Church leadership in my mind. The victims have been forever scarred, and their families and friends have been left to assist with the fall-out of the impact sexual abuse has on a victim. Church leadership continues to mishandle opportunities to right a horrible wrong that has been committed, erring on remaining silent, rather than acknowledging the pain caused by one of their agents. There is absolutely no way to defend the indefensible, and I can attest that silence does not make things better. Silence reeks of shadows, in which we know the evil one loves to hide.

Belonging to a universal church… a universal organization… whose leadership continues to jaw-droppingly bungle every opportunity to get it right can seem counter-productive and absurd, to some many.

I get that.

St. Peter is one of my favorites, and I have often shared this with my husband when he has (lovingly) asked what keeps me going to Mass through the entire scandal, “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).

If I did not truly believe, deep in my heart, that the One Who is raised up over the heads of us all at church was the True Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at every single Mass, I would have left the Church two years ago as the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandals broke.

Yet, if I leave the Church – the physical Body of Christ left on earth – to whom shall I go?

There have been half a dozen studies released in the past couple years which point to an amazingly low number of Catholics who either know, or believe, in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Often, it appears the generation of the respondent seems to drive their understanding of Church teachings, and most likely fuels their subsequent answers.

The Church teaches that, when the priest says the words of consecration (“this is my Body…” and “this is my Blood…”), something amazing happens. At the moment of (big word alert) “Transubstantiation,” the physical appearance of bread and wine remain the same, but that “mere” bread and wine undergo a spiritual conversion into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Christ becomes present, tangible, and a living witness in our lives at every single Mass. In fact, the Catholic Church just universally celebrated this amazing belief in the Feast of Corpus Christi on the 14th of June!

I don’t have a major conversion story, and I honestly can’t tell a soul a single instance in which I felt Jesus truly come to me in a big way. Yet, He reveals Himself to me in the little ways… and He comes to me at every Mass. This I know… this I profess.

But, to let you in on a little secret…

This, I have sometimes doubted.

In my course as a Catholic social media influencer and blogger, I have to confess that I, too, have sometimes doubted if the Church teachings are true… are just… and, are sound.

The Bible, itself, appears to be a timeless story. The stories (and lessons) were applicable as the books were written, as they were when the Bible was officially put together, as they remain today. There’s infinite love, there’s loss, there’s the antagonist, there’s the Savior. It’s all there, and the lessons and stories span the centuries.

Just as the Mass spans the centuries, so, too do the teachings of the Church, found in the Bible and Tradition.

Yet, sometimes, doubt lingers.

As some of the words of the translated Tantum Ergo point out, “Faith will tell us Christ is present, when our human senses fail…” and sometimes, our human senses fail to an irreconcilable level, and our faith crumbles entirely.

And, when a person in a position of authority within the Church begins to doubt, to whom shall they go?

I have been guilty of “faking it until I make it,” at times in my life. Either sitting out of the communion line, or going to communion with a simple prayer on my heart, “Lord, make my belief as strong as Peter’s,” I readily acknowledge I have been guilty of going through the motions at times.

As Dr. Brant Pitre asserts in his book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Peter acknowledged in the aforementioned Bible quote (John 6:68-69) he didn’t quite understand everything Jesus said, but he placed his trust in the One Who spoke the words. And, at times, the simple prayer to give me faith like Peter’s has been what has held me together spiritually.

However, it’s uncomfortable to sit and look in the mirror, knowing you publicly profess one thing, and privately struggle with that teaching.

Whether it’s one certain teaching that one struggles to understand, or whether it’s a central teaching that shakes a person to their core, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that there remains a doubt.

And, well-meaning (or otherwise) individuals in our Church don’t often make it feel safe to express our doubts and discomfort.

St. John of the Cross explores the concept of the, “dark night of the soul,” when he wrote his same-titled book. I once was told by a priest in a confessional that there was no way I could be experiencing a dark night of the soul, “because you are a wife and mom with a little kid. Dark night of the soul only occurs to really holy people.” The absurdity of that young friar’s statement sticks with me four years later.

But, if I weren’t prepared to seek other counsel when faced with that response, to whom would I go?

