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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!”
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.”
Several times in the last few months, I have heard others say that Christians are living in a fairy tale, out of touch with reality. Incidentally, this has happened with the same few months that I have been struggling very hard with pretty much everything–including my faith and spiritual life. I’ve managed to bite my tongue lest I blurt out a less-than-charitable response to that ridiculous claim.
But allow me to set the record straight here: Christianity is no fairy tale. And it doesn’t take some deep philosophical/theological/spiritual treatise to explain why that is so. I’ll tell you why it is so, and that is because if it were a fairy tale, my life would be a heck of a lot easier.
It’s pretty telling that while I have heard more than a few people claim that I’m living a fairy tale, I have yet heard anybody explain to me exactly what part of my life resembles a fairy tale, and what part of my life is out of touch with reality. Face it, I do everything that everybody else does every day: I work, I pay bills and taxes, I sit in traffic, I eat and sleep, I buy groceries, I vote, I obey laws, I like being with friends and family, I like having fun, I long for happiness. I share in all the joys, drudgeries, and responsibilities of life. And sometimes I really struggle–I get tired, I get sick, I get injured, I get broke financially, I have times when absolutely nothing seems to go right, I get depressed, I get discouraged, I lose my temper, I lose hope. All the things that “normal” people do, I do too.
Only, I also do more–I also live a Christian life. I also try to fulfill responsibilities and offer service to God, my Church, and my fellow man that are above and beyond the civil, human, personal duties and services common to us all. And you know what? The Christian life isn’t some kind of fairy dust that makes all the other things go away or get easier. In fact, it sometimes makes them more challenging, more urgent, and more complicated. It adds a new layer to everything. It demands that I think more critically and deeply about everyday life and what actions I take.
Far from supplanting my life in the “real world,” my Christianity demands that I take it more seriously and enter more deeply into it. I have to follow Christ. Which means I have to be charitable to everybody, not just the people I like, and at the same time I have to be willing to take a stand and tell people things they don’t want to hear, things that might even make people hate my guts and the guts of my stupid, out-of-touch religion. And I have to struggle with all of that too.
So, say what you will about Christianity, but it’s not a fairy tale, it’s not removed from reality, and it’s not easy. In fact, life without it is often far easier. I’ve lived with it and without it, you know, so I am able to make the comparison. To be concerned only for the here and now and the people and creatures at hand is far easier than to be beholden to an eternal, transcendent God. To worry only about being nice or compassionate or tolerant is far easier than to be bound by the demands of true charity. To treat Sunday like an extension of Saturday is far easier than to treat it as the sacred Lord’s Day. To be able to hem and haw and adjust one’s beliefs and morals according to what is popular in society or what is easiest in a given situation is far easier than to stand firm with absolute truths no matter what.
Christianity is not an escape from, or replacement for, the “real world.” Rather, it’s a whole additional world that overlays the “real world”–and in fact is like a super-real world where everything takes on a new light and new significance. And my life–my little ol’ life–is supposed to encompass both of them! That’s not the kind of fairy tale I would write for myself, folks! I’d be some kind of crazy masochist if that were the case. But I’m neither crazy nor a masochist–nothing in my nature or conduct would give evidence of that.
So, with all of this said, why am I a Christian? The answer, again, is simple. I’m a Christian because Christianity is true, good, and beautiful. It is everything that is worth striving and fighting and suffering for. It is not a fairy tale, but rather is an epic reality that calls the most ordinary of persons–such as little ol’ me–to be heroic, saintly, and above all genuine–to be more, not less, of a real human being. It makes me better and more complete than the person I was when I did not live a Christian life. It makes me care more about what is important than what is easy. It’s really that simple.
Greetings, dear readers! It’s been so long, and I apologize for that. Honestly, time has just gotten away from me. I often feel like this year has only just begun. But no! We are now in the midst of Spring (in this hemisphere at least) and the glorious season of Easter, springtime of the soul! So, first thing: I want to wish a joyful and blessed Easter to all of you! :D
As usual, I have been prompted by my friends and your fellow readers that I am overdue for a blog post and an update.
Not too much has changed, but the changes there have been have been quite significant. I am recently moved into a new apartment in a different part of town. I also have a new relationship with a wonderful gentleman. As you can imagine, these new circumstances have brought great joy and freshness to my life! I feel like I have finally closed an old chapter in my story and entered into an entirely new one.
I was starting to think this would never happen. It seemed like a wild fantasy, something impossible and out of reach. I yearned for it so greatly, and the yearning seemed completely ineffective and futile. I felt I would be consigned to the same place for the rest of my life. But it did happen. As gradually and delicately and naturally as a new bud opening in Spring it happened. Without my realizing it, it was happening for quite some time, until the full glory of it struck me.
