Pope FrancisHabemus 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.

Pope Benedict farewell

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!

pope-benedict-xvi

Pope Benedict blessing babies in the Holy Land

pope-benedict-praying-while-walking

Portrait of Pope Benedict XVI

Brace yourselves - Lent is comingIt’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!

(Picture source)

No matter how many prayers I pray, I always feel like I need to offer God more gratitude than I do.  It’s not so much that I am ungrateful (although that might be the case at times, sorry to say), as that He deserves so much gratitude!  Infinite gratitude, in fact.  And we are finite creatures.  Sometimes I even feel frustration at what I can or cannot express with words.

At times like that, the Psalms are a special blessing!  Whatever you are feeling, whatever inside you is yearning for expression, there is always a fitting Psalm.  Tonight, that Psalm for me was in Evening Prayer, Psalm 138:

Psalm 138
Thanksgiving

The kings of the earth will bring his glory and honor into the holy city (see Revelation 21:24).

I thank you, Lord, with all my heart,
you have heard the words of my mouth.
In the presence of the angels I will bless you.
I will adore before your holy temple.

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul.

All earth’s kings shall thank you
when they hear the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the Lord’s ways:
“How great is the glory of the Lord!”

The Lord is high yet he looks on the lowly
and the haughty he knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of affliction
you give me life and frustrate my foes.

You stretch out your hand and save me,
your hand will do all things for me.
Your love, O Lord, is eternal,
discard not the work of your hands.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning, is now,
and will be for ever. Amen.

When I began reading this Psalm tonight, my heart became light, as if a weight was literally being lifted from it.  I read the Liturgy of the Hours each day (at least Morning and Evening Prayer).  It is always instructive.  But occasionally, exactly the right Psalm comes up at exactly the right time.

The part that struck me most of all was the second stanza:

I thank you for your faithfulness and love
which excel all we ever knew of you.
On the day I called, you answered;
you increased the strength of my soul.

No matter how greatly I experience God’s faithfulness and love, I am always surprised and bewildered, in a good way. It often leaves me lost in wonder.  He excels, and then excels again, and excels once more, and on and on and on!  Just when you might think He could not lavish any more upon you, He does.  And He has given a great deal of much-needed strength to my soul.  And all the gratitude in the world is not enough for Him and His deeds!

Thank God for the Psalms.  There is always such depth in them.  Sometimes I pray them and may not even realize why I am so strongly affected by them.  The words are often very simple.  But the Psalms are more than their words.  Of course, we hold them to be divinely inspired.  I think they are imbued with the Holy Spirit’s own prayers, into which He elevates and transforms our humble and insufficient words and feelings and thoughts.

I say again, thank God for the Psalms!

 From NASA’s NuStar Project:

Is it not amazing what we can do these days?  Seriously, pinpointing black holes in a galaxy 7 million light-years away!  It wasn’t that long ago that scientists didn’t believe black holes really existed.  Just a strange quirk in the mathematics of relativity, perhaps.  And now they’ve even caught a glimpse of the black hole at the center of our own galaxy:

I think I am something of a rara avis among women.  I like war stories.  I like hearing about people’s experiences in the military.  Not to say that I don’t shudder and shrink at the brutality, the inhumanity, the pain and death and trauma.  But I like being amazed and humbled by the realization that people have been willing to put themselves in the way of those things for the sake of country and countrymen, to stand between those horrors and the rest of us.  Sometimes I hear people dismiss or disparage soldiers because war is such a tragedy, such a shame, such a burden.  They don’t consider that if it weren’t for soldiers, then all of us would be more directly impacted and imperiled by war, and we would all be forced to fend for ourselves.  War is never a thing to love or desire or be proud of.  But the soldiers and other people who suffer and endure and even sometimes overcome in extraordinary ways… these are people to be respected and admired and grateful for.  They are heroes, every one.

I know this probably sounds like a post for Veterans Day or Memorial Day.  But these thoughts shouldn’t be reserved for just certain days.  I think them often.  They inspire me.  They motivate me.  They instruct me.  They drive me.  They help me to remember that life is precious and a very dear price to pay.  They also encourage me in the spiritual life, the spiritual war, the Good Fight as St. Paul called it.

