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I’m blessed to share my home with two adorable furry housemates: Sabrina and Alvis. In addition to companionship, comfort, and fun, they’ve also given me occasion to ponder my relationship with God, how I see Him, and how He perhaps sees me. Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect; God sees me as His own daughter, not as a pet, and at the same time, He is far more superior to me than I am to my cats. But it’s been helpful nevertheless.
No matter how unpleasant your situation is, no matter how little sense it makes to you, keep trusting!
To my cats, getting locked up in a carrier, being taken to a strange place to be poked and prodded by strange people, then coming home only to be force-fed pills or vile liquids–sometimes with the added indignity of being wrapped up in a towel like a cat burrito–is nothing but a series of meaningless trauma. They don’t understand that these things are happening in order to make, or keep, them healthy and feeling well. And it is surely mystifying that the same person who was cuddling and feeding and playing with them just a short time ago should now turn so cruel and cold, ignoring their cries and their squirming. So it is sometimes with me and God. Sometimes life seems to take a cruel turn for no apparent reason, and sometimes God seems like a completely different Person, seemingly ignoring my pleas.
But just as I know that taking my cats to the vet and treating any ill condition is for their good, so does God know what good may come from times of testing, purification, building and re-building, fortifying my weak spots, strengthening me where I need it, and chiseling away ugly spots or sharp edges. And if my will toward my cats is so good, then surely God’s will toward me is far better still! And well, at least He hasn’t given me the burrito-wrap treatment… yet.
At the same time, be prepared to accept and to marvel that God is a complete mystery.
Each and every morning, my cats witness an astonishing ritual. Each and every morning they see me close myself up in a small, cramped torture chamber that–horror of horrors!–sprays water all over me. Water! All over me! And I submit myself to this insanity willingly, even with delight! What sort of messed up masochist does that?! And that’s just one example of the apparent insanity that possesses me.
Likewise, there are things I just can’t understand about God–things no mortal human can understand. Like the Trinity. Like the Passion and Crucifixion. Like the Resurrection. Like what exactly He sees in me that is so special that He created me out of nothing and holds me lovingly in existence, a little speck afloat in the unspeakable vastness of the universe–not only that but that He loves me! These mysteries–both majestic and intensely intimate to my little life–always surround God, as He surrounds me with His marvelous deeds, His tremendous power, His unwavering attention, and His boundless love. And how He must smile when we gaze toward Him wide-eyed and bewildered, just as I smile at my cat sitting nervously outside my shower!
How many people prefer to dismiss Him today as something impossible and foolish to believe in! How many people are eager to dismiss all things that are mysterious and marvelous just because they cannot be examined by human eyes or neatly defined by human definitions! What a magnificent relationship they are missing!
You’re always your best when you are simply yourself, flaws and all–there’s no need to fear rejection!
My cats sometimes make me crack up with laughter (see: Sabrina being silly at left). They do it without any shame whatsoever. They are free spirits who do whatever comes naturally in the moment. Sometimes, they make me shake my head because they don’t realize how incredibly comfy and easy their lives are–but I wouldn’t ever want it any other way! Sometimes they’re a real handful–like when I’m trying to give them medicine and they just won’t be still, and I have to resort to the burrito-wrap. But I understand and just do my best to make it as quick and painless as possible (knowing full well that they would beg to differ). And sometimes they are so incredibly sensitive and insightful and tender toward me when I am sad or sick or in any kind of pain that it’s like God is acting through them. They may never know what it means to me that they are just who and what they are, and that I love them for it.
I think God regards us the same way, whether we make Him laugh or shake His head or even when we squirm and kick and scratch and protest and do our darnedest to shove Him away. He knows when we are trying to lie or hide or BS Him. He sees straight through us. He knows how we are made. He knows our limitations. He knows our individual personalities. He knows them–He loves them–He even died for them. And no matter how much we may reject Him–for He made us free to do so if we truly wish it–He never wills nor wishes to reject us. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s a bit difficulty and even frightening to believe! We are so fearful of the rejection we sometimes suffer from our fellow man. We may instinctively try to throw up walls between ourselves and God.
But what liberty, what joy, what lightness of being and peace of mind can be ours if we will venture to just be ourselves before God! I could never reject my cats just for being the cats they are. And God would never reject me for just being the human being I am. Nor would he reject any one of us for being who and what we are.
As good as we are to our pets, those little creatures we share our lives and homes with, God is far better–infinitely better!–to us. And as much as we enjoy our pets, God rejoices so much more in us, His own children. And as much as we would love to spend our whole lives with our beloved pets, so much more does God desire to spend all eternity with us. So never doubt, never fear, never dismiss Him! Curl up in his arms with all the confidence and security that your pets curl up next to you with!