The natural seasons happen much the same way, don’t they? They change over time until one day you are struck by the fact that it is Spring or Summer or Autumn or Winter. It should come as no surprise; these changes happen every single year. And yet each season is always new and extraordinary, even if we may only appreciate it for a moment.
Thinking of nature’s splendor brings to mind a very dear and special person–and this is another recent change to my life: the recent passing of Father Edward Mathias “Matt” Robinson, O.P., the spiritual director of my local Lay Dominican community. He lived to the ripe old age of 97, and will always rank as one of the most knowledgeable and wise people I have ever known, learned in the natural sciences as well as theology, philosophy, and spiritual matters–much like the patron of our local priory, St. Albert the Great! He was also known as the patriarch of the local pro-life movement. I highly recommend his online work, Fetal Life and Abortion: Human Personhood at Conception which appeals to human reason through philosophy and natural science to demonstrate the personhood and right to life of fetuses from the moment of conception. There is also a brief obituary posted there currently.
April has also brought the second anniversary of my father’s passing. Grief does strange things to time. Sometimes it feels much longer than two years, while sometimes it feels like just yesterday. The one thing that is constant is my missing him. I know he is still near to me, but there’s nothing to replace the sound of his voice or the warmth of his hand enclosing mine. How lonely life is sometimes! This too is a season that must run its natural course. I know that’s exactly what he would tell me.
And of course, I have plenty of people and things to which to devote myself in the here and now. In every time, we must be faithful to the present, so that is what I am trying to do!
I hope you all are doing well, and keep you in my prayers as always. God bless you!
Because so many dear, thoughtful people have taken the time and care to check in on me to make sure I am OK… and also to drop reminders–subtle and not-so-subtle–that it’s been a really long time since I’ve posted anything here… And because I am so touched and grateful for it all…
I just wanted to let everybody know that I am indeed OK and that I am not unmindful of how long it has been since I posted here. :)
In fact, I should love very much to flood you with fresh blog posts. The only problem is that I’ve had trouble thinking of anything worth posting about (with the exception of the upcoming retreat with my Lay Dominican community, of course). I’ve had considerable writer’s block with regard to the blog. However, I have not been letting my creativity wither away. In fact, I have been quite busy with various off-line pursuits: writing fiction, doing some drawing and coloring, reading.
I wish I could say that my spiritual life is going swimmingly… but it’s not. It hasn’t been for quite some time. I’ve experienced a long arid spell. Loving God has been mostly cold-steel sheer will–it’s been a while since my love has been the unquenchable, all-consuming fire that it is often capable of being. Which is not to say that I love Him any less. Just that it is a different sort of love. Love would be pretty boring if there weren’t some variety to it, right? I often experience God’s love of me in a similar way–sometimes it’s all warmth and tenderness and beauty, almost a kind of romance, and then sometimes it’s like being cranked through a wringer or tossed off a cliff, tough as nails (yes, Lord Holy Spirit, I’m talking about You!), and then sometimes it is reserved, still, silent, a desert wind, an encompassing darkness–but never empty or indifferent.
So, it’s not going swimmingly, no. But it is all right. It is going. It is bringing me somewhere. Teaching me something. It always does. In hindsight, I always look back and can’t believe I didn’t realize how very close God was to me, and how much He was saying to me and doing for me.
Health-wise, I can’t complain. The worst I’ve had to deal with is bursitis in my foot. The depression is under control.
At least, the physiological aspects of depression are under control. I still have lots of emotional and psychological stuff to work through. Mainly grief and sorrow. I know that the physical elements are under control because I have once again turned my mind to the elements that are beyond the reach of medical science. They are quite huge and intimidating–even frightening. But I can stand them now and begin my passage through them. And that is quite a relief, actually. I want, and need, to set out on that path.
We are in the middle of a long, extremely hot, drought-ridden summer here in Texas. We’ve had about 27 consecutive days with high temperatures above 100° F (38° C). It’s gone on so long that I dare say (while shuddering) that I am almost used to it! But I still avoid being outdoors as much as possible. Summer has always been my least-favorite season. But in general, as I have matured, I have come to appreciate some things about summer. As long as there are luminous, long-lingering evenings, glowing fireflies and singing cicadas, and a bottle of Sho Chiku Bai chilling in my refrigerator, I find that I can face summer with a rather peaceful and poetic outlook. I think it is this outlook that has so inspired my artistic endeavors of late.
