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Ink Slingers Mary Rachel M Testimonials

How God Pursued a Soul

During this month of Mary, I always find it inspiring to spend time in prayer contemplating her great “yes” to God. Though I can never know Mary in this life, the amazing gift she gave to all mankind shows just how selfless, pure, and Holy she is. The kind of mother to Jesus and to all humanity that every mother strives to be.

In thinking of Mary’s yes to God, I questioned if I could or would ever be able to say yes and give Him all that He was asking for. I thought of my conversion story, how my heart has been changed by Him, and I realized in my own small way that I have already given Him my yes.

When you’re a child, the world seems so small. You can be anything, do anything, you have infinite time to see the world. You know that all you have to do is think something, and you can make it happen.

I knew I wanted to be Catholic from the moment I smelled the old sweet mahogany wood and incense in my father’s church. As a young child, I remember walking into St. Cecilia’s parish in Hastings, Nebraska with my father and just feeling more at home there than almost anywhere else in the world. There was this thing though, I couldn’t be Catholic.

My story is the same as too many others, a child of an unhappy marriage which led to divorce. A child not unwanted, but a constant reminder of the mistakes that two people had made. My father was Catholic and my mother Methodist. Neither of them practicing, but both absolutely sure that their religion was right.

I lived with my mom who soon remarried and had more children, every other weekend and two weeks in the summer I saw my dad who soon remarried and had more children.

I distinctly remember on one occasion asking my step-mother if I could become Catholic. She looked at me with more love in her eyes then I had ever seen her show for me, but replied that my mother wouldn’t let me. It was then at 7 or 8 I knew I would never be allowed to be Catholic, because just like so many other things in my life, it was something my parents could use to hurt one another. My dreams could never come true, because they were still bitter about their dreams not coming true.

Time went on, I grew, but my parents didn’t. Their hatred toward one another raged through my childhood and adolescence. I occasionally attended Mass with my dad and his family when I visited, and envied my step-brother and step-sister as they came home from school wearing uniforms and toting religion assignments.

But, there was this moment, a moment that changed my life in ways that I can’t describe or explain. A second when time stood still, and I knew that God was real and good and answered my prayers. My anti-Catholic mother, who in every sense of the word hated Catholics decided to send me to a Catholic high school! She of course had her justifications. I was turning into a bad seed in public schools and making the wrong friends. But this one seemingly insignificant decision, is the beginning of my conversion. The beginning of the most beautiful story I can tell in my life. The story of how God purified hearts, dug souls out of the deepest pits of sin, and brought his children close to his bosom.

As I entered the building that would shape my destiny, I was terrified. I wondered if everyone could tell I was a Methodist simply by looking at me. Maybe they would notice that my brand new Bible had never been opened, let alone read. I of course had the regular fears any freshman might have, and I was terrified to start at a school where I knew no one, but mostly I thought they’d sniff me out and soon kick my non-believing behind out of there.

Days and months went on, I was an awkward teenager and so was everyone else, though of course I can only see that in retrospect. It was clear that I was far behind in Religion class, and I remember dreading group work, review days, anything where it became apparent how completely ignorant I truly was. I had joined the school choir, and as we prepared to sing at school Masses I found myself moronically thumbing through missal pages and trying to hold back the tears as I stood when I was supposed to sit. I longed to know the divine secrets these other people knew, and as I watched them go to Jesus in the Communion line my heart ached.

More time passed, and it became easier. I learned the routines, and was soon much better at faking my way through things. I eventually made friends, joined clubs, finished classes and became a “normal” high school student. Fast forward to junior year, and a certain young man, Eric, met my eye. We started a relationship, and lucky for us, we were young and stupid. We didn’t know the things of this world, and so we entered a serious relationship totally in love with one another and completely devoted. Did I mention this man became my husband?

Eric and I dated through high school, and went to college together. He and I knew from very early on that we would be married, but we both wanted to wait until we graduated college. It was also completely understood that if I wanted to marry Eric, his parents expected me to convert. Of course I was ecstatic at this idea, and so the summer before Eric’s senior year as an undergraduate, I decided it was time to begin RCIA. I distinctly remember telling my mom what I had planned. I knew she wouldn’t be happy, but I also knew that I was an adult and it was finally my choice. The thing about family is they know you so well, and this is usually a great thing, but in this case, my mom knew exactly what to say to break my heart.

