Thursday, May 31, 2012


I fished up an interesting blog.Okay, I lie.  Someone else fished it up, and told me about it.  But, no matter.  Here it is just the same.  If you are discerning and trying to find your Order, or if you just like learning about Orders, you might find it interesting:

Click me!  Click me!

And please enjoy this cool picture I found while surfing the internetz:

It's the Eye in the Sky!

(Challenge: Find Christian meaning in this^ song)

God: Only In Hospitals

(Warning: coffee- and sleep- deprived post; read at your own risk!)

Our parish has a door to door evangelization team to rival that of the local Jehovah’s Witnesses!  Okay, no, we don’t.  I’m just kidding.  Our team is much smaller, only goes out once a month, and is much, much less annoying.  They just go out in teams of three to different neighborhoods.  One person does the talking, the second team member writes prayer requests down, and the last prays for both the team and the people they are visiting.  At each house, a simple question is asked:

“How can we help you?”

 I’ve been out with the Evangelization Teams only once.  That time, I misunderstood the schedule and arrived at the church hall a day early for a discernment talk, only to find myself caught up in an E.T. meeting.  On a spur-of-the-moment decision, I figured I would go out with them that day, and I did.  After being paired with two older women and taking up the position of Pray-er, we drove to a neighborhood of about twenty houses and began knocking.  The majority of the houses we visited were empty, their occupants out a-visiting themselves on that rainy Saturday.  Nevertheless, a few persons came to the door, and were asked our question.

“How can we help you?”

 We never specified what sort of help.  We’d do anything for them, spiritual or menial.  Change a lightbulb, fix a Rosary (it was a beautiful Job’s tears Rosary), get Father to bring them communion, etc.  However, the majority of people understood us as asking if they needed prayers.  Their responses generally ran like this:

“Nope, I’m good.  The family’s good.  No one’s sick.”


“Well, there is this girl that lives over-the-way and she has leukemia.  Can you pray for her?”

 Now, as nice as it is to hear of other’s care for the sick, and as cheering as it is to know that a family is in good health, I noticed a trend in these answers that soon unsettled me, not least of all because I recognized them in myself.  Why is it that we only ask for prayers when we are in trouble, especially illness or other things too large for us to handle on our own?

I’m not certain why I do this.  If I am brutally honest, it is probably because I am too independent.  I harbor the mindset that I can handle things; I’m strong, and smart, and completely capable of taking care of myself.  Besides, God helps those who help themselves, right?

Wrong.  Not only is that verse not in the Bible, it is completely inaccurate.  God wants us to come to Him like little children.  And what do little children do but come openly, with humility, for *all* of their needs?  Not just the big ones, but *all* of them.  A toddler turns to her father to have her teeth brushed.  An infant turns to his mother for *everything*.  Children are not independent; they are needy, with an expectant, trusting sort of need.   God wants us to come to Him like that. 

Perhaps our hesitation to come to God with anything but big troubles is because we think we have nothing else to tell Him.  What is my joy over a new job compared to that girl-over-the-way with leukemia?  What is my joy over my puppy compared to the loss of that child whose mother overdosed?  Okay, God wants the small things.  But surely He doesn’t want happy things.  He has more grave concerns, more troubled people to help, than my quite contented self!  This is an understandable mindset, from our own point of view.  I mean, if you had a choice between listening to someone squeal over a bunny, or helping a person in a car accident, which would you choose?  However, I think this mindset, this perspective, misunderstands the nature of God. 

God doesn’t need to choose.  To say that God cannot pay attention to “this” because He is busy doing “that” is to forget that God is omnipotent and omnipresent.  He has more than enough mental capacity and attention span to listen to *everything* anyone could ever bring Him.  God can never be too busy for each of us individuals.  Furthermore, and to put it all in another light: if you only went to your friend when you needed something big from them, would you consider yourself as having a good relationship with them?  I wouldn’t, and the fact that I do this with God reflects pretty heavily on the sort of relationship I have with Him, I think.