So this is where I am. Typing words about love and summer and God and life. Admiring the silhouettes of trees against a powder-blue sky sketched over with faint apricot-colored mares’ tails. Holding a cold sake cup delicately in my fingers. And thinking about you, whoever and wherever you are, very thankful that you have paused to read these words.
God bless you.
I have of late encountered a great deal of cynicism and argument about an idea I have always considered simple common sense and quite a fundamental principle for life: the idea that we should love people even though we may consider their actions or thoughts or beliefs wrong. Love sinners but hate sin, to paraphrase St. Augustine.
I lived by this principle when I was not a Christian. I live by it more fully now that I am a Christian. And I am rather at a loss to understand what is so difficult about it.
Sins can always be repented of.
Thoughts and behaviors can always change.
But people are always people.
There is no person alive who is never sinful and never wrong.
There is also no person alive who is never good and never right.
If we remember these things, then we can very easily know how to hate sins but love sinners. We can know how to hate certain thoughts and behaviors but still love the thinkers and the doers.
This all seems pretty evident to me.
But perhaps it’s not really a matter of genuine cynicism or difficulty. Perhaps it is simply a quick and easy defense mechanism to say, “You can’t love me if you think I am so wrong or so bad” or “If you hate what I do/think/believe, then you must hate me.” Perhaps it is easier than dealing with the apparent paradox of being loved by somebody who also thinks you are wrong. Perhaps it is easier to resent that love instead of accepting it.
[Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence in this post. It’s big-time allergy season, and I’ve been rather head-swimmy lately.]
I am still reading Elisabeth Leseur’s diary; the copy I have is My Spirit Rejoices: the Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief, published by Sophia Institute Press in 1996.
Rarely has my soul felt such affinity with another as it does with Mme. Leseur! Sometimes, in reading her diary, I almost feel like I’m reading my own. It’s strange, but in reading her self-expressions, I find expression for myself also. I often feel that she has captured in words things that I wish I could capture in words.
But just as often, however, and perhaps more often, I realize that these words are the words of a far wiser, stronger, more mature soul than my own. They convict me of my own weakness. But never in a scolding way… more in an encouraging, exhorting way. She says to me, “You can overcome just as I have by the grace of God. You are not as weak as you think.”
Here are some excerpts I came across this morning. They are from her entries of December 1901 and February and March 1902:
It is a suffering from God, which I offer to Him, that among all the beloved friends surrounding me, I should have no one to whom I might open my heart in saying to him or her, “Look,” and who might understand and help me.
But perhaps to hear one’s ideas and beliefs perpetually criticized, to know them misunderstood, to have prejudice and ignorance against one, is to some extent to suffer persecution for justice’s sake.
A bad spell for more than a month: bodily fatigue, domestic troubles, and, worse than that, a kind of sadness and moral apathy, a lack of the fervor and inner joy that God has sometimes given me so abundantly. And yet not for one moment has my will ceased to belong to Him; duty has cost me dearly, but it has not ceased to be duty.
… Many things to reform: pride, the tendency to delay in getting to work, to let days slip away; to allow myself to be invaded by outward excitements. And yet I have an immense need of calm and of interior life. God alone knows what difficulty I sometimes have in overcoming certain physical and moral miseries in order to arrive at that complete possession of myself, at that Christian serenity that nothing can disturb.
I have a great task before me, and nothing human to help me fulfill it. Perhaps one day I shall have the great joy of seeing my faith, which is my whole life, understood and shared by those and by him whom I love so much. As it is, all that my soul holds of desires, fervor, and tenderness much remain enclosed within itself and poured out only before God. Whatever suffering this entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.
When I read these passages, I could feel and recognize and understand the sufferings Elisabeth must have been experiencing. That loneliness and isolation from others, that helplessness to reach them, and that malaise that tends to flood in as a result. The fact is that such difficulties are part of a Christian’s life. We are in the world, but not of it. Many of our loved ones, unfortunately, are perfectly content to be of the world.
Not long ago, I was trying to tell a dear loved one about difficulties I was having in my life, specifically about difficulties I was having in persevering in my faith. This was somebody who does not share my faith, but to whom I am very close otherwise. Somebody I deeply trust and can generally talk to about anything. But when it came to matters of faith, I felt like there was such a brick wall between us! I needed so badly to share my experiences with another person–but even the closest and dearest could not understand or empathize with me. It was like a sword through the heart!
Her response, which is only logical for someone who does not understand and share my faith, was simply: “If it is so difficult, then why don’t you give it up? Find some other way of living that will make you happy and put you at ease. Why waste your time and energy on something that doesn’t make you happy and that causes you so much pain?”