Alvis says “Relax!”
Blithely browsing my Facebook feed, I came across astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s 8 books every intelligent person should read. I’m always interested to read these kinds of lists. I always presume knowledge and expertise, as well as good will, on the part of the book selector. Boy did I bomb out on this one.
Here is the first item on the list:
1.) The Bible (eBook) - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”
Seriously? That’s the only reason to read the Bible? Any book list that begins with such a potshot at the Bible is an automatic and complete FAIL. It’s such an ignorant, dishonest, and arrogant statement that I can not possibly let it slide.
First of all, if the Bible’s adherents were so eager to be told what to think and believe, then why did they resist the Romans (and other powers before them) to the point of enduring torture, death, and all out genocide? They could have easily saved their skins and their way of life by just offering incense to the State Gods to appease their oppressors. They didn’t. Why is that?
Secondly, the Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky saying “Here, this is how you have to think and act and believe. Do it or die.” Rather, the Bible–not one book, but a diverse collection of books–came about over centuries and centuries, growing up from the thoughts, insights, religious beliefs, life experiences, and aspirations of a people. The Bible was a result, not a dictator.
It’s a full, rich body of literature, comprising everything from historical chronicles to songs, apocalyptic literature to erotic poetry. It’s full of profound wisdom, brutal honesty, a magnificent comprehension of human nature, and glorious artistry. And if the human writers, and we who have followed, have believed that their inspirations came from God, then fine–respect it and assume that they and we are sincere in that belief, even if you personally don’t believe it.
But whatever you do, if you care about being regarded as intelligent, don’t hold up a book you obviously don’t know or understand and misrepresent it to make yourself look superior.
Any true striving for knowledge requires humility and liberal-mindedness–they are required, not optional. Tyson betrays his lack of both, right from the beginning. And I bet there are lots of people who will gladly take his word for it. Hopefully there are also people who will take his recommendation and find out for themselves the true value of reading the Bible, be they a detached scholar or a religious believer.
Tyson concludes by saying: “If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”
Come now, sir, for that to be true, the list should have included at least one classic work from the Greeks, Romans, or Medievals. Machiavelli and Sun Tsu are the best you can offer? Western Civilization is neither impressed nor amused, Mr. Tyson.
Today we celebrate a great and extremely interesting Saint, Mary Magdalene.
A woman of considerable mystery and controversy, her exact identity is not clear. Is she the same as Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus? Is she the unnamed sinner who anointed Christ’s feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair? Was she a prostitute?
Her name brings to mind repentance, conversion, and liberation from evil. One of the few clear statements about her in scripture says that she was exorcised of seven demons, and after that she followed Christ on His journeys.
We also know with certainty that she was present at the Crucifixion and that she was the first person to receive and announce the Good News of Christ’s Resurrection. Dominicans regard her as a patroness of our Order, for she was the preacher to the preachers and the apostle to the apostles.
Even with such scarce evidence, we can conclude that St. Mary Magdalene had a remarkable and dramatic spiritual journey, a profound conversion.
While some might take umbrage with identifying her as a great sinner, the mention of her possession by seven demons suggests that for some period of time her life was far from saintly. As a woman who has in the past has lived dangerously close to the demonic, I have long identified closely with St. Mary Magdalene. When talking about my experiences with fellow Catholics, I have occasionally been met with appalled and scandalized responses, a very un-Catholic recoiling from my past as if it were still my present and my future, as if there were no such thing as repentance, conversion, and salvation of sinners. And I have to admit that I am sometimes the most appalled of all, nearly tempted to doubt my own salvation.
But just as St. Mary Magdalene cannot be defined by her past errors, neither can I be, nor can anybody who turns their face to Christ and opens their heart to His saving grace! The only sense in which we are defined by our past is that the great darkness which is behind us makes the transforming light of Christ gleam all the more radiantly! Where sin abounded, grace abounds all the more, as St. Paul said. And as St. Augustine said, every Saint has a past, and ever sinner has a future. (Sts. Paul and Augustine should know very well, for they too are well-known as repentant and converted sinners.)
What greater grace could there be than to encounter the resurrected Christ in person? And what greater future for a sinner than to announce that Good News for the first time in human history? Those are the reasons we honor the great Saint, Mary Magdalene, and because she who was once Satan’s possession became Christ’s, preacher to the preachers, apostle to the apostles, and a glorious model of hope, repentance, and conversion for all of us sinners.
St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us!
Amidst the joy that I and so many people have felt at the election of Pope Francis, I have also encountered worry, alarm, even anger from some Catholics who are afraid that the Holy Father has been hostile toward the extraordinary form of the Mass and will reverse all of the liturgical decisions of Pope-emeritus Benedict. You can read more at any number of other blogs.