Little girl running with abandon with the question "To Whom Shall We Go" as the feature title. #catholicsistas #recentevents #beautifulcamouflage

Jesus, present in the Eucharist, is on a mission to change hearts and minds. When we approach Him with an open heart, we receive the Graces He bestows on us, even in the midst of our doubt.

Yet, the previously mentioned statistics beg the uncomfortable “reflection” moment destined to make us squirm. The rhetorical question for each of us to ask ourselves as we stare in the mirror is: are each of us truly receiving Christ with an open mind and heart?

After we have received Jesus, do we go back to our daily lives and continue to live unchanged from mere moments before?

Do we leave Mass without a care or thought of the One Whom we are called to know, love, and serve with all our heart, mind, soul, and body?

Do we invite Christ into our lives on a daily basis, and ask Him to actively help us in being more loving toward our family, toward our neighbors, toward the stranger on the street, or toward those in our Church – lay and ordained alike?

Are we giving Christ room to change our minds, hearts, and ultimately, our actions?

When those in a position of leadership within their church begin to doubt, is the atmosphere welcoming to discussion of those doubts? Or, are they shut down with the trite, “You need to pray harder, study Scripture more, get involved more…”?

Do they find a safe space to voice their normal and natural doubts? Or, are they being told that it makes them a lesser Christian and a worse Catholic because they dare to voice their doubts?

Do they have support in unpacking a lot of the anger, confusion, frustration, pain, and doubt? Or, are they told they are not worthy to express any of those normal emotions?

When we don’t have the support within our community to explore these emotions and doubt, we can become increasingly isolated…

we become lonely…

we become discouraged…

we become weary…

we begin to give in to our doubts…

When we try to muddle through the doubt on our own, we open ourselves up to succumbing to the lure that maybe Christ, His teachings, and that of the Church are not all true.

In light of recent events, perhaps each of us need to take a moment to reflect on where we are on our own faith journey, and dig a little deeper for the compassion to recognize that not everyone is on the same journey, nor on the same part of the path.

Perhaps each of us need to squirm a little to recognize those actions we have done, and the ones we have failed to do, which led to another person experiencing doubt, or wading alone in their doubt.

Finally, perhaps we, as a collective Catholic group, need to get better at meeting all of our members – lay and religious, outspoken and reserved, well-known and inconspicuous – where they are at, recognizing them, and embracing where they are on their journey.

There comes a time in everyone’s spiritual journey where we can’t go it alone – we need the compassion, the empathy, the guidance, and the love of others to continue to grow spiritually. When we don’t find that around us, and when the Truths of the Church are hard to comprehend, we need to be able to rely on the strength of others to support us.

If we can’t find that strength or support in the midst of the doubt, when we can’t find Christ at work in our lives, and have trouble seeing Him working around us, to whom shall we go?

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My Journey toward Finding a Spiritual Director

 

My Journey  toward Finding a Spiritual Director

About four or five years ago, I recalled hearing friends talk about receiving spiritual direction. At the time, our young girls were participating in Challenge, a group run by Regnum Christi. From time to time, the girls were blessed with opportunities to speak to the Consecrated women. The girls would spend time in prayer and go on walks and talk about life and where Jesus was in their lives. Moms could also sign up for times to seek spiritual direction from these same women. While I look back and see the benefit of it, I never did take advantage of it.

And my oldest daughter aged out of Challenge.

Then our oldest son started participating in Conquest, the all-boys version of Challenge, and also run by Regnum Christi. I saw the benefit my son received from having priests he could just chat with about everyday things, in addition to priestly vocations.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been blessed with an amazing support of Catholic women, from relatives to our parish community and online friends in the Faith who help keep me anchored; however, I began to feel that tug to investigate and pray for a spiritual director. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t really feel like I had a legitimate reason for seeking spiritual direction, but without it, I felt a bit lost running a blog with no one to help give guidance and suggestions and pray for the blog’s endeavor. So, I prayed. And asked around. And was turned down. And prayed some more. And was turned down again. Finally, I put it in the prayer hopper and decided to forget about it.

I knew the right spiritual director was out there for me, but little did I know it would be someone I was already in contact with.

Four years. FOUR YEARS I waited for an answer to that prayer.