We act as though God is available for a limited amount of time, and we save that time for Bad Things.  We think as if we believed that God is a last resort, only to be called when we can no longer handle the situation.  We pray as if God is only interested in our troubles.

I call this the “God Is Only in Hospitals” mentality, and I am very guilty of it.  So, today I pray for the grace to always remember that the small things are never too small for God, and that He does not want just my sufferings, sorrow, and trials, but my pleasures, joy, and peace.

How Did Your Parents Take It?

At one of the discernment talks I gave to the children of my parish's Catechism class, I was asked the above question.  I didn't want to answer that question here, since it is a very personal one.  However, I changed my mind when someone found my blog by googling the query "How do I tell my parents I am discerning religious life?" I'm afraid none of my posts answered her question, and since I know it is an issue many struggle with, I thought I would lend what little assistance I could.  Here is it.

"How did you tell your parents?"

There have been three stages in my discernment--if you care to call the first "discernment".  It began when I was about seven; I had an enthusiasm for Orders, religious saints, and religious in general that waxed and waned from then until I was about thirteen.  I did not have to tell my parents anything about my being attracted to the religious life, because hints of it were everywhere.  It came as no surprise to them when, at thirteen, I announced I wanted to join a Third Order.  Though it was the first time I spoke of moving beyond interest and actually doing something, it was still a much easier topic to discuss than religious life proper, Third Orders being for lay people.  If I had to give any advice, I would say gradually let your parents know you are interested in the religious life.  Especially if they are of a different Faith, or if you haven't ever shown an inclination toward it before.  Chances are God didn't spring a religious vocation upon you; I would suggest not springing it on your parents.  That's what Father Francis did...and it didn't turn out all that well...

The second stage was when I began to actively discern (I was sixteen).  My Spiritual Director encouraged me to begin seriously considering actually joining an Order, and I began looking into Orders to join.  It was no longer a matter of "if" but of "where" and "when".  I did not sit my parents down and "lay the chips before them" at this point, but I should have.  And my advice would be to do this, when you tell your parents that you are actively discerning.  Schedule a dinner, clear an hour or two in the afternoon, sit down with them and just tell them you are seriously considering the religious life.  Be certain to tell them *why* you are drawn to it.  That, I think, is the most important part.  They need, above all, to know what this means to you.  They are your parents; they love you and want what is best for you.  When they see that this is what you feel you need to do and that this is what will make you happy, they will come around eventually, no matter how averse to it they might seem in the beginning.

"How did your parents take it?"

A vocation is difficult to accept, especially if it involves religious orders and especially if it involves girls.  A religious is not like a diocesan priest.  More often than not, becoming a religious involves your child moving very far away, with stringent visitation rules.  Parents struggle with letting their children leave the nest in the most normal of circumstances.  It can be devastating when they realize the "they'll be home from college at the end of every semester" expectation is now "I'll see them twelve hours a year".  Giving a child to God is big loss that can be difficult to cope with.

 My parents handled the prospect rather well, considering.  Oh, yes, I had to hear my mother joyfully exclaim how wonderful it would be if my brother became a priest even as she cried over my becoming a sister.  There was an occasion when she compared my leaving and joining to my being dead.  I have a friend who joined the cloister a while back, and her mom took the separation rather hard.  Their experience, I think, scared my mother very much even though I made it clear my "cloisterphobia" would never allow me to join such a convent as my friend.  But my parents never said that they did not want to me become a Sister.  They never forbid me from discerning. They love God, and know that it means to do His Will with an open heart.

My parents and I never had any difficulty with the fact of my discernment.  However, they did disagree with the way I went about discerning.  Actually, they disagreed with just about everything in that respect.  When I said I wouldn't be going to college, they began to wax eloquent on the benefits of a higher education.  When I said I'd join right out of high school, they protested that I needed to "live first".  When I refused to date, all of the previous rules ("you can't date until you are 18!") instantly disappeared.  If my spiritual director said to do X, they would find ten people (named or unnamed) to advise Y.  I felt guilty and indignant at their lack of trust in my judgment and my SD's, and they felt hurt that I didn't take their advice.  It was quite a while before the entire matter was resolved, but it was resolved eventually, and I will not exaggerate it: it was never very bad.  There have been worse cases, and better ones.