I am a bit baffled by the whole thing. I admit that it’s not entirely clear to me what the Holy Father’s stance is on the EF. I’ve read that the attempt to implement it in Buenos Aires crashed and burned. I don’t know if that can be blamed on the Holy Father. Here are some things that do seem clear to me and give me reason not to be too concerned:
1. He loves and respects Pope Emeritus Benedict. At the very least, I can’t imagine him tossing Summorum Pontificum into the garbage. I can’t imagine him disparaging or discouraging its implementation. Its implementation may not be a priority for him. He may not say Mass ad orientem or repeat everything that Benedict did. That’s a far cry from destroying the liturgy.
2. Something I have not seen yet in the discussions about liturgy is the fact that he served as bishop to Eastern Rite Catholics in Buenos Aires, as well as Latin Rite Catholics. And apparently he is well-liked and respected by the Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch, who says, among other things:
I would first like to say that the newly elected Pope Francis was mentored by one of our priests, Stepan Chmil who is now buried in the basilica of St. Sophia in Rome. Today’s Pope, during his time as a student of the Salesian school, awoke many hours before his classmates to concelebrate at our Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stepan. He knows our Tradition very well, as well as our Liturgy.
If Pope Francis has a love and understanding of Eastern Divine Liturgy, surely he can’t be all that antagonistic toward the traditional Latin Rite liturgy. It seems to me that anybody who hated the EF would not touch the Divine Liturgy with a ten-foot pole (nor would anybody want them to!). Am I wrong? Has anybody read or heard anything else about his relationship with the Eastern Catholics?
3. The Holy Father seems pretty traditional to me overall. He preaches about the devil, for crying out loud. And that’s a good thing! That’s something that the modern Church needs more than anything.
Mostly, I just think that we need to give him a chance to show us who he is… to not make any hasty judgments… and to not compare him with Pope Emeritus Benedict at every turn. We have to know and respect him on his own terms. To know him based on what we see him do and hear him say.
The name Francis likely reveals what will be the main themes of this papacy. I’ve heard confirmations that the Holy Father chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, as opposed to St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis de Sales. However, all three of these great saints have important things in common: all three of them were great evangelizers, and all three pursued a mission of building, or re-building, the Church in very difficult times.
The image of St. Francis of Assisi has often been softened in modern times into some kind of medieval hippie. But the truth is that he–like my father, St. Dominic–lived in a time when the Church was on crusade abroad, while falling to heresy and internal weakness and corruption at home. It is said that Christ Himself charged St. Francis to re-build His Church, which was falling into ruin, while Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis physically holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. St. Francis also ventured into the camp of the Sultan of Egypt near Damietta with the intent of either converting him or dying in the attempt. He kissed a leper and bore the wounds of crucifixion in his own body. He had a boldness and toughness that he often doesn’t get credit for today.
St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who studied with St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a fervent and fearless missionary to distant lands such as India and Japan–lands in which Christianity was pretty much unknown. He is said to have converted more people to the faith than anybody since St. Paul. He died just within reach of mainland China, which had been his ultimate goal.
St. Francis de Sales had close ties and working relationships with both the Jesuits and the Franciscans. As the bishop of Geneva, he strove to re-convert and re-evangelize those around him who had left the Church for Calvinism. His gentleness and intellect won many of them back. He also served as a spiritual director to many, many Catholics from all walks of life to strengthen, reassure, and instruct them. We are blessed that many of his letters and writings have survived; they are just as relevant as ever. (In fact, I give St. Francis de Sales credit for helping me to come back to the Church.)
We are again living in very difficult times. Traditionally Catholic and Christian nations are falling to radical secularism and so-called liberalism which is anything but liberal-minded. The Church is imploding due to internal weakness, divisions, corruption, and scandal. Generations of Catholics have been poorly formed and catechized and have all too easily drifted into the secular world or into other Christian communities or other religions. Meanwhile, new generations of Catholics in places like Africa and Asia, as well as very ancient communities in the Middle East, are striving amid enormous adversities, often striving for their very lives and yet nonetheless thirsting for the Gospel and the Church, and longing for the love, support, guidance, and reassurance of their brethren and the Holy Father.
In short, traditionally Catholic and Christian lands are in dire need of re-evangelization and re-conversion, the Church is in need of re-building and re-forming from within, and Catholic communities both old and new in other parts of the world are in need of building up and support. These processes have been begun by previous popes. They have laid the framework and the kindling. I believe our current pope, true to his namesake(s), is going to light it all on fire!