She said, “Your great-grandmother will roll over in her grave when she hears of your conversion.”

It hurt. It hurt a lot. I idolized my great-grandma, and my mom knew it. My mother knew she had already lost the battle, so she went for the gut. I don’t know what I expected her to say, but that wasn’t it. It didn’t matter though, it was finally my choice and not hers and so I excitedly began RCIA.

I was catechized by two loving deacons in our parish, and became Catholic during the Easter vigil in 2004 with my husband as my sponsor. I chose St. Adelaide, a patron saint of parenthood and second marriages which I felt was fitting based on my childhood. I remember that moment, when I first consumed Jesus in the Eucharist, and I expected to feel different….feel something. And yet, nothing. Shouldn’t this be the end of my story? How could it be that I was finally Catholic, yet my heart was still not whole. I didn’t understand, and I honestly felt as if God was angry because I didn’t obey his call sooner. I feared that all along my mom was right, that I should never have become Catholic. I had lost so much of that wonder and awe for The Church with age, and I so deeply wanted it back.

However, I quickly pushed these feelings to the back of my mind, and dreamt of wedding plans, our future careers, and our lives together. We became barely practicing Catholics as I found that when you surround yourself with “lukewarm Catholics” that that is what you become. Sometimes we attended Sunday Mass, sometimes not, and that was it. We made choices that were a slap in the face to the Mother Church, because we thought we knew better. But, Eric and I were married in the Church that December, and began our lives together.

My husband became a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and I started looking for a teaching job. I interviewed several places, but wasn’t getting called back. I was nervous. I applied for anything and everything I could find. One day, I received a call to come interview at North American Martyrs School in Lincoln, Nebraska. This day, the day of my interview with Sr. Patricia, was the first day of my real conversion. If I thought it was difficult to become Catholic, I was wrong. The real work began when I saw that my heart needed to change to actually be a Catholic woman.

As I drove home from the interview I called my husband. I told him that I would never ever accept that job, that the pay was laughable. I mean really, what self-respecting college graduate would start at $23,000? My husband was in grad school, there was no way we could live off of that. Plus, I was certain that I’d be getting called back from the other schools at which I’d interviewed. But, I didn’t.

A week went by and no one else called. I was scared I wouldn’t have a job at all. And so, when Sr. Patricia called back to ask if I’d decided, I said yes to her. I was just relieved to have a job after I got off the phone, and yet here’s the best part. That same day, after she called, I had two other job offers both for much more money and with the opportunity to earn my Master’s degree in 18 months during my first year of teaching. It was in this moment, that I accepted divine intervention. Though nowhere near as awesome as Mary’s “yes”, this was the beginning of my yes to God. I allowed Him to direct my life’s path.

Now, I wish I could recall every detail of my three years in this holy place, but alas after five children my memory often fails. I can tell you that never having been to Rome or the Holy Land, Lincoln Nebraska is the holiest of places I’ve ever been. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz is a holy man, and leads his sheep with a rod and staff.

As part of my job I was required to take the students to daily Mass every single school day. We had prayer time in the church as a class once a week, adoration and benediction on the first Friday of every month, confession once a quarter, stations of the cross every week during Lent and that was just the beginning.The altar boys (boys-only) deserved their nickname: “The Knights of the Altar”. The girls respected them for it. Dozens of men in the parish served as acolytes. The idea of unvested extraordinary ministers or even permanent deacons were unheard of. There were actual religious sisters teaching in our school, and twice a month our parish priest came to teach in our classroom. The students in the school knew the faith better than anyone else I had ever met, and could defend it to any well spoken adult. The priests were amazing, and the diocese has one of the highest priest to parishioner ratios. They gave homilies about the tough issues, and didn’t apologize for it. The priests inspired everyone in the parish to do more, give more, pray more, love more.

