Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Lent! or Welcome to Dieting for Catholics!

So today is 'Fat Tuesday', meaning that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I remember a few years ago, when I was returning to the church and gaining an understanding of what Lent was really about, I would listen to a local morning radio show on the way into work, called 'The Morning Buzz'. One of the co-hosts of the show is a guy named Blacksmith who was raised in a Catholic home and was giving up chewing tobacco for lent. The other people on the show were asking him why he was doing this and he explained that during Lent, you give something up as a sacrifice for God. Being raised in the normal legalistic American Catholic household, that was originally my understanding of Lent as well. I remember in high school, one of my friends who I considered very religious gave up his pillow as a sacrifice for Lent. It was all about giving something up.

But the year I heard this on the radio was the first year that I learned that Lent is not just a period to give up some comfort as a sacrifice for God. Lent is a time of preparation and cleansing when you look to your habits from the rest of the year and see what permanent changes you can make in your life to grow closer to God. This host, who was giving up chewing tobacco for forty days, had a reputation on the show as a ladies man, sleeping around, taking women home, having meaningless sex with them. At the time, he did a weekly remote from a local strip club. And for Lent, he was giving up....chewing tobacco. I remember thinking at the time, what a misconception he had, and feeling quite superior that I had (no matter how recently) learned what it was all about! As I look back now, I feel kind of sad that so many of us were brought up with this legalistic, checklist-style Catholicism. It smacks of hypocrisy, even though that wasn't the intent, and does not teach or explain the full richness of our faith.

So tomorrow starts Lent, and many people will give up chocolate, or chewing tobacco, or smoking, or even Facebook in what has become a second chance to start the diet you promised you would start after New Year's. But as I post every year at this time, this is not just about giving up chocolate as a sacrifice. Lent is about looking at your relationship with Jesus and seeing what you can remove from your life that might be blocking that relationship. It is also about adding things to your life to improve your relationship with Jesus.

This is something very important for me this year as I have been really wondering about what God's plan is for me and my family, and if He even has a plan for us. The truth is that I am in a place where my faith and trust in Him is struggling. So this year, I am going to concentrate on a couple of things. I will not go online at night until I have read the readings for the next day. These two parts of my bedtime ritual need to be switched up as it is far more important for me to be awake when I read God's word than it is for me to get through my friends' Facebook updates. The second thing I am doing, is something that was recommended by our new Parish Priest, Father Joe Cooper. When I told him how I was feeling in confession, Father Joe told me about Fr. Solanus Casey, whose Cause is being reviewed for Beatification and Canonization. Father Casey would tell people to thank God before praying for any petition or for His guidance, because even if your prayer is not answered to your expectation, it is because God knows His plan for you and knows that sometimes what you need and what you want are not the same thing. So last night I put together a prayer to pray every morning thanking God for having a plan for me and asking Him for guidance toward what He knows is best. In case you like the idea, here is the prayer I came up with:

Lord, thank you for your plans for me.
For I know it is by your grace that I have each day of my life.
And as I ask for your help, I more so seek trust in your will for me
that if my desires are not granted, then it is your wisdom
and your desires for me that make it so. And I know that you only desire
what is best for me and my family.
So I ask today for your guidance;
That I may have the wisdom to hear your voice;
And the courage to carry out your will.

As I said, Lent is not about giving up chocolate, unless that is the tool that Satan is using to pry you away from Jesus. (I must admit, I have tasted chocolate this good!). It is not just about eating the Fisherman's Platter on Friday instead of the Prime Rib. Lent is a chance to look at your relationship with God and say, "What can I rearrange in this mess that is my life to make a little more room for Jesus? And what can I do to more accurately imitate him and truly be the eyes, ears, hands and feet of Christ?"

Anyone who read my last post, knows that I will most likely be working on striking a better balance when I speak to people about passionate issues. I will also put effort in to paying more attention to God's word and trying to be thankful for all that he gives to me....and even for the things He does not give to me.

Happy Lent everybody! I'll be praying for you, please pray for me!

God bless,

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Army of God or Swimming upstream is not easy, but our General can walk on water!