 Parents are supposed to prepare their children to make life decisions, and one of the greatest decisions is Vocation.  Parents, naturally, worry about their children making the proper choice.  However, they cannot make the decision for their child; and it comes to a point when they cannot even help.  The fact is, parents are involved.  Their love, their attachment, their worry...though not bad things (they are good things, and necessary!) can cloud their vision.  They cannot view the situation or their child's spiritual state objectively.  Meanwhile, the child--confused and worried over discernment itself--wants to please his/her parents.  S/he will feel guilty if s/he thinks she isn't doing what her parents would like her to do.  S/he will feel as though she needs to do what they want him/her to.  And sometimes, what the parents would like their child to do just isn't what is objectively best for the child and their relationship with God.

It goes without saying that it is good to love your parents.  It is good to listen to them, to weight their advice, and to learn from their wisdom.  But when it comes to your vocation and your relationship with God...that is between you, your spiritual director, and God; no one else.

A friend of mine gave some good concrete advice for dealing with conflict in the family:

"Pray for your mom.  Don't try so hard to make her accept your decision.  Do not try to defend your own.  It will only cause grief and the only thing that helps this situation is time -- lots of it.  Years of it.  Instead, focus your attention on loving your mom with all your strength.  She's likely thinking about loosing you every time she sees you.  If she offers you a barbed comment about your future choice, or that you should be dating, give her a hug and say "thanks for the love" sincerely and without sarcasm.  Then drop it.  You want your last months/moments with your mom to be memories she can hold onto when she wants to call and hear your voice but can't, when she wants to visit but can't etc......  Most of all --do not feel guilty.  You are not causing your mother pain by your decision - her own attachments are. (Don't tell her this.... her attachments are good attachments..... she should be attached!  She's your mom!)  Give your pain to Our Lady and ask her to love your mom with all She's got!  Rest in the arms of your crucified Beloved.  He understands."

Don't worry about telling your parents that you are considering the religious life.  Your parents love you, and that love will carry through anything.  If you are concerned about how to tell them, then ask your spiritual director about it, or someone who knows them and you very well.  Every parent is different and so every one will take it differently.  But it will all be fine in the end.  If you trust in God, He will never let you down.  Just pray, hope, and don't worry.

 Off-Topic Picture.  I like it.

(PS: for more than my limited experience, go to the Vocation Station to hear others' stories)

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dream Come True

Back when I was teaching Theology of the Body for teens, the subject of tattoos came up.
“Are tattoos immoral?” one girl asked.
The answer?   It all depends on how big it is, what it is of, where it is at, and yourintentions for doing it.
 “So, I could put a tiny cross on my stomach?” she continued, placing her hand on her abdomen.
I paused for a second, thought about that.  “I guess, but who is going to see it there anyway?  No one should be seeing your stomach.”

The entire room grew very still as every single one of the girls stared at me with wide, disbelieving eyes.
“Um…what about bikinis?” one girl said challengingly. 
There was a long period of silence as I considered how to word my thoughts.
The following conversation went something like this:

Do you see the difference between these two photos?


...Neither do I.
(in case you missed it, the first is a bikini, the second a bra and panties)

You know those highly embarrassing dreams you have, that you are out in public wearing nothing but your underwear?  I do not see why everyone considers such a situation so horrifying in a dream when the vast majority of girls have no problem putting themselves in it at the beach.  Sand under one’s toes does not alter the fact that you are wearing nothing more than underwear (and in some cases, even less), or the fact that you are in public.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mothers and Motherhood

I'm not good at keeping track of holidays, much less blogging about them, but since I know it is Mother's Day and can't pretend that I don' is a post about being a mother.

