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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!VetStreetCatTowelPic6

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!

Silly SabrinaMy 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 chillin

Alvis says “Relax!”

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Pope Benedict with monstranceI’ve been thinking about the Eucharist a lot lately, between the recent celebration of Corpus Christi and some other things that have come up.  Nothing defines Catholicism more fundamentally than our belief in, and reverence for, the Eucharist.

So, what does it mean, this “Eucharist”?  This is not a question that should be asked only by non-Catholics.  It should also be asked and meditated upon often and deeply by Catholics, because it is the “source and summit” of our lives as Catholics.

One thing I have found helpful since the time of my reversion to the faith is this definition from Father John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary:

EUCHARIST: The true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine, in order to offer himself in the sacrifice of the Mass and to be received as spiritual food in Holy Communion. It is called Eucharist, or “thanksgiving,” because at its institution at the Last Supper Christ “gave thanks,” and by this fact it is the supreme object and act of Christian gratitude to God.

Although the same name is used, the Eucharist is any one or all three aspects of one mystery, namely the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, and Communion. As Real Presence, the Eucharist is Christ in his abiding existence on earth today; as Sacrifice, it is Christ in his abiding action of High Priest, continuing now to communicate the graces he merited on Calvary; and as Communion, it is Christ coming to enlighten and strengthen the believer by nourishing his soul for eternal life. (Etym. Latin eucharistia, the virtue of thanksgiving or thankfulness; from Greek eucharistia, gratitude; from eu-, good + charizesthai, to show favor.)

See Also: SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR

SACRAMENT OF THE ALTAR: The Eucharist viewed as the body and blood of Christ, which are offered on the altar in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Also the Eucharist as reserved on the altar for adoration by the faithful.

Pope Benedict offering MassThis definition of “Eucharist” has so much in it.  I love the way Father Hardon describes it as a three-fold mystery (much like God Himself is).  I remember reading this definition for the first time several years ago and realizing with some horror that in my whole life, I had never really understood the Eucharist.  If I had, I really don’t think I ever would have left the Church!  These years later, it still gives me plenty of food for thought.

If anything, I had always heard “Eucharist” used as a synonym for “Holy Communion.”  Nothing more.  That’s an error, and I can tell you that it’s still being made.  This conflation of Eucharist and Communion can have serious consequences.  It can lead to the abandonment of adoration and the dilution of the doctrines of the Real Presence and of the Mass as Holy Sacrifice.  Without the Real Presence and the Holy Sacrifice, Communion means nothing!  And neither does Catholicism.

There’s no reason to be Catholic if Communion is just a bread-and-wine party… which is what it logically must become if we lose sight of the full meaning of the Eucharist.  Catholicism is much too difficult to bear unless in Communion we are receiving the “true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine,” unless Communion “is Christ coming to enlighten and strengthen the believer by nourishing his soul for eternal life.”

Without the Real Presence, adoration really is just “cookie worship.”  And Catholics are all a bunch of lunatics sharing in one huge mass delusion.  And if Christ isn’t the one truly acting in the Mass as our High Priest, then the Mass is just a show with some guy in some fancy anachronistic get-up spouting a bunch of hocus pocus.  Oh, but those crazy Catholics think they’ll risk hellfire if they skip a single Sunday!  The ordained priest has no purpose whatsoever if he is not acting in persona Christi.  He’s just another one in a wide variety of Christian ministers–namely, the crazy one who gave up everything to gain some kind of magical powers over bread and wine.

Maybe that’s all over the top, but not by much.  When you think about it for just a little while, pretty much everything about Catholicism becomes absurd and grotesque if we don’t understand the Eucharist.  It becomes a real live Jack Chick tract.

Pope Benedict giving first CommunionCatholics must understand the Eucharist in order to understand ourselves and to be authentically Catholic.  As opposed to being heretics, protestants, and/or people who mindlessly do and believe things without knowing why.  Being Catholic doesn’t mean being mindless, and it definitely doesn’t mean not asking “Why?”.  The long and venerable tradition of Catholic meditation and contemplation has been built upon ordinary Catholics asking questions.  To some extent, I’d say all prayer is based on asking questions.  The development of our theology and doctrine has been fueled by burning questions.  Christ said, “Ask and you shall receive.”  God blessed Solomon because all Solomon desired was wisdom.  God similarly blessed St. Thomas Aquinas because all Thomas desired was God Himself.  God does answer, He does give wisdom, and He does give us His very Self, when we ask.

Let us ask often to understand the Eucharist in all of its great mystery, power, and glory.  Let us ask to understand it as our Lord and King truly with us on this earth.  Let us ask for the faith and understanding to adore Him, to bear witness to His Sacrifice, and to receive Him into our bodies and our entire lives.  And let’s do it in that order.  Let us place ourselves before Him, let us open our hearts and minds before Him, let us bend our knees before Him, before we even think of receiving Him.  He will give Himself to us.  Let us also give ourselves to Him, mind, heart, soul, and body.  He is far more deserving to receive us than we are to receive Him.