It’s been said that we are all “warriors for Christ” or “soldiers in God’s Army”, and that description has been amplified during this recent fight for religious liberty against the mandate put forth by the Health and Human Services Department in the new health care law, which requires religious affiliated employers to provide health insurance plans that provide contraceptives, abortifacients and even abortions, totally against their church teaching. In this latest battle, I have found it difficult to gauge exactly how to fight. The first thing that makes it hard is that the media is framing this as a fight over contraception, and claiming contraception as a “right” for “women’s health”. If it were a fight about contraception, and people actually looked at the truth, church teaching would win hands down. But this fight is not about contraception, it is about whether the government has the right to compel an institution with religious conviction to provide, and partially pay for, a service that goes directly against that conviction. The battle also is not about how many Catholics use contraception or have had abortions or sterilization procedures, but the media keeps trotting those numbers out as well (provided by the Guttmacher Institute, of course, which is the research arm of Planned Parenthood). In case nobody in the United States has noticed, the Catholic Church is not run as a democracy. You see, God’s teachings are not subject to change by popular opinion. As a matter of fact, that’s what some of us like about them! No, it’s not always easy to decide which part of your personality to engage in battle as God’s Soldier’ which probably explains why I am no longer welcome on the Facebook page for Planned Parenthood of North America, and was blocked from several comment strings on the Susan G. Komen For the Cure page during their recent dust-up, strong-arming and reversal. You see, I have a knack for sarcasm and can be a bit vicious when I don’t restrain myself. This, I am learning, is not the way to fight as a soldier in God’s Army.

I can see a lot of parallels in the ‘God’s Army’ analogy, with apologies in advance to any of those who have served in the military, as I am by no means an expert in military careers, this is how I see it. I see Baptism as enlisting. Whether it is as an adult, or as an infant, when you are Baptised, you are enlisted in God’s Army. After being Baptised, there is Sunday school, or as we called it ‘CCD’, this is Boot Camp (from the stories I've heard, in previous generations, the two were almost indistinguishable). You are taught the basics of being a soldier and what it says in the manual. This is where I have to apologize to my military friends, because I want to say that the Mass is like Basic Training, and I’m not totally sure that Basic Training in the military, isn't just a different name for Boot Camp. But at the Mass, we are kept in touch with the things we learned in ‘Boot Camp’ and we are kept up on how those things apply to our current mission. That mission is where we go when we get our ‘Orders’. The analogy here is to our Vocation. In fact, one of the Vocations is Holy Orders, but that’s not the only one I’m addressing. There are also the marching orders for those of us in the other Vocations. There is marriage and believe it or not, some are even called to be celibate and single. Our Vocation tells us what our mission is and the Mass tells us how the Basic Training applies to that mission on a daily basis. Now if we consider ourselves soldiers, out there in battle day to day, then we are going to get dinged up a bit, so at some point, you are going to need to visit the M.A.S.H. unit. For us Catholics, this is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We step in and get our wounds treated. We pull some dents, polish up our armor and head back out there to fight another day.

Now, with the exception of the HHS Mandate, which has to be either a direct attack on institutes of faith or an extremely misguided idea of what is a right or necessary medical treatment, I am not a fan of complaining that our faith is constantly under attack. I do feel that in our world today, if you speak out as a person of faith, your opinion is marginalized and your intelligence is questioned, which makes it a semi-hostile environment for those of us who swim against the stream of popular opinion. But ask yourself, when has that not been the case for those who swim against the stream of popular opinion? Those who swim against the stream have always been swimming upstream, and when you swim upstream, then you get hit with a lot of... well, let’s just say you get hit with a lot of what flows downstream. So when we're out there fighting, we cannot use the same types of weapons as a conventional army (not even metaphorically). Lobbing text 'artillery' and committing verbal violence will not get us anywhere. The two greatest weapons in our arsenal as Christ’s soldiers, are compassion and prayer. I am far from perfect in these respects, as evidenced by my aforementioned war record on the social network battlefield, but I’m trying to find the balance.

As I was reading the Gospel for today’s Mass, I was reminded that the greatest part of this analogy is that as soldiers in God’s Army, we also are determined to leave no man behind. In today’s reading (Mark 2:1-12), Jesus returns to Capernaum and is healing and teaching when four men carry a paralytic friend to him on a mat because they know Christ can heal him. Upon arriving, they find that they cannot even get him near the door. Like good Marines would do, the men adapt, improvise and overcome, opening up the roof of the house and lowering their friend in to get him to Jesus. Jesus, impressed by the faith of his friends, forgives the man’s sins and heals him. Those men knew that Christ was the hope for their friend to be healed and they did whatever it took to get him there. They were not going to have their friend left suffering on the battlefield when there was a shred of opportunity that they could bring him back alive!

As soldiers in God’s Army, our most important responsibility is to bring people to Christ. As members of His body, the church, we are to be His eyes, ears, hands and feet in today’s world. He’s not as welcome as he used to be. But if we can keep from using the wrong weaponry and we can keep up with our training, we can continue to leave no man behind. And remember, in this war, we don't win the battles by destroying the ‘enemy’. We win by saving their lives!

Please remember to pray for those serving in our nation's military and their families. And continue to pray for each other.

God bless!