...I know nothing about being a mother.  That noun is as foreign to my vocabulary as...well...the word I don't know that should be inserted [here].  I am not a mom, and won't be for a very long time, if ever.  But the idea of motherhood and being a mom has been on my mind quite a bit over the years.  It is a topic that surfaces frequently when one is discerning the religious life.

"Oh, I love kids and want to be a mom; I could never be a nun," people would say when they discovered I was discerning a life of celibacy.  This was rather unsettling for me.  It implied that I do not love kids and, needless to say, I do.  I used to be absolutely certain that I was going to get married, live in a plantation home, and have twelve children.  Yet, even more so, comments like these showed a very skewed understanding of what it means to be a Sister and--by extension--what it means to be a mother.  

"Mother" is a noun, denoting a woman who has had the exquisite gift of cooperating in God's creative act.  It is one of the only privileges that the angels do not possess.  She carries within herself another human individual, and this unique and special little person has been specifically entrusted to her care by God.  She is given the great responsibility--and joy--of loving and caring for this child.

How could one not desire such a beautiful thing?  I know that many young women, thinking that they might have a religious vocation, struggle to give up the desire of being "mother".  I will be very honest: I never had this problem, and it makes me very sad when young women think they must give up the desire for motherhood to be a Sister or a nun.  They do not, nor should they.

See, while the above definition is not untrue, it is not wholly complete.  "Mother" is not merely a noun.  It is a verb.  It is not just having responsibility for another human individual--it is carrying that responsibility out.  It is caring for another person even when caring for them involves an extreme and unthinkable amount of self-sacrifice.  It is loving them unconditionally, even when one is not feeling very 'loving'.  It is loving them with Christ's Love; the noun side without the verb side is a shadow of what a mother is, of what she is supposed to be.

I realized this at a very young age.  I knew that it was possible to be a mother (noun)  without mothering (verb), largely due to my discovery of partial birth abortion at age nine.  And, having friends and family who were adopted and wanting to adopt myself, I knew that mothering was possible without being a mother.  Of the two, I deemed the verb the most important, and I realized I would never have to give it up.

"Love one another as I have loved you." We are called to love all children--all people--with the self-sacrificing love of a mother.  We are all called to mother.  The verb is the most important part, and we are called to fulfill it, not only with "our" children, but with *every* Child of God.  I never struggled with the "I'll-never-be-a-mother" aspect of the religious life, because I am perfectly capable of mothering no matter what my state.  Mothering is the most important, beautiful, and obligatory aspect of motherhood, and it was one I did not have to give up even were I to become a Sister.

Today, I would like to thank everyone who has ever fulfilled the most important aspect of motherhood: mothering. I would like to thank the mothers who loved their children enough to go through with their pregnancy, and who cared for them enough to put them up for adoption, or who cared for them enough to struggle through sacrifice and keep them.  I would like to thank the mothers--especially mine--who sacrificed years caring for and loving their children.  I would like to thank the godmothers, friends, and sisters who loved with a mother's charitable Love.  Most of all, I would like to thank the Sisters and nuns who devote their entire lives to mothering poor lost sinners in this valley of tears. Here's to you all, you who understand most what the word "mother" means.  May Mary--the perfect mother in both senses--forever guide and pray for you, and may God bless you on this special day!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Of Canyons and People

(Warning: unedited, coffee- and sleep- deprived post.  Read at your own risk.)
Recently, I found myself here^, gazing upon one of the seven wonders of the world: the Grand Canyon.  As I sat with my godchild, our legs dangling off the edge of a cliff, I looked out upon the gargantuan crater to the semi-circled mountains beyond.  The land of my birth not being condusive to far-sight (too many trees upon too-flat ground), I had never seen so far in my life.  I could see for miles, until distance overcame the clear air and the background faded into a smoky haze of grey.  Beneath our feet, between us and the Canyon floor, were large, flat, plain-like rocks that would have made a perfect stage for a rock concert.  The acoustics would have been grand.