Sometime during this amazing experience, I began to hear a whisper. A whisper I didn’t want to listen to because it was scary, but I knew it was from God. I heard it, “Rachel, put aside these Earthly things and follow Me.” And worse yet, I knew exactly what He was talking about: contraception. Through much prayer, my husband and I agreed that we needed to stop using birth control and begin using Natural Family Planning, as our hearts were not yet ready to welcome children into our family. Soon after I gained the courage to go to confession and pour out my guilt for this sin, and words cannot say the true forgiveness I felt. I knew I would have to battle this mistake my entire life, but as I left the confessional, for the first time ever, I felt like a child of God.

My husband and I started using NFP in November of that year, and immediately realized from the charting, that something was not right. A story to be told some other time, but we soon discovered with the help of an amazing NaPro doctor that I had polycystic ovaries, and possible fertility problems. In fact I was told that it may be difficult to impossible for my husband and I to conceive. Information that is crushing to any woman, and especially to my 23 year-old self.

This led to THE moment, the moment of my true conversion. The moment where I could no longer be the person I used to be and instead had to be who God made me to be. Where I would have to die to self and live in Him, the culmination of my “yes” to Him.

And it is in the spirit of the diocese that my husband and I decided to participate in a Lenten retreat. The retreat had it’s ups and downs, but we found of course that the more we poured ourselves into it, the more we got out of it. During the last week of the retreat, the Sunday before Holy Week, we were called to participate in Eucharistic adoration. Our small group knelt in the front pew and prayed. But then, our priest did something amazing. He brought Jesus to us in the monstrance. He came down the row, and one by one each person was allowed to touch Him. I prayed with more fervor than I ever had before. I asked God to come into my heart, and for the courage to make a true dwelling place for Him. Then, Father Kilcawley stood in front of me, and in his hands was Jesus, truly present in the Eucharist. This was the moment that my life had led up to, the culmination of my journey finally at hand. I laid my hands on Him and began to cry tears of true joy and love. I heard his voice more clearly than I ever had or have since, and I heard Him tell me to be a mother. I knew He had used this retreat to purify my soul, bring me to Him, and remind me of my purpose in life. That one single moment in time was my conversion.

Needless to say, that Easter vigil was the most beautiful Mass I have ever attended, and God’s amazing love continued to follow me. A few weeks later, I discovered that I was pregnant with our first child! A year later, at Easter Mass, I welcomed my mother into the Church. Yes, you read that right, my anti-Catholic mother.

I realized that being dubbed a Catholic just wasn’t enough. God wants all of you, your whole heart and soul, and he won’t rest until he has it. Our family has continued to grow in love and in number through Him as I listened to his whispers in my life. Most recently, I answered God’s call in my life and said yes to veiling at Mass, and as always when I listen to Him I am sublimely happy.

And, this is how I picture Mary, sublimely happy. Yes, she was human, and laden with daily tasks as any wife or mother is, but I know her “yes” to God must have radiated from her everyday.

Categories
Advent Liturgical Year Splendid Sundays

Splendid Sundays: Peace on Earth

Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 5

Open today’s readings in another window to read along.

Reflection

For he proclaims peace to his people.”  (Ps 23) These days it is hard to see this proclamation in our world, we wonder where the peace is.  We’re looking for peace in others, for others, in government, at work, everywhere, and often we just don’t see it.  Given the Advent season, the song popped in my head, “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”  Imagine if everyone approached life with this attitude, let peace begin with me.  But is peace simply an attitude?

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven. (Ps 23)

Can you image that day?  What a day!!!  It feels forever, lifetimes away!  But to God, it is all in the blink of His eye.  “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay’” (2 Pt 3).  Advent is time that we reflect on His plan for our salvation.  We are in the midst of it, without delay.  Isaiah prophesied on behalf of the Lord, “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.” (Is 40)  God made good on that  prophesy and sent us His only son, Christ Jesus 2,000 years ago… so, only two days ago to God ;).