Now, I should back up and say that I was blessed to receive spiritual direction for a time from a priest who is incredibly knowledgeable of social media and very popular in Catholic circles. As much as I am indebted to the time he gave to me in the beginning stages of Catholic Sistas, I couldn’t shake this undeniable feeling that I was still in search of who could really hold my feet to the fire.

Someone who…

…knew me really well.

…I worked with.

…knew what my work ethic looked like {the good, the bad, and the ugly}.

…knew my husband, and the importance of my marriage.

…knew my family.

…saw my son serve Mass each Sunday and funeral Masses.

…reported when he saw my car at a neighbors house {yes, my teenager was BUSTED}.

…knew our parish was so important to us that we moved

from a mere seven minute drive to the neighborhood that borders the church.

…blessed our new home.

…baptized our screamy baby.

…gets all kinds of crazy e-mails from me,

from I’m having an awful day, please pray for me

to thanks for listening to me rant, here is a funny picture to repay you.

…wouldn’t tickle my ears.

…understands that no matter what opportunities may be out there

with the blog, the home front always comes first and challenges me to always see that.

…would know how to challenge me to do more for the Kingdom.

…was our parish priest.

I’m guilty of e-mailing this.

After two years of monthly meetings with him as chairperson of our pastoral council, I couldn’t think of anyone who was a better choice. But, I still had to ask. And, true to his German roots, the response was exactly as I expected. I had to answer a series of questions as to the nature of spiritual direction, what I thought it was, and why I thought I needed it. Expected, yes. Nerve racking? YOU. BETCHA.

Though Father is not {by his own admission} super knowledgeable of some most all things social media, he does know a lot about leadership, discipleship, and running the largest parish in our diocese {20K+}. That counts for a lot in my book! I am so thankful that I no longer have to pray for a spiritual director, and am now in a place where I feel I can share my experiences, the good as well as all the warts, and know that someone else is helping me navigate this spiritual journey.

Have you been seeking a spiritual director?

Here are some tips I hope you find useful in your discernment process.

1. Pray. Yeah, I say this a LOT in my posts. But, it’s true. If you aren’t praying, don’t be surprised with what turns up. Not sure who to help assist you in your discernment process? Two saints to call on are St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ephrem of Syria. Want to expand your circle of prayer warriors? Try Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator. Don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to find a spiritual director. Keep faith that whatever the timeline is, two months, four YEARS – just know that God is in all of it, even the journey.

2. Ask around. You’ll never know if someone is a potential candidate for being a spiritual director unless you ask. Don’t be afraid of being turned down {not rejected…turned down!}. If you are seeking out a diocesan priest, keep in mind their schedules are crazy busy.

3. Resist the urge to go with someone who doesn’t know you very well. If you are looking for good, thorough feedback, it’s good to go with someone who is going to ask tough questions, and that generally happens with someone who knows you, warts and all. In the event that you don’t know someone well, make it a point to share a wide range of information about yourself so that your spiritual director can steer  you in the right direction while challenging you, spiritually.

4. Keep a monthly standing appointment. It’s good to receive direction as often as you go to confession. If you make it a point to meet monthly, at minimum, you will see the fruit of those meetings. It will also help your spiritual director keep things fresh in his mind as to the details of your life.

5. Prepare before your meetings. I’m a bit of a nerd, and a listaholic, so I tend to jot things down that are important to me that I want to talk about. Of those, only a couple of them are ever that important that I absolutely bring it up during our meeting. I have learned to be more ASL {As the Spirit Leads}, and trust that if it’s something I’m meant to talk about, the time will present itself. I currently have issues I’ve been chewing on for the better part of a year. I trust that when the time is right, it will come up. Until then, I let go and focus on what I need to deal with for the present meeting.

SOUND OFF: Are you currently receiving direction? Do you have any tips for our readers?

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Transitions

I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually  transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.

My first pony

Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.

What’s around me?

My 4-H show pony

One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.

What am I doing?

My home-bred riding and driving horse

Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.

Pause and think…

My pregnant with cancer driving horse

Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.

 

Let’s do this…

My borrowed driving horse and his friend

Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.

Whew, that’s finished…

Sharing the love with my daughter

Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.

 

 

Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too!
*I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.