In the distance I saw the river, the white water of the rapids noticeable even from my height:
But the water which I knew must have been swirling in a volitile rage miles away looked as still as this picture; for all its motion, it never moved.  In fact, the Canyon as a whole was as silent and motionless as these photographs (though much more impressive, of course).  I asked a fussy godchild what she thought lived down in the Canyon.
"Mountains," was the sniffled answer.
"True!  But what else?"
"More mountains...and rocks..."
Indeed.  All there was were rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  The monotnoy of the place was smothering, even as the size and open spaces were liberating.  I could not help but think that I was looking upon a thing that had been there eons before I knew existence, and would be there long after I am gone.  I was looking upon a thing that never changed, or knew things that changed, or cared. So...

I sat and held my godchild in my arms and thanked God that humans are fleeting.  Every one of the tourists (many from foreign countries, speaking in a babble of languages I did not understand) had come to see a marvel that for years has stolen the breath of the world.  And yet each of them, with their miniscule lives, were ineffably more precious.  Unlike the semi-circular plateaus, they were unrepeatable.  Unlike the Canyon, they would only be here once and for a very short time.  The Canyon was a marvel.  It was beautiful.  It was awe-inspiring.  It made me think of eternity.  But, mostly, it made me think of how much more of a marvel are the people around me--so small in comparison, but far more alive, far more unique, far more wondrous.  The Canyon would be there to inspire and impact millions for generations to come.  But that person I see on the street?  My elderly grandfather?  That child in the store?  They won't be.  I went to the Canyon seeking wonder, as do most.  I left thinking that it had been around me all the time, I was just never good at noticing it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Finding Jesus in Journey

My youth director’s favorite example of finding God in the media was the song “Open Arms” by Journey.  He was listening to the song in his car one day, when the following interpretation for it simply hit him…very hard, apparently, for he always cried when speaking of it afterward. 

Listen to it first before hearing the Christian interpretation of it.
Here is the song: Open ArmsLyrics

Lying beside you, here in the dark
Feeling your heart beat with mine
Softly you whisper, you're so sincere
 How could our love be so blind
 We sailed on together
 We drifted apart
 And here you are, by my side
 My youth director saw the words of this stanza being sung from his own perspective, the perspective of a sinner who “drifted apart” from Christ, only to find that there Christ was by his side—He had never left.  Lying in bed at night while you pray, thinking of all those times that you abandoned God in favor of sin...haven't you ever wondered how He could forgive so unfaithful a lover?  How "blind" is His Love, in that respect! 

 So now I come to you with open arms
Nothing to hide, believe what I say
 So here I am, with open arms
 Hoping you'll see what your love means to me
 Open arms

The chorus is Jesus speaking, and His arms are not only open in welcome; they are open on the Cross, open in the truest Love, just hoping that we will realize how much He Loves us.  Just hoping that we will choose to Love Him with heart, mind, and soul, that we will choose to be happy with Him in heaven forever.

 Living without you, living alone
This empty house seems so cold
 Wanting to hold you
 Wanting you near
 How much I wanted you home

My youth director sees this stanza through his own view again.  Isn’t the house--our very lives--cold and empty without Christ in them?  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God.”  Sometimes, we search for God without our even knowing it.  That is how my youth director saw these lyrics.  Personally, when I first read the lyrics, I thought of these words through Christ’s eyes.  The house is the Tabernacle.  Jesus, in a vision, once said to St. Josepha that the hearts which receive Him in the Eucharist are sometimes colder than the stones beneath His feet were, that night in prison before He was crucified. Today, in the Tabernacle, Christ Himself—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity—waits for us to receive Him in Communion.  He dwells in the Tabernacles throughout the world, the Divine Prisoner.  In human terms, how cold and lonely that little house must be!  Jesus wants to embrace everyone who has ever lived and who ever will…but how few come to Him with open and loving hearts in Holy Communion!  When I think of all the chances I have missed to sit with the Divine Prisoner in Adoration, I think of these lines in this song.