For myself, I can say that Pope Francis has already inspired me to greater humility, greater prayer and spirituality, and above all, greater simplicity and poverty of spirit. All the good intentions I had for this Lent, all the disciplines, all the penances, have just been kicked up to the next level. And believe it or not, this Jesuit with the name and heart of the great Saint Francises, has inspired me to live out more fully my Dominican spirituality. Of course, Dominicans always have, and always will, play an important part in any form of evangelization and building up of the Church. Dominicans, like Franciscans, are a mendicant order. I think we may get back to those roots under the influence of Pope Francis. And when the Dominicans get back to their roots–not only the spirit of poverty, but the very important roots of prayer, study, and preaching–great things are bound to happen!
As my sister St. Catherine of Siena said, “When you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!” I think Pope Francis is going to help all Catholics everywhere to be what we should be–disciples of Christ! May it be so–amen.
White smoke drifting into the night sky:
The world watches…
The crowd goes wild:
A moment of prayer:
The cardinals take in the crowd’s jubilation, and no doubt look forward to resting more easily:
Habemus Papam! Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires is now Pope Francis!
What a wonderful gift God and our cardinals have given to the Church today! Our new Holy Father seems like such a humble and gracious man. I will never forget when he bowed and asked the people to pray for God’s blessing upon him, and the entire crowd fell silent and prayed, joined by the millions around the world who were watching via the media. A beautiful, edifying, unifying moment.
I so look forward to getting to know our new Papa better and seeing and hearing more from him. I feel we are in very good hands, and that he is going to move the Barque of St. Peter forward and reach out to the world. A good leader for this age of the New Evangelization and the Year of Faith.
With humility he came to the papacy, and with humility he left. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI bade farewell to the public world today. I’m still taking it in. The Church is pope-less for a time. Sedes vacans. While I was watching videos of his departure from Vatican City, I felt awe at the fact that I was witnessing such an historical moment. I also felt a touch of sadness. But I know Papa Benedict will be a great prayer-warrior for the Church and the world, and I am grateful for that. I hope and pray that this gentle scholar–that is how I will always remember him most–will enjoy serenity and some refreshment for the rest of his days. I hope he will continue to bless us with his writing as well.
At the same time, let us pray very hard for the cardinals who will be in the upcoming conclave. As Papa Benedict himself said in his farewell address to them, the future pope is among them. We must pray for their discernment, for their careful attention to the voice and motion of the Holy Spirit. In addition to praying for the college of cardinals as a whole, perhaps you might want to adopt a cardinal and pray for him in particular. I am praying for my adopted cardinal, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary.
What a way to start a Monday morning.
Like many people, I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign from the papacy. Also like many, I felt a storm of conflicting emotions: gratitude to God for having given us so good a shepherd… sadness that his papacy had to be cut short… admiration of his humility and steadfastness… worry about his health and about who would succeed him as our holy father… but above all gratitude and love!
One thing is clear: we all know what we need to pray and fast for this Lent! For the peace and much deserved rest for Pope Benedict… and for the cardinals who will be electing his successor, that they listen carefully to the Holy Spirit.
And now, here are some of my favorite photos of dear Papa Benedict!
It’s a little hard to believe, but we are a mere three days from the beginning of Lent! I feel somewhat fortunate that I’ve already begun thinking about it; in previous years, Ash Wednesday has completely caught me off guard.
Each year, I want to observe Lent better than I did before, and this year is no exception. I’ve been thinking about how I wish to observe this season, how I wish to practice sacrifice and discipline, self-denial and self-giving. I don’t want to be lax. I don’t want to approach Easter with the least regret that I could have observed Lent more faithfully and deeply. But each year has been better–this will be might eighth Lent since returning to the Church–and each year I have become more reacclimated to the rigors of this season. I’m no longer quite the fledgling I was. I feel this year will be very edifying.
One simple thing that I have found helpful and motivating is Father Jonathan Morris’s Lent Challenge, “A 46-day plan for spiritual growth in mind, body, and soul.” For each of those three areas, mind, body, and soul, he encourages that we decide on one thing to give up and one thing to do. He will share daily messages of encouragement via Twitter and Facebook.
I also found this quotation from Pope Benedict XIV in 1741:
The observance of Lent is the very badge of Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should men grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.
This quotation speaks powerfully to me; as I’ve mentioned before, I respond to nothing more readily than to a call to arms. I am best motivated to conduct my life well when I am reminded that how I conduct my life affects the world around me–when I remember that it’s not just about me. It’s about what, and Whom, I stand for. More than any other time of year, it is about carrying the Cross and following Christ toward Calvary, trembling in every footstep. Not that we are not always called to do this, but this special season exists for our benefit, to focus us and make us stronger, to amend our lives. It’s a special journey, a special march, a special campaign.
I pray that I might enter into this season with deep devotion and dedication, together with all Catholics. Let us pray for each other!