I’ve had a rather interesting and unusual First Friday.

I sat in church, before the Blessed Sacrament this morning.  It was a beautiful, peaceful, quiet morning.  In fact, everything seemed extraordinarily beautiful and glorious.  While I enjoyed being with my Lord, sharing one of those powerful mutual gazes of love, my eyes kept moving about, taking in the many beautiful things.  I fought it at first, thinking it was just me being scatterbrained and distracted, as I often am. 

But I began to feel that I was being encouraged, almost compelled to look at something other than the Blessed Sacrament.  The one thing that stood out to me most and kept drawing my attention was the shadows of the candlesticks on either side of the tabernacle.  The sanctuary was flooded with light, and the candlesticks and the candles were drawn on the wall in sharp black shadow.  The candles were lit, of course, and I watched the little flames shining and dancing.  But the shadow candles had no flames; the flames themselves cast no shadows–a strange little detail I’d never noticed before.  But I saw the flames there, on the real candles, and even reflected in the polished stone of the wall.

Gazing at the candles and their shadows gave me a bit of an odd feeling, as if I were at the brink of a grand understanding.  So I tried to explore it. 

We know that things are not always as they seem, not always as they look.  Invisible things can actually be very real but beyond our sight.  A person who could see only shadows of things (I keep thinking about Plato’s “Cave” allegory) might know of candles and candlesticks, but would know nothing of glowing, dancing flames.  But are any of us much better than the people in the cave?  St. Paul says, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face.  At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12). 

For all of us, this material world that seems so real, so clear, and so solid is really a shadow world.  The flames of life, love, divinity, even our very own selves, are invisible to us, and yet we have caught glimpses of them.  Perhaps not complete visions, nor long-lasting visions, but enough to ignite curiosity and passion, enough to make us confident of entering into deep mysteries, guided by the double lamps of reason and faith.  Visions of invisible flames have impressed and haunted and drawn mankind inexorably toward those flames, affecting us as powerfully and irresistably as the moon affects the oceans, or as a magnet affects metal, and our attraction to them is every bit as natural. 

In this world, we are shadows, all of us, and each of us surmounted by a great invisible flame.  A flame that became visible once, in the upper room, at Pentecost.  Imagine being there and seeing, if only for a moment, yourself and the people around you suddenly lit up, suddenly more real, more vivid, more solid than the shadows you saw before!  Imagine the astonishment and wonder!  It is not difficult for people of faith; astonishment and wonder are a regular part of our lives, and often serve to excite and to guide our human reason into formerly unknown pathways.

The materialists among us consider people of faith to be grasping at shadows.  They’ve got it very wrong.  Materialism is being content with shadows, with candles without flames, with only one dim lamp for a guide.  Worse, materialism is contentment with being a shadow and seeing all other human persons as nothing but shadows.  Is it any wonder that evil against human persons is so rampant in our world?  Is it any wonder that a Culture of Death reigns?  Shadows can’t feel pain, shadows aren’t important.  If people are only shadows, then anything is permissible.

I would not return to the deep black shadows of materialism for anything.  I wish to pursue the invisible flames come what may.  Nothing else can ever satisfy me.  As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord!”  He, the Lord, is the source of all the invisible flames.  And so, in allowing my mind to wander this once, I found myself drawn back to Him!  His ways are truly strange and wonderful, if only we follow them!

Today, we celebrate the Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–our God. 

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the most splendid, sophisticated, and mystifying religious teaching ever.  It defies paganism by holding that the three Divine Persons are one and the same God, as opposed to three separate gods.  It goes beyond simple monotheism by holding that the one God is three unique Divine Persons.  Understandably, it is a rather troubling and seemingly problematic teaching!  And yet, to Christian eyes at least, it is implicitly present even in the Old Testament.  Coincidence?

I cannot explain the Holy Trinity, but I know it to be true.  I meditate upon it often, and every now and then I’ll experience a “flash” of enlightenment in which I suddenly understand it!  It usually lasts about 2 seconds, if even that, but it is enough for my feeble mind!

Generally, though, my thinking is more like:  Why wouldn’t God exist as three Persons?  Why not?  Who are we human beings to say that He couldn’t or wouldn’t exist in this profoundly mysterious way?  Some monotheists have been critical of this idea, but who are they to put limitations on our God?  Christians are willing to accept such a mystery and to devote considerable time and energy to pondering it, struggling with it, and celebrating it.  That shows a special kind of reverence toward God, toward His infinity, His power, His transcendence, His mystery.  God is supposed to be a mystery.  After all, aren’t we even a mystery to ourselves?  Nothing says “mystery” quite like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity!

May we all come to a greater understanding of the mystery!

( The image is a 15th century icon by Andrei Rublev. )

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

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