Now that you've come back
 Turned night into day
 I need you to stay

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O God.” And once they rest in You, once they have felt your grace and Love, they can never truly go back.  There is no experience so terrible, no circumstance so sorrowful, that can ever fully erase God from our memory.  Finding Jesus truly does “turn night into day”.  This song is not a Christian song; it’s a love song.  But when we listen to it through the lens of our Love for Jesus…what a perfect Love song it is!  Have you ever found Jesus like this, unexpected and unlooked for in a secular song?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grace Before Reading...and Watching...and Listening

Being Catholic is not about going to church on Sunday.  It is not about knowing the Catechism.  It is not about how much money you give, people you help, or incense you burn.  Do not misunderstand me; these things are very important, and necessary.  But if you think that that is what being a Catholic is all about, you are gravely mistaken.  Being Catholic is about living Catholic.  Your Faith is not something you do; it is something you ARE.  You do not have Catholic; you ARE Catholic. 

Therefore, Catholicism is not something just for Sundays, any more than my being Tally is just for Sundays.  Catholicism is not something that I have, do, or experience only at this time, or in this place.  It is an inseparable part of me, and is always there.  Every single part of my life, every breath I take and moment I live, should be colored by my Faith.  One should see and do everything in light of Christ and the Church He founded. 

One of the most important places to begin coloring our thoughts with Christ is the media, because our entire world today is media.  The vast majority of what we learn is brought to us by television, music, the internet, and books.  That in itself is not a bad thing.  The media in all its various forms is a useful tool.  However, like all tools, it needs to be used properly; when it isn’t, it can harm us.  So, the media should have the same focus and end that everything else in our lives has: to bring us closer to Christ.  Our media should be as Catholic as we are. 

I can practically hear what you are thinking right now...

“You mean you want us to condemn ourselves to cheesy saint movies and repetitive Christian songs?”
"No more Hunger Games?!?"
"Your blog sucks and I am not listening to you."

No, no; I can assure you, that idea is as nightmarish to me as it is to you.  I merely mean to say that if we see everything through our Faith and truly live Catholicism, we are going to critically analyze what we see, hear, and read in light of our Faith.  We are going to try to find Jesus in what we listen to and view.  Just as a lukewarm Catholic only sees Jesus in Church, it is a less-than-ideal Catholic that only sees Him in the Bible.  If you live Catholic you will be able to find Him in just about anything.  If it isn’t Catholic, you will be able to make it Catholic.

My old youth director used to give his students a challenge: pick a song that is not Christian, was not meant to be Christian, and find within it a Christian message.  By the time we were done with the challenge, even Rod Steward, Roxette, Taylor Swift, and an awful lot of rap had Jesus in it.  There were very few songs that we were not able to find Christ in.

So, I would like to give you the same challenge that my old youth director gave to me.  I challenge you to find Jesus in an unexpected place; a song, a book, a movie.  Do you see just a story, a pastime; do you just hear a beat?  Or do you find Christ in it?  And, are there any ways in which what you hear/see/read contradicts your Faith?  Does it teach a value that goes against Church teaching?  Does it promote anything—explicitly or implicitly—that drags you—however minutely—away from Christ?  Or does it encourage you in holiness, bring you closer to Him?

Rev. John Simmons (1910) wrote a short essay entitles “Grace Before Reading” that spoke of the necessity of reading critically in light of Faith.  Today, we are exposed to more influences than just books.  Media in all its forms plays a big part in our lives.  So does our Catholic Faith.  How are you going to make those two fit? 

….I plan to begin a little series about how I have found Christian/Catholic messages in secular art and media (because, you know, all my plans for this blog totally work out, lol).  If you would like to share how you have seen Christ in the media, feel free to drop me an email, or comment.  I'd be happy to have you write a guest post!