This is a war that we are all in the midst of–some are officers, some are foot-soldiers, some are pilots, some are special forces, some are spies, some are medics,  and some keep the fires of home and camp burning.  We too can be heroes.  Even if all we can do is stand our ground and declare where our loyalty lies–in this fallen world and even more fallen society, those things alone can be radical and heroic.  And like all soldiers, we put ourselves between the enemy and those who cannot or will not defend themselves.  We usually do it without any recognition or thanks–nor do we mind such things; we sometimes do it to the derision of those we long to protect.  This is what life is like in the Church Militant, the Church on her long march Heavenward.

I sometimes fear that the Church and Christianity (never mind the rest of our society) have become too soft, too self-indulgent, too complacent, too undisciplined, too indolent–and God knows I’ve been my share of it all, much to my shame and regret.  We all have chinks in our armor, after all, and the enemy is very subtle and slithery and knows just how to get though to us.  But I fear that too many of us have forgotten altogether where we are and what we’re meant to do.  We’ve forgotten our duty.  We’ve gotten so fixated upon false, watered-down notions of peace and love and tolerance and niceness and upon feeling good at all costs without the least concern for being good.  We count our own opinions, emotions, and preferences as far more important than doctrine, reason, and obedience.  We give more loyalty to moral relativism than to the natural law inscribed upon every human heart.

We’ve seen the results of this.  We’ve seen the Church splinter from within.  We’ve seen unspeakable tragedy and scandal shake her down to her very foundation.  THE enemy and those who serve him point and say, “You see?  I knew you Christians and your Church were rotten to the core.  You hypocrites!  You oppressors!  You can’t even save yourselves much less than the whole world.  Give it up!  Cast off the shackles.  Forget about your so-called sins and your so-called virtues.  Be nice to everybody and otherwise just do whatever feels good.  Go with the flow and get a life!”  They say this as if the Church herself and all of her loyal adherents were the source of all the misery and humiliation.  In fact, it is because some people within the Church have persistently and remorselessly done exactly what the enemy would have us do!

What serves the enemy most is serving ourselves.  Loyal service, on the other hand, demands that we lay ourselves down, set ourselves aside, and when necessary let ourselves be nailed to the cross!  Generosity is at the heart of all loyal service, be it in an earthly military or the Church.  Generosity steels our courage and discipline.  Generosity ignites faithfulness, obedience, and charity. Generosity enables us to be selfless.

And so, one of the most helpful spiritual practices I’ve found recently (via my confessor, who always seems to know me better than most anybody, even though he never sees my face) is this Prayer of Generosity, traditionally attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, who knew a thing or two about service and obedience:

Lord God, I want to love You, not that I might gain eternal Heaven nor escape eternal Hell, but simply because You are my God. Teach me to be generous.  Grant me to give to You and not count the cost; to fight for You and not mind the wounds; to toil and not to look for rest; to labor and to ask no reward, except the knowledge that I serve my Lord and my God.  Amen.

Such simple words to pray.  And such difficult words to live by!  But pray, and it will be given, often beyond our wildest expectations.  I have found this simple prayer to be very powerful.  Transformative, really.  Exactly what I needed to call forth the heroine in me and keep me from straying from my duty, which is to serve God and my fellow man, and to reach Heaven, my true Patria.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I just want to say that I am honored to be part of the Church Militant.  I am honored that God and Church would entrust such service and duty to me.  And I pray I never completely let them down.  I pray I can stand firm until the Good Fight is finished.

Related Posts:

Love and war

Allergy fog post: In which I commiserate with Elisabeth Leseur, ramble a bit about duty, and toss in a strangely relevant anime quotation

 

A happy, blessed New Year to everybody! Mine is off to a pretty good start. After some rough patches, I am refreshed and have lots of ideas brewing and energies swirling. My work and spiritual life feel back on track for the first time in a while.

I’ve got my new patron saint for the year: St. Thomas More, whom I’ve long looked to as a patron, and ever more so as our times become more uncertain and our society more polarized.

Overall, I’m feeling optimistic, whatever this year might bring; for, as always, our greatest hope lies beyond time and space.

Best wishes to you all!

The annual Dallas Marathon is today. Knowing that the marathon route often presents challenges for Sunday morning Mass-goers, our parish offered an additional vigil Mass last night.  At the end of the Mass, our pastor invited all runners to come forward.  Invoking the patronage of St. John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Messiah, and St. Paul, who used the running of a race as a metaphor for the spiritual life, Father gave a blessing to the runners and their endeavors.