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. (2 Pt 3)

God’s grace sure is a gift, isn’t it?  And so are our lifetimes, as we need all of that time to cooperate with God’s grace because only He can make us worthy of His promises , “Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him”.  (Ps 23)  The four candles of the Advent wreath symbolize each of the four thousand years God’s people awaited the arrival of the first coming of Our Savior since Adam and Eve.  Advent is also a time where we, the beneficiaries of the New Covenant, look forward to His second coming with anticipation and preparedness.  We strive for holiness, keeping close to the Sacraments that God has provided for us such that we can be “found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.”  (2 Pt 3)  God divinely provides for our peace filled purification through His Church, the Bride of Christ (Eph 5).  Peace is more than an attitude, it is God’s sanctifying grace in us.

As the Christmas season brings about its busy-ness and bustle and you find yourself bewildered, “Where is Christ in this Christmas?!”, return to Christ in the Eucharist for peace, and turn to God in the confessional for some spot and blemish removal ;).

“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Categories
8th Commandment Faith Formation Mary P. Ten Commandments

Bearing False Witness

Election season is upon us. We’ve already been treated to debates among the potential Republican nominees and poorly-veiled campaigning by the current President, and we have just under a year left ahead of us for more debates, town hall meetings, questionable campaign promises, and attack ads on television. But don’t worry – this post isn’t about who should win the Republican nomination or why the Republicans need to beat Obama in 2012. This post is about a topic that transcends partisan politics. Something that has infected our entire political process. Something that we take for granted as simply being “par for the course” around election time. That “something” is an offense against the Eighth Commandment, called “calumny.”

I’ve found that “calumny” is a little-known word, even among Catholics. I know that I had never even heard the word until sometime within the last few years, and when I told one of my Catholic friends that I was writing about calumny for the blog, she responded “calumwho?” It may be an unfamiliar word to many, but it’s not an unfamiliar concept, I’m sure. It’s essentially the same thing as slander or libel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as making remarks contrary to the truth, which are harmful to the reputation of others and give occasion for false judgment of them. “Calumny” is the appropriate word for so much of what people say about Catholics and especially about our Church leadership (for example, “Pope Benedict is/was a Nazi” – a charge which couldn’t be further from the truth).

Calumny is related to rash judgment and detraction because they are all offenses against truth, and more specifically offenses against the respect that we owe to the reputations of others. They violate the overarching command to love our neighbors as ourselves. I find it interesting that the Eighth Commandment, which we all take to encompass all types of lying, specifically names the kind of lying where you speak an untruth against your neighbor. This is a serious sin, and we need to take heed!

I may not need to connect the dots for you, but in case I do, this is related to election season because, unfortunately, a lot of what passes for “campaigning” among political candidates these days is nothing more than mudslinging, which often involves calumny (in addition to both rash judgment and detraction). Candidates on both sides of the party line actually seek to damage the reputation of other candidates. I believe that some “dirt” that is “dug up” against candidates is fabricated whole cloth for the sole intention of destroying their chances to be elected; other times, partial truths are twisted into untruths. It’s not just candidates who do this to each other, sadly. Sometimes this happens via the large portion of people in the mainstream media who are not so much concerned with truth as they are with their personal ideology.

I promise that I am not writing this post for the purpose of pointing fingers at political candidates and mainstream media members. I began this post talking about politics because I thought it was an extremely accessible application of the principle of calumny – something we could all understand. To be honest (which is important in a piece on the Eighth Commandment!), I foolishly failed to see it as a sin that would be easy for the average good-willed person to fall into, or a sin that I personally struggled with. Oh how naïve I was! After starting this piece, I suddenly realized that I am much more tempted toward calumny than I had thought I was, and I bet it is something that we have all struggled with.

It’s true that I am very unlikely to fabricate out of thin air a story about someone and then spread it around to damage their reputation. I despise outright lying, and am much more tempted to commit detraction (sharing true but damaging information about other people). But how likely am I to share second-hand stories about others (especially regarding politics) without honestly assessing whether the stories are true? How likely am I to jump unthinkingly on the chance to help damage the reputation of a person who I think is undeserving of a good reputation and needs to be “exposed” for who they really are? The answer to those questions is that it’s more likely than I’d like to admit. And if I were to spread around a second- hand story about someone without concerning myself too much with its truth, and with the express hope of making people look askance at that person, is that really very different than fabricating a story myself?