At the time I was utterly nonplussed in trying to respond to that. To explain why I couldn’t simply give up on my faith even if it wasn’t easy to live with at times.
An analogy crossed my mind: that of giving up on a spouse or close relative or dear friend when he or she became difficult to live with–even if the difficulty was fleeting. But then I realized that in our society, people seem pretty comfortable with doing just that! Summarily giving up on others when things stop being lovey-dovey and happy-clappy. Abandoning duty in favor of comfort. All you have to do is look at the ruined state of marriage and the family to see how such ideas have permeated our society. And if people are quick to give up on other people, then they are even quicker to give up on God and the faith!
I realized how vastly different were the worldviews of this dear person and myself. And in the end, all I could do was cry to God. Cry to Him and at the same time reaffirm my dedication to Him–my duty to Him.
Elisabeth often writes of duty. Duty to God, and on account of that duty to God, duty to other people and to society as a whole as well. Perhaps the most pervasive problem with our society is that it has lost all sense of duty.
Coincidentally (if there is such a thing as coincidence), this evening I was unwinding with some food and watching some anime. I’m in the middle of the series Samurai Champloo. And at one point, one of the characters utters this line:
When duty goes out of style, the world will be nothing but darkness.
I think it’s a very fitting summary for my above ramblings, and so I will end on that note. :)
This feast day is a much-needed spirit-lifter for me, and it came just in time!
Last night, I was feeling so much sorrow and pain, over various things, but especially the loss of my dad and of my once-fiance, Patrick (I’ve been thinking about Patrick much more since my dad died–both of them so important to me, and both of them sorely missing in my life). I was praying and begging for relief. I told God that I felt like I was dying a slow, agonizing death. That was all I could make of the pain I felt at the time–death.
Today, however, I am reminded that suffering gives life as well. The Cross of Christ bears witness to that.
To destroy the power of hell Christ died upon the cross; clothed in strength and glory, He triumphed over death.
The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in His own blood. How splendid is that blessed cross.
How radiant is that precious cross which brought us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed, alleluia.
We worship Your cross, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection, for the wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.
(Antiphons from Morning Prayer of the Divine Office)
I heartily recommend reading “The Dream of the Rood” on this feast day.
Here is my favorite previous post on this feast day: The Tree of Life
A few times over the last five years, I have heard myself described as a “hard-core Catholic.” It mystifies me. I am not exactly sure what the definition of “hard-core Catholic” would be.
I think of myself as somebody who often struggles to be a “bare-minimum Catholic.” And I do know how to define that. The Church in her wisdom has provided the guidelines. They are called the Precepts of the Church. This is how they are defined in the Catholic Dictionary by Father John Hardon, SJ:
Certain commandments of a moral and ecclesiastical nature prescribed for observance by all Catholics. Their formulation goes back to the Middle Ages, and their number has varied from four to six or more, depending on the times. A recent list of such duties “expected of Catholic Christians today” was formulated by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, as follows:
1. To keep holy the day of the Lord’s Resurrection: to worship God by participating in Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation: to avoid those activities that would hinder renewal of soul and body, e.g., needless work and business activities, unnecessary shopping, etc.
2. To lead a sacramental life: to receive Holy Communion frequently and the Sacrament of Penance regularly.
- minimally, to receive the Sacrament of Penance at least once a year (annual confession is obligatory only if serious sin is involved).
- minimally, to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, between the First Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday.
3. To study Catholic teaching in preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation, to be confirmed, then to continue to study and advance the cause of Christ.
4. To observe the marriage laws of the Church: to give religious training (by example and word) to one’s children; to use parish schools and religious education programs.
5. To strengthen and support the Church: one’s own parish community and parish priests; the worldwide Church and the Holy Father.
6. To do penance, including abstaining from meat and fasting from food on the appointed days.
7. To join in the missionary spirit and apostolate of the Church.
Honestly, when I read this list and reflect upon my own life in light of it, it reminds me how much room for improvement I’ve got! Basically, I’m still working on fulfilling the bare minimum requirements of Catholic life. Oh, I would never willingly neglect any of these obligations. But I know I could do much better.
Especially on #1. I don’t ever miss Mass on Sundays or Holy Days if I can help it. But I could do much more to really consecrate those days to honoring God. There are unnecessary things I could cut out, and more worthwhile things I could do instead.
I suspect that as long as I live, there will always be things I can do in order to better live out these basic precepts of the Church.
So… am I really a “hard-core Catholic”? What does that even mean? And how is it different from being just plain Catholic?