Although I was not among those who received the blessing, I was deeply moved by witnessing it, for it is a beautiful reminder of how much the Church honors and celebrates all good human endeavors and recognizes them as gifts from God and a means to sanctify one’s own life and the lives of others.  It gave the message that there is no good endeavor that is too insignificant or unimportant to be blessed.  Of course, it also reminded me of loved ones and friends who are runners, especially my sister, and how much I admire them and their dedication and discipline as well as physical strength.  These are things to be admired!

I have always been moved by the great variety of blessings offered by the Church through her priests, and by the love and care with which they administer these blessings. Every time I receive a new rosary, I ask a priest to bless it.  It’s such a simple thing, and yet it transforms the rosary from a string of beads to a powerful sacramental that can bring down even more graces.  Even a simple blessing received on days when I am not able to receive Holy Communion often grants a great deal of strength, healing, and spiritual sustenance.

We should never hesitate to ask for blessings from our priests. That is one of the reasons they exist: to bestow God’s blessings upon us who live on earth.  Certainly, we can, and should, pray for God’s blessing each day, but there’s something special about having a human hand raised over you, and a human voice speaking the blessing to you.  And if that hand and voice belong to an Alter Christus, it’s all the better and more special.

It is also true that we can, and should, bless each other by word and touch.  I think it is a beautiful and loving thing when parents bless their children each night.  I found great peace and comfort in giving my parents blessings when they were in the hospital, and especially when my beloved father was in his final illness.  In those situations, it’s easy to feel completely helpless and completely alone.  But saying a simple, heartfelt blessing and gently touching your loved one’s forehead and drawing a little cross there with your finger is a powerful thing.  It’s a way of entrusting them to God and His care.  It is a special, physical act of faith, hope, and charity.

Finally, we can, and should, bless ourselves, and in fact we may do this without even being mindful of it.  Each time we place our fingers in holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, we are blessing ourselves.  Do it mindfully!  Each time we say grace before a meal, we are blessing ourselves and the food we put into ourselves.  Do it mindfully!  Each time we pray a morning offering, we are invoking God’s blessing upon our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of the day.  Do it mindfully!

Catholics and our Church are sometimes misconceived as somehow being averse to the physical world, the body, and love of “ordinary” earthly life.  But our practice of giving and receiving blessings proves otherwise, does it not?  In fact, we believe that earthly and ordinary things and we ourselves can be elevated and infused with divine life.  And this divine life makes everything better and richer and more beautiful and enjoyable.

I know that sounds selfish and prideful, and it certainly is if that is your prevailing attitude in life.  But sometimes it is completely necessary and beneficial.  You can’t give of yourself if you are running on empty.  And I have been running on empty.  It’s sort of like when you’re on a plane and they give you the run-down on safety matters–put your own oxygen mask on first, and then assist others.  It was years before I understood the good and logical reason behind that instruction.  You can’t very well assist anybody if you can’t breathe yourself.

And so, I have been trying to focus on myself.  Doing things that I know will be profitable to me.  I’m even taking a break from looking for Mr. Right–this is partly out of scientific curiosity; I want to test the very popular and widespread theory that “When you’re not looking, that’s when the perfect person will come along.” We shall see about that.

Among other things, I just completed an introductory computer programming course via Coursera. I took it just because I felt like learning something completely new. I wasn’t too sure whether I would be any good at it, but I did it anyway, and it turns out I am pretty good at it (so far)!  It might even lead me down a new path in my career. I’ve already signed up for some future classes in math and science.

For so many years, I was convinced that I was no good at math and science and never could be, not in a thousand years.  Now, I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self a sound shaking and say “Don’t you believe it. Don’t you dare believe it!”  Now, I am trying to make up for lost time.  The truth is, I’ve always had a natural love and fascination with science.  My mind has always worked in scientific ways.  My heart and soul have always been in it–regardless of what marks I got in school.  I always knew a truth that was far more important than anything I could learn in school: I knew that science would help me know God better.  And I know that now more than ever before.  That is my driving force.

It feels good to broaden my horizons and unfurl my sails!  Who knows where I might end up?  Adventure–I think that is what I need most of all right now.  An adventure with the One who knows me best and loves me most.

I’ll close with one of my favorite G.K. Chesterton quotations:  “All science, even the divine science, is a sublime detective story. Only it is not set to detect why a man is dead, but the darker secret of why he is alive.”

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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