I want to tell my readers not to worry about my being tempted by this sin, because at least I am only tempted to do it because of good intentions! I’m not like those other people who commit this sin. The only time I would ever spread around a damaging story without caring about whether it was true is when there is a good reason! People need to know who these people really are – and even if this or that particular story is untrue, that doesn’t mean that what it says about the person is untrue….

That’s what I wish I could say to my readers. I wish I could say that my sins aren’t really sins because I have good intentions. I wish I could say that I am so much better than the people who commit the same sins with much more nefarious purposes in mind. It’s so easy to point fingers at other people who we think are committing sins out of pure evil or selfish intentions, and whitewash over our own sins because of the fact that we think we are committing those sins for a good reason. But then we aren’t being honest with ourselves, are we? We aren’t remembering that Scripture and our Catholic faith teach us that we can never do something evil for the purpose of bringing about good. Getting back to the political theme, even if Candidate A is truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Candidate B cannot make stuff up about him in order to ensure that he does not win the White House. And I cannot uncritically pass on that made-up stuff because I want everyone to know just how evil Candidate A is.

It can be so tempting to think that we must stop at nothing in order to ensure that this or that candidate does not have control of the White House – especially when millions of human lives are on the line, as is the case in the fight against legal abortion. At those times that we are tempted, we’d do well to remember who the “father of lies” is, and Who the Truth is. How can we ever hope to be victorious for the Truth when we are using the tactics of the “father of lies”? The reality is that we cannot hope for that. It’s nonsensical to think that we will beat satan by breaking the Commandments given to us by our Lord. Scripture tells us that the Truth will set us free! We have to place our trust in that – in HIM – even if it means that we have to endure periods of time where great evil is being done in our nation. When we resort to using sinful means in order to bring about a perceived good, we have given up true hope and trust, and despaired of the power of God. We have grown impatient and decided that He isn’t working fast enough and that we have to step in and get the job done more quickly. We have sacrificed the health of our own immortal souls for some lesser good.

But if I’m being REALLY honest with myself, I also would have to admit that my sins aren’t all committed for noble purposes (shocking, I know)! There have been times when I have been tempted toward calumny for purely selfish reasons. How often have I at least wanted to embellish a story about someone or, as political candidates sometimes do, to twist a partial truth so much that there was barely a semblance of truth left by the time I was finished – all for the purpose of making myself feel better or look better in someone else’s eyes? How often have I actually followed through with it? How often have I let my emotions overshadow my love for the truth, such that I convinced myself that something negative about another person was true when I knew deep down that it wasn’t – and then shared that “truth” with someone else because I was hurt or angry?

Again, the answer to those questions is “more often than I’d like to admit.” It appears as though calumny is a sin that is easier to fall into than I had thought. So, I need to be on guard against it, as do we all – especially because calumny can be grave matter and thus can constitute a mortal sin (depending on how damaging the untruths are to a person’s reputation and whether the other usual conditions for mortal sin are met).

One of the best ways to avoid both detraction and calumny is to have a general rule not to gossip or talk badly about other people. I know – it’s so easy to fall into the trap of gossiping, or “venting” when someone upsets you, especially if you are surrounded by people who have no qualms about doing those things.  But through the grace of God (and, practically speaking, the avoidance of near occasions of sin), I believe we can conquer any sin that tempts us. We have to pray for that grace to overcome the urge to do injustice against our neighbors (even when we think they really really deserve it!). We have to pray for a zeal for the truth.

As we enter into the New [Liturgical] Year, let us resolve to be more mindful about how we can honor the truth and love our neighbors as ourselves (yes, even the neighbors we dislike), and to avoid occasions of rash judgment, detraction, and calumny. As we tidy and decorate our homes in preparation for Christmas festivities, let us clear out the cobwebs in our hearts and souls and prepare our spiritual houses for the coming of our Savior!

 

Eighth Commandment image borrowed from  http://www.christian-myspace-layouts.com.

Image of gossiping women by Stuart Miles.